Monday, June 30, 2008

Awesome workshop

I spent three intense but wonderful days this past weekend at the "Awesome Austin Writers' Workshop" hosted by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Greg Leitich Smith, mostly at their home with the exception of a party at Helen Hemphill's fabulous downtown Austin loft. This involved 25 to 30 writers, in-depth critiques, and excellent food and conversation. I haven't managed to process the whole experience yet, but it definitely lived up to the "Awesome" in its name!

But it wasn't just awesome; for me, I think it even bordered on life-changing. If I look at myself at the protagonist of my own life and try to figure out what I want, what my underlying character goals and motivation are...I think I got some of those things this weekend. While I didn't achieve my external goal of getting a book published, I experienced payoff in some of the areas that make me want to be a writer in the first place. I felt that I was heard. I felt that I was validated. I felt that I was taken seriously. I learned a lot. And the creative charge was amazing!

In my teen years, I was very involved with theatre. I loved the process of acting, bringing new worlds and characters to life (similar to what I still do in writing), but much of what I loved about theatre--the thing that kept me hanging around even when I didn't get a part--was the energy and atmosphere of being surrounded by creative people, bouncing their creativity off of one another, expanding their horizons together, and challenging each other to do excellent work. I have felt a taste of that creative energy again at writing conferences and writing retreats, and even to an extent in my last job as a technical writer, surrounded by other writers, most of whom had their own creative aspirations outside the job. But in my job, we had interesting people focusing on largely boring work. We could spice it up with creative approaches, but I still couldn't get too excited about hardware driver code. At this weekend's workshop, we had interesting people focusing on interesting work, really delving into it and inspiring one another to grow and see things in new ways. This meeting of minds and ideas in the framework of a vibrant and supportive writing community was far more intoxicating than the wine served at the party portion.

At the end of the weekend, Jane Peddicord described Cynthia and Greg as being like fairy godparents for the Austin children's writing scene, and indeed the experience they helped create for us was magical! But I'm hoping that, unlike Cinderella's pumpkin/stagecoach magic, the magic from this won't wear off anytime soon. I feel that I ended the weekend in a different--and better--place than I started it in. It has motivated me to dive back into my own writing with new perspective, and I'm hoping the friendships I made there will continue.

Some of the other participants have also blogged about this: see entries by Greg Leitich Smith, PJ Hoover, and Jo Whittemore. I also found myself in the photos on Greg & PJ's blogs!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Draft done!!

I am pleased to announce I finally have a draft of my midgrade novel, Purple Panic, completed, a whopping 5 years, 7 months, and 12 days after starting it! (Scroll down to my November 10, 2002 blog entry to see when I wrote about starting it!). The current manuscript is 38,488 words long, a far cry from the short chapter book I thought it might be when I started it. I won't be sure what I think of it until it has time to sit for a while, but it's at least to a point where I can let my 9-year-old finish reading it! And now I have to print out all 144 pages.

Meanwhile, I desperately need to get a freelance article done but haven't managed to talk to my interview subject yet, and I'm trying to read and form coherent thoughts on nearly 300 pages of manuscripts for a workshop in a few days. Not to mention dealing with a crazy toddler and a two stir-crazy boys who are home for the summer! They start Magic Camp in two weeks, but for now, it's full days of wall-to-wall kids. (Indeed they do run from wall to wall and back again, leaping and jumping and crashing into things and each other with more energy than I can handle!)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cool clusters

I've seen these on other people's blogs the past few days, and I find them fascinating! These are word clusters of some of the most commonly used words in my manuscripts. The Wordle application generates them in randomly chosen styles, fonts, and colors.

Click on them to see them larger!

Here's one from the midgrade I'm almost done drafting right now, Purple Panic, which is obviously about chewing gum! This one seems perfect to me.

And here's my favorite, from my YA-in-progress, End of the Line. This was the first one I generated, and as soon as I saw it I gasped because it looked just like something my protagonist might doodle about her own story. (I've noticed the protagonist's name doesn't appear in it, though!)

For my older YA novel that's the closest to being done, Chasing Monday, I had it generate a few versions with different fonts and colors, but I think this rather fish-shaped one is my favorite of the ones I saved. Clearly, my protagonist is a little self-absorbed...but since it's basically about her figuring out who she is, I guess "I'm" is a decent word to be the most common.

Then I even made some for the picture book manuscripts I just submitted to the mustard writing contest! Think the word "mustard" is prominent enough? It's certainly more prominent than in a typical manuscript!

And finally I did one for my abandoned NaNoWriMo novel from 2006, which I only got about 7,000 words into. This almost makes me want to go back to the manuscript!

I did a few others besides those, but most of them didn't seem worth saving.

Oh no, my template!!

I just accidentally overwrote my highly customized Blogger template, which made my blog look like part of my website. It had tons of custom images and my own navigation bar, and made everything look seamless...and now it is gone, gone, gone! I don't even have a copy of it or a printout of it! I have no idea how to modify the new generation of Blogger templates the way I had modified that one years ago, now that I've accidentally migrated to the newer Blogger platform, where everything seems to use more complicated scripts. Argh!! It may be time to retire this blog and replace it with the one I use more often, anyway... but I love the history of this one since it goes back to July 2001! I can't believe I didn't save the old template at all, but of course, I didn't realize I was about to lose it or I would have.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I sat down to write on my midgrade novel today, and can't believe I ended up writing 5,408 words! I didn't even mean for it to get that much longer at all! It's now at 37,308 words. It's mostly finished, but longer than I wanted it to be, and it still needs a wrap-up scene, which could probably be just a thousand words long or so. I also think I made a plot misstep today, which I'll have to rethink, so I may have to revise the way things go down in the section I wrote today.

The whole manuscript has gotten sloppier and sloppier since I started working on it again this spring, and I've dropped entire characters, etc., that I didn't mean to drop, just because I didn't keep going back to previous sections to get their names and couldn't really remember them or how they fit in. I need to add several characters back in. I won't feel like I'm done with a draft until I actually write a final scene for it, but wow, I did get pretty far and I wrote some stuff today that I really liked! Now I am tired.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

No more pencils, no more books? Not quite!

In 4 minutes, my kids get out of school for the summer. I'm not exactly crazy about this, but at least homework crises will be over for a while!

As for me, I originally set a goal to be done with a draft of my midgrade novel by June 11. I thought I was going to surpass that goal and be done on Memorial Day weekend, but busyness got in the way, and now I haven't written on it in over a week. I tried at the library a couple of days ago, but got nowhere with it. I feel like I've been knocked off my horse and can't figure out how to get back on. But June 11 is still 6 days away, and our busyness is slowing down with school ending, so I'm hoping to get back on that horse within a day or two and make it to the finish line by my goal!

And speaking of my kids and writing, the week before last I helped my older son submit a haiku he wrote to the "Your Own Pages" section of Highlights magazine. When I was a kid, I very much wanted to submit something to a kids' or teen magazine (I remember perusing the readers' writing sections of Cricket and Seventeen longingly over the years), but never got around to sending anything. So I felt good about helping him get this sent off, whether they choose to publish it or not! Though actually, he was already published in our local SCBWI newsletter at the age of 3. ;-)

P.S. Wasn't Alice Cooper clever to write that "School's Out" song that radio stations have been compelled to play every May & June for years afterwards, even 36 years later? And it runs through my head at the end of the school year whether I want it to or not!

P.P.S. And speaking of the end of school, we finished paying off our student loans yesterday! Nearly 11 years after my husband got out of grad school... It was pretty anti-climactic since the debt has been low for a while, but still felt good to pay something off!