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…

Writing & Publishing Questions Batch #3, with ice and snow

Must start with art today. Nature’s art.

Our back porch has a metal roof. The last two days have been warmer than usual and the thick blanket of snow on the roof has been slooooooowly sliding down. Then it refreezes. Next day it warms up, slooowly slides some more, and refreezes.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Early this morning, it looked like this.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic It is a frozen waterfall of snow that reminds me of the classic The Great Wave at Kanagaw by Katsushika Hokusai.

I am sure that by mid-afternoon the house will shake and there will be a rumble and the whole thing will slide off.

Speaking of freezing and thawing, thank you Jennifer for an extremely well-written review of Wintergirls!

Now back to our regularly scheduled questions.

You asked: What are your daily tasks as a writer?

Well, I write a lot, though not nearly as much as I’d like. I’ll take yesterday as an example. I started work at 6:45 am. Took a quick lunch break, several breaks to make tea, and a half hour off for dinner – for a total of say and hour and a quarter away from the work. With those exceptions, I was at my desk until about 9:30 pm.

What did I do there? The most important thing was fleshing out a chapter that’s been bugging me. A lot of things happen in this chapter, so I had to back up and double-check my sources to make sure I had the historical facts correct. I spent about eight hours on the chapter.

The rest of the time was spent on email: writing a historian about gaining access to some manuscript sources that are not available to the public, checking with the publicist about a small bit of writing she had me do for NPR, asking my agent about a foreign tax question, a half-dozen emails from librarians and teachers and another half-dozen from readers (who were not asking for homework help.) Oh, and I dealt with some needed doctor referrals. And I took some time out to blog, and do a quick social networking sweep, adding requested friends on Facebook and MySpace, etc.

What did I NOT do yesterday that I wanted to? I didn’t run. Didn’t go to the gym. Didn’t make a dent in the email. Didn’t take care of any of the fanmail that’s been piling up. Didn’t work on my taxes. Didn’t work on my presentation for the upcoming booktour. Didn’t work on the needed content for the website update. I’m pretty sure I didn’t brush my hair, either.

My “me time” was just before bed. I spent an hour drawing. I’ve been doing more of that lately. I have no aspirations to be an illustrator. Mostly I’ve been copying other people’s pictures. It’s surprisingly relaxing and a nice way to wind down after a long day. (I also snuck in a few pages of a biography I’m reading about Louisa May Alcott and her father – that was when I ate lunch.) I went to bed at 10:30pm, fretting about all of the stuff that I didn’t get finished.

But I have to say, when I was deep in that chapter, life was grand.

You wrote: Several times I’ve seen publishers asking for short stories, novels etc:
But trying to find out what number of words they mean can be difficult. What is your view of the various lengths?

My only concern about length is to make my stories as short and the writing as tight as I possibly can. But I understand your desire for some guidelines. I strongly suggest you check out the best website for information about publishing books for kids and teens, Information about Writing, Illustrating, and Publishing Children’s Books: The Purple Crayon. The site is maintained by former editor Harold Underdown, who wrote the Absolutely Necessary Book: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books (If you enlarge the cover image, you’ll see that I blurbed the book, which I rarely, rarely do.) Those two source will give you more specific information than I can.

Off to attack another chapter and wait for the snow wave to crash.


Writing & Publishing Questions Batch #2

Went for a nice walk in our Little Forest yesterday with the Creature With Fangs and my Beloved Husband.

BH is cooking up a new project that I’ll be blogging about soon. Can anyone guess what it is?

Whilst perambulating, I came across

the first hint of Spring. We are still likely to get snow for a couple of months, but the days are a wee bit warmer. Know what that means? The sap is starting to rise in the maple trees!!!!!

Aside from tromping through the snow, yesterday was an excellent writing day. I tried to take a break to watch the All-Star football game, but honestly, I couldn’t get into it.

Now, to Batch #2, (I will get to all of your questions, I promise, even if it take a couple of weeks.)

You asked: When you’re working, how do you measure progress? I’ve set a personal daily goal of 2000 words a day (1000 before lunch, 1000 after dinner) and try not to type less than that many a day.
I know other authors just spend X hours on the computer and are happy with whatever comes out.
DO you have a recommendation?

It depends on two things: what kind of book I’m trying to write and where I am in my writing process.
Right now I’m working on a historical novel. For me, that means I spend a lot more time up-front developing and polishing the two plot strands – the exterior plot of the story that deals with the historical events (CHAINS = occupation of New York City by the British in 1776) and the interior plot arc of my main character, which must be woven in with the historical events.

Right now I have all of the historical plotting done on my current Work In Progress. I’m still refining the interior stuff of my main character. In the last week, I tossed an entire sub-plot tangent that bogged down the book and took my character to a really dumb place. So sometimes, you can measure progress by what you are throwing out!

When I have the bones of my plot laid down, and I understand my character’s internal journey, then I let my imagination run and my fingers fly. At this point – if family demands and publicity needs can be kept at bay – I try to write a minimum of 10 pages a day, though it can be a lot more than that. These are not polished pages, not at all. This is letting the magic of story – circumscribed by the limits of my plot structure – flow.

After that comes the slow and painstaking revision process. Sometimes that means one page a day, but if I’ve done my job, it is a well-written page. Different writing tasks require different measuring sticks.

As always, a caution. This is the way the writing process works for me. Every writer develops her own style, so feel free to ignore all of my advice!

Another note – the process for my YA novels is different. Someone ask me about that later in the week, please.

You asked: what kind of educational background do you have and do you think it prepared you to be a writer. what other things helped you be a better writer?

I did not go to college straight after high school. I worked at the mall and later on a farm. When I was ready to go to school, I went to Onondaga Community College in Syracuse NY and got an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts. I LOVED community college. It had terrific professors and I could afford it. I did so well there that the nice people at Georgetown University gave me a big honking scholarship. That, combined with a lot of student loans, let me go there. I studied foreign languages and linguistics. I avoided the English department and did not take any creative writing classes.

What prepared me to be a writer was reading thousands of books, writing – for fun – not worrying about publication, and learning how to observe people and human behavior. I also had a job for a while as a freelance newspaper reporter. That helped me learn about deadlines and not being afraid to revise my work.

There are a few people who go to college and come out with the skills, perspective, and experience to launch themselves into a career as a full-time writer, but the truth is, that doesn’t happen to too many people. Go to college, study what sounds interesting, and figure out how to get a decent day job that will pay your bills. Then write for fun. Again, other authors did it differently. But it worked for me.

AFTER you reach your writing goal today, head over to Fuse #8 to watch the hands-down best video ever from the world of children’s publishing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (It’s long, but so worth it. Go to the bathroom first so you don’t ruin your pants.)

Writing & Publishing Questions Batch #1

Thanks for all the great questions!!! Let’s get to it!

You asked: When your first book was published, was it by a small, independent company or one of the larger, well-known ones? If a publisher rejects you, should you send the same manuscript back to them a year later, or assume that they’re not interested?

My first published book was a quiet picture book about a girl in Kenya called Ndito Runs. It was published by Henry Holt in 1996 and has been out of print for several years. (It was later translated into Xhosa, Zulu, Africaans, and Lesotho for publication in South Africa. That was very cool.) Henry Holt is one of the major publishers. My first piece of published writing for children was a short story in Highlights Magazine. That was a real thrill because I had been such a fan of the magazine as a kid.

If a publisher rejects you, then please do not send the manuscript back a year later. They are dealing with too many manuscripts as it is. Send your story somewhere else and get to work on a new one. I have plenty of manuscripts that were rejected. Why? Because they weren’t good enough to be published. I thought they were, but the publishers didn’t and that’s all that matters. It hurts, it sucks, and it’s part of being a writer. Write something new.

You asked: Does it have an effect on your work if you watch tv shows or movies? A big obstacle for me is that my characters seem to be too much like characters from my favorite tv show. (Let’s not bother guessing which one.) How do you avoid creating something that seems more like fanfiction than original work?

I don’t watch many movies or television shows (except for sports) so I’m not the best person to answer this question. Maybe you could experiment with taking two weeks off from your normal television watching and use that time for writing instead. By the end of two weeks, I bet you’ll see a difference. If you do this, let me know how it turns out.

Thanks to the LiveJournal Spotlight this week, we’ve had many more blog readers. Hail and welcome to the Forest! I hope you come back!

For those of you who are new to the blog, feel free to follow me on Twitter. My name there is halseanderson. This will explain what Twitter is if you don’t know.

I didn’t get the 10 pages I had hoped for yesterday, but I found a way to tighten up the second half of the book, so it was a day well spent. Am going back to it right now. (Feel free to keep those writing and publishing questions coming!)