Desert Dreams: The Writer is Inn

Casa Libre en la Solana: I’ve never in my life gone away for a writing retreat. I don’t have kids, I don’t have pets that need walking (my snake, actually, periodically forgets that I exist, and vice versa); I have a pretty low-maintenance life, so I keep thinking that I don’t need to “get away.” But one of our cool Mills poets pointed out this place, and now I think I need to go.

This was what a couple of MFA’s came up with who wanted not to let go of what goodness they had gotten from their writing immersion. A movable feast, a revolving door of a writing group, this is a not-for-profit writing refuge that looks wonderfully sunny and warm and nurturing in contrast to my cluttered office, the dark clouds outside my window, and the email that keeps sliding into my in-box.

Which would be less trouble, to unplug the phone, or fly to Tucson?

Words about waiting, writing, and revising

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve put out any official update on the *S.A.M. situation and, since he’s safely out of town now at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I thought I’d let everyone know that as of last Friday I’m not in the process of… waiting. For more instructions on…more revisions. Yes, that’s more waiting for more revisions. It’s the story of my life.

Actually, the waiting is good – this time it’s waiting for an ‘editorial guidance’ letter from a house which is willing to work with me on a novel they feel has potential, and since both of us are on the same page of wanting to see this through, I think in all likelihood that I will soon (“months-and-months-later” kind of soon, because publishing time is like eschatological time on a different sliver of the space-time continuum) have a contract that is a good fit for myself and for the house.

It’s been a pretty up-and-down process. Friends who have been helpful and supportive through the beginning excitement have begun to express dismay over how many times I’ve been asked to edit. Someone asked me plaintively if it’s really like doing work on a cadaver and if it’s like that, they don’t want to do it. Ever.

In considering – and taking back- (it’s not like autopsy, I just meant it hurt less now!) my rather drama-diva moanings about this, I realize that I believe this process has been worthwhile. a.) because it’s worthwhile seeing what other people have to say about your work, so the guidance/edit process is worth it, and b.) because it wouldn’t have been worthwhile had it come earlier than now because my work wasn’t ready. That might seem like something odd to say, but considering that I quit my last full-time job almost ten years ago now, I realize it has taken me that long to write and write and write and practice and try to hone my craft.

How crushed I would have been, as a writer, if I’d had so many people telling me “change this, change that,” at the beginning. I am so thankful that I had no agent at the start of all of this. I am also deeply grateful for the sharp and priceless grit of my master’s program and my writing group, because in these last years, I’ve been too busy writing to spend too much time submitting and revising for the eyes of the market. Instead, I’ve sought the appreciation of the eyes of my readers, and worked on honing my craft.

It’s crucial time, I think, this writing time. Literary magazines and conferences all talk about market, market, market. We get hives and hyperventilate over the almight submission letter, the query letter, the acquisitions editor over at so-and-so. We over-emphasize product in this world — we always want an end result, to the point where we commodify art into something that has dollar $ign$ all over it. We even commercialize ourselves as writers — we barely want to hold our heads up and admit audibly (much less loudly) that we’re writers unless we’ve had something published in the last five minutes. A vein in our head throbs that we’re only as good as our last sale. It’s amazing the things we tell ourselves don’t matter — stuff published in high school, college newpapers, collegiate literary journals, stuff published for work or church communities — we devalue our little ‘hobby’ down to where in the end all that matters is a publishing contract and a fat cheque. (I know we have help with that – the way people regard our occupation comes into it too, yes.) I don’t quite know how to stop that, but I want to go on record as making an attempt, at least, to buck that particular trend. I’m making it my daily mantra to say Je suis un auteur.

I’ve been a writer since my first Author’s Convention in the first grade, where I took home a framed certificate for Best Story. I’ve been a writer since I used to draw conversation bubbles in the J.C. Penny’s catalog (with special stories told by the ladies in bras and underwear – really hysterical stories, now that I think about it. Uses of irony, early on!). I’ve always been a writer. And, as long as I write, I’ll always be a writer.

…and now I shall climb down from my soap box.

(*Of course, the secret agent man!)


Now, here’s something exciting from our SCBWI NORCA list-serv that goes right along with my thoughts today. Historical fiction author Susan Lindquist is going to be speaking at the SCBWI Summer Intensive June 24th at Fort Mason on novel revision! She’ll be covering such writer thoughts as:

o I loved writing the first draft. It was creative, and fun. But now I’m overwhelmed by the thought of revising. Where do I start?

o An editor sent me a revision letter that I: a) don’t understand; b) don’t agree with; c) is so long and involved that I feel like giving up before I even begin; or d) all of the above.

o I’ve been thinking up ways not to revise just to make it easy.

o My critique group said they love my book, but I still feel it needs work.

o My critique group said the book needs work, but I love it just the way it is.

o I’ve begun revising but feel like all I’m doing is making things worse.

o I know the basics of editing, but now I realize that editing isn’t the same as revising. How do I do that?

o I don’t know what’s good and what’s not. I’ve lost my perspective and objectivity.

o I’m pretty skilled at fixing little stuff, but can’t seem to get a handle on the bigger picture.

o I’m stuck. I keep revising the same scene over and over and can’t seem to move forward.

o Sure, there are weak spots in the book, but if I’m lucky, maybe no one will notice.

o I’ve had a draft hidden in the back of my file cabinet for longer than I can remember. Maybe I’ll pull it out and revise it, but . . .

The purpose of this workshop is to learn how to revise without losing the essential bits of your story. At the conference, Susan promises to teach you to develop a revision plan that will fit your project and personality, so you can go home with tons of tips and tricks that will carry you through to “The End.” To enroll, send a check made out to SCBWI for $85 ($95 for non-
members) and name, address, e-mail address to: 2912 Diamond St., #326 San Francisco, CA 94131. Fee includes box lunch! Send questions to: [email protected]

Susan Hart Lindquist is the author of three middle grade novels:
WALKING THE RIM (Boyds Mill Press), WANDER (Delacorte), and SUMMER SOLDIERS (Delacorte). She has been on the faculty at a number of conferences, including the Big Sur Children’s Writers Conference, the SCBWI Asilomar Conference, and the William Saroyan Writers Conference. She is a former instructor at the Institute of Children’s Literature and a recently retired SCBWI Regional Advisor.

It's "Lord of the Flies" in the Mall: Naomi Wolfe on Chick Lit

The New York Times Book Review had an article about “chick lit” last week, and people from all over wrote in this week to talk about it. (You can read the review, but need to register – it’s free and it’s once, and the article is well worth it.) I love, love, love the article, because Naomi Wolfe says so articulately all of the things that I’ve complained about so long — that “chick lit” is disturbing less because of its redundant sexual content, but more because the sexuality is aggressively normalized – and now, almost commercialized and sold like a product. Wolfe agrees that it’s not the sex. She says,

“The problem is a value system in which meanness rules, parents check out,
conformity is everything and stressed-out adult values are presumed to be
meaningful to teenagers. The books have a kitsch quality — they package
corruption with a cute overlay.”

Amen to that. Pastel covers with cookie-cutter glamour girls on the cover. Not too much hip, not too much bust — just flat enough, refined enough, vanilla enough. Yee haw. And author Cecily von Ziegesar told an interviewer once that she sees her books as aspirational? Yikes, people.

You know how adult chick lit has the Jimmy Choo/Prada thing going? Enter Palm V’s, fancy cell phones, Coach leather bags, and Mom’s carpooling Lexus. Product placement galore, and God help you, poor stupid 13-year old, if you’ve never heard of Juicy Couturé.

I think I get so riled up about all of this because there was a culture of exclusion throughout everyone’s adolescence (instead of the Pretty Committee, my home town’s b-girls we called The Saditty Committee), but the rules get harder and harder to follow every generation, and there are fewer and fewer kids who feel happy, relaxed, satisfied with themselves, and in control of their world. How’s that going to cut down on the craziness in our society? Wolfe points out that instead of trying to remake the world for their brave new selves, the new heroines of chick lit do their best to squeeze more quickly into the glossy and banal world of their parents — and be just like them, only moreso. Yee haw.

I hope for success in the YA genre if for no other reason than that it will PROVE there are some girls who don’t buy that chick lit thing one bit.

It’s "Lord of the Flies" in the Mall: Naomi Wolfe on Chick Lit

The New York Times Book Review had an article about “chick lit” last week, and people from all over wrote in this week to talk about it. (You can read the review, but need to register – it’s free and it’s once, and the article is well worth it.) I love, love, love the article, because Naomi Wolfe says so articulately all of the things that I’ve complained about so long — that “chick lit” is disturbing less because of its redundant sexual content, but more because the sexuality is aggressively normalized – and now, almost commercialized and sold like a product. Wolfe agrees that it’s not the sex. She says,

“The problem is a value system in which meanness rules, parents check out,
conformity is everything and stressed-out adult values are presumed to be
meaningful to teenagers. The books have a kitsch quality — they package
corruption with a cute overlay.”

Amen to that. Pastel covers with cookie-cutter glamour girls on the cover. Not too much hip, not too much bust — just flat enough, refined enough, vanilla enough. Yee haw. And author Cecily von Ziegesar told an interviewer once that she sees her books as aspirational? Yikes, people.

You know how adult chick lit has the Jimmy Choo/Prada thing going? Enter Palm V’s, fancy cell phones, Coach leather bags, and Mom’s carpooling Lexus. Product placement galore, and God help you, poor stupid 13-year old, if you’ve never heard of Juicy Couturé.

I think I get so riled up about all of this because there was a culture of exclusion throughout everyone’s adolescence (instead of the Pretty Committee, my home town’s b-girls we called The Saditty Committee), but the rules get harder and harder to follow every generation, and there are fewer and fewer kids who feel happy, relaxed, satisfied with themselves, and in control of their world. How’s that going to cut down on the craziness in our society? Wolfe points out that instead of trying to remake the world for their brave new selves, the new heroines of chick lit do their best to squeeze more quickly into the glossy and banal world of their parents — and be just like them, only moreso. Yee haw.

I hope for success in the YA genre if for no other reason than that it will PROVE there are some girls who don’t buy that chick lit thing one bit.

Now here's something new and cool.

It’s Jacket Flap, the best and most extensive database of statistics and information on children’s book publishers. This searchable website helps writers check out the publishers that are publishing new authors and that publish titles in the writer’s category of work. It also tells stuff like number of titles per year, number of new authors published, and number of titles published by category, which is more important in larger publishing houses. A little more research on a writer’s part yields that all-important information about agented or unagented manuscripts, slush pile rules, and more. Together with some good info from our friend Google, a children’s writer has some great tools at their disposal.

This site is really primo — it’s updated regularly and the information is kept current by the book publishers. Site’s users are encouraged to participate and are bribed with Amazon gift certificates for keeping the site up-to-date. It also has children’s book news, which is really nifty — industry updates and everything. A lot of the information requires you to be a logged-in member — but that’s free and relatively painless.

I’m really kind of excited about this! I can’t find information about the number of printings runs per new novel or any of that deeper information, but it’s something individual publishing house websites will have. Jacket Flap is still a great tool to have on hand.

Now here’s something new and cool.

It’s Jacket Flap, the best and most extensive database of statistics and information on children’s book publishers. This searchable website helps writers check out the publishers that are publishing new authors and that publish titles in the writer’s category of work. It also tells stuff like number of titles per year, number of new authors published, and number of titles published by category, which is more important in larger publishing houses. A little more research on a writer’s part yields that all-important information about agented or unagented manuscripts, slush pile rules, and more. Together with some good info from our friend Google, a children’s writer has some great tools at their disposal.

This site is really primo — it’s updated regularly and the information is kept current by the book publishers. Site’s users are encouraged to participate and are bribed with Amazon gift certificates for keeping the site up-to-date. It also has children’s book news, which is really nifty — industry updates and everything. A lot of the information requires you to be a logged-in member — but that’s free and relatively painless.

I’m really kind of excited about this! I can’t find information about the number of printings runs per new novel or any of that deeper information, but it’s something individual publishing house websites will have. Jacket Flap is still a great tool to have on hand.

The Mouse that ROARED. At seven.

Wow, now here’s a first. Okay, it’s not the first time an author’s work has been banned, but um, she’s …Seven. The New York Post reports that home-schooled and multi-lingual Autum Ashante’s poem “White Nationalism Put U in Bondage” was seen as a bit, um, excessive for the Westchester middle and high school in Peekskill, where she was asked to perform. She’s a poet, and has already shared the body of her work at the Manhattan African Burial Ground and on television. But, there’s nowhere like school districts to help artist get their work banned, and it was the school performance that tore it.

You’ll have to make the call as to whether Ms. Ashante is only parroting what she hears at home in her heavy and dramatic blank verse — how many times does a seven-year-old get to use the word ‘paradigm’ in her poetry? (How often do you?!) — and you may disagree with her only addressing certain students with her call to action and pride – I know I do – but no matter what you think of her personally, it’s pretty ironic that it took a SCHOOL to shut her up, a school to make phone calls to parents, a school to apologize for the words of a 7-year-old, just in case her art offended. Open wide the halls of learning, that all may enter in… and maybe be offended and sue.

Of course, now she’s got visits scheduled with Al Sharpton. And may I just say that New York will now never hear the end of this? Be careful of mice with keyboards.

Monday Musings

The oddest things occasionally drift past as flotsam and snag on a twig of memory in my brain.

I was retrieving something from a friend’s house the other day, and his children tend to act like all adults are visiting celebrities, and youngest son was climbing my leg and asking, “Did you ever hear of a fish called Seaweed?” as if it was a children’s book that I had somehow missed. He made up the story, right then, to tell me all about it, three confident years old, and full of himself, happy to interrupt his father speaking to me, and to generally disrupt all adult conversation entirely, but I was captivated, because suddenly, his scrunched up little face reminded me…

…when I was nine, his father called me Seaweed. As suddenly as I remembered that, I suddenly ‘remembered’ a whole story to tell. “You started this,” I accused the child’s father, but he had no idea what I meant.

Actually, lots of things started ‘this.’ Enforced silence, internalized rejections, working things out, seeking greater expression. Someone asked me the other day when I “knew” it was my life’s destiny to write. Oh, yeah, because this person is somewhat freakocious (thanks, a.fortis, for the encouragement of more imaginary words in the world), my first thought was to just do some sighing and eye rolling (life’s destiny!? Come on!), but now I, too, want to know when I first knew I wanted to do this. As early as I can recall, it was about four … when my mother would tell me to shush now, her ears needed a break. She would hand me a piece of paper and a pencil,and tell me to write everything I needed to tell her for now.

And so I still am.
I am writing everything I need to tell her, not that she’ll understand if/when she reads it.
I am writing everything I need to tell her about myself. It is in puzzles and mysteries; others will ‘get it’ before she does, but I am writing everything I need to tell her, tell you, tell the universe; sky-writing, Pony Express, signal flares, crop circles; the messages keeps coming.

I only hope that I get through.

NPR reports, February 27, 2006 · Author Octavia Butler died on Friday. Butler was a leading science fiction writer who won every major award in her field. In 1995, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.

Oh my goodness! She was only 58!!!! And I hadn’t yet read all of her books!

Literary Pursuits

(February 24th was Happy 1 Year Blogger-versary to US!)

The SF Chronicle Book Page had a great little review of Monkey Town by Ronald Kidd. It’s a retelling of the 1925 Scopes trial during which the town of Dayton, Tennessee put science teacher John Scopes on trial for teaching evolution in their public school, as seen through the eyes of Frances, the 15-year-old who has a mad crush on him.

Wow. What a stroke of genius it was for Kidd to take on this topic. He claims to have gotten the idea from the son of a woman who lived in Dayton at the time. He took advantage of her memory and recreated a wonderfully imaginative yet historically accurate tale of the town, the time, the craziness of the religious fanatics and the breathless reporters. It evokes a sort of Southern coming-of-age feel that brings to life Clarence Darrow, William Jennings Bryan and the irrepressible and often quoted H.L. Mencken.

It’s a great time for the YA set to be reading about this as the debate over evolution continues, since many of them who actually notice there’s a debate have no idea what all the fuss is about. The funny thing is, this novel is all about that — the fuss. The whole thing was thought up as a publicity stunt. But what a great one! The words of the trial are still debated today.

I am always intrigued by the length and breadth of the stories we have in our country, and by the stories that we choose to tell. NPR has a little story spot in their Morning Edition on Fridays, and it’s a treat to hear the stories people record for them – really, give them, using the medium of sound to offer the public a piece of their lives. StoryCorps is a national project to instruct and inspire people to record each others’ stories in sound, and if you’ve got a minute, or an hour, sit and listen. The stories always strike such a chord in me — hearing the voices of the lives of others gets the writing juices flowing. They are multi-ethnic, multicultural, they are stories of the past, of the present, and dreams for the future. They’re just little squares in the quilt of the world, told sometimes through tears, or in disjointed conversation… but the story’s the thing, people. Some amazing stuff that reminds me of the projects done in the 1960’s by college-aged historians trying to make sure the tales of slavery, and the Appalachian and Dust Bowl stories didn’t get lost from our history forever.

Another great public venue for books – not YA, but just for hearing excerpts of stories – is Writer’s Block, the Bay Area public television podcast space for local writing.