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.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Interwebs and First Drafts

Photo by Javi Masa

My internet has returned! Mostly. It's 99% better than it was (you know, when it was out for hours on end), but it does cut back out a little sometimes. Makes watching Netflix super annoying. But I do it anyway.

In other news: I finished my first draft of my latest book!!!!!

Sometimes it's too easy for me to keep thinking about all the work I still need to do. It's too easy to think to, "What if this one is just like all the others? Tons of work and, in the end, nothing comes of it."

But I've got to believe that I'm learning, and I'm getting better. I do love this story and this world. I'm hoping this time I finally cracked the code. And, if not .... I guess there's always the next book.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Internet on the Fritz

Gonna keep this short because I've no idea when my internet will cut back out.

I hope you all are having a great week. Mine's rather internet-less (you never realize how much you're addicted until you're cut off.) The guys will be coming to fix it somewhere between 8am and 12pm on Thursday. They're so helpful with their timeframes.

Just so you know, I'm writing this on Friday, so it's a full week without reliable internet. I am seriously missing Netflix right about now.

Wish me luck!

Next week I'll let you know whether I still have my sanity in tact.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

My Dragon Drip Art

A few weeks ago I showed off my Koi fish, melted crayon drip art.

Well, I happen to love dragons (hence my MG book about dragons), and my husband's a fan (hence his attempted theft of my crocheted dragon). So I decided to try my hand at Dragon Drip Art. This post is to show off the results because, well, who wouldn't want to see dragons?

Chinese style wyvern

This was my attempt at a Chinese-style dragon, inspired by my Koi artwork. Although, apparently, if a dragon only has two legs it's technically a wyvern. I guess some people get all in a huff about things like that. I, however, think of my pretty little guy as a dragon.

In some ways I actually liked him better before I added the crayon bits. I was a little sad that the red marker didn't really come through into the final product. Pre-crayon version:

Chinese style dragon art

Once I'd done my Chinese-style dragon, I decided to try my hand at a more traditional style dragon (at least in these here parts). I really liked the Chinese dragons scales, but I was afraid adding scales would have made the artwork too busy. Here she is:

And, if you're curious, here's a picture before I melted the crayons:

dragon drawing

It was a little dark in the hallway where I had my drip-station set up, so it's a bit shadowy in that last picture.

So there you have it, folks: Here there be Dragons!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

To Query or Not To Query - That Is The Question

potato eaters, van gogh, print
Van Gogh's "Potato Eaters" Print from NGA

Let's all take one moment to appreciate that high res images of some of the most awesome art collections in the world are available for free from the museums who own the artwork. Isn't that cool?

Now, back to writing. Lately I've been thinking about the quandary of when to query and when not to query. It's a very existential sort of question.

To Query

The thing is: if you're not querying, you aren't putting your book out there. If you aren't putting your book out there, there's no way you're going to get published. At first glance, it really feels that simple.

The only way you're going to find out for sure if your book is good enough and your query letter are good enough is to send out a few query-letter feelers.

Not to Query

The problem is that once you've queried your dream agent(s), and your dream agent(s) have rejected you, you're outa luck. And once you've queried your entire list of agents, you can either move on to less appropriate agents or you can give up on that book.

And if your query letter or first few pages aren't quite up to snuff (despite all your revisions and time and sweat and tears), you are going to be rejected. Over and over. And then you'll run out of options.

It is so incredibly easy to allow this back and forth thought process to stop you from querying altogether. Or to send you into a crippling spiral of doubt. Believe me, I know.

potato eaters, van gogh, painting
Van Gogh's "Potato Eaters" Painting from van Gogh Museum

My Sorta Solution - Five Queries at a Time

I've adopted the Five Query Rule. First I write. Then I revise. Then I write my query. Then I revise it. Then I go back and ask other people (my dear, patient critique partners, friends, and family) for input on all of the above. More revisions.

This takes forever. Now that I've spent forever, I obviously think I've got something good. 

So I send out five queries - to one or two of my most favorite agents and four or three I'd definitely like to work with. These agents represent my genre and age group and books that I think share some qualities with my book.

Then I sit back, try not to refresh my inbox five times every hour and wait to see what happens.

When I get zero requests, I halt the presses and go back. Maybe it's the query. I revise that and try five more.

That doesn't work? I take a breather and have another look at my manuscript and my query.

It Takes Forever

This process is frustrating because it takes forever. There are those few lucky souls who make it through in record time, but, so far as I understand, that's not most of us, and it's certainly not me.

So, right now, I'm writing a first draft of a book that I'm in love with. Then I'm going back and I'm revising my upper MG Fantasy, Dragon Lure, once again and I'm certainly taking another look at its query letter. And then I'm going to cross my fingers and hope. Because once you've done everything else, sometimes that's all you can do.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Cool June Day

Posting every Wednesday is kinda my thing, but this Wednesday I'm at a bit of a loss. I've been working away at my latest and greatest (which is a re-imagining of an older, much loved manuscript). Whether it's actually great has yet to be seen, but, hey, I can hope.

Most of my spare time goes to my writing. This week I also exchanged a few critiques and updated my resume for kicks and grins. I mean, really, I'm an exciting gal.

One of my favorite things on the internet is fun pictures, so this week that's what you're getting. I searched "cool photo" on Creative Commons, and ended up with a few good ones. Enjoy!

This cat isn't exactly cool, but she made me smile. And that's what's important, after all.

Cat staring you down
Photo by Jenny Downing

I believe this cat is asking what precisely you think you are looking at.

So, moving on.

These girls have popsicles and sunglasses. And swagger, I'm pretty sure. I mean, I've never had swagger a day in my life, so I might be misrepresenting it, but I'm pretty sure ....

cool kids with popsicles
Photo by Alison Benbow
To wrap things up, we've got a dog wearing shades.

one cool dog
Photo by Denis