Sunday, October 9, 2016

You can have your ghosts and goblins. I've got public speaking.

I have a recurring nightmare: I'm in front of a crowd at an author event. Someone asks me a question, one that I could answer just fine if I could just sit down and write, and possibly rewrite, a response. But everyone is looking at me! They're all waiting for me to respond, and I'm very aware that they're waiting for me to respond. This awareness replaces all coherent thought in my mind, and all I can manage is an eloquent "Aaaap. Baaaaap. Bah." Which is immediately quoted on Twitter. #authorfail.

Okay, my feelings about speaking in front of groups aren't that bad. Really. But like many people who like to communicate through writing, I'm not quite as comfortable in front of a group as I want to be. (Insert thinkpiece here about introversion. Insert second thinkpiece about tropes and bookishness and movies with women who have to overcome their glasses.)

I've been to so many speeches, readings, and panels where authors were engaging, inspiring, hilarious, or all three, and it made me care about their ideas and want to read their books. The ones I went to when I was younger made even stronger impressions, and if I'd ever been brave enough to ask a question, I would've held onto the answer forever.

That's the kind of author I want to be. The writing itself is the most important thing, but I also care about being part of the children's book community, and I hope I can create good meeting-the-author memories for some young readers. If those memories can be free of aaaap-baaaaap-bahs, even better. I want to be able to think less about the fact that I'm Up in Front of People, and think more about what would be interesting or helpful for those people to hear.

So I decided to do something about it: I've signed up for a public speaking class. The first session was this past week, and yes, the first time I got up to speak, I was really aware of all the people looking at me and waiting for me to say things. Supportive though the environment was, I know I talked too fast, and if someone had asked me a tough question, I would've had a hard time giving a thorough answer.

And then the second time I got up to speak, I talked a bit more slowly, and thinking was a little easier. Funny how that works.

Halloween, schmalloween. I'm conquering my own fear this October.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Revising is easy*. Writing is harder.

“[Image: A gif of Hamilton writing in the dark with candlelight. There is text that says “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” End description.]
doodling :P

In recent months, I've jumped from a project I was revising to a brand-new one, and remembered or relearned a lot about this building-from-the-ground-up phase of writing. The first draft is going reasonably quickly; my #amwriting tweets lately have been about middles (which may be a subject for another post). But a big reason that I'm not getting mired in one scene or another is that I'm giving myself permission to leave lots of things for Revision Time.

In fact, I had the beginnings of a list of things to check for in revision before I even started writing. At the very beginning of this process, I actually found planning easier than composing, which was a surprise to me since I think my strengths lie more in voice and dialogue than in plot and structure.

But I think I know what's going on: it's a need to focus on one thing at a time. Paradoxically, writing a sentence of a novel, especially a novel you don't know well yet, involves thinking about lots of aspects of that novel and making lots of decisions. (I love the way Kristin Cashore expands on this idea, and how it operates in fantasy, her genre of choice.) When you've just met a bunch of characters and you want to make them greet each other, pick a restaurant, and go there, decisions involved will probably include:
  • each character's voice
  • the narrator's voice
  • what sorts of restaurants, and how many options, are available in this setting
  • who in the group is a decision maker, who's an arguer, and who's a follower
  • how much time everyone has
  • everyone's taste in food
  • dietary restrictions based on health and/or belief systems
  • how much everyone can spend, or wants to spend, on dinner
  • everyone's means and preferences in terms of transportation
And that's all before the salad course, if there is one.

That's why on this draft, I'm finding that it's often easier to just pick something. There are a few things I knew for sure going into this WIP, so some decisions are easy to make, but the rest, I can leave for later. Eventually, I'll probably either realize organically, or decide actively, that a particular character likes to take charge, or that another character makes himself feel good by judging others. I'll put each of those traits on my revision list, and for each, I'll go through every mention of the character, and every scene in which the character is present (or should be), and add evidence for, and often evolution of, that trait. (Scrivener helps.) Revising this way means that I see one character's arc (or setting element, etc. etc.) all at once, without much distraction from other aspects of the novel; if something gives me pause while I'm revising for something else, I just add it to my revision list to deal with later.  

After I figure out if the main character's little brother is the type to fill up on rolls.

*Easy is probably an exaggeration. We'll see how I feel in a few months.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

This generation's Barney the Dinosaur: In the name of research, Part III

"In the name of research" is a semi-regular feature on this blog, compiling the often unexpected topics on which I end up educating myself in the course of writing. And what have you Googled lately?

The latest, all related to The New Project:

-Whether beach houses typically have air conditioners.
-Popular songs of the 1990s. Yes, I was there, but I wasn't cool enough then to immediately know what, say, an uncool dad in the present-plus might sing along with. (Present-plus: the setting of a contemporary novel that isn't done yet and won't come out for at least a few years. Patent pending.)
-Religious and economic demographics of cities, and their distances from other places.
-The names of fictional towns, schools, and businesses to make sure they don't actually exist.
-Names for an aunt character born in a particular decade. Slightly more challenging when your real-life grandparents were blessed with (precisely) ten gazillion siblings and you don't want to use the name of one of your own aunts.
-Points of geography, purely so I can have characters get them humorously wrong in an informed way.
-The number of seats in a minivan (followed by a counting of characters).

-Italian restaurant menus. I even selected the "price: high to low" option for the purposes of a scene, which made me feel very fancy.
-Basic chemistry so as to find a way for a character who hasn't formally learned about enzymes yet to talk about the composition of cheese. (Enzymes, it seems, are proteins. There was a time when I knew that.)
-Details of driving. (It's been a while.)
-Whether arcades are still a thing. (Not to sound crochety, but it's getting harder to get characters to leave the house these days.)
-Arcade games. (I never really went to arcades.)
-This generation's Barney the Dinosaur. That is, something for a kid to be as scathing about as '90s kids were about poor Barney if we were a few years too old for him. I put out a Twitter call for this one out of curiosity, but I'll probably make something up. For everyone's sake.

I may get some interesting ads.


My gloriously nerdtastic Horn Book colleagues and I used the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as an excuse for Fan Week 2016, a celebration of fan creations, fan devotion, and fandom in general. And my gloriously nerdtastic former colleagues at Brookline Booksmith gave Cursed Child a Quidditch World Cup-sized midnight release party. Check out either or both if you enjoy enthusiasm.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Writing is hard work.

I'm in the very early stages of a new WIP, one I'm super-excited about. I have lots of notes, and the manuscript itself is at about 2600 words, many of which will probably be revised or cut. (Jumping in and writing an opening can be a great way to figure things out, but the eventual readers don't necessarily need to watch me figure them out.)

Since I know how much can change in a manuscript, I'm not ready to talk much about the plot and characters. But I will share that the setting made it absolutely necessary for me to spend a day doing extensive research.

Followed by extensive removal of sand from between my toes.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

My new Internet home

Introducing my new author website! Featuring:

  • ways to contact me
  • a love letter to books bio
  • an author photo by Dawn Hackman
  • a color palette that I hope says cheery author of middle-grade realism
  • a feed of this blog, which will also continue to appear in its Blogger location. (The meta magic of this announcement appearing on the website is not lost on me.)

I hope you'll stop by!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Weird revision-brain thing

I'm working on revisions (the self-imposed kind for now) of a WIP that at this point needs a lot of them. I have my list of revision notes laid out in an order that makes sense to me, largest points to smallest points (because why fine-tune the dialogue tags in a scene that might get rewritten?). And I'm close enough to the top of the list that much of the work involves reconsidering big questions about the characters and their world, and the structure and timeline of the story. There will be a point later when revisions can be done in fifteen-minute chunks if I so choose, but this is not that point. Now, I need longer periods of quiet, focused time when I'm feeling energetic and ready to think. But that's not the weird part.

It's also not that weird that in between one revision point (say, figure out some reasons two friends are so loyal and find ways to indicate these reasons) and another (add or subtract days from the plot so Monday follows Sunday), I feel the need to clear my head. To do something less thoughtful for a couple of minutes--hey, look, the device I'm writing on just happens to contain the Internet! What is a little weird, in a brains-are-mysterious-and-cool sort of way, is that in these moments, I crave music. Not continuous music while I'm working, just two minutes of music while I'm not. It helps remove the muddled feeling from my mind much more efficiently than a musicless break might. Occasionally, it even reminds of a theme song at the end of a TV show. The Fix-This-Character Show is over! Time for the Fix-This-Timeline Show!

Maybe it's a way of subconsciously telling myself, "Someone else managed a creative feat. So can you."

Anyone else have quirky revision rituals?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Update roundup, with #shelfie

Life's been busy in a whole bunch of good ways. I've settled into my new place that isn't Green Gables, a highlight of which was creating this view from the futon.

Not pictured: the adult books; the TBR shelf.

It's a great place to write and revise among lots of reminders that all these people could write books, and so can I. And a few weeks ago, I also surrounded myself with living reminders that writing books is a thing that cool people do at NESCBWI16. It was wonderful to catch up with many of those cool people!

Meanwhile, my place of work keeps churning out cool stuff. There's a podcast now. There's a new summer reading list. There's going to be a blog for parents. The Special Issue on the theme of "Collaborations" is out, and we're working on the next issue, featuring Lots and Lots of ALA Award Stuff.

And congrats to my former place of work on the Pannell Award, honoring its most important section. (I have no bias at all.)

Happy Sunday!