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?
Heh.  

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 Fran├žois 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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tahereh Mafi on Making Mistakes & Believing In Yourself

Spring Pollen Reflection
Spring 2014
Outside Raleighwood
The editors over at Adventures in YA Publishing have published a piece by author Tahereh Mafi, author of "Shatter Me"*.  Mafi's piece is on Making Mistakesand the necessity of believing in yourself.  In essence, she writes wise words for struggling writers.  (Which, I think, means all writers.)

My favorite part from her piece is this:

"my journey toward publication has barely started and i’ve already done everything wrong. i wrote my manuscripts wrong. i edited wrong. i queried wrong. i waited wrong. i made every possible mistake but i was committed to never giving up. i discovered that mistakes are okay when you learn from them, and bad manuscripts are just fine if you learn to laugh at them later. i knew that if the first book didn’t work i would write a second one. and if the second one didn’t work i would write a third. nothing was a waste of time. not the fourth book, not the fifth or the sixth. not the time i addressed a male agent by a woman’s name, not the times i thought “editing” meant “looking for typos”, and certainly not the hours i spent hunched over my computer with imaginary friends and places painting my world into something i never knew i could see. 
i discovered: 
  • my first novel taught me how to write.
  • my second novel taught me how to edit.
  • my third novel taught me how to write elegantly.
  • my fourth novel taught me how to write commercially.
  • my fifth novel taught me how to combine all four.
  • my sixth novel taught me how to write a book."

I'm still hoping one day I'll be able to laugh at all of my mistakes.

And feel like I've learned how to write a book.


-- Tom

___________________________________________________
* Tahereh is also married to Ransom Riggs, author of "Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children"(the book I gave away for this year's World Book Night) and its sequel, "Hollow City".

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Writer? I am a thief and an artist."


Frosted TARDIS
Outside Raleighwood, 2014

Maggie Stiefvater gave the keynote address at the recent SCBWI meeting.  Luckily, for those of us not in attendance, she posted an excerpt of that talk to her blog yesterday.

That excerpt starts as follows:

I used to think that my ideal job was to write. To make up stories. To lie for a living. Now that I’m in it, though, now that I’m comfortable in my novelist skin, it doesn’t feel that way at all. I observe for a living. I steal for a living. I stylize for a living. I find things in the real world, I take them for my own, and then I hammer them into a story-shaped thing. Writer? I am a thief and an artist.

Interested in reading the rest?  I thought you'd be.



-- Tom

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Writing Truths from Rebecca Dickson

Windshield Frost
Outside Raleighwood 2014


Author and writing coach Rebecca T Dickson has a great list of Truths entitled "Crap someone should have told you writers by now"over at her web site.

You should go read it.  Seriously -- go read it.


tf

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What Will Your Verse Be?

Robin Williams from Dead Poet's Society

I have no words to express my grief and sense of loss at Robin Williams' death.  To have such a force of life taken from us by depression is painful.





Lucinda Williams: "This Sweet Old World"

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

John Green on Writing (on The Colbert Report)


Green: Well, books take years and years to write. It's like a really long game of Marco Polo where you're in your basement saying, "Marco, Marco, Marco, Marco" and it's not for like four years that someone's like, "Oh, Polo!"

Colbert: And you do it with your eyes closed.




Yep.  That pretty much sums up my experience.  How about you?


-- Tom

Monday, March 10, 2014

It Takes a Community to Raise a Revision

Downtown Raleighwood
2013
Writing is largely solitary work.  It's you, your imagination, and the method of recording words of your choice.  Add in some willpower, some discipline, and perhaps a few incentives/bribes (caffeine, chocolate, Doctor Who episodes) and eventually something resembling a story will start to form.

At its heart, writing is an act of communication.  At some point a writer has to turn his/her work over to someone else to read.  Otherwise, they will never learn if they have been successful in conveying their ideas onto paper/into pixels.

My initial drafts tend to get sent out to a very small number trusted of beta readers.  I need to know if the story works, if the characters work, if the funny bits are really funny, and/or where the holes are that I've missed.  With the latest draft (a major revision that my agent requested) I widened my circle of beta readers to include several people who had never read the manuscript before.  I not only wanted some fresh perspectives, but I wanted to gauge new reactions against older reactions.

What might work for one person might not work for another; what one person doesn't like isn't seen as anything troubling by another (even after specifically asking them about the point).

Through all of this community involvement the author needs to hold comments up to his/her own standards of what holds true for him/her with the story and characters.  The balancing act, though, is between rejecting a comment because 'that's not what that character would do' and needing to better explain the character's motivations so the reader understands what the character might or might not do.

Each one of my beta readers offered me an insight into the story that I didn't have before.  I made changes based on their comments that I know made my story much better, much stronger.

Getting the comments needed to carry out a good revision can be a community event.  Putting them to proper use, however, is still an individual act.


-- Tom

My thanks to all of my friends at The Writer's Loft, MA who helped with this revision!