Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Seven Minute Stretches

I can get YouTube on my TV. I can download Caillou in spanish and this makes me and my daughter happy. For seven minutes. That's how long the longest episode is.

So, for today, and in answer to the most boring but evergreen question about writing ever (How Do You Find Time to Write?), I say - I write in seven minute stretches.

Tomorrow may be different. Two months from now, different. That's my particular lot in life right now, that I have to write in the tiny air-bubble-sized pockets of time my kids leave me.

I find the question of finding time to write fascinating in a completely boring way. If I come across an interview with an author I admire, it's the first thing I look for. Invariably, I'm disappointed. Whenever they write, whatever their schedule is, it doesn't solve my problem, the problem I face every morning: How. When.

If my inner editor is sitting her fat ass on my chest while she smokes a cigarillo, I find it hard to get motivated and contemplate giving it a miss. "Maybe I'll write tomorrow." This way lies madness, and worse, unfinished work.

My inclination is to set up the perfect space to write along with an appropriate beverage and the right kind of music. This set up can take up to an hour and I don't have that kind of time. I have seven minutes. I leave my word doc open, careful to save it often and I run, from the TV room, put on another Caillou, back to the kitchen table, write for 6 minutes. Somewhere in there is a potty break, one for each of us. There will be several snack and meal breaks too. I get exasperated, thinking, Is this the way a real writer writes?

Yeah. I guess it is.

This post hast taken me three Caillou's to complete.

Monday, June 27, 2011

What is this thing called Disney?

I didn't want to go to Disney, though it was all my own idea. I wanted to go on the kind of vacation I'd seen profiled in the now-defunct aspirational parenting magazine, Cookie. You know, the fake kind of vacation that you can't have when you have real children, not well-behaved, equity-card-carrying stand-ins sent from the casting agent.

So, I'm not sure what the heck I was expecting with this trip, since reality was clearly missing during the planning process. People ask me if I had a good time. Tricky question. My kids had an awesome time. I feel wrung out. I drank a heck of a lot more than usual (TWO of Shipwreck Sally's Mai Tai's, my good man, and this time, put rum in it!) and I over thought everything.

When we'd only made it to Aladdin's Magic Carpet ride by noon, I worried that we weren't going to see everything (duh). Eyeballing the man selling fan-topped squirty water bottles, I worried about heat stroke (my fault for not wanting to take the kids out of school.) After making my kids spend every last minute in the Magic Kingdom and getting back to the resort at 1am,  I worried that I'd pushed them too far. Especially since I had to  cut the fairy costume off my youngest - she was so out cold I couldn't get her to raise her arms.

But when I look over the pictures I remember, hey, yeah, the Tea Cup ride was awesome. Everyone raising a tankard and shouting "BUTTERBEER"! then giggling hysterically? Awesome. My eldest begging me to go on Haunted Mansion for the third time. My littlest hugging a Star Bellied Sneetch statue.

It's hard for me to be in the moment. That's the kind of mess I am. If I could change one thing about myself, I'd want to be more about the present, less about planning. That would probably put me out of a job since I'm an event planner. Might also mess up with this crazy writing alchemy I have going on. On second thought I'll change my allergy to cats and dogs.

Here are some interesting blog posts about Disney, in case you were looking for that and, unfortunately, landed here.

Lyrical Meanderings - Land of Mouse - Public Breakdowns 101
Iggy & Gabi - Three Things I learned about Writing at Disney World

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hiatus Due to Mouse Ears

The bag of Chupa Chup lollipops cost $17. My two year old licked the carpet in the waiting area by our gate before I could stop her. Not even out of the airport and the giant rodent got his sticky mitts on us (one new mouse ear cap for each child under 50). Every window was rolled down as we sang (read 'screamed') along to Stop for a Minute by Keane driving down the Florida Turnpike.

We have arrived in Orlando. If I survive, I will be posting again on Sunday. Say a little prayer for our goofy selves.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tagg-ed OR Random Things About Me

Bryce Daniels has just swatted me on the arm and yelled 'You're IT!" while running a way like a little girl. OK, not really. He's tagged me to answer the below questions, but the sentiment is the same. Thanks, buddy. I appreciate it. Now everyone will know what a nerd I am. Sigh.

Do you think you are hot?
When I was younger, in my teens and twenties I was actually hot, but I thought I wasn't. Now that I am no longer in my twenties and the likelihood of hotness is fading, I think I'm smoking. I'm really not all right in the brain. I also can't convince myself that I'm short, though I have lied on my driver's license. It says I'm 5'3". See? Writing is the only viable option for a liar like me.

Upload a pic or wallpaper you are using.

I am a Nerd. I'm knitting Gryffindor scarves as we speak.
When was the last time you ate chicken?
Um. I ate kielbasa today, ham yesterday and steak the day before. Probably Tuesday. I know what I ate the last few days because I was onsite at an event I was producing and the catering table becomes extremely important when doing an event. 

What were you thinking while doing this?
I was thinking that no one could possibly care. And that I have to change out the laundry.

What song/songs have you listened to recently?
This afternoon I listened to my seven year old sing Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa  by Vampire Weekend while my husband strummed it on the guitar. She asked me who Peter Gabriel is. I love this girl so much.
Do you have any nicknames? What are they?
Magpie (of course) and Perla and something secret.

Tag 5 blogger buddies (That means, in a soon-ish post, you'll respond to these same self questions.)

I hereby tag the following folks who are much more interesting than I am:

L.G Smith at Bards and Prophets
Suze at Girl Wizard
Brea at Just Words
Aimee at Portrait of An Artist as a Young Woman (because the Joyce book changed my life)Laura at Writing Unleashed

Thank you, Bryce, for tagging me. I appreciate the invitation to play. But next time, don't hit so hard, kay?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Writing Heaven

What do the Ghostbusters, Charles Dickens' cat paw letter opener and moveable type have in common?

The hallowed place I'm now sitting in.

This is the Rose Reading Room in the NY Public Library. It's called the Schwarzman building now, but it's always the library. Guarded by the lions Patience and Fortitude, it is my favorite place in the world to write.

I don't get to do a lot of writing done here. I don't live or work in NYC anymore so I get maybe a couple of hours twice a year. But I get seriously geeked when I know I'm going to be in NYC for an event and have some down time. You can't have coffee here, you can't eat lunch here. You get wifi, a/c and electricity. What else do you need?

One of the original Gutenberg bibles sits three feet away from me. Somewhere in the archive is Charles Dicken's letter opener (said to be made from the paw of one of his beloved cats). And no one here would be surprised if a chubby green ghost started floating through the book stacks.

Here, anything is possible.

What's your favorite place to write and why?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Writing Group - Rug Pulled Out From Under You

When someone says that they've had the rug pulled out from under them, they generally mean that someone has done something, some mean or tricky thing, that has put them off their footing. They feel betrayed by this literal upset.

I don't feel betrayed at all, though, I look down and the rug that was there is gone.

I met with my Bucks County Writers Group compatriots on Saturday. When I tell you that there's not much else (except maybe a new season of True Blood, or the last Harry Potter movie) that I look forward to as much as our monthly meetings, I'm not exaggerating. I love talking shop with them, hearing their opinions and awesome (so insightful) pointers for my book. I love talking about their submissions and getting into the nitty gritty of meaning and craft.

But this Saturday I got told things I didn't know, things that came so out of left field that the rug-pulling practically gave me whip lash. You know when the thing you think you're doing is not the thing that can actually be experienced by the reader? Yup, that's what happened to me.

One big surprise is that I'm not done writing. I seem to be one of those rare writers who actually has to add some fat in instead of trimming it out. I've left too much to the imagination. I've shown too much and need to tell more.

But the biggest bombshell came from Greg, who said he could stop where he's reading right now (about 250 pages) and it would make sense for him for it to be the end of the first book. That this book could be split into two books. Bleeeewww my mind. He also said that a section that I have taking place in four chapters, over a period of eight weeks, could be expanded. Like to take up a whole year. They he got his crazy on and said, "Well, it's an alternate world, why do their seasons have to be like ours?"

I know I looked like a truck hit me, and I think they were a little panicked at my slack-jawed expression. It's not that they're wrong, it's just that there's so much to think about, sort through. I admit, I'm enough of a control freak that this bothers me. I thought I was 'done.' What's more, I thought I was close to 'really done.' I like neat and I like finished. This felt like the end of my web was unwinding.

Trying really hard not to be negative and look at all this as a big positive (and it was, they're insights for the most part, are dead on). Trying not to panic and just absorb, percolate. Trying.

What's the biggest 'upset' you've gotten from writing feedback? How did you handle it?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Why I Write YA Blogfest: Because Fin Made me Do It

The short answer is, I don't write YA.

If you asked me a year ago what I write, I'd have said, um, novels? I knew I wasn't writing memoir or non fiction but that's about it. The first book I wrote (currently mouldering gently in a digital drawer) is called Death Hires An Assistant. Hey, guess what happens in the book? Wow, you're psychic.

I had been writing Death Hires An Assistant in my head, on and off, for ten years. When we moved from NYC, to a place where deer walk down the street in the early morning mist and my neighbor keeps chickens, I had more brain space to let me get serious about writing. But the DHAA manuscript was a hot/cold/lukewarm-in-places mess. All my beta readers (except Tammy, I love you, babes!) said it was hit and miss. I didn't know what to do next.

I had a nugget of an idea that I wanted to play with, but I was afraid that starting a new project meant that I was abandoning DHAA, giving up. NaNoWriMo rolled around and I thought this would be a good way to 'waste' this new idea. You know, get it out of my system so I could get back to writing my opus.

I got the idea for BookEnd while driving up the Garden State Parkway. In my mind, I saw a boy, sixteen or so, standing by a ramshackle farm waiting for a man in period garb to walk through a gate. The man, looking like a lesser character in a Jane Austen movie, was pompous and confused. The boy laughed at him, taking him by the hand into the farm. That's it. That's all I saw. I was thinking about how funny it would be if minor characters from books found that, at the end of their story, they would be recycled.

I actually thought I'd write a light, funny story that I might be able to stretch to reach the 50K goal.
BookEnd has turned into a darker coming of age story that is over 75K and has a sequel, BookBegin already outlined. How the eff do these things happen? It's like I'm not even in control here.

So, why do I write YA? I think it's two things. It's because Fin, my main character, had a story to tell and his story is a YA story. And because YA is what I enjoy reading right now. I've been devouring Philip Pullman, Rowling and Garth Nix for years, not really making a distinction on A or YA reading, just loving the adventure.

For me, it's about the adventure, whether it's recycling book characters or having death for a boss.

Why do you write what you write?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Conference Secrets: Welcome to the Jungle

This workshop at the Pennwriter's Conference, with agent Barbara Poelle and novelist CJ Lyons was my favorite. It was also the only one I didn't take any notes on.

CJ started the workshop by turning off the tape recorder and closing the door. "This is just between us. You can ask us anything. If you don't want to raise your hand, write your question on a piece of paper and pass it up. There's nothing we won't answer."

And there really wasn't anything they wouldn't touch on. It was a comfortable, inviting experience. The highest compliment I can give this workshop is that, barring the lack of Bombay Sapphire, it felt more like sitting at the bar with two friends than a workshop.

Man, can you tell Barbara was a comedienne in a past life. She's funny as hell and completely off the cuff. Sharp and smart but amazingly for the industry, not jaded. 

She is passionate about what she does, saying she was born to be a agent. Most of the questions directed towards her were about the state of the industry (is publishing dead?) and ebooks (is print publishing dead?) This is the kind of agent you want in your corner, seriously. Nothing fazed her. She genuinely believes that this is the most exciting time to be working in the industry, on the cusp of all this change. When asked if she was worried that Amazon was setting up what looked like a traditional publishing house (ie. that they would 'corner the market') she said, "They sell spatulas too. Spatula makers aren't worried. I'm not worried."

One point she made that gave me the warm and fuzzies (which echos what Nathan Bransford said in his post this week about rejections.) was that, when she gets in to work in the morning, NOTHING WOULD MAKE HER HAPPIER THAN SAYING 'YES.' We have this image of agents as gatekeepers, trolls under bridges or bouncers at a VIP party, their only joy being to gleefully say NO to you. Couldn't be further from the truth, says Barbara. She makes her living on 'yes', she's dying for there to be 'yes'. She's not sitting there looking for the tiniest flaw in your query letter and sample pages, she's looking for potential. She wants what you want. Barbara knows what will sell, knows what the publishers she deals with are looking for, and she's going through haystacks to find those 'yeses.'

Some key points from CJ Lyons

  • Know your audience and brand yourself accordingly. It's as valuable to know who isn't your audience as it is to know who is.
  • An Author platform is not, contrary to popular belief, a website, a twitter account or a facebook page. It's Soylent Green. No! Sorry, kidding. But it is people. Your audience is your platform. How you get that audience to follow you, care about you is how you brand yourself and your books.
  • And obvious but bears repeating in these 'author, market yourself' times: Your product is your best advert.
Some key points from Barbara Poelle
  • She's looking for: 
    • Authority
    • Authenticity 
    • Unique Voice
  • And in your query* letter you should have "The hook, the cook (journey) and the book (sample pages)"
So, did I leave the Welcome to the Jungle workshop hearing Axl Rose snarling "You gonna die!" in my head? No. I left feeling that the publishing 'jungle' is an industry like any other and not my own personal purgatory. It's not a validating or invalidating Mount Olympus peopled by unfeeling demi-gods. I would totes buy Barbara and CJ a drink any time. Especially if they spill more secrets.

Check out my conference mate Laura's post on Researching the Police

*In a few weeks, I'll be posting the query letter I sent to her along with her comments/corrections.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Deep Revising Means Letting the Little Bastard out of the Cage

The first couple of days of revising was easy. Not exactly fun, not fun like writing, but pain free. I went through comments, marked up a master ms., went to town using post its and flags. I figured out big problems with my text, things that had to be tightened up and things that needed to be included. I realized that the number of times my MC says "I realize" makes him sound like a jackass. These are all things that I needed to know. Doing that first revising pass through felt like I'd accomplished something neat and clean, like creating a 3-D pie chart or finally putting the sodding mulch down by the hostas.

Now I have to go in and do the deep revising and this is not going well.

It's mostly the Inner Editor's fault, or, as I have named her, the Little Bastard. I call her that because she's small as a mustard seed and has a big mouth. Also, she's unfailingly unkind and evil. Just like everyone recommends, I manage to stuff her into a cage while writing. After all, I reasoned, it's only writing. Me in my little writing shed, no biggie. 

But now that I'm revising, and will be sending the ms out, I've had to let the bitch out of the box. 

A little while ago, Betsy Lerner had a post that started with the words "I want to vomit on myself." I know the feeling. It was basically a rant about how awful and useless you feel when you look at your own work. OK, maybe there's a writer or two out there that don't feel like that, but I haven't met any of them*. Everyone I know who writes goes through varying degrees of self-loathing while writing, regardless of experience, or success, and completely separate from any objective appraisal of the work.

For me, the self-loathing starts now. Fun.

Any ideas, suggestions and distracting techniques on how to get through this that doesn't include YouTube or eonline?

*And whether it's fair or not, I'm highly suspicious of anyone who doesn't hate their own work, at least some of the time.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Conference Secrets: Unlocking Your Writing Process

What if I told you that I knew, exactly, how your favorite writer wrote, would you be my BFF? If I told you the sweater she wore, the kind of coffee she drank and where she sat, would you want to see pictures? And if I told you that she always outlined, using three highlighters (blue, green and yellow) and that she used post-it notes to keep track of POV changes, you'd be on your way down to Staples to buy supplies, right? I know you would because I'd be right behind you, up to my eyeballs in highlighters and stickies. I, like most struggling writers, am looking for the magic bullet, the key to How To Write.

According to Tamara Girardi, the writer and educator who led the Unlocking Your Writing Process workshop, there is no magic bullet, no magic post it diagram. Because your process as a writer has to be individual to you, or else you'll be like a salmon going upstream, working harder than you have to.

Everyone learns differently. From an educational point of view, the cookie-cutter teaching method of bygone eras no longer works, if it ever did. According to work done by Felder & Silverman, there exist eight types of learning and people fall on a wide range across the spectrum of learning.

If you can find out what kind of learner you are, or more specifically, how you process information, you can customize your writing process in the way that's right for you.

So, how do you figure out what kind of learner you are?
Take a test.

Take this test and it will email you the results. You may be surprised to find you are not exactly the learner you think you are. AND most people are a combination of several things, sometimes falling in the middle of the range. 

Taking the test will place you somewhere along the continuum of these pairs
Sensory - Prefer concrete, practical, procedural information. They look for facts.
Intuitive - Prefer conceptual, innovative and theoretical information. They look for meaning.

Visual - Prefer graphs, pictures and diagrams
Verbal - Prefer to hear or read information, look for information/explanations with words.

Active - Prefer to manipulate objects, do physical experiments and learn by trying. Enjoy working in groups to problem solve.
Reflective - Prefer to think things through, evaluate options and learn by analysis. Prefers to figure out problems on their own.

Sequential - Prefer to have information presented in a linear way, in order. Details come first to create big picture.
Global - Prefer a systematic approach, holistic approach. Big picture comes first, then details fill in.

I wrote (here) during the conference of a heckler we were unfortunate enough to have in the audience. She was unhappy with the workshop because it wasn't providing 'answers' on how to write. Everyone else in the audience seemed to get the message, that the answer was inside of ourselves, that Tamara was giving us the tools to unlock those answers. This woman was really, really unhappy and her testy, querulous questions definitely cast a pall over the audience, which was a shame since the topic of the workshop was interesting and, I think, valuable.

For instance, It helped me see that I didn't have to follow the advice I'd been hearing on outlining plot, that that is not the way I process information. I had tried to outline in the past and found it not only difficult but a kill joy. I'm not saying it's not valuable, not at all. Just not for me. That was Tamara's main message. You get a lot of advice as a writer, from blogs, author interviews and especially at conferences. All well and good. But if you're armed with the knowledge of how you learn, you can quickly pick out what will help and what won't. And you'll have a deeper understanding of two facts: No one is a better authority on how you should write than you. And second, advice for writers is highly subjective. Take everything with a grain of salt.

So, what do you think? Is the answer to How To Write out there, or inside? What works for you?

Check out Laura's Pennwriters Conference Post: Shaping Story Arcs

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