Friday, November 30, 2007

Making a Literary Life Friday: Emendate

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

Identity and Mushrooms

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

You Know It When You Read It

by Hannah

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

Bliss and Friendship

Our dear friend Patry Francis, author of The Liar's Diary, is in need of your prayers and good will. Please keep her in your thoughts. We can think of little else.

A Breath of Fresh Air

By Amy

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.

Please note:
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

Questions & Answers with Gregory Maguire

Posted by Lisa

Last spring Grub Street Writers in Boston gave me the wonderful opportunity to interview Gregory Maguire, a fascinating and inspiring writer. Here's the interview, originally published in the Grub Street Rag...

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

Making a Literary Life Friday: Thanksgiving

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

Lynne's Angels

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

And We Give Thanks

By Hannah

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.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


By Amy

It all started when I checked into the hotel. As I was signing the registration, the woman informed me my room had been upgraded to a suite. The room was indeed grand. To my left was a large sitting area, straight ahead a marble bathroom with Jaccuzzi tub (Nirvana to any mother), and to the right, a separate bedroom with a t.v. for my personal viewing pleasure (no sharing). It was a few minutes more before I noticed the French doors leading to the master bedroom suite with king-size bed and private bath. Unbeknownest to me, I had a clear view of Random House (see photo) from there. I considered it my pumpkin upgraded to a lovely carriage. I was transported.

The next day, I took a cab to my agent Emma Sweeney's office. She was warm and welcoming, greeting me with a hug. She introduced me to her associate agent, Eva Talmadge, and we chatted about life and books until my cheeks nearly burst I smiled so much. There before me was the woman who helped transform my life, the first person in the publishing world to believe in me. There weren't enough words to thank her.

Now, if you're like me, you've long been curious about the state of an agent's office. Were there stacks of manuscripts everywhere (no, nowadays most everything is electronic I suppose), phones constantly ringing (somewhat), books galore (absolutely, nearly all belonging to her clients, all well-known titles). I expected cramped quarters, not an expansive suite, neatly kept. Most of all, though, it was sunny and restful, the kind of place one could spend an afternoon with a cup of tea, a good book, and a pup gently snoring in a patch of sun.

After we said our goodbyes, I took another cab back to midtown and headed into the grand foyer of Random House. You-just-can't-imagine. Therese Fowler described it to me, as did John Elder Robison in even greater detail. Still. Bookcases lined either wall, stretching to the ceiling and turning either corner. In them were many titles by authors Random House has published since its inception: Pippi Longstocking, Richard Scarry, William Styron, Phillip Roth, Fannie Flagg, Maya Angelou, and there, just around the bend was John's book, Look Me In the Eye.

Once I had a chance to compose myself, the concierge announced my arrival to my editor, Sally Kim. It was a surreal moment when I realized I was on my way up to the Shaye Areheart Books/Crown Publishing division, home to Sharp Objects, Beautiful Lies, The Double Bind, Julie & Romeo, and Brothers. When I got off the elevator, there she was, waiting for me! Have you ever met someone and knew, just knew, you were destined to be forge a path together, to be friends? It happened with Sally the night before the auction when she called to introduce herself. I felt in my gut she was the one to guide my book, and truly, her edits are genius. Now Sally is the kind of woman who was raised by conscientious parents. She made sure to introduce me to everyone on the floor, all of whom were just as kind and welcoming. Each of the many people I met congratulated me on Tethered (no, thank you), most had read it already (oh my goodness) and still others wanted to ask questions about the ending (shhh, I won't tell). While we made the rounds, I pulled Sally aside a moment, I was overwhelmed. Most of you reading this are writers on track to publish your debut (yes, you are). You know what it is run headlong into that brick wall, that's to be expected. Acceptance is something new.

Then Sally took me downstairs to the PDR (private dining room, though there appear to be many of them) where we met up with publisher Shaye Areheart and the phenomenal duo in charge of foreign rights (last week they sold rights to France, yesterday to Germany, that brings their total to five countries already; I could have talked to them all day, they're that nice, that fascinating). At this point I felt absurd. All I could sputter was thank you, wow, you're too kind. But let's pause here a moment, backup a bit. Shaye Areheart. This is a woman whose name I've known for years. Someone I've heard Ann Patchett and Jeanne Ray gush about at readings. This is a woman who heads her own imprint, who is widely regarded as the nicest woman in publishing (along with Sally), a woman I once pitched a profile of to my newspaper editor. Yes, I interviewed her about a year and half ago (the story was killed, my only story to ever be killed) and since that day, I've dreamed of working with her. Amazing, no?

I was among my people. They discussed books, book reviews, book deals, foreign deals, authors, agents, editors, everything you and I would love to talk about ad naseum. Nothing was snarky, they were generous with their compliments. We discussed personal lives, too. They were open and dear. I never wanted it to end. Did I mention the food was sumptuous?

After lunch, Sally, Shaye, and I returned to their offices where they invited me to choose as many books as I'd like and they'd ship them to me. By then, I was black and blue from pinching myself. We talked even more. Soon, though, I knew the clock would strike midnight and I'd have to return home.

We said our goodbyes and I took one more long look at those bookcases in the Random House lobby. Would my novel ever be among these other books? I hailed a cab, and as we made our way through Times Square toward Penn Station, the tears came. New York City is my favorite place in the world, what I know in heart will someday be my home. I didn't want to leave it, I didn't want to forget a single detail of what had been my most perfect fairy tale. I didn't want to return to a suburban life where I was forever the outsider.

For the first time in my life, when I tried on the glass slipper it fit. It fit.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A to Z Travels

Posted by Lisa

(You've got to try this writing exercise: starting each sentence with consecutive letters of the alphabet. Grace Talusan taught it to me. She's a Grub Street instructer and writer extraordinaire)

New York City

Amazing, isn’t it? Brilliant writing was their first step in the right direction. Couple that with tenacity, and the end result was editor interest in both Amy and Lynne’s newly completed novels.

Don’t think for a minute that either of these members of our writers’ group had it easy. Either of them could have thrown up their hands in exasperation when they received feedback at our meetings. Forge ahead, now matter the challenge before them, that’s their philosophy, their way to meet with success.

Grub Street has an annual conference. Held each spring, the Muse & the Marketplace is an event not to be missed. I went for the first time in 2005, at Amy’s suggestion. Juggling writing with work and family, at first I wondered how it could be done. Kudos to writers for organizing events such as these that “show” and “tell” writers it can be done.

Looking back, I realize how far each of us in the writers’ group has come since those early days. Making the commitment to becoming a writer is truly a journey, in time, and knowledge, and confidence, and skill. Next entries, for both Amy and Lynne, will document recent trips to New York. Over the past week, each has traveled to the Big Apple to meet with their editors. Publishing their work is a dream come true.

Quoting Oscar Wilde,

“Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.”

Risking failure is a chance any writer takes. Show me a writer, and I’ll show you a fool. Taking those dreams and turning them into reality is what Amy and Lynne did.

Usually, people hear someone’s writing a novel and they roll their eyes or nod politely. Very often, they imagine the whole idea must be a big waste of time. When regular people “pretend” they're writers, the rest of the world frowns. Xeroxing your butt at the office gains a person more respect than taking time to write during your half-hour lunch break in corporate America.

You are a regular person, just like Amy and Lynne. Zero in on their blog entries this week and learn that for regular people, dreams can come true!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Making a Literary Life Friday: Travels

The literary life takes us to so many places, real and imagined. Where do you go to write? To meet other writers? To get away from the pressure of meeting your goals? This week two members of the Writers' Group traveled literally--to New York City. One is preparing for a trip to agent city. Where is your literary life taking you?

I got in from New York late last night after meeting with the amazing team at Shaye Areheart/Crown Publishing Group. I will tell you all about it on Tuesday. Suffice it to say, I cried all the way back to Penn Station.

While I was there, my editor and publisher took me to a display case filled with books. Choose whatever you want and we'll ship it to you, they said. Think about that for a minute. Are you as staggered as I was? If you're looking for the big hit of Winter 2008, I'm holding it now. Will Lavender's Obedience is about a university logic class assigned with finding a hypothetical missing girl. If they don't reason out the evidence within the end of the term, the girl will be murdered. Soon, though, the students discover disturbing clues that make them believe this isn't a hypothetical case at all. What a hook!

My travels this week were back to the beginning, to run a polish cloth over what I delivered to the Group. I read it before handing it over how many times? Still, repeated words, a missing word here and there, things I could have said better. Nothing that will affect the impact of their edits, only changes that need to be made no matter what they tell me. I have notes and scribbles for my next story beginning to pile up, yet I don't quite dare leap fully. I want to stay focused on this one and get it out on its own journey.

This week my travels included a trip to New York to meet with my editor at St Martin's Press. To listen to her talk about my characters and my story was a time I will treasure. She understands my story more than I could've hoped any one would. The trip was a dream come true for a writer wanting to get a cherished novel into the hands of readers. More on my trip next week. And my travels took me to two events. Thank you to the wonderful staff and parents who came out to The Seaside Mothers of Multiples meeting and Barnes and Noble in Hingham MA. I'm so grateful for your positive response to Negotiation Generation.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Inside Outside

Posted by Lynne

When my daughter began college twelve weeks ago, she began meeting new people, making new friends. Friends I would learn about, but not meet for weeks.

She's exactly like me, Mom, we love the same music and we like all the same foods. Except she's taller and has long hair. And he is the funniest person; his sense of humor is dry and talks with an accent.

In order to picture in my mind's eye her new friends, I listened for details. I fit their names to their unique characteristics. When I finally met them, putting names with faces, they didn't look exactly as I'd imagined them, but that was okay. Think read the book, see the movie. Actors cast never look like the characters imagined. More often than not, you get used to them in the role eventually.

Character traits and details. Do you paint them from the outside in or the inside out? In a workshop all four members of the writers' group went to, given by the esteemed Margot Livesey, we learned that creating memorable characters involves helping a character stand out yet it doesn't matter where you start as long as you do both.

Sitting at the metal table with his hands folded was an officer with one of those spiky GQ haircuts and one day’s growth of beard; he looked almost excited to be there. Before we took our seats, he blurted out that he was the detective taking over the investigation.

He cut right to the chase without all the usual Wenonah Falls Police formality we’d come to know and hate.

“I don't mean to be rude. Or maybe I do," I said. "But Jack, you don’t look old enough to tie your shoes, never mind lead an investigation.”

The character described above was drawn with only a few physical descriptors and through his behavior. Outside in. I painted him young because I wanted him to care so deeply about solving a crime because he needed to prove himself. Inside out.

Characters in a novel should not be a jumble of different facial features, eye colors or statures. Traits, quirky and distinct, along with inner motivations set characters apart, making them your own. Making them stand out.

Here are a few of Ms. Livesey's other tips for creating memorable characters that have helped me enormously with character development.

  • Good characters must have some failure or vice--bad characters some strength or virtue
  • Every character should have something he or she shares with you--every character something he or she doesn't
  • Give every character some attitude
What are your tips for creating memorable characters? Or who are your favorite characters from other novels that you look to for inspiration?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

by Hannah

I was so busy thinking about this post while I showered I couldn’t remember whether my fine, limp hair was sporting Thick and Full shampoo or Collagen Elastin body lotion. Violating my never-rinse-and-repeat rule, I told myself to focus. Not just on the post, on the entire subject: agent queries.

I am finally there, or at least pretty darn close. My manuscript is enjoying the luxury of another quiet massage as it waits for a satisfying thwack of edits from the Group. Fingers crossed, with their direction, on to the next stage.

I've done the prescribed research. I read the articles on what makes a dream agent, should I be so lucky. I know what makes a dream client so I can try to be one. I know who reps whom, who does not rep what I write. Who reps what I love. Who reps what I love which is not what I write. I am dizzy with details.

Is this what it is like to cyberdate in this day and age? Googling, reading profiles, checking out the occasional posted photo. Is a glint of laughter in the eyes a sign that this person will enjoy my brand of humor? Does a serious expression convey commitment to a possible long-term relationship? Do they like baseball; if so, are they dyed-in-the-wool Yankees fans and is that a good thing for a protagonist committed to the Red Sox? My uncle is passionate about the Yankees, and we love each other dearly. Anything is possible. Am I overthinking this? Oh, yes.

I have a list of the agents with whom I'd most like to work on my desk. Like those arrival and departure signs at the airport, some names clicked into firm stillness right at the top, two or three still flip lower down, slower than before. I am nervous.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Plan me no plans
I'm in no rush
Catch me no catch
Unless (s)/he's a matchless match!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Rules of Writing

By Amy

If you want to be a writer, a real writer, then you must write every day. You must meet a daily minimum word count. A true writer has read the classics. Before you may call yourself a writer, you must -- must! -- know proper grammar; this is non-negotiable. Writers never read within the genre they're writing while they're writing; we might fall prey to osmosis plagiarism. If you are to be published, then you will never be at a loss for ideas for the next scene, the next chapter, the next book. True writers don't write in first-person, present tense; everyone knows how much agents and editors detest this. Don't edit your work until you've written that $hi!!y first draft. If you're a short story writer, then you've heard a thousand times over the dictum of a certain editor that a short story must take place within the time-frame of a single day. You must write what you know. You must, you must, you must...

These are a few of the rules of writing I've heard over the years. I reject them all.

Writing is a personal journey. It's something that happens within each of us and is then poured out, massaged, and refined before being shared with the world. It's an explosion of passion, an obsessively controlled expression.

There are no rules for writing, though there are guidelines. I believe in certain truths: reading enriches my writing; grammar is fun; write not what I know, but what I want to know; become one with the protagonist. But these are my truths. I know if I were to write every day, the words would soon become stale, perfunctory. They would appear on the page only because they had to, not because I felt them. Perhaps you must write each day. Good on you! You know your strengths and weaknesses best. Feel confident with your choices.

My advice (not that you asked)? Know the rules, become intimate with them, and then throw them all away. When you're ready, pick and choose that which resonates with your own literary life. Trust your gut more than those books on writing you picked up at the library or bookstore. Read them, definitely do, but again, choose what is right for you.

This is your journey, navigate your own path. You may find yourself crossing trails with others along the way; enjoy the commiseration. But know that ultimately you'll find your way, on your terms. You must.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Go Character!

Posted by Lisa

Before I moved to California, my writers' group gave me presents. Not good-bye gifts - I saw them just last night online – rather we’ll-miss-you-in-person presents. One of the books they handed me in that Starbucks in Cohasset, was To Kill a Mockingbird. Like many writers, I have favorite books. This has become one. As a jumpstart to your writing week, here’s some brilliant character descriptions written by the author, Harper Lee.

(Thanks again, Amy, Hannah, and Lynne!)

Jem and I found our father satisfactory; he played with us, read to us, and treated us with courteous detachment.
Calpurnia was something else again. She was all angles and bones; she was near sighted; she squinted; her hand was as wide as a bedslat and twice as hard….Our battles were epic and one-sided. Calpurnia always won, mainly because Atticus always took her side. She had been with us ever since Jem was born, and I had felt her tyrannical presence as long as I could remember.

and this...

Miss Caroline was no more than twenty-one. She had bright auburn hair, pink cheeks, and wore crimson fingernail polish. She also wore high-heeled pumps and a red-and-white striped dress. She looked and smelled like a peppermint drop. She boarded across the street one door down from us in Miss Maudie Atkinson’s upstairs front room, and when Miss Maudie introduced us to her, Jem was in a haze for days.

and this...

Walter Cunningham’s face told everyone in the first grade he had hookworms. His absence of shoes told everyone how he got them. People caught hookworms by going barefooted in barnyards and hog wallows. If Walter had owned any shoes, he would have worn them the first day of school and then discarded them until mid-winter. HE did have on a clean shirt and neatly mended overalls.

Now go and write this well!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Making a Literary Life Friday: Fall Ball

We here at the Writers' Group are going at full throttle. Some of us are on book tour, some of us are doing final edits on novels, others are working on fourth drafts, and all of us are at different stages on new novels. Throw in a few author events, one or two parties, families, jobs, pets, volunteering, and -- phew! -- we're exhausted. Not that we're complaining, no, who could when given the opportunity to pursue a passion. Still, if anyone is offering us a writers' retreat with quiet rooms, free of phones and Internet service, we're there. Now that would be a ball!

Others having a ball this fall and to whom we extend huge congratulations are Kristy Kiernan and John Elder Robison. Kristy's much beloved novel, Catching Genius, was nominated for the Florida Book Award and John's memoir, Look Me In the Eye, was an Amazon Top Ten Book of the Year.

Okay, my life is too intense, but in such a good way. I go from work I never imagined could be so wonderful, to a novel that's taken on a life of its own! My family is closer than ever; wild fires and moving three thousand miles from all of your friends can do that to a person.

Note: I will say YES! to an offer of a Vermont retreat in an old farmhouse on five plus acres with horses. I'm fussy, I know, but wouldn't that be nice?

Bone tired, I'd say, but in the best possible way. Last Friday night was an experiences those of us pursuing the literary life can appreciate. Lynne and I attended Grub Street's annual fundraiser, Taste of Grub, and we spent the night chatting away with the famous Anita Diamant (yes, the author of The Red Tent is actually flesh and blood), Andre Dubus III (Oprah loved House of Sand and Fog, as did the rest of America), Bret Anthony Johnston (as charming in person as he is on the page), and Pagan Kennedy (how does one remain so humble when one is the darling of the New York Times Review of Books?). Good news, I won Ms. Diamant's auction item, a tenth anniversary signed edition of The Red Tent.

In other news, the truly impressive foreign rights team at Crown sold the French rights to my novel, Tethered. I'm going to New York next week to meet with my agent and publishing team; how best way to express to each of them my gratitude?

This fall is lovely, and now the snap of cold -- at last -- and my PR work project of wrapping 25 gifts in gold and silver tissue and ribbons for editors and producers has me in a holiday mood. We have a firm No Holiday Videos or Music Until Thanksgiving rule in our home, which I am the first to enforce and the first to wish I didn't. Enjoying the anticipation can be half the fun, and to that end I am riding a wave of excitement and promise as well with the Group's work and in my own writing being read and being created. Although when that wave crashes at last, at some point, I would also like to be in that house in Vermont!

My book tour continues with events mostly in New England up through the holidays. I can't say enough about the generosity of the staff at Inkwell Bookstore in Falmouth MA and the supportive staff and parents of the Apple Orchard Preschool in Brookline MA. It is humbling to meet so many parents with intentions of raising compassionate cooperative children. And so many willing to help me spread my proactive parenting message.

The Taste of Grub night was lovely. Toasting to other writers' success and chatting about writing--is there anything better? I head off to New York next week to meet my editor at St Martin's and have several events later in the week south of Boston. Life is busy, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Use Your Words

Posted by Lynne

At the earliest stages of life, we're encouraged to choose our words carefully. Parents say use your words hundreds of times a day to little ones learning to express frustration, anger or sadness. Teachers with red pens poised on paper implore older children to define, describe, elaborate.

Written communication, in the absence of tone of voice and body language, rests on word choice alone to convey meaning, emotion, and motivation. No wonder every single word counts in the writing and revising of a novel.

As far back as Aristotle, the use of words to describe precisely the proper and special name for a thing was discussed. Later, Mark Twain wrote, the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.

Rebecca McClanahan writes in her wonderful book, Word Painting: Naming is so basic to the writing process, so intricately woven into every effective description, that we often overlook its importance. Yet without this first act, without a precise, significant and musical naming, no description can be attempted, no work of literature born.

Whatever you're naming, there are guidelines for choosing words well. McClanahan suggests that beyond choosing the accurate name for something, writers should focus on precision. For example, there is a significant distinction to be made between a bed and a gurney, or a braid and a mane.

Many writers on writing suggest limiting adjectives and adverbs in favor of choosing powerful subjects and strong verbs. This doesn't mean you need to challenge your vocabulary by choosing words readers won't understand, but it does mean choosing vivid words that capture mood and invoke emotion.

Like all writers I have my pet peeves when it comes to word choice. First on my list of offenders is the repeater. You know, that wonderful word you think packs such a punch that you use it over and over and over again.

I'll bet you have strong feelings about word choice too. So today, I invite you to list your positive suggestions for the proper and specific naming of things. Please share your tips in the comment section and I promise to round them up in a future blog entry.

Until then, take a look at a wonderful post called the Top Ten Mistakes Writers Make at our friend Therese's blog.

Every writer has the obligation to improve his or her writing one word at a time.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Characters Are Dead, Long Live the Characters

by Hannah

The Land of Revision is Disney meets Hunter S. Thompson: fun-scary with the belief that eventually the story will live happily ever after, blended with surreal, bitter truth-telling moments. When I presented Draft One to the Group earlier this year, I knew before it left my fingers it needed real work. (Draft One, by the way, was in turn the culmination of several versions along the way.) What I wanted from them was confirmation of my gut instincts on what was strong, what could be dumped; they did not disappoint, for which I am forever grateful.

Understanding a work’s weaknesses doesn’t mean one can plunge back in right away wielding a pen or ink cartridge. I spent several weeks in thought, walking around the house, driving the car, lying in bed, standing in the grocery store, and yes, with my head in the dryer. I read with no particular agenda and listened to writers.

Ideas swirled in my head like Disney bluebirds on Thompson acid. Just when I thought I'd never corral them into anything useful, they landed and I knew what I had to do. Kill Jill. Kill Aunt Pat. The problem was, I didn't know why.

As I played with the text, picking out what Jill and Pat scenes were important and considering how to keep them, other existing but weak characters stepped to the plate. One minor player appeared only in the beginning in Draft One, and the Group suggested she be dropped into backstory. By taking one of Jill's scenes from the middle and giving it to this other woman right up front, everything began to change.

Another Jill scene was taken by, of all people, an elderly gentleman merely mentioned once or twice in the first draft. I moved him from Boston to Chicago, where he stretched out and proceeded to make himself quite at home. He became more integral both to backstory and action, extending them, making them better.

Finally, without strong Aunt Pat, the weaker aunt became clearer, and -- amazingly -- her weakness was important. Again, opportunities appeared to tighten the original story and simultaneously give it more depth.

Changing this all took me quite a bit of time, as I learned not only what needed to be revised, but how to be more organized as I write and revise. I was an outliner before, but never a 3x5 card person. Now my entire story is jotted onto a stack of cards tucked into a funky plastic box from Staples. Bits and notes of my next story are already on 3x5s, ready to shuffle and roll.

Last week, Completed Draft Two went to the Group. Could it use another massage before it goes to an agent? Sure. I already have a few ideas. This time, though, it could be a matter of edits and tweaks. Rather than jumping into the fray immediately, I'm content to wait for comments. The changes I make will happen far faster, far more efficiently this time.

For the moment, I am happy to scribble down more whispers from my next protagonist, and I already have a sharper take on the key supporting characters than I did at this stage last time. I have time as well to do projects around the house I’ve been ignoring. To perhaps, for once, get ahead of the holiday shopping. For the first time in months, I'm sensing less Fear and Loathing, and more that a Happy Ending may be in sight after all.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

In the Moment

By Amy

The clarity of that moment comes to me now. I was working at the Massachusetts State House, waiting for the ancient elevator to carry us down four flights, when it struck me that I would never be pregnant a first time again. So many days and weeks had been spent trying to hurry along the process so I could hold a baby -- my baby -- in my arms instead of just my heart; I couldn't wait. I was through with feeling ill and exhausted, having my hair and complexion sapped of all luster. But standing there, I felt her squirm and was imbued with wonder. It was then I cupped my belly and tried to slow time. Cherish this, I thought.

For years, since childhood really, I'd wanted to be a mother. I read and read about all the different ways my body would change, exactly how that new life would appear at each stage inside my womb, the quirks and symptoms that go along with pregnancy. I knew what to expect. If you've ever been through it, then you're probably laughing by now. There are no words to describe just how relentless morning sickness can be. No one ever tells you how a miscarriage presents until it comes to pass. The overwhelming fatigue and instantaneous passion for someone who isn't yet fully realized can't be found in a how-to manual. But you have a vision nonetheless, a shadowy sense of what it is you're creating.

There are a million and one different paths a pregnancy can take. Many are spiritual, some terrifying, others are much too unpleasant to ever be discussed. There's a general template to be sure, but there are a plethora of variables, not one journey.

You know where this is going. If you're in the process of writing your first book, the one you know in your heart will be the one -- and you do know when it's the one -- cherish the process. There is only one first time. Enjoy the writing; as difficult as it may sound, wallow in the revisions; make an adventure of obtaining an agent; and when you do, feel at peace when it goes on submission. It takes a long time to grow a book. Savor the good and desperate times alike. It will all be sweeter for it.

My baby is a teen now and beautiful beyond even I imagined. If I allow it, quiet everything within me, I can transport myself back to that time by the elevator. A crystalline moment when I held her inside of me and she was mine alone, not yet of this world, vulnerable to its interpretations and shaping.

It will be the same for each of us with our books, I think. Someday, not long from now, though it will feel a lifetime, we'll find ourselves looking back and being thankful for having that moment of clarity to hold close. Enjoy.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Thinking Big

Posted by Lisa

I’ve mentioned movies in blog entries before. A few weeks ago, the movie Seabiscuit taught me about character and its role in advancing plot. Perhaps I can blame my recent interest in movies to my relocation north of Los Angeles. Have I been bitten by the movie bug? After all, in my old home of Massachusetts, radio stations interview sports figures, local politicians. Now, I tune into a radio station that interviews movie stars.

My son and I watched Big last night, starring Tom Hanks. It’s about a boy who wishes he were big; his dream comes true. He wakes up the next morning, an eleven or twelve-year-old in Tom Hanks' body. He got his wish.

I made a wish, too. Many times. I wished I could be a published author. If that happens, things will change. These things, for instance:

I will finally have real money; I will contribute more than a small part of the mortgage.

I will not feel guilty writing in a café, spending money on fancy coffee that costs over three dollars a cup. I will indulge in the Cheesecake Factory slices they sell for $4.95 at Barnes & Noble.

My husband will look at me in awe. He’ll tell me he knew it would happen, and I will know that isn’t true.

I will walk into a bookstore and see someone buy my book – I will love that moment.

I will never feel guilty about writing time again.

My children will tell friends their mother writes books. I will nod, humbly, “Yes, I do,” I will acknowledge.

I will accept the Newbery Medal with pride. (Okay, that’s above and beyond, I know).

But, like the movie Big, I know I must be careful what I wish for. Will being published change my world?

I’ll get back to you on that…

Friday, November 02, 2007

Making a Literary Life Friday: What Makes You Tick

Making a Literary Life is the title of our Friday group entry here at the Writers' Group blog, but what does it really mean to us, to you? It is, in part, about the journey each writer travels to hone their skills, achieve their goals. It is more than that; improving one's craft. It is building a life that is balanced, meaningful. It's ultimately very, very personal.

This week I read in a fortune cookie (a time-tested and reliable check-in we all need sometimes) that an organized life comes from an organized schedule. That is so true, and it's is something I have focused on in the past few weeks. Having non-writing time scheduled is as important as having writing times. For me, for instance, I LOVE working with the children with autism at my school. THEY give me perspective and energy to write the best I can. I know it is different for different people. Making a literary life means finding your balance.

I learned an important lesson this week: Making a literary life means staying true to yourself. I arranged to have my author photo taken, buying a new sweater (I despise shopping), having my hair styled (that was kind of fun), and even going so far as to have my make-up professionally done (not so much). In the end, all I needed was a pair of robust shoulder pads because I looked like Linda Evans' character from Dynasty on a bad day. No wonder in all of the photos, I appeared to be caught in the nanosecond before blinking or talking -- it wasn't me. A debacle to be sure.

Yesterday, I tried again. This time, a different photographer, one who wanted to come to my home where I would be comfortable, talk about my book before she took a single picture. She wanted a feel for how to proceed. I didn't have my hair or make-up done, I wore an old sweater, a favorite, and sat in my office, on my beloved desk chair my husband rescued from the dump. It was an imperfect me, the real warty, comfortable me.

When I was revising my manuscript there were sections not everyone adored, some wanted revamped, but I trusted those pages. I believed wholly in them and felt strongly that they would resonate with readers. That's what our literary lives must be, a true expression of who and what we are, what we believe. So stay true to yourself and the work will be better for it.

I finished the revisions this week (!) and made a discovery. My children, naturally, seemed to think this was It, that the pile of paper on my desk would miraculously transform into hardcover. I laughed, assured them otherwise, and they told me to let them know when they could buy it before they got excited again. The discovery is that I'm okay with that. This version feels different than the last, that it will go farther. I know it will need massaging and edits along the way; all the better. The forward motion makes me tick, that gets me revved up, with this manuscript, and with the one that is excited to burst onto paper while the group reads. It doesn't need to be done because it is never done, as confirmed by wise women I know; as long as there is forward motion, I'm fine.

Lisa, Amy and Hannah are brilliant, aren't they? Finding balance, staying true to oneself and focusing on forward motion--all of these things are important aspects of making a literary life for me too. And I'll add another one central to my personal journey. Striving to be humble.

The other night I attended a reading where an aspiring writing who knows my novel is going to be published asked if she could touch me for good luck. I've had friends and family make jokes about how I'll forget them when I become famous. Making a literary life for me involves finding ways to respond honestly, enjoy my successes without boasting, share openly my disappointments and celebrate the successes of other writers I respect.

Humility isn't an easy virtue to hold on to, especially in a world where authors are forced to jockey for strong positions in the marketplace. Like all other aspects of making a literary life, some days I'm better at achieving my goals than others. What I try to remember is this-- it's a journey, not a race. And it's funny, it seems the harder I work, the luckier I get.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The First Goodbye

By Lynne

I received my editorial letter and suggested edits for my novel last week. My outstanding editor offered spot on suggestions, ones so in sync with my characters and the goals of my novel that you would've thought my characters were real people and she and I were chatting about the locals over coffee. I clicked open my document ready to make changes.

Reading the first sentence of my novel, a sentence that hasn't changed since the first time I sat down to listen to what my characters had to say, I froze. The realization that this would be one of the last times I would spend time in the seaside town I'd created, it's sunlit harbor filled with one mother's secret, the local park hiding a family's truth, I actually got teary.

I've spent over two years discovering my story, massaging it and sorting through the details to include and details to leave out. I've taken one unlikable character and revealed her humanity on the page so that she can finally be understood. I explored the truth, mine and my characters, tucking it in with the care of a mother laying her child down for a nap.

To write the best book I could, I spent dark cold mornings on my window seat typing out a scene before work. I stole weekend time from beach outings or picnics in favor of spending time in a fictional grief counselor's office or a lost child's bedroom.

And now begins the time to say goodbye.

While my sadness centers around the knowledge that there are only a few more times I can touch it, effecting any change, the wonderful news is that because I'm willing to let it go, my story will live forever in the form of a hardbound book.

With each final edit, copy edit and galley proof, there will be less and less I can add or change. Each pass through now means trusting all the revisions I've made to date and embracing the idea that while no story is ever really finished, at some point it will exist in an imperfect state.

I only know one way to grieve the end of writing a treasured story, and that's to allow the feelings to come. Like leaving a child at school, it's hard at first to let go of her hand, but let go you must. And it does get easier with each passing day.

Letting it go and moving on for me comes in the form of a new story. One that has the power to comfort me and pull me in to a new world. My work-in-progress consoles me. My new characters distract me with their stories. I am a writer and I must pay attention to the next story begging to be told.