Jennifer Pickrell

YA Writer


8 Comments

Saying goodbye to a manuscript

April 20, 2014-August 8, 2017

From the first query letter I sent to the last for THE STAINED GLASS SUN AND MOON (aka Jules). During those three years, we went through contests, twitter pitches, two major revisions based on agent feedback, and one rejection letter so needlessly nasty that I wanted to stop writing forever. We’ve had over a dozen requests for pages and so many kind words of like, but no one fell in love. Well, other than me. I’ve been in love with this story and these characters, in some incarnation or another, since I was 17.

But now it’s time to put Jules away, not in a metaphorical drawer, but in a keepsake box with other treasured memories. I’m not going to lie – it’s hard. After three years of fighting for my girl, my disappointment over shelving her feels like a break-up.

I actually started this post weeks ago, after the last thoughtful rejection I received on a full. I still had other queries out there, but something in my heart told me to hang up my boxing gloves. Our fight was over.

After the last email was sent, I took a break from all things writing and focused on organizing the house my husband and I moved into last December. We’d lived in tiny apartments for so long before then that we could never unpack all our stuff and we’d been lugging around unopened boxes for years.

Do you know what was in those boxes? Writing. Of course. I can’t escape it, even when I try.

It’s funny, though, because it was actually therapeutic to read my stories from middle and high school. Some were so cringingly bad and unoriginal I tossed them without a second thought, but there are a few pieces that have a certain line or a cool detail and they made me remember why I love writing so much.

Telling stories, diving into my characters’ lives and pulling them into hell and back out again…

I LOVE IT.

With Jules, it was a book about a girl who falls in love with a boy and when she gets pregnant, they fall apart. Even more so when she has a miscarriage. It’s about picking up the pieces and putting them back together which is made more difficult because nothing fits the way it used to.

My heart was ripped out again. How was I still standing?  I turned toward the door and Jesse grabbed my arm. I whirled around and stomped on his foot like I’d been taught to do in the self-defense course my uncle made me take at the rec center a few years ago. But Jesse didn’t let go and it didn’t matter anyway because no one had explained what to do when the attack and the hurt came from the inside. When you loved and hated someone so much that it physically hurt.

Jules and Jesse will always have my heart, but I’m moving on, testing out the waters with another old/new story called Emma. I hope one day I’ll fall head over heels in love with her, too.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements


2 Comments

Word of the Year, Confessions and Resolutions

2017 Word of the Year:

AWAKE

Let me rewind to explain. 2015 was horrible. Several things happened, within a short time period, and after the initial, all-consuming wave of rage/sadness/shock had passed, I was left with low-grade grief. That seems the most appropriate term for it. I functioned and went through the motions, but there was always this underlying anxiety that more terrible things were going to happen.

And more inevitably did. 2016 included the scramble to find a new place to live before our apartment was declared unsafe by the building inspector. The home-buying process was stressful, the move overwhelming. I didn’t write or read anything in November/December.

Confession: During the last two months of 2016, all I managed to do most evenings after work was curl up on the couch and binge-watch “Murder She Wrote.” There was something comforting about Jessica Fletcher always catching the culprit. I ignored the fact this character was involved with 12 seasons of murder and somehow wasn’t emotionally scarred.

Then, a few days ago I was setting a newly repotted plant on the dining room table and the sun was shining brightly through the glass patio doors and I felt something I hadn’t in a long time:

Peace. Hope. Happiness.

Or some combination. I don’t know exactly how to describe it. It was the same feeling I used to have, years ago, when my husband and I lived in an apartment in an old house (ironically, it was just as moldy as the last place) and we had a tiny balcony off our bedroom where the sun would shine on our bed in the afternoons and I would curl up like a contented cat to read.

That one moment the other day made me realize how much I’ve been shambling through life the past few years, always steeled for the next crisis and never fully engaged with anything. Now it’s like I’m slowly waking up. 

A-ha! I finally get to the point.

I don’t expect myself to suddenly be a different person. I’ve always been a worrier, a homebody, the one that’s there to take care of the little details in an emergency. Sometimes these traits have felt like burdens, but ultimately I like knowing that my family can count on me. It’s the way I show love because, although my words/emotions flow freely on paper, I’m not demonstrative in real life.

My reticence, compounded with my low-grade grief, means I’ve missed out on a lot of adventures the past few years. I’m not talking about skydiving or snorkeling, I mean little things, like taking spontaneous drives through the wilds of West Virginia or going to a baseball game.

In 2017, I want to be AWAKE. I want to:

  • Go on an adventure every month
  • Read a book a week
  • Finish a draft of EMMA
  • Get back into working out
  • Make my house feel like a home
  • Feel like a contented cat again

I’m posting these resolutions publically because I feel accountable that way. Maybe it’ll also encourage me to blog more because I’ve been a bit (a lot) lacking in that department.

Here’s to waking up in 2017!

P.S. I finally gave my blog a facelift after years of the same drab background. There’s an updated “About” page and I added a tab about my books (with brief excerpts).

P.P.S. Next week is my seven year blogiversary and I’m planning a giveaway. Check back in a few days for details.


11 Comments

RTW – Quarter-year update

This week’s topic is: Quarterly check-ins! We’re already 1/4 of the way through the year–where are you on your reading and writing goals?

Based on the January goals that I posted:

Write every day.

Just about, I’m happy to report. I’ve only missed three of four days. Right now I’m in the middle of a massive rewrite, so I’m totally motivated, but I’m curious how well I’ll do when my draft is off with betas. We shall see, we shall see.

My TBR-Shelf

It started at 53 and it’s down to 46. I was aiming to read (or give away, as the case may be) at least 13, so I’m doing well there.

Keep querying

Yep, I am still trudging along in the trenches.

Finish a complete draft of a new WIP

I’m hoping to have the first draft done by the end of this month and to edit the mess by the end of April or May so I can ship it off to beta camp for the summer.

In other news, it’s snowing! A lot! My camera batteries haven’t finished charging, otherwise I would post a pic.

 


2 Comments

Reading Reflections – March 2012

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I’m trying to find the right word for my reading experience.  “Enjoyed” doesn’t fit because I obviously didn’t get any pleasure from reading about the horrors that Lina witnessed/went through.

But I did like the book and think it’s important for stories like this to be told.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

I liked the story overall.  And I liked the time period in which it was set (1940s).  But I did have some issues.

Firstly, the historical error on page 1, that said Brandon Lee was dead and buried in 1986.  Um…no.  I was in high school when he died (1993), I remember very clearly because some of my friends were obsessed with “The Crow.”

And then the whole computer mention.  Granted, I was just seven in 1986, but I do remember my older brother’s “awesome” Texas Instrument.  He taught himself computer language and played a really spiffy football game with the arrow keys, while I typed short stories, using the tremendous word-processing capabilities.  At no time were we able to use our computer to do a person search, like Henry’s son apparently did.

There were a few other, little errors, but those two really jumped out at me and I think it brought down an otherwise sweet and moving story.

If you’re looking for more stories about forced evacuations and exterminations…

^Wow, that sounds morbid and sadistic.  Obviously, I mean it in a historical/educational sense.  All book descriptions from Goodreads, movies from imdb, in italics.  I cut some of the descriptions b/c they were really long.  Click on links for more details.

Obasan by Joy Kogawa

I haven’t read this yet, but it’s on my TBR-list.

Based on the author’s own experiences, this award-winning novel was the first to tell the story of the evacuation, relocation, and dispersal of Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry during the Second World War.

The Last Jew of Treblinka by Chil Rajchman

My dad was reading this and handed it to me when he finished.  It’s a short book; I was done in a matter of about two hours.  But it’s one of those stories that makes you question humanity and your own survival instincts.

The Nazis kept the fires of Treblinka burning night and day…there was no pretense of work here like in Auschwitz or Birkenau. Only a train platform and a road covered with sand…Chil Rajchman, a young man who survived working as a “barber” and “dentist,” heartsick with witnessing atrocity after atrocity…Rajchman provides the only survivors’ record of Treblinka.

Paper Clips (documentary, 2004)

As a part of their study of the Holocaust, the children of the Whitwell, TN Middle School try to collect 6 million paper clips representing the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis.

The earnestness of these kids…that really got to me.  They asked this seemingly simple question of “how many is six million” because none of them could even comprehend such a large number. I couldn’t, either.

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis

I read this years ago for a Resources for Children class – it was one of those moments where I went, “Holy crap, this is a kids book???  This is amazing!”  The drawings are spectacular and it explains history and political ideas in such a way that kids can understand but that will also keep the interest of adults.

Through annotated illustrations, journals, maps, and dreamscapes, Peter Sís shows what life was like for a child who loved to draw, proudly wore the red scarf of a Young Pioneer, stood guard at the giant statue of Stalin, and believed whatever he was told to believe. But adolescence brought questions. Cracks began to appear in the Iron Curtain, and news from the West slowly filtered into the country. Sís learned about beat poetry, rock ’n’ roll, blue jeans, and Coca-Cola. He let his hair grow long, secretly read banned books, and joined a rock band. Then came the Prague Spring of 1968, and for a teenager who wanted to see the world and meet the Beatles, this was a magical time. It was short-lived, however, brought to a sudden and brutal end by the Soviet-led invasion. But this brief flowering had provided a glimpse of new possibilities—creativity could be discouraged but not easily killed.

The Gendarme by Mark Mustian

The story is fiction, but based on the Armenian genocide (1915-1923).  It’s told from the POV of a former gendarme (military police), so it’s painful to read some of the violent scenes and to connect them with what otherwise seems like a kind, feeble old man.  Don’t be fooled by the description below, this isn’t any sort of love story.

Emmett Conn is an old man, near the end of his life. A World War I veteran, he’s been affected by memory loss since being injured during the war. To those around him, he’s simply a confused man, fading in and out of senility. But what they don’t know is that Emmett has been beset by memories, of events he and others have denied or purposely forgotten.

In Emmett’s dreams he’s a gendarme, escorting Armenians from Turkey. A young woman among them, Araxie, captivates and enthralls him. But then the trek ends, the war separates them. He is injured. Seven decades later, as his grasp on the boundaries between past and present begins to break down, Emmett sets out on a final journey, to find Araxie and beg her forgiveness.

Ararat (movie, 2002)

Interrogated by a customs officer, a young man recounts how his life was changed during the making of a film about the Armenian genocide claims.

I didn’t dislike the movie, but at times there seemed to be too much going on, especially with the young man’s girlfriend.  I felt like that character could have been cut out and more focus given to either the guy’s story or to the film that was being made.

I did like how the filmmaker’s actions raised some important questions.  At one point, he wanted to have Ararat (mountain) in the background of several scenes and his consultant said, “No, it wouldn’t be visible from here.”  And he just sorta brushed the concern away because he was going for interesting instead of accurate.

Rabbit Proof Fence (movie, 2002)

This movie is based on the book, Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington (which I haven’t read, the author is the daughter of one of the girls, Molly).  The notes at the end of the movie said that Molly was taken a second time and again made the journey home by foot.  Pretty amazing.

The remarkable true story of three young girls who cross the harsh Australian desert on foot to return to their home.

Following an Australian government edict in 1931, black aboriginal children and children of mixed marriages were gathered up by whites and taken to settlements to be assimilated…forbidden to speak their native language, forced to abandon their aboriginal heritage…the three girls scared and homesick planned and executed a daring escape from the grim camp…headed for the nearby rabbit-proof fence that stretched over 1,000 miles through the desert toward their home.

Grandpa’s Mountain by Carolyn Reeder

This is one I need to reread, haven’t picked it up in twenty years.  I’m pretty sure it was my parents who handed this book to me, to learn more about what went on in my neck o’ the woods.  The story itself is fiction, but the historical events are real.

It’s not on the scale of the other books/movies I’ve mentioned, but it was a big deal to the people living on the mountain, who were suddenly forced to give up the only place they’d ever known as home.

Carrie has always loved spending summers at her grandparents’ home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Not even the Depression, so much on her mind back home in the city, can change the safe, carefree feeling she gets from the old farmhouse where her grandfather has lived all his life.

But this summer, shortly after Carrie arrives, she finds out that the government is planning to create a national park that will include Grandpa’s mountain, and the state of Virginia is buying up land for the park — and evicting the people who live there.

Grandpa is determined to save his home, and Carrie believes he’ll win his battle. As Grandpa’s increasingly solitary struggle drags on, Carrie learns a lot about the importance of fighting for what you believe in — and knowing when it’s time to move on.

So there’s my mini list – any reading/viewing suggestions for me?


9 Comments

My Five Favorite Reads of 2011

Do you know how hard it was to narrow down my list to five?  But I did it because…well, I have no reason for choosing FIVE as my target number, other than it seemed good.

Also, I still have a pile of books to read before the year is over, so there could be more awesomeness in my future reads.

In no particular order:

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King 

It was different.  Quirky.  But it still tackled heavy issues.  Death, grief, secrets.  The alternating voices are some of the best (and most unique) I’ve ever read.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead 

I can’t get this book out of my head.  Even months later, parts of it still pop up in my mind.  The subject matter, the setting, that haunting feeling it left me with…this book is the total package.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks

(the cover isn’t the one on Goodreads, but wanted to show the same one my library had)

This is one of those rare cases where I liked the book and the movie equally.  I bought the movie (VHS so that shows how old it is) on a whim at a video store sale years ago and it’s stuck with me for years.  The book is just as heartbreaking, about a small, economically depressed town torn apart by tragedy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

There were some parts of this I found dry and confusing, but it’s the whole concept that won me over.  Vampirism caused by a virus.  The last man on earth.  And the ending – brilliant and frightening.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Two stories that are really one, the past catching up to the present, the concept of family and love…beautiful, gut-wrenching book.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Honorable mentions:

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

The reason I wanted to read this was the reason I liked it.  Friendship, finding yourself, adulation, being trapped in a dead-end town…all these great themes and no hot, mysterious, solves-all-problems-like-magic boy in sight!

Moonglass by Jessi Kirby

This is one of those quiet books that sneaks up on you.  The writing is beautiful, the descriptions of the ocean made me feel like I was there, and the story made me cry.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And there it is, my bloggy friends, my last post for 2011 – I’ll see y’all* in 2012!

*I so want to use y’all since I’m from Virginia, but it just doesn’t roll off my tongue.  I’m more of a “you guys” type of girl.  But regardless, have a great Holiday and here’s to lots of writing and reading in the new year!

Clinks glass, discards for a piece of cake, stuffs face, happy carb coma….


13 Comments

RTW – Must Eat Brains!

YA Highway asks: What’s the best book you read in October?

I only read a few books this month since most of the time was spent plodding through a 500 page biography on Rasputin.  I am now disappointed that the legend isn’t as legend-y as I’d wanted.

Oh well…

To the other books!

Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

Before reading I was firmly TEAM ZOMBIE.  I’ve never been a big fan of the unicorn.  Probably because I was never one of those “I want a pony” kids.  I was more of an “I want a pet tiger, please.”  Note: My parents never got me a tiger, oddly enough.

My thoughts on some stories.  I put (Z) for Zombie, (U) for Unicorn

Bougainvillea by Carrie Ryan (Z) – loved the twist at the end.  I was expecting it, but that only made it sweeter.

A Thousand Flowers by Margo Lanagan (U) – It’s burned into my memory.  I am traumatized.

Princess Prettypants by Meg Cabot (U) – This story *almost* made me jump over to Team Unicorn.  Hilarious.

Prom Night by Libba Bray (Z) – My favorite story, hands down.  Haunting, heartbreaking, thought-provoking…it would make a great movie.

After reading, I’m still TEAM ZOMBIE, but maybe there’s a tiny sliver of room in my heart for certain unicorns.

Nothing by Jon Agee

I don’t normally read kids’ books since I don’t have kids, but I do sometimes volunteer as a “mystery reader” at the elementary school where my mom works.  I read this book to a group of kindergarteners.  The concept (it’s thinly veiled about materialism) went over their heads, but it  was a fun enough book that afterward they were all giggling and saying, “That’s silly.”  My four-year-old niece says “silly,” also.  It’s totally one of my favorite words.

What’s the best book you read in October??


12 Comments

Fall Book Club – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

It’s time for reflection!

I must admit, when I saw our September book choice, I went:

Eek!

Me + scary books =s Me having nightmares

I mean, look at the cover, it did not make me want to open the book.  Nor did the description which promised eerie things (courtesy of Goodreads):

A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned  bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

^Although I feel like this summary is somewhat misleading…but explaining why might spoil some things, so I’ll remain mum.

Anyway,

It didn’t terrify me like I thought it would.  Even the super creepy pics didn’t bother me, because they really added to the story.  No sleeping with the lights on or anything!

Right away, it didn’t exactly *feel* like a YA to me.  There was something “looking back-ish” reflective about the prologue.

Note: Here is a book where I think the prologue works well, because it sets up the story nicely.

Other thoughts:

I’m not sure how to accurately explain this.  A lot happens, but it doesn’t really seem like it.  I stayed a bit detached from the story.  The MC, Jacob, was likable, but I never got to really know him.  I wasn’t as emotionally invested as I wanted to be.

There was a slight bit of romance (which I’m normally all for), but even that felt a little odd and not just because of the circumstances.

Ransom Riggs was great at creating an atmosphere; I didn’t have any trouble imagining the island.  But I would have liked to get to know the “Peculiars” better because some of them were really interesting.  I liked Bronwyn for her bravery/sweetness and Enoch, despite his creepy “gift.”

Some of the time/space explanations were a bit muddled, but I’m the sort to question Newton’s laws, so it’s not surprising I’d feel iffy about that.  I did, however, figure out one of the twists, so I was quite proud of myself.

The ending was obviously setting things up for a sequel, but it felt a little “eh,” mostly because I was still a tad confused about the time/space  stuff.

All in all, it was a quick read and an interesting concept…just not my type of book.

Edit: I want to comment on your blogs, fellow book clubbers, so we can dish about this book, but my words keep getting eaten when I click “submit”…so sorry if you somehow end up with 500 comments from me b/c of this weird glitch.