Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Finishing that thought

This post can be alternately titled "Here's hoping follow-through can develop with age".  Sunday evening I was at my parents' house and (at my mother's behest) was going through some boxes of my junk in the basement.  Nestled among the debris I came across a partial manuscript of a novel (humorous chick lit, written at the height of the Bridget Jones era, entitled Random Rantings of the Possibly Seriously Disturbed) that I had started while in law school 11 or 12 years ago.  I had completely forgotten about it and was both excited and nervous to read it.  The good news is that it was funny.  Intentionally, not like when I had "pubic" instead of "public" on page 51 of An Unexpected Kingdom. The bad news is that it was all over the place.  Hardly a single thought was complete.  It was clear that I could not be bothered to finish one chapter before starting another.  Reading it brought to mind all of the other areas in which my follow-through has left much to be desired through the years including piano, guitar, swimming, ballet, pretty much all exercise, shirt making (don't ask), bargain shopping, and recycling.  My point (I do have one) is that I want to believe that the accomplishment of finishing the manuscript for An Unexpected Kingdom was not a fluke and that I have it in me to write novels (which by necessity includes finishing them).  As my mom says: we'll see.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

No one thing

My bookshelves are a study in the chaos of eclecticism. There is no one genre that I can point to as typifying what I love to read because I enjoy so many different styles and categories of writing, which seem to expand every day as sub-genre upon sub-genre bursts into the lexicon.  Even staying within children's literature (Young Adult and Middle Grade) I am all over the place with the titles I choose and then cherish.  Three very different books that I read in the last week are a good example.  I read each of the three straight through on a different day and I completely connected with all of them for different reasons.  The first (read last Friday) was Hereafter by Tara Hudson, a YA modern ghost story that does double duty as a page-turning mystery and a sweet-as-anything love story.  I was intrigued from the very beginning and really identified with the characters.  The book made me smile and had a satisfying ending (which is really a big thing with me, I'm not a fan of the cliffhanger without any tie-up), but also left me wanting to know more about Amelia and Joshua: a perfect mix.  I had a very different reaction to another YA novel, the heralded Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, which I read on Monday.  My initial reaction was "disturbingly beautiful"; I put the book down when I was done and just sat for nearly an hour thinking about it.  It was at once compelling and uncomfortable; written on a level that is a few floors above the plane on which most authors exist.  Finally, on Saturday night I read the adorable MG novel The Allegra Biscotti Collection by Olivia Bennett staring Emma Rose, an 8th grader that I want to befriend (and have design my fall wardrobe).  This book just simply made me happy.  Nothing more, nothing less.  The writing and the character are infectious.  So, three books that I truly enjoyed for very different reasons, all of which inspired me to continue and improve my own writing.  If my writing can invoke any of these same feelings in others, I would consider myself an enormous success.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A maddeningly solitary activity

I have twice tried to join a writers' group.  For those of you who think that sounds like a support group, well I guess it is in a way, but really it is a critique group: a small number of writers who read and comment on each other's work.  It seems like every novel I read contains an acknowledgments page that mentions the wonderful writers' group without whom the author could never have produced such a masterpiece (a fabricated example: "For my sisters at WeLoveWritingAndDarkAngels4Eva- you gave me the strength to keep going when I just wanted to gorge myself on rice cakes and kill off all my characters in tanning bed accidents.").  I want that.  Well I want that without having to ever eat a rice cake.  I love to read and I read incredibly quickly so I feel like I could be an invaluable member to a group of other aspiring or current YA or MG writers (or any kind of fiction writer, really).  And I am almost physically hungry for feedback on my own writing.  I have a core group of truly dazzling family members and friends, led by my beautiful sister Caitlin, who read everything I write and lavish praise on it, but everyone who writes knows that there is no substitute for the critical feedback you can get from someone who a) doesn't love you to pieces and b) also lives and breathes writing.  However, my two attempts to find such a group ended in defeat.  The stories are too pathetic to share in their entirety, but suffice it to say that two existing groups did not accept me as a member.  There were no failed auditions or anything, they just never responded to me.  It's like being told you can't sit at someone's lunch table while you're standing there with a tray.  So, my goal for this summer is to find a writers' group that will let me sit at the lunch table.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Listen to the birdie (tweet, tweet)

I have sent my first tweet!  I am embarrassed at how long it took me to figure out how to do it.  I still am confused on who will SEE it since I have no followers, but you can be one of the first (see the little button on the right hand side of the page above the blog archive).  Spending hours on one sentence is not all I accomplished today.  I also engaged in a second writing exercise for The Guardians of Ben Q. Flanders.  I was inspired by the structure exercise I did over the weekend so I took it a step further and laid out all the major scenes that will accompany those structure points.  I ended up with 4-5 major scenes for each of the three "acts" or sections of the story and I am hoping that now this first draft will flow onto the page.  My goal is approximately 50,000 words (usual for a Middle Grade novel) to be done by July 15.  That is one month from tomorrow and if I stay on track with writing five or six days a week I am confident I can do it. 

Monday, June 13, 2011


I am back home, back to my computer, and best of all, buoyed by the Bruins' game six victory.   First, an update on my challenge to myself to write 10,000 words in the two days between late Tuesday night and late Thursday night:  I did not make it (boo), but I did end up with an additional 7,211 words added to The Guardians of Ben Q. Flanders when all was said and done.  My gross word total was certainly higher but since I am a compulsive editor, the net fell short of my goal.  Although I did not write over the weekend while I was away, I did engage in an exercise that I learned at the Grub Street conference.  I had really enjoyed a session on structure led by James Scott in which he explained the structure of the screenplay and how using the three act layout can help you shape your story even if it is a full-length novel.  I mimicked his set-up (see above) and it forced me think about specific points of my story and now I have a renewed sense of what is happening in my plot.  Yay for renewed sense of story!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Almost there!

I suspect my time is up as it's been 48 hours since I said I would write 10,000 words over the next two days, but I am sorta almost there so I'm not counting myself out yet.  I'm still writing and have another Diet Coke in the refrigerator if I need it.  If I never hit the delete button I would probably be just about there, but I am an edit-as-I-go writer.  If I step away from the computer for a minute, I am revising as soon as I return.  I will be away for the weekend and without my computer, so tonight is my last chance to write for a few days and thankfully the Bruins are off tonight, although my attention keeps being drawn to the Dallas/Miami game (Go Mavs.). 
Something that I want to mention quickly before I jump back to my pal Ben, is that I read and very much enjoyed The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card.  Card is a highly regarded and prolific science fiction writer and is particularly well known for his award-winning novel Ender's Game.  That book has been recommended to me several times, including by two non-family/friends who read early drafts of my manuscript and thought Ender's Game would be a great book for me to read as an example of a wonderfully written novel in my genre.  But then- disaster(!!)- the type of which really never happens to me.  I didn't like it.  I didn't actively dislike it by any means, but I just did not connect with it and I was completely embarrassed (in truth, this is the first time I am admitting it).  I felt like I was not getting what Card was writing and that it meant I was not smart enough to write a good fantasy novel.  But, now that I really connected with The Lost Gate, I simply think that not every book (even the great ones) are right for every reader and I will rest a bit easier. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

10,000 words and bit on HYPE

Enough has grown to be just about enough with my procrastination and so I am committing to writing 10,000 words in the next two days on The Guardians of Ben Q. Flanders.  Pinky swear.  Now that I have exhausted  all of the episodes of Psych available to me on Netflix, I really have no choice (unless miraculously season five becomes available in the next day). 
In the past two days I have read two YA books that received enormous critical acclaim and then (in one case at least) the perhaps inevitable backlash.  I have never understood this- the backlash against things that are well received.  Why do so many people feel the need to dislike what is well liked?  I am not a fan of the too cool for school crowd.  The result is that those who create need to both worry that their work will not be well received and that it will be too well received.  At any rate, I read looking for alaska by John Green today and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie yesterday and really enjoyed them both.  Both were very worthy of the praise and awards.  You can see my reviews on the "One Sentence Reviews" tab.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

This will only sting for a minute

I knew it would happen and had been mentally preparing for it- my first rejection (the first of what could be many- hopefully not many, many).  I don't know if it's the eternal optimist in me or my overactive imagination, but when I saw that "Re: Query for An Unexpected Kingdom" in my inbox yesterday, my pulse quickened and my stomach lurched with a tiny thrill.  How amazing would it be if one of my top five agent choices, and the first answer I received, was a "hell yes- please, please send me more!"?  In a millisecond I was picturing us sitting in New York (possibly Central Park) talking about Ava and Eiden over Diet Cokes and Gray's Papaya hot dogs.  I would need to purchase cool sunglasses for the occasion.  And then I clicked on the message and saw the rejection- a pretty nice one, but a rejection all the same.  I'll admit it- I'm disappointed.  I guess if I'm not disappointed every time, it would mean I didn't really care, and I do because I love this novel.  The email seemed to be personalized, or else she just has a great form rejection.  She said that she "simply did not connect with the voice here enough to pursue this project further", which is a big ouch, but she also said "you're a very skilled writer", which is nice to hear (form rejection or not).  Four more out there- hope springs eternal!