Monday, April 30, 2012

Inspiration from Quiet Grace

Like so many, I have a list of people who have inspired me over the years. I have friends that have read countless revisions of my pages, crit partners who have shredded them and famiy members who have praised them. But there is one person who has always, no matter what I’ve done, supported me like few others.

In a few days, I’ll be flying to Kansas to see my Grams one last time. I know death is a part of life, but I would be remised as a writer if I didn’t acknowledge her in prose. 

When I was little, Grams was a constant in a crazy world. She was this calm force who never got worked up, never really raised her voice and always had the canned Del Monte pudding in the cupboard.

When I got older, she was the voice of reason when I wanted to rebel against my parents. She carefully made me look at life from my mother’s point of view and validated my feelings of wanting independence while encouraging me to take time to consider my options.

When I was in high school and going through a rough time, she was a silent angel working behind the scenes, helping to pave the way for me to finish high school with my friends and even though I never really thanked her, being the selfish teenager, she never stopped giving.

When I graduated and was lost, unsure of which way to go or how to swim, she was the kick in the ass I needed to go to college. I joke that she practically wrote out my application for me, but in all seriousness, without her, I don’t know if I would have made it.

While I was in college, I’m sure she worried about the choices I was making but came to my rescue on more than one occasion. She never gave up on me and while I took that fore granted, I don’t know where I would be without her.

When she first met my to-be husband, I could see the look of relief on her face. I think she knew I had broken my cycle of damaged “boys” and had grown up enough to accept the love of a good man.

When I called to tell her I was FINALLY getting married, I could hear the sadness that she couldn’t make it to the wedding, but I also heard love. Not just for me, but for the man who is now my husband.

When I called to tell her she was going to be a great-grandmother, pure joy flooded the phone line. And when she met my oldest and a year later, my youngest, I watched my grandmother fall in love.

When I told her I was going to be a writer, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But like everything I had done in my life, I was greeted with support and love and acceptance that has never faltered but grown greater.

When she is gone, I will have to carry on in a world that is just a little less bright and remember the values she instilled in me. I can only hope to be a third of the woman she is. She is a constant reminder to work hard, do my best, and pick myself up with life knocks me down. For those lessons and so many more, I will be eternally grateful.

I am so blessed to have a woman in my life who sees the good in so many people and never gives up on those she loves. I know the days and weeks and months and years will bring with them moments of sadness, but I will strive to remember the great times we’ve had and BE PASSIONATE about those around me who make me better.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Save the Cat

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been collecting books on writing since the day you decided you wanted to be a writer. You’ve drooled over Writer’s Digests Book Club, you’ve scoured the writing section in the library, and you’ve spent countless dollars on books written to help you defeat writer’s block, craft the perfect plot and develop a character everyone wants to have as a best friend.

And these books are great. I have a ton. But only a handful have the honor of being on my desk, within arms reach, 24-7. Joining the Making the Perfect Pitch (Sands), No More Rejections (Orr) and Real Revisions (Messner) is a little gem called Save the Cat: The Last Screenwriting Book You’ll Ever Need.

When Marcus Sakey, NYT Best-selling author and host of the new Travel Channel series Hidden City, (don’t you love name droppers?) reviewed my manuscript at a conference a few years ago, he said my synopsis lacked structure and suggested I read this book. I have to admit, I was cynical. How could a book on screenwriting be the cornerstone of my writing library? I am so glad I listened to him.

In Save the Cat, Blake Synder introduces a 15 “scene” plot development concept that has not only made writing a synopsis easier, it’s also makes plotting a new novel idea much less frustrating. According to Snyder, there are 15 key moments in a movie and everything else is linking these moments together. He even goes so far as to determine on what page of a script the action should take place. (I took the liberty of applying basic mathematic skills to figure out about when they should occur in a 300 page book. I’m going back to do the calculations for a 400 page novel, as the current WIP is going to be a bit longer.)

What I found out is regardless of whether you’re writing a screenplay or a novel, you have an obligation to keep the reader interested in your plot. There are tons of books out there that have amazingly rich characters but the writer puts too much faith in the characters carrying the story without giving the same attention to developing the plot. As a reading writer, I feel let down by books that held so much promise but failed to deliver. I don’t want to be that writer, ever. I have faith that, with a rich imagination and Save the Cat, I can avoid at least that one complaint from the critics.

What are your go-to books for writing?

Whatever motivates and shapes your work, BE PASSIONATE about your characters and your plot!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

NESCBWI from a Hoosier's POV

This past weekend, I got the chance to attend the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Regional Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts. Overall, it was a great conference with lots of networking opportunities and chances to improve my craft. Most important, I spent three days with writers and illustrators who love kidlit as much as I do.

If you’ve just found my blog, you might not know it, but I like to list things out. And I don’t think I could encapsulate this amazing weekend without slipping into my go-to format. So… without further ado, here are the first five things I learned at NESCBWI.

1.       Contrary to popular belief, there is NOT a mob of angry Patriots fans waiting at the state line for unsuspecting Colts fans who happen to enter into their territory. (I still kept the Colts gear in the hotel room. Better not to tempt fate.)

2.       It’s an incredible thing to get a chance to hear someone deliver a TED speech, especially when you don’t have to pay $7,500/person. Kate Messner (pay attention, her name will pop up later in this post) was among some outstanding people to give a TED 2012 speech. If you don’t know what TED is, google it. Kate’s talk was about how dystopian/apocalyptic fiction shows us how not to build a better world and how kids need to be involved in solving the problems facing our world was so moving and encouraging that it literally brought me to tears. (I also learned that maybe, just may, I use the word literally too much.) For more information, check out {insert}.

3.       Micro-revisions and macro-revisions are not the same thing. In fact, micro-revisions aren’t even revisions. Not really. There’s a distinct difference between revising and editing. Revision is about cutting, slashing, adding to, rethinking, rewriting or even starting over. If that scares you, you’re looking at it all wrong. Revision is where the fun begins. After listening to Kate and Mark Peter Hughes (author of Lemonade Mouth), I’ve come to look at the revision process as a snow globe. You have this pretty, docile, boring world (let’s be honest, the final draft is always more exciting then the first) and you turn it upside down, shake it and let the pieces settle back into place. And then you do it again until you have a complicated jumble of conflict.

4.       The following things must be included in your writer’s toolbox: post-it notes in a variety of colors and sizes; colored pencils; a sharpener for the pencils; highlighters; pens in lots of colors, especially red; and really big paper. Not being a school teacher, I didn’t know the value of big sheets of paper, but believe me, I do now. Oh, and don’t forget the book Real Revision by Kate Messner. She makes revising seem like a hootenannie. 

5.       Frog and Toad tories aren’t just for kids. Turns out, there is some great wisdom for writers as well, and I want to thank Sara Zarr for opening my eyes to this and making me laugh like a child at her readings… no one can read a kidlit book like a kidlit writer. And no one can point out how messy and wonderful a writer’s life is, either!

6.       Meditation can take you deeper into your character and sometimes reveal missing elements of your story. As long as you aren’t afraid to let your character step into your body and lead you!

7.       You can spend a lot of money in the Conference book store and still gaze longingly at books you can’t take home with you.

8.       Apocalypsies ROCK! Don’t know who they are? I bet you’re reading them right now and if you’re not, you need to google A.C. Gaughen, Gina Daminco, Hilary Weisman Graham, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, and Diana Renn. Then, buy their books when they come out! (You can never have too  many!)

9.       There is a great need for a “Revision Drinking Game”! A list has been started, but feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section. I foresee a blog post on this in the not so distant future.

10.   NESCBWI Conference Planners and Volunteers did an amazing job! I was impressed by their never ending enthusiasm and willingness to take in a stranger, and that means something coming from someone who lives in a state where “Hoosier Hospitality” is a way of life.

So much happened at NESCBWI that I could go on and on, but in case you haven’t figured it out, I have a lot of revising to do! I hope those of you who attended had a great experience and those Kidlit authors who haven’t been to a SCBWI Regional Conference, find one! Until then, BE PASSIONATE about every moment you spend doing what you love!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Reflections from 30,000 Feet

I’m on my way home from my first Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Regional Conference. I didn’t go to my home conference in Indiana, but rather headed out east to the great state of Massachusetts to rub elbows with the North Eastern region. And now, flying from Hartford to Indianapolis via Atlanta, I have some time to think. But this post isn’t about the conference. That will be up in a day or two. This post is about what being a writer means to me.

My love for writing started at a young age. But as I grew older, I started listening to the “shoulds” and the “can’ts” of the world. “You should major in something where you can make a lot of money. ““You can’t make money as a writer.” “You like politics/helping people/college life, you should get your poli sci/psych undergrad/ Masters in Higher Education.”

So, I stopped writing and got degrees in political science and psychology and then on to grad school for HESA. And I’m glad I did. Had I strayed from this path, even slightly, I wouldn’t have the family and friends I have now, and without them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

I no longer worry about what I should do or can’t do. Instead, I’m plagued by the “what ifs” and the “if onlys”. (And it only just now hit me that these might be the grown up versions of my earlier doubts.)

“What if no one likes my book? What if I send out this query and all I get are form rejections? What if all the sacrifices I’ve/we’ve made have been in vain and my book never sees the inside of Barnes & Noble?”

“If only I could find an agent, everything would be solved. If only I could have written my book before the genre started trending. If only I could quit my job and write full-time.”

Being a writer isn’t easy. It takes an insatiable passion coupled with unwavering commitment to put my butt in the chair every single day, even if it’s the last thing I want to do. (And trust me, there are days when I would rather pull the fridge away from the wall and clean under it then sit down at the computer.) It means learning to balance the requirements of parenthood with the demands of trying to get published. It requires me to look at writing as a job, not a hobby, and ignore the notion that I’m not working unless there’s a paycheck at the end of the week.

Being a writer means having second thoughts about telling my friends and family I’m working on a book because after a couple of years it starts to sting when someone asks when my book is going to FINALLY be published. I know they mean well, and I would probably be upset if they didn’t ask me about it, but it still makes me a little wistful for the day when I can finally say, “Why yes, you can order my book online. Better yet, Let’s go to Barnes & Noble and sign a bunch of them for some lucky, unsuspecting reader.”

Being a writer means finding the strength to realize the novel I’ve spent the last seven months writing is in dire need of revisions that would make the Extreme Makeover producers cringe and probably walk, no run, away. Sometimes it means going so far as to put a beloved book in a manila envelope and tuck it in the back of a drawer, hoping it still has a future, but realizing it might not.

Being a writer means reading a lot of books I wish I would have thought of and some I still can’t figure out how they got published in the first place. It means telling my inner critic to shut up and leaving treats to entice my muse to show up.  

Being a writer means feeding my addiction of over-priced drinks at my local coffeehouse where, when I do get that book published, they better hang a plaque, honoring me for the multitude of hours I’ve spent writing said novel in their establishment.

Being a writer means reaching deep down inside my soul and pulling up the very best and worst I can imagine for my character (who is sometimes kicking and screaming at me to leave it alone.) It means sending out my literary baby and methodically exposing it to rejection. It means looking into the unknown and then taking a head first leap into the query abyss.

But most of all, being a writer means being alive. Being more myself then I ever thought possible. It means saying to the universe, “I have a story to tell and somehow, someway, someone is going to hear it. And then they’re going to love it.” (Which is followed by, “And then, the movie rights will be sold, the foreign sales are going to go through the roof and I’ve got to remember to schedule time to practice for my interview on Ellen. She’s going to know my name someday.”)

It doesn’t matter if you are called to write, be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or pick up garbage for a living, What matters is that you live every day being proud of who you are  and spend the time you have pursuing your dreams, not just following them. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comment or better yet, make your own list of “Being a __________ means….” And of course, BE PASSIONATE about every moment of your life!

Friday, April 20, 2012

My Dream Writing Space

With the Kids Suite renovation nearing an end, I get to start planning how to repurpose the space to become my dream writing room. It’s a good sized room, so I definitely want to go with an “open” feel. I hate clutter, though it invests my house and my writing room needs to be a place where I can get down to work without a whole lot of picking up. It also needs to be a place that makes me feel relaxed and creative at the same time.

I’ll need a desk, and as luck would have it, I have a perfect writing desk I picked up when I was in grad school. The chair that came with it is nice, but it lacks wheels and since my wireless printer will be on the shelf behind me, I’m going in search of the prefect brown office chair.
Brown? Yes, brown. I’m going with teal walls, chocolate curtains and cream and lime green accents. In addition to the brown office chair, I’m also looking for an oversized brown chair. Before I select my exact shades, I’m going on a hunt for the perfect fabric on which to base my design.
I’ve also found enough Golden Book fabric to make a quilt and matching pillows, to keep me cozy on those cold Indiana nights. Don’t ask me when I’m going to find time to make said quilts, but someday, it will happen and the first books I ever read will remind me why I do what I do!

Once the room is done and the furniture has been found, I’ll move on to the TV. At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted a TV in my sanctuary, but now that some televisions are coming wireless-ready, I’ll be able to stream Pandora around the clock. Plus, since I was in high school, I find that having something on in the background actually helps my mind keep from drifting off. It’s a weird thing, but I know I’m not the only one with this little tick.

Two final touches that will make the room uniquely mine, as if it isn’t already, are a Scentsy warmer with Thunderstorm melting away and a Kurieg machine. I could keep the device in my kitchen. After all, that makes the most sense, but I have a coffee maker in there for all practical purposes and a tea kettle for boiling water for all other drinks. But the Kurieg is special. It’s like having my own little barista next to me. And believe me when I say nothing can tick off the muse more than finding SOMEONE has finished off the last of my favorite flavor. And we can’t have that now, can we?

What would your dream writing nook have in it? Whatever you choose, remember to BE PASSIONATE about the things you surround yourself with.

Friday, April 13, 2012

#NESCBWI Practice Elevator Pitch

Hello Fellow Writers!

Next week, I'll be attending the New England SCBWI Regional Conference and I'm excited to have the chance to learn from some of the best in the business, rub elbows with my favorite writers like Sara Zarr and A.C. Gaughen, to name two, and be surrounded by people who love books as much as I do!

I'm also excited to have a chance to talk about the new book. And, as every conference goer knows, the perfect elevator pitch is key. So, I submit to you my elevator pitch for The ACADA Chronicles. Let me know if it catches your attention or what you would suggest to make it better. Any and all comments will be appreciated... though some may take a day or two to get there! ;) Thanks in advance for your help and if you're going to the conference, I'll be the red head from Indiana!

The wind up and the pitch:

I have a completed 85,000 word YA thriller with a “pre-dystopian” slant titled The ACADA Chronicles about Emily Tate, a 16 year old high school student who, after surviving a cataclysmic world-wide outbreak, finds herself working on a genetics project that has far reaching political and moral implications.

When her mother is murdered, Emily discovers her assignment is part of a sinister plot of enslavement and world domination. She must find a way to protect the one thing that could alter the bleak future, even if it could ruin the new life she’s worked so hard to create.