Monday, May 28, 2012

An Asset

I have always found that being a writer is an asset in many ways but in unusual circumstances it becomes a great asset. Sitting for long periods of time in a hospital room or a rehab center when a loved one has a prolonged and serious illness, as my husband has suffered recently, can be draining and wearying since you need to be there but you can't help with what is needed medically. But, as a writer, I can be present for him and write too. With a pad and pen, laptop and Ipad I can work almost anywhere. I have reviewed my critique group members' manuscripts for the meeting last week (Writers - they are in the mail!) and work on my own manuscipts. I can revise, revise, revise, updating changes on the laptop or home computer at night. At the same time I get to travel to the locales of each story, to a supernatural new world of one colleague and a local high school of another colleague's current WIP where the MC struggles with his unique problems. I can travel to the Himalaya Mountains, scene of a new PB manuscript of mine or back in time to medieval England which is the setting for a historical fiction PB that I am working on. As Julie mentioned on her last post here, one goal of a writer is to keep the story going and moving forward, even if it is a little at a time. So I keep up with my characters' journeys and the changes in the plots and protagonists of the blossoming books of my writing colleagues.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Words Are Not Enough

This year I have made progress on several projects, although I haven’t written as much as I intended. As the summer looms, and the inevitability of children rushing through my house all day approaches, I realize I will get even less done each day than I do now.  How can I write more, and write it faster?

Many authors measure their progress in words per day.  This doesn’t seem to work for me.  I need to be a more ‘effective writer.’  

Here’s what I need to work towards:

1.     Plan.  Outline.  Draw a mind map.  Looking ahead can save a lot of looking back and rewriting. 
2.     Separate writing from editing.  Effective writers WRITE, without looking back.  Just get through the first draft, not the first chapter.  Edit through the dross and the good stuff in a second stage.  (This is a biggie for me.)
3.     Write every day, even just a little.   Just one more page keeps the story moving forward.  Over a year, a page a day is a novel’s first draft.  (Reportedly, Stephen King writes even on Christmas Day.  Wow. What discipline.)
4.     Finish what was started.  Don’t let good ideas rest in peace in the file cabinet.  Resurrect them! Complete what was once a passionate and inspirational project.
5.     Set deadlines.  Deadlines demand a finished piece.  (This is one of the many things a critique group is good for.)
6.     Write first. Volunteer last. Instead of structuring free time around, say, school library volunteer work, and squeezing in writing, structure time around writing.  Give up other activities and give in to the dream of writing.  Then a book I write might appear in the library.

Summer, with frequent interruptions (whether children, visitors, or vacations) can be a tough time to be productive.  But if I try, maybe I will make more progress than I expect. 

How do you keep productive?  Any tips?

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Monday, May 21, 2012

A Kiss is Just a Kiss (NOT!)

As a writer of contemporary YA fiction, I find myself creating a lot of romantic plot lines. I'm currently digging deep to finish a second round of revisions, and one of the things I'm looking to clean up is parts where I'm 'overdoing it'. My problem is characters who over analyze their feelings...maybe too much heart-thumping, breath-catching, lip-biting, sighing, staring deeply into each others get the picture.  Then I'll read some current YA and growl in frustration because it feels like all I'm reading about is

lip biting,


heart-thumping kisses,

and wonder where am I going wrong?

See, my first kiss was amazing. No awkward nose-bumping, no fumbling. He was the boy next door (okay, not right next door, but close enough), two years older and suffice to say, had skilled lips. Being kissed by someone with experience was like getting a hit of the most delicious, pleasure-inducing drug imaginable. If I'd only known the side effects - confusion (Does he like me?)...despair (Why is he ignoring me?)...desire (When can we do that again??!!)...I would have run in the other direction.

Yeah, right.  A kiss in NOT just a kiss for me.  It's a life altering experience.

And so began, as kd lang sings, this constant craving for those yummy feelings that come with the territory. Romance - even just the hint of it - is an essential part of a book for me. And it's part of who I am as a writer. Most stories I've written have some element of l'amour in them. Does that make me a sap?

Over the years, some of the most biting editorial remarks I've received regarding my writing have included words like "melodramatic" and "cheesy" - yeah, ouch. My cheeks are reddening as I type this. Not exactly buzz words you want on your jacket flap. 

So Paper Waiters, I know there's a fine line between true romance and mawkish romance, but how do you know when you've crossed it? What are some good, contemporary YA romances that have gotten it right? 

*photo credit  Alfred Eisenstaedt (photographer of The Kiss)

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

More About Maurice

Since Maurice Sendak died last week, there's been a flood of accolades and personal memories published. I'd like to add one small story from an interview he gave Leonard Marcus in WAYS OF TELLING: CONVERSATIONS ON THE ART OF THE PICTURE BOOK published by Dutton in 2002.

Leonard S. Marcus: "Once when you were ill as a child, your father told you that if you looked out of the window without blinking you might see an angel. In many of your children's books, characters stare out at the reader. Are they, too, looking for angels?"

Maurice Sendak: "I remember that incident clearly, as if it were yesterday. It hurts not to blink, and I didn't blink until my eyes watered, but I did see an angel. And when I saw him or her or it go by, I screamed and my father came rushing in. And, of course, in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, Max doesn't blink once."

Do you have any childhood memories woven into your writing?

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Writing out of the box

Recently I’ve read a few really great fantasy novels for grown-ups and I'm wondering: am I limiting myself by writing for children? Usually I dismiss fantasy for adults as somehow fake or lame. My feeling is (or was!) "This stuff is supposed to be written for children—and me and my few friends who are cool enough to appreciate it." But it was so refreshing in The Magicians by Lev Grossman when the magicians in training actually curse, and then they have sex for the first time after they transform into Arctic foxes. (But not at the same time!) I loved the moment in The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern when we get to follow the hero and heroine PAST being young adults and watch them confront the problem of aging within the confines of their magical world. These are things you just wouldn't put in your ordinary YA fantasy novel, partly because of commercial considerations and partly because of the expectations of the genre. It just sort of isn't done. And do I want to be in this little genre box where these things aren't done? But then a real event interrupted my thoughts: Maurice Sendak died. And as I pored over the many tributes to him and his iconoclastic, uncompromising style, I started thinking about how little he censored himself, and how that was a big part of his greatness: Naked butts (Night Kitchen). Giant cannibal babies (Higgledy Piggledy Pop). Boys who menace the dog with forks. Sendak never pulled his punches because he was writing for kids. Should we? What about you? Do you censor yourself in writing for kids? Is there any other reason besides marketability to censor ourselves in writing for them?

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Almost There!

Wow! It has been more than two years since I sold my first picture book, and now that book, "Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?" is just two weeks away from publication.

I don't know if it is this way for most first time authors, but for me, time seemed to pass really slowly after the book got accepted. I wanted to do something, but I didn't know what.

Now with just weeks to go before launch day, I suddenly know all I could have been doing. And I'm trying to get it all done!

So I thought I'd tell you what I'm doing. And if you've got a debut coming up, maybe I can help you to put a few things on your list a bit earlier. :o)

1. I'm busy running a Truck Bedtime Drawing Contest for kids! This at least is now nicely off the ground, but I want to let people know about it. So please spread the word! And hope your kids create some super truck drawings!

2. I'm busy planning my online Truck Stop Book Launch. Eek! The general outline is laid out, but there is still a lot of work to do, to turn it into the "party" I envision. (Please stop by my website on May 22nd to see if I pulled it all together. :o))

3. I'm busy finishing up the school visit program I have planned. The first visit is on May 24th to the elementary school I attended as a kid. I am super excited and, as with the party, I have the general outline all laid out. But, from my many years of teaching, I know how very important it is to think through as many details as I can so that things will run smoothly. So I am busy working on details.

4. And did I mention the book trailer? Yes, I've been dreaming of a book trailer for two years. I even wrote the text for it right after I sold the book. So I'm also busy putting that together.

5. And then there are the other events that I'm busy trying to organize-- a Touch a Truck Day and a live bookstore launch.

(And if you're heading up on a debut and looking for things you can work on, other to do items I recently accomplished included: creating a Teacher's Guide for my book, putting together a packet of materials to send out to schools I'm visiting, and printing up postcards to hand out to promote my book.)

Now as a writer, I can't help but notice that the word "busy" is definitely overused in this blog post. But I decided that the repetition of that word captures my current state. It is busy and exciting and wonderful! Just two weeks till publication day! And, while I want time to slow down a little, so I can get everything done, still I can hardly wait!

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Friday, May 4, 2012

I Hate the Word....

I hate the word "revision." "Re" anything just sounds like more work! And when you've finished a manuscript, whether it's a poem, essay or a 500-page novel, the thought of "re-doing" it weighs heavily on your soul. I mean, you've done it, haven't you? It's like someone telling you to redo the kitchen floor. Now. The second thing I hate is the "vision" part. When you write, you have a vision of your characters and their thoughts and emotions, the smells and sounds of your setting, and your plot and how it begins and ends. And "re" means that vision could be endangered. In revision you stand to lose what makes your character appealing, or what makes the scene attractive, or the plot exciting. So I'm "revising" the word "revision." Instead, I propose "sharpen." I've just finished reading a friend's manuscript. The plot and action are geat and the story is one that merits telling. But portions of the plot lie hidden under too many words; action is delayed by paragraphs of emotion and internal thought. Cut, cut, cut, sharpen, sharpen, sharpen will be my advice to the writer. But, I'll say, hang on to your wonderful vision for your work. Don't "re" anything.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cars, Boys and Freedom

You never forget your Well, my son's first car is officially a goner. Purchased new by my mom in 1996, it was passed down first to my sister, next to my older son, and then to my younger son. We had so hoped it would last until he leaves for college in late August, but poor old Chrystal succumbed to a deadly mix of oil and antifreeze.

This got me thinking about what cars mean to boys. How cars mean way more than transportation. They mean freedom.

So I decided to give a car to a favorite boy of mine. Not my son. I adore the kid, but he'll have to share my Prius for the next four months. Nope. I'm giving a car to my main character.

One of my favorite books with a car as an important player is John Green's PAPER TOWNS. Quentin drives a lot. Unfortunately, he drive his mom's minivan. (Full disclosure, we have one of those, too.) And the scene where his parents finally give him a car of his own is laugh out loud funny. 

So for funsies, I'm giving my MC his own set of wheels. Now he can get around, get out of town, get into and out of more trouble than before.

My first car was a station wagon -- about as cool as a minivan in those days. But I loved it. Loved driving. Loved loading up the back seat with more friends than I should have and cruising about. 

Remember your first car?

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