Monday, November 29, 2010

Using Real Life to Inspire Fiction

I write a fair amount of non fiction--notice my sidebar.  All my published books are non fiction.  But my life's ambition is to publish a novel. My novel.

What's it about?  Well, um, me.  But it's fiction.  Huh?

If you know me "in real life" you probably know that my parents had a fairly unusual family business when I was growing up.  They managed and co-owned a golf course.  We kids had a blast.  We learned a lot about people, human nature, and ourselves.  We had good friends.  It's the basis for a great YA novel.  Except...

Nothing really exciting happened.  Unless you count my brother's hole-in-one.  Or the time I got poison ivy crawling into some shrubs after a ball.  Or when Mr. A. yelled at a friend of mine for practicing too long on the putting green.  Like I said, not so much.

How do you take a great setting from your own life and make it fiction?  Easy.

I ask myself a lot of questions.  What if I had done that?  What if I hadn't been afraid of that thing happening? What if he had said this?  What if they went there? 

Make yourself an alternate universe.  Up the stakes.  Invent people.  Change personalities.  It's your story--you can make anything happen.  Nothing in my book happened "for real"--well, maybe one or two things did--but no one really knows, do they?

You can do this with settings, but you can also take "real" situations and turn them on their ears.  Anyone else take a real place (or situation) and fictionalize it?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving in Plymouth

Well, not really. But close. I spent part of the weekend at Plimoth Plantation as part of a Girl Scout program. I was very interested--because I love history, and I'm working on freelance project about colonial America. I've been researching since June--and my weekend made it very clear to me that my extensive research has merely scratched the surface.

PP has a living museum--with live "pilgrims" in a reproduction of the 1627 settlement. They also have a Wampanoag village with native American historians describing daily life.  The craft center is amazing as craftspeople create reproductions of the time in the same manner they were originally created--hand sewn, hand carved, etc.

If you're in the area, I highly recommend the trip to Plymouth.  We also had a chance to tour the Mayflower II.  Incredible to think of a four month voyage with 100 of your closest friends on that boat. 

It's even harder to imagine the living conditions and the basic daily comforts that they lacked.  My daughter thought the Native Americans had it better because their wetus were warmer than the colonist's houses.

For the most part, the Pilgrims and the Native Americans at that time got along pretty well.  But I start to get emotional when I think of the violence and the grief that both groups suffered as time progressed.  And of course the Native Americans lost everything in the end.

We should celebrate the things we are thankful for this week.  But we should also remember the people who came before us and the things they suffered for us to be where we are.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Great Library Giveaway

I love this website--all about Middle Grade books. They are hosting a great contest for a wonderful selection of Middle Grade books for someone's local library. Check it Out!

My local library is a wonderful place--with an exemplary staff of generous and caring librarians. But then I'm biased. :)

The Great Library Giveaway

Friday, November 19, 2010

Suggestions for blog series or posts?

Yikes, my last post was a whole week ago! I hope everyone is enjoying the pre-holiday season. We just started listening to holiday music in the car. Planning and plotting the shopping strategy.

I've got a deadline next week. Scout stuff this weekend. Not much time to think up insightful blog posts.

I'm taking suggestions. Anyone have an interesting idea?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Harry Potter Nerdness or How are you anticipating HP 7?

Starting to get excited about the first Harry Potter Deathly Hallows movie? Me too. So are other folks in the literary world, notably Nathan Bransford has dedicated the whole week to HP.

Nathan Bransford

I've been watching fanmade YouTube music videos (c'mon, please don't tell me I'm the only one), listening to ORDER OF THE PHOENIX on audio tape, watching HALF BLOOD PRINCE. I listened to DEATHLY HALLOWS this summer. I haven't started reading fanfic yet, but I've done it before and I'll do it again. I need my HP fix. I can't wait to see how they portray this book--it has so many of my favorite scenes in the series. My all time favorite scene is The Silver Doe-Chapter 19. It has everything--Ron kicks butt, Snape's true colors show, Harry realizes how important his friends are, and Ron realizes [finally] his feelings for Hermione. I've got it bookmarked and sometimes I just read that chapter. Here's a good discussion of The Silver Doe.

I've got a date with my sister and cousins to see HP...but not until the 23rd. I can't wait!

So, now that I've shown my true HP nerd-ness...How are you celebrating the release of HP Deathly Hallows?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Let Kids Read What They Want

I'll admit I got the idea for this post from this blog entry on Capstone Connect -- and not just because the article links to a book set I was involved with for them. ;) It happened to coincide with a conversation I recently had with my local children's librarian about books for kids.

A friend of hers runs a bookstore--and recently related a story about a young woman with a toddler bypassing a beautiful picture book (it might have been an Eric Carle, but I don't remember that detail) because she didn't want to "talk down" to the child.

As a lover of all things books, and in particular really cool picture books, this horrifies me. For a child to miss the wonders of picture books--Jan Brett, Eric Carle, Richard Scarry, Dr. Seuss. Oh My!

My daughter still reads picture books because she loves the pictures. And, excuse me, the words in most picture books are geared to a parent's vocabulary NOT the toddler's. They are designed to be enjoyed together. Like art. Or poetry. Or music.

That's actually beside the point, though. If your middle grade boy will only read graphic novels, let him. If your teenage girl only reads paranormal romance, so be it. THEY ARE READING. Hey, if your toddler WANTS to read a chapter book--go for it! It's okay to suggest the books that you loved as a child, or books you've read good reviews for on Goodreads. Don't skimp on the good stuff. But if they'd rather read something you consider beneath them--it's okay. Studies show that if they read what they want, test scores will follow (see link above for source).

My daughter also enjoys reading riddles out of Highlights. In the car. Where we can't get away. But she loves them.

What do your kids like to read?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Life and Death. Literally.

Nothing like the cycle of life to make you sit up and take notice of your daily existence.  Between work, and writing projects, and driving kids, and doing laundry, I feel like sometimes I barely have time to think. But life happens when you're not watching sometimes.

It's been an interesting week for my family. An elderly relative passed away early Wednesday morning--she was only sick for a short time and thankfully didn't suffer long.  And my new niece was born late Thursday night--she is healthy and beautiful as her mother, my sister. 

I'm struck with thinking about things I'm thankful for.  My supportive spouse; my beautifully intense and brilliant child; my health; my wonderful friends (literal and virtual) and family; my co-workers.  I'm thankful for the ability to write down my thoughts and feelings, to vote for elected officials, and to eat ice cream whenever I want.

My wish for my beautiful niece is this, eloquently sung by Le Ann Womack:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thick Skin. Or getting feedback without wanting to give up.

If you write you know you have to develop a thick skin.  (and if you don't know that yet, well, if you're a writer, you will).

What does that mean?  To me, it means being open to feedback.  Being willing to consider that someone has a valid opinion about my words, my story, my direction.  It doesn't always mean I have to agree.  But it does mean I have to consider.

Some opinions are weighted more heavily.  There are crit partners, beta readers, family members, and of course industry professionals.  To get feedback from an industry professional is considered something of a coup--even if it ultimately ends as a rejection.  Because honestly, who has time to write a full page of feedback to someone to whom you're not going to offer representation?

My YA novel has been in full agent query mode since the end of June.  I've had a number of partial and full requests.  Getting requests from queries tells me that my story is relevant and interesting--or at least the premise is.  For the first time, I received a FULL page letter citing what worked and what didn't work in my full manuscript--and why the agent wasn't able to offer representation.

Here's where the thick skin becomes helpful.  It was a rejection letter explaining what didn't work about my novel.  I could scream and rant and get really sad about it.  BUT, it was a FULL page.  And it also included some compliments about my writing, my protagonist, and my concept.  I know for a fact that this agent has neither time nor energy to waste--so I'm thoroughly grateful that I was given such a gift.  I've got a lot to consider--to rewrite or revise.  Or to wait and see what the other agents holding fulls and partials have to say.

This agent also complimented my writing to boot.  OMG!  I must be getting close.

On a related note, I'm also working on some work-for-hire projects for an educational publisher.  The set I'm working on is incredibly challenging, but interesting and gratifying.  Without a thick skin I could start to feel over my head as I enter a new round of revisions.  But my editors are generous with their time, and acknowledge the difficulty of the projects.  I'm forging ahead with confidence and determination!  I am so proud to be getting to my final round of edits--and I can't wait to see the completed books.

Sometimes you have to remind yourself to have a thick skin.  You might have to talk to a crit partner.

Or write a blog post.  ;)

But remember it's the writing, not the person, being critiqued.  Agents and editors want you to produce your best work possible.  You want to produce the best work possible.  There's a process to getting there.  And the ability to consider feedback without feeling like quitting is priceless.

What does having a thick skin mean to you?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Read Every Day.

Just a reminder to read every day and a suggestion to sign up for the "You are what you read" campaign from Scholastic.

My most recent book finished?  FIRST LIGHT by Rebecca Stead (Author of WHEN YOU REACH ME) finished at 10:15 p.m. last night.  Very good read.

Have a Happy November 1.