Wednesday, June 23, 2010
At first I thought the article simply showed what an absolutely fan-glorious-tastic world we new writers are entering. Miller writes, "Aspiring authors have never had more or better options for self-publishing the manuscripts currently gathering dust in their desk drawers or sleeping in seldom-visited corners of their hard drives. Writers can upload their works to services run by Amazon, Apple and (soon) Barnes and Noble, transforming them into e-books that are instantly available in high-profile online stores."
It can't be that easy, right? Of course not. Miller takes this dizzingly-delicious view of the future writing world and looks through the perspective of the reader.
The reader. Bah. Who cares about the reader? ;)
Oh, wait. I'm totally a reader. Just finished The Sugar Queen (glittery gold star for magical realism!) Have revisited the old Anne of Green Gables series this summer for a little comfort, a little familiarity. Am tearing through Ash so I can write Malinda Lo a thick, oozy fan letter. I love, super-love, triple-scoop love reading.
So what does the future look like for me, the reader? Not so brilliant.
What tired editors and over-worked junior editors do is suffer through slush piles. They read thousands--thousands!--of unsolicited manuscripts a year to hunt for that one lost jewel of a tight, witty, relevant novel. Miller paints a bleak, albeit hilarious, picture:
"It seriously messes with your head to read slush. Being bombarded with inept prose, shoddy ideas, incoherent grammar, boring plots and insubstantial characters -- not to mention ton after metric ton of clichés -- for hours on end induces a state of existential despair that's almost impossible to communicate to anyone who hasn't been there themselves. . . . Instead of picking up every new manuscript with an open mind and a tiny nibbling hope, you learn to expect the worst. Because almost every time, the worst is exactly what you'll get. In other words, it's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it, and if the prophecies of a post-publishing world come true, it looks, gentle readers, as if that dirty job will soon be yours. Also, no one will pay you for it."
I am fascinated and horrified by this. Fascinated because it will be so interesting to watch slow, subtle changes: what determines 'good' in popular fiction, what 'bad' writing will do to good writers, and how the languages of readers, writers, critics, and publishing may muddle so Babel-badly that understanding among them will disappear.
I am horrified by this idea, really, because it reminds me that I am just slush. Slush! One of hundreds of thousands of unsolicited manuscripts, of red-eyed, chipped-nailed dreamers begging the gods and unseen, exhausted editors for my one chance at immortality. It is such a sad idea that I doubt my little story. My little, torn, shorn story that isn't ready for anyone's eyes yet--I look at it and wonder if it could ever rise above the slush pile. How do you keep going when the terrors and bogeymen of Cliches, of Boring Plots and Shoddy Ideas loom and leap and lurk? What gives you confidence when the slush doesn't hush?
Sunday, June 20, 2010
She found my new bottle of lavender, made by friend Melissa of Aurora's Apothecary Herb Shop
All visiting fairies were invited to write wishes and draw pictures on slips of brown paper that were hung in the trees. The wishes come true, we were told, when the papers--whoosh!--were whisked away by the wind. Here Clara is both scribbling baby-wishes in green crayon and also devouring far too many cheddar Elmo snacks.
I took plenty of notes as I toured the greenhouse, sketching unusual pots and leaves, copying Latin names and nicknames of plants I'm sure one of my characters grows in her own greenhouse. What a fantastic way to research for my story! :)
Next year, I'll have to pull out my own wings and dance with the drummers and my sweet baby girl.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
No YA book, that's true, but it clearly deals with YA themes: a young, clever woman, Willie Upton, runs to the welcoming womb of her small-town home after making a mess of her attempts at a grown-up life on the west coast. Her visit home becomes one long summer of self-discovery. Although she knows who she is in a rudimentary way: town royalty, one of the last of the town's great founder, she dives into library journals and family documents to find more. As Willie digs into the past to understand her present, she uncovers ghosts and murderers, fire-breathers and monsters. It is an utterly suspenseful, 200-year-old coming-of-age tale.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
James Bradley is the author of NYT bestseller Flags of our Fathers. He has also written Flyboys and The Imperial Cruise. I was a little late, so I missed the opening of his talk, but it was information I quickly gleaned from his website: he is a Wisconsin boy who went to UW-Madison. While still a student, he flouted most of his professors and followed the advice he read in Reader's Digest from James Michener (paraphrased): "When you're twenty-two and graduate from college, people will ask you, 'What do you want to do?' It's a good question, but you should answer it when you're thirty-five." Bradley took time off college to travel the world for a year. He asserts that this time prepared him for his journey as a writer because of the experience and perspective he gained.
He said he's often asked about his process, about his "research." He seemed to scoff at this a little. "'Research' is the big word. But I didn't have a plan." He started with a question about his dad. The question led him to several boxes of momentos. In one box he read a letter that his 22 year-old father, John Bradley, wrote to his parents two days after John helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima. This discovery led to several phone calls to the families of the men in his dad's platoon.
He said that the families were tired of hearing from reporters and researchers. The families of the men who helped raise the flag didn't want to glorify their sons or make them into heroes. Bradley said, "I just want to know, did he have a girlfriend? Did he play football?" The book was well received by the families because he told their sons' stories honestly, frankly.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Oh my stars. I have 1/3 of a novel. What do I do?
I've got a couple of little plans. I need to take some notes walking down certain streets. Gotta see how the sun hits the trees at certain times. Check out flowers in bloom, birds in song, etc. Plan to visit two herb-queens to get their stories on making concoctions and to sniff around their greenhouses. I'm looking forward to these little visits.
But I need much more. I need whole huge chunks more. I need twice as much story as I have now, and I know notes and descriptions aren't going to give it to me.
I'm leaning on Ray Bradbury. Laini posted a clip of him talking about his creating Fahrenheit 451. The editors required 25,000 more words for his original manuscript. He asked, "How did I do that? I got the characters to come to me. Montag came to me and said, 'Do you know who I am completely?' I said 'No.' I said, 'Tell me.'" He listened to each of his characters and let them tell their stories.
I hope I have the ears to hear. And honestly, I hope I've created honest-enough characters who will tell me who they are completely.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
But holy cow, folks! Revising a novel is waayyy harder for me than I imagined. First, I had to overcome the temptation of reading my paragraphs and murmuring, "Oh, that's good. Man, that's poignant. Wow, how did I come up with that? Total genius." :) Next, I had to figure out how to move further than two sentences in one hour. The freedom to revise really sunk me for a couple of days. Only after many attempts did I fiiiinaly shift into a gear that works: cutting. Right now, I'm cutting. I'm not making better, I'm not improving or embellishing. I'm just cutting. I've cut 6 of 15 pages so far.
Yowza! I hope that's not the trend! I'll have a straggling scrap of a story remaining if it is! But my plan is to cut the remaining pages this coming week. The next week, then, I'll spend taking notes and researching. Hopefully, then, the third week will be a grafting week---attaching new green shoots to my scenes.
I already miss the zero draft process. How fickle am I? But I do. I miss sitting in the dark and dreaming up crazy conversations or peculiar scenes. I know more creation time is ahead for me; I just have to cut, cut, cut right now to find the real golden threads of my story.
How are you doing? Jennie wrote about how she's found a whole new beat she needs to follow. Are you writing that now, then, Jen? Are you back into the creating part? Jay, how is your story coming? And guys, Jay told me about a blog he wants to start soon that I think will be hilARious. Can't wait to read it! Sophia? Jldy? Sarah? Jen? How are your stories coming?
Wishing you all happy writing!