Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Remembering Laura Andersen: Pre-Publication Style

When I planted my stake in "second tuesdays" on the blog Cabinet of Curiosities, I didn't realize I'd have the honor of posting on Laura's Book Birthday, as we call them around here. Laura is a fellow Cabinet member, the reason the Cabinet exists, and a dear friend. This is a great day to be a Curiosity and the perfect time to reminisce.

If you read nothing else of my post, read this:

You'll be so glad you did.  

And in thinking of Laura, I'm remembering back way too many years to the very first writing class I ever took, which was online, and somewhat scary for some reason. As I posted an introduction to me, which was really just sort of a silly bluff of an intro, there was Laura, laughing at my jokes, being kind, accepting my weirdness, and writing suddenly wasn't as frightning. 

I remember the first time Laura posted a chapter for critique. It was astounding, beautifully written, way beyond anything anyone else was posting. I quickly became a ruthless, eagle-eye critiquer just to have something to offer this woman. The truth his, her characters were already vivid. Her plots, twisty and surprising. Her language gorgeous, fluid and effortless to read. It was amazing she hadn't been published already. Of course, she hadn't submitted anything yet. I always felt from day one it was a privilege to read her beginnings. It was a given that I would be honored to write something like this someday.

I remember the struggles when Laura thought she might not be meant to be writing. What writer hasn't walked the edge of that particular cliff? I reacted, embarrassingly, with anger. Didn't she realize she already was a writer? It's just who she was. She couldn't give up. "Laura not writing" just didn't compute in my world. Not very nice of me, since it is after all, Laura's world not mine. But I am to this day very glad she stuck it out, novel after novel after beautiful novel, in a life that hasn't been full of peaceful gazebos and gobs of free time. Laura claims to be a plucky writer and even without my silly tantrums, she would never have given up.

I remember Laura reading a chapter of mine for the first time at a critique group. In a spontaneous, English accent. "I don't think I can read any other way!" she says. At any rate, she made my chapter sound fabulous. I can't wait for her reading tomorrow at her book launch party.

And I remember when I first read The Boleyn King and I thought, THIS is it. This is the one. This cannot NOT be a published book. And Laura felt it was The One as well. And after a couple more novels, suddenly, it is. And Laura is taking the published world by storm as we all knew she would in that first class. 

God bless, Laura. Thank you for being you, through it all, everywhere, and for sharing yourself with all of us and the world. We are very lucky to have you. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I Want My Gazebo

Way back before we had children, my husband and I vacationed in New Orleans' French Quarter. Somewhere thereabouts is a little gazebo. On that gazebo is a plaque that explains how Mark Twain used to sit there for days on end writing novels while someone brought him his meals.

I turned to my husband and said, "Even I could write a novel if I could sit around all day while someone brought me my meals."

Now, I can barely fathom how anyone writes novels without someone else around to care for them while they do.

Mark Twain was a very lucky man.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

My latest post on Cabinet of Curiosities. A collaborative writers' blog I share with my dear friends.

Where do you get your ideas? This has to be the most asked question every writer hears. Luckily, it's a fun one to answer. Ideas abound absolutely everywhere, but I didn't always believe that.

When I was a teenager I attended an event featuring George Lucas (you know, that guy who did Star Wars and Indiana Jones?) and someone asked him The Question.

Oh yes, I thought. That's brilliant. I can't wait to hear this!

I was in total awe as he replied that coming up with ideas wasn't the problem, that he, in fact, had many more ideas than he could ever hope to work on. I sort of tuned out just then, right when it might have been wise for me to listen. That's why he's a brilliant film maker, I thought. I could never be like that.

Turns out, I was wrong. Not about the film maker thing, but about the having too many ideas thing. When you open your mind, it's frankly hard to shut them out. Most of the time anyway.

Idea Starters

Dreams: Twilight. Need I say more?

Fears: Ray Bradbury was a big proponent of this. I managed to churn out a middle grade novel involving a terrifying nightmare I had of Santa Claus kidnapping me in his UFO as my parents joyfully waved goodbye to me on Christmas Eve. It's not as marketable as Twilight. Who knew?

What ifs: "We need a vision of what the world could be." Another thing George Lucas said at that aforementioned event. I think he meant it as a positive idea starter, but millions have been made off of all the horrible ways the world could be, too.

Spin Offs: We've all seen them. A peanut novel hits the big time, suddenly there are scads of peanut novels. Some possibly bigger and better than the original. Shakespeare was fond of borrowing ideas and improving upon them. No shame in that.

Combinations: Take two or three of your pet ideas and twine them together. Sometimes the happy creation ends up wildly better than the sum of its parts. Sometimes it just kind of ends up to be a mess...but we're not focusing on that right now.

Character: A fabulous character can make the whole book. You think of someone, plop them into a world and let them go. It's nice when your characters do all the work. Which, okay, they never do, but it's nice when they do a lot of it.

And let's not forget: ideas people say you should make into a book, books you always wanted to read but don't exist, silly things your kids say, jaw-dropping news stories, historical tidbits, re-interpretations of archeological artifacts...okay, maybe I'm getting a little too weird here. The point is, ideas are a blast and they are all around. 

Idea Inviters

One thought here. Write them down. All of them.

Yes, you know That Idea won't work. Yes, you know it's probably been done better. Yes, you worry it's dumb.

That's not the point. Write it down. Do it now.

My muse gives me good ideas when I acknowledge all of her efforts. If I squelch her whisperings, she gets miffed, scared, dejected, and leaves me. When you open yourself up to ideas, get ready to receive them.

Plus, in retrospect, some of them are not as bad as you thought.

Idea Killers

I recently read something Jonathan Stroud said about a story just begun being weak and needing protection. I have heard this thought from more than one author. I suggest protecting your idea, fleshing it out, strengthening it, until it's ready to see the light of day and the critical eye of readers. 

This includes protecting it from yourself. 

You know that rewriter in you? The idea stage is not the time to invite her to the party. The idea stage is fun, it isn't about where to put your ellipses. Just like a baby needs the basics to grow, your idea does, too. Later that baby can learn to ride a bike, but give it some time to develop with your loving care before getting too demanding.

Others would disagree. They feel stymied without an audience to give them feedback, any feedback. 

So, if my nurturing sort of advice doesn't work for you, pay attention to what kills your ideas. Then hide, run from, or fight that evil influence.

Because without your idea you'll never get to The End. 

So open yourself up to ideas, write them, nurture them, and get ready to answer The Question yourself. Over and over and over :) Luckily, as I said before, it's a fun question to answer.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My Rhyming Picture Book--What a Mess!

I had horrible dreams the other night. Nightmares really.

In every one of them I was going about my everyday business (with a few more castles and zombies involved than in waking life). Then the simple things I did turned into huge, disgusting messes not just for me, but for my friends. It happened in dream after dream.

What was my subconscious getting at?

Simply this: Don't send bad rhyming picture books for your friends to critique. Duh! What a mess I created for them to wade through.

My friends were very kind but still, I am so sorry. Being the author, it's hard to read the meter wrong. But being a friend, I'm sure it was hard to read the meter right. Oops!

I have learned. Here is one site I particularly love on picture book rhyming. An oldie but goody. Oooo...and a new one to check out. Looks promising.

Learn from my mistakes, and may you sleep well.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

For the Love of Writing

In honor of Valentine's Day, ten reasons to love writing.
  1. Reading. It adds a whole new dimension to one of my favorite activities.
  2. Friends. I have found writers, editors and publishers to be some of the kindest, most fascinating friends.
  3. Adventure. All researched and imagined from a comfortable living room chair. No need to pack or rummage for food.
  4. A pleasant detachment. When I have an uncomfortable conversation with someone who claims to be a hit man with an abusive father and a fear of needles, I can channel my panic into that part of my brain that takes notes on potential characters. (How DO I always find myself in these sorts of situations?)
  5. Making people happy. It's just one of the simple pleasures in life to create things other people like.
  6. Getting paid. Which does actually happen on occasion.
  7. Challenge. Writing gets easier only right before it gets harder. My challenges are limited only by my imagination.
  8. Playing God. What's better than that?
  9. Daydreaming is working. Night dreaming is working. Dreaming is working.
  10. Fun. Writing is just flat out fun. 
So here's to writing and love and the two combined. Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Business as Usual

Well, the Typo Agent never got back to me. Sad, but honestly, I hope she's okay. Is that weird of me? Word is that she hasn't answered certain other emails I'm aware of, soooo...

Anyway. Like I said, I hope she's okay.

As for me, it's back to writing as usual, and I'm having a blast.

I'm hoping these Snoopy cartoons aren't copyrighted somewhere.
(Yet another reason professional advice would be a good thing.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Interview with Anna Staniszewski

It's pronounced Stan-ih-zoo-ski.
I have another blog that I tend with several of my wonderful writing buddies called Cabinet of Curiosities.

You can read a very fun interview here with Anna Staniszewski, author of My Very Unfairy Tale Life and its coming sequel, My Epic Fairytale Fail. Find out all about picture books versus novels, curly hair versus straight, and growing up American with a Polish last name.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The "typo" agent wants to speak with me. Even if there's no deal, I'm beyond pleased.

Of course, maybe she just wants to tell me there was a typo...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Agent Submissions

I sent a picture book to two agents today. Only one of the emails had a typo in it.


I read the thing a million times. Friends read it hundreds of times! (I may be exaggerating here).

THIS is why I need an agent. And an editor. Well, one of the many reasons.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Encouragement: On Friends and the Writing Hole

I once attended a workshop where Orson Scott Card said something about writers needing to believe their work is the greatest creation the universe has ever contained while at the same time feeling that it will never be quite good enough.

This thought has never left me. Why? Because when I don't think I can write anything right I can hang on to this shred of hope: "Of course you're a writer. Orson Scott Card said that this is exactly how you're supposed to feel! And he should know, he's a writer."

And when I'm ever despondent I hang on to one other thing. My amazing writing friends.

I once read somewhere that women have lots of different friends: shopping friends, church friends, lunch friends, PTA friends, and hate-the-world-with-me friends. That may be true, but many of my dearest friends are writing friends. They never give up on me or my words even when they all stink (me and my words--not my friends).

After crawling out from my two-year writing hole of illness lack of imagination my writing friends were waiting in the wings to say things like, "Finally! Please send this manuscript to my amazing agent. I think she'll like it." And, "Here is all my research on picture book agents. I think you should query this one." And, of course, "Your ending totally sucks. Try again." The best writing friends are, after all, very honest. And they are there for me even when I'm not writing.

So praise the world for encouragement and friends and the dynamic combination of those two things together--which is really the greatest creation the universe has ever contained.

Now to work on that picture book ending...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Tragedy Strikes

My website is gone. GONE. Sucked into a cranny of cyberspace from whence there is no return unless you have impressive hacking skills, which I don't.

So THIS is my new website. Forever. Until further notice.

Now to salvage links, pictures, bios, sanity... . Let's hope it goes quickly.

*little whimper*