Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My Flattened Brain

flat coke can
This is my brain on editing.
Photo by J J

I've been busy with work and family stuff, so I feel like my writing time's suffered (or I've been ignoring it.) Slowly but surely, I have been revising the problem areas of my book, but it feels like that's taking forever, and I already fixed the worst parts.

exhausted cat
This is how I felt after hours of editing.
Photo by Xerones

This weekend I got sick and tired of not having my book out with my critique partners (let alone out on the query circuit), so I got serious and started one last pass on the book. Trimming back as much as I can, adding clarity, and editing anything that needs editing.

My brain is shot. Every now and then I sort of stare off into space, blink, realize I'm staring off into space, and start typing again. I'm pretty sure this is what my brain thinks I just did to it:
dramatic child
Photo by peasap
In case you are concerned, "peasap" assures all Flickr/Creative Commons users that this is a statue.

I got about a third of the way through my book, so I'm feeling pretty good about it. Too bad I can't just change my brain out, and start afresh, right?
changing a flat
Photo by AHLN

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Cop Out Post

This weekend was kinda crazy, and I'm rawther exhausted, so all you get is this adorable photo of a white lion cub:

sneezing lion cub

I'm pretty sure this little lionette was posed and ready for her photo shoot, but then she felt a sneeze coming on. She is in the middle of saying, "No - don't take the --- CHOOOOO!" when the photographer took the photo anyway.

Okay, and you also get one of my favorite photos from my Italy trip:

il duomo, siena, italy
Il Duomo in Siena

I am quite proud of this photo. Isn't it majestic?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Little Backyard Bugger

groundhog eating acorn

I've been focusing on editing and re-writing this week, so instead of a delightful debate on the state of children's literature today, I bring you our little backyard scoundrel.

He is a scoundrel because I'm pretty sure it's him and his family making noises under our house, scaring the bejesus out of me when I'm home alone.

Yeah, that's right. He may look cute, but he's a menace! A menace with a mouth full of acorn.

A menace who doesn't even have the grace to pretend to be scared when I walk right up to the glass doors and start taking a series of photos of him eating an acorn. I swear he's freaking smiling for the camera.

Here's another photo:
hungry groundhog

And one with a head tilt:
cute groundhog

The brat.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Inspiration from Within the Writing Ranks

Helen Keller writing
Helen Keller's hand writing from Boston Public Library

Sometimes you just need a good, inspirational tale to get you through the writing day.

As a writer, it helps to hear about somebody else who struggled and came from behind to publish something wildly successful. Here are the three stories that I like best. They're writers whose stories make me think, "Yeah, I've been at this for a while now, but they were too."

Author Inspirations

Lois Lowry

The Giver Book Discussion
See? She's so good she gets Book Discussions.
Image from CCAC North Library

Lois Lowry has my favorite story. She wrote two books that won Newbery Metals, but she didn't start her professional writing career until after she'd raised four children, gone back to school for writing, and divorced her husband. She published her first book at age 40. I've read about her story in a few different articles, and she always sounds like such a gracious and wonderful person, but if you want to know more about her story, this is her bio on her website, and and this is an article where she answers questions about her writing process.

The writing process article is neither dry nor boring. I think my favorite part was when she said that she could always edit more, so sometimes you just have to call a story done. She regrets not expanding the third section of The Giver, but says:

On the other hand – if I had extended that section, made the book 250 pages long, it would not have been published until the next year. And so it would probably not have won the Newbery Medal, because Walk Two Moons was published that next year, and so… I guess I was wise to quit when I did.

Meg Cabot

crowned cupcake
Up next: a story about a cupcake's royal discovery.
Photo from Clever Cupcakes

Meg Cabot, of The Princess Diaries fame, kept every one of her rejection letters (that was back in the days before email query letters became the norm) in a postal bag under her bed. She accumulated so many that the bag is now too heavy to lift.

Then, once she finally managed to find an agent, she had a heck of a time getting anyone interested in the idea of a 14-year-old girl who discovered she was a princess. Meg talks about her story and her postal bag here. Again, I really recommend the article. She seems like a fun person.

JK Rowling

I really want to go here.
Photo by Scott Smith

Then, of course, there's J.K. Rowling. I mean, given the insane popularity of her books, she'd be a household name no matter what. But then add in her moving rags to riches story, and you've got backstory gold.

Not that I think her story helped sell Harry Potter. I think the books did that on their own. But if she had the Veronica Roth (Divergent) sort of backstory, which was: get out of college, get a book deal, and immediately publish an insanely popular series, well, I don't think many people would care about that story.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Plea to Suzanne Collins

Reading to Write - My MG Addiction

addicted to reading
Photo by Sara Berry

I've been making a real effort to read MG this year because as everyone in publishing says, you've got to read the genre you want to write. The MG age group and its writing possibilities really appeal to me - especially now that darker is acceptable.

For me, MG age is when everything really starts to change. You still get treated like a kid by the adults around you (which can create great conflict), but you can see adults' fallibility. Hormones start to come into play, but there's less of that irritable hormone overdrive that happens in the more high school time frame. (At least that's how I remember it.)

All Thanks to My Local Library

new york public library
New York Public Library Reading Room by Derek D

I'm not quite positive that I've read all of the following MG books since January, but I definitely read them in the last 365 days:

Please, Suzanne, Don't Leave Me Hangin!

Because a Laundry Room was Gregor's Entry to the Underland
Photo by Tobias Löfgren

All of these books were good (seriously, I'm not just saying that - they really were), but I've got to make a special plug for the Gregor/Underland books. Gregor gets sucked down a laundry ventilation shaft with his baby sister, Boots, into The Underland. In the Underland there's a war going on between the super pasty human Underdwellers and the ginormous, talking rat Underdwellers. The rest of the species (Bats, Cockroaches, Spiders, Mice, etc.) are mostly caught in the middle, although the Bats definitely align with the humans and serve as their flying mounts. Think of these other creatures as you do the Talking Animals of Narnia - they aren't just big and smart, they're individuals in their own right.

These books are action-packed, and the characters are phenomenal. I'm not going to consider this a spoiler b/c I won't tell you which book it happened in, but I cried when a giant Cockroach died. That's how good Suzanne is! Honestly, it was one of the most valiant deaths in the series, and, yes, she does kill off a fair number of characters, although it wasn't nearly to the Hunger Games level.

The Gregor books are addicting and thought-provoking, much like Suzanne Collin's other series. (You know, that one about the kids in some game.) My only complaint is that I REALLY need to know what happens to the characters after the fifth book ends! Seriously, Suzanne, where's that 6th book??? I need it! Please! What do I have to do to make that happen?

Did I mention they're addicting?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Other Peoples' Books: Harper Lee and the BSC

Photo by Ken Slade

If you don't already know, the BSC stands for The Babysitters Club. And, of course, Harper Lee is the renown author of To Kill a Mockingbird.

One of the things that really appeals to me about writing is the potential to affect others' lives. Even if it is just to entertain them for one afternoon. Even if your book gets published and immediately fades into obscurity, for all you know it was exactly what one of its few readers needed right when he or she read it. That's something I love about books.

Two things inspired me to write this post this week:
  1. This article on how the BSC helped a girl diagnosed with Type I diabetes back in the '90s.
  2. I just read Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman.

BSC Benevolence

Photo by Yasmeen

I'll deal with the easiest first. That's why I set it at point 1. I read some of the BSC books when I was a kid, and until I read this article it never occurred to me that Ann M. Martin, or possibly her ghostwriters or ghosteditor or whoever was in charge of making decisions about that series, purposely set up a somewhat diverse crowd of girls. This article specifically focused on how one of the main characters had diabetes but was still probably the coolest girl in the group and how that made the article's author feel far less alone when she was diagnosed with diabetes.

Talk about an aspect of The Babysitters Club that I never recognized before. What an awesome way a kids' book series affected this girl's life!

Harper Lee Controversy

Image from Kristen

Now for the less easy point. I'm not exactly sure what I think, so I'll just lay out the story and end with a few thoughts.

Harper Lee is still alive for those who are curious (I wasn't sure until I googled it), but she's not in good health. She's heavily dependent on her caretakers to make decisions for her, and her career caretaker decided it was time to publish a book Harper Lee wrote before writing To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAMB).

That first book, Go Set a Watchman (GSAW), is the chronological sequel to TKAMB, even though Lee wrote GSAW earlier. Apparently, Lee wanted to write a "race novel" but GSAW wasn't quite good enough. She worked hard and long and eventually finished writing the very polished TKAMB.

This NY Times opinion piece lambasts Rupert Murdoch-owned Harper Collins and Lee's protector, Tonja Carter, who brought the novel to Harper Collins. The article's author says (and gives some pretty decent evidence that) Lee never wanted GSAW to be published. She wanted her legacy to stand firm on the polished and moving TKAMB. Plus there's the fact that Lee had GSAW in her possession ever since the '50s but never published it herself. Pretty compelling argument.

That puts a very negative spin on the fact GSAW was published now that Lee's incapacitated.

However, it's been published - whether or not it should have been published in the first place is academic. That doesn't mean that I agree it should have been done. But it happened.

And, to put a different spin on it, some authors' private papers have been published after their deaths. Those papers give incredible insights into their works and are invaluable to scholars. And sometimes they're just incredibly interesting. But authors when they were alive wouldn't necessarily have wanted to share their private papers that are published and celebrated after their deaths.

Mockingbird by Andy Morffew

So here is my opinion and thoughts on GSAW:
  • It is an incredibly interesting companion piece to TKAMB.
  • It is not as moving as TKAMB and wouldn't have as much meaning if we weren't already captivated by the TKAMB characters.
  • It goes back to a really interesting period in time: the race relations in the 1950s South.
  • It is valuable for people today to remember that just 60 years ago these attitudes were a real thing in our country.
  • SIXTY YEARS! That is not too long ago. (Sorry, I felt the point was worth reiterating).
  • The book is a product of its time, and that in itself is interesting. The views Lee expresses even from the very liberal and "color blind" Scout are, well, still a little racist.
  • I found it interesting that even though Lee is writing a book about race relations, there are pretty much no black main characters. There's Calpurnia, but she only shows up in the novel's present day in about a quarter of one chapter. That's crazy and a bit telling.
  • Scout's character goes through an interesting evolution.
  • The book is worth a read. (Sorry, Harper Lee). It's a captivating, beautiful book that's easy to read. But I would only read it AFTER reading to Kill A Mocking Bird.
I feel a little like I'm slapping Harper Lee in the face when I say this, but I think this book is a great companion piece to TKAMB. It's not as moving or well-written. But it is good. I enjoyed it, it made me think, and I was glad I got to read it.

It's good to remember that this was our world a mere 60 years ago. Brown vs. Board of Education only started to dismantle segregation in the South in 1954. Interracial marriages were only legalized in some (Southern) states in 1967. Then there was the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

That's insane to me. And I think this book helps put all of that back in the spotlight.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Moar Dragons

Get it? "Moar" like "Roar"?

You know? Because Dragons Roar?
Or at least I imagine they do.

Are you laughing yet?

My husband rolls his eyes when I inform him just how hilarious I am, but I'm pretty sure I am, in actual fact, quite funny.

Either way, I have two really cool dragons to show you. I think I'm getting better at them, and, as it turns out, crappier crayons melt in rather neat ways.