Saturday, October 30, 2010
The writing state mind
I have been writing a lot lately, because I remembered how to get into the writing mind, or the writing state of mind (I've always liked the spacial resonances of that term, the vastness).
There are certain things I can do to bring myself to that state: reading, staring out the window, meditating, walking, swimming, reciting poetry, listening to Mozart or Finzi or Piazolla etc., looking at art and photography.
More important, though is what I must not do, lest I be exiled (to batter and abuse the metaphor further) from the writing state. I must not:
Answer the phone
Check my e-mail
Look at houses on Realtor.com
Purchase anything on Amazon
Listen to the news
Wear headphones when I run or walk (and bring paper or a tape recorder with me instead)
Listen to the radio when I'm driving
Yes, one does have to return calls, check e-mail, write their blog entries, send manuscripts out and try to promote them eventually. But none of these things should crowd into the writing space and time, which is sacred. None should come first. To write is to both receive and give. Water can only be poured into an empty vessel.
What interferes with your writing space and time? What helps you?
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Steve Almond Speaks
Monday, October 25, 2010
Always Listen to Your Publicist.
It's a bit scary as writer to go to these things--you realize all the things you should be doing that you're not. Like, oh, blogging, blog tours, virtual school visits, and other things that one does, on occasion, to publicize one's books. You could hear the steady undercurrent of stressed mutterings from the writers in attendance about building their online presence--or maybe that was just the voices in my head.
The keynote speaker was Shiver author Maggie Stiefvater--who described herself as the poster child for blogging. And indeed she is: she started her blog years ago and over time built a massive following that does things like show up at readings, buy her books, and tell other people to buy her books. These are good things, I've heard. And if your DeLorean time machine still works and you can go back to 2004 and start a blog, you totally should--but how do you get a new blog noticed now? As we talked about last week, there are book trailers, but they seem fruitless unless you can do one like this.
The conference also featured a panel of book publicists--Laura Lutz from HarperCollins, Steven Pomije from Flux, and Lindsay Matvick from Lerner. Kelly Barnhill, a Minneapolis author with a middle-grade fantasy coming out next year, asked the question on all of our minds: "What can writers do to help you?" We poised our pens, sucked in a breath, and prepared ourselves. The publicists looked at each other and then Steven Pomije leaned into the mic and said, "Write books."
Friday, October 22, 2010
I am working on letting go - of time. I hoard time. I plan my writing times every day, like if I get in so many hours I can control the outcome. And then I get an email - picture book publication delayed yet again due to illustrations not ready. Another email that editorial decision about one of my projects will be coming soon. I wait. And I wait.
But I must write. I can't live if I don't write. But how to write without anxiety about the outcome? When Anne and I presented on the writing life at a residency a couple of years ago, she said something like, “If I am only happy on the days I get a contract offer or a great review, I am looking at one unhappy life.” Can writers be happy when outcomes are so dependent on waiting and wondering?
Yes. Yes. We can be happy if we're putting words on paper. We can be happy when we get an insight that only comes from the writing, not the talking about the writing. We can be happy sharing with other writers or reading a great book. We can be happy closing down our computers and trusting that the words will be there again, even with the deadline of a Hamline packet due tomorrow and tomorrow.
Be happy. Let go. CRM
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Worth a Thousand Words
But now the author of the Early Word Kids column suggests I might want to reconsider trashing the Scieszka for Solzhenitsyn. Picture books, it turns out, are actually useful to children's development. She cites a number of reasons, including the relative sophistication of the verbal and visual content of picture books as opposed to early chapter books.
It's never fun to open up the newspaper and discover the thing you've devoted your life to is languishing. (I mean, this is how newspaper reporters feel every day.) But trends come and go in publishing. Get in your time machine and go look at the YA section of the bookstore six years ago. Go ahead, I'll wait. And, really, the economy can probably explain a lot--including, as the blog Mother Reader points out, an early entrance into chapter books. ("I can understand," she writes, "the mindset of an economizing parent who, when purchasing a book, wants to find one that will last a little bit longer. Hey, we do it with shoes and it works.")
The picture book will come back and it will be the dystopian novelists who are reading articles about the fading market and think the world is ending. So, get back to work.
And now, a word from our sponsors at Hamline's MFA in Writing for Children. The deadline for applications for the January term is Nov. 1. If you're curious about the program, you can try a mini-immersion--one residency and one semester. For more details, and for pictures of the handsome student body, please see the website. Please note that handsomeness is not a requirement for admission, and may in fact be an effect of the program.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Saturday, October 16, 2010
INKPOT QUESTION - Do I Need A Book Trailer?
Ah, the movie trailer. It's become more popular, but it is not essential. You can have one made through a media designer (such as digital weavers ) for about $500-$1000 which usually includes promotion to get top google hits and utube. Or you can make one yourself (or get a tech savy friend) on QuickTime or IMovie.
Many of my editor friends admit they don't know if a trailer reflects on sales at all, it all depends on how the author promotes it. Some publishers will use an author's trailer (whether professionally done or "home-made") on their websites along with the book. Marketing folks don't mind extra marketing from the author.
My author friends who do trailers like to have some "thing" to show off their book and a trailer has kind of replaced the postcard mailer that authors used to do.
Trailers do make books look like movies, but this is a way to compete with all else in the media. An uphill battle--poor little books need all they can get.
I repeat-you DO NOT NEED A TRAILER for your book. In fact, if you're not up for promoting it all over the place, it is not going to do anything for you. If you ARE UP FOR PROMOTING it and using it as an advertising tool then do it. It can't hurt!
All that being said, and in spite of my own skepticism about trailers, I just did one for my upcoming picture book. Actually I had a friend do it. It's very simple--some music, images from the book and a few teaser lines, then the cover and publisher. It makes more sense (I think) for picture books since images from the book are already there. Mom Blogs might use the trailer if they review the book. I'll post it on Facebook for fun, and my publisher said they'll post it as well. Ask me in six months if it did anything at all. But it IS fun to look at, and reminds me that I have a book coming out!
First and MOST essential, get a publisher for your book and then think about the marketing side. The marketing department can also advise you on all this. Mine is just one opinion. Best of luck to you!!!
Friday, October 15, 2010
Narrators for Desperately Seeking Snoozin'
As a tool, I've often written back story in one piece, then deposited it in little snippets, so it's not too loud or obvious. Experiment. We so often feel locked into our first draft choices.
Seeking Snoozin' is quite right in her statement that she doesn't want her characters repeating information, or announcing the back story, which would be like a big poster that says AUTHOR INTRUSION all over it. But dialogue still remains one of the best ways to communicate back story. And yes, if it is a control thing, it's time to let that narrator take over and get that nap she needs.
I also wonder if this is really a narrator issue. It sounds like it might be more about time, something that frequently comes up with work that I edit, and which certainly is an important choice. Maybe the book actually begins earlier than she thinks it does. Maybe it needs an episodic or diary structure. Perhaps these past scenes can be woven in as a separate narrative. Remember in Louis Sachar's Holes the way the past story is woven in as a separate narrative. And yet, Holes feels like third person limited POV in Stanley Yelnats perspective rather than the omniscient book it is. I've found this a great solution in books that are pushing the envelope a bit out of realism, and used it in The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes. Another example is in the Lemony Snicket series. Or maybe Desperately Seeking Snoozin' would like to join us here at Hamline University, where we hash these questions out in person in lovely St. Paul.
Anyway, I'm guessing from Seeking Snoozin's strong voice, that she will find a witty and innovative way to handle her narrator, even if it's leaving him/her in the yard with the dog for a few days.
Speaking of point of view, I am speaking about Snoozin in the third person. Good luck to you, Snoozin'
Mailbag: 'Ask the Inkpot' Questions Posed
Below are three questions posed by readers. Inkpotters, can you weigh in on these?
Bill Kennedy asks "why don't you use real photos, and who draws the cartoons?"
Cecilia B. DeMille says "I've had several friends with debut novels this year who have arranged for near-Hollywood-style book trailers. I have no idea how much this costs. I've seen others that were self-made using software that came on their computers. Some of these are terrific; some not so much. I hope to soon find a publisher home for my middle grade novel. How big a deal is this book trailer thing? Am I expected to have one? Will I need a second mortgage to make a decent one? Do I have to hire a film company, actors, acquire costumes, etc.? I find the whole idea scary, and truth be told, a little gratuitous. I'm a writer, not a movie producer."
Desperately Seeking Snoozin' says "Hi. Narrators drive me batty because I do not understand how to use one--it's a control thing. I think. Anyway, I am working on a third person limited POV story where vital information occurs before the story wheel begins turning. I have tried to plant the back story into exposition/dialogue/ action, and my backyard, but none of these solutions feel best. And my dog digs it up every time. Each time I weave the past into the story, the characters tell each other information they already know. So, the back story stalls the story, yet the information is crucial for the reader to know. How, then, should I use a narrator? If my narrator discusses the past, then the story feels like an adult story--one that isn't wrapped in plastic behind the cashier at a convenient store. Should I consider a prologue? Do any of you have an extra copy of The Best Kept Craft Secrets that All Writing Professors Know and Will Share for Cash? I have cash. I'm a bit sleep deprived, so if this information does not make sense, you should delete it. Immediately. Thanks!"
Readers: If you have a question for the Inkpot bloggers, submit it to AskTheInkpot@gmail.com
not for me the dogma of the period
preaching order and a sure conclusion
and no not for me the prissy
formality or tight-lipped fence
of the colon and as for the semi-
colon call it what it is
a period slumming
with the commas
a poser at the bar
feigning liberation with one hand
tightening the leash with the other
oh give me the headlong run-on
fragment dangling its feet
over the edge give me the sly
comma with its come-hither
wave teasing all the characters
on either side give me ellipses
not just a gang of periods
a trail of possibilities
or give me the sweet interrupting dash
the running leaping joining dash all the voices
gleeing out over one another
oh if I must
give me the YIPPEE
of the exclamation point
give me give me the curling
cupping curve mounting the period
with voluptuous uncertainty
"On Punctuation" by Elizabeth Austen, from The Girl Who Goes Alone. © Floating Bridge Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
writing as shoplifting
My mother was certainly a random shoplifter. She stole dog beds, mini-bikes, make-up, and clothes, but only from the corporately owned stores. A socialist at heart, she would never "steal from the little guys." Now, at ninety, still witty and bright, she is kept from her crimes by my brothers, and her wheelchair. I wouldn't be a writer without her.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
What's on the Wall?
There Are Other Things I Probably Should Be Doing
I left a shoe at the Quality Inn in Lee, Massachusetts. I need to call them so they can mail me my shoe. This, I will also do tomorrow.
The cat still has, like, mange. I still need to call the vet. I will. Tomorrow.
It feels good, this tomorrow thing. Everything will get done, you see. I have a schedule, a plan. Some people might even call this responsible.
These people are probably putting things off, too. In the most recent New Yorker, there's an essay called Later: What does procrastination tell us about ourselves? It's a very long essay, and I can only guess the author had something else he really needed to be doing. It reviews some of the literature on the subject of procrastination, delving into Kantian ethics, game theory, and making excellent use of the word "dillydallying." In case you are checking the 'Pot to avoid writing, I will also mention that the essay tells us: "Victor Hugo would write naked and tell his valet to hide his clothes so that he’d be unable to go outside when he was supposed to be writing." This puts a new spin on Les Miserables.
Oh, and the link to this essay was sent to me by my critical thesis student. I will let this pass without comment.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Delacorte Contest for a First YA
You're a SCBWI member, aren't you? On p. 39 of their recent BULLETIN there's a Delacorte Contest for a first YA. If not, the info is at www.randomhouse.com/kids/writingcontests.
It's a long shot, but I bet those all the time. Tell your friends!
Thursday, October 7, 2010
A Little Tense
I want all the young present-tense storytellers (the old ones have won prizes and are incorrigible) to allow themselves to stand back and show me a wider temporal perspective. I want them to feel able to say what happened, what usually happened, what sometimes happened, what had happened before something else happened, what might happen later, what actually did happen later, and so on: to use the full range of English tenses.
The whole essay is worth a read, and I'd be interested to know your reaction. (Somewhere, there is irony in Pullman's avowed atheism and his narrative predilections, but I haven't finished all my coffee yet.)
The whole thing started when the writer Philip Hensher wrote a similar essay in the Telegraph because half the Booker finalists were present tense books. Hensher blames creative writing teachers for the trend, as they are the font of all evil. He says writers use it in pursuit of vividness, but "in a literary context, it quickly takes on a weird, transfixed, glassy quality--the opposite of vividness."
Sure. It can. The trick of course, as with any choice in writing, is not to do it badly. (Thank you. You can all acknowledge me in your books.) Laura Miller says as much in her response at Salon. (You may have to click through a pop-up ad for a Last of the Mohicans deluxe DVD, sending you into an instant state of temporal discombobulation. I am here to assure you that it will be all right.) "The present tense is one of any number of crutches clung to by mediocre writers," she writes. "The problem lies less with the tool than the workman."
For children's book writers, the immediacy granted in present tense is no small thing. In young adult fiction past tense gives you a narrator who is telling events from some future position in time and thus must have perspective on these events--whatever growth they experience in the novel will have already taken place. The present tense allows a narrator with no perspective, one who is exactly as evolved as the main character. Present tense has particular use in dystopian fiction--in which the characters can only live in the present, in which there's no guarantee there will be a future to narrate from. (The best example is The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, the book I will not shut up about. It's "more interested in the possibilities of language," in Hensher's words, than any book I've read in a long time.)
There are fads in narrative, but also fads in what's considered the proper way to tell a story. Someday I'm going to get hopped up on Theraflu and come on here and rant about the opposition to point of view switches and intrusive narrators. I don't see the good in limiting the tools in your narrative workbench; the point is the mechanisms of narrative--point of view, tense, syntax--are a conscious choice, with meaning for and effect on the story. Choose consciously, wisely--and if anyone complains blame your writing teacher.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
56 Picture Book Manuscripts
- If you begin a book with a bored character looking for something else to do, chances are your reader will look for something else to do as well.
- Rainy day activities (unless Cat in The Hat) are not fun or funny.
- Eliminate all mothers. They ought never be around to solve problems—it’s just not interesting.
- Aren’t we done with pirates yet? Though I suppose, if done well, everyone loves a pirate.
- No need to over-detail. There will be pictures after all.
- Read rhyme out loud to someone other than a kind friend, and PLEASE ask yourself—WHY MUST IT RHYME? (I totally understand editors’ request never to submit rhyming picture books)
- Make your character suffer more than you think they should.
- Don’t be afraid to exaggerate here and there.
- Do freckles really illuminate? (I did repeat this twice)
- Look for patterns everywhere.
- If there is a talking cricket at the end you might consider alluding to it in the beginning.
But in spite of all this, there is good in every piece—always something that can be taken and made even better. (And all fifty-six get to rewrite their manuscripts!) Now to find that germ of good in my own work, and treat it with nothing close to timidity. Suicidal lemmings anyone?