A BLOG FOR READERS AND AUTHORS OF MTV BOOKS
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
I have not been able to get to this beloved blog as much as I would have liked to over the summer so I thought I'd write about my WRITING TIME AND PLACE. I crave writing time, it is food for my brain. If too many days pass and I don't have any time to write, I get cranky! So now that school is back in session and two out of three of my kids are in school, I am back to my writing schedule.
Basically, I designate three mornings a week to writing. I get a sitter for my baby and walk (run) off to my pseudo office at Starbucks! The comfy orange chairs are reserved for my friend and critique group partner Christina Gonzalez (The Red Umbrella) and I. Well, really they are not reserved but we wish they were. On these days I try my best to write at least 1000 words. Christina and I work on our own stories but pause to discuss ideas or gossip (I'm not gonna lie:). The other two school days I write during my baby's nap, while giving the dirty dishes and pile of laundry the evil eye!
Then when I'm editing or really in the middle of a manuscript, I sneak some writing in at night or on the weekends. At these times I either write in my home office or on the couch with my laptop. By nature I am a night owl and enjoy writing when all is quiet but since I can't maintain my college day hours, I have switched my schedule a bit. But no matter what, I am always thinking about my characters in the shower, waiting to pick my boys up at school or while making dinner.
Okay, back to my work in progress, which for now is titled, Tarnished. I would love to hear when and where other people write.
Monday, August 30, 2010
I also have major writerly crushes on those that create new worlds so masterfully. Something I would love to do and am trying to do in a project that is set aside right now, but I will get back to soon. I'd love to write something otherworldly or dystopian, but I fear I'd never get it down quite the way the masters like JK Rowling, Melissa Marr and Scott Westerfeld do. I am amazed at how lost I can get in the worlds they create, worlds that become as vivid and real as the one I live in every day. I only hope I can take the more fantastical story ideas that I have and do them some sort of justice. But those are three of the authors I will read over and over to gain inspiration.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
You may ask, "Why do you have a crush on somebody who doesn't even write what you write?" Well, I DO write adult romantic comedy. Just not very well, apparently. And for the first time in years, I'm not even working on one at the moment because I have so many YA projects.
It's not that I don't love writing YA. I do. But my plan was always to write adult and YA romantic comedy, back and forth. The YA romantic comedy, Major Crush, sold quickly, kicking off that half of my career. The adult romantic comedies never did.
Luckily I have Jennifer Crusie to write those books for me. I have a terrible habit of reading a book--even a great book, even a classic--and thinking, "I would have done this differently." With Ms. Crusie I rarely feel this way. The last of her books I read was Fast Women last Thanksgiving, and I remember reading a few pages and saying to myself, "I AM SO GLAD TO BE READING THIS JENNIFER CRUSIE BOOK!" It's a nonstop party in my mind, I tell you.
Here is how much I love her books. I don't often recommend books to my mother because she is extremely picky and very snobby about romance novels in particular. She is more of a high-falutin' literature kind of girl. But Tell Me Lies is my favorite Crusie, I had just finished it, and I loved it SO MUCH that on a whim I sent it to my mother for her birthday. A month later I checked in to see if my mother had read it, and whether she had liked it. Not only had she read it and liked it, she had proceeded in that month to read all of the Jennifer Crusie books. ALL OF THEM.
So I guess it is not just me.
Even I have not read all of them. Here is my Jennifer Crusie TBR pile:
And I am thankful I have so much left to read. I savor them.
My gosh, have I sold you yet? Are you wondering where to start? As I've said, my favorite it Tell Me Lies. People who already like Crusie seem divided on whether that book is their favorite, too, or whether they hate it with the white heat of a thousand suns. It is one of those polarizing titles. The one everyone seems to love (though it is not one of my favorites) is Bet Me. I'm also partial to Welcome to Temptation and Crazy for You. Another good place to start would be Maybe This Time, which will be published on Tuesday! Congratulations Ms. Crusie!
Mine is pre-ordered.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
I’ve had dozens of writerly crushes over the years, but I’ll limit this blog to my top six. I discovered my first crush when I was a misfit preteen who liked animals more than people. (Some days I still do!) Paul Gallico wrote lovely allegorical novels featuring animal characters who were often mistreated. The allegory flew over my head, but I fell in love with Thomasina the cat, Ludmila the cow, the Snow Goose, and his other charming creatures.
A later crush was Richard Peck. I’m a sucker for a man with a sense of humor, so crushing on him was inevitable. I laughed through Ghosts I Have Been and the rest of the Blossom Culp series, moved to A Long Way From Chicago, and spent A Year Down Yonder, giggling like a love-struck fool. What a guy!
My crush list wouldn’t be complete without Lois Lowry and J.K. Rowling. I’m in awe of their ability to create imaginary worlds down to the smallest detail. Lois Lowry’s works have sensitive characters and a mystical quality that draws me in and holds me spellbound. J.K. Rowling fashioned a world in which the setting has as much personality as the humans—and nonhumans. Speaking of world building, reading Uglies gave me a major writerly crush on Scott Westerfeld whose futuristic world blew me away.
The last crush on my short list is Michael Palmer, a best-selling author who weaves mystery, murder, and obscure medical conditions into page-turning thrillers. When I joined Facebook, I worked up the nerve to message him introducing myself and telling him about my first novel, fairest of them all, which was in publication. He sent me a gracious reply, congratulated me on being published, and invited me to get in touch if I was ever in Boston. How could I not have a crush on an author like that?
That’s my short list of writerly crushes. With so many spectacular books being published all the time, I expect many more writerly crushes in my future.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Sunday, August 22, 2010
However, in narrowing things down, the one that immediately came to mind is Anne Rivers Siddons. Specifically her first novel, Heartbreak Hotel.
That cover is what it looked like when I discovered it, hidden in the bowels of my high school library. I've since worn through about six different copies. I love this book and the way that Siddons writes in it, because it's so lush and alive. She brings to life within the first three pages a very specific type of heroine, that could have only existed in that place, at that time (being a college town in Alabama in 1956). It's very much a coming-of-age story, where Maggie, the heroine, learns about herself over the course of one summer, within the context of the bigger events surrounding her and what has always transported me into that world is the beauty and lushness of Siddons' language and cadences. (Yeah, I sound more than a little lovestruck, don't I?)
Another one of my writerly crushes is screenwriter Richard Curtis (Four Weddings & a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually).
Even though the ending of Four Weddings completely annoyed me (I've long suspected that some American woman did bad things to him at some point, because he's not very kind in his portrayals of them, all the way back to his adaptation of Bridget Jones's Diary.) the reason I love him as a writer is because he's not afraid to make the hard choices and take the easy way out in every story he tells. He gets all of the nuances of love and humanity and isn't afraid to let his characters make mistakes. Big ones. That they can't always recover from. That's the sort of emotion I try to infuse my work with. It's a work in progress.
One more crush I should mention is Barbara O'Neal/Barbara Samuel.
And not just because she's got a great first name. She has such a beautiful command of her craft, both strong and ethereal, which is really quite a trick, when you think about it. Her lush, evocative use of language just makes me want to go back and practice until I Get it Right.
Oh, and because I wouldn't be me without mentioning some musicians, I love the stories that Sting and Mary Chapin Carpenter tell within the context of their songs. In four minutes, they can spin epics. I could go on forever, but I'll leave you with just one example from Chapin's latest CD, The Age of Miracles.
She has a song, "Mrs. Hemingway," that's an imagining of the story of the love affair between Ernest and his first wife, Hadley (about whom not much is known, comparatively speaking).
Two steamer trunks in the carriage
Safe arrival we cabled back home
It was just a few days before Christmas
We filled our stockings with wishes
And walked for hours
Arm in arm through the rain, to the glassed-in café
It held us like hothouse flowers
Just right there, in those few lines, she's drawn this lovely, poignant, vivid picture. I wish I could find a link to a recording, but there don't seem to be any, because the music really adds to the ambience-- just a lovely, gentle waltz that speaks to another time.
Okay, I'll quit waxing rhapsodic now and let someone else have a shot.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
I always wonder about how authors name books - or even if they do!! I've named all of my books except two.
I could not for the life of me think of names for what became LOCAL GIRLS and RICH BOYS. I thought the title BAREFOOT SUMMER would work for LOCAL GIRLS, but my editor was like, "Eh." In the end, it was my editor who came up with the titles for those books. They're short. They go together. They describe the books. Supposedly. I have to admit, I didn't, and don't love those titles. I think they sound kinda dumb. As in vapid and stupid. I mean, I do love the pictures on the covers, but when combined with the titles they look really just stupid. As in bubblegum, pop song, air bubble stupid. And I think they're not like that. The girls aren't dumb. The boys aren't dumb. It's not about silly people, yet the names sort of seem silly. But, I couldn't come up with anything better. So they stuck.
I called THE BOOK OF LUKE by its title from the start. But when it came time to submit the manuscript to my editor I wasn't sure she'd go for the biblical sounding name. So I offered up ALMOST PERFECT as a title. Turns out my publisher loved the LUKE title. And so it stuck over the alternative.
PLAN B was PLAN B from the first words I typed on the page.
My adult books were always what they were except DRESS REHEARSAL. Which I changed to JUST DESSERTS to play off the character's profession midway through. My editor loved DRESS REHEARSAL and so I changed it back.
The book I'm writing now doesn't have a title. My friend's 9 year old daughter came up with the title HEARTLESS. But that just sounds so mean, and it's not a mean book. So I'm waiting for that a-ha moment when the perfect title just pops into my head. I sure hope it happens soon. I hate not having a name. I hate looking at the first page of my manuscript and reading "Book #5." I want a title!!!
So how did you come up with your book's title? Or did you?
Monday, August 16, 2010
I used to. Not so long ago I was at the gym every day, sweating it up with the best of them. But then my love of the gym was overtaken by my love of writing, and as my word count went up the daily visits with the treadmill fell by the wayside.
For a while I didn't really think about it. I'd traded one obsession for another, and I figured as long as I still ate healthy food then my lack of exercise wouldn't be a problem. But I just got a big wake-up call.
Last week I woke up with what doctor's call a 'tension headache.' It's the same as a migraine but without the pain of a headache. My head felt like it was in a vice and I could feel numbness spreading across my nose and cheeks. It felt like someone had rested a hand on my head. Oh my God, I thought, I'm having a stroke!
So I went to the doctor and he introduced me to this term called 'tension headache' which is apparently something people get when they are really stressed, have bad posture and don't exercise. When the doctor asked me if anything could be causing me stress I laughed in his face. "Oh please, I'm a writer!" I cackled, "What do YOU think??"
So he sent me off to a physiotherapist and now I have to go three times a week to fix my neck, which is the source of the tension headache. If I got my ass off the couch every once in a while this probably wouldn't have happened. I keep making excuses for my lack of exercise, like I'm too busy with my writing, but then I remember reading an interview with Augusten Burroughs, and HE exercises every day and is really buff, and still manages to churn out the odd book or two. But still I can't seem to find the time, and I'm paying the price for it.
So tell me, do YOU find time to exercise around writing, and if so, please tell me how!!!
My town also got a farmer's market this year so I've been able to buy a lot of fresh local produce as well. And speaking of fabulous things in my town, this brings us to the biggie....
Yep, those are two big waterslides you see in the center there. And not pictures are the drop slides, which are part slide, part free fall into the diving pool.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Assuming my editor likes the book and accepts it (see above re: finding out I am not as brilliant as I thought), soon all will be revealed to you: the not-fabulous-but-less-frightening title, the back cover description, the glorious cover itself...and I will get a revision letter. But that’s not the hard part! I love revisions.
Okay, there was one time when I didn’t love revisions, but that’s because I didn’t agree with them. Five times out of six I have agreed with the revision letter, and it hasn’t taken me long to use the editor’s advice to create a version of the book that’s better than the one before. If writing a novel is like cooking from scratch, including grinding the fresh spices and other stuff that does not actually go on at my house, revising a novel is like popping a frozen dinner into the microwave. It’s all right there for you and it’s easy!
The hard part—for me, the excruciating part—is coming up with the next book. I’ve had so many ideas for books rejected during my little baby career that I second-guess myself, and I’m afraid to start anything at all. I did get an idea while I was on vacation in Myrtle Beach in June, and I did a lot of research for it while I was there. But I'm afraid it’s not good enough.
So I will clean the bathrooms. I will clean the garage. I will organize my closet. I will cook gourmet dinners--I mean, I am not grinding spices or anything, but it's better than the frozen chicken fingers we've been having while I was trying to finish this book. I will read a lot. And then one day about two weeks from now, my husband will say, "Why are you so grumpy? Have you stopped writing? Can you please go write something and cheer up? Jesus!" I will start writing the new book before I really think I'm ready, and that's how the hard part will end.
Monday, August 9, 2010
Last week I got an email from my brother Dan, who lives in Virginia. He’d gone to lunch with his friend “Sam” who’s writing his first novel. Sam knows I'm an author, so he was picking Dan’s brain for my secret to getting published. Like most authors, I receive lots of questions from people asking for the key to getting their books published. If I knew the answer to that, my novels would have been on the shelves 16 years ago. Even though there is no magic formula, writers can follow some steps to improve their chances:
ü Read widely in your genre, concentrating on books that have won awards for excellence. While it’s great to read the classics, be sure you read works that have been published in the last year or two. Writing trends change, and it’s important to keep current.
ü Write frequently in your genre, every day if possible.
ü Study writing techniques. Attend writing workshops, take college classes, follow authors’ blogs, visit writing chat rooms, subscribe to writing journals or e-zines, and read how-to books.
ü Join a professional writing association. On the Web you can find an association for almost every genre: mystery, romance, science fiction and fantasy, nonfiction, and children’s writing, to name a few. These associations provide almost endless opportunities for networking and education.
ü Join or form a writing/critique group. Hopefully, you will meet like-minded writers through your association, but you can also check local bookstores and libraries to see what writing groups meet there. Look for writers who are at or slightly above your level of expertise so you can pick their brains for ways to improve your skills.
ü Be certain your writing is up to professional standards by getting feedback from other writers, editors, and agents. Many writing conferences give you the opportunity to sign up for critiques from professionals at an added charge as well as breakout critique sessions with other writers that are included in your regular conference fees.
ü Be open to suggestions and criticism. All the feedback in the world is useless if you ignore it. Polish your writing until it is the best it can possibly be.
ü Research publishers through their Web sites, catalogues, and market guides. Target your submissions and follow all guidelines to the letter.
ü Keep trying, learning, and improving your skills until you meet with success!
Pictured above are some of the members of PAL of Central Iowa: Kimberly Stuart, Wendy Delsol, Wini Moranville, Kali VanBaale, Susan Maupin Schmid, me, Rebecca Janni, Mike Manno, and Sharelle Byars Moranville. We have books published in a variety of genres.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
I thought I'd share my idea process with you since I just finished writing Graveyard Shift and am about to start a new novel. Usually when I get about three quarters done with a book, I start entertaining new ideas for my next novel, storing them in the back of my brain. Sometimes I might write a quick synopsis for the idea or share with a friend via email and then it's back to work.
Well, this time around the ideas flooded in. By the time I finished Graveyard Shift I had about five viable ideas for novels. They ranged from historical YA to funny middle grade to contemporary YA. I liked all of the ideas and really wasn't sure which one I felt most compelled to write first. I even thought about going back to an older novel that needs work but that I still love. I did put together a synopsis for one of the ideas that my editor suggested and that I intend to write as long as he's interested. But while I'm waiting to hear back from him, I thought I might take a stab at one of the other ideas.
So I let them duke it out in my head, waiting to hear which idea screamed the loudest. In the meantime, I read a couple of fantastic novels, surfed the internet for inspiration and a lovely procrastination tool too:)! But still I was not sure which one to go with.
Then a few days later I went to Macy's to get my makeup done for my last Indigo Blues signing at Barnes & Noble. I would say that I'm a diva (getting my makeup done and all) but really I hardly ever wear makeup and thought I'd let the lovely expert fix me up, instead of risking looking like a clown. Anyway, while the Estee Lauder girl asked me to look up so she could apply mascara to my eyelashes an idea hit me. I had just been reading an article on my iPhone which didn't have much to do with my idea but somehow triggered my new story plot. I'm not ready to share yet as I'm still formulating the plot points but it's a mystery YA, a little different from my other books but filed with romance and tension and high stakes.
Once this idea hit me, I knew it was the one I wanted to run with. I just had to wait for that gut feeling. So there you have it folks, for me I have to wait for the right idea to get my adrenaline pumping! And now I just have to find the time to write the book!