Sunday, March 28, 2010

New Light

A Light exists in Spring
not present on the year
at any other period --
when March is scarcely here.

--Emily Dickinson

As Emily Dickinson suggests, a new light starts to appear near winter's end, at first imperceptible, but a little brighter, longer and fuller as March proceeds. It has the feel of a different light, something newly born, not reborn.

Ms. Dickinson continues...

A color stands abroad
on solitary fields
that science cannot overtake
but human nature feels.

We feel the light and its restorative qualities and we almost don't realize that we are gradually feeling good - the darkness is passing and light and color are seeping into our consciousness. New plants start to emerge and green lightly tints the world.

With the new light and color, I'm feeling the spring of Spring's step and becoming reinvigorated--reviewing my projects, tackling my WIP--and while new growth is pushing forth in the garden, I am going to cultivate new ideas and dig up new stories.

I've just taken out a retelling of a legend that's been sitting in a drawer for a couple of years and I'm working on an idea from my light bulb list of bright thoughts for a new PB.

What does the new light of spring bring to you?

I'm hoping to use it to craft a new work with the lyricism of a spring morning and that my work will blossom with the fruit of spring's promise.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My First Book Signings- What I Learned

This past weekend I had two book signings in local book stores. I was nervous. I was excited. Here are a few things I learned:

1) Book signings and readings are more exhausting than you think they're going to be.
2) Reading a children's picture book to a group of adults is REALLY hard.
3) Don't be nervous. No matter who's in the audience, you know more about your book than they do.
4) Stand up straight. (I saw in photos I have very bad posture).
5) Have someone take pictures of you while you're reading, signing, or interacting with the group so you can see if you have bad posture.

6) Hold the book out to the side while reading rather than in front. First, it's difficult to read upside down and second, the audience doesn't want to look at the top of your head. (This was a great tip from a school librarian).
7) Bring a favorite pen.
8) Bring slips of paper for people to write the names of whom they want the book addressed to, so you don't spell any names wrong.
9) Appreciate the people who come to your first book signings. No one is going to love and support you more than they do.
10 Have your husband/wife/partner/significant other take you out for dinner afterwards to a restaurant with a good bar!

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Friday, March 19, 2010

The Call

I have an agent.

Pinch me.

Ouch!! Not that hard.

It’s been about a month since I got “the call” and I’m still in a state of befuddled euphoric bliss.

I can now say my work is represented by Tamar Rydzinski of The Laura Dail Literary Agency.

I’m pausing to let it sink in, again.

Getting the call (or should I say, the first call) is something every writer dreams about at some point during their journey. I never truly visualized “getting the call” but I know I’ve sat rapt, listening round the writer campfire to others spinning yarns about it. And there I was stuffing my face with S’mores, wide-eyed and asking - What’s it like? The phone rang and what? After you picked yourself up off the floor, how did the conversation go? Always left wondering, as I licked the chocolate from the corner of my mouth, what it would be like when (and if) I got my own call.

I wish I could tell you. I wasn’t here for it.

I was standing in line at the DMV, hoping I had all the right paperwork to renew my registration.

After I got home and got the message, I had to listen to it twice. As I listened, my husband came in and launched into a story, when he noticed my glazed over expression he asked me what was wrong. I didn’t even know what to tell him. I got this call. From the agent I sent my manuscript to. I need to call her back. Even as a non-writer, he knew that was big news and told me to call right away.

But I can’t. I explained. I have to pick up X from the bus in five minutes and take X to the doctor and my senses seem to have disappeared as well, but if you see them, scoop them up and put them in a Ziploc till I get home, Okay?

Bus stop and doctor visit later, my senses still not found, I steeled myself to return Tamar’s phone call. You see, I can’t just collapse into joy. I have to analyze the hell out of it. What if it was just a courtesy call? What if she liked my manuscript but it needed a ton of work and wasn’t quite ready? After chasing my tail for awhile, I finally took a deep breath and called.

Tamar loved my manuscript and wanted to take me on as a client.

I still smile when I replay that part of the conversation in my mind.

Lest you think I’ve collapsed into joy, think again. This call is only the beginning. At the moment I’m in a second round of some minor revisions, tweaking a bit here, fine-tuning a bit there. And then my baby goes back to Tamar, for another look. When we’re both happy, my manuscript will go out into the world. And I’ll be sitting here (writing of course!) and hoping for another call.

Next time, I hope I’m here for it!

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lesson for a Brainstorming Morning

(Read acronyms as letters)

Fragrant cup of joe,
Gluing BIC.
Click! Blank screen, new doc.
What's it going to be?

Right brain dazzle.

MG? or YA?
A coming-of-age?
Catch reader with hook
On perfect first page.

Think plot and sub-plots,
Which POV best?
Oh, botheration!

Right brain frazzle.

Shift gears and decide
It's a PB day.
Concise, with fewer
Ideas to convey.

Right brain dazzle.

Thirty-two pages,
The plot must evolve
Into a problem
The child needs to solve.

Lyrical language,
Or humorous rhyme
With perfect meter
That scans every time!

Right brain frazzle.


If you think too long
About perfection,
You'll dwell in a hell
Of stalled dejection.

First draft? Pound those keys
And let the words flow.
If some are pure crap,
For now, let them go.

Does this work for you, or not?
How soon do you itch to revise?

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mix This!

It seems “mixing” is the new word for plagiarism. Last month, the media had a field day when the news broke that Helene Hegemann, the 17-year-old “wunderkind” German author of the best-selling debut novel, Axolotl Roadkill, had lifted entire pages from some lesser-known writer’s blog and book.

Hegemann said she didn’t do anything wrong, she was just “mixing.” As one of her very own characters in her book asked, “Who cares where I get things from? All that matters is what I do with them.” (By the way, I got this quote from a magazine article, not from actually reading the book, if anyone cares.)

I must say I admire Hegemann’s chutzpah. I mean, it takes guts to seize someone else’s words and lay claim to them as your own. It’s kind of like literary eminent domain.

I, on the other hand, stink at mixology. I can’t even lift an adjective from another author’s book without feeling guilty. Once, when I was struggling to describe a futuristic computer in my WIP, I happened upon the perfect compound adjective in one of Eoin Colfer’s books, so I stuck it in my manuscript. But every time I reread the words “wafer-thin computer” in my own work, it dogged me. I still thought the description was perfect, but it never felt like mine, so I took it out.

In the grand scheme of mixing, it was a minor infraction. It’s not like I’d inserted, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Who would have even noticed? And even if anyone had, would it have really mattered?

I mean, maybe mixing’s not such a big deal. Let’s face it, plenty of people do it. Musicians and DJ’s remix music all the time. In literature, scenes are stolen and plots are lifted. “Thinly veiled” is nothing new. When I was a magazine editrix, the joke at planning meetings was that we’d create an upcoming issue by throwing an old issue down the stairs, shuffling the pages back together, and sticking on a new cover. (No, we never really did it; not consciously, anyway.)

As Hegemann said, “there is no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.” (I lifted that quote from the NYTimes, by the way. On the other hand, since I’m revealing my source, it’s not really “lifting,” is it?)

So tell me, dear readers, what do you think about mixing? Have you ever done it in your own WIPs? How much mixing is too much? As for Hegemann, should the first edition of her book have been recalled? (In the second edition, she finally credited her source, under duress, I’d guess.) Should she pay the poor remixed blogger/author a percentage of royalties? Or, in this cut-and-paste age, is anything fair game for mixing?

Including, perhaps, this blog post.

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Rebel Without an Eraser?

Here's something you should know about me. I like to follow rules. Some family members insist I like to follow rules too much.

In writing, of course, there are A LOT of rules. And you would think someone like me would happily follow all of them.

Well, I don't!
Now there are many writing rules I do follow. The ones that make sense like, "Never ambush an editor to pitch your manuscript while she is taking a bathroom break at a conference" and "Don't type your cover letter in a funky font on bright pink paper and add sparkly glitter to the envelope".

But there are other writing "rules" (or at least commonly offered advice that has taken on the near sanctified status as “rule”) that I haven’t followed as strictly.

“Don’t write a picture book in rhyme,” we are told. “Just don’t”. And I understand why. My beginning attempts at writing in rhyme were awful! I had no idea what it meant for my lines to scan perfectly and I sometimes threw in a line just for the sake of the rhyme (a huge no-no!). But I just had a rhyming picture book accepted for publication. So perhaps that "rule" should read, "Don't write a picture book in rhyme unless you're willing to take forever to study how to write rhyme well." This is incredibly frustrating to do and I completely understand why the typical advice is just don't do it. It is only worth it to break this rule if you are willing to put in a lot of hard work. (And those who think writing in rhyme comes easy for them, might just not realize how much work it is.)

"Don't write about anthropomorphic animals," we are told. "And especially don't write about anthropomorphic objects." And again I understand why. "Timmy the Toaster" and "Tommy the Toothbrush" stories must drive readers of slush piles insane. But this again is a rule I have broken in manuscripts that have been well received by editors. I have heard this rule modified to say something along the lines of, "I have no problem with talking animals. It all depends on what they say." This makes more sense to me, but the strict "Don't do it," definitely serves it's purpose. The beginning writer is warned that these types of stories are a lot harder to write than they might first appear."

With both these examples (and there are many others I can think of), I think that first we need to learn the "rules" of writing enough so that we understand the why's behind them. Once we do, we as writers can make conscious choices. We need to know when we are breaking a rule that was put in place to keep us from doing something stupid. Only then we can decide if we are breaking that rule stupidly or breaking it well.

So, do you break any writing rules? If you don't, why not? If you do, what makes you think breaking that rule works for you?

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Changing the Way We Think

Recently I attended a conference on South Asia, which sought to illuminate some of the very difficult problems in this area. Cynthia Schneider, a Georgetown professor, said, "Stories, not policy papers, change the way people think." In her opinion, the United States could make an impact by supporting cultural development in this part of the world. She said the telling and retelling of stories is vital to the human condition, and that while many people in these countries cannot read, they all have access to television or media delivered via cell phones. And they are all hungry for a good story.

If this is the case, the writer in any country has a very special task in society and in history, whether he or she is published or not. As writers, I feel we have an obligation to take note and record the narratives of relatives and friends. People's lives matter. If from these records we ultimately produce a book that is published, well, wonderful. But the recording of the narrative is what is important.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Out of Sequence

Last night I wrote a scene in my WIP that was out of sequence. It was the first time I did that. And it was totally liberating.

Usually when I write, I open up my file and begin where I left off. I ask, “And then what happens?” and off I go. But this particular WIP has been giving me some trouble in the “what happens next” department. My main character has to undergo some real changes, and my writing was way too gradual. I can’t hand my agent a 250,000 word YA contemporary with a male MC and expect it to sell. Yet the writing has to be organic. The changes have to make sense. The tension needs to rise and the action must flow.

So last night, I let my MC take the plunge and change. He did some things and said some things that he wouldn’t have done in the opening chapters. I know I’ll have to add scenes in later—either as I continue toward the first draft finish line or in revision—to make those changes make sense. But I got to know my MC better. Now I can ask, “Why did he do that?” and fill in the holes.

And by the way—big plug for Scrivener—outlining and index cards functions in this program make it so easy to write out of sequence. I still have a lot to learn about Scrivener, but I am very glad I’m now using it. If you use a Mac, try the trial version.

So my question to you, fellow writers, is do you ever write out of sequence? Do you write some of those big scenes first and worry about justification later? Or do you plow through knowing you’ll do major word count dumps in revision?

Photo: Ian Britton

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