And Now for Something Completely Different

Oh, Friends, what a week! I’m still hip-deep in the current draft of Holy Toast, and your manuscripts with their pretty little notes saying “read me! crit me!” are piling up in the inbox, but I had to stop the craziness to introduce a little bit of news.

First, the story I wrote for and sold to Boy’s Life magazine last year IS HERE!! It came out this week in the October issue, with gorgeous, funny, dark illustrations by Michael Slack. My contributor’s copies have already gotten dogeared from the boys schlepping them to school and back. (Okay, and me showing them to everyone I can.) The thought that yesterday over a mllion boys in America (and elsewhere) got the magazine that has my story in it makes me all goose-bumpley. How cool is that?Also cool was my son realizing that in addition to many of the characters’ names being those of his real-life friends, the narrator was HIM. (Although he is never named — it’s a first-person POV story.)

Ah, and for something completely different? THIS. Just to balance out the soccer mom-ishness of the Boy’s Life story.

Not a bad week, all told. *grin*

Making Literary Sausage

That’s what I’m doing this week – the first, rough, rushing-hectic-and-headlong through this WIP that has me by the throat and won’t let go until I finish. It’s ugly, it’s messy, and I don’t want to think too hard about what’s going into this draft (hence the sausage metaphor, thank you very much) and when I get done it will still be raw, unready, but it will be something.

Hmm. I’ll avoid sausage posts in the future. This one’s making me reconsider my lapsed vegetarianism. (You know, my dad used to make sausage on our kitchen counter when I was a kid, out of the deermeat he butchered on my swingset during deer season. Yes, and people still had to ASK why I was a vegetarian all those years. Brrrr.)

I love this part of writing, but I love all the other parts, too. The editing, the revising, the reading it aloud, the thinking, the long walks out here in the country when I get blocked and how those two miles can free my mind to secretly, subversively consider ways around plot trickery that I wouldn’t dream up this close to a keyboard.

It consumes me, this work.

All this to say, there have been many other blog posts in the past week that I wish I had written, posts I could have written if my manuscript would have given me time (it’s calling even now, I must post links quickly!). For instance, this excellent post about the San Antonio SCBWI conference by Vonna Carter (bonus: a picture of me and Shelli! Thanks, Vonna.). These posts on the Speak Loudly discussion about Laurie Halse Anderson’s excellent book and others – thanks, Shelli, Suzie, and so many others for speaking eloquently to this topic.

I have been reading, too. I finished The Duff – amazing, uncomfortable to read at times, breakneck pacing once I learned to live with my queasiness about Bianca’s, um, choices. Highly recommended for older teens. Also, Mockingjay a few weeks too late to squeee about it, but I loved it as well. I’m reading even more fairy tale/mythology stuff – including The Girl Who Married the Moon, and hundreds of traditional fairy tales, looking for that sliver I can pick out and turn into my next creative theme-tool. So many more – Dancing With Dead People, a memoir that so far reminds me of The Glass Castle, and Crank are next on the stack.

Now back to the writing. I cannot escape the WIP – this one’s funny, and poignant (to me at least) and deep, and maybe even controversial. What am I thinking? All this in middle grade? Maybe it’s for older middle grade. It’s got all sorts of Topics of Importance buried in there… and this sweet, real relationship between two brothers that reminds me so much of the way my older sister and I helped each other through The Divorce.

No one has a better job than this.

Writer Friends? Write well, write quickly.

Inspiration Springs Eternal

Oh, my. What a weekend! I traveled with a Writer Friend to San Antonio for the Southwest Texas SCBWI Editor’s Day (where I met Sarah Shumway from Katherie Tegen books/HC and Julie Hamm of Charlesbridge), and came back with my bags full of inspiration.

Sarah and Julie did a great job of presenting, of course, entertaining us with their wit and wisdom. But for me, the most meaningful part of the day was listening to Carmen Tafolla, San Antonio born writer/teacher/poet/storyteller/wisewoman. (If you don’t know who she is, check her – and her most famous poem – out.) She reminded me, in the two hours she shared her story and her vision of what it means to be a writer, why I got back on this pony two years ago.

I raced home, fully intent on putting the horse (creativity) back in front of the cart (the inner critic), sat down to the keyboard… and a story I thought had withered on the vine a year ago came back to life.

I have a schedule, people, and I’m going to have a finished draft by the end of October. I’ll tell you which one it’s going to be when I get to the end.

I hope you have as much inspiration in your lives this season, Writer Friends. And as much energy!

News: I had a poem accepted at an online literary journal. I’ll post about it when it goes live. Oh, and I *think* I may have a book out on sub soon… We’ll see. *throws one piece of confetti, looks around, throws one more*

Font Frenzy

I stumbled across this post by Betsy Lerner, the poet/agent/author who entertains daily on her fabulous blog. (Unlike SOME bloggers, who allow their blogs to languish and fade away without the slightest attention for weeks and weeks. *whistles innocently*) The comments are what caught my eye – all the ooh-ing and aah-ing over fonts.

Yep. Fonts.

Reading those impassioned mini-love letters decicated to fonts, I felt the same way I’ve often felt at home decorating parties, or when I inadvertently flip the TV to HGTV: bewildered and slightly ashamed.(Go ahead: imagine my ill-decorated house. Take your time.)

Should fonts be something I, as a writer, care about? Should I be agonizing not only over which words I use, but which fonts I use to show them to the world? When I first started reading those ubiquitous “What Not To Do in Your Query” blog posts years ago, they always said up front to use Times New Roman or Courier. My initial thought was, what’s Courier? And then, wait — there are thousands of fonts to choose from?

(Okay, I knew those fonts existed, I just didn’t know WHY. For third grade projects? For those Creative Memories people who, I must admit, scare me worse than the dentist?)

I’m a paper book kind of gal. I love the feel of a book, the cover, love to be able to crack the spine if I own it, read it in the bathtub — yes, every freaking night people, I am a bathtub reader — love to drip tiny bits of pasta sauce and chocolate fondue deep in the crevice, leaving a reminder that when I read that particular page, I was eating Belgian chocolate – you can still smell its higher-than-American milk solids there, on that page.

I love books.

And I’m sure, on some level, in that same way that I appreciate a gorgeously decorated home, or a particularly well-applied make-up job — while knowing that I do not have the skills to bring those things into my own lif without opening the checkbook and doodling in lots of zeroes — I love the deckled page, the quirky font, the gilt edge, as much as the next redneck in the trailer park. Maybe even a little more.

Of course, if the words on the page aren’t as beautiful, say, as Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere (Oh, Friends – rush out and buy it. So. Amazing.), then the most perfect font in the world can’t convince me to keep turning those pages.

Thoughts?

News: I’m off to a San Antonio SCBWI Editor’s Day this weekend, where I’m sure to meet lots of YOU, my Writer Friends. Hooray for real-life meet-ups!

I went to an amazing talk last weekend given by Andy Sherrod about “boy books” that opened my eyes to some startling mistakes I made when I was writing my own boy book. (Now I won’t have to make those mistakes again, joy joy. 😉

Other news? I’m about to start a New Novel. Writing one, that is. I’ve been reading a lot – but now it’s time to add to the canon. *snort*

Festival Season Begins!

I’ve lived my whole life within thirty miles of Austin, Texas. My French teacher in high school used to mourn that I’d become one of those insular hick housewives, popping out a half-dozen kids before I turned thirty in a trailer park on the outskirts of town. I’d like to think she wouldn’t be dismayed at the direction my life took ( although she’d probably smack me for turning down that acceptance to UT Law school. Hey, I never wanted to make any money to begin with) but you never know what success means to different people.

Anyway, I love living in Austin, even more since I threw myself into the writing scene. Where else can you casually meet these kinds of authors at a local high school? (I’m totes taking my 15 y.o. niece, who thinks I am some sort of superhero for securing her face time with her idols.) Of course, I won’t bother taking her to the Big Mama of all Festivals, The Texas Book Festival. That’s where I get my fangirl on, with hundreds of the most spectacular authors in the Universe showing up to do small-group panels, talks, signings, etc. If you hang out in the Congressional cafeteria long enough, you can even Watch Famous Authors Order Cheeseburgers.

The coolest part about these festivals? They are FREE. All you have to do is clear your weekend out, and it’s like going to one of the best writing workshops in the country, except this one takes place in a city with good weather, excellent Mexican food, and only a very few trailer parks on the outskirts.

And, no, I do not live in one of those… yet. So, Writer Friends. If any of you can wing your way down here to Austin, and need a non-trailerish launch pad for your Festival Fun… send me a quick note! The guest bedroom is as cheap as it gets. 😉

Sad News: My 12 y.o. terrier Sugar died unexpectedly on Friday. She was a grumpy little dog, fiercely protective of the kids (she guarded their cribs when they were babies) and prone to express her displeasure with well-placed carpet stains. We all loved her so.

OPP (Other People’s Plots)

I’ve spent a LOT of time recently critiquing my Writer Friends’ Works of Genius, and — while part of me thinks I should have been writing my own next Work of Genius — most of me knows it’s been time well spent. Every time I critique someone else’s manuscript, I get the chance to really read like a writer. When you do that — especially with an unpublished manuscript, that hasn’t been picked apart a billion times by professional editors — you learn something about what works and what doesn’t in your genre.

Recently, I’ve come to realize that I am surrounded by Writer Friends who have amazing Voice. Voice… Glorious Voice! Sure, the plotting and pacing may not be exactly perfect… but the Voice! Ah! Sing to me, my Children of the Night!

Um, back to the point. Lack of Voice has never been my issue. Like most pantsers (I’m a recovering pantser, actually. I’ve started plotting things out, after chucking enough manuscripts into the bin because of poorly-conceived and executed plots.), my issues are motivation… and plot.

So, I read this excellent article recently. I went to quite a few talks (local SCBWI meetings, etc.). And then I realized all those experts might actually know something. (I hate it when that happens.) All of a sudden, I’m not just reading my Writer Friends’ manuscripts with an eye for pacing and plot – I’m reading everything that way. I think — I hope — that by doing this now, in my in-between-new-novel time — I will be able to avoid a lot of the familiar sinkholes where I usually end up wallowing in my early draft days. So, I’ve decided that yes. Even though I hate slowing down to pick apart the books I’m reading, it’s a necessary step to making my work better.

Yes, I am down with OPP.

So, here’s my question:

You down with OPP?

PS – In other news, I’m working on two short fic pieces – one juvenile, one adult — and researching like mad for the new WIP. Once school starts, I’m going to hit the ground running. Woot! Who wants to read my oh-so-well-plotted first draft in November? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? LOL

Those Three Little Words: Rue The Day

How do I love Thee (my Writer Friends)? Let me count the ways…

“I love thee to the length and breadth… and way past the depth of stupidity of all those critics/agents/editors who do not INSTANTLY see and recognize your BRILLIANCE….” These are words every good Writer Friend should know and say, with some frequency, to her friends who are submitting their work. It’s in the job description!
(You know what I’m talking about. We writers have different “friend jobs,” different kinds of love we must show to our colleagues who are going through the fire with us. Read the manual.)

I hear a lot of talk about the necessity of being honest with one another, cutting through the BS, laying it all out there in critique and making sure our friends’ manuscripts are PERFECT and WORKS OF ART before they send them out to those editors/agents/contests.

Yes, yes, friends. We all must be cruel and honest with one another. But we also must be ready, willing, and able to share these three little words with one another: Rue the day.

As in, “Don’t worry, they’ll get theirs. They will RUE THE DAY they rejected your masterpiece. You’ll be the next Kate di Camillo, the next Jerry Spinelli, the next Nan Marino (did you know I LOVE her? Check out her blog) and then they’ll be DEVASTATED they made such a horrible, career-limiting mistake. *apply chocolate now; lather, rinse, repeat*

Okay, okay. We all know this talk may not be 100% honest. But the sentiment is, or should be. If it’s not appearing for you on your worst days, you need new Writer Friends — the kind who call you out of the blue (the best Writer Friends are slightly psychic) and say those three magic words.
I hope you have that kind of friend – I know I do! And I’ve needed them, even though my path has been way more sunlight than shadows for the last year or two.

If you do have those Friends? Make sure you show them all the love you can – and love them like a Mama Bear, even if their manuscripts seem like the runts of the litter from time to time. Who knows? Those runts sometimes grow up to be Wrinkles in Time.
And then those shortsighted people who rejected them? They will rue the freakin’ day.

End of sermon.

Note: One of my Very Best Writer Friends – Lindsey Scheibe –  who will be famous very soon, and then will blurb my books (also in the Friend contract), just signed with the lovely and insightful Mandy Hubbard of D4EO Literary. Hooray for Lindsey! And congratulations, Mandy. You must have a good picker.;) *throws virtual confetti*

If You Starve a Blog, Does it Die?

The answer, it seems, is no. Or this one would have perished weeks ago.

I didn’t mean to leave my Writer Friends hanging. It’s just that I’ve been busy revising novels, writing short pieces, and living a life.

Yes, one of those. I went on a road trip with the kids, and we had a blast. Was it bad that I kept thinking “I’m getting so much MATERIAL here!”every time we stopped somewhere cool? Come on, the World’s Biggest Pistachio? Enormous cave structures (Speleothems, or somesuch) shaped precisely like giant boobies? (According to my 10 year old son, naturally, who giggled his way through Carlsbad Caverns. You’ve never seen the ninth wonder of the world until you’ve seen it with a little boy who keeps whispering “nipples!’ every few minutes To be fair, I was thinking the same thing.)

We saw petroglyphs – which have already made an appearance in a short fiction piece this week — and sledded down the dunes at White Sands. We took pictures of badger tracks, and kangaroo rat tracks, and all sorts of other tracks in the early morning, and watched an evening storm that rolled in all around us, flooding the mountains, while we stood on the dry, silent dunes. Gorgeous.

My favorite moment was watching the “Dance of the Pour” at the bronze foundry in Shidoni, outside Santa Fe. A giant cauldron of molten metal splahing like lava all around? You know that’s going into something I write… someday.

So, that’s what I did on my summer vacation. Now, I’ll spend a few weeks revising some manuscripts I’ve got ready to polish, and send out a thousand small subs so I can get those little ego boo moments every now and again (to offset any possible rejections) and I’ll try to blog a bit more frequently. But who knows when life will start happening all around me again, and I’ll need to put down the keyboard and go build the moments that actually make books wonderful?

So… what did YOU do on your summer vacation?

White_Sands-101

Pickled Pig Feet

Writer Friends, I need your help. I signed up for a humor writing workshop led by Mary Jo Pehl for this coming Saturday. The only requirement she had for all of the attendees was that we do something new, something we had never done before, in advance. And, of course, take notes.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I’ve lived a full life. If I wanted to do it — or thought I might — I went ahead. So, while I have no regrets over missed chances, there’s also not a lot left to try. (Well, not a lot that I’m *willing* to try.) But last year, I was writing a novel that had a character doing something I had never done – something I could do. I didn’t do it, but I could have. It wasn’t a big deal. What was it, you ask? Simple. Eat a pickled pig’s foot.

So… that’s why I quit writing that book. I just couldn’t stomach the research angle. But I figured I could do it this year, for the workshop. I’m a big girl, right? I can handle a little bit of bright pink, hacked-off stringy, brined pork with a hoof for a handle.

Sorry. My inner vegetarian is NOT letting me do this horrible thing. So I have to come up with something, anything, else. Fast.

The only other thing I can come up with – that doesn’t involve possible jail time or a need for a blood test —  is skinny-dipping at the infamous Austin nude beach, Hippie Hollow.

Please don’t make me show my dimples to a bunch of old freaks this week. Help me come up with something new to do.

Suggestions?

I Smell A Unicorn

So, you write the next Great American Children’s Novel. You’re so proud of it, you can’t wait to show it to everyone – your family, friends, agent, check-out guy at the grocery. Just one more quick read, you think, and it will be ready to start winning Newbery prizes and making you J. K. Rolling-in-Dough. Just one more quick read… wait! What’s that? Why is there a funny smell coming from Chapter Three? What the heck? There it is – the tell-tale stain of a fairy tale creature who’s been clumsily foreshadowed all over your manuscript. That’s going to take hours to clean up! Who let that thing in here? The author, you say? It’s a magical world, sure, but a strictly defined one, where the magic is limited so the rest of the world seems normal, which makes it all plausible, and creepy, and… oh, no. I think I saw a unicorn behind the next page.  A freakin’ unicorn.

Crap. Get the delete key out, boys. We’re going to be revising for a while longer.

Once more, Writer Friends, into the breach. Hold my trembling, unicorn-free hand? I have to go grind some very small, child-sized bones to make my bread.

*sniffle*

NB: Thank you to Sam, who when I was angsting about how I was writing “too dark” for children, reminded me of the Hunger Games.