Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Art of Dilly-Dallying: aka What I'm Doing when I Should be Writing

Someone asked me the other day what's going on with me and my book. Well, let me tell you.

I'm waiting for copyedits, but basically book 1 is done. (And I'll share a secret: I've seen a rough draft of the cover. It. Is. Awesome.)

What I should be doing is writing book 2. Instead, I'm dilly-dallying. (As a side note, if your name is Michael, you can totally stop reading here. Nothing to see. Just know I'm working.)

What does dilly-dallying involve, you ask?

Let me tell you.

I've been remodeling my study:
Oh, the shiny pretty.

After I put it together yesterday, I sat there for two hours just staring. And staring. Don't worry. No actual writing got accomplished.

Also, I've been dealing with Kid B's obsession with Yoshi. Are you familiar with Yoshi? Here's a little introduction: He's the green little dinosaur in the Mario World. 

Hi Kid B! Will you be my best friend?

He also comes in yellow, Kid B's favorite color. Yellow Yoshi made the trip to Disneyland.

His obsession spills over into every aspect of my own life, particularly when it comes to my iPhone. If I leave it unattended for even a few seconds, I will return to find every app has been erased, and the ones that haven't are in a new file:
Check out the upper right corner. Yep, it's a Yoshi folder.

Can I tell you how frustrating it is to have my Angry Birds app wiped clean about once every other day? And to have to start all over with those stupid red birds? What am I, an amateur? I'm so much better than those red birds!


It takes a lot of time. Thankfully I have a nice quiet study in which to work. On my Angry Birds.


Kid C is sort of obsessed with Kahn Academy. It's an awesome website where this guy put together a bunch of videos to help his niece with math. He now provides the videos for free, with funding from Bill Gates.


Kid C decided he wanted in on that action. He's made his own series of educational videos, starting with this one- Kid C teaches Addition. I especially love his reasoning for why 4+7=11 at around minute 1.



Not to be outdone by his big brother, Kid B decided he had a few things to teach as well. And guess what he decided to teach?






So, yeah, I've been busy. But I hope you've learned something by watching these educational videos. Do you know how much time it takes to dilly-dally? Especially when it's a full time job?


What do y'all do to dilly-dally? 


p.s. I'm going to see Carrie Ryan (author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth series) at the Jordan Landing Barnes & Noble tonight. If you're going too, be sure to track me down and say hi!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Prepare to be Walloped by a 2x4 made of Sunshine, whether it's cancer or publishing

Thanks y'all for voting in our Barry Manilow cover band naming contest.

And the winner is:

THE BARELY MANILOWS

Stay tuned for our debut...

On to the post.

Every time we take my dad to visit a new doctor, we listen patiently to the spiel. We are quiet as he or she reiterates what a formidable foe cancer is. And then my mom opens her mouth, and I think to myself, I hope this doctor knows what he's in for. He's about to be whacked up the side of the head with a buttload of optimism. 

She will take whatever abysmal numbers they throw at her, and twist them around to suit her outlook.
Odds are 100:1 against us? "Fabulous," she says. "That means one person, somewhere out there, is beating the odds. Why not Dad?"

This attitude infiltrates every aspect of his treatment.

Yes, the chemotherapy causes my dad's hands and feet to swell and blister. Some serious ouch. 
His hands, twice their usual size
 But how my mom sees it is, "If it's doing that to your hands, imagine what it's doing to the tumors! This is so good."

Every break from chemo means my dad's hands will shed their outer skin, revealing the super-sensitive skin below.
Mom: "Isn't that new pink skin underneath gorgeous? It's like baby skin!"

She says this as she tirelessly and delicately massages his hands and feet. She knows how much it hurts.

As for the fact that he could only survive Disneyland in a wheelchair? 

Mom: "It's only temporary, and can you believe we get to use the wheelchair line? This is so good!"

Sometimes I get the sense that her optimism scares people. We hear whispers of "Doesn't she get what's going on? Is she unclear of the concept of Pancreatic Cancer?"

 I can tell you, without a doubt, she's totally clear on the concept. She just expects the best, and plans accordingly. And I've seen her expectations defy science, and fly in the face of those pesky numbers known as "The Odds".

For instance, my dad's chemo regimen knocks out his white blood cells, the things that fight infection. If his white count is below 1.5 he can't get a full dose. At 1, he might not even get any, because the danger of infection is too great.

After my dad's break from his first round of chemo, he knew he was still weak, and he was sure his numbers hadn't recovered enough. On the drive to the hospital, my mom repeated, "You're getting infused today. Get ready."

They tested his blood, and it was at 1.0. Borderline. They agreed to give him 80% infusion. Because this was only the beginning of his second round, the doctors thought there was no way his counts would recover for his next treatment, as he would have no break.

The next week, they made the drive to the hospital, and my dad was sure he wouldn't get the infusion. My mom said, "Get ready. You're getting infused."

My mom called me for support, and I was all, "Oh yeah, I'm with you. He's totally getting infused." But inside I was thinking, "There's no way he's getting infused."

They get to the hospital, draw his blood, and wait. The numbers come back. 1.9. 

There's no explanation. Those numbers didn't make sense. He got the full infusion.

And after Disneyland and Palm Springs, the sheer energy of the trip - and the fact that each infusion should have an exponentially detrimental effect on his white count - should've led to even worse numbers.  Plus, he was pretty sure he had a low-grade fever that morning.

They drive to the hospital. My mom says, "Get ready. You're getting infused."

His counts come back. 4.8. What the what?

How does this relate to publishing? You can probably guess, but I'm going to explain it anyway. 

Every person who's been published defied the odds. Every. Single. One.

And along the way, I bet every single author knew someone out there was saying, "Are you crazy? Don't you understand the odds?"

I'm sure most of you have heard me say this, but I found my first agent after a contest with my sister-in-law, titled "Who can get to 100 agent rejections first?" 

Let me tell you, I hit 100 rejections first. In your face! Boo-yah!

And with every rejection, my mom and I would get together and say, "That's one rejection closer to success!"

When my first book didn't sell, and I had to part ways with my first agent, my mom was all, "Glad we got that one out of the way. Now off to find a better fit!"

Even though I sometimes forget it, my mom reminds me there is a power to positive thinking. Believing something will happen in the face of incredible odds. 

I don't know the science behind that power. I don't have any proof. Would my dad's counts have the same acrobatic skills if my mom did not literally bleed sunshine and rainbows? Maybe.

Or maybe I'd be writing a different blog post. I don't know. I never finished The Secret. 

But I can tell you, my approach during the whole query/rejection stage helped me survive the long and arduous journey.  Survival turned out to be key. I could've easily given up after rejection number 99.

And my dad was supposed to be dead two years ago.

Here's to expecting miracles, when reason tells you not to.

Yesterday, I went over to my parents' house for our weekly Sunday lunch. I checked out my dad's hands, as I always do. 

I turned them over in my own hands, ran my fingers gently over the blisters and said, "If the chemo is doing this to your hands, think about what it's doing to the tumors!"

My mom said, "Hey! You're beginning to sound like me! Or maybe I'm beginning to sound like you."

No mom, I'm beginning to sound like you. And I hope it never changes.

Are you in the middle of querying? Or any other struggle? Feel free to siphon off some of my mom's unwavering, unreasonable, emphatic optimism. She can enthusiasm your butt off. Only she'll do it more eloquently.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Please Vote on our Barry Manilow Cover Band Name

It's Friday, yo. 

So, my crit partner and BFF Emily Wing Smith has a new book coming out called BACK WHEN YOU WERE EASIER TO LOVE. 

The story involves a girl, a breakup, a guy, a road trip, and Barry Manilow. (Description my own. It fails to convey the awesomeness of this story.)

Anywho, for the launch party, my critique group The SIX (very apt description, because we are all six feet tall) decided to form a Barry Manilow cover band. 
The band members.

The fact that none of us are very musical didn't enter into the decision-making process.

Emily herself will be on the bongos.
Bree Despain on the maracas.

Valynne Nagamatsu on the piano.

Sara Bolton and Kim Reid on backup vocals. (We don't know who they'll be backing up. We're just hoping one of us emerges as a star).

I will be on the key-tar. 
The severed hands are included.

Guess who's invited to the launch party?
You! Yes, you!
BACK WHEN YOU WERE EASIER TO LOVE RELEASE PARTY
Thursday, April 28
7:00 p.m
King’s English Bookshop
1511 South 1500 East,  Salt Lake City

Mark your calendars!
So, we are trying to decide on a band name, and here's where you come in. Please vote on your favorite, or if you have a suggestion, you can enter it in the comments. 

A. The Six Merry Manilows

B. Raindrops Keep Falling on my Dead (submitted by Douglas Cootey)

C. The Cuckoo Cabanas (submitted by Josh Berk)

D. Rico Wore a Diamond (submitted by Saundra Mitchell)

E. The Barely Manilows 
And if you suggest a title, and we choose it, we will dedicate a song to you. Thank you for playing!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Disneyland, spotting Punky Brewster, and Kid C thinks of the most evil thing someone could do...

Okay, third star to the right, and straight on to Disneyland!

We travelled the mean streets of D-town in style:
My dad in the chair, Kid B in his lap, my mom on the right. Me pushing.
My dad's chemotherapy regimen makes his feet swell and blister, so he was our designated driver, which kid B found perfectly convenient. Neither of their feet ever touched terra firma.


We shot defenseless aliens:
Sam trash-talked Kid B the entire ride, after which he slam-dunked his laser gun and chanted "loooo-serrrrr!"
We drove lots of cars


The first time Kid C rode on Indiana Jones, he was in the driver's seat. He was very nervous about the responsibility of driving the jeep:
He wanted to switch seats with me, but the people in the rows behind him encouraged him to drive the car. He did fine. Enough that he was allowed on the ride again.
Kid C, trying to smile


Next up was Autopia, where Kid C literally tried his hardest to jump the tracks. My poor dad.
My dad hanging on for dear life, with Kid C at the wheel. Don't try this at home. It is not good for the chemo stomach.
Kid B. Driving a car is serious work.


And is there a scarier sight than these two headed your way, armed and dangerous?
Two cool cats, ready for their mission. 
My dad says he slept for two days straight when he got home.


We saw Soleil Moon Frye aka Punky Brewster:
We didn't take that picture. Sam was way too nervous to ask to get a picture. I've never seen him blush so much, but blush he did. He sort of had a crush on Punky Brewster. We teased him the rest of the trip.


By far, Kid C was most nervous to go on Space Mountain. 


Here's us before the ride:




I don't know why he was nervous. I was completely calm during the entire experience, as evidenced in this in-ride picture:

Would it make it better if I told you my feet were being amputated at the time? 
Seriously, worst picture ever. I can't even believe I'm sharing it with y'all. Don't show anyone. This is especially for those of you who believe I look the same in every picture I take.

Kid B demonstrates the proper way to wear shades.

We were exemplary hotel guests:

We don't really need much when it comes to hotel rooms, except the basic necessities: COLD DIET COKE. 

When we checked in to our hotel, we found that the mini-fridge wasn't working. We called the front desk and immediately demanded a new one, which we promptly did this to:


Not only that, the original fridge wasn't even broken. We just hadn't turned it on. I think we made their "Permanent No-Vacancy" list for future trips. 

Kid C learned several life lessons:

1. How to eat pizza like a burrito

2. How the United States decided to participate in ousting a crazy Libyan leader:

I was trying to explain to Kid C how evil Gaddafi was, without going into too much detail. 

Kid C thought very hard about the most evil thing he could imagine someone doing. He then looked at me and said, "Does he fart on his wife?"

Oh for the days when passing gas on your wife is the most evil thing you can imagine someone doing. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

My Date with Rafa (video included)... and Some Other Guys were there too.

Howdy y'all.

I'm back. I'm sunburned. And I saw Rafa perform his most famous move ever...

video
Yes, that is firsthand video of Rafa picking his wedgie, a feat he tackles before every single point.

I also saw him do some of this:


video
His unreturnable serve- A feat almost as difficult and intricate as the wedgie-pick. 

Yep. I was in tennis heaven. At one point Rafa and his teammate looked like they were in trouble, and so I pulled a move from one of my favorite movies The Natural, where the mysterious woman in white stands in the crowd and inspires Robert Redford out of his slump. 

Then they live happily ever after.

Glenn Close, willing her lover to do better.
The only problem was, I left my white hat in the car (true story) and my spare hat was camouflage. So I stood up and immediately blended in with my surroundings.
The mysterious woman in beige. Not the same effect.
It was okay. Rafa and the other guy eeked out the win. In an interview afterward, Rafa said he felt something magical from the crowd, but when he turned to look, he didn't see anyone. Stupid camouflage hat. 

I also surprised my parents with second-row tickets for their anniversary to see Roger Federer.
Federer, up close and hot. Also, hawt. 
Federer totally dominated his opponent. He took the first set 6-0, and was up 2-0 in the second set when the other guy (Chela) finally won a game. 

The crowd went nuts, trying to support the wounded underdog. Chela smiled and waved, and when the noise died down, he said loudly, "It's okay, Fed. Shake it off. You've got this." So funny.

Palm Springs by the Numbers:

Number on the thermometer: 90

Number of rows separating me from Federer: 2

Number on the sunscreen bottle: 70

Number of icy lemonades ingested: 42

Number of wedgie picks: 864 (862 from Rafa, 2 from me)

Number of times my mom told the people around us that they were sitting next to a soon-to-be-famous author: 1,748. 

Thanks, mom. 

I'll have more about the second half of our trip (Disneyland) on Wednesday, featuring standing in line behind Punky Brewster. For reals. No lie. 

So, how was all y'all's week? Sorry I couldn't blog. There are only two kinds of hotels that don't offer wi-fi: the really really expensive ones, and the really really cheap ones. Guess which one we were in?

And what do you think of Rafa's wedgie pick? 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sitting in the Airport

So, I'm sitting in the airport, waiting for my flight to Palm Springs to board. Don't believe me?
Me. Trying not to look stupid while taking my own picture.


I'm not sure why someone wouldn't believe me, but I felt the picture was necessary. 


Here are some headlines I anticipate for this trip:


1. Brodi Spends half of Advance for front row seats to see Rafa do this:


2. Brodi and Rafa will become best friends, just like she always dreamed. (Seriously, she has this dream several nights a week. Nothing naughty, they're strictly platonic. They just have so much in common. She also likes to pick her wedgies.


3. Kid C picks a fight with all the Pirates of the Caribbean.


4. Kid B pukes on the plane. It's okay, Sam's flying with the kids separately. I'll be safely out of the splash zone.


5. Disney will overcharge us for the privilege of existing in the happiest place on earth.


Ope. We're boarding. Will blog later! 


Love you all. 


Bro

Friday, March 11, 2011

I'll Pack my Bags, and Keep my Eyes Fixed on the Sun

This weekend, I'll be packing.

Because next week, I'm going to be here:

Watching this guy:
Rafa and his bicep.

And these guys:
Roddick and Roger Federer
Do this:
And this:

Can you guess what I'm doing? 

Just kidding. It should be obvious. I'm going to Disneyland. But before I see Mickey, I'm meeting my parents, and my secret lover Rafa, down in Palm Springs for the BNP Paribas Open.

I'll be tweeting pictures live from the event, so if you want to follow along, you can find me here: http://twitter.com/Brodiashton.

I can't wait, because I love tennis, and I get to spend time with my dad. And I need to feel the sun shine on my face. Blogging will be sporadic, but if I have wi-fi, I will blog.

We're going to have an extra day in L.A. Anyone have any ideas on what we should see? The Grove? Some sort of famous chinese theater? I need ideas!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yes, Write what you Know, but also, Write what you DON'T KNOW: Some backstory to EVERNEATH

Wanna hear something crazy?


EVERNEATH was not my first attempt at a book. It wasn't even my first finished book.


I completed EVERNEATH about 7 years after my first attempt, which was a really stupid chick-lit novel, about a woman who has a baby and thinks her life is over. (Kid C had just been born, but that totally didn't have anything to do with it.) The main character sat in a corner and cried a lot, occasionally sneaking sideways glances at the nuclear device across the room, otherwise known as a baby.
Me, wondering about a return policy.


I never finished the book, because in my mind, there was only one logical conclusion: The device goes off, everyone dies. And who says chick-lit has run its course? 


I was writing what I knew, and what I knew was Post partum depression. Of course, at the time, I didn't know it was "post partum depression". I thought it was "Why didn't everyone tell me my life would suck after children? Is this like the best kept secret, because misery loves company?"


I got help.


Three years later, I had two children, and I thought for sure any attempt to write would be lost among diapers and baby bottles. 
If we'd had a third, I totally could've fit all three in here.
But then, like most people, I adapted. I found minutes here and there, stuck between the couch cushions, behind the toaster, hidden in my husband's sock drawer. The more minutes I found, the more I strung them together until I had a routine. (Also, I stopped cooking. Never looked back). 


And out of that routine, I wrote my very first book. And completed it! I loved my little book, and I knew my little book and I were going to go far. 


No, it wasn't EVERNEATH. 


Again, I wrote about what I knew. My first book was about a snarky, blond-haired, teenage school reporter, who also happened to moonlight as an alien-hunter. Besides the teenage part and the alien-hunter part, the character was me. Or at least, my voice. So easy to write. Just like writing this blog. 


I revised and revised and soon I found an agent. Then we revised and revised, and submitted my book. 


And here's where everything stalled. Kiersten White had a great post on this the other day, where she likened the process to two diverging lines at Disneyland. You never know how fast... or how slow... your line is going to go.
Everyone wants the same thing: to get on the boat! And get published.


I watched as some of my friends, who were at about the same point in their careers as me, shot to the front, hopped on the ride, and proceeded directly to the moon, where they lassoed the stars and brought them from the heavens to replace their porch lights.


While my book floundered. 


I met Richard Peck at the SCBWI L.A. conference almost two years ago, and he asked me what I was doing while I was waiting to hear back from editors. 


I answered enthusiastically, lying out of my arse. "I'm writing the next book, of course!"


The problem was, every book I wrote sounded exactly like my first book: same plucky teenage heroine, who kicks-a while simultaneously making witty comments.


Sam said to me one day, after reading some of my work, "You're never going to be able to write a different character."


And I was all, "But I want to write about a strong female!"


Sam: "Are snark and pluck the only things that make a female strong?" 


To me, them there were fightin' words. Partially because I like to fight, but partially because he was right. 


I thought of the opposite of that first character. Maybe a dark-haired, broken girl, who sometimes doesn't have the right things to say. Maybe her strength isn't as easy to pinpoint at first. Maybe it comes from somewhere besides the funny bone. Maybe it comes from a dark place. 


Maybe she wasn't always like this, but she'd been through something unspeakable.


The question was: what had she been through?


And that's how EVERNEATH was started: as an exercise to prove my husband wrong (which is reward enough in itself), a challenge to test myself, a concerted effort to WRITE WHAT I DON'T KNOW.


The more I pushed against my own boundaries as a writer, the more I realized that maybe this wasn't just an exercise. I fell in love with the book, and after my first book crashed and burned in submission hell, I couldn't wait to go through it all again with EVERNEATH.


And that love would be tested. Without going into too much detail, at one point I had to choose between my faith in EVERNEATH, and my first agent. Never underestimate the importance of finding an agent who is passionate, PASSIONATE, about your book.


Maybe there's no better test for your bond to a book. I parted ways with my original agent (yes, I died a little) and found my better half Michael Bourret, who saw the same quiet strength in Nikki that I saw. And he just might be a brother from another mother.
Michael Bourret. He likes me and my book, just the way we are.
So, yeah, my particular Disneyland line hit a few twists and turns, and the occasional land mine, but in the end, it was MY line. I own it. 


Those of you who are in line (and aren't we all?) own your line. OWN YOUR LINE. Write what you know. And sometimes, write what you don't know. See where it takes you. Try not to pay attention to other lines.


You'll never shed your skin if you don't stretch it. 


So, what are your lines like? Any twists and turns you'd like to share?  

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Trip with Doctor Who, and How a Small Child was Maimed at the Book Blogger Social

Happy Monday y'all.


How about some Thing 1 and Thing 1!




Thing 1:
Doctor Who visited me in my sleep last night. For those of you who don't know, Doctor Who is a time-travelling man/alien who saves the world a lot. 
Dr. Who and Rose. They made me cry a lot.
Last night, I dreamed I got to go on one of his exciting adventures.  Where would we end up? Ancient Rome? Shakespearean London? Or... a thousand years into the future? 


No. He took me to 1989 to see the filming of that Patrick Swayze classic Roadhouse. You know, the one where Swayze plays a tough bouncer hired to straighten out a dirty bar? 
It's his way... or the highway.
Yeah, I wasn't familiar with this movie either. I have no idea where it was hiding out in my sub conscience.


Before you ask, no, I didn't get to see Mr. Swayze utter his most famous lines:


"Pain don't hurt."


and


"Nobody ever wins a fight."


and finally,


"My way... or the highway."


I asked the Doctor what we were doing here, and he looked at me like, "Duh, it's your dream. Isn't that a question for your therapist?"


I'm inclined to agree with him. 


Nobody ever "wins" a fight! Except the last guy standing...


Thing 1:
We went to the Utah Bool Blogger Social Saturday night. Utah is home to a staggering amount of book bloggers, and twice a year they get together to party with the local authors.


And when I say party, I mean party. Want proof? Check out this candid pic:
Authors Matt Kirby, Bree Despain, and myself.
Photo taken by 
Heather Gardner Photography
This picture popped up on the internet after the party. I love it. Bree and I look thoroughly unimpressed, and Matt looks a little disgusted. 


I'm here to tell you, that was not representative of the evening! Heather has promised to give us a little more notice before she snaps a candid picture next time.


Overheard at the party:


-Emily Wing Smith and I, taking turns to see who could cough up a lung first. (I won)


-Bree and Emily, having a discussion that involved the phrases, "Who did you fork that one time?" 
It's not like it sounds. They have both had accidents where they nearly impaled a bystander with a fork. 


-Matt Kirby said afterward that the "Who did you fork" conversation would make my blog. He claims his blog-worthy-statements-detection-skills are running at about 98%.


-During the book swap, Chersti Nieveen trampled a small child to get her hands on Emily Wing Smith's ARC of BACK WHEN YOU WERE EASIER TO LOVE.


-She later swore the child was really the devil's spawn, and deserved to be trampled. 
Here's a picture of the unfortunate demon child:
Don't be fooled by her angelic disguise.
Here's a pic that better captures the spirit of the event.


Top: Matt Kirby, Bree Despain
Bottom: Chersti Nieveen, Emily Wing Smith, Leisha Maw


Because nothing screams "Party!" like Bree Despain wearing Princess Leia Buns made out of lightbulbs. 


So, what did y'all do over the weekend? Were you at the social? (If so, give a holla in the comments). Did you see any good movies? Did you trample any small children?