Thursday, May 22, 2008

How do we do it?

I've always been fascinated about writers' schedules. They don't punch in at the office, aren't paid by the hour, and unless there's a deadline, can keep their own time. I know if I've carved out a writing day- I procrastinate. Browsing ebay, checking mail, paying bills, emptying the dishwasher- it doesn't take much to distract me from sitting in front of the computer. Once I'm there though, I enjoy the rhythm of writing- the sound my fingers make typing, the words filling up the page, the uninterrupted thoughts.

For me, it's a mid-morning to early afternoon block- regulated by the school day- old habits don't change easily. And lately, those days are more infrequent. I carry a notebook to record random thoughts- but it's not the same as writing on the screen. No legal pads for me.

I admire those that can write from 4 am- 6 am, then get kids off to school, exercise, and focus some more until school lets out, resuming writing again after dinner. Children of course look at a book and think it appears magically. They probably don't see writing as work -- and few know it's a job. They like to know where a writer gets ideas, and are fascinated how writers might take something from their own lives and turn it into a story. Adults like to know - how do you do it? When did you find the time? What is your work day? Do you write only on the computer? Or in long hand on scraps of paper? Or fill notebook after notebook? Hearing how we "do it" can be inspirational. I'd like to know!

Read more!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Anyone Want My Autograph?

I know some of you read The New York Times Book Review article about Laura and Jenna Bush’s new children’s book, Read All About It! The reviewer, Roger Sutton, editor-in-chief of The Horn Book Magazine, basically panned it, in particular the scene where the kids go to the library for the first time: “It has everything a library needs—except a librarian….In a book promoting the joy of reading, this, my friends, is low.”

This got me thinking. I’ve written bad stories too, which never made it further than my critique group. But the Bushes—aka, the First Writers—have given me renewed hope I can sell them. Not only that, the three things I hate most about writing--rewriting, being critiqued, and receiving rejection letters--would become a thing of the past.

All I have to do is become a celebrity first.

Maybe I’ll be the daughter of a president. But first, I have to convince my dad to run. This could be tough. Ever since he retired, his primary party affiliation has been Hedonist.

How about an aging pop star? I’ve already got the aging part down. I just have to learn to sing, wear cone bras, and simulate making out with Justin Timberlake. Then I could sell a whole series of bad books.

During interviews, I could explain how when I started reading to my young son, I “couldn’t believe how vapid and vacant and empty all the stories were.” So I decided to write one of my own. And then another.

So Jerry Stand-Up-Comedian Seinfeld, Katherine CBS-Anchor Couric, and Sarah The-Duchess-of-York Ferguson, watch your writerly backs. When my first celebrity book comes out, it’s going to be so bad, it’s going to knock all of you right off the best-seller lists.

Read more!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Making the Case for Magazines

In my experience, a majority of pre-published writers yearn to produce a book. No surprise! Writing conferences, blogs, and professional journals are mostly aimed at book publication. In a dozen years of attending regional and national SCBWI conferences, I only remember one with workshops for the magazine writer. But consider the upside of writing for magazines.

You don't need an agent to submit.
Most magazine pieces are short and less complex to write than a picture book.
Using a different slant, you can reuse research or fiction ideas.
You might see your name in print without waiting four years.
Often a wide audience sees your work.
You don't have to do a lot of promotion.
You don't get wacky reviews in professional journals.
Your magazine piece could earn additional money through reprint rights.
There are magazine contests and prizes to be won.

And now the downside of writing for magazines:
Rejection letters - a reality of the writing life anyway.
Your check per piece won't be as large as a book advance.
Friends, family and writing colleagues are more impressed by a book.
Your moment of glory only lasts for a month.

Magazine pieces? A book? I made my choice twelve years ago when I started writing. I tried both. My quiet picture book probably would not be published in today's market. I welcome writing for magazines. It keeps my mind limber while inspiration for the next book germinates.

I rest my case. Magazines anyone?

Read more!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Good Mail Day

Our blog is aptly named. As writers, there are so many days when it seems like all we do is wait. And, of course, the daily mail is the subject of much anticipation. So when something good shows up in my mailbox, it’s definitely a cause for celebration.

Hurray! Today was such a day.

My two contributor’s copies of Appleseed’s Animation issue arrived in the mail.

My article, “From Triceratops to the Mars Rovers: Surprising Uses of Animation” is on pages 21-23, and it looks so cool with all the fun photos and illustrations they included.

Yep! With all the tough parts that come with being a writer, it’s so important to celebrate the good ones together.

Please let me know the next time I can celebrate with you!

Read more!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Keeping it in Perspective - Part 2

Rejection comes in many forms....we experience it on the playground, and high school is four long years of rejection, the whole college processes, job search and promotions, dating, mating, and rearing children. Life is filled with rejection. But we who write, who submit our work to editors and agents to accept or reject, are gluttons for punishment. We slave away on a project, pour our lives into the characters we create and send them out into the world to be "accept" or "rejected".

Well, my latest endeavor has been rejected, again.

I am surprisingly calm about it. Disappointed, yes. But mostly confused. The rejection came from the agent's assistant who thought my character's voices were "awfully dry" (Ouch!) and that the "story wasn't sufficiently compelling" (double ouch!). But what confuses me is that I'm not sure if the agent ever read the revisions. If he did and he agrees, then I somehow TOTALLY misread his suggestions for revisions both when we spoke and in the notes he sent me. He never said the story was not "compelling". He never said the characters were "dry". One was "lugubrious" (my SAT word of the year) and he didn't even comment on the other character, so should I have interpreted something in his silence that should have told me the characters were "dry"??

As with any rejection, I am trying to learn from this. How, if I am ever blessed to get an opportunity like this again, can I not blow it? What did I do wrong? Or did I do nothing wrong and the assistant simply wrote those comments because he didn't know what else to say? Or did the agent truly never read the revisions and left it to his assistant (a notion that I think is fairly rude given the fact that he asked for revisions in the first place).

At any rate, I am once again dealing with rejection. But, I am not contemplating a "Sylvia Plath" or abandoning writing forever, though I do wonder why I bother. Maybe I'll take the attitude of one of our former group members who wrote wonderful YA and middle grade, but never submitted anything. Maybe writing for the pleasure of writing is enough?

Well, right now it has to be.

Read more!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ideas spring from...where?

I am excited and relieved that I have a plot for a future novel knocking around inside my brain. One that I look forward to researching and writing. One that because of its very nature, I must outline. And, truth to tell, I am a vague "outliner" at best.

So the excited part is easily understandable. We all should be excited about what we write, right?

But I'm relieved as well. Relieved because when I'm finished drafting my current YA, I don't fear I'll never have another good idea and live a plotless writing life.

I've been through these fears before. Halfway through my first novel I took a workshop with a week-long assignment, "bring in a first chapter of a new novel." I spent four days wandering around my home, my town, my job, thinking I could never invent a plot on the spot. And I'm still not sure I can.

But what I am sure about, is I can come up with an idea, and from an idea a plot will flow...eventually. In the case of my workshop assignment, as I worried through my week, I found myself sipping my traditional Starbucks grande non-fat latte while waiting in line to check out my groceries. As I looked across the front of the store, I saw that teen-agers manned every register. Some were chatting up their customers or each other, others were battling bar codes, and the one kid who flagged me for putting fourteen items through the twelve items or less aisle stilled ruled express.

I knew right then I had my idea. I'd write a book about a kid who was starting his first job in a grocery store.

It wasn't until later that day, when I actually started to type, that anything resembling a plot started to form. But three days later, I handed in a first chapter that had three strong characters, a vivid setting, and a clear conflict. I still had a long way to go, but at least I had directions.

Read more!

Friday, May 9, 2008

To Read Or Not To Read

We are told, “read what’s out there,” “read in your genre,” “know the market.” On our blog we have a section, “What We’re Reading” and we debate if we should list only the books for children we’re reading. Well, I have a confession….

I don't read in my genre. Or let me rephrase that, I don't read "what's out there." I read constantly, occasionally two books at a time, but I don't like to read children's literature. Now, you may wonder, what's a person doing writing for children if they don't like to read children's literature? Well, I am confused on the issue.

When I children's literature I have one of two reactions. The first occurs when I read something WONDERFUL like Neal Shusterman's Unwind or Barry Lyga's Boy Toy. I think, Oh, my goodness, this is fantastic. How could I ever compete with this? The second reaction comes when I read something different, perhaps something on the NYTimes Best Seller List for Chapter Books or Series Books. And I think, Oh, my goodness, this is crap. How could I ever compete with this? Now, maybe there is worth is knowing what's out there. Personally, whatever my reaction, I find it depressing.

I read extremely little in my genre - historical fiction. Mostly because I am afraid. I am afraid of inadvertently plagiarizing. (For the record, I haven't plagiarized since I was six and decided the world needed more Little Bear stories). Now, that's not to say that I haven't read the classics in children's historical fiction. I just tend not to read the current stuff. And especially not if it's something I'm currently working on.

So, do we read in our genre or do we avoid it? The verdict is still out for me. I peruse a lot. I spend hours in the bookstore picking up books, thumbing through them, reading a page here or a page there, but to actually sit and read a whole book! Nah....I'm still avoiding that.

Read more!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Rewriting the Middle School Me

Writing about my inner third grader feels natural. When I pick up a pen to become a character in this age group, it feels almost like I slip into my old third grade self.

Then a few months ago, the beginning of a novel came to me. And its main character is… a sixth grade girl.

Ugh! If there’s any age group I don’t want to slip back into, it’s the miserable experience that was middle school.

But, as the first few pages flew out of me, this character was almost me—and yet, I was rewriting the middle school me—with attitude. It was fun, while it lasted.

And then, the gush of words stopped.

I reread what I’d written, intrigued by this potentially new direction in my writing. (It’s definitely exciting to be writing something so incredibly outside my comfort zone!)

Some time later, I tried to continue where I’d left off. Uh oh!

My main character’s fun (and hopefully distinctive) voice was gone. It was replaced by a smooth but bland recounting of details and events. How could I recapture my middle school narrator’s attitude filled voice?

For many months, I didn’t. After a few unsuccessful attempts at revision, I simply abandoned the manuscript.

But then came my determination to set aside weekly writing time, and I was tempted to pull out this exciting and exasperating manuscript.

I stared at it in determined frustration. There had to be a way to recapture my narrator’s voice.

And seventeen revisions later, I think I may be on the right track. Now, I’m two chapters in and looking forward to submitting it to the group for feedback.

I should be happy. But writing this manuscript is so very hard. Nothing like slipping on my comfortable third grade self.

I’m excited but exhausted. Can I write a novel this way?

I’m curious, how do you all keep your narrator’s voice consistent over the course of an entire novel? Are there some “voices” that are easier (or harder) for you to capture than others???

Read more!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Celebrating the Little Victories

I finished a first draft of my novel today.

And you know what? I want to celebrate.

To me it is a bit of a miracle, not because it’s destined to become a bestseller, but because I challenged myself to sit down and get out the story that’s been rattling around in my head for six years. So while I began this initial draft this past January – a time when one of my New Years resolutions was to stop complaining about not being inspired and just drill my way through it – I’ve been writing it on and off for six years.

In those six years I bought a mini-van, had a second child, grieved the loss of a dear friend, held a job as a nanny along with taking care of my own children, gained and lost about fifty pounds, and am currently teetering on the decision to move to another state. In short – I’ve lived my life. Writing has been with me through it all. Sometimes as comfortable as my well-worn pair of Uggs, other times as indifferent as an old college roommate I’d lost touch with. I’ve struggled with my writing, especially in the last two years, asking myself why I would want to commit myself to something that keeps me in an almost constant state of anguish?

Maybe it was the tenacity of my characters who kept talking to me even when I didn’t want to listen. Or maybe it was seeing that all my writer friends struggle with this at one time or another. In January I made an ultimatum with myself.

Write the darn thing, or quit.

As an incentive I bought myself a pair of chocolate-brown suede, wedge heeled sandals with the exotic name of "Amelie". (Picture at the top of the post, just in case you thought you stumbled upon ebay) Completely impractical, nothing like the sneakers or slip-ons I favor most days. That was my carrot. When the box arrived, I put it on the high shelf of my closet. (Confession: I did open them and try them on, can you imagine my disappointment if my little reward didn’t fit when I reached my goal?) All I kept thinking was I couldn’t wear them until I pumped out the whole shebang, beginning, middle and end. Some days it was all that kept me chiseling away.

There are so many things we as writers can get down about. Rejection. Vague critiques from well meaning (or not so well meaning) editors. Waiting months for news on manuscripts. Even the success of others can derail me into a spiral of self-indulgent self-loathing. So I’ve come to realize, the little victories are important to celebrate.

No one is there to cheer you on when you sit at your computer even when you have other responsibilities calling you. No one is there to see you struggle with your ideas. No one is there to witness you make the decision to barrel through your boredom and commit to your story. These are the moments that make us writers, just as much as an acceptance letter or book signings.

I know I’m far from finished. There will be fine-tuning and cutting and probably major structure changes before my manuscript will be ready to be sent out into the universe. But you’ll have to excuse me for the moment…I have to make an appointment for a pedicure. I’ve got some new shoes to wear!

Read more!