Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Much-Needed Update and Looking Ahead to 2012

Hello readers! It has been a long ass time since I updated the ole blog. Much has happened, and I have updates to share. I hate that so much time has lapsed between entries. But as I've said before, working on my writing must come before blogging for me. Still, one of my resolutions for 2012 is to get back to blogging more regularly -- even if it's once a week. Even if it's just a weekly check-in and not book- or YA-related.

Belated news item #1 - I finished my first draft! I actually finished it on December 4th. It took me 4 months to complete, which was a little longer than I wanted, but still an acceptable amount of time. And it's done! But now comes the hard part, the part that separates the real writers from the wannabes: revisions. I've had a problem in the past with starting projects, completing first and second drafts, and then abandoning them. I refuse to let that happen with this manuscript.

Belated news item #2 - I'm working on a new project for this month only, a script. It fell into my lap unexpectedly. I can't reveal too much, but said project needs to be completed by the New Year. I'm writing the script now. It's amazing to think I only heard a vague idea for this project after Thanksgiving, and now I'm banging out a first draft. I usually never work that fast, and I'm proud of myself for hitting all previous deadlines thus far.

Writing Year in Review
A problem I keep having is when I look back, I see I've written a lot, but I have no material to show for it. 2011 had that same problem. The first half of the year was spent working on a second draft of a WIP that I soon aborted. I was trying to write something to get published rather than write something I loved. Also, my revision process was staggered and ultimately ill-conceived. I was having my writers group read 1-2 chapters/month, per our guidelines. Get critiqued in piecemeal did not work.

I decided to break one of my rules, succumb to Sexy New Idea syndrome, and look into starting a new WIP that I was passionate about, that I believed could show off my voice. And so far, so good. I began brainstorming the idea in late-May/June, worked on an outline in June/July, and began writing in August. I believe in this project, and unlike the others, I want to see it through to the end.

This year, I also started my blog and twitter feed (@FillupSeagull), and despite some gaps, I have kept it going and met lots of kind, supportive, talented writers.

So, at the end of 2011, I don't have a polished manuscript or screenplay to show around, but I remain optimistic for 2012. And this time, I'm learning from my mistakes.

2012 Resolutions

#1 - See It Through: I want to see through every WIP I start, specifically my new book. No more ditching projects after draft 1 or 2. I want a finished product. I will see this book through. I'm already taking action. After critiquing the beginning chapters by piecemeal for a few months, I'm having my writer's group read the entire novel over the holidays, and they are coming back with notes in mid-January. I won't have to sit idly and wait months for them to read the whole thing. I can take their feedback and get started on draft 2. I am limiting the number of writing projects to attempt this year down to two: this novel and a screenplay idea. In years past, I resolved to finished four different projects, and that never happened. I will focus on these two and see them through to finished products.

#2 - Get My Work Out There: For all the writing I've done over the years, I've barely shown my work to others. I kept telling myself that it wasn't good enough yet, that I needed to do another draft to get it to professional quality. I was holding myself back, paralyzed by fear, by so many articles telling aspiring writers to get their work absolutely 100% perfect before sending it out. Those articles were correct -- your work should be as good as you can make it -- but you shouldn't fixate so much that you never send anything out. I gave my writer's group a first draft to read, something I never would have done before! In the past, I would've held back, claiming that I'll complete a second draft -- work out all the major kinks -- before submitting to group. But who knows how long that would've taken, and frankly, who knows if I would've even completed draft 2?

I have also never queried an agent. Again, I kept telling myself that my work wasn't ready yet. And maybe it wasn't. But I should let other people tell me that sometimes. Rejection is part of the writing life, and it should be embraced. And who knows -- an agent may even like my work.

Besides completing the book, I want to get back to writing screenplays. I miss it. I stopped writing scripts once I moved to Chicago, convinced that a screenplay is impossible to sell when you don't live in LA. It is nearly impossible, but there are lots of contests I can enter. I've already found a few contests, including one right here in Chicago, where I can submit my as-yet-unwritten script. And again, who knows where this could lead. Writers must always be cautiously optimistic.

All in all, 2011 was a good year for me. I rekindled my passion for writing, and I'm excited about my goals for next year. By this time next year, I want to have queried/submitted a finished book/script while maintaining a normal schedule for my blog. I think that sounds reasonable. Do you, loyal readers?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

YOUNG ADULT the movie review

Last night,  I got to see a sneak preview of Young Adult, the new Charlize Theron comedy from the writer-director team behind Juno. There's been some buzz in the kidlitosphere, worry that Young Adult will portray people in our profession in a negative light - that we're writing about teens because we're immature, can't grow up. And that Charlize's character will grow up in the end, and choose to write adult novels to symbolize her maturity. NONE OF THAT HAPPENS.

Young Adult was a great movie. It's not what you expect. It's a dark comedy-drama, and it stays that way until the credits. Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, a rude, depressed thirty-something ghostwriter of a young adult series who decides to return to her hometown to win back her high school sweetheart Buddy (Patrick Wilson) - who happens to be married and a dad. When she isn't trying to seduce Buddy, she spends her time getting drunk with Matt, a high school classmate she never paid attention to. Her life peaked in high school, and she refuses to move on and grow up. She's an unlikable character, borderline pitiful, and she doesn't become a good person in the end. She does have an epiphany, but it's not what you expect, which I found refreshing. Mavis acted that way we wish we could act sometimes but never would. That may turn people off, but I appreciated that the filmmakers stuck to their guns and never veered into sentimental territory.

Through all this, I found the character fascinating to watch - a credit to the acting, writing, and directing. Charlize Theron is so good at playing bad, a trend she'll continue with Snow White and the Huntsman. The script was a step up from writer Diablo Cody's first film Juno. Unlike Juno, the characters were less verbose and witty, more natural sounding. She also used voiceover in a clever way. Director Jason Reitman gave the film a lived-in, unpolished feeling down to the omnipresence of chain stores, and he managed to wring humor from twisted characters and setups. He is now 4-for-4 with his films. If you haven't seen his first three films - Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air - netflix them now.

Young Adult does not discredit or disrespect young adult writers. It's not a commentary on authors or the genre - just Mavis, and she is an extreme example. She lives and acts like a teenager still, down to a messy room and drinking coke from the bottle first thing in the morning. Her young adult writing is a device the movie uses to explore the theme of growing up. She is stuck in the past, which is why she can't write about adults. Her YA series, which is getting canceled, is about catty girls at a prep school, very mid-2000s. Think The A-List, Private, Gossip Girl. The movie never makes the assumption that all YA writers are like this. It's only focusing on her arrested development.

Film and TV writers will identify more with Mavis than will YA authors. Most of them have left their small hometowns to make it big in NY/LA. They've gone on to try and be rich and famous while those they left behind got married, had kids, and live "boring" lives. However, the majority of YA authors I've read about and interact with are married with kids and live in the suburbs. Really, Young Adult is a semi-autobiographical movie about the screenwriter, Diablo Cody. Like Mavis Gary, Diablo lived in Minnesota, writes under a pseudonym (real name: Brooke Busey), moved to a big city (LA), made it big as a writer (hello, Oscar!), worked in the YA genre (she was hired to script a movie version of Sweet Valley High), is thirtysomething, was divorced, and was childless and unmarried until recently. (congrats on both!) She may have felt like a hotshot writer, but when she returned home and found her old classmates had less glamorous lives with a family in the burbs, did she have a pang of jealousy? The young adult publishing industry really seems like a cover for Hollywood, while allowing Cody to ruminate on growing up and not letting the past define you forever. And like I said, Mavis does not write adult novels in the end.

Overall, I loved Young Adult, and it's a shame movies like this are so rare. It has a strong shot of being nominated at the Golden Globes for Best Comedy and Best Actress - Comedy. Its box office prospects are decent. This is not a mainstream movie, so word-of-mouth may not reflect how the critics feel.

Young Adult opens December 16. Are you planning to see it?