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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thankful for . . . Writer Rejection

Now that we have come off our pie high by now (or shopper’s high, whichever is the closest to your Thanksgiving ritual)—and before we finish decorating for the holidays—let’s take a minute to reflect on our Thanksgiving thank-you list. Good health, check. Family and friends, check. No hurricane Irene or Sandy pounding the northeast in 2013? Check. 
Thankful TV commercials 
for Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over? 

I’ve got one more item to tick, but if you are the type of writer whose first drafts are snatched up by publishing houses you are excused from reading what comes next: I am thankful for writing rejections.

Writing is both a talent and a craft. Generally speaking, when one finds something easier to perform than others do without trying too terribly hard that thing becomes known as their talent. Singing, playing a sport, painting like Monet . . . skills can be developed, but some individuals have the basic knack from the get-go. 

On the other hand, activities such as following a recipe, folding origami, and crafting children’s hand- and footprints into angels or Rudolphs can be learned by anybody and done well after practicing with a good teacher. (By the way, if anyone wants tips on the angel or Rudolph, simply drop a comment!)

Truth is I’d be mortified if an editor or literary agent had actually taken me up on the earlier drafts of my work that I prematurely mailed with such eager beaver confidence. Most writers produce better work after several drafts, followed by suggestions from a critique partner or group, and then more editing for good measure until the writer would rather give up coffee than change a comma. Working hard to improve my craft has resulted in books that I will be proud to promote.

This year, I'm very thankful that a wonderful, growing Christian publisher in the UK, Sunpenny Publishing, is willing to take a chance on me. Look for The Lost Crown of Apollo to become a published novel for middle graders sometime within the next two years! Most thankful that Sunpenny is also taking on my twin sister's novel for kids, Bon Voyage, Sophie Topfeather, and our dream of promoting books together has a very good chance of coming true!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Need Characters?

Need Characters?
Attend your Summer Reunion!

If you are a writer holding an invitation to a reunion, what are you waiting for? RSVP YES!

Not only will you reconnect with old friends or family, but your attendance will be rewarded with a surprising roster of characters to add to your writing power!

I recently attended the staff reunion of a wonderful camp I worked for when I was a teenager. Those were the years in which we ran along the brink of life, deciding the biggies: what we wanted to do with our lives, where we would attend college, what values we stood for, who we wanted to love. They were exciting summers of goofy, spontaneous fun and deep conversations. Together, we enjoyed endless days of lakeside fun and evening songs to guitar-playing around bonfires.

A gold mine 
At the reunion it was a personal thrill to see those beloved faces and hear voices that remained familiar even after three decades of absence, but as a writer, it was a gold mine. When you see people daily, or yearly, changes are not so obvious. At a reunion, however, you have a clear picture in your mind how people were “back then” – and your writer’s mind can easily conjure the stories that might have happened "in between" when you see them in the "here and now." There were many surprises; those "most likely to succeed" weren't necessarily the ones who did. 

Personalities did not change; we slid into our old personas and friendships with very little difficulty (aided by the fact most of us didn't bring our kids!) What changed most was everyone's level of self-confidence. We had made those big, tough choices and knew ourselves pretty well, by now, even if lives were still in stages of transition or challenged in different ways. 

As a writer, I was fascinated by everyone's life choices. Most fascinating to me was how the common ground we had shared at camp remained a driving force in our lives. The smallest moments shared back then--even specific jokes--were recalled. It made me realize that every interaction we have with others might have a long-lasting impact that we cannot possibly imagine. 

Brainstorm your cast of characters
The next time I plan the cast of a new novel, I plan to think about where those characters have been, and where they want to go. Even if the story doesn't cover that long range of time, just knowing characters that well will help add details and depth to the book.

 Did you glean any new characters from your reunion trip?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On Butterbeer

Quick. Name something that exists on planet Earth solely because someone—a writer— dreamed it up. 

One yummy example is Harry Potter’s favorite drink, butterbeer. On tap and wildly popular in Florida, a butterbeer can foam your lips courtesy of a JK Rowling-approved recipe. After reading a scene in the books or visiting Hogsmeade in the movies with Harry Potter and friends, who doesn’t crave a butterbeer moustache of their own?

People intuitively know a good thing when they see one—or read about one. Does your book contain any powerful objects? Are you creating symbols? Or simply cool character props? How can you tell the difference?

Harry Potter was an orphan without a friend to his name until he joined Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His new friends reached for butterbeer whenever there was a social gathering, a weekend day off, a Quidditch win to celebrate, or a need for private conversation. Consider the butterbeer itself. It is a frothy, butterscotch-like drink, warming hands and the hearts of friends. Friendship and love ultimately gives Harry the strength he needs to defeat the villain Voldemort. It is my guess that JK Rowling designed, with great intention and purpose, thick blizzard and stormy weather conditions for student trips to Hogsmeade. By contrast, this spotlighted the warmth and comfort of butterbeer and, by extension, the important theme of friendship. Butterbeer is a powerful prop. No wonder fans make the trek to Orlando to taste it. Who doesn’t want (and need) those comforting qualities?

Consider your story’s objects:
            How necessary is the object to the scene? To the overall story?
            Are your scenes cluttered with objects? Can any be given more significance?
            Does the object represent anything else going on? Does it symbolize a theme?

Finally, is your prop grounded in humanity, no matter how fantastical its name or function? Characters come alive when they need to do things such as eat, drink, love, sleep, clean, communicate, travel and defend rights just like us. Your characters will leap off the written page and resonate with readers!