Actual Writer-y Talk, Plus Some Thoughts on Pants

Today I would like to bring you a blog full of wisdom and sage writerly advice, but I’m afraid all I can think about is why the jeans industry hates me.  I know, don’t you want to hear all about it?  😉

I mean, I remember when jeans were jeans, and shopping for them was fun, and I wore them almost every day.  That was until about eight years ago, and then came the advent of…STRETCH JEANS.  Why?  Why, cruel world?  I have been waiting EIGHT YEARS for this trend to go away.  Or at least, for it to share space equally with the normal, well-fitting, happy jeans of yore.  I am totally not exaggerating.  EIGHT YEARS since I have been able to find jeans I love.  These "stretch" jeans I can wear for about an hour before they become giNORmous and fall off my butt.  What?  How is this a positive fashion development?

Last week I went looking in Old Navy for non-stretch jeans and found one pair — not one style, not one fit, but one pair.  So I bought them.  I’m not sure yet if I love them (although if I do I bet you’ll hear about it), but since they’re the only non-stretch jeans I’ve found in a long time, I thought I should at least save them as a memento of happier denim-clad days.  DEEP SIGH. 

Sort yourselves out, jeans designers!  Please give us normal jeans too!  I promise to buy a million a whooooole lot of them.  (Side note: Kate on Lost is totally wearing normal jeans, at least in the finale, as far as I can tell.  Where did she get them?  That’s what I want to know!  If they were stretch jeans, they’d have become unwearable within an hour of the plane crash, and without a washing machine, she’d never have been able to wear them again, let alone while dashing madly and gorgeously through the jungle all the time.  One does not want one’s pants falling off while one is escaping from polar bears and smoke monsters!  SO.  Whence came these excellent non-stretch jeans??  Add THAT to the list of the island’s mysteries!)

OK, rant over.  :-)  Now how can I make this relevant and writerly?  Because what I was thinking I should do is give my own answer to the question that writers get alllllllllll the time, which is:  Where do you get your ideas?  I’ve been thinking about this because of my recent school visits (including the one last week with the AWESOME writing workshop juniors at Stuyvesant High School in New York), and I know from reading other authors’ blogs that I’m not the only one who gets this question every time. 

I’m guessing that if I say: "They come from everywhere!" that wouldn’t be particularly satisfying, huh?  :-)  But I do sort of feel like you could take almost anything and turn it into a possible story.

For instance, let’s take the above rant re: wrongheaded jeans.  (Hmm…wrong-butted jeans?)  It’s just a goofy passing thought, right?  (Or, you know, something I’ve been obsessing about for eight years, whatever.)  I bet you have thoughts like that all the time — bah, this makes me mad, or man, what are these people thinking, etc.

If I were looking for inspiration (which I’m not right now because DEADLINES! deadlines are looming!), I might say, hmmm…what if I wrote about someone who got fed up with the fashion industry and decided to strike back?  Now, this could go a lot of ways.  We could have a socially inspiring, realistic story of activism and protests and dramatic rallies and writing letters demanding reasonably-sized, reasonably-shaped clothes.  Or we could have a funny story about a maverick designer who wins a reality show and releases a line of wildly popular, completely ridiculous outfits that turn out to be a satirical commentary on our culture (a la The Emperor’s New Clothes). 

ORRRR what if there were a team of underground guerilla warriors, who storm the shopping malls at night to replace all the mannequins with ones shaped like real people!  (And they’d have secret handshakes! and passwords! and masks! and then they’d kidnap a hot young new fashion designer who ends up falling in love with one of his charmingly curvaceous captors and designing all his future clothes for her!) (Um, carried away, what, me?)

Or there could be fashion superpowers involved.  Or aliens who arrive and are like, "WHAT are these people WEARING?  Stretch jeans?  Horrors!  All right, tell you what, we’ll come back when this neverending fad is over."  😉

You see what I mean?  All the possibilities?  Maybe they’re not brilliant yet, but you could take them and work on them and try to develop them into something, right?  That’s sort of how I feel about everything.  I think you can’t be too worried about having the most brilliant unique idea before you begin writing, because in some ways all the stories have already been told, and what you really need to find is a new perspective. 

Like, have any of you read Life of Pi, by Yann Martel?  (You should!  It’s FANTASTIC.)  It’s about a boy stuck in a lifeboat with a tiger.  WHAT!  Ingenious!  How did he come up with that???  Well, he didn’t, actually.  He read about someone else who’d written a book about a boy and a jaguar stuck in a lifeboat, and he was like, hey, that’s a great idea — you know what, I think I’ll give it my own spin.

Not that I recommend that particular method, although his end result really is one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read (and apparently completely different from the other one).  But it just goes to show that it’s what you do with an idea that counts.  Ideas themselves — they’re everywhere.

To be specific about a couple of my books:

Save the Date is pretty obvious…I was planning my wedding at the same time as I was in my beloved sister’s wedding, and I was like, this is the most fun ever, but imagine if I had to do this for four or five sisters!  And then my wonderful editor asked for a summery romantic beach read, and I was like, you know what’s romantic? and also taking over my brain right now?  WEDDINGS!  Whee!

This Must Be Love comes from (a) thinking about Shakespeare way too much; (b) my objection to English teachers saying that the four lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are "interchangeable" — I was like, dude, I bet they don’t think they are!; and (c) wanting to write about a female friendship that was as close as the one I have with my sister.  Plus with cute boys!  🙂

And Avatars, quite honestly, began with trying to get home during a crowded commute in New York City and thinking, Dadblast it, there are TOO MANY PEOPLE HERE!  And then thinking, if I were an angry person with superpowers, all these extremely slow-moving people would be in big trouble, grrr.  (There was actually a long rant in the original version of the manuscript where Kali fumes for a couple of pages about how much she hates people who take up the whole sidewalk and move really slowly.  I’m guessing a lot of native New Yorkers have felt this way at some point!  The gist of the rant is in the subway scene in book one, but we edited out a lot of lengthy cathartic grumbling, I assure you.)  ;-)  And that in turn led to wondering what NYC would look like if it was completely empty (long before I Am Legend came out and answered my question), and how could that not lead to post-apocalyptic fun? 

See that?  How three books (five if you count the whole trilogy) came out of me commuting, planning a wedding, and talking to my sister on the phone like I do every day?  So you can do it too!  I’m sure there’s an idea waiting for you in the room you’re sitting in right now.

Insanely brilliant ideas, on the other hand, I can’t help you with, because if I have any I’m going to use them myself.  Despite my earlier comment about all the stories being told already, there are still sometimes these wonderful, completely original ideas…as an editor, that was always the thing that got me the most excited, if I found something startling and unusual in a submission.

For an example, I have just started reading a book with a premise that is one of the BEST IDEAS I have ever encountered.  I am seriously heartbroken that I didn’t think of this first, although I will say I am quite quite certain that Robin McKinley will do a much better job with it than I could, and on the plus side, this way I get to read it.  🙂

The book is called Dragonhaven:

Dragonhaven Cover 

It’s about a teenage boy who lives and works at a national park/zoo for dragons.


Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that (and I’m only a couple of chapters in so far), but doesn’t that one sentence alone just blow your mind?  What a GENIUS idea!  It’s modern but fantastic and there’s so much you can do with it ACK WANT IT HEAD EXPLODING.  And so far it’s brilliantly written, too.  (I’d have read more of it by now, but certain people (MOM) stole it from me, so I have to get it back first.)

Anyway, it’s not surprising that it’s wonderful, considering that it comes from the brain of Newbery-Medal-winning genius Robin McKinley.  If you haven’t read her books The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, oh my goodness, put down this blog right now and go get them.  TOO.  AWESOME.  I also loved her grown-up book Sunshine, although it left me hoping there would be a sequel, and I have no idea if there will be.

Moreover, Robin McKinley herself sounds like one of the coolest people on the planet: look! she has a blog!  Check it out; it’s kind of hilarious.  Plus it looks like she’s a dog person, so, I think I might have a girl crush on Robin McKinley, or at least on her writing persona.

And I still wish I’d thought of this idea!  I do have a dragon idea in my head, very different from this, but it’s one of the ones that I need to think about for a long time so you’re not likely to see it for a while.  At least, certainly not until I am done with pirates and bears and poodles and vampires!  (All different books, don’t worry.)

Also I have a plan to transform my office into an organizational masterpiece.  It begins with the hanging file folders I have just ordered in pretty colors like maroon and teal, which I am quite sure will inspire me to file all my papers right away, don’t you think?  ;-) 

Also, I have some traveling to do, such as to Williamstown and India.  And!  Apparently Hartford!  Because OH NO MARK TWAIN’S HOUSE IS IN GRAVE PERIL!!

Seriously, yo.  Mark Twain (who, incidentally, had very good ideas) built this ridonkulously amazing-looking house for himself in Hartford, which is now a museum where you can go SEE where he wrote his most AMAZING BOOKS and OOOOH and AHHHHH at his gas-fired chandeliers, only NOT ANY MORE because they are going to run out of money pretty soon.  !!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Isn’t that tragical?  So if you have an extra million dollars lying around, maybe you should send it to the Mark Twain House.  Or if you’re in Connecticut this summer, you should stop by and see it quick while you still can!  I mean, LOOK how cool it is!:
 MarkTwain House

(This is the picture from the New York Times article I linked to, taken by Janet Durrans.)

Dude!  You know what this makes me think?  That I need to be living in a much cooler house, because if anyone ever wants to turn my workspace into a museum, they might have a tough time selling visitors on my current office.  ("And over here we have a pile of papers…and here’s another pile of papers…oh, here’s a Buffy action figure…hey, check it out, teal file folders!")  I mean, if Mark Twain’s house has funding problems, whewf, I pity my future curatorial staff and museum marketing department.  😉

Anyway, I have actually been meaning to take a weekend trip to this house for a while now.  Seriously, I am not making this up: Visit Mark Twain’s House is actually on my To Do List, and it has been ever since I saw it featured on Jeopardy! a couple of months ago.  (Er, what?  Who’s a geek?)

So now all I have to do is talk Adam into it.  La la la!  I bet he’ll be REALLY excited, since it combines all his favorite things: driving long distances, standing around in a museum, and old books he hasn’t read.  :-)  Awesome!  Fun for everyone!  

I’ve ordered Mark Twain’s autobiography from the library so I can find out more before we visit.  I will report back if I learn anything fascinating.  Excited now, aren’t you?  Well, what would you rather have — the life story of Mark Twain, or more complaining about pants?  I mean, seriously.

Quote of the Day:  "What work I have done I have done because it has been play. If it had been work I shouldn’t have done it." — Mark Twain