ON WRITING

Past blog posts from old sites that I saved. Why? Because I’d hate for all these words to just disappear. Enough of my words get massacred as it is…

All I Want for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Solstice (originally published Dec. 15th, 2009)

Following is what I want for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Solstice…

1) Is the patience to revise. When I finished BLACK TUESDAY (Dutton, 2007), I thoroughly revised the book twice. In hindsight, this was not enough, but then again, I was a newbie and didn’t realize that, especially as a former journalist who never had to revise (edit, yes, but rewrite? Not so much). For CASHING IN (Dutton, 2009), I thoroughly revised approximately four times. And in hindsight? The end product was better, but it could have benefited from another go-through to solidify themes, punch up romantic burgeonings, etc. This next book, I plan on revising better. To allow myself to sit and stew. To dream about the book even more. I’m not trying to go for Revision #5, just for Revision Even Better.

2) Is the imagination to create the world my characters deserve. I’m branching out into a different genre, and it has fantastical elements (but not of the pointy-teeth or dog-biscuit-breath variety). I’m having fun with world-building, but I need it to be more than a vanity project. This world needs to be worthy. It needs to have Mordor and Ewoks and Hogwarts. It needs landmarks that stick with a girl, y’know?

3) Is the self-perception to devise a much-loved character or 12. I love documentaries (and yes, Sweet Sixteen on MTV counts), and I love taking characteristics from these crippled people and putting them into my own characters. But the characteristics readers most relate to in my books are the ones that I’ve pulled from my own life–either experienced by me or by a friend when I was with her/him. So this reader love makes sense–3D characteristics is always better than 2D.

4) Is the stalwart heart to take my characters to the brink and not save them too fast. Or maybe at all (at least at the end of Book 1). I always want to get my characters out of sticky situations quickly. I hurt when they hurt, after all, and I feel like I’ve forgotten to turn off the oven Day 2 of a roadtrip if I have unresolved issues. But hurt is a good thing. Readers like hurt. I may just have to wear a rubber band about my wrist and plick myself every time I want to write a character out of a corner. Bad, Susan, bad. *Plick*

5) Is the confidence to know my voice is good enough. I read books that have done better than mine, and I want to have the same luck. I want to have their voice and be just as beloved. However, at the end of the day, voice is who you are, not who you wish you could be.

I’m My Own Solution and My Own Problem (originally published Jan. 12th, 2010)

So it’s January 11, and I’m already 11 days behind with my New Year’s Resolutions. If I were 14 and didn’t know how to find unique credible sources, I would go to Dictionary.com to tell me what a resolution is. Once there, I would skim and find that it can mean an intention, a resolve, or as definition #8 more interestingly puts it, a solution.

So here are my five SOLUTIONS for 2010 (when it comes to writing, at least; my diet and fitness program are best discussed betwixt the angel and demon on my shoulders):

Problem 1: I may or may not have found the genre I want to write in.
Solution to Problem 1: Write. See if new genre is right for you. Complete manuscript in new genre, and revise, revise, and revise yet again. Revisit self-doubt on the completion of pretty new manuscript you would not have otherwise have written if you hadn’t just done it.

Problem 2: I want to complete two books this year, but childcare/publishing industry woes may work against me.
Solution to Problem 2: Write. Give self-imposed deadlines, and let Miss Agent know about self-imposed deadlines so that you humiliate yourself if you don’t meet them. Listen to Miss Agent’s thoughts about the industry. Don’t stick head in sand hole, listening only to the sound of your own voice.

Problem 3: I wish I could write words that come out right the first time.
Solution to Problem 3: Embrace the mantra, “Don’t we all.”

Problem 4: I wish I would stop depending on eyes and smiles to show emotions. But they always crop up. Always.
Solution to Problem 4: Find and replace is a wonderful tool. Use it.

Problem 5: I can’t believe people like Paris Hilton and Lauren Conrad are on the NYT bestsellers’ list and I’m not.
Solution to Problem 5: Seek and find Jon Gosselin, and build BFF relationship. Hook a reality show deal based on the relationship. See if I can get Octomom to guest star. Wait until MTV picks up the show, then release my third book written by ghost writer.

Revisions, How I Loathe Thee (Sep. 20th, 2009)

Does anyone else hate inputting revisions as much as I do? I don’t mind reading my work and making notes–I love that part. However, inputting those revisions into Word KILLS me. The ADHD part of me (if I believed in ADHD) wants to go watch a House Hunters while reading The Writer and talking to my mom on the phone.

Thursday-Going-on-Friday Randomness (originally published Oct. 22nd, 2009)

1) I signed up for Nanowrimo. Again. What’s the definition of insanity again? Oh yeah–doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. I think this is my fourth year, and I have yet to “win,” i.e., get to 50,000 words in a bionic 30 days. But I’m MarniStory for anyone who has signed up, has a bit of crazy circling in that head of yours, and is thinking that this is the year to get your Jamie Summers’ freak on.

2) I can’t believe I waited so long to read STORY, by Robert McKee. It’s about the inner workings of screenplays, but it works on so many levels with novel writing. It’s thick enough to kill a passer by if you drop it off a skyscraper, but it’s just too dang good to drop off a skyscraper.

3) I am challenging myself to brainstorm 200 scenes in the nine days that are left before Nanowrimo. McKee says that most good stories have around 60 scenes, and the ones with the saggy flab that hangs over the belt buckle are the ones that were the writer’s first choice, not their fifth or twentieth. I’ll see if McKee has something there. I’ll report back, barring I drop the book on a passer by.

4) I recently read Neil Shusterman’s UNWIND and I’m still thinking about it. It was one of the very rarest of rare books that had an ending I totally and wholeheartedly agreed with. Sorry, Stephenie Meyer.

5) I need a space heater. It needs to be beside me as I work at 1 a.m. every night, while the mice, husband, and child are dreaming of dancing sugarplums. The fingerless gloves just ain’t cutting it anymore.

Editors, Agents, Brainstorms & Sweat (originally published Sept. 28, 2009)

A week and a half ago, I went on a spur of the moment trip to NYC (the hubby had to be there for a private equity conference at the Waldorf Astoria–I know, I know, isn’t the financial sector supposed to be on a budget?). I almost didn’t go with him; it’s a five hour trip down, it was only going to be for two nights, and anyone who has a toddler knows that it’s tempting to stay at home just to try to keep said toddler on her schedule.

But I did go. As did said toddler. And I’m glad for it because:

1) I finally met my editor face to face. Maureen was just as nice as she was when I spoke and e-mailed her over the last four years. FOUR YEARS. And this was my first face-to-face. And it was everything I dreamed: we talked writing and publishing, we ate at a cute cafe where they served the check in an old book, and my feelings about having such a great editor were reinforced. The other nice thing I hadn’t expected? I brought the toddler with me to this meeting, and she very nicely ate her mac n cheese and played with a pad of Post Its and a pencil that Maureen so graciously gave to her.

2) I finally met my agent face to face. And just like the meeting with Maureen, meeting with Christina was also a lovely dream come true. I met her at her agency, a four-story brownstone with no sign out front. I met with her in the second floor parlor, surrounded by thousands of lovely books written by their clientele. We brainstormed, we talked publishing, and said toddler napped on me for an hour and a half with only a tiny drool puddle to show for it.

3) I’ve been working on a story nonstop since I got back from New York, based on those brainstorms, and it feels special, you know? Maybe the face-to-faces brought out the creative beast from hibernation. Actually, there’s no maybe about it–I know they did.

4) I had a brief moment of embarrassed pleasure when a random bike messenger called out “I love you Mama” as I was pushing the toddler in her stroller on the way to my editor’s. Read below to see why I maybe drew his attention.

5) I realized that you should always, always bring a spare shirt with you when you walk around New York on a balmy late-summer day, as you chew up miles of streets and avenues on foot, and then balance a toddler and a stroller up and down subway stairs. Because you never know if you’ll end up at your editor’s, at your first face-to-face, with a river of VISIBLE sweat from your armhole to your hem. And you never know if, when trying to mop up the mess, you’ll hear “[Insert your name], is that you?” as your editor comes into the restroom where you hoped to hide with the hand dryer for a few minutes.

**By the way, there’s a very nice Eastern Mountain Sports on Spring & Broadway in Greenwich Village if you’re looking for an anti-sweat-stain (wicking) shirt.

Five A-Ha Moments: The NESCBWI Conference (originally published Apr. 26th, 2009)

Just got back from a terrific conference put on by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Seeing as how I just went to a writing conference a month ago that wasn’t so great, I was glad to have my faith restored by having a good experience this go-round.

I packed up the car with my bookmarks, my Garmin, and six-scoops-of-coffee-grinds-to-make-one-serving coffee-to-go. At the conference, caffeine or no caffeine, I had numerous a-ha moments. And in true Random fashion, I have come up with 5 A-Ha Moments to share.

The keynote, Rules author Cynthia Lord, gave a goosebump-raising speech about her experience as a YA writer. These were just two lessons I learned from Ms. Lord:

1) Setting is about the surprising. For instance, anyone can write about a playground with sand and woodchips and plastic slides. But what about the water broken fountain spewing water, creating an impromptu toy?

2) Let your book’s message be for you, not your reader. If the message affects you down to your bone marrow, just imagine how it will affect the reader. Let your emotional baggage work for you.

Speaking of twos, my two favorite sessions at the Crowne Plaza were Creating an Unreliable Narrator with Jacqueline Davies and Unifying Your Novel Through Theme with Cynthia Lord and Linda Urban. Here is one of the lessons I learned from Ms. Davies:

3) The reader is forced to be on her toes and take an active role in a book using an unreliable narrator. And tension is never, ever a bad thing to have in a book.

And in the workshop on theme, here are the top two that made my stomach flip and my heart pitter patter with A-Ha excitement:

4) A great theme leaves a reader with a sense of satisfaction and a book that lingers with her.

5a) Theme might not be a first draft concern. Ms. Lord says she works on character and plot and then brings in theme and emphasizes theme during rewrites.

5b) Theme comes down to this equation:
Define Your Subject THEN List the Aspects of that Subject THEN Ask Questions About that Aspect

Example:

Subject: Friendship
Aspect: Loyalty
Question: Where is the line between being loyal to a friend and being co-dependent?

5c) If you already know the answer to your question, then the story’s theme is too safe and the story will not be as special.

5d) If you have a focused theme, you will have a focused reader.