Tuesday, March 29, 2005

This weekend I went to Dallas/Fort Worth to hear award-winning YA author Amanda (A.M.) Jenkins speak on rewriting and revising at an SCBWI meeting there. Her talk was fantastic! I took away a ton of useful insights and information, some of which I can start applying right away. I was a bit amazed to hear such a great talk at a free meeting instead of a paid conference! Before the meeting, I had a nice lunch with Kathryn Lay, author of the new middle grade novel Crown Me!, as well as more than 1,000 (!) short stories and articles. I'm always amazed I've been able to meet so many great writers and learn from them!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Hooray, I wrote 2,460 new words on my stalled middle grade novel today--2 new chapters! I have to stop now (and considering that it's late afternoon, it might be good to finally have some lunch!), but I'm so happy to have gotten past my block on this book, and I know what needs to happen next. I also came up with another idea for the book that will explain a little better why the main character's seemingly goofy problem is such a big deal to her. That will involve some rewriting later, but I'm thrilled to have made a small breakthrough!

Monday, March 21, 2005

I just saw in Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog that she's proudly announcing her first published story "featuring in part a romantic relationship in which no one dies." I had to laugh out loud at that. Especially because I've spent much of this afternoon contemplating (and writing part of) a new novel idea featuring in part a romantic relationship in which someone does die. Yikes!

Speaking of which, today I read Sonya Sones' whole free verse novel One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies while standing in front of the library shelf when I was supposed to be hurrying home so my husband could go to the post office! Oops. I didn't mean to read it...I was just going to look at it, and got so engrossed that I kept reading until I was done. Anyway, I thought it was well done and it gave me hope for my own new idea. I don't think mine would be free verse but it would include poetry and possibly be told in a choppy, somewhat verselike style, and I had also been worrying that it wouldn't be possible to start a book with a death but then go on to other things (like romance), not focusing on the death all that much later on, without seeming callous. But Sones does exactly that and it works great. There were also a couple of passages in the book that I strongly related to on a personal level. Actually, at one point the main character is on a plane, dreaming that her boyfriend comes down the aisle and saves her, and my semi-completed YA novel has a scene with my main character on a bus, daydreaming the same thing! I guess it's a common fantasy. I wrote that because I used to daydream that my crush of the moment would suddenly appear to rescue me from whatever boring class I was stuck in!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

I was surprised to find Daniel Pinkwater, a regular NPR commentator & author of about 100 (!) books, in a writers' chat room I popped into last night. He writes the kind of absurd, humorous children's books I especially love, and the books he reviews on the radio become bestsellers. Another writer and I chatted with him for more than 3 hours! It was absolutely fascinating, not to mention entertaining--I felt like I'd gone to a private writing conference. He shared lots of stories and advice, and I found it heartening that even after 35 years as a children's writer and plenty of ups and downs, he was still interested enough in writing to want to discuss it in the middle of the night. One statement he made resonated with me enough that I asked if I could quote him on it, which he said I could: "Seeing your name on a book gets old really fast, but trying to make one that sings all the way through can be endlessly interesting." Now that is something I look forward to, and it also reminds me to keep raising the bar on my own expectations for my writing! Be sure to keep an eye out for his next novel, The Artsy Smartsy Club, which he thinks is possibly his best work yet.

In other news, my 6-year-old, Ryan, created his own little vanity press the other night. He set up a "writing stand" in our living room. The rest of us were supposed to come there and write stories with the pens, pencils, & paper he provided. Then he would make a cover, illustrate the stories, & bind them with staples. (Amazingly he decided not to charge for that service, though he charged 5 cents apiece for sharpening pencils, and managed to need 4 of them sharpened for his illustrations.) It was challenging to write a story on demand while he waited, especially one that would be very short and easy to illustrate, but I wrote an extremely low-conflict story about a pig's journey to Jupiter, with too many pages, and he patiently illustrated the whole thing and made a color cover with the title written in a "fancy font". Too funny! (And knowing Ryan, within a few years he may have invented his own printing press to do the job right!)

Also, my brother in Hollywood is a "featured extra" in an upcoming episode of the TV show Las Vegas. He plays a crook who gets chased through a casino, and he creates a diversion by throwing a stack of $100 bills in the air. Only they aren't ordinary $100 bills--they have his picture on them, and they actually made up fake bills with my brother's picture on them! If my brother ever comes up with a list of 10 things he's done that most people haven't, it would put any list of mine to shame.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The day before yesterday, I went to a picture book workshop given by Lisa Wheeler. It was excellent! I got helpful tips and information out of every bit of it. (And if I may be permitted to brag a little, she used my manuscript as a good example twice, and also told me I can rhyme well! That's big praise coming from one of the queens of rhyme! That's not to say that my manuscript doesn't need plenty of work...but her critique gave me helpful advice for revision.)

Yesterday, I spent much of the day preparing, printing, collating, stapling, correcting, reprinting, and restapling entries for the SmartWriters.com W.I.N. competition and the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant competition. I got those out in the mail this morning so that is a lot off my plate! Now let's see if I can put them out of my mind until July (for SmartWriters) and September (for SCBWI), when they announce the winners.

Today I had lunch with a writer friend who should by all rights be the Next Big Thing in children's writing. She's supposed to get back to me next month with a critique of my YA novel that needs revision. I also plan to attend the NC/NE Texas SCBWI chapter meeting later this month to hear noted YA author A.M. Jenkins speak on rewriting & revising the YA novel.

My goals for the rest of this week are to do my taxes and to read the books I mentioned in my previous post. Then I plan to choose one of my unfinished writing projects and tackle it head-on. I also have a poem I'm looking for a home for. I'm trying to decide whether to submit it to a magazine, save it to use in a poetry collection someday, or find some other use for it.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Yesterday I woke up from a detailed and complex dream in which I was acting in a play about a teenage brother and sister. I had a line in my head I had to write down. As I continued drifting in & out of sleep, I kept waking up to write more and more. What I was writing was not what I had dreamed about, but was inspired by thoughts that came out of the dream. I ended up with 544 words towards what seems to be a somewhat edgy short story for an older YA audience. Right after I'd sworn to give up writing short stories, and one day after I'd decided maybe I should start writing more for the 10-14 age range than for older teens! Argh. A story like this seems almost completely unmarketable, but I feel compelled to at least finish it & see what I end up with. (I suppose it could be fodder for a novel if I added a lot of subplots, but that wasn't how it struck me, and I already have too many novels on the back burner!)

This week I finally bought the DVD of Where the Wild Things Are and Other Maurice Sendak Stories. Four of the stories have songs sung by Carole King that are positively infectious--we saw One Was Johnny at a library storytime a few years ago & the song has taken up residence in my brain ever since! My 4-year-old, Kyle, is particularly entranced with In the Night Kitchen, so we've been reading the book of that lately, also. It was also one of my favorites as a child and it makes hardly any sense at all--either that helps explain my love for absurd humor, or my love for absurd humor helps explain why I liked the book! One thing I've noticed is that 4 of the 6 stories on the Maurice Sendak video have characters threatening to eat (or at least cook) other characters, and in one case it actually happens. I'm not sure what to infer from that, but I found it interesting! (Now I don't feel so weird for telling my kids I'm going to gobble them up!)

I'm busy this week preparing writing contest entries and reading picture books for my picture book workshop. Once I'm done with all that, I've got two novels set aside to read: Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, & Crown Me! by Kathryn Lay. I'm eager to get to those!