Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Turning off the editor

One of the things that has changed as a result of my taking my writing more seriously is that I pay so much more attention to everything I read. The editor in my brain is always working. If a book I'm reading is particularly gripping, I'm able to turn it off. But other times, I just want to take a pencil to the book I'm reading and fix stuff so that I can read it the way I want to.

Last night I was reading one of those pencil books. It wasn't a book I had chosen, but my book club is reading it right now. Strunk and White would have had a field day with it. Single sentences take up six or seven lines on the page, and are so convoluted, full of commas, semicolons, verbs, adjectives and adverbs that even though they are grammatically correct and properly punctuated, they are exhausting to read and by the time I have finished reading one I have to go back to the beginning because I've forgotten what it was that I was reading about while I was trying to decipher all of it like a sixth grader diagramming sentences in middle school English class. How is it not exhausting to write that way?

I wonder if I enjoyed this kind of book more before I automatically edited inside my head.

Friday, November 19, 2010


You may have noticed I've been a bit quiet lately. I've had some family stuff going on the past few weeks, so I haven't been blogging. But I've been lurking on your blogs (that sounds so evil, doesn't it?), and keeping up with what's going on in the rest of the world.

One thing I just have to mention is that Kathy Erskine's book Mockingbird won the National Book Award this week! The Slushbusters have come to know Kathy through our local writing community, and we're very excited for her.

Another thing that's happened is that I've had a resurgence of communication with some of the friends I made at Chautauqua over the summer. I'm not sure what's up with that, but suddenly I've gotten several messages and emails from the gang. I appreciate everyone staying in touch. Right now, while I'm out of my writing groove, it helps to know these guys have my back when I'm ready to jump back in.

I'm on a major reading/audiobook tear right now. We had a Rapunzels meeting yesterday, during which we discussed The Jade Dragon by Carolyn Marsden and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh. The group is younger this year, as some of the older girls have outgrown us, and we've got a lot of new girls. This is where it's challenging choosing books, because the age range of the club is 9-13. Some of the older girls weren't sure they wanted to read a book with such a young character, but they all liked it after they did. If you want an example of how to make a simple problem feel like high stakes, read this one.

My big new excitement in audiobooks is that our library is launching Overdrive, which will allow us to download audiobooks using our library cards. When the "checkout" period expires, the file becomes unusable, but meanwhile, it can be transferred to an MP3 player or burned to CDs. So cool, especially now that I have a car with a docking station for my ipod.

So, like my Chautauqua friends, even when you haven't heard from me in a while, I'm here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Last Lines in Kid Lit

I love Sporcle. Today they posted a quiz about last lines in children's books. I scored 11 out of 20, which was still in the 90th percentile. Please, please, someone do better than I did!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Getting in and then getting out

I'm going to see "The King's Speech". The movie is about King George VI, the younger son who never thought he'd be king. Hitler is conquering Europe, and the UK needs to hear from their king. George can't speak without stammering, yet he is expected to speak to his country in a radio address. (It can't have helped that Hitler was an amazing orator.)

The trailer captured me. I think many of us write because we can't get the words to come out right the first time.

Or the second.

Or the third. But I digress...

I read this article about the movie today, and in the article was a link to an interview with Colin Firth who plays King George. He says that as an actor, his job is to get in and get out: to understand his character's dilemma, but not concentrate on expressing it. Rather, he should focus on the character's determination to get out.

He argued that if an actor concentrates too much on portraying the problem (in this case, stammering) then the audience sees an actor trying act. But Colin's goal is to pour his energy into portraying his character's struggle against the dilemma. The actor's effort should be towards portraying the fight, not the enemy.

He said it enables the audience to connect with the character. Few people want to follow a character whose energy is spent getting into his personal hell. But an audience is willing to walk with a character fighting his way out of one.

I've been banging my head against the wall with revisions. I have so much to do, precious little time, and even less creativity. But Colin's point made sense to me as a writer. I'm working to figure out the tension that pulls my MC through the story. That's huge. But once I clarify that dilemma, I need to go back to my MC's fight against it.

And speaking of fights- I need to go wrestle my own dilemma into submission. I'll let you know how it goes...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Fall Conference

This was my second time to this wonderful conference and, like last year, I was not disappointed. Ellen Braaf, the regional advisor, gives everyone a warm welcome. You immediately feel right at home. Being elbow to elbow with a hundred or so other like-minded writers for a whole day was just as inspiring the second time. This conference is high energy and high quality.

First in the queue of speakers was author Kathy Erskine. She presented GREAT writing tips. Using “great” as an acronym for her five elements of good writing. An agent panel followed her. We all love to hear what agents are looking for. Chapter books and books for boys were mentioned quite a bit. One of their recommended website was http://absolutewrite.com/. The website is for all types of writers. It has how-to articles, interviews and a business section. Andrea Tompa, Editor at Candlewick Press, compared revising your writing to wood carving. You get the big picture first then carve away to the details. The keynote speaker was author Lisa Yee. She had us in stitches. Winner of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award, she could be a standup comedian on the side. There was also a book buyer panel. What an interesting idea to hear the perspective of the buyers. The panel included a public librarian, school librarian and owner of an independent children’s bookstore. The conference ended with an editor’s question and answer session. All in all many worthwhile speakers and panelists plus good food and company.