The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

So first, I need to thank Jared S. Anderson for tagging me in this, and apologize that I’m a few days late (eek!). You should all check his blog at  http://jsascribes.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/the-next-big-thing-blog-hop/ to read his answers, or check out some of his other awesome possum stuff!

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:
What is the working title of your book? The Deepest Blue

Where did the idea come from for the book? A number of places. First, I wanted to try writing from the POV of a male character. Second, two of my children went through the process of having a step-parent adopt them because of issues pertaining to a biological parent. I lived through this with them (my oldest daughter asked my husband to adopt her when she was 15, and my step-son asked me to adopt him when he was 16). For all of us, these were emotional and powerful experiences, and naturally, that makes for good fodder for books!

What genre does your book fall under? It is contemporary young adult fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Um – that’s a good question. I have no idea. I’m still fighting my way (literally and figuratively) through revisions. I’d have to do some investigating on that

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Sometimes it isn’t easy to fight for what you know is best for you, but ultimately, it is the best fight you’ll ever have.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? The publisher for this book is Tanglewood Press, a small (but rapidly growing and exceptionally high-quality) publisher based in Terre Haute, IN. I don’t have an agent currently, and I’ve been quite successful without one, so I don’t stress over it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? Depending on how you look at it, it took almost five years. I was midway into the very first draft, and had just written the scene where the main character’s father dies, and then my own dad passed away right before Christmas. I tried repeatedly to keep going, but I wound up putting the book aside for over a year. Then I got busy doing other things and stopped writing for nearly two years. By the time I got back to the manuscript, I’d taken nearly four years off.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? It’s a bit like “Missing May” by Cynthia Rylant, and a bit like “A Place to Call Home” by Jackie French Koller.

Who or What inspired you to write this book? My daughter and my son both inspired me.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? There’s a great boat sinking!

Sadly, the friends whom I asked to join in on this weren’t able to, so I’ll direct you back to Jared’s blog for some other great blogs to check out!

http://jsascribes.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/the-next-big-thing-blog-hop/

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You Say You Want a Resolution . . . (with apologies to the Beatles)

new yearFor the past six years at this time, I have made public my writing resolutions. So here we go again – a new year and a relatively new round of resolutions. First, though, here are last year’s offerings and the results there of:

1) I will finish the YA novel currently entitled “Death Kiss” and start submitting it by this summer. Check this one off. I did finish and I did begin submitting. It is currently sitting on the desks of two different agensts, waiting for word on its fate.

2) I will start working on the collaborative projet with Jared (assuming he finishes his other one!) and have it completed by the end of the year. We never quite got to this, but we did sell Beautiful Monster and are awaiting the first royalty payments from it!

3) I will continue trying to get an agent. Of course, having sold all my books without an agent, I sometimes wonder if I really need this. Then I read about an overseas deal or movie rights negotiated by an agent and I realize that this is the right course for me. Still trying, still getting rejected. I haven’t found the right agent yet, but I haven’t tried them all so no point in stopping yet.

4) Continue learning and polishing my craft. I plan to attend a variety of workshops and conferences this year, learning more about the industry and about my chosen career. I atended the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and I continue consulting with some of the most talented and generous writers I know. I’m also reading constantly and analyzing everything that I read.

Not bad for 2012. I pretty proud of what I accomplished, like selling two books (Beautiful Monster and The Deepest Blue) and seeing one reissued (Kiss Kiss Bark). I’m proud of the work I’ve done and continue to do. I am committed to growing as a writer, to supporting those in whom I believe, and to pursuing my dream with my whole heart. So, without futher ado, here is this year’s set of goals –

1) I will revise my book The Afterward and continue to send it out.

2) I will revise my book Death Kiss and continue submitting it and looking for its home.

3) I will participate in as many promotional and marketing events as possible (like Authorpalooza, Writing for Charity, and others) to promote my books and my availability for speaking.

4) I will begin offering writing workshops 3 or 4 times a year through different sources as a means of income and to promote my books.

These are my objectives. Some require some stretching, some just require organization and time. I look forward to seeing the results of my work, and I would love to hear how many of you have resolutions as well!

Beta Readers, Editors, and the Craft of Revision

I started writing my YA novel, “The Deepest Blue”, nearly six years ago. I knew the story and was excited about tackling a story that was more of a challenge. The main character’s father dies and it is a shock to the main character and to the readers (or at least I hope so). Then, early into the first draft, my own dad died, and I just couldn’t go back to this book. It sat for several years until my friend and writing partner Jared urged me to pick it up again and finish it.  I did get it done, and started submitting, but all the rejections said the same thing: the market is too soft for a book like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I let the story languish on a thumb drive, figuring I’d get back to it eventually. I wrote another novel and began submitting it instead. Then a year and a half after rejecting it, my editor at Tanglewood asked about The Deepest Blue. “Where is it? Have you sold it?”

“No,” I told her, “it’s on my computer.”

“I want it,” she said. That was December of 2011. She said it would be a Fall of 2013 release, so we had lots of time to work on revisions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This book had already been through several revisions, and Jared had read it and given me his input. But my editor wanted to give it to a reader in the target audience and let him comment as well. We sent it off to him after the new year, then I waited for him to finish and give comments. Unfortunately, this kid dropped off the face of the earth.

Not to worry, though! My editor had another young man who was eager to be a reader for us. Early this summer, I got his comments (hand written on a sheet of yellow note paper!) and he offered some wonderful insights for me. I think I’m a pretty good writer, and I have a good ear for dialog and for shaping the plot of a novel. However, I have never been a 15-year-old boy, and that was clear in some of my passages.  I worked through the story again with this young man’s comments, and I also got Jared to go through it with me and offer his own masculine perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I finished the revisions in August and sent the newly crafted story back to my editor.  She sent me wonderful, uplifting comments about the changes and the new strength in the story, and then told me she would get to work on her own revisions right away.

I got those revisions last night – and I am so grateful to have such an amazing editor! We talked about adjusting the tone in the beginning of the story, about deepening the emotional impact, and about pushing the envelope in ways that I hadn’t quite envisioned. And this is the benefit of a professional editor. My self-published friends will not like this, but the fact is that without a quality editor to work on your story, you may not see the things that take a story to the next level. Beta readers are also crucial to this process. My writing partner and the young man who read the story this spring both gave me needed insights into the male mind that I couldn’t have had on my own because, quite simply, I’m not a guy! They helped me to push the story to a more realistic level, giving it an authenticity that I couldn’t have achieved on my own. This, in turn, opened the door for my editor to dig even deeper and develop the story to a point that – in her own words – will allow her to submit this book for awards.  If that isn’t music to a writer’s ears, I’m not certain what is!

I don’t honestly know how many revisions this book has been through. I know it’s a lot – but that’s sort of the writing part of writing, if you ask me. Being willing to let others tear into your story and offer you suggestions is an important and valuable step in the whole process. I’m regularly stunned by writers who don’t want anyone to touch their work for fear it won’t remain true to their glorious original concept.  Frankly, I don’t know what I’d do without Jared and my many beta reader friends who offer insight into my work from a reader’s perspective. 

Someone asked me if I was sick of this story yet, and my answer is “yes and no.” Yes, I think I could recite the whole book front to back from memory, and that begins to wear on me. No, because each round of revision is a chance to look deeper into what I’ve created and to try to add meaning and depth to the story. I want to get better with each story I write, so if there are folks who want to help me achieve that, then I welcome their input. Hopefully, I can repay their kindnesses.

The Act and Art of Mentoring

I’ve taught writing for many years – I guess 15 counts as many, doesn it? I love sharing my passion with others, and I’ve had some amazing students over the years who have gone on to their own publishing success.  I’m very proud to count among my former students Becky Hall (http://www.beckyhallbooks.com/) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and Anne Bowen http://www.annebowenbooks.com/  who have both achieved wonderful success with their children’s books. I was fortunate to grow with them and become a better writer as a result of working with them.

 

 

 

 

My good friend and writing partner, Jared Anderson, is another success story. That experience allowed me to learn about my own approach to writing, and I credit Jared with moving me off center and helping me rediscover how passionate about writing I truly am.

Now I am working with another young man, whose name I won’t mention as I haven’t asked his permission. As I work with “G” I find that I am again tuning in more closely to my own work and my own process. Having to delve so deeply into the construction of story always proves to be – at least for me – a very revealing and rewarding opportunity.

I’m not an advocate that you need a degree to be a writer. In fact, I believe that’s a silly statement in general. But getting my Master’s taught me to look at writing – my own and others’ – in a more intensive and intuitive way. I look at word selection and placement in new ways. I try to identify why a writer put things in a certain order, or why a certain word was chosen over so many others available. When I am mentoring, I’m trying to see the bigger picture, to identify what the puzzle will be when all the pieces are in place, but I’m also trying to find the specific details that will help the student to paint that picture in a more meaningful way. I want to show my students that there are layers to their work that even they may not know about.

Recently, while talking to G about an assignment I gave him, we were discussing a  particularly interesting character. I began asking him some questions about the stress level in this character’s life, about her inner thoughts, and G said, “How did you get in my head and figure this out when I couldn’t even tell what it was?”

That was a compliment indeed.

All I really did was looked a few layers deeper at what he was trying to achieve. I pushed him down a flight of stairs that he was happy to stand at the top of and simply look. But what also happened was that I began looking at my own writing and realizing how often I need that same push.

This might be the best thing about mentoring someone else: I get so much out of the experience it almost becomes more beneficial for me!

Of course – not all my experiences have been so positive.  There was the librarian in Texas who thought rhyming stories all about a happy, goofy librarian were guaranteed to make kids smile. When I told her that most kids’ books feature a child protagonist, she began citing chapter and verse all the books that didn’t do that. “Yes,” I explained, “and when you are famous enough to have a name that will carry a book like that, you can write it. But until then, good luck selling this concept.” She wasn’t too happy with my reply.

Then there are the people who want you to mentor them, but really what they want is for you to tell them the name of your agent or editor and then to have you call that agent or editor and get this person a book sold.

Yes – that happens. Yes – frequently.

It used to be that I would offer to work with anyone who asked for my help. These days, I’m a lot more picky. Frankly, I don’t have the time I used to have. I’m busy writing my own books and trying to move my career to the point where it is full-time rather than part-time. And these days, too, I’m really only interested in working with people who take their writing as seriously as I take their writing. They need to show some initiative, and be willing to work. Writing is HARD. And the creation of the story is the easy part. It’s the business side, the marketing, the dealings with publishers and editors that are the real challenge in this business.

I love mentoring, and I hope I can continue to do it as long as I continue to write. I was blessed to have great mentors like Alison McGhee, Tim Wynn-Jones, Sharon Darrow, M.T. Anderson, Carol Lynch Williams, and many others who helped to guide me on my journey. I hope I can do as well for others as these wonderful people have done for me.

A Discussion of Rape

Beautiful Monster, the novel I co-authored with my friend and writing partner Jared, has some very graphic moments in it. Sterling Bronson, one of the main characters, is a serial killer and serial rapist. There is no other way to describe him and what he does. He stalks women, seduces them, and then does them serious harm, even murdering them. It is not a subject that Jared and I took lightly, nor did we treat the subject disrespectfully – or at least we worked very hard not to. However . . .

Earlier this evening, a woman commented to me privately that having started the book, she would not be finishing it as we had so thoughtlessly treated the subject of sexual assault so light-heartedly. She said – and this is a direct quote – “You act as if rape is a sexual fantasy that all women want. You fit right in with that guy from Missouri who said that legitimate rape is different from other kinds of rape.”

A jaw dropping moment, to be certain.

I didn’t ask this woman to read the book. In fact, I didn’t even know she had picked up/downloaded a copy. In my opinion, she completely missed the point of what we tried to do in the book, and she absolutely missed the point of my character, Brenna Carlson. So, let me set some things straight for this woman, and for anyone else who thinks we mishandled the subject:

First – at the age of 22 I had the unfortunate experience of being sexually assaulted. That’s all I’m going to say about it as it pertains to me. What I will say is that this horrific experience informed my writing, but more than that, the writing opened an honest discussion between people important to my life and me. As Jared and I wrote, we worked diligently to ensure that we did not make Sterling into a romantic character. He is a sympathetic character, a believable human being. A severely fractured and damaged human being, there is no doubt, but realistic and true to the pathology of those who behave this way in the “real world.”  Jared conveyed this character in such a way that he is both sympathetic and detestable, and that is how many of these men are in our society. They are charming, but vain. They are caring, but manipulative. They exude love, but they have no idea what it means to love. In short, they are beautiful monsters – hollow shells like cicadas leave behind in the summer.

Second – for my part, I made certain that my character neither wanted nor enjoyed the experiences that Sterling put her through. There is no fantasy in real rape. It is vicious, it is ugly, and there is nothing sexual about it. To the perpetrator, it is about the violence, not the sex.While what happens to my character is not the same experience that I endured, the emotional truth is still there, and I believe this is where some readers are getting hung up.  I don’t know that the woman I spoke with even got far enough into the story to discover this aspect, but it is there – the terror, the degradation, and the evil that accompanies this crime. There were times that going back to this mind-set nearly caused me to stop writing. Digging into those dark memories to dredge up feelings I thought I’d long since dealt with was an exercise in “dancing with crazy” that I wasn’t sure I could survive. But I was blessed to have a co-author who is also one of my best friends, and his support was vital.

I was also blessed to have supportive family who – though they didn’t really know what was going on – encouraged me to remain true to myself and my sincere belief in this story.

 

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT – TURN BACK NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW CRUCIAL INFORMATION IN THE BOOK!

Okay – you’ve been warned.

In the end, Brenna survives her ordeal. She tries to get back to normal, but there is no normal anymore. From experience, I know that survivors have to find a new definition of normal, and they learn over time that normal has a way of shifting like sand in the desert; with one step, you put your foot down on firm ground, but with the next, you begin sliding downward without warning. But many women survive this – not unscarred, mind you – but they recover and begin to rebuild a new understanding of themselves and the world around them. Each one handles it differently, and I’ve come to believe there is no such thing as a right way to do this. There are definitely some wrong ways, but we won’t go into that here.

Beautiful Monster is not an easy book to read. It wasn’t an easy book to write for either Jared or me. But I am proud of this book for so many reasons, and I know that Jared is as well (sorry, J, don’t mean to speak for you). It is horrifying in places, suspenseful in others, and even humorous at times. It is a very narrow slice of life, but it is a reality for some unfortunate women, and I will say very honestly that with this book, I finally feel I have vindication and compensation for my pain.

Career Day!

I’ve been invited to attend the Hunter Jr. High School career day this Friday to talk about being a writer.

I  both love and dread these events (I’ve been to Hunter twice before, and a few other schools as well). I love them because junior high-aged kids make me laugh. They are so full of life and so ready to let you know that they will challenge anything you say if they think you’re trying to put one over on them. They are struggling to find themselves and their identities so they are open to new ideas even if they act like they are completely unaffected by what you say.  Some will chime in and engage in the conversation, others will listen eagerly, and others will just slap on a glazed expression and stare at you like zombies.

By the way, it’s often the zombies who approach me after the session wanting to pick my brains! (Sorry, couldn’t resist). They are the ones with the personal questions who don’t want to reveal that much of themselves in front of their fellow classmates (insert zombie joke of your choice here).

I”m always asked about the benefits of being a writer.  My co-author Jared did a very funny blog on this subject here on WordPress (Jared S. Anderson – check it out!) and I mostly agree with his assessment, but I don’t think I’d be mentioning a few of his perks in a junior high environment.  Perks like working in your jammies, being your own boss, and being able to stare at clouds and call it research are all excellent aspects to being a writer.

A lot of kids want to know how I got started in writing, and I tell them that I was interested in writing before I even really knew how to do it.

No, that’s not me, but it could have been.  I would play on my dad’s manual typewriter pretending to write books. I would write poetry for my mom when I learned to rhyme (my spelling was something hysterical to be sure), and when I was in 3rd grade, I wrote my own book and did a book report on it. I had a pen name and everything! In junior high, I wrote for the school newspaper (the Bonneville By-Line), and in high school I had poetry published in the literary magazine, and I was the type editor for our school newspaper (the Colt Round-Up).  In college, I majored in English, but decided to go into public relations and advertising. I wrote all the time, but it wasn’t what I wanted to be writing. So I decided to try writing professionally. I did a lot of research, I studied, I worked with mentors,   (thank you Carol Lynch Williams), and eventually had some success. I wrote for CitySearch.com and for a local magazine called Wasatch Parent. My first book, Love & Loathing, was published in 1998 and is still in print today.

 Then I decided I wanted to go back to school. I earned my Masters from Vermont College and the creative thesis for my degree became my first novel for kids (“My Brother the Dog” which is soon to be rereleased as “Kiss Kiss Bark”). That was preceded by three nonfiction books just a few months before (the “Hey, Ranger” books), and now an adult horror/suspense novel has arrived (“Beautiful Monster”) and a young adult novel will be released next year (“The Deepest Blue”).

But there is always the part of these career days I dread. Unfortunately, kids ultimately want to know “How much money do you make?”

My typical reply is a bit evasive, but it is none the less true: It depends.

It depends on the book.

It depends on the publisher.

It depends on the contract.

It depends on the sales for that book in a given time period.

Sometimes kids will be satisfied simply to know that you can make money from writing. Others want details.  So I tell them: It depends.

Some of my checks for my book advances have been a few thousand dollars, some have been a few hundred, and some publishers don’t pay an advance.  Some of my royalty checks have been over a thousand dollars, some have been a few hundred, and some have hardly been worth driving to the bank to deposit.

I don’t really get offended when they ask; it’s just embarrassing to admit that I’ve been doing this for so long, but I still don’t make a living at it. I’m committed to making that change, however. I have set a timeline of 5 years (well, 4 1/2 now) to living solely from the procedes of my writing.  Of course, one of the benefits of being a writer – to me, anyway – is that I will do this for the rest of my life even if I don’t make a living at because it’s what I do for my heart.  It’s what I do for me and it is something that not only do I love, but that I hope when my time comes to meet my maker, they find me dead at my keyboard with a long string of “f’s” being typed by my nose.

So wish me luck on Friday! Maybe I can inspire a young mind. I just pray I don’t put them all to sleep.

Sacrifice and Payment

Everything in life requires either payment or sacrifice. Think about it: If you want to drive to work, you buy a car and that requires payments for the car, the gas, the insurance, etc. If you want to go on vacation, you sacrifice time doing other things (like work or being with friends) to have a break. If you want that Baskin Robbins Banana Royale sundae with hot fudge, you sacrifice your diet, and you pay with added time on the treadmill.

 Even writing – or sometimes ESPECIALLY writing – has a cost to it. Those costs come in myriad forms and are not always what you might expect. For example, one cost of writing is often sleep.  Sometimes, an idea strikes and a writer simply cannot shut his or her eyes until that idea is satisfactorily explored somehow. This might result in a chapter or two being written, a character study being created, or a plot outline being fleshed out. It is not unusual for many writers to find themselves at the keyboard, or sitting with a note pad and pen moving frantically in the wee hours of the morning.  My writing partner and I would spend marathon sessions revising and critiquing sections of a book, or sometimes the whole book. We’d find ourselves at Denny’s at 2 a.m. still working out final details and not realizing how much time had gone by since we’d started at 9:00 in the morning.

Other sacrifices include things such as hobbies. I still make time for reading – the majority of the writers I know do as well – because it is really a part of writing. However, I used to be an avid knitter and crocheter, I don’t think I’ve picked up a hook or needles in over a year now because I try to use any of my spare time for writing. That’s how I got one book re-released, another book published, and another book sold and on its way to publication in a year’s time. I love needlework, and it’s something I’m good at.

I made a 3 foot long piece out of this and attached it to the bottom of a sweater. I’ve crocheted my whole life, but I just don’t take the time anymore to do it because I’d rather write. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for something I love just as much, or even more if I’m honest.

Sometimes we make these sacrifices willingly and consciously, and sometimes, we make them without even being aware we have done so.

I started writing my young adult novel, The Deepest Blue, in the fall of 2006. In the story, the main character’s father dies quite early on. In December of that year, my own father died, and it was just too hard for me to work on that story. Without realizing it, I began to sacrifice my writing to my sorrow. I sacrificed it to my self-doubt and to my need to please other people and keep them happy during a very sad time. That set off an avalanche that took me years to recover from. Nearly fours year, actually. When I picked up The Deepest Blue again, it was with the sheer determination to finish it and begin submitting it. At that point, I began paying for all my time away from the story and from writing. I had to relearn who these characters were. I had to spend time recreating the scenes and the plot. It was an exercise in reinventing the wheel out of necessity, but again, it exacted a payment. My relationship with my husband began to suffer because I had become obsessed with finishing the book rather than spending time with him (we had other issues at the time, to be sure, but this certainly didn’t help things). Relationships with friends began to suffer, too, because I just couldn’t pull myself away from my work in order to make time for them. I sacrificed balance in my life, and the cost was heavy indeed.

But the rewards are good as well. Beautiful Monster arrived on scene just over a week ago and is doing quite well already.

My Brother the Dog is being re-released on October 8 with a new cover and a new title (Kiss Kiss Bark).

 

 

And the first round of editorial revisions is done on The Deepest Blue which will be released in the fall of 2013.

Are the payments and the sacrifices worth it? For me, absolutely. But I have to caveat that by saying that they are worth it when I have balance in my life. As with anything, that is truly the key. And I am, quite honestly, a better writer when I have tha balance because then I don’t really feel as if I’ve sacrificed or paid too high a price at all.