Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Switching Hats

Like most of us on this list, I imagine, I have been writing since I was really little. Poems, stories, and later, novels. I have always been at work on something. This started in third grade and continued not only through high school and college, but also into my working life. I graduated with a degree I would never use and spent my life before the kids came along working at entry level jobs: clerk typist, receptionist, educational aide. I am not knocking these jobs or the people who do them. A lot of these positions require both juggling and mind-reading skills -especially depending on the manager- and I respect everyone who does this type of work.

My goal, though, was to find positions that paid well enough, but that would not accidentally spring-board me into a career. Entry level was my best bet. And I know I chose every job I ever had, even when I went back to the work force when my kids were old enough, for the conservation of mental energy. If I had had a career that demanded 100 percent of my attention 100 percent of the time, I would have nothing left for writing.

And writing has always been the thing for me, something always present, always at the back of my mind. I know you all understand what it's like to have characters living in your brain, to watch snippets of scenes in your mind, or catch a particularly brilliant line of dialogue running through your head. I needed my brain free enough to receive all of those wonderful creative impulses, so I took work that would not interfere with the signal.

Now, however, the old brain (and I do mean one that is aging) is not quite as agile and versatile as it once was. I decided to try something new, went back to school, and now have a part-time position in the health-care field. Although my responsibilities do not entail a person's life or death, they do involve accuracy, precision, and hands-on patient care. In other words, my mind needs to be totally focused on my work. All of the time.

Because of that, I need to shut down the creative signal when I am on the job. This is the first time in my life I have ever done this, and it is playing havoc with my writing when I am at home in front of my keyboard. It's driving me crazy. Switching the writing flow on and off is not easy for me, and when I do a day at work, it is hard to settle back into my story when I have the next day off. And vice versa. I sometimes go into the office with my head crammed full of story details and it is the devil's own work to clear that out so I can pay attention to my professional tasks.

So I am asking, no, begging for help. How do all of you handle this constant switching? If you are not home earning a living through your writing, if you are still holding down a day job, how do you do it? I'd sure love some advice or some tips. In lieu of a split personality, I could use some serious coping skills!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Characters with Disabilities

A guest post by my friend Trish Wooldridge on how she came to write her new book, Silent Starsong.

***

I didn't write Silent Starsong for the purpose of being one of the few children's books that feature characters with disabilities. In fact, during my drafting and research, I was actually pretty scared and unsure...looking for an excuse not to write the story. I even tried to put the characters up for adoption to my writers group. “This is not my story to tell!”

But, of course, it was. My writers group told me to writer-up and glue my butt to the chair in Kyra’s and Marne’s names. That’s why the characters popped into my head. That’s why they wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote and wrote and wrote.

You see, I’ve never been deaf. And Kyra is. She and Marne explained this to me within seconds of appearing in my head and demanding my attention. I have family members who have gone deaf. And blind. Some have many other disabilities, most invisible, actually. But what if I got something wrong? What if I offended people? What right did I, someone who can hear rather well, have to pen this story?

So, I did what (I’d hope) any socially conscious writer would do. I researched. I spoke with people who were deaf. I went to a friend who was teaching music for the deaf for several interviews.

Did I screw up? Not that any of my readers have told me, but not everyone’s journey is the same. And there are still reviews coming in. One hearing impaired person’s experience is not the same as any other; not every individual person’s life, hardship, and triumph is the same. None of us can assume one story is representative of any category, no matter how we slice it.

But Kyra was sure of her story. And so was Marne. I’m not a little pink alien with telepathy or telekinesis either... but those of us who write science fiction and fantasy tend to feel fairly comfortable with representing aliens or faerie or more fantastic creatures; we haven’t yet met ones who we could actually offend yet.

So I wrote. And researched. And wrote. Kyra and Marne lived and breathed on the page. I had to think about writing with only four senses for Kyra’s point of view, a hard-to-break habit after years of being told, “show all five senses.” I had to consider the difficulties in lip-reading, how she’d feel about telepathy, how other languages, how she would interpret the feel of sounds. How people would treat her.

I didn’t intend to write about a character with a disability, and really, that’s still not what I think the story is about. The story is about two outcasts, two young persons that “don’t fit in” and have to overcome difficulties and grow and be heroes and friends for each other. It’s a story I hope any child can relate to. I hope Kyra and Marne can be the friends and heroes for the many children who get picked on, who are left out, who want to change the world and make it more accepting. I want them to be “people” readers can relate to.

Maybe, though, for the children who don’t fit in or get picked on because they have a disability, Kyra can be a special hero and friend for them.

About the book:

Order Silent Starsong on Amazon
Order Silent Starsong on Barnes & Noble
ISBN: 978-1-939392-93-0
ISBN ebook: 978-1-939392-94-7
Price: $7.95
Appropriate for ages 10 & up







About the Author:

T.J. Wooldridge is the child-friendly persona of Trisha J. Wooldridge, who reviews dining establishments in Faerie for her local Worcester-area paper (much to all the natives' confusion) and writes grown-up horror short stories that occasionally win awards (EPIC 2008, 2009 for anthologies Bad-A$$ Faeries 2 and Bad-A$$ Faeries 3). The Spencer Hill Press anthologies UnCONventional (January 2012) and Doorways to Extra Time (August 2013) are both her "babies." Her novels include The Kelpie (December 2013) and The Earl's Childe (2015) in the MacArthur Family Chronicles series, and Silent Starsong (July 2014) in the Adventures of Kyra Starbard series. Find out more at www.anovelfriend.com

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lois Lowry on Her Writing Process -- and the One Change She Would Make to The Giver

I'm running late this morning. Stayed up till midnight watching baseball. Rangers and Rays went into extra innings. Fourteen of them. I couldn't leave until the end. The Rangers lucked out. Bases loaded, a walk to win. They need a lot of luck to get through this season.
Anyhow, this is a great interview that Write for Kids posted and asked that we share. Have a good day. I'm cross posting this from my blog.
 
 
Over our 25 years publishing Children’s Book Insider, we’ve given readers, aspiring authors and lovers of children’s literature the opportunity to interact directly with some of their favorite writers. The result: a number of revealing conversations with some remarkable authors. Here’s what happened some years back when our subscribers had the chance to ask the great Lois Lowry about her career — and the one change she would make to The Giver!
 
 
A two time Newbery Award winner (for Number the Stars and The Giver), Lois Lowry is among the most acclaimed writers of our time.  Noted for her willingness to challenge young readers with thought-provoking subjects, Ms. Lowry has taken on such subjects as the Holocaust, abortion, mental illness and our uncertain future.
 
 
1. How important is autobiography in your works?
 
Only two of my books - Autumn Street and A Summer to Die- are “autobiographical” in that they consciously use actual events, real people, from my childhood. But I think all fiction is autobiographical, really; all fiction draws upon the emotional history and experience of the writer. Marion Dane Bauer, in her book, A Writer’s Story, describes the fact that she was quite certain she had not ever written autobiographically. Then, on reflection, she discovered that she was re-playing an important emotional element of her own childhood again and again, in “fictional” book plots. I suspect that we all do that.
 
 
2. How do you lay out your stories? Do you have an ending before you start writing, or does it reveal itself to you as you write?
 
I am not a very well-organized writer. Beginnings come easily to me, but from there I usually start writing without a clear-cut idea of where I’m going. With the exception of the two autobiographical books I’ve mentioned (since their endings were preordained), I have usually simply started out on a journey along with the book characters, and the destination has been revealed to me along with them. I don’t recommend this as a writing method. But careful planning doesn’t work for me, as a writer. If I try to make an outline (and I have) – I usually lose interest in the book while I’m writing it, I think because my creative energy has gone into the outline. A lot of the fun and excitement of writing, for me, is because of the surprise of it: each day in the creation of a book is a new adventure for me, and that wouldn’t be true if I had a set of index cards telling me what was supposed to happen next.
 
 
3. The Giver examines the conflict of maintaining the security of the status quo versus risk-taking. Authors often resolve their own conflicts through their writing. How has this conflict affected your life?
 
Well, let me say right up front that I am a coward. Risk-taking doesn’t appeal to me much. Perhaps that’s why I liked the exploration of that theme when I was writing The Giver. However, it is also true that cowardly though I am, I have ventured into the world of risk in my own life from time to time. In 1977 I left a marriage of 21 years, left a 12-room house (and a housekeeper!) and moved into a 3-room furnished apartment over a garage in order to start a new life as a writer. I had no alimony, no inheritance, no income beyond what I could earn with words. It was a scary time for me. But I felt that there were no other options. I think it was a theme reflected also in Number the Stars, and actually laid out explicitly there in a conversation between Annemarie and Uncle Henrik, when he tells her that she risked her life and she replies, startled, that she hadn’t even been thinking about that; she’d only been thinking about what she had to do. The question of security/risk most often comes down not to courage but to necessity. You do what you have to do. I have, on occasion, and so have the characters, like Annemarie and Jonas, in my books. We all do, when it comes right down to it.
 
 
4. How do you get beyond just an idea. How does an idea become a story?
 
Some ideas don’t. Sometimes what seems like a wonderful starting point – a wonderful idea – turns out to be no more than an anecdote. You have to look beyond a “beginning” to see if there is any depth to it, any reason for sitting at a desk for month after month laboring over it, any reason for a publisher investing thousands of dollars into it, any reason for kids to pick it up and care about it. Does it have anything to say beyond the superficial? I think that’s the key, for me.
 
 
5. What do you think are the key elements when writing a book? When you have your ideas do you write a set plan of what will happen in the plot of the story?
 
I have occasionally listed the elements – each of them leading to the next – of a successful book as 1.character; 2.quest; 3.complications and choices; 4. catastrophe; 5. conclusion and 6.change. I think most writers and teachers of writing would probably agree that some similar list applies. But – in my opinion – it doesn’t work to make the list and then try to create the story to fit it. You create the story first; later, you see how and where it fits the pattern; finally, you make the necessary revisions which will become apparent at that point. You may find, for example, that the catastrophic event(#4) – upon which the concluding events (#5)should be predicated – occurs too early. Or (and this is quite common a flaw) that the character, who should have experienced growth as a result of the events throughout the narrative, has not really undergone a change (#6).
 
 
6. I greatly admire your writing, and especially love your characters. What is your secret in creating characters that we the readers can so easily identify with? Do they come from within you, or are they compilations of children and/or people you know? Any advice for the aspiring writer who’s attempting to create well-developed characters?
 
Without the exception of the autobiographic books, all of my characters are made-up ones; but of course everything we imagine comes from everything we have ever known or experienced. Most of that is subconscious, of course; but when I “create” a character, he or she is really being born from the fragments of every similar person I have known, seen, or read about. I suppose there are tricks and rules for the creation of characters, but I don’t know what they are. It’s important to me that characters – even minor ones – be well-rounded. I remember a minor character inRabble Starkey – a grouchy elderly neighbor named Millie Bellows; I think I described her as having a “face like a fist.” She was not an important character – I was really using her only as a plot vehicle, and to reflect other characters – and she died midway through the book; but she began to become interesting to me. We’ve all known old ladies like her: embittered, unfulfilled, misanthropic. I liked creating her, with her baleful view of life, and all the details of her unhappy existence. But of course such misery arises from disappointments, and so I added them in, too: hints of tragedy in her earlier life. I think that’s the important thing: to keep in mind the causative factors that lie behind personality traits, and the motivations for human behavior. If you don’t, the characters will remain shallow; and no real person ever is.
 
 
7. I’ve read Autumn Street, and I wondered, was the part where Charles got killed taken from real life? If so, how do you write about painful events like that?
 
As I’ve said earlier, Autumn Street was autobiographical. But I changed many things. The childhood friend – the cook’s grandchild – was actually a girl. Her name was Gloria. The real Gloria was murdered, that was true. But the circumstances surrounding the death of the fictionalized child, Charles, were different from those of Gloria’s death. I could, actually, have written more accurately about the real events, though I would have had to do research because I don’t know many of the details. Would doing so have been painful for me?  Oddly, I think not. This is a very personal thing and perhaps would not be true for you, or for others. But I find it very freeing and healing to talk – or write – about painful things.
 
 
8. How do you know for certain when your story is done… perfect…flawless…? Is that only when it’s printed and bound between hard covers, or ??  Do you have a sense of completeness or closure when you are satisfied with a story you’ve been working on?
 
You never feel that a story is perfect or flawless. And it isn’t. I have never written a flawless book and never will. (And thank goodness; because if I did, why write another?) You simply begin to feel that it is done, or at least as done as you can make it. At that point I do feel a sense of satisfaction and completeness – but it’s a false sense, because if I read a published book six months later, or a year later – I then find things I wish I could change, things I feel I could make better. Hypothetically, then, if I held onto a manuscript for a year – didn’t give it to the publisher right away when I thought it “done” – I probably would see fixable flaws, revisions I’d want to make. But then what? Then I’d give it to the publisher – and a year after that, I’d read the published book, and AGAIN I’d see changes to be made. It could be a never-ending exercise. So the best thing to do is finish, call it done, turn it in, and go on to the next book.
 
 
9. What advice do you give to authors who would like to develop their writing voice? What suggestions do you have for creating self-discipline at writing?
 
As for “voice”: I feel that you should write a book as if you are writing a letter to a friend: telling about something interesting, something meaningful, that has happened. It should be an intimate and private telling, friend to friend. It should be YOU, laughing, crying, teasing, angry, relating events, inviting your close friend to pay attention, to empathize. That will be your voice, a recognizable one. The question about self-discipline is a tough one for me. I don’t think self-discipline is a problem if you are doing work that you love and that you feel is important. I can’t imagine anyplace that I’d rather be than right here, at my desk. I need self-discilpine to make me get up and take the dog for a walk, or to cook dinner!
 
 
10. What changes would you make to The Giver if you could?
 
I wouldn’t change the ending, despite so many requests for me to “explain” it (about 50% of my mail tells me they like the ending as is). I left it ambiguous on purpose, so that readers could bring their own thoughts to it. But I would make the final third of the book – from the place where Jonas rakes Gabriel and flees the community – longer. I think that the escape section should have been a whole complex story in itself; and as it is, it feels a little rushed to me. I was trying to keep the book under 200 pages. Now I think that was an unnecessary restriction that I placed on myself. On the other hand – if I had extended that section, made the book 250 pages long, it would not have been published until the next year. And so it would probably not have won the Newbery Medal, because Walk Two Moonswas published that next year, and so… I guess I was wise to quit when I did.
 
Happy Reading.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Fall TV is coming!!

I have always been a media junkie. I love movies, though most of the ones I see are on DVD. And I love a GOOD TV show. I don't watch a ton of reality TV, and definitely NOT things like Jersey Shore, Real Housewives, or any other 'scripted reality'. I like Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Cake Boss. Which are edited, sure, but seem much more organic than stuff like the Kardashians (gag).

But really well written TV is something I adore. What's coming this fall is making me squee with delight!

ONCE UPON A TIME

If you know anything about me, you know I am a Fairy Tale junkie. Even more a mash-up junkie. I've been watching this since Day One. The second season was a bit difficult, but once they added the Wizard of Oz, I was re-hooked. Frozen features this season??? Elsa and Anna? How can I resist?
AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D

I know the first half of the season was kind of slow. But once you got to December/January, it took off like a rocket! My son and I watch this together, and we are addicted! Cannot WAIT for the new season!

My son loves this show so much he wants to be Agent Coulson for Halloween. Seriously. Not, not Ironman or Captain America. Agent Phil Freaking Bad-Ass Coulson. 


THE LIBRARIANS

Uh, duh. Of COURSE I am watching this. First of all, I love the movies with Noah Wylie. The first two were better than the third, IMO, but I adore the concept. I mean, secret library, ancient artifacts...sound familiar? If not, go pick up some of my Library of Athena books. Like, right now. 

I have every hope that the new series has all the fun of the TV show. *crosses fingers* And it has Christian Kane, from LEVERAGE, so that's good. *eye candy* And, of course, it's about LIBRARIANS. I could only hope my day job was as exciting.




And of course....

DOCTOR WHO

A new Doctor. New adventures. This is technically a 'summer start' show, but I wouldn't be a good Whovian if I forgot it! I don't even have an inkling about what's going to happen, I've avoided all the trailers. I only know it will be darker and less 'silly'. Which is okay.



I also have no idea who the third guy is. But I'm willing to wait to find out.



Those are just three of the shows I'm looking forward to. There's also GRIMM (which I'm a whole season behind on, but watch on Amazon anyway), CASTLE, SLEEPY HOLLOW, and all the crime shows I usually watch. 

Bring on the Fall!!!









Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Forcing the Classics

It's happened to everyone. At least I feel fairly safe in assuming that. A book is assigned in school - or perhaps for summer reading, and you have to force your way through it. Maybe you skim it. Maybe you don't read it at all. You decide that it is the most horrid thing ever written and can't figure out why anyone would want to read this book, or anything by this author ever.

Chances are the book in question was a classic.

Classic starts to equate in your mind to "boring."

You see other books labeled "classic" and you ignore them, because you have learned that classic equals boring.

But what if the book in question wasn't really boring? What if it wasn't poorly written? What if you, as  student, were just not ready for the insights the book revealed about human nature.

What if.

What if you read the book years later as an adult and are amazed at the power of the language, at the imagery at the depths of the insight?

What if you get it when you are an adult?

But what if you never pick the book back up, because you've already read (or skimmed) it and already know it's boring. Why then, you'll be missing out on something big, and you'll never know it.

My daughter had to read All Quiet on the Western Front in 7th grade. She hated it. I'm pretty sure I read it in high school and thought it was boring. I just re-read it last week and loved it.

I understand the desire of teachers to want to introduce their students to a variety of literature. I get that. But sometimes I think we do students a disservice by forcing them to read books they are not ready for.

Is there an easy answer to this? Probably not. But I do think we have to stop making reading novels feel so much like work, and let it be fun. This is one of the reasons why YA literature is so important for kids. It's something that they're much more apt to get. It's something that can be fun. And when something is fun you want to do more of it.

And reading should be fun.

And classics are fun too - but not when read at the wrong time.

So, what is your take on this - are we ruining classics for students by forcing them to read them when they don't really understand them, or are we making sure they leave school with a well-rounded introduction to literature. And does it have to be one or the other?

Friday, August 1, 2014

2014 The Year of Lame Posts!

Morning all!

I've been honestly amazed at the chaos (both good and bad) and the speed with which 2014 has been zooming past.

Work continues to be super busy. Everytime we think things are getting organized, more changes and chaos ensues. Sadly, making the paycheck and dealing with all that 2014 has been throwing my way has super slowed my writing endeavors. Still, I forge ahead when I can. But it really makes it hard to make steady progress. I am so ready to finish my current WIP. Lol.

Was going to drag some pics to share, but how about a new Simon's Cat instead? Hee!


Simon's Cat "Hot Water" - and check out their IndieGogo promo. The car decals are so tempting! 


Hope you all have an awesome weekend!


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Keeping it Real

I write a YA supernatural series and am currently working on the third book. While it is aimed at tween and teen readers, I have realized that a large part of my audience is comprised of women in my age group. I guess that shouldn't really surprise me: I like to read YA, too. 

So here's what I'm trying to puzzle through for my current work.

The subject of partying is going to come up. Now, neither of my main characters parties, and for good reason as will be revealed. But I have had at least one reader say to me, "Your characters are in their first years of college. How come none of them drink?"

That's a very valid question. Pretending that underage kids don't drink is to ignore what is really going on in our society. Whether we like it or not, kids get hold of liquor (not to mention other substances) and they share these things with each other, sometimes with horrible results. And this is part of reality.

So I'm trying to figure out how to handle this. I don't want to be accused of encouraging drinking in my target audience (although I'm not making a party situation look like anything fun in this story). On the other hand, I don't think I can keep writing about these characters, who are about 19 to 20-ish in the last book, without including the fact that a lot of college kids party and that they have frequent exposure to the opportunity to drink.

Some people will say that this would be a good teaching moment. Maybe. What happens to one character could certainly be considered a moral of a story, I suppose. On the other hand, I think getting didactic while writing fiction is a really efficient way to turn off readers and insure they never pick up another one of my books again.

I'm also thinking that the adults reading my books will have something to say about what I'm doing, just because adults do that. I know I'm an adult too, but sometimes my sensibilities are still squarely at the age of 19. By the way, I tried partying when I was in college and realized it really wasn't a good time for me. (Being surrounded by people I didn't know who were getting progressively more drunk or high as the evening wore on, and realizing that the only person I knew at the entire party -the one who invited me- was invariably occupied in the bedroom with her boyfriend, was a situation that got old really quick. But I digress.)

So I guess in the end, I will write what I write as well as what is true to the story and my own sense of what growing up was like. But I must admit, I'm wondering already what kind of armor I can girth myself in when all the feedback starts flowing my way. I may be gutless, but I need to be honest.