Tuesday, June 6, 2017

In Which I Present My #PitchWars #PimpMyBio



Welcome! I'm Leanne Schwartz (@LifeBreakingIn), a YA fantasy writer and #PitchWars hopeful. Much gratitude to Lana for putting on this blog hop. Thanks for reading mine, and have fun checking out the others! I love reading as many bios as possible each year, because finding others in the writing community is the best part of PitchWars.

Especially when we get exhausted and loopy.

Seriously, I've yet to get in, but participating in the PW community has changed me as a writer. I've found my amazing CPs (Sierra and Sarah) and soaked up tons of writing advice. This past year I've improved my writing, working on plotting, pacing, tension, and character arcs. I read recommended writing books and tons of YA fantasy, studied the chapters shared with me for feedback during PW (especially from those writers who were selected as mentees), and applied what I learned in my latest WIP.


My book, DAUGHTER OF NO TEMPLE, is WONDER WOMAN meets GRACELING. I've drawn on my partial Italian Catholic heritage and smashed it against my fierce feminism. We've got city-states patronized by different gods, female friendships, and hate-to-love. Also, an "unlikable" protagonist (though I hope people love her like I do), magical baptism, and young people figuring out who they really are versus the communities where they've been raised. Oh, and non-skinny heroines, insulting/endearing nicknames, and bickering. So much bickering. All in a word count that hits the sweet spot for YA fantasy.

Yup, I cried.

What kind of mentee would I be? Well, this year I taught an entirely new course load full-time, homeschooled two kids part-time, outlined, wrote, and revised a book, blogged for an educational tech group, CPed, directed a Shakespeare performance with 6th and 7th graders, and called my reps on the reg. I know how to get it done.

And I'll only be substitute teaching this upcoming school year, so I'll have, like, OODLES of time now. I am an English teacher, so while of course I have typos and occasional mistakes (I'm a terrible speller!), my writing doesn't suffer from an overload of grammatical issues, I hope. But I know how much work a stellar book takes. I'd love a mentor's critique to guide me in making my book as powerful as possible. I am ready to take feedback, ready to work hard, ready to rewrite as much as needed.

I really wanted to use this GIF, because AMY! But the "alot" bugs me. A lot.

As a teacher I talk to my students a lot about having a growth mindset, and the importance of revision. The day the draft for our first major writing assignment is due, I ask the kids, "Did anyone write theirs in blood? No? Carve it in stone? Ok, good. Time to REVISE." And the first thing we do is peer-read, to develop our critical eye but also to get a fresh perspective and input on our writing.

Instead of resorting to this.

So, want to get to know me a little better? Here are some faves and facts:


Selections from my writing playlist for this book: Florence and the Machine (Kiss With a Fist, Howl, Rabbit Heart, pretty much everything really), Sarah Bareilles (In Your Eyes cover, Brave, Hercules), Thea Gilmore (Even Gods Do), Natalie Merchant (the Ophelia album, Wonder), Kelly Clarkson (whom I hadn't really listened to, but I needed some power songs: Stronger, Beautiful Disaster)

Some books I've enjoyed recently: As I Darken, The Hate U Give, The Star-Touched Queen, Stalking Jack the Ripper, The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, The Ship Beyond Time, Caraval

Fun fact: I met Tom Stoppard when I was nineteen and baby-me FANGIRLED SO HARD. I was writing my thesis on his Arcadia and I have a few Regency YA fantasy plots brewing thanks to all that Neoclassical/Romantic research.

Fact #2: Students and other teachers tell me how organized I am. It's allll a coping mechanism. It does not come naturally. Same with handling scary situations: I once drove to an teaching demo interview belting along with "I Have Confidence" to make my voice stop shaking. (I got the job.)

Fact #3: I can never remember exactly the difference between apricots, peaches, and nectarines.

Some parts I've played (because theatre was My Thing growing up): Rosalind, Lady Macbeth, Lady Capulet, Clytemnestra, the Blue Fairy, the Evil Fairy, a Spoon, Mrs. Beaver, and Kili (yes, from The Hobbit. The Musical.)


And finally, if you've made it this far, I want to share something special a few of my students made for me as school ended. It's a book cover, with room to write in the title of my book when it gets published someday.

We're still working on spelling.
YOU GUYS. My scholars are the sweetest (well, they've mostly nagged me to finish; it's only fair considering how I hound them for their homework). A few are writing novels of their own, and we commiserate over our progress and plot holes. Several have asked to read my book this summer, which makes me happy, because writing YA is all about the kids. I hope you get a chance to read it, too.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

#Pitchwars #PimpMyBio Blog Hop: In Which I Introduce Myself

Welcome! I'm Leanne (@lifebreakingin/YA Fantasy), and you probably found this through the Pitchwars blog hop (thanks, Lana!). Thanks for hopping by; keep reading for a little background and info on what kind of mentee I'd be (spoiler: open-minded, kind, and possessing a killer work ethic). And don't forget to check out the other entrant posts!

I'm a cloud-lover living in sunny San Diego. I grew up in Davis, California, where books and theater were my passions. I loved stories!

Yup, that's me crossing my arms like I was wayyyy hipper than I'll ever be.

Theater allowed me to explore the world even though my family wasn't terrifically well-off.

Why, we could barely afford a full costume! Look how scandalized I am, second from the right. Still haven't improved my posing game much.

I lived through different times, places, and lives each show, as long as I worked hard, connected with others, and used my imagination--something I still love to do while reading and writing.

Connecting with others.
I could be an Argentinian aristocrat (center)--or even wilder: someone who can stand Andrew Lloyd Weber!

I learned the incredible value of having a community of artists and friends to lean on and support, especially when tragedy strikes or things just get extra-challenging. Loving encouragement, trust, open and respectful communication, and constant hard work towards an artistic goal were all things I learned from theater and use in my work with teens and my writing.

We lost a cast member to suicide just before the opening of Emma's Child.

And I got to ride in the local parade with a giant Jelly Belly!


My love of books won out enough so that I went to the California State Summer School for the Arts for creative writing (about 70 of us got in from all of California) and chose, when I attended UC Davis, to major in English. I graduated a Regents' Scholar, on the board of the women's honor society, with High Honors, as well as with the top award in the College of Letters and Sciences, and went on to get my masters before starting a career teaching high school English. Working with teens as they find themselves and their own way in the world is wild and rewarding.

Same goes for raising Owl.

When we read Romeo and Juliet, I love to tell my scholars--always hungry for respect for themselves and their feelings--that I found my true, lasting love as a teenager. (No, it wasn't the Jelly Belly.) But when I was a teen I could have really used some more feminist voices giving me the language I needed to express how I felt about the world as I grew into it. Books were where I turned. I'm grateful for the stellar YA out there, and strive to join the conversation. The Schwartzkins (Owl, 9, and Rookie, 5) always encourage me (they mostly wag a finger and say, "Get back to work, young lady!") and I often write after bedtime or at the park, beach, or botanical gardens while they play.

Or, you know, this works.

I write YA fantasy. I like mythic stories peopled with realistic characters, and I enjoy turning fairytale tropes on their head. My manuscript is Into the Woods fed to a white cow/cooked up in a magical cauldron with The Chronicles of Prydain, plus a few other magical ingredients. "Unlikable" heroines? Sure! Being a strong female in LOTS of ways? Yup! Longing-filled romance? Oh yes.

Where the magic happens.

Here's just some of the stories and storytellers I've been enjoying lately, or lifelong favorites.

TV & Movies:
Person of Interest, 12 Monkeys, Buffy, Fringe, Gilmore Girls, Agent Carter/AOS, Elementary, Alias, Brooklyn 99...
Labyrinth, Stardust, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Much Ado About Nothing...

Books & Authors:
Uprooted, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Passenger, The Lunar Chronicles, Lock & Mori, A Study in Charlotte, Sabriel...
Libba Bray, Malinda Lo, Rainbow Rowell, Nicola Yoon, Barbara Kingsolver, Laurie King, Shakespeare, Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Virginia Woolf, Agatha Christie, Connie Willis, Bill Bryson, Robin McKinley...

Writing soundtrack for this book:
Sara Bareilles (feminist, emotive, SMART!), along with some show tunes, Vanessa Carlton, Loreena McKennitt...

FINALLY...
I'm not freaking out! I'm excited!
Why I'm excited about Pitchwars: I'm already thrilled with the community--finding others who are at a similar place in their writing journey, as well as those who are so amazingly urging us along. I've always been one to encourage others (students and fellow members of writing groups) to tackle a story and to push themselves to revise. I'm blown away by how much the comments from CPs and those who have been generous enough to offer query critique giveaways have helped me take my craft so much further.

I'm also at the point with my manuscript, after my own revisions and feedback from CPs and betas, where I crave more input. Would this narrative arc work for a fresh reader or should I try this revision I'm contemplating? I'm ready for expert insights! And I'm ready to work hard tearing it apart if need be, or precisely, relentlessly improving key points. If I'm fortunate enough to get that feedback through Pitchwars, you can count on me to work as hard as I always do, grateful for the criticism and ready to have a ball improving my book.

My true love.
Oh, who am I kidding?


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Off Book: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Off Book is my rambling reactions to recent reads.
(SPOILERS for all book commentary posts)

Karen Joy Fowler's book is about three years old, but I'm just reading it now. I imagine it was popular in my hometown of Davis when it came out; it's fun to trace Rosemary's antics through the college town. But the appeal of the book is so much deeper.

My mom read the book first as an e-book, and therefore didn't know the major plot point that it's a story of a family that raised a chimp as a daughter for five years, and the fallout from when Fern is taken away. She said it was fascinating at her book club to see how different her experience was from those who read a physical book and saw the chimp on the cover and read the copy on the back of the book. Mom says she enjoyed the reveal, so she wrapped a copy up for me to give me the same experience. It certainly made the first third of the book tantalizing, and also let me experience the story as narrator Rosemary intends, hearing of her sister Fern before designating her "just" a chimp.

The book is about how we grow up revising the stories of our lives in our own heads, about how we came away from nature--this past, lost paradise of a rambling farmhouse and land, where animals are kin and the patriarchy is (only seemingly?) held at bay. The doubles--imaginary and real friends, dummies, sisters--and the title hint at the theme of knowing ourselves and others. It's about identity, how we find ourselves in others and make ourselves into who we are, and a basic nub of immutable identity at the heart of us.  It's about storytelling itself--a very human act--and it's entertaining as heck!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, a book worth buying, worth the shelf space. It's going to be a classic. Fan of Kingsolver's The Bean Trees will enjoy.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pages and Stages

I'm writing this with my left thumb. And I am not lefthanded! My son just abandoned ship with regards to his lovely bed and sought refuge in the big bed. My right arm seems to be his life preserver right now. And that illustrates just what Pages and Stages is about. Writing. Parenting. Growing. Rookie, as I'll call him here, will not always need mama's arm to pass through the second stretch of night. For now, I'll assist him. And I'm learning as I write, and as I cling, adrift in darkness, to this little person. 

I trust the process of learning, of growth, of change. I've been here before. Big sister, Owl, spent many a night huddled in mama's arms. Now she remains in the kids' room, placidly sailing on her dreams. If she ever puts her book down and falls asleep.

Ah yes, the books. Books for Owl. I'm an expert on books through elementary school level now, thanks to my ceaseless looking for new reads for her. Books for me, and maybe you. I'd like to share what books guide me through my own rough waters, and hear from you as well. 

And books being born. Books emerging, books being carved out, word by word. I'm writing a few. Hopefully not with my left thumb. Although perhaps it's like standing on one's desk to gain a new perspective. Perhaps the child carried along through the night's writing is what gives it that new outlook. 

And maybe not books but shorter, if not smaller, pieces of writing. Blog posts and essays and poems. Maybe that I share here. Maybe that you need help with. Let's read and write and learn and grow. Sailing, together, on the infinite sea of words.