Sunday, October 28, 2012

When the Lights Go Out

As we and all in the east on the Middle Atlantic coast prepare for THE STORM - SANDY - we are storing up batteries for radios, and flash lights and checking candles, matches, barbeque grills, shopping for food usable without electric power, and leaving stores empty of batteries, soup, bread, milk, water, and cookies. We are thinking of what the next few days will bring. Will there be severe flooding, wind damage and power outages? Will the power be off for a long time?

The good news for readers, and writers, is that we have numerous vehicles to keep us company during the storm. Computers, Kindles, I Pads, and DS's. We can surf the web, play games, send emails, watch videos, and read books on these great utensils.


when the power has been off for a long and continuous time and the energy in our reading machines dies down, there is hope! If the electric power is off for a long enough time and the machines no longer operate without being charged, we still have...BOOKS!

In day light and at night in the glow of flash lights or candles, we can read on and on in a hard copy paper book. When the lights go out, we still have books - for information, research, mystery, romance, and STORY!

Sort of nice.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Giraffe Limbo

I tossed my ‘giraffe’ in the air…the rhyming manuscript about which I was so excited went off, exclusively, to two carefully chosen editors.

A month or two later, I had heard nothing; I assumed nothing.

As happens in this industry, it turns out that editor number one, for whom I had high hopes, left the publisher two weeks after I emailed her.  Editor number two has sent no reply.  Nearly three months have passed since I submitted.

I need to follow up so that I can forward the manuscript to other editors. How should this be handled? While I am out of luck with editor number one, is it as if the manuscript dissolved in cyberspace? Or do I have a responsibility to follow up with that publisher?  Editors move frequently.  What is the standard practice with manuscripts left unresolved upon that editor's departure?

With editor number two, I have a picayune protocol question: since I submitted by snail mail (as required) must I also follow-up by snail mail? Or can I shoot an email?

Rejection protocol. I know many of you have been through this before. Thanks in advance for your advice.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Music to Soothe the Savage Writer

Over the summer my husband noticed a song on one of my iPod playlists and wondered why on Earth I felt like listening to THAT? It was Hate Me by Blue October.  I'm prone to some blue periods, so his concern was genuine.  Is that how I was feeling? But when I answered that I wasn't listening to it for me, but for my character - I think he worried even more!

I first heard the song in spin class, during a time I was getting to know the characters in my current manuscript.  There was something about the haunting melody and angst-ridden lyrics that felt perfect for my male protagonist. I listened to it for quite some time - sometimes while writing - to put me in the character's frame of mind.  See, music is portable.  You can listen to it in the car, on a run, cleaning, folding laundry and still write in your head. With my ear buds in, I can multitask, even make dinner, while working out my plot and no one is the wiser.

I know I'm not the only writer who gets inspired by music. Stephen King listens to heavy metal so he can focus.  Stephanie Meyer even thanked the band, Muse, in her acknowledgements for inspiring her while she was writing the Twilight series.  I rarely listen to music while I write, but when I do, it's to tap into some emotion.  If I'm stuck in a scene, or have trouble feeling the mood I'm trying to create, listening to music sometimes helps.  I don't consciously put a playlist together, but when I'm finished with a novel I definitely have a soundtrack.  And every character, no matter how minor, almost always has a song.

So what about you Paper Waiters? Does music help or hurt your process?

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Macro and Micro of a Conference

Last Saturday I attended the One-on-One Plus Conference held each year at Rutgers, sponsored by the Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature. I think it's one of the best conferences around for these reasons: the attendees (85 this year) are admitted on the basis of submitted work; and everyone has a 45 minute critique session with a "mentor" who can be an editor, agent, art director, or an established author. In addition, you and your mentor meet with other pairs for a 45 minute discussion in small groups of ten.

This year the well-moderated and lively panel discussion concerned digital publishing. The panel consisted of two who work in digital publishing and one author who publishes digitally by herself. No surprise when near the end, an audience comment led to the pros and cons of digital titles vs. traditional paper and board books.

The keynote speaker was Bruce Coville, whose speech was humorous, philosophical and inspirational. His thirteen pieces of advice covered craft and the business side of writing. The underlying theme was how our words can have a ripple, or butterfly effect.

There's the macro view of a worthwhile day. Now to the micro view.
I was accepted for the conference by a picture book submission - remember that truck story? I also took three other manuscripts with me. My one-on-one was with an enjoyable young assistant editor at an imprint within one of the Big Six. She suggested some changes in the tension of the truck story and then we moved on to my other manuscripts. She was most interested in my noodlehead story featuring the brothers called Sharp, Clever, and Quick. She wants me to tighten it, then send it back.

I'm realistic. Publication of a picture book with her imprint is a VERY long shot. But the revision I've already done has made my book better. And isn't that why we go to conferences?

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Sit Spot

What the Robin Knows, by Jon Young, stresses the importance of a “sit spot” for observing and learning bird language and behavior.

Can a sit spot help a writer connect to his/her characters?

According to the Wilderness Awareness School, The Sit Spot is the practice of going to one spot in nature over a period of time. 

My first experience with sit spots was at a nature camp in North Carolina’s Piedmont region. The first time I tried this practice, it took me a while to get comfortable on the rocky ground. 

Once I stopped thinking about myself, I began to see, hear, and feel the life all around me. As I returned to my sit spot daily, I observed more and more. 

As writers, the sit spot can be a great way to observe and learn about the age group you are writing for.  

Writing a picture book with a 4-year-old protagonist? Hang out at the playground. 

Is your YA novel about a sixteen-year-old? Go to a high school sports event or your local mall. 

Besides feeling more connected to your community, you can mold your observations into characters that spring to life on the page. 

I recently found a sit spot at my local park for birdwatching. I’m now searching for a spot for writing (and sketching). 

Do you have a writing “sit spot”?

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Inspired by Rejection!

Recently I received a wonderful rejection from an editor.

Non-writers always look at me strange when I say those two words together. "Wonderful" and "rejection". How can a rejection be wonderful? they wonder.

But writers know. Rejections can be wonderful. And this one was...

It was so wonderful because the editor gave me wonderful suggestions for my manuscript. Suggestions that really made sense to me.

So I got to revising. And revising. And revising!

Have you ever noticed how you can't just make one simple change in a manuscript. Every change sparked other changes.

And in the end it was a pretty different manuscript. But still the same, if that makes any sense.

All the best parts were there. But it felt fresh and new.

A true re-vision. Thanks to a wonderful rejection!

So, what wonderful rejections have you had?

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

"He's such a character," someone says. Well, aren't we all? Or are we? Some fictional characters seem to have stepped out of real life right into the book. They are made to order for an exciting story. The writer has only to change their name. Other people in real life are so dull they couldn't even make it into a newspaper story. How does a writer construct a character? Does she, like Laura Ingalls Wilder, develop sweet, charming characters out of three or four people in her life? Or like Carl Hiaasen, does she create bizarre characters that emerge from the Florida Everglades like alligators with a bad attitude? Characters drive the story. If a reader doesn't fall in love with them or find them creepy, or frightening, or funny, or thoroughly distasteful, he'll drop the book and log on to Facebook. Lots of characters there.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Revision Tip - Make Bad Choices

My revision passes usually have specific purposes. When I've finished my first draft, my first revision deals solely with plot. I rearrange here, add or subtract there, build up plot threads and kill off and combine characters. I do additional revisions focusing on character, setting, dialogue, beginnings and endings, etc. But I've recently added another revision pass that has changed the way I look at the entire process. I call it the "make bad choices" pass.

I've written before about my tendency to make my characters too good for their own good. Sure, bad things might happen to them, but my initial impulse is to let them take the high road to get out of any mess.

Now, I still let them have their nobility in my first draft, but when I get to the make bad choices draft, well, I let them make bad choices.

So here is what I do. I go through my manuscript and mark up every time my characters make a choice. It could be as monumental as whether to have sex or as small as what flavor ice cream to order. Then, I make them make the worst possible choice and see what happens. The results could be as devastating as a teen pregnancy or as embarrassing as a white shirt with a chocolate stain in a strategic spot. I may not keep every bad choice, but I always end with a meatier, more tension-filled story.

Anybody else care to share about revision?

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