Playing Pretend, Method Writing, & Princess Stephanie

In the window of the children's gift shop at the Louvre.
I wanted it in
my size!

CONFESSION: I have never stopped playing pretend.

Sometimes, when life is a little too boring or a little too stressful, I will imagine that I am someone else. Somewhere else. It's a habit that children are supposed to grow out of, but one I find far too useful to give up.

If I'm in a doctor's office, alone and scared, I'll imagine someone holding my hand. If I'm feeling chained to my desk, I'll imagine a relaxing day in another country without nary a laptop in sight. If I'm bored and driving somewhere far away, I'll imagine an amusing companion in my passenger seat.

And, sometimes, I will imagine things just to imagine things. For instance, on a recent wintry afternoon, I imagined that I was a benevolent Snow Queen riding on the back of a triceratops and waving to my people. The Snow King rode beside me, and we were wrapped in thick furs and wearing spindly, crystal-and-silver crowns.

Because . . . why not?

So it's not surprising that I write this way, too. I call the process Method Writing, because it's similar to Method Acting. Basically, during the duration of creating a novel, I become my protagonist. I step in their shoes — sometimes literally, as I did with Lola, who loves costumes and unusual footwear! — and we talk the same, eat the same, share the same opinions, do the same activities, take the same emotional roller coaster, and . . . fall in love with the same boy.

It's often challenging to discern where I end and my characters begin. I only write about things that interest me (I cannot fathom writing something otherwise), and, therefore, a lot of me winds up in each character, and a lot of each character winds up in me. Even the not-so-nice ones. We take on each other's habits, for better and for worse. We learn from each other. And we solve our problems together.

It's a bit like therapy, honestly.

But that falling in love bit . . . because I write romance, and love is the arc . . . that falling in love is the trickiest bit of all.

√Čtienne St. Clair was easy to fall in love with. He was, in an odd way, my first. I fell for him deeply and immediately. Because of this, Cricket Bell — the boy in Lola's story — through no fault of his own, became a challenge. The overactive method side of me felt as if I were cheating on √Čtienne, and it took several months for me to mentally make that switch, for me to fall in love with Cricket as deeply as I had with √Čtienne.

Last week, I began having terrible struggle dreams. Each night, I was forced to leave my husband and fall in love with someone else. It was sad and painful. It was just plain wrong. And it took three nights of these dreams before I realized that my unconscious was telling me that it was time to let go of Cricket and fall in love with the new boy.

Isla's boy.

How heartbreaking.

It's also nerve-wracking, and . . . kind of exciting. The strangest thing of all was something I realized this morning, while emailing a friend: Isla has had a crush on This Boy for three years (plot-wise), and I have had a crush on This Boy for three years (when the idea for the novel first occurred to me), and now it's time for us both to actually get together and fall in love.

I love that whole idea of art imitating life vs. life imitating art. It's a fine line, isn't it?

Which makes me wonder further . . . how will Isla change me? What habits will I pick up from her? What habits of mine will I give her? And what will we teach each other about ourselves?

This are big, scary questions. No wonder I find beginnings so intimidating!

Whiiiiich is why I spent this morning procrastinating again, this time with the Princess Maker (linked on Twitter by Dawn Metcalf via @srolutola).

Guys, I'm not gonna lie to you. The Princess Maker is FREAKING AWESOME for people like me who have been in love with princess stories their whole life, and who, yes, occasionally still pretend they ARE one!

But . . . another funny thing happened.

I went there to design my perfect pretty princess, right? I wasn't sure who she would be, and, therefore, I was startled when I realized that my ideal for a princess has not changed since childhood. She was, essentially, an idealized version of me.

I'd like to introduce you to Princess Stephanie:

• Red Hair

As a red-haired child, it was frustrating for me to see so many blonde and brunette princesses. The only redhead that existed was Ariel from The Little Mermaid, who I was grateful for, but who never felt like a REAL PRINCESS because she had fins for half the movie. (Which is why I wish Enchanted had existed back then! I loooove Giselle and her floofy gowns.)

• Freckles and Ghost-Pale Skin

Like me, naturally.

• Green Clothing

Green has always been my favorite color, and I was obsessed with characters who wore green, most notably Robin Hood and Peter Pan. (That corset is a bit Robin Hood-esque somehow, no?) And I honestly could. not. help myself when I saw that forest green. It was as if there were no other color choices.

• Ballet-Style Dress and Shoes

My sister was a ballerina, and apparently that longing to be an older, more sophisticated sister runs deep. This also plays into my longing for grace and poise, because I am a wicked klutz.

• Jewelry

I chose not to give her any bracelets, because I can't wear bracelets. I have extremely active hands — a trait which, ha ha, I gave to a character in Lola's story — and I tend to play with bracelets and break them. Also, my wrists are approximately the size of a toddler's. Stupid wrists.

• Devious Expression

What can I say? I like mischief-makers! (Ah hem, Robin Hood and Peter Pan.)

• Bluebird

But I have always wished for that one-with-nature thing. Though I like to think of it more as a superhero power than a sweetie-pie characteristic!

Now I'm curious about those of you here who also still like princesses. If you're interested, please create one and email the image to me under the subject-heading PRINCESS (steph AT stephanieperkins.com).

There are tons of fabulous choices. The only sucky thing is the usual sucky thing, in that there's only one body shape. BOO TO ONE BODY SHAPE. But if you're still interested, the last step of the princess-making process includes choosing a background. Please pick the white background, so that I can see your princess clearly.

Give your princess a name (your own name is ideal, of course), and I'll post an army of your princesses later this week!

In the meantime . . . I must leave this blog to fall in love with a new prince.

EDITED TO ADD, FROM MY COMMENTS: "Actually, you can pick from 2 bodies - the buttons at the top of the page with eyes and lips." Cool! Thanks, Ruthie! I wish there were more than two, though.



Steph & Isla, Week One

Hoo boy. It's astonishing how quickly my mind can go from this:

Tra la la! Emperor of Mondays! Fresh start! New book! WheeeEeeEeeeEEEeee! DIS IS THMOST AWESOME WEEK EV-AR!!!

To this:

Wait. I actually have to write another book? Now? Like, right now?

Most writers can be divided into two camps: those who enjoy first drafts and those who enjoy revising. I am firmly on the revision side. For me, first drafts are sloppy and embarrassing and filled with holes and stupidity. And that's okay! They're supposed to be that way! But my perfectionist mind despises cutting a path through the muck. Everything is so messy and unclear. It's humiliating for me to know these early drafts even exist; it feels like I'm stumbling through a crowded public square in my underpants and one flip-flop.

But . . . it's not all bad. This week, I've taken great pleasure in organizing my notes. Removing Lola's inspiration pictures and hanging up Isla's. Reading research books. Brainstorming ideas with friends. Creating new goals and deadlines.

You'll notice that none of those activities actually involve writing.

I envy those authors who blast through first drafts — GOOD first drafts! — in a matter of weeks. Mine take months, by far the longest stage of my writing process. My most frequently used metaphor is that a first draft feels like having to yank out my own teeth. It is slow, and it is excruciating.

It is also filled with an excess in melodrama and procrastination.

Examples of early melodrama:

• Whiny emails to my critique partners
• Whiny texts to my critique partners
• Whiny phone calls to my critique partners

Examples of melodrama-to-come:

• Panicked emails to my critique partners
• Panicked texts to my critique partners
• Panicked phone calls to my critique partners

Examples of early procrastination:

• Ooo! Thom Yorke oil painting!

• Ooo! Thom Yorke paper doll!

• Ooo! Thom Yorke dancing with a bear!

NOTE: All three of these were sent via my friend Connie, who is my favorite source of procrastinatory goodness. You rock, Connie! Thank you! Also, you should check out this amazing present she made for another friend. Clearly, everyone should strive to be Connie's friend.

FOLLOW-UP NOTE: This picture makes me so happy. Two fabulous ladies in one!

Kiersten and Connie

(Moving back on topic . . .)

Examples of procrastination-to-come:

• Taking up a new hobby, such as turning Thom Yorke into art
• Staring at my office wall and pretending that my laptop does not exist
• Eating just one more snack and drinking just one more cup of coffee

And now I should end this post and tie it up in a bow, but all I can think about is that if I stop typing, I will have to Get To Work. And I'm not so fond of Getting To Work.

So I think I'll stay here a bit longer.


*twiddles thumbs*

*gazes out window*

*scratches side of nose*

*drums on desk*

*jiggles foot*

Okay, maybe I'll go for just one more snack, instead. Would you like to join me for coffee afterward? We can play with our paper dolls!


The Emperor of Mondays

I'm borrowing this title from my friend Laini's January 1st post:

I like to think of New Year's as the "Emperor of Mondays." Mondays, I know, are not everyone's favorite day of the week, but I love Mondays. For some reason, Mondays have always felt like clean slates to me, like . . . new notebooks. You know? Like a fresh etch-n-sketch screen. The feeling is: begin now.

I love (and completely understand) this notion. Unfortunately, I was mud-trudging through Lola and the Boy Next Door revisions last January, and a clean slate felt like an impossibility. But today.


Today is my Emperor of Mondays.

Last Friday, I turned in the first copyedited version of Lola. She is finally—!!!—ready to become a real-live book. It is . . . difficult to believe. It is also awesome.

Really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really awesome.

So today, on my Emperor of Mondays, I'm gazing upon that clean slate: an empty work calendar and a new book. *happy sigh* Picture me rolling around in this moment like a puppy in the grass on a sunny day.

The Author, as interpreted by Frodo, which is, by the way, an excellent name for a dog.

I have many hopes, wishes, and goals for the next few months:

• An okay completed first draft of Isla and the Happily Ever After.

It doesn't have to be great, not yet. Just complete. And I do currently have a full draft, but it was my zero draft, aka my NaNoWriMo draft. Which is helpful! But NOT a first draft. I'll be fortunate if I save even 5k of the current 50k.

The related hope is to keep the work not-overwhelming and not-terrifying. I don't want to live through another Lola debacle. My new strategy is consists of three simple, non-negotiable parts: (1) work steady hours, (2) take scheduled time off, (3) remember that I write for myself first. It's okay to feel selfish, it's okay to shut out the other voices for a while.

I'm the one who has to live with the darn thing.

• A solidly brainstormed Fourth Novel.

Fourth Novel isn't related to Anna/Lola/Isla, and every time I tell someone about Fourth Novel, the idea changes. So . . . I've stopped telling people. But I'm sitting on something veeeeery intriguing. Now I have to figure out how to make it work! And I have to figure it out soon, because, you know, I need a paycheck next year. Groceries are good.

• A return to blogging.

I'm thankful that I've never disappeared for too long, but I do wish that I could return to two weekly posts. I miss this place! And I have so much to tell you about the fabulous books I'm reading! And the conference that I went to two weekends ago! And the extras casting call for the Hunger Games movie that I went to last weekend! And The Killing on AMC, which has excellent, realistic teen dialogue!

Anyone else watching? I heart smart storytelling.

So . . . that's it for now. Hopefully, I'll see you again later this week. Are any of you at a crossroads right now, too?

Best of luck to anyone who is!