Thursday, October 02, 2014

Story Ideas: Idea to novel

About four weeks ago, I got bit by a bug.

Not mosquitoes. [Though, okay, yes. Those too.]

I mean, the writing bug.

Years ago when I was getting my writing-legs under me, I read Stephen King's book On Writing. [If you ever daydream about becoming a writer pick this book up and inhale it immediately] He reminded me a writer's job, whether they write contemporary, fantasy, or speculative fiction about tribes of dancing koala bears, is to observe the world and to inflect it in our stories so that regardless of how fantastical or fictional it may be, the ultimate universal human truths within resonate.

Like most people who love writing, I am constantly observing the world in which I live. The grocery store checkout line. The park. A kid's birthday party. I'm living that moment and I'm also filing away the things I see and the things they make me wonder about. The sigh. The shrug. The awkward laugh. What was behind it?  Each of us has a life, a beautiful and unique life and I wonder-- what is it like to live it?

You'd think with my constant eavesdropping observing I'd have forty-five novels up my sleeve. But it's more like I have forty-five journals filled with observations, sketches of ideas, and the occasional brief beginnings of a possible story. Writing out ideas is one thing, but a completed novel? That's another beast entirely.

For a novel, brainstorming isn't enough. Observing isn't enough. And while I know it works differently for all different types of people, for me, my story ideas- the ones that wake me up early or keep me up well past my bedtime are the ones that hit me from out of nowhere, sudden inspiration.

Well, sort of.

The truth is, those hours of observing aren't in vain. It's the observing and thinking and daydreaming that compile in the subconscious, marinating and percolating until one day, a story forms and strikes you like thunder and tells you I am the one. 

How do you know when an idea is the one?

It's weird to say, but it's a bit like love, you just know. It's the one where you feel like the characters are speaking to you. It's the one where they are telling you: This is my story. Tell it. Now.

And much like love--- it's not enough on it's own. Love is the foundation upon which you lay the structure that requires work. Lots and lots of work. Sometimes its fun. Sometimes its illuminating and soul-affirming, but sometimes it's difficult, confusing, frustrating and sometimes it's boring.

But at the foundation is love. You must have an inspiration you love.

And that's what happened a few weeks ago. Driving to the bookstore an idea presented itself. I chatted with K about it, my trusted friends, and then from those seeds bloomed the glimmers of a story and the voice, her voice, started speaking to me. I sat down to transcribe the voice. And I've been at it ever since. I'd say it's like magic to dream up people who feel as real to you as flesh and bone except that in the spur of writing, I daresay I think it is completely magical. 

So that's what I'm doing lately. And between pushing kiddos on the swings at the park, keeping the house in fucntional order, working on fantastic projects with my WNDB colleagues, and then staying up well past my bedtime writing, it's been busy here in the best possible of ways. And while there are evenings I don't want to write, like not at all [and those days you might find a tweet. or two  a flurry of tweets on twitter] I do try to maintain the daily discipline because like love, writing a novel requires work to take it from a nice idea to a real and tangible thing. 

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”-Louis L'Amour 

Monday, September 22, 2014

NAIBA and my first ever author signing!

This past weekend was a whirlwind. In a matter of 48 hours we packed up the kids, hopped into a spaceship minivan, headed down a train, onto a plane to DC to see dear friends, family, and my We Need Diverse Books team members at NAIBA 2014 for our first ever WNDB author reception with fantastic book sellers who value diversity, followed by a Sunday morning filled with lots of coffee, conversation, four hour flight delays and then-- back on a plane, down a train and back into our minivan with a twinge of sadness for a weekend that went by way too fast as such weekends tend to do.

NAIBA was incredible. I was already looking forward to reconnecting with my incredible WNDB team members Ellen Oh, Lamar Giles, I.W. Gregorio, and Renee Ahdieh but I also got to meet fellow WNDB team member Meg Medina for the first time [and may or may not have squealed a little too loudly when I hugged her because she is 250 degrees of awesome]. And that list? It doesn't include the incredible authors like Lydia Kang, E.C Meyers, Robin Talley, Justina Ireland, Kat Yeh [to name a tiny few] who were at this event signing books and sharing insights into the authorial journey over dinner, or the booksellers who were there to get signed books and chat about all things bookish and diversity.

Seriously, an evening hanging out with people who write books, read books, and sell books, you know, people who basically live, breath, and love books is the kind of evening any bookworm would dream about.

Add to this amazing experience? This marked my very first author signing for ARCs of Written in the Stars.

Picture courtesy of the lovely I.W. Gregorio
One year ago, this was just a dream. A fragile dream. A dream I was afraid to fully wrap my mind around lest I wake up. And then this past weekend, I held my books in my hands, I signed then, and off they went making their way into the world. There are still six months to go which feels both forever away, and gasp right around the corner and there are one million and three reasons for me to panic or worry or fret about what the future may hold, but right now I'm enjoying this moment, the memory of my first signing, the company of good friends, and thankful that while I do not know what the future holds, this present is beautiful indeed.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

On parenting, distraction, and dreams

Being a mom and writer can have moments of... juggling. Sometimes my creative moments happen right as I put lunch on the table. A story plot lends itself to resolution and in between milk refills and wiping up messy faces, I grab my pen and paper, and write it all down to explore later when they're safely tucked in bed for the night.

This does not escape my eldest son. I might laugh when he deduces the mother in Knuffle Bunny must be staying home while the father and child go off to launder clothes because she's an author and needs time to write but I also feel guilty that he notices the time and space I need to create.

Guilt is part and parcel of motherhood, but with writing it can feel doubly so, particularly when it involves a Saturday morning writing while the kids are with their dad at the park, or a Friday afternoon while they run around the basement and I sketch out a character perched on the treadmill because that character only now decided to speak. I feel guilty my attention can branch off like it does.
I learned something in school today, my eldest said today.

He sat down at the kitchen table and requested paper, crayons, scissors and tape.

Immediately, he went to work: folding, pressing, cutting and taping. He drew through his skype session with nani. He colored while he ate his quartered peaches. And then, he requested my help with writing his name. Not just first name. The last name too. Because this wasn't just an art project. 

This was a book. This was his book.

Climbing into my lap, he read me his book. Hotel Art. He shared the different hotel renderings, some beach side, some in crowded city districts.

Do you like my book? He asked me. It's my first one.

We read the book a few times. He shared his other book ideas. Books for nani. Books for Abu. Books to read with his baby brother. I realized in that moment as he sat in my lap telling me his dreams for when he's all grown up that in order to make a dream come true, it can't hurt to also see how dreams come true: through working, brainstorming, practicing, and failing but trying again anyways. In living and sharing my life with him, I realize today, I am doing just that.

Yes I get distracted, and yes, he's watching, but today I realized it's not necessarily bad for him to see this. It's okay for him to see I have dreams of my own. Perhaps in seeing that he will nourish and grow his own. The thing about kids is they're all watching you. They watch what you say. And they watch what you do. And following and cultivating the pursuits of his heart? That is among my biggest dreams for him.