Saturday, April 2, 2016

You're all astute readers...

...Anne Shirley it won't surprise you that, although I did move this week, it wasn't into Green Gables.

I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Aprils.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Loads of character



As some of you know, the new apartment I moved into yesterday is technically an in-law unit at the top of a house. It's not neat enough for pictures of the inside yet, but isn't the outside lovely? Look at all that reading space!

I can tell already that this neighborhood is full of kindred spirits. I know a lot of children's lit types like Brooklyn, but I'm excited about my new home in Brookline with an 'e'.



Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Finer Points of an End Zone Dance: In the Name of Research, Part II

A few months ago, I wrote a post with the intention of scratching an inch I feel frequently while writing: the itch to say, "I'm finding myself researching x for the sake of my writing. Isn't that funny?" Well, I think it may have to become a regular-ish feature. When Writing Time rolls around, I expect that I'll be spending time with MG-aged characters in classrooms and homes and summer camps, all places I know pretty well. It blows my my every time the story goes somewhere that requires me to educate myself in:

-the finer points of an end zone dance
-the finer points of a grand jeté
-how to type an accented e on a PC (what has a year+ with a Mac as my work computer done to me?) 
-whether the word hallelujah appears in a service I've attended many times
-whether kids still play Concentration
-how counselor sleeping areas are set up at various summer camps (this one took crowdsourcing; thanks, all!)
-fifth grade curriculum
-what might be in a gluten-free school lunch
-the release date of a movie featuring the first name of one of my major characters--before or after she was born? (I couldn't reach a conclusive answer without knowing the book's release date. She said optimistically.) 
-how old boys usually are when their voices change
-causes of lisps
-when school budgets are announced 
-how to write a good last line (okay, this one's less surprising)

To write is to learn, and relearn, and realize how much you don't know for sure.

And what have you Googled lately?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Drafting is rough. (And that's okay!)

I know the revision process better now, and I think it's made the drafting process less intimidating.

Project A has spent the year going back and forth between my agent and me as we've worked on revisions. Whenever it's been in my agent's hands, I've kept busy working on Project B, also a middle-grade novel. Today, I realized I was on the verge of the last scene and I might as well push through, so I did. I even have a last line that I don't hate.

I made a lot of additions to my revision list today, some about the scene I was in the process of writing and some about the novel as a whole. There are some blanks in the last few chapters because one of the revision list items is to figure out how each secondary-character classmate feels about the main events, and those decisions will determine who says or does certain things that, for now, I just needed any classmate to say or do in order to move forward. The word count is pretty low right now, but that's okay because the revisions are going to add more words.

Although the concept of writing a revision list as I go isn't new at all, I leaned on it more heavily this time than I have in the past. Now that I've done such extensive revisions on Project A, I know what people are talking about when they say revising is easier than writing a first draft. I know that when I'm getting everything down, it's a lot to think about making sure each character is well-rounded but distinct and everything is consistent and logistically possible and the dialogue tags aren't hokey and I don't make people nod five times on the same page. I know that I can go back and first make sure that one character displays a particular set of traits but not too much, and then make sure another character displays a different set of traits but not too much, and then make sure someone who lived on Main Street in Chapter 1 doesn't suddenly live on High Street in Chapter 10, and then double-check the science behind the chapter with the messy experiment, and then make some of my characters shake their heads instead of nodding because conflict, darn it, conflict!

I know I can trust the process. And I'm excited to start the next phase of it in 2016!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Why do I love Pop Culture Happy Hour so much?

I'd say I have an average level of interest in pop culture. I have favorite and not-favorite-but-I-like-'em TV shows and movies, but there are plenty of popular ones I haven't seen. I love me some late-night comedy and, while we're at it, some Ellen, and love that it's easy to watch all of the above whenever I feel like it. Most music makes me pretty happy, but I don't have a ready response to the ubiquitous "what kind of music do you listen to" question, and I don't think I'm well-informed at all about current artists. Even books for adults--I read some, but I definitely feel less aware of what's current now that I've been out of the bookstore for over a year. In short, my relationship with pop culture is casual, a far cry from my obsessive relationship with children's lit.

But I can't get enough of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour.

Before you write me off as the sort of person who only likes pop culture if it's on NPR, I hasten to add that most of my NPR listening tends toward the less serious shows, along the lines of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! Often, I enjoy PCHH for the same reason I might enjoy a talk show interview with the star of a movie that interests me--it's fun to spend time thinking about something you like and maybe learning more about it.

Naturally, I'm more engaged when the subject matter is something I've seen or planned to see (and it's a plus that PCHH does consider books part of pop culture). If absolutely nothing about the episode description interests me, I might even skip it. But this morning, as I started catching up on the podcast, I noticed something about my listening tendencies, not for the first time. The first episode in line started with a discussion of the movie Bridge of Spies; I'd downloaded it because of the promised second section, a more general analysis of Tom Hanks's career. (Who can't find something of interest in the star of Forrest GumpApollo 13 *and* a million rom-coms?) I haven't seen Bridge of Spies, and it doesn't sound like something I'm personally likely to rush out and see. But still, I found myself interested in the analysis of who this movie might appeal to and why. What was special about it? What was prosaic? What was a throwback?

The thing is, that's exactly how the people around me and I look at children's books. We raise these sorts of questions about them, we decide that the questions are important and worth spending time and brain power on, and we analyze them at length. The who-might-it-appeal-to question was particularly important in bookselling, but all the facets are of interest.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a PCHH interview with Robert Galbraith J. K. Rowling in my queue.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Passivity has been noticed (and, I hope, revised)

I sent off a draft last week after applying a few more revision suggestions. Two of the suggestions were basically logistical issues within the story, but the third suggestion was something a little bigger. My main character's interests were clear, and so were his reactions to the people around him, but his own personality was harder to define. Why couldn't he be more like my secondary characters?

My agent was right, and I did some work to flesh out traits that previous drafts had hinted at but not emphasized; I hope I've resolved the issue. But I also did some mulling over of why I had this problem in the first place. I definitely consider myself more of a character person than a plot person, but somehow, I'd ended up with strong secondary characters and a protagonist who mostly just reacted to them. This hasn't been the case in all my writing projects, but it also isn't the first time it's happened.

I typically write in either first or close third person, so both the reader and I go through the story, moment by moment, right with the main character. As in life, other people happen to us. As in life, we see others from at least a bit of a distance. We know that not every single moment of our own lives is character-defining--we might be mild-mannered but occasionally get upset about something that happens to us; we might be early risers but occasionally sleep in because we've had a tiring week. We know that we react to things that happen in whatever way makes the most sense--right?? So the things that happen are more important to the story.

Now that I realize this is a trap I can fall into, I'll react to that information by spending more planning time on my protagonists. It seemed obvious that I needed to do this for other characters, especially antagonists; after all, readers need an explanation for why they do the ridiculous things they do. I guess that's true of the story's hero(ine), too.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

You won't succeed on Broadway if you don't have any muse.

So I saw two very different musicals, The Book of Mormon and Without You, in the space of a week. (A wonderfully theater-geeky writer friend was involved.) It got me thinking, not for the first time, about my relationship with musicals as a writer, which is pretty deep-seated for someone who doesn't write musicals. I even started a post about my admiration for their clever lyrics, many of which have stayed with me so persistently that they've become tied to various in-jokes in my life. (There've been a few song parodies. Attend the tale of Soapy Todd, the cleaner barber of Fleet Street.) And about how they often motivate me to work on my own writing, both because they inspire me as achievements and because of the messages in so many of them. I hear the people sing and I want to seize the day and climb every mountain and defy gravity. (Come to think of it, defying gravity would make climbing every mountain a lot easier. Where was Elphaba when the von Trapps needed her?)

And then, while I was halfway between highlighting gems from a range of musicals and trying to convey their effect on me without quoting "Purpose" from Avenue Q too heavily, the soundtrack to Hamilton became widely available. The Internet, at least the bit of it that I follow, went nuts, and I knew that others understood.

I've only listened through once so far, and I have no doubt there's more to discover, but Hamilton is a perfect example of so much of why musicals impress me. The old refrain "surprising yet inevitable" keeps running through my head as I think about musicals, and in Hamilton's case, I think the opposite works: inevitable, yet surprising. Even vague U.S. history knowledge, enough to make you at all interested in this show, is enough that you probably know the ending going in, as well as a few things that will happen along the way--how the war turns out, for instance. And if you don't know the ending from the outset, you'll be told early on, and then there's lots and lots of foreshadowing to remind you. But the show gets there in an unexpected way, a way that the participants in the events couldn't have imagined. The same is true of a lot of other musicals--either they're based on a true or a familiar fictional story, or they sum themselves up in the opening number and leave it to you to figure out how they'll arrive at the projected ending. When they get there--or when they get close, and you can see how they're going to get there--there's a satisfying feeling of closure. On a smaller level, I love it when lyrics build to a word or phrase that's surprising but then seems obvious. ("Use proper English, you're regarded as a freak / Oh, why can't the English / Why can't the English learn... to SPEAK?")

It's a feeling I want to create in my own writing, both in large ways with plot arcs and small ways with details and dialogue. Musicals remind me that I have the chance to tell any kind of story I want in a resonating, satisfying way. And I am not throwin' away my shot.