A BLOG FOR READERS AND AUTHORS OF MTV BOOKS
Sunday, May 31, 2009
At two of my recent book signings people asked how I did research for my books and how I was able to keep things current for teens. Well, first off, I am the oldest of five kids and my youngest sister is graduating high school next week. We still like a lot of the same movies, music and fashion trends. When I was editing Shrinking Violet I would often go to her for word choice, fashion advice and other details that can really make or break the believability of the book.
Also, in many ways I have carried my teen years with me. It’s no mistake that I write for this age. High school was the best and worst years of my life, filled with so many emotions, friends and non-friends. I like to read about teens and watch movies with teen characters. This all falls into the research category too.
I also taught middle school for a while and tutored kids of all ages. Being around kids in a learning environment really allowed me to pick up on their fears, desires and basic mannerisms.
Nowadays, I often tote my laptop with me to my local Starbucks and eavesdrop on teens just hanging out as I write. Their conversations make for great background noise. But most importantly, I really enjoy being around teenagers and hearing what they have to say. I definitely believe that if I knew half of what I knew then about life that I know now, I wouldn’t have stressed so much. Of course, the only downside to that is I wouldn’t have much to write about!
I can definitely relate to a lot of the issues and anxieties that teens are dealing with. But ask me that when my own kids are in high school and see if I say the same thing—lol! But my most important advice of all is to keep it real!
Friday, May 29, 2009
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
In the summer, all that changes. I still get up at 4:30 a.m., but now I write frantically until 6:30, when a seven-year-old boy starts chasing the cat through the house with a Nerf gun. For the rest of the day, I write in fits and starts. I may come up with a few brilliant pages while I’m in the shower. I might scribble several paragraphs on a napkin while we’re at the BMX track. I may pay my son fifty cents to be quiet and read Stuart Little for an hour while I compose a chapter of eye-hurting brilliance. ("Mom, is there a Stuart Little 2? He never finds his friend Margalo and the book seems unfinished." He will be an editor yet. He will give the likes of E. B. White the what-for.)
And honestly, I kind of prefer a wacky schedule. My writing process is controlled chaos anyway. I write some of the first chapter, some of the last chapter, and some of the middle of a novel, in that order. I never know what part will come to me on a certain day. It seems fitting that I write the whole of a novel during the whole of my daily life.
Of course, at some point I have to sit down and concentrate and read through the whole thing, in order, to see if it all makes sense.
That will be when my son goes to swim camp.
As for the writing itself, I think there are definitely differences between novels I write in the summer and novels I write at other times of year. Novels I write in the summer contain a seven-year-old-son-type character. For instance, last summer I wrote The Ex Games, which will be published on October 6. The heroine of that novel has a little brother who follows her around, making up rap lyrics about her. He also succeeds in slipping a whoopee cushion under her while her ex-boyfriend is nearby. In other words, when my son is around, my romantic comedies degrade into fart noises.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
As someone who suffers from WWDD (Writing While Distracted Disorder), summer is full of hazards.
Take the simple act of letting the dogs out to play on a May morning. I lift my face to the sun, breathe in some fresh air, and…are those weeds in my rock garden? No way! Three hours later, drenched with weed-pulling sweat, I stagger in to take a shower, slather lotion on my sunburn, and collapse in my favorite chair for a short (two hour) nap. Another day bites the dust.
Some days are worse than that. On my way home from work last Tuesday I stopped at the library to check on the status of FAIREST OF THEM ALL, which I’d left for the library director to review. She gave me the good news that she’s adding it to their collection and scheduled me for a library visit. Then she handed me her card and asked me to e-mail her some information. I drove home anticipating my first library visit and reminding myself what I needed to send her.
After the dog greeting frenzy subsided, I turned on my computer to make some notes. But a thrashing noise caught my attention. From experience I know that unusual noises in the house equal wild creatures dragged through the pet door. I started the search. Was a bunny behind the bookcase? A weasel wedged under the sofa? Looking up, I saw a male oriole fluttering against the window in our two-story entryway. From the bird slobber on the glass, I knew the poor guy had been there for a while.
Still wearing my skirt and sweater, I hauled the dusty stepladder out of the garage and wrestled it under the window. Too short. Back to the garage for the fishnet. I am not a fan of ladders, and juggling the fishnet in one hand made it that much worse. I planted my shaky foot on the top step--the one with the warning not to step there—and stood on tiptoe to reach the flailing bird. Clutching the window ledge with one hand, I swiped at him. Nothing but air. He zoomed into a second floor bedroom. I scampered—okay, minced--down the ladder and dashed up the stairs where I found him hanging on the screen. Now I had him.
When he saw the net coming, he soared to the guest room window. I scooped, and he flew to a picture on the wall. I nudged him off the corner of the frame. He zipped back to the window. After the third trip, I finally netted him. But he wrapped his toes in the net and refused to let go. His toes looked so small and fragile I was afraid to pry them apart. I loosened my hold on him in hopes that he’d loosen his grip on the net.
Whoosh! Back to the window.
After several more rounds of window tag, I netted him again—without the toe tangle. The poor little oriole was panting. I was panting harder. Holding him gently but firmly I carried him to the deck, gave him a drink in the birdbath, and watched him soar into the woods. The next day he was back at our sunflower feeder shooting dirty looks at Sebastian the cat.
See, great intentions shot to pieces. And, BTW, I have no idea what information I was supposed to send the librarian.
An isolated incident? I wish. Another time I'll tell you about the raccoon in the laundry room, the garter snake on my kitchen faucet, the groundhog behind the TV or….
Further BTW—this blog was interrupted while I ran water in the goldfish pond, watered the plants under the sunroom, weeded PART of the rock garden in the backyard, filled the bird feeders, and cut asparagus for lunch.
But there's always next winter, right?
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I'd love to start off this blog by saying that I'm getting ready to pack two huge suitcases and load them in the car along with my family and head off to my gorgeous beach home on the west coast of Florida. Yes, the place where I will write the great teen MTV novel while basking in the sun and sipping on iced cold lemonade. But alas, the beach house is only a figment of my imagination--at least for now. So really, how does my writing change during the summer? My kids get out of school the beginning of June so my writing time will definitely have to be scheduled into every free moment that I can hold on too. I like to set weekly writing goals in the summer so that I feel accomplished while I am enjoying plenty of outdoor fun. Last summer I finished my second novel, Indigo Blues, which I recently sold, so that was definitely a good feeling!
Even though the summer is usually about flexibility and fun, if I keep my writing goals structured then I have the perfect balance of work and play. So this summer I plan to revise an older novel and get about halfway through a new novel. I will take the first month to revise, probably working a few hours a day and then the second half of the summer will be spent plunging face first into my new novel. I am really looking forward to both these endeavors. So can I do it? Stay tuned and find out… Oh, the self-pressure is on!
Friday, May 15, 2009
To win copies of Going Too Far and The Boys Next Door, comment at the Bare Ass Cottage.
To win copies of Going Too Far, The Boys Next Door, and Major Crush, comment at Fantastic Book Reviews.
Thanks to the bloggers for hosting me, and good luck to everyone who enters!
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Instead, what I do when I’m at a crossroads in my writing (or just plain stuck) is read how-to-write-a-book books. Lots of these give advice on a specific element of novels. Some that I’ve read in the past few weeks are Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell and Bullies, Bastards and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction by Jessica Morrell. But my favorite how-to-write-a-book books are part instruction manual, part memoir by writers who have Made It.
The memoir I read most recently was Stephen King’s On Writing. Of all the how-to books, this one’s probably cited most often in the how-to literature, next to Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (which I found depressing, because she is even crazier than I am when it comes to writing = not helpful) and Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style (which, as has been widely noted, breaks many of its own grammar and style rules). I’ve resisted reading King because I don’t like his genre, I did not enjoy reading The Shining, and I am tired of people telling me I can’t use adverbs because Stephen King said so in On Writing. I will use adverbs if I damn well please, and if and when I decide not to use them anymore, I will let you know.
I'm glad I finally broke down and read it. The book starts with his early life, which he admits he remembers only patches of. The patches occur when he endured a painful medical procedure or vomited. All of which you would expect from Stephen King, and if you were reading this book solely because you were his fan and wanted to know how his writing got so twisted, well, here’s your answer. After he used the bathroom in the woods and wiped with poison ivy, I skipped ahead a few sections.
The payoff for me was the last two-thirds of the book, in which he talks about his writing preferences (ex: no adverbs) and the writing life. Here is where I find solace in these sorts of books, whether or not I’m a fan of the author. The particulars of writing preferences may be different, but writers come to those preferences the same way, by experience, by writing lots of novels, many of which are never published. And the particulars of the writing life differ wildly, but the devotion to writing every day, and feeling a little sick if you do not--those are always the same.
Another of these books in my recent reading spree was Dennis Palumbo’s Writing from the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within. Now, this title promises a lot, and I don’t think the book delivered. Basically the message is that if you feel unloved and undervalued in your writing career, you should channel those feelings into your novels, and write characters with the universal feelings of being unloved and undervalued. The message was not exactly supported by the story of the author’s friend, Let’s Call Him Larry, who was a brilliant writer but never could catch a break in the industry, gradually got old and fat and bitter, lost all his friends, and finally found himself at the end of his rope, in an interview as a college writing teacher. The professor interviewing him was about to dismiss him when a textbook fell off the table and opened to what it said was one of the finest examples of TV comedy writing--a Norman Lear comedy episode that Larry had actually penned!!! Hooray, Larry got the job! Palumbo is holding this up as a positive example of sticktuitiveness: you think you are working for the writing, but occasionally the writing will pay you back in an act of kindness. However, I did not see this as a positive example. It made me want to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head in the middle of the morning.
But again, I loved hearing Palumbo’s own, often hilarious, accounts of his experience writing, mostly as a screenwriter for TV shows like Welcome Back Kotter (which I loved so dearly when I was 6, and probably taught me a lot about comedy). If you have ever gotten a “good rejection” from an agent or editor that said she enjoyed your story and might like to see it again if only you changed all the bridesmaids in the wedding to space assassins, or something equally apropos of nothing, you will get a good laugh out of this book. (Which will fortify you for the story of Larry.)
My unexpected favorite was Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing by David Morrell. Morrell wrote the novel First Blood that later became, more or less, the Rambo movie series. At first Morrell seems inordinately proud of Rambo, and if you have not read his novels but remember the conservative pro-military fervor that surrounded the movies in the 1980s, you might find his pride a bit off-putting. But he goes on to detail his struggle toward publication, the strange things that happen to your books when they are made into movies, and horror stories about book signings that I previously could not have imagined, even in my heightened state of paranoia about public appearances and the audience that does not show up to them. I particularly loved his explanation of why he prefers not to write in first person, which I found logical but utterly wrong, something only an English professor (him) or a longtime English graduate student (me) would come up with, because we think too hard. Even more so than while reading the Palumbo and King books, I felt that Morrell and I are traveling the same path. He is way ahead of me; and Rambo, formerly following him, is now in front of him and clearing his path with a machete; and I may never reach the spot on the path where Morrell and Rambo are standing now--but it’s the same rocky path uphill both ways, and it’s comforting to see that traveling it is not impossible.
My critique partner Cathy loves how-to-write-a-book books even more than I do. My critique partner Vicki never touches the stuff. How about you? What are some of your faves? For good or ill, has a writing book ever changed your direction at the crossroads?
Friday, May 8, 2009
The three weeks since the launch of FAIREST OF THEM ALL have been amazing. I've felt like an A-list celebrity rushing from book signings to writing workshops to events held in my honor. What an incredible thrill!