From A to Z: Imagination as Empathy

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

Mohsin Hamid empathy quoteSometime in the early 2010s, I heard an interview with a woman who was homeless. She lived in a car with her children, and she said the worst part was at night when she would try not to wake up the children with her crying.

This story stayed with me and eventually became the very real inspiration for a fictional story. Instead of writing the mother’s perspective, I imagined the experience of one of her children. In my mind, this teenage child was not sleeping but rather pretending to sleep while listening to his mother’s tears.

Writing is an intimate exercise in empathy. I would never claim to know the exact dimensions of another person’s experiences, but through writing, I can take what I know of life and use it to imagine others’ lives. For example, I have not been homeless, but I have slept in a car. I know the stiffness that comes from spending the night at crooked angles. And I have not faced food insecurity, but I have skipped meals. I know the dull ache and distracted attention that come with hunger. The specificity of the details is what creates the illusion of reality, so I start with my own experiences and extrapolate from there to create the landscape of my characters’ lives, inside and out.

And when it comes to the important things, to fear and jealousy and love and longing, I don’t have to stretch too far. I have felt all of these emotions myself, and although the reasons might differ, the result is the same. Much as an actor draws on her own personal history—her own moments of shame and pride, of joy and sorrow, of anger and calm—I unearth my own deep wells of emotion to reveal these feelings in my characters.

So when my main character, Ben, hears his mother crying in the car at night, I can feel not only the pain of being crammed sideways in the passenger seat of a car but also the pain of witnessing another person’s grief and being unable to do anything about it.

And if I have done my job properly, my readers will feel the same.

ElizabethCooke 200x200


This post is brought to you by Lizzie Cooke at ChiYAwriters.com.

From A to Z: Surviving the Query Trenches

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

notes-514998_1920

I’d planned on writing an article about being in the query trenches, and how hard it was to keep motivated when the rejection rate is so high. But then I got an offer from the wonderful Caitie Flum, so I wondered if that topic was still relevant.

Friends, it is. I’m FRESH out of the trenches, so a lot of the feelings are still there. Querying authors know what I mean. The fear, anticipation, and hope that comes when sending out a new query. Then the paranoia! Rechecking the sent email, praying no typos snuck their way into the email mid-send! And then the waiting. Some agents respond quickly, some take a while, some not at all. And it’s such a roller coaster of emotions. I went through a myriad of them while in the trenches, to the point of “quitting” several times. The beauty of quitting a thing like this, though, is that the next day you can start again.

I’m very lucky. I have several writing communities and friends that helped me through the rough spots. Allowing me to step away when I needed to, for as long as I needed to, but gently encouraging me not to give up. And it worked. I survived the trenches long enough to sign with an amazing agent.

So now that I’m out of the trenches, here are a few things that kept me going, and still do:

  1. Community, community, community. Having safe people and spaces where I could vent my frustrations, my insecurities, my worries, and fears is so important to me. They are a shoulder to cry on, a pillar of support when I just want to crumble. I doubt I’d be here if I didn’t have that.
  2. Remembering who I was writing for. Every time I got determined to throw in the towel, I remembered little me, desperately reading anything and everything, trying to find even a little bit of myself in those characters. I don’t want any more little girls and teens to feel that desperate and erased.
  3. Plain old stubbornness and persistence. Being determined to make it no matter the odds. And the odds are so much harder for a black woman writing about black characters in publishing, especially when those characters are outside of stereotypical lenses. I simply refused to let the rejections completely wear me down.
  4. Comforts. Every time I got a pass, especially if it was on materials, it stung. Every single time. Even if I could nod along with the feedback and think, “OK I get that.” Some of the sting was because I felt like I should’ve known better. Some of it was guilt, feeling like I wasted that agent’s time. And of course, despairing if I had what it takes on many levels, to keep going in this business. So, I’d chat with my writer friends, pull out a Harry Potter book or movie, and eat junk food. Self-care is definitely important, but even more so when feeling rejected and vulnerable.
  5. Keeping it in perspective. Especially at the query stage. When I go to a bookstore and pick up a book, read the jacket, and think, “Nah, not for me,” and put it back, it’s no reflection on the author or the author’s talent. That story just isn’t my jam. I do this with NYT bestsellers all the time. Obviously those stories are resonating with a lot of people if they’re selling that many copies, but again, it might not be my jam. And that’s OK. When I think of a query rejection that way, it helps ease the sting. It really is subjective.
  6. Having a strategy. Some people send out queries in batches of 5, test the waters, revise/rework, and try again based on feedback. Others send a huge load at once and hope for the best. There are some who send a new query as soon as a rejection comes in. I was one of the send 5 at a time lot. I tried to be very deliberate, and I ended up querying fewer than 30 agents over the course of my year in the trenches.
  7. Distractions! Most people start work on another book while they’re waiting. I was worried I’d be a one-trick pony (even though I’d written full novels in the past, many times), but somehow, I began brainstorming 2 books! I also worked a LOT. Working a 9–5 plus freelance jobs keeps one busy. Also holidays, family, Netflix, day-to-day life, and a major surgery kept me distracted enough so I wasn’t refreshing my inbox over and over or stalking Query Tracker. Much. Also, I made a commitment to keep learning the craft. There are so many free writing resources out there. Pinterest has a plethora of links to explore, and there are even agents giving query and writing advice. Filling my life kept me from obsessing about query/submission status.
  8. Patience. That’s the hardest part. You’re excited about your work, and you want to move forward NOW. But, publishing is SLOW. At least to outsiders. Why does it take 2 years from announcement for a book to come out? Why do some agents take several months to respond to materials? The answer: Everyone is swamped! On the inside, there’s never enough time to do everything that needs to be done . . . but somehow, it all comes together in the end. Keeping that in mind helped me reflect on really pursuing this. As a matter of fact, I’ve come to embrace publishing’s slow burn.

I queried Caitie on August 2, 2016, and officially signed with her March 1, 2017. I’m excited and thrilled. She gets me and she gets my book, and her passion, her smarts, and her dedication makes me think we’ll be a great team.

The point of all of this is: Don’t Give Up. Every no, every hiccup, is a nudge toward the right agent. Keep going, keep working hard, and keep believing. And in the meantime, there’s chocolate.


This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.

Inspiration Station: Finding the Write Light

Inspiration Station is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com highlighting the people, places, and works of art that inspire us as writers.

We all know that having a room of one’s own in which to write is a luxury for many writers. And even if you have that sacred writing space, sometimes it’s necessary to step out of your world and find a room with a new view to find a fresh perspective. For me, this is especially important when I find myself stuck on the page. On this blog, we highlight some of our favorite Chicago spots in our Finding the Write Place series—coffee shops and other public spaces where the muse finds us.

When I need to search for that elusive muse, I go to the library. Particularly, the newest library at my alma mater, the University of Chicago. (Only accessible to those with a U of C affiliation.)

To a lot of you, Mansueto Library is going to look familiar:

iu

Copyright 2013 Summit Entertainment, LLC

Yup. It’s part of Erudite Headquarters in the first Divergent film.

And, nope, I’m not plotting a coup, though Mansueto might be an excellent spot for that as well.

I’ve always loved writing at the library for the lighting, the quiet, and the soft hum from the air conditioning or heating or some mysterious white noise generator. Mansueto, opened in 2011—long after I graduated, has all 3 of those writing environment qualities I need. Also, you can have coffee at your desk.

I wrote and revised and edited a huge portion of my upcoming book, LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS, at Mansueto. The University of Chicago has a small cameo in the book, but that’s not why I write at Mansueto. That light I mentioned as so important to me? Mansueto has it in abundance. Even on Chicago’s dreariest winter days, if there is any light to be had, I can find it at Mansueto.  This is what it looks like when I enter the Grand Reading Room:

IMG_6389.JPG

Even when I’m not writing about setting or weather, the quality of light is something I think a lot about when I write. Capturing the quality of light at different times of day, in different seasons, in different places—finding the right words to describe it is something I’ve often found elusive. It’s poetry, but it eludes me. In some ways, I guess light is a kind of muse for me. It presents me with a writing challenge. I love how it’s alive and how its character changes and how it can feel beautiful and soft, but also harsh and cruel. When I get to Mansueto early enough and can snag a table at the window, I can figure out my writing conundrums usually just staring out the window, not at my computer, watching the light play games and cast shadows out and across the lawn and gothic buildings.

Working at Mansueto helped me know the type of space I covet as a writer—the kind of space that doesn’t merely optimize my writing output, but a space that feels comfortable and inspiring. And where, if necessary, I can plan a hostile takeover of the other factions because I blame ignorance for the faults of human society.

WAIT.

Version 2


This post is brought to you by Samira Ahmed at ChiYAwriters.com.

Chicago Reads: CARAVAL

On February 11th, I had the pleasure of attending Stephanie Garber‘s event at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, IL.

Caraval has been on my radar since BEA 2016 when it was named a YA Editors’ Buzz book. I unfortunately didn’t get my hands on an ARC and have been waiting impatiently for it since.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . .

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

For this event, Stephanie was joined by Joelle Charbonneau, bestselling author of The Testing. Both Stephanie and Joelle were so charismatic, sweet, and humble, and it was so much fun listening to them talk about Caraval and writing. I love that both of them came from non-writing backgrounds, and I related to a lot of what they were saying!

2017-02-11-14-08-23

Some of my favorite tidbits revealed during the event:

  • When Stephanie picked up Marie Lu’s Legend, she had been anticipating a read about a protagonist named Legend. When that turned out to be false, she never stopped thinking about a character named Legend and eventually decided to write her own book about Legend.
  • Stephanie has persevered through many rejections, an agent leaving the business, and multiple book manuscripts to get to where she is. Her advice: don’t give up!
  • Stephanie and Joelle’s advice for debut authors: don’t worry about marketing until a few months before release. In the meantime, just write the best book you can and focus on writing the next books.
  • Other advice they had for writers: find your community and find the social media outlet that you enjoy.

The book art beautifully represents the magic and whimsy of the words:

I devoured this book within a few days of the event. Caraval was so different from anything I’d read in a long time, and I couldn’t put it down. I loved the plot twists (I didn’t see any of them coming!), the beauty and magic of the game tinged with underlying darkness, and how nothing was as it seemed. I highly recommend it. It was such a lovely escape, and it left me craving more. I can’t wait until the sequel is released!

HeadshotGoriaChao 200x200 Author Photo


This post is brought to you by Gloria Chao at ChiYAwriters.com.

Giveaway: Advance Screening Tickets to Before I Fall

before-i-fall-onesheet_bif_rgbToday, we’re excited to share a special opportunity with ChiYA’s local readers: free passes to an advance screening of the film Before I Fall. The screening will take place this Saturday, February 25th at 1 p.m. at the Regal City North Theater in Bucktown—one week before its nationwide release on March 3rd! These complimentary tickets are available through the production company’s publicist. All you have to do is request passes here.

Before I Fall is based on the 2010 bestselling novel by Lauren Oliver. The novel marked Oliver’s publishing debut, and she has since gone on to author nearly a dozen books for adult, young adult, and middle grade readers, including the popular Delirium trilogy. Before I Fall follows the story of Samantha Kingston, a girl who seems to have it all—until she finds herself stuck reliving the same day over and over. As she starts to untangle the complexities of her so-called “perfect” life, she begins to realize that things—and people—aren’t always what they seem.

In a 2011 YALSA interview, Oliver discussed her inspiration for Sam and this novel: “I wanted to write a book about a mean girl, self-involved, kind of petty, who gets the opportunity to reevaluate her actions from a variety of perspectives. The fact that Samantha dies and then relives her last day enabled me to do that. I’ve always been interested in the mean girl phenomena and in themes of change and redemption and ultimately, even though Before I Fall has a very strong narrative structure, I do see it as a character-driven book about change.”

Intrigued? You can download a pair of passes to the screening here, but please note: admission is on a first-come, first-served basis, so show up early on the 25th!

headshot-anna-200x200


This post is brought to you by Anna Waggener at ChiYAwriters.com.

Chicago Writes: Writing Conferences in 2017!

I’m a huge proponent of writing conferences. They’re great for honing your craft, learning about the industry, networking and meeting other writers, and many have pitch appointments and pitch events!

For YA there are many conferences all over. Here are a few great ones you can consider if you’re looking into going to a writing conference in 2017!

conference1.png

Conferences in Chicago

ALA Annual Conference

June 22-27, 2017: Chicago, IL. The annual conference of the American Library Association.

Cost:

  • (non-member) Early Bird $375
  • By 6/16 at noon $400
  • Onsite $440
  • Single day $205
  • Exhibits only $75

The Writing Workshop of Chicago

June 24, 2017: Chicago, IL. A one-day workshop on “How to Get Published.”

Cost:

  • Early Bird $169
  • Add $29 to secure a 10-minute one-on-one pitch appointment.

Boston Teen Author Festival (BTAF)

Boston Teen Author Festival is September 23, 2017 at the  Cambridge Public Library. The Boston Teen Author Festival is bringing YA to Boston! They aim to unite the best young adult authors with their fans, old and new. It’s mostly for fans of books, but they have offered pitch appointments in the past.

Cost: Free

Bookcon

(more for fans of books than for writers)

Bookcon is June 2-4. 2017 in New York City. BookCon is the event where storytelling and pop culture collide. Experience the origin of the story in all its forms by interacting with the authors, publishers, celebrities and creators of content that influence everything we read, hear and see. BookCon is an immersive experience that features interactive, forward thinking content including Q&As with the hottest talent, autographing sessions, storytelling podcasts, special screenings, literary quiz shows and so much more. BookCon is the ultimate celebration of books, where your favorite stories come to life.

Cost:

  • Saturday Adult $35
  • Sunday Adult $30
  • Children $10

Las Vegas Writer’s Conference

Las Vegas Writer’s Conference on April 20-22, 2017.Throughout the weekend, you will be able to meet and socialize with our faculty, pitch to agents and publishers, and learn from experts in fields connected to writing and publishing.

Cost:

  • Early (until 1/31/17): $425
  • Full (beginning 2/1/17): $500
  • Friday Only: $300
  • Saturday Only $300

Midwest Writers Workshop

The Midwest Writers Workshop is in Muncie, Indiana on July 20-22, 2017. This annual summer conference offers 45+ different instructional sessions with top quality faculty on everything from fiction to nonfiction, marketing, and ways to get your creative juices flowing.

Cost:

  • Part I: Intensive Session (Thursday) $155
  • Part II: Thursday evening, Friday & Saturday $300
  • Part I & Part II: $400

One-Day Writer’s Day Workshops

1-day Writer’s Day workshops. These writing events are a wonderful opportunity to get intense instruction over the course of one day, pitch a literary agent or editor (optional), get your questions answered, and more.

March 25, 2017: The Writers Conference of Michigan outside Detroit.

March 25, 2017: Kansas City Writers Conference in Kansas City, MO.

April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop Philadelphia, PA

April 22, 2017: Kentucky Writing Workshop Louisville, KY

April 22, 2017: New Orleans Writing Workshop in New Orleans, LA.

May 6, 2017: Seattle Writing Workshop Seattle, WA

May 19-21, 2017: PennWriters Conference Pittsburgh, PA

June 8-10, 2017: Carnegie Center Books-in-Progress Writers Conference Lexington, KY

July 22, 2017: Tennessee Writing Conference Nashville, TN

Sept. 9, 2017: Chesapeake Writing Workshop outside Washington, DC

Cost:

  • Early Bird Price between $149-169
  • $29 add-on for one-on-one pitch appointments

Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference

Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference is on April 28-30, 2017 in Colorado Springs, CO. Pikes Peak Writers Conference has a welcoming, friendly atmosphere filled with the topics that interest you the most, and perhaps a few topics that you will become interested in after. You will be surrounded by industry professionals and other dreamers who are eager to learn, connect and network.

Cost:

  • Early bird pricing is $395.
  • Regular pricing is $415 from November 15, 2016 through March 15, 2017.
  • Late pricing is $475 from March 16, 2017 through April 24, 2017.

Romantic Times Convention (RTCon)

RT Con is taking place on May 2-7, 2017 this year in Atlanta, Georgia. While it is mainly for romance, there is a very robust YA section. It also lets you sign up for pitch appointments and you can do Pitchapalooza (like speed dating for pitching!).

Cost: 

  • $450 for Readers

  • $495 Published Authors, Aspiring Authors, Bloggers, and Reviewers

  • $20 for Teen Day NOTE: Teens/Tweens 15 years and younger are required to have a chaperone ($15 per chaperone). Children under 8 years old are not permitted in convention area and/or in workshops and Teen Day Party. Tickets for adults who want to attend the Teen Day Program is $20.  (Does not include the evening party)

  • $55 for FAN-tastic Day Pass (includes the Giant Book Fair, workshops, and the FAN-Tastic Day Party, but not the evening party)

Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators Annual Conferences

Annual Winter Conference in New York (February 10 -February 12, 2017)

The Annual Winter Conference is held over two days with an optional intensive day on Friday. The conference is held at the Hyatt Grand Central at Grand Central Station in New York City.

Note: This year’s SCBWI Winter Conference has passed, but it occurs every winter in New York City.

Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles (July 7-10, 2017)

The Annual Summer Conference spans three days with an optional intensive day on Monday. The conference is held each year in Los Angeles. Registration for the 2017 conference will commence in March, 2017. Many of the biggest authors and illustrators in children’s books will be joining a bevy of agents, art directors and editors.

Writer’s Digest Annual Conference

Writer’s Digest East Annual Conference on August 18–20, 2017 in New York City has panels and workshops as well as over 50 agents and editors. You can also partake in Pitch Slam!

Cost:

  • Before 4/17 $399
  • 4/18-8/17 $449
  • Onsite $499

Online Conferences

Going to conferences can be expensive, so here are some online ones that you can look into attending!

Write on Con

Note: already passed, but it seems the idea will be to repeat this online conference annually.

Feb 2-4, 2017. WriteOnCon is a three-day online children’s book conference for writers and illustrators of picture books, middle grade, young adult, and even new adult. It was founded in 2010 and is now run by a new team of writers who are eager to hearken back to the awesomeness that they remember so fondly from being attendees over the years, while also bringing exciting new elements to the mix.

Cost:

  • $5 general admission
  • $10 to get into live events
  • $15 for extended access (so you’ll be able to see everything for a month after the conference ends)

Manuscript Academy

They offer world-class publishing instruction that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your home or your favorite coffeeshop. Unlike traditional conferences, you simply need a computer, a tablet, or even your smartphone to log in and enjoy the very best instruction from some of the top minds in the literary community. Every online Manuscript Academy conference will give you the full educational and networking value of a traditional writing conference, but without the hassle of travel, paying for meals out, or arranging childcare.

Cost: $225

headshot-kat-200x200


This post is brought to you by Kat Cho at ChiYAwriters.com.

Chicago Reads: Upcoming YA Book Events

yabookeventsfebruary

Chicago is lucky to be home to many independent bookstores that host authors for a wide variety of readings, signings, and other events. Check out these upcoming Chicago-area events with YA authors, and if you notice any are missing, add them in the comments!

CARAVAL
Stephanie Garber
Saturday, February 11 at 2:00 PM
Anderson’s Bookshop (Naperville)

THE LAST OF AUGUST
Brittany Cavallaro
Wednesday, February 22 at 7:00 PM
Anderson’s Bookshop (Naperville)

#FAMOUS
Jilly Gagnon
Friday, February 24, 2017 at 7:00 PM
The Book Cellar (Lincoln Square)
*wear your favorite formalwear to this prom-themed book launch!

SPLINTER
Sasha Dawn
Saturday, March 4th at 2:00 PM
Anderson’s Bookshop (Naperville)

FUTURE THREAT
Elizabeth Briggs
Sunday, March 5 at 3:00 PM
The Book Stall (Winnetka)

HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD
Kelly Jensen
Thursday, March 9 at 1:00 PM
The Book Stall (Winnetka)

HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD
Kelly Jensen and Mikki Kendal
Thursday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Women & Children First (Andersonville)

THE INEXPLICABLE LOGIC OF MY LIFE
Benjamin Alire Saenz
Thursday, March 9 at 4:00 PM
The Book Cellar (Lincoln Square)

THE INEXPLICABLE LOGIC OF MY LIFE
Benjamin Alire Saenz
Friday, March 10th at 7:00 PM
Anderson’s Bookshop (Naperville)

NATIONAL YOUTH POET LAUREATE CONVOCATION
Jacqueline Woodson
Saturday, March 11 at 6:00 PM
The Poetry Foundation (River North)

SEVEN DAYS OF YOU
Cecilia Vinesse
Thursday, March 30th at 7:00 PM
Anderson’s Bookshop (Naperville)

ElizabethCooke 200x200


This post is brought to you by Lizzie Cooke at ChiYAwriters.com.