September 28, 2009 at 8:46 pm (Uncategorized)
This year has been amazing for me, personally and professionally. Back in June I got to hear Tim O’Brien (The Things They Carried) speak at The Big Read conference in Minnesota. He was speaking to librarians but the things he said really spoke to me as a writer. The thing I remember most was how he talked about mining your fears for writing material. I’ve remembered and thought about that a lot since. I think it will prove very useful.
Now, I get to hear Joyce Carol Oates speak at the NYLA conference in mid-October. I hope she’ll talk about her writing process as much as anything. To cap it off, I expect to get to hear Joseph Bruchac (a personal hero) speak at our Big Read at the end of the month in Corning, NY. Hopefully I’ll get to meet him too!
What more could an aspiring writer ask for?
In his book Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass talks about novels that are truly moving and memorable. He says, “A truly big book is a perfect blend of inspired premise, larger-than-life characters, high-stakes story, deeply felt themes, vivid setting and much more.” Thinking about my middle grade mystery novel The Light on the Hill, which I wrote ten years ago and I am now trying to edit, it points out some of what’s wrong.
Inspired premise – I just don’t know. There’s a ghost who looks just like the main character, trapped in reliving the nightmare of her death and asks for her Emma’s help. Original? Inspired? I’m not sure.
Larger-than-life characters – No, my characters are fairly simple. Perhaps even a little one dimensional. Well, maybe a bit quirky. Jane is the scientific, precocious type at age 11. Micah is hyper but a nice guy. Emma is the girl next door – straight blong hair, big blue eyes, kind of short. Pretty, but normal. How do I elevate her? She’s self aware and sensitive – more so than many girls her age. Self possessed and directed, thoughtful – but larger than life? No. How do I elevate them?
High stakes story – Well, Emma feels linked to the ghost and is very worried about her but she doesn’t stand to really lose anything if she doesn’t help her. That’s definitely a problem.
Deeply felt themes – Family secrets. An excellent theme but do I communicate it effectively?
Vivid setting – I think this is actually my strong point. My writing group confirmed my thinking that I needed to cut 1/3 to 1/2 of what I had in the first chapter, but now I’m worried that I’ll be cutting out my setting. Do I need to cut or add more to make it more compelling?
And much more – Yikes! What more am I missing?
I could abandon it as an early attempt, which I’ve learnd a lot since simply through writing more. But I don’t want to abandon it, I want to take this draft and turn it into what I always wanted it to be – that deeply moving and memorable book for kids that fires their imagination. I love the idea and I want to write a sequel, maybe even a third. I’m just not ready to give up on it.
September 24, 2009 at 9:39 pm (Uncategorized)
I can’t believe it has been another week and I can’t believe that George O’Malley is dead.
It’s been a week since I went to the NYFA workshop and I’ve started a bio but that’s it. I’m afraid that November 1st deadline is going to sneak up on me. I hope I can get some work done on it this weekend. I’ve been working on just thinking through the different peices of writing each morning to help me stay focused, but I’ve forgotten to include the application. I’ll have to add that to the list tomorrow. I’ve definitely decided I’m going to use a writing sample from Devolution but I want to edit it again. Just not sure how to attack it.
This afternoon a patron came into the library and wanted a biography about a teacher. The first one that popped to mind was The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy. It’s about his time as a teacher in a very poor school on Yamacraw Island, off the coast of South Carolina. I remember I found it very inspiring. I was young and idealistic, an English major. I’m still fairly young, not quite so idealistic, but still hopeful that I can make a difference. Thinking about the book reminded me of my hopes to do that by reaching out to teens through my writing. Books helped me make it through my teen years. Sometimes I look back and think it’s a minor miracle that I did. Maybe remembering that will help me focus my writing with Devolution.
Oh yes, and George O’Malley is dead. Bailey and O’Malley were my two favorite characters on Grey’s Anatomy. It’s a TV show, not exactly high art, but if I can write something that touches people as much as I’ve seen that show do for people, I’ll consider myself lucky.
September 23, 2009 at 10:04 pm (Uncategorized)
I was hoping a weekend in Salem would inspire me with my novel about a young witch. Unfortunately, I picked a weekend that ended up including a Kennedy funeral, the remnants of a hurricane and the flu. Luckily, I had my wonderful boyfriend with me. He took care of me and we enjoyed snuggling inside, watching movies. I guess it was inspirational in a different way.
I signed up for NaNoWriMo last night and today at lunch I was warming up for it. I had my fork in my left hand to eat while I had the pen in my right hand to write. I’m almost ambidextrous! This may be the only way I can write 50,000 words in November. The only problem I see with this method of writing for NaNo is that I’ll have to type everything up afterwards in order to submit for my word count. Hmmm…
The writer’s group I facilitate, and now this blog, have been helping me keep focused on my writing. That’s a necessity when you have very little time to write. This morning, as I was driving to work, I though I should list out all the projects I’m working on. I started thinking though them.
There’s the middle grade mystery novel I’m editing, The Light on the Hill, and the sequel I have planned, The Light in the Attic. I have another middle grade novel about a witch with a special power to “hear” things others can’t that I’m calling Listen to the Wind. Then I move up to Young Adult Lit. with my post apocalyptic novel, Devolution. I also have two adult novel projects started. One I’ve written the beginning to twice, hopefully I can finish it one of these days. That one is called No Man Land, about a young woman who gets dumped and inherits a house. She goes from searching from a man to searching for herself.
Then I thought of my newest novel idea. It’s about a newlywed whose husband up and disappears when she gets pregnant, leaving her a note that he realized he “isn’t ready to be a father.” Afraid that she’s going to lose the family farm, she agrees to let her brother and his wife buy her out so she can live in the house. As I was driving along I saw a billboard for a farm, several thoughts clicked into place, and the title Pumpkin Time popped into my mind. “Really?” I thought incredulously. but the more I thought about it, the more appropriate it seemed. She’s pregnant and the image of a pumpkin definitely works with that, the family farm could be a working pumpkin farm, AND it’s midnight for her – Cinderella’s coach just turned back into a pumpkin and Prince Charming turned into a rat.
Just using the time I had driving to work moved me along in my writing. I’m not sure which novel I’ll work on for NaNoWriMo but I joined today. I’ve still got a month to decide. Who knows how far I’ll get in that amount of time? I just need to stay focused.
September 21, 2009 at 10:45 pm (Uncategorized)
Friday’s workshop got me all excited about my writing again! Then Saturday got me busy with other things, and suddenly Sunday had brushed past me. Now it’s Monday night and still NO writing. So much I want to write and I can’t seem to set aside a time every day, which is my preferred method. Somehow, I’ve GOT to learn to steal some time out of every day. Something would be better than nothing. I’m planning to sign up for NaNoWriMo under my new pen name this year (so feel free to look for me there!) I have no idea how I’m going to put in 50,000 words in one month, but I’ll get as far as I can. I plan to work on my post apocalyptic novel, Devolution. I would dearly love to just take each of the novels I’ve started, attack them one by one and FINISH them. It would feel so great. I’m not making any promises, but I’m feeling the need to write 🙂
The past few days I’ve been gathering my writing together, re-reading the information on how to apply for the fellowship and working on a biography to include. I had pretty well decided that I would use an excerpt from my novel about a young woman in a post WWIII, post pandemic world for my writing sample. It’s just a matter of editing to tighten it up and deciding which 20 pages to include. I wasn’t sure what this workshop would have to offer me. What I ended up taking away from it was a clear idea of how the selection process works. It made me see that I really have to give them something that is going to stand out, that’s unique, in order to make it through the consecutive rounds. I hope I can do that.
My main questions had to do with what to put in a bio since I don’t have a lot of experience or a list of publications that I’ve been in, or an MFA degree. I found out that the bio should be a snapshot of where I am right now as a writer. I was somewhat surprised that I was told to include the fact that I facilitate a writer’s group at the library where I wor , but that it was okay to just say that I had published writing online rather than listing out what and where. Sort of like using a large brush to paint with a broad stroke.
The workshop really made it a lot easier to focus what I am working on right now and prepare for the application. It also energized me to get to work. I think I stand a good chance, perhaps as good as anyone else.
As I’ve gathered my writing together from the past five years in order to decide what to use for my twenty page writing sample, I’ve suffered a little crisis of faith in my writing ability. I’ve had quite a few people over the years tell me that my writing is good, that they couldn’t put down what they were reading and that they couldn’t wait to read more. Why is it so hard to internalize that and believe that I have something to offer?
I found myself wondering if I had anything good enough to even be considered for a fellowship? Perhaps I should just focus on finding some classes and learning more about writing before I bothered to seriously write something again? Was I wasting my time?
I gathered together the files of what I’d worked on over the last five years. I decided to simply try to read them as if they were someone else’s writing and pick the best of what I had to use as my sample. I opened the file of my favorite concept. It’s a novel about a young woman and her family in a post WWIII, post pandemic, world. I was surprised to see that I already had 95 pages. (I hadn’t worked on it since I started my new job, about 10 months ago.) I started reading and realized… gee, this is pretty good! Oh, it’s not great literature, but it IS a really good story. It definitely needs work but there’s something there, something worth pursuing.
It’s easy to get down on ourselves, to listen to the negative voices in our heads, the messages that we’ve internalized which say we can’t make a living writing fiction. The truth is that anything is possible. We’re all exceptions to the rule, sometime and somewhere in our life. Decide what you want, have faith in yourself, then decide how you’re going to go about getting it.