Hamilton, Cool, and YA fiction

I went to see Hamilton a few weeks ago, and, like all right thinking people, immediately became obsessed with it and began scheming to see it again. And then today I went on a bit of a Twitter tear – about Hamilton, and what it means to be cool, and my love of YA.

….remarkable how that eventually came all the way back around. Anyway, if you’re able to, go see Hamilton, it is the BEST.

Scrivener’s Three Modes

A couple days ago, I was complaining on Twitter that I am, for various reasons, working on a revision in Word instead of Scrivener – and how much that makes me appreciate stuff I’ve started taking for granted in Scrivener, since I’ve been using it for at least seven years now. A couple of people asked me about those functions, so here is a very brief overview.

This is a short look at Scrivener’s three different modes (scrivenings, corkboard, and outliner), and what I use them for. A lot of it is basic stuff, and a lot of it is really just part of my own process, so how useful you find this may vary.

The basic Scrivener view.

The basic Scrivener view.

This is the basic set up with Scrivener. The binder on the left is essentially a list of the text files that make up your manuscript (or folders with files in them, organized however you please). Any files you select over there will show up in the main window (in this case, it’s showing scrivenings – the text of the files). Over at the right is the inspector, which lets you add data (like a summary, keywords, etc) to each scrivening. And what I noted up top is the mode toggle I’m going to be talking about. The left is scrivening view (what that screencap shows), center is corkboard mode, and right (covered by the g’s in “toggle”) is outliner mode.


Select a scrivening in the binder. You now see the text that it contains (as well as its meta-data, if you have the inspector open). Select multiple scrivenings, and you can see all of their text, one after the other – even if you didn’t select consecutive scrivenings. This is useful if you want to view a whole chapter (instead of scenes) or every scene with a certain character, or all of your second act, or even the entire manuscript. This is the mode in which you do your writing. Basically, Scrivening Mode is your text editor, with the benefit of letting you view as much or little text as you want at a time, and being able to easily move from one text file to another.

(Quick tip, if you’re importing a whole manuscript from Word, or otherwise want to break down a large chunk of text into smaller scrivenings. Highlight the first line where you want to split, and go to Documents -> Split -> At Selection, or highlight and use command+K. For me personally, I generally have one scrivening per chapter as I draft, and then when I finish up and am going to revise, I split each chapter down into scenes. That’s just me, though – I don’t plot out scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter ahead of time, so I have to break things down later.)

Now, note the inspector off at the right side. As I said, that lets you attach a lot of metadata to each scrivening (and folder) you have in the binder. I’d recommend giving each one at least a title and summary. My chapter titles are super creative things like “One” and “Two,” but adding a summary helps keep things clear. I’ll get to more meta-data later on, but for now, that’s the minimum that you’ll need to be helpful in the next section…

Scrivener's corkboard mode.

Scrivener’s corkboard mode.


I think the index cards might be what Scrivener is best known for. Select at least one scrivening or folder from the binder, hit the toggle, and now boom: instead of look at your text, you’re looking at a cork board with index cards. Each scrivening/folder is a card. The same title and summary you created in the inspector are what appear on them. You can also add color coded thumbtacks and stamps for more information about your document (that same metadata).

But the real draw of this mode is that you can see all the different pieces of your novel laid out visually – and move them around. Swapping the placement of two index cards will swap the order of those scrivenings in your manuscript. Not sure where that flashback needs to go? Move it from the fourth position to the seventh, or whatever. It is literally as easy as clicking and dragging, because that’s all it is.


But I will be honest: this is the mode I use the least. I don’t do visual information very well – I prefer to have it spelled out – and since I write and revise mostly in chronological order, I rarely find myself reshuffling pieces. So I’d say, play with it and see how it works for you. But as for me, I prefer…

Scrivener's outliner mode.

Scrivener’s outliner mode.


Select some scrivenings again, toggle, and behold: an instant outline! Once again, you can see the title and summary of each Scrivening. At the bottom is an option to show/hide synopses – I like to show ‘em so I literally have an outline. By looking at the summaries stacked like this it’s a clear breakdown of everything that happens in the manuscript.

That’s the first column there. Now we get into that meta-data I’ve been talking about.

My next column is “POV” – which is not a Scrivener default. Scrivener actually assumes you’ll want something called “label” but I didn’t find its default labels useful. Click on the little up-and-down triangle-y symbol next to any label to pull it down, and choose “Edit.” That lets you add or remove labels, change their colors from the default, and up at the top, set a custom title. So I changed the title to “POV,” deleted the default options, and dropped in my character’s names (plus “split” for when multiple POVs are in a chapter).

For me, this turned out to be super useful. I’ve got two POV characters, but Jae is the primary protagonist. This let me tell at a glance if I’d gone too long without delving into Elan’s POV – I could see huge chunks where he wasn’t represented, so when revision time came, I gave that a lot of consideration.

The next column is “Status.” I don’t find that one super useful, but haven’t found anything more useful to use instead. If you’re someone who revises by theme or character or whatever (as opposed to chronologically through the novel), this might be more helpful for you!

Then you’ve got word count. This is another that I found VERY helpful, because stacked like this and able to scroll down through the whole thing, I could see if chapter were too short or too long. Mine tend to hover between 3,000 and 4,000 words, so if I found any that were really short or long I’d take a look where they were breaking to see if any alternatives made sense.

Finally, keywords! Again, these were very helpful for me as I was going into revisions, especially my first round. If you look up at the top bar in Scrivener, there’s a button that’s got a key on it. Press it to bring up your full keyword list. You can add new keywords down at the bottom (or highlight a keyword and press delete to, well, delete). You can also highlight a keyword and doubleclick it to edit, or doubleclick the little square to change its swatch color.

Here’s how I used keywords: every character got two, one to slap in any scene where they appeared, and one to slap in any scene where they were mentioned. (So for example, “Character: Elan” and “Character: Elan (mentioned)”.)** I color coded these with a dark pink for appearances and a bright pink for mentions for at-a-glance ease. I also added locations where scenes take place, and important concepts and themes (like various kinds of magic). This let me track who was doing what where, and whether key story elements were being introduced when they should and if they were present enough in the story to work they way they were supposed to.

** I’m not sure if it’s new or I just never noticed it, but it looks like there is a sibling/child option for new keywords. So instead of doing it like this I could have created one keyword for Character Appears with sub-keywords for every character, and one keyword for Character Mentioned and sub-keywords for every character.

Tip: Select a keyword, and then down at the bottom choose “search.” Any scrivenings where that keyword has been added will appear in the binder, so you can easily see them and select them for viewing. (There’s a little X in the lower-right corner of the binder to dismiss this – it took me a hilariously long time to find that, for some reason.)

That’s all the meta-data that I use – but it’s not all that Scrivener offers. There’s a little double carrat at the very right side of the view. Click on that to see other options, and to select/deselect them to customize your outliner mode. (This is where you can add targets and progress, if those are helpful to you!)
So again – this is all very helpful for me, particularly going into revisions. It let me see where I was dropping the ball on plot threads (if a tagged keyword didn’t appear often enough) or losting track of a POV, check consistency on location details between chapters, etc. If any of that sounds useful, I’d definitely recommend playing around with the mode and the options for what you do with it. You can set up other custom meta-data if you have other things you’d like to track and be aware of, and you can get rid of any pieces of the view that aren’t useful for you.

I suspect that like index card mode, it isn’t useful for everyone, but the great thing is that Scrivener is so flexible you can probably find a way to make it work for your process, whatever your process is. As for me… now I’m back to revising in outline-view-less Word. SIGH.

My Much Belated WisCon 39 Write Up

WisConWisCon happened! …last month. This is the fifth year I attend, and every year I say that I’m going to take detailed notes and write up panels afterwards, and that has never actually happened. So this year I gave up entirely, but after the fact decided to take a page from BFF Jess’s book and do shorter reactions instead. So here we go, everything I did at WisCon 39.


Join the Mod Squad
I actually went to this panel last year, too, since last year was my first time moderating. I felt like the refresher couldn’t hurt, and I’m glad I went, since I modded two panels. (Obviously this wouldn’t be a huge draw otherwise.) It did what it said on the tin – provided tips, tricks, and anecdotes about how to moderate a panel, what to do with tricky audience member (and panelists), etc. Very practical, useful stuff.


Why All the YA Hate?
This was the first one I moderated! I obviously have a reason to be interested in this one, and had tons to say…but hopefully I didn’t talk too much, seeing as how I was there to moderate the actual panelists’ discussions. To prep for the panel, all of us involved read a bunch of the think pieces that go around about why adults should be ashamed to read YA, and of course I was filled, once again, with an almost incandescent rage. So it was good to be part of a take down of all of those arguments.

Some of the arguments we discussed and dismantled: sexism (YA is considered to be by and for girls, therefore it’s bad); immaturity (it isn’t Great Literature and therefore it’s bad); artistic failure (YA is poorly written and therefore it’s bad); and we talked about why we do love it (because YA is awesome; because it is experimental, spans all kinds of genres (and crosses over between them); because it is emotional, exciting, and fast-paced, among many other reasons).

Bridging the Generation Gap at WisCon
I actually was the one who submitted this panel to the programming committee, though I wasn’t on it or officially involved. I suggested it because of what I perceived as something that felt generational – a split between people who have been going to the con forever and people who are newer – that was reframed by one of the audience members as being more about existing (or non-existent) networks than about generations.

However, most of this panel turned out to be a preview of “What Happened With WisCon Last Summer?” – discussion into the cultural split between groups that led to a large amount of turnover in the leadership of WisCon. It was very intense and helped me refine my thoughts on both aspects of the panel.

Cultural Literacy or Cultural Appropriation?
I think I go to a similar panel every year. They always leave me a more thoughtful person than I was, both about the real world around me and about the fantasy worlds that I write. I think in the end, this one could be summed up as “Be the Beastie Boys, not Iggy Azalea.”

“Infodump,” “Mary Sue” and Other Words Authors Are Sick of Hearing
This was a great mix of useful and fun! It challenged the idea that these tired terms are even useful. For example, where’s the line between infodumping and exposition – and if a non-genre reader picks up a fantasy novel, are they likely to interpret exposition as an infodump because they don’t know the genre conventions?

Overall, overall the feeling was that aside from a few rare cases, the terms are probably not useful – especially not in workshops with new writers, who are more likely to hold themselves back out of fear of writing a Mary Sue, or give up in frustration because they’re told they’re head hopping rather than being given more concrete feedback. Feedback should focus on specifics instead of generals – “Your POV starts to wander here,” instead of “you headhop.”

(I was also entertained by the note that most writing groups develop their own lingo, since my writing group has definitely done that. I think my favorite of ours is, “I was trying to world build, but it just ended up being She’s Wearing Her Special Hat Now for a few pages.”)

Science-Compatible religions in Fiction: An Exploration of Spiritual Traditions Supportive of Intellectual Growth
Someday I should write about my not-so-positive feelings about religion in SF/F…but this is not that post. I was interested in this panel because, while religious themes are something I prefer to avoid, I’ve got a space opera brewing in the back of my mind and since I want it to be distinctly the future of this world, I am not sure what to do with that in terms of religion. So I figured I’d check this out. It was interesting, but late at night after a full day, and I wasn’t familiar with most of the referenced texts. So there was some food for thought, but most of my thoughts were lost to exhaustion, alas.


How Fan Culture is Influencing Movies, TV, and Media
This panel was about the clash (or is it a clash?) between fan culture and corporate media, and how one may be influencing the other. But it was actually two panels in one: the description talked specifically about whether or not Disney was writing its own fanfiction with movies like Frozen, Enchanted, and Maleficent, as well as the idea of fan and corporate media clashes.

The Disney portion of the panel concluded that while modern Disney movies are often in conversation with earlier Disney movies, that’s probably not a spillover from fan culture. However, marketing for Disney and others certainly can be, as nerd culture becomes more mainstream. Fandom has become a force that marketers want to tap, and will market directly towards.

Fandom, Creators and the Space In-Between
Hey, what can I say, I’m a fangirl at heart, and I enjoy the fandom track at the con every year. This actually touched on a lot of the same issues as the previous panel, but was more directly about the interplay between creators and fans. The upshots were: there are creators/stars/etc who step across the fourth wall and do it very well, because they get fan culture and can engage on that level; there are creators/stars/etc who do it poorly because they expect those interactions to be on their terms; and there are fans who also do it poorly, because they expect creators/stars/etc to be in their world when they aren’t.

How Do You Recommend Problematic Things?
Oooh, this was a good one, because essentially everything is problematic on one level or another, so it can be hard to find that balance between squeefully recommending something, and realizing that what while it worked for you, the problematic aspects may be harmful for others. There were a lot of really thoughtful discussions in this, like, “Well, it wasn’t racist for its time…” in dealing with historical works and how that’s often not even accurate, let alone an excuse; and wanting to point out problematic aspects not because they necessarily bothered you, but because you want to signal to other people that you do indeed understand what’s problematic.

My Favorite Book When I Was 12
The second panel I moderated! This one was also my idea and I’m very proud and pleased with how it turned out. We actually ended up with a great generational spread of panelists (the youngest in her 20s and the oldest in his 60s) so we talked not only about the books we loved when we were pre-teens, but also about changes we’ve seen in the books that are popular (or available at all – like the major change that happened with the YA explosion).

Then we took some time to let audience members talk about their favorite books. As promised, I compiled the list of every book that was mentioned by panelists and audience members: check it out. (And per previous panel, let me know: some of these were disclaimed as being problematic at the time, but I wasn’t able to capture that while I was note-taking and moderating, alas.)

What Happened With WisCon Last Summer?
As mentioned previously, there was a huge change in WisCon leadership in th elast year, and a lot of it came from cultural shifts in general, as well as specific fallout from a few issues of harassment. This panel was emotionally draining, but I’m so glad I went. I love WisCon, and when it fails, I want it to recover and do better, and I think it is.


Beyond Hogwarts: Magical Education in Fantasy Stories
By Monday, complete exhaustion had set in, so this was the only panel I managed to get to before heading out. Though this started with Hogwarts, and the idea of the British boarding school for magic, it looked at what school in general looks like in different cultures and how that might affect magic schools. Other ideas discussed were magic apprenticeship (which is reasonably common in fiction), magic public school or magic as part of a school carriculum but not the whole of it (seriously… what else do they learn at Hogwarts?), and even magic as community college (one of the panelists is writing that as a novel, which sounds rad — did anyone catch the name?).


I think I attended more panels this year than I ever have previously (or if not, then pretty close). And though I feel a teensy bit guilty about it, I also focused more on attending the panels I was most interested in instead of those my friends were on. But guilt aside, I’m glad I did, because most of these panels were great.

WisCon always reminds me, though, that one thing I’m not great at and wish I could do better at is making connections. I’m not good at introducing myself to people, or reconnecting with people I’ve met in previous years but don’t know well. I’m very glad I have a network of friends I attend with every year, because otherwise I’d feel completely out to sea.

Having moderated two panels this year plus one last year, I’ve realized I find modding panels very stressful but very rewarding, but this year I missed being a panelist, too. I’d like to find a balance between those two in the future, somehow, without taking on too much so I can also attend panels and not burn out totally. (And of course a lot of that also depends on how programming goes.)

Finally, as always, I feel like attending WisCon has left me a more thoughtful person and I love the diversity of perspectives I run into over the weekend. It has taken me awhile to write this up, but every year, I feel this way. I head home from the long weekend physically exhausted but creatively energized, and thrilled to be part of this community.

Looking Back, From Pit to Peak

Well, here we are at the beginning of a shiny new year. As I’ve said in previous years, I don’t really tend to make resolutions. I’ve found they don’t really work for me. When I’m ready to make a change or do something I need to, I just do it; trying to force myself to do that when I’m not ready just leads to feeling like a failure and no one wants that. Which isn’t to say I don’t have vague hopes and goals, but those have more to do with my usual sense of wanting to improve than with the new year. It’s important to me to feel like I’m moving forward.

Anyway. The last two years, I’ve taken a brief look back at the previous year to pick out pieces I’m proud of and the ways I have made some kind of progress — even if it’s just small stuff that only matters to me.1 So here we go.

For me, 2014 started out at the bottom of a pretty deep, dark hole. The year revolved around climbing out, and keeping on climbing up to new heights. In 2014, I…

Mom and the Mona Lisa

The Paris trip: we took Mom to see the Mona Lisa.

+ Got my brain in order, or at least made great strides. My mother died in late 2013, and my grief and depression bottomed out in December. It wasn’t that I felt sad all the time, it was that I didn’t feel anything. I was like a zombie, going through the motions of going to work, seeing my friends, moving through life. But I didn’t enjoy anything, and as an added bonus, had a couple of panic attacks. It was really not good.

So, with encouragement from friends and family, I started seeing a therapist.2 That’s certainly a heck of a way to start the year. I started to handle the grief, and to untangle my other issues. It’s an ongoing process, but hey, I’ve started having emotions again, so that’s something.

+ Traveled. Aside from my annual trip to WisCon in May, I took several trips. The big one was to Europe — my sister and I traveled together to London and then Paris. I’d never been to either before, and it was lovely. It was a tribute to our mother, who had wanted to go to Paris for years and never had the chance. We brought her picture and her spirit with us.

Whiteface Mountain Selfie

Selfie at the summit of Whiteface Mountain.

In July, we both went camping with our dad, visiting his hometown up on Lake Champlain. I have, as an adult, transitioned fully into being a city dweller. Nature is strange and disconcerting. But kind of pretty, I guess.

Finally, in September, I visited one of my besties in San Diego. It was something of a last minute whirlwind. We spent a long weekend on the beach, having fancy cocktails, and wandering through San Diego’s downtown. Everything is so pretty there. In the depths of cold, grey winter I day dream about moving there. Sigh.

+ I paid a lot more attention to my clothing this year. I feel silly writing about it — I’m not particularly into fashion as a whole, nor particularly good at it — but as I’ve moved into my 30s, I started wanting to dress less like I did as a teenager and more like a grown up, whatever the heck that means. This isn’t really one of my strengths, but Stitchfix helps. It’s a style-by-mail service that, aside from the actual clothes it sends, has helped me at least sort of figure out what kinds of things I actually like. It’s nothing special but it makes me feel happy in everything I wear.

+ And finally, obviously, the BIG ONE. The book stuff. At the beginning of 2014, I was in the midst of my final revisions to my manuscript. I started querying at the end of April, and in mid-June I signed on with Hannah, my awesome agent. We worked together on revisions through the summer and went out on submission in early fall — and BOUND BY BLOOD AND SAND sold in mid-October.3

Laguna Beach, part of my exciting California adventure.

Laguna Beach, part of my exciting California adventure.

For the friends and family who aren’t in publishing, I don’t think I can emphasize enough just how lightning fast that is in book world time. There were enough highs and lows shoehorned into those months that I ended the year with a little whiplash, but to bring the whole thing full circle, there’s this. With every single one of those highs, there was the accompanying thought: I wish Mom were here for this.

But every time I thought that, there was also this: But I know how proud and excited she’d be, because she always supported and believed in me.

And that’s probably how all of my achievements will feel from now on.

So, what of next year? Well, like I said, I don’t do resolutions. But then again, I don’t think I have to: I have official book deadlines to reach now, including, oh yeah, writing the entire second book in my series this year. I suspect that 2015 is going to be a year of buckling down and working hard, as this pipedream/hobby becomes a real life obligation — but, I think optimistically, one I’m ready and excited to take on.

Let’s do this, 2015.

  1. For example, I’m on level 424 of Pet Rescue.
  2. A neurotic Jewish writer who lives in New York and is in therapy? NO WAY!
  3. And man was that quite a week: I got the call about my book Wednesday afternoon, before leaving work; that same evening, my grandfather passed away.


I’ve been trying to think of a fun or artful or eloquent way of putting it, but mostly I just keeping doing this to anyone who stands still long enough:


Here’s the blurb from the Publisher’s Weekly Rights Report:

Kate Sullivan at Delacorte Press has acquired Becky Allen’s debut Bound by Blood and Sand and a sequel, in a new YA fantasy series in the vein of Tamora Pierce, which explores class and power. The novel follows a slave girl in a desert world where the magical Well is running dry; when she discovers a source of magic, she may have the power to save the water and her world, but returning the water means saving her slavers. Publication is planned for fall 2016; Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates brokered the deal for world rights.


I seriously, genuinely could not be happier. BOUND BY BLOOD AND SAND will be out in fall 2016. And on the one hand, that feels like a very long time from now. But on the other hand, fun fact, I started the very first draft of the book in January, 2010. What’s another two years after five?

(Wow, five years. It was a very, very, very different book in that first draft, by the way. And not a single word of that version remains: I rewrote it from the ground up in 2011. And I did that again in 2012. All BOUND BY BLOOD AND SAND has in common with that 2010 draft is the protagonists’ names and being set in a desert.)

ANYWAY. I wish I had something deep or profound to say here, but I guess one advantage to waiting a few days after posting on Facebook and Twitter is that I can also say OMG THANK YOU.


No, wait, not that. Patrick Bateman thanks are probably not sincere. How about …

Thank you, one person. Thank you!

Except there are SO MANY people I want to thank: Hannah, my super rad agent, and Kate, who bought my book (ZOMG), plus my writing group (Jess, Maddy, Jen – YOU GUYS ARE THE BEST) and the other handful of people I harangued into reading various drafts of this thing (ahhhh Rachel, Margot, Nicole, Karen, Olivia, Carolyn, I HOPE I DIDN’T MISS ANYONE, you are all ALSO SUPER GREAT). Also HUGE THANKS to everyone who sent me well wishes when I initially posted last week, you are all lovely and wonderful and every single Facebook like made my day.

And not to be a person who spends to much time on tumblr, but like they say, I can’t even.

happy bouncing

Final thought.

Wait for it …

Wait for it …

kermit flail

Why I Love NaNoWriMo — and Why I Don’t Do It Anymore

Oh, October. As we head towards the end of the month, writers all over the internet are gearing up: November is National Novel Writing Month, AKA NaNoWriMo, and that means the time for planning is now. And as I do every year when my twitter list starts buzzing with Nano tweets, I spend a few minutes debating if I want to do it, sigh dramatically, and remind myself that no, much as I enjoy Nano, it is not really for me at this point.

And that’s the thing: I’ve done Nano successfully in the past (four times! 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2007), and I really genuinely enjoyed it, and got a lot out of it. But, well, I don’t do it anymore. So here’s my personal rundown on the good, the bad, and the ugly painful.


NaNoWriMo coat of arms

The first time I did Nano was 2001 — only its third year in existence. There were no forums yet, no non-profit org, not even a word count validator. But even so, people had banded together to create mailing lists (the one I was on was a yahoo!group for people who did Nano and also blogged – there were only a couple dozen people on it), and even tiny little meetups in major cities. So it wasn’t much, but there was a very small, burgeoning community. Plus I was a freshman in college, and I convinced my roommate to do it, too, and we told our whole hall and kept our wordcounts posted on the whiteboard on our door, and other hallmates left us encouraging messages every day.

So what I’m saying is, even in its infancy, Nano provided a built-in community, something writing often doesn’t have. That kind of support system is something I have learned is really key for me in getting things written — these days I have it in the form of my super rad writing group and a few other crit partners, but if I were just sitting in my living room with my laptop and no one to cheer me on, bounce ideas off, and hold me accountable, well… I might still be writing, but I’d also probably still be starting and abandoning tons of ideas and not really getting anywhere. Community makes a huge difference.

But the biggest thing I got out of Nano was making a real, serious habit of Butt In Chair, Project Open. Back in 2001, I had a giant fantasy project that I’d been working on sproadically for a few years. Writing was always a fun hobby for me, so it wasn’t like I never worked on it, but it came after classes, work, friends, activities, meals, sleeping, etc. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. But Nano got me in gear. Writing was a non-optional, daily activity. I set my computer to open my WIP when I turned it on, and basically never closed it. If there was nothing else I had to be doing, I was writing. And by November 30th, I was done.

And come December 1, my computer started up, Word opened, and … well, my Nano novel was done, so I opened up an old, unfinished project and got to work. Because 30 days of Butt In Chair, Project Open, had made it a habit — one that I essentially kept up with, writing almost daily for years, and it carried me through three more Nanos and three full trunk novels, right up to my current project.

And yet, I’m not doing Nano this year and doubt I’ll do it again, because the truth is that for all the good habits it helped me build, Nano just no longer serves a purpose for me.

Nano is a very good way to learn how to write a messy draft, to shut off your inner editor and get words on the page. But it’s not a great way to learn how to write good prose or a coherent story. The advantage of Nano is that it doesn’t give you time to stop and think; the disadvantage is that a novel written without any pause for thought is going to be … well, not good. And at a certain point I realized that I am actually quite good at writing those messy first drafts — in fact, that’s my favorite part of the writing process — but it’s all that other stuff, the stuff that makes a novel actually good, that I have trouble with. And Nano doesn’t help with that.

There are a few groups that try to do editing months to match Nano, but in my experience, editing doesn’t work like that. One reason Nano works is because it’s such a clear, concrete goal. Editing is a lot trickier than that. It’s everything from fixing awkward, flat prose to fixing giant plot problems. It’s a lot of staring into space while your subconscious figures out what isn’t working and how to make it work better. It’s moving things around, strengthening conflicts, giving characters better motivations, playing up what’s at stake. And it’s different for everyone, and every project.

It’s really hard to turn that into a themed month.


My current work in progress.

For me, buckling down on revisions was made harder by the attitude I’d picked up in Nano, too. This is by no means a universal thing, I found the mentality of getting so many words out a day was addictive. It was a great habit to get into, but when I was measuring success by a word count, that made forcing myself to stop, to rewrite and revise, to make my novel actually good, a lot more difficult. I find revising much harder than drafting, and not being able to point to look at a word count and say “this is what I’ve accomplished this week!” made me feel like I was, at best, flailing around — and when revisions weren’t going well, and I wasn’t producing any new words because I was focused on making existing words better, I felt like a failure.

Now, admittedly, a lot of that is my own issues coming out to play. But the fact of the matter is, as helpful and fun as Nano was back in the day, it’s not something that serves me anymore. Especially now that I’ve got a pretty rigid schedule — my writing time is a lot more limited, and I don’t want to spend it getting out mediocre words just for the sake of getting out words.

And then there’s this: I physically can’t do Nano anymore. In the nearly nine years since I moved to New York, I’ve had two bouts of debilitating wrist pain from RSI, muscle strain, and tendonitis. I did several months of physical therapy for the first bout, and massive pills that made me nauseated for the second. My wrists still ache sometimes, when I overuse them at the computer. Since the eight hours a day at my job are non-negotiable, that means I have to be very careful about my writing, and crunching out nearly 2,000 words a day would leave me in serious pain.

Instead of writing daily these days, I set aside a couple of hours, a couple of days a week. I usually pace at about 5,000 words a week — well below the pace you need for Nano, but I’d rather take four months to write a decent draft without being in pain than one month to write a messy draft and hurt. I mean, spelling it out like that … duh.

So overall, I would never say that Nano is bad, and I would encourage anyone on the fence to give it a try. It really can be a ton of fun, and a great way to get started. It doesn’t serve me where I am in my writing journey anymore — but even though none of my four Nano novels were salvageable (though the 2007 one came pretty close! it was my last trunk novel before the project that landed me my agent), I don’t regret writing them at all.

The Big, Exciting News

The Big, Exciting News

So I have some news. Some pretty big news. Some pretty rad news. Some pretty big and rad news. Which is this: I’ve recently signed on as a client of literary agent Hannah Bowman, of Liza Dawson Associates Literary Agency.

Holy crap, wow.

This is something I have been working towards for a long, long time. As a kid, I scrawled stories in my school notes. I filled up floppy disk after floppy disk with stories.1 I read constantly and knew I wanted to someday be a writer and publish a book. Not that I knew how to do that. But a few years and a couple of trunked, mediocre manuscripts later, I did some research on what getting published actually entails, and finding an agent to work with — and who wants to work with you — is a huge step.

For friends and family who aren’t familiar with publishing, no, this news does not mean I have a book coming out, but it means I’ve written one and am hoping to see it published eventually. If you want to know more about what agents do and why they’re so vital for people who want to be traditionally published, check out What Do Literary Agents Do? by former agent Nathan Bransford. But the short version is: Hannah read my novel and loved it, she got everything I was trying to do with it, and I’m at least 93% more likely to eventually see it in print with her help than I would be without it.2

As for how it all happened, it was via the query process. For non-writers, that means sending a letter introducing myself, along with a three-paragraph-or-less synopsis of my novel, and hoping it would catch an agent’s interest.3 This process is one of the most frustrating things writers go through (boiling a novel down into a 250-word hook is not easy, figuring out who to contact involves a metric ton of research, the process is usually very slow, and many writers never find agents at all). It’s also something I’d been simultaneously looking forward to and dreading for years. It feels a lot like a right of passage, which for me marked the change from writing as a hobby (albeit one I’ve always taken very seriously) towards writing professionally, which, like I said above, is what I’ve always wanted to do.

Finishing a novel is a big step. Revising it, feeling confident that it’s actually pretty good, is another.4 Sending out queries is a huge one. And signing with an agent? That’s major. And I really, truly could not be more excited to work with Hannah.

  1. Okay, it wasn’t that hard to do that; we’re talking the five inch, ancient disks here.
  2. I arrived at that number by scientific calculation and did not pull it out of a hat.
  3. It isn’t a full synopsis, but it has to introduce the plot and characters, and because I write fantasy, also the world. Which is still quite a bit for three paragraphs — and three paragraphs is on the long side for a query.
  4. Also I have an awesome writing group who helped with this SO MUCH.

Sailor Moon, Ninja Turtles, and Learning to Save the World

Sailor Moon

Sailor Moon

So you may have heard about this, especially if you’re a woman between the ages of, let’s say, 25 and 35, but Sailor Moon has been re-subtitled and is now available on Hulu, with two episodes being released a week. And this will go all the way through the end of the series, which means lots of stuff that never aired, dubbed, in the U.S., and it will be a lot more faithful to the original.1 I adored the show when it originally aired in the U.S., so of course I have been watching it, and the thing is, even though it’s not as spellbinding to me at 30 as it was at 13, I still maintain that Sailor Moon is one of the most important TV shows I ever watched. But to explain why, I need to go back a little further and talk about a different show first: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

You may or may not be familiar with Sailor Moon, but you definitely know TMNT in some form or another. It’s one of the all-time mega franchises; if you were a kid in the 80s or 90s, or you knew a kid in the 80s or 90s, or lived in the United States in the 80s or 90s, you know it. Though it was originally a comic, it premiered as a cartoon in ’87 (which ran for years), and then became a movie franchise in 1990, and has been rebooted several times since then. And me, I was just the right age to get hit with Turtlemania. (Sorry-not-sorry, family.)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Heroes on a half shell.

Alright, so. When I was a young’un obsessed with the turtles, I also happened to have a gaggle of nephews who ranged from about my age down to toddlerdom, and we were all pretty close. I was the oldest of this crew, discounting my sister (who was too cool to play with us), so when it came time for epic games of pretend, I was the one in charge, like a particularly adorable dictator. So of course we pretended to be the turtles, which left me with a bit of a conundrum. The only major female character in the series was April O’Neil, intrepid reporter and turtle ally. The thing is, though, that while April is a great character and I will fight anyone who says otherwise,2 I didn’t want to be April. This was a universe where there were anthropomorphic, crime fighting, pizza eating turtles, and what was the point of pretending to be anything else?

(I was Donatello. Of course I was.)

So when I was seven, as the movie came out, I was already totally able to empathize with male characters. To look at a lineup that was almost entirely boys, and to say, “That one’s the most like me,” to literally put myself in that character’s shoes3 and inhabit him.

I, uh, don’t think I’ve ever seen boys do that with female characters, except maybe super recently with My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. I suspect there are a lot of reasons for that, chief among them that we live in a disdainful, girls-have-cooties culture that discourages boys from enjoying anything deemed girly. Girls have to learn to see themselves in male characters, while boys almost never have to do that with female characters — and it’s just so rare to find an all-female ensemble that they’re never asked to. Especially if you’re looking for an ensemble that’s all about saving the world.

Enter Sailor Moon.

Sailor Moon manga

The Sailor Moon, original manga style. Look how many awesome girls there are!

If you’re not familiar with it, Sailor Moon is the story of a 14-year-old girl who’s a bit of a crybaby and a klutz, and also turns out to be a superhero who stands for love and beauty. She fights evil with the help of her best friends, the other Sailor Scouts. They’re a rocking all-girl ensemble. You have your everygirl, your smart girl, your pretty girl, your angry girl, your tomboy, and so on. They fight badguys while wearing mini-skirts and looking amazing. And they love each other.

Lemme re-emphasize: an all-girl, butt-kicking, world-saving ensemble. I was thirteen years old, and I’d never seen anything like that. I fell for it, hard.

I recorded episodes to VHS. I dragged my parents to a toy store over an hour away so I could buy ugly plastic tie-in toys. I begged my older sister, in college in Boston, to see if she could find any of the manga. (I didn’t even have easy access to a bookstore, let alone one with that kind of specialization.)4 I was just hitting the age of awkwardly too old to play pretend (I hit that age rather later than most, I think), so instead I wrote reams and reams of fanfiction, Mary Sue self inserts and all.

I loved Sailor Moon so much I got up an hour early to watch it as it aired before school. These days, as an adult, I can’t even bring myself to get up 10 minutes before I absolutely have to so I can make breakfast.

The thing is, at 13, I didn’t realize just what it was that hit me so hard. All I knew was that I was an Ami, but I wanted to be Rei.5 But looking back, I see it. There was no leap there, no hesitation. Girls were having adventures. Girls were saving the world. I wanted to be one of them, and I felt like I was allowed. I’d never realized I wasn’t supposed do that with the Ninja Turtles, until suddenly it was an option I was really being offered.

Sailor Moon and Friends


Realizing this has also led me to some more revelations, like, for example, if a white, straight, girl — that is to say, someone who’s still very privileged — can be hit so hard just by seeing herself as a story’s hero, how important is that for people who are less privileged and see themselves even more rarely? It only takes a hop, skip, and a jump of empathy to see why something like #WeNeedDiverseBooks is so important, as if that wasn’t already totally obvious.6

Between its availability on Hulu and the soon-to-launch reboot series, Sailor Moon Crystal, Sailor Moon and friends have been all over my tumblr and twitter of late, and I hope they are reaching today’s little girls, too. The way I ate up the show led to my delving into all kinds of other stories where girls or women got to be the heroes; that, in turn, has informed literally everything I’ve written.

So thanks, Sailor Moon. To borrow a phrase from another superhero franchise, you were the hero I needed, and the hero I deserved, when I didn’t know I needed or deserved you.

  1. By which I mean the LGBT characters will actually have their original relationships in tact, and will not be awkwardly translated as “cousins.”
  2. Come at me, bro.
  3. Well, bandana and knee/elbow pads, I guess.
  4. By that point it was 1997, which was still ages before manga would really hit the U.S. It was really only available in specialty shops.
  5. Which is to say, I was “the smart one” but wanted to be “the angry one.”
  6. Naturally, this is my favorite #WeNeedDiverseBooks submission.

More Links

I have been thinking a lot about this blog and why I never, ever use it, and there are a lot of reasons, most of them silly and personal (or personal because they’re too silly to share, to be more accurate). But I did semi-recently break down and start a tumblr, where I post a lot more. Most of it is reading/writing/publishing related, and it’s pretty rad because I can share the very smart (and/or clever) things other people are saying, as well as toss up my own thoughts when I have ’em.

So that’s here: beckytext. (Why not allreb? I dunno! Felt like a change! Now I need to find a way to link it in the sidebar here, since it updates much more often.)

Jasmine's getting pretty tired of your shit, Aladdin.

Jasmine’s getting pretty tired of your shit, Aladdin.

But all that said, I did write an actual blog entry recently! Just, uh. Not at this blog. I know, I know, you’re going to have a heart attack and die of that surprise. Which is actually an excellent quote to use in this scenario, because it’s National Princess Week, and what I wrote is a guest blog over at Fantastic Fangirls about why Princess Jasmine of Disney’s Aladdin is so great.

And, I guess, if you’re looking for yet more of me online, I recently participated in a roundtable about reading slush during Apex Magazine‘s Operation Fourth Story. The operation has ended, but you should still subscribe, because Apex is great. (And Hugo nominated! Technically that was for the crew before I joined on, but still, super rad.)

Things Both New and Useful

Things Both New and Useful

First thing’s first, here is a cool new thing in my life: I have been recruited as a submissions editor for Apex Magazine! Which sounds quite fancy and exciting, but all it actually means is that I’m a slush reader. Which, for friends and family who don’t know publishing terms, means that I’m one of the first readers whenever someone submits a story for the magazine. (I screen to see if submitted stories meet the quality and content needs of the magazine, send a no-thanks letter for anything that doesn’t fit, and pass up the chain anything that does.) The current editor-in-chief Sigrid is actually a former slush reader, and a couple of years ago she wrote about reading submissions, if you’re curious about what it’s like.

This is very cool. I’ve just begun in the last week, so I don’t have much to say about it yet, but I’m really excited to get started. I love Apex’s mission, and I’m super psyched to get more involved with the SFF community.

And with the fun news out of the way, a housekeeping thing: I installed a new theme, so the blog has a new layout. I really liked the old one, but this one is a little bit cleaner and looks a lot nicer on mobile browsers.1 And of course, I’ve done my usual nerdy tweaking of the CSS to make the place look exactly how I want.

Moving right along, as I was cleaning up the template this morning and updating the about/contact pages, I started thinking about blogrolls. I don’t have one anymore and haven’t in years — I don’t really keep a list of links anywhere anymore. The list I used to have was of websites I visited the most often, but after years of reading on RSS, I don’t really actually go to individual sites very often at this point. So this is in no way an actual blog roll, but I was thinking about the websites I still visit frequently, and figured I’d list ’em. I find them useful, so who knows? You might, too. Here are my top three:

Captain Awkward
This is an advice column for awkward people, so, you know… perfect for me. If I had to sum the site up, I’d say it specializes in boundaries: figuring out what yours are, how to set and enforce them, how to respect other people’s. Plus how to take care of yourself and ask for what you need. (Oh, and online dating.) I don’t agree with the advice given 100% of the time, but overall it’s extremely useful, interesting stuff, that has helped shape how I try to interact with the world over the last year or so.

Ask A Manager
Speaking of advice blogs, this one is not to be missed. Its focus is on work: how to be a better manager, how to be a better employee, how to communicate. Plus, for those you who are looking for it, there’s a ton on how to write resumes and cover letters and prepare for job interviews. I’m not at all exaggerating when I say this site has made me a more productive, awesome employee.

The Billfold
I stumbled across The Billfold near its debut and have been a loyal reader since. It isn’t really a money advice site, though there are a few how-tos; mostly it’s just people talking about their money — how they make it, how they spend it, how they save it. Or why they don’t save it. Or how they’re trying to get out of debt, and how much debt that is. Thanks to reading it, I have started thinking a lot more actively about my finances and where my money goes.2 It’s also the site that’s responsible for me paying my student loans down almost twice as fast as I would otherwise, for knowing how much I’m contributing to my 401(k), and for opening a Roth IRA.3 So basically: very useful!

Bonus: I mentioned it in my year-end wrap up last week but Unfuck Your Habitat is great for getting on top of housekeeping if you’re busy and not sure where to begin.

So now you tell me: what are your go-to sites that I should check out?

  1. A side effect of having a web-centric job is that I spend a lot of time thinking about things like how websites work on mobile browsers. For example, the NYTimes.com redesign a few days ago. It’s possible that I cared about that more than anyone else who doesn’t actually have an NYTimes online subscription.
  2. Rent. It goes to rent. I love New York but man rent is expensive.
  3. Or… you know, deciding to open a Roth IRA. I’m gonna actually do it any day now. Just you wait.

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