Saturday, November 23, 2013

Reject-o-Rama: The Way of the Writer


I left the SCBWI conference full of vigor and ideas and imagery and just a whole lot of shit I needed to get on paper ASAP because I was suddenly aware that I was soon to become the world’s next great recognized writer.  (Notice the use of the word recognized in the previous sentence.)  I was sure that my ideas were well honed and edited and ready for the big-time world of agents and editors and publishers.  In fact, as soon as I hit the send button on my trusty MacBook, I sat back with a sigh and waited for the bidding war on my manuscript to begin.

It only took three weeks for the first rejection to come in.  Pretty fast, really, when you consider how long things tend to take in our world.

Well, crap.

Maybe my high school guidance counselor was right and I really was meant to focus on underwater landscaping.  (Not that there’s anything AT ALL wrong with that, lest I offend an underwater landscaper somewhere.  I just never really saw myself doing that.)  Ok, so I don’t really remember what my high school guidance counselor told me I should be, but I do remember learning at an early age that writing was not a career.  Pffft!  I’ll prove them all wrong.

I have only received one rejection this time around, which is a really good sign, but just in case, I have decided to come up with a list of helpful things I WILL do in order to gain an agent’s favor.  I’m still debating whether or not to place any or all of these items in my next query letters.

Dear prospective agent, if you consider my book, I promise to do the following:
  • Shave my legs.  IN THE WINTER!  Because I know how important it is NOT to look fuzzy at all those public appearances I’ll be making.
  • Wear something other than flannel pants.  I mean, that IS my standard writing attire, but I promise that when I go in public, I will wear respectable clothing.  I even pinky promise.
  • Walk your dog and clean your house.  I know how busy you will be helping to manage my blossoming career, so I am more than willing to help you out in any way possible.
  • Use my big words.  I have kids, so occasionally I slip and say things like ‘potty,’ ‘poo poo,’ and even ‘dawg.’  (I have a teenager.  Don’t judge.)  But when working as a big-girl-writer-person, I vow to only use big, intelligent-sounding words.
  • Remember to wear a bra.  It’s the first thing to go when I get home, so mostly I write without it, but I SO promise that I will ALWAYS wear one and be all professional-like if you just give my little book a chance.
  • Never talk to myself in public.  I realize this looks a little like something a crazy person might do, so I promise to only do this in the privacy of my own office when I’m working on character development.  A lot of peeps don’t understand the process.  Also, I don’t think I would like to be committed to a mental hospital.
  • Help you help me.  This sounds a little 12-steppy, but what I’m trying to say is I won’t sit on my butt and expect someone else to do all the work.  I’m more than happy to get out there and pimp my stuff.
  • Oh, and I’ll for sure scrub your toilets.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Me

So yeah, I’m cheap.  And rejection sucks.  But I guess what I’m saying is that one rejection isn’t the end of the world.  And if that agent wasn’t right for me, then maybe the right agent is just around the corner.  And gawd, I hope he or she doesn’t have a dirty toilet, because I’m pretty sure I just promised to scrub it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My Muse Is Weird


And now I think I’m weird.  Ok, so both of us are weird.

Last night, I was ever so rudely awakened by my muse, who apparently thought it was necessary to impart life-altering information at the ungodly hour of 2:00 a.m.  My muse does not know me very well, because if he (or she) knew me AT ALL, then he would let me sleep, kindly write his fine ideas on a post-it note, and allow me to peruse them at my leisure at a decent hour.

And, as it turns out, the idea that I was given has absolutely nothing to do with what I am currently writing, what I have lined up to write, or what I have written and need to revise.  Maybe Mr. Muse got the wrong address?

The idea was ridiculous.  So ridiculous in fact that I had to huddle over my coffee this morning and force my mind to recollect the idea that was imparted to me as I sort-of-slept.  Was I even remembering it correctly?  Could the idea even work?  I had never even considered anything like it before, but maybe that’s the point.

What kind of writer would undertake such a ludicrous storyline?  I started to scribble and make weird notes.  It would be a weird story, but maybe a bit poignant.  Unrealistic, but ever-so-slightly close to home.  It just might work.

Damned muse.  Now I have this next-to-impossible idea-slash-project sitting on the runway, just waiting for takeoff.

My muse is definitely weird.  And I’m weird for even considering his idea.  Well, crap.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Stealing Jesus


I think the title of this post inherently implies that there is a hot rock in hell with my name on it.  It’ll be a nice little place for me to sit, actually.  However, it’s not as bad as it sounds.  This isn’t a religious post AT ALL.  So feel safe in reading further.

My parents should have known they were in BIG trouble when I was a teenager and I stole the plastic Baby Jesus from the Manger scene at our little country church.  Once more, it was NOT a religious statement at all.  It was more of an aesthetics thing.  I was trying to take a stand and make the world a better place by removing the gaudy faded plastic rendition of Baby Jesus that had graced the sanctuary for at least 25 years.

That Baby Jesus had been through a lot.  I’m pretty sure He had been on the lawn in an outdoor Manger scene, and I know He had been through several reenactments of the Christmas story.  The scenery always changed, but one thing remained the same—that little statue was old and faded and gaudy and needed to be dealt with.  (At least in my teenage mind.)

I was out to beautify the world.  I was going to right the wrongs of the universe, and as a teenager, it seemed pretty logical to me to remove the eyesore that had plagued the vestibule for so many Christmases.

Do you know what 85-year-old women do when they discover that their plastic Baby Jesus is missing?  Suffice it to say that if America’s Most Wanted had been around and in full swing, you might have seen my mug on TV.  It was serious.  So serious in fact that I had to eventually sneak the plastic deity back into the church for fear that the elderly members might soon begin suffering strokes or minor heart attacks.

What I’m trying to say here is, do your thing to beautify the world.  But you don’t need to go and steal Jesus to do that.   (See, I’ve grown a little since those teenage days.)

Do your thing.  Follow your dream.  Write a book.  Build your fort.  Make your art.  Encourage your kids.  Make this place awesome.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Dreamer


The theme of this year’s MOSCBWI conference was “Follow Your Dream”—quite appropriate for a bunch of writers gathered together hoping to absorb every bit of writerly inspiration available to us in a mere two days.  It seems to be a pretty logical conclusion that if you are a writer, you must also be a dreamer.  We were definitely in the right place.

Before the conference, there was a contest.  Let me just say right here and now that I do NOT enter contests, especially those that require me to put my writing out there for human beings to read at their leisure.  This opens me up to all sorts of things like, oh, I don’t know criticism, public mockery, billboards along the highway that other more conscientious writers have taken out in order to warn people about my lack of writing prowess, nightmares, cold sweats, and possibly even anxiety-induced death.

However, something came over me one day before the conference.  It was probably one of the innocent-sounding emails that made the contest sound fairly painless.  It was something like, “Hey you guys, just send in something about following your dreams, no stress, no mess, and you might win.”

As it so happened, I had been working on a very short piece.  (The requirement was 500 words or less, I believe.)  So I began a vicious slashing process that left my work in a hacked up mess, but I eventually ended up with something I felt minorly-ok-ish with.  (I know, that is a resounding vote of self confidence right there.)

I took a deep breath, considered telling my doctor all the reasons why I might need to be on anxiety medication, realized I was just being a bit of a bridge-troll writer, re-read the thing one more time, and hit send.

It was the VERY FIRST writing contest I had ever entered.  (Well, of my own free will, anyway.  My high school teachers forced me to enter some contests, but that totally does NOT count.)

And did I win?  I did not.

But did I win runner up?  Yes, I did!  I got a letter that my runner-up status had earned me a seat in the Sunday SCBWI workshop with the amazing Krista Marino.  Woo Hoo!

Without further ado, here’s what I wrote.  Please do not take out a billboard along the highway so that you can point out what is lacking.  We writers are very fragile and somewhat troll-like.

How to Catch a Star

Savannah Banana, all freckles and knees
and elbows and curls as big as you please
had one little thing she simply must do—
Catch her very own star (or possibly two)!

Each night she waited for the moon to appear
then said to herself or whoever might hear,
“Next come the stars and they’ll twinkle all night!
Nothing down here has a sparkle so bright!”

From the time she was little, from the start of day one,
Savannah Banana sought adventure for fun.
A dreamer, a jumper, a runner, a climber—
Little Savannah was a one-of-a-kinder!

But how in the world would she catch her star?
How would she get from down here up so far?
She pondered and thought and wished really hard,
But wishes alone couldn’t get her that star.

She’d need some tools and a whole lot of gumption,
a magical rope, and her dream would be spun!
When the coast was clear and the time was right,
she’d gather her things and plan her flight.

With a whispered wish and her eyes closed tight,
Her rope came alive on that magical night.
She’d dreamed up a rope that would leap with her throw,
one that glimmered and shimmered with a star-sprinkled glow.

Then she climbed through the branches and never did stop,
right up her tree to the very tip-top.
She perched on a limb that shivered and quaked
and thought for a moment, had she made a mistake?

But there was her star!  It sparkled just right!
It was her very own, and she’d get it tonight!
She unfurled the rope, tied it ‘round in a knot,
looped the end in her hand, and took her big shot.

Quickly and bravely with a flick of her wrist,
she tossed her rope with a magical twist.
It sailed over treetops and past houses afar,
way past the moon and straight for her star!

Her rope glimmered in the night.
It curled and it furled through the stars so bright.
And then as it sailed through the sparkliest sky,
it searched for her star that was hanging so high.

And then she caught it!  The rope hung on tight!
Her star twinkled brightly in that lit-up night.
She readied her feet and got set to climb—
For at the end of that rope, she knew what she’d find.

With a quick little yell, Savannah leapt from her branch,
all excitement and laughter and grins at a glance.
With her rope in her hand and her feet set to swing,
she climbed so fast, it was like she had wings!

And now every day she climbs to her star
where she can see everything, both near and far.
She kicks her feet high and smiles as she swings
for she knows that her star gives wings to her dreams.

Things I Learned at SCBWI


I just got home from the MOSCBWI conference, and I thought I’d make a quick list of the gazillion helpful things I learned …you know, for reference, in case I start to flail around and decide to eat cookies all day instead of write.

First of all, it was a wonderful conference, and I couldn’t think of one bad thing to say.  Not even one little critique for the ‘What could we do better next year?’ section of the questionnaire.  Ok, so I would totally buy more books if they put more books in front of me, but I don’t actually think that’s a complaint or even a critique, so it doesn’t even count.

I would also listen to the speakers in 24-hour segments, but I don’t think that’s realistic, nor do I think any of them would actually agree to a filibuster of hungry-to-learn writers.  Although—not to get political or anything—I think any one of our speakers would be MUCH more interesting than some of the filibusters I’ve heard about in the news lately.  If you want to see who was there, check it out at http://www.moscbwi.org/Fall_Conference/Index.html.

But I digress.  Here’s what I learned at the Missouri Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference:
  • We are pretty cool people, HOWEVER, in order to figure that out, it is necessary to come out of your shell and actually TALK to all the awesome people around you.  And when you do, it’s completely worth it!
  • If writing is your dream, you HAVE to do it.  You have no choice.  It is a part of you, so go figure out how to get it done.
  • Your muse is your friend.  Listen to her (or him).  That’s where you will get your awesome ideas, and you will not be led astray.
  • Discover the kind of person you truly are.  Work hard to get things done correctly.
  • Go build a fort.  While listening to the wonderful Dan Santat explain this, there was a great a-ha moment.  We always encourage our kids to go outside and build forts and explore and do wonderful, creative things.  Do not lose this creative spirit as an adult.  Keep building forts!
  • Don’t ever follow the money.  Follow your style and your voice.  Follow your passion, and your path for success will come.
  • Learn from your mistakes.  They are not mistakes if you learn from them.
  • If you don’t KNOW your main character, you know have a book.  KNOW your characters.
  • Show moments of grace and character in your characters.  Make them human.
  • Make the time for what you love.
  • Add joy to your life.  Be a role model.  Achieve your dreams.  Don’t rearrange your life around work.  It should be the other way around.
  • Join like-minded people.  Find your tribe.
  • The reader can never be wrong.  Once you have written the book, your perception no longer matters.  It is how the reader perceives the book.
  • Know why your bad guy is bad.  Make your characters dimensional.  All of us have a good side and a side we would rather keep hidden from view.  What makes your bad guy so bad?
  • Revisions should be a bloodbath.  Cut ruthlessly.  If you don’t miss it, you never needed it in the first place.
  • Your job is to MAKE the reader want to continue.  There must be questions they simply have to have answered.
  • Be true to yourself.  Follow your dream.
  • Above all, just write.

So that about sums up my weekend.  It was filled with writers and agents and editors and pretty much just all-around awesome people.  What did you guys do?