The PR of Happiness (or “Disneyland Nightmares”)

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Part 1: In the months before my wedding, I had nightmares about visiting Disneyland. Since Disney was our honeymoon destination, it was something thought about constantly during my waking hours. In my dreams, I would always arrive late or forget my ticket and the whole day would be ruined.

I soon realized that my dreams had broader implications. On a deeper level, I was worried that all my marriage plans, not just the honeymoon, wouldn’t live up to my expectations. I was making a lifelong commitment and it didn’t matter how confident I was that I’d picked the right person, there was no guarantee my plans for happiness would pan out. Would I arrive at my “happy ever after” only to realize I’d forgotten my ticket? 

Luckily, our Disneyland trip was awesome and so was our marriage. And then a year later, the Disney dreams came back, but different this time.ticket_to_happiness

Part 2: Lately, I’ve started dreaming that I’m introducing Disneyland to my parents for the first time. They’ve never been big fans of Disneyland, but I’m convinced I can show it to them in a thoughtful way that will make them love it as much as I do. If I just keep a relaxed pace, then they won’t get tired out…except that something always goes wrong.

The broader meaning here? Well, now that I’ve gotten my “happy ever after”, I’ve been struggling to share it with my friends/family. Since we moved to Texas, the only way to stay in touch with them is through facebook and phone calls. I worry that constant “I’m so happy” posting on facebook will become annoying, or worse, not believed. When I tell my mom anecdotes from my life, I’m worried she’ll think I’m censoring out the bad stories.

Because everyone knows that marriages aren’t actually happy, right? All that stuff about marriage leading to happiness is a hollywood myth and couples who look happy are just good at hiding their misery. Anyone who buys into “happy ever after” is delusional, so I feel like a fake whenever I tell people the truth: R and I get along amazingly. Or I feel like I’m rubbing my happiness in their faces. So I try to tone it down–limit my mushy gushy posts, balance them out with tales of little frustrations we’ve encountered because it sounds more grounded. 

Now, please don’t comment with “Don’t worry what other people think” because that’s not my point. I’m just trying to be both transparent and sensitive to my audience. Sometimes it’s just more complicated than others. 

Part 3: So what I’m trying to say is, “I swear I’m not lying about being happy.” And if you’re a close friend or family member reading this, I can promise that I wouldn’t try to hide it from you if my relationship with R did sour. That doesn’t mean I’ll complain about it on facebook because that wouldn’t be fair to R, but I won’t stuff my troubles under the bed…errr, in the closet…err…under the rug! Hopefully rugs don’t have any innuendo in them…

As a counterpoint to this post, here is a breathtaking article thread about relationship envy and how we publicly present our relationships. I have re-read about 6 times in the past year because it’s so relevant. Essentially the bottom line is “don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outside.” But it goes even deeper than that. Check it out: http://apracticalwedding.com/2013/04/relationship-comparisons-online/ and then the writer’s followup later: http://apracticalwedding.com/2014/04/everyday-kindness/ 

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Part 2: LA SCBWI 2011 Play-by-Play

SATURDAY: Another early morning. Although it was very sad that John Green couldn’t be at the conference, they found one heck of a replacement–the one and only Judy Blume! She and conference organizer Lin Oliver sat down on stage and had a wonderful Q&A session and we were all impressed to hear her story. She truly is a class act.

David Small gave a heart wrenching presentation about his childhood and a heart warming talk about his first book signing. I am very ashamed to say that I had never heard of him until I signed up for the conference, but the fault is my ignorance, not his lack of talent as a writer and illustrator, that’s for sure! His latest bookStitches is a coming-of-age graphic novel/memoir that many of us wanted to buy from the bookstore after his speech, but it sold out very quickly. I’ll be buying the book soon, though! Here’s a link to it: http://stitches.davidsmallbooks.com/

So many more workshops and presentations that I can’t go into or else I’d never finish this post. Met so many lovely people. Then at the end of the evening, we had a big pajama party in the courtyard. I have to say that even though I just graduated from college, these publishing people party harder than I’ve ever seen before! I’ll never forget the sight of 1,300 authors/illustrators/agents/editors screaming the words to “I Kissed a Girl” at the top of their lungs while jumping up and down to the music. I’ll be posting a video of the conference on my youtube channel soon (see right column of links) so if you want to see some of the outrageous costumes, go there.

Me and my roommates at the pj party

SUNDAY: Listened to a panel of agents (who came on stage in their bathrobes in protest of the early morning) talk about an assortment of children’s book topics. For some reason agent Barry Goldblatt’s workshop reminded me of a more outspoken version of Artie from Warehouse 13. Maybe it was his talk about his authors being his family (literally in the case of his wife Libba Bray) and I could see Shannon Hale and Holly Black having a blast calling him up on a Farnsworth asking for advice on artifacts.

We had a very fancy lunch and the star of the show was the dessert. I think nearly everyone took pictures of the little chocolate 40th anniversary books, but just in case you haven’t seen a picture already, here’s one:

Laurie Halse Anderson gave a closing speech and almost convinced me that cloudy cold Syracuse has some sort of writing magic and I should move back since there is a long list of writers living there. Then she went onto the main theme of her truly inspirational speech, urging us to “Dare the Universe.” This may sound trite, but I’m not big on motivational speeches and there are very few that I would ever sincerely call inspiring. However, this one really touched me. I seriously was tearing up at the end of it. If anyone finds a recording or a transcript of it, let me know, because I will seriously frame that speech.

My signed copy of Wintergirls ❤

That night, I joined a huge posse of conference peeps at The Pink Taco, a local watering hole. At 9 pm, agent Mary Kole had a crazy Pitchathon for anyone gutsy enough to try. She and the guys from Boys Don’t Read took over a table right in the center of the busy restaurant and let authors sit down and take 30 seconds or less to pitch their book to her. Mary warned everyone ahead of time that she was putting on her meanest grizzly bear personality and was intentionally going to give everyone a hard time. She roared taunts at us and loudly drilled writers with questions.

And you know what? I actually gave it a try!

You might think this sounds terrifying, but she wasn’t really being that serious and there was a lot of laughing going on. Now, while this was still pretty gutsy of me, I didn’t actually pitch my novel because I knew it was a little too personal to me. So I pitched my Little Mermaid short story, which is one of the simplest concepts to explain to someone. Literally: “It’s a young adult Little Mermaid retelling where the main character is Ophelia from Hamlet.” DONE.

It went pretty well all things considered (except for the part when I thought she said “Does the witch die?” and she’d actually said “Does the bitch die?”) and I went away feeling proud of myself for being fearless.

This was the only picture I could find of the pitch session. In reality, Mary was pounding the table a lot more than she is here. 🙂

MONDAY: This wasn’t a conference day for me because the Monday Intensives had cost extra money. But my flight didn’t leave until 3:30 that afternoon, so I was able to mingle a bit. And I’m really glad I did because I met some great people while waiting in the lobby, including Jenn Klein Kompos, who went to Westmont, so she must be cool. We’re going to talk about Great and Terrible Beauty sometime since we didn’t have much time in the lobby before her shuttle came.

Then my college friend and ex-roomie Rose drove up and we hung out for lunch. After a weekend full of strangers, seeing her familiar face was a relief. It was also really nice not to have to ask her what kind of stuff she writes, since I already know!

And then I flew home and gave my couch a great big hug. I was happy to see my bed too, but it’s not quite the same relationship.

So that’s the diary/story version of the conference, but I didn’t want to lose all the gems of the “What I Learned”, so believe it or not, I’ll be writing ANOTHER post that will be a list of stuff I learned. And it will be a lot shorter than what I’ve written so far.

Carpe Diem! Joining the Dance.

It dawned on me this week that querying is changing my life in ways far beyond writing. I’ve always been good about actively pursuing my goals and sniffing out opportunities instead of waiting for them to come to me. However, I’ve always taken the lone-wolf approach–learning the ropes by reading books, researching on the internet, and taking pride in doing everything on my own. The key here is that I was really quiet going about it, especially on the internet, leaving no tracks while I soaked up the websites’ advice. I never commented, never subscribed, never shared pages I thought were interesting.

That all radically changed the moment I started sending out queries. It started with me following agents and authors on Twitter. I don’t really like Twitter, but for keeping up with publishing people, it’s priceless! You get to hear about what state they’ll be in next, what they watch on tv, and what writing pet peeves they have. Then I started this blog and realized I have a ton to talk about. Weirdly, I became almost as enthusiastic about this blog as I am about my stories, and I kinda sorta really wanted people to read it. And how do you get other people to read your blog? Read theirs, of course, and leave a comment. If you scratch their back, they’ll scratch yours, and you’ll sometimes make a new friend.

I suppose this is called networking and everybody knows about it already. But to me, it’s participating and being part of the performance, not just an audience member.  I could never do this sort of thing in person, I’d be mortified. I’m naturally confident and talkative, but get painfully shy if I’m required to spontaneously introduce myself to someone who doesn’t know me. I hate forcing myself on people. That’s why I love the internet. Nobody gets annoyed if a random stranger decides to jump into a  forum and put in their two cents. It’s less exposed, but you are sprinkling yourself around, starting to feel comfortable not being anonymous. Next thing you know, I’m leaving feedback on places totally outside my sphere of expertise. I even wrote on the food magazine Bon Appetit’s site because there  was a funny article about Star Wars cereal. After getting over the daunting hurdle of sending out a query to an agent, these small endeavors seemed invitingly easy.

Yes, those are the kinds of thing that makes me feel bold and adventurous :-\ BUT I also filmed a video for youtube’s “Life in a Day” project, when I would normally have thought, “Hey, that’s a great idea…but too much of a bother”. I’ve been taking more chances in my life, trying new foods, traveling, entering contests, having long conversations with people on planes. Heck, I even made a tiny, yet drastic change in my novel: I decided to change the good guys from “Mages” to NotSureYet . Mages was too fantasy-ish for a sci-fi novel and I never liked it in the first place. Only problem is that now I have to change my title of my novel from “Earth Mage” to AlsoNotSureYet. I’ve got lots of title ideas, I just have to pick one. This will be the 3rd title change on this project! My friends/family are going to be SO confused, the poor dears.

The important thing is I’m making the most of my time. Even more, I’m making lists of stuff I missed out on this year and I want to be ready for next year. And it feels great! This is why I love summer, because I have the brain capacity to stretch myself like this. I can seize each day and make a significant footprint in it. Carpe Diem!

Quick update on the querying: I haven’t sent out any more queries because I’m revising my query letter to make the tone more quirky, like my novel. I still haven’t heard back from 2 agents, but that’s not all that strange.

Possible names for my No-Longer-Mages (Feel free to suggest others):

1. The Medwin

2. The Virote

3. The Xantara (Shantara?)

4. The Khalon

5. The Tavor

6. The Gifted

7. The Sotirios

8. The Pareil

Basic Background: These are elite warriors who defend the Atlantean solar system with their mental power called Telos (named after the prefix of their skills–telepathy, teleportation, telekinesis, etc). Their enemies are the Dantes (previously called Sorcerists), who are usually fallen Telos users. The Mages serve the light Telos entity called Eliah and the Dantes serve the dark Telos entity of Ifara.

“Oh, Mistress Mine…”(or whatever the male equivalent is)

A big shout out to all my new visitors and especially to the brave ones who have actually ~GASP~ commented! Dear commenters, past/present/future : Congratulations, you just made my day! Don’t you just want to go subscribe now? ;-P

I don’t know about the rest of you, but sometimes I come up with little personal slogans I pull out whenever certain subjects turn up in conversation.  It starts as a turn of phrase I use to explain something and I grow so fond of how it sounds that I use it over and over again. One of my favorites is to tell people regarding my career choice: “I will always be married to my writing, but have a passionate love affair with acting on the side.”

For most of high school, I thought it would be the other way around. I would get annoyed whenever people suggested I should choose a writing-related career path because I thought writing was boring compared to the stage.  I knew I was a good writer, so I reasoned writing could be my backup plan. I was a die-hard drama club kid with dreams of starring roles or the director’s chair. Despite an irrepressible determination that I still possess today, I was easily disheartened when I got bit parts in school plays. Not only did auditions make me more nervous than a man about to be guillotined, but after the cast list had been posted I would brood for days about why I hadn’t been picked for the lead. Irony of ironies, the one lead role I received was the part of a girl who is a journalist and then drops everything to pursue a career on the stage and ends up regretting it big time. Apparently, my drama teacher was even smarter than I knew!

But I spent nights sobbing over my theater failures, tormented by confusion. I had an insatiable craving for the spotlight and that magical connection with an audience. I was starving from want of it.  So what did I do? I decided to take matters into my own hands by directing and starring in my own story–on the stage of the page. Unlike an audition, you can wait to present your writing until after you are satisfied with it. And the best part is that you as the author get to play every single role and give yourself the best lines! Ha, pretty sneaky huh?

I eventually fell in love with writing much in the same way you can grow in love with your best friend after you’ve known them for years. Now, I’ve committed myself to it, whether it be as an author or as an editor or literary agent. Surprisingly, I find the business side of publishing to be just as exciting as the writing side and I really want to get an internship at a publishing house next summer. Whatever the venue, I’ve made my choice and I doubt I’ll change my mind. I realized that there’s a lot about acting I really don’t want to be a part of. Even if I could magically be a successful actress, I’d still have to deal with the intense stress of auditions. Beyond that, I doubt I could ever be successful in Hollywood because I have some pretty strict moral standards I’d be holding myself to and I’m not convinced it’s possible to make it big in acting without having to constantly compromise your morals. With writing, I can choose to make all my content G or PG rated and it probably won’t impact my chances of success. I can sit at my computer, painting black and white typed scenes and say that I’m “working”. It’s strange how this girl who thought she didn’t handle rejection well can get negative feedback on her writing and it actually spurs her to a fury of fiction productivity. Writing brings out the best in me…mostly. More so than acting ever did (I definitely held secret grudges against friends who I didn’t believe deserved their leading roles).

And yet…I can’t break away from my first love. As I was thrilled to say in my only leading role as “Lorry” in Curtain Going Up: “There’s something about a stage–a theater–I don’t know what it is. My heart’s going a mile a minute…why even the smell of the theater is exciting!”

In college, I’ve worked on lots of drama related projects. I put videos on youtube, I’m part of a role-playing group, and I love doing those boxed murder mystery party games. My crowning glory was directing The Importance of Being Earnest completely from scratch. I had never directed before, but I didn’t want the help of my college’s super-modern-artsy theater department. I pulled the entire production together on my own and the end result was spectacular (sorry to boast, but it WAS brilliant! Ask anyone who saw it!).

I decided to blog about this because tomorrow (errr, today, it’s past midnight), I’m going to participate in this massive project on youtube called “A day in the life”. I’ll be filming parts of my day and then offering up the raw footage to possibly go into a movie at the Sundance film festival. I already make lots of videos on youtube so I figured I’d just make a special one tomorrow since it’s open to everyone, regardless of how amateurish you are. It’s not acting exactly, but I’ll take what I can get.

In case you want to watch some of my videos, here’s a link to MI5, a spy-themed channel where I play Agent Thursday we had a different “agent” for every weekday): http://www.youtube.com/user/TheMI5Show

And for less entertaining stuff, my personal youtube page: http://www.youtube.com/user/TzarinaMystra

P.S. The title of this post “Oh, Mistress Mine” is the name of a song from my favorite Shakespearean play, Twelfth Night.

Greatest Strengths = Strongest Weaknesses

I’ve been thinking a lot about ambition lately. I’ve got it by the truckload, that’s for sure. I suppose I could call them “dreams” because that’s certainly a softer, more Hollywood term for it. “Ambition” sounds a little dirty, like the difference between “passion” and “obsession”. But that’s what it’s always been for me. Something inside me makes me more driven than most people–driven enough to actually pursue my dreams for long periods of time without giving up. As many of my friends have pointed out, it’s not easy to write an entire novel, let alone two, let alone going back and doing the ruthless editing necessary to bring a novel up to publishing quality. I know I have a lot of good qualities such as dedication, motivation, determination. My writing brings out the best in me a lot of times. I’ve been told I sparkle when I talk about my writing.  When I’m at home for the summer and I get into a cranky mood,  it’s usually because I haven’t written in a long time, so the solution is pretty simple.

But as a pessimist I feel it my duty to point out that even this great passion of mine has a dark side to it. One of my great character flaws is impatience.  I didn’t realize I had a problem with this until I cam to college because until then, it had always disguised itself as efficiency. It can be useful because it gives me a sense of urgency to write and to meet my goals. That same sense of urgency sometimes drives me mad, though. You see, in my mind, I’m running WAY behind in this getting published thing. My original plan was to get my book published before I graduated high school and then plan B was to get published early on in college and if I didn’t get published before graduating college, then was life really worth living? You see, I wanted to be WAY ahead of the curve by doing something spectacular when I was young because it was more impressive. School has always been a huge barrier to my writing productivity and I often fly into a rage because I am trying to DO something with my life and I CAN’T because I have no time to write during the school year. And then, I get mad at myself for not MAKING time.

I fall into the trap of letting publishing become my primary purpose in life. Even if it lights a fire under me, that’s not where my priorities should be. Never let your gift define you. Never let your gift control you. Even if it makes you brilliant. It’s not worth it. It’s too heavy a load for a person to bear–all those self-imposed demands and expectations. I think the plainest example of this is in politicians. Remember the sorts of horrible things you’ve seen politicians do in the name of their dream for the world. It can happen in any profession and far too often we applaud those in the arts who give into it. I wish I could say this is something I struggle with everyday, but normally I just ignore it because it’s more convenient to let my dreams fuel me. It’s good for me to remind myself that my writing is not the measure of my self-worth.

Two songs and one book come to mind while I’m writing this. The songs are both by Steven Curtis Chapman: “Magnificent Obsession” and “Definition of Me”. I’d write out some of the lyrics, but this is already a really long post. The book is My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, which I read last semester for a class. It’s about a really young Jewish boy who wants to be an artist and essentially loses his family and his heritage for his art. I loved the book even though I hated most of the choices Asher made. It reminded me that I didn’t want to be him.