Saturday, March 30, 2013

Taking Back the Things You've Said

In my case, the statement, "I'll never write a historical because I hate research."

Because guess what? In my wide waiting space to get going on edits for Sing To The Wind I needed something to keep me from going insane. I tried pre-writing blog posts. I beta'd some manuscripts. I read all the time anyway, so reading was no big switch.

Eventually I caved. And started a new project. And yes, it's a historical. Not only a historical but a Middle Grade.

For about a year, this girl Maddie and her mule, Pricilla, have been bouncing around in my head. I knew their story had something to do with the building of the Carolina, Clinchfield, & Ohio railroad line. I knew it was a story about a girl on the verge of adolescence, living with only a father. I also knew it was a story about isolation and loneliness. And the quiet beauty of Appalachia.

Well, the final chinks of the puzzle sort of fell into place. They've been there all along but like actual puzzle pieces, sometimes you don't see they fit till you've moved them around the card table a time or two.

And here's what I'm discovering. I am obsessively researching: the area where the setting is, the small towns nearby, the dates, general history, everything to give this fictional story a real life backbone. I even took a drive yesterday to see what remained of one small town and I have a hike scheduled in about a week to hike into the community that used to be, but has now returned to the earth. And I can't wait to get over to our local history museum during open hours.

The best part is the excitement of starting something new!

(Note: I do have another Young Adult idea but with Sing and Popsicle waiting for stuff to happen, I just didn't feel like I could dive into another teenage girl's brain. Maddie is different enough I can use her as a distraction)

What's new with you?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Inspired by Other Women Artists - Thursday's Children

I've been on the planet long enough to rack up quite a collection of "Amazing Women" crushes. Each one of these people inspired me at a certain point in my life. Their common denominator is a certain joie-de-vivre and middle finger salute to society as a whole. So here they are:

This French writer and actress was one of my favorite writers for a period. Her work was looked down upon much the way some women's fiction or romance novels are looked down on in our day. But she didn't care! She loved life! Loved love affairs with whomever she fancied. She had a thing for French Bulldogs and Russian Blue cats neither of which she was ever without and both of whom she wrote about. One of her books, Un Dialogue de BĂȘtes or Dialogue of Animals, is told by a cat and a dog. She spoke to some part of my twenty year old soul - something about how being free-spirited was quite all right.

Georgia O'Keefe was the first female American painter (besides Mary Cassatt) to actually show up in male-written Art History textbooks. She's also one of the first women painters to end up in major museums, and thank goodness, while she was still living. I love that she was an art teacher when she started out, and that she was totally comfortable leaving Alfred Steiglitz (her photographer husband) in New York while she moved to the landscape of New Mexico. Georgia O'Keefe was a purist to herself - that's what inspires me about her. She knew what she wanted and she wasn't afraid to make it happen.

Another French writer, Anais Nin. I went through my Henry Miller and Anais Nin phase shortly after my Collette phase (interestingly enough, Anais Nin was one of the writers who poo-poo'ed Colette). But something about this women's strength and beauty with words wormed its way inside. Anais managed to hang onto herself in the midst of Henry and June's debauchery. Like any good writer, she seemed to take everything from a place up on the wall, observing, letting life settle, then acting. Her mysterious, careful approach is one I've long admired, though not always replicated.

Beatrice Wood or Beato
Beato is an American potter who only died in 1998. She was born to a society family in NYC but kind of waved her elegant hand at the whole thing. She insisted on going to France for art school until World War 1 forced her return. She became Marcel Duchamp's lover and is sometimes called "The Mama of Dada" for her work during that time on Duchamp and Roche's magazine, The Blind Man.
What I love about Beato is her joy at the world around her. Everything she did was infused with a sense of youth and gaiety. One of her most famous quotes  about her longevity (she lived to be 105) was "I owe it all to chocolate and young men."
I came so close to meeting her, even drove to the mouth of her driveway in Ojai, California, but appointments to meet her and see the studio were set months in advance and we were there on a whim. But my mother did get to meet her, and bought signed copies of her autobiographies for me.
If you've never heard of Beato, I suggest you read her stories. Especially if you are interested in art and spirituality.

So, what about you? Do you have a crush on someone from history?

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

When Books Get All The Hype

One of the joyous things about Twitter is book recommendations. When a book takes off on Twitter it's like everyone's talking about it and you absolutely must go out and read it.

Two recent books that come to mind are CODE NAME VERITY and ELEANOR AND PARK. I've read both (well I'm a few chapters shy of The End for the latter but should be done at time of posting) and all I can say is, meh. (I have amended my thoughts on this below since I finished Eleanor and Park - but figured the post was still good enough for conversation ;0))

Not really meh. They are both wonderful books in their own right. But neither is making me breathless. So it has me wondering, where does the hype come from?

I have a theory. These books hit the marketplace when people are needing different. And both are different.

CODE NAME VERITY is a very well-researched historical, about a female pilot and a female spy in World War II. It's written in dual POV and there is no romance. All quite different from the usual 1st person present lusty teen hotness we see in YA. Is it a good book? Yes. It's very good. I had author envy as I'm not a researcher and could never write historical fiction. (famous last words, right?)

Did this book live up to the emotional hype for me? No. And I was disappointed. I love a good tear jerker. But unlike Patrick Ness in the Knife of Never Letting Go who made me BAWL or Nina LaCour who had me chugging down tears in Hold Still, I shed not one drop.

ELEANOR AND PARK is another beautifully written gem. Rainbow Rowell is a subtle, delicious writer who with perfect timing creates a perfectly nuanced relationship. But this book is also different. It's dual POV, 3rd person, and set in the 1980's. Because this was my time period, the book in ways feels like an adult has written it for adults of that time period. As I read about Eleanor's physical self-loathing, I think about myself at that age. I looked great in a bikini but thought I was obese. Do I care about these characters? Absolutely. Like I said, it's a gorgeous book. But here's the thing. I've been able to put it down every single night after a chapter or two. I'm not with these characters. I'm not intensely emotionally invested. Did I think I was going to be based on the hype? Yes. (Edited to add: I finished Eleanor and Park, I was wrong. I DO THINK IT WAS WORTH THE HYPE - it's just what I expected was different than what I got. Definitely a hug the book sort of a book!)

So, in conclusion, does the hype kill the book? I don't know. The hype drove me to buy the books. It set up expectations. If I'd discovered each of these on my own would I feel different about them? Who knows. They're both five star books based on the writing - but emotionally? Definitely not for CNV. I'll let you know when I come to the end on EP.

What do you think about how hype affects your reading habits?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Inspired by the Silence of the Drive - Thursday's Children

I'm a lucky girl. I can sometimes count on one hand how many other cars I encounter between leaving my house and the fifteen minutes it takes me to get to the highway. Then once on the highway it's another fifteen minutes of barely-there traffic to the high school where I teach.

The drive is often shrouded in the fog that dips into the valleys. Some mornings a brilliant red sky will lift over the mountains. Other days I dodge deer like falling acorns. Usually, I forget to turn on the radio. I stop for school buses and whisper hello to the paint horse who stands like a statue in the corner of his small paddock. The automatic turns of the steering wheel and the thrum of the tires on the road are fertile white noise for creativity.

The silence of this drive is one of my best brainstorming times. If I'm deep in the heart of a story, this drive is filled with nothing but creation.

Then when my brain is full, I turn on some great music, or NPR (which is inspiration for a different Thursday post :0).

Anyone else love the brainstorming therapy of a long, quiet drive?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Branding Yourself

Author, Christina Farley, has been doing a great series over on the MiG blog about what a post-sale, pre-publication author can do to ready herself for the big book debut. Link is HERE

Like a good, A-minus student, I was happy to see that I've actually tackled a number of these things already. But the point she makes on branding oneself as an author has adllepated my brain.

Brand Myself? Like in a neat little box with a shiny bow and recognizable stickers all over the side? See me shudder in horror.

Because the thing about me is my brand would have to be change. I had a major change in my life years ago that when I told one of my high school besties, she just shrugged her shoulders and said, "Well the thing that's consistent about you is you're always changing."

See?! I can't brand myself. I'm a Gemini for peets sake, two for the price of one. I'm business in the front and party in the back. How can I lock myself up in a big box store?

Cue the voice of responsibility: Calm down, oh fair, frisky one. This is not a life sentence. It is but a look inside your deeper soul. Your brand is nothing more than an extension of your writer's voice.

What?! So the sub-conscious went all Yoda on me, but does the sub-conscious realize how elusive the writer's voice is? The Yoda voice does have a calming effect so I took a few deep breaths and gave it some thought.

And here's what settled:

Branding yourself is not a life sentence. It's the images, colors, and core beliefs that are a constant in your life. I am a nature girl. I am irreverent. I am rarely judgmental except about judgmental people. I believe in family, but not necessarily blood family. I love animals. I love teenagers. I love art and deeply looking at the world. I think laughter IS the best medicine. I care about social justice. And I love telling stories. And all of these things end up in my stories.

I'm still not sure how this translates into a brand. But I think I've started. The dandelion will continue to play a role in my on-line image presence. My author shots were taken at the Botanical Gardens. My books involve family and irreverence, social justice and always an animal or two. I teach high school students and I love all of the colors. Some days I'll dress business, some days geeky, some days hippy, some days middle-aged farm frau - but what you can expect from me is a genuine smile and someone who'll laugh at all the stupid jokes. Can I name my brand?

Yes. Me.

What are your thoughts on the 21st century demand for author branding?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop: Sing To The Wind

One of my YA Valentines compadres, Kristi Helvig, tagged me last week in this blog hop. I did this several months ago for the actual WIP I have, but realize I never did it for Sing To The Wind, my book releasing fall of 2014. So here goes:

1. What is the working title of your book?


2. Where did the idea come from? 

It was a compilation of parts. Take an overheard story about a party from a couple of art students, my main character's voice appearing fully formed on my commute, and the love of this old movie called The Songcatcher and Sing began to take shape.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Young Adult Contemporary Fiction

4. What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 

You know, they have casting directors for a reason. I have no idea who I would pick. Sure I see them in my head, but I don't know. Honestly she's way too old, but a sassier slightly rounder Michelle Williams would be an amazing Amber. And there are a number of boys who may or may not all stay for the final edits, so I'm going to stop right here.

5. What is a one sentence synopsis of your book? 

Amber Vaughn longs to escape her small-town to pursue her love of song but her dysfunctional family keeps getting in the way.

6.  Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

My book is being published by Harper Collins Teen in the fall of 2014.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I don't keep perfect records on this but typically it takes me about three months to write a first draft. I work in one hour segments during the week and longer on weekends. Looking back through my files I did my first voice jottings in October of 2011. There's a file that says "Through Hikers Real Start" for Novermber 29. 2011. (Through Hikers was my working title but it's not about hiking - there's a scene) The first final first draft appeared in early March of 2012. I got my agent with this manuscript in June of 2012. So full thing - seven months. That's pretty fast.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

I compared it to Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl and Kody Keplinger's The Duff when I queried. My agent compared it to Dessen's Dreamland. My editor pitched it as the Southern style The Sky Is Everywhere which completely yanked my chain because I worship that book. (And have only read it once so as not to be unduly influenced!)

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired by my students. Appalachia gets such a bad rap in the media, and though stereotypes are there for a reason, that's not the whole of it. The teenagers I teach have dreams and longings just like kids who grow up with the world at their fingertips. I wanted to write a book for the girls who don't always make the right choices, who might not have the guidance of example, and so they have to figure things out themselves by doing and undoing, and who, despite it all, have hearts that don't stop giving. This is my love song to them.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Three totally hot boys. All different. (though I've yet to get my edit letter and I might end up losing one of my boys but I hope not) The Appalachian Trail. Bluegrass ballads and a wild party across state lines. Two great best friends. Real parents. A flawed sister. A super nasty brother-in-law - he was SO MUCH FUN to write (I love writing true asshats) and singing. Lots of singing. Oh, and of course, kissing...well, more than kissing ;0)  And the setting is an imaginary setting, but it's based on my town, the county where I teach, and the mountains all around me. I'm hoping it's a hug the book sort of book.

So for the final part of this post, I'm to tag another writer. So I'm pleased to tag Jenna Nelson!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Inspired by My Small Town Newspaper - Thursday's Children

My small town newspaper is a gem. It comes out once a week and is always loaded with beauties. It's a wealth of name resources, story ideas, and weird trivia. For many years in the fall we'd have the photo of the "potato that looks like ___________ (insert random thing here)". There'd be the smiling face of some elder with a lumpy looking potato that rarely looked like the mysterious thing. (My favorite was potato in form of modern art!)

In hunting season there are pictures of young children proudly displaying their first kill. My favorite, though, was a picture an artist friend of mine sent in of a mouse he'd captured in his studio. He held it by the tail and wrote an article that matched the "young children kill large animals" articles, even going into detail about the type of mouse trap used to bag his game and how safe his wife now is.

Our letters to the editor page is always an eye-opener. There are the usual letter writers, far right and far left politically, and the maelstrom happening over whatever the current issue is either locally or nationally. It's hard to take either side seriously, though on occasion some new writer will lend their voice, inevitably making us all question "who are they?", "do we know them?"  Luckily our paper does not have the Rants & Raves column like the neighboring county's does. This anonymous column is kind of like a print version of Twitter for Haters (Rants), and the rare Complimenter (Raves). Shudder. They are always bashing the school system where I teach.

This is the image that's been inspiring me of late. It's one of those five-generation's photos. Aren't they beauts? Anyway, my next story is about a mountain crime family and because I haven't written a word yet I can't say more at this point. But I will say this photo is tacked to my story board. And it's taken on a whole life of its own. (And yes, I love Justified, and yes, I might be inspired a little by it)

And if you're a playlist person, here's the play list I'm currently listening to for it, keep in mind it's still a draft playlist - Alabama Chrome is the song that is setting the overall tone for me if you only have time for one song. I'm looking toward summer to start drafting.

Finally, don't forget to pop around and visit the other writers talking about what inspires them this week. You'll find the list HERE

Monday, March 4, 2013

Cover Reveal for Meradeth Houston's Novel: The Chemistry of Fate

I'm so excited to reveal Meradeth's new and GORGEOUS cover on the blog. Meradeth and I have been in an online critique group together for a number of years and this is her second novel to hit the airwaves through Muse It Up Publishing.

Here's a bit more about the novel, slated for release in April of this year.

“They are everywhere, can be anyone, and are always the last person you’d expect.” When Tom stumbles across his grandfather’s journal, he’s convinced the old man was crazier than he thought. The book contains references to beings called the Sary, immortals who are assigned to save humans on the verge of suicide. They certainly aren’t allowed to fall in love with mortals. Which the journal claims Tom’s grandfather did, resulting in his expulsion from the Sary. As strange as the journal seems, Tom can’t get the stories out of his head; especially when he finds the photo of his grandfather’s wings.
Tom’s only distraction is Ari, the girl he studies with for their chemistry class.
Ari has one goal when she arrives in town: see how much Tom knows about the Sary and neutralize the situation. This isn’t a normal job, but protecting the secrecy of the Sary is vital. If Tom is a threat to exposing the Sary to the public, fate has a way of taking care of the situation, usually ending with the mortal’s death. While Ari spends time with Tom, he becomes more than just an assignment, but how far can a relationship go when she can’t tell him who she really is? When she finds out just how much Tom actually knows about the Sary, Ari is forced to choose between her wings, and her heart.
THE CHEMISTRY OF FATE is a companion to COLORS LIKE MEMORIES and is set before the latter takes place.

And Drumroll please.....check out this beauty of a cover:

And here's where you can find Meradeth:

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Hanging out in Limbo

I think it's time to admit I have a problem. I am a writer-a-holic. For the past three, going on four, years I have written with the intensity of the gods trying to make the pub deal happen.

The great news is, I DID IT! But now what? I'm stuck in the eternal wait of pub world. Waiting on my edit letter for SING TO THE WIND. Waiting on final betas for POPSICLE. Then I'll be waiting after those revisions when I send it to my agent to hear if it's going to be book 2.

And frankly, I'm not sure what to do with myself. Yes I've been reading. I took a trip to visit my family in Alabama. I've beta'ed for other writers. I've cleaned the house and gone out to dinner with local friends. But the itch is back.

The itch to work on words. 

But here's the thing. I really shouldn't start on anything else. Of course I have a shiny new idea, but I feel like I need to keep my mind clear for the edit letter I know is around the next bend. I have an older project I could revise, but again, it's going to require full focus and I don't want to get pulled off track.

So. I wait. And sigh. And roll my eyes. And open the fridge. And check Twitter. Or Facebook. 

And try to be patient. But it's soooooo hard.
That is all.