Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's Been Stopping You From Writing?

Every time I send an email out to someone lately, I cringe at my perky little "Check out my blog!" note that automatically attaches to the end of each email. I have even erased it several times to avoid being seen by the recipient because I know if they actually DO check out my blog, they will be sorely disappointed.

Writing has been hard for me lately - not just the blogging, but the actual writing, working on my books. I'm not stuck. I think about my revision all day long; I know exactly what I need to do and how to do it. But when I sit down at the computer to work, I shut down.

Why? What's stopping me?

Things have been busy around here. My daughter started her junior year in high school and a job at McDonald's, so she's juggling work schedules, PSAT/ACT/SAT prep, and AP classes. My son started middle school and is adjusting to the increase in tests and homework plus playing flag football for his school. My youngest started third grade and has an increase in homework too plus basketball. Put that together with my husband's full-time job and his part-time National Guard job that may as well be a full-time job and dentist appointments and doctor appointments and school functions - and well, yes, life has been over-the-top busy.

But while that has contributed to my lack of productivity, that's not totally it. My life is always ridiculously stressed like that. Whose isn't?

I think my productivity problem has more to do with me trying to justify the time I put into writing. It is something I enjoy tremendously, but I don't get paid to do it - and who is to say I ever will be? How do I justify all the time I spend on it when it is not something I 'have' to be doing and there are chores to be done, a household to run, kids to attend to? I look at other stay-at-home moms and all they do at their kids' schools, at home, etc. and I feel like a failure. I volunteer, but not as much as others do, and half of them have REAL jobs. I don't. I have nothing critical going from 7 AM to 3 PM five days a week.

This past June my stepsister lost her battle with cancer. She fought hard for about four years and all the while she was giving her seven kids and husband a hundred and twenty-five percent in addition to helping people in her church and community. She was one of those rare people that makes everyone a better person just by knowing her. I look at Leslie and how much she did for everyone, how she was going all the time, doing for others while fighting her own battle inside, and quite frankly, it makes me think, what the hell am I doing? How is spending hours a day writing a book helping anyone? How is sitting at a computer creating fictitious characters and fictitious worlds doing anything constructive for the rest of the world?

I know that a happy mom makes happy children. And, writing isn't something I am doing to make money anyway - it is a part of me, like breathing, and when I am not writing, I get depressed and stir-crazy. But how do I justify writing instead of say, cleaning house? How do I justify shutting that door to the world outside to immerse myself in a fictitious world when there are real chores and real problems to be dealt with?

This is what has been stopping me from being productive lately, so I thought I'd share. Maybe if I still have a few readers out there who haven't given up on reading my consistently non-existent blog, you'd care to share how you justify the time you spend on writing?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Will Kindle kill the Publishing House?

Yeah, I know I promised a debrief on the SCBWI LA conference, but this does sort of relate. While at the conference my friend Su brought her kindle and I got to check it out. Pretty cool. I especially liked how one can change the font size - for someone like me who can't read small print without a magnification device, it is awesome.

While she was showing it to me and our friend, Libby, the three of us talked about how the kindle may change publishing forever. You can download a book for less than $10 versus an average of $17 for a new hardcover. It's lightweight - no breaking your back carrying a bunch of books with you.

But what about the illustrations of a picture book? The cover art? The smell of the paper? The feel of that book in your hands? There is something intimate about a book - curling up with it, just you and the characters, falling into the author's world - can you feel that way with the generic look and cold feel of a Kindle? I haven't tried it, so I can't answer that, but I do know that I hate reading books on my computer. I read it differently, more mechanically or something, than I do when I am holding the paper in my hands.

Video didn't kill the radio star; audio didn't kill the book when it became popular- nor did the penny press kill literary works as predicted when it brought literature to the masses. But, yeah, Kindle could kill the profits. Publishers may resort to only printing the classics, the proven sellers. Why spend the money to print a new release in hardcover when you can spend less and wait to see if it will be a seller on Amazon? And perhaps this will cause a re-kindling (pun intended) of the picture book industry when money once spent on hardcovers is freed up. (I mean, I don't care how cheap it is to publish work on the internet, no parent is going to let their baby drool all over a Kindle while reading a picture book, right?)

Let's look into the future for a moment though. Imagine the world of books has been diminished to the 'classics' and mass quantities of books downloaded onto mass quantities of Kindles.

Now imagine a mega virus has wiped out all that is Internet, machines have been trashed and discarded, life as we live it now has been destroyed.

Okay, now fast forward a century or two later, when someone like Tally from Scott Westerfield's Uglies is wandering the abandoned city streets of Old America. What will she find? An abundance of books like Moby Dick, The Odyssey, and The Scarlet Letter, perhaps The Outsiders and Good Night Moon - but none representing our time right now or our tomorrow. Whole generations of books will be gone forever. How sad that Tally won't be able to read the brilliance of today's and tomorrow's authors because their work is trapped inside a broken piece of plastic, accessible no more.

So, will the Kindle kill the publishing house? For the sake of our dystopian future, let's not let it. Let it be an industry tool, an industry advancement, but not an industry end.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Why Attend a Writer's Conference?

I leave Thursday for the SCBWI National conference in LA. Inevitably when I tell someone I am going to a Writer’s Conference, they ask “So do you bring your manuscript around and give it to agents and editors?” And when I say “No. In fact that is a sure-fire way not to get published,” the response is usually, “So, why go?”

Why? Because:

The first writer’s conference I attended was the 2000 Write on The Sound conference in Edmonds, WA. It wasn’t specifically children’s writing, but it did have sessions on YA and it was in Edmonds, where my sister lives, so it worked for me. Even though several of the sessions I sat in on were about writing I didn't necessarily plan on writing - memoirs, magazines, nonfiction - I learned a wealth of knowledge about the business and even more about the market. But the most significant thing I came away with were contacts - I met so many people, writers like me, that I could stay in touch with via email. This actually shocked me. This networking thing. I had always been (and still am!) the shy one – never speaking to someone until spoken to, afraid of social situations because I didn't know what to say – and yet, there I was talking to people about writing, my writing, and talking to them about their writing. So why go? BUSINESS and MARKET INFORMATION and NETWORKING.

I went the following year to the same conference – this time submitting a manuscript for critique. It was scary. It was one thing to have friends or classmates in workshop read it, but have an actual publishing professional read it and comment on it? YIKES!! The experience was amazing. My writing grew in leaps and bounds just from that one critique. As I started attending more conferences, I made it a point to always submit something; in my opinion, it is a wasted opportunity if you don't. You’ll never make it out there if you don’t let those who work out there read your stuff. So, why attend? CRITIQUES

That next year I also attended my first SCBWI National conference. It was February, 2002. Five months after September 11th; five months after the birth of my third child. I traveled all the way from Alaska, by myself. And it was NEW YORK CITY. It was hard to leave my newborn, hard to go to New York after the terrorists had devastated it, hard to go alone, but I had a completed manuscript I was ready to publish and I wanted to meet editors and agents. So I went. I listened to editors talk about what they liked, what they were looking for, what to do and not to do – and the best part was many of them were handing out “golden tickets” – the opportunity to submit to them as a conference attendee even though they were closed to unagented, and/or unsolicited submissions. So why attend? SUBMISSION OPPORTUNITIES.

Coming back from that New York conference, however, I also realized that despite those golden tickets I held in my hand, my manuscript wasn’t ready to submit, mot yet. I had listened to what those editors were saying about common mistakes and I had committed most of them in my novel. Time to revise.

We moved to Michigan shortly after that and I found A WRITING COMMUNITY, something I hadn’t had in Alaska. (Alaska has a SCBWI, but in case all you in the lower 48 didn't realize, Alaska is a pretty big place. Very spread out. Hard to get together. Although they do try!) I found in the Michigan SCBWI an awesome group of writers who kept in contact through conferences, a very active list serv, summer schmoozes (thanks to Shutta Crum!), and various author support events like book launches. I attended my first Michigan conference, got hooked up with their list serv, and found a critique group – the same group I am with now, six years later. That again moved my writing up volumes.

So, to recap, why go to a writer’s conference if you can’t chase an editor into the elevator and sling your novel at her? For Business & Market Information, Networking, Critiques, Submission Opportunities, a Writing community, and let's not forget FUN!!

I promise to blog about what I took away from this conference, but it won't be until mid-August. The day after I get back from LA I will be heading on a quick vacation with my husband and kids to Cedar Point and Put-In Bay (okay, not sure if that's how you spell it; I can spell Koyukuk and Matanuska and Ninilchik, but not so sure about those Ohio names!)

Hope to see some of you in LA!!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

You Can't Hide Those Writer-eyes

My 16 (and a half) year old daughter left this week for a ten day CSI:Forensic Science seminar at John Hopkins University. The ten day camp is her first experience with college life - living in a dorm, sharing a bathroom with three roommates she doesn't know, on her own with meal cards and room keys to keep track of, a schedule to keep, etc.

We flew with her to Baltimore to help her settle in to her dorm. I saw her excitement as she unpacked her things into her wardrobe closet and desk. I saw the apprehension when she realized there was only one toilet and shower to share between four girls. I saw the nervous fear as we kissed her good-bye and left her on her own. And, I hear the homesick, lonely edge in her voice when she calls. She's experiencing the social and emotional woes of a college freshman as a high school junior, and I can't do anything but tell her it will all be okay. It breaks my heart to know that I can't be there to help her or give her a hug.

But I am so using this in a future novel. What a great set-up for a mystery or coming-of-age plot, don't you think?

My writer-eyes see potential everywhere I go. I can't help it. So often I hear people say they have nothing to write about, and I can honestly say that is not a problem for me. Everyday life puts us into situations that can become part of a great plot later down the line. These experiences don't make a plot by themselves necessarily, but they can inspire a storyline, enhance a character or drive a plot in a new direction. All you have to do is take the time to observe them - and as an added bonus, observing them through your writer-eyes can also save your sanity - something I realized on my way to Baltimore.

While sitting in the Detroit airport waiting for our flight, I found myself getting very annoyed with my kids. We'd arrived way early, like two hours early (I wasn't sure how many people would be in that security line so I thought early was better) and they were already stir crazy from weeks of being together at home, let alone *TRYING* to behave in an airport terminal. As I sat there getting increasingly irritated by their behavior, I decided to take off that mom-hat and put on my writer-hat. This is how that hat-switch saved my sanity:

When my ten year old shoved three pieces of Hubba Bubba bubble gum into his mouth and then blew a bubble so big that when it popped, it connected his mouth to the food container he was holding with a thick pink string at least six inches long - I laughed rather than yelled.

And when he played the *Random game with me every time I asked him a question, I made random statements too. (*he and his younger sister play this by stating random things either in answer to a question or as an ongoing conversation. The point is to sound the most sincere, as if you actually make sense, while, saying some ludicrous, nonsensical thing, like "The elephant is pink." "Yeah, but I ate the frog." "Run to the hills." "Jack Frost is an amoeba", etc, etc.) As I played along, I started thinking, "I could use this . . . "

When I visited the restroom with my seven year old twenty-two times in 45 minutes (I assure you, that is no exaggeration) I tried to note things about the bathroom and those using it each time I visited. Like the five year old who informed his mother he would not eat any salad today because it gives him gas, or the woman who slid on a wet section of the floor and went careening, head first, into the toilet. That was rather scary, I have to admit, and as we made sure she was okay, I couldn't help thinking, "What if she had hit her head?" Which then led to "What if she'd hit her head and passed out and while she was passed out someone stole her purse and her boarding pass? And when she came to she had no memory of who she was or where she was going?" That scenario actually kept me going for quite a while.

As did the dark hotel we arrived at when we finally got to Baltimore. We arrived around seven that night in the middle of a thunderstorm. After trying to contact the hotel's free airport shuttle by phone for almost an hour while standing outside in the rain with very agitated, restless children, I decided to scratch the shuttle and grab a cab. I was glad I did. The power was out at the hotel. Ever check into a pitch dark hotel? It's a very eerie feeling.

The staff was standing around with glow-sticks and flashlights. Several patrons stood huddled in the lobby. Since it was now almost nine pm, I asked if there was any way we could check in. I was told they could put us in a room, but we would have no keys until the electricity came back on (the van driver let us in with a master key) and would have to take the stairs (very dark, service stairwell, led by the key master aka van driver). So armed only with a glow-stick to light the way, we did just that. I sat in the pitch black hotel room with my three kids and our little glow-stick (my husband was meeting us the next day) for the next hour, waiting for the power to be restored. It was a freaky, scary hour, but the whole time my mind was spinning with ways to make that part of a story.

The point I am hoping to make here is: when you are in need of inspiration or are stuck with an area of your plot and unsure how to proceed - drop your hat, arm yourself with the question, "What if?" and step out of your box. You may be surprised what you find lurking around you when you let yourself view life through your writer-eyes.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Yes, I'm a Pathetic Blogger or Summer Sucks for Mom's Who Write

Okay, yes. I see that my last post was May 20th. Today is July 11 - what is that, like 52 days ago? I admit it. I suck. I'm pathetic. Whip me now. Throw wet towels and whip cream pies at me. I have no business saying I have a blog when there is no blogging going on.

Can you forgive me?

I have no legit excuse except that life has continued to happen and I have been way behind in everything - writing and blogging included. I am still trying to figure out how people who work outside of their homes get the housework done since I work IN my home and can't seem to find time to get it clean, let alone find the time to write, read and blog!

Summer seems to be when I find the most inspiration for my writing, and yet it is the busiest time of my year with the kids home and I can't seem to find the time to work on those inspirational thoughts.

Anyway, I thought I would write a quick blog-apology and leave you all with a photo of author Jacqui Robbins at her July 7 launch party for TWO OF A KIND. My daughter bought the first copy sold and was all smiles.

I promise to be less of a stranger this summer!
Happy writing!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Musings of Second Graders

Often at conferences, I hear writers say that if you want to make your characters' dialogue authentic, you should eavesdrop on conversations of kids and teens. I have also heard writers complain that they don't have access to kids and teens and find this hard to do. I guess I am lucky in that regard; I have a constant feed from three distinct age groups: 16, 10, and 7.

So, for those less fortunate than I, I thought I'd share some random things I heard yesterday while traveling to and from Jackson on a field trip with my second grade daughter's class:

**Please note, they were studying colonial times and were all dressed in 1800 garb, so keep that in mind if some does not make sense.

BOY 1: I would not be a girl, that bonnet would mess up my hair.
BOY 2: My hair would be CRAZY! (messes up hair)
BOY 1: (giggles) No, like this. (messes up his hair)
BOY1: If both my arms were cut off, I could get robot arms.
BOY 2: Robot, Robot.
BOY 1: And I would have lollipops come out of my elbows.
BOY 2: I'd have water guns in mine. (Burps then giggles)
BOY 1: (giggles at burp also)
BOY2: I like to burp.
BOY 1: I like to fart.
(giggles from both)
BOY 2: I'd have fart gas come out of my arms.
GIRL 1: Gross! Did you hear what he said? He wants farts to come out of his arms!
GIRL 2: Ewww!
BOY 1: (annoyed, corrective tone) Out of his robot arms!
BOY 2: Yeah, so I could stink you up!
GIRLS: Ewww!

BOY 1: My stomach is eating itself! Are we there? (looks in lunch) Mmm, beef jerky. (to BOY 2) Do you have Dragon Ball-Z? Or Ben 10?
BOY 2: For DS?
BOY 1: PSP is way better than DS. You can download movies, go on the internet, wi-fi.
BOY 2: DS can do wi-fi.
BOY 1: But it can't download movies.
BOY 2: What movies?
BOY 1: Any.
BOY 2: Which ones?
BOY 1: Any I want.
BOY 2: Like what?
BOY 1: I don't know. I'm not allowed. Ugh, my stomach is eating itself again! When will we be there?

GIRL 1: Hey, **(Boy 1 name withheld) are you in love with **(name of girl withheld)?
BOY 1: No! Why do you help her chase me?
GIRL 1 (ignores Boy 1 and says to Girl 2): He is in love with her.

BOY 1: My stomach ate itself five times. I will die! This museum will kill me. Why can't we go fishing?

That concludes my quick peak into the dialogue of second graders for now. This is only a ten minute snip-it of the non-stop conversation that occurred in the 45 minutes it took to drive there. I could write the entire thing, but I won't! And I assure you, Boy 1 did not die, nor was his stomach actually eating itself!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Newberry According to My 10 year old

My 10 year old son was reading The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin in his Lit Circle at school. As it is one of those books that I hear about all the time, have been meaning to read, but have never actually read (yes, I know, even after getting my MA in Children's Lit I am not fully literate in the 'classics' of children's books!), I was interested to hear what he had to say about it.

After the first few pages, he complained that it was boring. I thought, okay, he's reading it and the fifth Percy Jackson book at the same time. Hard to compete with Rick Riordan, Newberry medal or not. But as he continued reading it, his dislike grew. I have never had to force my son to read anything (well, okay, that's not true. In first grade he wouldn't read any of the fiction stories his teacher gave him - he only read non-fiction - so I did force him to read a Magic Tree House book to get him into some fiction that had non-fiction elements, and I boast, it worked!) but I had to make him sit down and read The Westing Game, even threatened to (gasp!) take away Percy Jackson if he didn't.

When he'd finally finished, I asked him "So, what was it about?"
His answer: "I don't even know. It was so boring, Mom. You would fall asleep. I bet everyone fell asleep reading it. They probably said 'hey this book is boring. It put me to sleep. Let's give it a Newberry. ' They give all the boring books Newberrys."

I quickly pointed out that Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book won it this year, which my son enjoyed. But, I had to laugh at his comment because I'd heard it before. My oldest daughter had said basically the same thing when she was in fifth grade. She was assigned Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins and hated it. In fact, after that book, she wouldn't touch another that had that pretty gold seal on it. To her, Newberry award = boring.

Before I continue, let me say that I am not putting down any Newberry book. I am not saying The Westing Game, Island of the Blue Dolphins, or any other Newberry winner is boring. That being said, I bet if we had children doing the choosing, the winners would be vastly different.

It sort of comes down to that age-old argument of literary versus commercial, reading for education versus reading for pleasure, writing to enlighten versus writing to appease the masses. Children's books, although written for children, are not published, purchased, or awarded prizes by children. As parents, we try to oversee everything that our children put into their bodies and minds, and literature is no exception. Let them have that cookie (Goosebumps), but make sure they balance it out with some vegis (Old Yeller), right?

As an author that tends to write more on the cookie-side than the vegi-side of the spectrum, I would be a hypocrit if I fed my children only vegis. Too many kids HATE reading because they aren't allowed the cookies. Where is the fun in reading if you don't read what you enjoy?

But, the teacher-mom in me also sees the value in reading the vegis. I have a great many vegis I love - my BA is in English after all, which would have been torturous if I hadn't enjoyed reading all those classics. And for that reason, we have well-meaning adults rather than children choosing the Newberry and other literary prizes. Recently, those choices have come to reflect more of what kids are enjoying than what adults think they should be enjoying - which is how it should be - so I truly commend those who sit on the committees and make the tough choices.

I tried to tell my son all this, even launching into a history of the penny-press and the whole bad rep novels had when they first were introduced to the masses. I was met with glazed over eyes. I think that must be how The Westing Game felt when he was holding it in his hands. So I ended my lecture with a simple, "Everyone has different tastes. Your sister loves fairy books and you can't stand them, right?"

This was met with a grin and a nod and then he asked, "How many fairy books have won a Newberry? (groan) I hope we don't have to read them next." :)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ahhh, did you miss me?

As Staind would say, "It's Been Awhile . . ."

I wish I could say I've been tracking man-eating piranhas in the Amazon or ghost hunting in Gettysburg or even sipping wine while touring the ruins of Pompeii, but I can't. The only thing with teeth I've been tracking are my three children; the only ghosts I've been chasing exist in my plots; and the only ruins I sip wine in these days are the rooms of my sadly unkempt house.

My blog-absence is due in part to the business of life, but also I've been on a bit of a roller coaster with my writing of late. Writing is both exhilarating and depressing for me. I love the creative part of it: getting so involved with my characters that they are chatting with me while I make dinner or do the laundry, bugging me in my dreams, chastising me when I've left them stuck in a scene for too long. I love the revision process too: getting feedback from my peers, ripping apart my plots, adding layers to my characters, hacking away at unnecessary words and events. But the part that comes next - sending my work OUT THERE- can be so scary that sometimes I forget what I love about writing and consider quitting.

Writing is a personal thing. Like a child, even though you know your book is its own thing, you can't help but take its failures and accomplishments personally. For this reason, it is sometimes very difficult to separate yourself from it and see that the person rejecting it is not rejecting you. Through the years, I have mastered that ability. I have a thick skin. I can take criticism and process it, find the value in it and apply it to my writing. Yet still, rejection is rejection, and after enough of it, you can't help but question your abilities.

I have never been very confidant. I guess if you wanted to psycho-analyze me, you could say it stems from my visual impairment and the inability to do things most people take for granted - like driving. I so often feel like a failure as a mom because I can't drive my kids to and from school, to and from practice and games and birthday parties like every other mother. Instead, I have to coordinate cabs or buses or walking routes or rides with other moms. Sure, people in places like New York do that all the time, but here, everyone drives. So when I show up at flag football carrying a car seat in the pouring rain, I get weird looks from the rest of the parents while they sit in their dry cars. I tell you this not for sympathy - I hate the sympathy - but to show you how idiotic my mind is. Who cares if I show up two hours early for a baseball game because of the shortened Sunday bus schedule? I honestly don't mind the walking or the getting there early (well my kids do I guess) but I still feel like a failure because I'm not like everyone else.

This feeling often carries over into my writing. I see so many others successfully making it in the published world and I think: what is wrong with me? Am I kidding myself? Am I that idiotic mom standing in the rain while everyone else looks on and thinks I have no clue?

The answer is no. Or should be no. I should be saying who cares? Who cares what one person thinks about my writing? Writing is subjective; one man's best seller is another man's stinkbomb - look at the varying opinions among friends in a book club. But even though I know this, every once in a while, rejection threatens to bring me down. How can it not? We all need reassurance that we are okay. We all want someone to tell us we're capable. We're social, emotional creatures, right?

So, how does a writer keep that rejection-downer at bay?
Other writers.
Yes family can rub your ego, but only another writer who has been there, felt that, can truly empathize. I have a great group of writer friends who have all pulled me up by my boot straps (well, flip-flops) the past month or so, brushed off the rejection, put the pen in my hand and shoved me back into the game. I thank you all for that.

In fact, since I may not have much brain matter left when I do finally get published, here's a shout out to all of you on my triage team: Jen, Libby, Su, Patty, Jacqui, Todd, Diane, Katena, Sharon, Alicia, Viki, Steph, Kristin, LInda, and Renee. Thanks for being there always!

Okay, enough of the soap opera. I'm back and I promise not to let so long go between blogs!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ode To My Critique Group

In honor of Poetry Month, I thought I'd write an ode to my critique group.

(And Diane, our Queen of the Meter, and all you other poem-extraordinaries, I apologize in advance, for I know this only-one-stanza, slightly-stretched-rhyme, a-little-off-in-meter ode probably doesn't pass your poetry litmus tests!)


Writing is a lonely craft
Filled with rejection and doubt
But never do I feel daft
With my critique buds about.
Armed with coffee and a smile
You read with respect and poise:
Characters, plot, arcs, pace, style,
Bullies, bombs, and booger-boys.
Even when it's not quite working
You find something worth praising.
So let me raise my glass to thee
Oh awesome peeps of kid-story!

Love you guys! And don't worry - a book of poetry is definitely not on my horizon!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Literary or Commercial? Character or Plot-driven?

At conferences, I would always hear authors, agents, and editors talk about 'character-driven' versus 'plot-driven' stories. Character-driven are the stories where the character dictates the action, and the reader cares more about what happens to the character than what happens in general. More often than not, they are the stories that get labeled as 'literary'.

Plot-driven, on the other hand, often labeled 'commercial', are fast-moving. The plot, not the characters, dictate the action. Readers tend to care more about what is happening, than what is happening to a specific character.

This whole categorization between literary/commercial, character/plot-driven used to bother me because as I would sit and listen, I'd always come to the same conclusion - I am more of a plot-driven writer, and that seemed to be wrong. Editors were always saying they wanted literary, character-driven stories, not plot-driven, commercial stories. I felt like I was somehow unworthy of publication.

When I paid a published author for a critique of one of my manuscripts several years ago, she drove the point home by saying: "This is too plot-driven and your characters under-developed; if your goal is commercial fiction, this is ready, but if you want to be published in any of the big NY houses, you have a lot of work to do." She went on to separate out her comments, based on whether I wanted to be a commercial or a literary author (the literary suggestions being the more lengthy of the two sections). My reaction was, "ugh, I must really suck if she thinks it's commercial" and I abandoned the story.

As I sit down now to begin revising that novel after some five years, I see what she was saying. I do agree with 99% of what she said (after all back then I was still quite the newbie writer) but I also think she missed the boat on the whole commercial vs literary separation.

First of all, who cares if it's commercial? That stuff sells; being commercial is not a bad thing. We all like to read a light book once in awhile, a quick read, especially after slogging through a heavy literary novel.

But more importantly, who says a book must be one or the other? I think you can have a literary AND commercial book. The suggestions she made based on whether I wanted to go the commercial or literary route, when combined, would make a brilliant book.

Too often people equate 'literary' with 'quiet' and 'internal', downplaying the plot - they think you have to be writing in a first person narrative with lots of internal dialogue for it to be good, worthy stuff .

It doesn't.

Plot is not a dirty word. I love plot. I love having things happen on the sidelines, seemingly unrelated to the story, and then having all the strands meet in one big catastrophic collision. I love planting seeds that sit quietly growing underneath the surface or that tumble gently along between scenes, unnoticed, until BAM! They pop into the picture, sending things stumbling out of control. What better way to orchestrate these sideline events or plant these seeds than through the development of your characters? I love creating characters who make choices that send everything into a tailspin - choices you know as the reader, were wrong, but you also know were the only choice that character could have made.

In my opinion, that's literary AND commercial. That's what I like to read, and that's want I want to strive for in my writing. So the next time I hear someone ask "literary or commercial? Character or plot-driven?" I think I'll just smile and say, "Yes, please."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Deciding What To Write -- Revisited

Okay, so after my last post I was all gung-ho. I was going to stay with what I was writing, see it through to the end, stick with what I was passionate about, what I was hearing in my heart. And I did - I wrote two more chapters and was really getting back into it.

Then . . . I received the March 2009 issue of HipLit, HarperTeen's e-newsletter featuring new books, series, etc. I read about a new series they are releasing that sounds WAY too similar to my book. UGH! In an already saturated market, I am afraid I don't stand a chance with my plot as is.

Thus, I have decided to shelve my manuscript - at least until I can come up with a way to make my plot drastically different than anything out there right now. In the mean time, I think I will focus on my MG ghost story that has been sitting patiently awaiting revision for about five years!

So, I bid farewell (for now) to Simon and Kat in Wendigo Blood, and say hello to Julia in Nana's Ghost. Please, no tears or dirges, they will return again - I can never leave my stories shelved for too long!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Deciding what to write

Over the past few weeks I have been a bit stuck. It isn't writer's block exactly because I have several things I could be writing. My problem is which one I should be writing.

I had been revising a novel that I am passionate about - in love with the plot, the characters, the new twists I've built in to the old plot, etc. Problem?

I went to Barnes and Noble and saw how many paranormal/urban fantasy books are out there right now. I think my story is unique, but is it unique enough to stand out from an already saturated market?

I don't know, so . . . now I am stuck. Should I continue writing it and not worry about the market that may not be there when I complete the novel? Or should I instead work on the MG ghost story I also could be revising? Or, how about the two plots I have outlined using the characters of the novel I just finished? But, there again, do I even want to delve into the whole series thing when I don't know if that book will even get published? Nothing like spending time writing a series of books about characters no one cares about.

When I sit down to write everyday, I start asking these questions, and I end up in the same argument with myself:

Inner Me: Write what is calling to you right now; what you are passionate about right now; don't worry about the market.

Me: But with limited writing time, I'd hate to be spending hours and days and months on something that potentially will go nowhere.

Inner Me: So, you're in this just to get published?

Me: Heck no, but that is a goal, nonetheless, and I'd like to be working on something I am passionate about AND is marketable, you know?

Inner Me: Yeah, I see your point.

Me: ??? !!!

Any suggestions to resolving this uncertainty? Advice? Words of wisdom? Anyone? Anyone?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


I think Tom Petty said it best: "The waiting is the hardest part . . ." Of course, he wasn't referring to the publishing industry, but the sentiment is the same no matter what you're waiting on.

I've done my fair share of waiting in my forty-something years of life (yes, I can say forty-something now, can't I?) I've waited for buses, waited for grades, waited for guys to get a clue. The hardest waiting has come as an adult: waiting to hear if I graduated, waiting to hear if I'd been hired, waiting to give birth, waiting to hear if a sick child is okay. The worst always occurs each time my husband gets deployed to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc . . . sitting by the phone, afraid to leave and live my life each day for fear I will miss that coveted phone call from him, or waiting to hear he is okay when I slip up and read the newspaper or hear a news story or don't hear from him in a few days. Thank God I haven't had to deal with THAT kind of waiting this year.

But, waiting to hear from an editor or agent (or both as is my case right now) can be almost as excruciating. My imagination runs wild each time a day goes by without hearing anything. I imagine one of them reading my manuscript and saying "this is awesome" and the next minute, I imagine a less desirable reaction like, "wow, is she serious? She can't write!" - when the reality of it may be, they haven't even read it yet. Perhaps it is the lack of a deadline that sucks so bad. At least when my husband was deployed, I had a date range to focus on most of the time. But, with publishing, they could say three weeks, and three months could go by before hearing anything.

I try to put myself in their shoes. They are busy people with many manuscripts to sort through, projects they are responsible for editing, conferences and meetings and deadlines of their own to attend to - my one manuscript is not on their minds like it is on mine.

It's kind of like the long lines at Disney World. Us riders, like us writers, wait for eighty minutes in a long crowded line for our thirty seconds of thrill, complaining on the wait, the dead time. But those Disney employees running the rides, like the editors and agents, are working their butts off, running each and every one of those thrills for those in line. They are responsible for all of the trips that roller coaster makes around the track, not just the one each of us riders/writers are taking part in.

So, I tell myself these things and I try to be patient while I stand in that line. I try to focus on other things, work on my new book, or re-edit the manuscript I've sent off (cringing as I find new mistakes, cliches, weakly written spots that I now know eventually they will be reading too!) because I know that when us writers do hear from an editor or agent, that thirty seconds of thrill is so worth it. We scream; we cheer; we're exhilarated.

And yes, when we come back to earth again, we do walk back to the end of the same line or search out a new one, because even though that endless waiting is the hardest part, the ride is so worth it!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Writers and Imaginations

As a writer, I find possible plot ideas in everything from crazy dreams to news articles to childhood memories to things that occur in my own children's lives. It may be a a really cool setting I stumble upon while traveling or some oddball character I run into, even a song on the radio - anything and everything can trigger an idea for me. Something really tragic can have occurred, and my writer's voice is busy weaving it into a plot. I know this is true for most writers, but I thought I was the only one in my immediate family who thought this way until last week:

As I do every day, I met my two youngest kids at the bus stop after school. As soon as my son got off the bus, he launches into a story about the creepy substitute bus driver. My son tells me how this guy kept staring at him and his friends; how, once the driver realized he'd been caught staring, he donned a baseball cap and pulled it down, but the kids still knew he was staring, etc.

Now, the mom in me starts thinking : Should I be concerned? Is this guy a pervert? Does he have a criminal record?

While the writer in me is thinking: Maybe he's an alien come to earth to study humankind? Maybe he's an operative trying to get some govt. secret from one of the kids' parents? Maybe he is an escaped convict planning on taking kids hostage to clear his name . . .

These two different lines of thought are streaming through my mind all while my son is telling me his story. My daughter, who has also been listening to my son's story (and who, BTW, was also on the bus but must have been oblivious to the incident) suddenly stops walking and cries: "That's it! That's how the Bettys' can be murdered! On the bus!" and with that, she takes off flying down the sidewalk, backpack slamming against her little legs, rushing to get in the house to write down her new plot idea in her notebook.

What can I say? She is so like me . . .

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Books of my Childhood

Today my youngest daughter (sick home from school) snuggled up on the couch to read Ruth McNally Barshaw's Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen Will Travel for about the millionth time. I had the thought that when she is an adult, that book, and its follow-up Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School which she has read just as many times, will definitely be on the list of books she remembers as influencing her life. It made me think about my own long list of influential books - not the books that are toted on listservs and in children's lit classes as the 'classics' (although many of mine may very well be on those lists too) - but the books that I remember so vividly it could have been yesterday that I read them.

Here's my list in a timeline of sorts:

My earliest memories of books include Julius Lester's retelling of the Uncle Remus'/Adventures of Brer Rabbit, Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon, and a book with squirrels in a tree that I can't remember the title of, but can still see the illustrations in my mind.

As I moved into being a reader, I enjoyed books like E. L. Konigsburg's From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (which I also couldn't remember the title of for the longest time, but the images I had created in my mind when reading this were so vivid; when I described to a friend a few years ago how I'd read this book about running away and hiding out in a museum, she knew exactly what book I was referring too!), Betty MacDonald's Miss Piggle Wiggle books, Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Little House Books, Hitchcock's Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Series, Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew Mysteries, Frank Dixon's Hardy Boys Mysteries ( and the TV show too; who couldn't resist Shaun Cassidy as Joe Hardy?) and Eleanor Cameron's Mushroom Planet series. The Mushroom Planet books introduced me to sci-fi fantasy and I remember reading Madeline L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time soon afterwards, followed by A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

The first 'big' novel I read was Louisa May Alcott's Little Women when I was in fourth grade. My mom had a bookshelf full of classics and I still remember the beautiful binding on this book. It was around this time that I also started pilfering my grandparents' bookshelf when we'd spend summers at their house on Hoods Canal in Union, WA. My grandma read mysteries and gothics and I think I read every single Dorothy Daniels book and Phyllis A Whitney book out there.

As a teen, YA wasn't real marketable like it is now, so I had few teen books to choose from. I read some Judy Blume and stuff like Goodbye Paper Doll by Anne Snyder and Blind Sunday by Jessica Evans, but mostly I was reading 'adult' books by now. I remember Christmas in fifth grade we were at my aunt's house in Arcadia, CA. She gave me a Stephen King box set with Night Shift, The Shining, Salem's Lot and I think Carrie. I of course started with Salem's Lot late one night while sleeping on her couch in the living room. Her radiator hissed like a vampire every time it came on, freaked me out so bad I could not sleep, but I didn't put that book down. I finished it by the next night and started right in on The Shining!

Around seventh grade, I began reading classics like George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'urbervilles and Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. Around the same time I discovered Jane Austen, reading everything she wrote over and over (still do!), and Mark Twain, as well as Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Golding's Lord of the Flies, and Knowles' A Separate Peace.

This list could go on forever - I read non-stop growing up, and there are thousands of authors and probably a million books and short stories I've left out. But what I have listed represents what always comes to mind first when I think about growing up. I can't wait to fast-forward twenty years and hear what my kids list off as their literary repertoire.

In the meantime, what's yours?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ode to Sisterhood

I've had one of those weeks - you know the type - when everyone is telling you what to do and what you're doing wrong? Except, I'm an adult, so I'm supposed to be thinking for myself. Anyway, I was about ready to retreat into a hole, when my younger sister Michele emailed me. She'd read my blog bio and was commenting on how she too loves Don McLean's American Pie, and shares that impressive party skill of knowing lyrics and artists of any song that comes on the radio.

It got me thinking about all the things we used to do as kids, and I was lifted from my reality for a while. I decided to share a few of those memories here as a sort of Ode to My Sisters (only without the lyrical poetic format that Keats would write.)

We grew up way out in the rural outskirts of Fairbanks, Alaska in Musk Ox subdivision (seriously, that 's what it was called). Now it is sprawling with houses, but then it was sparsely populated. We had nothing but wilderness and a few neighbors for miles. So, what could three girls possibly do to keep busy out in the boonies?

- took turns being Wonder Woman, pushing down the dead but still standing trees with our awesome super hero strength. We did the same when we played "Oh Mighty Isis" with an old silver Buddha medallion my mom had in her jewelry box.

- searched for fairies and gnomes under the big orange toadstools that grew wild all over our property. One of us always spotted a gnome or pixie, but we could never quite catch it!
- played Little House On The Prairie for hours outside. My sister Marianne was Mary, and I of course with the appropriate name and birth order was always Laura. Michele was Carrie.
- would try to scare each other by making up things we'd seen. We fooled Michele once into believing we'd gone through a time warp while walking along the power line. We actually had just turned our watches ahead, but she believed us and freaked. Another time I soaked a ripped rag in red food coloring and got everyone thinking there was a mass murderer in the woods somewhere. That mystery lasted for weeks!
- played chemist, mixing any liquids we could find. Luckily for us, we never actually mixed anything that caused a chemical reaction!
- played astronauts (well Michele and I did anyway) with our big winter 'moon' boots every morning while waiting for the school bus.
- played radio station. We would record ourselves being the DJ and playing records. We even recorded our own music. My niece Nikki (Michele's daughter) still has a recording of my infamous original "Here Come the Mosquitoes" - one of these days I will confiscate that tape!
- made sno-cones, or I should say, 'snow' cones, with snow and Coke, sometimes maple syrup. It was good.
- dug a pool for our Barbies. It didn't work though. The dolls ended up taking mud baths.
- used to sled using a huge piece of clear plastic from the top of our property where our house was, down the cliff, across the road, and into the deep ditch on the other side. It's a really good thing there were few cars around!
- somersaulted off the top of the kitchen counter onto our bean bag - well until Marianne missed and smacked her head.
- played jail in the unfinished workroom next to Marianne's bedroom. There was a hole at the top of the ceiling where we could fit a pail attached to a rope. We locked Michele in the room and lowered food and dolls and such down to her - the game ended when she had to go to the bathroom and we discovered the lock was broken. We couldn't unlock the door. A friend of my mom's had to come all the way out and take the door off just to get her out. OOOPS! (I think she had to pee in that bucket too while she waited)
- pretended we were Olympic badminton players. That actually carried over to several years later when we sold the house and moved into the city. There was an annoying girl that MIchele tried to avoid, so when we heard her coming down the street, we'd pick up our racquets and say we were practicing for the Olympics.
I could go on and on - but I won't. I just wanted to say that it wasn't just books and radio that kept me occupied and fueled my imagination growing up - my sisters had a huge hand in that as well. And someday, when I do get published, readers will see a lot of these things in the books I write - sorry Michele and Marianne, there's just too much good stuff to let it go to waste!

Monday, February 2, 2009

I've Been To Jarrett's . . . and other thoughts on the 2009 SCBWI NYC Conference

Not the jewelry store, but still a gem, I was really inspired (once again) by Jarrett Krosoczka's speech at the SCBWI mid-winter conference in NYC this weekend. He has a way of capturing the peaks and valleys that writers feel, putting them out there for all to see, and then giving us the chance to laugh at ourselves. His film at the SCBWI conference in LA a few years ago was hilarious, and he topped it this weekend. (I think you can see the films on his blogsite

I was also really inspired by Bruce Hale's speech. He is an awesome speaker, always getting the laughs, but still cutting through to the heart of what writing for children means. He mapped out 8 ways to make your writing shine: hook, beauty, humor, holding up a mirror, making kids squirm, truth, going the extra yard, and write what you love. I may actually type them up and post them on my desk along with the quote, "Where's the Heart?" (which he quoted from Michael Stearns) as a reminder when I'm stuck.

Besides being inspired by all the speakers, what did I take away from this conference?

I bought four books 13 Reasons Why, Prince of Underwhere, The Teacher's Funeral, and I am Not Joey Pigza (I will read all of them after I have finished The Lightning Thief which my son has been begging me to read - he even checked it out at his school library for me so I'd read it next!)

Also, I came away with a perspective on my writing and how agents and editors fit into that perspective. When I go to conferences and critiques, I often feel like I am on some reality show - a cross between American Idol and the Bachelor, perhaps with a little Survivor thrown into the mix. The editors are the Simons, the Randys, the Karas, and the Paulas, the agents are the Bachelor/Bachelorettes, while myself and a billion other writers just like me are the Idol hopefuls and throng of women screaming "pick me, pick me!" Sometimes I worry that I am one of those poor misled contestants who think they can sing, belting out Muddy Waters in an off-key opera voice while dressed like Mary Poppins. Do people read my stuff and say "what the . ." just as we all do about these poor fools?

Okay, I trust my writing and my critique group and writing friends enough to know that, no, I am not one of those poor misled fools. I am a good writer. So sure, let's say I would be in amongst the lucky lot who are chosen to go to Hollywood or chosen to woo the Bachelor. But then what? Would I stand out amongst all the other good writers?

The truth? I don't know. I get to the point where I am so used to my own writing, it doesn't look fresh and shiny anymore. But, I believe that if I put all I have into it, somebody will notice it . . eventually.

This weekend I watched an agent get moderately mauled as he left the ballroom after his speech. Writers shoved manuscripts and business cards at him while pitching their stories. As he politely untangled himself from them and moved on, I was truly reminded of the Bachelor (okay, yes, sadly I do watch it - I could lie and tell you that it is because he is from Seattle and Seattle is like a second home to me so I feel compelled to watch, or that I am character-gathering for my books, but really I just find it fascinating that women could go on television and compete for a guy like that.)

Anyway, while I watched this agent peel himself away from the masses, I was reminded of the Bachelor because the girls on that show throw themselves on the Bachelor in the same manner, doing anything they can think of to get his attention. But I have to wonder, once the Bachelor has sent the others home and he is dating those girls who pulled out all the gimmicks to get themselves noticed - are they happy with him? Or do they find themselves thinking - "wow, what have I gotten myself into?" Or even, "I don't even like this guy!"

Now I must add a disclaimer here, because this particular agent I am referring to is awesome and I don't want to imply otherwise. My point is that whether the agent or the bachelor, we tend to throw ourselves at the idea rather than the person. I have often heard that finding an agent is kind of like dating. You have to find the right one for you - but in the same breath, it is so hard to get anyone to look at your stuff, so maybe like those girls on the bachelor, any agent who will look will do, right?

I don't think so. Many times while listening to an agent talk I've mentally crossed him or her off my list, saying "no, not for me" - my husband thinks this is the wrong way to go about getting an agent. He feels I should get anyone that is willing to represent me. And yeah, in this day and age, I suppose I shouldn't be picky, but I am.

After attending years of conferences and listening to editors and agents speak, I have realized that:

a) if I can get an editor or agent to critique my work, I want a Simon, not a Paula, because inflated praise won't help me get published

and therefore

b) If I can get an agent to represent my work, I don't want someone just because he/she thinks my work is marketable. I want someone I whole-heartedly trust and respect, who I can share my vision with and he/she will not only understand that vision, but will work with me until it is perfect.

So, where does that leave me? Will I become like Jane Hayes in Shannon Hale's Austenland who keeps turning away relationships because she thinks Mr. Darcy will come through her door? Will I waste away to nothing, turning away agents and editors because they don't fit the bill?

Truthfully? No!

Let's face it, if someone said "hey this is awesome," I'd say "Yes, let's do it!" After all, I would hate to look like Harriet in Emma, turning away a suitable suitor because my sights are set too high, but I can tell you that I will send out my queries with a discerning eye, avoiding those I know just aren't the right fit. And I am an optimist. I know my Mr. Darcy of the agent or editor world is out there. Until then, I have nothing to do but write - oh, and clean. My Mr. Darcy of my romantic world was kind enough to hold the fort down while I was off to NYC for four days, but the fort needs some definite cleaning!

Wow, sorry this is so long! I didn't write for four days - I must be in withdrawals!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sweet 16 and Gothics

I spent last week planning my daughter's Sweet Sixteen party while also trying to immerse myself in Gothic horror for the novel I am currently writing. Thinking purple, lace, and roses on the one hand and dark, gloom, and mystery on the other seemed at first to contradict each other. As the week wore on, however, I found that the Gothic novel and the sixteen year old girl are actually very similar.

In the classic Gothic horror book you have the young heroine who after somehow being orphaned goes off to some old, Victorian style manor where she has either been employed at or has been offered residence at by some unknown benefactor. When she arrives, she is usually courted by the nice, clean-cut guy, while being tormented and seemingly stalked by the dark, mysterious stranger. Often, paranormal, frightening things take place while she is alone in the dark, scary manor, and while Mr. Clean Cut seems like the best bet for safety, she cannot help but be intrigued by Mr. Dark and Stormy.

The sixteen year old girl, while not orphaned, would sometimes like to think she is, especially when her family is not as exciting as, say, the Cullen family. She would gladly leave her safe, boring home to hang with Jacob on the reservation or flirt with Edward behind Bella's back. She would trade in her leggings and Converse tennies for a Victorian gown and heels if it meant sitting at a long table with Gargoyles overhead sharing a meal with a brooding, mysterious stranger.

When I came to this conclusion, I realized that giving her that Gothic experience may be my answer to the perfect Sweet Sixteen party- one that would be memorable, yet not cost $100,000 and a Ferrari. I decided to give her a little mystery and intrigue by throwing a Mystery Dinner party for her and her friends.

I found a company called My Mystery Party that sells mysteries for the party attendees to act out and solve as the night wears on. While I won't be making her an orphan or holding the party in a haunted manor, and Edward won't be coming to dinner (although he is more than welcome if Bella can spare him), my daughter will get to dress up in a semi-Victorian gown and pretend for the evening that she and her friends are stuck in the middle of a dark and gloomy mystery they must solve.

I'll let you know how it goes, but it should be fun. Now if I could just find some Gargoyles . . .

Monday, January 5, 2009

The New Year

I opened this blog space in August of 2008 after attending the SCBWI conference in LA. Everyone was talking about their blogs and Facebook pages, and I thought, "I could do that!" But here it is January 5, 2009 and I haven't once posted a blog!


Well, there was my novel - after three year's of it being in various stages of undress, I cracked the whip and worked on it, day in and day out, until I finished it. I submitted it to an agent on December 12th. Anytime I sat down at the computer and did something other than work on that novel, I felt like I was cheating on it. It had to get finished, and now that it has . . . well, I'm starting a blog aren't I?

Of course, I have also begun my next novel, and while I am in the beginning musings of this novel, I have the time to sit and play. But once I am off and running, that may not always be the case! For now, though, I will attempt to blog something, sometime.

I may not be the regular blogger like my fellow critique group members Jacqui Robbins and Diane Telgen, but I will try!

Another reason for not starting a blog was that I really wasn't sure what to blog about - I mean who wants to hear about how in love I am with my new Dyson DC117 vacuum cleaner? It is seriously awesome, but not something anyone necessarily wants to read about.

Or how I spent my Christmas break playing 39 Clues on the computer with my son and daughter? We didn't win any money - that would have been something to blog about for sure! But we had fun solving all the puzzles! (I cannot shoot ducks or fly a plane through loops by the way, my son had to get me through those levels.)

I guess most people come up with a theme to blog about . . .I'll try that in the future.

My resolution in the New Year (besides trying to write the best novel ever) : to blog about something, sometime in 2009!