Sunday, June 26, 2011

What you notice

Some days I struggle with where I live. Hiding parts of myself away from the world just to make life easier in this conservative environment is trying. But it's necessary, I have a great job teaching and I want it to stay that way until I'm ready to make a shift. I don't want it forced on me by narrow minded bigots. I've recently been holding the hand of a colleague who has been dealing with this and it has weighed on my mind.

So instead of being a Debbie Downer, I decided to keep a visual journal in my mind of lovely images seen in the countryside. Here are a few tidbits from yesterday:

A cute older couple carrying handfuls of vegetables out of their large garden

A ponytailed girl leaning over a fence talking to her paint pony

A friend who decided to celebrate her ice-maker by having a cold drinks party

A trip to the grocery store that took an hour because I kept seeing people I knew

A feral cat following a deer across a field

A neighbor sitting under the shade of weeping willow rubbing his dog's belly

These little slices of life, combined with the mouth-dropping background of the Blue Ridge mountains make all the little vagaries of small-mindedness seem less significant. It's like a meditation, this noticing. When I can be intentional about noticing the tiny interactions between people, animals, even nature itself, it makes my store of knowledge broader. And broader knowledge of humanity translates to fodder for writing. So my gift to you today is to suggest that you go forth and notice. Notice everything. Then write it down.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

World Building with Wee Ones

So my new WIP involves some world building. It's a post-apocolyptic tween horse girl adventure. I'm having to figure out exactly what happened to our Earth, what technology remains (not much), what has changed, how governments work, and more. I've drawn maps that include routes taken. I've likened my MC's journey from her sheltered community to someone leaving the quiet wilds of Appalachia to the bustle of Calcutta. And all the time I'm trying to see the visuals.

So it's no wonder that on some sub-conscious level when I proposed a summer kid's camp to our local craft school that I proposed a world building course. What does this mean? Well today and tomorrow we are working on dioramas - so far I've got an enchanted fairy house, Dracula's coffin on wheels, a mermaid's treasure room, an enchanted apple orchard and more. Today we'll be checking in and talking about details of our worlds - what is self-explanatory, what needs more work, what's missing?

I think they'll finish these worlds today, so I'm thinking tomorrow's project will be hidden worlds. Using 2 layers of construction paper (think advent calendars) we will create dwellings with windows and doors that open to reveal these hidden worlds. This might be cool.

If time, we will spend a day in nature building outdoor worlds - a la Andy Goldsworthy - and I know my fairy girls (one of whom is author Alan Gratz's daughter) will be in heaven.

Kids get it. They already understand that even the most fanciful worlds have some sort of inherent structure, a set of rules and laws to guide the inhabitants. They may have nothing to do with our world, but a world they create.

So, enjoy your world today!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Please Indulge Me

Today is my birthday. I am significantly older than 17 but you could add an odd number ending in 0 to reach my current age. It's depressing. By the time I get published I could be seriously old in number years. Fortunately though, I'm a big old goofball at heart.

So, in order to celebrate, I am allowing myself one completely self-indulgent birthday blog post. I am creating a list of things I want. And the rules are I can't list anything for the greater good, like world peace or the end of economic depravity, because that is what I usually do. Nope today, it's me...Me....ME!!

So, if a genie appeared and said *Poof* anything you wish is my command today - here's what she'd hear.

  • Faster Internet hookup - seriously this air card is better than dial-up but it's still creaky.

  • A Super Cute Fuel Efficient car that doesn't drive like a tin can.

  • 4 months with a horse trainer - 2 months each for my 2 youngsters

  • A shopping spree in Asheville for all new, not thrift store, clothes.

  • The end of the pay freeze for NC teachers

  • A clean house

  • A weeded garden

  • A trip to France and Italy and Portugal

  • A magic e-mail - one that says YES, I LOVE IT, I CAN SELL THIS!

So not too much to ask for, har har.

Thank you for indulging me.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Don't be Hating On-Line

On Twitter today there was a link to a blog, agent Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary wrote about on-line presence. You can find it here:

Because of my job as a teacher, I've been warned numerous times about the face we present on Facebook. I don't "friend" my students until they graduate. I'm cautious about the parents I friend. It's not that my life is so wild and crazy, but I love irreverant humor, I like to curse, and I'm not an avid Baptist like many of my neighbors, and in a county filled with Republicans, well, I am not. In a word or two, I'm cautious about that on-line presence.

But last winter, I had a number of minor ailments. I guess I complained one or two times. So what happened? I ran into an acquaintance who said to me, "Wow, you sure were sick a lot this winter." I was like, "What are you talking about?" It was all because of Facebook. I will never mention a sore toe, throat, or ear again.

On the Blueboards, I learned this weekend (when I met another Blueboarder) that my persona there is funny. Cool. I like funny. Funny works. Success.

On Twitter, I already decided I never want to be represented by Agent X - the reason is because of the tone of this agent's tweets. Negative. Hating. Sarcastic and not funny sarcasm but mean sarcasm. But the thing is, said agent may be a lovely person admired and loved by said agent's clients, but in my mind, definitely a hater.

So what about you? What's been a cool thing to happen because of the on-line you, you've created. Something that surprised you? Made you want to change your ways? Do you feel the need for an on-line presence, love it or hate it?

Chime in! Say hi! I don't bite (and I promise I won't complain about my sore fingers!).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

SCBWI Editor's Day in Lexington, KY

Maggie Lehrman of Abrams Books

So yesterday I was lucky enough to attend the SCBWI Editor's Day held in Lexington, KY. This one day event hosted two editors: Maggie Lehrman of Abrams Books and Kate Larken of Motes Books. In addition to informative talks from these lovely ladies, every person attending (I think about 56 of us) had our first pages read and critiqued. I chose to turn in CAST IN GOLD's first page just because it's so polished. I was thrilled when both ladies were super enthusiastic and both said they'd read on. When I asked Maggie if she was open to LBGT YA, she gave an enthusiastic, "Yes. Send it on." So did Kate Larken, though for now, I'm still gunning for the big houses.

We got a little talk at the beginning on intellectual property rights and SCBWI, so I am not able to go into great detail about the details of the day, but I'm happy to share the bullet points from Maggie Lehrman's talk on "Stand-Out Ideas". She listed five things that she thinks about when manuscripts cross her desk and these are:

  1. Voice (choose your POV for the best fit)

  2. Story (kids' books must have plots - stuff must happen!)

  3. Originality (tell your story)

  4. Reader Appeal (she reads from a child's perspective)

  5. Holes in the List (the one thing out of our control and yes she told us what her hole was but if I wrote it here, I'd have to kill you)

Kate Larken talked about why you might choose a small press, and what that means to the author (basically no advance but higher payout). She's a feisty broad who is passionate about what she does. My writing buddy and I shared a lunch table with her and she would be very fun to work with.

Then the afternoon talk from Maggie Lehrman was about the "backstage drama" of getting a manuscript to publication. Super informative.

So here's the rub. If you want the inside skinny on good juice like this - you've got to join SCBWI and go to these conferences! Totally worth it, and those of us who went get a free submission pass to Maggie Lehrman (who anyone would be very lucky to have as an editor, she's smart, adorable, and friendly) at closed house Abrams.

So there it is - all the good stuff!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

If you ever fancied yourself a writer.....

Then by all means DO NOT read THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak. It is brilliant. I am reading the story but also thinking to myself, "How, what, oh my, brilliant, wow."
This bit of writing makes me stop and reread sentences like Toni Morrison did when I first read her work. Or some of Barbara Kingsolver's sentences. Or Mary Oliver's poetry. This young man, for he does look really young in his author photo, has got to be a genius, or the reincarnation of some long dead AMAZING writer. Every single page is rife with words strung together in ways most people can't think to put them.

Just a random sampling - I am opening pages and picking - keep in mind I'm only on page 83 out of 550.

P. 50 - "The moon was undone now, free to move and rise and fall and drip on the boy's face, making him nice and murky, like his thoughts."

p. 42 - "Inside it, a woman with startled eyes, hair like fluff, and the posture of defeat stood in front of her."

p. 14 - "I hang suspended, until a septic truth bleeds toward clarity."

p. 33 - "In fact, you could say that Rosa Hubermann had a face decorated with constant fury."

p. 55 - "He adjusted his position and his bones creaked like itchy floorboards."

I did not have to hunt for any of these sentences, just opened a page and there they were. This is like drinking cream that has soaked over strawberries. Decadent, lush, unbelievable.

If you think of yourself as a writer, all I can say is, think twice before losing yourself in this book. Amazing.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summer's Here and the Writing is Fine

One of the paybacks of teaching for a living is summers. It's an illusion really, because most teachers will tell you they spend a whole lot of time working, both at their teaching career and following some secondary passion.

For me, secondary passions include my horses and writing. Horses ground me. They smell great. They're beautiful. They're intuitive and decisive. Writing feeds me. I love the creative process of weaving a story.

This summer means I get to start weaving a new one. From the big book of story ideas, a middle grade future-set horse girl adventure has sung the loudest. I've mulled it. I've mapped it. I've plotted it out, emotions and actions. I'm ready to go. In fact I have the first two chapters and my crit partners are all giving me big thumbs ups.

So summer, bring it on, I'll be riding horses in real-time and fiction-time. In real-time I'll be challenged by gnats, biting deer flies, and two young horses that need to get going under saddle. In fiction-time I'll be challenged by panthers, dog packs, and rogue motorcycle gangs.

Gonna be fun! Grab a watermelon and ice cream and join me for the ride!