Monday, June 28, 2010

Summer Writing

Summer writing - what we've all been talking and writing about. The distractions of summer living and vacation, keeping motivated when there are so many inviting activities to do outside - swimming, hiking, boating, gardening, traveling, visiting farmers' markets and picnicking, barbequing...and eating summer's fresh food, especially here in the Garden State!

But though there are lots of distractions, I love summer - all of it - even the steamy weather and the consequent thunderstorms. But I especially love being freed from some of the year's requirements and being able to sit outside in the shade surrounded by reference books, pads of paper and many WIP. I make myself go inside at times and work at the computer inputting my new words. Then I know that I can go outside again and revise the printed manuscripts. It's the ease of summer living that helps ease the muse.

Once I get in the groove and get set up, the motivation comes. It's fun to be able to work with words, ideas and plots. That's why we write - we like it - the process. Of course there are also the stumbling block moments - but after awhile we get through those too.

Writers are often encouraged to write because "you love it." And we do. But there's the other side of the equation too. We love our story and want others to read it and love it, so we need an editor and publisher to love it too. We write because we love it but as Mark Twain said in his inimitable style and humor,

"Write without pay until somebody offers to pay."

That and summer time when the "living is easy!"

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Keeping Motivated Without Deadlines

In just over two weeks, I'll be heading back up to Vermont to begin my third semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I finished all my school work back at the end of May, then went on a well-deserved vacation with my family. Now I'm trying to prepare for the Residency, which requires the reading of 11 20-page workshop submissions from my fellow classmates, reading an assortment of books and articles for lectures, and trying to read one or two books by the three new incoming faculty, and read something by the two guest lecturers, Gregory Maguire and Holly Black. Hummm...did I say that I'm supposed to be on break now? Oh, yeah, AND I am weaving a tallis for my future-son-in-law which will be used as a chuppa at the wedding in October.

I had hoped to use this "break" to work on my wip, trying to get it finished (G-d forbid) or at least in more polished form. But not only am I already feeling jammed for time, I've found my motivation is still on vacation.

In the VCFA MFA program, I have to turn in a packet of material every three to four weeks. I get a rush when I think of all the books I have to read, the critical essays I have to write, and the creative work that I either have to rewrite, revise, or pluck out of thin air in such a short amount of time. It's tough, but I've gotten it done every time. I have never been late and, in fact, I have on occasion, sent the material in early. So what's my problem now that I'm on break? It's as if without the pressure of a deadline hanging over my head, I figure - oh, it'll get done. But if I'm not doing it, when exactly is it going to get done??

So, I'm wondering how do other writers sustain their motivation? What suggestions, other than chaining my butt to the chair, do you have to get me back in front of my computer?? Help!

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Reading

The word summer conjures up lots of images. For me it involves sand, surf and long lazy days ending with pink sky sunsets (even though my new home is quite landlocked!). For my kids who just finished school, summer equals freedom. You know, the whole, no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks feeling. Until I hit them with the two words that can melt their Popsicles faster than a ninety degree day...cue dramatic dream dashing music...summer reading.

Okay, so I didn't wave their required reading lists in front of their faces the moment they stepped off the bus for the last time this school year, but it doesn't matter when I bring it up. Summer reading elicits the sort of groans that also come with such parental classics as eat your veggies and clean your room.
A total buzzkill.

This frustrates me because as a mother, writer and avid reader myself,I want them to WANT to read. Put the word required in front of anything though, and resistance is sure to follow. When I was in school, I never had a required summer reading list. I read anyway, and still do. Summer reading for me is as second nature as putting on sunscreen before hitting the beach. Of course I read year round, but during the summer I need fun reads. Reads I can put down,take a dip in the pool and come back out ready to pick up where I left off.

Here's my current summer reading list (sans Kindle, I read old school and recently carried this particular bag o' books up for my trip to NJ, which is also good for a quick biceps/triceps workout...who knew?) I'm in the middle of a few of them and can't wait to crack the rest.

Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris
the short second life of bree tanner by Stephenie Meyer
Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard
Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr
Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth

So, let's share - what's on your summer reading list?

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Writer's Vacation?

I just got back from a family vacation. A wonderful (and much needed!) family vacation. We swam and kayaked, hiked and caught frogs. I took a painting class and a pottery class. My husband and I even went dancing and ate dinner by candlelight. It was heavenly!

There was only one thing missing from this near perfect vacation... I didn't write.

Now part of me thinks it has to be completely obvious. If I didn't write, it wasn't a writer's vacation. But another part of me argues that it completely was.

I got the time and relaxation I so desperately needed to clear my mind. So I returned refreshed and ready to write. (A fantastic feeling!)

But still, the idea of a writer's vacation really got my mind whirling. What if I scheduled a getaway to a beautiful and inspiring place and just got to write. How incredible would that be?

So my fellow Paper Waiters and our awesome Paper Wait readers, crazy logistics aside, I have to ask: Anyone up for trying to figure out how to schedule our very own writing retreat? (Ah, how I love to dream...)

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Isn’t That Nice for You?

Over the past year or two, as regular readers of this blog may have noticed, many members (current and former) of this critique group have hit the writer’s jackpot.

*Four members landed agents.
*One member’s picture book debuted this spring.
*One member sold a middle-grade novel, which hits bookstores in August.
*One member sold a picture book.
*Another member sold some magazine articles, adding to her already thick stack of clips.

This is, of course, in addition to children’s books and articles this group’s members have published in the past.

And then there’s me.

Over the past year or two, while most of my critique buddies racked up publishing successes, my own writing came to a complete standstill. To help make ends meet, I went back to work as a writing professor, and my own WIPs gathered dust on a shelf. Luckily, I was able to take the summer off. So I now have a few precious months to write, revise, submit, and critique before school starts again in the fall.

As happy as I am for my critique buddies, I can’t help but envy them. (You sold another book? Isn’t that nice for you?) It feels like everyone’s getting invited to the party but me. I’m still hopelessly pre-pubbed, and feeling like the writerly equivalent of a wallflower. (In the interest of stoking what’s left of my ego, may I add that I’ve published plenty of magazine articles for grown-ups? Of course, in the world of children’s books, it doesn’t count, but thanks for letting me tell you anyway.)

I envy my critique buddies’ newly minted status as agented writers and their lovely new publishing credits. I envy their conversations with agents and editors. I envy their royalty checks, however small. I envy their beautifully designed and illustrated books and magazine pieces. Finally, I envy the time they’re able to devote to their craft, which I used to have, too, but don’t anymore.

Still, I remain hopeful, that this will change one day. That I’ll get the call, too. Sell the book. Cross over to the other side, from pre-pubbed to pubbed. Hey, guys, I made it, wait up!

In the meantime, while I remain in pre-pubbed purgatory, I have a question for our followers (stealth readers and Paper Waiters can chime in, too, of course). From your bios, websites, and blogs, I see that many of you have seen your fair share of publishing successes too. (Isn’t that nice for you? Wink.) So, tell me, were you ever in pre-pubbed purgatory, too, celebrating everyone’s successes but your own? What kept you going?

And for those of you who, like me, haven’t sold your first book yet, one more question: When other people’s success stories are ringing in your ears, and you’re facing your latest rejection, what keeps you going?

(Photo credit: Rebecca Richardson)

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Stephen King and the Magic Moment

King on the importance of reading . . . and the reaction we've all had to some published books.

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Friday, June 4, 2010


Everybody has a narrative. In Jerusalem the Christians have a narrative, the Jews have another, and the Muslims have their own. One city, sacred to all, same spot, same place, but three different stories.

A child raiding the cookie jar has a narrative that may not coincide with his mother's. Today the Greeks have a narrative for their government's failure and the European Union has another. BP sees their misguided oil mess in one way and those dependent on the gulf fishing industry have another story to tell. The murder victim has one narrative and the murderer another.

Many narratives coincide like intersecting lines in a geometry problem; others move like parallel lines. It is the intersecting points that interest writers. That is when the converging narratives make the plot begin, twist or climax.

And so a good writer examines the several narratives with which he or she has decided to work,ie., the narratives of characters A, B, C, D, E... and then considers the explosive situations that might occur if, how, and when those narratives intersected, thereby hooking the reader and keep him or her turning the pages until "the end."

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Last Week

Last week was extremely busy. It started on Monday with the Jewish Book Network's Meet the Author Day. On Tuesday, my last packet for the semester was due. Wednesday and Thursday were BEA, and Friday was a day of rest. And boy, did I need it!

The Jewish Book Network's Meet the Author Day was more like Meet the Author's Hour. It was in NYC, which for me is only a quick drive away, but, of course, traffic was horrid going over the George Washington Bridge and down the FDR Drive. But being compulsive, I'd left myself enough time and wasn't late. The day consisted of 25 children's book writers who had written Jewish themed books, giving in a 2-minute presentation through which we were to "sell" ourselves and our books to members of the Jewish community who might want to invite us to their synagogues, JCCs, day schools, religious schools, whatever. There were 25 of us and we went in alphabetical order, so . . . you got it, I went last. After an hour of sitting in a hot room with my anxiety climbing the wall, I finally got up to speak, but I had no voice. I then proceeded to have a coughing fit. I was given a drink of water and told that 5 seconds had been added to my time (all in jest of course). I have no memory of what I said after I drank the water. For all I know I spoke in tongues. After the presentations were over, we got to schmooze with the attendees and had some lunch. All of which was quite nice. Then I drove home and, of course, traffic was horrid up the FDR Drive and across the GW bridge.

On Tuesday, I had to send in my last packet of work to my VCFA advisor. I did so with mixed feelings. Part of me was thrilled to be finishing what was a challenging but productive semester, and part of me was sad to be ending my work with Alan Cuymn. Alan had been a demanding advisor. He encouraged me not only to revise the opening of my wip, but to start it over fresh for every single packet (there are five packets). To say that I was sick of the opening of my story after this semester would be false. Alan forced me to slow my writing process down, to really hook the reader in the opening few pages, and to set up the story properly so that most readers would have no problems believing the premise I was creating. Alan's comments and suggestions were right on and with every rewrite the opening got stronger and better. How could I be upset with such an outcome?

Wednesday was Book Expo America. I have never been to one of these before. If you have never been, you should. What an experience! It was held in the Jacob Javits Center. The place was filled with publishers from around the world hawking their wares and thousands of librarians, teachers, writers, editors, publishers, and people who love to read wandering around. It was overwhelming, fascinating, claustrophobic, and thrilling. I meet several fellow VCFA students, including my roommate Kathleen Wilson . We wandered through the booths gathering a stack of ARCs. Yes, the publishers do literally throw books at you as you pass. I gathered a stack of ARCs I am anxious to read (see photo above), the first being Infinite Days by fellow VCFA student Rebecca Maizel. It was a fun and exhausting day. So exhausting that I couldn't go back on Thursday. After everything else going on that week, I was done.

This week is filled with my usual life. And next week we are going on vacation! The whole family - our daughter, her fiance, our son, and his girlfriend. I am hoping it will be relaxing. I'm bringing a stack of books I intend to read just for fun without a highlighter in my hand. Then I'll come home and get to work on all the readings I have to do before the July Residency. No rest for the weary.

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