Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What I've Learned at the Loft: You Can't Jump the Line

I haven't blogged in a while. Certain shifts have happened that keep me from blogging. One, conversations have moved to twitter, tumblr and facebook. And I like to be where the community is. So, I'm splitting my time between all the e-stuff I love. Two, this blog is a little antiquated, and I know I need to move it to a nice and clean author website. (Which I'm not quite ready to do, because of number three...) Three, I've launched a writing community which is awesome and does a lot of good, but sometimes sucks up my time. Oh, and four, I'm starting to query agents again after finishing a revision based on agent feedback. Woo-hoo for me! That's a full-time job of sending emails, refreshing my emails, crying a little, and then refreshing again. :)

But I am still here, and thought that I might share with you guys some of the things that I have learned from building an in-real-life community.

Plus, the TED talk I was going to blog about today REFUSES to embed. :)

So, here's the first post in the series, What I've Learned at the Loft:

You can't jump the line.

If you are one of our cats, you CAN jump the turkey-leg-line.

Let me clarify a bit. I've seen people get publishing deals in a short amount of time. But mostly, those people had a very steep learning curve. They responded well to critiques, made adjustments, and rebounded (from crits or rejections) very quickly.

I no longer think that this business is about perseverance. Or maybe it's not solely about perseverance.

It's about quickly learning when something isn't working and making adjustments. 

Since I have founded a writing community whose members include published authors, some writers have approached me and asked me to "get them an agent." (None of these writers attempting to jump the line wanted to stay and join the community.)

Eeek! I'm not agented myself. I don't have a book published. And even though writers at the Loft have found inroads in publishing because they hobnob with authors further along in the journey than themselves, those Loft writers have also put in the time to critique, give back and support the community.

You can't just show up and jump the line. You need to try something and when it fails, you make adjustments. When a crit shows you where your ms is less than stellar, you make adjustments by revising. When you get a critique that doesn't jive with where your ms is going, you make adjustments by finding a new crit partner. When you query agents and don't get the response you wanted, you get more feedback on your query and you (all together now) make adjustments.

Sometimes it seems like people were overnight successes, or that they were in the right place at the right time. They probably were in the right place at the right time, because they paid attention to what worked and followed that. They made the right adjustments.

What is the hardest adjustment you've had to make in your writing career? An adjustment of expectations? An adjustment of what success looks like? Tell me!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Past, Present and Future, or How My Stupidity as a Parent Teaches me About Writing

I'm not a perfect parent. I happily share my mistakes with anyone who will listen, and I especially abhor parents who pretend that they are perfect--it just makes everyone else feel alone.

So, yesterday, my oldest son did something that made me mad. Yelling mad. Whipping shirt mad. Madder than I needed to get.

Today, of course, I'm thinking-thinking-thinking about it. And then...I apologized to my son. I told him I shouldn't have yelled. That I should have been calm about it. After all, he is only learning.

I wanted him to understand where I was coming from and why I got so pissed off.

I told him:

I don't just see you in the present. I see your entire past and all the hopes for your future all wrapped up in this one moment. It makes me super angry because this is the 1,000th time you've done this behavior (your past). I get angrier because I don't think that a thirteen-year-old should be behaving this way (your present), and I worry about your entire future because if you can't learn from this, I don't know how you will survive out in the real world (your future). That being said, I totally should not have gotten so mad! That was my baggage. My problem. You're an awesome kid and you're gonna turn out fine. :)

And this extreme reaction reminded me of writing. Specifically about why some portfolio pieces are so hard to write-- query letters, synopses, blurbs. It's so hard to come at those things calmly, with a clear sense of the project at hand.

I think these things are so hard not just because it is hard to boil an entire novel (or picture book) into tiny summaries, but also because as the creators, we see the entire history of our project (every single draft and all those revisions), we worry about what our project is at this moment (is it good enough to send to an agent/publisher), and we have this amazing dream of what this project might become.

Experiencing all that information at once immobilizes us.

So, when you are writing your query letter, your synopsis, your blurb, try to just think about what your project is today. If that makes you anxious, then you might need to go back and revise until your project is closer to what you dream it could be. If you still have trouble, ask one of your betas or a critter to help you execute the summary because that person won't have all the baggage that you do about your project.

Have you yelled at your kid recently? Have you yelled at your novel? :) What's your biggest frustration right now? I showed you mine--you show me yours!

Author's note: while composing this blog post, my daughter's birthday cake overflowed the pan and is now cooking onto the bottom of the oven. (Burning, in fact.) But that is another blog post entirely.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

One True (Writing) Thing: About Self, Writing, and Community

I read a YA thriller yesterday. (Escape From Eden, by Elisa Nader--an author I met at a recent conference--she's delightful, by the way, and her book rocks!) In a fast-paced scene, (okay, it was all fast-paced with delicious twists at every turn) Elisa took a beat to describe the sound of blinds tangling as a door slammed shut.

And, I thought to myself, wow, that is exactly how that sounds. What a great nugget of truth.

It might seem unnecessary to bring that piece of sensory truth into the novel--it didn't advance the plot, it didn't strictly need to be there, but that one piece of truth lent reality to everything else.

By anchoring your reader to familiar things, it allows them to believe in all the made up stuff. :)

Knowing one true thing about your writing journey can show you the reality of how to advance your writing career.

A few years ago, I led a special interest group for first time conference-goers at the marvelous NE-SCBWI spring conference. I asked the writers/illustrators to think of that one thing that they needed to get their career to the next level. I mean, there isn't just one thing, but there is always that one bald truth staring us in the face. If I could overcome that, one thinks, I could go places. :) It was especially important advice for the conference, because attending workshop after workshop can be overwhelming. If you know what one thing you are trying to get out of a conference, then it changes the whole reality of the experience. You can take breaks instead of trying to take in every little piece of information. By focusing on what matters, you can learn how to do that one thing much more quickly.

Now, I meet a lot of writers on a daily basis. I talk with people who are interested in joining our local community, The Writers' Loft. I find out what they are writing and what they are looking for. Because everyone who wants to join a community is looking for something specific. And since I know our community of writers, since I attend writing conferences, since I read books about craft and publishing, and since I try to keep abreast of publishing news, I can sometimes connect people with what they need. That one true thing.

 You probably don't need to talk with another writer to find out what you need. (Although it certainly can't hurt.) It's probably that nagging irritating thought that won't leave you alone. If only I had time to write. If only I knew how to get this Picture Book into the hands of an agent. If only I had a great pitch for my book. If only I knew how to add tension to my revision.

Focus on that one true thing and go after it! No excuses. And, if you need a writerly friend, email me. Open invitation. I'd love to help connect you to the answer of your one true thing need.

Finding community doesn't have to be hard.

My one true thing? I am trying to not lose the thread of my writing projects while I grow my non-profit. My answer so far is that I am leaning on my writerly friends to keep me accountable for my writing, and I'm learning everything I can about project management. What about you? What's your one true writing thing right now?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Don't Piss Off the Universe

I think that all my advice can be boiled down to that one sentence.

Let's say it together.

Don't piss off the Universe.

The Universe is like my 7-and-11/12ths-year old daughter, Cowgirl.

The Universe loves kittens, as well as other things.

It expects you to read its mind and know just what to do.

It rewards you with the greatest stuff when you are completely open and hold nothing back.

It reacts best to kindness.

And, girl, oh girl, does it hold a grudge.

Don't Piss Off the Universe.

I've been thinking a lot about my brand as a writer and about who I am in the writing world. I try to be someone who treats others like we are all in this together. Because WE ARE.

On my good days, I want to be completely open to the Universe. Not in some incense-burning, kumbayah-singing perfection-wielding way, but in a confident, I've-done-the-hard-work, I'm-helping-my-fellow-writer, let's-get-to-the-next-weigh-station-together way.

On my bad days, I just strive to not piss off the Universe.

The karma version of Do No Harm.  

I just came back from the James River Writers Conference, and girl, oh girl, those folks certainly know how to make you feel like you're in it together, y'all. I get buoyed up for months by the sense of camaraderie I feel there. *waving to Erica and Donna (eh?) and Jon and Joe and Lisa and Vernon and Katrina, and well, everyone!*

And I am so thankful to have welcomed in the 40th member of the Writers' Loft in Sherborn--you guys rock, and never, ever piss off the universe. Thanks for making my risk this year anything but!

So, do you feel open to the opportunities in front of you? What happened the last time you pissed off the Universe?  Have any good news to share?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pay Yourself First

I have officially gone the longest time without writing forward on my writing projects--I think it's been a full month.

I came across this post by Anna Staniszewski, who quotes another rockstar author, Jo Knowles:

"Always make writing the top priority in your life even if that means other things have to slide."

Quite honestly, I thought that quote was pretty harsh. Maybe it was just my mindset at the time, but I thought to myself, "I can't put writing first." I'm a mom. A wife. I compete in races so I stay in shape (because deadlines and accountability work for me). I volunteer for a local educational non-proft, help organize a writing conference, help teach at our church Sunday school, and last March, I created a non-profit writing community.

My days start out with me trying to figure out what is the BIGGEST fire to extinguish. And I'm pretty sure that you are all just as busy as I am. I mean, there are only so many hours in a day, right?

So my writing slides to the back of the to-do list.

But the universe started whispering to me. With Anna's post, and then with this post by another of my favorite authors/mentors, Erica Orloff--and what a beautiful post it is!

We writers lament about time management. But maybe we should take a page out of the financial management world.

When talking about finances, experts tell us to Pay Yourself First.

In order to get a future as an author, we need to start prioritizing and paying into it. Paying into our future. And if you are a writer, but you are not paying into your future--into your dream--then that dream will never happen.

So, that's my goal. I'm going to start getting my writing done first--just a little, before I do anything else. Because if I put aside a couple hundred words here and there, pretty soon, it'll grow to be a whole book.

And that's my future.

(Also, I get really crabby when I don't write.)

How do you envision your time/project management? How do you protect your writing future?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gravity and Tom Shannon's TED Talk: Anti-Gravity Sculptures

So, my TED Talk Tuesdays are happening every day except Tuesdays. What can I say? It's summer.

Yesterday, Superman (9-yrs old) asked me, "Mom, do you know what Law I hate?"

I reviewed the laws that I thought he lived by. It was a short list. "Nope, I can't guess."

"I hate the Law of Gravity."


Knowing my son's love for movement in all directions, I definitely should have guessed that he would actively dislike one that restricted his ability to fly.

And recently, I catch myself frowning. Not because I am feeling emotions connected with the facial expression, but because lost in thought, or in my busy day, I forget to defy gravity. Which allows it to pull my lips down into the frown.

When I googled things that defy gravity, I came across Tom Shannon's Anti-Gravity Sculptures, which are amazing and beautiful and all anchored in some science fiction and some fantasy. As well as science AND gravity. :) So I'd thought I'd share it with you, in case you also forget to defy gravity today.

My favorite quote? "It's sort of surfing on a magnetic field at the crest of a wave."

Poets, eat your hearts out! :)

And without gravity, we wouldn't have enjoyed the "Goblet of Fire" last night (think of what a mess that would have made):
Papa J enjoying gravity.
Last night, at the Writers' Loft, we had a great chat, led by author Anna Staniszewski, about all things Character. We discussed how to build a character with depth, whether a character needs to be likeable, what are some of our favorite characters in literature, and what an agent might mean when they say that they didn't connect with your character. We even had a high-five over the day's agent rejections.

I think that leads to one of the best ways to defy gravity--as writers, we need to extract the best understanding we can from a crit to make our ms better and not get bogged down by negativity and rejections. Which would keep us too tethered to write the way we need to. Dealing with criticism/rejections in a positive/proactive way is an essential act of defying gravity for us all. :)

A shout out to everyone who chooses to defy gravity, but enjoy it as well. :) How do you do it?

Monday, July 15, 2013

TED Talk Tuesday (On Monday): Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From

(So that it will appear that Papa J has a friend...)

I received an email this morning in that old chain letter fashion (c'mon, fess up, you know you've done/started one at some point) asking me to do a blog hop type thing by answering questions about my writing. And even though I hate those things (no offense!) and even though this is the place where chain letters come to die, I decided I might as well comply, mostly because I really want to see a blog post specifically from the other people on the chain. If I do it, then the other participants Papa J picked have to do it, too.

I had already loaded a TED Talk into the works. So, I decided to mash the two together.

First let me talk about how I have recently had a shift in thinking about my writing process. I've always said stuff like, "writing doesn't happen in a vacuum," meaning that we need a strong support system in order to write. I've also been intrigued by collaborative writing projects, and a couple of times a year, I entice a few writers to do something out-of-the-box with me.

But, I think that I was wrong about my writing process. I mean, I do need a support system, but that it is secondary (or a smaller part of) the need to create a Petri dish for the growth of my writing, which includes other writers getting into the Petri dish with me on a daily basis and weighing in on an idea or a part of a novel.

Listen to Steven Johnson, and think about how writing in a rich idea environment could spark that great idea:

"Chance favors the connected mind."--Steven Johnson

Every part of writing is about ideas--the Shiny New Idea which is the tag line for that new manuscript, or that idea of how to write the first page in order to launch it into a reader's heart. Writing a novel is one new idea after another.

In a world where we talk about tribes and twitter followings and virtual communities, what does it mean as a writer to create an environment conducive to getting that creative work done? To reaching out for and making connections which spark the necessary ideas? This is a question I am going to be exploring on the blog in the upcoming weeks. I hope you join in, and talk about your thoughts, ideas, and community.

As a direct result of other writers mixing things up in my Petri dish, I am now dusting off and revising a MG ms that I haven't looked at in two years. (This is to answer another question in the blog hop--what I'm writing...) It's a story about a boy who wishes a wish so powerfully that it ultimately pulls a star down to earth.

I've answered two out of three blog hop questions--the third I am going to answer is: Who are the authors you most admire?

As writers, we have a different view of authors--and sometimes an inside view of how authors handle their writing. The two authors I admire most are Anna Staniszewski and Erica Orloff. Because of so many reasons, but mainly because of who they are as people, because of how they help everyone and anyone they come across, and also because they write pragmatically. Not that their subject matter is pragmatic, but that they believe they can do it, they do it, then it gets published. There is no room for existential crisis. They get the work done. Every single time. (Not to say that they don't have moments of doubts or writer-related-heartache.) But they will accomplish their novels one word at a time. And those words are great ones. :)

Who do you admire? Who's in your Petri dish? Do you worry about talking your works over with other writers? What does your community look like?

Oh, yeah. The chain letter dies here. :)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Stuffed Into a Teapot

Well, I'm taking slow-blogging to new heights. :) 

Ropes course with the fam on vacation in NH
One thing that gets on my nerves is when people throw around the idea that because of TV (or the internet) kids have shorter attention spans than they ever had before. You know, when people say it authoritatively in a how-to-write-for-children book, without citing any evidence. 

Alice: From the moment I fell down that rabbit hole I've been told what I must do and who I must be. I've been shrunk, stretched, scratched, and stuffed into a teapot. I've been accused of being Alice and of not being Alice but this is my dream. I'll decide where it goes from here.
Bayard: If you diverge from the path...
Alice: I make the path!
(From the 2010 movie, Alice In Wonderland)

By making that sort of assumption, that children are being damaged by the progress of media, you might as well stuff 'em into a teapot.

It may be true that attention-deficit issues with children are on the rise, but let's face it, that's a chemical process in the brain. I don't think people have found a causal effect between that and TV or computers. And, it has been shown that kids with ADHD can actually "hyper focus" when they find something compelling to focus on. 

That's the point, right?  Give kids something compelling to focus on.

I do think that it is true that there are different sources of entertainment that can lure our kids away from books, but the takeaway for us writers is that in order to compete with these games, shows and interactive experiences, we need to grab the reader on the first sentence, and hold their interest through the whole book. Which is why writing for young readers is so darn intriguing in the first place. Want a challenge? Try to write a novel for today's youth. They expect the best. It's our job to give it to them.

My kids don't zone out after 12 minutes because they have been trained by the TV and commercials (in fact, the commercials are more compelling to my kids than the show, most times). They don't stop focusing on interesting things after a few moments and drift away. They aren't less inclined to focus. They just have more to chose from.

We need to learn from the experts in the gaming field, like Jane McGonigal, and write in a way that gives kids positive feedback and a real interaction with our books, either figuratively, if we are writing traditional stories, or literally, like Patrick Carman. (The video clips of Skeleton Creek scared the bejeesus out of my eldest. Because he didn't listen to his mother. I'm just saying.)

But let's not assume that our kids are becoming less because they have more to interest them. Let's give them the more (which I believe today's authors, in general, are accomplishing).

Take my nine-year-old son, for instance. 
Give me s'more!
Some might say that he doesn't have the attention span for reading, because he tends not to choose books at his reading level. He sees a full page of text and turns away. But it's not attention span that is his problem--(I don't happen to think he has a problem, thank you very much, teapot stuffers)--but that he is an auditory/sensory learner, and not a visual learner. So most age-appropriate books are, by definition, not his cup of tea. But give him an Alvin Ho book, and he won't put it down. For him, humor is the carrot that will pull him through an entire book.

As a writer, you don't necessarily have to hook my son. (Although the fist fight that ensued in the back seat of my car when I tossed Anna's ARC of My Sort-of Fairy Tale Ending to my kids shows that she has. I'm talking FIST FIGHT where I had to pull the car over and physically separate the kids. Thanks, Anna. #MyBoysReadGirlBooks #TheyArePassionateAboutBooks #MyDaughterWonTheFight)

But you do have to know what type of kid you are hooking, and then hook them the whole way through. Don't let 'em off the line.

And, as if I haven't mixed enough metaphors in this post, I'm encouraging you to make your own path, when it comes to writing books, and not write under the fear that children don't have the attention span to pick up a book and read anymore.  You make the path!

And, now for our regularly scheduled commercial: If anyone wants help with the path, we have an All Things Picture Book group meeting at the Writers' Loft in Sherborn on Thursday night this week, and a Craft Chat on Character on July 23rd, also in the evening. Here's the link. Join us!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Take the Suck out of Success

The road to success can really suck. Especially as a writer. It is fraught with critiques, revision, and rejection. 

Lofter Kyla (far left), me (2nd from the right) with our triathlon training posse, on the day of our tri, last September.
For some reason, I thought this sign was funny. :) This race was so much better because we trained together. It made the TRAINING fun. And that says a lot!
I still see success for my books as having them find a place with a traditional publisher. That definition of success for my writing hasn't changed. But for my own professional life, I've found other successes--and they all have to do with creating community and connecting people with what they need for their own success.

I enjoy building the Writers' Loft, a non-profit writing community. I enjoy helping to organize the NE-SCBWI conference. I find success when I connect with and am helpful to others. I might sound like a broken record at

But I think that some things bear repeating. Like this one--The Kindness Project. Because we are human. Because some things are universal. Because we need witnesses to our road of suck. Because we want to celebrate the successes--and the kindnesses. Because, ultimately, things are better when we aren't alone.

What is your perspective on community? What type of writerly community do you see as the most beneficial to your success? I am putting together a workshop about building community, and would love to know what has been important to you, or what you want to know about in order to build your own support system. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Unapologetically Human

I spent the first day home from the NE-SCBWI conference thinking about what had gone wrong, and what I had done or said that wasn’t “right.”

Sometimes I make the mistake of talking to strangers as if they already know who I am, are privy to the inside joke, or have heard the beginning of a conversation I had weeks ago. I worry, later (always later), that the joke or point I was making didn’t come across at all, because, well, you’d have to know me to understand where I was coming from.

Dude. At NE-SCBWI, I said some weird things to agents. And made a comment about drinking in front of someone I had just met, a comment which totally could have been misconstrued.

Evidently I like to torture myself (afterwards, always afterwards). But this same skill and attention to detail might just make the difference between a good manuscript and a great one, as I turn in to do another revision.

The second day after the conference, I remembered my favorite moments. Sure, Grace Lin dissecting the Chinese characters for the word "love" to mean "swallowing your heart" was amazing. 

But my favorite moments were the human ones. People reacting to me in the same ways for which I was berating myself. Those funny things that make us connect, through our mistakes or quirks. Through our need for chocolate (I’m looking at you, Stephen Fraser!) and those silly times we put our foot in our mouths, or miss the mark on a joke.

I love those human moments.

I think of how refreshing it is to land at a blog like Matt’s, that talks about how he stumbled around while querying. Made all the mistakes. Because, boy, I have too! (On a side note, who wants Matt to come to NE-SCBWI next year??!!)

How that means so much more to me than someone spouting out the correct way to do things. How trying to be perfect (and the flip side of this—judging others) just turns everyone off.

How the best parts of life are the messy ones.

So, have you had similar experiences? What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve said or done? How often do you worry about your human moments? 

And, the following has NOTHING to do with mistakes, but cuteness and utter kindness:

Cowgirl (in first grade now) did a report on Anna for school. And she became Anna for a day, and parents had to guess who her Mystery History person was. 
My favorite part? "It was done in the style known as writing which involves a computer." PRECIOUS. 
My other favorite part? That Anna CAME. I am still marveling that Anna has that amount of grace and kindness to make my daughter's day. (Heck, YEAR!)

Just THIS. Too cute for words!

And thanks to everyone who made the NE-SCBWI conference such a roaring success!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Spring in New England

Spring in New England means the kids dust off the bikes and use them to go EVERYWHERE.

It means optimistic planting. (That last frost is over, RIGHT?!)

And, most of all, it means the NESCBWI conference. :)

I'm heading out today for friends, workshops, hilarity, learning, a little bit of stress (you know, pre-manuscript critique), and lots of hobnobbing.

I'm always so excited to meet up with those friends who I don't get to see often enough. Although, being so engrossed with catching up with those friends makes me worry that we look like a closed-off group. If you are new to the conference or just want to say "hi," please BUTT IN. :)

I can't wait to see EVERYONE.

Springfield, here I come!

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Blog, what blog?

I stop blogging at times, not because I'm so busy (is anyone's BS detector going off? I guess I'm just saying that being busy isn't an excuse--I know some of you Do It All), but because I'm Feeling Something. And I don't like to explore Feelings in a public place. I need to be calm when I put it out there. :)

Even so, I still get pretty worked up when I think about Marathon Monday. The Boston Marathon is a hallowed race course for me--we walk from our house to the halfway mark to hand out oranges most years, and before I had kids, I cheered at Heartbreak Hill when I wasn't jumping in to run the last two miles alongside my brother. (You know, who Qualified--see all my sisterly pride?)

I don't run those kinds of distances--ever--but when I watched the events unfolding, I said to my sister-in-law, "next year, maybe I'll run it." Ignore that the qualifying time is pretty quick. Ignore that the farthest I've ever run at one time was 17 miles.

My sister-in-law laughed and told me that the one thing she could count on New Englanders for was a fine-tuned Eff-You attitude. :)

Which, in the moment, made me happy. I'd run the marathon to show my solidarity with the people who had their amazing celebration of the day, and SO MUCH MORE, stolen from them. But now, I'm wondering if decisions I make in a knee-jerk, you-can't-stop-me fashion ever make sense.

So I think of writing and querying and book reviews. When we as writers start to get bitter, when we start making decisions based on the things that make us mad--whether it's a rejection, or a bad review, or an uncomfortable crit, then we start to wander into the Land of Eff-Yous.

I'm not preaching here--we've all done this, and you know this blog is a NO-JUDGMENT Zone. My hope is that we go off the rails privately, that we deal with our visit to the land to get us through and then come out the other side, but I've seen that bad tweet, that unfortunate blog post, that manuscript which is suddenly an e-book, because the author has landed in the land of Eff-Yous.

And can't find their way out.

I'd rather live in the NO-JUDGMENT Zone. Where people not only forgive our transgressions, BUT HELP US OUT WHEN WE ARE ABOUT TO MAKE ONE.

And, I know we are all busy, and I know we don't even have time for the important things in our own lives, but if we really took a moment to see what someone else needed, or to see that someone was hanging by a thread, just surviving, wouldn't there be less feelings of rejection and hurt and EFF-Yous in this world?

Okay, now I'm totally preaching. I should get off my soap box and lace up the running shoes if I'm going to be ready to run 26.2 miles come next April. :)  

I hope you are all not living in the Land of Eff-Yous, but in that NO-JUDGMENT Zone. I hope you are whole and well and that I will see you next week in the Land of SCBWI.

And if you do find yourself stuck in the EFF-You Land, please let me know, I might be able to help. :)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Using Every Pot in the Kitchen

My youngest kids, Superman and Cowgirl, decided they wanted to make rice krispy treats.

I'm big about making my kids do stuff on their own. My friend graciously calls it, "preparing the kids, not the path." I call it, "you're old enough."

So, I pointed them in the direction of a bowl, printed out some tiny directions, and loosely supervised. You know, supervised; did work on the computer and finally thought to pay attention when I heard noises incongruous with cooking. I looked up to find them staring at a bowl filled with marshmallows, butter and rice krispy cereal.

They were wondering how to get those rice krispies out of that bowl.

Because upon closer inspection of the directions, they had sadly discovered that one doesn't add rice krispies until after one melts the butter and marshmallows in the microwave.

A hunt ensued. They needed bowls. Many pots. And strainers. And, for some odd reason, a cheese grater. All sorts of spoons, forks and pancake batter scoops. Rice krispies flew around the room and marshmallows were eaten (when they thought no one was watching).

Finally, a bowl full of relatively naked marshmallows and butter was hoisted into the microwave. I looked around the kitchen at the aftermath of what looked like a dessert war, the only casualties--mini-marshmallows and rice cereal.

My kids looked triumphant.

It seemed like they had used every pot in the kitchen.

And I wondered when the last was that I had used a cheese grater to make rice krispy treats. Or used a virtual cheese grater when I had to remove something from a first writing draft.

Or tried to solve an issue at the Writers' Loft in a non-linear, creative fashion.

If I'm not throwing everything I have into my life and into my writing, then I'm just not trying hard enough.

Those rice krispies were the best I'd ever tasted.

Please join me on Tuesday night in Burton's Grille in Westford MA, for a kidlit get together, planned and executed by the amazing Kris. (See her sidebar for more info.)

I'll be happy to answer any inquiries about the Writers' Loft, a new writing community and office space for writers in Sherborn, MA, while I'm there.

Happy word grating, everyone! :)

Do you have a secret cheese grater that you use to extract the important stuff out of that first draft? I tend to think of one of my crit partners as an effective cheese grater. LOL. What's your favorite cooking experience? What do your kids get up to when you let the explore the kitchen?

Anyone want to come and help me clean up?  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Conversation About My Epic Fairy Tale Fail

So, I had the distinct pleasure of reading the ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of Anna Staniszewski's second book in the UnFairy Tale series, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail.


Here's the description (Goodreads):

Fairy tales do come true. Unfortunately.

Jenny the Adventurer is back, and this time she's off to the Land of Tales: the crazy place that all fairy tales come from. If she can defeat an evil witch and complete three impossible tasks--all without getting eaten by blood-thirsty monsters--Jenny might finally get some answers about what happened to her parents. 

This is one adventure Jenny can't afford to fail.

Of course, I have at least two fans already in the house (and my daughter is just now getting into UnFairy at the age of seven) so I couldn't just keep the book to myself.

I passed the book to my sons (i.e. the book was ripped from my hands) and also to one of their friends.

Here's the ensuing conversation: (disclaimer: the interviewer has not read this book--she is starting book one now. Also, this video is choc full of boy humor. I am manning the camera, and occasionally the camera moves because I am either laughing or shaking my mom head "no." (Which was ignored, of course.) I didn't edit the tape--what my kids (and their friend) gave me is what I'm giving to you. :))

I have to say, I was bummed out at a certain point of the book, when Jenny, the main character (spoiler alert--LOL) FAILED a task. (Dude, it's in the title.) :)

But, this happens to my kids ALL THE TIME. And to me. I fail stuff ALL THE TIME. :) The whole point is what you do AFTER YOU FAIL.

Sorry for the polyanna life lesson today. :)

Read the book--it's great and wacky and weirder than our cat wearing a bathing suit.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Next Big Things

So, I've been tagged by my awesome friend Nandini, a writer who is local to my town, and a wonderful wordsmith.

The title of the tag is The Next Big Thing, and there are questions to answer. Check out Nandini's post about her amazing book: Red Turban White Horse.

Awesome cover, right?

I'm going to take some liberties and change some of the focus of the Next Big Thing structure, and I hope that is okay with Nandini. :) I'm just going to talk about some of the Big Things in my life right now:

I'm querying what I hope will be a Next Big Thing--a YA post-apocalyptic Thriller. Fringe meets Maze Runner.

The Next Big drafting Thing is a YA cyber thriller, working title Revoltion. One sentence about it: When shy, sixteen-year-old Tryst opens the wrong virtual door at the cyber site Revolt!, what is hiding behind it makes her run for her real life.

Fun, huh? Evidently I like it when my characters have to run for their lives.

I'm writing it with the help of John Truby's amazing book, The Anatomy of Story. John Truby will always be The Next Big Thing to me. Seriously. Check it out.

The next Next Big Thing is that my thirteen-year-old son just started texting with a girl. WITH A GIRL. And he has his first dance at school tonight. It's a whole new world, people!

The most immediate Next Big Thing is that I am taking the always-fabulous Anna Staniszewski out to lunch to celebrate her new book's birthday, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail.

Great read--The MC Jenny isn't your average anything!

Anna, much like John Truby, will always be The Next Big Thing for me. She is an amazing person, writer, and friend.

I handed off my (loaner) copy of Anna's ARC to not one, not two, but THREE boys. You know, because #MyBoysReadGirlBooks and #TheresNoSuchThingAsAGirlBook

Soon, I'll let them tell you how they liked it!

And, of course, I am sitting in my gloriously The Next Big Thing loft office space for local writers. So, if you are a writer, and would like to have a quiet space to write, or a conference room for meeting with your crit group, or a place to take or give seminars, please check out my post about The Writer's Room of Requirement.

Yup, I'm shamelessly linking to my own blog there. :) That's how I roll.

And, of course, I can't wait for the NE-SCBWI Spring Conference, which is always a Big Thing in my life, but this year, I'm coordinating volunteers for it. Which is a lot of fun--I get to meet a lot of wonderful people. I have made life-long friends by attending this conference, and I'd love to see you there! Make sure to register soon, since it's getting quite full.

I am officially tagging Jon to find out what his The Next Big Thing is. :)

So, what's yours?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Writer's Room of Requirement

I think it's true that the more things I have on my plate, the more things I get done--to an extent. Also, the less laundry I get done.

These days, I'm waking up at six a.m. with jabbing thoughts about that bill I have to pay, that email I have to return, that postcard I have to print out.

The postcard that I wanted to print out today was this:

I'm starting a Room of Requirement for writers.

I'm moving into the new office this week, a spacious two-room loft with skylights and character. You're welcome to come and use the writing room to work, and the conference room to discuss, gather, teach, or hang.

I'm all about making connections and building community, through blogging, writing events, and conferences. And now through sharing a community space.

So, if you live in Massachusetts, (especially around the Natick-Sherborn area) and are looking for quiet writing office space, a space to meet with your crit group, or have a book party, please email me at hegkelly (at) gmail (dot) com.

It's going to be a casual, drop in when you can kind of situation.

I feel very strongly that in order to survive this business--the business of writing toward publication, or any creative profession--I need to be consistently doing two things:

1. Striving to get to the next level with my craft while helping others do the same.
2. Seeking out professional opportunities outside the book writing arena.

I have seen too many people go off the rails because 1. they wrote in a vacuum, or at least felt like they did, and 2. their book was the only thing to hang their professional writing hat on.

I can't control the querying process, but I can control the job I do helping out with the NE-SCBWI conference or the job I do setting up a non-profit so others can come and have a writing space.

What do you need most from a writer's Room of Requirement?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Human Moments and the State of the Desk

The State of the Desk: Thank goodness Athena is here to watch over it all. Lots of post-its, manuscripts, and endless emails coming in, which I am, indeed, thankful for--emails mean that people are stepping up to volunteer! :)
So, I've been creeping around behind-the-scenes here, and thought I would mention the creeping things.

I'm querying. Which feels a lot like I might be walking around with broccoli in my teeth (from the crepe I had with @Annastanisz last night), and nobody is telling me. But I know that can't be true. You guys would tell me. Right?!

I'm filling volunteer positions for the Spring NE-SCBWI conference. I'm even singing about it. (Don't worry, twitter isn't wired for sound...yet.) You can follow along on twitter (@HeatherGKelly) and #nescbwi, or check out the full version here.

I went to Jodi Meadow's book launch for ASUNDER at Brookline Booksmith. I was so distracted by the above tasks that I was at the launch a full two minutes before I realized that Jodi had written INCARNATE which I had read and loved. Then I was even happier to be there.  I know, #ICanBeSoDense and I promise, #ImNotACompleteFlake. I'm just having a lot of human moments right now. Would love to have more superwomen moments, though. Loved talking with @ACGaughen at the launch. I think she's all kinds of awesome.

Then I caught up with the fabulous @KristineAsselin, @AnshaKotyk, @Kiperoo, and met a couple other awesome kidlitters like @Lena_Goldfinch at Kris's fabulous meet-up. If you live in New England, check out the date of the next one in Kris's sidebar. There were not enough hours in the night to get all the talking done. (Well, there might have been enough hours, but we chose to go home and sleep through some of those.)

Phew. Lots of fun stuff this week.

So, is your desk any less post-it-y than mine? Have you gotten out for a bit of community during this long winter? What has been your flakiest moment this week? Maybe I'll give out an award. :)

To everyone attending the NY SCBWI conference this weekend: Have fun!!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How My Characters Would Query, and How Superman Sleds

Querying is an odd beast.

I send off e-mails, not knowing if they are even received (or are victim to the Spam Bot), and wait for a reply, not knowing if I will get one. I don't even know if the agent I queried is ever going to see my e-mail--I understand that some agents use interns to weed the in-box out.

I'm working over-time to put myself in the shoes of the agents, to understand why the system is what it is, but at the same time, some days I feel like I'm giving away my power.

Everyone copes differently with stress. Some queriers openly rage against the system. Some quietly hide the stress. Some do what is recommended and work on the next thing. Some alternate between all of the above.

Right now, I'm thinking about what my main characters would do:

Pete would create to-do lists to keep him on track. He would look at the puzzle of how to get an agent from all sides and come up with concrete, but out-of-the-box solutions. He would stay steadfast, systematic, and ignore the feelings of powerlessness.

Jeze would jump right in and pretend to bold and un-crushable. She would hide her insecurities behind attitude and blow through emailing agents like a bull in a china shop. She would face her fears unquestionably and query all the scariest agents first. :)

So, how am I doing it? I think I'm combining the two. I'm definitely ignoring the feelings, and some days, ignoring the fact that I am even querying. I am making lists and doing research, but I am also jumping out there. I'm probably making a bunch of mistakes. You know, because I'm human and just a little stressed about being vulnerable.

I am being methodical, but also pretending to be bold. I'm hoping the combination works for me.

I'm doing the hard work.

And rushing out there. 
I admit, the risk of querying can be a rush. :) Clearly, just sitting on the sled isn't enough thrill for Superman. 

And, if it doesn't work, there is always the next book. :)

How would your characters query? How do you?

We're going to be sledding until there's no more snow on the ground. :) Are you enjoying winter?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Writing Rites of Passage

Wow, it's been a while. Since I've talked on the blog, anyway. I've thrown up a few TED talks, but those posts are more about sharing other people's ideas.

I have been in a major time of transition--finishing a novel and starting to query. Yup, I've started to put my work out there.

So, I haven't been using this platform as a voice recently. But I've also been busy on other (writing) fronts--finding office space and doing work for the NESCBWI conference. I'm sure I'll talk more about those things soon.

Right now I'm trying to decide what to work on while waiting for query responses. I have so many projects in various forms of completion, since I have been doing this writing novels thing for such a good long time. I might work on a MG contemporary fantasy, a tween contemporary fantasy, a YA cyber thriller, or a YA humorous contemporary (an almost spy novel). I think I'm leaning toward the YA cyber thriller, since the novel I'm querying is a YA urban-futuristic-psych thriller. Sounds awesome, doesn't it? :) And, no, I don't call it that in my query. :P

And, I don't know if the novel that I'm querying will land me an agent. There's just so much out of my control. But as far as my evolution as a writer, I believe I'm there.

Here's my know-you're-ready-for-an-agent checklist:

Made a complete fool out of myself in front of an agent at a conference. Check. I know, most of the time I seem relatively put-together when you meet me in person. But, boy, occasionally the wallflower in me comes out, and I can't string together actual words into coherent sentences. It's a rite of passage. :) I hope.

Toted my kids to writer events all over the state. Check. Their response now is, "You mean, we have to meet ANOTHER writer?" The honeymoon is definitely over. Except, of course, for this chick, who continues to have rock-star status at our house.

Revised my philosophy into: Butt-in-chair no matter how I feel about the current project, shoot for the stars and believe they're reachable, but understand that there is so much about this career choice that I have no control over. Know that rejections don't make me any less of a writer but sometimes can help me become more of a writer. Check.  Not that I have such a rosy attitude every single day, but even when I don't, I still do the writing.

Have cheerleaders (a.k.a. crit partners) from every walk of the writing spectrum. Check. There is nothing like having a published author point out that you learned a comma rule incorrectly and need to go back and relearn. So embarrassing. I tell myself that most people have a quirk like this that they have to rectify. We're all human. :) We all have bad (writing) habits.

Decided not to give up on my writing career, multiple times. Check. Although, I don't know how much power I have over this. No matter what conscious decisions I make, I always end up writing. Call it a compulsion. Plus, I don't know how to make cherry pie. Yup, I'm shameless. I linked to my own blog post. But reading about how L'Engle was rejected for an entire decade before anything of hers was published is so heartwarming. (Or maybe not--depends on perspective!)

So, does you're I'm-ready checklist look anything like mine?

How do you survive querying? How did you snag your agent? If you are an agent, what kind of check-list do you look for in your clients?

Happy New Year, everyone!