Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Inspiration !

Inspiration -

Children, teachers, parents, friends and critics - often ask, where do you get ideas for your books? Where do you get your inspiration? Isn't it hard to find ideas for books?

Actually, no.

Ideas are pelting authors from all sides every day. Watching and listening to children, listening to your memories from childhood, seeing people of all ages navigate through life, analysing the twists of people and fate, reviewing interesting and important persons in history, visiting the beauties of nature throughout our beautiful land...many ideas... and much inspiration. Then the author sits and does the hard work of molding inspiration into a book that tells a story that excites, entertains and holds spellbond the reader.

Today we were driving on a four wheel road in the mountains above the Snake River as it winds and crashes through Hell's Canyon in western Idaho. What a magnificient place - the only living creatures we came upon in four hours were one lumberman cutting timber, a covey of grouse and one large elk with a big rack. The mountain ridges spread before us and deep below we could see the Snake River running through its gorge, the deepest in North America.

What inspiration!

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Monday, August 25, 2008

To Read or Not to Read - Part 2

In an earlier post I confessed that I don't read much historical YA out of fear and frustration - fear that I'd subconsciously incorporate something into my own writing and frustration with the quality of some of what is published. In the comments that you all wrote, you explained how you read childrens' literature as writers, studying plot development, characters' voices, structure, and what makes a successful setting. I took your words to heart and I've been reading!

I just finished BLUE by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. It is an historical novel set in 1944 with a 13-year-old protagonist. (It was recommended to me by Carolyn Yoder when I was working on that project I recently gave up because I found it so frustrating.) I'd tried reading it two years ago and I couldn't get past the first chapter. The character's voice was so strong and real, I was terrified that she would creep into my character's voice. This time when I picked it up the character's voice was still strong and real, but I was able to look beyond that to the structure, the plot, the way the author moved the story forward, how every chapter took me closer to the story's end. I noticed that the author made jumps in time, a month or two at a time, she finished a scene and moved on without then describing something unnecessary to the story - which is something I KNOW I am guilty of, as if I have to explain, for example, that the character washed their face and brushed their teeth before going to bed when NONE OF THAT MATTERS. There was nothing unnecessary in the story. It was wonderful.

So, thank you fellow writers, critiquers and friends for your words of wisdom. This is yet another example of why critique groups are valuable. I now understand the value of reading in my genre. It's about time!

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Clean and Tidy...Not

I have a confession. My office is a mess. It looks like someone shook it. I have stacks of papers to be filed--out with the old health insurance, in with the new--a box of papers to be shredded, files and drafts waiting to become orderly. It has never been this bad. And it's keeping me from writing. I blame it on the internet.

Unbeknown to me, when we first went wireless, I poached my neighbor's connection. When my neighbor moved her office to the other side of the house, I lost my office cyber-connection. No booster could reliably reach from the top floor front of my house to my rear basement hide-away. So I took to my laptop and worked wherever. And instead of filing daily as I always had, I brought stuff in there to deal with later. And I found out that later just gets later...and later. And now I hate going in there.

So I am taking this opportunity to publicly declare that by this time next month I will have a clean, sleek, totally functioning office space. Including an internet connection. I'm going vertical, putting up shelves and buying every kind of container I can find to house every loose item in that room.

So as I tackle this challenge I ask you all for your best tips for setting up your writer's space. I need your help!

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Clues in Your Clothes?

A friend who teaches flower arranging told me the first time she meets a class, she can guess how a person will arrange flowers by how they're dressed. According to her theory, a student in subdued, classic clothes will produce a tighter, more controlled flower arrangement. A student wearing lively, funky clothes will design a looser, more casual arrangement.

I laughed when my teacher/friend critiqued my first flower arrangement. She had me pegged! I had traditional Talbots on my back and a tight flower design on my table. I had proved her right.

Hm-m-m. Could her clothing theory ever apply to what writers produce?

Bet your thesaurus it can! Predictable me. Yes, I write tight prose. LOVE to ax unnecessary words. Rambling sentences? Never been mentioned in ten years of critiques.

Like all generalities, this can't be carried too far, but how we dress does have to do with personality. And our personality has something to do with what we choose for subject matter and how we write. Traditional vs. trendy? Concise vs. wordy?

Take Paula Danziger as another example. Her wacky, inventive clothes matched her written (and spoken) words.

So what's your writing style? Are there clues in your clothes? Do you prove or disprove this amusing theory?

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

To Kindle or not to Kindle?

Are you following the book world buzz? The Kindle, Amazon’s wireless reading device, is on fire. Analysts are predicting that 380,000 units will sell this year and sales of $1 billion by 2010. As one said, “Turns out the Kindle is becoming the iPod of the book world.” Picture it. Only two years from now. Commuters, beachgoers, you, me, staring at our little white boxes, reading our wireless words. No page-turning necessary.

Well, I’m not going to be one of them.

Yes, it's more convenient. Order a book and it’s immediately downloaded to your Kindle. Yes, it's cheaper (once you amortize the $395 cost of the gadget). Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga: Book 1, for example, has a current print price of $10.99, but the Kindle price is only $6.03, almost half off. When you buy as many kids’ books as I do, the savings can add up.

What bugs me is Amazon’s claim that you’ll “experience a display that looks and reads like paper, even in sunlight.”

Oh puhlease. If it doesn’t smell like a book or feel like a book or have pages that you can turn or dog-ear or write on, is it really a book? Not to me. I love the tactile part of reading; feeling the paper, the cover, cracking the spine. I love the sound of pages turning, seeing the thickness of pages I’ve read versus what’s left to read. I love using bookmarks. I love my library. More importantly, I read printed words differently than wireless words. They affect me more. I retain them better. Printed books have soul.

So, no Kindle for me. How about you? Are you a future Kindler or not?

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Through My Readers' Eyes

Have you ever written and re-written a manuscript so many times that you don't think there can possibly be any substantive changes left to make? I know I have.

At that point, the manuscript must be as good as I can possibly make it. Right?

Well maybe not.

I recently hit one of those "writing walls" with my new middle grade. I had worked tremendously hard on my narrator's voice, struggling over getting each and every word just right.

I knew there had to be changes left to make. But what were they?

I had no idea. Time to bring the manuscript to my amazing critique group.

What would they think? I had no idea. But I knew they would be able to see it with a fresh set of eyes. And a fresh set of eyes was exactly what I needed.

By the end of listening to the critiques around the table (and the ones that came in via email from the writers who couldn't attend the meeting), I had a whole new perspective on my manuscript. (Thanks guys!) I realized that while I thought I was being perfectly clear about what I intended my central conflict to be, my readers felt differently.

Actually, they thought they knew what the main conflict was. It's just that what they thought was the main conflict... wasn't. Their comments and questions showed me that I need to do some major re-writing of my opening to let my readers quickly and easily determine the main plot and the subplot of my story.

Critiques like this used to frustrate me. Why couldn't the story just be done already? But that's not the way I feel now.

No. Now critiques like this get my mind whirling with possibilities. It won't be easy to make the revisions I have in mind. But by the time I'm done with them, I should have a much better manuscript. And that's the most exciting possibility of all.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

So Many Stories, So Few Words

In traveling across the country this summer, I was more aware than ever about the millions of stories of the people who settled this amazing land, from the sad stories of the little babies who never made it to their first year to the stories of those who lived to a ripe old toothless age still hauling water and fighting to protect whatever property they were able to scrape together. I want to get some of these stories down on paper but am often stymied by the challenge of making the material attractive to today's young readers. Again and again I go back and work on "action" verbs and active situations, cutting out descriptive passages in favor of what will "draw in" the reader. And yet...I personally love good descriptive writing.

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Friday, August 1, 2008

Critique Groups

Love them or hate them, where there are writers, you will surely find critique groups. Some large, some intimate, some virtual. Ask a writer if they belong to one and you may hear strong reactions. "No way!" to "I wouldn't be where I am today without my critique group."

I am of the second opinion.

To an outsider, putting together a critique group might seem like easy business. As a founding member of a group that's been together for ten years, I can say it's daunting to find the right fit. Over the years people have come and gone for various reasons. Personalities clash, people decide it's not for them, or worse yet, the group as a whole feels a member is not living up to her/his end of the membership commitment. The group I belong to is finally at a point where all the members mesh well, coming together like the perfect writing stew.

Then I had to go buy a house in another state.

Yes. I'm physically leaving my critique group and it feels rotten. When I began this journey of writing, I never thought it would lead to friendship. Let's face it, most of the time we are alone in this. Toiling away at computer or notebook...gazing off into the distance...talking to ourselves...struggling to find the perfect word or phrase. And when we come up to take a breath, that loneliness can swallow you whole. If you understand that feeling, then you know how wonderful it is to find someone who relates to it. I am lucky enough to have found NINE other women who get it.

We meet two days a month from 10:00AM - 12:00PM, give or take a few minutes. For those four hours I'm my most undiluted self. My group knows a side of me even my closest friends don't. It's always blown me away when I really stop and think about it. We don't always share the details of our outer worlds, but our inner worlds? We are kindred spirits. Dream nurturers.

Each of us has our own talents we bring to the group. Enthusiasm, humor, wit, romance, sarcasm. I know whom I can count on for spot on grammar issues. And who will give me comments so honest it hurts (but in a good way). We help, cheer and console each other. In the brutal world of publishing, my group has been my secret tree house society. A place to retreat to. My group is always there to talk me off the ledge of "I Quit". Always there to remind me that writing for the sake of writing is also kind of fun too.

They have also given me something else. Courage. In myself and my writing. It's with this courage that I'm able to dream a new chapter for myself for a change. (Why should my characters have all the fun?) And it's with this courage, that when the time feels right, I'll be able to reach out again to other writers who might be looking for an addition to their group. I can only hope I'll be twice blessed.

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