Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Monday, May 23, 2011
Friday, May 20, 2011
I’m a reclusive writer. I’ve designed a study I love, where I hole up and create story. Unfortunately, I can’t reenact the Bronte sisters’ lives. Sometimes I must venture out into the big bad world. One of those occasions is when I attend the annual Pennwriters Conference held in Pittsburgh, PA this past weekend.
This year, for the first time, I splurged. I spent upwards of $500. When I mentioned this sum to my critique group yesterday, one of colleagues gasped. Very audibly. Yes, many of you are now convinced that I’m totally insane. But I’ll have you know, I’m not. I know this because on Friday morning I attended Brent Maguire’s Psychoses & Psychopaths workshop.
In addition to attending the Friday through Sunday conference I also signed up for Ramona Long’s Thursday workshop, Mastering the Art of Self-Editing, where I learned new tricks to polish my manuscript. Packed with valuable information, I rushed my bathroom breaks to minimize losing any of Ramona’s words of wisdom.
Going to conferences is expensive, but for a writer intent on furthering her craft there is no better way to network and glean new information. Pennwriters does a wonderful job organizing a conference with a solid mix of workshops for beginners, more advanced writers, and progressive workshops for today’s exciting environment.
Thinking it would be a beginners workshop I nearly skipped, The First Page is the Worst, by Jason Jack Miller & Heidi Ruby Miller. But their no-nonsense approach to including “the promise” our first pages must deliver had my creative mind on fire.
Another favorite, Creating a Low-Budget Book Trailer, with novelist Gwyn Cready and filmmaker Mike Marsh, got me thinking about marketing in a new way. And their ideas on saving money and still getting a product that will stimulate book sales had me thinking I might make back that $500!
As well as the workshops there is the free 10-min pitch session with an agent of your choice. Nerve-wracking, but I promise, it gets easier each year. Another stomach-clenching event is the Friday night critique in your genre. This event is worth the possible migraine and sweat-inducing jitters. I spent my evening in the Thriller/Mystery room with author CJ Lyons and agent Barbara Poelle, and got fantastic feedback on my first-page and synopsis.
On Saturday night I slipped on a pair of high-heels and forced myself out of my hotel room to the cocktail party and dinner with the local Sisters in Crime chapter. At the cocktail party I did finally talk about something other than writing, but at the dinner, as we lingered over coffee and dessert the conversation turned to MFA programs. Does a writer need an MFA? I don’t know, but the conversation was another example of the limitless opportunities to exchange information with writers facing the same challenges.
Lastly, conferences produce pages of notes to take home and share with your colleagues. One such nugget I shared is agent Barbara Poelle’s excitement over YA fiction. Two of my best friends are completing YA manuscripts with multi-faceted girl hero’s I’ve come to love. Jenny Ramaley’s tough-girl character, Shay, in her novel entitled, The Disappearance of Dragonflies, is about a brilliant teen struggling with a terrible home-life and what she believes is a dead-end future. From the first page, I identified with Shay and her drive to succeed. Another exciting YA manuscript is Marcy Collier’s paranormal story, Plainly Gifted. In addition to having the normal teenage challenges, Jamie must learn to control a gift she never knew she had. When the “gift” starts to surface, Jamie finds a world with layers she never dreamed existed.
I don’t know if my friends will submit to Ms. Poelle, I don’t even know if my own pitch with agent Dennis Little will produce results. But I know I will write a better first page, my psychopath killer will be a more believable character, and my overall manuscript will have a polish it never had before.
So, was it worth slinking out of my comfort zone and mingling with other creative minds? Was it worth $500? You bet! Every single penny.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
I'd get into that creative whirlpool and while working on one story I'd wake up only to find a new story on my pillow. I hemorrhaged story. If you asked me "What is this story about?" I'd choke on all the ideas buzzing in my brain.
Learning to keep task on track has been a decade of struggle, but now I can do it. Picture my process as a stove top. On that stove top I have two burners in the front with two big soup pots bubbling away. Those are the two I'm allowed to work on. The next row back has three burners. These pots have lids on them. I'm allowed to take the lid off, throw in some spice, but that's it, then the lid goes shut and I have to finish one of the two up front. There's a third row back with four burners. I can only whisk off the lid, put in a little salt, and that lid gets slammed shut.
I told my agent (who sadly passed away) about this and she laughed and told me not to tell anyone about this. "Why?" I asked. "Because not too many people will understand this. You're high creative." I assured her I didn't smoke any of THAT and again she laughed. She repeated her caution and told me to be patient, that she was certain I'd get the tiger by the tail.
Getting my MFA has helped because it helped me deepen my ability to focus on character. Something else that helps even now is to find a favorite book and type into my computer the opening chapter. It's almost like doing warm-up exercises. It slows my popcorn brain and channels some of that excitement.
Someday perhaps I'll write about writer's block. Maybe.
But trust me, writer's flood can be just as much of a disaster. This morning when I woke up there was a girl sitting there and she told me her name was Harley Ryder. She lives in a trailer court. Her parents love motorcycles and she loves books. She's searched the trailer looking for adoption papers but hasn't found them. Yet.
She's on the fifth row back in a small stainless steel pot. The lid is on tight.
We sometimes like to think otherwise, but publishing is a business. That’s not a bad thing, or a good thing, it’s just a thing.
But here’s the thing: people aren’t going to widget stores as much anymore. So a bunch of them are closing. And Widgets-R-Us might go bankrupt.
Writers have one thing to decide. What’s the best way to connect with customers?
The answer might be many ways. Or one way now and another way later. Things are changing. Keep your eyes open. You could find yourself drowning in a mud puddle, or maybe…Singing in the Rain.
Friday, May 13, 2011
I've had an agent for many years. I remember the day he took me on as a client. I couldn't believe it. I was ecstatic. It was the next best thing to selling a manuscript. And I bought into the myth that landing an agent is almost harder than landing a publishing contract, something that agented (but unpublished) writers like to believe. I loved that myth, too. It made me feel better, somehow, like all I had to do now was back-pedal a little, the hardest part was over. I don't know how many times I said to people, "Oh, yeah, it's actually harder to get an agent." It was a cocky thing to say. But it fit the way I was feeling. And then, to top it off, I would add, "He's in New York.". I think I said it so many times over the years that I started to convince myself I was almost done.
After a third rewrite of a third novel my agent began waiting. He was waiting for the fourth novel that I promised him I was half finished with. I've been half finished with it for years. And I knew he was waiting for me to be done because I was waiting for me to be done. Every week that I didn't write, I knew we were both waiting. I guess he finally decided he'd waited long enough. I don't blame him. I know how he felt.
We had some success. My rejections were, for the most part, great. I had a few requested rewrites of a few novels and each time really believed I'd nailed it. And, although editors "really enjoyed reading Mrs. McDowell's story" and thanked us for letting them, no one ever actually bought it. It takes more than liking, loving, enjoying, admiring to sell your work. It takes something special, at a special point in time. And it's all hard.
So, my life as an agented writer is over. Though I'd expected to be as devastated at the end as I was ecstatic at the beginning, I'm actually fine with it. I have the freedom to do with my work as I please, which may be something fun and exciting or nothing at all. But at least I know no one is waiting. And that feels good.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Invite a kidlit writer to a Baby Shower, and you know what the gift will be: a classic picture book.
We all have our favorites. GOODNIGHT, MOON; GOODNIGHT, GORILLA; TEN LITTLE FINGERS AND TEN LITTLE TOES. . . . Everybody knows them; everybody loves them; everybody else is going to give the same books. Why not bring a new classic?
Here's the one I always bring:
With a handful of rhyming words (sleep, peep, creep, leap, heap…), Julie Stiegemeyer tells a big bedtime story. And Rt 19's own Carol Baicker-McKee provides the perfect illustrations—cuddly, colorful, and funny. One Amazon review notes that they make her little boy giggle until he hiccups.
CHEEP! CHEEP! isn't a board book, but its stiff, glossy cover and thick pages are sturdy enough for baby and toddler handling. (If it's not on your bookstore shelf today, offer a gentle hint to your bookseller to order more copies.)
For a baby shower near the holidays, be sure to add this sequel:
CHEEP! CHEEP! is only the first of several collaborations by Julie and Carol. (Watch for MONSTER CAKE, coming soon to make the pre-K crowd giggle.)
Carol and Julie first teamed up while they were part of a particularly fertile kidlit writers group that met weekly in the Peters' Township Library. Under Pat Easton's leadership, that group saw Cynthia Cotten, Millie Flanagan, and Julie Stiegemeyer—plus Rt19's own Dave Amaditz, Carol Baicker-McKee, Cynthia Light Brown, Kitty Griffin, Andrea Perry, and Judy Press—publish, and publish more.
Every writers group makes its own chemistry, but that group—from about 1996 to 2004—rose to the level of alchemy, I think. Many of us have moved far away, but we still cherish the memories and are nourished by the friendships.
* * *
By the way, one of Julie Stiegemeyer's specialties is making the most of the fewest words. Check out her series of church-time board books THINGS I SEE IN CHURCH, THINGS I DO IN CHURCH, THINGS I SEE AT BAPTISM, and the rest. They are wise and charming diversions for the toddler in your pew.)
* * *
NOTE: The birth of a sibling is a common picture-book theme, but the newcomer is usually portrayed (however humorously) as a monster or usurper. In CHEEP! CHEEP!, by contrast, the older sib is the star of the story, the birth is an exciting discovery, and the newcomer a welcome addition to the snuggly group.
Now that's a bedtime story that won't lead to nightmares.
So if there's an older pre-K sibling in the expectant family--especially one who's been the "only" child so far--then wrap CHEEP! CHEEP! up as a shower gift for the soon-to-be Big Brother or Big Sister.
Monday, May 9, 2011
I want to thank my friend Carol for all of her motherly advice and wish her and my fellow Route 19 writers a happy Mother’s Day!
Monday, May 2, 2011
While Mother Nature has brought us April showers - and February showers and March showers and looks like a whole lot of May showers to come - a special shower has touched our own, much-loved Kitty. She's recently been blessed with two grandchildren, first Arthur, who arrived in December, and last week, Cecilia.
So, a big congratulations to Kitty, and her daughters, Bea and Danika. If you've never had a chance to read Cowboy Sam and hear about his very special hat, you can check it out here: http://www.amazon.com/Cowboy-Sam-Those-Confounded-Secrets/dp/0618088547/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1304348362&sr=8-1