I will not get sucked into hockey fever even though I am surrounded with crazed hockey fans. I will not discuss the merits of Luongo vs. Schneider with my goalie son. I will not listen to Sports Radio in the car. I will not wear a Canucks uniform to work on game days. I will not hang a Canucks flag from my patio. I will not watch the pre-game, game, and post game to extend the drama. I will not cry for my city when millionaire athletes lose Game 7. I am not a hockey fan anymore, at least not until my son starts Pee-Wee in September.I’ve matured in great ways over the past year… and I have great plans this month to rewrite a book and start my yoga membership. Then I’ll map out a future book and be ultra-prepared for my June report cards. I will. It’ll be a great, productive month and if you just give me a minute to check the score, I’ll tell you all about it.
In February, I finished the third draft of my non-Trilogy. I was sure it was a three-part series but have been assured from very trustworthy sources that it’s not. It’s a longish novel in three parts with three distinct narrative arcs. Go figure. It’s 425 pages, which pre-Harry Potter, would be a rule-breaker for length.
I wrote the “first book” in a feverish three months and then spent nine months bringing it through two successive drafts with Alison Acheson’s eyes (plug: editor firstname.lastname@example.org). At this point, I believed it was safe to begin to shop it out. Enter another editor and agent who patiently clarified my uninformed definition of a trilogy: each book has to completely stand alone so that if you pick up book 2, for example, nothing is lost.
So this Fall and Winter, I’ve ignored blog and friends to finish this entire project and am now workshopping it with a fellow author to find all the problems I can’t yet see. Just give me time now to lose this self-satisfied feeling of accomplishment and I’ll find them myself. Time is always a writer’s friend.
What’s unique about this book for me is that even though it is a stand alone, I could write my main character’s immediate future, even to nine months away. Hinting at that without needing to overstate that chapter of her story was a fun way to end the book and it allows my readers to envision the character’s exciting and promise-filled future for themselves. Maybe what I’m learning is that if you don’t spell the ending, the story lingers longer, even for the author.
It’s been the most creative and chaotic writing period of my life. Since September 2011, in eighteen months, I have written this mammoth piece while juggling classroom and family life. This story idea sparked from an unpublished book I wrote in 1999, one that was always my favourite project. But I couldn’t make that book believable enough and the story frame was too flawed to fix so I had to cast on from the very beginning (to use knitting terms) and ignore almost every word I’d written before.
A weird thing happened as I was nearing the end of this project: I found I was shuffling my feet to finish. I’d saved the hardest bit for last–researching a scene in Denmark–and I found I was avoiding this task primarily to avoid closing the last chapter. Did I fear writer’s block or some kind of letdown? Was that why I’d added in two other writing projects near the end to try to occupy the newly vacant space in my brain? Yes, maybe, perhaps. For this non-trilogy, it was a hard project to begin (see earlier entry about The First Sentence: Finding my Way In) tricky to end, but fun to print and see the whole stack for what it is: my favourite book, finally finished (again). Yippee!
When I climbed out of the Big House Boxing Ring (see previous entry) at the recent ALA Midwinter Conference in Seattle, I managed to walk in a woozy line to the nearest anonymous table. There, I sat at a table with three unobtrusive women enjoying lunch.
I must have looked a sight, staring off at distant walls, face flushed hot, chin low to my collarbone. I’m just thankful they didn’t alert security!
After a few minutes, I pulled out my laptop, and re-crafted a sentence from my latest project and reflected on the reasons why I would spend four hours on an Amtrak train that morning to attend the conference. The reason: words make me happy, even if I sometimes come off like a blithering idiot. I may just be a krill in the Sea of Children’s Literature, but I love my habitat. I teach, read, and write in this genre and there’s no other place I’d rather swim.
Cheered, I introduced myself to the librarians at my table. “I just got knocked out by a Big House Editor,” I admitted, explaining my odd behaviour.
To which one replied, (God bless her!) “Who punched you? I’m going to go talk to them!”
We laughed together and they gave me a cheat sheet to maximizing the rest of my afternoon, encouraging me to “get back on the horse even if it kicks you off.” I came away from the day enjoying the conversation and contacts of several fantastic Canadian houses and received 22.8 kilograms of free books to browse in many genres, including signed copies for my kids, galley proofs and new upcoming books to share with the students at my school.
I toyed with calling this “Serve Me Up on a Platter for Your Boss,” or “What the Big House Really Thinks of Your Unagented Submissions.” You decide.
Setting: ALA Conference in Seattle (January 2013); International NY publishing house booth.
Big House Editor
Big House Marketer (With a Kind Face)
USA Library Reps
Big House Employee of Unknown Role
Scene 1 (Duration: five minutes)
Me: Your books look great. My class enjoyed this one… etc.
Editor: Thank you. You should check this one out though, take a free copy, it’s the Next Big Thing.
Librarians: (looking wistfully at shelves of books) I really loved So and So. What are they doing now?
Editor: (laughing) Focus people! (Holding up a YA book) Trust me: this is the Next Big Thing.
Enter: Positive Vibe and Too Much Moxy
Librarians (consider the book Editor is holding)
Enter: Lull in Conversation
Me (to Editor): (holding up book) This is one of my books. Do you ever accept unagented submissions?
Editor: (browsing my book’s cover) No, unless I meet someone at a conference and like their work.
Enter: The Big Choke (Can’t remember my own name).
Librarians: (Ask Editor questions about the Next Big Thing).
Me: (Browse books at other opposite end of stall, muttering to self, see Marketer With a Kind Face, consider a second go, gather courage, etc.) Do you ever publish books about… I have an idea for a way to market… etc.
Marketer: Oh, you should really pitch to Editor. She’s really important in our Big House.
Me: Oh, I just completely choked.
Marketer: You should try again. What have you got to lose? Just tell her you choked. Tell her Mary said to try again. She’ll like that; it will make her laugh.
Exit: Any Sense
Me: (brightening) Okay, I will.
Marketer: That’s the spirit!
Editor: (Talking to Librarians)
Enter: Lull in Conversation
Me (to Editor): I choked on my pitch before. Mary thought that would make you laugh.
Editor: (not laughing) That’s okay. I don’t do pitches.
Me: (still clueless). That’s perfect! So skip the pitch, let me tell you about this unique idea I have for a picture book.
Editor: It wouldn’t work and I don’t do pitches. I let the writing speak for itself.
Me: Great. Can I send you one of my pieces?
Enter: The Big Brush Off
Editor: I don’t do cover letters; I know if I like something on the first page. I don’t do pitches. My advice to you is to get a Literary Agent. Sorry if that’s too f****** brutal for you.
Me: Not brutal at all, I know it’s a competitive Market. Thanks for your advice. (Glance at Marketer).
Marketer: (Eyeing Editor and I; giggling to Big House Employee of Unknown Role, also watching us)
Over the last year, I have been writing a new YA trilogy. I’ve brought the first book through three edits with insight from editor and author, Alison Acheson (check out her writing courses and editing services in my blogroll or at alisonacheson.com). I am currently over halfway through book two and I feel the last book clamouring to be out by the end of the year. This is an exciting process for me with several learning curves, the least of which: how to write a trilogy. For example, when I submitted my first draft to Alison, I thought it was actually book one. What a muddle! Alison convinced me that I had written actually two books. So I cut the first draft in half, and have added over a hundred pages to each portion. I have deeply enjoyed the opportunity to further develop story twists and characters in this setting.
But I need your help! So here’s my question: in your opinion, what story, movie, or book is the best example of a believable love story? By believable, I mean that the author has crafted a relationship which contains elements that would make a lasting, healthy, and loving relationship.
For example, my vote goes to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I think Austen took time to build full disclosure between Elizabeth and Darcy, long before there was a kiss and a future. Sure, there would still be misunderstandings and squabbles along the way, but somehow I buy that Mr. and Mrs. Darcy wouldn’t need the services of a Family Law Attorney, unless it was to help out poor Lydia! And your vote goes to…?
While in the swimming lane at the pool, I’m trying to beat the clock before picking up my kids, when I get an idea that jump-starts my current rewrite. Lately, all my thoughts for my YA book are coming to me in the swimming lane.Where do you get your best ideas? Do they come to you in strange, curious places?
I’m at a gymnastics party, surrounded by exuberant children and their explosive popcorn energy. And as I watch them, it strikes me as sad that their birthright – the joy of movement play – should ever be pulled from them, weaned away until they can learn to sit (and sit to learn). Someday they will become teens and adults who are content just with physical adventures of the imagination. This seems wrong.
The pathetic irony of this situation for me (who once was nationally ranked on the trampoline and dreamed of circus life in grade 12 – not of entrance exams to a ‘serious’ education) is that I am content to sit propped against the gymnastic mats - with a view of my favourite apparatus - to take this all in… with my pen!