The Christmas Newsletter

Merry Christmas! Or, almost. This is that time of year when I trim the tree, bake the cookies, and – being a writer who does actually get paid to do that writerly thing from time to time – ask my husband why in the world he hasn’t written our family Christmas newsletter yet?

Okay, not really. I mean, sure, he has to write the darn thing if he wants one to get written. But me? I don’t really ask him to do it. I don’t care at all. I’m a bit Grinchy about the whole “here’s what we did this year” thing. I love Christmas more than any other holiday, I’m just not a newsletter kind of a gal. Call me lazy, I’m okay with that. 😉

So Dave rallies every year. Yay, Dave! Ho ho ho to you, and an extra candy cane in your stocking. This year’s installment can be found here.

I hope your family’s year has been as fun and joyful as ours. Merry Christmas to you all!

Dear Teen Nikki

Hiya, Peeps! This week was the big, bold launch of a completely cool venture called Dear Teen Me. I’m still laughing that I will be one of the authors posting a letter to her teen self. (I mean, the other authors are Legitimate! And Famous! And Lots, Lots Younger than me! Except Charles Benoit.* But he writes in Second Person, so Coolness Times Ten, right?) Still, I’ll rally, and I’m sure I’ll come up with something not as X-rated as my actual teen life was. (Don’t ask. Just don’t. Because the letters are for YA readers, and I don’t know if I want the teenage world to know what I was REALLY  up to at fourteen. Let’s just say I was not a role model. LOL)

Back to writing, though. Speaking of role models, one of my good friends just went out on sub (yay! Real editors reading her manuscript!) but instead of being all Hormonally Joyful about the whole thing, she called me calmly, told me her news, and sent me to two blog posts to help me understand her unnatural calmness: This one by Natalie Whipple and this one by agent Mary Kole.

I kind of hate that my dear, sweet Writer Friend has this much perspective so early in the process, but I’m happy for her, too. Because this whole writing thing? It isn’t for wimps.

Oh, yeah! News: I sold two more children’s short stories this week! To a small, online venture. I’ll post more when they come out, early next year.

*Wait. Charles Benoit IS totally legit and famous. Just not younger than me. Wanted to clear that up… *grin*

Breaking and Breaking Through

Boy, Writer Friends, it’s been a week! My 7 y.o., Hinky Punky, broke his wrist on Monday. We just had the cast put on today, and he’s back to swinging from the chandeliers, or close to it. (Scottish Grandpa arrived Monday as well, for his three week visit.*) Then my husband bought me diamond earrings. WHOA! I KNOW!! The first diamonds – well, pretty much ANY jewelry I’ve seen from the man — in a very long time. A marital breakthrough, if you will.

In writing, I was invited to join a blogging group of writers HERE. (I am so outclassed. Still, I’ll try to rally, and come up with something amazing, and witty, and hopefully not-too-X-rated by February.) Dear Teen Me is a great concept, spearheaded by the amazingly talented and creative E. Kristen Anderson, where authors of books for young readers write a letter to their teen self. What would I tell Teen Nikki? Break up with that guy? Find a better best friend? Eat less ice cream? Read more worthwhile books than this kind of stuff?

Or maybe, just take a break? I was a little too driven back then. I almost had a breakdown my Junior year, would have if Mrs. McGonigal hadn’t floated my academic boat with fake As for a whole semester. Teen Nikki mostly needed a nap, if I recall.

Back to my week.

Yesterday, there was the exciting announcement that I’ll be leading a talk/session at the Houston Writer’s Guild May conference for MG and/or YA writers. (Anyone have any scintillating ideas for me to steal, um, I mean, study?)

Also, I received a tiny little email from an editor wanting a few more thingymajiggys, so I wrote and wrote and wrote. We’ll see. *Nikki skips away to plant a money tree*

A chatty blog post, I know, lots of news, but no big news. But maybe that’s how it works for most writers, most of the time. Maybe it’s all about the small chances, the little breaks that lead to the bigger ones…I read this tonight, and wondered. Do successful writers engineer their own breakthroughs, through persistence, perseverance, and buckets of tears and sweat? Or is there something else – something divine, or sinister, something like luck or fate – in the mix?

How has it worked for you, Writer Friends? Any pointers?

*Don’t judge: tonight’s dinner was pork casssoulet au vin blanc, or something like that. Divine. The man can cook. 😉 Also, FREE babysitting.

Partytime for Writer Friends!

This weekend is Big Fun in Austin! Three amazing writers are celebrating their book launches simultaneously, at the local indie bookseller (where I met my husband for the first time, by the way). Bethany Hegedus, Cynthia Leitich-Smith, and Brian Yansky will all be speaking, signing, and providing yummy nibbles and tidbits of writerly wisdom for the rest of us. So, if you’re NOT at Bookpeople on Sunday at 2 p.m., you’ll wish you were!

I know you’ve all been wondering, what’s Nikki reading these days (besides Writer Friends’ Manuscripts)? New books in the house this week so far include: Wimpy Kid (The Latest), The Water Seeker, Cyn Balog’s Sleepless, Kathryn Lasky’s The Capture (OWLS!), Gregor the Overlander, and Donut Days. People? I need a snow day or two, so I can catch up on my reading. 🙂

What are you reading? What’s the best book you’ve read lately? (That would be Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere for me, natch.) I need a few more Xmas gifts, and I am the Aunt Who Gives Books, so chime in!

NikkiWriMo

It’s been one of those weeks. After scoffing at NaNoWriMo, I embarked on NikkiWriMo. So far this month (um, week), I’ve written about 14,000 words on two separate WIPs, and I’m not stopping yet. All this with a very sick kid at home, a touch of the bug myself (ick), and – you know – life and stuff. I’m thinking NikkiWriMo is a qualified success. We’ll see what my betas say about all these new words. *grin*

Of course, not all weeks/months are so chock-full of writing-y goodness. Some are more contemplative, those sorts of months when writers like me surf the Net for funny pictures of baby animals go for long walks in the countryside, praying for inspiration. If you’re having one of those months, read this blog post by Veronica Roth, which I found by way of The Shark.Or check out pretty much any post on YA Highway.

Now, no more blogging for me. I have a personal goal of 6,000 more words by Saturday morning.

What are you waiting for, Writer Friends? Go on, go write something. Or think about writing. Or eat chocolate and go back to sleep. Whatever feeds your Muse today. 😉

Shiny, New, and Oh-So-Real

Have you ever had anyone ask where your ideas come from? If you’re a writer (who admits to it publicly) the answer is “of course.” (At the Texas Book Festival, Brian Yansky answered this question by referring seekers to a small store in Marfa, Texas, where inspiration is always in stock. Be warned, Marfa-ites: Uninspired Writers are coming. Go read his post about his answer – very wise.)

Me? I have plenty of ideas, probably too many – I could open my own store right by my house and sell the extra ones, the ones I’ll never have time to address, to writers who have skillz but no ideaz. (Do such people exist? I suppose I was one of them, once upon a time. Back in grad school, maybe, when I had the chops but no passion. Oh, for a time machine! I could use all those childless years to churn out manuscript after manuscript, saving up for the seven years of famine that I swear to Gosh I did NOT know came out with the first kid.)

My most recent idea is, to use a phrase from a book/movie I adore, preciousssss to me. It’s so real, I can taste it on my tongue when I think about it, which is often. This book tastes like buttermint, the soft yellow ones you used to only get at weddings and memorial services. Every time I think of it, this story makes a small, soft, lemon-yellow melty place in my heart.

I have fallen in love again. Does it happen like this for you? True love, complete with the hope that you will be worthy of your beloved, the fear that you might not tell it right, that you might not understand it enough, be gentle enough, to pin its butterfly wings to the paper just so…

Of course, you only ever get one of these ideas when you’re in the thick of another manuscript, one who was beautiful when you started, but now has thick ankles and bad skin, smacks its teeth when it watches TV and forgets to hang up its coat. But you’ve spent so long with it, you can’t let it go, can’t date around, until the final papers are signed. There’s only one way to get out of it with your self-esteem intact, and that’s through. And woe be unto you who jump ship early – the Muse will know, and will send you to Writer’s Hell, the ninth level where no story gets finished, and you flail around in a churning sea of unrealized ideas for eternity. (If you’ve ever done this, you know what I mean. This is the Muse’s way of making us finish the book you’re on, so you can get to the new, vital, heart-meltingly gorgeous story that’s waiting.)

Sigh. I don’t know why you all come here, to read about my (more than slightly narcissistic) love affairs. But I’m grateful you do, in the same way a mother with hundreds of photos of her newborn baby  – from the ultrasound on up – is grateful for the friend who expresses interest in seeing every last one.

Oh, Friends! I can’t wait to show you the new one, even though it’s not even started. January, I think. It’s a contemporary fable, a fairy tale re-imagined, a picture book grown into something altogether… more.

Are you in love with an idea? And if you are, do you make it wait its turn? I won’t ask where you get your inspiration; I already know it comes from a store in Marfa.

Note: I am reading a manuscript for a friend right now that is one of the best YA Urban Fantasies I’ve seen, published or unpublished. I am stunned, continually amazed at her writing, pacing, plotting, everything. I love YA UF, read it a lot – but this one, if I can convince my friend to polish it up and send it out, will make some agent and editor very, very happy. I will refer to this post in the future so I can be known as the Mommy Fortuna of this book.

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.