Monday, May 31, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
I'm revising a novel now and am switching it from 1P to 3P. Who knows where it will end up. For many reasons I think it's wicked hard to write in 1P, the primary one being it's so easy to mess up point of view as you try to tell the whole story. That's not the reason I'm backing off from it now. Why am I switching to 3P? I guess because I think 1P works best when the story calls for tunnel vision. Perhaps this is why it's such a popular match with YA fiction and the me-me-me of adolescence. I've used a 1P narrator in 3.5 of my books. Discount the .5--I used it that time to vary things in a dual-narrator book. But the other books starred girls who were obsessed, blinded to the larger picture because of one thing or another.
My current protagonist is not so focused; to the contrary, she's very much an observer of things. And the scope of a 3P narration feels better. For now.
Some readers hate 1P narratives. Some writers never work in anything else. Thoughts?
Thursday, May 27, 2010
I never needed the shoes after all. They were cute, but really how often will I wear tropical colored four-inch high platform espadrilles? Certainly not around the Hamline campus as I dart from GLS to the lecture hall. I know some of you may be disappointed that I didn’t make the splurge, (I would have told any of you to buy them, too) but I feel fantastic. I saved money and I got good work done, plus I got through a stressful situation with ease. What more is there to life than that?
The lesson here? Writing is the answer to everything. For a writer, writing saves us more than shoes ever will, and it is far more satisfying...really. I love shoes, but trust me on that.
Now if I sell this book, I will most definitely buy something fantastic to go meet with my editor.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
QUESTION FROM READER:
I'm drowning in false starts for a novel that is begging to be released from my brain, but somehow, I cannot bring it together. I've been told that all I need to do is keep writing, that serendipity will pull it together for me, like magic. I'm still waiting after three years, with about six false but compelling starts that I believe somehow all fit together but I don't know how or why.
Do I try to weave together the common threads of the false starts into a new piece? Do I trash it all and start from scratch, trying so hard to stop trying so hard? Does this mean that it's not ready to be written, that I should start a different project until I have a rough idea of who is in my book and who isn't? Thanks so much for taking a stab at this. It's been on my mind for a while, and I don't know what to do next.
Not so anonymously,
PS- Love the blog. The discussions are like mini-lessons that have me thinking for days.
A couple of my writer friends really keep up on the latest publishing news. I read or skip their emails, depending on my writing mood. Try this one.
"I read in Publishers' Weekly last week that 70% of books don't earn out their advance. Then read this today:
And, in traditional publishing—i.e. the “success” stories of those who got contracts with publishing houses—7% of the books publish generate 87% of book sales. This means, she noted, that 93% of all published books sold less than 1,000 copies."
Hey, if your book sells only 1000 copies you're in the in crowd, the pressure off. But oh the sales figures are so important for new contracts. Some of those 93% category books are terrific ones that never got the spin and support they needed to reach readers.
Get out the martini shaker indeed.
I'm in the process of moving and trying to get a house on the market in the moments when I'm not cleaning up various disgusting substances, and I'm sure there are metaphors to be found in the layers of stuff in the basement, in the pieces of toys from homeowners past found behind radiators, in the storage containers full of things that each must be taken out and looked it and remembered and examined: You were something I acquired once, something I kept once, something that has sat here in these giant plastic containers because at one point in my life I could not let go of you. And now, now that I have had a little more time away from you, now that so much has passed, what am I going to do with you now?
On second thought, there's no metaphor there.
I have sitting in my in box an editorial letter for my latest book. Writers do so enjoy bragging about the length of their editorial letters--Oh yeah, well, mine was fourteen pages! And of course they are always single-spaced. This is the important detail. This is the one that really puts into focus the absurdity of the length. Well, I have now won this conversation for all of eternity. Mine is twenty-one pages. Single-spaced. Take that, Koertge. So after the hurly-burly has been cleaned up from my floor, I will be taking out bits of my book, looking at them, remembering, and examining. And, as miserable as the process can be, it beats preschool effluvium.
Monday, May 24, 2010
We live on a the edge of a park, so neighbors kept walking by with their dogs and oogling. Come to my place, they begged. We're overrun by weeds. Margy smiled and later told me she only works with people she likes. At age seventy, she's earned that right. At one point during the day, I thought about how I wanted an editor like Margy. One who could work magic with my manuscript. And then I stopped myself. No, Margy the gardener is writer and editor all wrapped up in one. The writer brings the magic, the editor helps with the pruning. Every time I look at our pathways and plants, I will try to remind myself of how much Margy loves her work.
Who in your life loves their work? Get out your slide ruler today, but don't forget the gardening gloves.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Okay, forget writing and let’s get down to what’s really important for a moment. I have to go to an event this weekend – a potentially stressful event where I may need an extra boost of confidence. Usually whenever I sign a new book contract I treat myself to a pair of shoes. Currently I have no book contract, however I am still excited about my work-in-progress, and my editor is encouraging (sad to say no more contracts with a partial novel anymore). My dilemma: do I buy these new platform shoes that would match my black dress perfectly and also give me some extra height for a particular event even though I cannot afford them and I have no book contract to sign? Would buying them jinx my contract or would it be a good luck omen?
These are the worries of the freelance writer. Treat or no treat? When to celebrate? Bad luck or good luck? Frivolity or practicality? I can spend all my energy either talking myself into it or out of it, when really if I just get back to my novel all these anxieties about shoes and stressful events will fade away! Writing is almost always the answer to everything.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
The past winter, long ago it seems like now, I read Printz Honor book author Helen Frost’s historical novel Crossing Stones. Most often it is the character or story that stays with me. Both are true for this mesmerizing story. But her beautiful poetic forms also entranced me and helped carry the theme of the story. Lisa recently blogged about using experimental forms in art and writing. The poetic novel is no longer considered groundbreaking, but as Jason wrote in one of his critical essays, some poetic novels are light verse and nothing more. But Frost’s story set April 1917 – January 1918 uses a formal structure to give the sense of stepping from stone to stone across a flowing creek. The character Muriel’s poems are free form like the creek. Ollie’s and Emma’s represent the stones in cupped-hand sonnets, 14-line poems in which the first line rhymes with the last line and the second line rhymes with the second-to-last, Ollie’s rhymes at the beginning of each line and Emma’s at the end.
Not only is this a great story featuring the tension of World War I approaching and the strengthening movement for women’s suffrage, it deepened my understanding and appreciation for poetry. Wow – double duty. What story recently has been a terrific read and deepened your understanding of craft?
For a blog that does a terrific job of analyzing the craft behind recent books, check out Hamline grad student Heather Hedin Singh’s blog Story Sleuths - http://storysleuths.blogspot.com. This month Heather and two fellow Seattle writers Meg Lippert and Allyson Valentine Schrier discuss the Newbery honor novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.
That was my favorite writing experience, because--even though we never talked about the stories and would happen--I felt like I was writing my book with someone. And it was nice to write those pages knowing someone would read them. You have to find the right person, of course, the one who knows just how to fill in those brackets. We've never quite managed to do that again. We wrote our sequels at the same time, too, but mostly then just wrote each other back and forth about how much we wanted to kill ourselves. But even then, what we were really saying is: You are not alone.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Which means tonight I'm too whipped to be coherent about all I'm thinking about, so I'll just send you to the beautiful rock slide show on Lisa Westberg Peter's site. Enjoy.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
So you think I am going to write about journaling on white, sandy beaches and critique sessions over an ice cold pitcher of margaritas? Where is writing paradise? That's what we all need to know to be successful writers.
At a recent writing group a friend arrived with the book The Geography of Bliss in her hand. I begged to borrow it. Don't you want to find your bliss? Written by a self-named grump, journalist Eric Weiner travels the world in search of happiness. Where do people love their lives? In the nation where they appreciate literature and the arts.
Turns out, it's all about community and a sense of history. Something a place like Qatar doesn't have. Oil-rich Qatar is filled with malls but only one bookstore.
But back to that cold place. Being a writer in Iceland is the best thing you can be. "Better to go barefoot than without a book," a favorite sayings goes. The government supports writers with generous grants. Have you bought your plane ticket yet? Yes, it's dark and cold much of the year. But it produces more writers and artists per capita than any other country. Why?
1. They love their language, even more than their country. As Weiner writes, "A love of language may not guarantee happiness, but it allows you to express your despair eloquently , and that is worth something. As any poet (or blogger) knows, misery expressed is misery reduced." I feel better already.
2. They harbor minimum envy. In Iceland failure isn't a stigma, but a badge of honor if you have given it your best shot. Weiner writes about how Icelanders believe that artistic failures shouldn't be framed or published, but that the crap becomes compost for the great stuff to grow.
He concludes his section on Iceland by stating that happiness is a choice. So is being a writer. It doesn't matter where we live. We can choose every morning to write crap so the great stuff can begin to grow. Paradise.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Former supermodel Tyra Banks has signed a deal for a series of fantasy novels about the world of modeling, her publishers said on Tuesday...
She has already finished the first, called "Modelland", which is about a teen girl in a make-believe society at an academy for exceptional models called Intoxibellas. It will be published in the summer of 2011.
I shall not endure.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Every writer is familiar with the rule "show don't tell." But how exactly does this rule apply to beautifully written, award-winning third-person omniscient books such as Charlotte's Web by E. B. White ("Fern loved Wilbur more than anything. She loved to stroke him, to feed him, to put him to bed."); Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a rabbit who was made almost entirely of china.); and Holes by Louis Sachar ("There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas.)
These stories, as with fairy tales of old, "tell" the reader a story, yet they are evocative, powerful works of literary art. What are the rules for telling without "telling" in third-person omniscient?
The bookmarks in my favorite places have been filed in their own folder and the URLs saved to a hard copy that’s now in the file cabinet. No more will I scroll down through The Snowplow page or Andy’s Geology blog or Hypothermia Treatment or half a dozen swim club home pages to get to The Storyteller’s Inkpot.
I write fiction. I can’t imagine the clean-up process nonfiction writers have to do.
Tuesday is, if I recall the litany correctly, ironing day. Ha.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
It is Mother’s Day. Whatever that means according to Hallmark. But, really, mothers are pretty great. I give mine a lot of flack, she’s a bit crazy, we’ve had our ups and downs, but I would not be the person I am today without her. She never once doubted or questioned my abilities. She is an artist herself, and while never pushing me to become one, she nurtured creativity, and above all, exploration and inquiry. She has influenced me tremendously. I am lucky.
I have never had a strong desire to become a mother. Never. In fact, when I was a teenager I emphatically did not ever want to marry or have kids. I had my astrological chart done (a joke gift from my restaurant job co-workers when I was fifteen) and the prediction was that I was going to have many, many children in my life. The astrologer went on and on about all these children I would have. I was mortified. I imagined myself as the old woman in the shoe with so many children I wouldn’t know what to do. I have the utmost respect for mothers--I know it's not an easy job.
Years later, I became a children’s writer, and now I have many, many children in my life. Weird. Most, I will never know, but through my books I have become part of their lives. I never thought I’d become a children’s book writer—I just wanted to write because I had things to say. Perhaps all children’s writers are mothers (even the guys, though they might not be willing to admit it). Even if we don’t have children, or don’t like children (some of the best children’s authors actually hated kids—but that’s for a different blog post) there is a nurturing element in what we do. We have something to offer young people. Like it or not.
So Happy Mother’s Day to all.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
But for me, it really is about controlling anxiety. Is this worth putting my heart and soul on the page every day? Yes, yes, yes. But it’s not so easy. When I told a writer friend last week about my anxiety during the revision process, she suggested the two-handed meditation. On the one hand, I can’t write well. I’ll never finish this project. One the other hand, of course I can. I have finished many projects in my life and I’ll do it again.
Isn’t this like all the tension in our lives? How about for our characters – fiction or nonfiction? Will they step up or collapse to the ever-greater challenges in their way? Will you?
I vote for acting like our protagonists, instead of our antagonists. Janet Fitch in that workshop on dialog said that she believes the antagonist in the story is the one who never changes. So are you the protagonist or antagonist in your writing life? Do you control the anxiety, live through the creative tension or do you give up and go eat some chocolate?
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Rebecca Stead and the other ALA medal winners are probably suffering right now. Big day comin' up in a couple of months, and there's a little matter of a The Speech.
In 1970, William Steig felt this way about giving his Caldecott acceptance speech (For Sylvester and the Magic Pebble): “I’ve been depressed ever since January & will not realize happiness again until after June 30th when my trial is over.” (The full text of his letter is at the Hornbook Archives site.)
And in yet another letter to his editor, Paul Heins ...
"I want to make more books, books good enough to win prizes, & I’m hoping that my inability to make speeches will not hamper my progress."
I've read through most of the Newbery and Caldecott acceptance speeches. Many of the speakers wisely laid it on thick when it came to praising librarians. One winner who apparently never got the memo was Monica Shannon (1935, Dobry). She instead delivered a very long riff on nature that never once mentioned librarians, the importance of children’s books, or John Newbery.
She's also the winner who nearly went to the banquet with her dress on backwards. Fortunately, the person who came to her hotel room to escort her to the banquet noticed it in time.
Good luck to all!
Saturday, May 1, 2010
A few weeks ago an interview with David Shields on the Colbert Report caught my attention. The author of Reality Hunger is trying to “turbo charge contemporary writing.” He says “all writing is theft,” just as all art is theft, and talks about starting a writing movement that ignores the distinction between genres (like between fiction and non-fiction, or children and adult). His movement seems to be made up of quoting bits and pieces from everyone else, but his book got me thinking…
Is it possible to have a writing movement akin to visual art movements? Sure, sentence structure has changed from long compound sentences to shorter, punchier ones, and content changes constantly with the politics of the world. But the structure of the novel has stayed relatively the same. We get an occasional abstract novel, such as, Nicholas Baker’s THE MEZANINE, written in footnotes, or Jeanette Winterson’s WRITTEN ON THE BODY, a first-person novel about sex where you never know the gender of the narrator. e.e cummings did the no cap thing. But these are a few isolated experiments, not movements.
Do traditional forms make writing what it is, or does it limit us (as readers and writers)?
Imagine Pop writing, Neo-Classism writing, Impressionistic writing, Dadaism writing, Writing Nouveau, or instead of Ugly Art (or Outsider Art, which is the art of the untrained—or more specifically the insane) we can have an Ugly Writing movement… Could it work? Is it already happening?
Here’s the link to the interview and his website if you’re interested: