Green Writing

At the Texas Book Festival a week or so ago, Cinda Williams Chima joked that she was a “green writer,” one who never lets any of her writing/worldbuilding/characters go to waste. Then last week, I had a critique partner remark in her notes that she noticed a similarity in two of my manuscripts (which turned out to be superficial), and I wondered if I had inadvertently “gone green.”

It started me thinking: How many of you find yourselves revisiting the same themes, the same character types – heck, the same jokes! – in your writing? And, if you notice this, do you get nervous, or go with it? (I’m about to rewrite an old middle grade manuscript, the one that won the Writer’s League of Texas prize in 2009, and I’m planning to cannibalize another manuscript to do it, so I really have been thinking about whether I should be nervous. We’ll see.)

Anyhoo… I wrote a picture book manuscript two years ago that I loved, one that some of my friends and family insist needs to be sent out. I did send it out to one editor, but then sat on it, because there was something that wasn’t there yet.

But that story wants to be upcycled. I can tell, because it grew into a novel somewhen during the last few months, and now the story is unspooling – with me taking just enough notes so I can go back after Holy Toast and make it come together. I’m having dreams about it, hearing voices, all that crazy writer stuff. It’s magical realism, a sub-genre I haven’t exactly written yet, but I’ve come close with my latest MG. This will be even closer.

The Maya Angelou quote up on my monitor this week says, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I wonder, how far will those untold stories (or our subconscious selves) go to make certain they get told? This story is (suitably for the season) haunting me.

Are you haunted by any of your stories? Are your untold stories an agony to you?

Write something poignant, something hair-raising, something haunting… write your untold stories, Friends.

Optional Pain

I am against tattoos. No, not for you. Go on and ink your little hearts out, Writer Friends. I’m against them for me, and not just because I’m fickle about art in general. No, it’s the whole “optional pain” aspect that turns me off.

I mean, life is full of pain, right? And pain, for me, has always been a bit more… remarkable, I guess you could say, than for many others.When Dave and I were dating, he did not appreciate this fact. I vividly* remember cutting my hand with a paring knife so deeply that Actual Blood Came Out Of The Cut. It wasn’t a stitches situation or anything (Oh, Lordy, I NEVER go for stitches – see Optional Pain above), but it was an adequate amount of blood to panic over, for me. Clueless, young, unmarried Dave didn’t see it that way. He was all, “meh,” about the whole thing, until I Set Him Straight about what pain means to a deep, emotional, overly dramatic soul like mine. (We’ve been married for many years, Friends, so don’t worry. When I accidentally cut myself these days, he cries even harder than I do. And sometimes brings home flowers. Good husband.)

Anyway, life is full of pain, and my goal is to keep my daily quota of pain as low as possible. And yet, Writer Friends, and yet.

I still, every day, write pages and pages of novels that may not ever be published, poems and short stories and essays, too — and then, just when I’m feeling quite good about myself, life, and the universe in general, I send them out. Like tiny, helpless ducklings into the crocodile-infested river of the Publishing World.

And when those rejections come in – and they do, I promise, even if I don’t post about all of them here (and no, I haven’t had any this week, thank you for asking) — it hurts. Like a punch in the gut. Like sciatica. Not as much as labor (except for that one R from Scholastic over a year ago – Lordy, if they made a home epidural kit I would’ve hooked myself up THAT week fersure), but just as horrible in its own way.

Then, when I catch my breath, I straighten up, mentally bark out “Thank you, Sir, May I have another?” and hit send on another submission. After which I cry, eat much, much chocolate, and tap out another thousand words on the Next Novel in Line.

Why? Because I’ve figured one thing out: this pain isn’t really optional, for me. As far as I can tell, it’s the only way I can get to where I want to go.

What about you, Writer Friends? Are you submitting, are you writing, are you finishing those novels/stories/picture books/essays, and polishing them just enough to send them out into the world? Or are you stalling, waiting, hesitating because you know that the inevitable blow is coming?

And if you are hesitating, let me ask a personal question: Do you have a tattoo? Because that’s way more scary to me.

Write well, Friends, finish your Works, and send them out into the world.

* all memories which involve my blood coming out of my body are vivid for me. Seriously, you’re talking to a woman who still doesn’t believe she might not bleed to death every month. I mean, it’s my blood! Coming out! Without stopping! Brrrrr.

Make My Day

It’s not hard to make my day, not really. A friend of mine did it today when she surprised me with the news that one of her students had brought in a copy of the Boy’s Life story I wrote… and that she was using it to teach her language arts lessons! I know, I know, what this really means is that a whole bunch of kids are thinking “Oh, no, don’t make me read that Boy’s Life story again, and pick apart plot elements, etc.” but I still think it’s cool. Usually it takes a Newbery sticker to make sure kids loathe your writing. (*kidding*)

I had a ball in Houston at the conference, enjoying talking with Jennifer M. so much that it almost felt like cheating on Suzie. I ended up spending some time as a timer for their agent conferences, and met a whole bunch of really cool writers, including Pamela Hutchins. She’ll have an agent very, very soon, I’m sure – I’ve read some of her award-winning chapters, and she’s got mad skillz.

Breaking News: My writer friend and critique partner Sheryl Witschorke just signed with Robert Guinsler. This makes two of my Writer Friends to gain representation immediately after I critique their manuscripts! Could there be a connection? Could I make money off this somehow? LOL Sheryl also gives very good crit, so I’m hoping she doesn’t get too famous too quickly and stop critiquing for me. 😉

I’ve been doing some interesting things with my time as of late, including writing some greeting card poems that have been accepted for “further review.” Quite a few cards, actually, and that’s all I can say now. More on that later… much later, probably.

Now, it’s back to write Holy Toast, and ignore the Shiny New Idea that swooped in last week – a slightly paranormal, funny ADULT romance novel. *gulp* I promise, I only wrote 1500 words. I’m stopping now, honest.

Until November, that is. Bwa ha ha ha ha !

Oh, check out my friends Shelli’s Quick and Dirty blog post this week. She goes to some great conferences, doesn’t she? And shares all her info. Love her!

Write well, Friends, and write quickly — the Holidays approacheth!

Road Trip!

It’s Conference Time again, Writer Friends! I’m off to Houston to attend the Houston Writer’s Guild fall conference. I’ll get to meet Jennifer Mattson, my friend Kim Norman’s agent, and gush about how awesome Kim is. (She is a rhyming genius.) I even get to stay with an old family friend — and take my mom along for the ride. While I’m hobnobbing with the literati glitterati, Mom will be studying for some seriously scary acupuncture finals (she’s getting the equivalent of a PhD in acupuncture for infertility treatment). Of course, we will shop ever so slightly on the way there…

Exciting things have been going on in my life. First, I bought the shoes I have been wanting since I was four years old.* (When my Grandma would take me to Solo Serve in San Antonio for school shoes every August, I would put shoes exactly like this on and teeter around the section until Grandma forced me to take them off, informing me very matter-of-factly that “those shoes were for hookers.” For a long time, hooker was at the top of my secret career list, just for the shoes. I didn’t really get what the rest of the job entailed. 😉 )

Second — and speaking of Grandmas — I had a very nice email from the editor of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series (the Grandmother edition) letting me know that my essay, Silver Hair and Snickerdoodles, should appear in the March 2011 anthology. (No confetti just yet, these things take time. A lot can happen before March.)

Last, I’m pretty sure I’ll have Holy Toast ready for readers in a few weeks (I slipped a little on the timing due to some work-for-hire for another editor), so get your tickets now! Oh, and I promise to have your manuscripts critiqued very, very soon. All of you, my darlings.

(By the way, did you know I’m teaching Zumba 6 or 7 times a week now? If I keep shaking my booty like this, it’ll fall off!)

Write well, Friends, and wear fabulous shoes while you do it.

* The shoes I got are much cuter, but you get the general idea.

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