Monday, January 31, 2011
Saturday, January 29, 2011
As you may or may not know, my day job is with a Very Large Bookseller as the childrens/teens lead bookseller. Recently I set up this "Our Staff Recommends" table, that you will notice is quite YAOTL-heavy.
Side 1, front row, L-R: Nelson, Julia Karr, Kelly, LK Madigan, Cupala, Omololu
Side 1, back row, L-R: Bjorkman, Ferrer, Libby, Clement-Moore, Dia Reeves, Whitman (I'm sorry about the shine!)
Side 2, front row, L-R: Echols, Mindi Scott, O'Connell, Echols, Blythe Woolston, Strasnick, Joseph
Side 2, back row, L-R: Strasnick, Steve Brezenoff, Delsol, A.S. King, Henry, Herbsmann
I ran out of space and I had Stephanie Kuehnert's books on my last "Our Staff Recommends" table, so if you don't see your book, please don't think it was on purpose. The table is permanent and fluid, and I plant to feature ALL of the YAOTL'ers!
Friday, January 28, 2011
Today I am happy to be a novelist and copyeditor rather than an English professor. I do not miss the public speaking one bit. But I do miss the research. I miss talking to people about their writing processes, which I find endlessly fascinating. And lately I've been thinking a lot about one question in particular: Does personality type have anything to do with a person's process of writing a novel?
There are lots of personality tests we could use for investigation--but so we're all on the same page, let's use my favorite, the enneagram. You can figure out which type you are by checking out this description on AOL, or this one on my personal blog, or if you're really interested, google it and you'll come up with some multiple choice tests you can take online (I can't vouch for other people's sites but I took this test and it did not make my computer explode).
I am a 5, all day long. I read. I research. I figure things out. I am nothing if not logical. I take great pleasure in looking things up for people. The very best conversation is one in which somebody reaches for the dictionary to prove a point. I am SuperCopyeditor.
There are lots of descriptions of types of writers we could use, too, but I think many of us are familiar with the pantser/plotter dichotomy. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. They have no idea where they're going when they start writing a novel. I heard a pantser say recently that she hates writing a synopsis for her novel before she's through writing it, because she doesn't want to know how it ends until it gets there. If she plans the end ahead of time, she doesn't want to write the novel anymore because the thrill is gone. I do not understand these animals but that is what they claim.
A plotter, in contrast, plans and outlines and researches before ever putting finger to keyboard. They know exactly where they are going. They would be afraid to start writing without a detailed plan because they are terrified of writing themselves into a corner.
We're familiar with this dichotomy, but all dichotomies are false. You may not be one or the other, but you can place yourself somewhere in this framework, right?
I used to think I was a plotter. The more I have talked to people about their novels, though, the more I have realized that there is one very unusual thing about my process. I don't write in order. Most plotters do. Most pantsers do too. But I start with an idea, and I figure out what the most basic plot points of the novel will be: how it begins, what the problem is, what happens in the middle, what the climax is, how it gets resolved, how it ends. Somewhere during that stage, I start writing what will become page 142. Then page 350. Now I'm on a roll. I jot stuff down in the middle of work, in the carpool line. I step out of the shower to do this and get my notes all wet. This goes on for several weeks until I can't find anything anymore. Now we know I'm serious: it's calendar time! I make a calendar-shaped table and figure out what happens when and divide the action into chapters. I go through my manuscript, which has grown to perhaps 150 pages by now, and put everything in the proper chapters. And then I fill in the gaps.
What is that? A plantser? A potter?
You know what it's not? Logical.
And, being logical, at one point I realized that other people were writing their books in order (how odd!) and having a much easier time of selling books on proposal, which of course requires turning in the first 3 chapters, not page 142 and page 350 and a bunch of garbled notes and a calendar. So I tried to write a book in order.
I will never do THAT again.
I am really curious about what's going on here. The only thing I can think of is that I am writing on the macro and micro levels simultaneously, one is constantly influencing the other, and on a subconscious level that makes good sense to my brain.
But what am I doing writing YA romance novels in the first place? Shouldn't 5's stick to the ivory tower? If you look at the personality types in the AOL article, the 5 is listed as the writer, but I think they meant research writer or nonfiction writer. They list 4 as the fiction writer, which makes perfect sense to me. Yet off the top of my head I can name you novelists I know personally who fall into every one of the 9 personality types.
It also seems that the more logical 1, 5, 6, and 8 would be plotters, the more impulsive 2, 3, 4, and 7 would be pantsers, and the 9 would not be able to decide. From my very informal research, that is true exactly half the time = no correlation = random = no.
And many of these writers realize there's a disjunction. They will say, "I am not an organized person but my writing process is very organized," or "I am an excruciatingly organized person but my writing process is a mess." (me me me *raising hand and bouncing obnoxiously in my desk*)
Have I bored you? Sorry--we 5's have a tendency to do that to people. Just go on, 3's and 7's, nobody really expected you to stick around for the whole post anyway. But if you're intrigued, make a comment about your enneagram personality type and your writing process. Do you see any connection? How does your writing mind work and why?
Thursday, January 27, 2011
It started with a phone call - my good friend's son was in the hospital, diagnosed with acute, agressive lymphoma. Out of nowhere, this perfectly healthy 13 year old ended up on life support. For the next several weeks, we rallied around this single parent 24 hours a day as she gave birth to her new daughter and worked to keep her son alive. I'm happy to report that everyone is doing much better and the future looks bright, but those intense weeks took a toll on everyone. As this was happening, we moved for the first time in 12 years and worked to get our old house prepped and painted for our new tenants. And then there were the holidays. For two months, I didn't write a word.
All the while, I told myself that I'd get back to it as soon as the craziness was over. That the slightly guilty gnawing at my stomach would go away as soon as I found the perfect time to open up the Word file and start again. And that's what I waited for - the perfect time. A time when blog posts were up to date, the to-do list was crossed off, all of the boxes were unpacked and the laundry pile was less than the height of my oldest son. A time when it was quiet in the house, when the kids were back in school and the hubs was elsewhere, when I had that perfect cup of coffee and Madeline at my side and I felt inspired.
I thought back to when I was writing the first draft of DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS. Most of that book was written in three hour chunks as I sat in a loud, drafty gym waiting for my son's gymnastic class to end. Other parts of it were written late at night when I finally got a minute to myself after everyone had gone to bed. Some was written in the car outside of guitar lessons. None of these were the perfect time, but somehow I managed to squeak out an entire novel that way. And I'm going to have to pull myself up and do it again.
This morning, I finally realized that this 'perfect time' that we all look for doesn't exist. There will probably never be a time when all the stars align, everything is quiet and the most perfect words flow from your fingers to the keyboard. Perfect writing times are made not born and if you insist on waiting for one...well, good luck finishing that book. Right after I walked the big hairy dog, I sat down at my laptop and answered my email. I popped onto Twitter and perused Facebook for a little bit. And then finally, I opened the story file for the first time in way too many weeks. As I read over the first chapter, I realized that it doesn't stink at all. In fact, parts of it I may even keep. I finally felt accomplished, switching a word here and a word there as I read over what I already had in preparation for the next chapter. I was grooving into the perfect writing time at last.
And then the phone rang. It was my son's elementary school - he had a headache and needed to come home, so I abandoned the laptop and headed to the school. Now I've got the TV going in the living room with a sick kid sprawled on the couch, empty pans calling me to make dinner from the kitchen and a charming husband working upstairs who keeps interrupting me to ask questions about plans for the coming week. But I still have the file open, and I'm making this the perfect writing time, promising myself I'll get back to my 1k per day goal.
Just as soon as I finish this blog post.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
It’s easy to get mad at the editor. After all, they just don’t get it. Did they even READ that chapter? Was it necessary to use that much red ink? Maybe they’re bitter. Or jealous. Yeah, that’s it. They secretly hate me, and they are passive aggressively telling me through their comments on my manuscript.
Let’s face it, writers. We can get mighty protective of our books. And for good reason. There have been times when I wanted to throw my manuscript across the room (if it wasn’t a file on my computer) after reading an editorial comment. After all, we spend an ungodly amount of time writing the story. We spend countless hours rewriting and reworking. Dissecting every line. Every word. Making sure the writing flows. Our plot has to be compelling, and it has to make sense–but it can’t be predictable! Our characters need to be larger than life; their motivations have to make sense. And they can’t sigh more than three times in 300 pages! I know by the time I hit send, I am DONE. And then I usually collapse and go ba-ba-ba at the wall.
So naturally I’m going to glare at my screen when I get notes from a well-meaning critique partner or my agent or my editor. The first read is always the most overwhelming. My initial thoughts are usually…oh my god, they hate it. They want me to change WHAT?? My main character is annoying? No, they aren’t! What do they mean they want MORE? More what?? And what’s this about pacing? God, if I hear the word pacing one more time, I’m gonna….@#@$@#%%!!!!!! That’s it. This book sucks. I quit. I’m going to delete my manuscript. But first I’m going to tell this person how WRONG I think they are! *ferociously types email*
When they say not to react or respond as soon as you get an editorial letter, they know what they’re talking about, okay? Without fail, I calm down after mulling things over for a couple days. I start thinking things like…wait, they have a point here. My main character IS really whiny in this scene. And do I really need to describe the MC’s homework for ten pages? Did I seriously mention the love interest’s eyes on every other page? How could I miss that???
I might be an editor, but I don’t trust myself to edit my own work. I’m great at being hard on myself, and I do the best I can to be objective, but I am always emotionally invested. There is always going to be something I miss…or don’t want to see.
I can’t speak for all editors, but I can speak for myself…and I’m betting a lot of editors will agree with me. I look at every book as a challenge–how can I help make this the best story it can be? The author isn’t even in the equation for me in that there is NOTHING personal about my commentary. I’m not sitting there thinking hmm…how can I piss this author off? I’m not encoding little ‘you suck’ messages in the track changes. My focus is 100% on the story and all of its components–and how those components work together. It’s a very analytical–almost clinical–state of mind I find myself in. Because, quite frankly, emotions will only get in the way. While I always strive to be constructive and tactful, I can’t worry about what the author might think. After all, I’m not their friend or their mom. They are paying me for a reason–they want to make their story better (even if they secretly wish I’d tell them it’s perfect–which will NEVER happen ahem). I spend a great deal of time organizing my thoughts, and I don’t make comments that I’m not 100% behind. Some stories need more comments than others, but–again–it has NOTHING to do with the author or their worth as a writer.
Anyway, my point is…next time you get editorial comments on your manuscript, at least wait a couple days to punch your editor. Unless the comments are downright mean or critical of you as a person, chances are they were meant in helpful way. And in a couple days–after you’ve simmered down–you’ll be glad you had the help. In fact…think of an editor as the person who tells you your fly is unzipped BEFORE you go out into public.
Hey, the analogy works for me. *shrug*
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Now I'm reveling in REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly, which is wonderful. It's so liberating to just fall into a book - especially such a good book. And it makes me hungry for more: maybe I'll finally read the second book in Clive Barker's ABARAT series, or Joyce Ballou Gregorian's CASTLEDOWN, or take Margaret George's huge tome MEMOIRS OF CLEOPATRA down from my shelf? Or maybe I'll read more about the French Revolution, as Donnelly's book has certainly peaked my interest. And then, what about all the great authors on this blog whose books I haven't read?
I have a date coming up with my work-in-progress, very soon: we will drink tea and get to know each other again. And I have a due date to get it back to my agent. But for now, I just want to fall into a book that isn't my sole responsibility and just enjoy being a reader, for a while.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Writers have very glamorous lives. Just look at movies and TV. We stumble upon secrets, we ALL jet around on book tours and signings and appearances on Oprah. We get recognized on subways, and arrive at nightclubs in limos and get waved in by the bouncers. (I know this because I saw it on NCIS.) We even solve crime! Just look at Richard Castle. (Points to picture)
We're all model slim and gorgeous, too. Because sitting on your butt in front of the computer for 8 to 10 (or 12-18) hours a day burns so many calories.
Sadly, none of this is true. Writer's real lives would make terrible movies, because it's not that exciting to watch someone do what we do all day. It wouldn't be very pretty, either. When I get to the end of a project, I don't stop for ANYTHING, including a shower.
We have the MOST exciting jobs in the world... but all the good stuff happens in our heads.
Creating a world in a book is even more exciting than a Hollywood blockbuster, at least until they invent five senses surround-sound-smell-taste-touch-o-vision. And as much as I love movies (and I do love movies) there's nothing like vicariously living in adventure in the pages of the book.
If I do my job right a book is more like virtual reality, or as close to Avatar as you and I will ever see. (As hard as it is to reconcile that I'll never get to ride a pterodactyl.) In a great book, we don't just watch the character. We live the story in the character's skin.
I do tend to make a lot of movie analogies when I talk about writing. One, because I love movies. But also because when I write, it's very much like creating that surround-o-vision movie in my head.
In The Splendor Falls, for example, my goal was to bring the lush Southern setting to life--the smells, the humidity, the food (mmmm, cheesy grits). But I also had to take the read through the heroine Sylvie's emotional journey. Emotions are like a sixth sense--they have a very sensory quality. Just think about how your skin feels when you get really angry, or how your gut feels when you're scared.
The challenges come from keeping it exciting for you and putting all those senses, the full 5D role-playing experience, into words that will transmit it into your head like an avatar interface. Put in those terms, that's a pretty damn exciting job.
Even if I'm not solving crimes on the side.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
I'm going to deviate a little from the essay-style format we've got going on here, because there’s something on my mind and I want to open it up for discussion. And considering the types of books many of us in this group write, I think here is a pretty appropriate place for it.
I recently received my revision letter and manuscript notes from my editor and one of her comments was that I needed to scale back on the profanity. I’m not complaining about it or entrenching myself for a fight or even looking for advice. It’s just that the comment raises questions in my head.
My book is about a Marine. The ones I know swear--a lot. They talk about body functions and sex. They make mom jokes. The editor said a little goes a long way.
So how do you know what is too much? Do you rely on your editor to tell you, or are you your own litmus test? And, if the profanity/sex/drugs is representational of the character you’re writing, how much are you willing to sacrifice while still maintaining the truth in your story? Do you worry that not scaling back will increase the odds of your book being banned?
(For our readers, feel free to adapt these questions and answer them from a reader's perspective.)
The editor said my book could be important for teens thinking about the military, but we don’t want it to be banned from schools and libraries and not reach those kids. And I totally, absolutely understand that. But then I think about the Marines I know and how they might feel if they open the book and get a watered down version of their Corps. Obviously, I know there’s a middle ground and I need to find it.
But in the meantime, I’m curious to know what your experiences have been like and what readers think. The floor is yours...
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Because it isn't what happened.
Believe me, I know it's irrational to regard fictions as having some kind of alternate reality, occupying some alternate space that the writer has to try to peer into and the describe. I don't believe there are literal fictive realms floating around in soap bubbles and just waiting for somebody to pay attention to them, exactly. On a rational level, I suppose I have to admit that I have agency in my writing, and that I'm responsible for it. But it really doesn't feel that way.
It feels a lot more like seeing one of those bubbles drift by, and standing on tiptoe to try and see what all those colored lights inside it are doing, and then becoming mesmerized by the tiny figures inside. And soon there's the moment of surprise, and a startled realization: Wait, she's in love with him? Or: Oh my God, that's why he's been acting so strangely!
It feels like building a house for ghosts to live in, then listening to them whisper.
It feels like clawing through piles of dirt until you can feel the shapes of people walking under the ground.
"Craft" is transcription: trying to write down what you see, to be as accurate as possible. (Though I kind of hate the word "craft" being applied to writing. Sure, you need some craft to write well, but this ain't macrame. I do some crafts too, and it's really not the same thing at all.) Things might get blurry, you might make guesses or mistakes that you'll have to fix later, or leave things out, but the effort is always to describe what's there as truthfully as possible. And so when people complain about the events in works of fiction, my own or other people's, I sometimes feel kind of impatient. It's dark, or upsetting, or crazy, or you really wish the protagonist made a different choice? Sorry, but that's what happened. I was there; I saw it. You wouldn't want me to lie to you, would you?
Books I love all have this feeling for me as well: that they were there the whole time, forever, until somebody unearthed their stories. I'm grateful to the author, not for some act of heroic invention, but for the labor of discovery. And when I don't like a book as much, it's often because it feels forced, made-up.
Maybe this makes writers sound kind of helpless, but that's not really the case. It doesn't mean there's no value to, say, doing an outline; it just means you might have to depart from the outline as you discover more of the story. And it doesn't mean there's no way to get ideas: there are methods, like journaling, for inviting stories to appear. If you build a house for the ghosts and leave the door open, they might decide to come in and stay a while. Artificial, painful, make-yourself-write-anything writing can be a way of telling the ghosts you'd really like to get to know them. And once you do, writing isn't forced or artificial at all.
Do you know what I mean?
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Recently, an author I know posted a New Years resolution to find the joy in writing, again. I totally got what she meant. Editorial letters, deadlines, and sales numbers can dim a person's happiness.
I thought about stealing her resolution, except I have been enjoying writing a lot lately. So I started a new list:
1. Worry less about editorial letters, deadlines, and numbers.
And the list goes on. But none of these constitute New Years resolutions. They are permanent ongoing goals. I needed something new, something attainable. So here goes … (drumroll) … I resolve to brush my teeth twice a day.
And stop lying to my hygienist.
Happy New Year!
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Last week, Susan Blackaby and I co-taught a workshop on poetry for writers aged 10 to 18. Things really came alive when we read a few lines from Pablo Neruda's Odes to Common Things (his love letters to the "irrevocable river of things") and started talking about the resonance that objects carry. Susan pulled a bunch of gloves from her bag and tossed them on the table. Those gloves in a story--maybe they still hold the anger of the man who just stomped out the door. Or no one has moved them since their owner died, hollow reminders of loving hands. They're not just gloves: they're emotions, moments, memories, dreams. As Neruda says, "...all bear the trace of someone's fingers...the trace of a distant hand lost in the depths of forgetfulness."
Then the participants chose objects and wrote their own odes. I was blown away. Such fresh ways of seeing, such powerful moments of insight, springing from a building block, a spoon, a bit of old carpeting. Through their words I saw entire stories, people's lives, in these small objects.
We all depend on words to connect with others. These words from Neruda's "Ode to the Dictionary" spoke right to me. I'd love to share them with you as my first post of 2011.
Dictionary, guide just one
of your thousand hands, just one
of your thousand emeralds
to my mouth,
to the point of my pen,
to my inkwell
at the right
moment, give me but a
of your virgin springs,
a single grain
When most I need it,
a single trill
from your dense, musical
jungle depths, or a bee's
a fallen fragment
of your ancient wood perfumed
by endless seasons of jasmine,
shudder or note,
a single seed:
I am made of earth and my song is made of words.
(Translation by Ken Krabbenhoft, from Odes to Common Things, selected and illustrated by Ferris Cook.)
Monday, January 17, 2011
Compelling young adult fiction is about getting to know—and hopefully root for—a teen character. And what better way to get to know a coming-of-age protagonist than to drop in on their every thought? Ah, the lure of the first-person perspective: the under-the-bed, back-of-the-closet snoop. It’s intimate, exclusive, deliciously revealing, and bound to turn up dirt of one kind or another. Uh-huh, the good stuff.
As a writer, I feel an obligation to truthfully paint the spectrum of emotions we—at any age—experience. Humans are complicated. Sentiments are part and parcel of our existence. We’re hard wired to look out for number one, yet, we’re highly social. Yep, a conflict of interests. And an emotional junkpile. Throw into the mix the inexperience of youth and raging hormones and you’ve got a steaming heap of happiness, anger, empathy, irritation, surprise, jealousy, etc. And all before noon on a Monday!
Granted, personalities vary. Absolutely, some people are sunnier by nature. Their internal dialogue would reflect a predominance of optimism. But an honest writer, in my opinion, will ascribe to their characters—even their heroes and heroines—a full range of motivations, some admirable and others, well, not so much. Because …
I contend that an individual’s measure is what he or she does. That a character’s measure is what he or she does. Moreover, there are two separate arcs to consider for the first-person narrator: their thoughts and their actions. Ideally, growth and change should be measurable on both.
In my novel, STORK, my main character Katla is snarky. She is. But mostly in her head. It’s how I infused the story with humor. It is also how I showed growth in Kat’s character. Both her thoughts and actions mature as she, the new girl, adjusts to her surroundings.
I personally enjoy a first-person sneak peek into a character who is layered. I enjoy the internal dialogue and appreciate the outcome when the character does the right thing.
As a reader, do you separate a character’s thoughts from their actions? Have you ever felt shortchanged by a first-person narration that feels, well, too clean?
As a writer, are you reluctant, at times, to show a few of the darker musings of your protagonist? Are there dustbunnies under their bed you haven’t admitted to? If so, I for one want to know!
I'm going to use my writing time more wisely...starting tomorrow!
This past weekend I attended my local SCBWI conference and am always inspired whenever I go to a writing conference. Bruce Hale was the first speaker of the day and not only is he a dynamic presenter, he also speaks the truth! He talked about how to break some bad habits in order to be more productive. He started off by joking how we like to reward ourselves and said something like, go to store, buy cookies, eat cookies in the car on the way home. Go home, check email, eat more cookies...
Anyway, I totally felt like he was talking to me. I check my email frequently and take too many breaks. My writing time is limited to three mornings a week, naptimes and at night after the kids go to sleep. So starting tomorrow I am only going to check my email at the begininng and in the middle of each writing session (when I take a short break). Hopefully that will save me a lot of time. I am also going to stick to my no phone call rule which I now have to add a no texting rule because I have been known to text a lot. Okay, I text so much that my six year old challenged me to a day without texting.
As for cookies, well when I work out of Starbucks, I have the whole cafe in front of me! Usually a cup of coffee keeps me going most of the morning so I'm good there. But I've never been known to turn down a cookie!
Bruce also suggested making daily writing goals. This is something I have done in the past and it has worked really well for me. I used to say I need to write at least 15 pages by Sunday and if I wasn't quite up to the 15, I would spend that Sunday night catching up. I've also used the write 1000 words a day goal and that works well too.
Right now I am in the middle of my revisions for Pure Red and they are due March 1. So it's harder to break a goal like that down since I'm combing throught the entire manuscript one item at a time. But when I'm editing I try to finish one week early so that if something comes up I don't have to panic.
So starting tomorrow I am not even going to use the free wifi at Starbucks and I will set a daily goal of what I need to accomplish with my edits.
I would love to hear how other people achieve their goals. What strategies do you use?
Wish me luck:)!
Saturday, January 15, 2011
A few months back I began scouring books on writing craft, finally having the urge to comprehend all the plot, structure, outline strategies that until now have given me the heebie jeebies. As a "pantser" or intuitive writer, I don't usually sketch out the story in advance. I just write and see where it takes me. But I'd seen a few blog posts that had piqued my interest and had begun to wonder if maybe I was missing something that might actually be useful (even if it did give me hives to think about it.) One of the first books I read said, "Hey, it's okay to be a "pantser", just consider your first draft to be an extended outline, then start looking at the structure. That made sense to me. I blogged about it here. I started reading book after book on craft, on plot, on structure. And with each one, I was like, "OMG! How did I not know this! I must restructure my work-in-progress ASAP!" And for the first time in my life (outside of school), I started drawing little graphy-things like this:
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Oh yeah, that is totally the mood I'm trying to set for my writing retreat.
Where was I? Oh yes, preparing for a writing retreat makes me very ADD because I try to get sooooooooooooo much done in order to think about nothing BUT writing when I'm gone.....Postcard stamps. Please don't let me forget the postcard stamps. Let me write that down now.....
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Is this story worth telling? Or is it junk? Would someone want to read it? Is the concept fresh? Is the plot compelling? Will readers identify with/like/care about these characters? Do I?
I wrestle with those questions and at least a dozen more every day. Does this scene work? Is the dialogue authentic? Would my main character actually respond that way?
Granted, those are important questions every author should ask. But sometimes my inner critic doesn't want to shut up. And that can be paralyzing.
Take the manuscript I’ve been working on for the past year or so. It’s my first paranormal, and I spent weeks world-building, developing characters, and plotting it out. I drew a map of the setting and calculated the distances between the places where the action takes place. I know this story.
The problem was in the writing. I agonized over every scrap of dialogue, every action, every slice of narrative. A snail sliding over the keyboard would make more progress than I did. After several months I’d written thirty or so pages of lovely description, lyrical speeches, and dramatic action.
When I shared my work with my writing group, they tried to be kind. They always are. They were intrigued by the idea of the story and thought my writing was pretty, but they were confused. By the characters, the plot, the setting—basically everything I’d written. If my most careful readers are confused, something is wrong.
I combed through my work and salvaged what I could from those thirty gorgeous pages. Then I took my writing group’s advice and began at a later point in the story. As I wrote I sprinkled in the backstory in place of those scenes I'd put at the beginning. Starting over is always tough, but with their input I think I may be moving in the right direction. If my inner critic gets too lippy about my words not being pretty enough, I'm going to gag her until I finish the first draft.
Every word I write is a leap of faith. I shoot for the other side of the chasm, but sometimes I miss and fall on my face in a pile of junk words. When that happens, I stand up, shake them off, and get a running start for another leap. It's what I do.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
But while there's lots of advice, I've found that it can sometimes be contradictory. Recently a writer friend was giving a "Book Publishing 101" workshop at her local library. She asked other writers to offer advice or tips. Once I wrote mine and emailed them to her realized that there are other writers who would say something very different based upon their experience and personality. Because every writer is different, and every writer's experience unique, advice should be taken for what it is - one person's view of the publishing world and what works. Here's what I offered up:
I had never attended a writing workshop, never attended a conference, didn't have a Web site or a blog, and didn't have drawers full of manuscripts written over the course of years when I was first published. I just had one manuscript and did my homework on agents before querying.
I hear all the time about writers who attend critique groups, go to conferences, blog their hearts out, spend hours on developing their Web sites and book trailers and friending people on Facebook - all before they've even so much as finished writing a book! I think that today (unlike when when I was first published and nobody had even conceived of Facebook) so many writers get caught up in the "stuff" you can do instead of what you HAVE to do. Write a kick-ass book. Write a killer query letter. Know who reps the type of book you've written and contact them.
Nothing substitutes for focusing on the writing and being smart about your submission. The writing comes first. Being smart about querying and submissions comes second. All that other stuff is icing for a never-been-published writer. There's plenty of time once you've sold your book to blog about it, to put up a Web site, to network and get the word out there. Focusing on all that "stuff" is like picking the color of your car and the type of sound system you'll have before the motor's even been installed. I don't care how "pretty" it all looks and how "pretty" it all sounds. You need a solid motor that runs before you can get anywhere.
I'm sure there are lots of published authors who had a different experience and would offer different advice - like attend lots of conferences, join a critque group, use social media to gain attention. What are your thoughts?
Friday, January 7, 2011
So why does this post title sound like a goodbye?
Well, I hope it won't be. Though I'm regretfully discontinuing my posts on YA Outside the Lines for work and personal reasons, I do hope to continue the many friendships, new and old, in this group (not just the authors, but readers, too!).
I'm especially thankful to Stephanie Kuehnert, who invited me to join, and Jennifer Echols for all she's done to organize this beautiful blog. And huge thanks to all of you who have made me feel welcome here. I will continue to sing the praises of all of you in the blogosphere and beyond.
And now, you're wondering who won the Tell Me a Secret signed collage print from last month's post?
According to random.org...the winner is post #1...Cari from Cari's Book Blog!
Cari, please contact me here and I will send the art prize to you.
Thank you all for everything, and may 2011 be a year of tremendous gifts.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
And we've got books, LOTS OF FREE BOOKS for one lucky winner. It's a really easy contest, all you have to do is follow us on TWITTER!
Click here to FOLLOW
Anyone who follows us from January 1 until January 15, 2011 is automatically entered to win, so if you've already followed us, you're already entered. How cool and easy is THAT? Here's the list of books YOU could WIN!
Stork by Wendy DelsolMy Invented Life by Lauren Bjorkman
THROAT by R.A. Nelson
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
I hope not. For me, the best novels fill a special place and accomplish things that even the finest movie could never hope to pull off. Because the novel can do things that are so exquisitely personal to the reader, so perfect in the way they demand us to join quite actively in the act of creation, until two brains are completely intertwined, no matter how far separated they might be in time and space.
Here’s a delicious example of the uniqueness of what a novel can do – in combination with the mind of the reader – from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The following passage occurs very early in the book after young Jane has been made miserable by her detestable ‘relatives’ and looks for somewhere to retreat.
A breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room, I slipped in there. It contained a bookcase: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window-seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.
Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.
I returned to my book--Bewick's History of British Birds: the letterpress thereof I cared little for, generally speaking; and yet there were certain introductory pages that, child as I was, I could not pass quite as a blank. They were those which treat of the haunts of sea-fowl; of "the solitary rocks and promontories" by them only inhabited; of the coast of Norway, studded with isles from its southern extremity, the Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape--
"Where the Northern Ocean, in vast whirls,
Boils round the naked, melancholy isles
Of farthest Thule; and the Atlantic surge
Pours in among the stormy Hebrides."
Nor could I pass unnoticed the suggestion of the bleak shores of Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland, with "the vast sweep of the Arctic Zone, and those forlorn regions of dreary space,--that reservoir of frost and snow, where firm fields of ice, the accumulation of centuries of winters, glazed in Alpine heights above heights, surround the pole, and concentre the multiplied rigours of extreme cold." Of these death-white realms I formed an idea of my own: shadowy, like all the half-comprehended notions that float dim through children's brains, but strangely impressive. The words in these introductory pages connected themselves with the succeeding vignettes, and gave significance to the rock standing up alone in a sea of billow and spray; to the broken boat stranded on a desolate coast; to the cold and ghastly moon glancing through bars of cloud at a wreck just sinking.
Why do I find this scene breathtaking? On the surface, there appears to be almost no action: a girl sitting alone in a room. But look where the author is able to take us. At first the scene, in response to the isolation Jane is feeling, moves the reader into a place that is deeper and more protected, cozier and smaller: a window nook in the breakfast room behind drawn curtains. But, in an echoed microcosm of the overarching theme of the book, Jane’s spirit is unable to be contained: paradoxically, everything suddenly begins to expand as she opens a book on birds and relates its contents to what she sees outside the glass on a “drear November day” lashed with rain. In 252 breathless words Charlotte Brontë transports us to:
The rocky coast of Norway.
The North Cape.
The Northern Sea.
Lapland, Siberia, and Iceland.
The Artic Zone.
Until at last the cozy window seat has become the prow of a magical ship, the rain transformed into waves tossed against the panes. But even that leap is not enough for an imagination as big as Charlotte’s. Again, in response to her character’s mood, Jane and the reader are left trapped in a broken ship, sinking off a desolate coast, striped with bars of ghastly moonlight.
That’s what I call writing outside the lines and why I believe the novel will never die. Not for those who want to travel farther, deeper.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
I’m having trouble sticking to the story today. I’ve reached a place in the novel where it’s starting to become something, and I’m not entirely sure I like what it’s becoming. It’s a place of doubt, of thinking about the outside world and how they might receive this crazy story, a dark tale about a female serial killer. Ugh. Death and destruction. I need a break.
In my years of writing novels, this is always the time I start to fantasize.
“What if,” I say to myself, “what if I scrap this whole thing and write a fantastical, heart-warming story about a girl in a special forest that can transform her into a powerful goddess who can right the wrongs in her world? Or, no, wait, I got it, how about a beautiful, loving story of a couple of kids who save the dolphins trapped in tuna nets? Or, better, how about a moving story about a mute boy who finally learns to talk, taught by the girl who loves him?”
My fantasy storylines are ones I think might be uplifting, might appeal to the general reader. When I start to think like this, I know I’m feeling the long fingers of the trap that all writers can get pulled into: Trying to second guess what will sell. It’s an awful place to be. A place where I can’t hear what’s in my own heart.
Am I doing the right thing? Writing the right thing? Shush, brain, just, shush.
There’s another reason I fantasize about writing stuff other than the novel I’m working on. Because, well, because frankly, writing a novel takes a long time, at least for me, and as in any long-term relationship, there are periods of boredom. I just don’t always feel like thinking about this damn story, ok? I want to hike the mountain, walk to town, go shopping, clean out the front porch. Do I allow myself to fool around, play hookey from the work? Sometimes. Sometimes that’s the best way to fill my well, to keep the ideas fresh and flowing.
Other days, I simply have to paste my butt to the seat and bury my head in the story, much as I’d rather be swimming with the dolphins.
New Year’s Resolution: Stop worrying so damn much, and write when the visions come. Write what’s in my heart. Go clean out the front porch and just shush.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
The fact that I'm making a resolution at all is sort of a first for me. I don't generally make them because you know, the tendency to set unrealistic goals and set yourself up for disappointment. Also, because when I was a kid, I used to mangle the world resolution as "revolution" and as I grew older, I kind of liked that better. Because revolution implies making a change. So rather than setting a goal, I rather liked the idea of working toward change.
But I digress.
What does Yoda have to do with my New Year's resolution/revolution?
It started, as things tend to these days, on Twitter. The #litresolution hashtag began making the rounds with readers and writers alike stating their literary resolutions for 2011. And I started thinking. Yes, I know this is dangerous. I did it anyway.
I started with the pipe-dream resolutions. You know the ones. Make the New York Times. Get a seven-figure deal. Get on Oprah, never mind that she's finishing her show and that she tends to lean toward the dead white guys for Book Club Picks. It's fun to let those flit in and out of the transom of my mind, but come on, no control over any of that, so why bother?
So I dialed it back a notch.
I would write more. Complete more projects. I'd work to improve my craft.
Blah, blah, blah.
I mean, not that these aren't worthy goals, but those are always my goals. Those are constants. There was nothing overtly unique about these resolutions. Nothing that would make me want to work that much harder, put forth that extra bit of effort.
So I started thinking back over the past year. Yes there are things I'm obviously proud of—finally seeing STARS published after its unlikely journey being the big one. But the more I thought, the more I realized there was something else, something even bigger, that had slowly but surely started creeping into my writing.
I had two great story ideas occur to me in the past year. I know you're sitting there thinking, "Yes! Great, Barb! Awesome! So what's the prob?"
There really shouldn't have been a problem after all. The ideas are really, really fantastic. I'm excited by them. Except...
They're so totally not what I write. I mean, really so far out of my comfort zone, they needed a whole new zip code. So while the ideas were exciting, they were also scary. At first, they were scary in that exciting sort of way, but Virgo that I am, I started thinking and analyzing and thinking some more and that led to the internal debates that turned into internal arguments, all of it fueled by—you guessed it—fear.
Boy did that piss me off. Realizing just how much fear had hobbled me in the past year.
If you haven't guessed it by now, this is where Yoda enters the picture. Because when I started thinking about what changes I wanted to make for 2011, what goals I wanted to set for myself, I realized what I most wanted to do was to eradicate that fear. And who better to help with that than a 900 year-old Jedi Master? And that's when it came to me. I knew what my #litresolution was going to be.
To go Yoda on the ideas in my head: "Do or do not! There is no try!" IOW, stop being a wuss. No fear!
Okay, I thought it was clever—and very appropriate for me because, you know, The Empire Strikes Back is a truly awesome film and really, there are a lot of great life lessons in it (plus Han Solo embracing his role as the hero-- le swoon). What shocked me was how often it was retweeted. Clearly, there was something in what I said that resonated with more than a few people. Which is lovely and believe me, I'm flattered, but honestly, the most important is that it resonated with me.
The best part of all of this? My husband. Because he gets it and most importantly, he gets me. So yesterday, on New Year's Eve, UPS delivered a package, a surprise courtesy of my wonderful husband.
Yes, he talks. And he says the most important words of all: "Do. Or do not. There is no try."
So I have no excuses. Nothing to hide behind. This is the year where I don't just confront my fear, I disregard it for the limitation that it is.
After all, I've got my very own Jedi Master holding me accountable.
May all of you have a wonderful, inspiring start to the new year and may 2011 bring with it wonderful things.