Meeting Authors at Boston Book Fest

Last weekend was Boston Book Fest. Being a free festival, and me having a Saturday with nothing planned, I drove down to amble among booths with a friend and sit on on a couple of panels.

The best one I sat through was a middle grade panel, The Power of Friendship, featuring panelists Jo Knowles, Ali Benjamin, and Paul Griffin. All three of them talked about some great things: where ideas come from, keeping your child character in danger as long as possible, and the pain of childhood. And the kids in the audience asked some dang good questions at the end.

What hit home for me was when Ali Benjamin (The Thing About Jellyfish) brought up the idea that got stuck in her head that there was an “other world” of writers that she could never be a part of. Now she’s written a book, and is even nominated for the National Book Award. She discovered that there is no other world.

Before leaving, I grabbed a copy of Ali Benjamin’s book to have her sign. When she asked me about my interest in children’s literature, I answered: it’s what I’m trying to write. She got very excited and interested then, even when I brought up the struggle of getting my work noticed, and of comparing my progress with others. “I didn’t get my first book published until I was 40,” she said, and Jo Knowles, sitting right next her, chimed in that it had taken her 10 years before anything happened with her work.

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“Trust yourself,” Ali wrote in my copy of her book, right about a quick sketch of a jellyfish. And I will, whether that means genre hopping (I think it’s time to go back to that contemporary story of mine) or tossing out something old to work on something new. I’m going to keep doing what I think is right, and maybe someday it will be.

Moments in Editing: That Paper-Wasting Stage

I’m back to that paper-wasting stage of editing, where I print out the whole danged novel, read it out loud slowly and scribble directly on the paper. As I’ve said in the past, this has always been the best way for me to get my thoughts out, and also to make sure I actually fix the mistakes I see rather than just let my eyes pass over them. I need it, so I don’t feel bad, plus I recycle everything afterward, so I feel even less bad.

I like this stage of my editing. I’ve gone through already to fix plot and character problems, I’ve already did the really hard parts of trying to make myself as clear as possible. So now, as I read, I find the little things. Weird spacing, misspelled words, changing the wording a little when I need a pronoun instead of a proper noun or I accidentally rhyme.

wp-1470924179811.jpgThere are some times when I cross out sentences and paragraphs, because I can see where they aren’t needed, or I rewrite a phrase to make it sound just a tad bit better. But mostly, I find myself enjoying my story, feeling satisfied with the flow of the words, and with the emotions that it seems I just maybe finally got across clearly.

I like this stage of my editing because, for now at least, it feels like the hard work is done. I can enjoy what I’ve written, and feel confident that this is something that other people will like, that other people will read, that other people will publish.

And that’s why I have to hurry up and finish editing, so I can send this puppy out before my self-esteem comes crashing down again.

Writing Updates March 2016

I keep thinking this is going to be a regular thing for me, and then I go several months with nothing.

Anyway, here’s what I’m working on now.

Since the end of February I’ve been working on edits for Becky, which I’ve been coming back to off and on for a little while now. I got some critiques back from my main Critique Partner, and also the critique group I recently joined, and I’ve been doing some partial rewrites and some slight rearranging. I was hoping to be done with it after this edit, but I’ve changed juuuuuuust enough that I’d like to get eyes on it one more time before I give it a final polish and then begin to query. Hopefully there are no more big changes I’m inspired to make…

I’ve also begun writing a rough draft for another middle grade fantasy story. I had a good luck with the first third/half, just writing like a fiend most days, but I’ve slowed up a little bit. I’m struggling a little bit with the direction the story’s going, which is normal, but I’m also getting worried that it’s not exciting/original enough, which I don’t think is a healthy thing to think about right now. It’s just a rough draft, after all, so it’s going to be 90% problems that I’ll have to fix, or rearrange, or remove altogether. Best to just get it done, and see what I have to work with after that.

I’m also getting the urge to go back and work on another work-in-progress of mine, a new adult (I think?) supernatural story. My feelings about this story are weird, where I feel like I want it to work out more than anything else I’ve ever written. So many things make me think of the story, music and movies and books, in a way that doesn’t always happen with other things I’m writing. The main character is super precious to me, and I’m extremely worried that I won’t portray her as wonderfully as I see her in my head. I’m also worried that the last portion of my plot doesn’t make sense, but that’s not nearly as important as getting this character perfect.

So that’s me, working on and thinking about too many things. But having all these projects swirling in my head gets me excited, and I actually spend more of my time writing and brainstorming because of it. I guess I’m just one of those people that functions better when there are multiple things to work on?

Books on My Spring To-Be-Read List

This is part of Top Ten Tuesday (yes, I know it’s Wednesday) on The Broke and the Bookish. This week: what books do I want to read this spring?

Men at Arms by Terry PratchettMen at Arms by Terry Pratchett. I’m reading Guards! Guards! right now, and I have read this book before, but I want to go through all the Watch books in order in my quest to finally read all of Sir Terry’s books.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett. Not a Discworld book! (I think?) But I’ve been meaning to grab it for a while.

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachman. I’m getting back into my middle grade story, so it’s time to read a bunch more middle grade books.

The Curse of the Blue Figurine by John Bellairs. More middle grade lit! This is an older one, but it was a favorite of my husband’s when he was a kid.

The Sculptor, graphic novel by Scott McCloudThe Copernicus Legacy: The Serpant’s Curse by Tony Abbott. I…should have read this one already, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. I’ve got my library copy wasting away in my book basket.

Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link. Short stories! Yes! This should be good.

Lost & Found by Brooke Davis. A new adult novel that sounds really fascinating (a girl gets abandoned in a store by her mother). So long as it doesn’t get depressing at the end.

Cress and Fairest by Marissa Meyer. I’m putting them both in the same spot because I just, just started Cress.

That’s me! I might actually get to these ones? We’ll see.

What about you? What do you plan on reading?

Middle Grade Novels: The Fourteenth Goldfish, The Greenglass House

I got back into reading children’s books again! As a should, since that’s what I’m trying to write. Here is a pair I recently read, and loved.

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Ellie has a hard time starting 6th grade. Her best friend, Brianna, has “found her passion” with the volleyball team and no longer seems to have time for her old buddy, and Ellie has trouble finding her own passion, something that she truly loves. Then her grandfather comes to live with her and her mother — except her grandfather is now 13 years old, having found a way to reverse age.

The science fiction element of the story is enough of a gimmick to snap up a reader’s attention, but Holm refrains from going whole-haul into the genre and allowing this to remain a story about Ellie, her maturity and growth as she understands that while there may be endings, there are also beginnings. Ellie is a fantastic heroine; her grandfather’s suddenly profound presence in her life ignites an unknown love of science (to her drama-teacher mother’s chagrin and begrudging acceptance) and she is actually the driving force behind the plot’s movement, figuring out how to retrieve her grandfather’s age-defying serum (a security guard mistook him for a trespasser) and deliberating on and bringing up the question: is this right? Should people live forever? I really appreciate the way Holm looks at science; right when I thought she was going to present a squeaky clean version of history, Ellie encounters the darker facts of science, like the effects of the atomic bomb and Marie Curie’s cancer brought on by her own research. It’s a balanced take on the pains and joys of moving on with your life, of dealing with loss, and even of science (Ellie clings to her new love of the subject even after learning of the darker side). And I have to admit, I have a tender spot for tales that involve the pain of growing apart from a very dear friend.

Greenglass HouseGreenglass House by Kate Milford

Milo’s adoptive parents own Greenglass House, an old house at the top of a hill in a smuggler’s town that they operate as an inn. Christmas break is usually a time free of guests, but then suddenly a whole handful of them show up at once. Each of these new comers seems to be seeking something within the house, which once belonged to infamous smuggler and town hero Doc Holyoak and holds more secrets and treasures than Milo or his parents imagined.

Milford’s writing is what drew me in initially, as she evokes clear, beautiful scenes of Milo relaxing in his house before all the trouble starts. Milo and the cook’s daughter (who he meets for the first time that day) Meddy decide to investigate the house and its surprise guests, in a unique way that Milford handles beautifully. Meddy convinces Milo to create an Odd Trails (think Dungeons & Dragons) character, and “play” as that character while he searches for clues. He creates the blackjack Negret, who is bolder, sneakier, and more observant than Milo, and he takes on the character fully as he plays, to the point where the third person narration refers to him as Negret, not Milo. Milo figures out some of the clues a tad too easily, with a few things left to chance (like overhearing a key conversation) but he also pieces things that he’s picked up from his increased observational skills as Negret, as well as the knowledge he holds as a lifetime resident of the house. I enjoyed the other characters as well, and would have gladly read a story about Clem and Georgie, but they never came out as clearly to me as Milo and Meddy, partly because there are so many of them, and they all have their own very involved story that doesn’t get told deeply enough. A pair of big twists at the end really did catch me by surprise; one in particular elevates the story and adds a nice bit of shock. Things get a bit too sappy at the end, and more is revealed to the wider population of the house than I feel was necessary, and there were some big things that are just left hanging, like the significance of the gate. Still despite the bumps and a bit of fizzle at the end this was a book I devoured with a few big bites.

What I’m Reading: Waiting for Normal, King of the Mild Frontier

This week I did some speed reading through a couple of books.

First was Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor, one of the gift books from Tony. This is a middle-grade novel about a 12-year-old girl, Addie, who lives in a trailer with her jobless, bi-polar, priority-challenged mother. Her mother and step-father, Dwight, have recently gotten a divorce, separating Addie from her younger half-sisters. Addie finds herself worrying about a number of things, like the flute she accidentally stole when she suddenly moved and changed schools, not having a “love of learning” since reading comes hard to her, and how many days her mother will disappear for this time. I found myself very stressed out for this girl as she struggles to keep everyone from knowing that things are wrong, all the time wishing she could just have a normal life. The anxiousness is part of what kept me from putting down the book for two days but the language also kept me hooked. Waiting for Normal is almost 300 pages, but I didn’t feel like I was reading something long because of the fun, simple way Connor tells the story. Take this part, as Addie watches her sisters deal with their mom after she has messed up, again:

“It’s just a sundae.” Brynna dropped her head, started messing with her napkin again. Her fudge sundae puddled around the spoon in the dish.

“You gonna finish? It looks like soup.” Mommers smiled. But Brynna wouldn’t look up. She just kept twisting that napkin.

“We seed Christmas lights,” Katie piped.

“Did you now? Any snowmen? Any reindeer?” Mommers asked.

And so it went for the rest of the night. Katie kept everything light and sweet. But I wondered what would happen when she grew up–like Brynna. We’d be this whole family of napkin twisters.

A “whole family of napkin twisters.” A simple statement, but it sums it all up.

I’ve also read most of King of the Mild Frontier, a memoir by Chris Crutcher, my Lesley mentor from last semester. Jumping around through his own timeline, Crutcher talks about a number of events that happened through his childhood and adolescence. While some parts of the story are sad, like the day his father died, it’s mostly a really hilarious book, even the painful bits – like being whammed in the mouth by a baseball bat. My life was a little less insane than his seems to have been, but reading this book is making me think that, maybe I could write a memoir someday.

After I finish up this book I’ll be starting in on The Handmaid’s Tale and Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for MFA reading. And, at some point, I have got to catch up on all the A Song of Ice and Fire books so I can read A Dance with Dragons – maybe when it’s in paperback, at this rate.