Tag Archives: Writing

A Stench in the House … Someone Must be Writing.

The other day, I posted about my friend, Emmy Laybourne’s newly released YA novel, Monument 14.  So, what about my own YA novel in progress?  Rightly or not, I feel I owe my followers at least a tiny explanation.  Here’s what I meant to do after that “Ghost Blog” post, in which I explained the reason I was slacking off on my blogging was that I’d given myself a June 15th deadline for finishing a draft of my YA novel.  After making my deadline with flying colors (which I actually did, but more on the later) I was going to write a big victory post announcing the completion of the draft, the launching of the new revision phase and possibly throwing in some resolutions about how much more religiously I was going to blog, it being summer and all.

Well, here’s what happened instead.  I finished a draft on June 12th, a couple of days before my deadline, but rather than posting about it to celebrate, I dove right into the revision process without even coming up for air.  The reason being momentum, of which I had tons seeing as I’d been eating, sleeping and breathing the world of my twin protagonists, slamming through that last chapter, that final delicious moment when Olivia gets her dazzle on after 17 years of being outshone by her talented and dynamic twin brother Oliver.  I didn’t want to blog about it, talk about it, write about the process of writing it or do anything but just keep on writing—starting over at the beginning!  And let’s face it, is there anything more fun and exciting than combing through and tightening up a big 288 page mess that you made?

Writing a first draft can be scary.  Even though I used an outline and tried to stick to it, there were times when I got lost and self doubt consumed me.  What if I couldn’t finish?  What if the plot just didn’t work?   I admit it; there were lots of doubts and lots of periods of time where I’d finish a chapter and the thought of filling in the blankness ahead was so daunting,  I had to force myself to sit in the chair and write.  I did a lot of procrastinating, sometimes using the blogosphere itself as an escape.  I didn’t use a writing group because I find that getting feedback as I make up the story tends to hold me back.  I do better when I just write the whole thing, revise a few times and then test it out on people.  A first draft is for you, the writer.  It’s the progression through the whole story, with lots of notes-to-self (can this be told as a flash-back?  Do we even need the zany, mad-cap aunt?) woven in.  A second draft is the one you can start sharing with your writers’ group, or your mother or your husband or that one devoted friend who likes to read anything you seem to put on paper.  A second draft is the one where someone besides you can read the story and kind of get it; it’s the one before the third fourth and fifth drafts you might give to some beta readers—where it starts to count.

Nevertheless, a first draft is a huge milestone.  Before, you had an outline—better than a blank page, but still just a big map with no guarantee of arriving at your destination.  Now …

  • You know your outline works at least well enough to get      you from starting point A all the way home.
  • You have a beginning, middle and end and hopefully a      bunch of stuff to work with in between.
  • You no longer have just a story in your mind to invent, you have a book to tinker with: hundreds of pages of material      to tweak, sort, toss and turn into something potentially magical.
  • Best of all, since it’s for your eyes only so far, it’s      okay that it’s a mess … for now.

My friend who is a creative writing professor recommends leaving your first draft alone in a drawer for a few months while you work on other projects.  The idea is to come back to it with some distance and be able to clearly see what works, what doesn’t and what just needs to be deep sixed.  I think this is good advice.  However, I’ve got this momentum right now and I don’t want to waste it.  With this draft in hand, the fears, the tendency to procrastinate vanished and momentum was hard to break.  I still had about a week left before my kids’ summer vacation arrived to cut short my writing time, so instead of taking a breather from my book, I plowed on.

With the second draft, things happen more quickly.  If I have an hour, I can rewrite a whole chapter or a scene that doesn’t work, or write the sick aunt out of the book altogether.  If I have thirty minutes, I can pick a pretty OK section and make it pretty good.

On the downside, since I can’t wait to finish this draft and the going is pretty easy (for now), it’s really hard to stop and do other things.  Like laundry and dinner.  And getting immunization records for summer camp.  The other day, I’d been multitasking:  cooking dinner, folding laundry, helping my daughter pack for a camping trip, when I stole a “few” minutes to revise the chapter I was working that morning.  In retrospect I did smell something foul as I sat there, but for better or for worse, I was too focused to care what it was.

My son is much more independent than my daughter and therefore less likely to come up to my “writing room” when I’m working (when I’m up there, he can usually sneak in some precious unauthorized moments on the Wii).   I knew something was up when I heard his little feet padding up the stairs.

“Mommy,” he said, “I think there’s a stench in the house.  It’s starting to hurt the inside of my nose.”

A stench?  Indeed there was.  It was the wok full of broccoli and other assorted vegetables that I’d walked away from twenty minutes earlier and was now blackening away in a malodorous disaster.  (Yes my husband was home, as was my daughter, but their allergies often preclude stench detection.)

So this is where I’ve been, writing, revising, burning broccoli, letting wet laundry sit for a few days racing to get out a draft that someone can actually read.  I am in a big hurry to get to the end for reasons I’ll disclose in another post, but I must say, I am at last enjoying the process.  I think many followers are in the same boat with their own books, or somewhere in the vicinity.  Godspeed to you all.  Best of luck and keep me posted on your process!

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“My friend’s Book Signing” Or “Why I Can’t wait to read Monument 14”

Me with fellow supporters of Monument 14; Emmy (the author) is on the far right

Sometimes other people’s successes are just as invigorating as our own.  Last Monday, after leaping substantial childcare hurdles, I was fortunate enough to help my friend Emmy Laybourne celebrate the release of her new post-apocalyptic YA book, Monument 14.  Here’s what it’s about in a nutshell:

“Fourteen Kids.  One Superstore.  A Million things that go Wrong.”

And I have lifted that word-for-word from the inside flap.  I can tell you how I know the book is going to do well.  First, my daughter’s best friend read the blurb and demanded to read the book at once, though it’s YA and she’s just eleven, so her mom and I thought we should read it first.  Then I’ll buy her a copy of her own.  Second, Monument 14 has already been called “the next Hunger Games” in The Grindstone.  Third, on the day of the book signing, I arrived late because of traffic, only to discover that the book store which held the event had run clean out of the book, as had the nearby Barnes and Noble!  My friends and I had to check out three different book stores to find copies, at which point we raced back to have Emmy sign our books.  That said, I haven’t read it yet because I’m still reading my book group book and I want to read Monument 14 uninterrupted.   I can’t wait though.  I know Emmy is a fantastic writer because we were in a writers’ group together briefly.  I had an opportunity to read one of her works in progress as well as benefitting from her wise insights on my own work.

Anyway, after the book signing, a group of us—Emmy’s family and friends from inside and outside the publishing world—went to a bar to celebrate over beer and munchies.  I wish I could describe the feel of love, enthusiasm and pride everyone felt just to share in the victory.  As an unpublished writer, and not the only one in attendance, I felt a few things in addition to awe at Emmy’s grand success.  One was a sense of hope.  Not that I expect to be as successful, but this night made me feel that yes: completion, representation, and publication are within the realm of possibility.  I also felt reassured that—despite all the remarkable new devices proliferating and the apps that go with them—people still like books.  Period.  They will buy them and hold them and treasure them and … can you imagine someone trying to sign a Kindle?  And hand it down to their grandkids?  Nuff said.

I also had a chance to talk with Emmy’s editor, one of the nicest young women I’ve met, who just gushed about her job, reading and discovering books.  I talked with Emmy’s publicist too, another unpublished writer, just as nice, about the writing, submitting, and wishing process.  The whole evening made me feel positive and proud and enthusiastic about this whole business of being a writer.

“Ghost Blog” or “Please Stand By …”

Okay, so this post is mostly for my followers, who may or may not have noticed that I haven’t even touched this blog for a really long time.  The June 15 deadline for finishing a draft of my YA novel still stands, which is why I’ve been focusing only on that.   (Oh yeah and my kids.  And husband.  I meant kids and husband.)  This is just a quick post to share a few awesome things that have happened in the interim.

  •  The Edgemont school production of Annie, for which I was honored to do choreography, went off last week, not only without a hitch, but so splendidly, I cried at all four shows.  Both casts were fantastic, but the Friday cast was especially dear to me, because my own Zoe starred as the curly, carrot-topped orphan herself.  (Though not-especially-carrot-topped in this case!)  Her photo tops this post with friends in “Hard Knock Life.”
  • My unpublished-unagented-but-finished-for-now novel, Birch Wood Doll was named a finalist in the Nilsen Prize for a First Novel competition.  This was so exciting I actually screamed when I realized the email wasn’t a form “thank you but no thanks” rejection.

Dr. Susan Swartwout, the publisher of Southeast Missouri State University Press, who sponsors the contest, gave me some wonderful feedback which I will use when I revise again, which I have decided to do.  

  • Last but not least, a very special friend of mine who will remain anonymous just gave me the thrilling news that motherhood is in her future. 

Anyway, I’m on target to finish my draft and will return to more regular blogging, reading and commenting very soon. 

Blog Vs. Book

One of the things I like best about blogging is the other bloggers I’ve met this way.   Wonderful writers, women and men, who live all over the globe, some of whom share my day-to-day routines of parenting, writing, house-maintenence (or house-neglect which is more apt these days), others whose schedules do not revolve around carpools, pick-ups and drop-offs.  I look forward to reading the blogs of the people I follow, many of whom follow me.  Through my followees (and followers) I am exposed to lives I’d never have discovered on my own.

There’s responsibility in blogging, though.  Your blog is more than an expression of yourself and your take on the world.  As it gains an audience, your blog becomes a thing of its own.  When I am asleep, someone on the other side of the planet might be reading, sharing, commenting on my blog.  When I check it again, it’s got new growth.   Like a garden, you have to care for your blog, feed it, nurture it, recognize when it’s stagnating and then do something about that.

When the bloggers I follow are silent for a while, I might miss them, but I won’t judge them.   I know we all have to live our lives and that often the blog is the piece we can leave unattended while we’re caring for a sick relative, working, hosting the in-laws or, what was that other one?–writing a novel.   For me it’s that last one I’m having trouble balancing with the blog, though it seems like everyone else online manages to do it.

(Yes I know, everyone chooses what they reveal of themselves online; some let it all hang out, others show only their most glowing selves.  Recently I read a great article about social-network envy–the perception that everyone on the internet is accomplishing more than you and having more fun doing it!)  I am sure everyone struggles balancing blog and life, or in my case, blog and book, but I find myself occasionally overwhelmed with guilt for choosing one over the other.  Not that I believe there’s a galaxy of fans who would be devastated if I took a hiatus to power through my novel.

The most regular of my followers and commenters happen to be kind and supportive and understanding (and yes, I feel like I know you and wish I could have coffee with you sometime!).   But I’m not worried about letting other people down.  Instead, I’m concerned about missing out, which I know is a piece of my character that stems directly from being an only child.  What was the sibling world doing while I was home with my parents?   With all their brothers and sisters around, would they forget about me?

If I took a month off from my blog, what would happen?  If I abandoned Twitter?  Would I have to start from scratch?  Would people remember me and still be my friends–I mean followers?  I don’t know, but I have decided not to find out, not yet.   I will slow down here, though.  I’ve actually slowed down already.   I’m giving myself until June to finish a draft of the new WIP, and will post here only about once a week for now.  (Don’t worry: I’ll still read your blogs because they are often so wonderful and mentally sustaining.)

But, as much as I don’t like to blog about blogging or write about writing, I’m going to temporarily let go of that to make this blog a better partner for my fiction.  Actually, that shouldn’t be hard, because my new WIP is all about body image and identity, which is the tagline for this blog.

I’m almost done for tonight, but first I’m going to share something about my WIP’s protagonists and why I think their struggles are relevant here.  They’re seventeen year old twins, both pre-professional ballet dancers, one male and one female.  Here I’ll just call them GT for girl twin and BT for boy twin.  Here are their conflicts:

  • BT is bullied by his homophobic father who suspects (correctly) that BT is gay.  BT’s father makes BT promise to give up dancing, but BT continues behind his back.
  • GT is bullied by the directors of their pre-professional ballet company because of her weight.  GT is a normal, healthy weight for a seventeen year old girl and the powers-that-be find this unacceptable.

I’m not going to share plot details because, though I’ve written over seventy pages, I haven’t yet finished the outline.  But these twins will face major obstacles to their dream of succeeding in ballet–all directly or indirectly related to the themes of body image and identity.  (See?  There’s my blog tie in.)

Anyway I hope to finish a draft, possibly a second draft, by the end of the school year, when I will lose a good chunk of writing time (as my angelic children will be home).  Please root for me!  Thanks!

Stay tuned …

Chasing the Dream: A Lesson From Dad

Two beautiful members of my father's legacy

It wasn’t until after his cancer diagnosis in 1989 that my dad began to focus most of his efforts on his memoir.  The writing process was different from previous works.  It was good for the family—for my parents’ marriage—because it involved less research, less travel.  He was home more, though by that time, I was living in Boston.  Fortunately, Pan Am had this great New York to Boston Shuttle which cost fifty bucks for a round-trip ticket, so I came home on weekends whenever I could.  My mother would park the car and my dad would wait for me at the gate. 

That’s one of my clearest visual memories of him, actually.  Dad’s eyesight was so bad that he couldn’t see me until I was right up close.  But I could see him.  He wasn’t a tall guy, so the first thing I always picked out of the crowd was his wide, brown dome of a forehead.   He’d be waiting there, hands on hips, face full of anticipation as I came down the ramp.  His embrace felt like home.

Of course, once we got home, the time I spent with my parents was limited.  I’d be lying if I implied that seeing them was my main reason for flying to New York those weekends.  I was in my twenties with lots of friends from high school, college and my old ballet school swarming the city.   The social scene was what drew me back each weekend.  I might have dinner with my parents or spend a few hours with them in the afternoons, but at night I went out, stayed out late and slept until eleven the next morning.  Like many very young people, I believed time was limitless.  When I woke up, my father would have already put in a good five hours at the typewriter.  He’d get up before dawn—as he did all his life until he got really sick—put up the coffee, pour himself a mug (black with loads of sugar) and begin his work. 

By then had become clear that the memoir was the thing he should have been working on all along.  This was going to be his triumph.  Dad believed—because this was the way the publishing world had worked when he was at Viking*—that he could get his “four chapters” done and would then be given a big advance to do the rest. 

My father remained idealistic about his work to the very end.  He could always imagine success waiting just beyond the horizon.  “When my ship comes in …” was the phrase I heard him use over and over again.  

Though the ship never came in, I am proud of my father nevertheless.  He left me a gift that most daughters never get: the first ten chapters of a richly detailed memoir, ten more chapters outlined.  Some people have suggested that my mother and I try to finish the book, so his legacy lives on.   It is a beautiful thought, but I know, lacking my father’s experience and perspective, we’re incapable of doing that.   Besides, I believe that his legacy lives on anyway—in me and in my children.

Of all the lessons I’ve learned from my father, the most important is: set your goals high, but don’t squander the present.  No matter how my father chased his dreams, he always had time for me.

Enjoy the love of your family, your children’s joys and wonderings.  Strive for the future, but don’t let NOW pass you by.    

*My father was an art director at Viking Press from 1959-1981

To Dance Again: Confessions of a Masochist, Part 5

Today I forgot my knee brace, the thing I call my ‘external connective tissue.’  I didn’t notice it was missing until the class was three quarters over, and only then because I bent to stretch with my hands on my knees.  Instead of thick, industrial elastic and nylon I felt … a knee, and one that didn’t hurt.   A not-so-small victory.

But let’s not push our luck, my mind said, let’s not jump.  My heart countered: But why not just try? Because now the music had started; my muscles were aching for a crack at petit allegro.  Just this once.  So I wound up jumping, carefully, but not tentatively.  Not too high, but boldly, and with épaulement—loads of épaulement!  My knee, miraculously, went along with the program.  No ginching, no sharp pain, no kidding.  Is it possible that I’ve learned to dance for maintenance and longevity after all?  That this dancing-again thing isn’t just a flash in the pan, a backward glance in an old, cracked mirror?

I think I get to keep you, after all, Ballet.  You’re part of my routine again—tights, leotard, pink satin shoes.  When people say, “Do you dance?” the answer is no longer, “Back in the day I did,” but “Yes.”  A simple question with a simple answer.

Sure, my sense of triumph is tempered slightly when I acknowledge that, at my age, this probably as good as it gets.  Performing Swan Lake, Agon, Concerto Barocco—all my favorite balletsthat part is over.  But I feel like I’ve come home to myself.

Granted, when I look in the mirror to check my line—really look, not glance or squint—what I see is something that only vaguely resembles what I once looked like.  That discrepancy could be pretty painful if I let it get to me.  But since that first day, when I chose to waste precious moments of my life obsessing about my thigh-width, I’ve banished that sort of thinking from this process.  Regardless of how I measure up to the old, professional-dancing me, I won’t hate this me or her non-twenty-year-old-sylph body.  The fact that I can still do this on any level is too thrilling to lament a loss of extension, or a gain of pounds.   So I won’t.  (Okay maybe I will sometimes but I vow to stop when I catch myself.)  When I leave ballet class each week, regardless of how my jeans are fitting that day, I’m less hard on myself, less judgmental.  One reason is the confidence that comes from being true to who I am—by letting dance back into my life.

This return to ballet class began as an experiment, something to write about.  It wound up healing a part of me that I didn’t know was wounded.

Now that ballet no longer hurts so much, I can’t call myself a masochist anymore, which is why this is the final post in the “To Dance Again” series.  Nevertheless, all this writing about dance has inspired me to dust off something I’ve had in ‘My Documents’ for some time now.  A ballet novel, for which I’ve already got a cast of characters I’m in love with, a setting and even a few chapters.  (My first novel, Birch Wood Doll, is about a ballet dancer, but it’s not a ballet novel).  I won’t say more about the new work here, but it’s calling me.  I’ll put the “Dissociative Identity Disorder” novel on hold for now, pace myself with this blog, stop worrying about my newish Twitter account and let this new book happen.

Stay tuned.

Writing is Identity

With so many great blogs out there about books and writing, why blog about books and writing?  Especially since my blog is supposed to be about body image and identity.  Well, writing is identity.

I’ll confess, ever since I got back from the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC last weekend, I’ve been struggling to come up with a decent post.  A (minor) shoulder injury has put off my next installment of “To Dance Again;” my kids haven’t done anything special to inspire a new mixed-race-parenting piece—nor have I had any ah-hah moments about my own biracial, Jewish, black, ex-dancer-shrink-ness.

Frankly, though I’ve been proof-reading, not really writing, I’ve thinking of nothing but my writing, which is itself an identity topic.  My writing is made up of all the pieces that make me myself.  (I think most writers would agree.)

I am in full writer mode this week.  My kids get it: they scrounge for their own snack and start their own homework, work out their own little squabbles, knowing that somewhere upstairs in the fire-hazard, dust-bunny haven of the study, is Mommy-as-Writer-Lady (they know I’ll be down to cook and feed and hang out later).

I haven’t posted here for a whole week; I’ve been too busy giving my novel one last comb through before sending requested pages to agents I met at the conference.  (Still insanely giddy over the fact that they were interested enough to ask!)   And now that I’m finally posting, what do I post about?  Writing!

Here’s why I write: Certain aspects of being human either vex, amuse or fascinate me.  I need to get them down in my own quirky way, ultimately to see whether or not others feel as I do.  In The Marriage Plot (which I haven’t finished yet), Jeffrey Eugenides’s Madeleine finds in Barthes “the reason she read books in the first place … a sign that she wasn’t alone.”  In Heidi W. Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (which I will post more about at another time), when Rachel says, “…the other black girls in school think I want to be white … I don’t want to be white … I want to be nothing,”  I think, yes, it’s something I’ve felt before.

So maybe you’re not biracial, black or Jewish, maybe you’ve never obsessed about whether your thighs touch when you stand with your feet together, maybe you’re not an only child or even female.  But when you read me you just might see a small part of yourself reflected back.

Now, let me take this opportunity to say what a thrilling, magical weekend I had at the Writer’s Digest Conference (#WDC12 in Twitter-speak).   I met so many fascinating people: other aspiring authors, some successful ones, editors, agents and others in this great, old, but rapidly changing field of publishing.  Though everyone says, “go to conferences with an open mind, ready to learn everything you can,” I’ll admit I went mostly to pitch Birch Wood Doll.  Once I got there, though, I inhaled information, from “Writing about Yourself in the Digital Age,” with A.J. Jacobs , to “Conflict and Suspense” with James Scott Bell, to a fantastic kid-lit seminar with Mary Kole , which convinced me to make my next project a YA venture.  Of course the Pitch Slam—60 agents, 400+ unpublished authors, 3 hours—was the high point.  I was fortunate enough to walk away with business cards from five of the agents on my top-six list.  I got home and immediately read through BWD again for typos and awkward phrasing, sent everything out on Tuesday and found myself coming down with a cold and an utter loss for words.

Fortunately, I had signed up for a Pitchapalooza workshop at Watchung Booksellers  last night.  I decided not to pitch Birch Wood Doll, since my pitch had been successful at the WDC.  Instead I challenged myself to formulate a pitch for the (as yet unwritten) YA book, just to see if “The Book Doctors” would think it sounded worthwhile.  The good news is that they did.  And with that project to look forward to (yet another novel heavily featuring body image and identity) my blogging voice seems to have returned.

Lastly, to the wonderful fellow writers I met last weekend—Grace, Joanna, AG, KSZ, Harry and others—I am rooting for you all!