Thursday, June 26, 2008

Countdown to Boston

Today was the last day of school and for me that means a few things... Until my kids go back in Sept my writing will grind to a slow crawl, my house will turn into a daycare of sorts, and my refereeing skills will require sharpening.

It also means we're heading into Canada Day weekend, a time when everyone regroups and celebrates with the usual requisite parade, pancake breakfast, etc. Last of all, it means I'm only 19 days away from flying to Boston (sans kids) where I get to spend 4 days wandering around the Boston Common (sans kids) and the Public Garden (did I say sans kids?!) where my next novel is set. Insert an enthusiastic *whoop* right about here!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Finding your rope swing

Growing up, we had a big old rope swing in our neighborhood. It wasn't on anyone's property. It was tied to the branch of a huge tree on the side of a steep hill overlooking our neighborhood, and that meant it was fair game for anyone to use.

And use it we did.
The rope swing was revered by kids of all ages, whether six or sixteen. I was never 100% sure why, although I get it now. It didn't take a lot of skill to grab that rope, back yourself up, and run full-tilt to the jumping off point where you'd go airborne. Anyone could do it. Matter of fact, I recall a few parents giving it a good go, too.

Of course, it was the airborne part everyone loved, that feels-so-good rush that came over you when you were in the air and all the planets seemed perfectly aligned, at least for a few seconds.

I have no doubt dancers get that same feeling when they're dancing, or gifted musicians when they lose themselves in a piece of music, or race car drivers when they cross the finish line and hear the crowd roar. I'm sure the same holds true for waitresses when someone leaves a big tip, or sales reps when they overshoot their monthly quota, or even IT technicians when they solve what seemed like an unsolvable problem.

On some level, I think we all look for those airborne moments while we're doing whatever it is that we do. For me, it happens most often when I write. What about you?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

How not to get published...

A woman I met at a conference seven years ago emailed last week to catch up. She's written four novels and still can't find an agent to represent her. She has a shoebox full of rejection letters. She's frustrated, disheartened, and fighting to stay positive as she begins her fifth novel.

I like this woman. She's a retired English teacher, she has a sense of humor, and she's a good writer, but she's constantly getting in her own way. Years ago, I recommended a few books to her about the publishing industry and she said she didn't have time to read them, she already knew how to write. Twice last year she was 'almost' offered representation but refused to make changes to her manuscript and both agents backed away.

"I was told my novel's are too quiet," she said.
"Maybe they are," I replied.
"One said my female protagonist isn't likable."
"Maybe she isn't," I said.
"Another wanted me to cut a main character right out of the story, said she doesn't offer anything to the narrative drive!"
"Maybe she's right," I suggested.
"I'm so down," she complained. "What would you do next? I want your honest opinion."

So I gave it to her.

I told her not to write another word until she'd read these books. (By the way, I'm of the opinion that all four of these should be mandatory reading for aspiring writers trying to break in the industry.)

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas

"Listen to what agents are saying," I said. "You need to be more flexible. Swallow your ego. Shelve your pride. Show them you're professional, someone who's easy to deal with vs. a diva with an attitude. Open your mind. Think of your novel as a product. How can you take what they're saying and use it to make your product more saleable? What you're doing isn't working, so kick the stool away and do something radically different! Allow these people to take you under their wing, experts that they are, and guide you. It's what they do for a living."

She emailed back and sheepishly admitted she hadn't read one of these books, that her husband had told her much the same thing not long ago; that if she didn't change her approach she'd never get published and she was probably developing a bad reputation in the industry among agents every time she queried like crazy and then didn't take their advice.

"Smart husband," I said. "Buy that man a drink."

Monday, June 9, 2008

What's the one hardest thing?

I was asked this last week during a book club chat from a gentleman who writes a weekly column for a local paper and wants to tackle writing a novel.

"Is it the self-discipline required to write every day on the same piece of work for six months to a year? Or the rewriting once you've finished your first draft? Or the gutting and rewriting yet again after you receive editorial input from an agent or editor?"

"It's the story," I said. "Any writer can throw down snappy dialogue, a handful of poignant or humorous pages, a few chapters that are structured perfectly. Lots of writers are great at character development, and many churn out novels that are technically brilliant, but when all is said and done most readers want just one thing when they pick up a book -- to get sucked into a golden story that stands out from the crowd, the kind you can't put down. So for me, the story is always the one hardest thing."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

I have this crazy dream...

I've been given 90 days of solitary writing time and I get to choose where I spend them (this is one of my favorite fantasies, so humor me.)

Here's how my dream would go... I'd get paddled out to a tiny island carrying a laptop that operates on solar power. I'd be wearing sandals and island attire that would stay clean and unwrinkled the entire time I'm there (again, humor me; if I'm allowed to choose where I do this writing stint, I figure I'll drop kick a few other realities onto the other side of logic too.)
I'd bring a hammock, and my meals (including shots of espresso) would be delivered by the nice man who paddled me over to my tiny island. There'd be no phone, no family, no pets. Just me and the story for 90 days. This might not be everyone's heaven on earth, but it'd be mine -- just once. And no, you can't come with me. Find your own tiny island!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Penny Tree released in France

I find it interesting to examine the various takes on covers and titles when novels get published in foreign countries. Here's the cover for The Penny Tree (which was obviously retitled) released May 22nd in France.

I've also learned that Quebec Loisirs, Canada's French book club, bought subrights and plans to promote the book this fall in their catalogue. It's all good stuff, and I'm grateful it unfolds the way it does because it helps spur me on to be working on novel #4 when there's still lots happening with novel #2.