Saturday, July 30, 2011
I started my blog on January 23, 2007. My kids were 9 and 6, - now they're going into high school and middle school and one has a girlfriend (not the one you'd think). In the first post, I talk about this great new vlog called Brotherhood 2.o by a writer named John Green and his brother Hank. I'd just signed with my agent and we were shopping around a middle grade called Armadillo Season (that is now a YA called My Life in Black and White, and may actually be a book one of these days). The idea for my first YA was still about a year away, the second and third book were nowhere on the horizon and we had just gotten this great new thing called TIVO. I wasn't on Facebook yet and nobody had heard of Twitter. Ah, memories.
Fast forward four years and 624 blog entries and I find myself with nothing to say. I've talked about writing, my family, plot vs character, other people's great books and a few amazing posts where I get to announce book sales. Looking back over the posts is like a collage of my life for those four years, although I'm sure it's more interesting to me than it is to anyone else. It's been a great time and I've loved sharing this with whoever is in my audience, but I'm thinking it might be time to pack it in. Over the past few months, my posts have dwindled to one every couple of weeks and I'm sure I've lost whatever regular readers I had through sheer neglect. I'm on Twitter and FB quite a lot and that seems to fill all of my communication needs. Some writers have suggested going on a hiatus and I might do that. I'm sure when my next book comes out I'll have more to say. At least I hope so.
What do you think? Do you think writers need to blog to keep in touch with their readers? Or is keeping your website up to date and Tweeting your news enough?
Friday, July 29, 2011
Back to summer...summer with a young child is hardish when you are an author but also moonlight as a stay at home mom. Of course any writers who work full time and also write must stop reading now because I fear they will hate me for complaining. I have it great. Yes I do. But I have to admit, as much as I LOVE my son and spending time with him ( and that is a whole lotta love let me assure you) I do miss SCHOOL. My writing time. My office hours. Do any other sahm's who write understand me. Please? :) You many lie to me if you like.
Oh. How I miss you school. Only a month and a half until you slide back into my life. The door is open. I await you. Oh. School. Come quickly.
The other thing about summer in my life is...the cabin. The money pit. The work maker. Again. I should not complain about my husband being so incredibly handy and so industrious and ambitious that he wants to build us a cabin in the mountains. Should I? So close to a beautiful lake. A get away of our own. I shouldn't complain, right?? Oh... but ohhhh. Please let me.
When we married I told him (him being husband) that I preferredd condo or apartment life because I hated artwork/housework. He wasn't listening. Or maybe he wanted a challenge and thought he could change my mind, because for the last 5 summers we spend most of our time making many, many seven hour (one way) trips to beautiful BC (and yes it is beautiful) to BUILD a cabin. I have become a painter, insulation installer, weed wacker, stainer, extra pair of hands, cleaner upper of builder's messes and many other jobs. Oh. My. God. Actually, this year we have plumbing so things are looking up. Running water and a toilet really can change one's life. There is still no kitchen. We sleep on air mattresses in sleeping bags. We live in the work we do. And get this... there is NO Internet. But. It is getting better. Someday, husband assures me, it will be done. And we won't have to work all the time anymore. I look forward to those days!
I look forward to the driving out to the cabin to spend my days in the beautiful mountains, writing prose while husband is planting trees or repainting the deck and my son is off with his friends, no longer needing me around. Of course, I'll miss him. And longfor the days when he was younger and wanted to hang out with me while I secretly wanted to write.
Note to self.
Like everything, even with writing, be careful what you wish for!
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Been thinking a lot about bookstores since Borders made their announcement. The demise of the rest of the Borders stores, as I discussed last week on my own blog, takes away another set of choices from readers. And that’s problematic on many levels, especially when you write for the children’s market – a group of readers who by and large do not yet own e-readers and still like and need to browse the bookstore shelves to find books. Any bookstore closure takes away some of that opportunity.
I live in a suburb north of Houston, population about 100,000. We’re bordered by various small towns, some larger than others. There have always been a small handful of used bookstores – paperback exchange types mostly – that have come and gone over the years. We have a two story Barnes and Noble in the mall and a free standing Borders (now packing up the shelves) in another shopping area/faux town center called Market Street. (it’s like Disney World in our suburb. We have no actual old downtown, so we actually built one with facades that look like old brick buildings. I alternate between thinking it’s nice and being disgusted that people actually seem to fall for it) We have two public libraries, one of which is in biking/long walking distance from my house.
However… for the numerous subdivisions across the freeway, no public library exists. I actually offered extra credit last year for my seniors (the high school at which I’ve taught for the past number of years is also across the freeway) if they got and showed me a public library card. The vast majority did not have one until this motivated them to get one. At first this shocked me. Actually it still does. But freeways, as my husband the retail guy often reminds me, are like mountains. If you have to go that far to get to something, often you just don’t.
Point being this: Now we have just a Barnes and Noble, two Walmart Superstores, a Sam’s Club and Target. 20 miles north in Conroe, there’s a Hasting’s. Houston's wonderful indies (Blue Willow, Murder By the Book, Brazos Bookstore) are a 30 - 50 mile drive. So for most young adult readers in my area, that’s it in terms of exposure to books. If they don’t wander into their school library during the school year, and clearly they’re not wandering across the freeway to the public library, they now have even less opportunity to be exposed to books. And fewer booksellers to chat with them and hand sell them something they might not have come to on their own. I love the on-line kidlit community. It has been very generous to me, very supportive. But to some extent it’s what we call here in Texas “preaching to the choir.” We need brick and mortar bookstores where a teen can come in and touch and feel and look and browse, and a savvy bookseller like Cathy at Blue Willow can say, “Hey. I see you’re reading x. Why don’t you give x a try?”
Would love to hear your thoughts on this!!
Monday, July 25, 2011
I've been blogging constantly about focus - how I need to tap into it in order to create a book out of this rough draft. My day job reached a pitch of craziness these last couple weeks, leaving little time for browsing around the library on a research mission. I find myself floating in that space past my book, waving to it from afar. There is something more I should be doing, to inspire and prepare myself for the revision to come. And I feel like I'm just not doing it. Maybe I just need to carefully select some books to read, take a deep breath, and keep my eyes wide open. And maybe...not stress so much? I've never tried this approach. It does not come naturally.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
If you look, the copy editor crossed out SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL (which is the new actual title) and wrote THE NEW NORMAL (which is the old title). Yikes! That could have been weird!
Anyway, what all this means is that I haven't really been thinking about a proper post. But I do think copyedits are an interesting topic. Some of the issues that were pointed out made me feel like a complete idiot for not noticing what I'd done. For example: If the characters were in a dark room, how would the protagonist know they were wearing the same kind of shoes? D'oh! Also, I have sticky notes on the pages to myself that say things like, "What does recast this mean?" and "What does small caps mean?" It can be very confusing!
So...let's talk about copyedits. Any funny or memorable mistakes you made? Or things you refused to let get past without a STET? Share your stories!
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I love this cover!
My story, Last Day 2 Kiss, is about a girl from a small town looking for love in the shark strewn waters of
The word-limit aspect of the project proved quite the challenge. How does one convey the sense of a character with thick brush strokes? How to create a compelling plot with beginning middle and end in just a few pages?
In the end, I had to make every word count like 15-20 words in my novels. But when I finished, I loved having done it. How different and fun to write a story in a month instead of a year or two or three!
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
I’m blogging today from a writer’s retreat in Lake Champlain. It’s an ideal location to get my creative juices flowing, void of the usual daily distractions. I went to my first writer’s retreat over the winter and I finished the edits there for Pure Red. Not only did I get a lot of work done, but I also got to hang with other authors and discuss craft, the biz, books and more. So now I’m hooked!
This time around I’m finishing revisions for my agent on my latest manuscript, Graveyard Shift. It’s my first paranormal romance novel and I’ve been having so much fun with it. Being here has allowed me to really focus on my characters. While I’m giving the book a final read through, there’s not much starting and stopping because my main priority is the story. Often times at home it could be hours or even days before I can get back to a scene and then I have to spend time rereading what I wrote before.
My nine year old son asked why I would want to go to a retreat and do I even talk to anyone? Well, since I have three small kids I usually write in spurts at home, a couple of hours here and there, wherever I can squeeze it in. Sometimes I get a sitter in the morning, or I write during my daughter’s nap, but many times I’m typing away when my kids are fast asleep at night.
Here at this retreat, lunch, evening cocktails and dinner are served at the same time every day so that’s when we congregate. Yesterday morning we had an optional yoga class, which was awesome. Then this morning I took a nice walk in the open fresh air before getting to work. Tonight we’ll be sharing our progress by reading a few minutes of something we’ve been working on. There are almost twenty of us, ranging from picture book writers to young adult, so should be fun!
So if you haven’t been on a retreat, I highly recommend it. All you need is an empty house, devoid of clutter and piles of laundry calling your name.
Monday, July 18, 2011
I was sorting out the closet where my old papers live, and I found a page I wrote when I was just starting to think about Wildwing. It was like going back in time (appropriate, since Wildwing is about a girl who escapes her rotten life by traveling back to the Middle Ages, where she's mistaken for the local lord's bride-to-be).
Here's how that early draft starts:
Ani draped the tablecloth, fresh and smelling of the iron, over one arm, reached for the unfamiliar jangle of keys, and strode down the hall toward the linen closet. Her steps slowed as she neared the door in the middle of the hallway, the one that was always locked. It was probably the little boy's room, she thought. He'd been two years old when he disappeared, her age. They'd searched the woods for weeks. That was thirteen years ago; the room must be thick with dust. Ani's fingers found a long black key. Herr von Hofen was so kind to her; not like the boys who muttered names under their breath, or their mothers who sneered as she walked by. This would be her secret gift. She'd scrub the room from top to bottom; maybe, somehow, it would lift some of the sorrow she saw in her eyes.
Here's how the book starts now:
It's the same old cobbled street through the same old town, but for once I barely smell the cakes from the tea shop, don't even pause to stare in the windows. I'm floating along, another me, in a dreamworld. Thanking God for sending a teacher so new, she hasn't learned yet that there are somebodies and nobodies in this town, and that I'm one of the nobodies. She's gone and made me the queen! I smile, remembering Caroline's horrified gasp. She's to be nursemaid in the play. Caroline, who tells the other girls not to talk to me, who pretends I don't exist if we're in the grocer's at the same time...
Wow! That's a lot of changes. From Germany (where it started when I visited this castle) to England (better for research, language, and Middle Age politics). The scene in the hall moved to later in the book, to make the heroine's travails specific (that rotten Caroline). Nice old Herr von Hoffen became strange Mr. Greenwood. But while Ani's name changed to Addy, her core stayed much the same. There was an anger and resilience in her, a refusal to accept the crap that she was told to accept as her lot in life, that fueled the story from beginning to end. The changes amped that up.
I've been asked where/when I'd time-travel if I had my choice. Ancient Greece. Venice during the Renaissance. And about a hundred more. But until I open a door, like Addy, and find an old elevator turned time-machine, I'll settle for the mini-time-travels like this one: Seeing where the story started, looking back at the changes I made, and understanding why.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
In the July issue of RWR (Romance Writers Report), a publication of the Romance Writers of America, Lynsay Sands, a New York Times Bestselling author of multiple genres, describes her writing process:
“…when I write a book, that’s all I do. I get up and write until I start falling asleep at the computer and then I go to bed, get up, and do it again. Some days are 20 hours; some are 36 with four-hour naps in between. The last three days, I may not sleep at all. It’s hard on the body but keeps me in the story.”
Wow! Let me repeat that—wow! Talk about an exhausting, and individual, writing style. And while I’m no match for this writing-as-an-extreme-sport approach to making deadline, there are aspects of Lynsay’s regimen that make sense.
I have an August 15 deadline for the third book in the Stork trilogy. Since June 1, I have written over 35,000 words. For me and my own writing regimen, this is a grueling schedule. I generally write a pretty clean first draft. This style requires that a day’s effort (I’m currently shooting for 1000 words a day) pass my own brand of muster. I stop to craft passages, avoid clichés, revisit previous passages, check for word repetition, etc. This has led to many days at the computer or pen in hand (yes, due to an overused right arm, I often write longhand) until nine or ten at night. To be fair, I take breaks. My youngest son still requires chauffeur services. Laundry must get done. The kitchen doesn’t clean itself; nor do the bathrooms. And I still find time for my other passion: tennis. Allowing for these daily diversions, I’m still putting in 6-8 hours of daily writing-related work and WILL make deadline.
Still, I’m no Lynsay. And while attempting her schedule would certainly lead to my hospitalization (the psychiatric ward a real possibility), there are aspects of her writing that resonate with me. “I find writing this way allows me to hold onto the thread of the story as I tend to avoid any and all interruptions while doing it, so I am very immersed in what I’m writing,” says Lynsay. Now, THIS I get.
When writing at a slower pace—say at 500 words a day and taking the weekends off—I often begin with a now-where-were-we delay. With this summer’s pace, I haven’t experienced this effect as much. Of course, there are pauses, lost days even, for plotting, construct issues, research, etc., but I’m still deep into the story within these sidebars.
All in all, I genuflect to Lynsay. She’s an ironman, whereas I classify myself more in the power-walker ranks. In the end, it’s all about how we get to THE END, which I fully intend to do by August 15. So back to it …
By the way, please enjoy the summer for me :)
Friday, July 15, 2011
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
And now he's all grown-up:
So yeah, it's really weird to think about being sixteen years past my sixteenth birthday. I feel like I need do some major goal assessments and stuff because my life feels a little bit off track. But I'm trying not to let it bug me too much today. My birthday plan is to spend the day hanging with my husband, and while I work tonight, since I do work at a bar, I can kind of turn work into a party. Plus I've gotten some great gifts. In addition to that Rancid album from my friend, my old roommate (who took that photo of Sid above) sent me an awesome slushee/snowcone maker, my mom bought tickets for the two of us to see the original version of Grease (I recently found out that it was based on a Chicago high school and that Broadway and the movie cut out a lot of the local references and raunchier parts, so I'm dying to see what the uncut play will be like!), and I know all you book lovers will appreciate this. My husband is going to build me a massive bookshelf!
Sunday, July 10, 2011
I go through a book a weekend and sometimes I'm sad to finish a book because it was SO good I hate that it's over (like the one I finished last weekend) and other times I realize there is no way I can finish what I started because it just isn't doing it for me (like the book I started this weekend).
With all this reading it sort of puts a dent in my writing. But I think it's worth it. I learn all sorts of things when I read, like what keeps me turning pages and what turns me off as a reader. There are books I read that everyone loves and I wonder why I'm not digging it at all. Other books I think are amazing and I wonder why they didn't receive as much attention as they deserve. I want to tell everyone about them! Summer just means reading to me. It always has, and it continues to do so as I get older.
And because I think summer is for reading, I decided to add some books to other people's collections with a summer contest. It's so easy to win a free book!
1. Answer the question - "This summer will be the best ever because_____."
2. Send me an email with your answer to 'contest (at) jennyoconnell.com' (use the @ sign! I don't just want lots of spam)
3. I will pick two random readers to receive LOCAL GIRLS or RICH BOYS, which are all about summer
4. That's it! Free books to read this summer!
Saturday, July 9, 2011
In June, Rebecca Janni, a member of my writing group in the photo above, held a launch for her second picture book Every Cowgirl Needs Dancing Boots. She put on a barn hoedown straight out of the book with live music, pink lemonade, and popcorn. I brought a bouquet of peacock feathers and handed them out to the kids as party favors, and local writers showed up to cheer her on. The day was hot, but adults and kids had a sweaty good time. Later that week, a local indie book store hosted a wine and cheese party. The SCBWI contingent was there again in full force.
Two weeks later, the Central Library in Des Moines held the “official” launch for A & L Do Summer. My loyal author friends turned out to listen to me talk about my “overnight” writing success and hear me read my first chapter again, and not one of them fell asleep. Afterward, a group of us went out for food, drinks, and more writing talk.
To round out the summer of Central Iowa book launches, Wendy Delsol’s adult novel, The McCloud Home for Wayward Girls, arrives at a bookstore near you on August 2. Among other events, Wendy is having an open house featuring wine, snacks, a book signing, and great conversation. Her author friends, including me, won’t miss a minute of it.
Children’s authors in Iowa are the friendliest, most supportive group of people I know. If you haven’t met the authors in your neck of the woods, fire up your computer search engine and look them up. They’re people worth knowing and supporting.
Friday, July 8, 2011
Time is one thing no writer has enough of. Ask any of us. Writers are to time like SUVs are to gas. We need it, we guzzle it, we consume it like nobody’s business—and no matter what we do, we always feel we’re low on the time tank, begging for more.
I’m no different; the more projects I juggle, the shorter the day seems. But “project” doesn’t necessarily just relate to my books, either. Right now, I’ve also taken on the task of helping my brother lose the pesky extra weight he put on when he was younger. Which means I’m now exercising twice as much—an hour and a half, sometimes two hours a day.
And—I’m still writing four to five thousand words a day.
Yeah—four to five thousand. With two hours less per day to play with.
Here’s how: I’m writing in 1,000-word bursts.
I get up, and before I even turn my computer on, I write 1,000 words with the aid of my AlphaSmart NEO (a low-tech little gadget that runs on AA-batteries and has zero Internet capabilities). Once my first 1,000 words are completed, I turn on my computer, answer emails, and do my social networking for the day.
Then it’s time for 1,000-word burst number two. At the 2,000-word point, it’s usually time to break for lunch. And a workout.
I work two more 1,000-word bursts into the afternoon (breaking in the middle to check email again, or to put together a blog post, or run an errand). After dinner (and another workout), if I’m not mush-brained, I sometimes manage one more 1,000 words.
I’ve learned to avoid my tendency to want to deal with all the daily stuff that clutters my desk first. I’m good at telling myself that if I get email and social networking out of the way, and go ahead and race to the store, then I’ll have the rest of the day to work. Only, invariably, by that time, it’s one in the afternoon. And the rest of the day is fading fast.
Using my word-burst technique, though, by one in the afternoon, I’ve hit 2,000-words, and have still had time to answers those emails as well…
Of course, my technique could be modified to fit your own goals: you could do 500-word or 200- word bursts. Point is, I’ve found that it helps immensely to break up a daily goal into smaller chunks…and to insist on maintaining a daily word count, regardless of what else happens to be on the desk at the same time.(Below: me and my NEO...)
Saturday, July 2, 2011
all I really want to do is sit in a quiet room and write. I recently took two weeks off from writing due to family illness. I thought it would be good to take a break from the work. Just focus on family, keep my head in the world. I joke how I struggle with writing, even though I do it every day, and I thought, ‘well, now I have a good excuse not to write.’ But I didn’t realize how crabby I’d get after just a few days. I mean, I’d done it before – taken time off, like when my daughter was born (I took a week off), or my sister got sick (I still wrote, but about her). But never two solid weeks.
This is what happens to me, almost all the time, no matter what’s going on: Say I’m in an accident, or giving birth, or experiencing the illness of a loved one; in the back of my head, I’m thinking how I might translate the action to fiction. How can my life be useful in my work?
I get a good dose of guilt doing this. Why can’t I just be in the world without translating everything? In a way, though, I think my writer’s mind saves me. It makes sense of the world for me. In a way, writing is my life, and vice versa. They are interchangeable, they feed each other. One without the other wouldn’t mean as much to me.