Sunday, June 28, 2009

My muse is in the witness protection program

My muse has gone into hiding. Pouting, no doubt, that I think she led me down a dubious path, left me faced with a big, ol' honkin' revision.
Why do I illustrate this with a picture of bark? Because sometimes it really is true: You can't see the forest for the trees.
The novel in question is a YA fantasy more than 300 pages in length with suspenseful scenes and captivating chapter hooks--at least according to my fabulous crit group. I know there is a lot of good stuff there--wonderful old-growth giants and tender new saplings, but I'm not sure about the forest as a whole entity.
So for two months, I've been letting it "rest." I created this blog, rewrote a short story I'm going to submit and started a contemporary YA novel. So I haven't been idle, but I know it's time to face that revision.
I recently picked up some tips at a SCBWI "schmooze." I am going to rework key changes that should occur in the main characters at the beginning, middle and end of the book, thus strengthening the character development and relationships. I am also interviewing each of my main characters, letting them tell me who they are in their own voices. It's something that should perhaps be done at the start of a novel or part way into it, but I'm finding it eye-opening even now. And I am scrutinizing my world-building to find where it is weak or hackneyed.
But my muse, who makes occasional visits before retreating again, would rather have fun with the new toy she brought me--that other story where I can go for a wonderful romp and not have to face revision for a very long time.
My question and call for help is: What advice can you give me on tackling revision as a process? Do you have checklists, tips, lessons learned?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Getting to the heart of kidlit

Kidlit is hot. We all know this. Stores rearrange displays to showcase best-selling children's books. Authors of adult books have added YA and middle grade to their oeuvre, while others hope to debut in the market.

Most interesting to me is that adults, as well as children, are reading kidlit for pleasure. What is it about youth that stimulates our imagination long after we grow up? Is there some part of us that never grows up? Most adults say they shudder at the thought of returning to high school days, and yet we crave stories delving into the uncertainty and pain of those years.

Today's children and teens have never known a world that didn't include the Internet, cell phones and texting, and the reality of cloning and genetic engineering. It's an astounding thing to consider.

But there is something at the core of a successful children's book that can appeal to any age. That is wonder--the sense of freshness that comes with experiencing something new, and when you've only been here a few years, there is much that fits this description. I think the best stories honestly portray suffering and fear but also show the excitement and adventure provided by life on this planet (or an alternate world of equally fascinating possibilities).

What do you think makes literature for children enchant and resonate?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Come out, come out wherever you are

Bish at Random Thoughts, whose lovely blog often features remembrances of growing up on a Caribbean island, has tagged me. The former teen-fishing-champ has tossed me some bait, in other words. Eeeeeek! I love word games and challenges so I'm going to play. But I shy from chain-letter thingies and I'm supposed to tag others, so here's my solution and your choice.
1) Consider yourself tagged and write the Q&A on your blog, leaving me a trail of chum.
2) Lurk to your heart's content. Remain untagged, and be assured no pestilence will plague you and your progeny.
3) Share a wicked comment on any of this.
Seven questions regarding seven deadly sins. Lying is highly recommended.
1) Pride--Q:What is your biggest contribution to the world? A: When I invented the Internet, I made possible all blogs and followers.
2) Envy--Q: What do your coworkers have that you wish was yours? A: The master list of followers.
3) Gluttony-- Q: What did you eat last night? A: Bread & water, but I spiced it with Literary Food Porn.
4) Lust--Q: What really lights your fire? A: A good e-book. I'm not lying. Really.
5) Anger--Q:What is the last thing that really pissed you off? A: A bad e-book. (See above).
6) Greed--Q: Name something you hoard and keep from others. A: First edition "Will the Bard and his Seven Secrets of Success or How to Extend Your Shelf Life by Centuries."
7) Sloth--Q: What's the laziest thing you ever did? A: Refused to answer question #7.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Give me a little time

There is a hike I take frequently up a boulder-riddled hill within the city. It's a three or four mile walk with lovely views, especially at sunset.

One of the cool things is it often leads to ideas for my fiction. I keep a pen and little notebook in my pocket for those thoughts when they come out of nowhere. It reminds me of a meteor streaking so hot and sudden in the sky that you gasp. And if I don't write those ideas down, they can fade like those falling stars.

Hiking today, however, I found inspiration for this blog. Two women in front of me were chatting, and I overheard, "I get so bored, I've got to kill some time."

All I could think is if you have time you don't want, GIVE IT TO ME. Sorry for the shout, but time is the most precious thing any of us have. There is never enough to do all I want to, and I fear running out of it. Part of this, no doubt, is that I am a cancer survivor and that tends to make you greedy to hang on to every minute. Part of this is that I am a writer and there are so many stories I'd like to have time to tell.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate 'down' time when we visit with friends, see a summer movie or just stare at a sky filled with stars, but that is not the same as killing time. I say, savor it, embrace it, make it count. I'd love to hear your reaction.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Finding treasure

The emotional power held within temporal objects is sometimes shadowy. I keep a handful of china pieces, handpainted by my paternal grandmother, because she made them. But yesterday, I felt a deeper, visceral pull.
In my blog-hopping, I visited Elizabeth Wix's About New York and discovered a feast for the eyes. She featured a post on plates, of all things, and linked to numerous other blogs in a round-up. The beauty or memories to be found in our cupboards is astounding.
Looking at my grandmother's pieces, I recalled the care she took with her home and garden--always aesthetically pleasing and immaculate. She wanted beauty and she made it--mostly by hard work.
My other grandmother lived in reduced circumstances, many of her years were in a rented attic apartment in Brooklyn. She worked hard, too, caring for mothers and newborns. She sewed outfits for the dolls my paternal grandmother bought for me. And she also sold, on the side, little dustcloths she made by stitching a colorful fabric hand on a plain cloth so you could slip your hand into it. Sweet, but not a money-maker. I have her china custard cups from Bavaria and the bright Nippon china she acquired, and I realize how precious these few things were.
Through these objects belonging to my grandmothers, I connect with memories of childhood, which may shimmer out-of-focus, but can be quite specific in detail. For instance, I can remember the security and love I felt during car rides on frosty winter days, snuggled up against my grandmother's beaver coat, my small hand rubbing the fur back-and-forth to change the sheen.
Not only did Elizabeth get me to look with fresh eyes at my china, her blog, which is filled with fabulous photographs, catapulted me back to my younger days in New York. My entire family comes from there, but I spent most of my life in other places. Her photographs of cafes, brownstones, kids on field trips, flower markets and people's feet on the subway were like coming home. New York, despite its immense size, can be very much a village.
Look around. Are there any objects you haven't thought of for awhile that fill you with memories and emotion? I'd love to hear about them.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Psst, another great contest

Got to add another contest. If you're feeling lucky, you can throw your name in the hat with about 100 other folks for a chance at four stellar books: National Book Award nominee The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, How to Be Bad by E. Lockhart, Lauren Myracle and Sarah Mlynowski, and Tantalize and Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith.
The contest is at Tabitha Olson's blog.
And another! P.J. Hoover, who did a funny and informative guest blog at Book Chic on MySpace, offers a contest for copies of her books to those who comment before 8 p.m. EST Sunday June 14. You must be a member of MySpace, however, to post here.

The writing game

Contests. What would writers do without them? These days with authors expected to do a lot of their own publicity, there are countless opportunities to get the latest ARC or signed copy by entering contests on blogs. It's a great way to discover new voices or authors you somehow missed.

But I think Eileen Cook blows the competition out of the water with an offer of a $75 gift certificate at a bookstore of your choice. Woo-hoo! She is celebrating the six-month anniversary of the release of What Would Emma Do? In order to enter, you must do something that brings the book to the attention of other readers, for instance, write about it on your blog. *waving my hand wildly over here* And the beauty is how this ripples outward--I read about it on author Barrie Summy's blog.

I picked up a copy of Cook's novel, expecting to find some teen angst, boy troubles, parental difficulties, etc. I was surprised and intrigued to find a modern-day Salem witch trials with a escalating moral dilemma. Emma has a one-way conversation with God throughout the book, the title of which is a take-off of 'what would Jesus do?'

Emma is the square peg in a small, rural town dominated by an evangelical church. Her fervent dream is to win a track scholarship to Northwestern and escape the herd mentality around her. But she may forfeit her dream if she decides to speak up for someone wrongly accused.

I like that Emma makes a decision on her own, and the author doesn't answer how this affects Emma's future. If you are interested in more about the book and that phat gift-card, check out Eileen Cook's site.

In a different kind of contest, author C. Lee McKenzie has a competition to write some cool opening YA lines at

Have fun! Isn't that what we'd all like writing to be?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The real faery queen

The Faery Reel is an anthology wonderland, which has a prominent spot in my fantasy bookcase, so it was with glee that I stumbled across a Q&A with co-editor Ellen Datlow. Sometimes, when I'd rather not froth at the mouth trying to revise 300-plus pages of my own fantasy tale, I take to adventures in the realm of Blog. This is where I found her hanging out at Canadian writer/producer Joseph Mallozzi's site.

A few things she said stuck with me, so I'm sharing. But first, if you don't know her, she has creds that stretch decades from fiction editor at Omni to co-editing the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror with Terri Windling. The Faery Reel has pieces by Charles de Lint, Holly Black, Tanith Lee, Kelly Link and more; Delia Sherman's delicious Catnyp is set in New York Between where a public library catalog is a lion and a changeling tries to research her human heritage. Okay, so now you know Datlow has serious experience and marvelous taste.

I was interested in a question to her about the future of sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres, especially since I read elsewhere that many editors are tired of epic fantasy. Datlow's response to the road ahead for speculative fiction: No shocks. Everything evolves.

That had a calming effect on me. She tossed the ball back into the writers' court, saying that markets fluctuate, and it is up to the writers to research before submitting. Then once you do submit to appropriate places, work on something else. If you get a dreaded rejection, just send it out again and again and keep writing other stuff. In simple terms, she said if you don't submit, you don't get published.

It made me think of an analogy which may work or not for you. I'm going to think of writing as a river flowing, not a backyard pond. So the work goes continually out into the wider world and doesn't sit around waiting for someone to discover it on the back 40. (acres, in ranch lingo, and, no, I'm not a cowgirl, sorry). As always, love to hear any reaction.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sword in hand, spirit intact

My thoughts are on the writing life -- the good, the bad and the terrifying. In case you hadn't heard, Sarah Rees Brennan's blog was hacked a week before the release Tuesday of her debut novel, The Demon's Lexicon, published by Simon & Schuster. The maliciousness is troubling, but we shouldn't be surprised. We know the world isn't a safe place and most of us write about that in one way or another.
Sarah -- pardon my familiarity but her blog is so open and honest that I feel I know her -- certainly does. The Demon's Lexicon is so dark and delicious. You want to like her main character and do, despite his dearth of emotion. He's loyal, lethal and able to question his disconnection. It's a deft drawing of character that we don't understand until a big, satisfying reveal.
What I love most about this book, besides Sarah's style and wit, is no matter what mistakes these characters make or how marginalized they are, there is love without reservation and redemption of sorts.
That brings me back to Sarah, who at 25 has written this and survived a cyber-attack. If you read her web page, including her journal which had to be reconstructed, you will see a remarkable spirit. She laughs through tears, shines in the dark, is hilariously funny, and takes us along, like friends, on her journey through life and publication.
I guess my thought for the day is Sarah isn't a victim even if she was victimized. It's something I can apply in life, as well as writing. If this touches you in any way, please add your thoughts.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Finding the power

Occasionally, a simple sentence has considerable impact. For me, today, it was author Brent Hartinger saying in a Cynsations interview: For a story to be engaging, the antagonist must be more powerful than the protagonist. More powerful. I had never thought about it quite that way. Yes, I know the antagonist must be strong and in the main character's way, causing obstacles and tension and maybe even life-and-death situations, but I hadn't correlated that power-wise.
Hartinger said the imbalance of power forces the main character to change and grow or be destroyed. And that makes absolute sense.
So I thought about books where that is obvious or not-so-obvious. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo is way out of his league against Sauron, or, for that matter, even the Nazgul. Frodo may be reluctant at first but he grows into the realization that he must find the strength or his entire world will be lost.
In Susan Straight's A Million Nightingales, the antagonist is the entrenched system of slavery in Louisiana. That would be overwhelming for any slave, let alone a young girl sold away from her mother. In this case, the main character endures and finds a way to replace the family she's lost.
Any thoughts on this? Or is this so obvious to everyone that you're rolling your eyeballs? I can almost hear a chorus of duhs. Well, it spoke to me, and if that helps my writing gain power, that's all I can ask.