Saturday, October 8, 2011

I'm shutting this blog down and moving...

Aloha All,

As my writing career has evolved, and my position as assistant professor of English Ed and Adolescent Lit is no longer, I will be shutting down this blog, which was originally created for the benefit of educators, readers, and authors of young adult literature.

You can find me at my new site: http://ninanakayama.blogspot.com/

Thanks for being such a great audience during my time on this blog.

Sincerely,

Nina

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Querying my newest manuscript

I'm baaack! It's been a hard year of medical recoveries for me but I am now completely back to my old self (hey, no groaning!). *wink* While I've been back on twitter for a month now, I've only just returned back to blogging because things have finally settled down.

What have I been up to in the last year? Why, I'm glad you asked (I say to the deafening echo since I lost all my followers after being off-blog for a full year...). As you continue on to read about my crazy year, hopefully I'll entice some of you on back! So, as the paragraph prior indicated, I was very ill--in and out of the hospital with doctors galore and treatments a plenty.

And yes, the rumors are true; I did indeed resign from my position as professor of English Ed & Adolescent Lit at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.

But...but...why would you quit that career?

To write, of course! Well, I initially resigned because I was far too ill to continue working, but I didn't return because of writing. As much as I loved being a professor, my heart and soul has always been in writing. So, though I will continue to consult and work with educators in the state through my numerous state and national rep positions in English Ed & Adolescent Lit, my career now is writing...well, and editing.

And I couldn't be happier. But, to be fair, there are a lot of new things in my life that is also contributing to this new found happiness. I built a house. Yes, a whole house. I designed one on my computer (oh yes, I dabble in architecture software...what can I say, I get bored easily and I don't sleep...). After researching building codes and making some changes to my plans so you know, the structure wouldn't fall, I had builders bid on the project. Luckily, I found a fabulous builder (B&A Builders in Halawa) that allowed me to transfer my computer plans as is to a drafter, who made it official and got it stamped by an engineer. Then, voila, we had house plans that then led to a fast & furious building of our house. A few months later, it was done. Laaa! Having been nomadic for so many years now, it is impossible to put into words how lovely it is to have a permanent home. What's even more fab is that it is EXACTLY what we wanted because I designed everything we could possibly want...including my office!

I know, right?

Anyhoo, sometime during all that recovering and house building, I wrote another manuscript. This time, an adult contemporary romance.

I. Love. It.

All you authors out there know what came after that...the beta reads, the CP shreds, the self-inflicted revisions with a hacksaw, and then edits...oh, and edits...wait, did I mention edits? So now...drum roll please...

Yep, I'm querying.

Interestingly enough, this time around, it's going a lot differently than the last.

I've talked to countless author friends who've said that when the manuscript is 'the one,' it feels different, it queries different, and likewise, the replies from agents are different.

I think that's what's happening here.

Requests are coming in...pretty quickly, in fact. It's kind of wild. True, I'm querying a slightly different set of agents because this manuscript is an adult contemporary romance vs. a YA romance w/ paranormal elements like the last one, but, the response as a whole has definitely been vastly different.

As I go through this process of querying again, I find myself approaching it differently for a number of reasons. 1) My life as an author is different now--I live, breathe, and devour writing, reading, and editing at an exponentially greater intensity than I had before (I LOVE this!); 2) I've written a story that *feels* different from my last--it's far more me than any manuscript I've written to date; and 3) I've survived the last go around in query rejection and come out the other end alive for one, and a stronger author with a greater sense of who she is.

At times I wonder if this new manuscript is so different because I evolved so much or if I evolved so much because of my manuscript. Since I am both a whole-brained realist with OCD tendencies AND a literary romantic, I think it's both.

This new manuscript is a contemporary romance with characters living lives that I experienced in Arizona, a place I lived and loved. These characters are real people going through real things. I can cry with them and laugh with them because they're going through things I went through and handling it with the awesome sense of humor that I have (ha!). As a whole, writing this story was a thousand times more fun for all of these reasons.

Also, with this story, being a single title stand alone, I could see the entire forest before the trees. Brindled, my last manuscript, was the first in a planned series so there were some elements of the tree appearing before the forest. That was a nice change.

But, the most fascinating part? The query and the synopsis were actually painless with this novel.

You heard right.

So here I am, querying a manuscript I love with a query letter and synopsis that didn't kill me to write. I'm enjoying life in my new house with my new career as an editor and author. And to top it all off, my son is now four...out of the terrible two's and three's <-- that might be the biggest milestone yet!

There is a belief in the Japanese culture that people go through years called their 'yakudoshi' which is their year of bad luck. There are a few set years in your life that these bad luck years will hit. During these years (which coincidentally, for me was last year), you face the hardest challenges in your life...you can either come out stronger or weaker. Either way, though, you are changed.

For me, I'd like to believe that I faced my worst and came out stronger.

Well, with that fine top note, I'll sign off and head to bed since I have a new editing contract starting up tomorrow. I'll be back again soon--every Wednesday. But, until then, I'll leave you all with this...

Don't give up. Keep writing. Don't be afraid to shelve a project that hasn't gotten past the full request stage and the agent requested revisions. Life will go on. You will write something else wonderful. And sometimes, you may just love your next manuscript even more.

It happens; I've seen it!

Happy October, all.

Nina

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Adolescent Lit Course Reading List (F '10)

I'm finally done! The reading list for my adolescent lit course is complete. It was a fun but really tough journey picking from the loooong list of wonderful recently released adolescent lit novels out there to trim it down to the "little" (heehee) reading list you see below. If you're a former student-o-mine...I KNOW, I had FUN revamping the course. If you're one of my students this coming term, prepare to get your minds blown with some awesome stories! Happy reading, all!

Novel #1 = Three very different YA novels based in Hawai'i (Sign up for a group)
Group A: Written in the Sky -- Matthew Kaopio
Group B: The Twins of Kashal: Book One of Ki -- Dakan Allison, Hezar Blue, & Jana Joy
Group C: Healing Water: A Hawaiian Story -- Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Novel #2 = The wonderful world of dystopias (Sign up for a group)
Group A: Hunger Games -- Suzanne Collins
Group B: Gone -- Michael Grant
Group C: Epitah Road -- David Patneaude
Group D: Incarceron -- Catherine Fisher
Group E: The Maze Runner -- James Dashner

Novel #3 = Book Share (Choose one novel from list -- everyone must read a diff. novel)
Dirty Little Secrets -- Cynthia Omololu
Eyes Like Stars: Theatre Illuminata -- Lisa Mantchev
Ophelia -- Lisa M. Klein
The Night Tourist -- Katherine Marsh
Bamboo People -- Mitali Perkins
We Were Here -- Matt de la Pena
The Duff -- Kody Keplinger
Almost Home -- Jessica Blank
If I Stay -- Gayle Foreman
Before I Fall -- Lauren Oliver
Saving Juliet -- Suzanne Selfors
Oh. My Gods -- Tera Lynn Childs
The Everafter -- Amy Huntley
Split -- Swati Avasthi (this author will be a guest interviewee in the course!)
The Sky is Everywhere -- Jandy Nelson
Red Hood's Revenge -- Jim C. Hines
In the Name of God -- Paula Jolin
Halo -- Alexandra Ardonetto
Personal Demons -- Lisa Desrochers
Prophecy of Days: The Daykeeper's Grimoire -- Christy Raedeke
Return the Heart -- T.K. Richardson
*OR you can suggest your own novel published after 2008 -- e.g. Lisa Shroeder and Ellen Hopkins both have great new verse novels (incredibly moving multi-voice stories).

Novel #4 & #5 = Teaching apples with oranges (sign up for one group--read both books)
Group A: When You Reach Me -- Rebecca Stead & Mudville -- Kurtis Scaletta
Group B: Jellicoe Road -- Melina Marchetta & Every Soul a Star -- Wendy Mass
Group C: One Crazy Summer -- Rita Williams Garcia & Will Grayson, Will Grayson -- John Green and David Levithan

*Rubbing hands eagerly*

Can't wait for the students to start the reading extravaganza!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Interview with author Jodi Meadows on "Science-Fantasy"

What is Science-Fantasy?
Interview with YA author Jodi Meadows

Lately, I've heard the term "Science-Fantasy" a lot in connection with YA literature. Why is the idea of blending science fiction and fantasy within a novel so fascinating? Because science-fantasy uniquely mixes two very different genres of literature, and in so doing, gives birth to amazing stories that draw a new landscape for literature. To find out more about science-fantasy, I interviewed the lovely and uber talented Jodi Meadows, literary aficionado and YA author of the science-fantasy NEWSOUL trilogy...

Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your literary road to becoming the author you are today?


Jodi: Certainly! Of course I was a child prodigy with more talent than you could fit in an oil tanker. I graduated university with highest honors when I was only six years old! By seven, I'd finished my first 500,000-word manuscript and had it considered by several well-known publishing houses, but none of them believed I'd written it. Sadly, I would have to wait twenty more years before anyone believed I was capable of writing fiction. Okay, that's all a lie. I didn't even like books until I was in third grade. I stayed home sick one day, but still had to finish the book we were reading for class. I wish I could remember the title -- I'd love to find it again -- but the only thing I can remember about it was there were children trapped in a "haunted" cave. The ghostly wailing turned out to be wind keening over a hidden opening. I was so disappointed when I realized it wasn't a real haunting. But the seed had been planted. I found a few other books I liked...then more and more until I -- gasp! -- enjoyed reading. In seventh grade, my teacher shared WAIT TILL HELEN COMES by Mary Downing Hahn. It was so creepy and, best of all, the ghosts were real. That book, and a few others I discovered as I grew up, made me abandon the idea of becoming an astronaut (I hear you have to be good at math for that, anyway), and decide I really wanted to be a writer.

Q: You queried your debut novel as a science-fantasy. That's a term I'm hearing more and more of lately. How would you describe/characterize science-fantasy? How is it different from the individual genres of science fiction and fantasy?

Jodi: To be honest, this isn't a subgenre I'd considered until a couple of years ago when I wrote a manuscript with dragons, aliens, prophecy, and robotic faeries. That was the first time anyone said "science-fantasy" to me, and I'm still working out what it means. I suppose it would be too easy to say it's a blend of science fiction and fantasy elements. Or science fiction stories where the fantasy is also real. Besides, a lot of science fiction and fantasy elements are the same thing; the difference is in how you explain it. Teleportation can be magic, or it can be alien technology that disassembles you at the molecular level, then puts you back together on the other side. Shapeshifting can be magic, or it can be nanotechnology that rearranges all your bits. (As for what happens to the extra mass when you go from human to rabbit? Still a raging debate!) There are exceptions to every subgenre definition, and plenty of people to get huffy when they think someone is defining something incorrectly. I prefer not to get into arguments about it, so I let them believe what they want to believe. My personal definition would be science fiction + fantasy = true literary love. I like to have a wide definition, rather than try getting into specifics. As long as there are elements of both, if someone wants to call it science-fantasy, that's just fine with me.

Q: In your opinion, what are some great examples of science-fantasy novels out in the bookstores now (regardless if they are shelved as sci-fi or fantasy)? What shining characteristics in those specific novels really made them science-fantasy in your eyes?

Jodi: Oh goodness. I'm not going to be good at this one. I actually had to recruit outside help for this question. Embarrassingly, I haven't read most of these, so I can't comment on specifics, but these are the novels mentioned when I asked a well-read team of writers. ALL THE WINDWRACKED STARS, by Elizabeth Bear The Pern series, by Anne McCaffrey WHO FEARS DEATH, by Nnedi Okorafor THE IRON DRAGON'S DAUGHTER and DRAGONS OF BABEL, by Michael Swanwick The Darkover series, by Marion Zimmer Bradley LORD VALENTINE'S CASTLE, by Robert Silverberg THE GUNSLINGER, by Stephen King Obviously, these are all going on my to-read shelf immediately. And while it's not a novel -- though there are novel tie-ins -- I think STAR WARS is pretty science-fantasy. Spaceships, aliens...and the Force. If the Force isn't magic, I don't know what is.

Q: Where would you like to see the literary parameters of science-fantasy go from here?

Jodi: I just want to see more of it, period. It's fun. There's so much you can do with it, and I'd love to see where other authors' imaginations take them when they realize it's okay to have pegasi surfing the internet.

Q: I know what book I'm going to be standing in line for. Yours! Congratulations on your recent publishing deal for THE NEWSOUL TRILOGY! That is so exciting! Can you tell us more about the books?

Jodi: Thanks! I'm beyond thrilled, and I still can't get over how many people are looking forward to reading it! The pitch we used for Publishers Marketplace is this: About the only girl who is new in a world where everyone is perpetually reincarnated, and her quest to discover why she was born, and what happened to the person she replaced. While that's certainly accurate, we were trying to fit a ton of worldbuilding into just a few words. We didn't have room to mention the science-fantasy: mysteriously glowing temples, altered memories, computerized sylph traps, and gasses that cause the two aspects of centaurs to come apart. Erin is born into this society of extremely old people. Everyone else has been reincarnated dozens of times. Since they remember all their past lives, they have the advantage of learning from mistakes, even the ones that kill them. (What is that BUFFY quote? "Those who fail History [class] are doomed to repeat it in summer school.") For THE NEWSOUL TRILOGY, I imagined people who could take multiple lifetimes to study the genetics of roses, and a world where capital punishment was pointless. Most of all, I imagined what it would like to be new in this society.

Q: From the author's perspective, how is writing YA science-fantasy different from writing other YA books (i.e. urban fantasy, high fantasy)? Any unique and/or difficult/challenging aspects?

Jodi: I didn't set out to write a science-fantasy. As with all my projects, stories, worlds, and characters come fully formed. In ON WRITING, Stephen King compared writing to archaeology. Paraphrasing badly, the story is all one piece, and you must unearth it without destroying it in the process. You learn more about it as you go, but just because you can't see it yet doesn't mean it's not there. This really resonated with me. So ERIN INCARNATE just was a science-fantasy. Writing it was like writing any other story for me, except that characters discussed how they invented laser pistols to deal with dragons. While I tried to let the worldbuilding be background to characters, I did run into problems early on. People reading the first chapter immediately assumed it was a standard secondworld fantasy. They saw centaurs and sylph. When Erin pulled out a flashlight -- chaos! In that respect, it was quite a challenge to ease people into the idea that both centaurs and flashlights could exist in the same world, let alone the same paragraph.

Q: Any non-top-secret writing-in-projects (WIPs) in science-fantasy you want to share with us? (Of course you're more than welcome to share your top-secret ones too!).

Jodi: *grin* You're shameless! But yes, as I mentioned in an earlier answer, I do have another science-fantasy called THE LOYAL SWORD, which I wrote a few years ago and I'm now considering turning it in to a YA. There are dragons and giants, spooky magic forests, and aliens whose secret base is guarded by robotic faeries. It's part of a longer series where the science fiction aspects get bigger and more apparent. I'd love to finish writing it one day.

Q: Randomly, random...the random tidbits interviewees share always goes far beyond anything I could dream up as an interviewer. So, what utterly random thoughts do you want to share to finish up this interview?

Jodi: Things on my desk: a knitting pattern book, half a knit tank top, a scarf in progress, socks in progress, bottle of water, two jars of spindles, box of graham crackers, three kinds of ferret treats, paper towels, fake flowers (the other kind just die), a spindle project in progress, CATCHING FIRE (Suzanne Collins), a small stuffed bear with a top hat and cape and mask, my Red Sox hat, and a coffee mug that says "Reincarnate", which a friend gave to me in honor of ERIN INCARNATE.

*****
Thank you so much, Jodi! To gain more mana'o from Jodi, you can visit her blog, in which, she graces readers and authors with query writing help, her thoughts on books (even ones not yet published...something she likes to remind me of in Goodreads *grin*), and lots of other fun stuff.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW...and don't know

"Write what you know."

We hear that common adage a lot and while I think it is such great advice for students and authors alike, I find myself wondering: but what if what you know is not the story you want to write? What if your life is actually the stuff other people's imagined stories are made of and all you used to dream of when your life hit those heart-wrenching parts of the "arc" was...the anti-life?

Been there. Writing that.

Those of you who have stood beside me through some of the hardest times in my life know. But only some of it. Honestly, telling people was as hard as writing about it. I couldn't bear (and bare) telling any one person all of the stories of my life. But, I couldn't not tell it either. My advice to friends going through tough times used to include the occasional eyebrow quirking comment that sounded a little too-knowledgeable, my journals used to have a hidden back story that hinted at baggage, and my short stories had an "underlying message" that used to peg it as mine in my fiction writing classes. All of it a little angry.

And I had the right to be angry. Parts of my life were awful. So what did I do? I started writing stories that made me feel better.

Escapist stories--they aren't just for the reader.

But even as I put pen to paper now, many years after those life stories I used to "escape" from through writing, I still find that I can't not tell those stories of my life. They're in there. I haven't escaped them. While the novel I write might not be the tear-jerking novels out there that sound remarkably like my actual life, it doesn't mean I'm not in there or that I'm not writing what I know. Trust me, when I was going through those tough times in my life, the anti-life was what I knew...where I would go...why I'm still here.

So when I hear, "You should write a novel about all the stuff you endured in your life," my reply is that I can write one filled with all the things I didn't have and still be telling my story. My escapist stories still have my life in it, just with a twist, and always with the telltale things that peg it as an anti-life original.
  • Strong heroines that kick-ass because I couldn't fight back? --> Check!
  • Bullies and abusers getting their just rewards? --> Double-check!
  • Different kinds of "brilliant" characters, even the streetsmart-got-crappy-grades-until-I-4.0'd-all-through-college-to-get-the-PhD-that-shocked-everyone sort? --> Check! (With a hell-yeah)
  • Happier endings to different chapters than I had myself? --> Resounding Check!
And the list goes on.

Yes, I could write the super angsty stories that I teach in my adolescent literature courses or the beautiful novels I cry through in one sitting without coming up for air, but honestly, the writer in me still remembers the writer I used to be--the girl who dreamed up the wondrous stories unlike what was going on in her life.

That was what I knew as a writer then. That is what I write as an aspiring author now.

And believe me, escapist stories can get mighty good when the author really had some escaping to do.

Now, there are those that say: "But you went through so much, don't you want others to learn from your story? Don't you want to talk about how you got through? What about all those who helped you?"

Three questions with three very different answers.

1) Sure I do, and they can still learn even if my stories are happier than my life had been. Truly. Just as my life is always there in my writing, as a reader, your lives and perceptions will be too. You will take away from a story exactly what is in you to take away from it. This is why one of my best friends found himself inexplicably choked up through Jersey Girl (Kevin Smith's one).

2) No. Maybe. Waaait, I think I do. Hmmm...I'll get back to you on that after you read my stuff. If you really don't see the triumph of "getting through," I'll sit with you and tell you my life story.

3) Ahhh, now that last one gets my tears going. It would be an outright lie to say my novels didn't pay homage to every one of those people who extended their hand to help me up when I was curled on the ground, who were my wall to lean on when I couldn't stand on my own. Maybe they don't have a character and a name like in a memoir but know that each of them are as a part of my story--both in life and on paper--as I am. Where do you think I learned to have that hope you see in my novels and in life? (Believe me, being an aspiring writer is all about hope. *grin*)

Upon more reflection, that third question now has me thinking about the one thing that perhaps may be missing from my stories of anti-life. At least in the "real life" sense it deserves to be.

Well, the internet doesn't have blogs for nothing so here goes:

While you won't ever have your names in a memoir of surviving tough times...while you won't ever read one of my characters and see the exact part you played in my life...and while your actions may not be placed on that literary pedestal that they have every right to be on...
  • Those of you who were the first to break the cruelly issued "don't talk to that girl" rule, ending the six weeks of utterly friendless, wrist-slicing silence I went through at the start of my seventh grade year;
  • Those who were my silent rock through the abuse you knew about and even more so the abuse you knew to be there even though I'd never uttered the words;
  • Those of you who were there to pick up the pieces after I was raped;
  • Those who actually saw me truly scared when I first found out about my brain condition;
  • And finally, to that one person who, knowing more than all of these people combined, still chose me, giving me my first real happy ending to a chapter and the start of many others since...
Know that I do truly thank you.

You all are "what I know" also.