Sunday, July 31, 2005
Friday, July 29, 2005
Well I caved in. In spite of the fact that I think Blogger is a better system, much easier and quicker to post, and a whole bunch of other things that Live Journal doesn't have, well, I went ahead and started a LJ anyway. You can find me over there as susanwrites.
Why the move? Does it really matter? I am NOT going to close this blog at all. It stays here, same name just a slightly different function. This will be my home for writing exercises. I love writing prompts and execises and anything that helps me jumpstart the writing muscle. When I teach writing workshops you can count on me to bring in my suitcase filled with props to get you started writing. I also love picture prompts because 10 people can look at the same picture and come up with 10 different stories to go with them. If you have a writing exercise you would like to share, Oliver's Must-Do List. I'm keeping it a bit of a secret until I work out all the final details. If you're afraid of missing something, you can always sign up for my mailing list (Just a short one that goes out no more than once a month.)
Write on right now.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Our inner monsters
"We're looking into ourselves, looking at the world around us, and letting our monsters out." Lenora Champagne
This way of looking at writing really resonates with me. We turn inward and force ourselves to face the sort of things you only whisper in the dark. I think that's where many a writer's core themes reside, in the darkened corners of our thoughts. At least that's where mine are. Most of my work has a theme of a missing parent. It might be from death, divorce, or just an emotional absence, but someone who is supposed to be loving and supportive is usually not available in my stories. I grew up without a dad, without ever knowing him or his family so the concept of family is really important to me and the pain of a missing part of the family comes from the heart of me, the monster I try to keep hidden and the monster who still threatens to make me cry.
I try to write about families with two parents but so far it's just not working. The pieces of me the make it to the page are the parts of me that are still trying to find out where I fit into a family equation. It seems my characters are often struggling with the same monsters.
What are your monsters and how do they affect your writing?
A bit of shameless self-promotion. Author Ellen Jackson interviewed me for her column Secrets Of Success. Here's the interview, my very first one online. Thank you, Ellen.
Write on right now.
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
What does it cost you to be a writer?
I love this quote from Toni Cade Bambara:
"I have shrewd advice to offer developing writers about this business of snatching time and space to work. I do not have anything profound to offer mother-writers or worker-writers except to say it will cost you something. Anything of value is going to cost you something."
With writing, as with most things in life, you have to put yourself into it before you get something out of it. That means giving up some of that time you used to spend watching television, playing games, sleeping late, or even spending time with friends and family. Because get one thing straight right now; writing is work. It means realizing that the first, or second, or third, or maybe even the tenth version of a story still might not be ready for publication and it means submitting rejected manuscripts again and again until they find a home.
Perseverance wins. Repeat that ten times.
Think about your best-written manuscript at the moment. Have you sent it out yet? How many rejection slips have you collected on it? Two? Three? Ten?
Robert M. Pirsig's bestselling book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected over 120 times before being published. To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss, collected 29 rejection slips before it found a home. Stephen King received 84 rejections for a short story that eventually sold to Cavalier magazine. How many rejection slips are in your bottom drawer right now? Why aren’t those manuscripts back in the mail already?
Writing isn't easy. And it's going to cost you something. Are you willing to pay the price?
Write on right now.
Monday, July 25, 2005
Surviving a Writer's Life
I'm rereading some of my favorite writing books lately, looking for the bits and pieces that speak to me, checking what I have marked with Post-It notes and highlighting, seeking the spark, the connection that reminds me that even when I don't write, I am still a writer. Today it is Surviving a Writer's Life by Suzanne Lipsett. I think it's out of print but it's worth looking for. It's not about how to write but about being a writer on the good days and bad days and all the in-between days. She wants to write but she fights being a writer until she has a light bulb moment and says,
"I began to see that it was a question of surviving your raw material. Whatever life offered, and only what it offered, would become the stuff of art. The challenge was to live through it and then look back open-eyed without flinching. It then occurred to me then that if I ever picked up my pad and pencil again, I might actually have some stories to tell."
I agree. I think it was Hemingway (and if it wasn't I'm sure someone will correct me) who said that he couldn't write about Paris while he was in Paris because it was all too close. He needed the distance. I am starting to write stories that have their roots in my own past, stories that I know I couldn't write 20 years ago or even 10 years ago because they were too close to the surface. But now they have fermented for a while and I think I am ready.
Lipsett goes on to say, "It is writing plus life that makes a writer . . .because life alone creates a point of view. Irony of ironies, the more separations we experience, one from another, the more stories we have to tell - and the more pressing becomes the need to tell them."
Write on right now.
Friday, July 22, 2005
The jealous writer
Jealousy is tough. I don't know of any writers who don't feel varying degrees of twinges of it at one time or another but it is how we handle it and ourselves when confronted with it that matters, right?
Sometimes it's really hard to hear how people are selling and selling and selling, especially in a week (month? year?) when editors seem to be handing out nothing but impersonal standard rejections slips. I can read in Publisher's Lunch about my agent making a "good deal" for someone else and for a moment or two or three I feel tinged in green, at least until I remember I am not there yet, with there being that mystical place I call established. A friend I love and care about can land a deal with a top tier publisher or win a coveted award and I admit to cheering and whimpering at the same time.
Does this make me a bad person? No. It makes me normal. Now of course if you become so obsessed with being jealous that it affects your work, turns you into a midnight stalker or someone who posts annonymous negative reviews for the other person online, well that's a different story.
Joan Didion says, "To cure jealousy is to see it for what it is, a dissatisfaction with self."
I don't know about you but I usually put the blame for whole dang thing on my shoulders. The other people are selling because they are writing more than I am, which means they are improving quicker and they are producing more and they are better at the discipline it takes and so on and so on. I always assume that the fault is mine. If I lived up to half of my potential, I'd be there too. So while I get twinges when I hear of things going well for other writers I know, it's usually followed by a big dose of guilt because I know I'm not working as hard as I could. I can't imagine sniping to someone about their success, but then I've listened to my fair share of sniping from others, so I shouldn't keep being so surprised at how cruel some people can be.
I never begrudge the hard workers their success. Publication is a hard earned reward. What I DO have a hard time with are the people who are sure that it must be connections that got you somewhere, or that they could do it too, if they only took the time. (Right, and I could be a brain surgeon in my spare time if I wanted to.) And in order to get the word our about work, we need to talk about it. If we don't flaunt our work, as in being our own best PR person, then no one will ever hear of us. Yet if flaunt it, we are snobs or ego maniacs or something. No wonder so many writers are bi-polar.
Marge Piercy has written a wonderful poem called For The Young Who Want to and I suggest you go read the entire poem which ends with: "Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved."
Write on right now.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
They say it's my birthday
Yup...watch out for all the candles on the cake 'cause I'm celebrating today. Thanks to Cynthia Lord for the virtual birthday cake. My husband, bless his wonderful heart, got up with me at 5am to give me my birthday gift so I didn't have to wait all day. It was a lovely gold and silver necklace and earring set in a Celtic knot. I also have a beautiful bouquet of flowers at home and when I got to work, 2 dozen roses were delivered to me there. Do I feel spoiled? You bet! My son called in-between classes from college, my boss brought me a yummy chocolatine with a candle in it and my cubicle mate took me to lunch. My husband is on his way home from work and we are off, over the hill, to Santa Cruz for dinner. I haven't made up my mind where yet but most likely it will be The Crepe Place, my favorite hangout. First a stop at Bookshop Santa Cruz, Logos Books, and Capitola Book Cafe, then The Crepe Place for something yummy and a pot of chai. We probably won't sit in the garden since it is, if you can believe it RAINING at the moment but hopefully there will be a patch of dry so we can go walk some on the beach.
Favorite birthday memory from childhood was when I was 8 or 9 years old. I used to get so excited about birthdays (or any special event) that I would get sick so my mom, who had to work all day, hid little presents all over the house. Then she would call me throughout the day and tell me where to go look for something. Favorite birthday cake - American Beauty cake, four layers of red velvet moist chocolate cake with the yummy cooked frosting. We used to hide a penny, nickel, dime, and a quarter in it for luck.
What's your favorite birthday memory?
Write on right now.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
New book fun
Writing lesson of the day? You don't have to walk through every door of opportunity that comes your way but take a good look at all of them. You just might find the perfect fit for you. The timing of working on these books was perfect for me because I was recovering from a major shoulder/back/neck injury and really couldn't manage to concentrate on writing a novel. You won't find these books in the bookstores or on Amazon but they'll be fun to share at school visits. I can't wait to for the rest of them to arrive.
Write on right now.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
I remember having one of the very early Barbie dolls that looked like this and when the new Barbie came out my mom took me down to Rhodes Department store to trade it in. We traded in my old Barbie and something like $1.00 and we got the new one in exchange. She had an orange bathing suit with some kind of netting over it and her arms and legs bent. I never ever liked it as much as my original one.
After Barbies, I went on to Little Kiddles and I really liked these guys. I had pretty much the whole set and figured I'd grow up to date a blonde-haired guy named Biff. (I didn't.) Also big were these Kiddie Kologne dolls that had strange perfume smells. There really weren't any kids in the neighborhood where I grew up so I had a lot of dolls and a good imagination.every night before bed. My mom used to give me bubble baths with soap that came in these dispensers like cartoon characters. I must have had 50 of them lining the bathroom wall. Much to my grandmother's dismay.
And of course snack time was big after school and I would often opt for a space food stick and wash it down with some Hi-C. Mmmm....good.
I also remember when the telephone company first came out with the Princess phone. My mom got one in her bedroom and I got the little mini phone on a keychain. When I got older and started dating, my mom got me my own Princess phone with my own number (mom was single and dating too) and we used to call each other from our bedrooms to say goodnight.
This trip down memory lane brought to you from me, reclining on the couch and still recovering from oral surgery and trying not to think about going back to work tomorrow. What would I find if I followed you down your memory land?
Write on right now, Susan
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Lately people who have been visiting my website have commented on how large it is and how they are afraid they might miss something really good. I decided to post a few of what I think are the highlights of the site (it is pretty dense) and if anyone else thinks I left something out, well feel free to let me know.
In the teachers section the teaching guides database is your link to over 1000 curriculum guides for children's books (and growing all the time.) Authors are encouraged to submit their information to be added to the database. I really believe authors need to make it easier for teachers to connect their books to the classroom curriculum and a teaching guide for your book is a great way to do it. You can search by title, author, illustrator, category and keywords. Give it a spin. And while you're in the teacher's area, check out the children's authors match game. Ever wonder what some of your favorite children's authors looked like as a kid? Now's your chance.
If you need free content for your parenting, homeschool, teacher newsletter or website, check out some of my previously published parenting articles that I am offering as free reprints. Those looking for a spiritual freebie can reprint my popular 10 Things Your Child Should Know About Prayer piece.
Quotes about writing is one of my favorite pages and I add to it often and if you need to kick back and relax, how about watching one of these 200 movies about writers? And if you need a jumpstart with your writing, there are plenty of writing exercises to get you going. My favorite is STORYPARTS an interactive story building that is great for all ages but lots of fun for kids.
There's more, of course, but I hope that's enough to get folks interested in checking it out.
Write on right now.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
How do you read a book?
When I was a child reading just for pleasure I didn't think about how to read; I just picked up the book and read. But as I started to take my writing more seriously, I began to panic (something I do a lot) that maybe I wasn't reading a book correctly. I used to feel stupid trying to discuss children's books with other people. They'd be talking about the layers in the book, the recurring theme that mimicked some mythological story, and the hidden meaning in the fact that the character picked up a banana instead of an apple to eat for a snack. Me, I knew if I liked it and I knew if I didn't but I usually didn't know why. The panic increased. Now I didn't only have to be a good writer, I had to be a good reader too. And of course I was sure that I was doing it wrong.
I like to read like the child I once was. When I am interested, I keep reading, and when I lose interest, I put the book down and don't worry about it anymore. When something strikes me especially well, I do tend to reread it over and over again, trying to understand what it is about that sentence or that paragraph that grabs me. Those are the ones I write in my journal to savor later, but I never quite figure out the why behind them and usually settle for just enjoying their existence.
We are all different kinds of learners. A friend told me once that, "Some people don't need anything more than their instinctive responses; some people are actually stymied by too much critical thought." When she said that, When I read that, my brain sorta clicked and went bingo! The more I think about some things, like process, the less I understand it and the more I begin to doubt what I am doing. I tend to forget sometimes that I am an instinctive writer. The more I go against that process the more trouble I have with the writing. In the rest of my life I have always liked having rules and guidelines to follow so it turns me inside out when I go to write and realize that I can't follow guidelines on how...I just have to do it.
Now I know that there is no right or wrong way to read a book. There is just reading and not reading.
Write on right now.
Saturday, July 09, 2005
Getting down to the actual writing
I was thinking about writing habits and how so many writers are, or can be, procrastinators. Okay, I was procrastinating about writing and then started my typical worry wart path of hoping that I wasn't the only one that had trouble sitting down to write, even when I want to write. Now logically I know I am not alone. And logically I know that all writers have different methods and that's okay. But when I'm in worry mode I'm rarely logical.
Anne Tyler says, "I have to begin all over every day. I get up at 6 or 6:30 to clean the house, and feed the children, and cook our supper ahead of time, so that I can be perfectly free the instant the children leave for school; but then when they're gone I find I'd rather do almost anything than go into my study. The door is so tall and dark; it looms. The whole room smells like a carpenter's shop because of the wooden bookcases. Ordinarily it's a pleasant smell, but mornings, it makes me feel sick. I have to walk in as if by accident, with my mind on something else. Otherwise, I'd never make it."
Like Tyler, I tend to dance around my writing. I can't sit down first thing in the morning and write. First off, most mornings I am rushing off to work but even on the weekends, it's just not my style. I'm not a morning person so even though I'm up, I'm not awake for a couple of hours. I make my chai, read some email and blogs, get up a dozen times to look out the window at the birds. Decide to go out and feed the birds which means I should really go feed the fish in the pond. I scoop some leaves from the pond and pause to watch the Valley Carpenter bees dart from flower to flower looking for breakfast. They're big, fat, black bees, at least as big as my thumb, and look like they are covered in velvet. I follow the bees and discover the blue flax and the clarkia and the columbine seeds have dried out so of course I have to gather them before the birds eat them all. My dog stays right by my side as I gather seeds. She has somehow decided I need protecting during this process.
All at once a California poppy pod bursts, the sound easily heard above the chirping of the birds, and it is like an alarm clock that goes off, telling me that it is time to write. I call the dog and head right to the computer, anxious to see what happens next in my story.
Some Saturdays are like that.
Write on right now.
Friday, July 08, 2005
Thinking writing thoughts
but not doing a lot of writing. I am still pretty much floating on the air that comes with a sale. This one just feels different. Lots different. Many thanks to so many people who shared in my joy and sent congratulations. And a special thank you to my Live Journal syndication sponsor, Cynthia Lord who not only sent me thanks, but a tiara as well!
Now is the limbo time that I knew was coming while I wait for the revision letter. Here's hoping there's not a lot to do. They want the final manuscript in November so they can bring it out fall 2006.
But I can't turn off my writing brain. I've been working on promotion for Oliver's Must-Do List and thinking about my next book. It's completely different from Hugging the Rock and yet it's not. It's a YA. HTR is a MG. It's from a boy's point of view. HTR is from a girl's point of view. It's about a missing father. HTR is somewhat about a missing mother (but more about the bonds between a father and a daughter.) So it got me thinking about something that comes up every so often in writing conversations. The idea that we write the same story over and over again because of some connection in our own life. My recurrent story in books is a missing parent and a search for love and belonging within the family. No surprise there for me as I grew up without a father, without ever knowing his side of the family, and I have always felt like the square peg in the round hole with my own family. I worry sometimes that each story won't be different enough to stand on its own but so far, so good. I think the bigger worry is that with each book I write, I dig a little deeper at my own pain. But I also work out a lot of my own issues in the course of the writing.
What about you?
Write on right now.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
I am officially a Tricycle Press author!
At last, after very long negotiations where my wonderful agent Jodi Reamer earned every single penny of her commission, I am thrilled to announce a sale! Tricycle Press just bought my middle grade verse novel HUGGING THE ROCK which they want to bring out fall of 2006.
I'm doing the happy dance!
Write on right now.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
The company of writers
Okay, I have Live Journal envy. Terrible, isn't it? I think it's the friends thing and making it easier for people to link up. I LOVE the design of my blog here and I won't go to the hassle of redesigning a LJ but I am contemplating starting a LJ as well. Am I crazy? I am trying to build a web presence and I know that it will take a long time and I am probably crazy to think about it. I wish that Blogger would hurry up and come out with a way to link, or the open id or something. Shoot. I am nuts to think about two blogs...what would I do differently in the other one? Grr. I hate it when I start to get goofy ideas like these.
Writing is such a solitary profession that it is an special treat to be able spend time with my writer friends. Peni Griffin author of 11,000 Years Lost was in town with her husband Damon (my very first HTMl instructor ages ago) so we met for dinner along with Walter "the Giant" Mayes and Valerie Lewis, owner of the fabulous Hicklebee's children's bookstore as well as Walter's co-author on Valerie & Walter's Best Books for Children 2nd Ed : A Lively, Opinionated Guide a wonderful guide to children's books. I also got to see Walters new book, Walter the Giant Storyteller's Giant Book of Giant Stories which is a lot of fun.
I feel happy, rejuvenated, and very grateful for my friends, online and off.
Write on right now.Susan
Sunday, July 03, 2005
What does reading mean to you?
Books have saved my life. It's as simple and as complicated as that. How about you?
For as long as I can remember, books have been my haven from the world when I could no longer cope. They have taught me the courage to risk living my creative life to its full potential. They have been the one constant in an unstable world, the one place I can go where I come away not judged, but enriched and enlightened.
One of my current projects in process is a book about the importance of reading. I'm trying to gather information about people's reading habits and how it impacts their lives for use in the book. I've posted a short survey (5 questions) on my website and I am looking for people from all walks of life to answer these questions and to help me circulate it to other readers.
Please consider taking my survey on reading and help spread the word about the survey to other readers.
Write on right now.
Friday, July 01, 2005
Finding your writer's voice
Don Tate brought up one of my very favorite writing topics when he asked me about voice in our writing. He wondered, "How important is it that the author's voice match the characters voice or language particularly if the character is supposedly telling the story?"
The short answer? Voice is one of the most important elements in a story. Have you ever heard someone singing off-key and wish they would stop? What about a beautiful singer that you wanted to hear again and again? That's the difference between the wrong and right voice to tell your story.
Voice is elusive. It's you and it's not you. It's the character but it's not just the character. It's you, the sum total of your life experiences filtered through your character and his life experiences. It's the reason why I can show a writing class of 20 people the same picture of a child at the park who fell off the swing, is crying, looking around for someone, and how I can, and will always, get 20 different stories. (Not all of them using the right voice, but still.)
Here's another take on it from Andrea Weiss. She said, "Consider Meg Ryan and Meryl Streep. Ryan is cute and easy to relate to, but when we see her in a movie, do we ever forget she’s Meg Ryan? No. Streep, on the other hand, can play different roles and do different accents so convincingly that we have no idea who the real Meryl Streep is. You have to be the Meryl Streep of writing—you have to speak with different accents."
For me voice is connected to telling the truth when we write. If I tell the truth, write with emotional honesty, the character's voice will ring true. It doesn't mean all my characters are me but I do think it means I tap into the similarity of feelings in me that are true for my character. When I play it safe with my writing, my characters have no unique voice. Only when I dig into the real heart of me when do I start to hear the uniqueness of my character's voice. So for me, finding my character's voice means looking inside of me and finding my voice, and then giving it free rein to come to the surface.
If you've read any of my other posts you'll notice that writing with emotional honesty is a constant theme for me. And for a couple of good reasons. One, it has been a recent discovery for me and two, well, it works.
Now if you're one of those writers whose voice comes to them naturally, terrific, but go on, get out of here because I have been struggling to find, and then fighting with my writer's voice for 20 years or more.
You are in all your characters but not all your characters sound the same. You already have your voice, it's just buried under all the school rules and writing class rules and inner critic nags. If you can recognize that you already know what you need to do in order to write authentically, then you can work on feeling safe enough to do so. Make sense?
Jane Yolen says, "Even imaginary places need to be anchored in life."
I think that’s what voice does – it connects the imaginary places in our stories with our real life emotions.
Thaisa Frank, author of Finding Your Writer's Voice, says, "What makes one writer better than another writer is the writer’s ability to be honest with themselves as they tell the story."
Many beginning writers have characters and stories that all sound the same. What is said by one character could be said by any of the others. They often start writing from a fearful place, fear of their ability and often low self-esteem. If I ask these students to write a bio for me, just a snapshot of their lives, you know what I get? Voice. Yep. But in many cases they lose their voices when they try to act writerly. Hey, I speak from experience. Been there, done that, and am grateful for my critique group and editors who all keep me honest.
For me it is a lack of trust. When I write in my natural voice, it almost seems too easy and I don't trust it. That's what happened with an early version of HTR. Not that writing the book was easy but getting it down just flowed. Because it was easy, I didn't trust it and I "messed with it" until the voice was hidden in places.
I believe that we all have that individual voice inside of us, just like we have our own wonderfully distinct personalities. We just need to feel safe enough to be ourselves on paper.
Write on right now.