My beef with FaceBook and W & P Q #8

I can guarantee that you’re not reading this on FaceBook. Why? I’ve stopped blogging there.

I love FaceBook. It has a great design and tools that make it much easier to use than MySpace. I’ve connected with hundreds of old friends and new readers there. One of the features I loved about it was the ability to directly stream this blog into my FB account.

No more.

I turned that blogging feature off yesterday, thanks to a note on Stacy Whitman’s blog that led me to this Consumerist article examining the very quiet change Facebook recently made to their Terms of Service (TOS).

I feel like FB is trying to have it both ways; writing the legal TOS language to give them blanket access to content, should they one day want to produce, oh say, a book of Best Blogs of 2009. Or a CD with Cutest Baby Photos Ever. Or Frat Guys Gone Wild and Photographed While Unconscious. At same time, they get to act all surprised and offended, “What! We weren’t gonna do that. No way!” and refuse to change the legal language that would make the issue go away.

The New York Times today quotes writer Sasha Frere-Jones as saying that FaceBook CEO Mark Zuckerman’s response to the protest “is just the modern version of ‘Ignore the fine print, ma’am, just sign here,’”

If Zuckerman truly believes what he said in the Times article, that “the philosophy “that people own their information and control who they share it with has remained constant,” then he can very easily tell the company’s lawyers to tweak the TOS language to reflect that.

Come on, Mark. You know it’s the right thing to do. I don’t have anything against good business models that turn a profit for entrepreneurs. I adore capitalism. But when you start putting your sticky fingers on other people’s intellectual property, then you’re turning into a Robber Baron. You’re better than that. Fix the TOS.

Until that happens, you can find this blog on LiveJournal and MySpace.

And now, back to writing questions.

You wrote: What do you read, outside of researching and work?

I’m reading and reading an incredible book of poetry that I recommend to everyone: Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith I was lucky enough to hear her speak at NCTE in San Antonio (our paths crossed at the National Book Awards, too, but we didn’t get a chance to talk). I think she’s one of the most talented poets writing today.

In fiction, I’m about to start Soul Enchilada, by David Maciness Gill. I read more non-fiction than fiction (I don’t want too many other fictional voices in my head when I’m writing, that’s why.) I just finished Eden’s Outcasts:: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father and now I’m reading
Edith Wharton, which is, yes, a wonderful biography of Edith Wharton.

Before I get to work, a couple of people inquired about Number One Son based on yesterday’s photo. He is almost 17, but don’t get your hopes up. He has a wonderful girlfriend and is not looking elsewhere.


W & P Q #7, with swimmers and the smell of chlorine

Madwoman in the Forest, Sports edition…..

Spent Saturday at the Section III Boys’ Swimming Championship down in Syracuse, because Number One Son qualified in two events. Actually, BH spent all day at the pool. I spent most of the day in the car in the parking lot, working on my laptop. BH would text me as one of Son’s events came up, and I’d shut down the computer and go in to watch and cheer him on. Combining parenting with writing isn’t always pretty, but it can be done.

He took 4th in the section in the 100 breaststroke and tied for 6th in the 200 IM. The breaststroke time was a personal best and a State-qualifier, so even though the kids up here have MidWinter Break this week, he’s got to get up and go to swim practice.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Here he is in full Mohawk-splendor cheering on a teammate who is swimming the 500 free. (He shaved the Mohawk off for finals, BTW. Kind of bummed me out.) (Photo: The Post Standard)

Running update: I had a small medical procedure done on my leg last week, but will soon be lacing up and hitting the road again.

Onto the questions!

You wrote: Do you ever get major panic attacks about whether the story you are writing is good enough? How do you deal with the uncertainty?

I freak out about my writing ALL THE TIME. As in, every day. Sometimes many times a day. I am a neurotic, self-doubting, insecure bowl of Author-Jello. The only way I know to deal with uncertainty is to keep plowing ahead. Also, never let yourself throw your manuscript into a blazing fire. Very bad.

You wrote: Any advice for a youngish writer who has a burning desire, passion, need to write…. and yet is completely at a loss for plot? I don’t even know if I want it to be fantasy or more realistic… I just have this ache to write something that I would want to read. I am also compelled to write a positive female role model for young girls (like Melinda) for girls — I’m a high school English teacher, and while I love the escapism of some of the popular fantasy books out there, I worry about the message they send to our young girls (i.e. that you have to change who you are – literally – to be with the man you love…)

But beyond that, I have no real plot ideas. Do your story lines come first? Or can you start writing and have the plot … sort of … come to you, like mana from heaven? Suggestions on how I can rustle up one of those dang plots? 😀

Sounds to me like you should give yourself permission not to worry about plot for a while. Just do character sketches. Sit down for fifteen minutes and freewrite about one of those girls you mentioned. Not a real person, make her up. Start with a small, specific detail, like a description of her fingernails or the smell inside her backpack, and run from there.

My YA novels usually begin in my frustration with a situation that many teens find themselves in, something that makes me upset. (WINTERGIRLS = Eating Disorders, f.ex.) But I think that if I focused on plot first, the stories would never go beyond “problem novel” fare. To me, the most interesting element is character. So I ponder a situation, do a lot of character freewriting, and wait for a new voice to pop into my head and start whispering. I do not worry about straightening out the plot bones until after I have written a mess of a first draft.

This might not work for you – all process is personal. But I do think you might enjoy just writing for a while, without overthinking plot needs.

NOTE: Last week I got an email from a student who had what she thought was a great core set of plot points for her novel. She wrote to me (very politely, yay!) and asked if I would please supply her with a few rising action and falling action sequences.

I declined (also politely). Sometimes, all the advice in the world doesn’t matter. You just need what Jane Yolen calls “BIC,” Butt-In-Chair time.

Want a WINTERGIRLS Discussion Guide?

I have a handful of spiffy WINTERGIRLS discussion guides, courtesy of Uncle Penguin.

If you want me to mail one to you, please leave an address in the Comments section. First come, first served until they’re all gone.

We will return to our regularly scheduled questions about writing and publishing tomorrow.

ETA: If you don’t want the whole world to see your address, simply ask me to screen your comment and I will happily do so. Thanks to the person who suggested this!

EDITED: All the guides have been spoken for. I’ll get them in the mail this week.

W & P Q #6, and no, I didn’t know my voice could go that high

Random fact: I sing alto. If I have a cold, my voice goes even deeper, pitching down into Lauren Bacall range. But apparently, under the right circumstances, my voice climbs the octaves until I sound like a very small mouse or someone who has spent too much time around helium balloons.

The “right circumstances” being a phone call from those loverly, sweet, blessed people who sat on The Margaret A. Edwards Award committee for the American Library Association,. That’s right; I sounded like Mickey Mouse when I received “The Call.”

Want proof? Watch this adorable video filled with clips of lots of us who received The Call, including Jackie Woodson, Neil Gaiman, Kathi Appelt, Melina Marchetta, and Beth Krommes. I squeak briefly at the 1-minute point, then give a rambling extenda-squeak (showing no vocabulary depth whatsoever) at about the 3-minute mark. I had no idea my voice went up that high. I must say, it’s very fun to be able to relive the moment with this video. Thank you, AGAIN, ALA!

Speaking of Margaret A. Edwards, you might want to read this wonderful story about the legacy left to the readers of Baltimore by one of Ms. Edwards’ protégés. Inspiring!

You wrote: Lately I’ve been going crazy with literature directed at authors (Like guides to the markets, writers’ monthly publications, etc.) and I find them very helpful, but I’m never sure if the advice I’m getting is any good. Were there any guides or books that specifically helped you become a better author? Or perhaps a particular strain of advice?

When I started writing I was a faithful reader of Writer’s Digest magazine. I still have a number of article about craft that I cut out of it filed away. Note to self: must consult these again! I read every book I could about the process of writing and publishing. I also read many biographies of writers, hoping to glean hints about their process.

I mentioned Harold Underdown’s book earlier this week. It wasn’t published when I was starting out, but I sure wish it had been. The other two books about writing I recommend are Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott and On Writing, by Stephen King. I also found the creativity exercises in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way useful.

Best advice? It’s OK to revise over and over again to make your book as good as possible.
Second best advice? Don’t worry about trends.

The frozen waterfall off the back porch finally came down, but it slid off so slowly I didn’t notice. Sort of like a wave kissing the shore.


W & P Q #5 & vacation ideas & literary tattoos

Looking for a place for a vacation combined with books? You can stay at Nora Robert’s B&B or follow the Bookstore Tourism blog and plan your trip accordingly. Then there’s always the Library Hotel.

Do you have any other book/author-friendly vacation spots?

Unrelated, but fascinating, to me anyhow. Do you remember, in TWISTED, the English teacher told the main character, Tyler, about a friend of his in grad school who had Homo, fuge written on his arm, in Latin? (A wonderful librarian quotes the entire passage on her blog entry about TWISTED, if you don’t remember.)

Well, there is evidence of a real-world person getting this tattoo, though he went for the English translation, not the Latin. I am quite sure this tat had nothing to do with my book and everything to do with the original Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. It’s just cool when the real world and the world in my head intersect. (thanks to Susanna William via Fuse #8 for the linkitude.)

You wrote: This is probably one of those “whatever works for you” kinds of questions, but I’d like your perspective. Since, as you mention, most writers must maintain full-time jobs to live on while writing, how does one balance writing with the other demands of life? This includes not only the full-time day job but also raising children and family demands. I’m sure that your juggling of book tours and fan mail and running and family alongside your writing time must provide some wisdom…please share!

No wisdom, just sympathy. Every writer I know faces these struggles. And they don’t seem to get easier, they simply morph into something new. Most of our kids are grown, but now taking care of our elderly parents takes up a lot of time. Chances are that when our parents have all passed away, grandchildren will appear on scene. “And so it goes…,” to quote a famous man.

I’ve always set well-defined and somewhat attainable goals for myself, both in my writing and my real-world life. Having goals helps me keep the right compass heading when life gets overwhelming. I’ve also gotten better at turning away from the kinds of activities that do not support the priorities in my family life and my work. This means watching little television and going to few movies. I’m not much of a volunteer anymore. I kind of feel bad about that, but to my dismay, there are still only 24 hours in a day.

Here’s something that might help. Indentify the core values in your life (family, marriage, creative work, financial stability, for example). Try to keep it at 5 or fewer.

Write the values down and then list the tasks that you do everyday that connect to and strengthen those values.

Here’s the tricky part. For one week, monitor how you are spending your time. (Maybe you could do this at the top of every hour, or before you go to bed each night.) List which activities support your core values and which had nothing to do with them. Then figure out how you can detach yourself from the things that are not within your core value system. This will free up time for the things you care about the most.

Any thoughts on this?

Back to work. Scribblescribblescribble…