Thursday, December 31, 2009

Exposing the Secret Identity and the Goals for the New Year

The New Year. That phrase spanks of promise. It's not that we just turn our calendar to month one yet again--we get a blank slate. A mulligan. A do-over. A fresh start. A whole New Year.

Fill it with whatever you please. Something good!

In honor of the fresh start, I am revealing something about myself. When I started this whole blogging thing, on the scary Internet, I chose a name that was close to my own. I wanted to occasionally post pictures of my kids, and didn't want to worry about the weirdos out there. I've counseled teenage sex-offenders, for Pete's sake! Also, I'm cautious and suspicious by nature. I always second guess a stranger's motives. I wear my heart on my sleeve. And I like wearing my heart there. What you see is what you get. So, I guard that sleeve a bit. But I also trust my instincts about people. And the thing is, I like all of you. You've been nothing but supportive and kind. I no longer want to hide behind a facade. So, as a New Year's present to you, I'm revealing my secret identity.

Wa-laa! My name is not Heather Lane, but Heather Elaine Kelly. (There's a maiden name thrown in there as well, but let me preserve some of my mystery--although if you've followed from the beginning, you know that as well.) Anyway, one of my nicknames when I was a small child was Heather 'Laine. Hence the blogging identity.

Now that I've revealed the Real Me, on to the Real Resolutions.

1. I will finish editing my MG fantasy to the point where I would be proud to show it to Katherine Hannigan, Ingrid Law, Linda Urban, Kate Messner, Wendy Mass, or Erica Orloff. (I will, however, resist stalking these authors.)

2. I will finish editing my absurd YA fantasy to the point where I would be proud to show it to Kristin Cashore, Suzanne Collins, Maggie Stiefvater, or James Kennedy. (Once again, I will not send my ms to said authors.)

3. I will start querying. (I will even resist stalking said authors' agents.)

4. I will not dissolve into a puddle of goo at all the rejection letters.

5. I will start writing a new novel.

6. I will continue blogging each week, and hopefully update some of the Journeys Toward Publication Interviews as those writers go off and get published. (Help me out with this goal, everyone--it's up to you!)

And, the overall goal: TO LIVE LIFE DELIBERATELY. To make my intentions show through my actions. To grow closer to my overall goals of getting published, raise healthy kids, and love my marriage. To treat the world as my own family. To pay attention to what the universe is telling me, and to be open to that message.

So, what about you--what author would inspire your best writing, if they were in your critique group? And since we're dreaming, who would you want to write your blurb on your bookflap?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What's Real

Characters and books come alive for me. At times I have to remind myself of what's real and what is book. Characters and scenes live on in my brain, long after I've turned the last page. And I imagine that most of you are the same.

But this Christmas stuff happened in real life--stuff from which I need to gain distance. Because I am imagining over and over what must have happened, since I wasn't there, and the images are awful and horrifying. And to make it worse, it happened on Christmas day. My youngest brother (18) and my stepsister (not much older) spent Christmas night trying to save their mom--my step-mom. And couldn't. A blood clot had traveled to her brain.

Mourning is difficult for me, since while I loved my step-mom, I didn't always like her. She was someone who craved attention, and many times was oblivious to the people around her. When I was young, I was one of those people. But I loved her. Because she was family. Because she was in my life while I grew up. Because she was crazy and strong and beautiful and said whatever was on her mind, no matter how inappropriate it was.

But what is living in my brain right now is the trauma that was my brother and sister's Christmas night. Over and over and over again, I imagine those moments when they tried to save their mom. Soon I will be able to see my brother and sister, and make sure that they are indeed okay, if forever changed. And until then, I need some distance from what is real.

Know that the unexpected can happen. Hug your family. Live in the moment. Make the best of this fleeting life. And I'll see you again when I come back to reality.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa's Helpers

I hope this puts your mind at ease.
Superman and Cowgirl are guiding Santa this year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Making a Mad Draft to the End

I'm working through a revision of my MG project. But I can't really call it a revision, since I'm not revising. I'm rewriting the end. So much changed in the first two thirds--characters added and changed--that while the storyline and plot remain the same, the people moving around the plot are different. I'm using very little from the earlier draft in this rewrite of the end.

And it's a funny thing. Because it's not really drafting, but it's not revision either. It's a slow rewrite. A cautious thing. I imagine it might be how some people go about drafting--picking each word carefully. I couldn't draft an entire book this way. And, I'm wondering if I should be doing a fast draft to the end, instead of rewriting. Should I be speeding toward the finish line?

It reminds me of how I did Christmas prep this year. I made lists. I checked deals online. I figured out my budget and what gifts would fit into that budget. I braved black Friday(!). Everything I did was deliberate. I wrapped presents. I offered to wrap presents for my in-laws who are arriving from out-of-town. Just send them to me, I said. I don't mind. So then I wrapped more presents. I labeled boxes so wrapped presents wouldn't get mixed up. Slow and steady toward the big day. And I was ready ahead of time. And felt completely drained of Christmas spirit.

Normally my Christmas prep is a quick, mad dash. Out buying last minute gifts with grumpy shoppers. Up all night Christmas Eve wrapping. One fateful year, I ran out of tape, and my husband had to run out in the middle of the night to find an open truck stop. Not fun. Well, kind of fun. In the mad dash I normally do at Christmas time, I never run out of spirit. It's essential to get me across the finish line.

And, I'm wondering if it is the same with my writing. I always let things stew for a really long time before I even start to write. Then I write fast and hard until I get to the finish line. And then I revise. Or rewrite. So, I wonder if I should be making a mad draft to the end, to preserve the spirit of the novel.

How do you rewrite? Is it more like drafting, or more like revision? Or maybe you don't need to rewrite? Any tips for a mad drafter?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday Meeting/ The Christmas Crazies

I have a confession to make. I get a bit crazy in the ramp up to the holidays. I get all freaky about stuff that is out of my control. I want the people in my life to do and say certain things. Which isn't exactly fair. They aren't characters in my novel. I need to give them the space to be who they are. I need to get what I need from something else.

I want things to go smoothly during the holidays and be, well, perfect. And every year, (another confession) I kind of expect a Christmas miracle. Naive, I know. And I know that is not how the universe works. I think it is a throwback from feeling the magic of holidays as a child.

I get frustrated with the hard things in my life at the holidays. And that is not what the holidays is about. It's about being grateful for what you have. And I am truly deeply blessed. But holidays also mark the passage of time. Last year is clearly etched in my head. And I hoped that this Christmas, things would be different.

My response to all this is to understand the pressure that I feel around this time of year, and to do some proactive stress relief. And to paint a different picture in my head about the holiday--one with tons of wonderful imperfections. And to latch on to one of the things that I can control--my writing.

Which brings us to the Monday Meeting. This feels interesting, coming off of the open thread on Friday about setting big picture goals. (Feel free to head back there to enter in your long term goal.) I have a clear view of what I need to do to get to the next step. I actually wrote down on my calendar what I want to accomplish day by day. This week, I am going scene by scene in my MG and adding what is necessary. I'm hoping by the end of the week that I will have finished adding/changing the scenes necessary to keep my character's arc flowing smoothly. Then I will have a good idea of what is next in my revision, and write myself an editorial letter about the novel.

When I get all crazy about the stuff in my life, I'll write (and run, and read, get coffee with a friend, and maybe do some yoga). I'll have something to work toward that is in my own control. What do you do about the holiday crazies? What are your goals this week? What do you get all freaky about? And, have you checked out this awesome Christmas carol at MS'sFV?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Open Thread

I have really enjoyed getting to know some of the writers out here in blogland, and thought I would take a week to open up the discussion, and find out where you are. So. The Big Picture. Where are you in your journey toward publication and beyond? What is your immediate goal? (I'm talking deadlines, people!) What is your reach-for-the stars goal?

I'll start.

I'm revising a fantastical Middle Grade novel. My goal is to start subbing this novel to agents in the beginning of the new year. I'm going to say February. (Now that a deadline is out there, I have to stick to it!)

I'm also overhauling my fantasy YA novel from NaNo. I hit 50,000 words, but lack an ending. And, it has some some seriously floundering parts in it. So in March, while I'm waiting on agent interest, I will go full force into overhauling and revising that one.

My immediate goal is to get serious about polishing my middle grade for submission. To stick to my deadline, and to have something (great!) to submit.

My reach-for-the stars goal is to snag an agent and get on the path to publication. Well, it's actually to see my books in print and to make this writing life a profession.

Now that I'm accountable to you for my self-imposed deadline, I'm going to spend today carving out how to get there.

I'm looking forward to finding out where you are on your journey, and what your deadlines are, self-imposed or otherwise. Chime in!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday Monday Meeting

Since it's my blog, and I'm all powerful here, I am able to make today Monday. And yesterday was Superman's birthday. Every superman deserves a supermom to create a super birthday. In that spirit, there was the driving to far away IKEA, the buying of the new bed, the putting together of said bed, the cake baking, the gift-wrapping, and the party hosting. But no blogging.

Now there is blogging.

I thought I would start out with some thanks. Thanks to all the wonderful writers who contributed so much to this blog with their insightful interviews. Thanks Erica, Bryan, Paul, and Casey! All the interviews are under a link to the right, if anyone missed one.

Thanks to all of you followers for all your supportive comments. I love the respectful community that we're building here. I appreciate that you take the time to visit.

Thanks to my critique partner for all that he has done and been for me this year. Thanks, R! I would not be here, in my writing world, without your pushing, pulling and support.

Thanks to all the supportive writers and agents and publishers who blog and make me feel a part of this world.

And, one more thanks, wrapped up in a progress report:

Last week my writing was derailed (again, or still) due to all sorts of things, including being supermom for three kids during the holiday season. Just when I decided to turn my back on my writing, I clicked over to Erica's blog and her recent post, "Today, You're a Writer." It got me right back on track. Thanks again, Erica, for always being there, even when you have more than your fair share on your plate. Everyone, go check it out, and then come back and tell me what you are doing this day, this week, as a writer.

What am I going to do? I am going to write. I think that is going to be my only goal during the holiday season.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Hanukkah everyone!

And on a side note--Superman already made his plea for one of his parents to convert this year (just one--nobody wants to give up Christmas). Eight nights of gifts? What could be better than that? And the dreidel game is always a big winner.

So, I responded with my stock answer--let's learn a bit more about the Jewish faith. And when I reminded them who in our family celebrates Hanukkah, it seemed to make things worse. Like my kids are SO close to celebrating two gift-giving holidays...but don't.

I'm looking forward to our family traditions--cookies and driving around to see holiday lights, caroling and pageants. New PJs at Christmas Eve, and lots of family. What holiday traditions are you looking forward to?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Casey McCormick


Very early in my agent researching days, I came across Literary Rambles, Casey McCormick's fantastically informative blog about all areas of writing, including agent info for the field of children's literature. I was collecting agent information on little index cards, and realized that she was doing the same thing, in a much more comprehensive and organized manner. And, when I posted some comments, I found that she is a gracious host, and a supportive, kind person. Plus, she has style--she owns just about the coolest book-related purse I've ever seen. I am really pleased to introduce the woman behind Agent Spotlights, Writing/Research Tip Tuesday, and Wednesday Word Count!

In her own words:

Casey McCormick is an aspiring author as well as a reader for a literary agent. She lives in California where she neglects her day job as a medical transcriptionist to write young adult fiction and chase her kids around. To find out more, visit her blog, Literary Rambles, where she yaps about writing, literary agents, and a myriad of other desultory thoughts.

Casey--tell us--what are you currently working on?

For the last year I’ve been writing and rewriting (and writing and rewriting) a young adult novel about a psychologically broken teen and the unique way she deals with the events that broke her. That’s all I’m gonna say. ; )

What made you start to write seriously?

I come from The Harry Potter Wave, as I call it. You know, the masses that were compelled to write after experiencing the magic of HP (the sort of masses now coming from Twilight). I’d been writing off and on for years prior (mostly adult fantasy), but J.K. Rowling led me to discover children’s literature and a passion for writing it. It was like finding my forever home.

If you had to pick one favorite blog, what would it be?

I can’t say that I have just one. Every blog I read religiously offers a little something different, something worthy of favoritism. That said, I really try to keep up with
The Guide to Literary Agents blog, and highly recommend it, as it helps me stay current on agent news, interviews, and more.

What is your favorite blog post that you have written?

Gosh, I don’t know! I love one I wrote called “
Channeling My Mad Scientist," but I favor all of my Agent Spotlight posts as well. Those posts are filled with care and purpose, and I love that writers appreciate them so much.

What online resource have you found most helpful?

Can I name more than one?
Verla Kay’s Children's Writers and Illustrators Message Board, the AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler, and Cynthea Liu’s site Writing for Children and Teens. I’ve learned a ton from all three, and made many new friends from the message boards, including my original, fabulous critique partner. I'm not sure where I'd be now without these resources.

What has been your biggest trial in writing?

Sticking with my novels, probably. I have a tendency to cut my (perceived) losses and run when I get to the dreaded middle and fall out of love with a project. I’ve been focusing on overcoming this little habit of mine this past year, but it’s not going particularly well. I think I bring a new level of harsh to being self-critical and can’t seem to love anything I write enough to get truly behind it. Sometimes I wonder what’s wrong with me when everyone else seems to love their manuscripts so much! Beyond that, I think it's really hard to know where I'm actually at as a writer and how to improve what needs improving.

What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing?

I set goals with my fabulous critique partners, withhold things I love until I write, set timers, etc. Whatever I have to do, really. One of the greatest motivators, I think, is to set my writing aside for a while and read instead. When I’m really in a slump, I’ll read a stack of books (or revisit those that have inspired me in the past) and find a strong motivation to write again.

Tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life.

As I mentioned above, Harry Potter led me to discovering kidlit (I didn’t read much of it as an actual kid or teen), so it will always hold a special place in my heart. More recently, I feel that Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson influenced my writing a bit. The poetic nature of the writing made me almost sick with desire to write as beautiful, as good, and as powerful as she does in that book. Let me tell you, it made the self-critic in me a lot meaner, but I learned so much about the potential of the written word in YA fiction by reading Wintergirls that I almost feel indebted to Anderson.

What is your practical goal with your writing? Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share?

Aside from wanting to touch the lives of others, my practical goal is to achieve a level of writing I can be proud to publish, and then to make a career out of it. As far as reaching for the stars, I’d love to be a prolific bestseller with a dedicated following. I don’t want to be hugely famous like Rowling or Meyers, not at all; just big enough to know I’m touching the lives of many, and doing what I've wanted to do for awhile now—write full time, successfully.

So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience?

The best part is seeing how much I’ve grown as a writer. It’s hard to live (and be patient) with the gut feeling that my writing isn’t good enough. But, seeing the progress I’ve made from draft to draft, especially from my first novel to my most recent, is all the encouragement I need to keep going. If I’ve been able to improve as much as I have in the last few years, I know I’m capable of becoming a phenomenal writer someday.

If you could be a character in a book, and live within their world, what character would you be?

Well, since I’ve done it a couple times already, I’m going to name more than one… Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, Hermione Granger from HP, or, if you don’t mind a gender swap, Harry Potter himself.

Casey--I have to say that I already think that you have accomplished your first goal, of touching the lives of others. Your blog is a very special and helpful place to be! Everyone, let's help make Casey feel at home by posting a question or comment for her in the comments. She'll stop by when she can to answer questions.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The People in My Head

So, I've been thinking about what makes a great blog. And I was struck by what Paul Murphy said in comments on Friday, when asked about his blogging purpose:

My goal with the blog is to entertain and to appreciate the people who read the thing. If I do those two things well enough, I figure people will keep reading and new readers will find their way there.

And it struck me--this is what makes some blogs so great to hang out at. Great blog hosts are clearly starting a conversation for me. Yes, ME (and YOU). Paul knows we're out here, reading it, and he wants to entertain us a while.

There is a great atmosphere at Paul's blog because it is clear that the blog is as much about the followers as it is about Paul. It's no thinly disguised medium for self-promotion. Well, maybe it is. All blogs are, at their root, about self-promotion. But Paul does it really well, because of his intentions. And because his intentions are respectful.

Is this too simplistic? If you entertain, then people will appear, to be entertained? If you build it, they will come? Very mystical, very magical. But I think this is true, in this day and age when word of mouth has morphed into a world of clicks and links.

And respect is a difficult thing to achieve in a medium where sarcasm and humor can be misconstrued as insensitivity or meanness. I agonize over some comments that I have left on blogs. Did they know that I was joking? Should I delete it?

My intention for writing my blog? Well, it's funny. When I write for my blog, I feel as though I am having a conversation with the voices inside my head.

I see all your cute/handsome/meaningful little avatars over there on the right, but I still feel like I'm going a little crazy, writing all this as if you were real. It's why I love your comments, and why I post writer interviews. Because it's proof of my sanity. (Okay, and because I want to be able to say, I knew you when...)

I feel this way, I think, because at first, my intention simply was to carve out my own little corner of the universe, where I could tuck my thoughts, and writing journal, and goals, and links to fun stuff. And be able to find everything later. I never really believed that if I wrote it, you would read it. But, since you do read it, my blog is evolving into something much more meaningful than just a conversation within my head.

It's like how your writing changes after the first time you find a great critique partner. Suddenly you have an audience. And knowledge of that audience changes your writing. Intention translates into actions.

So, I thank you all, figments of my imagination. Thanks for reading. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for making this a meaningful place to be.

And, just in case your requirement for an entertaining blog includes stylish accoutrement, check out this awesome bag*.

So, what are your intentions for blogging, and what do you think makes for an exceptional blog? Do you feel you have a responsibility to your followers? And, if you have decided not to blog, then why not?

*Disclaimer--that purse is one of my aunt and uncle's eco-friendly bags, and occasionally I get awesome bags from them, and lots of love. And, even though I'm biased, their stuff is wonderful!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Monday Meeting

This Monday, I'm reminiscing.

When I was a child, my parents got divorced. And split the holidays. So, every other Christmas we would drive from Pennsylvania to the heat of the Florida Keys to celebrate Christmas with my mom's parents, on their house boat. Did I mention my grandparents are Jewish? It was as if we were trying to make Christmas as un-traditionally Christmasy as we could. Those Christmases are etched in sharp contrast to all the Christmases that had come and gone before, when we would drive to New England to spend the holiday with my dad's parents.

But, a strange evolution of Christmas occurred. It became normal to expect Santa to visit on golf cart, driving down the beach. To enjoy the bizarre pastel Key's interpretation of Christmas decorations. To see our gifts under the Hanukkah bush, and play shuffle board and go for a swim Christmas Eve. To sing 'Margaritaville' in Key West and see Hemingway's cats. To wear bathing suits instead of snowsuits. These things became Christmasy to me--even the Hanukkah bush. To this day, I use blue lights on my Christmas tree.

I loved those Christmases.

My point? That a vacation to the Keys would be perfect this time of year? No--well, yes.

But my real point? That Christmas, and any holiday, is about spirit, not about scene, or even traditions. And, that it is more about spending time with those you love than about anything else.

But on to the task at hand:

The Monday meeting.

This week I am going to write. That's my goal. As the pressure of Nano dissolves and the holiday cyclone sucks me in, I just want to get some writing done. I'd love to finish some things up, and have a solid deadline, but my goal is just to find my rhythm and write.

My other goal is to remember my bigger goal--to get this stuff published, and sooner rather than later. This always fires me up, as I think of all the possibilities.

Plus--another big treat (it is the holiday season, after all!)--this week's Friday interview will feature Casey McCormick from Literary Rambles. She is a fantastic person and writer. Stop by to check it out!

So, are you thinking about the holidays? What are you working on this week?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Feature: Journeys Towards Publication and Beyond: Paul Michael Murphy




It is a pleasure for me to introduce Paul Michael Murphy. I honestly don't remember how I stumbled upon Paul's blog. But, when I did, it became clear that his blog was the place to be. And then when he welcomed me by name in a post, I thought, 'finally--I've made it to the cool kids' table.' I've had the priviledge to read a WIP, and I would be surprised if an agent didn't snap it right up when he puts it out there. He's a genuinely nice guy and funny writer. Here's Paul.


Thanks for the interview, Paul. Please tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in a small town called Cass City, Michigan where I had a relatively easy time of things. School wasn’t too hard, I was good enough at sports to avoid being ridiculed, my dad worked, my mom was usually home, and I had a brother who quit whenever a call went against him in whiffle ball. I went to college at Michigan State University and that was nice too. Classes weren’t as difficult as I feared they might be. The girls were pretty. I had lots of free time and played a lot of video games. I became a teacher, met a girl who I managed to convince to marry me, had a daughter, and did some other stuff not worth mentioning. A few years ago I started writing with the idea of getting published.

What are you currently working on?

What I hope is a humorous young adult fantasy about a girl who’s kidnapped by a self-described “swashbuckling buccaneer” and taken to Load, a place ruled by a sarcastic teenager. Load is about to be invaded, and the king’s defenses consist of pollen, colored lozenges, and songs you can’t get out of your head. He’s also training teams of debaters. Lauren realizes that the only hope she has of getting home and of saving the lives of her new friends is to inspire the people of Load—who spend most of their time watching security camera feeds—to overthrow the king before the invasion begins.

What made you start to write seriously?

I try to not write seriously. As for what makes me write instead of take Facebook quizzes or watch Num3ers or cross-stitch, I find the thoughts in my head more entertaining than most TV shows and video games and I lack the dexterity for cross-stitch. So for me writing is about self-gratification. If I write something I like I give it to other people and hope they like it too. And if they don’t then I figure they have bad taste. And they probably watch Num3ers.

If you had to pick one favorite blog, what would it be?

During the college basketball season, my favorite blog is Mark Titus’s Club Trillion (http://clubtrillion.blogspot.com/) For writing, I’ll be boring and say Nathan Bransford’s because in spite of his reality TV fetish he seems like good guy and he posts regularly.

What is your favorite blog post that you have written?

This one was both fun to write and a service to men everywhere:
http://paulmichaelmurphy.blogspot.com/2009/07/things-men-should-not-wear.html

What online resource have you found most helpful?

Verla Kay’s Blue Board is awesome, especially if you’re just starting out. When I got serious about writing I spent hour after hour reading old threads and I benefited from the wisdom of people who were farther along the path. No one makes you feel like an idiot at Verla’s, even if you obviously are. I also watched a lot of videos here:
http://www.readingrockets.org/books/interviews and read a lot of stuff about famous writers’ paths to publication because there’s something deeply satisfying about other people’s struggles.

What has been your biggest trial in writing?

I feel like I got a late start and I’m constantly playing catch-up. I don’t want to throw my high school teachers under a bus here, but they really taught me nothing about how to analyze a text or how to write much of anything except useless five paragraph essays. I read quite a lot in high school, especially for a guy, and I wanted to write. I just had no idea how. Thank God for the Internet.

What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing?

When I was trying to lose weight I read something that said on those days when you really didn’t feel like exercising you should put your exercise clothes on anyway because having those clothes on triggers something in the brain and you’ll feel like doing it more. I think it’s the same with writing. Just turning on the laptop and staring at it usually leads to something. It might be crap, but even crap is better than nothing.

Tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life.

When I first thought seriously about writing I checked out a lot of books on the craft from my local library. One was Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King and as I read it I realized I was already doing a lot of the things I was supposed to be doing. I found myself nodding along more than anything else as I read, and I thought, You know, I can do this.

What is your practical goal with your writing? Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share?

My practical goal is to get published and go to a bookstore and see my book on a shelf. And then I’m going to take my book off the shelf and find one of those tables where the really hot books are showcased and I’m going to replace them with my book. My reach-for-the-stars goal would be to write a book that’s already on the hot books table.

So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience?

There’s not much I don’t like. I’ve cyber-met lots of fun people. My writing has given me an excuse to blog and I like doing that. It’s made me a better writing teacher and that’s something I actually get paid to do. I’ve had enough small successes to remain encouraged and enough disappointments to realize I can handle them. The best part is the writing itself. When it’s going well and when I’m writing that just-for-my-own-selfish-pleasure first draft, there’s not much better. Except maybe a Mythbusters marathon.

If you could be a character in a book, and live within their world, what character would you be?

I’m kind of risk-averse, so most characters are out of the question because they’re always getting into dangerous situations and fighting bad guys and whatnot. I’m a big fan of stories where the main character is the smartest guy in the room. I loved A Beautiful Mind and Good Will Hunting and I like biographies of really smart dudes. So since I write for kids, I’ll say Nick Allen of Frindle. He’s the kind of precocious kid I wish I would have been. Plus, at the end of the book he’s in college and he’s loaded. And he did it all without having to confront an evil wizard.
Eveyone, please make Paul feel welcome, and post a comment or question in the comments. He's going to check back when his teacherly schedule permits.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday Meeting

Phew. Thanksgiving is over. It was a big blur--the days are racing past. Before I know it, more holidays will be upon us.


But before they are, we have this week to write. So, here are my goals:

1. Finish my Nano novel. I hit 50,000 after a sketchy Thanksgiving week, but am still maybe 10,000 words off finishing.

2. Write myself an editorial letter to get me back into revising my MG. This is a good week to organize what the revision is going to look like. December is looking like a PriNoRevisMo for me (private novel revision month).

3. Shelf the Nano YA (when complete) until MG novel is revised.



Plus--I have a big treat for you all at the end of the week. Friday's Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond will spotlight the funny and down-to-earth Paul Murphy. Come stop by, post a question, meet Paul.


So, tell me. What goals are you gearing toward this week?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Links

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Instead of an actual interview, I've decided to link to some interviews with authors talking about their writing process.

Enjoy!

Maya Angelou in an interview at newsun:

Growing up is admitting that there are demons you cannot overcome. You wrestle with the, oh, yes, like the prophet with the angel, you know: "I will not let you go until you tell me something." But sometimes that's what causes the tired person to become an insomniac, because the demons are so thick around the head.


An interview with Neil Gaiman:

I like making things up. I want to know who the characters are and just the broadest of broad strokes, where it ends and what is happening in the middle. Once I have that, I want to just start writing, because I figure it's a voyage of discovery.


Neil Gaiman writing about Terry Pratchet:

He was having fun. Then again, Terry is that rarity, the kind of author who likes writing, not having written, or Being a Writer, but the actual sitting there and making things up in front of a screen.


Interview with Toni Morrison:

But the writing was mine, so that I stole. I stole away from the world.


An interview with Stephen King:

I had a period where I thought I might not be good enough to publish. I started to sell short fiction to men's magazines while I was in college. I got married six or seven months after graduating, and for two years I sold maybe six stories a year, and I had the money I was making teaching, too, and it was a decent income. And then I sort of got out of the Zone. And for a year or so, I couldn't sell anything, and I was drinking a lot, wasn't drugging, couldn't afford it, and I was writing mostly shit, and then Carrie came along and I was OK again. But during that one year, I just thought I'm going to be a high school teacher, and nothing's ever going to happen to me.


My mother said that when she was pregnant with me she'd go out to the road and take the tar up, and chew the tar, because there was something in that tar, that, she, I, needed. It's like a craving. We like to think about how smart we are. But I think talent as a writer is hard-wired in, it's all there, at least the basic elements of it. You can't change it any more than you can choose whether to be right handed or left handed.



An interview with Shannon Hale:

I don't know where my characters come from. Honestly (and this may sound silly) but they seem to grow organically from the story. A character is what she says and does, and that means I have to write a story first to see what the character says and does. Then she gets formed by many, many rewrites (thirty for The Goose Girl).
I have to say, though, that I don't think I'm trying to write strong girls--I think I'm writing realistic ones. Every girl and woman I know personally is extremely powerful in her own way.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday Meeting

This week got off to a rocky start, so rocky, in fact, that I didn't check in yesterday to see what everyone had planned for the week. It's never too late to have a Monday Meeting, so here goes:

This week I am planning on finishing my NaNo novel. I wrote a good chunk yesterday, but started floundering. I had some plot decisions to make. So this morning, I took some time out to work out the end of the book. I decided to add another character, which would make the climax bigger. I'm at 41,000 and excited to add the character, and then finish the rough draft. So, aside from celebrating Thanksgiving, I'll finish the novel. And put it away for awhile and into the revision queue.

And Thanksgiving this year? We're ordering the sides pre-cooked from a local market. There has been way too much stuff going on in the family to make a big production out of it. Good food and family. And no stress. Good times.

What are you doing with your writing, with your family, with Thanksgiving?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Bryan Bliss

It's Friday, so time for another Friday Feature. Today, we have the pleasure of an interview and questions and answers from a recently agented Bryan Bliss. I first connected with Bryan while I was cheerleading for his agent search at Verla Kay's blueboards. He made me laugh. So, I followed him over to his blog, and he made me laugh more. Read on. I don't think you'll be disappointed!

Bryan, thanks for doing this interview. Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up outside of Chicago until my senior year of high school when I moved to....da-dum-dum!.....North Carolina. I’d never seen a gun rack, eaten a corn nugget, or drank a Sun Drop. But NC is good people, so I stayed in-state and went to college in the mountains, where tried my best to be radical and go to law school, but ended up failing on both counts. After college, I worked as a waiter, a newspaper reporter, a park ranger, a Denim Expert (don’t ask), and somehow managed to convince a number of theological graduate programs that I wasn’t a heathen (little did I know that these liberal schools search out apostates such as myself.) Now I work as a youth pastor, something that I really sometimes have a hard time getting my head around. But at least I get to do it in Oregon with my wife. Wait. That sounded wrong. At least I get to LIVE in Oregon with my wife and kids while being a youth pastor. Phew. (Now you know why my church work makes life interesting....)

Bryan, what are you currently working on?

It seems like I’ve been working on the same book forever. But, honestly, it’s only been about a year. I don’t know if YA is considered a genre or not, but it is young adult fiction. Contemporary, realistic, you’ll-get-no-vampires-here young adult fiction. Basically, it’s about a guy who’s seen too many movies and develops a “John Cusack Philosophy”. It’s got true love, movies quotes, swashbuckling, and ninjas. (Without the swashbuckling).


What made you start to write seriously?

Honestly, I think it started when I was in seminary. I fell in with a group of people who, like me, I think, weren’t sure why they were surrounded by all these people who seemed pre-ordained to look good in robes. Every one of them were creative, funny, and a bit irreverent. I had been writing for some time, but thanks to their help (and a couple of great teachers), I really started to find my voice and gain confidence in my writing.

If you had to pick one favorite blog, what would it be?

I like my friend Ray Veen’s blog,
www.bigplainv.blogspot.com He’s funny, almost as good looking as me, and his mom sometimes comments and ruins his street cred. Really, it’s like a party over there. Seriously, Ray’s been a huge help in my writing life and - even though we’ve never, officially met - has become a good friend.

What is a favorite blog post that you have written?

I wrote a post a while back about National Poetry Day, and it served as a time machine back to college. I took a poetry class, and while I am an awful poet (Charles Bukowski actually made a trip to NC to slap me around for trying...), the experience wasn’t a total loss. For one, it helped me realize that fiction can be poetic. Second, it helped me discover some great poets. Gary Snyder’s “Poems for Robin” ripped something apart inside me the first time I read them. Even now, I’m trying to right something that connects with such powerful emotion.

What online resource have you found most helpful?

Verla Kay’s message board. If you write for children, middle grade, or teenagers you need to check it out. It makes me sing that song from Karate Kid in my head.... “You’re the best around....no one’s ever gonna get you down...You're the best...” Okay, I’ll stop.

What has been your biggest trial in writing?

Trying to avoid perfection. In my mind, I hear it in all kinds of songs (Warren Zevon’s ‘Keep Me in Your Hear’), see it in movies (Most recently, “Away We Go”) and obviously in books (like the CESSNAB part of Libba Bray’s “Going Bovine”). Of course, the trick is realizing that many (if not all) of these people can look at stuff they’ve created and feel the devil of perfectionism poking.

What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing?

For me, it’s been trying to find a writing schedule that works. You’ll hear people scream stuff like, “Write every day!” And that’s great advice. However, I’ve found that I end up doing more damage to my writing than good if I force myself to write when I’m not feeling it. Of course, that can be dangerous because you can wake up and discover you haven’t written anything in a month. Basically, I write Monday through Friday and give myself a free pass on the weekends. If I’m feeling particularly inspired, I write. If not, I watch movies (which I call research.)

Tell us about a book (or author/ who) that has impacted your writing life.

I hate to seem typical and drop John Green, but its the truth. My wife read LOOKING FOR ALASKA and I, obviously, laughed. Teen Fiction? *scoff* Should I get you some Babysitters Club books too? Hardeeharhar.... At the time, I was finishing the same book I’m revising now (just written for adults), but something was off....the MC seemed immature and not believable. I don’t know how it happened, but for some reason I picked up ALASKA and read it. Things happened quick after that...I realized my writing was so much better suited for younger audiences. I had the voice of a teenager down (a benefit from hanging with teens all week....) and, after reading a lot of YA, I realized how much I enjoy the books out there. Two years later, and I’m not sure I’ve read an adult fiction title.

What is your practical goal with your writing? Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share?

My biggest practical goal is to write something that connects with people. Something that’s real. That’s, honestly, my reach-for-the-stars goal too. I’d love to write full time and make lots of money and maybe be voted king of something. But the connection part is what I’m really hoping for.

So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience?

Having people say things like, “This part made me laugh...” or “This IS good...” Also, really getting to ‘know’ my characters. I feel like I could write any scene for the two main characters of my book. This scares me too, because I don’t want every other book I write to be derivatives of the same voice.

Bryan, you have recently connected with an agent. Would you mind telling us how that came about? (It's such a great story!)

Well, let me start by saying if you don’t like annoying tales of dudes who don’t have to suffer through long, excruciating periods of waiting - don’t read this.
My whole query process took 16 days, and saying something like that in a room full of writers is the kind of thing that will start a brawl. Or at the very least, some muttered metaphors. I believe I queried 13 agents, but there might have been a couple more. The next week was a flurry of requests and e-mailing (not to mention Facebook updates.) I received 9 requests for full submissions and one request for a partial. One agent rejected without a request and I never heard back from two more. I was feeling like a rock star until the first rejection came. Then the second. And then a third. With each one, I felt a tiny piece of my soul die. (Okay, not really - but it still sucked.) A couple more rejections came my way and I decided to read my manuscript.


Big. Mistake.

All I could see were issues. And by ‘issues’, of course I mean that the entire thing was utter crap. It didn’t help that I got a few more rejections that day. I did end up speaking with a few of the agents, and one offered representation almost immediately. While the agent was very nice, their ideas about the book and the stuff I felt was really important didn’t connect. I was already thinking it wasn’t a good match during the call, but I decided to let things settle a bit in my mind. Not jumping at the agent’s offer felt like Tom Cruise, Risky Business-type stuff (but without the prostitutes and me sliding across the floor in my underwear.) But the book is really important to me, and I wanted to make sure that this agent’s suggestions wouldn’t take away the parts I felt were necessary.

I did, however, contact the remaining agents who were reading and let them know I had an offer of representation. At first, I wasn’t going to based on my feelings during the phone call. But all my friends said I needed to really consider my options and give other agents a chance to consider the book.

The story ends with me speaking with Michael Bourret of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. The whole thing was a bit blurry, but it seems like the first 20 minutes were spent discussing all the things I needed to change about my book. Unlike the other conversation, everything Michael said was like, Yes! The phone call ended with him saying something like, “Well, I think the book is about two strong revisions away from editors being able to see it.” Then silence. So I said, “Do you want me to revise it and re-submit it?”

His answer almost made me do flips and slide across the floors of our house in my underwear: “No, I want to sign you as a client.”

I ended up speaking to two different agents, but both conversations felt polite and obligatory after speaking with Michael. He just got my premise, got the writing, and the whole thing felt comfortable. The following Monday, I E-mailed him and accepted his offer of representation.

How has your writing life changed since snagging an agent?

Not much, honestly. It still feels surreal. I’ve got a whole lot more work to do on my book now. And, of course, whenever I go out for dinner and the waiter asks me what I’d like to drink I say something like, “Well, what WOULD a guy with an amazing LITERARY AGENT want to drink?” But, really, nothing has changed much.

If you could be any character from a book, and live within their world, what character would you be?

Harry Potter. Because I would rule at Quidditch.

Thanks for the great interview Bryan! Everyone--make Bryan feel at home by posting a question or comment for him. He'll be stopping by. Maybe he'll even tell us what position he plays in Quidditch.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Simple Act of Writing

Well, you never achieve everything you wanted to. It's the simple act of writing. You begin with a platonic ideal that is a shimmering tower carved out of pure diamond, that is this perfect thing that stands there unfouled by gravity and the weather. And, then, the thing that you build is this thing that you have to build out of whatever is at hand and you use empty sushi boxes and chairs and get friends to hold it up and try to make it look like it's standing. And at the end of it, people look at it and they say, "It's amazing." And you say, "Yes, but if only I could have done the thing that is in my head."

--Neil Gaiman, Hanging Out with the Dream King, Conversations with Neil Gaiman and His Collaborators.

This quote was Neil's answer to whether he had achieved everything he wanted to with The Sandman. And I love what he says for so many reasons.

I recently went to a local NaNo Write In, and one of the women talked about how she's scared try to write because she's scared her writing won't be perfect. That drive towards perfection is something that immobilizes a lot of people I know. It's why NaNo can be good--it unfreezes writers because first drafts aren't perfect. Can't be perfect. It's the simple act of writing.

I love how Neil attributes his friends as the ones who holds up his works. You just can't do it without friends. It's the simple act of writing.

And I absolutely love his description of an idea--"...a shimmering tower carved out of pure diamond...this perfect thing that stands there, unfouled by gravity." I love the implication that once an idea is introduced to the real world--taken out of the mind--then it is marred by gravity. By the weather. That we lack raw idea material--pure diamond. That we have to use what is at hand to mold our idea. The simple act of writing.

I've never felt as though writing was simple. But if I sit down at my computer or with pen and paper with an idea in my head, then I write. And maybe it is. The simple act of writing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Torn in Transit

Yesterday, Erica's blog post got me thinking. Nothing out of the ordinary in that. But it also made me remember. I remembered the first piece of art that really spoke to me--this piece. It's called Torn in Transit, by John Haberle (1890). I saw it at a local art museum, the Brandywine River Museum, when I was growing up. I didn't know much about art; I still don't. I didn't know if it was 'good' or not. But it spoke to me. Haunted me. I couldn't keep my eyes from it. I'd try to leave the room to see other paintings, but it called me back. I wanted to keep it--to own it--but alas, there were no postcards of it at the museum. And now, here it is.

In Erica's post, she posed the question: Is art a conversation?

I thought of the conversation that I had with this painting, over fifteen years ago. And I thought about what I'm writing now, and I realized that this painting is there, in that writing. Not literally, of course--but the idea of why this painting fascinated me is in my writing. And yet, I didn't remember this painting at all, until I read Erica's blog post. And the best thing? This painting will be in Connecticut in the beginning of December, at the New Britain Museum of American Art. I don't have to trek back to PA. It's traveling to me. Coincidence, I think not.

Continue the conversation. What art has inspired, questioned, stretched you? Anyone want to road trip to Connecticut?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday Meeting

Monday again. My goals include the following:

1. Get close to finishing my YA NaNo novel. I am right on target with my word count. I can taste where the novel is going right now, and I am excited to bring it home.

2. I am also thrilled about making some changes with my MG WIR (that's Work In Revision). I'm hoping to advance that work as well this week.

3. And, although this is out of my control, I am hoping to exorcise the illness that has invaded the house.

*And, look for a special treat on Friday--an interview with the awesome Bryan Bliss. I'm thrilled, and you should be too!

Let's get the ball rolling and have a great week. What are you working on? What are your goals?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Erica Orloff


I love to find out where writers and authors are on their journey of writing. So, this is a new semi-regular post on the blog--featuring writers all along the journeys towards publication and beyond.

I am kicking this feature off with a bang, with an interview with the fantastic, versatile author, Erica Orloff. She has definitely made it to the category of "beyond publication".

Perhaps backwards, I found Erica's blog first, discovered what a warm and knowledgeable person she is, and then found all of her unique books. Many days her blog is like a master's class in writing--with thought provoking blog posts and many knowledgeable writers who stop by to comment.


Today, I am spotlighting her recent award winning MG book--Magickeepers. But check out her website for a complete list of titles. Erica's books move at a splendid pace, and are populated by characters quirky enough to exist in real life--reclusive writers, blues singers, mafia members, FBI agents, drag queens, shock jocks and angels. And she balances her writing world with characters of all different races and backgrounds and sexual orientation. Erica makes a living with her writing. No small feat in today's publishing climate.

Magickeepers was her first foray writing for the Middle Grade audience. It was such a hit at my house that we had two copies floating around at once, to satisfy the three readers. Nobody wanted to wait for their 'turn'. Magickeepers is a fantastic story about a boy who discovers that he belongs to an actual magical family.
Thanks, Erica for doing this interview for the blog!

Erica, briefly, tell us about the road you took to first get published.

I had been in writers' groups since I was 20 . . . but never actively tried to get published. I worked as a book editor . . . and I was at a conference and ran into an agent I knew from attending the Book Expo in L.A. with a client of mine. I mentioned I had completed a novel . . . he asked to read it. He sold it to the fifth house he submitted it to (Red Dress Ink). That was 20 books ago . . . I HATE telling my "path to publication" story because it sounds too easy and wasn't fraught with rejection. But I had worked at craft for ten years before I even thought I had something to show an editor.


In the past, you have written a bunch of adult books. Please tell us what was different about writing a Middle Grade book. Was it harder? Easier? Were your children involved in the process?

It was harder, I think. Just making sure I was in the mindset of a 13-year-old boy. My kids helped name characters . . . and would read over my shoulder sometimes. There has also been some arguments over a few plot points.

The locales of your books are almost another character--New York, New Orleans, and for MagicKeepers: Las Vegas. How do you bring them to life--do you visit the settings, do you do Internet research, do you rely on memory?

If it's New York, then that's my hometown. The other places I have never been to. I rely on talking to people who live there or have lived there in the past, the Internet . . . and "vibe." I know jazz, for example, so that was a huge part of my New Orleans thing. I know the energy of a place like Las Vegas, how it never sleeps. So I rely on both instinct and research.

Your main character Nick can read the future--What magic skill would you want to have if you could?

I already have a magic skill. As a mother, I have eyes on the back of my head and uncanny listening skills, as well as a sixth sense when the house gets "too quiet."

One of my favorite things about Magickeepers is the history involved--while the book is fantastical, it is anchored in Russian history and magical history, with cameos from Houdini and historical figures. How did you choose these elements, and what kind of research was involved?

My father's family is Russian and I grew up listening to my grandmother tell me about her life there, plus Russian history sort of being "pushed" on me in the form of books and things. So I had a lot of it as a part of my background. As for specific characters, like Rasputin, that was research. The other thing was just how Russians are . . . you know movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding are stereotypes, but if you are Greek, you SEE part of your family in it. It was the same way with the Russian elements. It's just traits and things that bear an uncanny resemblance to people I know.

How much of your own children live within the characters in the book?

Nick is not like my son very much. My son is a motivated student, something Nicholai is not. But the fact that Nick like anime (a couple of obscure references here and there) is my nod to him. And Isabella is VERY much like my younger daughter. She is spunky and can be bossy, and also fearless about protecting animals. Their appearances mirror my children almost exactly, and the cover is fun to see because of that.

How has being a mom influenced the writing in this book?

I wanted to protect Nicholai. He is a lonely boy who doesn't have a mother. Something about that is very poignant to me. Being a mother is everything to me, and I think not having a mother would be crushing. So there is this element to that of his loneliness and my maternal feelings toward him.

Aside from the Magickeepers series, do you have any other children's books in the works?

No, but I have a YA coming out in 2011 called Star-crossed . . . and after my final Magickeepers, I am sure I will try to write another middle-grade series again.

How do you find the time to write, while raising a spirited family? Do you have any special writing routines?

No routines. Lots of coffee. And I also had to learn to give up what I thought I "needed" to write--silence, long stretches of uninterrupted time. I write when I can, very intensely, and KNOW I will be interrupted.

How about any superstitions-- do you have anything that you do when you send off a manuscript, or when a book is released?

No. But if I feel blocked, I talk to my late grandmother, whose picture is on my desk. Sometimes I will put on a lucky bathrobe that belonged to my grandfather. I light candles, too, and keep them burning to signify creative energy.

What is your favorite thing that a child has written or said to you in the aftermath of Magickeepers?

Oh gosh . . . it's so hard to even pick one because the letters are great. I have one girl who writes me every week about her life. But one boy . . . he wrote me to say he was a reluctant reader and HATED reading and Magickeepers made him not hate reading. That made me cry with happiness.

You are a dedicated blog writer--I actually picked up your books after following your awesome blog. What does writing a blog mean for a you, as a writer?

It's my journal of life as a writer. I write it without editing, first thing in the morning. I don't think when I started it, 1,000+ entries ago, that I expected it to become part of my "discipline" (or lack thereof) of being a writer. But I like it as a way to clear my mind in the morning.

Which author(s) or books have influenced your writing or world view?

The Little Prince, for its whimsy. Neil Gaiman for a sense of possibility. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl . . . for how I live my entire life as a human being.

What is the most difficult part of writing for you, and how do you work through that difficulty?

In all honesty, I think it's become, sad to say, fatigue. I am a mother of four and it feels like my personal life is very full. I work through it with coffee. The other difficult thing is self-doubt. Sometimes I just . . . hate what I write. And I just have to push through and pep talk myself. As someone once said . . . get the words down. You can always fix crap.

You are a full time writer--how many books to do publish each year?

Anywhere from one to four. It depends. Right now, I am completing my YA rewrite and then it will be time to do new proposals . . . plus Magickeepers III.

When can we expect the next Magickeepers book to come out?

April for the trade paperback version. May for Book II, The Pyramid of Souls. Expect to meet Sir Isaac Newton, P.T. Barnum, and others. :-)

Thanks so much for the wonderful interview, Erica. Blog readers, please make Erica feel welcome by posting a great question or comment for her--she'll be stopping by to answer.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Obsession

When I'm writing I almost always "discover" a song that I already know. I hear it in a new light, and it makes me think. I become obsessed.

My current obsession song? Bouncing off Clouds. I'm sure it surprises nobody that it happens to be a Tori song. I look to Tori Amos for inspiration as I look to Madeleine L'Engle. And I'm never left wanting. Here are some of the lyrics that I'm obsessing over:

Make it easy
Make this easy
We could make this easy...
It's not as heavy as it seems

I like the simple idea that sometimes we make things harder than they need to be. That we can make things easier. That bouncing on clouds is a choice we can make.

You say you're waiting on fate
But I think fate is now
I think fate is now
Waiting on us

Fate isn't set, and it is in fact waiting. For us. How interesting an idea is that?

To deepen and widen the obsession with Tori--here is an interview with her describing her dive into sorrow to come out with her song, Tear in Your Hand. Years ago, this song introduced me to Neil (Gaiman) with the lyrics:

"If you need me, Me and Neil'll be hangin' out with the dream king. Neil says hi, by the way."

At the time, I started reading Neil Gaiman, and loved his stuff. And I discovered Tori as a tree in Neil's book Stardust. (Here's Neil reading the first chapter.) I spent a few happy years looking for references for Neil in Tori's songs and Tori in Neil's works.

Further fodder for the obsession: Here's an interview with Tori explaining her process writing the song, Happy Phantom.

What do you obsess over, if anything, while writing? Do you find that the process of others--writers, artists--makes you expand your own process?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday Meeting

Hello all. This week I am hoping to rock out more words for my NaNo Novel. In that vein--here is the first song on my NaNo novel's soundtrack. This song, aside from some of the words, has more meaning for me than my MC (normally the songs on my soundtrack relate to the emotional journey of my characters). It's for me to feel like I can be a bad ass. (Whatever gets the words to page, right?) I finished the week ahead on my word count, but took yesterday off, to throw a fourth birthday party for Cowgirl.
So, this week, I plan on getting my momentum back, getting to the halfway point on my YA novel, and adding to my main character's arc in my MG novel. I am also going to go easy on myself this week, as the flu ramped up its clutches on my daughter. This is her second illness in less than a week--I'm wondering if she actually still had the flu on her symptomless days.

I am also launching a new feature this week on this blog. I would like to invite you all to stop by Friday for an interview and Q/A session with fantastic author Erica Orloff. It'll be tons of fun. The Friday interviews will feature writers all along the journey towards publication and beyond. I hope you stop by!


And a poem to further inspire (me):


What would I discover about the cotton woods if when I walked to the mailbox,
I listened to them instead of looked at them?
What would I find out about the rain if I didn’t run inside?
And is it possible that a sunrise would refresh me more than sleep?
It’s this simple:
If I never try anything, I never learn anything.
If I never take a risk, I stay where I am.
Today a friend wrote me, “Do you think you are a mistake,
just because you made one?"

There is no such thing as a mistake, there is only what happens.

--Hugh Kratz

Thanks, JD for reading that poem onto a mix tape for me so many years ago (mix tape--am I dating myself, or what?)

So, what are the goals you have set for yourself this week? What inspirations are you using to stay on track?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hodge Podge

Since this is a post about random, unconnected things, it seemed reasonable to include this picture. It's a photo of my oldest child, playing his Euphonium. For unknown reasons, this is what he chose to play in band this year. Unlike the 12 boys who chose the drums, he gets a private lesson. He's the only one in the school who chose this heavy and unwieldy instrument (which I lug to school twice a week). This particular son could multiply before he hit kindergarten, and taught himself to read--all as I watched, fascinated. Although, I think it's safe to say that I watch each of my kids with fascination. Now, on to the hodge podge:


Frequent Visitors (because aren't you all reptiles from another world masquerading as peaceful friends?) may wonder why I haven't followed up with my Buy-A-Book Club recently. Well, it's because I have sheepishly over-bought in October. I think my tally topped 20 books. Once I get over my shame over being thoroughly unable to stick to a budget, I'll tell you about some of them.

Yesterday I clicked over from Northwriter's fantastically visual blog to this beautiful blog, written by Natasha Fondren while she travels across the United States. How cool is that? And, her post 'It's Not Normal' is not to be missed. I mean it. Go check it out. NOW!

I also followed a click through Editorial Ass' blog to author Aprilynne Pike's post about not just breaking into publication, but breaking in with the right first novel. Food for thought.

And today on Agent Rachelle Gardner's blog is a guest post by Henriette Power. Anyone who is a writer and rower is cool in my book.

And for anyone wondering, if I seem less lucid today, it is because the flu has completely taken over my house. Superman has been lying on the couch for 5 days now. This elicits much sadness from everyone who knows him. I think he has spent more time lying still in the past few days than he has (while awake) in his entire lifetime. It's weird to see his body at rest.

Now my Cowgirl has succumbed, and says things like "I want a cold blanket, mommy," followed seconds later with "I want a WARM blanket MOMMY!" and "That Gatorade made me sick," followed by, "I'm NOT SICK!"

So, back to the reason for my questionable lucidity--when my kids are sick, I gather them into bed with me at night. Nighttime is scary. It's when fevers spike and I feel compelled to check every few moments to make sure my sick kids are still breathing. But last night, Superman decided to sleep in his brother's room, then halfway through the night moved to the living room couch. So I was up all night wandering between him and Cowgirl. I haven't slept well in days.

And while Cowgirl is sick, I don't have the comic relief of watching her dance to this video.

But maybe lack of lucidity is exactly what I need to plunge forward into my NaNo novel. Today my MC is arriving at her Dream World.

What about your lucidity? Are there occasions that you can't write because your mind isn't in the right place? What state of mind helps you get words onto the page?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Upping the Ante

My general philosophy is that if you put things out into the universe, the universe replies in kind. I don't mean that I get back everything that I want, because I'm not omniscient (or wise enough to know what I should be wanting). But if I don't risk, then I don't gain. We're all connected, and the world works most effectively when we act that way.

The story of how my blog came to be supports my vision of connectedness--of getting what you need when you need it from the universe. (Note that I only provide examples of proof of this belief--I don't illustrate the many instances of things that just don't add up--I'm human that way.)

I started following some blogs--of an author, some industry people, some fellow writers--and decided to start my own blog privately, to journal about writing and to track my goals. It's always best for me to write things down. Things stick better when they're in black and white.

My writing partner started reading blogs, so I opened up my blog for one day, to let him take a peek. On that one day, the author whose blog I was following commented on my blog. Now I had a conundrum. It seemed too rude to close my blog again, especially when Erica Orloff (the author) was such a gracious hostess to me when I was at her blog. So, not so gracefully, I went public with my blog.

It's always great when someone ups the ante for you.

I needed a push at that moment. A push is what I got. Would I have asked for that particular push? No way. And yet the universe delivered.

But that is what writing is all about--continually upping the ante. It's what good critique partners should do. It's what every revision should be. It's what every new project is about. Upping the ante. Writing better. Taking risks. And when you can't do it yourself, I'll send Erica your way.

How are you upping the ante with your writing?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dashings and Crashings

I just borrowed Lloyd Alexander's The Black Cauldron from the library.

Now it's your turn to ask (incredulously), "Are you seriously telling me that you don't own that book? What credentials do you have to be blogging, let alone writing?"

Let me reassure you--I indeed own this book. I own, in fact, the whole series, but sadly all my books are in boxes at my in-law's house. We did a renovation a year ago, and we haven't retrieved the books. We finally cleaned out the garage, so we could get to the bookshelves, which are finally back in the house. It's a long story.

And, perhaps this book doesn't have the same weight for you as it does for me. Perhaps you would be able to utter the above question devoid of incredulity. But not me. This novel was my FIRST.

My brother read it to me before I could read. Reading was new to him, and at times he took long pauses as he wrestled with a word. I sat fuming. Couldn't he read faster? I had to know what happened next! My brother did voices for each of the characters. A voice for Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper, for Fflewddur, for Eilonwy.

And a spectacularly guttural voice for Gurgi, to say fantastic things like, "Oh, great, brave, and wise master! Gurgi is thankful! His poor tender head is spared from terrible dashings and crashings!"

I think I can manage Taran (Assistant Pig-Keeper) and Fflewddur, and I know I've got Eilonwy down pat. But I think I'm going to have to call my brother to do the part of Gurgi. It just wouldn't be the same.

I always thought it normal for a big brother to read to his younger sister (my brother is only three years my senior), but once I had kids, I realized how spectacular that nightly routine really was. I owe my brother a debt of gratitude. Taran, Eilonwy and especially Gurgi, filtered through my brother's imagination, are the reason I write today. Thanks B!

Do you remember your First?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday Meeting

Wow, Monday again. And last week was a piddly one on my blog--only one blog post. Some weeks are like that. I got sucked into the Halloween tornado and rode it until Saturday, and then started NaNo on Sunday. So, my goal this week is simply to add word count to my new YA fantasy, and to continue to edit my MG fantasy. Just that. And I'm pretty sure that the H1N1 has invaded my household--two sick kids. But still, I press on.

My blog this morning is actually a sign post, which reads 'Go directly to Erica Orloff's blog' (Do not pass Go...) If you are like me, you have already been there--coffee isn't coffee anymore unless I'm hanging out at Erica's. Erica has a vibrant interview with Alex M Liuzzi, a very unique and interesting writer who has carved out his own way. Go now, check it out!

Oh, before you go...what goals do you have this week?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Front and Back Burners

I have had this bizarre attitude towards writing that is unlike anything else that I tackle in my life. Normally I am doing twelve things at once. I have lists to work from, and I multitask. However, early on in my writing, I decided to only work on only one project at a time, and to see it through to the end. There have been several problems with this method.

1. I feel differently about drafting than I do about revisions. I am growing to like revisions, but I miss the fast drafting when I am thoughtfully polishing my draft. It uses different skills, and when I'm frustrated with the process, I haven't allowed myself any other writing outlet. I need the imaginative, brainstorming, let's-see-where-this-idea-takes-me thrill.

2. It feels frustrating to spend so much time on a small portion of writing. When I'm drafting, I feel as though I am getting somewhere fast, and the revision process is slow. I have spent months on revising, and know that I have a few more months to go. In part because I am still learning. And hopefully will always be learning.

3. The writing process is too long to have long periods of frustration (without an outlet), especially since writing normally gives me peace and sanity.

4. I hope to publish sometime, and I realized that authors are always writing the next thing, while waiting for edits from agents and publishers. And then revising one book while writing another. So, it is okay, and maybe preferable to write another book while I'm revising. This Aha! moment clicked in while I was reading this blog. Thanks Jessica!

So, full ahead with my plan for NaNoWriMo. And I'm not cheating on my novel which is sitting in revisionland (Revisions always make me feel as though my novel has done something naughty and has been put in time-out.)

One possible backfire is that I might end up with multiple projects in revision. I'll just have to man-up.

How about you? How many projects do you work on at once? Do you simultaneously have things on the front and back burners?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday Meeting

Phew. Monday again. This week I am gearing up for NaNoWriMo, and finishing brainstorming and outlining for the November novel. I think this will be good, as I continue to hash out my revisions on my Star novel. I didn't do a ton of writing last week, but I did a ton of thinking. Which also means that my house got cleaner. Last week I also put together a soundtrack for my new NaNoWriMo novel, so I'm ready. Clarification (for anyone coming to the party late, and welcome, if you are): I write to a soundtrack--a line-up of songs which mimics the emotional journey of my characters. I find it a wonderful tool for immediately putting me inside my novel--an essential thing since I am writing in snatches of stolen time.

So, this week, I'm just going to plug ahead, and work on whatever moves me. I want my revisions on the Star novel to be completed by the end of the year, but I have some thinking to do because I know it lacks something. Luckily, I know what it lacks--I just have to figure out exactly how I want to put it in. When I am in a creative quandry, I get intellectual. And create charts and graphs and outlines. I'll show you mine if you show me yours.

How about you? Anyone participating in NaNoWriMo? Mardi Gras for writers (I've never done it--I'm just hoping). What are your goals for the week?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Little Truths

I read a ton. I suspect that most writers do. And I read a good variety, in different genres to suit my mood. Right now I have 26 books out from the library--although some of those are titles for my kids to read. And some I know I won't get to. I just like to be prepared for whatever mood strikes me. The three on my nightstand right now are: DIARY OF A BLUES GODDESS by Erica Orloff; WILLIAM S. AND THE GREAT ESCAPE by Zilpha Keatley Snyder; and RIVER SECRETS by Shannon Hale.

One of the best general tips that I got from my writing partner (thanks, R!) is to keep a reading journal. I can flip through and remember specific quotes and plot lines from books that I read days, weeks, months ago. Things that touch me. Things I never want to forget. Like this:

Sometimes we have little truths in our hearts, in dark corners where we never shine a light. Then someone comes along with a candle and lights up that corner with something he says or something she does...and we know we can't ignore the truth that's hiding in the dark. Even if we blow the candle out, we know. The truth is there.
Excerpt from DIARY OF A BLUES GODDESS

Erica-- You Rock!

On the weeks that I don't have high word count, I find that I am shining lights through my story, looking for little truths and exposing weaknesses. That is what I am doing this week--ruminating with a candle.

What are you reading (or writing) that resonates with you?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Organic

Whenever I get frustrated with the speed of writing, I remind myself that the best writing is organic. The story itself grows at its own pace, taking on a life of it's own. You can't rush it. You can't rush writing it; you can't rush revising it. There are other things that you can't rush.

You can't rush relationships. Some may happen quickly. You may find a kindred spirit. But the trust? The comfortable familiarity? Well, you can't rush it. It has to be organic.

You also can't rush knowledge. You can't skip a rung on the learning ladder. You can't jump past where you.

And I think that if you are firmly with the moment, if you are letting things grow, organically, then the universe responds with what you need. To enable you to grow and keep moving forward.

I am where I need to be right now, as is my writing. Would I love it if the writing resembled what it is in my imagination? Yes. Will it get there? Yes. Organically.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Meeting

After completing many mundane and unsightly non-writing tasks this morning, I am rebelling against convention. (My own convention, in fact.) I'm not setting one goal this week. My writing partner is going out of town, so it makes sense to take this week as a 'bye' week. I am just going to wing it, and see where the writing muse takes me. Into Space, I imagine.

Where do you plan on going with your writing this week?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Parenting Styles

Critiquing is a skill. And one that I worry about when I do it. Am I truly respecting the writer's child? Am I loving it as it should be loved, and am I pointing out any misbehaving? Because otherwise, I'm letting that child (and writer) down.

My crit partner is a genius when it comes to critiquing. He carefully supports the neck and head as he holds my baby, says how beautiful she is, and then gently tells me that the baby has spit up all down its front. Perhaps I should consider changing her?

Writing is exploration for me--I go on walks with my baby through seedy parts of town--just to see. My baby doesn't know better. She gurgles happily in her stroller, and allows me to take her wherever I want to go. I love to walk. And when my crit partner says, "I think you took a wrong turn." I own up to it. "I know, I saw all the signs. The broken windows. The guys in ski masks. I know, I know. I never should have taken my baby down this way. But there was this really cool vintage shop just around the corner. And, on the way, I saw this other street. I think I'll take a look." I try the different direction. Even if I don't use any of the day's travels, the journey still helps me get to where I need to go. My crit partner understands this, and is a very patient co-parent and partner.

I recently did an exchange with new critter. And I was worried--not only did I not know what kind of parent she was, but would I be a good sitter for her? Would I love her child and know how to tell her when her child misbehaved? "We don't put our hands on the stove at my house..." Or would I let her child run rampant? Permissive parenting has never been my style. In the end, her baby was a delight. I loved the baby. I wasn't all that graceful in telling her my thoughts--I let the worry get in the way. However she was graceful in critiquing my baby. She was an extremely capable sitter--honest, reflective and respectful.

So, thanks R, for pointing out the seediness, and thanks E, for the honest feedback.

And thank you both, for never once saying (yet), "Dear God, what IS that thing?"

What kind of parent and sitter are you? What kind of sitter do you prefer for your baby?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

In The Beginning There Was...

There is a first paragraph contest going on at Nathan Bransford's blog this week. Yesterday, Nathan followed up with a discussion of what makes a good first paragraph of a novel. For me, I think that a first paragraph should convey voice and theme and immediately ground the reader. I read some of the comments at Nathan's blog, and I love what this person, Mark Cecil, wrote. His name wasn't clickable, so I haven't gotten the okay to post this, so I hope he doesn't mind.

Mark Cecil said...
A feeling that the author is going to take care of you. To lead you along. That he is saying: here is what my story is going to be about. Here is how I'm going to tell it. Relax. You're in my hands now. We will have ups and downs, we will have surprises and dissapointments, but i will lead you through it all, like a guide in a strange land.

So, what do you think makes for a good opening?