Archive for May, 2011

Job Description

I am not a particularly fabulous flier.  I like the idea of flying, of soaring over the earth, white puffy clouds all around, but the reality of being in an overheated metal box, way too high above the ground, always does me in.  After September 11th, I never wanted to fly again.  I have a vivid imagination, like most writers, and was able to conjure up very unpleasant scenarios.

Then I read an article about the people who got back in a plane in the days and weeks immediately following.  One person pointed out that during World War II, every single pilot who went up did so knowing they would be shot at — it was simply part of the job. “If they could get back in a plane day after day facing that, I can get over my coddled self long enough to sit my butt in a plane and get to Houston,” was the gist of the rest of the quote.  It put flying back into perspective.

As we celebrate Memorial Day this weekend, in between the trips to the beach, the parades and the barbecues, I’ll be thinking of those pilots, of their bravery, and of all the other men and women who served and didn’t make it back to share these simple pleasures.  And when I look around at my kids, I’ll be remembering the families of those military members, and wishing “not coming home” wasn’t a part of anyone’s job description.


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BOOM! Goes the book.

Last week (possibly the week before — life seems to be moving at the speed of light these days) I attended Cindy Pon’s Diversity Tour in Cambridge. I learned several things, the first being that Cindy, no slouch herself, rolls with some amazing authors.

The panel discussed, among other topics, how to get YA readers to look at books outside their comfort zone.  One of the authors noted how, growing up, she never read books with heroines that looked like her – they simply didn’t exist then.  What made her continue reading certain authors and genres was that the writer managed to make an emotional connection – a point of contact — that stretched across physical and gender characteristics.

Simple and elementary, but it struck home with me.  As a kid, I loved Robert Parker’s novel Ceremony. (I still do.) I read it somewhere around fifth or sixth grade, when a friend whose father ran a Woolworth’s gave me a copy as a birthday gift.  If physical similarities were all that mattered to readers, I would have identified with the misguided April Kyle, a pretty blonde teenager from suburbia.  But of course, it was Spenser the wise-cracking detective who captured my heart, who made me think about honor and codes of conduct and the value of loyalty and love, important stuff for an evolving pre-teen.  The point of contact Parker made with my then-self lasted until his death this year, and I still can’t bring myself to read his most recent book, knowing it is the last.

The second point, made by author Malinda Lo, was that YA authors don’t have the luxury of starting their novels with backstory.  They need to get right to the story — BOOM — and keep it moving. Otherwise they’ll lose their readers.

I love stories that take their time unwinding, but ya know what?  Lo is right, and not just for YA authors.  Here’s how I know:  I’d planned to buy only Cindy’s fabulous new book Fury of the Phoenix, but the signing line was long and I found myself browsing.  I picked up The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, read five pages, and was completely hooked.  I bought it, read it in a night, and wound up downloading the second in the series the next day.

Will I be starting my next novel with a car crash or demon attack?  Probably not.  (Though you never know.) But will I be reading each and every word to make sure it grabs my reader by throat, and keeps her turning pages, maybe even skipping them, until the very end?  Abso-stinkin-lutely.

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Harley gnawing on the leg of a dinosaur.

I had plans for this post.  Big plans.  I wanted to do an update on the slobbering beast.

Or maybe talk about what I learned at last week’s panel on diversity in YA books (featuring the fabulous Cindy Pon).

Or even discuss where the heck the sun has gone, and when it’s coming back. (Humidity today was 94 percent — it makes running feel as if you are slogging through a bowl of Jello.)

However, none of that appears to be happening.  I have set a self-imposed deadline of X number of pages by June first, and to meet it I’m going to have to get serious.  There are soccer matches, ballet recitals, and birthday parties clamouring for my time too.

Instead, I’ll point out a few shiny things in the hopes of distracting you until next week:

Do you read Erin Morgenstern’s Flax Golden Tales?  If not, you should.  I’m addicted. (She has a book coming out in the fall that is going to be HUGE.)

Orangette (I use her cookie recipe for every book signing) posted a video that made me smile.  He’s always been a storyteller first in my mind, and I love listening to his music when I run.

Finally, author Joshilyn Jackson wrote a hilarious post over at the Lipstick Chronicles about the private code words her writing group uses.  I’m thinking about stealing a bunch of them.

Happy weekend!

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A long, long time ago, so long ago I can barely remember, a baby was born.  She was kind of cute, at least for the first few months, but then she got bigger.  She slept in my room, and she used my toys, and she got me in trouble.  I did not care for this. But she also snuggled with me when I had bad dreams. When she went to the doctor’s she always asked for two lollipops, one for herself and one to share.  And at night, when she couldn’t sleep, she asked me to tell her stories.  There were three windows in our bedroom, and I’d make up a story for each one,  and then tell her to pick.  No matter which window she chose, the story always started the same way: “Once upon a time, way up on the moon, there lived a little girl who looked just like you.”

That little girl, who yelled so often and got me in so much trouble, is all grown up now.  She actually turned out pretty well. She doesn’t bring me lollipops anymore, but she’s pretty generous with her clothes.  She’s also a good mom and aunt.  But I’ll always remember that she heard and loved my very first stories, way before anyone else was interested.  Today I tell those same stories to my children, and because she liked them so much, they  still start the same way.

Happy Birthday, baby sister.  I love you.

Back when I was taller.

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I’m having such a good time today looking at Reel Swell, a blog by Julie.  She’s put up her Book Boyfriend meme entry, and, um … heck, just go see for yourself.  : )

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Spoken by the youngest at a very early hour, inches from my head on the pillow:

“Those lines there (finger poke) are they wrinkles?  I think you are getting wrinkles.  That means you are going to die soon.”

Followed by:

“Did you know  you should always check your eyebrows for dead flies?  I checked and I found one there yesterday.”

Hope your Mother’s Day was a good one!

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I will be at the beautiful Barnes & Noble in Peabody, Ma this Saturday from 1 till 3 p.m.  I will probably have cookies — it has been  rather a long week, so I make no guarantees.  Slobbering beasts are not allowed, but there’s a chance other characters who pop up on my web site now and again may accompany me. There may or may not be red balloons.  I don’t think they’ll let me bring a pony. There will definitely be books, though. Lots of them.  If you get a chance, please stop by and say hello.

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 Put a bunch of writers in a room and we all ask the same questions of each other:  How long did it take you to finish your novel?  What’s your writing schedule like?  How long did it take to find an agent?  How long before your book sold?  How long did you spend on revisions? For people who deal with words, we’re obsessed with time.

At Grub’s Muse and the Marketplace conference last week, everyone I met had different answers.  Some authors, like me,  revise heavily as they go.  Others bang out a first draft and then revise.  Some write every day.  Others sit down at the computer only once or twice a week, but mull sentences and paragraphs over in their heads for days before committing them to paper. Some writers have agents who are very hands-on, so that their books sail through the editorial process.  Others receive letters with pages and pages of suggestions after the book is sold.

I met with Meg Mitchell Moore (whose book The Arrivals comes out soon!) a few weeks before the conference, and we’re at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of our writing and revising style.  Yet we agree on this — to be a good writer, you have to put in the time.  Whether that time is in the beginning of the process or the end is up to you.

If there’s one thing I learned this past weekend, it’s that there are no shortcuts, no hidden tricks for shaving hours off the writing journey. Hearing authors like Alice Hoffman and Ann Hood talk about how much they revise made that very clear.  To be a good writer means you are in it for the long haul.  Tick.  Tock.

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It was a crazy two days, overwhelming and awesome and tiring and energizing all at once.  In the panel with Meg Mitchell Moore and Jael McHenry, my advice for those new to the conference was to take a few days to mull over what they’ve learned.  That’s what I’ll be doing, but I wanted to share a few quick snapshots:

  • Ann Hood’s session on revisions was thoughtful and inspiring and sobering.  And Ann is absolutely gorgeous and kind-hearted — the kind of woman you want to open a bottle of wine and dish with on a Sunday afternoon.
  • I’ll take running five miles in sneakers over walking four city blocks in heels any day.

    Feet, don't fail me now!

  • Elinor Lipman is the definition of elegant, both in prose and personal style.  (You should see her shoes. I lust after them more than I do after best-seller status.) She has a razor-sharp wit and her class on dialogue was one of the highlights of the conference for me.
  • Having a friend get a request for a full manuscript (GO TOM!) was fabulous — I got that same heart pounding feeling that I did when my agent requested mine.
  • If Raffi Yessayan’s books are only half as good as his class on suspense was, I’m a fan for life.  He’s my new (to me) author discovery.
  • Going to the conference when you already know a few people (even if only virtually) makes it SO much more enjoyable.
  • Poor Alice Hoffman is still probably trying to recover from my total fangirl stalker moment.  She was gracious and kind and let me hang with her when I didn’t know anyone in the room.  I’m still pinching myself.  (Alas, I didn’t get a photo.)
  • If Grub is going to scatter finely minced mint leaves over fruit as dessert, it needs to send mirrors to the table so everyone can check their teeth.  (Chocolate cake, on the other hand, needs no mirrors to be consumed.)
  • Whip-smart presenters Crystal King, Nicole Bernier, Michael Borum and Kate Lee may have me convinced there’s something to this whole Twitter thing after all.
  • Randy Susan Meyers could go to the moon and find a  fan.  She’s that good and funny.
  • Boston is still beautiful, but no matter how much fun it is to go away, it never compares to coming home.

    The view from my hotel

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