Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Award Time

I really didn't know what I wanted to write about this week, which is perhaps a reflection on all of the things I didn't want to blog about: my forays into house cleaning in preparation for company, my obsession with my snowman-themed Christmas tree, my flat out addiction to Christmas music, or how much I laugh at my border collie when he eats too much snow and gets brain freeze and whines. Thankfully, Caroline gave me the perfect topic for the day: an award.

The duties inherent in said award include sharing one fun fact about my childhood reading life and sharing five blogs to visit.

Okay, prepare yourself because my childhood reading fact is embarassing (not slightly). I loved the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley and could often be found reading them while seated on my imagined horse, complete with rope reins in case the chair/horse (yes, it had a self-made saddle on it) got too unruly. "Whoa, horsey," I uttered more often than I should admit. Thank goodness my parents didn't have a video camera, otherwise that clip would be airing on Youtube.

Five (Read as Two because I'm in a hurry) Blogs to Visit:

1. Kasie West cracks me up, and you've got to read her post lambasting the elbow.

2. Let's push Debbie Schubert to embrace Subliminal Mondays. (I'm treasurer of the peer-pressure campaign. We do need someone to make buttons and flyers.)

Quote for the Day

"Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow"

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I’ve Got a Question, and I’m Pretty Sure You Have the Answer

The time has come for me to make this announcement: I need some help. There is a decision I must make, and it got me wondering about how my fellow writers make the same decisions. I assume I am not the only one with a writing-related mission statement that includes working hard, getting an agent, an editor, a book deal, a publishing date, a successful debut, and the opportunity to work really hard on the next project. So, my mission statement is in place, but that still leaves me with a lot of grey area.

My question for you: How do you decide what project to work on next?

I would guess that I am anything but alone in having stories whispering to me while I listen to the radio, cook dinner, do the dishes, or while I’m sleeping. Which leaves me with many choices when it comes time to work on the next project. The decisions become even more unruly given my already full nursery of stories ready to become grown-up, edited, ready-to-take-on-the-world final drafts. Current tally: four first drafts, two new ideas that are coming together (one will require more research than the other), and one new idea that bubbled up on my way to taking my dogs to the groomer this morning.

What to do?

My inner writer—who loves crayons, unicorns, and the color pink—loves to write first drafts. It’s funny how my analogy about first drafts resembling baby stories (from Monday’s post) could work just as well with the different personas writers have to morph into throughout the writing process. To write a first draft, we must be dreamers, but dreamers alone don’t finish things. So, to edit, we must be analytical and able to endure frustration. And to submit our work, we must be able to do battle with doubt and the pain that comes with rejection; we must be brave and fierce to keep pushing no matter what comes at us. In other words, while the dreamer writes the story, it’s the hard-nosed warrior we become in the marketing process who is the real hero.

And I am a big supporter of tending both the dreamer and the hero, at the proper times. That has been part of my motivation for my first-draft-a-thon. The warrior within has done her work and I continue to submit queries, partials, and fulls, but the dreamer needed time to play and I gave her that. But now what?

Do I round up the most worthy of the first drafts (and that might just be another blog post in how we decide such a thing) and send them through the editing process? Allow the dreamer more glee by telling another first draft before we get to the hard work of editing one of the stories? Or bribe my inner dreamer with a promise that after the next edited work is ready to go, she can write another first draft (while twirling in a fairy-inspired, pink tutu... what can I say, the dreamer is spunky)? New stories are the motivators for me, like the “if you eat right all week, you can have ________ (insert name of most decadent and beloved food here).” Maybe that is the most effective plan, bold and unapologetic bribery to get another story ready for marketing next year.

Please, weigh in. How do you pick your next story when several are bubbling up? Do you take every project through the editing process, or do you alternate around like I do? Am I the only fickle writer out there who must always have many projects going to be able to focus? What is it that draws you to one story over another? Character? Setting? Major, already-imagined scene? I really look forward to getting to know the thinking process of fellow writers. And thanks again for your thoughts.

Quote for the Day from Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (one of the most amazing books I’ve read this year)

“My sister, Swede, who often sees to the nub, offered this: People fear miracles because they fear being changed—though ignoring them will change you also.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Story Nursery: A Good Day for Writing

So, I've been thinking, I started this blog a little over two months ago and we are sixteen posts in and I haven’t mentioned my writing much at all. Part of this is because I spend so much time in awe of the amazing books I read that I’d rather gush about them on the blog, and another part is that I think I’m on the shy side when it comes to my writing. As I mentioned before, this whole out-in-the-world lack of anonymity was a stretch for me, and part of me is hanging onto that in reference to my writing.

But yesterday was a really good writing day, and I guess I want to share it with others who will understand the fun and the need for the fun. As anyone who has reached the querying stage knows (and those who see it on the horizon can well imagine), the marketing stage of this publishing journey is on the tougher side. The ability to continue after experiencing the waiting, the rejections, and the endurance trial that is querying is what sets apart the dreamers from the doers.

For everything, I have a game plan, and my game plan for developing the perseverance to continue is to make sure that writing is still playful and fun. And thus, the first-draft-a-thon was created. While I have been marketing one YA fantasy, I have been playing in fantastical worlds and meeting new and interesting characters. All of this without feeling like I need to judge these new playful projects, because they are for fun. They have not been edited. It’s all about the first drafts, the babies of the writing process.

My feeling is that when a book gets edited it goes through adolescence, where everything feels gawky and even the best-looking teens feel like creatures from the depths. And when the book reaches its final-draft stage, it’s a grown-up, ready to go out and work for its living, endure the rejections, and keep on fighting the good fight.

I love my grown-up YA story that is being marketed, but as anyone who has been paying attention to my blog and my adoration for Debbie’s new niece, the radiant Miss Devyn, knows, I heart babies and baby stories, too.

And right now the story nursery is getting full with four new first drafts that I’ve written this year. They coo and giggle at me, and I smile and wave and say ridiculous things that make me sound like a lunatic. But such is my writing process.

And yesterday, I finished the fourth of the first drafts after a marathon writing session that filled me with glee. There is a time and place for reading rejections; sending more queries; preparing fulls, partials, and synopses, but there is also a time to write because a story is lingering in the ethers, waiting to be told. There is a time for spending an entire day writing, filled with true joy to be lucky enough to get to be on this writing journey. Not everyone hears the stories like we do. Some people dream of having a niche in this world, of knowing what they want. We do.

Yesterday was a beautiful day for writing. And as I move toward deciding which of my story babies is ready for adolescence and adulthood next year, I’m really feeling blessed. This journey is hard, as anyone will attest to, but it is worth every low point, every hope raised and dropped, and every single minute when my fingers scramble quickly over the keys while a story unfolds before my eyes.

And I hope that no matter how rocky the road, you feel that way, too.

Quote for the Day from Henry V by William Shakespeare

“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend

The brightest heaven of invention”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Let’s Talk About Companions

And if you were a fan of the short-lived, but brilliant, Firefly, just FYI, we’re not talking about those types of companions. Nor are we talking about companion animals, travel companions, or companion planting (I’m not really sure what that is, but Google seemed to think it was important). What we are talking about, unsurprisingly, is the concept of companion books. In case any readers are unfamiliar with companion books, take a little journey with me.

Once upon a time, an author writes a book, edits it fiercely, submits it to agents, wins an agent, gets a book deal and a lovely editor with a grand publishing house, edits feverishly, waits, and then poof, overnight success. And then, the author has to write another book and decides not to write it about Character A, who was beloved by millions, but instead about Character A’s third cousin, twice removed. Consequently, the world of the story is similar, but without the beloved Character A. The cover of this new book reads, The Danger-fraught Journey of Character A’s Third Cousin, Twice Removed, A Companion Book to The Thrilling-fraught Journey of Character A.

So, that’s a companion book. And I’m very curious to know what other devoted readers think of these companion books, because sometimes they rankle me and other times they make me gush. Case in point, with the gushing (cause you know I’m not going to spill about the rankling), is FIRE by Kristin Cashore. But we really can’t begin with FIRE; we have to begin with GRACELING, her first book involving this story world and its wonderful inhabitants.

Let’s see if I can be not-with-the-gushy... okay, probably not. I loved GRACELING. I loved Katsa. I loved Po. I loved the story’s journey, the sense of the geography, the characters, their flaws, and the exceptionally pleasing ending (although, I did get miffed that the book ended... period, but nobody buys infinity books anymore, so books have to end—drat them). And what got me through the trauma (my own, not having to do with the plot) of the book’s end was that I knew there was another book, and I assumed that it continued the tale of Katsa and Po. So, off I went to the bookstore, picked up FIRE, and walked directly to the register, but stopped abruptly when I saw on the cover the fateful words, “A Companion to GRACELING.” What?! No Katsa. No Po. What? Huh? No! And so, grumbling inwardly (hopefully), I marched up and bought FIRE, while mourning the loss of my bubbly excitement.

At home, after whining to my exceedingly tolerant BFF, I opened the book. And whoosh. Ms. Cashore, after an interesting prologue, had me at the first line. And tell me, why wouldn’t she?

It did not surprise Fire that the man in the forest shot her. What surprised her was that he shot her by accident.

What followed was Ms. Cashore’s brilliant writing, exceptional story crafting, and me devouring the book with speed the equivalent of a cheetah in a land race. The story was so engrossing that I was instantly more concerned with Fire’s journey and much less worried about missing Katsa and Po. (This doesn’t mean that I am not anxious to have their story continue, because I certainly am. But I am much more excited that I have a new favorite author, whose writing I will follow wherever it goes.)

Since I don’t like to give plot descriptions in my book reviews (because I don’t like to read them before I read a new book), I will give you a few more glimpses into Ms. Cashore’s beautiful writing.

For example:

Their arguments, however they squashed her, were drawn from the wells of two very large hearts.

I loved this line and its gift of remembrance that very few of our loved ones mean to do the damage they sometimes do.

Fire added immaturity to the things she could accuse him of in the fight they weren’t going to have.

If I had a cupcake for every imaginary fight I had prepared in my mind, I would have fallen over from sugar shock a long time ago.

The enthusiastic massacre began once more.

You’d think this line was horrible, until I tell you this: the line is in reference to children attempting to play instruments. Massacre is the only good word for it.

So, companion books? What do you think? My take is that companion books are only as good or bad as the connections we are able to make with the new characters. I connected with the characters in FIRE and consequently loved it. Probably the most well known (and unfortunately somewhat squashed) and desired companion book in sort-of existence is MIDNIGHT SUN, Stephenie Meyer’s retelling of the story of TWILIGHT from hottie Edward’s perspective. I did read it after Ms. Meyer posted a portion on her website and loved it, and like many others hope that one day the muse will be there and Ms. Meyer will finish it. My favorite of all companion books would have to be the LORD OF THE RINGS (not sure of the distinction here between sequel and companion, but the feel of the books is different enough for me to think companion). My least-liked companion book had everything to do with a new main character I couldn’t stand, and I only read it to get to the bits that included a couple previously known characters, though I ended up disliking even most of their parts.

But I would love for you to weigh in: companion books, love them or hate them? What are your favorites? Do you dream of writing companion books of your own? And why aren’t you reading FIRE yet? (Note: it really doesn’t matter whether you read FIRE first or GRACELING; there’s a case to be made that FIRE might just make a better setup for GRACELING if you read it first. What does matter is that you don’t miss these amazing stories.)

Quote for the Day from FIRE.

From the warmth of her fondness for her horse she constructed a fragile and changeable thing that almost resembled courage.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Bouquet on the First Snowy Day

Sandra Leigh, over at Amazing Voyages of the Turtle, was kind enough to send me this little bouquet, which smells a whole lot like the cinnamon tea I'm drinking in case you wondered. What a treat, especially since I've felt like a neglectful blogger of late. The holiday-induced fugue state seems to be negatively affecting my ability to focus, or at least sit down for more than a few seconds put together. But now is the time. The carpet has been shampooed, check. The tree, up. The sheets, washed. The company countdown clock is sounding a lot like those T-minus warnings when the space shuttle lifts off. And I am ready for a new blog post.

Okay, so the rules. Seven things you don't know about me, and pass the award on to seven other lovely bloggers. Here goes.

About Me:

1. I used to rock climb... in the winter (I know, cold, dangerous, and complete with frozen gear. I'm older and wiser now, mostly).

2. Somewhere, in a box probably, I still have my life expectations for 1985 that included getting married to John Taylor of Duran Duran. Poor man would have been arrested, but it all made sense to me at the time.

3. I had a major tree-preparation style error when I purchased a white Christmas tree yesterday, only to get it home and start to put it up and realize that all of my ornaments, and even some of the lights, are snowmen. It looked like I was going for a camouflaged snowmen motif. Seriously, stylish-istas, nothing popped. And back to the store I went.

4. And after yesterday's decoration disaster, I counted myself as blessed that two of my dearest friends in the world are Jewish, since I'm thinking that for Christmas next year, I am running away to the beach with one of them.

5. I make some of the best healthy whole wheat bread that the world has ever experienced, and sharing is difficult. :)

6. If I could only hear one song over and over again for the rest of my life, today that song would be Moon and Moon, by Bat for Lashes. It is hauntingly beautiful.

7. And last but not least, one of the high points of my year was meeting my new mini BFF, Devyn (Debbie's new niece). Big thanks to her mom for allowing the introduction, and to all of Debbie's family for making me feel very welcome. I still want to know how a certain art project did.

Now, to share the virtual bouquet with others:

1. Debbie over at Write on Target deserves passels of bouquets, since this is decidedly a big year for her. Thanks for always being there for me and sharing your amazing journey (and that wonderful family of yours).

2. To Kasie West, who continually provides needed levity to my days, I bestow a bouquet. And I did see New Moon, based on your recommendation, and all I can say is, "Yummy!" I did not become a shape-shifting werewolf type, of which I am not certain whether to be elated or depressed. :)

3. For introducing me to SHIVER and providing many other wonderful book recommendations, I send a bouquet to Suzie Townsend at Confessions of a Wandering Heart. Keep up the great work, because I am always looking for a new favorite (though SHIVER is still the reigning champion for this year).

4. I found Tricia's amazing blog because of a hysterical comment she made on Kasie's blog that caused hot tea to seek exits other than the intended path down my throat. (How's that for an embarrassing confession, but her shock collars for werewolves comments were really that funny.) And if that doesn't deserve a bouquet, I just don't know what does.

5. Caroline's blog is a pretty recent find, and I am loving it and her perspective on books and the publishing experience. By the way, I just finished GRACELING (loved it) and am reading FIRE now (it's amazing, and those two books will provide the substance of my next blog post, in case you are interested).

6. Another very enjoyable blog that deserves a hefty bouquet is Melissa's Chasing the Dream blog. I love her way of looking at the writing process and her clear devotion to her characters.

7. And last but not least, a bouquet filled with lots of love and warmth, I hereby bestow upon the ever-neglected and abused Laptop, Kiersten White's computer. She uses him like a workhorse, but never shows him any fun. Too bad there isn't an equivalent of PETA for me to rat her out to (I would, I seriously would). Be well and happy, Laptop, and know that a beautiful life awaits you (but I suggest you keep working right or your cruel master might pitch you for a newer and shinier model. ;)

Quote for the Day from Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen