Kelsey Sandy
This year, I attempted the NaNoWriMo challenge. For those of you that don’t know, National Novel Writing Month is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. That breaks down to 1,667 words per day. The concept here is quantity, not quality. Editing is for other months.

I had never attempted NaNo before, hadn’t even really known what it was. I didn’t plan on joining this year either. But I’ve been more active in the blog and Twitter community, and I couldn’t avoid the approaching Nov. 1st deadline. Plus, some of my writer friends were pushing me to try it (what are writer friends for if not to push us to write?). So, I caved. I created a NaNo account and Nov. 1st, I started writing.

This summer I finished a novel I’ve been working on for over 2 years and began the querying process to varying degrees of success. Since then, I’ve been jotting down vague new novel ideas, but none had really stuck. Honestly, I hadn’t been writing. I went back to tinker with some old short stories. I spent a lot of time on twitter. But I had the No-Novel Blues.

The idea of having a 200-page draft (even a terrible, terrible draft complete with poorly written scenes, major plot holes, and underdeveloped characters) in one month was thrilling!

So, I opened a blank Word document on November 1st and wrote 1,667 words. In fact, I wrote 1,667 words per day faithfully for 19 days. Then, I quit.

Now, if you know me, I don’t like to quit. I don’t like failure. And I don’t like not doing something I said I would, especially if it has to do with a writing goal.

I quit NaNo because it wasn’t fun anymore, and it was making me feel like a bad writer. Plain and simple.

Today, there are a lot of NaNoWriMo winners. Writers who plan for months. Who have a strong concept, a good feeling for their characters, even a clear outline. I had none of these things. And maybe November would have turned out differently for me if I had.

Here’s a confession: I hate the beginnings and the ends of things. I hate starting a new semester (I teach college writing classes), and I hate ending one. I hate picking up a new book to read, and I hate turning the last page. I hate starting a new TV series, while the finale makes my stomach turn.

I love to be in the midst of something great. I love being surrounded by characters I love, that I have history with, and knowing we’ll be together for a long, long time still.

Maybe this is why I prefer television series to movies. Why I love books that you can return to again and again. Why I love novel writing over short story writing.

NaNoWriMo is all about the first draft, about starting with a blank page and moving forward to the end. I hate that part. My NaNoWriMo word document is not a crappy draft (which was what I was hoping for). It dissolved somewhere around Nov. 5th into a diary, lamenting how much I hate writing first drafts, how many ideas I don’t have, all the many ways that I suck.

In short, I realized that I have to stay true to my own writing process. So, I quit. And, happily, I enjoyed all the Thanksgiving food!
So the question is: Do I regret attempting NaNoWriMo? It did, after all, turn me into a loser.

Not at all. In fact, I learned something very important. I have the time to write every day. For 19 days, I wrote 1,667 words EVERY DAY. That took about 2 hours. And, guess what? I still went to work. I still ate lunch and dinner. I still graded papers. The house was still clean (mostly). I still made it to the gym (mostly). I even still watched TV, checked Twitter and Facebook, and read (although maybe a little less). This wasn’t without some stress and crying and gnashing of teeth. But what art isn't?

I don’t have to write for 2 hours every day. I don’t have to force 1,667 words per day. But I can write every day. I should write every day. And, while I may never subject myself to NaNoWriMo again, I will always be grateful.

So, were you a NaNo-winner, -loser, or -nonparticipant this year?
Jessica Leake
Lowenstein Associates has put up a number of books on Amazon that were formerly out-of-print. Some examples include:

  • Deborah Camp (A mix of contemporary and Old West Historical romances...over 40 coming in the near future, but here is a list of 10 or so available now)
  • Lorena Dureau (Historical Romance: American Colonial South and West. Very Sexy)
  • Dan Streib (thrillers with a James-Bond-meets-Anderson-Cooper main character)
(Descriptions taken from Meredith Barnes' blog here) 

AND if you spread the word about these authors, literary agent Meredith Barnes has offered to critique your query letter! An awesome opportunity! So tweet and blog away :).  

Jessica Leake
Christmas Frame Christmas
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Jessica Leake
It's Thanksgiving! The blog has been neglected, and I have a lot to be thankful for, so I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone :). 

2011 has been a fabulous year for me--both personally and in my writing. So behold, a list of 11 amazing blessings:
  1. My healthy, beautiful son was born to my husband and me in June.
  2. My husband was ridiculously supportive and is pretty much the best husband and father. EVER.
  3. I had an easy pregnancy--I actually liked being pregnant! 
  4. I prayed every single day: for my baby, and for the delivery to be as painless as possible. And it actually was!
  5.  My son is meeting milestones left and right--he also started sleeping through the night at 10 weeks old. 
  6. My maternity leave was a magical time full of baby bonding and writing, reading, and editing. Probably the best 3 months of my life. 
  7. WriteOnCon! I learned so, so much, and I received some of the best advice on my MS.
  8.  My new critique partners, Mandie Baxter & Jamie Manning! With their help, I've become obsessed with more active on Twitter, which has enabled me to enter countless awesome contests and get pub tips straight from lit agents. 
  9.  Working with my cousin on this blog (even though we've both been neglecting it--boo work!)
  10. Getting four requests so far for my MS!!
  11. Getting into Authoress' Baker's Dozen Auction!!

Happy Thanksgiving from Anson :)

Kelsey Sandy
My little sister, Annie Cox, is 16, and though the term YA may describe her age, it does not define her. Annie Cox was born to be an artist. I find myself often caught between awe and jealousy. She has what I often think of as the artist trifecta: technical talent, creativity, and dedication. She carefully and constantly observes the world around her, then spends nearly all of her free time trying to interpret it through the new (or newly popular) artistic medium of "sequential art."

Via email (because sadly my sister is currently hundreds of miles away from me), I interviewed Annie about her sequential art, her current reading list, and her involvement in the blog community. Below you will find an example of her art, a picture she created for me inspired by my novel-in-progress, The Looking-Glass House.

You can find more of Annie's work at Potluck Comics, here:
"Ghosts in the Bathroom"
If you enjoy her hilarious comic, please spread the love via Facebook, Twitter, or StumbleUpon (links are provided below the comic)!

Q1: Annie, you are a “sequential artist,” right? Could you explain what that means and describe some of the pieces you are working on?

A1: Sequential art is more or less a fancy term for comics in which images are placed in a sequence in order to tell a story. Currently I’m working on illustrating a story for this year’s issue of Hallowscream, an annually released online comic with various Halloween and horror themed stories. It’s a collaboration project between writers and artists and it has the possibility of going to print if enough people contribute to its upcoming fundraiser. My main project, however, is my original comic Hack Girl. Briefly described, it’s about a sociopathic vigilante who confronts online offenders (predators, cyber bullies, etc.) in person, exposing them for what they are when not hiding behind a screen, breaking their computers to prevent anymore of their idiocy, and, depending on the severity of their crime, roughs them a little (or a lot). I only have four pages completely finished, but the first story arc is entirely plot pointed and the first issue is scripted. I have endless enthusiasm for it and tons of future concepts, but haven’t really discussed it with family since it’s weird, dark, and contains copious amount of cursing (for natural effect mind you), but I don’t think fear of family approval should hold back your writing. Kelsey often discussed her worries of writing lesbian scenes in her novel with me and I can easily say without bias that The Looking-Glass House is one of my favorite books.

Q2: Comics and graphic novels have gained a sudden position of prominence in the literary world, particularly with young adults such as yourself. When did you first become interested in graphic novels, comics, and sequential art? What is it about the medium that you enjoy?

A2: I was always excited when a superhero movie was coming out and I started reading tons of webcomics (comics published online) in middle school while occasionally making my own comics. However, I didn’t really get into reading or drawing comics seriously until around last year. It’s a medium that permits my love for writing and drawing to work together. There’s something about how images convey character’s emotions and progress the story that can’t be achieved with simply words. And yet, in that same aspect, a challenge to do so correctly is presented which always adds extra incentive to improve my work. In addition, sequential art allowed me to discover my love for dialogue, something that had always been an awkward aspect of my prose.

Q3: Do you read for inspiration, and if so, who are some of your favorite authors/artists?

Q3: Of course! As for prose, I love Alice Hoffman and am starting the Jeff Lindsay Dexter books (of which I am already in love). A couple of my favorite books are The Catcher in the Rye and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest because they both have this very natural narrative and relatable/common way of speaking that somehow still achieves eloquent writing. As for comics, I keep up with over fifty webcomics. This is no exaggeration and I won’t start on titles because I have too many favorites. Seriously, some the best comic work can be found online for free by undiscovered artists. My favorite printed comic, however, is Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory. It’s fantastically strange in story and has a really unique art style. I also love all of Mark Millar’s (Kick-Ass) work and my favorite superhero is Mike Mignola’s Hellboy.

Q4: Do you follow any blogs or participate in any artist forums, and if so, why?

Q4: I’m mostly active on Deviantart which is a great community for artists to share their work and help each other grow and it also includes a “journal” feature which I often treat as a blog to accompany posting my work. It’s just a really good way to receive feedback, give feedback, and make connections. I also follow a lot of artists on Tumblr, a short-form blogging site, but I don’t really post any of my own work there. Sometime I’d like to start a blog just to talk about my projects and ideas. The online community has its flaws, but it’s perfect for shared interests and getting your name out there.

Q5: What comes first, the visual art or the written story?

A5: Typically it’s the written story first as I write a script for myself, but images and panel layouts are already forming as I write.

Q6: Describe your usual writing routine.

A6: I write little blurbs alongside sketches and come up with various things I want to happen during a chapter or issue. Then I connect these events by plot pointing and write a script. Because I’m writing it for my own reference, some scenes are improvised when putting the comic in final form while others are more vivid in my head so all the dialogue is written out. My prose is much more spontaneous.

Q7: You have so much talent as a writer and as an artist. What do you hope for your future?

A7: Thank you! I’m working hard in school in hopes of gaining a scholarship to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design to major in sequential art. After that I’m unsure of the specifics and I know it won’t be easy, but I want to someday be able to work in collaboration with writers and hopefully find a company willing to print my crazy stories.
8) What advice do you have for other young artists out there?
Practice, practice, and practice some more! If you’re passionate and dedicated to art, you will make it the priority of your free time. Make a habit of drawing or writing and make it fun for yourself. It’s going to difficult, but it shouldn’t be a chore. Learn what you enjoy most about art but don’t avoid what’s challenging. Real life is the best reference and at the same time I stress the importance of developing your own style. Oddly enough, this quote comes from Bruce Lee but I feel it especially applies to creating your own style, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.” Drawn on!
Jessica Leake
I've recently returned to my work as a therapist on the psych unit of a hospital, and I've really been missing reading/writing/blogging. I had way too much fun on maternity leave with all my time (my son's an angel and would take long naps, allowing me to write all I wanted). So I was dragging my feet a little at going back. Much to my surprise, one of my coworkers had a writing assignment for me! She's putting together a meditation book for the patients--daily readings for a whole month written by the therapists. I thought I'd share what I came up with, based on a Dr. Seuss quote someone tweeted recently.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.”
–Dr. Seuss

            Sometimes when depression strikes, we have a hard time caring. About loved ones. About ourselves. About life. It’s a struggle just to get out of bed in the morning. We have to force ourselves to do everything, even the basics, like eating and showering. It seems like a black hole is constantly waiting to swallow us up. Worse, not caring about anything saps our motivation. So how do we beat it? We make changes. Small ones at first. We get up in the morning and make our beds. Maybe the next day we shower. Little by little, we fight back. We get involved—maybe through volunteer work. We start to care about others. We start to realize we’re part of a bigger picture, and we’re not alone. We talk to people—maybe a counselor. We begin to work on the things that contribute to our depression. We start to remember that we are good people. Depression doesn’t define us. But most of all, we begin to care again. About ourselves. About our life.

Thought for the day
Today I will remember that the best way to get better is to start caring about myself again.
Jessica Leake

I love Twitter. It’s THE best place to find out about awesome new blogs, contests, get pub tips, stalk follow lit agents, and most of all, to connect with other writers. That’s where I found out about this massive giveaway by new blog, YA Confidential. Here are the amazing prizes:
      A query critique by lit agent Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown LTD
·         A five-page critique by lit agent VICKIE MOTTER of Andrea Hurst & Assoc.

           ARC of SHATTER ME by Tahera Mafi
·         Arc of THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater (really excited about this one)
·         Arc of LEGEND by Marie Lu
·         Arc of CROSSED (MATCHED #2) by Ally Condie
·         THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER by Michelle Hodkin
·         FATEFUL by Claudia Gray

It’s super easy to enter, too. They’ve got a form link, and all you have to do it fill it out. You can rack up additional entries just by spreading the word (i.e. on Twitter or your own blog). Then you can check off which prizes you’d most like to win.

Be sure and check out the new blog’s weekly posting schedule. Basically, it’s all about the teens. Critiques, interviews, discussions. Yay for YA!