Friday, April 26, 2013

Wrap Up: Red Velvet Cake Edition

Do I ever need a reason to post a picture of a gigantic slice of four-layer red velvet cake? No. Moving on...

Here are this week's posts!

Author Erin Bowman talks about outlining and compares her own writing to driving along in the dark with the headlights on high-beam (seconded)

David Sedaris' new book, the awesomely-titled Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls is out this week! He sat down with Esquire to talk about his new book  

The former economics reporter in me knows it's first quarter earnings season! If you had to write a 1Q writing earnings report, how'd you do?

One more thing.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Eight Things My Old Job Taught Me About Querying

Before I made the transition to writing full-time, I worked as the radio producer for a news show. It was a crazy, wild, interesting job where I learned a lot and never took lunch,* and after I left, I realized a lot of the skills gained at that job were super helpful in querying.

See, as the producer, I had a big role in deciding what we covered or who went on the air. Generally, I got between 50-100 emails a day, the vast majority of which were pitches for our show.** I had to decide, often in a glance, whether or not a pitch was right for me,*** and it gave me a weird insight into the kind of email onslaught that agents deal with on a regular basis.

Here are some of the best things I learned:

Friday, April 19, 2013

Wrap Up: Little Green Shoots Edition

Ugh, what a week (thanks, Onion, for summarizing this all so perfectly once again). Here's hoping that things calm down soon (and that the sun shows its face in Chicago someday). I mentioned this yesterday, but I was cheered up a lot when I noticed our big, beautiful maple tree was finally showing some little green buds. In just a few days, hopefully my view will be a lot more cheerful than its been for the last few months.

All right, let's get to this week's links:

My agent-sister Erin Bowman is celebrating the release of her hotly-anticipated novel, Taken! She spoke with YA Highway about how she transitioned from a designer to a writer and her thoughts on Taken's cover (also, GO BUY THE BOOK!)

Thought-provoking post from Rachelle Gardner: What would you do if you weren't afraid? She also gives self-pubbed authors 6 reasons to want a traditional publisher.

Debut YA novelist Leah Konen has some great advice for aspiring YA writers

And finally, from Kristin Cashore, a lovely reminder from Mr. Rogers

Have a great, safe, sunny weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tea and Rain Clouds and a Puppy

It's rainy outside. I'm fighting a cold that keeps me awake all night and groggy all day. The news out of Boston--a city closer to my heart than perhaps any other--has left me sad and dazed and confused.

I try to keep this blog lighthearted and focused on publishing, but today and this week my mind has been too wrapped up in what's going on in the world. I've spent a lot of time drinking tea, reading books, hugging my puppy, saying prayers of thanks for friends who ran or watched the marathon but were spared, saying prayers of comfort for the families of the victims. Today I learned that one of the victims was the sister of someone I knew in college. It's hard to watch him standing with his mom and not feel like the whole world has turned upside down.

I debated whether to post this today. But ultimately, if writing has taught me anything, it's to pay attention to what I'm thinking and feeling and to be honest about that. Share it. Put it out in the world and hope that in some way, it touches another person.

And I know that these feelings are only temporary. I know Boston is a tough city and every time I hear someone on the news say the marathon won't ever be joyful again I think "Like hell it won't."

But in the meantime, it's tough. It's sad. It's strange. And so I drink cups of tea, read books, hug my puppy. Cry, pray, check in with friends and family. Try not to get overwhelmed by the news and remember, even on the days when it doesn't seem like it (maybe even especially on the days it doesn't seem like it): the world is a good place.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Wrap Up: Little Green Tomatoes Edition

Today was the first day in memory that I woke up from my alarm and not from the puppy whining or jumping up into bed with me* or throwing her toys on the ground (actually, she did wake me up after repeatedly body-slamming her teething rings onto the floor, but I managed to fall asleep again). It was an amazing feeling! Also, I forgot how to turn off my alarm.

For the past year, I've been growing this tomato plant in my apartment. It looks a little funny because it's grown upside down in a giant bucket hanging from the ceiling, and it's so big that it pretty much takes over the whole window. I've been coddling this plant for months now, watering it and lavishing attention on it, and despite a little tag that said it would grow tomatoes within two months, it wasn't until last weekend that I noticed finally, finally, the little yellow flowers had turned into very small, very green tomatoes.

Even though they are probably a loooong way from ending up on our dinner plates, it's lovely to see some signs of spring and growth and green on days when I look outside and see the weather equivalent of uuggghhh.

This week's links!

How to deal with editorial letters? Publishing Crawl has some tips

A bunch of good posts from Rachelle Gardner this week: Literary agents aren't extinct yet, busting publishing myths, and does potential matter?

Every blogging writer (or every blogger) should read this post from Kristin Cashore about keeping your center while blogging

From Publetariat, an essay encouraging hopeful writers to go out and live life instead of spending time in writing classes

Have a great weekend, everyone!

*No, she does not sleep in our bed. On mornings when the husband leaves the apartment before I'm up, we've learned that she whines less if he brings her into the bedroom, where it usually takes her .3 seconds before she leaps onto the bed (it's 4 1/2 feet off the ground, so this is actually pretty impressive).

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

When Your New Manuscript Is Like Your New Baby

I’m beginning a new manuscript, which is always exciting, but it’s turning out to be more trouble than anticipated.

This isn’t my first time at the rodeo—this is my fourth manuscript, and every manuscript I’ve started, I’ve finished without too much trouble. I have a great idea, a plan, exciting characters, and a setting I can’t wait to explore, but for some reason, the actual getting the words down on paper part is proving tough.

Part of that is because until fairly recently I was working on my last manuscript, the one that connected me with my agent. I was (and am) so comfortable in that world. I know my main character, her voice, what she thinks and feels and how she reacts. I know the insides and outsides of her world and have finally managed to juggle the various different elements and characters.

My mom is a teacher and for years she taught first grade. At the end of every school year she’d say how proud she was of her students, how they came in as shy or unruly kindergarteners and how she’d spend the whole year working with them, teaching them, until finally they marched off as happy, confident second graders. It was great, she’d say, except she knew in three months she’d have to start from scratch with another bunch of five-year-olds.

That’s a little how I feel now, starting this new manuscript. My big, grown-up story is out in the world, meeting people around the country and holding its own, and as much as I want to enjoy that, I know I have a shy, unruly idea that needs a lot of coddling.

It can feel exhausting, remembering all the work an idea needs before it turns into a story, and then a good story, and then a story that you actually want to show the world. And I confess that when I put down a paragraph, it’s hard to not compare it to polished work, even though that’s a little like getting mad at a baby because it doesn’t know how to tap dance.

I’m trying to remind myself of the great things about starting over, like discovering for the first time who your character really is or finally unraveling a knot in the plot or that high from putting something down that you didn’t even anticipate writing. 

It helps, also, to look back at my last manuscript and remember that it wasn't all just instantaneous magic--it took time and thought and lots of thrown-out work until I got the point where things flowed. But I got there eventually, and this little baby manuscript will get there, too.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Wrap Up: Canyon Edition

One last pretty canyon picture!

This one is from the South Kaibab trail, about halfway down the canyon. The clouds made these amazing patterns over the canyons, which almost distracted from the five miles of constant uphill hiking.

It was a little disappointing to go from crisp air and 75 degrees to 35 degrees and somehow still humid? Sigh. Does Chicago have any canyons?

I'm still getting the blog up to speed (see the unchanged "What I'm Reading Now"--I'll get a new book up by the weekend, I promise), and it's a short list today!

Kristen Nelson discusses what agents can bring to indie writers

Rachelle Gardner talks about what you and your agent can do when your manuscripts aren't selling

He wasn't a YA writer, but Roger Ebert will go down as one of the greatest, most elegant, and smartest writers out there. Considering the majority of his essays are about the craft of storytelling, reading his reviews should be a prerequisite for a writer. Here are some excerpts from his best reviews, and here a list of his best worst movies.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How I Spent My Spring Break

Apologies for the blog-absence last week! While my reasons for the radio silence aren’t as exciting this time as they were last time, they’re still pretty fun: research trip!

In preparation for my latest manuscript (a Western), the husband and I spent a week in Arizona, criss-crossing the state from dusty deserts to snowy mountains and pretending to be cowboys. It was fun!

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the trip:

A saguaro cactus skeleton at the Pueblo Grande Museum

 I spent a silly amount of time touching, smelling, and studying plants.
Here I'm getting personal with the yellow puffball-like flowers of an acacia tree.

 If I was going to write about the Old West, I had to know my guns, so I met with the head of a traditional shooting club to get some pointers. This is me trying (and failing) to shoot "gunfighter style"--two six-shooter revolvers at once (side note: this was all totally legal. My urban East-Coast brain had a hard time wrapping around that fact).

 We also went horseback riding in the desert, which is just as lovely as it sounds.
Please don't judge the husband for his taste in hats and/or city slicker riding style.

 Checking out the cells in the Yuma Territorial Prison.

 Some of the most useful parts of the trip came from just looking out the window during long drives and watching the landscape change.

 At the Pioneer Living Museum, inside the teacher's house (which looked so cozy I wanted to move in).

 Obligatory Wild West shootout.
You can't see them, but two bus loads of kids sat just to the left of this picture and the intensity they brought to watching six volunteers shout out jokes and earnestly try to remember their lines* could rival a NCAA stadium in the last seconds of a nail-biter.
 We spent a few days at the Grand Canyon, getting our butt kicked by hiking.
Here's Day One, the Bright Angel trail, where we walked from the top, all the way down to those tiny green trees in the middle of the picture, and back.

 And Day Two, the South Kaibab trail--you can't even see where we ended up, but we were a little lower than those flat plateaus in the middle right of the picture.
 Waiting for the sunrise over the canyon on Easter morning

 The closest we got to the Colorado River

 Prickly cactus at the Desert Botanical Garden

 What our GPS looked like trying to get down a mountain near Sedona (total trip mileage: 1100).

Did anyone else go somewhere for Spring Break? Or ever do any out-of-town book research?