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
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!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Word for the Year (2014): WRITE

Crow Doorway
Downtown Raleighwood
February 2014

I've been choosing a Word for the Year since 2006.  It's an alternative to making New Years Resolutions, something which I never found to be very effective.  I got the idea from Christine Kane, a former singer-songwriter turned Life\Entrepreneur Coach and have liked how the process of choosing a word makes me reassess where I am in life and where I want to be.

Last year I chose the word LIGHT.  The idea was to find a word that balanced giving positive energy while still being true to my somewhat cynical side.  It was a lofty, esoteric word that was well-meaning but lacking in any direct Call to Action.

This year I've chosen the word WRITE.  It comes with the clear intention of changing my lack-of-writing ways, to stop feeling sorry for myself and my never-good-enough book, and to just get the work done.

In December I set a series of goals for myself:  (a) have the latest revision completed by Feb 1st and (b) sent out to my Trusted Beta Readers so comments could be back to me by mid-February.  (c)Further revisions to be completed and the polished manuscript sent back to my agent by the first week of March.

The first part of that meant both revisions and new writing.  (Three new chapters, as it turned out)  I took time off from werk to complete the manuscript and finished work on it before the end of January.

WRITE.  That's my word for the year.  What's yours?

-- Tom

Friday, January 17, 2014

Wearing Cement Shoes in the Deep End of the Revision Pool

Heilig Furniture
Raleighwood, 2013
Back in March of 2013 I signed with an agent, the marvelous Caryn Wiseman.  (Hi, Caryn!)  A few weeks later she sent me her Editorial Letter with her Likes and Possible Problem Areas and Dislikes and a week or so later we had a good discussion about her letter.

Now, by Good Discussion, I truly mean it was a danged Good Discussion.  We each had our points that we were willing to fight for and points we were willing to give on.  It was the best, most honest, and most respectful conversation I'd ever had with an agent concerning the future of The Book.  I laughed, I grimaced, and I knew this was an agent I could happily work with.

I left the conversation with a list of changes to be made.  Some were blindingly obvious in their necessity (another agent/author had signed with Hyperion with a book that, from the 1,000 foot view, sounded annoyingly similar to mine -- differentiating changes were, therefore, were clearly needed).  Others were changes that, I begrudgingly acknowledged as being Good for the Story.

Now, you might think that having just signed with an amazingly great agent at a fan-freakin-tastic agency, that I would get right on those revisions and crank them out.  And, I did.  To a point.  Right up until that section where Caryn suggested that I write another chapter.  I'd let my main character off too easy at the end of a particularly difficult chapter.  I didn't trust him enough, she said.  I was going too easy on him.  I needed to make the problem even worse to give him a chance to show the reader -- and himself -- what he is made of.

All of which is completely true.  I had no problem with her insights and understood that the additional chapters would make my main character even more compelling and bring the readers closer to him and, by extension, further into the story.

The only teensy, minute problem, the only tiny bump in the path: my Bad Attitude.

The more I thought having to write Another ^&*@#% Chapter, the more I stuck out my internal lower lip and pouted.  I whined.  I slammed a few doors.  I threw a pile of already-published books onto the floor.  All my childish ego started to focus on was that, once again, I was being thrown into The Deep End of the Revision Pool.

Eventually I was, mentally, on my back, kicking and screaming and punching at the air with my fists having an all-out tantrum.

As well, mentally (then verbally) I began referring to The Book as "The ^%*$#_!(@ Book That Will Never Be Good Enough."  That made my unwavering view of the ceiling seem more justified, more in line with the Great Injustices of the World.

By late October I finally began sketching out the extra chapters -- not chapter, but chapterS.  I knew from early on it was going to have to be at least two chapters, and by the end of the scrawled pre-Draft Zero additional-chapter-two wasn't even close to wrapping up the extra problems I had created for my hero.

By December I had come up with a deadline for myself: Rev 4.7 be completed by the end of January and out to ├četa Readers; comments back by mid-February; Rev 4.8 out to Caryn by the first week of March.

I've taken today off from werk to write Additional Chapter Three.  I'm happy to report it's done and ready to be read as part of the greater book and slashed and revised with my bloody red pens.

It's time to Get Serious about all of this again.

-- Tom

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Kate DiCamillo: National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

Kate DiCamillo signing a book for a fan after her
swearing in ceremony at the Library of Congress.
I'm a big fan of Kate DiCamillo's writing.  She's one of those authors who are able to write engaging, books, each of which tells a story quite different from the others.  And yet, each story is vivid, and deeply felt, with prose so elegant that it becomes poetic at times.

Her first book, Because of Winn-Dixie, was a 2001 Newbery Honor book and The Tale of Despereaux was the Newbery Winner for 2004.

Last week the Library of Congress held a ceremony in which DiCamillo was named the fourth National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.  Created by the Library of Congress, the Children's Book Council, and Every Child a Reader,

"The position of National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature was created to raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people."
Meaning, for the next two years DiCamillo will be going around the country promoting books and reading for kids.  What an amazing gig, right?

The Library of Congress Blog has a great entry with quotes from the ceremony, both from her introduction as well as DiCamillo's speech.  Her official Facebook page has a lengthy list of reader questions that DiCamillo has responded to.  I found both to be well worth the read, both as a fan of DiCamillo's writing and as a writer.  I hope you might, too.

-- Tom

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Hungry Games: Catching Fur!

Cookie Monster IS Cookieness EverEat in "The Hungry Games: Catching Fur"!

(And may the cookies be ever in your flavor...)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Grant Snider's "The Story Coaster"

I have no idea who Grant Snider is, but his artwork here is fantastic.  (And exactly why I'm so critical of some fiction.)

(My thanks to the Cheezburger network for this one)

-- Tom

Monday, July 15, 2013

Vance Briceland on the Ugly Side of Writer's Envy

Orange Peel Candle

Early on in this writing adventure a friend on LiveJournal posted about another friend of his who was taking questions on writing/publishing from anyone who cared to ask.  Since said friend was a published author I figured it was worth checking out.  I read through some of his blog posts and liked his writing and sense of humor, so I asked questions.

The questions were your typical beginning writer questions.  You know the type: questions filled with unnecessary second-guessings and vague self-loathing.  Instead of dismissing them, Vance answered them with kindness and wisdom, telling me I'd need to find my own path as a writer, just as I'd need to find my own voice as a writer.  He handled my follow-up questions with equal patience and support as well.

One of the things I inherently knew from my earliest days of writing was this simple idea that Vance includes in his latest blog entry:
"Your success as a writer is entirely independent from anyone else’s."
As writers, we each have our own sense of what makes a good story and what we want/need to include in our own writing.  That my take on this is different than yours is something to be celebrated and respected, not seen as something to be lashed out at.  That's why Vance's follow-up sentence was surprising:
"Belittling someone’s accomplishment does not accelerate or enhance your own success."
Vance has encountered the ugly side of writer's envy in ways that, frankly, just astound me.  The (former) friend who, after reading Vance's first book, sent him ten pages of notes pointing out the book's flaws and Vance's inability to write is an act that I have a hard time wrapping my head around. What kind of people do that?

In short, people who make themselves feel better by depreciating others.  Being envious of someone else's success is one thing, but actively working to tear them down because of that success is just plain wrong.  Worse, it's evil.

I'm going to give this type of pretentious slap a name: A Debourgh.  Remember Lady Catherine DeBourgh from Austen's Pride and Prejudice?  In attempting to smack Lizzie back in her place after learning that Lizzie plays the piano quite well and has opinions about music, Lady Catherine Debourgs Lizzie with the following:
"Of music! Then pray speak aloud. It is of all subjects my delight. I must have my share in the conversation, if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient."
It's the quintessential, I acknowledge your accomplishment but only to let you know how much better I would have done it, if I did such things.

So, have you ever been Debourghed?  Do you know someone who has?

-- Tom

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Brian Selznick on Writing After the Caldecott

Being on the bottom of the in-house circ list for magazines means I often don't see Publisher's Weekly until months after the cover date.  The other week, for instance, I just got the January 14th edition.

In that edition is an article titled "The Call That Changes Everything -- or Not" by Shannon Maughan.   The article consistes of brief interviews with authors and illustrators who have won the Newbery or Caldecott Medals.  In the interview with Brian Selznick is this great quote:
"Selznick says he did not find it intimitdating to return to work after winning his medal, "because for a long time my goal with each new book has been for it to be 'better' than my lst one.  I don't mean more commerically successful, I mean with each new book I have tried to push myself to do something I've never done before.  Therefor, I'm not trying to win another Caldecott, or make a book that sells more copies than Hugo, but I'm trying to take all the things I learned from that book and do something new with them."
Yet another reason why I like Selznick and his books.

-- Tom