Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tuesday Monday Meeting, T for Tina

Hello from Chicago, everyone!  I am having a wonderful time connecting with family, taking a break and writing while I visit relatives in Chicago.  And, I MET in Real Life, TINA!!  And I must say, that she is just as gracious and kind and supportive and wonderful in person as she is inside the computer.  I think I want to move to Minnesota.  :) Thanks, T, for coming all this way, and thanks for being you!

Unfortunately, we lacked a bit on the tech support, and I only snagged a little bit of proof that it all actually happened.

  It's a little dark, but doesn't she look super cool?  She IS super cool. This is what she was gazing at:

Yes, she's watching the awesome band, Communist Daughter.  I was duly impressed with their original songs and their harmonizing lead singers, and how versitile the band members were.  Many instruments were played, and played well.  Food for the soul. 

So, I'm pumped up after meeting Tina, and after some time to really think about writing.  I'm having fun making forward revisions on my Middle Grade novel, and hoping to finish revising the next couple of chapters before Friday. 

What are your goals?  What are your music recommendations?  Where are your summer travels taking you? 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Steve Brezenoff

Welcome everyone to another Friday Feature.  I'm very excited to kick off the summer session of blog interviews with the fantastic Steve Brezenoff.  Steve has a great blog, awesome website and entertaining book trailer.  Make sure to check them out on your way out today!

Here's a little bit about Steve: Steve Brezenoff has written several chapter books for young readers, and The Absolute Value of -1 is his first novel for teens. Though Steve grew up in a suburb on Long Island, he now lives with his wife, their son, and their terrier in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Thanks so much for being here today, Steve.  Your book, The Absolute Value of -1, is coming out in September 2010.  Tell us a little about it.  

I'm taking this straight from the jacket copy: 
Noah, Lily, and Simon have been a trio forever. But as they enter high school, their relationships shift and their world starts to fall apart. Privately, each is dealing with a family crisis—divorce, abuse, and a parent’s illness. Yet as they try to escape the pain and reach out for the connections they once counted on, they slip—like soap in a shower. Noah’s got it bad for Lily, but he knows too well Lily sees only Simon. Simon is indifferent, suddenly inscrutable to his friends. All stand alone in their heartache and grief.
In his luminous YA novel, Steve Brezenoff explores the changing value of relationships as the characters realize that the distances between them are far greater than they knew.

What is your writing process like?  How did The Absolute Value of -1 come about?

It's kind of a long story. During my senior year of college, I think the fall semester, I took a class on creative writing for children (which included writing for young adults). The final project for that class was to be a picture book, or a short story. I wrote a short story (called "Looking Down on Havoc"; ten points to whoever finds that as a line in the new book), about a boy obsessed with death and very close with his big sister. I always really liked that story, so over the next 14 years, I expanded it, wrote more scenes, and eventually had it at novella length, I'd say. The kid got older, the story bolder, and the cast of characters larger. Finally I decided I'd submit it to publishers. After some interest with a caveat, I fleshed out two characters in particular (Lily and Noah, naturally) and gave them each their own voice. That's when the novel was complete, nearly 15 years after I created the protagonist.

Thanks for the insight, Steve--I love knowing the roots of a story.  Fifteen years is impressive. How did you end up connecting with your agent?  

I actually contacted several agents after I was expecting an offer on the book. So, I switched up the normal process a bit. Anyway, my agent and I met over the phone, discussed JD Salinger and the Grateful Dead, and that was all I needed to know.

What was the submission process like/how did you connect with your publisher?

Some details are above, but I'll add that I met my editor at the local SCBWI conference in 2008, where he gave a seminar on YA voice. As a presenter, he's obligated to review queries from conference goers for several months, and he kept his end of that bargain.

How did life change for you (or didn't change) after connecting with your agent?

It didn't much change at that point. I mean, a lot was happening at once: an agent, an incoming offer on |-1| . . . the real possibility of becoming a career author. So, ya know. That was nice. 

What are you currently working on?

A few things. My current "backburner" project is a YA with slight paranormal leanings, but more importantly features a protagonist addicted to online gaming. So that's fun. Yesterday I started something new, and immediately got down 5000 words, which felt great. It had been ages since I did any free writing like that. Anyway, it's a YA too, naturally, and 100% realistic fiction, based very loosely on the Squeeze song "Vicky Verky," which is on Argy Bargy. You can listen to it here, if you like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjoFykhlnUc

What made you start to write seriously?

It's been so long since I wanted to do anything else! I didn't really act on my ambitions much at all, though, until my son was born in 2008. I was already writing a lot of work-for-hire stuff, but my novel ideas sat collecting dust. Something about having a child got me to really make an effort, though, and soon after he was born I attended that SCBWI conference I mentioned above.

What, if anything, has surprised you about your journey toward publication and beyond?

My biggest surprise was getting an email from Sara Zarr, a real YA literary hero of mine, in which she complimented my book and my prose. I could hardly breathe for two days.

What type of publicity have you done to get the word out about your book?

Hm. I hope I've done some. I'll be showing up on a few blogs as we get closer to release date, and I made a trailer, which you can see on the front page of my website. http://www.stevebrezenoff.com/  That trailer got a little attention, I suppose. And of course we're having a release party for |-1| at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis on September 23. I'm sure I'll be promoting that event as well.

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

Well, I'll tell you, but it's not remotely literary. slice.seriouseats.com is my favorite, hands down. I read it religiously and comment with some regularity. It's about pizza.

What online resource have you found most helpful? 

This is going to sound obvious, but Google. I use it constantly when writing fiction, and it takes me where I need to be. I'm not talking about really intense research, but when i can't remember which Lemonheads album came out in 1992 (It's a Shame About Ray, by the way), it will tell me.

Ah, google!  Essential for writing research and even the occasional blogging game... but I digress.  Steve, what has been your biggest trial in writing?

WAITING. Or maybe that's my biggest trial in publishing. Whatever. It's waiting. I freaking hate waiting, and there is so much of it in publishing.

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

Thankfully, I often have work-for-hire stuff to do, and the people who give me such work aren't interested in whether I feel up to writing. They instead are interested in deadlines, which I have to meet. So, feeling it or not, I write. Then, after a few sentences or paragraphs or pages, I'm usually back in the swing of things. And if not? Tough noogies. It's like writing through mud, but ya gotta keep going.

Tough noogies.  That takes me back to childhood.  Although, I think that the full phrase is: 'tough noogies, as they say in France.'  That's the way I always heard it.  Steve, share with us a favorite blog post that you have written.

Once again, it's not remotely literary, but this one has always been very popular.http://stevebrezenoff.blogspot.com/2009/07/not-for-squeamish.html

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

People are probably sick of my saying this. It's cliched and sort of unpopular at the moment, I think, but the book that influenced my writing the most is The Catcher in the Rye. Holden's voice is a character in that book, and if you don't like it, you don't like the book. Take him or leave him. I think that's my attitude when I write. If you don't like my characters or the way they present themselves, you won't like my books. 

From a craft/instruction point of view, I haven't read much on craft. I recently have been close with John Gardner's The Art of Fiction, and I highly recommend it to writers who can handle being knocked around quite a bit.

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

A Printz would be nice. :)

Indeed! Steve, if you could create the perfect writing space, what would it look like?

Ahhh. What a lovely question. There would be a nice big desk, and a comfy chair that fit in front of the desk. And a perfect little raised spot for my laptop so my right shoulder wouldn't go numb after 30 minutes. And there would be bookcases built right into the walls. And a very good sound system. Also a magical coffee machine. And also a wall-mounted high-def wide-screen monitor for video-gaming breaks. It could be hidden behind sliding bookcases! Coooool.

Oh, magical coffee machine.  So excellent!  So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience?

When my editor told me he'd be making an offer! We were at a local pizza chain, and he then left, and I got a huge brownie sundae and celebrated quietly and smiling.

Wow, a face to face offer!  Very cool.  Steve--if you could be a character in a book, and live within their world, what character would you be?

I'm just getting into this Mysterious Benedict Society series, by Trenton Lee Stewart, so I'd have to go with them. I'd hate to become one of the kids, though. Maybe I could be Milligan, the secret agent.

What other distractions do you have in your life? 

My number one distraction is Sam, my almost-two-year old. And really, with a toddler running around my house, do I really need ANOTHER distraction?

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

I have a huge mug of tea every morning, and often in the afternoon as well. But while I'm out writing (yes, I go to coffee shops to write; please refer to the second to last question), I drink lots and lots of coffee ... often decaf.

Steve, thanks so much for doing this interview.  Everyone, be sure to leave a question or a comment for Steve, since he'll check back to answer our questions!  And, be sure to look for his book, coming out September 1st, 2010. 

Edited to add:  We're going multimedia today, what Steve's video book trailer, and this link to a podcast where Steve talks about the title and characters of his book.  More to whet your appetite for the read in September!

Edited, edited to add: Want to read Steve's answers to your awesome questions?  He answered them in this post at his blog.  Isn't he a stand-up guy??

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday Meeting

Hey you!! Get back to writing in there!!

I've had a few intense weeks as my kids finished school, and am so excited for the summer schedule.  My kids have already fallen into the rhythm of playing together, swimming at the lake, and just hanging out.  They were made for summer, I think.

Now, I am trying to fall into a writing rhythm.  A before and after type deal.  Before the kids wake up and the frenzied activity begins, and after the kids fall asleep exhausted.  Bookending my day with writing.  That's what this week is all about--pounding out the writing time.  I'm hoping that soon I'll have some really awesome goals to report, but right now, it's still just about finding the rhythm to summer write.

In case you've been as unplugged as I have been, here are some updates:

WIBIJ, or Where In the Blogosphere is Jon?!, is undergoing construction.  We'll let you know when we are up and running again.  We thought that the beginning of summer was an excellent time to make improvements on the blog format.  Feel free to stop by and chat, it's always a party over there!

Paul is giving away books, and starting a discussion around titles for reluctant boy readers. Definitely worth stopping by.

Adventures in Children's Publishing is giving away books (ending today, so throw your hat in the ring!), and talking about...

...WriteOnCon--the free kidlit writer's conference taking the internet by storm in August.  Make sure to go register July 1st! Woo-hoo!!

And, be sure to stop by here on Friday, and give Steve Brezenoff some love.  We're kicking off the Summer series of Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond with a discussion of his book, the Absolute Value of -1, due out in the fall.

So, tell me, what goals do you have this week?  Will I see you in The Practice Room?  

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tuesday Monday Meeting, and Yes, I Found the Edge of the Blogosphere and Fell Off

Phew, it has been a very full week since I last posted. I wish I could say that it's over--the busy-ness--but it's not, and I'm just going to have to take things by the seat of my pants, like usual. I've been gone from the internet all week, and guess what? It goes on without me!! I am not the star at the center of the blogging world :). Okay, so I guess that I already knew that, but what I didn't know was that a few days away feel like a year. Like I fell off the edge, and am now climbing all the way back up. And I thought the blogosphere was round. Go figure!

Anyway, my kids are just wrapping up school this week, so I might not be around much this week as well. Thanks for sticking through it all with me--I had a horrible feeling that I might open up blogger to find that I had zero followers today.

Goals for the week:

To spend today recharging my batteries, and shifting my focus from family stuff around the clock to a good balance of writing and family stuff. I'm planning on reading and running today--getting back into the mental frame to write. And then getting back into the writing tomorrow. Easing into it. Hoping that I remember which of my many drafts is the current one. :)

My other goal is to climb back up the edge of the blogosphere and visit some blogs.

We are postponing this episode of WIBIJ until next Wednesday, June 23rd, and it should be a great game!

I rock at water balloon tossing. Just thought you would want to know.

So, what are your goals for this week? Are you in a time of transition? And, it's been awhile since I asked, so, what are you working on? (I'm still revising my star story!)

And, I got a big hoot out of this:

I would have guessed that the S was for "superman", but for "spikes" is just so much better! 

Monday, June 7, 2010

Monday Meeting, Making Lists

Times of transition make it difficult for me to stick to my routines. We are in a transition right now as we move from school year to summer. And in the meantime, there is a flurry of end-of year activities. I am backlogged on everything, including writing. And I get through all this the same way I get through writing--by the seat of my pants.

Yes. I'm a pantser.

But, I also love lists and organization. There is magic when I write things down. I actually get things done. Unfortunately, writing is not the only thing on my list today. (The kittens tried to then eat this list after the picture was taken, which feels about right when I think about how much time I actually dedicate to my writing these days.)

Other things on today's to-do list include planting pumpkin and sunflower plants/seeds, clean kitchen, put away laundry, pick up medicine, pay bills, re-organize attic, plan for sleepover party for Friday, RSVP for end-of year parties, send in permission slip for field trip, order DVD of son's chorus concert (he had a 'solo'), and not forget any school events which I am supposed to attend. Figure out teacher gifts. Spend time with family. Oh, and dinner. I can't forget to feed my kids. (Well, I can, and sometimes do, but it's not pretty!)

So, somewhere in there, I want to run and write. I'm hoping to unplug with Tina to get the writing in, and maybe run into town and do errands there to get my run in.

Getting writing onto the to-do list seems about the extent of my writing goals this week. :)

What is on your to-do list today/this week? What are your writing goals?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday Feature: Our Spirit

I am very excited to tell you all about my friend and writing partner Robert's newly launched non-profit website, Our Spirit. Designed to be a resource for LGBTQ teens who might feel turned away by organized religion. Robert's message? "Love…that's the whole story."

Our Spirit's Mission:

Our Spirit believes that the true basis of life and religion is love and that all people deserve to be loved, including – especially! – youth who don’t fit the straight and narrow vision of sexuality. Our Spirit uses the broad reach of the internet and the intimacy of narrative film to help youth develop tools for self-acceptance.

Adolescence can be difficult enough without struggling with questions of sexual identity.
Organized religion is one of the last places where it’s acceptable to spread hate and homophobia.

The Our Spirit website will air movie shorts this summer, called The Romeo Files.
It has an amazing page, LGBTQ-Whatever, which is wonderful collection of resources, including lists of books and movies.
And, as if you needed more inspiration to click over and check it out, there is a whole page of Words That Help, including quotes like this:
For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. – Rainer Maria Rilke, German poet

I would love it if you would visit Robert's wonderful website, and leave him a message there, and let him know what you think of his endeavor. I'm so excited for his non-profit launch!! I'm so excited that this resource for teens is up and running. And I'm excited to hear about what you think!

Woo-hoo, Robert!!

P.S. check out the results of the fun and furious WIBIJ game--Award Ceremony at 1PM!
And--I LOVE this book review by Tahereh--it makes me want to read the book NOW!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tuesday Monday Meeting: Smiles for a Runner

Rarely do I really know how I am feeling until I slip into my jogging shoes, tie my car key into my laces, and step onto the trail for a run.  Running is emotional, almost spiritual. I connect with all of me. From my smallest breath to my biggest idea. I connect with the ground beneath my feet, the sky above, the snakes slithering past, and the other people on the trail. We strangers smile as we run past each other.  Connected.

I have a strong faith, in me, in my writing, in my understanding that we as people are all connected to one another.  That connection may be the most conventional part of my faith.  Maybe what people call God.  That force that moves within me, through me, and connects me to everyone else. What provides the possibility for growth and personal evolution.

You can't go far in the writing blogosphere without stumbling upon people talking about and experiencing doubts.  Or bigger, experiencing a crisis of faith.  Of writing faith.  Am I a good enough writer?  Am I strong enough to be vulnerable, and open to writing growth?  Can I hear what others say about my writing and get better, stronger, and take what I need, and leave what I don't?  Can I survive the rejections?  Am I good enough?  Will I ever be good enough?  Should I give up?  What if I never...?

But the thing that we forget is that in order to have faith, there must be doubts.  And, that when you have doubts, you also expose your faith.  So, I ask you, in this very connected world, what do your doubts tell you about the faith that you have in yourself, in your writing?  How do your doubts help you understand the depth of the faith you have in your writing?

My writing goals this week include finding a balance between writing and my kids' lack of school.  My youngest is home all the time now, so things will be shifting.  Writing every day is a goal I'm hoping to achieve. What goals do you have this week?

If you would like to connect with other writers, check out Tina's Practice Room, our WIBIJ game (STARTING THIS WEDNESDAY AT 1:00--WOO-HOO!!), or Sheri's Graffiti Wall--an interview today with the awesomely wonderful Casey McCormick.  Put your doubts aside, and just sit with your writing faith this week!