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TWIST! Change it up

24 Aug
John Talbot; Ottawa, Canada (Crystal DNA at the National Arts Center) CC 2.0

John Talbot; Ottawa, Canada (Crystal DNA at the National Arts Center) CC 2.0

Once again, I have taken on too much.  Sound familiar?  I have a hard time saying “no” to Really Interesting and Cool Stuff, even when I don’t have the bandwidth.  It’s literally in my DNA.  The thing is, when you’re creative, you can’t just do the Stuff That Must Be Done and ignore all the Really Interesting And Cool Stuff that happens along in life. Denying the experience of those cool and interesting things = souldeath.  And I, for one, am not interested in souldeath, despite some of the really cool zombie movies that are out there these days.

Speaking of zombie movies, I saw one recently that I absolutely love: Warm Bodies.  I’ve never been a zombie fan, but this movie made me one.  How? Simply put, some of the best scriptwriting I’ve seen in a long time.  Somehow, the writer managed to create a story that was all at once cleverly funny, awkwardly romantic, sweetly heroic and brain-eating(ly?) gory.  And, by the way, it had a rockin’ soundtrack.

Probably my favorite scene is when a group of zombies, on their way to SAVE the planet, is walking down the highway – in slo-mo – to Rock You Like A Hurricane by the Scorpions.  Hilarious.  Brilliant. And, you are totally cheering them on.

So, how did the screenwriter(s) do this?  Took something that was “good” and gave it a twist.

Zombie eating brains = good.

Zombie developing crush on a human = twist.

Zombies, zoned-out and wandering around an airport = good.

Zombie who collects and listens to 80’s vinyl  = twist.

See how that works?  Another example is Vivi,’s book: Olivia Twisted, coming out this November (warning: shameless friend-promotion.) She wrote a modern take on the classic Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.  But instead of just making the same story happen in a contemporary setting, instead of making the youths pickpockets, she made them hackers.  Great twist, right?  Oh, and the protag is a girl, but you probably knew that already.

The best part about TWISTing your creative work is: it’s fun!  And, definitely helps prevent souldeath.  This month, as I’ve written, I’ve tried to remember to throw in some twists that really up the interest.

What are you working on that’s good, but would be great if you gave it a TWIST!?

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DIVE! When you suck at blogging, blog more

18 Jun

So I’ve come to a realization about myself. I suck at blogging. Really—it seems hard to come up with one smart thing to say each month (how do you bloggers do it?), and I use the word “smart” loosely. So what does one do when one sucks at blogging?

I bet you didn’t guess start a new blog.

But that’s what I’m doing. In addition to my role on this blog as one of the 4 Chicks (‘cause I’m not going anywhere!), I’ve started a blog on my own website. Diving into new waters, as it were. And that one I need to really keep up with, since I don’t have 3 other friends to cover for me do the dirty work post in my absence. I can’t guarantee it’ll be earth-shattering posts every time, but I’ll try to say more than um…um…

Although that may very well be part of it.

Vivi crazy

My usual expression

Seriously, though, I know I’m not the only one out there who is pulled in a million different directions every day. The problem is that I love every one of those directions, be it hanging out with family, writing, revising, working. I just never seem to have the time to devote one hundred percent to each one. I mean, unless you’re a Twilight vampire (and if you are, bite me—literally), who does? That’s why I posted a picture of me pulling my hair out, because I seem to do that more often than not.

My sister-in-law recently told me something that stuck with me – give 100% of yourself to whatever you’ve got scheduled at any given time, and not worry about the other items on the list. For example, when working, don’t think about the revisions sitting on your desktop. When with your family (and this one has become much more important to me), don’t think about the work you have to do later. This has actually helped me become a little more focused, and I’ve been able to accomplish more. It didn’t hurt that my son gave me an acrostic poem for Mother’s Day and my computer/writing was listed at least three times (and more than any other theme). So yeah…Momma needs a new attitude.

As for my blog post – it’s on www.vivibarnes.com, and I’m giving away something related to my upcoming debut novel, OLIVIA TWISTED. So come on over and dive in! And leave a comment below if you have any tips to share on how you balance everything OR suggestions for what I can talk about on my new blog. Because anything is better than um…um…

Have a great week!

PADDLE! Row your way through the marshes

11 May

In my quest for adventure in 2012, I tried kayaking for the first time and absolutely loved it. It was in a very calm bay off the Gulf of Mexico at North Captiva Island, and the water was so calm and clear that you could see all way to the bottom. The water was also very shallow at that time of year; in some areas rowing was like slicing warm butter with a sharp knife, but at one point, we had to dig down and push through the marshy grasses to make our way through. Sometimes I wanted to paddle back to the open water, but I kept going and was rewarded with a view of the bay that took my breath away.

The process of writing is very much like rowing. Sometimes it’s clear sailing and easy-peasy, other times it feels like you’re pushing a kayak through three inches of water and marsh. It’s easy to give up when you get to the marshy part. Been there, done that. For me, it’s revisions. I’d rather just barf up a lovely first draft and move along to the next story, just like I did on papers in high school (where my first draft was my last draft), but writing novels doesn’t quite work like that.sports

With Olivia Twisted, I revised the opening paragraph alone three times and the entire story…well, who knows how many times. It went from 55K words to 88K, and I have no idea how many it’ll end up with when I’m done. And there were many times I wanted to just give up so I could go back to doing what I love most – drafting – but I paddled on. And I got to where I hated it and thought I sucked as a writer and so on and so forth (by the way, in my opinion, when you feel like your manuscript sucks and you suck as a writer, that’s when you know you’re close).

Obviously, I’m glad those phases didn’t last long enough to make me quit, but the point is to keep going. Paddle through the marshy blahs and get to where it’s smooth sailing again. Because the view on the other side is definitely worth it!

SPROUT: Grow Your Relationships

28 Apr

lady with laptop

I love this month’s power word (okay, so I will probably say this about every power word), because it speaks to what I love most: people.

The comfort level varies for every writer on how much they share about the writing process with others. And when you get an agent or a publisher, so many of the details are confidential that sometimes it seems better to keep everything under wraps just to be safe. But for the aspiring writer, it’s a wonderful thing to hear from other writers about the process. The more the better, as no one person’s tale is the same as another’s. I will always be grateful to those writers who opened up and shared their journey with me. It made me feel more relaxed in a world that in the beginning felt like a pair of new shoes—pretty, but a little uncomfortable.

When I started writing seriously a couple years ago, I involved everyone I knew in the process. From my kids to my coworkers to my fellow Chicks (of course) to Twitter friends, at one time or another, everyone got to hear me complain about celebrate the sometimes wacky, sometimes wonderful, always wild world of writing and querying. Through writer’s block, query rejections, revisions – we were all in it together.

What this ultimately did was create a strong support system that has gotten me through both difficult and exciting times. These wonderful partners and friends celebrate, laugh, and commiserate with me. I can’t imagine this journey without them and will always be grateful.

So, if you’re comfortable with it, share some of your journey—both highs and lows—with friends and acquaintances. Let those relationships sprout and everyone will benefit.

On a related note, to celebrate this month’s power word, I spent two hours in my flowerbed tonight, planting. After lying here with sore arms, legs and back, I’ve decided gardening is overrated. I’ll stick to sprouting relationships instead.

SPROUT! Encouraging Other Artists

3 Apr
Artists of every botanical species can sometimes feel alone in a cold, harsh world.

Artists of every botanical species can sometimes feel alone in a cold, harsh world.

Seedlings come in all varieties. Whether newfound ideas or individuals, they are important artistic sprouts for us to encourage. When either a creative project or a creative person is first placed into our lives, we as artists—regardless of where we are in our own journey—can help both them and ourselves grow by our openness, attention and support.

In the past week, I’ve met not one, but two amazing women. For the sake of privacy and universality, let’s call them Young Sprouting Artist and Young-at-Heart Sprouting Artist, or “Yo” and “Yah” for short. If either reads this post, she’ll know who she is.

In each instance, a casual conversation quickly escalated to an immediate connection. I had a hunch I knew the reason, and in both cases, my artistic intuition was subsequently confirmed. After a group exercise class at the gym, stay-at-home mom Yah eventually shared that she is a prolific painter who longs for her first art show exhibit spot but feels discouraged by obstacles. Under even more unlikely circumstances that I won’t detail here, young elementary school teacher Yo eventually shared how she longs to write a Young Adult novel but also feels discouraged, perhaps by her own inner critic more than anything else.

I wanted to reach out and hug Yah and Yo. Mind you, my artistic journey is far from its own apex. Nevertheless, I was overcome with a desire to encourage and support each of these beautiful women. In those honest moments, my artistic soul screamed within, wanting to affirm to them: “Yes, you are an artist! And you are not alone!”

That’s how and why we 4 Chicks dreamed ourselves into online existence. The support and love we experienced for each other’s creativity was so powerful in changing our own lives that we wanted to share it with others. But before all that, we were four extraordinarily ordinary moms who giggled at calling ourselves “artists.” Here’s a quick Chick Quiz to give you an idea of our transformations over the past three years:

  1. Which Chick has written four YA novels? (Hint: the first one, Olivia Twisted, comes out November 2013 from Entangled. Oh, and this fabulous, funny Chick also won a prize at the last SCBWI conference for her costumed impersonation as Honey Boo Boo.)
  2. Which Chick has written multiple picture book manuscripts, finished one novel and started another, while taking on exciting new roles as a college professor and seminar leader? (Hint: she never has a bad hair day. That should give it away.)
  3. Which Chick won a national contest to have a children’s book published and is working on an historical novel based on the life of a female pirate? (Hint: she wrote Addie and Ollie in one evening but has been writing the novel on and off for…much longer.)
  4. Which Chick edited our theme song video, started running triathlons, marathons, Tough Mudders, and is currently studying to be a nutritionist and personal trainer.  (Hint: her muse name comes from all the creative parties she throws at her house and also for hosting our monthly meetings. Yes, her rattan pool furniture is our “set.”)
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Like healthy grass, the roots of healthy artists grow horizontally, strengthened by the support of other shoots and reaching out themselves.

Tomorrow I’ll be at a nearby community college, where I was asked to attend a fine arts student expo to speak casually about the blog, blogging and freelancing with those looking to pursue artistic careers. Coincidence? No such thing. After being so deeply inspired by Yo and Yah, I’m more excited than before to share whatever artistic seeds I’ve learned along the way.

Have you met someone recently who could use your artistic love? Or is it your own germinating idea? Either way, cherish your sprout and help it grow together with you.

Cover reveal: OLIVIA TWISTED

1 Mar

I am so excited to share the cover and official blurb for my book, OLIVIA TWISTED, which debuts November 5! Thank you to the entire team at Entangled for your support, and especially to Kelley York for the spectacular cover.

OliviaTwistedCover

Olivia

He tilts my chin up so my eyes meet his, his thumb brushing lightly across my lips. I close my eyes. I know Z is trouble. I know that being with him is going to get me into trouble. I don’t care.

At least at this moment, I don’t care.

Tossed from foster home to foster home, Olivia’s seen a lot in her sixteen years. She’s hardened, sure, though mostly just wants to fly under the radar until graduation. But her natural ability with computers catches the eye of Z, a mysterious guy at her new school. Soon, Z has brought Liv into his team of hacker elite—break into a few bank accounts, and voila, he drives a motorcycle. Follow his lead, and Olivia might even be able to escape from her oppressive foster parents. As Olivia and Z grow closer, though, so does the watchful eye of Bill Sykes, Z’s boss. And he’s got bigger plans for Liv…

Z

I can picture Liv’s face: wide-eyed, trusting. Her smooth lips that taste like strawberry Fanta.

It was just a kiss. That’s all. She’s just like any other girl.

Except that she’s not.

Thanks to Z, Olivia’s about to get twisted.

Check it out:
Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17343436-olivia-twisted
Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1622660285

“Like” my Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/vivibarnes.author

 

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ZOOM! (even if we drive a minivan)

24 Jan

My first thought when we voted on ZOOM for our power word was that I drive a minivan and zoom doesn’t exactly describe it. Though my husband would disagree by the way I drive. Whatever.

Before I started writing this post, I thought I’d use ZOOM in the definition of focus, especially since I’m knee-deep in the editing process right now.

Vivi ziplineThen I opened my phone and saw the picture of my recent zipline experience and decided to use ZOOM the way I feel at the moment—moving full speed ahead! And you know, sometimes when you ZOOM through life the sides of the road may blur, which sounds like a bad thing. However, I feel that when you’re focused and moving ahead, if you stop to notice the things on the left and right of you, those things start to pull you from your goals. For me, social media is a great example of something I need to let blur when I’m ZOOMing. I get distracted very easily by Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. Excuse me while I check my email. But if I’m flying through something at any given moment (and I have to really be engaged in what I’m working on), I need the sides of the road to blur so I can make headway. And it feels good. blurry road

This past year, I decided not to let anything stop me from what people have called my bucket list—all those things I’ve always wanted to do but something got in the way (um, okay, usually I was standing in my own way).  Were there things on the “side of the road” that could’ve stopped me? Of course! (I got a lot of the “Your parachute might not open!” To which my response was, “We all gotta go sometime!”) It was such an incredibly rewarding year that I’ve dared myself to keep going. I will take on each challenge not just by climbing but leaping. I won’t let anything get in my way, especially not my own inhibitions. I will seek out new experiences and stay positive through all the bumps and curves.

I will allow the road to blur when necessary.

I will ZOOM!

Will you?

The Courage of Judy Blume

28 Nov

If you were a girl growing up in the 70’s, you know Judy Blume.  Or at least feel like you do.  Because when you read her books, it was like she was there with you.  In books like Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret  and Deenie she wrote about real life.  Things that you thought about and dealt with but no one talked about.  Of course, in our current world, we voraciously consume reality television and everything is discussed openly 24/7 on this miracle we call the internet.

It’s easy to forget that back in the day, writing about real life often got your book banned or burned.  Judy Blume wrote about it anyway.  She says on her website that she didn’t realize at first what she wrote could be considered controversial, she just wanted to write the most honest books she could.  When her work was indeed censored, did that stop her? No, she wrote more.  She was courageous and it made a difference in many of our lives.  She shone a light for us along that rocky path called childhood and then puberty.

This is not Judy Blume. Or me. But it is what puberty feels like. And probably breast cancer too.

And she didn’t stop there. Even if you’ve never heard of Judy Blume (which is inconceivable), she has been your champion.  In the face of censorship, she stood up for not only her rights, but your rights, my rights and the rights of millions of young readers.  She became very active in the anti-censorship movement.  Once again, her courage was a beacon.  You can read more about her activism here.

And now, Judy is shining a light on another rocky path that many of us will go down in our lifetimes. She announced on her blog in September that she has breast cancer.  This hit home for me because a good friend of mine recently was diagnosed with breast cancer and several other women I know in my community have been diagnosed just in the past few months.  It seems as though it’s blooming everywhere like an evil crabgrass.   It has begun to feel as inevitable as puberty was.  As always, Judy does not shy away from the topic, and in her blog she wrote honestly and openly of her diagnosis and treatment.

My friend is working through her chemo and doing very well, enjoying the good times and plowing ahead ahead in the bad.  I know she will be well again soon.  I wish the same for Judy Blume.  We need her and her courage as much now as we ever did.

A special announcement and a giveaway!

18 Sep

I can’t believe I’m posting this. Seriously, it sounds so cliché to say this but I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M POSTING THIS:

I am excited to announce that I have signed a contract with Entangled Teen!

As soon as I heard Entangled was interested in my story, OLIVIA TWISTED (a retelling of Oliver Twist about a foster child who finds friendship in a gang of hackers), I delved into the research. I contacted five (yep, five) of their authors, all of whom couldn’t say enough great things about the company. Entangled doesn’t get paid until their authors make money, so you can bet they put everything they can into each book. In fact, I classify this company as “extreme type A personality,” as I’ve never seen a group of professionals have such a go-get-‘em, dedicated attitude as they do for their authors.

And then I spoke with Stacy Cantor Abrams, the editor. Stacy came to Entangled after seven years at Bloomsbury/Walker Books for Young Readers. She was incredible and very enthusiastic about my story! I called my agent, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, and said let’s do it (cue Wild Thing music). Here’s the announcement from Publisher’s Marketplace:

They have an amazing group of authors (check them out at http://www.entangledteen.com/authors/). In fact, one of their YA authors, Rachel Harris, is celebrating the debut of her book this very day–My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century!

To my fellow chicks and critique partners and family and beta readers and agent and Twitter pals and work team members who have helped me reach this goal (and put up with my insanity), thank you!

And now, the giveaway: To celebrate my joining the Entangled team, I’m giving away an Entangled Young Adult (or any Entangled) book of your choice to one lucky winner! If you would like to enter:

  • Leave a comment on this post.
  • Include the name of the Entangled book of your choice (you can find them at EntangledPublishing.com). You can say “any” if you prefer the fun wild card method.
  • Include your email address (or Twitter handle, if you prefer). Spell your email address out so spammers don’t attack you with laser beams.

Comment by midnight EST on Monday, Sept. 24. Winner will be announced on Tuesday, Sept. 25.

To be (happily) continued…

How do you know when you’ve looked at your own work too much?

24 Aug

Yes, I know it’s a long title, but I really want to know.   How do you know when you’ve looked at your own work too much?  When you are no longer a good judge of whether it’s great or it’s crap?

Vivi and I have a novel which we’ve been working on for years (literally, not just “it feels like”).  There are a lot of good reasons why it’s taken so long but, through this experience, I’ve realized one real downside of working on a project too long: at some point you get bored with your own work.  You’ve read it so many times that it doesn’t – it can’t – have the same emotional impact.  At that point you can no longer tell how it will strike others.

After our latest revision, I had doubts about whether the first chapter started in the right place, held the reader’s interest, did enough to introduce the main characters but not be an infodump, and so on.  I winced when we sent it to our critique group.  But then a wondrous thing happened…they liked it.

Not only did they like it, they laughed at all the places we’d hoped they would.  They could “see” the characters.  They loved where we were going so far.  The voice was just right.  Of course, they gave us critical feedback as well, which we were happy to get.  It was like a veil was lifted for me and I thought, “Oh yeah, it is funny.  We did find just the right touch.” Without other eyes on it, I would have still been looking at it through a fog.  Still working on it, thinking it’s not good enough, and not ready to be put out into the world.

But if we keep doing that, we never actually produce anything, do we?  We remain an amateur rather than giving ourselves the opportunity to turn pro.

I want to figure out how much is enough and how much is too much, so I can produce a quality product but actually produce!  As an artist, how do you know?

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