Thursday, December 13, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
That's what this season has been for me. A season of waiting for the BIG WORD to come in. I've had some extreme interest from a very good agent and I am waiting for her decision. It's been two weeks since she told me she loves my novel. I've had very considerate updates, but no WORD. Somehow all of this reminds of the election of 2000 when all we did between election day and Dec 17 was wait, and when it came the news wasn't good. It's been a tough time for me, my stomach in knots. I could use some holiday hub-bub to distract me!
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
This week we're talking about our writing habits during the holidays. And if it weren't for my perma pregnant brain fog -- which has been going on now for approximately 7 months -- I'd say I write the same as always. (Lately, I've been a bit distracted by the bowling ball belly!)
Luckily, we do low-key holidays. With my husband's family, we draw names for gifts. And my husband and I don't exchange gifts -- just Santa Stockings with our favorite treats. We have everything we could possibly need, so it's almost silly to stress over gifts this time of year.
We have a little one on the way, so next year we get to do three Santa Stockings and one gift for her. (She has LOADS of aunts, uncles, grandmas and more that will SHOWER her a-plenty). And the rest of my holidays are spent working and enjoying the month. I LOVE to go and get a coffee at the mall and watch people frantically shop. Because I don't.
And though I love getting Christmas cards, I don't send them. From Colombia, postage is about $4.50 for a card. Definitely not worth the money or the hassle. So I will write and work during this month just as if it were any other month .. but with more flare because this time of year is magical to me. It's about family, tradition, and sharing. And I do attempt to bake some things after a day at the keyboard which the family may or may not appreciate ... depending on the result! But it's such a peaceful time of year for me, I'm always sad to see it pass. So maybe in January, we'll have to write about the January Blues.
Enjoy them with your loved ones.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Quite honestly of the 100 books, I've read two. TWO! And my list of "to read" just got 98 books longer.
What I love about this list, though, is how it shows how many risks publishing houses make, bringing edgy, fantastic literature to hungry readers. We often hear (as writers) complaints about how safe the world of publishing is, but I disagree. Look at A NIGHT LISTENER by Armistead Maupin. What a fantastic, innovative, RISKY concept. A young boy with AIDS talks to a nighttime DJ on his radio show. That's the first on my "to buy" list.
So I tip my hat to the vision and risks publishers take bringing these books to print. The variety of voices, themes, and styles of literature is exploding and it just means that we, as writers, had better work our tails off to add to the richness of literature available out there. It's pretty damned intimidating, but it inspires me to sit, sit, sit and write. And revise. And revise again.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
There are some temptations on the list --- a new book by Richard Russo who wrote Empire Falls, a new one by Philip Roth and one by Annie Dillard. Tom Perotta who wrote Little Children has written one that sounds good, The Abstinence Teacher. (Being made into a movie by the Little Miss Sunshine people).I'll get to them one of these days.
Scanning the list, I see the effects of globalization. Americans have written books set all over the place. There are quite a few translations and books set in every corner of our shrinking globe. Stick a pin in the map where eachbook takes place....what country gets the most pins?
But only one notable children's book? Couldn't they find another one to go with Harry Potter? Or weren't they looking?
You can also see the great divide between "notable" and "popular" literature, at least in the eyes of the New York Times. None of the books book clubs are reading made it into the elite group. Water for Elephants and The Glass Castle are two titles that spring to mind...or were they last year's picks? The most frivolous book sounds like Tina Brown's The Diana Chronicles. How did fun loving Diana sneak into such a high-minded party?
The overall effect is discouraging --- all those worthy books and so little time. Guess I'll order The Diana Chronicles and pour a glass of wine and forget the rest for now.
Monday, November 19, 2007
First and foremost this year, I am grateful to have a healthy, happy and wonderful son. I'm so lucky and grateful to be his mommy!
In the writing world, I am so thankful to my husband for supporting my crazy writing habit, to the muse for not (often) abandoning me, to my awesome agent for pitching my book all over creation, and most of all, I'm thankful to THE WORDSLINGERS!
Showing a first draft of one's writing to anyone else is like modeling an unflattering bathing suit in bad lighting and then asking how you look. It's nerve-wracking. But these amazing women have taken me by the hand and shown me how to be a better writer without making me feel embarrassed by my untoned thighs or my tendency to over-describe the decor. And I am eternally grateful to them for doing it.
That's not to mention all the non-writing support they've given me. It doesn't matter if things are going unbelievably well or hand-wringingly wrong - these same women are there, listening, helping, joking, celebrating, commiserating. I don't know where I'd be without any of you.
So, on Thursday, high up among the many wonderful blessings I'll be giving thanks for are Heidi, Jean, Lisa, Mandy and Trish. To the 'slingers!
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Those are my two main stumbling blocks as a writer. It's usually one or the other that keeps getting in my way. I must confess, it can be difficult to find the confidence to keep writing when peers achieve success before you have. That's when Doubt settles on my shoulder and whispers in a sneaky voice, " See, I TOLD you you're no good. Why are you wasting your time writing when you can be doing something more useful?" Doubt can be very insistent, sapping you of your creativity, your will. That's usually when I step back and admit I am powerless over Doubt. It just has to run its course until my sheer love of writing resurfaces. It's a cycle with me. Doubt—back off—refuel...dive back in. Oddly, when I back off, ideas start to flow into my head and I have a good laugh at myself. So what if I stink? So what if I'm unpublishable. I'm loving this! It's a passion, an obsession, a high I can't live with out.
This is just about the time I run into my greater foe. TIME. I want to write and I can't. Life gets in the way, Parenting, work, you name it. I try to make time to write every day if I can, but my output is greatly curtailed when the semester is in session. It's that old hamster tread for me; a never ending battle to keep things in perspective and in balance. My writing is a work in progress and so am I.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Regardless of my clumsy past with school dances, this odd combo of ego+insecurity has made me neurotic -- to a degree.
But, no, I don't have any funky writer superstitions like Charles Dickens setting his bed to face north/south and touching objects three times for good luck. Or John Cheever working in his underwear, wearing his only suit just to get to work and back home. The only thing I DON'T do is tell somebody about a story brewing in my head. I think I'm afraid that once I speak it, it'll disappear -- like Tarzan's great pickup line. So I wait. I let it brew. Then I write, write, write. And when I have something down, I'll only share it with a very select group of people that I know will lock this story away until I say it's okay to let it open.
So .. maybe that IS a little superstitious. But it's not OCD superstitious ... yet. Perhaps in a few years I'll have accrued a few more neurotic writer things. Perhaps.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
I can't prescribe a cure-all for Writer's Block (love your friendly analogy to a neighborhood, C) even for myself. But this time I can share what worked for my recent struggle with the blank screen. I had reached a point in my WIP that I simply could not get past. So out of fear and frustration, I continued to rewrite the darned thing over and over from the beginning, hoping to find the answers. Finally, I began to outline the entire ms, from the beginning with suggested changes in place. I highlighted all the new additions and questions folks had had about certain plotting issues. Being a visual person, I found it was easier for me to track the arcs of certain events if I could see them. At last I got the outline to the "stuck point"..and I found I stepped over the barrier with ease. The new chapters flowed from my fingers and it was a snap to synchronize new events with highlighted additions in the previous chapters. Now, I'm just following the yellow highlight road as I revise, confident I can carry on to the finish. Next problem: adding two more hours to the day to find more time to write!
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Writer's Block: the infernal disease that afflicts all writers. (If you happen to be the exception to the rule, I don't want to hear about it because then I probably won't like you. And I don't like not liking people. If that makes sense.)
I'm always amazed by writers that have words and ideas pouring out of them -- effortlessly. I'll be honest with you, I work my tail off to get words on a page. And I practice the age-old writer's un-blocker technique of "butt-in-chair." And if things get really dreadful I fall back on my FORREST GUMP philosophy:
I run, run, run, run, run ... then go work at the library because it's something that comes easy to me and makes me feel competent. Then back to the chair. The hardest part of writing for me is the first draft -- getting the structure of the book down. Because I LOVE revisions. I never feel stuck when I revise. The block comes when I'm working on getting that first draft out there. You can always tell when I'm working on a first draft. I'm in really good shape. Ha!!
Best of luck and stick to it. (Your muse will come .)
Anyway, when I’m living on that block, there are two things I do to get unstuck. The first is easy, and a not-uncommon trick. When I can’t write, I read. A lot. I read and read and read everything I can get my hands on. Biographies and novels and YA and history – it’s all fair game. That helps a bunch, because some idea in some book will strike me and I’ll get off and running again with all that new material percolating around in my subconscious as fuel.
The other thing I do when I’m stuck is skip ahead to the next exciting thing in my story and write that. Sometimes it’s easier to write point A and point B and then figure out the road that connects them. At least, sometimes it’s easier for me that way. I think that’s the biggest thing about writer’s block – it seems to be a very individualized affliction. What unsticks me won’t work for Lisa or Heidi, what works for them may leave me completely flat. But I like hearing what other writers do, ‘cause sometimes it’s the only way to find a great new trick. I’ll always try something. If it works, great! If not, I’ll just keep waving at the other writers in residence on the Writer’s Block until I can find a way to relocate.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Actually, I'll be busy doing a STORYTELLING activity in "la Cuadra" -- a monthly art and culture activity in which we close down two streets and have exhibitions, music, and more. And since tomorrow is dedicated to children, we're reading ABIYOYO -- but adapting it to Colombian traditions. And the kids get to act out the parts of the father, boy, Abiyoyo, and all the animals he eats -- as well as the townspeople. It will be chaotic. But I hope the kids have fun and learn a few key words in English: RUN! RUN! ABIYOYO IS HERE! and GO AWAY!
But to keep with tradition, and since this is my favorite time of year, I did carve my pumpkins and ate "Boo Soup" at my favorite pizza place. (Pumpkin soup with fried zucchini).
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
A great villain has to be fleshed out just as much as the protagonist. If not, who would be frightened? Who would be compelled to turn the page to see if the bad guy gets the good guy. He is the dark to the light, the yin to the yang. The villain balances the story, he creates conflict. I chose Lord Voldemort because I love him almost as much as I love Harry. Without Tom Riddle there would have never been a famous orphan. Without him there never would have been 'the boy who lived' or a friend I could laugh and cry with late into the night when I read each of the books.
Any character who must not be named is intriguing. But my very favorite part is that Harry and Voldemort are intertwined, each is so much a part of the other that neither can live peacefully as long as the other lives. Voldemort is the dark cloud that hangs over Harry. Who or what is your dark cloud?
I can only hope I will create a villain that comes even remotely close to Lord Voldemort, with the layers and depth that he has.
But Halloween is next week, and that has long been my favorite holiday. October is my favorite month in general, and Halloween is the perfect end to it. So, in honor of Halloween, I’ll say for now that my acme of bad-guy-ness is Mr. Dark from Ray Bradbury’s classic Something Wicked This Way Comes.
The first time I read that book, it was a grey, windy day in October in Indiana – the kind where enormous sycamore leaves are cartwheeling across the lawn like scared animals and the clouds are low and heavy. I could feel that carnival blowing into town. Cooger and Dark were somewhere out there, I was sure of it.
And he knew. Mr. Dark knew exactly what to say to people, what it was that they wanted most, what one thing would make them screw up so royally that he’d own them for all of eternity. He had all those tattoos (nothing against those – I have some myself!) that turned out to be reminders of all the people he’d conquered (that’s the creepy part.) It made me shiver. Plus, in this day of too much, too gory, too depraved, like those Saw movies that I can’t watch, or half of the adult horror books out there that I can’t read . . . Mr. Dark is a pure villain. He’s scary without being gross. His possibilities are what terrify me about him. I love that.
So in honor of Halloween – Mr. Dark. Best Villain. Shudder.
Monday, October 22, 2007
She's a former Olympian (whom I doubt would pass a drug-screening test these days), expert in the hammer throw -- as she practices on her students. Her hero is Wackford Squeers (the horrific headmaster in Dicken's Nicholas Nickleby), and she loathes children.
I don't like small people. I can't for the life of me understand why they take so long to grow up. I think they do it on purpose.
And who else in children's lit has a chokey?!?
I love how Roald Dahl creates these characters that are so unbelievable, we have to believe. Even Matilda and her friends know that if they go home with stories about Miss Trunchbull, their parents would never believe them.
And there's absolutely nothing redeemable about her which goes against everything we're taught to do as writers when we create characters. And it works. It goes to show that if you know how to break the rules creating a character that is absolutely enthralling, your readers will jump in with you!
Roald Dahl is an artist and Agatha Trunchbull is one of his masterpieces! (Or, should I say, a piece of work?!)
Saturday, October 13, 2007
First, thanks for inviting me to stop by your blog! It’s great. It makes me wonder how exactly a group of people could share a brain, but maybe that can be the premise of a YA sci-fi novel one of you will write.
I’m an author of YA fiction, and also a playwright, lyricist, librettist and screenwriter. I’m a mom, a dog-owner, an old-house-fixer-upper, a gardener, a middling tennis player and a novice kayaker. I’ve lived in or around New York City pretty much my whole life, but am feeling more like a country mouse than a city mouse these days.
Tell us about the books you have in print - and any upcoming ones, of course!
My first YA novel was published on ‘06, and another came out in 2007. I have two scheduled to come out in ‘08, and just signed contracts for ’09 and beyond! So I’ll give a brief round-up, and there’s more info on my website at http://www.maryrosewood.com/.
Why I Let My Hair Grow Out (Berkley) is a comic fantasy with an Irish twist. Morgan, a 16 year old Connecticut girl, gets sent on a bike tour of Ireland to help her recover from a recent heartbreak. Once there she ends up slipping back and forth in time to the days of Irish lore, where she discovers that she’s really Morganne, the half-goddess of old. The book came out in trade paperback in March ’07 and just went into a second printing; a sequel will be out next May.
I’m thrilled to announce that I just signed a contract for my next projects with Delacorte as well, so I’m working on a brand new book right now. It’s called A Beautiful Nothing. Expect wine-making, boccie tournaments, and romantic misadventures, that’s all I’m saying at the moment!
You had an unusual path to publication. Can you tell us about it?
I’m not sure there is any “usual” path to publication; everyone’s work seems to find its own way and its own time. Perhaps my path is unusual in that writing novels had never been an explicit ambition of mine, though I’ve been a voracious reader all my life.
In round numbers, I spent my 20’s as an actor, director, and doing improv comedy, and then my 30’s as a playwright, screenwriter, librettist and lyricist. So, after spending a looooooong time being steeped in pretty much all the storytelling arts except writing fiction, I changed focus just a smidge and go figure – now I’m on my fifth novel! Life is funny, isn’t it?
The mechanics of that change involved an important bit of encouragement from my pal and wonderful YA author E. Lockhart, whom I knew from writing musicals. She was quite familiar with my writing for the theatre (much of which involved teen characters, by the way). She pointed me toward the world of YA fiction, which has proven to be a perfect fit for me.
What did you do to promote your books? What worked and what didn't in "promotion"?
Honestly, I think the number one thing anyone can do to promote a book is to write the very best book you can! This sounds self-evident, but it’s sometimes alarming how much writers tend to daydream about book tours and interviews on NPR when they haven’t yet written a fabulous book. Hear me, o wise ones! There is no substitute for writing a great book! The readers decide which books break out, nobody else does.
Given that you’ve written an awesome book, try to have the right title and best cover possible. This is not always something you can control, but do your best to work with your editor and publisher to achieve something eye-catching, right for the book and appropriate to your target audience. Good covers can’t save books that readers don’t like, but bad covers can prevent readers from discovering books they might love.
When you’re writing for young adults, having a web presence is essential; I think most people realize that by now. So do a website and perhaps also a MySpace page or a Facebook page so your readers can find you easily.
I like having lovely color postcards to hand out at trade shows or when I happen to meet someone who might want to check out one of my books. You can also do bookmarks or business cards.
I also do an emailed author newsletter about four times a year that goes out to people who’ve signed up on my website, as well as indie booksellers and librarians. It’s cheap, easy to do, and gets the news about my books in front of people who are quite important: the readers, booksellers and librarians who create “buzz” about books that excite them.
As for what doesn’t work — much of the stuff people think of as “promotion” – book store appearances, school visits, etc. – it’s my personal opinion that, unless you’ve already got a breakout book and a big fan base, these are too often very time-consuming ways to sell five books at a time to your friends, or your kids’ friends.
For name authors, book tours and the like are a great way to deepen and extend the relationship with their readers. If you’re not there yet, that energy might be better spent creating a top-notch body of work.
Do you feel pressured to produce now that you're a published author?
Well, I feel pressured to produce by the fact that I like to make my living writing! Given the choice between finding a job making frappucinos and coming up with a salable book pitch, I go with the pitch every time. Though the frappucino job would probably provide health insurance.
I’ve been very fortunate so far to have sold all my books on pitches, so I begin new projects already knowing what my deadline is. That’s a kind of pressure, though I prefer to think of it as structure! I don’t really buy the whole notion of “being pressured” to do things. One chooses to have access to electricity, therefore one chooses to do what must be done to pay the Con Ed bill. Writing is a proactive discipline: you and you alone sit down and get the first draft done and then you rewrite it until it’s as good as you’re capable of making it. Nobody can make you do all that work, but if you don’t you’ve chosen not to be a writer.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere! How can a person leave the house for even five minutes without encountering some scrap of human drama or mysterious encounter or inspiring moment of beauty or disgust or frustration? To be alive and pay attention is all that’s required.
My personal familiarity with unrequited crushes, Broadway musicals, bike riding, New York City, and an as-yet-unrealized dream of visiting Ireland have all found their way into my books.
What is your writing process? Do you have a critique partner?
I sit in a chair for four or five hours a day, five a week and type stuff into a computer, and maybe five or six months later I have the first draft of a book. That gets rewritten a zillion times, then I turn it in, the editor gives notes, and there are further rewrites until the copy editors are screaming to hand it over, already, and then we call it done.
I hardly outline, but I do continually map and remap my plan for what the story structure will be as I work on the first draft — what the major turning points are, what the three-act structure is in Aristotelian terms, what’s the darkest moment of the story, how the subplots fit together, that sort of thing. Well-turned sentences can come later, but the architecture of the story has to be solid.
As I write I keep notes on what I discover about the characters, too, so I don’t forget stuff about them. Sometimes I also find it useful to make a calendar for the book – plot the various events on a real calendar to keep track of how much time is elapsing as the story unfolds.
At the moment I don’t work with a partner or group. Nobody reads my first draft until I’m ready to turn it in, then my editor and agent get it simultaneously. My middle-school-aged daughter also likes to read it before anyone else, so she’ll get a copy at that point too. After I have a final draft I might let a few close friends read it before the book is in galleys, just for fun and to catch any glaring stupidities.
The revision process is really a collaboration between me and my editor, so I prefer to let the main voice of feedback be hers.
I generally think writers can benefit from good critique, though, and groups can be enormously helpful. Remember that in my case I spent twenty years peddling my wares in front of actual live audiences, and there is no feedback quite like that! You cannot hide from a theatre full of people who don’t get it, don’t like it, don’t find it funny or whatever. I encourage early-career writers to show their work to peers and mentors and LISTEN to feedback; keeping your secret masterpiece in the drawer is not going to help you improve.
What are you reading right now? Who are some of your favorite authors?
Oh, gosh. Within the last week or so I’ve read Philip Roth’s Exit Ghost and Ann Patchett’s memoir Truth and Beauty. I’m currently rereading Much Ado About Nothing and Francine Prose’s immensely useful Reading Like a Writer. I am browsing through Camping for Dummies, and have freshly resolved to carry my Swiss Army knife everywhere I go. I’m intermittently rifling through some fabulous Damon Runyon stories, some P. G. Wodehouse too. I’m always reading a dozen things at once. I did finally have to cancel my subscription to The New Yorker because I found that I carried it around instead of books, and I prefer to read books.
My favorite author is Shakespeare. Homer’s good too, and Jane Austen and Nabokov and Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Brontë and the people who write the SpongeBob SquarePants scripts, they’re pretty brilliant.
There are really too many to list, and my list skews deceptively upscale but “favorite” is kind of a loaded term. I think it’s important to read widely and without snobbery; fiction and non-fiction and poetry and biography and history and journalism and every scrap of compelling writing you can find, whether it’s “literary” or “genre” (note the highly ironical quotation marks) or a cartoon or whatever. It’s all storytelling; it either grabs you or it doesn’t.
In the YA world, I admire M. T. Anderson’s work madly and E. Lockhart is a constant inspiration; she writes superb contemporary realistic fiction that is always fresh and insightful and utterly devoid of clichés. There is a ton of great YA writing right now, it’s such a rich field.
If you weren't a writer, what would you be?
I would love to be a park ranger, or a kayak tour guide, or someone who worked outdoors in beautiful nature doing something physical. I realize that’s the opposite of someone who actually works sitting on her butt staring at a computer making imaginary things with her brain, so perhaps I crave balance!
What thoughts do you want to share for writers at all stages in their careers?
A favorite quote that someone once shared with me: your talent rises until it meets the level of your character. To succeed as a writer talent is helpful, discipline is essential, but the truth is your books can only be as warmhearted, fair-minded, intellectually engaged, righteously angry, vital and romantic and funny and wise as you are. Spend more time developing the body, mind and spirit and less time worrying about how to get an agent, and the odds increase that all will end happily.
Thanks so much for talking with us, Maryrose. Blog readers, if you haven't already, go buy her books!
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
The women of the Sparrow family are blessed/burdened with unusual gifts on their thirteenth birthday. Elinor can detect when someone is not telling the truth. Her daughter, Jenny, can see people's dreams as they sleep. Granddaughter Stella has a mental window to the future. The Probable Future is set in New England. Young Stella has to deal with her new burden of clairvoyance when one of her premonitions puts her father in jail, wrongly accused of homicide. She is led to a grandmother she was forbidden to meet and a house that resembles an elaborate wedding cake full of talismans from her ancestors.
It was possible to break chains, regardless of how old or how rusted, of that Jenny was certain. It was possible to forge an entirely new life. But chains made out of blood and memory were a thousand times more difficult to sever than those made of steel, and the past could overtake a person if she wasn't careful.--excerpt from The Probable Future.
Alice Hoffman has an eloquent, graceful way of bringing characters to life in my mind. Reading one of her books is like a hot bath after a long day, relaxing and luxurious. I can only hope that one day my characters are as haunting and enchanting.
TWISTED, by Laurie Halse Anderson, tracks the unravelling of former geek Tyler Miller, as he faces senior year as the school pariah. Tyler had performed the "Foul Deed" the spring before, landing him on probation for the summer. The Foul Deed, the mispelled spray-painting of school property, was a misguided attempt to gain popularity after years of invisibility in the realm of nerddom. Along with a few inches of height, Tyler gains muscle mass at his forced labor job over the summer and re-enters the fray a new man—and catches the eye of the school's Queen Bea, the woman of his dreams, Bethany. Through a series of painful misadventures, public humiliations, academic free-fall and a beating, Tyler is forced to confront the truth; his poor self image has nothing to do with what he looks like or what he's done and has everything to do with the emotional knot he's in because of his twisted relationship with his volatile father. Ultimately Tyler confronts his Dad in an emotional and carthatic scene.
Ms. Anderson, noted for her ground-breaking YA novel, SPEAK, has covered familiar territory for her, but loses none of her biting wit and awkwardly painful moments. The book is heart-breaking, humorous and hopeful, all at the same time. I will probably read this again to absorb the masterful way Ms. Anderson builds a story based on characters who in less competent hands might be unsympathetic.
As a parent and former teen the book touched me on many levels and kept me turning the pages until I finished it, sadly, way too fast.
What I loved most about the book was the humanity of the kids trying to survive. And how they are so VISIBLE, though we perhaps choose not to see them. The book is filled with heartbreaking scenes of abuse, drug abuse, prostitution, prejudice and death. One particularly poignant scene is when a woman from PETA is horrified these kids are feeding a puppy fast food hamburgers. She's indignant and tells them they're not fit to raise a dog.
Tears asks, "How comes she cares so much about a dog? .. What about us?"
"Nobody cares about us," Maybe responds.
I had to stop after reading that line and put the book down. How often have I just passed a homeless person without actually seeing him or her? I'm embarrassed to say too often.
Todd Strasser takes on the tough social issue of homelessness in this bleak YA novel in which there are few happy endings. Strasser, though, without being cheesy or making it an easy novel weaves a thread of hope in the novel and the strength of love that friends find.
Run is her latest novel, about a young African-American girl, a Boston Irish-Catholic political family and how an accident on a snowy night links them together. It’s a theme that comes up in her work a lot – random events that bring people together and irrevocably alter the course of their personal stories. This particular book is so newly-released that I don’t want to give away any of the plot (I’m spoiler-averse, myself,) but it is an absolutely lovely book that sticks with you. Which is another thing I love about Ann Patchett – her stories linger. Weeks after I finish them, scenes and images from her books, Run included, bubble up in my brain. To me, that’s the best sign of a good writer.
For more information, you can visit http://www.annpatchett.com/
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
I can't help but think about the original banned book. When Johannes Gutenberg perfected movable type in the 1400s the powers that be got restless. It wasn't going to be as easy to keep the unwashed masses ignorant for much longer, because movable type meant plentiful books. Plentiful books meant the spread of knowledge, and worse yet, new ideas. Nearly two centuries later Gallileo wanted to let everyone know the earth was not flat, but indeed round, certain entities (psst: it was the Spanish Inquisition) arrested him to stop his heretic claim. Too late! The knowledge spread throughout Europe and beyond, because of the written word. Poor Gallileo had to suffer for his banned book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, under house arrest until he died.
And so began the modern age.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
First of all, I have already run into problems with this for my eight-year-old daughter. Her teacher has been hammered with complaints from parents for giving their children access to Harry Potter books, and books that contain magic because they think they are evil. When she has a play date I have to ask if it's all right that we have these books and movies in our home. I have the same problem with censorship of music. Blaming books, music, movies for person's behavior is ludicrous.
The books I have pictured here are on the ALA's challenged list. And Tango Makes Three is about two same-sex penguins who raise a baby together. The thing is, homosexuality is real, it is not going anywhere. Just like sex and drugs aren't going anywhere, hence the other book I have pictured. The Gossip Girls books, I have never read any of them. I hear they are full of sex and drugs. Are teens not exposed to this in other forms? The point is these issues will remain to be there regardless of the books. And what isn't evil? Who makes that choice for me and my children? Personally, I would prefer to read one of these books with my children (when old enough) and ask one another questions. A smart child is an informed child, with all choices laid out before them, a parent by his or her side explaining each choice without the labels.
Okay, I think that covers it.
"Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too." ~Voltaire
It's a sad thing that we STILL have to fight against censorship in the United States. I don't get it. Honestly. We should be challenging our minds, not books.
So, I'll keep this short: Censorship sucks.
Take the time this week to go to your local library and pick up a book that SOMEBODY didn't want you to read. Go ahead. Get uncomfortable with a good book. That's what they're for!
The book is Toni Morrison’s BELOVED. In eleventh grade, our amazing American Lit teacher (Judy Williams) passed out permission slips. For a novel. The school had never tried anything like it before – it was, in their words, “an experiment.” If our parents signed the slip, we would read BELOVED. If they didn’t sign, we had to read Zora Neale Hurston’s THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, which is a great book in its own right, but really, when the idea of something so juicy that it requires a permission slip is the alternative, who wants to read the “safe” book? There were one or two unfortunate kids who had uber-conservative parents, and they spend the next month being shut out of one of the most singular experiences of my high school life.
Because that book set us on fire. Seriously. People were talking about BELOVED at lunch, calling to each other in the halls – “What chapter are you on?” The question didn’t need any preface or context. There was only one book they could have meant. It wasn’t just the English Geeks, either. Jocks and musicians and skaters and even the math/science crew were in on it. I remember coming into the classroom and finding people from the class before still sitting at their desks, debating and discussing. The teachers who had us after Lit knew that we would be late, and though they grumbled about it a little, we could tell they didn’t really care. Everyone was too thrilled that we were obsessed with a book, instead of a football game or a television show.
I still have my original copy of that book. It’s full of green felt-tip ink, underlined passages, exclamation points in the margins. When I flip through it, I instantly remember the stunned feeling that passed through all of us when we first read it. The writing shone like polished copper, the story moved us to tears and filled our guts with horror. Why would someone want to keep us from reading it? If there was art like this in the world, how could it be kept in the dark? We talked about that in class, a lot. How something so powerful could be so scary. It had changed the dynamic in our school – and maybe the “men in charge” liked the status quo, liked that society was obsessed with the football games and television shows. The idea horrified us. We wanted everyone to read BELOVED, to be as changed by it as we had been.
So. That’s my personal “most important banned books moment.”
As an aside, it bothers me immensely to see how many of the “most challenged authors” from 1990-2004 on the ALA’s website are those who write for children. It is not the job of concerned parents or worried society members to decide for everyone what children should or should not read. I will decide what my son can read, and when, thank you very much. And, for the record, I would not deny him the sadness of Katherine Paterson’s work, or the magic of J.K. Rowling. If anyone else tries to keep him from reading them, I can guarantee that I will be furious.
Okay. I’m off the soapbox now.
Monday, September 24, 2007
I had a perfect older sister: clean, cute, no cowlicks, and loved by all. I, on the other hand, went to school with two different pairs of shoes, hated brushing my teeth and taking a bath, and played football with the boys and broke almost every finger over the years. I was, in short, a disaster. And sometimes kind of lonely.
Then I was introduced to Ramona!!
Ramona and I each had our Beezus (Beatrice). We loved to show off when we had nothing to show, and we were queens of getting into trouble. Plus, I happened to run away about twice/week, as did Ramona. My parents took me to see Farenheit 451 at the community college. And the book people memorized books and told them to each other so they would never be lost, even though they'd been burned. I told my mom that night that I'd memorize Ramona the Pest -- all of them.
So thank you, Ms. Cleary, for Ramona Geraldine Quimby! She was one of my best friends growing up. After all those books about pretty girls and ribbons and bows, Ramona was the only real girl I knew in books back then.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Very young, I loved Winnie the Pooh and that quiet country world Milne created and peopled with squeaky little Piglet, gloomy Eyeore and kindly Pooh. Alas, today's kids, by the time they can handle the vocabulary are too sophisticated to enjoy the stories. Reading the gentle adventures of Christopher Robin and Co. was my protection against family stress and even now, reading it gives me a sense of peace. (But don't even mention the Disney version!)
I'm laughing because one of us put The Secret Garden high on her list and one gave The Little Princess top rating. Two books by old fashioned Frances Hodgson Burnett (born 1849) which are still delighting readers. The Secret Garden gets my vote. On re-reading I still love it. I once checked out its story line against today's principles and she gets A for her structure.
Actually I could go on for days with favorite books.When I ran out of children's fare, I read as far up my mother's bookshelves as I could reach which netted me all of J.M. Barrie, Lust for Life, Homer's Odyssey and The Late George Apley. Okay, Okay, I'll stop now!
I was too busy climbing trees, studying ant hills, pretending to be an Indian maiden and drawing to read. Reading was a passive activity and I was a girl of action. Besides, if I read too much I'd have to accept the possibility that the fantastic worlds of my imagining were just that: imaginary. I was a weird kid. But there were two books that effected me very strongly. The book above was an illustrated wonder, fueling my love of art and fantasy. The stories and haunting illustrations spoke of hidden worlds full of magic and played right into my own desire to escape the banal and plunge into a world of magic.
Another was the Secret Garden, one of the first books I actually sat down and read with relish. The notion of a hidden place, where a girl could lose, yet find her true self must have really rang true for me. As an only child I was a sort of sheltered kid, pretty much confused by how people were supposed to intereact. I really did want to escape to a place it didn't matter and my art seemed the fastest route. But these books steered me on my path and informed my art for years. I'm fairly certain they form the bedrock of my creativity, a touchstone for all I want my writing to be.
I just want to thank C for choosing these great topics and getting me to reflect on stuff I would probably not be thinking about at all!
And I still reread it every couple of years. And it’s still just as magical as the first time I read it when I was eight. And that’s why if I had to pick just one . . . that’s the one it would be.
No, I don’t know how I ended up writing horror, either.
Well my car died this week. Not officially. My mechanic who once called my seventeen year old Volvo 240 DL a teenager said it would cost more to repair the car to pass inspection than its Blue Book Value. Not a shocker.
I've prayed for the day the mechanic would finally aide me in my quest to unload the car that is older than my teenaged son.
So what does this have to do with writing? Well, my shared brain will tell you that this week, I was a real drain on the brain. I'd sunk into a lower than low, why DO I bother mode and needed to be threatened with lashings with stale bagels and South American Mob action to shake me out of it. But nothing worked. I continued to swim in the despair that I was destined for failure as a writer.
It was a long ride to the mechanic. I mean, wouldn't you drive an hour for a guy so honest he'd actually tell you your car was toast and not to ever buy a Volvo again—even though all he fixes are Volvos? The long drive freed up some stuck part of my brain which started me thinking about the issues I'm having with female main character of my WIP and to forget about the fact that I was a lousy writer. So by the time I arrived, I was so engrossed in the problem with my MC, I didn't care what kind of writer I was. I had to fix the problem.
Okay. Back to the car. I was overcome with joy to learn my car was on Death Row. But how did the car feel? It still had to drive me home, get me to work for two more months. It was Dead Car Running. Still pressed into service, but with a death sentence hanging over its head. But we made it home with no problem. The car purred and nobly drove the long ride home.
So, Dead Car Running taught me something. Even if you THINK you're toast, KNOW you're toast...press on anyway.
That morning I had sent out a query, so miserable I didn't really care what the outcome was.
When I came home from the mechanic, the car had already taught me to press on, be fearless, whether I believed in myself or not.
But I feared my inbox. Feared to burst my own fragile bubble of giddy glee at my risen spirits. Feared a rejection of another partial might plunge me back into a funk. With one eye closed I checked my inbox and there it was.
One beautiful sentences: Please send me the whole manuscript eletronically.
Dead Writer Running found a new lease on life. Of course there's every chance it'll get rejected. But my car knows it's toast and it still keeps going.
And so will I.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Maybe because I learned to read at three and I'm terrible at math, sports, and science. I mean, what else could I do? I filled up so many blue books on my exams in school and college that I always got an A even though I said almost nothing, just blathered on. I wrote the world's worst novel for my college thesis, because I majored in Child Study and it was easier to write a novel about kids than do a research project.
I write because I love to do it. During a long publishing drought, I considered giving up the whole thing, then decided...no, writing is what I do. My one published book came as an image in my mind ---- a boy staring at the house he can't go back to with an angel with a fiery sword barring the way. Didn't turn out like that at all, but that was the start. Some of my books get started with what feels like a great idea then they poop out. The one I'm trying to sell now came almost fully formed into my mind...sure wish that would happen more often!
Hence, I write.
It saves my friends and family from a lot of awkward conversations and keeps me from doing some Beautiful Mind newspaper clipping thing in my room, house, and office.
Then when I started and got my first article published in a local magazine, I was hooked. So I kept writing and will do so until I stop creating imaginary people or my imaginary people become a touch too real for comfort.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Well I am certainly not posting MY picture right after that foxy lady. Nooooo way. Instead you'll have to do with Will MacGregory. It's all his fault anyway. Why I write, that is. That's his picture, that I illustrated for my first book, the mothballed True Voice. I decided I needed to write something to go with the wonderful illustrated YA I was going to produce.
Then one day, while I sat on a porch in Mahopac, NY, this skinny bedraggled 14 year old kid walked out of the woods. Not actually, but he seemed real enough. And he continued to haunt me for the next three years until writing about him totally eclipsed illustrating his shenanigans. Until I realized probably no one wanted an illustrated YA anyway.
By this time I had not only fallen for Will and this entire world of my imagining, but I had fallen head over heels in love with words. Eventually, Will and I parted ways to make room for Xavier and Toby, the darker, creepier and older MCs from my YA novel Darkest, who still speak to me, even though I am midway through my third book, currently untitled.
So for all my friends, students and colleagues who fear I have gone off the deep end. Fear not. I do plan an illustrated MG for my fourth book.
But why do I write?
Because I can't stop. I need to know what happens next.
"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"--Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling.
The characters go everywhere with me. Characters I've read about, characters I dream about, characters that scream at me and nag me until I let them speak through the tips of my fingers. The more they speak, the more they want to speak. I write to quite them enough to function. Yes, they are real to me even though they live inside my head.
For a writer, or for me anyway, writing is like any other bodily function. If I don't write I become bloated with words and uncomfortable. It is a need, a necessity. I don't write to be published (although that is the goal), I write because I have to.
Now where is that candy C was talking about?
Anne Lamott (and if you haven’t read her book, Bird by Bird, get thee to a bookstore,) said “ . . .writing is, for some of us, the latch that keeps the door of the pen closed, keeps [the] crazy, ravenous dogs contained,” and boy, do I hear that.
And of course, no one tells you that it’s about as hard to quit writing as it is to stop eating M&M’s. Shoot, now I need to go find some candy . . .
Saturday, September 15, 2007
I am the one who started The Wordslingers two years ago. I must say it was one of the best things I have EVER done! I love this group of women and sometimes feel closer to them than almost anyone else. It can be a hard, lonely road as a writer. I usually do not disclose I am a writer when I first meet someone. Main reason being people either A. think you are boasting or B. ask you every five minutes if you have been published C. think it is not a HUGE accomplishment that you make it to the computer and create these amazing characters even when you have children tromping through the house screaming, three dogs barking, a husband demanding you clean out the fridge, a full-time job and a love for too many distractions.
I started writing in the third grade. My first great work:Never Walk through the Alley Again, which I passed around to fellow students. I had a creative writing teacher offer to help me publish a piece I wrote about an abused girl...I never followed through (I was 16). I picked it up again about five years ago. I have two finished books, one YA multi-cultural fantasy, one very edgy and raw. I am now trying to finish my third, Shadow People.
One year ago I had two agencies interested in my work, one in each of my finished books. It's so funny how things happen that way. One moment you are cleaning the kitchen, and the next answering an agent's phone call telling you they love your manuscript. I ended up signing with the second agency in April. The picture is of me proudly holding my contract. The pitch letter for my first book is being sent out this month, cross fingers!
Whew, enough for now...apparently I have a bad case of verbal diarrhea today!
I’m the only Californian Slinger right now. I’m theoldest. And possibly the most appreciative of the help a writer gets from such a wonderful critique group.
Like most writers I have always written. Publishing, however, was elusive. In 1991 I had a book published by Delacorte. After that, the Great Drought. But I never stopped writing. And I was rewarded by finding this group of wonderful, creative, kind and supportive but also discerning writers. Nobody could get too down with the Slingers on your side.
I live in an old house near the ocean in Southern California. I have children, animals and a large garden which eats up a lot of my time. I admit to a love of parties, too. I am a librarian by trade and work in a largely Hispanic school in nearby San Pedro. It’s sad to seeall the good books on the library shelf that these kids either can’t or don’t want to read. Oh and I forgot to say I’m definitely the most technically challenged of the group. They push me and pull me in an incredibly patient way and thanks to their help, I’ve learned a lot. Looking forward to a shelf of Slinger books in the near future.