Peer pressure

First off, thank you for all the congratulatory emails, and tweets, and Facebook posts, and blog comments. You guys are great. And Baby Sam (a boy!) is doing really well. Here’s the obligatory cute baby picture.

I feel terrible about leaving you without content for the last few weeks. I’ve always been an industry blog addict, and it seems that everyone shuts down their blog during August. Lately, a lot of blogs are shutting down, period. I miss Editorial Ass. Editorial Anonymous. Even Pimp My Novel is shutting down for a while.

I’m crying. Do you hear me crying? I am.

But none of that has anything to do with peer pressure, which is what I wanted to comment on today.

I write YA. You know I write YA. But it means that I spend a lot of my time trying to remember what it was like to be a teenager. Sometimes, that’s really difficult.

Other times, it’s really easy. Like when I think about the guy I dated in high school. We dated for two years. I loved him. He was wonderful, and well-raised, and fun, and funny, and we had a good time together. He dumped me because I wouldn’t have sex with him (I wasn’t ready), and all his friends were pressuring him to “do it.” He went to an all boys’ school, I went to an all girls’ school. Every year, my school had a variety show called The Coffee House, and because I played the piano, I was called on for any songs people wanted to sing. My ex-boyfriend came to the show shortly after we’d broken up, for whatever reason.

Wait, I know the reason. To tell me, during intermission, that he’d started dating another girl. One who “did it” with him on their second date. In the back seat of his Nissan Sentra.

(Sexy, right?)

I was crushed. I almost couldn’t go back for the second half of the show. I remember sobbing in the darkened school library. I mean, it’s one thing to dump someone because you’re not getting what you want. It’s entirely another to come back and slap them in the face with the fact that you found someone who will.

And all because of peer pressure.

My four-year-old goes to pre-K at a local private school. In the morning, they have eighth graders who direct the flow of student traffic, and hold the doors for parents, things like that. This year, the boy who holds the door is very polite. When he opens the door for me, he makes eye contact and says, “Good morning.” When I leave, he says, “Have a good day.” From what I can tell, he does this for everyone.

Because I was raised to be polite, I always respond in kind.

A few days ago, his friends were hassling him. Mocking him. “Ooooh, good morning!” and making kiss-up noises, things like that.

He ignores them, and keeps doing it.

But it made me wonder. By the time he reaches his senior year of high school, are his friends going to break him down? Is he going to start being a jerk, just because it finally got to be too much effort to be polite? Is he going to break some girl’s heart, just because his friends kept mocking him?

The sad thing is, he’ll probably get more girls (or guys, no judgment) if he keeps acting with politeness and confidence. But I know it’s hard to see that when you’re thirteen. Or eighteen.

Or hell, when you’re in your twenties and thirties and beyond.

How have you guys been affected by peer pressure? Does it play a role in your writing? In your life? Do you ever regret following your friends, instead of following your heart?

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How to find a [good] critique partner.

If I were to have a FAQ section for email inquiries, this would be at the top, right above the request for my banking information because I’ve inherited 500,000 USD from a prince in Nigeria.

(I mean seriously. Does anyone fall for this? And why don’t they use the dollar sign?)

I have two main critique partners.*

1) Bobbie. Bobbie has been there since the beginning. Since I thought it was acceptable to query a 130,000 word vampire novel. Since I had no idea how to make every scene move the plot forward one step. Since before I knew about Miss Snark and every other blog out there. Bobbie is one of my closest friends and I tell her everything. I’ve known her for five years, and I’m so frigging lucky, because she’s insanely insightful. I’ll tell her I’m struggling with a scene, and I’ll get back this in depth character critique like:

So you’re unsure of where to go now? How to resolve the moment between Michael and Gabriel? I can see how it’s a pivotal moment and you want to play it right. You can’t have them hug it out or Gabriel won’t need the fire as much as he does now–it’s his escape. If all is well on the home front–or even heading there–he won’t have the need for release. I like that Gabriel’s immediate feeling isn’t anger but a sense of betrayal. He seemed to be feeling, before Hannah showed up, that he and Michael could at least be civil to one another and act like brothers now and then. To come home to this accusation would be painful and more isolating.

I think you need Michael to be suspicious, and I think his character would be. But the fire started before he left the house. Hannah could confirm this. But Michael’s suspicion might at some point make Gabriel question whether Garrett is the arsonist. And even if Michael comes to believe Gabriel didn’t start the fire, he’s still going to suspect something’s going on, and Gabriel’s secrecy is going to bring more tension to their relationship.

I mean, you can’t pay for critique notes like that. Sometimes I feel inadequate when I read her stuff, because I can’t see all the angles like this. I feel like a caveman writing things like, “Um. This guy seems angry.” Seriously, I don’t know why Bobbie puts up with ME.

It didn’t start out that way, of course. I’d posted a chapter on the critique site www.mywriterscircle.com, and she left some good comments, along with the line, “I would read more of this.” So I looked up her profile, sent her an email, and said, “Would you really read more of this? I have half a book.”

She read it, she liked it, she sent me some of her stuff. I read it, I liked it. We clicked right off the bat, and the timing was good. We were both beginners, and we were both at the same stage of the writing process.

A lot of that was LUCK. Kind of like love at first sight.

2) Alison: I’ve known Alison for about a year. She sent me a message on Absolute Write when I had a post up offering beta reads, and because I say yes to just about everyone who asks me to crit a manuscript, I told her to send over the first chapter or so. Then I completely forgot that I accepted, and I felt like a total heel when she emailed me 10 days later to ask if I got her email. (I blame my Blackberry.) But I could tell right away that Alison had some serious writing chops (see my last post about her recent signing with an agent), and I gave her a bunch of constructive criticism and sent it back.

That’s usually a make-or-break point with a critique partner. I’m always honest, and I never sugar-coat anything. I’ve had people get back a critique of twenty pages, and move on. Alison wrote back that it was finally the feedback she’d been looking for, and asked if she could send more. I liked her writing and her style, so I read more. And more. And more. She kept offering to read something of mine, but I was agented at that point, with a book on submission, so I was a lot more careful sending things out. Finally we’d been working together long enough that I trusted her enough to send something her way. (You never know what freak is going to post your book on their blog or something.) Alison’s critiques were awesome! Spot on! She picks up on things that I never would, especially when she guesses where the story is going. I remember in one of the earlier drafts of Elemental, she made the comment, “You have all these water bottles popping up everywhere! I can’t wait to see what you’re planning on doing with them!”

I read that comment and was like, “Uhhh…I’m not doing a damn thing with them. People are thirsty.” But it was a great point, and I took out some of the references. Alison is great at picking up on foreshadowing that might not be intentional, or seeing links between characters that I might not have seen. It’s every bit as insightful as Bobbie, just in a different way.

I owe a lot of my success with Elemental to these ladies.

I know, I know, you’re saying, “Shut the F up about your amazing critique partners, and tell me how to find some of my OWN.”

Reading the above, it seems like I just got lucky and found two great people and POOF, my writing life was easy. Brigid has everything! A book deal! Great critique partners! An amazing agent! An awesome editor!

Yeah, whatever. You want to know how many beta reads I did before landing on two people with whom I really clicked? I just went through my email, searched for “beta,” and counted the individual email addresses.

Eighty-six.

And that doesn’t count beta reads I did directly on message boards like Absolute Write and My Writers Circle. (I do a lot on my lunch hour. Hey, a girl needs to do something while eating.) That doesn’t count people who might have used the words “Crit” or “Critique” instead of “Beta” in their email.

That’s also over the course of five years.

The point? That’s a lot of people. A lot of time. A lot of reading.

Finding a great critique partner is like finding a great husband. (Or wife.) It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take hard work, and compromise, and a solid base of trust.

Some tips:

1) Don’t be lazy. If you were going to a bar to pick up men (or women), you’d take a shower, wear nice clothes, and try to look your best. Do the same thing when you’re sending your stuff out for critique. Now’s the time to be on your best behavior. Sometimes people would email me and say, “I know it’s full of grammatical errors and misspellings, but I’ll fix that stuff later. I just want to know if the story is worth the time to fix it.” I mean, come on. If you don’t know if it’s worth the time to fix it, why is it worth my time to read it? Don’t send out crap.

2) Be honest. Not just with others, with yourself. Maybe someone is AWESOME at critiquing your stuff. If you hate their writing, you’re not going to want to reciprocate. That’s not fair.

3) Critique a LOT. You know those advice columns where people write in and say, “I’m so depressed, I’ll never find anyone. I hate going out and playing the dating game. There must be another way.” Don’t you want to hit those people? Dating is how you find a life partner. Critiquing a lot of stuff is how you find a critique partner.

Kind of like writing a book, finding a critique partner is something that sounds easy in theory. “I can write a compound sentence! I’m destined to be a great author! Here’s where to send my check!” vs. “I’m a really nice person! My writing is amazing, so I’ll quickly find someone amazing to read it! At 3am! In five minutes!”

Everyone can find a great critique partner. They’re out there. I was, Alison was, Bobbie was.

All you have to do is put yourself out there. You know, with a little lip gloss.

~
* I’m not listing Sarah Maas, who is an awesome critique partner, because we only met because we’re agency sisters, and our relationship doesn’t really apply to this post. I just got lucky with Sarah. Wait. That sounds dirty.

A whole big heaping pile of OMG.

Okay, if you follow me on Twitter or have friended me on Facebook (*ahem* –>), then you may have already heard I sold my novel to K Teen (the new YA imprint of Kensington Books) this week.

I am over the moon.

Over. The. Moon.

I almost can’t think straight.

First off, the book sold at auction. Let me tell you, if you’re ever trying to sell a novel, let it be at auction. Because that is the absolute most fun I’ve ever had in my whole entire life.

Wait. Sorry, honey.

It’s in the top five, okay?

My editor is Alicia Condon, and we had a conversation the other day, and I feel like I’ve known her my entire life. She’s amazing, and I feel like she gets me. I’m so excited to be working with her.

But really, it didn’t feel real until I saw the listing on Publisher’s Marketplace. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s where book deals are announced. Here’s what mine said:

February 2, 2011
Young Adult

Brigid Kemmerer’s ELEMENTAL, in which a girl becomes entangled with four brothers who control the elements and their battle with those who want them dead, to Alicia Condon at K Teen, in a three-book deal, at auction, by Tamar Rydzinski at the Laura Dail Literary Agency (World English). 

That’s my book. Can you believe it? THAT’S MY BOOK.

This has been so amazing.

But you know what? No one writes a book alone. Sure, I put some words on the page, but there are a lot of people who made them better:

Michael Kemmerer: My best friend, my confidant, my hero, my husband, you are the most amazing person I could ever want to spend my life with. I am so lucky to have you. Now get ready for the house to be an effing mess for six months, because I have a sequel to write.

Tamar Rydzinski: My absolutely fantastic agent. I’m so lucky to have her in my corner. I totally couldn’t have done this without her help. I’ll never forget messing up my partial manuscript way back when I was querying. (She asked for the first 50 pages. I sent 30 double spaced and 20 single spaced. What kind of idiot does that? Especially after reading an agent’s blog THAT VERY MORNING about making careless mistakes? *sheepishly raises hand*) But now, look where it’s gotten me.

Bobbie Goettler: You, lady, have been with me since way, way, way back. You remember when the four brothers were vampires, living in a totally different story. You remember when my first novel was 135,000 words long. You have read every word at least six times (sometimes seven), and you’ve been patient and encouraging and insightful and there’s no WAY this book would be succeeding without you. You helped me through marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, parenting….you’re amazing. You have been my closest friend forever now, and you’ve been so much more than a critique partner. You’ve been a friend, a mother, a sister, and I can’t imagine going through this without you.

Sarah Maas: My agency sister!! (You know how they say brother-from-another-mother? They need one for girls. Sister-from-another-mister? That sounds…sick. But you know where I’m going with this.) I’m so glad we found each other, and I’m so lucky to be going through this whole publication journey with you. You’re an amazing cheerleader, and an awesome friend, and I can’t believe you put up with my bazillion texts. Seriously. A bazillion. You are a rock star.

Alison Kemper Beard: Alison! I can’t believe I lucked out when you sent me the first few pages of your manuscript! And then I forgot to read them, and you had to remind me! (Look people, you might not find true love on the internet, but you can totally find badass friends.) Alison, I’m so lucky we’ve become friends and critique partners, because it’s been so much fun going through this journey with you. I think you and Bobbie deserve a medal for reading my entire MS over the course of one weekend. With critiques! Now go send some more queries!!

There are like sixteen hundred other people who helped me along the way (Nanci, Gordon, Jenny, Tina, Christina, Renee, Kathy, Michelle, Stevie, Kit, Ally, my Twitter friends, my Facebook friends who are sick of my status updates about writing, every single person reading this post … OMG, I’m totally going to forget someone, and you can punch me later…)

My dream is starting to come true, and you’re all a part of it. All of you.

Thank you. So much. 

~

Promises to keep, and all that jazz

I made a promise to my agent that I’d have my manuscript to her after this weekend, and I intend to keep it.

So, in my absence (like you guys are checking my blog every hour, right?), here are some awesome blog posts I’ve seen recently:

If you’re a parent (or even if you’re not), check out Bobbie Goettler’s post about what we owe our kids.

Did your teachers inspire you? Or did they make you want to quit? Debut author Sarah Maas has a great post about how teachers influenced her — for good and for bad — in her writing career.

A guest post at Pimp My Novel talks about the inevitable envy we feel about other writers, and how to deal with it.

Switching gears to business stuff, Seth Godin has a great post about the current recession, and how we’re not going to pull out of it the same way we have in the past. (It’s short, and thought provoking. Don’t panic.)

Since I love teacher stories, this one about a silly seventh grader made me laugh.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got. Enjoy!

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