***OMGOSHJIMMYHAILER***

I have exciting news for you, friends.

Firstly, if you’ve hung around this blog for any time at all, you know that Australian author Melina Marchetta is my QUEEN. (See here, here, here.)

She is a master of characters, and my favorite crew of hers first appears in Saving Francesca: Frankie, Will, Siobhan, Justine, Tara, Tom, and Jimmy. After Saving Francesca, the crew reunites in The Piper’s Son, which is Tom’s story, set five years later. Everyone has been begging for years for Jimmy’s story.

Back in April 2013, in a Goodreads-sponsored discussion, Melina made my heart go BOOM when she teased:

Jimmy’s not going anywhere, but it’s just not his time yet. All I know about him is that he is the first of Frankie gang to start breeding (accidently).

In the four years since, she has posted on her blog about Jim from time to time. Earlier this month, she posted there was a forthcoming short story:

My short story is called When Rosie met Jim. It’s about a young woman who finds herself stranded in a Queensland town during a flood, where she meets a guy named Jim. (the title is quite literal, and yes, it’s him for those who know my previous work).

A couple days ago, she added this:

It will be a novel primarily about one house, four characters, five lives, and told through three points of view.

Jimmy is 23 years old in When Rosie met Jim.  In the novel, he’ll be about 25 because it takes place in Sydney about two years after the events of the short story. It’s not  YA, but regardless, I’m predictable. It’s a generational story and it’s character driven, relationship driven and pretty much about community, solace and the ties that bind. (and netball).

OH. AND THIS ALSO HAPPENED:

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Peeps, I read it last night, and it was everything I wanted it to be. More.

First, you don’t have to have read her other books in order to read this story. It’s brilliant even on its own, and of course, it has added meaning for fans who miss the Sydney crew.

Next, it works as a short story– yes, it is an excerpt (or something like it) from what will eventually be a full-length novel (PRAISE GOD), but it works on its own too as a short story. What I mean is that it’s got its own narrative arc; you won’t feel dissatisfied at the end (though you will feel so desperate for more).

Lastly, I don’t know how on earth she does it, but there is not one word extra in this, nor one word missing. It’s perfect and has the right amount of action and vulnerability to enamor you in so few pages. (Frankly, I re-read Marchetta’s books over and over, hoping that I will somehow take on her writing capabilities– and yet, every time, I’m reminded she is the master.) There is foreshadowing and the ideal amount of backstory to offer both grounding and intrigue. The characters are multi-dimensional, and … OMGOSH, I don’t know how to wait for the entire book. I guess if I survived the wait for Quintana, I will survive this too, right? Right?? (P.S. I bought the Australian edition of Quintana, since it came out 6 months before the American version. I am not excellent at patience.)

This issue of Review of Australian Fiction comes out tomorrow (er, um, maybe today actually, since Australia is ahead of the USA) and is available for only $2.99 at this link:

http://reviewofaustralianfiction.com/product/raf-152-volume-22-issue-6.

Go. Buy. Be delighted (readers) and envious (writers). While you’re at it, buy all her books. I promise you they are the best.

Love,
Jackie

Quick whatever-this-is: I want you to know this is not sponsored. I don’t get anything when you purchase this … except for the satisfaction of knowing I’ve introduced you to your new favorite author. Enjoy!

The Art of Avoidance

Goal:
Work on novel.

Instead:
A girl has gotta eat, right? Better make some lunch.

And you can’t write while you eat, so maybe just one episode of New Girl. Ok, two episodes.

Speaking of food, I need to get groceries. I should make a grocery list.

Man, I love lists. What else do I need to do this weekend?

I really need to dedicate time to brainstorming. Add that to the list. Brainstorm about marking, book research, and blog.

Wow, the blog. I should blog. Yes, and that will get me warmed up to work on the novel.

Book research. I should read those library books before they’re due.

And then take notes.

And then brainstorm over the notes.

Maybe I should actually write a little bit about what I learned from the library books. That’s still progress, right? Short assignments?

I just need to run to pick up my prescription, and then it will be time to write.

Except Target exhausts me. Just a tiny nap. A short one. Well, okay, an hour. Two hours.

Crap. I napped three hours. Now I feel like a bum. And I still haven’t written. I should write.

And I will. I just have to wake up a little bit. Let me just eat some dinner, and then I’ll attack the novel.

Chipotle was not a good choice. I can’t write with my stomach hurting like this. Plus I have a headache. I’ll take some Ibuprofen, drink some water, wait till I can focus. I can’t focus when I feel like crap. No way. No one would expect me to.

Know what? ENOUGH. I HAVE TO WRITE. Write for one hour.

Writes for three.

That felt good. Tomorrow I should start writing earlier.

Sleep.

Wake up and avoid all over again.

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Bird by Bird, Buddy

I’ve been actually scared of writing, fearful of my manuscript, avoiding it at all costs. Some days it’s hard for me to understand how this could have happened: that I have learned to fear that which I once loved.

But deep inside, I know that I still love writing. It is all the other things that have added fear into the mix: deadlines, critique, even– in some ways– being paid for it.

Again and again, I have had to return to the advice of writing guru Anne Lamott: bird by bird, short assignments, shitty first drafts.

Bird by Bird

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Short Assignments

“Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we’re going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunrise, or the young child swimming in the pool at the club, or the first time the man sees the woman he will marry. That is all we are going to do for now. We are just going to take this bird by bird. But we are going to finish this one short assignment.”

Shitty First Drafts

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”

And with that said– or remembered– I’m off to work on my novel. Think of me.

Love,
Jackie

P.S. If you haven’t read Bird by Bird, man, are you missing out: get it here.

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Lately

I am just so tired. No, that’s the wrong word. I am well rested. I guess I’m exhausted… emotionally, mentally.

Online dating is a really great way to feel like a piece of meat. I’ve heard from about 300 guys just since the start of the year, and it’s mostly made me sad.

Writing is such a beautiful thing, and it is usually life-giving to me, but lately, it’s been a battle just to open up my manuscript.

My friends are incredible… but going through some very hard things. I want to support them well, but that takes energy too. 

I have zero dollars. Please save me, tax return.

All in all, life is so good, so lovely and exciting and challenging. I’m just exhausted, that’s all. 

Psychiatrist on Monday morning. I need to see if any part of this is chemical. 

How are you, lovelies? What are your best suggestions for free/cheap self care?

Writing & Careers

It’s true that creative degrees usually get picked on, at least in my experience both as someone who studied creative writing AND as a college recruiter who interacts daily with college-bound students and their parents.

Creative writing– what are you gonna do with that?
You’re a theatre major? So, like, a future homeless person?
You study art … because you want to starve?

It’s annoying at best. At its worst, it usually looks like a parent insisting their artistic student choose a “safer” major– like business.

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I have so many thoughts here.

  1. Many jobs simply require that a candidate has a bachelor’s degree, doesn’t matter what it’s in. Honestly, humanities-type majors help students learn how to think critically, which is something every employer wants. Many of the arts degrees teach students how to become incredible communicators– again, a highly regarded skill.

  2. Some jobs (like mine!) don’t even align with a particular degree, just a certain skill set. To be a recruiter at my university, you need to be a strong communicator, have great people skills, and love higher education. My colleagues have degrees in a wide variety of areas: communications, biology, youth and family studies, music, psychology, exercise science. My supervisor was a PR major; his supervisor studied business.


  3. It’s important for young artists to remember that their artistic goals will take years to accomplish. In general, most young writers don’t get a book deal with a Big Five publisher the summer after college graduation. There’s so much work to be done: a continual honing of one’s skills, reading all the books you wanted to read during college (ha!), coming up with a great idea, writing the actual book, most likely not selling that book, starting over again … in the meantime, you will still be employable.


  4. When I talk to senior English majors at my university, I ask them what their ultimate dream is. If their dream is to publish, then I tell them, Make sure you are writing. Here’s what I mean: many writing graduates pursue highly creative careers. There’s nothing wrong with this in and of itself– but most of us have a limit to our daily creative output. If you work a very creative job, will you be willing to go home and write all evening too? I tell them to go ahead and take that creative job if they want, but every couple months, they need to ask themselves, Am I still writing? If not, then something needs to change.


  5. I think, for college graduates, there is a certain pride that comes along with “working in the field.” They are more eager to say that they are doing copy editing or freelancing or writing for an organization than to say that they got a job as a bank teller or … well, a college recruiter. But the two things you need to ask yourself are these: 1) Does it pay the bills and cover your loan payment? and 2) Do I still have enough creative energy for my personal artistic projects? If so, then you are on the right road. If being a Starbucks barista pays the bills and leaves you with enough creative energy to go home and work on your novel, then you are doing it. If working at a publishing house pays the bills and is in your field, but when you go home, you have nothing left to offer on the altar of creativity, then you need to make changes.

Operation: Adulting, Part Two

Well, folks, I keep moving forward in my efforts to get my crap together for/in 2017. In addition to creating a budget and subscribing to all my recurring expenses (which you can read about here):

  1. I created a custom planner with Wrights Notes. Mine has my own personal weekly to-do list on the left page of each spread and a weekly calendar on the right. I freaking love lists.
  2. I’ve been cooking for myself. Mostly eggs.
  3. I ordered a bunch of stuff to organize my closet, in the hopes that this will help me to keep my room in better order. I’m kind of excited.
  4. I returned to my therapist for the first time in maybe nine months. It was so good to go over everything that’s happened since I’d been there and see how much I’d grown.

Good news.

Got an email from my editor last weekend.

Subject: just finished

Body: your beautiful book.
Wow. Just wow.
You did all that?
How???
Totally incredible.
I wish I could zap you a big bouquet of flowers and a chandelier.

I can’t tell you what a relief this is. With my editor on board with this novel, I feel like I can tackle any revisions.

In fact, she sent me a list of questions to be considering as we move forward with revising/restructuring this thing. This week has been so busy that I haven’t had a moment to think on it, but tomorrow and Sunday I hope to spend thinking, praying, and journaling in search of my next steps. Think of me.

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Operation: Adulting

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I turn 35 in January. I need to get my crap together.

I’m developing a plan.

So far:

1. I created a budget. I used mint.com. It’s free and quite brilliant actually. It takes a little bit to set things up, but once you’ve linked up all your accounts, it’s smooth like butter. I was pretty darn thorough– and I was also pretty reasonable with myself, knowing my spending habits.

2. I subscribed to nearly ALL of my recurring expenses. If you use target.com, you 1) get free shipping, 2) get 5% off, 3) set how often you want your items to ship, and 4) avoid the store. For me, avoiding the store is a three-way win: I hate stores, I don’t give myself the opportunity to impulse buy, and I save time, which is honestly a more precious commodity to me than even the money.

I created a fancy little spreadsheet, figured out all the costs, and for all of 2017, I will spend only $895.36 on contact solution, toothbrushes, toothpaste, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, dry shampoo (for the win!!), toilet paper, feminine products, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, makeup remover, deodorant [all from Target] plus three different vitamins [via The Vitamin Shoppe] plus two just-for-fun subscriptions. FOR A YEAR. (This is good for me– maybe some of you are laughing at me right now! I honestly don’t know what is a “normal” cost because I’m soooo bad with my spending.) Oh, and I get my razors through Dollar Shave Club (Interested? Sign up AT THIS LINK and I get credits!)

By the way, this hasn’t been an all-at-once thing for me. I’ve been moving into the world of online subscriptions for a few years now. It’s incredible.

3. I’m TRYING to take the time to cook … and to think ahead so that I have a plan for WHAT to cook … and get the appropriate groceries for it (which– shocker– I also order online).

4. I’m figuring out how often I need to go to the chiropractor and therapist in order to stay healthy.

5. I’m developing plans for reading, writing, and exercise.

6. For the first time in my adult life, even books are included in my budget.

7. I think I need a mentor.

8. Online dating. (For now just online window shopping.)

9. More to come.

Did you like how this list when from ULTRA-DETAILED to totally vague?

IT’LL COME.

Tomorrow is December 1st, which gives me one month till the new year starts.

My roommate always gives each new year a name– The Year of the Lady, The Year of Saying Yes, The Year of Living Simply.

What should I name 2017 for me? Ideas?

 

 

Life Indeed

Honestly, I’ve been heartbroken since the election, and when I try to blog, anything I say feels a little trivial in comparison to what this country is facing. But I trust in a God who personifies love and grace, truth and justice. That is not lip service. That is not a platitude. I really do trust him, or at least I am trying.

And so, while I will continue to fight for the underdog, today I’m not going to write about the election. I need to hammer out a few posts while letting the outcry for justice stir in my heart before I figure out how to put it onto my blog. I’m not sure if that makes sense to anyone but me. Just know that it is never far from my thoughts, even if I do not write about it for a little while.

Instead, an update on my life (for you sweet readers who care enough to wonder!):

Salt Novel

I turned in my draft about two weeks ago. It feels so good to have it out of my hands for a little while. I know it’s not there yet, but it is improving the way drafts do: slowly, and then all at once.

(Okay, couldn’t resist the TFIOS jab there.)

Of course, it’s not like I can just “turn it off” after spending 10.5 months in that world. I am still thinking of my characters, and I’m especially working on brainstorming titles. Titles are HARD, y’all. Makes me feel for the poets and songwriters who have to title each piece and not just the collection.

What are some of your all-time favorite book, poem, or song titles?

Reading

Right now, I’m about halfway through Illusion by Martina Boone. It’s the third book of the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy. I’ve also started or am starting a few books of poetry: Yes Thorn by Amy Munson, who teaches at my university; Ultra-Cabin by Kimberly Lambright, a friend from undergrad; and The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins, always a delight. I’ve purchased a small truckload of YA novels, but I still need to get myself back into reading mode after being in full-on writing mode.

How about you? What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

Winter

I’m never ready for it. Snowed in Minnesota this weekend, and it’s snowing now. My book event for tonight (up north) was cancelled (my choice), and I’m fighting those winter blues, where all I want is to be in bed.

Do you like winter? Tell me why. I need to hear positive thoughts about it.

Anniversary

On this day in 2013, I had my first conversation with my editor at Harper and first announced my book deal on my social media. And then promptly had my first panic/anxiety attack that wasn’t OCD-related. So I think back on this day with mixed feelings. But OH how I have grown in the last three years. So much growth, so much healing. It’s maybe ironic that this morning I reached out to my therapist, not even because I’m in a bad place. I just felt prompted to contact her last night while I was praying. We’re gonna meet up next month and chat. I’m delighted.

Hope you are all well! I’m hoping to post a lot more frequently in the coming weeks. I miss hearing from you. Drop me a comment please. It helps to know you’re still there.

Love Your Work and … It’s Still Work

“Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Lovely sentiment. But it’s a lie.

If you love what you do for work, it sure makes it more meaningful and enjoyable … but it doesn’t change that it is still work.

This is as true in art as it is in any field.

I am so overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to write, and that I even get paid to do it. And I know some people will negate what I say next by claiming writing is privileged work. Maybe it is. I don’t know. Maybe it is just for some people and not for others. I certainly don’t mean to whine or complain.

I merely want to say that art is hard work. So hard. Harder than any job I’ve ever had, scarier than any job I’ve ever had, emotionally draining unlike any other relationship in my life. Sometimes it feels impossible. Sometimes it feels like it might kill me. Art has sent me into therapy, required medication. Nothing in my world has thrown more resistance at me than art, my own art.

I’ve just needed to toss these thoughts out into the universe for a little while, and so now, tonight, I am. Thanks for listening. Thanks for trying to understand, even if it sounds silly to you. Now, tell me about you. What part of your life throws the most resistance at you, friend?

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So, you want to be a writer?

I got these great questions from a reader/Twitter pal/friend for her school project, and I thought people might have some interest in reading the responses. Just in case, I’m pasting them below!

1. What do you like most about your job and why?

Hearing from readers who were impacted by what I’ve written is always a highlight. It’s one of the main reasons why I write– in the hope that my stories will resonate with readers and make them think. It’s also fun when you get into a great writing groove and hours fly by like seconds. It’s so satisfying to enjoy what you’ve written.

2. What do you like least about your job and why? (Maybe revising? 😛 It’s not very fun!)

The middle part of writing a novel is probably the hardest part. The beginning is fun because you’re charging toward an idea, and the final touches are great too because you’re perfecting everything. But when you’re in the middle, it’s too early to see the finish line– plus, you’re too far past the starting line to easily change course. I can get a little crazy and sad during the middle of writing a novel– for me this is usually drafts two and three.

3. How did you decide to get into the writing field and how did you enter the field? What alternative ways could someone enter the writing field?

I’ve been a storyteller since I could speak and a writer since I learned my letters. I wrote all through junior high and high school, then studied writing in college.

There is no specific requirement to being a writer except to write well. Some people can do that without extensive training. For me, I studied creative writing as an undergraduate student, where I focused mostly on poetry. After college, I took a little break from writing before diving in to writing my first (unpublished) novel. The vast majority of stories about how people got published are the same: write a great book, write a great query letter, secure an agent, and let the agent secure a book deal. I have writer friends who never finished high school, and I have writer friends who have an MFA in writing, so there’s a wide range. It’s critical to spend lots of time reading incredible literature; this is an education in itself!

4. What training would you recommend for someone who wanted to enter this field now? What skills and background are needed to get into this field now?

As I mentioned above, there is no specific education necessary, although many find a college degree in writing very helpful (at least I did!). It helps to be an avid reader and someone with a great imagination. The writers I know are fascinating people who are usually fascinated by the world.

5. What is the salary range for a person in this field? Entry level to top salary? (I know that’s kind of a funky question, particularly for authors!)

When an author gets published traditionally, he or she is given an advance, which is a sum of money paid to the writer from the publisher upfront. The author then tries to “earn out the advance” in royalty sales; after earning out, all the royalties (minus the literary agent’s cut) go to the writer. Advances have an incredible range. One author might get a $5000 advance. One might get $2 million.

6. What personal qualities do you feel are most important in your work and why?

Since I identified as a poet before identifying as a young adult author, it’s really important to me to have great imagery and strong diction in my stories. Characters are of the utmost importance to me, as they are for many or most writers. I find that writers who write contemporary stories sometimes especially rely on characters, since our books have to build their own “magic,” as opposed to, say, a fantasy novel which might have “real” magic in it. Not to discount characterization for ANY writer. It is, in my opinion, the most important part of any great story.

The other things that I like in books (and try to include in mine) are opportunities to learn and encouragement to think.

7. What are the tasks you do in a typical workday? Would you describe them?

I work a day job (as most young writers do) from 8 to 4:30; then I go home, eat dinner and relax a little bit before I retreat into my home office to write. Some days this looks like generating material; some days this looks like revision; some days this is research; some days this is plotting. There are so many parts of writing a book that are not actually writing. Research takes up a lot of my time. My current work in progress takes place on an island; I spent a whole evening researching boats in the Pacific Northwest just so that I could write one convincing paragraph! But it’s worth it. Details matter! I will usually write from about 7-9 pm, although if things are going well, I will keep working till 10, 11, or midnight. I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep or else I screw everything else up. I also keep a process journal while I write too, in which I brainstorm, sketch ideas, plot, and the like.

8. What types of stress do you experience on the job?

EVERY KIND OF STRESS. Will my agent like this? Will my editor like this? Do I like this? Will it sell? Will I make money? Will I earn out my advance? How do I make sure this character changes enough by the end of the book? Will this story matter to people? AM I A FRAUD??

Plus, there’s a fair amount of public speaking, but I don’t mind that. I know a lot of people do though!!

9. What types of people survive and do well in the writing field?

People who persist. I’m not even joking. Many of the writers you know and love and whose books are on your shelves often wrote another book or two that didn’t get published before one finally did. It’s hard to pour yourself into a project for four or five years, only to have it not get an agent … then to turn around and just start a new project. Writers hear a lot of NOs before that one YES changes things.

This also applies to the writing itself. I use the phrase “show up,” and by that, I mean the actual hours of work put into a project. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by a project the size of a novel, and sometimes that fear is crippling. But showing up every day– putting in an hour or two or five of real work– keeps you moving toward your goal. You have to show up and persist in order to succeed at writing.

10. Are resumes important in getting a job? (or I guess query letters? :P)

The query letter is the key to getting a literary agent, and the literary agent is the key to getting a book deal. Query letters are, for novelists, a whole different type of writing. You spend years with a creative hat on, then need to put on a business/marketing hat to write the letter. A good query will only go so far though– the manuscript has to also be solid!

11. What are the opportunities for promotion? (another weird question for a writer, but it was in the book)

This looks different for different writers. “Moving up” might mean selling more books– or getting a higher advance– or going on a book tour– or having your book be optioned for a movie. Every writer has their own idea of personal success. Making the New York Times bestseller list. Getting starred reviews. Being a keynote speaker at a conference. It all depends.

12. Is the field of writing expanding or taking new directions?

I see writers taking tremendous creative risks lately, and I love it. Plus, there is the whole avenue of self-publishing, which is open to anyone now with things like Kindle Direct Publishing. Trends are constantly changing in the world of novels– best not to hop on trends: they will be long over before your book makes it to print.

13. What related occupations could I research?

Being a literary agent or an editor (for a publishing house or freelance. Copyediting. Public relations. Creative writing instructor. On the other side of the spectrum, technical writing. As I mentioned, most new writers work a “day job” in addition to their writing. If you have a degree in English, you have a lot of options you can go; such a degree teaches you to communicate well and think critically, and every employer wants that!

14. Is there anything else about being a writer that would be helpful for me to know?

It is a roller coaster of emotions. It can be a tough field for perfectionists or people who have anxiety. (But not impossible— I have both!) It’s tremendously rewarding. You spend a lot of time alone, more than you might guess. You have to be okay with things being icky and uncertain for long periods of time– but draft after draft after draft, it all comes together.