Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. Or perhaps it's the longest night of the year. Whatever your perspective, it has long been considered a day of consideration. Here at the Writers' Group, we're counting our many, many blessings and pondering the darker moments we've had throughout 2007. Consider this: We must stumble through the dark, lost and unsure, so as to truly appreciate the gift of a new dawn.
We won't be posting next week. To each and everyone of you, happy holidays and thanks for whistling along with us as we all find our way together.
Lisa flew into Boston from California yesterday, welcomed back to New England by snow, icing and airport delays. Then again, she could be in Boise, waiting to get the rest of the way to Massachusetts. Until she finds a computer, wherever she may be, we are grateful to have the chance to see her in person again -- the best Group holiday gift of all!
Blessings? First and foremost, my family. And that adorable puppy I fell in love with back in May; he's brought pure joy to my life. Yes, oh, yes, the sale of TETHERED. The dark moments? Well, my mother's illness. The desperate days when I didn't think my book would be submitted never mind sell (have I mentioned how difficult the revision process is for me?). There were other times, too small to mention. I prefer to concentrate on the blessings. And right near the top are the women of the Writers' Group, as well as each and everyone of you who's stopped by here to share your stories. Together we've created a far-reaching community of support. You're all cherished.
This has been a quiet year, which I appreciate as a very good thing. Tragedies in friends' lives made me realize even my worst days can still be a gift in some way. I am grateful to have a happy, healthy family and truly amazing family and friends in a circle that extended even further this year. I am grateful for opportunities to show off the wide world and all that lies in it to my children. I am grateful the Muse comes to me time and time again, and that the Writers' Group is patient with me as I learn to pick and choose what She offers. What more could one want? I'm hoping/thinking Grub Street's 2008 Muse and the Marketplace is going to be lucky for me. I'd say fingers crossed, but they're too busy on the keyboard!
As I reflect on 2007, I don't know where to begin to count my blessings. Thank you, Tom for working by my side to spread my proactive parenting message, while helping me promote Negotiation Generation. Caitlin, my dear daughter, I'm so happy you found the college that will make your singer's dream come true. Stephen, my sweet son, I cherish the one-on-one time I have with you.
It's true that this year will go down in my life's history as remarkable, when eighteen days after the publication of my parenting book--nine days after submission--Life Without Summer sold to St Martin's Press. I won't say the year has been without its anxieties, its stress. I will say I got through it because the people who love me really love me, and they support what I'm trying to accomplish. I truly don't know where I'd be without my family and my dear writers' group--Lisa, Amy and Hannah, you are the best!
May 2008 hold an abundance of blessings for you and yours, and in the darker moments, I wish for you, light. Happy New Year!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Posted by Lynne
There's a Griffin family conversation that happens every year around this time. Someone asks, "What do you want for Christmas?"
Tom always says, "Socks and underwear." Caitlin, "Books and candy." Stephen, "Music."
And I say, "I don't need anything, I already have everything I want." To which I get booed for being "cheesy."
I say this every year, because a person with a supportive, loving husband and two healthy respectful teenagers is already more than blessed.
For more years than I can count I could've said, "I want a hard-working, well-respected agent. One who understands my work and hopes to help me build a career. A woman preferably--one who knows how to talk about books, and publishing and even ventures into easy family chit-chat." No, I could not ask for this gift out loud. Even Santa doesn't know how to wrap up a present so perfect.
As far back as 1998, I dreamed I'd find a nonfiction book deal under my tree. A parenting book, please. This wish was one I hadn't done as well to hide, everyone who loves me knew about this dream. I'd never ask for it though, because I knew it couldn't be found in stores or borrowed. This gift would have to be earned through hard work and perseverance--no one could give it to me.
For more than seven years now, long before a single word graced the page, I could have asked for a published novel. I'd read of the miraculous stories of actresses discovered at soda fountains, why not a writer who pondered her stories in a seaside town in Massachusetts. Silly dreamer, best to keep that secret wish just that.
You'd think that this year when all my private desires have been realized that I'd say the same thing to my family when asked what I wanted for Christmas. Certainly now I truly don't need anything else. Instead, this year before I had the chance to contain it, one word popped out of my mouth. My secret wish no longer wished to be secret.
I want time to read the work of great writers. I want to aspire to be a better writer, to take the gifts I've been given and nurture them. I want time to write my next story, to spend time with the make-believe people I can already call family. I want time with my family and my friends, the people who know who I really am and how deeply grateful I am to be living a literary life.
I suppose all I've ever really wanted is time, whether I said so or not. Funny how the gift of twenty-four hours a day has always been there. Exactly how to spend that precious present has always been the trick.
So I'm asking for time this year. And I'm wishing all of our blog friends and readers Happy Holidays. May you be blessed with the clarity to see the gifts of time hidden within every day and the wisdom to know how to use it.
Huge thanks to the amazing foreign rights department at St Martin's Press who continue to give me gifts. This week my novel, Life Without Summer sold to Germany.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
This morning the house was in an uproar. My son lost his hermit crab, a tree crab with a metallic green shell that wandered away yesterday as my son played guitar, and that he forgot (which is rare) once it was out of sight. We ripped the house apart this morning at six, when he should have been catching his last bits of sleep and I exercising; at least for some reason he remembered.
When my daughter came down, she asked where we'd looked. Everywhere, we said, starting with the dining room where it was last seen, with the two farthest rooms the least searched: my son's bedroom and the office. She disappeared down the hall and a minute later said, "Found him!" "Where?" "In the paper towel tube on the bedroom desk that says Krabby's Tube." Which, of course, is where the crab really was left; luckily the critter didn't get it in his little head to venture past it.
This relates to fiction how, you ask? Well, like this:
When a story isn't working, the most frustrating thing is to find out where that element went. After all, everything was in your head at some point, wasn't it? What didn't make it out? You check in with all the characters, you re-examine setting, you add stakes, you firm up the voice. Still, not quite.
Then one day you find out that you didn't really look everywhere, or perhaps not as carefully as you thought you did. I, for example, needed to up the stakes after the last round of reading, which as I've said before, was fine with me. The challenge was to add more and yet wrap it all tighter. I knew what I wanted to add, but hadn't known before how to weave it in more fully, and thus had left it out.
One of my characters finally whopped me upside the head. Not my main character, mind you, who has been trying to present himself as sympathetic despite a raffish streak. No, a relative of his gave me a Look and said, "Don't you know him well enough by now? He's a game player. Think hard on that, dear." Funny how in a book in part about games, I'd worked it out on one level, then two, but what it really needed was yet another, third level of interplay.
She was right, of course. (Funny, because she is the character I trust the most within the story.) My main man had been less than forthcoming, as had another character, in fact. And after examining that last dark spot more carefully, I pulled out pieces that fit together and fit into the whole of the story. So next time I find myself with a dilemma like this, I'll know better. You rarely have to go outside and bring in new things. The need is to recheck, carefully, all the corners. Don't skip even the most obvious places, the ones labelled with big block letters in Sharpie marker: Krabby's Tube. Game Players. The last place you look is, of course, always right in front of you to start.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
4) Cover Art - What a revelation: I know very little about book covers. I know what catches my eye, but I don't know what sells books. When my editor emailed my cover concept, it wasn't anything like I had long imagined (see photo above). Instead of reacting, I looked at this website and this one. That's when I realized it's better to leave this sort of thing to the professionals, they know the market, they know what attracts booksellers and buyers. So I defer. And I do like, really like, the latest concept I was shown.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Friday, December 14, 2007
Living in New England, this is bound to happen! Some of us got snowed in (while Lisa was probably lounging in the sun writing about snow)!What do you do when unexpected time comes your way?
Funny, and ironic, my novel takes place in the snowy fictional town of Sugarton, New Hampshire, and I live in dry California mountains. I write about snow - it's cold, right? like the ice I put in my drinks when the sun shines down all too bright.
Though I will never celebrate snow days here, unexpected time has come my way. I reduced my hours at work by a third in order to have time to finish my two WIP's; they're three legged dogs that have been hobbling along for months now. It means less money, that's true. But it also means my life has balance. I am happy I've given myself this gift.
Unexpected time? Gassing up, stocking up, shoveling out, drying out drippy snow stuffs, snuggling sweet cheeks and baking brownies...whew! I'm ready to plop on the couch in front of the fire with Lee Martin's River of Heaven. So excited!
Snowed in meant children home early; they rushed out to earn their red cheeks and cold wet outerwear, then returned with friends asking for a video and popcorn. I got work done on my revision, despite knocks on the window and laughter, then hid on the sofa with my eyes closed, where they could not see me below the sills even though I could place their whereabouts by the shouts. I visualized the section needing rewrite (hoping Mother Nature would let up for overnight plows) comparing it to the elements Lynne mentioned in her post. Then after my own little mental movie, a useful exercise, I enjoyed some of that popcorn and the last third of their movie, too!
After grabbing the essential groceries, I plopped down by my Christmas tree and worked on my work-in-progress. Like Amy, I'm falling in love with my new friends. In my mind, the only cure for the pain and sadness that comes when you let the characters from a previous novel out into the world is to deepen relationships with new ones.
Speaking of letting your novel out into the world, the wonderful team in foreign rights at St Martin's Press has sold my novel to Holland.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Posted by Lynne
I've never built a house, but I took a wonderful course on building a novel. When I was deep in to a revision of Life Without Summer, I took a course on story construction offered through Grub Street by the smart and talented Stace Budzko. It helped me then, but how was I to know that eight months later, as I delved into crafting my next novel, that things he taught me would flood into my mind with new relevancy.
The elements of our stories are not unlike those of a house. What we know about our characters--how they behave and misbehave--their desires, wants and needs are as important to the writer as the windows that allow light into the living room. Plot can be seen as the opening and closing of doors. Voice--the house's architectural style.
Having built and sold one novel already, I know that building a good foundation is critical to the novel's ability to stand out in the marketplace. For me, settling on point of view is an important first step in creating the right structure, telling the right story. Whose story is it? Which character(s) have the most to gain and the most to lose given the situations and complications I've chosen to write about? When I find the heart of the story, I know it. I love writing in two voices, so for me there is often more than one heart to consider.
At every stage of novel building it's important to use quality goods. For a writer, the raw materials are words. This time I'm finding it even easier to lay down the structure with care, partly because the more I write the more I fall in love with words. Though in truth, I'm confident, because I trust that even when a house is done, there is nothing wrong with moving a little furniture or hanging new curtains. Even brothers and sisters have been known to change rooms, and parents know when it's time to add a room over the garage.
Perhaps the single most valuable lesson I learned from Stace during that weekend in April relates to setting. I will be forever grateful to him for opening my eyes to the idea that setting can be compelling, not merely a backdrop "where characters do their thing". Whether you imagine the places in your novel as pleasing, forbidding or somewhere in between, setting embodies all the places that influence the way your characters see the world and how they respond to it.
Andre Dubus once said, "We enter the fictional world through memory". During my weekend course, Stace urged me to take every opportunity to pry, eavesdrop, stare, and otherwise gather the material I'd need to build a story. Little did he know that the perspectives he offered, I would remember, serving me well in my building projects down the road.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
With apologies to the writers, (Joan Javits, Philip Springer, Tony Springer), and Eartha Kitt, whose version was only matched to any degree by Cindy Lauper, far as I'm concerned!
Slip a book gift card under the tree
Been an awful good girl
Santa Baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight.
Santa Baby, a pre-owned Highlander, blue,
I’ll take cartridge ink, too.
Santa Baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight.
Think of all the fun I’ve missed
Mom-ing, working, what a list!
Next year I might be agented, too,
If I got one more thing from you:
Santa Baby, I want some time to write
That’s all mine,
No clients, kids, or dish lids,
So hurry down the chimney tonight.
Santa Baby, I remembered something
On my left finger down there
Taking the kids out for the day?
Santa Baby, thanks for coming down the chimney tonight!
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
The first time around introduced me to the learning curve. The stumbling along when it came to plotting their lives, clumsily braiding various threads, dense to the metaphors my subconscious typed on the page. Now I understand what must be done and, more important, how to do it. Today at least.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Posted by Lisa
In a conversation with a lovely writer friend last week, I asked her if she had ever read Peter Pan. “I haven't,” she replied thoughtfully. I wasn’t surprised. We know the story of Peter Pan, we’ve seen the movie, we’ve read abridged four page versions tucked into children’s anthologies, but few of us have delighted in the prose and the limitless imagination that is the work J.M. Barrie penned in 1911.
Peter Pan is suddenly relevant to me and my writing, so it was important I pick up the original text. I was in for a shock.
Last week, Lynne discussed how revision paves the way for limitless possibilities in fiction. In the Grub Street Muse & the Marketplace conference last spring, Michael Lowenthal (delightful in so many ways himself and then some, but I digress) presented a session entitled Astonish Me. J.M. Barrie astonishes. In Peter Pan, the reader is astonished in many ways.
I must share a passage from Peter Pan as it inspires me. Perhaps it will inspire you. The cleverness is stunning, the manner in which character is revealed is brilliant, the dialogue rocks, plain and simple.
“Oh Peter, no wonder you were crying,” Wendy said, and got out of bed and ran to him.
“I wasn’t crying about mothers,” he said rather indignantly. “I was crying because I can’t get my shadow to stick on.”
“It has come off?”
Then Wendy saw the shadow on the floor, looking so draggled, and she was frightfully sorry for Peter. “How awful!” she said, but she could not help smiling when she saw that he had been trying to stick it on with soap. How exactly like a boy!
Fortunately she knew at once what to do. “It must be sewn on,” she said, just a little patronizingly.
“What’s sewn?” he asked.
“You’re dreadfully ignorant.”
“No, I’m not.”
But she was exulting in his ignorance. “I shall sew it on for you, my little man,” she said, though he was as tall as herself; and she got out her housewife, and sewed the shadow onto Peter’s foot.
“I dare say it will hurt a little,” she warned him.
“Oh, I shan’t cry,” said Peter, who was already of the opinion that he had never cried in his life. And he clenched his teeth and did not cry; and soon his shadow was behaving properly, though still a little creased.
“Perhaps I should have ironed it,” Wendy said thoughtfully; but Peter, boylike, was indifferent to appearances, and he was now jumping about in the wildest glee. Alas, he had already forgotten that he owed bliss to Wendy. He thought he had attached the shadow himself. “How clever I am,” he crowed rapturously, “oh, the cleverness of me!”
Ah, how clever.
Friday, December 07, 2007
This week I bought my seven-year-old son an unedited and beautifully illustrated version of A Christmas Carol. It's long and detailed and plump with magic and the true meaning of Christmas. We started reading it together last night.
And for me? I bought the original Peter Pan (as it suddenly has relevance to my current YA WIP which is magical realism), and Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.
After spending hours in bookstores signing stock, giving talks and milling about with customers promoting Negotiation Generation, I still find my way to them to round out my Christmas shopping. This year’s stash includes Ann Packer’s Songs Without Words; Ronlyn Domingue’s The Mercy of Thin Air; and Carol Goodman’s The Sonnet Lover. Oh wait, am I suppose to be shopping for other people?
In NG news—this week my fantastic agent sold the rights to translate my parenting book into Chinese! It will be such a thrill to see a foreign edition of my book.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Posted by Lynne
When my now eighteen-year-old daughter was a little girl, getting her face wet while playing in water was traumatic. Every summer, whether at the beach down the street or at the lake where we vacation, I'd play games with her aimed at getting her comfortable near water.
"No matter how big I get, I am never going to swim under water," she said.
I didn't tell her then what I knew, which was that some day she'd be completely comfortable with the idea. She would learn that there is little to fear when you trust that you can do it. And last summer she laughed when I reminded her of what she'd believed with every fiber of her being when she was five.
I reminded her after she did a hand stand off the dock--in her clothes.
"I'll never change my title." "I'll never kill off a character." "I'll never read my reviews."
It's fine to have convictions. In fact where would any writer be without them? Yet playing with the word never closes a mind. And a closed mind simply can't be open to new possibilities. Friend of our blog, Judy Merrill Larson wrote a wonderful blog entry about revision this week. She reminds us that every time we dip into our work truly open minded, we have an opportunity to re-vision our work in new and creative ways.
I've been thinking about this a lot during the last few weeks. My novel has been edited and submitted to my editor and I am deep into crafting my work-in-progress. I've come a long way over the last few years in terms of keeping an open mind about my work. I think we become more narrow minded when we're afraid. Fear of feedback. Fear of rejection. Fear of acceptance. These are the things that lock us on to our convictions. Arbitrary yet comfortable thinking that may or may not be in our best interest, or in the best interest of our work.
Now that I am entrenched in writing my second novel, I realize that the beauty of the first draft is its limitless possibilities. I'm not tied to any one conviction, because each day I put my characters in circumstances that allow their transformations to begin. I'm not married to any one situation or scenario, I just want to create scenes that show the reader what I know about a mother struggling to connect with her children because of the distant relationship she had with her own mother. I want readers to feel the breadth of another woman's love for one man, and why this love had the power to lock her in the past.
To show this, to truly convey it, I'll need to listen to my characters tell me their stories. I'll need to let them show me the way. Their journey, and mine, will have its twists and turns, there will be days when together we'll be lost and days when the way is made clear. Now that I've completed one novel, one that has changed along its way, I'll trust the process.
I've decided to leave the word never out of my vocabulary, and like my daughter take the plunge. I'm comfortable submerging myself in writing this story, letting it take me to places I've yet to imagine. It is with an open mind that I'll get to the end of the story.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
The dilemma was this: As I waited for comments on Novel One, I took more than a step into the world of Novel Two. This was not a good thing to do. Then again... well, let me explain.
There didn't seem to be a conflict even as the Group shared reactions to Novel One; despite their concerns that they'd overloaded me, I was excited. They liked a great deal about the revision, yet wanted more. There were more layers to be revealed, opportunities to go deeper, richer yet, they said, and I agreed. I left the meeting in good spirits despite the work ahead.
When I got home, I started to think through the changes. I could add that character I'd debated from my female protagonist’s background. I can kill off someone, maybe two? ("Kill, kill, kill!” as said by Arlo Guthrie in Alice’s Restaurant reverberated in my head.) I could expand my main character in a particular way. There was only one hurdle, plot-wise, that needed to be gotten around in order to make these things happen. I let my mind go blank…
and in stepped Novel Two characters, who’d been pushing into my thoughts for some months, only to be told to remain on the doorstep. Until recently. With the draft on the Group’s laps, I’d welcomed them inside, chatted with them, one by one and sometimes as a group. They showed me flashes of moments and story arcs, dutifully transcribed on 3x5 cards.
Suddenly, so close to getting Novel One pushed to the Next Level, I found myself uninterested in it. The main character annoyed me, no longer dashing and intriguing. Why had I ever wanted to get to know him at all? Clearly, if I felt this way, readers would, too. Well, so what, then, if I moved on to Novel Two? These new people were so engaging. Tempting.
I became frustrated, impatient. Why had I spent so much time investing in this character, this story? What about it all would make me so willing to give up on it with the end in sight?
I pushed the Novel Two gang out the front door to consider this. Why was the story not clicking for me, right now? What did I need from the story, from the characters? What would make me fall in love with them all over again, to reinvest myself in their lives? In the answer came the solution to the hurdle.
Despite their banging on the windows, their complaints about the drop in temperature outside, the Novel Two folks will need to amuse themselves without my attentions for a while longer. It will be worth their wait, I know, given everything I have learned from Novel One. It certainly will be worth my wait, and I don't think I'll be waiting all that long.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
After I finish writing this, I intend to print it out and tuck it away in my Tethered binder. Hannah gave me the idea for the binder about a year ago as a way to organize both my thoughts and voluminous amounts of paper. Contained within the plastic covers are: various drafts of the manuscript; all correspondence having to do with what I hoped would someday become a book; and a title page slipped through the plastic cover with a black and white photo of daisies. I indulged myself with that one.
Next, I'll place this in it. It's a promise to myself to stay true to my writing. Not to let external pressures influence what should be an internal experience. How many times have we said to ourselves and each other, his earlier work was so much better. I think what happens with a lot of authors is they begin writing with an eye toward the market, and the passion, what initally compelled the reader to fall in love, falls by the wayside.
So here are my goals for my future self:
- I will always trust my gut. This applies to all areas of my life and has so far served me well in both my writing life and beyond. Unless you've proven otherwise, this is good advice for each of us.
- I will not write for a deadline. Though this is something others can do with aplomb, I know myself well enough not to try. The moment I write with a date in mind, I will write for it instead of for the story.
- I will allow the story as much time as it needs. I sometimes grow frustrated with myself because I don't write quickly. Some days, just a good paragraph, others an entire page and a half. Though twice I've written entire chapters in just a single morning -- chapters that remain largely untouched -- I must be patient with myself and the story. It will come in time.
- I will listen to all who voice an opinion, but no voice will be louder than my own. It is ultimately my story, one I need to stand behind with vigor and confidence. I must believe in it and shape it honestly. Yes, I will listen and take what rings true, but I must remain faithful at all times to the story.
- I will write the best book I can at this point in my life. Years from now, I'm sure I'll look back on Tethered and think of ways to improve upon it. No point in that, is there? I haven't yet become that person. All I can do is the best I can do today.
- I won't read my reviews. Many will disagree with me on this point, but hear me out. To what end? If they're horrible, it will devastate me and if they're glowing, it might paralyze me. Could I learn from a terrible review? It depends. There are few book editors whose opinions I know and trust. I can name them on three fingers. If one of them hated my book, I would be crushed to bits and then how to pick-up the pieces? If it were a reviewer I'm not familiar with, then there's no established trust. Worse would be a fabulous review. It's a fool's folly to believe one's own press. And save me from the middle-of-the-road reviews; mediocrity is the bane of my existence and to be labelled as such would plunge me into an existential funk. Understand now?
- I will work with the best editor available. Having had the opportunity to be edited by a variety of newspaper editors, I know how invaluable a good editor is -- not only to the work itself, but to the psyche. A good editor pushes and pulls forth the very best from a writer, all the while giving encouragement. It's fun and the work is so much better for it. A poor editor dictates and bullies, undermining the writer's confidence in the work. This scenario leaves the author embarassed by the work once it's in print. I allowed that to happen once, years ago. Never again.
- It's not about the money. No matter how much is on the table, if you don't respect the people offering, if the editorial suggestions don't ring true, if the enthusiasm is geared more toward sales than it is toward a passion for the work, then walk away. The price is too high. I've been poor most of my life, I can live with it. I'm pretty sure I can't live with bankrupting my literary aspirations.
- The only competition is my best self. About a month ago, a book in my genre with a striking hook sold at auction in a major deal and then some. Worse, it's due out the same month as my novel. I'll be honest, for a few days I was obsessed with it. And then I realized, not only was I powerless over it, but it didn't make me any less pleased with my own situation. There's nothing I would trade with that author: not my agent, not my editor, definitely not my book. Though others may see our novels as competing titles, I don't. As Lynne always says, each will have its own journey. I wish that author the best of luck.
- Be kind. It's a small world, as is my place in it. Be gracious to everyone, thankful to those who help, and helpful to those who need it.
Hopefully I will remain faithful to these goals, though I imagine I will stumble along the way. Some will be harder to aspire to, others will remain easy. Will I stay true? We shall see.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Posted by Lisa
Last week I posted an interview with Gregory Maguire I conducted in the spring of last year. Gregory is hyper-intelligent and delightful; a very inspiring writer to learn from. He recommended a novel: The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton, another Massachusetts native. It’s the story of two impoverished children who travel at night to a dreamland that is very real.
How many of us, I wonder, have a book that touched some corner of our souls in a way that made writing a possibility for vocation.
Mine was Ginny’s Babysitting Business. I’m ashamed to say I don’t know the author and an internet search gave me zero results. Another was Night of the Red Horse (terrifying magical realism I long to emulate) by Patricia Leitch.
At my son’s hockey game yesterday, I let my imagination wander. I came up with questions about his coaches, their families, the circumstances that led them to live in California; each of them is from far away. Not knowing the answers to many of these questions, I came up with my own answers. I can’t say I’ve ever done this before: look at people and make up their lives for them. It was engrossing; when my son later asked me if I saw his shot hit the post of the net, I had to say “Sorry, I missed it.”
It led me, last night, this morning, to think about the authors who wrote favorite books we have read and loved. Where were they when they thought of their stories. What were their circumstances as they banged on their typewriters or wrote long hand in that days before our blessed word processing programs. They were people, like you and me, creating stories, as you and I do.
Maybe writing is magic, thinking of stories, developing them fully in our minds. Maybe it’s magic that inspires us to persevere through the hundreds of hours, the revisions, the moments when we realize a plot point clearly isn’t working.
The holidays are coming, a time of magic. Find a piece of magic hidden inside you. Close your eyes and think of that book you loved as a child. The novel that told you writing is a cool thing!
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Here's an update from Patry Francis' husband, copied from her blog:
Hi Everyone: Our day yesterday started at 3:30 am as we headed into Boston for Patry's surgery which was scheduled for 6am.It ended with me driving down I93 around 9pm exhausted but ecstatic with how well everything went.The operation was successful and her surgeon, one of the worlds best, was very happy with what he saw and how she made out. She's very strong spiritually and physically and hopefully will becoming home soon with a long healing period ahead of her.Thanks for your prayers,peace and love, Ted
Keep sending dear Patry your good thoughts. It's working.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Amend. Emend. Edit. Correct. Improve. Right. Change. Recast. Rehash. Revamp. All are synonyms for revise, an important word around here at the Writers' Group. We're all doing it. A mention of the word sends some of us into paroxysms, for others, jollity. For all, though, it is a time of revelation. Each of us discovers themes our subconscious planted months before. With the advantage of time and fresh eyes, we're able to see them, explore them fully -- A-ha! That's true of writing, though isn't it? The act reveals layers of ourselves we may not have been fully aware of, calling to the surface aspects we may never have chosen to acknowledge or characteristics we'd always hoped to have for ourselves. What about you?
Months ago I was blessed to get a call from a well known, very experienced agent in NYC who said those magic words: "I finished reading Little Boy Hiding, and I like it, I like it a lot. I want to represent you as a writer." Well, he shopped it to a handful of editors, each of whom had positive feedback about the quality of writing, but they had the same criticism too: My main character is telling someone else's story, not her own. Huh?
I have work to do. Though I am finishing my current YA WIP, February 1st, I'm back to Little Boy Hiding (which isn't even called Little Boy Hiding anymore). Oh, how the plot has changed. The character's love for her younger autistic brother prompts her to take risks that, well, enough said, but it's her story now. Funny thing is that I thank God that novel didn't sell when it was shopped around a few months back. Really! It's night and day. Ah, revision!
Growing up, I used to procrastinate something terrible. School assignments, chores, later bills and social engagements. Oh, the stress! It caused more anxiety attacks this bad habit of mine -- in me and others. I was discussing this with my daughter the other day, she said she disliked that about herself, that she put off those things she doesn't enjoy doing (honestly, I don't see it, but she is a perfectionist). That's when I realized I no longer procrastinate anything. With all of the demands of me over the past years, it was imperative that I manage my schedule so as to allow time to write. It's that crucial, I was able to free the albatross I'd strung myself with. Now that I'm deep within revisions, I'm tickled to realize there's no anxiety. I will meet deadline, this aspect of the writing process I dread so much, I've managed because I love writing. What a revelation.
The Group gave me edits last week, and I was pleased. Go ahead, give us more, they said. The basics are in place, now give us the depth. Ideas that had floated but were held back -- will it be too much? am I complicating things unnecessarily? -- settled like snowflakes into place. One small thing to work out and I'm chugging along again. Then... !
I read and reread the new scenes I added to my novel. Last night I hit send! Though I didn't have significant edits in terms of work, the edits I made had a significant impact on the pacing and tension of my ending. A good editor is a treasure!
In other news, my editor for Negotiation Generation shared good news with me this week. Penguin will go back to press for a second printing of my parenting book! I am beyond thrilled. And if you live in the Boston area, come join me this Sunday for a book talk and signing at the wonderful Newtonville Books at 2 pm.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Posted by Lynne
It took me a long time to assert my identity as a writer. Parenting articles placed in magazines or online, even a monthly column in a regional parenting paper, didn't quite hold enough weight to stake my claim.
Believe it or not, in the early months after Negotiation Generation sold to Penguin, I still felt others would perceive me more as an expert with a book than a writer. Eighteen days after my parenting book hit the shelves, my novel sold to St Martin's. And within minutes my definition of myself included writer.
As holiday gatherings begin to litter the calendar--with some having already taken place--I realize I'm a novice at declaring myself a writer, an author. My social repartee is stilted, my responses to the predictable questions and remarks weak and unpracticed.
At a recent party, I went on for ten minutes, giving a detailed retort to the comment: "You should get on Oprah." I explained the way it happens and how many people each year jockey for a coveted book pick. I lightly offered that getting on Oprah was as likely as getting struck by lightning.
Muse of this blog, the dear Carolyn See writes in her marvelous book, Making a Literary Life that writers must become adept at saying thank you for compliments and no kidding for anything else he or she doesn't choose to discuss at length.
While I've used both phrases a lot in the last few months, I still enjoy conversations about writing and publishing and do choose to have them in social situations. But I'm here to warn you about the trap you might fall into if you too wade into discussions unprepared.
What in the world would you say to the following--
I have an idea for a book. Maybe you could write it for me.
I've written a chapter of my book. Will you read it and tell me if it's good?
I only read happy books. Is yours a happy book?
Can you give me your agent's/editor's phone number? If she likes your work, she'll love mine.
Who will play the lead when your book is turned into a movie?
I know a writer who self-published. She's making a ton of money--why would you want an agent?
Lengthy explanations and oodles of education don't cut it in the face of these faulty perceptions, these comments that show a limited understanding of the muse and the marketplace. My answers are getting better day-by-day, because I don't feel an obligation to set things straight. I chat, I smile and I commit to nothing. I choose instead to offer resources. I recommend this blog and the ones listed in our links section to the right. I tell the emerging writer about books that changed my writing life, those that nurture equal parts inspiration and perspiration.
If the person I'm chatting with is truly at the beginning stages of the journey toward a writing life, he or she will do the necessary homework, put in the time. I'd be humbled to part of the process that encourages this writer to walk further down the road. Yet if the conversation is as important to the person as the ingredients in stuffed mushrooms, I've made it nothing more than it is--party conversation.
I've worked hard to be able to say I'm a writer. While I'm committed to showing other writers the way, I know it must be earned. Each writer must walk her own path--no kidding.
Care to share how you claim your identity as a writer, while at the same time chit chat about the writing life?
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
My brother is working on fiction in his spare time. He is thinking a lot recently about what makes fiction believable, based on comments by his own writers’ group, mentioning setting in particular. I haven’t any easy answers to that myself, and have been mulling it over now as well. Description alone, in trying to establish setting, is insufficient.
One long-ago morning, a friend of mine and her mother, her roomie and I ended up in a poverty-stricken section of Philadelphia escorted by the police in search of the remains of a stolen car. Crumbling brick townhouses, weed-infested empty lots. We found the skeletal remains of the mom’s car, and what confirmed it was hers I don’t remember. There were no doors, no hood, no wheels, two seats removed. As we stood there, a slight man wearing jeans and an oversized shirt came out the side door of a nearby building. The cop watched him a moment, then went to talk with him. Before we knew it, there were five more squad cars, a van, dogs, all coordinated to arrest a drug dealer inside who, it turned out, received a large shipment the previous night. The gathering neighbors were both suspicious of and amused by the four white women plunked down in the middle of this crime scene. Three children even came over to chat us up and check us out, asking if we were detectives “like Charlie’s Angels.” (Bless their hearts!)
How’s that for good material? Every line is true. So when I needed to put two characters into a scene that (a) revealed something in terms of how each related to their status in the world, (b) had a city setting, and (c) added action, I transposed fact to fiction. How could I not?
The Group’s reaction? Didn’t fly, didn’t even hop. Even the setting, alone, didn’t wow them enough to suggest changes to the other elements in order to keep the setting. No, the whole thing was a yawn. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the story, a thoroughly invented scene in a completely fictitious bar hit the mark dead-on. Not only did they like how the plot and character were revealed, they made comments on how much they enjoyed the setting itself.
It seems in the odd alchemy of fiction, believability is not earned element by element, but in how the pieces join to a whole. The story knows how it wants or needs to be told, and if you don't do it all in the right measure, it doesn't work. The setting has to be described, and the characters need to reveal themselves just so, and the plot must push forward, and so on. Or not? Your thoughts?
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Many of you may already listen to Fresh Air, but for those of you who don't, tune in. It's because of an interview Terry Gross did with Jonathan Franzen that I started writing fiction.
One rainy afternoon about six years ago, while home with the children, wondering who I was, who I'd become, I heard this interview. In it (at some point that's since been edited), she asked about the angst of the writing life. His response completely changed the course of my life. To paraphrase (and if you listen to the interview you'll understand he's far more erudite than I could hope to be), Jonathan Franzen said writing The Corrections was fun. Yes, fun.
Once the show was over, I headed straight for my computer and began writing a novel. Immediately. Nearly six hours later, I emerged from my room soaring. My goodness, he was right. I owe so much to the two of them. Inspiration is a potent gift to bestow, especially to a hopeless stranger.
I'm not alone in my adoration of Terry Gross. Two weeks ago she was presented with the Literarian Award by the National Book Award Foundation. It happened to be the same night I was in New York. That alone thrilled me. Ms. Gross is one of the few members of the media who cares, who devotes whole shows to literature. Even more staggering, she actually reads the books before conducting an interview. I know some of you who've been interviewed about your writing will appreciate that. In a time when book sections are shrinking, book tours are disappearing, and independent booksellers are shuttering up shop, Terry Gross stimulates the minds and souls of her listeners. She is a national treasure.
So, Ms. Gross, I salute you and I thank you for the gift of hope.
Grub Street South Workshop Tonight at 7:00 pm
Instructor: Suzette Martinez Standring author of The Art of Column Writing: Insider Secrets from Art Buchwald, Dave Barry, Arianna Huffington, Pete Hamill and Other Great Columnists.
Topic: Learn How to Write with Brevity and Impact
Monday, November 26, 2007
Posted by Lisa
For years, Gregory Maguire didn’t think of himself as a writer. He considered himself a person who liked to make things, who rearranged items in a pleasing fashion, whether elements in a plot, or colors and fabrics in a piece he was weaving. Majoring in both studio arts and English, Gregory says he knew one day he would have to concentrate on one thing or another.
Gregory Maguire is the author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995), Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (1999), Lost (2001), Mirror Mirror (2003), Son of a Witch (2005), as well as several children’s books. He received his Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Tufts University. In 1986, he co-founded Children's Literature New England, Incorporated, a non-profit that focuses attention on the significance of literature in the lives of children.
Gregory has lived abroad in Dublin and London, and now makes his home in Concord, Massachusetts.
How did you become a writer?
I steadily avoided ever taking any kind of degree that would prepare me professionally to have a job. Even when I was five, the only job I could think that I might like to have would be maybe a baker, and stand behind a bakery counter and sell doughnuts to kids. By the time I was about eight, I realized I wanted to be an artist of some sort and I didn’t want to work in an office. I didn’t want to have colleagues or a boss. I wanted to make things.
I made drawings. I made sonnets. I made plays. Anything I could touch and turn into something else, I did. I had the problem of having a modest amount of talent in a lot of directions. It was hard to settle on being a writer. At some point there must have been some sense that my writing skills were strengthening. I don’t remember that happening but I know it must have happened.
Tell us about writers who influenced you as a child.
When I was about twelve or fourteen, I began to notice how chapters were put together and which sentences stood out to me. I realized there are aesthetic beauties in the art of writing that are separate from the enjoyment of narrative. One of the writers who was a great influence on me is Jane Langton. She wrote a series of books, beginning with The Diamond in the Window, in which children of a somewhat impoverished background go through a series of dreamlike adventures at nighttime and in the daytime lived their normal everyday lives with family squabbles, trouble with money.
I was absolutely captivated because the entire book is a kind of metaphor about what the arts do, which is give us a broad and almost mystical other-worldly vision of our own lives. We go into a novel to lose ourselves and accidentally find ourselves more deeply than we intended. And I thought, wow, that’s why I want to become a writer. I want to influence people’s ability to approach their own lives with a little bit more nourishment, and a little more energy, and a little bit more courage. Though I don’t think I would have put it that way when I was 14.
What is your writing process?
It’s a little bit different for each book. I write fairly cleanly as writers go. That being said, I still go through anywhere from three and seven drafts of a book, but by draft very often I mean I am doing copyediting on myself.
One day I was on a train, and I was about halfway through writing my new book. I hadn’t really plotted the second half, but suddenly I began to see what was going to happen. It was like seeing a set of rooms: there’s the dining room, the kitchen, there’s the back pantry, the backyard, there’s the yard next door. I had a set of index cards with me and I just started writing what happens, one thing after another, and, in a sense, I outlined the entire second half of the book in minutes.
Once an outline is done I make a graphic chart of it that has several strands with the three or four main characters. I see where they come up in the book and then I will be able to look back and think of it as an aesthetic arrangement. Do I need more foreshadowing of what going to happen on page 80? Do I need something happening on page 20 so it doesn’t come out of the blue as much?
What I used to do for many years, for Wicked and for the books that immediately followed, was to work in the kitchen and use the doors of my kitchen cabinets as the sections. That’s why my first four books all have five sections, because there are five kitchen cabinet doors.
At Grub Street, many writers dream simply of being published. How does it feel to have met with such tremendous success?
One cannot attach any kind of shininess to the fact that I happened to have hit it. It is just luck. There’s no morality attached to luck. It’s not a question of virtue. It’s not a question of skill. It’s a matter of luck. It’s a matter, a little bit, of intelligence. I knew if I did Wicked well it would do well. If I did it poorly it may do well anyway. There are any number of novelists whose every sentence is polished and burnished and has a pearlescent sheen, and they have not had the luck that I’ve had.
What were your low points as a writer?
There were two low points and both had to do with Wicked.
One was eighteen column inches of my first New York Times review of Wicked. It was so bad I actually wept bitter tears of regret and venom. And I thought my career was over before it had begun. I thought maybe I should have stayed with drawing or playing the guitar. Maybe I had been feeding the quarters into this particular meter for nineteen years too long.
The other time was the night that Wicked didn’t win the Tony’s for best Musical. By then I had become such good friends with the creative team and many of the cast that I felt it personally.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a sequel to Son of a Witch. I now conceive that there will be four books in what I call The Wicked Cycle: Wicked, Son of a Witch, the one I have now, which is kind of a palate cleanser. It’s short. It’s a dish of lemon sorbet in between the rich first two courses, and the final flaming dessert. I’m trying to keep it short. I’m trying to keep it intense. I’m within about ten pages of the end of the first draft, and I don’t know whether it’s working at all. It’s very nerve wracking.
I also would like to write a play after almost thirty years of writing fiction. I did have a small idea for the opening scene about six weeks ago. Now that I’ve seen Wicked so many times, I’m beginning to see things visually on the stage rather than in a kind of omniscient way, looking down at a plot.
I would like to do something new.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Thanksgiving. It isn't really about the turkey and cranberry and pie. It's about taking the time to reflect on how fortunate you are, how blessed your life is. The members of the Writers' Group have a good deal to be thankful for this November 23, and much to look forward to in the coming months.
Happy Thanksgiving to you. May you be grateful for what you have, and positive about all that lies ahead.
There are glass balls and rubber balls, and they're bouncing all around us. The glass balls are what counts, truly counts: family, dogs, friends. The rubber balls, well, they're nuisances, inconveniences - ever have a bird poop on your head? I give thanks for those precious glass balls suspended in the air around me.
It's usually late afternoon when I find myself in the kitchen, making dinner for my children. They whirl around me -- the kids, their same-age cousins across the street, Babe the puppy, my kitties -- and I can usually count on the phone ringing, too, a friend wanting to chat. But before it does, there I am standing at the sink, looking out over the backyard, maybe there's a flock of turkeys wandering through or a coyote skittering near the brush or a lone doe rooting for acorns, and I am thankful. Thankful that I don't have to put my children to bed with hunger pangs, thankful we're not living in a cardboard box by the highway underpass, thankful we're not winding our way through Boston's narrow streets to make yet another oncologist's appointment. My greatest blessing in life is to have been surrounded by truly remarkable people, people who share their lives with me, if only in passing. To each of you reading this, especially the women of my Writers' Group, thank you.
This year has been one for learning many small lessons; applying them is always the trick, of course! I am truly thankful for everything I have been given -- and earned -- and am trying to live more in the moment with each piece of it so as not to miss a thing. Thank you to all of you for sharing your experiences, thoughts and support!
While I am humbled by my good fortune in making my literary life--my books, my writers' group and this community-- it is in the bountiful blessings of family life that I am most grateful. All I can say is thank you all!
Conferences: There are some good ones coming up, but check the application deadline because they're looming.
Writers in Paradise includes some amazing writers such as Dennis Lehane (Mystic River), Laura Lippman (What the Dead Know), and Ann Hood (The Knitting Circle). This is one some of us may be applying to next year.
New York City Pitch and Shop is just a couple of weeks away. If you're interested in having work critiqued by some of the key people in publishing, this is for you. There are no workshops on craft, rather this is for the writer who is ready for the next step.
And it's never too early to plan your trip to Boston. Don't forget Grub Street's Muse and the Marketplace. This is for emerging writers at all levels. Whether you're just starting out or you have a finished manuscript and agent, the Muse is a great place to come network and learn. You won't want to miss Jonathan Franzen.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Posted by Lynne
My trip to New York City was originally planned for the same day as Amy's. My editor meeting was coupled with some business and we thought it would make our visits even more memorable if we traveled together. It wasn't meant to be. Just before booking my train, I heard from my publicist for Negotiation Generation that a bookstore was interested in an event and when publicity calls, I answer. I moved my trip to earlier in the same week.
In the few phone conversations I'd already had with Hilary Teeman, my editor at St Martin's Press, I was impressed. She's smart--her edits brilliant-- and she's driven. Most of all, she loves my novel and says everyone who's read it at St Martin's, including George Witte, editor-in-chief, does too. Still I was eager to meet her in person.
My plan was to take the train to NY, meet with a potential client and later a colleague for dinner. The following day, Hilary and my fantastic agent, Elisabeth Weed of Weed Literary (Blessed the writer who has Elisabeth on her team) would meet me near the St Martin offices for lunch. It was early for a full team meeting given my pub date isn't until winter 2009.
Staring out the train window, I prayed the meeting would be wonderful; I hoped we'd all connect. Not a fan of loud talkers and cell phone exhibitionists, I'd taken a cozy seat in the quiet car of the train. When my cell phone vibrated, I nearly catapulting out of my seat and onto the business man sitting across from me. I was forced to let the call go to voice mail. Once certain I'd left ample time for the caller to leave a message, I listened. It was Hilary.
She wondered if I would call her. She wanted to finalize our lunch plans and had a bit of good news to share. I forced myself to think her good news was something inconsequential like she'd secured a sought after reservation for lunch or that her assistant had been freed up to join us. I played mind games for the rest of the trip, coming up with all kinds of potential news, anything but the news I longed for.
Once in my lovely hotel room, I called her. She asked if I'd like to come to St Martin's before heading out to lunch. She wanted to introduce me to the staff in foreign rights, because they'd just sold my novel to France! Of course I said yes.
The next day I entered the historic Flat Iron building. The combination of French and Italian renaissance elements are stunning. On the inside, its gilded walls and ornate elevator became fodder for my work-in-progress, I took note of details that will fit nicely into my next novel.
Welcome to St Martin's, she said as she escorted me into her office. I handed her a small bag of goodies from my home town. Cape Cod cranberry chocolate and Dancing Deer cookies, I wanted to introduce myself like any good guest who'd been invited over for special meal would. She showed me the books she's working on, in various stages of production. Bound manuscripts, ARCs-- she showed me where my manuscript sits.
After introductions, more pleasantries and Elisabeth's arrival, we went outside noting what a beautiful day it was. A beautiful day indeed! The weather was remarkable for November, a cross between late fall and early spring. The restaurant was charming and our conversation was even better than our exquisite food. We bounced easily between our expectations for Life Without Summer, the inside story on publishing fiction and how we would all work together. Mid-meal I found myself nearly speechless. I sat facing two of the most impressive woman I've ever met. Woman who are working hard to make my dream come true.
After tea and biscuits, we headed back to St Martin's. With Hilary on one side of me and Elisabeth on the other, we walked in step with each other; it reminded me of the trailer for the Charlie's Angels movie. My story would be more aptly titled, Lynne's angels.
After our goodbyes, I came out of the Flat Iron building warmed by the sun and our meeting. I started walking, my plan to hail a cab on the next street corner. Energized and excited, I didn't want anything to change my mood, so I kept walking. Block after bustling block, I mulled over every conversation we'd had until I found I'd walked thirty blocks back to my hotel--in heels.
It can happen, you know. If you work hard at learning the art of writing. If you persist in pursuing your dream. If you find talented champions--mine came in the form of my writers' group--you too can find your way. Your book will be published.
All you need are angels.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Cutaway shot to the Sixties, when I was a baby and my parents lived on Long Island, sharing Thanksgiving with a friend of my dad’s, then with him and his bride and her family, every year. Don't you know, things changed: I got a brother, this couple had a little girl, and my family moved to Massachusetts. Even with the long drive, we continued to alternate feasts between Long Island and Cape Cod.
Forty-ish years later, Veronica still lives on Long Island and I in Massachusetts; my brother lives in Oregon. Given our families’ history, Veronica travels here every other year with her parents, aunt, husband and children. (Have to confess, I alternate between my in-laws and my parents.) In spite of new traditions, my childhood Thanksgivings bring back the fondest memories:
Juice glasses bought with Green Stamps. Kind embraces by once-a-year family. Long tables covered with food in narrow rooms that barely hold us all. More food spilling off counters and chairs in the kitchen. Noon: Alice’s Restaurant on the radio. Olives, preferably Lindsay medium or large. Pumpkin pie made by Veronica’s grandfather, the recipe lost with him and his wife.
Quick walks around the block before dessert, freezing our fingers and toes. Recitals that were blessedly brief with Veronica on flute, I think, and my brother on flute with me on piano. Seafoam salad, a Fifties throwback of lime jello and cream cheese with pineapple, that my mom is required to make still. Turkey, of course, with my dad cooking up innards to munch on and using the neck for the gravy after he wrestled the bird into the oven. Up too late, parents chatting at the table. Veronica’s parents and aunt talking local, state and national politics with devotion.
Wizard of Oz airing every Thanksgiving evening. Xanthous (yellowish, yes I looked it up) sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. Yelps from their dog, usually a Dalmation, pulling at his leash, and one year, wearing Veronica’s dad’s glasses as we waited for the meal to be served. Zesty fresh cranberry relish, served once in a plastic tub identical to the tub my family used for compost, causing a brief pause in enthusiasm, then laughter.
Wherever you are, whatever your traditions and memories, a very happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be at my parents’ house with Veronica’s clan. If you read this, Paul, we’ll miss you. Last, thank you, Lisa, for the inspiration from Monday's post.