Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When Internet posts come back to bite you in the ass

First off, I did a guest post over at Paper Mountain, where blogger Brooke asked me to write about being a young author. Hop on over if you're interested.

Today, I'm going to talk about the Internet and what's appropriate to post in a public forum. This is a very subjective topic; what's appropriate to one agent or editor might offend another, and as a teenager with lots of teenaged friends I'm not necessarily used to censoring myself. A few months ago, my agent told me to go through all my blog posts, tweets, etc, just to make sure I hadn't posted anything that could possibly alienate an editor. Bad book reviews fall into this category....I know many of us love reviewing, but if an editor navigates to your page and the first thing they see is a one-star review for a book they acquired, you're not going to make a good first impression. With me, this isn't an issue. I only ever post reviews for books that I love. But what about swearing? Information that might be too personal? And how does Facebook fit into the mix? My Facebook started out as a place where I connected with school friends, but it has grown to include other YA writers, agents, and book sellers. It's still set to private (so only friends can view my profile), but my business and social lives have begun to mix.

But first, an anecdote. Last year I won Utah's Sterling Scholar award for accomplishments in English, earning a full-ride scholarship to the University of Utah as well as $2,000 cash. Three other kids from my high school won in their respective categories (Math, Science, and Trade and Technical Education). We went out for ice cream afterwards, and ended up joking about taking a road trip to Vegas and blowing all our winnings. I tweeted about it (I was new to Twitter at the time, with only a few followers who were close friends). The next morning, when I woke up, a woman had tweeted multiple times about "English Sterling Scholar wasting winnings on Vegas trip, implicating four other winners in the process, English Sterling Scholar possibly condoning alcohol consumption for underage minors..."

Needless to say, I was mortified. Anyone who knows me (or Raiyan or Delian or Chris, for that matter) knows that I'm not about to go spend $2,000 on alcohol in Vegas. To win a Sterling Scholar award, you have to have pretty impeccable grades (Raiyan and Delian were actually our two valedictorians), and good grades indicate we have at least some measure of self control. To me, the joke seemed obvious. But to this woman, who I'd never met in my life, such a joke was quite offensive.

I pulled the tweet and apologized for offending her. At the time I thought it was rather silly, but Internet fights are never productive, so I let it go. Looking back, this illustrates one of the core issues with posting on the Internet: it's very easy to misinterpret what someone means. Sarcasm and humor often don't translate well into the written word. Without important body language/vocal cues, you don't get the whole picture.

I try to keep things professional on this blog. I talk about writing, for the most part, and when I do share a personal story it's a story I don't mind other people reading. Facebook is where things get tricky, because it's where I "hang out" with my friends, and there's a different set of social rules that govern my behavior around college kids than rules for a professional setting. For instance, my photos. Obviously I don't have anything risque or illegal on there, but what about summer pictures where my friends and I are wearing bikinis? Perfectly appropriate for a normal person's Facebook, but if I decide to use it as a platform to connect with readers, I'll probably have to go through and delete a few.

I suppose it's a moot point right now, since I'm not actually a real author. But if/when I do get published, there are decisions I'll have to make, such as whether or not to make my social networking profiles open to the public. My Facebook is currently semi-private. I only add people I recognize, but those people include writing industry professionals, so I try to censor what I say and the opinions I express. Even with the private setting, I've become more and more aware of what I post. A swearword here or there is fine. But am I going to rant about something like I might've in high school? Probably not.

My point is, when it comes to the Internet, always err on the side of caution. It's easy to misinterpret someone's intentions online, and one misread post can have lasting repercussions on your career.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Experiencing cultures for your writing

One of my recent novels is set in a world reminiscent of historical India. India is one of my favorite countries, and when it comes to writing I find it's important to experience the culture firsthand as much as possible. Obviously, I don't have the money to fly to India whenever I want. So this past weekend, when the Hindu temple in Spanish Fork held its annual Festival of Colors, I decided to attend.
The Festival of Colors, or Holi, is a Hindu holiday that celebrates the triumph of light over darkness and the arrival of spring. It focuses specifically on the god Krishna. In Hindu mythology, a young boy named Prahlada escaped the witch Holika by reciting a prayer, and thus Holika burned to death. During the Festival of Colors, people throw colored, scented powder at one another, listen to traditional music, and dance around bonfires at night. In Spanish Fork, they hold hourly throwings during which the 50,000+ attendees all toss powder into the air. It's an amazing sight - you can watch a video here.

The Spanish Fork Festival of Colors is the largest Holi celebration in the Western Hemisphere. It's also the largest Holi celebration outside predominantly-Hindu countries. It really was an awesome experience, and I got plenty dirty, as you can see in the picture below:

Me and Chris

For those of you who are writing about a culture that's not your own, my suggestion is to find events like this. Look for ways to immerse yourself in that culture. You may not be able to travel outside of the US, but many minority religious/cultural groups hold ceremonies, events, or festivals that are open to the public. Such firsthand experiences will bring authenticity to your writing.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Critique partners and a contest

Blogger spell check is telling me that I spelled "partners" wrong. Am I going crazy? That's how you spell it, right?

Anyways, a couple days ago I did a post about appreciating non-rejections, and how much I love getting emails that don't contain rejections. And so my wonderful CP Celesta sent me this:

Dear Ms. Coursey,
Thank you for sending us your manuscript, SAFFY COURSEY: THE SECRET LIFE OF SAFFRON THE CAT, for our consideration. We found the narrative brilliant and engaging. The untold story of the feline crusader against superstitions linking cats to witchcraft in India is perfect for our list. We have contacted your agent with our offer which includes an unlimited advertising budget and a six month book tour with all expenses paid to accomodate Saffy. Should you accept, we at Big Boy New York Publishing House plan to make SAFFY our lead title for summer 2013.
Best Wishes,
Editor Who Wants To Make All Your Dreams Come True

(Saffy, short for Saffron, is the name of my cat.)

Needless to say, I'm ecstatic that Big Boy New York Publishing has decided to accept my manuscript. Don't y'all wish you had critique partners like this? (I'm not bragging. Okay, maybe a little.)

Last week I attended Bree Despain's launch party for THE SAVAGE GRACE, the third book in The Dark Divine trilogy. In honor of Bree's launch, I've decided to give away a signed copy of THE DARK DIVINE. It really is a great read (and I'm not even a big fan of paranormal romance). Plus, I kinda suck at hosting contests, so there probably won't be very many entries, giving you a high chance of winning! (Haha. That last sentence is just pathetic.)

Rules for the contest:

+2 for following
+1 for commenting on this post (with email, please)
+2 for tweeting/blogging/facebooking
+1 for adding up all your points and posting that number along with your comment

Yay! Hope everyone's having a fantabulous Wednesday.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Appreciating the non-rejection

Rule #1 to being an author: rejection is a given (unless of course you're Alane Ferguson). We writers love to quote the rejection statistics for famous writers, because it makes us feel slightly better about our own rejections. Hey, if JK Rowling can get turned down by almost every publisher in England and then go on to produce the highest-selling series of all time, why can't we?

And for me personally, most of those rejections arrive by way of email. So I have come to appreciate emails that don't contain rejections. It's rather interesting; while spam used to annoy the hell out of me, during the querying process I would open my inbox, see the junk mail, and breathe an enormous sigh of relief. It can be a sales pitch, or an advertisement, or one of those fake ZOMG YOU'VE BEEN SELECTED TO WIN A GAJILLION DOLLARS emails. Hell, it can be a freaking virus as long as it's not a rejection.

I write this post in a rather lame attempt to find something positive about being rejected over and over. I'm more confidant and outgoing than many writers, but still, constant rejection is a blow to the self-esteem, especially because writers tend to overanalyze the responses of agents/editors:


Dear Ms. Coursey,

You are a very talented writer and I thank you for the opportunity to consider MY BOYFRIEND IS A CRAZY STALKER NOOOOOOOOO. While the manuscript shows promise, it isn't right for my list at this time. I have no doubt you will find an agent to represent this.

Dream Agent

What I read:

Dear Ms. Coursey,

I'm supposed to say all these nice things because I don't want to piss you off and provoke a call/email response/visit to our office, but I cannot lie anymore: you suck. Your writing sucks, your characters suck, your plot sucks, and that dress you're wearing is ugly as hell. Go back to being a normal high school student and stop invading our perfect literary bubble with your pulpy prose.

Dream Agent

It's not that writers can't read (haha, that would be unfortunate). But our minds twist a rejection into something it's not. We twist it into a commentary on ourselves, our abilities, and our potential futures as authors.

So what's the one good part about getting a rejection? You learn to appreciate the non-rejections. I swear, nobody but a writer could ever get excited about an email selling toilet cleanser, or high-powered vacuum cleaners, or penis enlargement pills (seriously, am I the only person who gets about a million of these?). Today, I invite you all to celebrate the non-rejections. Let's be grateful for those glorious emails that do not even mention the word "pass".

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I am in love....

....with lit agent blogger Miss Snark. Seriously, she is fan-freakin'-tastic! I know I'm about five years too late, since she retired in 2007, but to be quite fair I was an elementary/middle schooler during Miss Snark's heyday and thus didn't spend much time on writing blogs.

But her posts are still there, all 4,107 of them (impressive, I know). Snarkiness and nitwittery and clueguns abound. So if you're having a bad day, go read through some of the archived posts (there are labels on the righthand side of the favorites so far are NO NO NO, Nitwittery abounds, and all crapometer related posts). You're sure to get a laugh or two, and who knows? You might even learn something.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Research can be fun!

As all y'all probably know, I write a fair amount of historical fantasy. This means research. Lots and lots of research. It can be a hassle at times (for instance, writing a banquet scene set in 1631 Ireland takes forever, because you have to look up utensils, table arrangements, attire, common foods, dining traditions, etc), but in the end it's necessary in order to give your book the proper atmosphere. My current WIP is set in modern-day Cairo. The main character is American (which makes it a lot easier) and research takes less time, since there's considerably more information out there about modern Cairo than 17th century Ireland.

To make a long story short, I really wanted to have a sense of the Arabic alphabet, since the story takes place in Cairo's Islamic district. My main characters speak English for most of the book, but I had them wearing Arabic name tags and I found myself wondering what their names looked like. So I started researching. When I wrote LIKE CLOCKWORK, which is set in a fantasy world reminiscent of India, I resolved to take Hindi lessons in college partly so I would be able to write in the sanskrit alphabet. Turns out, learning alphabets is a lot of fun. It makes me feel all cultured and sophisticated (hahahahahaha) and it's a great way to get a better sense of a culture. There's something about the aesthetics, the way writing appears on a page, that really helps me immerse myself (as much as possible) in the culture I'm exploring.

Research can be fun. Sure, my study of Arabic letters probably won't make a huge impact on my WIP, but now I can make references to Arabic diacritics and sanskrit matras and such. Little details can make a big difference, and if you can find a way to have fun with your research then that funness (totally not a word, but whatever) will show. Readers will be fascinated because you are fascinated.

So just for fun, I wrote out all my critique partners' names in both sanskrit and Arabic. I think Celesta's is prettiest (in Arabic, at least), but they all look cool, and I had a blast figuring out the letters!

Yayyyyy for semi-useless posts. Do you guys enjoy research? Have any tips for making it fun?

Friday, March 2, 2012

21 Minus Blog Tour/Giveaway!

The 21 Minus blog tour is the brainchild of Anna Waggener, 2012 debut novelist and fellow PUSH Novel Contest Winner. It brings together authors under the age of 21 in a series of interviews. Today I have the privilege of interviewing Laura, a tremendously talented college student who is currently working towards publication. Once you're done reading the interview, hop on over to Laura's blog, where she's interviewing yet another teen author. If you follow the links in a big circle (there are around 10 of us) and collect all the one-word responses to the final question ("Describe your WIP in one word"), you'll be entered to win all sorts of awesome prizes, as listed below. You also get extra entries for tweeting/blogging/otherwise promoting the 21 Minus blog tour. To learn more, check out Anna's blog. This really is a great opportunity to get to know some awesome teen writers as well as win free stuff (and let's face it, who doesn't love free stuff?).


One winner will receive a signed, personalized copy of Anna's debut novel GRIM.

One winner will receive a bag of coffee, donated by Laura.

One winner will receive a ten page critique through Teen Eyes, from yours truly :).

And the grand prize winner will get to choose FIVE books from the following list:

BORDER CROSSING by Jessica Lee Anderson

CINDER by Marissa Meyer

DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth


GIRL MEETS BOY edited by Kelly Milner Halls


GRACELING by Kristin Cashore

LIAR by Justine Larbalestier

THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater

SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson

SPLIT by Swati Avasthi

THE THIEF by Megan Whalen Turner


WILDFIRE by Karsten Knight

WITHER by Lauren DeStefano

Pretty awesome if you ask me. I know I'll be hopping around the blogosphere today. So without further ado, here's my interview with Laura! I'm so glad to have her, especially considering her answers are way more awesome than my questions (who knew coming up with interview questions could be so hard?).

1. As a college student, how do you balance writing with schoolwork? Do you have any time management tips?

How do I balance writing with schoolwork? Well, the unfortunate truth is that I often don't. I have a high courseload that, while it hasn't been too heavy on homework, involves lots of reading, time-consuming back-to-back classes, and a lot of work and events outside of class. However, I do have several time management strategies that I try to use. You get to plan your own schedule in college, so I made sure to pick classes that fit my normal rhythm. I am a night owl, not a morning person, and since my earliest class is at 10am I can afford to stay up late writing. Another tip is to plan the weekend wisely. Saturdays are my "lazy days," and I often go to the library or, if I have money that week, to the coffee shop to write. Other than that, I would advise to work on your book mentally even while you aren't writing. Some of my best ideas have come from daydreaming.

2. Your ambition is to be a published author. What’s your favorite genre to write in? Have you completed any novels, and if so, how many?

Fantasy!!! Haha, it's the most fun genre to write in because you get to make up or change entire worlds. "Why is it like that?" "Because it's magic!" Of course, you want to keep it believable and not contrived -- but that's the challenge, isn't it? I like that balance between real and unreal, the suspension of disbelief. Of course, fantasy is not the only genre I write in, and novels aren't the only form. I write a lot of poetry, and am finding more and more that I quite enjoy writing nonfiction, essays, and opinion pieces.
I have not completed any novels...yet. I'm working on it steadily, though. Part of the reason neither main WIP is complete is because I am such a perfectionist. I write and then stop to edit, which is a terrible habit to get into because it interferes with continuity.

3. What are some of your favorite YA books? Why?

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (science fiction) might just be my favorite young adult book of all time. I would have to wax elegant and spoil the plot to tell you why, though.
I also love The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix; Sabriel is one I immediately recommend when asked "Do you know any good YA?" It's young adult dark fantasy, and I like it because the world is so intricate and well-constructed. The trilogy also pushes the envelope for what people think YA readers can handle. Quite apart from being borderline horror that might shock your mother, it also has complex themes and some abstract ideas and concepts.

A more recent book that I greatly enjoyed was Fury by Elizabeth Miles. I loved that it was about the Greek Furies interfering in modern people's lives -- a refreshing break from demigods and vampires. Since it's about people being punished by the Furies for their sins, the main characters aren't exactly likeable, yet they are compelling and realistic. Despite their bad qualities, I cared very much about what would happen to them.
Some good books that I've read lately are Before I Fall (contemporary) and Ms. Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children (horror/paranormal/fantasy).

4. If you could have lunch with any author, who would it be and why?

I have to choose one?! If I'm limited to living authors, I'd say Stephen King. I would reference Misery in creepy ways. ;) Oh no wait, I'd rather eat with George R.R. Martin so that I could obsess about his books and demand to know whether a certain character *cough*JonSnow*cough* is actually dead or if he will be coming back as a zombie or what. (Yes, I am a complete geek for Game of Thrones. Are you surprised?)
Or maybe I'd rather just have lunch with Nancy Farmer, because she seems like a normal, balanced person and I'd like to talk about how her upbringing in the Southwest influenced her work.

5. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

This is going to sound awful, but I've always been very good at lying to people. It's probably why I'm an actor. For instance, I once convinced my brother that he was adopted from aliens, and that the word "catatonic" meant a tonic made out of cats. If you think about it, writing and acting are ways to tell the truth via a lie. I've always enjoyed doing that, but I had a "Eureka!" moment in eighth grade when I realized that I didn't want to have to stop writing after I was finished with school. That was when I officially decided to be a writer.

6. Do you have any advice for younger teen (or any age, really) writers who are just starting out?

Believe in your writing. Believe that what you have to say or write is worth reading, and worth writing. It is so easy to let others' opinions influence you, or to get overwrought with worry about what people will say or think about your writing. You'll hear a lot of people say that "amateurs write for themselves," but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The act of writing is an act of communication, after all, so perhaps these "amateurs" are simply truer to themselves. Writing is all about you, after all. Finish the novel before you start worrying about readership, the market, and whether your mom will like it. Be...well, be a little more amateur in that regard.
Also, write every day. You're young and will be developing a voice. The only way to develop a voice is to write until you settle into it. Having a blog (and posting regularly) is a great way to do this.

7. If you had to describe your latest WIP in one word, what would it be?

Personal. Apart from the sorcery, I shamelessly based many things in this one on myself -- right down to the names of my exes. ;)

Thanks for coming, Laura! And thanks to Anna for arranging the blog tour. If you have time, stop by the other interviews and check out the prizes!