With an alcoholic brother and a complicated friendship with her best friend’s boyfriend, twenty-one-year-old Katie Winters has always used photography as an escape. But when a teacher prompts her to explore the very feelings she’s been trying to ignore, Katie finds herself painting three mysterious words under an abandoned bridge: I miss you. The feeling is real, but after searching her memory, Katie can’t think of anyone who she could have meant. Then Katie meets Robin, an environmental enthusiast familiar to Katie in a way she can’t place. His presence plagues her with the feeling that the last time they met, something went horribly wrong. In pursuit of answers, Katie finds herself caught up in a world of secrets, troublemakers, barely-legal schemes, and images of a story that was lost long before her birth.
Amy Spitzfaden won first prize in the 2013 Writers’ Voices Competition. She graduated with a literature and writing degree from Maharishi University of Management in 2012 and now lives in Temple, New Hampshire with her husband, Ravi. She works as editor and social media manager at PSCS Consulting in Peterborough.
I recently finished a book that had me fuming. Not in the good, “oh my god, I can’t believe the author did this to my emotions!” kind of way, but in the way that leaves you ranting. I won’t tell you what the book is, because, as a published author myself, I feel bad putting out bad press about someone else’s book, especially since reviews are so subjective, but I will happily tell you in great detail the issues I had with it.
I went into the book judging it by its cover. It was pink, and girly, and had a wonderful title that had me expecting a funny and sexy roller coaster of high heels and romantic misunderstandings. Instead, I dove straight into a drama about the breakup of a marriage that was fueled almost entirely by stereotypes. Let me name a few:
1) The husband was cheating with the wife’s assistant.
2) The assistant was a decade younger than the wife, shallow, and only in it for the money.
3) Everyone who had ever cheated in their life was a bad person.
4) The Good Guy Romantic Lead loved animals, his parents, his grandparents, his son, and his family’s business.
5) The women in skirts were devils, the women in jeans were heroes.
You get the idea.
First of all, I absolutely cannot stand being told which characters I’m supposed to like and dislike. I appreciate the filter that all POV characters give to a story, but when a character’s portrayal is so completely one-sided that there’s no room to understand him or her and his or her intentions, that’s when a book starts to lose me. No in one is entirely unsympathetic. No one.
The cheating trope is an interesting one, and one that literature can’t get enough of. It’s a deep betrayal of trust and, much like a murder, starts long before the action itself. It’s a result of feeling unfulfilled in a relationship while also being unwilling to leave. The questions that surround the transition from “in love” to “looking elsewhere” fascinates me, which is why I get so frustrated when the reason for someone straying is simply because he’s a Cheating Bastard. But that’s what happened in this book.
The second stereotype that had me ranting (ask my husband – he heard a lot about this) was the Bad Girl. We hear that Romantic Lead’s ex-wife started causing problems the night she wanted to go to a Halloween party in a revealing costume. From there, she “descended” into drinking, flirting, cheating, leaving, getting tattoos and piercings, and, of course, being a bad mother. Oh that poor, poor husband.
Wait. Just. One. Minute.
Let’s back up to that Halloween party and look at things a little more realistically. This wanton woman made her own costume. When she danced out to show her husband, excited and proud of her accomplishment, his response was, “Where’s the rest of it?” We are supposed to perhaps feel a little chagrined at this, but the husband is traditional, and he simply hadn’t known what hit him. His response is surely no basis for the start of an affair. The author, in her heavy-handed judgment of the-ex wife’s sexuality, doesn’t leave us any room to think that maybe this woman felt trapped by the expectations her husband put on her. Maybe she was looking forward to looking beautiful – even sexy! – for her husband and the rest of the people at the party. Maybe the man she left him for connected with her because he understood that she could dress like Princess Jasmine on Halloween and still be a full, strong, worthwhile human being. Just a thought. But of course, no, because that man ended up being a lying debt-builder who left her broke and forced to crawl back to her husband, begging for a place to stay. He refuses.
Everyone loves a villain. Every story needs conflict. All of this is true. But now let’s talk about how harmful stereotypes can be.
First of all, cheaters are human. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s actually possible to want someone besides your partner and still have something to offer the world. Gasp! Yes, the act of cheating is a painful, destructive, and selfish one, but it does not make or break the humanity of the people committing the act. As writers, we have a responsibility to understand the personhood of all our human characters. If you’re going to make them just a plain Bad Person, you had better have a very good reason, and that reason can’t be “because they cheated”.
Now, I’m not saying that your protagonist has to understand this. It is a monumentally difficult thing to accept that the person you put in a place of honor decided that he or she liked someone else better. It can be dangerous to your heart to realize that they are not a bad person. They are a human person who was drawn to someone who wasn’t you. It is much, much easier to write them off as a terrible person who wasn’t worth your time. Your characters may do this. You, the author, may not.
You may also not write off a woman’s entire worth as a human and as a wife/mother/partner/friend because of a desire to be sexual. Next time you’re writing an unstable female character try this: try to communicate her instability without putting an emphasis on her short skirt, and without shaming her for wanting a man (or men!), and without her using her body solely for fulfillment of her evil schemes. Go inside her head. Figure out why she thinks she’s the heroine of her story. Because I guarantee you, she is. And I bet a lot of people would read that book.
Alright, this was kind of a long one, but this rant has been building for awhile. Tell me some of your favorite books that break cheating/sexuality stereotypes, because I need some right now.
I could give you a list of reasons why it’s been so long since my last post (I was out of town, there have been a lot of projects going on, etc. etc.), but the truth of it is this: the more weeks I miss, the harder it is to write a post. This is true with anything, which is why it’s so important to keep up a routine. Seriously, I have a hard time reopening games I haven’t played for a week or two. And that’s one of the easiest things to do.
So while this post serves as part apology and part explanation, what I would really like to do is ask you all a question: How do you write when you are absolutely swamped?
I’ve done it during NaNoWriMo. When there’s a deadline and a word count goal it’s easy to push forward and just get the darn thing done. And it also only lasts a month. So what do you do when your crazy life is eating up your writing resources, but you want to get your next book done?
To fill you in, I’m currently working three jobs for a total of five different companies, my own book writing and promoting not included. This, while in a lot of ways an exciting and fulfilling challenge, is exhausting. I feel like my brain is in gear from morning til night, and I have to sort of force shutdown in order to get any relaxation time. I try to force it, I do, because that’s the only way anything is ever going to get done. But my pace is abysmally slow, with a total word count from last week coming to less than 300 words.
So, friends, I am here to ask for your help. What are your strategies for forcing yourself to write? When life is so crazy that you only have a few moments here or there to snag to write, and your brain protests any extra activity? What do you do to motivate yourself to close down Facebook, open up your WIP, and start pounding words out? I’m in some serious need of refocusing, and I’d love to get some of your mojo.
It’s funny, because throughout all of this I’ve actually become fairly regular in working out. I’ve always wanted to be someone who could enjoy going for a jog, and I’ve finally gotten to the point where I am. It’s an excellent time to be using my body, listening to music, and being outdoors instead of behind a computer. Exercise is notorious for being a tough sell, so it’s funny that it’s what I’m having the easiest time accomplishing. Maybe it’s the weather, or maybe it’s that I’ve always known I was going to have to push myself to get it done, while with writing I love it so much it’s crazy to think about it becoming a chore.
Let me know in the comments what your techniques are for lassoing your brain into even just a ten or twenty minute writing session. I need all the help I can get. Although, after talking about exercise, I’m starting to suspect that Nike’s gotten it right all along:
As much as I love being at home (especially now that I have a new couch), nothing gets me inspired quite like packing up my laptop, finding a cafe, ordering a drink, then settling in for an hour or two of writing. I don’t know what it is; maybe it’s that I went somewhere specifically to work, maybe the tasty beverage triggers the rewards center in my brain, maybe it’s just the fact that I’m not three feet away from my TV. Whatever the reason, I’m always most productive when I’m out and about, and so I’m always looking for places to set up camp. So, I’ve decided to start a series in my blog letting all of you know where I’ve been writing, why I’ve been writing there, and why you should write there too.
Located in the Noone Falls building on Jaffrey Road in Peterborough, Parker House Coffee offers a beautiful location, delicious refreshments and, best of all, free Wi-Fi. My husband started buying Parker House Coffee beans last summer when he discovered them at a local farmer’s market, and has kept it up since. I’m not much of a coffee drinker myself, but I appreciated my husband’s excitement over the quality. When we heard that they’d be opening up a physical location, my first thought was: “I can write there!” and my second was, “Will there be anything besides coffee?”
The answer to that is yes.
In addition to a multitude of coffee drinks, Parker House Coffee also offers hot chocolate made with local milk and chocolate, pastries, salads, and sandwiches. I so far haven’t made it past the pastries (so many options, so much love), but I’m fully intending to try out everything on the menu. Lately I’ve just been chocolating it up with hot chocolate, and a chocolate chip cookie. What could be better?
The cafe looks out over a river and, once we’re certain this nice weather will hold, outdoor seating will be available. I’m highly looking forward to this, as there are few things better than working outside. I’ll post some pictures once that happens.
Parker House Coffee has become a regular meetup spot for a small writing group I’m in. We’re currently on hold due to scheduling conflicts, but for the weeks we did meet, we were highly productive (a surprising fact if you take into account the amount of talking we did). All-in-all I would rate this an A+ spot for meetups, working, and just hanging out and taking a break from your day. If you find yourself there, send me a pic and tell me how you liked it.
Where are your favorite places to write? Let me know, and I might feature it in my blog.
Over the weekend, I asked my husband to set up an RSS feed for my blog so it can update live to my Goodreads and Amazon author pages. After I asked him to do this he looked at me and asked, “Why are you writing these posts?”
Now, this question wasn’t rhetorical. He wasn’t implying that I’m doing this without cause, or trying to convince me to stop. He was instead asking me to clarify, to both him and myself, where I want to put my energy and focus. If I start to get masses of readers, how many will convert into buying my book? Sure, it will get me more sales than I had before, but from a marketing standpoint it’s not the most productive way to get my book (or merchandise) out there. So why am I writing these?
1) Content is Always a Good Thing. Whether it’s for SEO purposes, or just plain staying relevant, creating content on the internet is a powerful thing. When trying to build up an image online, whether it be personal or professional, it’s important to make sure that you’re offering a lot of well-tailored content to your audience. You don’t want to be all over the place, talking about food one day and cool science facts the next unless there’s a thread tying them together. That’s one of the reasons why I like writing this blog: we all have a lot in common. We’re readers. We’re writers. And I love that. Which brings me to point #2:
2) It Helps Me Stay Connected with You. I love you guys. So, so much. I love hearing what you have to say, and keeping you informed of what’s going on, and how I’m doing with my next project. I love posting pictures of when you come to my signings, and I love creating posts that I think you’re going to like. Blogging every week keeps me thinking of and grateful for all of you. True story. And, finally, the last reason why I write this:
3) I Love It. I do. I really do. I love being able to write in a space where I don’t have to worry too much about if I’m using the same words too many times, or my placement of commas. All of that is fun too, of course, but blogging has a freedom that noveling just doesn’t. I love writing directly to my audience, while usually I’m on a track all of my own. I also love sharing my thoughts. Writing is fun, and writing is hard. Thinking of content for weekly updates can be exhausting and/or cathartic. But there’s always something to say.
And so I write. I guess that’s really what it comes down to. If you want to be a writer you have to write, and that doesn’t only apply to your current works in progress. You have to keep bending and stretching your brain, getting it to think in different ways and explore the things that you normally push aside. Personal writing, like journaling and blogging, is an excellent exercise for this. And so I’m going to keep doing this.
What about you? Do you have a blog or a journal? How frequently do you update it? Why do you post it? Let me know what your process is, and if I can give you a shout-out on here sometime. Cuz you’re the best.
While I’m at it, here’s a snippet from my day job on how to optimize your blog posts. Why not? 😉
Last night I was lying in bed, realizing that I really want a new hoodie. The big kind – pull-over, not zip up. Mostly, if not all, cotton. My old one has worn thing, and it’s time for something new to replace it. It’s a tricky standard, because I really want to be wrapped up in something meaningful. The one I’m replacing is a hoodie from the University I attended. (I’d get another one, but they’ve changed the style). It came to me that I can buy one of my own. That’s right. I sell hoodies now!
Before I figured this out, I spent a little time examining why it’s so important to have this specific kind of hoodie. I have plenty of others: ones good for sports, some cute zip-fronts, and even a pull-over with little holes in the sleeves for my thumb. They all serve their own purpose, but none of them are exactly what I want to curl up in when I need some serious relaxing. I’m talking sweatpants, cup of tea, possibly-wet-outside relaxation. I’m sure you understand.
I also need them to write in. Nothing quite gets me in the mood to write quite like the right outfit.
NaNoWriMo encourages “totems”, an idea that I am strongly behind. Writing totems are a little something that’s out of the ordinary enough that when you’re wearing it, you know you’re writing. Mine is currently a little pencil-shaped ring, perfect because I have a reminder right there on my hand. Get writing, Amy. I only use this during NaNoWriMo, because it’s very much it’s own event and I don’t want to weaken the magic. Writing under other circumstances I usually just try to be in something comfortable, and slightly academic.
The difference between my at-home writing outfits and my in-public writing outfits is fairly drastic. At home my uniform is as comfy as it gets: yoga pants, hoodie, robe, you name it. I can write in my PJs. But out in public it’s a different matter. Out in public I want to be recognized for what I’m doing. I want to look like the glamorous 20-something that I am in my head with all the time in the world to sit at a cafe with her laptop. I tend toward scarves, sweaters, and hats, and even have a special angora sweater that my husband bought me that he deemed only to be worn while writing. A very good idea, since it’s white and I have a tendency to spill.
What’s on your body is, in my opinion, just as important as where your body is. Just like I write the best when I’m in a studious yet relaxed environment, I also write the best when I feel like I look the part. Unfortunately, this also results in lots of selfies… Hmm…
What do you guys like to wear to work? Do your at-home and in-public styles differ? What do you put on that makes you feel most productive? Let me know!
In a little less than a month, Untold turns one! Yay!
It’s almost been one year! Hey, I’m wearing that same shirt today. Weird…
Funny story. I didn’t actually know that Untold had been published until it was about eleven days old. Isn’t that crazy? I knew the day was coming up soon, as all the final edits had been submitted and the cover had been approved. One day in late May I was sitting at my computer, waiting anxiously for news of my progress. After all, any day now I was going to be a published author. That was big. I broke down and sent my publisher an email, asking for an approximate time I could expect Untold to be on the shelves, so to speak. A few minutes later, my inbox displayed a new message informing me that Untold was already available on barnesandnoble.com, as well as a few other online stores. We were really only waiting on Amazon.
In shock, I went on the site, searched my name, and there it was. I was in Barnes and Noble.
Untold’s official release date is May 12, 2014. Coincidentally, that was also the first wedding anniversary of a close friend of mine. But since I didn’t find out until later, I wonder if I should celebrate Untold’s birthday on the day that I first knew it was out there, and the day that it made its first sales.
What do you think?
I want to do something fun to commemorate it. Do you guys have any suggestions? Throwing a party seems to be going a bit far, right? It’s hard for me to judge these things. I’ll take any excuse I can to throw a party.
Mostly, I want to do something that will resonate with all of you. Here are some of my ideas:
1) Hold a live event. It doesn’t have to be a party, but maybe some sort of networking session with other authors. Or, possibly, a party. I have to at least consider it.
2) Hold an online event. This could be a great time to hold my first AMA, or possibly launch a mini video series. I’ve been toying with this idea for some time now. Would you guys be interested in something like that?
3) Reveal my next work. Now, this is an idea that I’m extremely excited about. I’ve been working on it for some time now, and feel like I might be ready to start letting you guys in on it. Would the one year anniversary of Untold’s publication be a good time to do this? Would you guys want to hear?
Let me know which of these appeal to you. I could really do any, or all, of these, but my priority is to do something that’s going to get you super excited. So please tell me what you want from me, and I’ll get started putting it all together. Also, which day do you think I should celebrate on? Release day, or Amy and the World Finds Out day? So many questions, such a moderate amount of time.
I generally try to keep my blog topics to my experiences writing and publishing, but I feel like the picture would be incomplete if I didn’t explore at least a little bit of the third major part of the book creating experience: reading.
If you follow me on Facebook you’ll see that I semi-regularly ask you guys what you’re reading. This is partly to get some suggestions for myself, and partly because I like to get a feel for what you guys are interested in. Mostly, though, I just love to talk about books. A lot.
I recently finished Gone with the Wind. It was my first time reading it, and I still haven’t seen the movie, so the whole thing was fairly surprising. I went in with the vague idea that something burns and that someone doesn’t give a damn, but beyond that I was clueless. I’m grateful for this, because as a result I was treated to a lot of horror, and a lot of magic.
“He doesn’t say frankly!” I cried to my friend as soon as I was done with the last sentence. “He just says, ‘My dear, I don’t give a damn!'”
Needless to say, we were both shocked.
A little while later I ended up babbling to my husband about how Rhett falls in love with Scarlet the moment he finds out she wants Ashley and out of it as soon as he finds out that she doesn’t anymore (crazy, right?!), and calling my mom to tell her the same thing. Finding meaning in a book that no one around you has read, at least not recently, is even more frustrating than trying to explain to friends who don’t follow your favorite series why you are so traumatized at this week’s cliffhanger. Fortunately, one of our dinner companions that night declared that Gone with the Wind was her favorite movie and I was able to launch into a wonderfully satisfying discussion about Scarlett, Rhett, Mellie, and how it all reflected what the South was going through at the time. It was excellent.
I’ve come to realize that I can’t just read anymore. Due to having a book published myself I’ve come to regard books with more criticism and also more admiration than ever before. It’s very hard to take off my editorial glasses, so to speak, but at the same time becoming involved with someone else’s story has become a crazy intimate thing. As I read, I imagine how much the author loved all the characters, wonder which scenes were difficult to write, and feel how nervous they must have been when they finally declared, “No more edits!” and sent it away to print. And I respect every single one.
Yes, there are definitely books that I am not crazy about. I’ve read more than one just within the past couple months. I see places that needed more thought and editing, and can tell what parts were rushed through. I don’t always like story lines, or voices, or characters, o r even whole books in general. But I also know how hard it is to write.
Writers, have you had similar transformative experiences with your views on books? Are you more critical now? More supportive? A little (or a lot) of each?
Readers, how have your experiences reading changed throughout the years? Can you see it change book to book? Or has it stayed pretty much the same?
Let me know, because this is seriously one of my favorite things to talk about.
Rhett and Scarlett like nobody’s business. Movie night, anyone?
This weekend as I went for a walk in the spring sun and thawing air I finally figured out some serious issues that had been facing one of my protagonists. She’s a difficult one to deal with, as she keeps changing her mind as to what she wants, but I think I finally got her pinned down. This, however, did cause me to go into a mild state of crisis because I realized that the ending, in a lot of ways, is very similar to the ending of Untold.
What do I do?
My first reaction was: sleep, and worry about it later. In general, I find this a very useful tactic. I spent a couple of fitful nights and mildly anxious days ignoring the problem, but today I woke up and it hit me full force. Am I stuck?
What breaks my heart about the idea that this ending might be too similar to the ending in Untold is that both were achieved in their own rights. I carefully examined the characters, their unique traits and journeys, and the ways that I could best use the stories to help them get to where they need to be. I didn’t consciously use a formula while plotting, I only thought about the paths I wanted my characters to take. And it wasn’t easy.
I’m already wondering if I should even bring this to my readers’ attention. The characters and stories are entirely different from one another, and I wonder if anyone would see the similarities but me. But I know you guys are a thoughtful bunch, and I want to let you into my creative process as entirely as I can.
This is hard.
Writing a book is hard. We never think so. We all get book ideas and think, “I can totally write this! I just need the time!” And it’s true. But it’s not that easy. You need to make the time, but more importantly, you need to make the book. And no matter how good your idea is, or how much you think about it beforehand, you’re going to run into parts where you feel like throwing in the towel. After all, is the story really that important?
Remember. Always remember.
Yes. Yes, it is.
It would be impossible to write stories that are completely, absolutely, 100% different from each other. It would be hard to write two endings that have nothing in common, and this is because that’s how life works. We all go through the same things, and we all go through them differently. It’s certainly a challenge to look at upcoming works in light of my old one, and one that I didn’t have to face with Untold. My slate was clean, and I could end the story however I see fit. But from now on, every time I publish a book I think I’m going to be a little bit scared that it’s too similar to something else I’ve written. But you know what? I don’t have to be.
I’m going to keep writing authentic endings. I’m going to keep sending my characters through the challenges and triumphs that they need to go through, and they’re going to end their stories relatively on their own terms. I can listen and craft, but really how they take their endings are up to them. So I’m going to shove my worries under the bed, and keep working on this crazy second novel of mine. And I hope you all come through this with me.
My giveaway is up and running! It’s extremely exciting for me to see the merch you want, and to wonder who will win. Winners will be chosen at random, but I find myself hoping each time I see someone enter that he or she will win.
This whole thing has been such a learning process. When I first thought of how to advertise merchandise I thought, “Oh, a giveaway is a great idea!” It can get people excited, help get some publicity for my Facebook page, send an item into the world that reads “AmySpitzfaden.com” and help with advertising that way, and, most importantly, get an item to a fan, as a thank-you for all the support you guys have shown me. That’s really what this is. Even if nothing else about this worked out, I’d still feel happy giving the prize to the winner. But then came the questions: “How many prizes? How do I pay for them? How will it help UNTOLD?” And the over-thinking began.
I’m happy to say that I pushed past that, though. A lot of being an entrepreneur, it seems, is pushing past the over-thinking part. Actions are a million more times more valuable than ideas, and that’s really what I need to remember.
Right now, I’m working on ways to spread the word about the giveaway. I’ve done the usual social media channels of course, and have had a wonderful response from a lot of you already. Does anyone have any ideas of how else I can get people interested? I’d be interested to hear how you’ve done your own giveaways, and various promotions.
Before I go, let me just clarify the rules to the contest. You can enter UP TO THREE TIMES: One for liking the post, one for sharing, and one for commenting. Sharing is, of course, the most valuable to me and the giveaway since it helps get the word out, but I’m getting fairly addicted to comments, and seeing who wants which item. Do all three and you triple your chances of winning 😉
That’s right, after months of planning, scheming, and designing I’ve finally launched the first five items in my merchandise line. Even more exciting, this week I’ll be launching a giveaway! Quick details on that before I get into my regular musings: The contest will be on Facebook, so if you haven’t already, like my page. The giveaway will start on Wednesday, March 4th, and run for a whole week. Entries will be based on post likes, shares, and comments, and I’ll be posting the more official rules on my page pretty soon. The winner will be able to select one of the new Untold items for free. So start browsing, and see what you want!
As for being an author who has recently launched a line of merchandise… Wow. Somehow seeing t-shirts and mugs with lines from Untold, as well as hoodies headlining the writerly encouragement that ended up being my most popular tweet, makes me feel legitimate. That’s the first thing. It also helped that I designed the images entirely by myself, so what you see is straight from me. The blue lettering on the t-shirts is exactly how I imagined Robin’s words under the bridge looking, and the mug is a design that I would want to drink out of myself. I’m not going to lie to you guys, I’m proud of that.
But the next stage is one of terror. What have I done? Here I am, throwing all of my time and energy into marketing my book, and now suddenly I have to divide my resources and start advertising my other products as well. The idea behind it is that it would help gather excitement and spread the word, but along with every new endeavor comes the terrifying thought, “Was this a bad idea?”
Having launched this only a week ago, I really can’t tell you for sure. Mostly, I really just want to create a little more excitement and depth for those of you who have grown to love the world on Untold. I want you to feel a little shiver when you put on your shirt that says, “I thought you didn’t paint”. I want you to feel encouraged to write when you don the hoodie that reminds you that you like to write. I want you to feel magical when you drink out of the mug that reads, “Tonight is a night for fairytales”.
I’m going to keep working on this, too. I’m going to keep listening to you guys, and add more and more to the collection until your favorite characters and favorite parts of the story have a new kind of life that none of us have seen before.