Sunday, November 27, 2011

Seeking Angels

Dear Readers and Bloggers,

If you've ever participated in the "Angel Tree" gift-giving, or if you ever wanted to give a holiday gift to a child who really needs and deserves a miracle, please consider making a donation to Sarah, whose jaw was destroyed by a tumor.

It's been a rough year for everyone I know. We all seem to be in the red by the end of the month. But consider swapping one holiday video game purchase for a holiday donation to Sarah's surgery.

Please give forward this month.  Here's a link to sweet Sarah's donation page and photos.

Every donation counts. If all my Facebook and Blogger friends donated just $25-$35, her surgery expenses would be met.

Thanks for paying it forward this post-Thanksgiving season.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thank you, Sherman

So, on Thanksgiving morning, as we were packing the car for Mee-maw's house, I stopped to lament.

I couldn't help it.  Something had been weighing heavily on my heart, and I couldn't stand it any longer. I marched into the kitchen and confessed to my partner. 

As much as I try, and much as I read, I cannot, cannot get into Young Adult fantasy books.  Even the bestsellers.  What is wrong with me?

It's kind of a problem because I just wrote this manuscript that is kind of fantastic, kind of science fiction.  And I've been immersing myself in YA, as any responsible writer of a new genre should do.  Contemporary? Check. Dystopian? Not a problem. Zombies? Well, I like the French ones. But every time I check out a fantasy novel, I can't get past the names without either groaning or giggling.

I felt truly, terribly awful for having decided, once and for all, that fantasy isn't my thing.  What made me think I would be charmed by Daughter of Smoke and Bone if I couldn't get past page 3 of The Lord of the Rings? I tried.  Lord knows I tried. So I spent the first few hours of Thanksgiving morning in frustration, until my partner, as always, put things into perspective.

"That's all right," he said. "You don't have to like fantasy."


So the day after Thanksgiving, after having taken my son and nephew to Legoland Discovery Center (a glorified store, folks--not a theme park), I poured myself a well-deserved glass of wine and settled down with Sherman Alexie's graphic, violent, disturbing novel, Flight.
from here

Holy crap.  That book saved me.  Sherman Alexie pulled me from my reader's malaise and shot his arrow right through my heart.

I don't enjoy violence in novels.  Usually it's gratuitous and caters to a blood-titillated audience, long ruined by Hollywood bloodlust.

Flight is not a long novel. I started on Friday and I finished it this morning.
It was rough and painful and disillusioning.

And so I was completely gobsmacked when the last three pages made me cry. 
Three times.
I had to quickly shamble to the bathroom so my nephew wouldn't see my stupid, wonderful tears rolling down my cheeks.
(Shamble is Alexie's word.  I stole it from Flight.)

So thank you, Sherman Alexie.  Thanks for making me feel the magic of fiction again.  For helping me see the Literary in the novel again.

For making me believe in happy endings.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Query Survival Kit

I have reached the Summit of Blues. For those who have been there, it's a mountain deep in the Wilderness of Agent Seeking.

I'm not depressed, but I am feeling this: ugh.  I need more energy, more caffeine, more pep talks, more something to get me through another round of queries.  I am fortunate that two of my manuscripts are in the hands of agents who requested Fulls, but it's been a while, and the more time passes, the more I feel grim. I figure I need Russell, from the brilliant film Up, to visit me.

He has a Wilderness Survival Guide that might help me during this Agent Query search.

How to Build a Tent. 
Or, How to Survive the Query Process
Step 1:  Separate Tent Parts.  
Or, Separate your self worth from your manuscript.
(That's harder than it looks.)
Step 2: Follow Directions Carefully.  Or,
Research the heck out of agents, fall in love with agent, craft a specific letter to agent, get rejection from agent on pitch alone, sigh, and repeat from beginning of Step 2
Step 3: Never Force Anything.  Or,
Realize that agents have specific ideas about what will be a success in the market--or desirable to publishers--and your manuscript might not "fit" those ideas. Truth be told, they're forced to judge a book by its cover (pitch), right?  

So take a deep breath, and just say it: "Tents are hard."
Rejections are hard.
But look at Russell's face.  All red-whipped, and he's still not giving up completely.

Getting rejections is an important part of becoming a better writer and determining how much I believe in what I'm doing.  Even published authors get rejections. (Yep, there are many of us. I'm not alone.)

Now, it's back to work.  I've got a tent to build.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The King's Speech

Stephen King, that is.

Here's my ticket.  I took a photo in the car, just in case they wanted to keep the ticket as I walked in the door. (There were 1000 attendees, by the way, and I was approximately #40 in line, thanks to my arrival three hours before showtime.)

As you (and all my Facebook friends) know by now, I had the extraordinary fortune to see Stephen King last night as part of his 4-city book tour. And more good fortune to be sitting on the fifth row, directly in front of him.

SPOILER ALERT! If you bought tickets to one of the three other King appearances, skip over the next paragraph.  He may tell these stories again, and I promise, you'll appreciate them more in person.

Stephen was funny, humble, proud (contradiction intended), and above all, adorable.
He talked about his tendency to be demonstrative ("My grandfather used to tell me, 'Stephen, you open your mouth and your guts fall out!'"). He talked about his overly-agreeable nature ("My mother used to tell me, 'Stephen, you're so agreeable that if you were a girl, you would always be pregnant!'").

He told us about the time he was invited to lunch by Bruce Springsteen, and about the first time he was recognized by a stranger and asked for an autograph.  In the bathroom.  I'll resist telling you the hilarious details of these stories until King's book tour is over. Go buy your own ticket.

Then he read from his new book, 11-22-63, a novel about time travel and JFK's assassination. That's all I know. (I didn't get one of the 250 randomly placed signed copies in the pile, but I was so content with my book and the entire evening, I didn't mind.)

Anyway, it was marvelous and thrilling and magical to sit in front of the man whose book, On Writing, became my writing Bible. (I recommend On Writing as mandatory reading for all fiction writers, regardless of their genre.) I'm such a wuss, I've never been able to read King's horror stories.  But "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" (and the other stories in the Different Seasons collection) captivated my heart and mind.

I ended the evening with dinner and good company of friends. Here are a few more pics, all taken by my seatmate and graduate school buddy, Diana.

That's me with the blonde hair and googly eyes. Diana took these photos. Thanks, Diana!
Have a great weekend!

Friday, November 11, 2011

In celebration of the palindromic moment

11-11-11 11:11:11

Apparently, this is the exact moment to slip on something made of corduroy, the Date that Most Resembles Corduroy.  Which will then bring you good luck until...the next palindromic opportunity?

Thanks goodness I have my brown corduroy blazer nearby.  Wouldn't want to press my luck.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tomorrow: Stephen King

This guy:

This book:

as many flash-free snapshots from my cell phone as I can take 
and still listen to King read
Live, in a high school auditorium,

One happy girl.

I'll be the one clutching a worn copy of On Writing.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I am Joy, I am Wonder

The Kool Kats over at YA Highway have asked writers to contribute again to yet another deeply profound prompt:
What are your writing and publishing superpowers (drafting? beta-reading? writing queries? plotting? character creation? etc.) -- and what's your kryptonite?

Immediately, I envision the Bugaloos.  I have NO IDEA why:
The Bugaloo in pink is "Joy"

Are they even superheroes?  Probably not.  But I was addicted to this show when I was little, and I was in love with Joy, that pink Bugaloo, and with the Blond Bugaloo, too. So I'm choosing her, folks. Here's a justifiable reason: my writer's ego can get squashed from time to time, but when it comes down to it, that joy of writing runs deep.  Joy irons her wings, and pretty soon, she's flying again.

I think mortality is my nemisis:
pics from here
Uh-huh. If you're old enough, you know what I'm talking about: What if I die before someone discovers that my manuscript rocks? But heck, it's just death folks, not kryptonite.

And I'm a wonder when it comes to finishing manuscripts. So, for my wondrous ability to git 'er done, here's a proper superhero for you:
from here

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Be Yourself

"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” ~ Oscar Wilde
This was the status update on October 31st (Halloween, get it?) by the amazing Dinty W. Moore. Dinty Moore wasn't the first editor to select one of my short stories for publication, but he was the first one who was totally, utterly, completely unconnected to me and still chose to include my story in his anthology, Sudden Stories: A Mammoth Anthology of Miniscule Fiction. My creative writing students at the time giggled at both the title of the book and Dinty's familiar name. ("Are you sure it isn't one of those scam presses?" one of my students asked, genuinely concerned for me.)
It wasn't a scam. Dinty is a well-respected teacher and writer, but it is his status updates on Facebook that consistently keep me in awe. And his keen eye for beautiful photographs.
So, Dinty posted this quote by Oscar Wilde, and it was like a dose of medicine.  Not the bitter-pill kind of medicine, but the warm Theraflu-kind on a cold winter's night. I'm juggling a LOT of things these days. I've got 2 fiction manuscripts (one adult and one YA) and 1 novel (Song) out to agents right now, and since talking publicly about submissions is not something we writers do, I won't say anything more. I have another (4th) completed manuscript that I've still got in the drawer simmering a while.
In the meantime, I'm reading YA novels voraciously, reading multiple blogs on writing and the publishing biz, and oh yeah, teaching English at the university. Sometimes I get swept away by all the advice from writers and agents on the web. I get bluesy in this big world of publishing with the jillions of fishies (with completed manuscripts tucked under their fins) in the sea. My story's a cross between so-and-so and sew-and-sew; I must pitch my story as such-and-such genre to even have a chance of being read; write BIG, write BIG! All this advice can make a serious writer feel very small.
Of late, I've had many a heart-to-heart conversation with my partner. These scenes consist mostly of my asking HervĂ© why and how and what questions about my manuscript revisions, and he offering advice that I largely ignore.  Then I realize he's right about practically everything, even though he's a brilliant scientist and doesn't read fiction.
Yesterday as I drove my partner to the airport, he gave me earnest advice and sounded a lot like Oscar Wilde: Trust yourself.  Be yourself. Great writers don't write like other people. You write best when you're not trying to please everyone. Pay attention to your craft.
Yes, we had the ensuing debate that begins, "But what about my audience?! I'm writing for an audience that I must please! Who must buy the book! And for the agents, who must give their blessings!" Yada yada yada. But I know there is truth to what he told me. I've been focusing on popular formula and trends at the expense of my craft.  They are two entirely different things. I've also been obsessively comparing my characters, plots, and themes to other novels, as though they are the measure of my story's success.
So I'm refocusing this week.  Craft. Voice. Intuition.
And I am, once again, grateful to have such a marvel for a partner.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

On Writing Coaches

"Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic."

It's Wednesday, and you know what that means: I have to stop procrastinating and get a post written before heading off to university. YA Highway wants to know "What kind of writing coach do you need? When you have to coach friends, what kind of coach are you?" Me?

I really wish I had some previous students pipe in here.  Was I a pain in the rear? So stickly that I ruined creative writing for you and now instead of living the tortured life of a literary novelist, you're living the tortured life of an accountant? As a graduate student, I tried to model my own creative writing teachers: tough as nails, but dedicated to anyone truly interested in the craft.  I was the kind of "coach" who handed back short stories with my comments inked in blood all over the margins.  Garsh, I was so serious.

 I'm finding that now that I've ventured into YA territory, I'm in need of some young whipersnappers (Garsh, I sound so old!) to give me some tough love.  Slay me with your worst "This part is so boring" so I can figure out how to balance the exposition, character development (aka, "telling"), and all the rest ("showing"). Criticism you can use to improve your novel is like a gift, after all.

I'm in the "query dumps" right now.  It's too early in the process to be feeling down, but to me, this is the worst part about being a writer. (Not the querying; the waiting. Okay, and the rejections.) Is there a coach for that?

Soup Dumpster
Yep: the query dump, where dormant dreams reside