Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Happy Book Birthday to Anna Staniszewski!

Happy Book Birthday to Anna Staniszewski for her picture book, "Power Down, Little Robot"!  It's an I-Don't-Want-to-Go-to-Bed book that the Wall Street Journal described as, "…a fresh take on an old topic."

Anna is a prolific MG author.  Now that's she's a mama-to-be, it's no surprise she's adding Picture Book Author to her list of credits as well.

If I was a nice guy I'd recommend you go to her blog entry about the book to enter a Goodreads contest to win an autographed copy, but if you do you'll lower my chances of winning.  So, nevermind.

-- Tom

Monday, February 23, 2015

While Waiting

This Infinity Scarf is actually a dark green.

Thanks to several very helpful ßeta readers (especially SteveHeather and Anna) I was able to get Rev 2.0 of The Book out to my agent in early February.

Now, if I was a disciplined writer I would be jumping right into The Next Book.  After all, that's how people like Anna write and get so many books published.  However, if I was a disciplined writer I wouldn't have taken close to a year to get Rev 2.0 back to my agent.

Or maybe that first 'disciplined' should be 'less cynical.'  The last time I submitted The Book I jumped back into the sequel that I had written a while ago.  I was in the midst of expanding the story and making other revisions when it was suggested that I hold off on any sequel writing until we had an idea of sales figures from the first book.  Oh, and there was a list of revisions needed on The Book, too.

If my agent wants a Rev 3, I don't want to stop work on The Other Book and jump back into The Book.  So, instead, I've decided to do something else with my time.

Handmade Chainmail shirt (front)
Back during our Craft Show Days I was making a lot of wire-wrapped bangles and handmade chains.  At some point I decided to make myself a chainmail shirt.  I referred to it as 'knitting with metal' which, I knew, wasn't exactly true.  Knitting is a series of interconnected slip knots, while chainmail is a series of interconnected closed metal loops.  Still, people understood the idea of repeating pattern work.

Besides, I had wanted to learn how to knit for a long time.  My body doesn't hold in heat well, so working with a warm material (wool yarn) to make warm clothing (scarves, hats, sweaters) sounded like a good idea.  My wife, however, made me promise to finish the chainmail shirt before I learned how to knit.

Which was a wise thing, because finishing that shirt was a bear of a job.

After that project was completed I still had Rev 2.0 looming over me.  I imposed the "Finish Rev 2.0 before learning how to knit" dictate upon myself, knowing that watching Doctor Who episodes was distraction enough from writing.

So, with Rev 2.0 out to My Trusted ßeta Readers, I was finally free to take up knitting.  First up, a scarf for my wife.  Second up, a better scarf for my wife (above).  Third up, a scarf for myself.

I'll hang up the needles when it's time to work on The Next Revision.  Or The Next Book.  It all depends on what news I get from my agent.

-- Tom

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sharon Hale on the Money Writers Make

Autumn Leaf
Chapel Hill, NC  12/14

Author Sharon Hale has a great entry over at her blog on the nitty-gritty realities of making money as a children's book author.  Or, rather, not making that much money as a children's book author.

Here's a sampling:

"Case study. A children's author and an adult SF author go to a book signing. They spend two hours there and sell the same number of books. 
The adult SF author has a 700-page tome that sells in hardcover for $35. Writers get higher percentages for adult books, usually at least 15%, so each hc sold earns the author about $5. Sell 50 and he's got $250. Paperback prices vary (mass market much less than trade) but let's say it's about $15 for a paperback. He makes about 10% on that, sells 50, earns $75. For two hours plus travel, that's decent. He'll also get to meet many fans, which is another bonus of doing events. 
Now the children's book author. The hardcover sells for $18. Children's writers make about 10% on a hardcover, so if she sells 50 that's $90. For a paperback, $8 with a 7% royalty is common. For 50 books that'd be $28. 
Adult author total: $325. 
Children's author total: $118 
Plus agents take 15% off the top, and then authors are self-employed and so pay higher taxes.
Now these are big numbers. Selling 50 hardcovers and 50 paperbacks at a signing is a great signing for most authors, so this is just an example. I've done signings where I've sold zero. All authors have. And even though a 100 book signing is tremendous, I have to sells tens of thousands of books to make a living at it, so even having a few great signings several times/month wouldn't enable me to write for my job."

Will I continue to write what I love?  Of course.

Will I be giving up my day job to do it?  Of course not.

-- Tom

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Methodically Chewing Through a Handful of Corks

Mosaic Flower
Pittsboro, NC  2014
From the author's Introduction to "Dawn of the Dumb" by Charlie Brooker, © 2007

     Thanks for buying this book.  I hope you enjoy reading it more than I enjoyed writing it, because I hated every minute of it.  Well, almost.  It's fair to say I don't write for pleasure.  To me, writing is like methodically chewing through a handful of corks.  Thanks to the voices. 
     One voice tells me to stop typing because I'm rubbish and about to be rumbled; the other tells me to stop typing because its' too much like hard work.  And recently they've been joined by a third voice -- one that continually whines about a worrying, worsening form of RSI in my right arm which feels like a constant headache in my elbow.  As a result, I'm often in a pretty sour temper during the writing process, and this occasionally comes across in print.  Sorry about that.  Hope it doesn't sully your enjoyment of an otherwise jubilant sunbeam of a book.

It's probably little surprise that I'm a huge Brooker fan.

-- Tom

Monday, October 13, 2014

Writing Advice from Neil Gaiman

Two great things from this interview:

So, when people come to me and say they want to be a writer, "What should I do?'  
I say, "You have to write." 
And sometimes they say, "Well, I'm already doing that.  What else should I do?"  
I say, "You have to finish things...because that's where you learn from.  You learn by finishing things."


If you only write when you're inspired you may be a fairly decent poet but you will never be a novelist because you're going to have to make your word count and those words aren't going to wait for you whether you're inspired or not.  You have to write when you're not inspired and you have to write the scenes that don't inspire you.   
And the weird thing is that six months later, a year later, you'll look back at them and you can't remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you just wrote because they had to be written next.

-- Tom

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Working on Cracking the Mystery of Me

Self-portrait in Rocket Bot
Pittsboro, NC   Sept. 2014

There's no improving upon this, so I'm just blatantly reposting it from Kate DiCamillo's Facebook page.

SOME FAVORITE WORDS ABOUT WRITINGFrom Daily Rituals, How Artists Work, edited by Mason Curry

The writer Bernard Malamud: “You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place—you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time—not steal it---and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.”

I have read these words over and over again: “You write by sitting down and writing . . . the real mystery to crack is you.”

I am sitting down. I am working on cracking the mystery of me.

I have read these words over and over again: “You write by sitting down and writing . . . the real mystery to crack is you.”
I am sitting down. I am working on cracking the mystery of me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ten Books

Downtown Raleighwood Parking Deck
August 2014

I was tagged in a FB posting by writer, adventurer, and all-round amazing hero Jill Gleeson to "List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes, and don't think too hard. They don't have to be the "right" books or great books of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way. Tag at least 10 friends, including me, so I can see your list"

Here's my list, with annotations.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
I had no idea what science fiction was when I read this book, but the idea of truths and concepts beyond the everyday reality resonated with me.  It's a great story about not fitting in, heroism, and the strength of great love.

The Motel of Mysteries / Black and White by David Macaulay
David Macaulay is best known for his The Way Things Work book and/or his books that deconstruct buildings (Castle, Cathedral, Pyramid, etc).  I prefer his take on future archaeology (Motel of Mysteries) and his picture books, especially Black and White.  Black and White is a series of four stories, told simultaneously and with different art styles, that all intersect at some point -- and won the Caldecott in 1991.

Mortal Engines / Larklight by Philip Reeve
These were two books I wish I had the imagination and creativity to have written.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Astonishingly fine writing that I didn't want to see end.

In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan
The first Brautigan book I read.  He had a very gentle way of writing that has stayed with me.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Urusla K. LeGuin
The first of the Earthsea books and still my favorite.  In fact, it might be the only one I'll go back and reread again.  (I've read the series 6 or 7 times)  The original hardback series had some wonderful woodcuts at the start of each chapter.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
A book that challenged my way of thinking in my early twenties.  

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Writing humor is difficult.  Incredibly difficult.  Douglas Adams made it look easy.  Any book that can make me laugh out loud deserves recognition.  That Adams did it three different ways with the same-ish story (Radio, TV, and the book) earns a trifecta of appreciation)

Knights of the Kitchen Table by Jon Scieszka
I have read this book (and the first two sequels) to at least 600 kids.  Very good times.

Bird By Bird by Annie Lamott
My go-to book for people just starting out with their writing.  And for myself when I need to remember such things as the importance of writing a $%#$%^&) first draft.

The Friendship by Mildred Taylor
Another book I read to hundreds of kids.  It's the story of two men, one black and one white, during the 1920s in the south.  It required some considerable background with the kids before reading it so they had a clearer idea of segregation.  Taylor's writing, as always, is powerful and the kids loved it.

-- Tom

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Why Do I Write

Downtown Raleighwood
August, 2014

Van Waffle is a friend from my LiveJournal days, one who I met through his photography and his comments left on other photographers' blogs I was also following.  I admire his writing path and his dedication to his craft.  He's earned his successes.

A few weeks ago he emailed to ask if I'd mind being tagged in a "Why Do I Write?" entry that he'd been tagged in by a mutual friend.  Sure, why not?

What am I working on?
The Book.  Still.

It's a Victorian Fantasy about a former chimney thief and his eccentric employer's attempts at recovering an escaped clockwork Pteranodon.  It is currently in the (seemingly never-ending) revisions stage.

How does my writing differ from others in this genre?
I find this question a bit disingenuous.  Everyone's writing differs from others in their genre, providing you're writing with an authentic voice.

As well, everyone's writing is built upon their experiences in life, the books they've read, the TV and films they've watched, the stories they've heard from family and friends... These are unique to the person.

Why do I write what I do?
I love children's literature.  I loved reading it as a kid, was reintroduced to it when I was an Elementary School Librarian, and have continued to read it long after I left that job.  I enjoy the imaginative storytelling.  I also like the lack of politicals, sex, violence, car chases, etc., that so much of adult fiction seems to entail.

As well, the stories that come to me feature children as the protagonists.

How does my writing process work?

Well, there's writing and there's revisions.

Before I start writing a new story, I need to have that story outlined in my head, from start to finish.  This gives me plenty of time to spend with the characters in my head, testing their reactions, learning their likes and dislikes, their idiosyncrasies.  I see how they respond to the plot elements and tweak things as needed.  By the end of that process, I have a pretty clear idea of the book in my head and can start committing it to paper/pixels.

I think most of my Draft Zero writing happens on a keyboard.  It's easier in that it allows me to keep up with the ideas in my head.  Almost all of my revisions happen with pen and paper -- preferably a fountain pen.

As for revisions, it depends on how long they've been going on.  When I'm first revising a new story I'll take some time to consider my options and play around with the changes until they fit in my mind.  Then I get to work on making them happen.

With the never-ending series of revisions, it's a bit different.  I tend to avoid doing them as long as I can until the pent-up writing builds to a point where it's just easier to write than to not write.  I will happily not write for months.  Eventually, though, I find myself getting depressed, angry, and miserable. A dark guilt starts to overshadow just about everything.  Finally, I throw up my hands in surrender and say, "Fine, I'll go back to the #%^& revisions again!"

-- Tom

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Writing Community

The Writers' Loft

In the mid-50s, French director François Truffaut wrote an essay that became the foundation for the auteur theory of filmmaking.  As defined by the Wikipedia:
"In film criticism, auteur theory holds that a director's film reflects the director's personal creative vision, as if they were the primary "auteur" (the French word for "author"). In spite of—and sometimes even because of—the production of the film as part of an industrial process, the auteur's creative voice is distinct enough to shine through studio interference and the collective process."
Even as a film studies major I felt there were problems with this theory.  Sure films by specific, strong directors had a certain feel to them (Hitchcock, Hawkes, Ford, etc.) but no filmmaker was in charge of the entire process.  From the screenwriter, the producer, the casting director, the cinematographer, lighting director, and the editor, film is a truly collaborative medium.

In those days I thought that the only art form where the auteur theory would apply to storytelling was writing.

I have, of course, come to believe that even that thinking is wrong as well.  While The Book is still, stubbornly, my vision and my creation, it has been a work that has been dependent upon the input and contributions of others to grow and thrive.  For me, writing has become something of a community process.

An important part of my community is The Writers' Loft, a physical and online place for writers to meet, exchange ideas, and write.  I've met several people online through The Writers' Loft who have helped me with The Book and whom I hope I have returned the favor with crits on their works.

Members of The Writers' Loft are invited to join by writer and Writers' Loft founder, Heather Kelly.  This has helped to keep the membership focused on serious, supportive writers who are looking to hone their craft and help others do the same.

When I first heard Heather was putting together this idea I wondered how the heck she had the time and resources to make such a thing happen.  Between a husband, two kids, her work as Volunteer Coordinator for NESCBWI, and her own writing, developing and opening a spot for writers to work and meet sounded, well, more than a bit crazy.

And yet she did it.

The Writers' Loft now has over 100 members and hosts regular discussion groups for writers as well as workshops and classes for writers in the physical location in Shelborn, MA.  That's quite an accomplishment for just over a year's worth of work.

Wondering how she did it all?  Heather has posted a blog entry about this part of her writer's journey over at the Writers' Rumpus blog.

Well done, Heather.  Well done, indeed.

-- Tom