Monday, August 30, 2010


I've never been much for detailed outlines. I like to have a starting point and an ending point in my head, and have fun getting from one to the other, not exactly sure where the path along the way will twist and turn. It's funny, actually, because in the physical world, I'm a lover of maps and plans.

I was asked during my time at Chautauqua to turn in a chapter outline. I believed I had one saved on my computer, so I didn't think that would be too much work. I was wrong. I did have a saved outline, but it was from over three years ago, when I first started writing this book, and didn't even have an inkling of all the characters. The first couple of chapters were okay, but the rest was completely outdated. So I wrote a new outline as homework.

Now, that outline is outdated. I think this is why I didn't like outlining to begin with. It's hard for me to stick to them. I'm working on a new one anyway, trying to create a framework that puts more action into my plot. But I'm so easily distracted this way. I find little spots that are going to require new research. Then I immediately want to know if the information I need is accessible, so I check the Internet. I get sucked into that, and the next thing you know, it's time to leave for work. I bookmark the relevant pages, and close the computer.

For some reason, this doesn't happen in the same way when I just write. I know I'll need to come back and research, say, the public transportation schedule in my setting, but I don't need to do it right then. When outlining, I want to know. I think this is a way of avoiding doing the outline in the first place. But I think having the outline will help in the long run. I just have to finish it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Call for a book review blogger

I'm also part of a book review blog over at Searching for a Good Read. We review middle grade and YA books, because we read a lot of them, and we love them. One of our bloggers has recently left the group, so we're looking for a new blogger. She read a lot of YA, so we'd like to find someone else who does too. If you're interested, check out the post over there. If not, check out some of the reviews. We try to keep a mix of new stuff and classics. Thanks!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Submission remorse?

As soon as I mailed out my submission last week, I thought about submission remorse. I sent out three chapters of a book that still needs revisions. It needs some new research and rewrites of whole big sections. Now, up until I got some new ideas for improving it, I thought this thing was done. I've sent it out before and gotten some pretty positive feedback. And this particular submission was sent to someone who specifically said not to worry about polishing it. So why worry?

We want to send our very best work out into the world. Somehow, submitting was so much easier a few years ago, when I was less educated about what that meant. I submitted a lot more work, probably because I was writing shorter pieces and not putting them aside to review later. As soon as I got a Slushbuster stamp of approval, into the mail it went. Not once during that time did it occur to me that I may have submitted a piece too early. Heck, I checked the caller ID on my cell phone every time it rang, thinking I was getting a call from an editor. Hah!

Sometimes the more you know, the more you question yourself.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Manuscripts ... and a surprising lack of theme music

You know that moment in the movie Little Women when Jo finally finishes her manuscript? The one when she ties the papers together with string and tucks a crimson flower under the bow?

I did not have that moment.

I spent my moment in the foyer of the Post Office...
pulling apart a shopping bag...
so I could use the brown paper to wrap the box...
that held the manuscript...
that I had to mail to Harold Underdown.

It's been a crazy few days. School starts next week, and I am up to my eyes in planning Algebra.

Was my manuscript lying lovely and pristine, all printed up, waiting to be mailed out and begin its life with my mentor in the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program?

Oh no. I'd just gotten back from Chautauqua. So of course, I kept revising and patching and and putting in completely new parts. I still haven't done as much revision as I would have liked on this MS. It's a complete read, but it's not a good one yet, especially the last third. That really bothers me- never mind that this whole program is about, you know, REVISION.

So when I got the word that it was time to mail the MS, I had some cleaning up to do that kept me up till the wee sma's.

I finished the cleanup today after work. I searched my MS for ???. (That's my placeholder for when I can't find the right word or for names I have yet to choose.) Then I replaced each ??? with a word, any word. I felt like that little Dutch boy plugging the leaky dike.

Off to Kinkos. Ten minutes later, I had the full MS in a box. I then grabbed an excedingly dull pair of store scissors and began hacking at the box so that there wouldn't be two inches of clearance between the papers and the top of the box.

Across the parking lot to the Post Office. They have an automated mailing machine that looks like something out of the Jetsons. I needed to wrap the box, hence the wrestling match with the brown paper shopping bag.

About the time that I centered the lopsided Kinko's box on the ragged brown paper, I thought of Jo and her flower. I also wondered whether it was horribly disrespectful to Mr. Underdown to send a MS in brown paper that hadn't even been cut with scissors.*

Suffice to say, there was no moving theme music.

But here's the truth. It was still pretty amazing. I've never seen my entire MS printed out. I've never mailed it to someone who wanted to read it. Do you know how cool it was to write "Harold Underdown, New York, New York" on that brown paper package?

I don't think there will be much theme music or flowers in my writing career. I foresee a lot of scrambling and a lot of chaos.

You know what? I'm good with that. I think most of us who write are.

So ... I'd love to hear about your writing moments. What are they like?

*I did fold down the edges, though, so it shouldn't look too bad.

Speed meeting

Last night at our meeting, five Slushbusters, three laptops, and piles of paper and notebooks crowded around and onto a table in Panera. The wireless connection was spotty. Sarah and I were both trying to connect to Skype so we could bring Lisa in. When we finally connected, we talked fast. I think we were afraid we'd lose her. Well, not her, exactly. The connection. You know what I mean.

For a meeting that covered some 50+ pages of work from two different Slushies, a few comments about work I'd already gotten feedback on, plus Joan's pictures from her trip to Alaska, we were very quick. Even after Lisa signed off. We usually critique her first, and let her talk to anyone else she needs to, but by then she usually needs to go be a mom again.

I got to thinking about how pared down critique can be. I learned at Chautauqua to look more at the big picture. The problem with a story is often not in the line edits, which we Slushies like to point out, one by one. It's in the overall thing. Like my WIP. Sure, there are line edits that need to happen, but the main thing wrong with it is that the plot needs more action. Most of the comments point to that in one way or another. Not all of them, certainly. There are still moments of confusion because I didn't clarify something. Or the voice sounded too adult for an eleven year old protagonist.

As we become better writers, we not only grow more efficient on the page, we grow more efficient in what we have to say about what others have written.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Nothing like social networking to shrink the world a little

Nicola Morgan, YA author, is conducting an experiment. She's set up a facebook page to see how many followers she can get in just two weeks. For every 50 followers, she's giving away a book. She will share the results of her experiment with a workshop she's teaching.

I am a big fan of social networking. Look how many of you I've gotten to know just from writing this blog! And I think facebook is really cool. It allows you to discover a lot about your friends, including how many people you know in common.

In the grand demonstration of how small the world can be, I have an example. Today is only the second day of Nicola's experiment. She asked people to let her know how they found out about her author page. The first person to comment on that is a woman living in Costa Rica. She happens to be the sister of one of my high school friends and a friend of my husband. I'm pretty sure neither of them knows Nicola, and I know for certain that my husband has never read her books.

This stuff happens all the time. One of my sister's friends in Atlanta was a classmate of my husband's brother in Syracuse. One of my new Chautauqua friends from California knows one of my local author friends. I love finding these connections.

I know Nicola's intention is to demonstrate how social networking can help authors. But sometimes, I like to just look at this stuff and say, "how cool is that?"

Thursday, August 12, 2010

If you liked Monday's post

Our friend Hanna has some more of Patti's nuggets of wisdom on her blog this morning.

When one of our friends posts things I haven't gotten around to, I feel like the group of people contributing to our blog has expanded. I love having all these peers to count on for pointing out the details I missed, or phrasing the same information in a different or better way.

This has been one of the best things about working on a blog as a group as well. If you haven't yet checked out the article in the 2011 Children's Writer's and Illustrators Market about group blogs, please do. Yes, the Slushbusters are mentioned in the article. But we don't make any money by telling you about it. We didn't even get a free copy of the book. It's just some good information, and I'm happy that Carmela Martino is highlighting some of the many great blogs out there. I follow a lot of the others she mentioned. Our peers are an incredible resource.

If you're one of those bloggers out there sharing what you're learning, thanks. We appreciate it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

First Pages Critiques

I just entered the James River Writers conference First Pages Critiques. It's my favorite part of the whole 2 day conference. They have actors read a submission, then the panel, usually editors and agents, say whether they would keep reading past the first page or not and why. You get a green card or a red card from each person on the panel. They do about 20 submissions, but time really flies. The actors do a really great job bringing these pages to life.

I won't tell you which story I sent the first page of, since it is supposed to be anonymous. Of course, any Slushie who attends the conference with me (in October) will know and recognize it. Hopefully I will get at least one green card!

Who am I kidding?? What I am hoping is that an agent on the panel will say, "Not only would I keep reading, but whoever wrote this, please see me after the panel."

Let's not go too far though. Asking to read the whole manuscript may be too big of a dream, since I only have a few pages written.

Back to hoping for a green card....or two....

Come to think of it, they don't read every one they receive. Fingers crossed they even read it...

Post its

Patti Gauch has been an editor for a long time. She is also an author. She probably knows more about children's literature and publishing than just about anyone. She is also a phenomenal reader, which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. When she gives you good advice about writing, you really want to pay attention.

This morning I worked for a while on transcribing my notes from our workshop sessions. I filled a whole notebook, so it's taking a while. I discovered that I enjoyed reading my notes from Patti's sessions almost as much as I enjoyed listening to them the first time.

One of the things Patti said was that we should write inspiring things on post-its and stick them above our desks. Or wherever it is that we can see them when we write. I've done this for years. I have some sticky-backed index cards I like to use. My favorite is written in fat black sharpie letters: "Finish!" E.L. Konigsburg.

Some of my post-its are lists of things to avoid, like weak modifiers. (just, so, such, very, etc.) Some of them are things the Slushbusters have said. (Give the hero the last word.) I have an index card with Freytag's pyramid, and one with Joseph Campbell's Hero Quest. And I have a couple of quotes from books about writing, such as Stephen King's On Writing and Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic. Finally, I have quotes from my own characters. Most of those are things I want the character to say at some point, but haven't gotten to that place in the story yet.

Patti gave us a few more. My favorite is "Am I sassy enough?" I also love "I have the permission to let go to story, to let go to what is within me." I have added those, as well as her other gems, to my post-it wall above my desk.

Do you have any little quotes you put up to inspire you?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The fun part

During our second critique meeting at Chautauqua, Juanita Havill told me that the revisions I need to work on are the fun part. I have to agree. Now that she's helped me find a place to begin my revision, the ideas are coming quickly. The Slushies are going to see big changes in this new draft.

One of the things writers hear all the time is, "Kill your darlings." I've had to do that this go around. There was a whole journal thing my character was doing, but Juanita asked whether it really served my story. It was interesting. There was a twist to it. But she was right, I didn't need it. So I let it go. I'm now changing that "kill" for "euthanize." Let it go. It's like hanging onto the clutter from your past. It doesn't serve the life you live now. That fondue pot from the one fondue dinner you made twelve years ago? Let it go.

The other thing that is starting to happen is I'm liking my characters more, and letting them be more themselves. I have to thank Patti Gauch for that one. She dared to ask, "Am I sassy enough?" And, now that I think of it, she advised us to let go too.

I decided the other day that too much happened at Chautauqua over that week to sum it all up here. My notes, while helpful to me, may not be the most entertaining for you to read. But I will continue to post little snippets as I apply them. If you want more about what happened, check out the blogs of Nora and Louise.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hanging out with the cool kids

There's a saying that if you can't be interesting yourself, find interesting friends.

I have taken that advice to heart.

The first interesting person of my acquaintance is our own Michelle. She is in the 2011 Children's Writers and Illustrator's Market. Carmela Martino* wrote an article about group blogs and asked the Slushbusters a few questions. Not surprisingly, Michelle's quote made it into the article ... that made it into the book (p. 69!) ... that we just bought from Barnes and Noble!

How cool is that?

The other interesting person I'll soon be acquainted with is...

Harold Underdown

Yes, Harold Underdown!!!

I was accepted into the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. Harold Underdown will be my mentor for six ... entire ... months.

Hear those squeals of joy? I'm just hoping that I can pull myself together soon.

*You should definitely swing by Teaching Authors blog.