Longing for Balance, Post-launch

On Monday, our newest Emu Tamara Ellis Smith wrote a beautiful post about the longing that accompanies the journey toward publication. It’s a feeling that many, many writers aspiring to become published know, and one that I knew well for many years.

Born on July 10, 2014!

Born on July 10, 2014!

But now, I’m on the other side of the fence. All Four Stars has been out in the world for a month and a half, and I’ll be hanging up my Emu feathers before long. Has the longing evaporated?

No, of course not—but it has changed. For weeks around when my book came out, when my life felt swallowed up by launch-party planning and online promotion efforts, I longed to get back to my quiet, boring, normal routine and write. Finally, the chaos of launch has passed, and I’ve been able to do that, and now I have even more appreciation for it than I did before.

But now that I am writing again, I long to do it better—to dig deeper into my new characters, to send them on better-plotted journeys and describe their actions with more beautiful sentences. I’m thrilled that my first novel has been published, but I long to up my game in future ones.

But most of all, I long to find balance. I want to focus enough energy on promoting my published book that readers will continue to discover it even after the push of launch-time is over. But I also want to write new books. And I want to continue to travel and have the adventures and experiences that inspire my stories in the first place. Basically, I long for my old, prepublished lifestyle to continue while I also integrate my new obligations as a published author into it. A tall order, perhaps, but each day I’m finding my way.

All that said, finally being published after years of working toward it is undeniably sweet. There is nothing quite like a stranger—someone who has no reason to coddle or lie to you—telling you that they loved reading your book. And if that stranger is a kid, even better. And if they come to your latest book event and tell you in person, EVEN BETTER.

This actually happened last weekend.

This actually happened last weekend.

Yeah…life after launch isn’t so bad.

__________________________________________

Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Starsher debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, was published on July 10, 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com, and on Twitter at @TaraDairman.

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Filed under Book Promotion, Book signing, Happiness, Launch, Promotion, Satisfaction

The Practical Side of Longing

I threw a party when I sold my book, and my husband, Derek, surprised me at it by gathering everyone and giving an impromptu speech. It was sweet and teary, and he thanked my friends for all of their constant support and encouragement. But he also asked them, with a devilish look in his eye, did they know that we had been living with an extra member of the family for the last few years? Derek, me, our three kids (five chickens, two dogs, three cats) and…my longing. As though it was a living, breathing thing!

Ummmm….yeah. He was right. Not only had I been wrestling with my longing, but the rest of the family had too. Derek laughed and said he had to admit that, as much as he respected it, he was kind of ready to show it to the door and give it a shove. (We only have a queen bed, after all, and it’s kind of small…)

Illustration from A Monster Calls

See that longing trying to get back in the house? (Illustration from Patrick Ness‘ A Monster Calls.)

Yeah, I got that. I felt the same way too. See ya later, longing. Ciao. Don’t let the door hit your big ole full-of-desire derrière on the way out.

Except, maybe not.

Because longing is a useful thing. And not just in those emotional and psychological realms that I explored in my last post – how longing lets you know what matters in your life, how it confirms your human status, and how it offers a point of connection with other people – but also in a very practical realm too. And so I thought it might be helpful to pull together 5 ways longing is a functional and sensible tool. Actually, after I thought about it for a bit, I realized that what I had come up with was more of a progression; steps that deepen both a sense of self and the work. So here is what I stumbled into, and I humbly offer it here:

1.  Let longing be. Longing is one of those emotions that is so easy to transform into some other emotion, something more manageable, like self-pity or jealousy. Seriously, it is so much easier to spiral down the rabbit hole of I’m not good at anything, I’ll never succeed ever or lob an I want what she has so bad I can taste it in HER direction. But don’t. Sit with the feeling. Let it teach you to be still and present. It is stubborn, but you can be more stubborn. Let it teach you just how much courage and resilience you have.

meditation

Cartoon by Maria Scrivan.

2. Let sitting with longing become a practice. Then take it a step further. Like yoga, or running, or meditation, or whatever else you do on a regular basis, let being aware of your longing become something you connect with regularly. Watch it, touch it, be curious about it. Get to know it. You know that super cool thing that happens with rituals? The simultaneous subconscious quality it takes on, where you don’t have to even think about it anymore AND the insane eagle-eyed focus on details it allows? Let that happen with your longing.

3. Sit with other emotions too. Once you can sit with your longing, practice sitting with your other emotions too. Let that become a ritual too. The same cool thing will happen. Plus, a side benefit? You will reduce those times when you really wish you had thought for another minute before opening your mouth. (At least I have….ummm…anger management, anyone?!)

4. Sit with characters’ emotions. So this is where you segue your focus from self to work. The most amazing thing is that this progressive practice translates onto the page. Once you can sit with your own emotions, you can sit with your characters’ emotions too. This is big. At least for me, it was. I was finally able to – not just see, but – truly feel my characters’ emotions. Part of that was due to my developing skills at being still and present, and part of that was because I was becoming an emotion expert.

image-via-toonpool.com_

An added benefit of this practice? Much less Writer’s Block! Image from toonpool.com

5. Write deeper, more authentic characters. For me anyway, as I learn to stay present with what I am feeling, when I get to know, in my bones, the nuances and underbellies and depth and details (especially the details) of my own emotions, I can find the same landscape within my characters. And I can translate all of that into the tiny gestures and words and moments that make emotion come colorfully, wildly, passionately alive on the page. I can deeply know the arc that an emotion travels, and I can match my characters’ journey along that arc to specific plot moments in my story. For me, this was the difference between a very good story and one that felt…different.

Take this, or leave it. I am sure – absolutely sure – that for many of you this is old news. Or maybe something you do intuitively. But for me, it was an epiphany. (Or a series of epiphanies, really.) I was one of those kids (and then one of those teens, and then one of those young adults) that got things the first time around, academically, socially, emotionally. Everything was a quick learn; an instant success…except for those things that weren’t. But those things got put into an if I can’t succeed at this right this minute then it must be something I’m not supposed to do category. The process of facing that, and my fears around being my authentic self, is a subject for another post. But once I did, I had to learn how to make mistakes, try again, try a 100 more agains, and…face my longing.

GoDogGo3

From Go Dog Go by PD Eastman.

And it’s not going away. Yes, I’ve sold my first book, so that particular longing has left me, and left the house. But, boy oh boy, there is more. So much more.

Sorry, Derek. Maybe we need to get a bigger bed.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Faith, Helpful or Otherwise, Writing

Following the Bird in Flight when it Comes to the Debut Author To-Do List

Like Lindsey (see her excellent post from a couple of weeks ago, Debut Author To-Do List), I’m a list maker. Unlike Lindsey, however, I am rather *cough* obsessive about it. My debut author to-do list is a spreadsheet. Okay, that might not sound so bad, but my spreadsheet has an embarrassing 135 rows, sorted chronologically, spanning from more than a year before the book’s release to more than two years after… and that’s just for one book. Yes, it’s totally ridiculous overkill, to be sure. I knew when I built it that I wasn’t going to be able to even come close to doing everything on the list. I put in every possible thing I could think of, anything I might want to remember to even think about doing when the time came. I knew I was going to have to pick and choose, prioritize, and, yes, let go of some (okay, a whole bunch) of the things on the list.

debut author spreadsheet

I got off to a fairly good start, at least.

On Monday, Megan wrote about “following the bird in flight” when drafting (see her excellent post, Writing in One Layer). I’ve been thinking about similar ideas lately, but more as they apply to the debut experience as a whole. I built that spreadsheet because I thought I’d be able follow the neatly organized chronological to-do list. I thought I’d be in control, evaluating and deciding what was really a to-do and crossing out the rest. Then I would just march down the remaining to-do list and the whole process would roll smoothly and efficiently along. Ha! What I’ve learned is that practically everything about the debut author experience is a surprise. Some of the biggest pieces are outside of my control. Being flexible enough to deal with shifting realities—bouncing back from unforeseen setbacks or pouncing on unexpected opportunities—is key.

Every teardrop is a waterfall

I am not this flexible.

  • What happens when you learn that the curriculum guide you’ve been eagerly anticipating—and promising to teachers—is not only not finished yet, but hasn’t even been started… and isn’t going to be? In my case, you come up with a plan B: figuring out how to add Common Core State Standard assignments to the library event kit that is already in progress.
  • What do you do when you randomly notice that, hey, there’s a Goodreads giveaway of your ARCs, and it’s been running for three days already? In my case, you make some room in a few of your days to get the word out and help promote the giveaway.
  • What do you do when you happen to see that the publisher of your upcoming picture book has put the cover—which you have never seen before—on their website? In my case, you SQUEE for joy, dance around the room for a while, hyperventilate, eat some chocolate, and then quietly sneak the image up on the Emu’s Debuts sidebar and your own webpage and hope someone notices.

Emmanuel's Dream cover

I can’t wait to show you what’s inside!

  • What do you do when a local private school director invites you to coffee to talk about possible collaborations, or a well-known blog invites you to do a guest post, or your publisher invites you to do a live video webinar on your book’s topic, or a thriving local startup invites you to their annual company open house as a featured guest, or a trusted youth organization approaches you about giving changemaker workshops? In my case, you say, “YES!” to all of them and start preparing (even though “live” and “video” are two words that should never be put together, in my opinion!).

None of those things were even on my spreadsheet, and I’m not coming at all close to keeping up with my to-do list. (It’s rather fitting that I missed my Thursday morning deadline for this very post, isn’t it?) I expected to be able to just draft a plan and then carry it out, but instead my debut experience seems to be all about following the bird in flight. And I’m okay with that: it’s taking me to some amazing places.

Off you go

Photo from liquidnight on Flickr.

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Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Helpful or Otherwise, Launch, Promotion, Time Management, Writing and Life

Writing in One Layer

In Photoshop, you can build a complex image using layers.  Layers are images that are stacked on top of each other like cellophane, with individual elements of the design or illustration existing on individual layers.

Background

Here’s a background layer.

BackgroundCircle

Here’s a yellow circle layer on top.

BackgroundCircleRed

I am awesome at this.

Images are stacked in this way so that they can be easily separated into manageable segments. This allows an artist to remove or make changes to various pieces of the work without having to recreate the entire thing.  That red squiggle needs to be orange?  Great.  Select the layer with the squiggle, change the color, and everything else can stay as is.  Easy peasy.

The more complex and layered an image, the more segmented it is. That’s great for small changes, but not for big sweeping ones. In order to make holistic changes to the work, the artist has to go in and edit each individual layer.

Hold up.  This is a writing blog, right?  Why am I talking about Photoshop?

A few weeks ago, at LeakyCon, I had the pleasure of being in the room for a Q&A with Kazu Kibuishi, the writer/artist behind the AMULET graphic novel series and the cover illustrator of the 15th-Anniversary editions of the American Harry Potter books.  He is a stellar talent.  While showing us several drafts of his cover illustration for CHAMBER OF SECRETS, he mentioned that he had drafted those images in one layer.

I was surprised.  The images Kazu showed us didn’t even look like drafts.  They were complex, beautiful, detailed paintings – and he had done them all in one layer, with no segmentation.  Why?  Wouldn’t that slow him down, if he needed to make changes?

In fact, he said it does the opposite.  He learned from watching artists Chris Appelhans and Khang Le that when drafting in Photoshop, it’s freeing to do all the initial work in one layer.  It allows him to paint with confidence, make decisions faster, and minimize production choices.  Because drafting isn’t about making production choices.  It’s not about self-censorship.  It’s about getting your ideas down authentically, in service of creating a compelling work of art.

Well, I thought about that.  I chewed on it for days.  Because it’s not just a strategy for working in Photoshop – it’s a philosophy.  Draft with confidence.  Minimize choices.  Don’t make production decisions too early.  Save layers for later, when you know more.  Just paint.

Or in my case, just write.

When I was newer to writing and not yet thinking about publication, I mostly wrote fan fiction – thousands of pages of it. I wrote it very, very fast.  Unless I got really stuck, I didn’t spend time pondering or fussing.  I just followed the bird in flight, chasing the idea as fast as I could and giving myself as much enjoyment as possible in the process.  I didn’t worry whether that page of witty banter was pure stuffing or whether the kiss I was writing drove the plot enough to be worth keeping.  It was fanfic, so I just wrote it to make myself happy, painting words with fast strokes, making the movie in my head come alive in the narrative.

Now I’m writing original fiction, under contract (hooray!), and I find myself slowing down. Thinking ahead. Manipulating the layers before I know what the whole picture looks like.  Editing earlier than necessary.  This wasn’t true with the first book of the series – I wrote that first draft without knowing what the full editorial process would entail, and without second guessing my choices.  With this second book, however, I hovered over myself a little bit as I drafted, questioning things that didn’t need to be questioned yet.

Immediately after Kazu’s Q&A, I sat down for a long chat with my editor, Cheryl Klein, about how to approach the revision of the second book in the series I’m writing.  One of her suggestions was that I should concentrate on the romance more.  I share this because anyone who knows me or my writing well will find it odd that I’d ever need to be given this note; I have a tendency to dive pretty deep into the romance.  I love, love, love to write the romance.  If anything, in the past, I’ve needed to pull back on the romance.  But because I’ve been drafting with too much of my brain focused on technical maneuvering and not enough of it focused on simply following the flow, I lost my romantic guts, a little, in this recent draft.  I pulled back before I’d reached the destination.

So I’ve decided to take Kazu’s Photoshop philosophy and apply it to my revision. One layer. No tinkering. Not yet. In the past week, I’ve blown through almost a hundred pages, including a couple of brand-new scenes that were incredibly fun to write and felt totally self indulgent. And maybe it’ll turn out that they are totally self indulgent and have to be removed.  I don’t care.  The romance is flowing.  The questions are vanishing.  The inner editor is on forced hiatus.

I’m not saying that fast is best (speed is a personal thing for authors – we each have our own process, and pace is part of that).  Rather, if you ever find yourself getting in your own way and picking at your choices too early, try visualizing your draft as something that’s pouring out in one uncensored layer, and see if it sets you free.

 

megprofilepicMegan Morrison is the author of GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL, due out summer 2015 from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. GROUNDED is the first book in the Tyme Series, co-created with Ruth Virkus. You can follow Megan on her blog at makingtyme.blogspot.com or on Twitter at @megtyme. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, craft~writing, Creativity, Editing and Revising, Editor, Illustrators, Satisfaction, Writing

A Title Change and Why

I REALLY notice titles. Doesn’t everybody? We all have picked up books based titles, and I want people to pick up my book based on the title.

So here is my title change story.

I liked my old title, THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON, and I felt it was a title that kids would like. I felt people would pick it up. After all, dragons are on Tara Lazar’s list of 500+ Things That Kids Like. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted my title to be a glimpse into my story. A lure. And I had an idea that my title could accomplish this better by adding a few words. So I researched. I looked at title length. I looked at title layouts on covers. I thought. And thought some more. I let the new title wander around in my brain a while. I said it out loud in my house. I said it out loud while walking and driving. I typed it out and stared at it. I thought about people saying, “Oh, you must read MY OLD TITLE or MY NEW TITLE.” Which was better? I tried it out on some family and friends. And then I decided to approach my editor. I wanted her expertise and I knew from our working relationship that she would listen to my reasons and tell me her honest thoughts.

She liked my new title! She agreed with my reasoning.

So . . . THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON

is now

*drum roll*

THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT

I’m very excited about the title change. It’s really a pretty simple change and may not seem like much to get excited over. After all, it’s only four more words. But to me it was a big decision, and the excitement comes from the feeling that I have given it the thought a title deserves.

Like I said, I had my reasons for wanting the change. Here they are. Maybe some of my “thinking through” will strike a chord with you if you’re wondering about a title.

  • THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON was fun. And it’s a good title. But THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT gives a more tempting glimpse into my story and is a great title  and even more fun :-)
  • Not only do dragons make Tara Lazar’s list of 500+ Things That Kids Like, but so do knights. So I now have two things that kids like! Double the title temptation. (Even without Tara’s list, I knew that kids liked dragons AND knights, but I wanted to mention her list here because I refer to it often and thought all of you may benefit from Tara’s list, too. It’s an idea generator!)
  • I noticed that a lot of THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY retellings included not only the swallow-er, but the swallow-ee. I felt there was good reason for this. The reason being . . .some of the titles made me laugh before I ever opened the books! Really . . . THAT swallowed THAT? Funny! I want to read more.

So there you have it. A lot of thought. A simple change. And hopefully a title that will draw readers to the tale of an old dragon who swallows a knight.

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penny3

Penny Parker Klostermann’s debut picture book, There Was An Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight, is coming from Random House Children’s Publishing Fall 2015. You can follow her on Twitter @pklostermann and visit her blog HERE. Penny is represented by Tricia Lawrence.

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Filed under Editing and Revising, Titles, Writing

Shoes: The Window to the Soul?

Chris Shoes2

My current favorite and most comfortable “wear everywhere” shoes.

You can tell a lot about a person by his/her shoes. Yes, it’s a snap judgment, a tiny thumbnail of a much more complex picture of heart, mind, and soul.  But still. I like to study people’s shoes, especially writers’ shoes, because I am always fascinated by their choices.

Rebecca's Harry Potter Shoes 005

Rebecca made these to-die-for shoes for her daughter!

Many are comfy, worn in, perfectly molded to the wearer’s foot. Some are impossibly clever, showing off hidden depths of talent (see Rebecca’s Harry Potter shoes). Still others are fancy, or quirky, or bold–shining with character and originality.

The mistake I make is wishing I could wear them all. (Warning: shameless use of metaphor ahead!) At our annual agency retreat, we do readings of works in progress. Even as I listen in awe, I lapse into melancholy over the display of talent. My brain declares: “I could never write like that!” (Or in Metaphor Land: “I could never pull off those strappy three-inch spike heels! I’d trip over my own feet!”)

Tam's Shoes

The lovely Tam’s purple sneakers

Mylisa's Shoes

Mylisa’s smart, sassy heels

And so it goes: Why aren’t my topics more edgy and why don’t they matter more? Why can’t I write with that much honesty? Why don’t my adjectives sparkle like that? Why can’t I be that original and important and WORTHY?  Why, why, why?

The truth is, there are too many kinds of shoes in the world to wear them all. But some shoes suit us so well! Others we have to try on and walk around in for a while before they feel like a good fit. And some we’re just not meant to wear. But that’s okay. Our shoes writing should reflect the unique, fabulous message that only we have to offer.

Jenn's Spiderman Shoes

These kick-butt Spiderman shoes were Jenn’s favorite growing up

It took me a while to come to terms with this. I devoured ghost stories as a kid. I loved mystery and adventure. Maybe, just maybe, I could even write my own mysteries when I grew up. When high school pulled me away from the books I loved to read Important books, I was devastated. Partly because I thought it meant I had to leave my favorite books behind, and partly because so many of those Important books were so dang bleak.

Chris Shoes1

The costume party platform shoes. I know, right?

Yes, we must stretch ourselves, read everything, learn, grow, discover, rise up, reach out, all those things. But if there is no passion behind the things we write about, no love, no personal truth, then what’s the point? There, I said it. My personal truth is writing about things that go bump in the night. Maybe there’s a deep psychological reason behind it. Maybe I just enjoy books that send a shiver up my spine.

Megan's Shoes

Megan’s killer boho sandals

I certainly don’t think that writers should limit themselves to just one type of “shoe.” What a ho-hum world that would be! In fact, I bought a pair of vintage Italian platform shoes for a costume party and ended up falling in love with them and wearing them out in public. Who knew? But there are certain types of shoes I will probably never buy or wear. (Anything with an animal print comes to mind.) And there are certain genres and topics that just aren’t for me. I have made my peace with it. Thank heaven there are enough writers and books and shoes for every possible occasion.

Chris Shoes3Right now we’re on vacation in northern Wisconsin. After a summer of line edits and working on a book proposal and ferrying kids around to endless activities, it’s nice to recharge and give my brain a rest. I can squish my toes in the sand, sink into the sound of lapping waves. Ideas come and go as they please, a gentle ebb and flow without the pressure of plot or  the structure of story.

Sometimes it’s nice to just go barefoot.

 

Lindsey's Shoes

Lindsey’s chic red shoes with pedi to match

Penny's Shoes1

Penny’s fancy shoes that are not as comfortable as she hoped

Penny's Shoes2

Penny’s super comfy writing slippers, with books as the perfect accessory!

Laurie's Shoes

Laurie’s honeymoon shoes, The Most Comfortable Shoes EVER

Amy's shoes

Amy’s funky-cute awesome sandals that I want to steal

Donna's Shoes

Donna’s versatile I-can-do-anything shoes

 

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ChristineHayespic2 (534x800)Christine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, THE MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out June 16, 2015 with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, craft~writing, Creativity, jealousy, Satisfaction, Writing, Writing and Life

Debut Author To-Do List  

I’m a list maker. Not plain old lists. I tab my lists and then on Sundays, I cull from the tabbed lists and create a more immediate to-do for the week. I know. A little obsessive but it works for me. Here are some things I recently checked off the debut to do list and stuff I learned as a result.

Overhaul The Website
Website work can be daunting. Why? Because your website is your home on the web. It is where people will come to check you out. You want it to be the best representation of you. What started an existential quandary turned out to be a fun creative process but there were a few hurdles I had to clear to get there.

My first hurdle was bending to the web designer’s will and follow her way of working. This meant we had no phone contact. I couldn’t involve her in my angst or wondering about the website. I couldn’t woo her with my sweet voice and get her to counsel me through my website angst. I had to get clear about what I wanted so that I could communicate it to her via email and drop box.

Eventually, I stopped whining about this restriction and got focused on what I wanted: Simplicity, clarity and super functionality. Yes, I wanted my site to look fabulous but here’s what was most important in the end. The workability of the site. I researched a lot of author sites and function trumped form. I wanted an easy-to-use site. I gave my web designer several links of sites that accomplished that goal.

As for the look of the site, it kind of matches my home, which does not have a lot of overstuffed armchairs or ornate furniture. I like a spare design. I don’t like a lot of clutter. I didn’t want gobs of information on each page. People are barraged these days. When they are going to a site, they know what they want. So I kept it lean and I tucked a lot of info into links which visitors could click on if they want more stuff. (Hmmm, the closets and cabinets in my home are a bit overstuffed. Hmmm.)

Breathe-Part 1
Anxiety is a constant. I don’t know what reviewers are going to say. I don’t know how book breathesales will be. I can’t predict the future (Darn it). When a good review comes in, be glad and humble and share it with your world. If a bad (or unexcerptable) review comes in, let it go. Put it in the rearview mirror. Don’t give it energy. Try not to think about them. Practice mental Tai Chi. Not everyone will like your book. (Really. It’s true. Even J.K. Rowling had detractors.) It’s okay. Let it go. Breathe.

Plan The Launch
Because this is my YA debut, I definitely wanted to do a book launch at my local independent bookstore. I wanted to celebrate with my family of friends and fellow partywriters. But how big? How much hoopla? What kind of snacks and drinks? What sort of presentation? It started to get very big in my head. No, really. Very big. (Think famous people living in Austin.) And as it got bigger, I got smaller and more overwhelmed. I took a step back in my head and asked this question: Why are people coming? Answer: To celebrate me and the launch of EVIDENCE. When I had that answer, I knew I couldn’t hide behind the bigness of an event. I wanted to create an event where I could show up and thank the people who were there and introduce them to the book. I want to create an event that is as authentically true to myself as possible. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Get Printed Materials Ready
Once I had the book cover and website design, the printed materials pretty much fell into place. All my writer pals say that I need a boatload of bookmarks. Actually two boatloads. And to leave a space for signing my name. Apparently that’s important. What about postcards? I asked. Not so much. I chose to do a few because I wanted an easy way to send thank you notes. I also revamped my business cards because mine were way out of date. For those, I keyed off the font and color of my website for consistency.

Write The Next Book, The Next Blog Post, The Next Email
When the anxiety of the debut process really starts to wage war on my psyche, sitting down to write is the best medicine. Even with all the hobgoblins and insecurities and wonderings that writing can visit upon me, the tap-tap-tap of my keyboard means I am going forward and that I am doing something in the face of all the stuff that I can’t control.

Breathe-Part 2
Because I cannot predict the future, anxiety—the natural state of being on the edge of the unknown—is a constant. Breathe. Try to be curious about what the day will bring. Go outside. Notice the present moment. Deeply. Inhale it. The future will come. Try to let it unfold instead of bracing against it. Kiss your life. You are a debut author.

IMG_1083

breathe

 

IMG_0107a 5 x 7Lindsey Lane’s debut young adult novel THE EVIDENCE OF THINGS UNSEEN will be published by Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers on September 16 2014. Her picture book SNUGGLE MOUNTAIN (Clarion, 2003) is now available as an app on iTunes. You can follow Lindsey on Facebook or find her at her website or on twitter @lindseyauthor.

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Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Celebrations

Be Brave

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?

                                    Vincent Van Gogh

 

Writing is a scary endeavor, don’t you think? There’s that frightful blank page staring at us, taunting us, daring us; then the first sentence; the first paragraph; the first page; the ending; and all those paramount decisions we make to fill the space between. Our nerves quake against the inner critic with a dialog stuck on repeat: What if I can’t do this? What if the world finds out I’m a fraud? What if I’m too scared? What if the reviews are hurtful-or true? Every time we face the page, we are taking risks. Big, potentially-career-changing risks. Damn right, we’re scared. Or… maybe it’s just me?

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I dip my pen in the blackest ink, because I am not afraid of falling into my inkpot.”

Well, good for ole Ralph! But I’m currently knee-deep in research for two books I’m writing for an educational publisher, and I am a tiny bit afraid. Partly because of the reeeally short deadlines, and partly because I’ve agreed to write about subjects that deserve the utmost sensitivity and respect. And I know very little about them. Yikes!

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My declaration of independence aka: cowardly badge of courage

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I instinctively reached for my version of the Cowardly Lion’s badge of courage. Ain’t it purdy? See, a million years ago, in 1994, I suffered a slobbery, whimpery, crushing heartbreak. You know the kind. I was a weak-kneed wreck until I ran out of tears. One day, the cosmic switch flipped and I found my sea-legs again. I dressed up in my favorite white suit with a red belt and red pumps (you can tell this was pre-writing career.) I trekked to the nearest jewelry store and zeroed in on this pendant. The cute panda on the front wasn’t the draw. The back, however, was engraved 1994. Sold! Originally, I called it my declaration of independence. I know, I know… corny, right? This piece of gold and credit card balance had a purpose: to remind me to never be a human door mat again; to stop hiding behind insecurity; to take risks; to be brave!

Gaining-Courage1

This symbolic shot of courage has been with me through tough times and triumphant times, in my writing life, and my personal life. I tend to reach for it when I’m feeling anxious, or vulnerable, or just plain scared. Like when I hiked the glacial ice fields miles above Juneau, Alaska; scuba-dived in various oceans; white-water-rafted; blew both knees in skiing trips; submitted to agents; collected rejections; gave my heart away again. I do think we need to step outside our comfort zones sometimes, to remind us we are alive.

Andre Gide, recipient of the 1947 Nobel Prize in Literature wrote, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

I love that, don’t you?

I’ve struggled to push myself out of my comfort zone (aka the shore) at the page. I’m not alone, right? The best stories come from weaving our souls into the stories we tell. It would be easier not to dig that deep. I am in awe of all you mega-talented authors (I’m looking at you, fellow EMU’s Debuters) who have stared down the inner critic to push boundaries. You write from the pov of the opposite gender, you dare to write torture, you use language that would make your grandmother blush, or touch on subjects that might shock someone, all because it is paramount to your stories’ heart. Art takes courage.

Last month, I survived a sweltering weeklong Boy Scout camp in Arkansauna with 150 sweaty Y-chromosome-beings, a bazillion ticks and spiders, and nights full of creepy crawlies that wandered in and out of my tent and my bedding.DSC03097

But, when I faced the multi-stage high-wire COPE (Challenge Outdoor Personal Experience) course, I got scared.

The voice of doubt rang in my ears, “You’re crazy! You’re too old, You’re not fit enough, strong enough, tough enough! And, oh-my-gawd, that’s high!” What I learned about walking a highwire is to 1) always look ahead, 2) tell yourself YOU CAN, 3) Remember that someone is watching your back,  and 4) Breathe! Sounds a bit like a writing career.

An unfamiliar scout dad left his son behind and followed my progress through the various stages of the course. He hollered up to me at one point, “I don’t know many women who would try that.”

“It’s my year to be brave,” I said.

And it still is.

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Let’s all be brave, my friends.

Madeleine L’Engle once quipped, “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-ups we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability…To be alive is to be vulnerable.

Smart woman, that Madeleine!

Donna Bowman Bratton is a Texas author with a passion for cool nonfiction and historical fiction for young readers. Her debut book, STEP RIGHT UP: THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY, will be released in spring 2015 by Lee and Low Books, followed by EN GARDE! ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DUELING WORDS from Peachtree Publishers. She also writes books for the education market.IMG_1627a 5 x 7

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Flumbling Toward the Wild Air

Flum·ble

verb \ fləm-bəl\

: To fly and stumble or stumble and fly. In no particular order

This EMU is sprouting his dragon wings and flumbling off to the evacuated territories. I go slowly, glow low, with many a look back. On my back are the cookie monster and big lady doubt, constant companions in my struggle to stay afloat. Behind me is a trail of smoke that shall fade to invisible but will forever be connected to those who have helped me fly.

In TALKER 25, I didn’t have an acknowledgments section, that place where you get to thank agents, editors, other authors, the men and women of the armed forces, and those people out there who taught you about the wild air and how to drink it…

Ultimately, it’s a chance to thank the community of people that have in some form or fashion helped you be part of a community.

Until EMU’s Debuts, I never really had a community. I have been a lone dragon my entire life, sometimes an outcast (hello, junior high & high school), sometimes a hermit (hello, everything after). Smaug laying low in my gloom cave with my invisible mates, Mr. Cookie and BLD.  I had never been to a writer’s conference, never interacted with critique groups, and other than some online interactions across the ether, had walled myself in. Built the stone thick and high to show my strength and hide my weakness.

But writers, they have a way of seeing through walls, of knowing what lies on the other side, because, well, they bleed in many of the same ways. More importantly, they know how to stem the bleeding, whether it be through empathy, insight, or just through sheer force of parallel perseverance.

And that’s what the writers here at ED have done. Viagra for the soul. Your heartstrings have helped tug my heartstrings onward, even when I’ve felt like slipping behind and putting my head in the ground. But we aren’t damn ostriches. We’re EMUs!

So I flumble onward, knowing that I’ve got you at my backs. Always there, squawking at our special frequency.

Thank you.

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose. Thank You

Flumbling toward that wild air. Thank you!

How about a graph? (Note: when no convenient segue will fit, why not go for the non-sequitur?) My left brain insists that I include some statistical metrics in here to catalog my wobbly flight path from chick to dragon:

Revision Metrics

What does it all mean?!

So I did a basic search for certain helper words and adverbs and graphed them against word count to see how much they changed with edits. The variation was comparable to word count variation. What does this tell you? Don’t sweat the small stuff? That those rules about ‘justs’ and adverbs might be overblown? Not sure.

One thing that went against the trend was my use of curse words. Not sure what that means, either, but fuck, yeah!

(Note: when I first joined the EMU’s, that was one of my questions. Can I curse? I was told that I couldn’t go beyond pg-13. Well I finally shot my wad ;))

Lastly, I want to thank you, reader, because without you, well, this whole insane journey of seemingly quixotic flumbling would be ten powers of crazier. I know that many of you are writers, too, flumbling up, down, and around the mountain along heartstring pulleys, and I wanted to offer a bulleted writing guide I condensed from Robert McKee’s STORY as a token of my appreciation.

Dos:

  • Seek truth
    • Below the surface, inside the character
    • Not directly observed (Joshua’s note: the visual truth vs. the emotional truth)
  • Turn every scene
    • Down -> up
    • Up -> down
    • Down -> farther down
  • Make climax absolute/irreversible
  • Know your world
    • Not knowing your world/characters invites cliché
  • Put characters under pressure (conflict)
    • This will let you SHOW their true nature (visual truth vs. emotional truth)
  • Never explain -> Dramatize (show don’t tell)
  • Draw idea from action, not reverse
    • Don’t write the action to conform to the idea, let the action organically generate truth.
  • Make your protagonist willful
    • They should have a conscious desire
      • Maybe give them a self-contradictory subconscious desire.
    • Make your protagonist empathetic (not necessarily sympathetic) – (Joshua’s note: G.R.R. Martin’s characters)
    • Make the world act differently than expected – realism/avoids cliché.
    • Act the role (reading dialog can do this, to some extent, but actually act out elements for authenticity)
    • Introduce coincidence early, then dramatize so it’s no longer a plot point, but a critical element.
    • Find visual expression for inner conflict (not dialog. Joshua’s note: limit introspection)

Donts:

  • Lack progression
    • Causes bland/boring text
  • Employ false motivation
    • Causes bland/boring text (Joshua’s note: pisses off reader)
  • Have redundant characters
  • Use empty subtext
    • The more dialogue you write, the less effect it has.
  • Have holes
    • Plot or character
  • Write how somebody should act
    • Leads to cliché.
    • (Do): get inside, draw on your own emotion/experience.
  • Overstuff ideas
    • Leads to overcomplexity, holes, confusion, skepticism.
  • Proliferate characters
    • Minimizes effect/authenticity/importance
  • Multiply locations
    • The larger the world, the more diluted the writer’s knowledge, the more prone to cliché
  • Use coincidence beyond the mid-point of the story.
  • Overly specify motivations
    • Diminishes authenticity (we often don’t know our exact motivations, and we often don’t consider them in the moment)

NOTES:

  • To live life meaningfully is to be at perpetual risk.
  • Bit parts should be flat, but not dull.
    • Too interesting leads to false anticipation.
  • Melodrama is not a result of overexpression, but under-motivation.
  • Multiplication of acts invites cliché, reduces the impact of climaxes, and results in redundancy.
  • Repetition of experience reduces emotional impact
  • The choice between good/evil, right/wrong is no choice at all.
  • Dimension means contradiction.
    • Humans are by nature contradictory (Joshua’s note: emotions and/or conscious vs. subconscious desire).
      • Contradiction should be consistent (Joshua’s note: GRRM characters).
    • Choices made when nothing is at risk mean little.
    • 3-act design is the MINIMUM.
    • Meaning produces emotion.
    • Characterization = the sum of the observable (the person outside the mask).
    • Character = the person behind the mask.

QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN WRITING A SCENE:

  • Why is this scene in the story?
    • Show character & advance plot &…
  • Do the protag’s stakes change?
    • Down -> up
    • Up -> down
    • Down -> farther down
  • What is the risk?
    • The higher the value, the higher the risk (Joshua’s note: no death battles over the last chocolate chip cookie, unless that cookie saves the world).

Take risks. Live life meaningfully. Or, as Emerson put it, infinitely better: Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air’s salubrity.

__________________________________________________

JM AP Close_Straight

Joshua McCune is the author of the Talker 25 trilogy (Greenwillow). Dragons, war, romance (though not with  dragons – I don’t do bestiality). The first book is now available. For more info, visit www.joshua-mccune.com or www.kissing-dragons.com

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Thanks for that suggestion. . . I think.

I’ve just rejected my teenage son’s suggestion for a blog post (“Writing a good book is a lot like picking peas. That’s your prompt, Mom. Go with it.”)

What are you talking about, kid?

and that has made me think about how I decide which suggestions about my writing I accept, which I ignore and which I feel compelled to dig in my heels against and fight until the end of my days.

The first are easy. If I read a suggestion and feel an immense sense of relief (“Of course! Why didn’t I think of this?”) then that’s a keeper. Or if I feel a great, implacable dread (“OH NO. She’s absolutely right. Now I have to kill off two characters and rewrite the last half of the book.) then, unfortunately, that’s probably a keeper too.

Um, yeah.

The middle category is a bit more difficult. These are suggestions that might make things better. Or worse. Remains to be seen. And the only way I know to find out will be to (sigh) try it. Which just makes me cranky enough when I’m tired or on a deadline that my inclination is to dismiss them as wrong-headed. So I have a rule that I’m not allowed to reject a suggestion that might make the book better just because it will cause me no end of trouble. I’m allowed to set a time limit on the experiment. I’m allowed to eat Leonidas Nibs while working on the suggestion. I’m allowed to take a kayak break if I need one. But I can’t just pretend I never heard it.

So how do you know when you’re in the third category where you need to dig in and defend something that’s integral to the story? I don’t know exactly. If I find I’m wanting to play this card often then I worry that I’m just not listening. Writing is a solitary thing but making a good book is a hugely collaborative process and my responsibility to the book means that I have to embrace that collaboration. I really do believe that all this working together creates a better book. That’s what I want. Even when it means a boatload of work after I thought I was done.

But there are times when what is being suggested messes with the soul of the book.

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So sorry but I cannot go there.

I am required to protect my book’s soul. There’s really no one else to do that. And to do that, I have to have thought enough about what that soul is that I can explain exactly why I can’t comply and, I hope, help my editor or writing group or critique partner understand better what it is that I am trying to do so that we can, working together, get me there.

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