Sunday, December 6, 2009
In some of my previous blogs, I discussed how I was trying to focus more on character in my picture books. I took it a step further to develop some character worksheets and to create a couple of kids I thought would make great picture book material. It wasn't until I actually tried to write some stories around them that I discovered something about myself. I don't write that way...at least not naturally.
So I'm a plot kind of gal. Who knew? And is that okay? I read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird a few years ago and remembered her description of her own writing style. She says she creates a character she likes and follows them around for a day to see what they will do (I paraphrase wildly, of course).
I mentioned this to the group, and one of the ladies said she heard the exact opposite from Barbara Kingsolver, another one of my favorites. When asked if she would keep a character that "would not let her write" in a certain way (i.e., would not follow the plot line), Kingsolver replied, "then I would fire that character and find a new one!"
I take from this discussion the fact that you can be either type of writer and be successful. The most reassuring thing I've read in awhile comes from a book called Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul. She says yes, you must do a character study for each character in your book, but you don't need to do it right away. Go ahead and write that first draft, but do it at some point.
That's good news for plot people like me, who have a good idea for a story and need to get it down. Character then comes into the story like an audition. We find someone who can play the role rather than writing the role specifically for them. There's probably different schools of thought on this, but for now, it works for me.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Ironically, though, the more I learn about writing, and what makes something good, the more I panic and freeze when I try to put a story down. That's happened just this week on my Meg story. I started, got halfway through and said to myself, "Yuck, self. What are you doing? This is so not where you wanted this to go, self. Go sit in a corner and think about what you have done. Shame!"
I've got to work on subverting the perfectionist within and just letting my mind wander. I know it can be wrangled back together in revisions, so why is it so hard to let go?
I think part of my problem is patience. I'm at the point where I want to see some concrete reward for all my work up to this point. My rational side tells me I will probably have to wait longer. "But if I come up with that one humdinger, you may just get noticed!" my irrational side shouts. So I freeze. I sit at the computer and freeze...hoping the humdinger will ooze from my veins through the keyboard.
And it's even harder for picture books, I think. There's a tightness to picture books that sometimes stifles my shifts at the computer. In my mind, I'm wanting this story to be narrow of focus, filled with images, easy to read. Instead, I get this long narrative that meanders. How do I get this to 32 pages????
I think I'll go back to my corner and think it over.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
But my daughter, at the tender age of 5 (going on 16), has been my most recent inspiration. At the doctor's office a few weeks ago to get her influenza vaccination, she was offered the mist or the shot. Mind you, I and her bigger brother had already received the shot form. Not to be outdone, my daughter insisted on getting the shot, too, and even rolled up her sleeves to get ready. Yikes! As you can imagine, she is one tough lady. So a character was born. Mighty Meg Galooley. It's my latest story, and hopefully will be done before Maggie turns 16, which should be any day now.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
1. Get an agent. This is a new idea for me. I'd heard over and over again it is as hard (if not harder) to find an agent than a publisher, so you might as well send to publishers. This time, the editor, agent, and a few other presenters were pushing for agents. Okay, this makes sense to me, but it's an education in selling yourself. My impression is that it is easier to get an agent if you have at least been writing for awhile, because they want to see someone who has more than one work to sell. So that's my goal. Get 5 good stories together (I have at least three now), send the best out to some great agents, turn three times, kiss my left toe, and hope for the best.
2. Focus on character. Okay. This is hard for me. I'm not an English major, so talk of character, plot, sub-character, narration, pov, and so on, scare me. I can't help it. But I can understand the appeal of a great character. Looking back on my own childhood, my fondest books all revolve around a really great character: Curious George, Amelia Bedelia (my absolute fav), and Raggedy Ann. And the books my children love now have strong characters: Olivia, Duck, Franklin, Percy Jackson. I get the message. Character-driven books are a slam dunk. (It shouldn't be too hard to pull one of those out of my hat, right???)
3. Picture books are coming back. Hallelujah. After years of hearing the picture book is dead, Jennifer Mattson predicts a comeback. Thank you and thank you. I love the picture book. I'm almost embarrassed to raise my hand at conferences when asked, "Who writes picture books?" Because I know there are a lot of people out there writing a lot of mediocre picture books about puppies and frogs and jumping over logs, etc., etc. But I think picture books can be one of the most beautiful forms of literature around. A perfect blend of text of pictures is an awe-inspiring thing (insert my audible yearning for being someone who can pull this off). So Ms. Mattson has inspired me to stand up among the proud and admit I write picture books.
I had this preconceived notion that all writers were born that way. Pen to paper as soon as they could hold a pen upright, so to speak. I was one of those, too, who found it intimidating to write. There were just too many ideas swimming in my head to commit one over another to paper. (There still are...you should see my notebook!) I would journal occassionally, but even that became laborious and too introspective. Now that I'm writing some fiction, I actually feel liberated in a way. I can let my imagination fly, with no personal repercussions. It's still hard to wrangle all those thoughts in a cohesive story, but it sure is fun to try.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
The theme this year is a real experience from your family. Wobblejohn was a goose that lived with our family for a summer. He was a Canadian goose born with a lot of problems. One eye was missing; one leg was shorter than the other; and most curiously, his head was cocked to the side, like he was thinking about something all the time. Believe it or not, we (meaning my mom and I) taught Wobblejohn how to fly that summer. And it wasn't that hard. All we had to do was run through the yard flapping our "wings." (Okay, embarrassing, but not hard!) Amazingly, he learned to fly. He left us to go on the yearly migration with his brothers and sisters, so we thought we would never see him again. But he did come back, and his spunk has stuck with me all these years. I hope I can do him justice in the story (although I doubt I will...he was a pretty special little guy).
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
This October marks my one-year anniversary as a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and as a serious children's book author. By serious, I mean that I have committed myself to working on (definitely!) and improving (hopefully!) my craft. Here's a list of my serious efforts:
- I've joined a children's lit critique group in Columbia, MO,
- I've attended at least one local conference of SCBWI and hope to work my way up to a national,
- I've developed a semi-long list of picture book and short story manuscripts, and
- I've gathered my first few (dozen) rejection letters, (some of which actually came back with a personal reply or inked note in the margin!).
So to commemorate my one-year anniversary, I've started my official blog site, Monkey Patch Books. The name, Monkey Patch, actually comes from our family blog. It's a combination of a lot of abbreviations and initials you don't need to know about here, but I think it represents my writing quite well. In my stories, I try to harness the spirit of humor and fun that bubbles at the surface of all children, regardless of their circumstances or situation.
May you take your humor and fun very seriously!