Thursday, April 30, 2009

Put A Poem in Your Pocket

Today is National Poem in Your Pocket Day! The idea is to carry a poem in your pocket, either original or copied, to share with others throughout the day. My library is celebrating by handing out poems on little scrolls tied with ribbon.

As far as I know, none of the Slushbusters are poets. But it's really all about appreciating and sharing poetry. So now I'll pull the poem I've selected out of my virtual pocket and read it to you:

Put Something In
by Shel Silverstein

Draw a crazy picture,
Write a nutty poem,
Sing a mumble-gumble song,
Whistle through your comb.
Do a loony-goony dance
'Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That ain't been there before.

Anyone else have a poem they'd like to share?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

For All the Picture Book People

This Friday begins National Picture Book Writing Week. Inspired by National Novel Writing Month, Paula Yoo is encouraging writers to write a picture book story every day for a week, beginning May 1. Check out the rules and register to participate on her website.

At the moment, none of the Slushbusters are working on picture books, but several of us have in the past. It might be time to dust off some of those IDEAS we've got sitting around!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Interview with Lisa Greenwald

It's our first Slushbuster interview ... and do we have a nice one!

Lisa Greenwald is a member of the Class of 2K9. Her debut novel, My Life in Pink and Green, is already getting great reviews: 

"Greenwald deftly blends eco-facts and makeup tips, friendship and family dynamics, and spot-on middle-school politics into a warm, uplifting debut." ~ Booklist

"Greenwald clearly takes preteens seriously, emphasizing their ardent concern for the environment and desire for change. This refreshing novel successfully delivers an authentic and endearing portrait of the not-quite-teen experience." ~ Kirkus, starred

"Greenwald has created a smart, spunky heroine with ingenuity and budding femininity. A natural beauty or business tip introduces each chapter. These helpful hints are age appropriate and environmentally current. Readers will enjoy the realistic portrayal of middle school friendships, crushes, and coming-of-age beauty concerns." ~ Library School Journal

Here's a quick synopsis (shamelessly lifted from her website):

Twelve-year-old Lucy Desberg is a natural problem solver. After the local homecoming queen shows up at her family's struggling drugstore with a beauty disaster that Lucy helps to fix, Lucy has a long line of makeover customers for every school dance and bat mitzvah. But all the makeup tips in the world won't help save the pharmacy. If only she could find a way to make the pharmacy the center of town again—a place where people want to spend time, like in the old days. Lucy dreams up a solution that could resuscitate the family business and help the environment, too. But will Lucy's family stop fighting long enough to listen to a seventh-grader?

Let's begin this interview, shall we?

What is one of your favorite portions in My Life in Pink and Green? Why do you like it, and how did it come to you? 

This is such a small moment but I really like the scene at Sunny's birthday party when she kisses the TV when her crush comes on during an old school-play video. It's been in the book since the first draft and I think it's just something that someone that age would do. It's so simple but says so much, I think. It makes me smile when I think about it.

You’ve said that Tuck Everlasting is your favorite book. Do you read it differently now as a writer and adult- or is it the same? 

When I read it as a kid, I was overwhelmed but in a good way. I've read it so many times since then and I am still overwhelmed by how good it is. But the thing is, I'm still absorbed in the story every time I read it. It is just so beautiful and well-written.

What’s it like working at The Birch Wathen Lenox School’s library? Have you ever gotten feedback from the children there?  

I really like working at BWL's library. It's a great way to keep up with new books and I love recommending books to the students. So far I've only gotten positive feedback on the book from the children but I tell them that I'm open to criticism too. :)

What’s the most helpful advice/ feedback you’ve been given? 

It's a simple quote. I don't know who said it but I got it from Meg Cabot's website about four years ago.  "You're not a $100 bill. Not everyone is going to like you...or your book." I tend to be sensitive and this simple statement helps me to remember that everyone has an opinion and my book won't appeal to everyone.

When do you work alone and when do you rely on the help of others, the community of writers? How do you balance the two?  

I mostly work alone but sometimes I have writing dates with friends. I like to be a part of the community of writers but it's definitely difficult balancing work-time and socializing-time. I try to make sure that I have time to actually write and don't spend all of my free time hanging out with writers and talking about writing even though that's so much fun too. 

Any insights on the mechanics of writing? Are there one or two techniques that you find helpful when dealing with POV, description, world building, or dialog? 

I don't think I have any advice on technique really. The simple "show don't tell" is always helpful. Also, reading your work aloud makes a tremendous difference in how you see/hear your own writing.

Any favorite writing blogs? (Besides The Longstockings, of course!) 

My new favorite blog is jacketwhys. I really love talking about what jackets I like and why and this blog is fascinating, smart and very well-done.

There you have it, gentle readers. (Sorry. I'm channeling Miss Manners at the moment.) This is when you run out and buy a copy of My Life in Pink and Green for yourselves.  Or, if you're running a little low on funds like some of us Slushbusters, ask your library to buy a copy. Our copy of My Life in Pink and Green just came in and we're already sorting out who gets to read it when. There may be violence at our meeting this Tuesday.

Can I just add that Lisa has been lovely during this interview? Being a newbie interviewer, I sent her the questions on a document (Big no-no. Imagine re-typing the entire interview into the blog.) Lisa sent her answers in the body of an e-mail with nary a comment about clueless interviewers. 

All of us Slushbusters wish her the best of luck with My Life in Pink and Green

There is a Madness to My Method

I've never been good at making a detailed outline. I've always preferred to throw myself out there, writing four or five chapters until I get stuck. Then I decide what I'm writing about and where I'm going, make a sketchy outline, and keep plowing through the story.

This method gets me into trouble--on many levels. The main trouble is that the story and the characters keep changing. By the time I reach the last chapter, most of the previous chapters need heavy revision, if not complete re-writes. Usually, as I'm writing forward, I'm at the same time going back to revise. I may be writing chapter 19 and revising chapter 10.

It was working fine for a while, but now it's getting confusing. I'm so involved in the story, working on it so much, that I have no perspective. I forget all the things I've changed, what each character knows and doesn't know.

I've been getting a lot of critiques lately that go something like this: "Um, wouldn't she be scared/surprised/angry/sad to find this out?" Oh, yeah (hand smacks forehead), I cut that scene and forgot to change the rest accordingly. I feel like I'm trying to force these puzzle pieces together; but some of them have rounded edges and some square.

I am beginning to see the wisdom of a detailed outline. But oh, I hate the idea of doing it. Part of what I love about writing a first draft is the constant sense of discovery. There are surprises everywhere--about the plot, the characters, the themes. The very thought of having a detailed outline makes me not want to write. (I am one of those people prone to staring out the window thinking and calling it writing. If I think too much, I don't write.)

I suppose every writer has this to some extent, hence the common recommendation to put the finished manuscript in a drawer for a month so you can revisit it with fresh eyes. I don't think I'm at that point yet (the first two chapters need to be completely re-written), but I'm getting there.

All I really wanted to say is that I'm discovering a part of my process that doesn't work as well as I thought. I'm overwhelmed by all the little details I have to align. But then, I can't imagine figuring out the story any other way than through the process of writing.

Any thoughts on process?

More coming on the benefits of this method...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Renewed by Books

There are some serious gaps in my children's literature education. That's probably because until a year ago I hadn't read any children's lit since I was a child. Now I'm rediscoving the kind of books that got me excited to read in the first place, that shaped my love of words and made me want to tell my own stories.

I just started reading the Secret Garden. (I told you there were serious gaps.) Already I love it. I love this poor disagreeable girl who doesn't make you feel sorry for her but makes you want to see her grow. It's the perfect set-up for what has to happen later. We know she'll find the secret garden. We know she'll make some friends. We know that she'll learn to be human. We keep reading to find out how.

Before starting this book, I had drafted a blog post about what a snob I am about good writing and how I haven't been wowed by a book in a long time. It was a rather jaded and cynical post. I'm glad I never finished it. Because now I'm renewing my faith in the beauty of a simply story and the magic a good writer can conjure with the right combination of words.

Unlike many of the fast-paced adventure stories I've read lately, I want to read this slowly and savor every word.

Next on my reading list: A Little Princess and Bridge to Terabithia

Friday, April 17, 2009

I don't get it, and apparently, I'm not alone.

Unless you live in the antarctic or somewhere equally remote, you've heard about Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. While I try to stay current in publishing trends, I don't have time to read everything that comes across my desk at the library. This one, though, had so much buzz over so much time that I finally read the series. I don't get it.

The story is gripping, yes, and the characters and their situation are completely original. But I've had some trouble with the character of Bella. You see, she's the kind of girl I didn't like in high school, and hoped never to be. She ditches her friends for her boyfriend. Worse, she'll do anything to keep him from breaking up with her. In Bella's case, I mean that literally.

Today I see that I'm not alone in this opinion. This morning on Alice Pope's CWIM Blog, guest blogger Sara Raasch gives her opinion on the series. And it's a strong one. Mostly about Edward. If you're a fan of his, you may not want to read what she has to say. If you can get past the hype and passionate fan frenzy of teenage girls, you might see Twilight in a different light.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The People Watching Game

For years my friend Mary Anne and I have played a people watching game. Instead of passively looking at passersby in malls, parks, or outdoor concerts, we pick themes. Like editors of a high school yearbook, we scan the masses for folks fitting the labels of "cutest couple" and "best dressed." Our all time favorite theme is "Someone should have told her she shouldn't be wearing that." You've all seen that woman, wearing the too-short skirt, the too-tight top, or the shocking combination of both in neon colors. We're not the fashion police by a long stretch, but there's always at least one outfit that goes too far.

Last week my husband and I were stuck in an airport and I taught him this game. He loved it. He came up with some good categories of his own, like "best hat" and "most impractical shoes." We had a few winners.

I realized that watching people in an airport is better than watching them in other places. People in airports experience a wider range of emotions than on a Saturday in a park or at a mall. The anonymity of being in a different city allows them to express themselves more freely. If they're traveling for vacation, they're in a great mood, eager and excited. If they are traveling for business or a family obligation, you can see the reluctance. People are rushing to make their flights, or have too much time between them. They're often stressed, like we were, because a flight has been delayed or canceled, and they have to be somewhere. The obstacles that make a good story are happening to hundreds of people at once.

My husband was surprised at the relationships I noticed: the two teenagers walking side by side, their mother following about twenty paces behind. They were together, but didn't want to be. Another mother walked backward, right in front of her two little ones, signing to them as she went. Was one of them deaf, or both, or was she? A boy rode on a wheeled bag, laughing as his father pulled. I noticed a single dad with a girl of about eleven or twelve. How did I know he was a single dad? He wore no ring, and while he was conscious of where she was, he didn't seem too worried about her. They each carried their own bags, even though she had more than he did. Dads in larger families tend to become sherpas.

So next time you're in the airport and you miss your connection, take it as an opportunity. Play the game, notice the people, and find some new characters for your story.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

I won- sort of!

Actually ... not really. I was a runner up. However, "I was a runner-up" doesn't make for a very interesting blog post title.

But I digress. 

Nicola Morgan's lovely blog (think of it as a Miss Manners column for writers- if Miss Manners had a penchant for wine, chocolate and colorful boots) hosted a worst query competition

And I was a runner up. Oh happy day. Do you know how fun it was to write something that might make someone's toes curl?

I'd like to thank Nicola for the opportunity to compete ... Query Shark and Editorial Annonymous for inspiration ... the Slushbusters for always making me work harder and better ... and my family and friends for always, always believing I could do this. 

(The time-to-stop-talking music swells as the worst query host escorts me off the stage. I can only hope he looks like this year's Academy Awards host.) 

Okie-dokie, then. 

Since this is (almost) my blog, I'll post my (almost) worst query for your reading displeasure. 

Dear Agent, 

I am happy to offer my story, Kill Them with Kindness, for you to represent. Please read this immediately so that you don't loose out to another motivated agent.

After waiting tables for many, many years, I've dealt with many, many spoiled adults. Which made me realize: spoiled adults come from spoiled children. So I whipped out a 3, 724 word picture book to help with just that. (I'm not yet sure whether the story is middle grade or young adult. I figure I'd leave that to the professionals.)

My story shows what happens when Fairyland is overrun by evil trolls. They stomp the flowers and make little Carrie the Fairy cry. Carrie is so upset by what the trolls are doing to Fairyland, but she doesn't know what to do. So she tries to be just as mean as the trolls to scare them out of Fairyland. But that doesn't help at all. Carrie's actions just seem to make things worse. That's when the main character, Bob the Fairy comes in. Bob knows you can't beat the trolls by being mean. You have to be nice.

You have to ... Kill Them with Kindness.

The last 46 pages of my book show Bob the Fairy in many different social situations. Every time he is nice to a troll, it explodes, making Fairyland a kinder and cleaner place. Finally, on the last page, all the fairies follow Bob's example, and explode the remaining trolls.

Children will love this book so much they'll hardly noticed their being taught a life lesson. Plus, the mixture of Fairyland and exploding trolls should be exciting for both boys and girls. Their going to love it!

I've already sent copies to several children's authors (as well as a mystery author since my story has action) and they all said they couldn't provide "official" comments until my agent contacted them. Pretty good, huh? I've included a list of their contact information so you can get good reviews from the the moment you decide to become my agent. I'm so excited about starting this new career. In these tough times, I'm needing all the extra money I can get. (There's this house I have my eye on.)

Contact me soon so that you don't miss out on this great opportunity,

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Just Had to Share

The other night, in the wee hours of the morning, I wrote the last sentence of the last chapter of my book. I just had to share my excitement! It's a middle grade adventure story with magic stones, river pirates, steampunk flying machines and other fun stuff.

Celebrate with me, who started out as a little girl concocting stories inside while my siblings and cousins and friends all played outside. I went to school, learned a lot, published a few stories and poems. Then came years of writing as a hobby and never coming close to finishing anything.

Fast-forward to the woman in her thirties (early thirties!) who becomes a mother and finally decides to do what she's wanted to do since she formed her first wobbly letters with a thick pencil. In between changing diapers and moving across the ocean, I've managed to finish the story. Well, the rough draft at least. I know it's just the begining of the work. Now come the rewrites and the long ruminations over the perfect phrase. But I'm thrilled to have come this far.

So, please, if you need an excuse to celebrate anything...join me. Raise a glass of something good, and say, "Way to go, Lisa." I'll do the same for you.

And before I start slipping too far into acceptance speech mode (that little girl who stayed inside practiced many a speech to the bathroom mirror), I do have to thank all of the Slushbusters. This writing stuff is not something I can do alone, and they've been with me through every step. Thanks, Slushies!