Friday, April 30, 2010

Prepare to Be Critiqued!

Next week it’s my turn in the hot seat. My crit mates have the first 99 pages of my YA WIP and will share their thoughts -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- with me. So I thought I’d take this time to write about how I prepare and follow up to get the most from my critique time.

First, let me tell you that this is not the first critique session for this WIP. We reviewed about 75 pages some months ago. And while I still consider my work in its first draft, I made a few significant changes based on suggestions, and deleted scenes and plot lines that had become dead ends.

Now I haven’t looked at those first 99 pages in weeks; I've been plugging away, trying to finish the manuscript, so we can do it all again soon with the next 100-plus pages.

So to get ready for this Friday, I will try to read my critique submission with fresh eyes and mark up places in my manuscript where I have concerns. Just like when I give a critique, I'll think about structure, plot layers, characters, action, settings, tone, voice.

At the critique session, I’ll listen as my crit mates take their turns and pull apart my manuscript. It’s always interesting when they address the same concerns that I had, wonderful when they trigger a solution, and totally gratifying when they bring up points that eluded me. When everyone finishes with their official critiques, I’ll ask any remaining questions from my preparation, or new questions that had occurred to me during the session.

Over the course of the following day or two, I’ll review each marked-up manuscript and cover note. I’ll transfer all comments onto one master document, so when it comes time to revise, I’m only referring to one manuscript, not eight.

And then I’ll tuck my manuscript in a drawer for a two-week R&R. When I'm ready, I’ll take it out, read through the marked up master, open up a new computer file, and start revising! For me, that's when the real fun begins.

Read more!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Work Stations

Usually my work station is my desk at home, at my computer, comfortably located by bookshelves piled high with research books, hard copies of manuscripts covered with comments and a cold diet coke.

At the end of the week we are heading north from Florida to New Jersey in a car packed to the gills with clothes, business papers and my computer and manuscripts. Lugging all the stuff into the motel at night isn't pretty.

So my work station for the next week will be the front seat of the car with my laptop and my paper copies of stories. Actually as you get moving down the highway it's great to break the tedium with work - it's actually easy to work - as long as the driver watches the road.

Most importantly, I want to guard my manuscripts, so I carry my laptop, forward manuscripts to my email to download back in NJ, and also store them on my flash stick. And then I guard the flash stick.

When I start to move with all my writing gear I'm reminded of a friend's aunt. She wrote novels long before there were copy machines, computers and flash sticks to store work. The aunt would arrive at family parties carrying a large metal roasting pan, in which she had protected her latest manuscript! She was afraid her house would burn in her absence. What a relief that we have flash sticks.

So now we're off on a long drive but I know I can improvise and work at my movable work station. Where are your best spots to work and how do you improvise?

Read more!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Feline Diversions

This is my cat. His name is Slide. He's not like other "cats." He thinks he's a dog. He's personable and likes to be with people. While I'm working he's usually close by, contentedly watching, like he is here in this picture above. He's an indoor cat, much to his dismay, because every time he goes outside he gets beaten up. So, after an expensive trip to the vet and four days in the cone of shame (wish I had a picture of that) we decided to keep him indoors. He's generally okay with that, except now.

Here he is expressing his displeasure with the fact that it's beautiful outside. Spring has sprung! The sun is shinning, the birds are chirping, the squirrels are frolicking and he's stuck indoors! Trust me, it's hard to work with a cat looking at you like this - even when he's not sitting right in front of the computer monitor.

So how does any of this relate to writing?

It relates because I'm feeling just like Slide. Spring is distracting - especially after this winter. I'm working on revisions (I wasn't kidding in my comment to Robin's post when I said I'd been planning to post on Revisions), and it's hard. Really hard. And it's made even more difficult by the distractingly nice weather. People will probably want to take me out and tar and feather me, but I'm missing the cold, dark, snowy days of winter when all I wanted to do was stay inside and write and read.

So, I'm wondering how you manage to keep yourselves focused on writing, when it's so darned nice outside?!

Read more!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dontcha Just Love Revision?

I am neck deep in a second round of requested revisions and feeling antsy about the process. I KNOW everything I’m doing is strengthening the manuscript and deepening the story but when do you know enough is enough? I feel like I’m taking way too long to do this, and as a writer, well, shouldn’t I be able to get it done - quicker?

ARGH! Harumph.

When I first received the e-mail with further suggestions from my agent I rolled up my sleeves and got busy. Then life got in the way. We entertained visitors. We celebrated my daughter’s birthday. Then I had to go back to the gym because of the nights dining out with visitors and the cake from my daughter’s birthday. Then Easter. And more visitors. And spring break. And back to the gym to work off the chocolate bunnies consumed. And….oh, yeah, revisions!

Seriously, for about three weeks all my twitter feed read was various ways to say “Coffee and revisions!” Exciting stuff. (of course if Neil Gaiman tweeted about coffee and revisions, he’d make it sound witty and eloquent and something you’d want to be doing right NOW!)

And here I am, about ¾ of the way through and wondering if what I’m doing is truly strengthening the story. Or am I just spinning my wheels?

As I go through my manuscript there are moments I’m finding places to dig deeper, areas I know I kind of glossed over before and sometimes I wonder “How did I ever think this was ready for submission?”

And then of course, there’s that thought that wakes me up at 2:57AM -”What if there’s a third round?”

For much of the day I feel scattered, crazy, and cranky. I talk to myself. Dinner overboils on the stove. Thankfully my family accepts this. But when I hit it right...when I’m in the writing zone and I know I’ve nailed a paragraph, or setting description or character nuance, I realize that however long it takes me to do this is fine. After all, I want my best work to be out there.

So, do you feel when you are revising?

Photo Credit: me...yes, me, on what may have been the worst hair day in the history of man...anything for my art...

Read more!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Alice for the iPad

Oh boy! Had to share this immediately -- especially as a follow up to Gale's last post. Is this the future of the PB? Personally, I can't wait to see where this will all lead. I know agents are going nuts, trying to stay one step ahead of e-book royalties. But the creative possibilities? What do you think?

Read more!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Apps Here, Apps There, Apps, Apps, Everywhere

Last Thursday, Publisher's Weekly online presented an extensive article by Karen Springen about the proliferating of children's titles apps- "The iPad Meets the Children's Book." Many of the books mentioned are backlist titles with a built-in audience. What about new books?

Here is my story about this exploding market. I wrote a humorous counting story featuring ten kinds of chairs and ten kinds of animals, which I have submitted as a board book many times during the last eight years. Twice my work reached editorial team meetings, only to be rejected. Stand-alone board books are a hard sell.

So the chairs and the animals were dwelling in a dark drawer.

Last month on the SCBWI website, I read about a new California company, Okenko Books, that is buying manuscripts for the Kindle, iPad, iPhone, iTouch, and Android smartphones. Their website is still being developed and their full subscription program won't be running until some time this summer, but I went to their blog and was pleased with the illustrators they chose for their first three books. I've looked at other new companies that develop apps and many use only simple digital art - doesn't appeal to me. Okenko Books, according to an editor, prepares illustrations "as if they were for a hard-copy book."

I submitted.

They accepted.

So now for the facts:

My flat fee will be small compared to what I'm used to, 40 cents a word for a rhyming story, and paid on publication. According to their contract, Okenko will license electronic and audio rights for digital publishing for one year with a possible extension and royalties afterward. Authors are still free to submit their manuscript to print publishers at any time. (Not sure this could be successful, but it's nice to know.) Okenko Books will find the illustrator.

Could there be glitches ahead? Maybe. But I have decided to go for it. In spite of the small fee, I'm happy to spring "Ten Kinds of Chairs to Count" from that dark drawer. Happy to imagine children enjoying my story.

Would you make the same decision? If not, why not? Comments on this new market?

Read more!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rebel Without an Eraser!- Part 2

Last month I wrote a post about following rules-- and breaking rules. I started that post by telling you all how much I like to follow rules. But, after the conversation that followed that post, I realized that that's not really true. Actually, I'm much more of a rebel than I give myself credit for!

I do follow rules. But, I don't like to follow rules that don't make sense to me. It just makes me feel rebellious when someone tells me not to do something for no good reason.

Like that rule against sentence fragments that J.L. commented about. A student who carefully observes the writing around them will see fragments being used. So, that student who reads carefully will either think that this is a frequent mistake in the published writing he sees or that the rule doesn't make sense at all and he can use fragments whenever he chooses.

The rebel in me wants to propose a different option. Why can't rules be taught with their nuances involved? Why can't students be taught when it's appropriate to use a fragment... and when it's not.

Without this nuance, don't aspiring writers have trouble making sense of their world. They're told no rhyme, but a trip to any bookstore shows many books written in rhyme. They're told no anthropomorphism and yet they see it in print so often.

I'm just wondering, wouldn't it be more effective if the nuance is taught to begin with rather than an absolute rule that these beginners can see with their own eyes is just not true? Then beginning writers could go straight to studying how to write good rhyme-- rather than just ignoring the rule that doesn't make sense to them, while they happily dash off sing-song rhyme with bad rhythm, convinced that they're the next Dr. Seuss.

So, what do you think? Should "rules" be presented as absolutes or can we teach them with their nuance from the beginning? I'm really looking forward to continuing this conversation!

Read more!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Care and Feeding of Characters

Coincidently, yesterday I came across two articles about what I will term "the care and feeding of characters." One was in the local newspapers: an article on New Jersey author, Wendy Mass, who has published several middle grade books. I've read one, "Every Soul a Star." In this book she used a chapter for each point of view; five characters in all, I believe, told the story. In the article she presented some pointed questions about character building: "What about your main character's best friend?" What's your character's favorite TV show?"

This gave me pause. I'm setting out to revise a middle grade book I just finished. How well do I know my characters? Have I really focused on what food they like? How they feel when they get up in the morning? How they feel about their siblings? Their Parents? Ummm...maybe the answers to these questions would help me sharpen some interaction and enliven my description.

A second article appeared in the Arts section of The New York Times: "Next Big Thing in English: Knowing They Know That You Know." It made me consider what makes a reader care passionately about the characters in a novel. Character A detests everything about Character B, and the reader agrees with Character A, until something happens to make the reader see that Character B is everything Character A has dreamed of, only Character A can't see it. But the reader is saying, Come on, A, it's so obvious..."

This doesn't just happen. A writer can only achieve this kind of reader interest if the characters have been well defined, allowing for the sudden change in the reader's perception of Character B.

Ahh...I've got my work cut out for me.

Read more!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Reaching the End -- Let Them Eat Cake!

I'm so close to the end of my WIP. Much of the hard work is done. (I kid myself -- it's only a first draft.) I am so close I can visualize typing "the end." It's almost like I've made a reservation at my favorite restaurant -- the one with the awesome chocolate molten lava cake. I can almost taste the melting chocolate, but I have to wait for that Saturday reservation, and I will, of course, eat my salad and entrée before I dig into dessert.

Now that I've got you all rooting through pockets and purses for errant chocolate bars, let me interject a little dose of reality. I started my revision before writing the ending.

I know, I know. Just keep writing the sh***y first draft. Get down the bones, fill out the flesh later. Um, no. Couldn't do it. My biggest problem? My first draft had two plot lines I began and then dropped. Literally. Just stopped referencing them and picked up new ones. I did, however, weave elements of both those plot lines into other plot lines. Confused yet? Um, yes. At least I was. And so was my MC.

So I printed out my first 40,000 words and am now hard at work revising. Cutting here, adding there, inserting new chapters here and there. I still need to add a lot of flesh, but at least my skeleton no longer suffers from premature osteoporosis. My bad guys are still bad, but in different ways. My MC yearns for the same goals, but he's taking bigger risks to reach them.

And when I write my final chapters, I will head in a surer direction; all plot lines will support the planned climax. Note the use of the word "planned." But isn't that one of the best aspects of writing? Deciding whether to go with the plan, or scrapping it all because a better idea pops up?

So it may take me longer to make that dinner reservation and get to that molten chocolate lava cake, but until then, Trader Joe's has a pretty good frozen version. Because sometimes we writers may put off typing "the end," but we still need a little instant gratification.

So 'fess up. Any guilty secrets out there? Anybody reward themselves with special treats as we follow this path to publication?

Read more!