Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Tina Laurel Lee

It is my pleasure today, to introduce the remarkable, indispensable, Tina Laurel Lee. Anyone who has been hanging around these parts this past week knows that it's been a virtual lovefest here. But, if you haven't, here's how Tina and I have been getting each other back into the revision groove.

I love the name of Tina's blog: Watch Me Practice. It is so clear that she is on this journey to learn, and also that she takes her journey one step beyond, and teaches others what she has figured out. This gives her blog a uniquely welcoming atmosphere. So, I encourage everyone (after leaving her a question here, in the comments, of course) to visit her blog, and stay a while. But first, please give Tina a warm welcome.

Tina, thanks for being here today!
Why don't you start by telling us a bit about yourself.

Okay, and thanks for having me! I was born on a farm north of Mankato, Minnesota, grew up in a town called Austin, Minnesota. I was a big reader, and someday wanted to make books and have children. After high school I moved to the city (Minneapolis, Minnesota) where I met my husband, who always was a city kid and never a big reader. We worked together in a shelter,caring for little kids. Before we knew we loved each other, we were pretty sure we wanted to have babies together. After we got married, I had my first child, and while he got bigger, I got an MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota, where I taught and learned craft. It was a great experience, both the parenting and the mastering. Read about it here. I graduated after the three year program and immediately had a second baby. Now I am writing, reading, while parenting two school aged children, living just a block away from the library. Most of the time I know I have the perfect life, sometimes I forget.

What are you currently working on?

I am in the midst of a major revision of a young adult novel that I have been working on and talking about for years. Here goes:

It’s a book is about Heather, a fifteen year old girl who lives at St. Jude’s Homeless Shelter. The director there, Jude (don’t confuse him with the patron saint of hopeless causes, the shelter’s namesake, but do believe he’s saintly if you must), has big plans for Heather and her brother. He also has big hair and influence and is not afraid to use it. Through a series of Jude’s machinations, Heather responds to an increasingly odd group of characters, to the revelation of her own self destructive tendencies, to scary new feelings, and finally discovers that the world is made in the very least by what you hope for, and freedom gained only by abandoning those same hopes. (I would take any and all feedback on that pitch.)

But I also have couple of other projects with a word count (more than just ideas). Only one of which, I’m actively working on. It’s a book about two young superheroes unraveling a plot where polar bears are being exploited (I haven’t quite worked this all out yet). I’m trying to spit this one out as an exercise in readability. I’m hoping this book will play the line between Middle Grade and YA. Too soon to tell (anything, really).

What made you start to write seriously?

I wrote when I was young. Here’s a question I ask myself, what made me stop? The first time I stopped was when I read my first book (written at 9, read at 12). I threw it away in disgust and put down my pen. Then I took a creative writing class in high school and the teacher told me I had writing skills but my subjects were trite, so I stopped again.

In college I failed at comp and thought that confirmed I was a horrible writer (it really only confirmed I was a horrible reader, analytically speaking). I didn’t start writing again until I was pregnant with my first child (pregnancy and creativity went hand and hand for me). I stopped with the birth of my second, not to pick it up again until she was three.

And writing is not like riding a bike. Too much thinking involved. Picking it up again was hard. After that I had to do The Artist’s Way in order to come back to writing. I like to say that The Artist Way taught me good thought hygiene (keeping your thoughts clean=not getting caught up in the thoughts that don’t serve me). My own phrase, but it’s apt. It is what I need if I am going to be a successful writer.

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

I like yours. I like the ones that have taught me how to be a part of a community. I like the ones of the people that I feel like I have gotten to know. I always find new blogs to like but the ones that I end up sticking around for are the ones that are interactive, bloggers that are a part of a community, that is willing to give as much as they get. I guess I found community first at Murphblog and then I have reached out and found it more at other places. It has been a learning thing for me because this public friend building doesn’t come naturally. Finding the boundaries around what to share publicly and what to keep private is challenging. It involves so many people and I find that hard to negotiate.

What is a favorite blog post that you have written?

My blog has gone through many machinations as I tried to figure out why I am here on the Internet. When I started I decided that I would provide a writing exercise everyday and write predominately on process. Then later I decided I would post my daily writing every day. And then when I lost interest in that I floundered for a long time.The thing I want from blog posting is community building. I also like how blogs help me find what I want to read, I’d like to contribute to that. I like to save the things that I like on my blog too. I figure my blog is a tool for showing my gratitude and being generous. So I’m trying my hardest to share the little bit that I have, mostly around the writing life. I don’t know where this fits in it all that, but for fun I coined my own genre called Pioneerpunk, but as I revise perhaps like the term Prairiepunk better.

Tina--what online resource have you found most helpful?

This online stopwatch really helps you keep butt in chair (or in my case butt on the large blue exercise ball that is supposed to sit in front of my computer but more often gets bounced around the house by my children).

And, what has been your biggest trial in writing?

Finding the time. Realistically making myself take time because until there is a book that someone has validated, there is very little else to show for my time, and I am someone who values productivity. My two main occupations, writing and parenting are very hard to quantify (I should add homemaker and teaching to that list and make it four).

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

The lovely stopwatch from above. Scrivener is a nice tool. It lets me write in bits and pieces. Learning to need writing has helped. Now the writing itself is a tool to keep me sane (when I rely on it, I keep doing it).

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

I didn’t know what I would say to this question until I answered the above question. I am big on books about writing. I love to read them and I find them helpful. So choosing one is difficult. But I would have to say The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron turned my writing life around (although I find the book very repetitive and bordering on new-agey self-help, which is a big criticism). The basic exercises, sitting down and writing everyday and the week by week examination of your beliefs, allowed me to give up some of my more damaging thoughts.They didn’t go away, but I now keep working despite the discomfort that I feel when my thoughts tell me that everything I write is crap and there’s no way I will ever make any money at this. The fact of the matter is, there is no way that I have a chance at anything if I don’t keep writing and I better not sabotage myself with bad thought hygiene, if I want to keep doing it. The book essentially teaches you writing as meditation.

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

I want to get my YA ready to query. It probably still needs a lot of work and I don’t know how long it will take. But I really just want it to be readable and interesting. That is my pie in the sky goal. I have learned so much from writing this first book that I sometimes worry that it is not salvageable. I have thrown everything in it but the kitchen sink and what it needs most now is focus. But I’m not sure that I have the eyes to do that anymore. My readers have been really helpful. Based on their comments, I have rearranging and fine tuning to do, and my next round will tell me where I am at. I want to keep on working as hard as I can and still enjoy the process, but I'm not sure when to keep plugging away and when to move on, but the book is definitely not ready to query.

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

Becoming an expert (sort of) on something that I love as much as books and reading.

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

Hard one: Percy Jackson? Pippy Longstocking? Probably Laura Ingalls because I totally glorify those homemaking arts, canning, sewing, slopping the pigs, men who play the fiddle. But I would miss the Internet, my word processor, modern music, and if I were realistic about it there would probably be so many chores that it would be hard to find time to read. And yet easier to find the time to be an introvert. Maybe I will write that book someday where I can have it all, a farm full of old-fashioned arts and crafts and an Internet portal hooking my character up to everything else with a blink of an eye.

And, just because I’m curious, which do you prefer, coffee or tea?

I love coffee, watching half and half rise to the top like a billow of smoke when you pour it in, the thick rich earth taste, and the caffeine. But I switched to tea a couple years ago, which I enjoy, it's just not the same thing.

Thanks, Tina, for the great interview! Everyone, make sure to make Tina feel at home by posting a question or comment for her in the comment section--she'll be stopping by to answer!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

At Least You Don't Have Burrito On YOUR Face

Let me set the stage for you. Wintertime in New England. A gravel walkway, preventing us from ever completely clearing the snow. An abnormally fluctuating temperature, beginning a cycle of melting and freezing of that walkway snow. Then, a freakishly warm night and morning, complete with a rain storm. Now the walkway is covered by an inch of snow, two inches of ice, and an inch of water. Perhaps the slickest surface on all of Mother Earth.

But. We're not ready to brave that front walkway yet. Just know, it's out there, waiting. No, first we have to make ourselves very late for our walk to school. We have forgotten a museum field trip for Superman, and now, upon remembering, have to repack his lunch in only disposable containers. Then, we fix him his second breakfast. You see, Superman lost weight in the fall from a bout of swine flu (yes, really!), and so now we feed him all sorts of fatty foods at every turn. This morning, a burrito. Which he eats from the end of a fork. Meat on a stick. For breakfast. Yum.

Now, time to race out onto the front walkway. Does this sound like a good idea? Racing out onto the slickest surface on the face of the earth? Well, hindsight is twenty-twenty. But in the brain of a mom, trying to get her kids out to school (and a field trip) on time, the 'hurry' synaptic connection is the only one firing.

So, we race out, supporting Superman by the back of his jacket, and we slide across that skating rink. Superman loses his balance. His feet fly out. His hands jerk back. His feet slide back to support him. He doesn't fall (he's Superman, after all). But the burrito flies from the fork. Splits in mid air. And lands squarely on my head.

Erica talked about this a few weeks ago at her blog. No--not burritos in the face. But the Perfect Storm. The perfect intersection of circumstance, personality, and past that makes your novel ripe to happen.

The set-up for me to be standing in my front yard, burrito meat dripping down my face, and watching my neighbors walk past, trotting their kids off to school, was indeed, a perfect storm.

Things that conspired against me that morning:
The physical landscape.
The weather--repeatedly.
My son's earlier illness.
My switch to writing in the morning, which made us a few minutes behind our normal schedule.
My son's field trip plans that day, which which made us even later.
My son's sensory quirks, which makes him someone who wants to eat his burrito on a fork.
My mommy personality which makes me want to protect my son from falling on the ice.

What conspires against your characters, until they have burrito on their faces?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Awarding Awards!

Casey, over at Literary Rambles was kind enough to give me the Silver Lining Award. Thanks so much Casey! I really appreciate the sentiment behind this award!

Well, what better day to hand out awards, than a day when I am gripped by a Migraine. Especially this award. The Silver Lining Award. The silver lining to my complete body spiral to hell today? That it will be another 30 days before I have the possibility of experiencing another one. Thirty blissful days during which I know that I am going to be migraine free. And, although my dark glasses aren't rose colored, they do give me new perspective. So, on to the awarding.

(Drumroll, please!)

To Anna: For supporting anyone who happens to land at her blog, for very sweetly accepting my offer to meet over coffee (not really knowing me from Eve), and for just being a sweatheart in general. Thanks Anna!

To Jon: For spewing enthusiasm all over the blogosphere. Man, you have to get up early in the day to comment at any writerly blog before Jon. I'm pretty sure he'll be ruling the blog world sometime soon--and his enthusiasm reminds me of glitter--once you start shaking it around, it spreads EVERYWHERE! Insidious! We need more of this kind of enthusiasm to keep us afloat while facing revisions or rejections. Rock on, Jon!

To Tina: For just being awesome! For being a revision partner for me and providing the encouragement that I need to jumpstart the current round of revisions. Thanks Tina!

To Laura: For a fantastically optimistic and funny blog. Monday she confessed that she was turning into a crocodile. Great stuff--go check it out. And, for supporting me every time I hang out at her blog. Thanks Laura!

The "rules" state that you should pass on these awards to five other people, notify them, and post it on your blog. But, really, the awards are yours now, to do with as you wish!

And I am holding onto to my final award to give away at a later date. Not because I don't think that there are other bloggers that I could award it to--there are plenty others that I follow because of their positivity. But the somebody that I have in mind isn't available right now to accept it. So stay tuned.

The bottom line (as I see it) to these awards, is that I get to say that I am glad I don't have to do this writing thing alone. And these are just a few of the people who help me stay on the upswing of my writing. Thanks everyone! Now, I'm going to go sit in a dark room and lie perfectly still.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Monday Meeting

This Monday Meeting has been brought to you by the letter T.

Why, do you ask? Well, I'm getting to that (although, if you watched the T video all the way through, you might already know, and no, it's not the green tea).

Last week was a bit of a whirlwind. I tried out a new writing schedule, and it threw me for a loop. It'll take me a few more days, and some more help from my support "T" to adjust to the sound of my alarm clock beeping way too early in the morning. I am not a morning person.

And, you might ask, how am I able to achieve this miracle against my natural circadian rhythms? This miracle (and any of you who have actually witnessed me in the wee morning hours, will recognize that the term 'miracle' is not an exaggeration) has been made possible by the support of Tina Laurel Lee, a superwoman who is evidently up to accomplishing the feat of getting my lazy bones out of bed. Really, I think that there is nothing that this woman can't do. Thanks Tina!

And, for perfect symmetry, this week's Friday Feature interview guest is none other than...Tina Laurel Lee! Make sure to stop by and ask her ANYTHING.

And, Tina has even offered to read a few chapters of my revision this week. Tina Laurel Lee, everybody, with a hat trick! What? Did you think I would link to a sports clip?

My goals for this week?
I hope to finish the three sections that I had to completely re-write, and switch to revising the POV of my other main character. I hope to be done with her re-writes this week, so that next week I can attack the last third of my book, where things start to get crazy!

Oh, and check out the new Bling on my blog! Casey McCormick at Literary Rambles gave me THE SILVER LINING AWARD! Thanks, Casey! I love it! Now, I have to give some thought to who I'm going to award it to!

So, my revisions are buzzing right along. How are things going for you? What are your goals this week?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Terry Lynn Johnson

Everyone, please, make Terry Lynn Johnson feel welcome today. She's our guest for today's Friday Feature. I love visiting her blog and feeling as though I'm hiking through the Canadian winter with her.

Here's a quick glimpse of Terry:

Terry Lynn Johnson's passion for the outdoors evolved while she paddled Quetico Provincial Park as a Canoe Ranger. One winter she worked for a dogsledding company and 18 huskies followed her home. Terry's writing has been published in Dogs in Canada, Adventure Kayak and many other magazines. Her debut middle grade novel, DOGSLED DREAMS will be published through 4RV Publishing LLC. Terry is a member of SCBWI and Outdoor Writers of Canada and lives in Whitefish Falls, Ontario. Visit her at

Terry, thanks for being here today! What are you currently working on?

Ice Dogs is a YA novel about 15-year-old Victoria, who gets lost with her dogteam and finds an injured teen with a secret. But she must trust him if they are going to survive.

Terry, your book, DOGSLED DREAMS is due to come out in 2011. Can you share with us your road thus far towards publication--finding an editor and everything that involved?

After I had a polished manuscript, I sent it out to five Canadian agents. I received four rejections and a request for a partial. For the 30 day wait, I struggled to suppress my fantasies of the book tour. Six weeks later, I still hadn't heard. My gentle reminder email was returned with a gentle rejection. To recover from my disappointment, I continued to submit down my list of Canadian agents, then on to some American agents. Finally I started submitting to publishers. I received 32 rejections with a few partial and full requests before I reworked my first chapter.

Then I heard about the Muse On-line writing conference and when I signed up, I also applied for a pitch session with 4RV Publishers. They were the first to read my rewrite. 22 days later, they sent me a contract.

Currently I'm pumped and ready to begin working with my editor Keri Rouner.

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

*blushing* Thanks for the compliment! Now about your blog--what is a favorite blog post that you have written?

I think I like one of my earliest posts about snowshoeing. It just makes me smile.

What online resource have you found most helpful?

Definitely, the Verla Kay boards.
So far on that site I've:
• found a great critique partner
• learned about the free on-line Muse writing conference
• been given great advice on a query letter
• learned from more experienced authors about their hits and misses with submitting, writing techniques, book marketing and promotion
• I've found and joined the Indie-debut group- a fantastic group of authors of small presses with books coming out in 2010 and 2011.

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

If I don't feel up to writing, I never write. The rule of writing everyday doesn't work with me. But sometimes when the mood hits, I can write for ten hours straight, forget to eat and drink, tell the family they can make themselves sandwiches for supper, kick the dog out so she doesn't annoy me with her pleading eyes and only stop when the inspiration starts to fade.
One thing I obviously need to work on in my life is balance.

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

I read Cold Nights, Fast Trails by Dave Oleson when I first started running dogs. He wrote short anecdotes of his life with sled dogs in the Northwest Territories. I loved how he made me feel and how his writing made me look at my dogs differently. He had a philosophical approach to his life that really spoke to me. When I wrote Dogsled Dreams, I hoped to convey to the reader the special relationship between musher and dog, and maybe capture some of the magic that Dave Oleson so eloquently expressed.

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

So far, I write on the side. I have a full time job so my writing needs to be fun. I guess that's my goal - keep it fun.

Of course, as with any writer, my pimped-out dream would be to write books that attract rabid fans from around the world, and see my books made into movies, and have action figures made out of my characters and...wait a minute, I may be borrowing that dream from somewhere.

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

It was very cool when I finally got the call that my book will be published. But I think the best personal experience was when a character from my book did something that surprised me, something I had not planned. Seriously, I used to read stuff like that from author interviews, how their characters argued with them and I would think - whoa, crazy much? But it actually does happen and I was so amazed.

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

Well, I grew up wishing I was Tarzan. I thought it would be so cool to be able to swing through trees, run around barefoot and hang with your adopted family all day.

And, just because I’m curious, coffee or tea?

I've always thought coffee tastes like burnt water. Nothing beats a hot cup of herbal tea with honey.

Thanks so much for the great interview, Terry! Faithful followers, feel free to ask a question or two in the comments and Terry will stop by to answer as her work schedule permits. And, if you want more Terry Lynn Johnson, pop over (after commenting here, of course!) to the Shut Up! I'm Reading blog for a previously blogged interview.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Progress Report

I have been seriously working on the revisions of my middle grade ms, to the point where yesterday I moved all my stuff to the toy room to "parallel play" with Cowgirl.

While reconnecting with this story, I realized a couple of things--first I really like this novel. Second, it's come a long way from that first draft. A really long way.

In case you're wondering about my process, things that are included in this photo are; a brainstorm of possible scenes that I want to add/change (middle circle thing), the arc of the character I am working on (the two pages beneath the circle thing), outline, a notebook full of song words from the soundtrack that puts me in my groove to write--some of my best scenes are written in the margins of that notebook. The smallest notebook is the one that keeps me on track with the day's goals, and the green notebook is the one I'm writing the changed scenes in, when I'm away from the computer. There's also an old draft with revisions penned in, and of course, TEA!

The funny thing about all these extraneous things is that when I draft, I just write. Fast and furious. I spend a lot of time thinking about things, but it's all in my head. Until my revisions. Then I outline, draw graphs, and brainstorm on actual paper. I bring the world of writing outside of my head.

And, this works for me. This novel has dual point of views, and with one, the fantasy character-- I get her. Her arc is easy for me. For my earth-bound boy, oh, I struggle. But in a good way. It's not that I don't hear his voice, or know what he's all about, it's just a struggle moving his tension forward in a deliberate way. When I first imagined their story, I imagined that it would be mostly about the fantasy character, and about exploring her world. Balancing this out, so the story is firmly rooted in reality, in the boy character, is a challenge.

But one I'm definitely up for.

What does your process look like? What are you working on today? What are your struggles? What does it look like when you bring your writing process out of your head?

And, please be sure to come back and visit on Friday, to give Terry Lynn Johnson some love. She's the interviewee for the Friday Feature this week.

Cowgirl just came and plopped a "Crown of Wisdom" on my head. Let's see if it works with revisions...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday Meeting

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, everyone!

The Sunday before MLK day, my church always has a rip-roaring service with our urban sister church. Can I get an Amen? It's the best service all year, because the spirit of both congregations is boisterous. And, we each get to see how the other side lives. We worship out of our comfort zones. Martin Luther King Jr. said that the most segregated hour in America was 10:00 AM on Sunday. Well, not at our churches, on the Sunday before his day.

I always hesitate to talk about going to church, teaching Sunday school and the like, because I have misgivings about organized religion. Can you tell I was a Sociology major, when the words "opiate of the masses" come to my lips? A lot of bad stuff has been done to a lot of people in the name of organized religion. But, our church relishes diversity, and not only do we have a sister African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, but a sister synagogue. Good stuff.

So, while I'm still riding the waves of our Shared Dream service (Mardi Gras for the soul!), I'll get down to business.

Ehem. I give you the Monday Meeting:

Last week I was not as productive as I wanted to be in my writing, but I slowly started getting back on track. I organized, and re-read, and generally immersed myself within my revision. This week I want to pick up speed. I want to find a large chunk of time to just write. I'm not sure I'll be able to obtain that, but I'm going to try.

I'm excited about what the week will bring.

I hope I will be able to carve out more time to revise. And, I don't know if it is leftover from my stirring Sunday, but I am really pumped up. Let's get writing!

And, I encourage everyone to read something specifically outside of their usual reading zone, in honor of the holiday.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, everyone! What are your goals for the week? Are you fired up to write?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Anna Staniszewski

Welcome, everyone, to another Friday Feature. If you've missed any, be sure to check them out over on the right side of my blog. Today, I am more than pleased to introduce Anna Staniszewski. I enjoy hanging out at her informative, professional conglomeration of website and blog. Anna is so genuine and supportive on-line--I feel that I already know her. I'm sure you'll feel the same after this interview!

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna grew up enjoying stories in both Polish and English. After studying theater in college, she worked at the Eric Carle Museum where she rediscovered her love of children’s books. She’s been scribbling furiously ever since. Anna lives south of Boston and teaches at Simmons College. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Welcome, Anna. Thanks so much for the interview today! What are you currently working on?

I like to have a couple projects going at once so if I get stuck on one, I have something else to obsess about. Right now I’m revising a funny MG adventure about a girl who zips around the universe helping various magical creatures. I’ve also been hacking my way through my NaNoWriMo project; it’s a YA fairy tale retelling based on Polish Gypsy folklore.

What made you start to write seriously?

Shortly after finishing grad school, I got the amazing news that I’d been chosen to be the Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library. I was given my own writing space and expected to spend twenty hours a week working on a novel. After nine months of putting to use what I’d learned in my MFA program, I turned in a completed manuscript. It was the first time I felt like I could officially call myself a writer, and the experience got me in the very useful habit of writing almost every day.

Anna, in 2009, you signed with an agent. You went into depth about it in a recent blog post. Recap for us, so people don't have to click away just yet.

It took me over a year to find an agent, and it was definitely a journey. I went into the process pretty naive, not having done all that much research. I queried an agent I'd heard at a conference and miraculously got a request for a full. Unfortunately, I never heard back. I queried another agent who was recommended to me by a friend. He asked for a revision, gave me some good advice, but ultimately passed. At that point I realized I'd need to do my homework if I was going to find an agent, so I researched a lot and revised my manuscript and my query over and over. In all that time, I never stopped writing, and it's a good thing because it was a second manuscript that finally changed my luck. In the end I got offers of representation from two agents (which left me in shock after so many rejections!) and I wound up going with my gut and signing with Ammi-Joan Paquette.

How has your writing life changed since you signed with your agent?

Since I signed with Joan in June, we've been working on submitting a couple of projects and revising a couple more. In that time, I think my writing has gotten stronger because I have someone who can give me very specific feedback on how to make my manuscripts better. I've also become more aware of what a manuscript needs in order to be submission-ready. Finally, it's been great to have someone as invested in my writing as I am! It makes the writing process feel a little less lonely.

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

Oh dear. I feel like I’m drowning in blogs these days! But if I had to pick one, I guess I’d have to say Pub Rants. It was one of the first publishing blogs I followed regularly. I love how honest Kristin Nelson is about her work as an agent and about her thoughts on the publishing industry. I always learn something new from her posts.

What is a favorite blog post that you have written?

I just finished a post that was a lot of fun to write; it’s a list of comedy writing tips based on the rules of improvisational theater. I’d never realized before how much crossover there is between the two kinds of comedy. It was interesting to see improv rules like “Don’t deny anything!” applied to fiction.

What online resource have you found most helpful?

I don’t know what I’d do without Verla Kay’s Blue Boards; everyone there is so knowledgeable and supportive. Writing tends to bring out my hermit-like tendencies, so it’s nice to have a place to chat with fellow children’s book writers who know exactly what I’m going through and who squeal along with me when I get some good news.

What has been your biggest trial in writing?

Being patient and positive! You can’t rush things in writing. Something may feel “done” to you, but then you go back a few weeks later and notice a slew of gaping holes. Then your critique group reads it and points out a million more flaws. And that’s only the writing part! Once you get into finding an agent and trying to get published, then you really need to learn patience. There are so many ups and downs in the process that it can be easy to get discouraged and wonder why you’re doing this to yourself. At those times, I have to remember that I love writing and that’s why I keep doing it.

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

I’ve learned that goals and deadlines are my friends. I give myself word count goals and specific dates by which to send chapters to my beta readers. Also, entering contests has been a great way to push my writing along. If I’m having a particularly hard time focusing, I use what I call the Egg Timer Method: I set an egg-timer for thirty minutes, shut off everything else (Twitter, email, etc.), and force myself to just concentrate on writing. Anyone can focus for a half hour, right?

Anna--tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life.

The Giver by Lois Lowry is one of my all-time favorite books. Every time I read it, I’m amazed all over again by the quality of the writing. The way Lowry brings us into the world at the beginning of the story and lets it develop around us is amazing. Whenever I’m feeling uninspired or stuck, I go back and reread a few chapters and it gets me going again.

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

Well, obviously I’d love a few shiny book contracts in my future. But as far as long-term goals go: You know those books that stay with you for days after you’ve finished reading them? I would be ecstatic if my writing had that kind of impact on someone.

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

People who write children’s books are probably some of the nicest people in the world. Thanks to writing classes, critique groups, and online communities (like the Blue Boards and the Enchanted Inkpot) I’ve met writers who love the same books and enjoy thinking about the same topics I do. It makes my inner dork dance with joy.

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

I would want to be a slightly less know-it-all version of Hermione Granger and live in the Hogwarts library. Actually, if I can cheat a little, I’d like it to be a cross between the Hogwarts library and the library in Garth Nix’s Lirael – then it would be a super magical library! I’d probably never leave there, except maybe to go get some butter beer.

And, just because I’m curious, coffee or tea?

I could drink tea all day. The moment cold weather hits, I have a mug of hot tea practically glued to my hand. I have a completely unproven theory that warm, soothing liquids help the words flow.

Everyone--Please make Anna feel at home and leave her a question in the comments--she'll be stopping by to answer them!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What Are Your Numbers?

In a post with the label, "I'm So Going to Hell", Editorial Anonymous a year ago (December 2008, actually) outlined a number of must-reads for each category of children's writing. I'm reprinting the list, because I'm curious how my numbers stack up. Each line is worth one book (sometimes she mentions a series). Here's the list:


1. All the fairy tales (Grimm, Anderson, etc),
2. and you wouldn't go wrong reading the works of the Opies.
3. Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day
4. Amelia Bedelia
5. The Big Orange Splot
6. Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See
7. The Cat in the Hat
8. Click Clack Moo
9. Curious George
10. Dr. De Soto
11. Fancy Nancy (Ed. Anon. says: I choke on this book, but you must know about it)
12. Frederick (or possibly Swimmy; something by Lionni)
13. Frog and Toad (Lobel)
14. The Giving Tree
15. Love You Forever
16. Good Night Gorilla
17. Goodnight Moon
18. Harold and the Purple Crayon
19. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
20. Knuffle Bunny (and frankly you wouldn't go wrong reading the whole Willems oeuvre)
21. Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse
22. Little Bear (Minarik)
23. The Little Engine That Could
24. Madeline
25. Make Way for Ducklings
26. Miss Nelson Is Missing
27. No, David!
28. The Polar Express (and maybe some more Van Allsburg)
29. The Seven Silly Eaters
30. Show Way
31. The Stinky Cheese Man (and Other Fairly Stupid Tales)
32. The Story of Babar
33. Strega Nona
34. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
35. The Tale of Peter Rabbit
36. The Three Pigs
37. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
38. We're Going on a Bear Hunt
39. Where the Wild Things Are
40. William's Doll
41. Winnie the Pooh


1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
2. Alabama Moon
3. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
4. Anne of Green Gables
5. Are You There God It's Me Margaret
6. The Bad Beginning
7. The Black Cauldron
8. The Bridge to Terabithia
9. Catherine Called Birdy
10. Charlotte's Web
11. (and probably also The Trumpet of the Swan
12. and Stuart Little)
13. Coraline
14. Danny Champion of the World (or maybe The Witches-- at least something by Dahl)
15. Ender's Game
16. From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler
17. The Giver
18. Harry Potter
19. Hatchet
20. Holes
21. The Invention of Hugo Cabret
22. Island of the Blue Dolphins
23. Julie of the Wolves
24. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
25. Little House in the Big Woods
26. A Long Way From Chicago
27. Ordinary Jack
28. Out of the Dust
29. Over Sea, Under Stone
30. Penderwicks
31. The Phantom Tollbooth
32. Ramona Quimby, Age 8
33. Saffy's Angel (or something by McKay, dammit)
34. The Search for Delicious (or maybe Tuck Everlasting)
35. The Tale of Despereaux
36. The Toys Go Out
37. The Watsons Go to Birmingham
38. The Wee Free Men
39. The White Mountains
40. The Witch of Blackbird Pond
41. The Westing Game


1. Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian
2. American Born Chinese
3. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing
4. The Book Thief
5. Catcher in the Rye
6. The Diary of Anne Frank
7. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
8. Dreamhunter
9. The Ear The Eye and the Arm
10. The Golden Compass
11. The Hero and the Crown
12. Homecoming
13. I Am the Cheese
14. King Dork
15. The King of Attolia
16. Looking for Alaska
17. Lord of the Flies
18. The Lord of the Rings
19. Monster
20. A Northern Light
21. The Outsiders
22. The Rules of Survival
23. Sold
24. Speak
25. To Kill a Mockingbird
26. Ok, Twilight, but for reference purposes. Feel free to read half of it.
27. Watership Down
28. A Wrinkle in Time

My numbers?

Picture Books: 30 out of 41
Middle Grade: a sad 15 out of 41
Young Adult: 9 1/2 out of 28 (I'm halfway through The Book Thief)

And, my must-read list grows and grows...

So, what are your numbers, and what books would you add/remove to/from her list?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Pre-Write Checklist

All kids to school, check. (Oh, blissful two and a half hours of aloneness.)

Writerly friends blogs stopped by, and commented on, check (if anything happened to come to mind to comment about.)

The Rejectionist hasn't posted yet, so further distractions avoided, check.

New e-mail opened and answered, check. (Ignoring the 2,000 messages that should be deleted or put into files, check!)

iPod loaded up with novel "soundtrack", check.

Word processor opened, check.

Notes by my side, check.

Deep breaths, and telling myself I know how to do this, check (thanks for the tip, Paul)

Procrastinatory blog post written, check.

Remind everyone to stop by Friday to participate in an interactive interview with Anna, check.

Let everyone know that Sarah is #10, and Solvang Sherrie is #33 at Miss Snark's First Victim's Secret Agent Contest this week. Tell everyone to stop by and give them feedback once the submissions are posted, check.

Wondering if I would be more productive if I exercised first, check.

Ignoring desire to turn on Wii, check.

Ignoring impulse to hang out at Erica's blog again, check.

Ignoring hours of housework I could be doing, check. (No problems with this!)

More deep breaths, more talking to self, check.

Nothing left to do, but WRITE.

*sounds of keys clacking away*


Your pre-write checklist? Does it look anything like mine?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Monday Meeting

Healness. That was the word verification that I had to type in on a blog comment. Healness! That sounds like the perfect thing to be working toward. I wish everyone healness today, this week, this year.

What would healness look like? Making strides toward wholeness, I imagine. Because what is healed must be whole. But right now I feel pretty whole. A whole person moving in the direction of her goals. It's a good place to be, as long as my feet keep moving. And my hands keep typing. Which brings me to the Monday Meeting:

My goal last week was to find some time each day to work on writing. This week, my goal is to ACTUALLY WRITE during that time. I don't know why it is so tough to get back into writing--any ideas? I've been doing research, but no actual writing.

But last week was an amazingly productive week aside writing. I developed and started teaching a wonderful Sunday school class connecting 6th graders with the church service through art projects. I reached out to two of my closest childhood friends to help them through some very dark times, and I settled back in to life after visiting with my step-sister and half-brother to help them over the death of their mother. And celebrated my Harry Potter's 10th birthday. And I exercised every day. It was actually quite a full week. In fact, it felt like two weeks.

I'm hoping that I get so much writing done this week that it feels like two weeks worth of words. What are your goals? Any inspirations for getting me back into the swing of things? What do you do when your week gets too chaotic to write?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Tracy Edward Wymer

I am very happy to introduce Tracy Edward Wymer to this week's Friday Feature. I find Tracy to be quietly hilarious. (I guess if I experienced his blog as loudly hilarious, I'd be as confused as this student of his).

Many days I end up chuckling to myself when I read through posts on his blog.

Hi Tracy--Thanks for doing the interview! Why don't you start by telling us a little about yourself.

I was raised a Hoosier. I bleed Crimson, but don't we all? Small towns and basketball. What more is there to life? Apparently a lot. Because after graduating from Indiana, I jetted for the left coast and I'm still here. Honestly, Los Angeles is not my kind of place, but I've got a great job teaching something I'm passionate about: Reading and Writing. I do miss wide open freeways, fields of nothingness, and campfires. But at least I have a rockin' wife and a blonde ambition daughter to make me feel at home. Oh, and we have a boy on the way (in April).

What are you currently working on?

A middle grade novel. Contemporary. Working title is Bird-Man Street. I posted the first chapter on my blog last month and gathered some valuable feedback. I rarely put new (unedited) work out there, but the first couple chapters are too important not to. It's the foundation to build on, and if it's weak, the building will collapse.

What made you start to write seriously?

When I was younger, I read this book called Highpockets, by John Tunis. It's an old book and the language is antiquated, but for some reason I really connected with it. I played baseball, so that helped. Also, I took this awesome creative writing course as a freshman in college. It was my only A first semester, so it made me think, "This writing thing is fun. Why not?" So I started writing prose in notebooks during boring lectures.

After graduating I landed a job as a fourth grade teacher. I started reading every middle grade book I could find. Then I started reading Newbery winners because I wanted to learn from authors who were considered the best. Shortly after the "taking in words like a sponge" stage, I wrote my first middle grade novel.

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

I go through severe phases, but I've most recently come to like the Crowe's Nest. It's interesting and well done. I read a ton of blogs, from published and unpublished to agented and unagented writers, but comment on only a few.

What is your favorite blog post that you have written?

Last year a young teacher at my school died unexpectedly. We were friends and talked a lot about sports and beer and life in general. I coped by writing about it. The words fell together in an eerie way. It was therapeutic and healing.

What online resource have you found most helpful?

For writing: When I first started, I hit up The Purple Crayon and joined SCBWI to receive their monthly newsletter. Now many agencies have posted toolboxes for writers, which give you all sorts of clickables.

For agent search: The Guide to Literary Agents blog is full of agent insight and interviews. Literary Rambles is also a great place to find agents who might be a good fit for your work.

What has been your biggest trial in writing?

Refining point of view. My first novel was all over the place. After much research (reading more novels) and enough revisions to fill a dumpster, I learned how to channel my voice through consistent point of view. Still learning. Every day.

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

I sit-down with the laptop and open my WIP. I stare at it for a while and then type something awful. I delete it. Type something else. Delete it. Slump shoulders. Check email. Browse blogs. Comment on a few. Read the first few pages of a novel on Amazon for free. Tell myself I can write something just as good. Go back to WIP. Black out the background (Scrivener function) in Full Screen mode. Type a sentence. Read it half a dozen times. Sit up straight. And go.

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

A Moveable Feast (Hemingway): because he writes about the struggles and act of writing and all the pains that come with living a writer's life. The much-needed alone time, away from the real world, away from friends and family, in order to complete something. He also writes about the pull from your stories and characters, which beg to be written NOW, not later.

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

I know this is far-reaching, but I'd like to make a living from it someday (wouldn't we all?), because then I'd have more time to write. That being said, I teach writing full-time, and it keeps me learning every day. I discover things about myself and constantly learn from others. The learning never stops, and I don't expect it to. You've got me thinking. I wonder if I'd actually give up teaching. Great benefits. Part-time sounds good to me.

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

A sense of accomplishment after completing a novel. Meeting people (through cyberspace or otherwise) who love to read and write. Learning. It's invigorating.

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

Jonas, from The Giver (by Lois Lowry). In a world of Sameness, it would be a moonshot to be Different. I don't know what that means, but it sounds good.

And, just because I’m curious, coffee or tea?

Coffee. Until my students' noses fall off.

Thanks for answering my questions with such candor, Tracy!

Everyone, please make Tracy feel welcome by writing a question for him in the comments. He'll stop by as his schedule permits.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

10 in 2010!

Happy 10th Birthday to a Euphonium playing, chess loving, number crunching Harry Potter.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

One Ring

Disclaimer: This post is not at all related to anything even remotely Tolkien. My apologies for misleading any googlers.

Instead, this post is about my family's odd traditions.

One is the banging on pots and pans when a family member departs. The family gathers (post hugs and kisses) on the front lawn, hands behind backs, as if the departing members don't know what is behind them. Surprise! Banging commences, as the car backs out of the driveway, and continues, until the car and departing family members are safely out of sight (and embarrassment range). It is always a weird moment of celebration and sadness. Or, maybe, a sad moment that we are trying to convince to be celebratory. For me, the noise of pots and pans banging always triggers feelings of goodbye.

Another tradition, a more constructive one, is the one ring. When departing family members arrive at home, it is customary to call to the pot banging relatives, and let the phone ring once. A signal that you have journeyed safely all the way back home.

A writing friend of mine is on the road. And I'm waiting for that electric one ring--that e-mail--that tells me that he got home safely.

I'm also waiting for another kind of one ring. The kind that signals the end of a revision. The one that says that my main characters got where they were going safely. It may be a while, but I'll be listening. Their pots and pans banged such a long time ago--I think it's about time for a one ring.

What kind of signals are you listening for, in your writing, or in your life?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Monday Meeting

Yay! The first Monday Meeting in 2010!

This week I am focusing on gaining some momentum. Life intervened at the end of 2009, and I lost all of my speed in my revisions. I'm hoping that this means that I will come at them with a fresh set of eyes, even if I am falling behind in my big picture goals. (Already? And it's only January 4th!) I'm looking forward to the fresh start.

So this week, I will just focus on setting aside a time each day to revise, or think about my revisions. And I'm going to print out my long term goals so that I STAY ON TARGET...

Stop by Anna's--she's giving away Shiver and The Maze Runner. (You'll meet her in more depth if you stop by here in 11 days, hint, hint.)

And, you just have a few more days--until January 15th--to download Maureen Johnson's Christmas present to us all, a free copy of her book, Suite Scarlett. C'mon everyone, you know you want to make me jealous of your new Kindle...

And, I'm excited to jump start 2010's Friday Features: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond. This Friday is an interview with the genuinely nice and down to earth Tracy Edward Wymer. You can prep for the question/answer session by heading over to his blog, crossing chalk.

Where are you posting your resolutions/ goals? What are you setting out to accomplish this week?