Throwing Away Your Loved Ones

Last fall I got poison ivy…again. I was put on steroids…again. Today I looked over my 2014 writing goals and started thinking about my 2015 ones. (Can these two thoughts possibly have anything in common, or have anything at all to do with throwing away your loved ones? Yes, indeed.)

Steroids gives me a perk. This past fall I started digging through some boxes buried in an unused room. One box had notes and papers from writers conferences I’d attended, some nearly twenty years old. I loved attending each and every one. The faces of dear old writer friends popped into my head. The laughter from those times rang faintly in my ear. There was the excellent food and simply a break from the day-to-day life reality. I loved those times and those people–many of whom I am still in contact with. I was glad for the remembering, but I didn’t need a box of outdated files. That large box of past conferences narrowed down to one small file on writing craft gleaned from all those conferences. The rest of those loved ones, which I’d clung to for decades, I threw away.

I do the same with my writing, but never while on steroids! I appreciate the umph the medicine gives me to do things I know I should but don’t necessarily want to do. But when I revise or even rewrite, deciding if an entire chapter or even a character must be thrown away is not a decision I trust while on meds.

Even though I accomplished most of my 2014 writing goals, they were rather chatty. Thing is, even when writing a simple thing like a list of goals, I find myself stockpiling and hording words. Who am I to think that my words are that important that anyone wants to read so many of them, even me? So for 2015, I decided to throw away extra words. Even though it’s not 2015 yet, I’ll stop here.

 

Checklist for Bookstore Book Signing

Especially if you haven’t been to the store before, it’s always helpful to be prepared to help sell your books. That’s why you’re there. I have a checklist of things to bring. I also use this for library signings. Please adapt this list to your own signings needs.

Before the Signing

* Do your own bit of advertising of the event on Twitter, FaceBook, other social media, newsletter, friends, etc. Grab the store’s link and tweet that.

The Basics

* Professional-looking outfit

* Extra copies of my books (even if the store says they have some, that may mean 3)

* Two pens

* Business cards or other swag to physically hand out to “lookers”

* Table cloth

* A candy dish…filled with candy, of course

* Water bottle

* Smile

(Hint: If you bring your iPhone, which I do, try not to look at it unless absolutely necessary. You’re there for potential customers/fans. They didn’t come to see the top of your head.)

Extras

* Dress in costume for the holiday or festival theme

* A prop or two for the table (if there’s room) which would have something to do with your story

If you are selling the books yourself (e.g., an Authorpalooza at a library), you may also need to take

* Money for change and a “Square” for taking credit cards

After the Event

* Write a thank you letter or email to the people who invited you.

Tomorrow (Saturday, December 6) I’ll be doing a book signing along with several other authors. We’ll rather tag-team all day, from 11-4 at Kzoo Books on Parkview Ave in Kalamazoo, MI. I’ll be there from 11-12:30, during the “Children’s Authors” time, but there are other genres and age groups coming all day. If you’re in the area…you know what to do!

NaNoWriMo? More Like NaNoBooHoo

I was going full steam that first week in November — way back four weeks ago. I not only reached my daily word counts, but exceeded them. Then big-time disaster struck. I needed to sub something to one of my critique groups. I know. I know. I should have just passed and given them the week off of critiquing so I could continue on with my on-fire-hot-word-count-writing. What I subbed to my crit group was chapter 11 of a 26-chapter book which was “finished.” Revising it to send to them, turned my mind totally on that piece of writing, so I revised it to the end. Of course, I felt it was dynamically written, so I started looking into editors and agents. That done, like having postpartum blues, I crashed. I started writing “NaNoHaHa” in emails. About the same time I’d accepted a school storytelling assignment. I explained I only had 1800’s outfits and 1800’s stories. My contact said it wasn’t a problem. They were just kindergarteners. But in my former teaching brain, I thought, “Kindergarteners who know the 200 year difference between a Pilgrim’s outfit and a Civil War outfit. So I started making a Pilgrim outfit and researching the era. Yes, this was indeed a bit distracting. Then there was leaving the state for the weekend, and this last week, company in from out of state for the week.

So I decided not to cheat on the NaNoWriMo word count, except for adding four revised chapters from “that other novel.” I uploaded what I had, but I still didn’t win. This year. It felt more like NaNoBooHoo than anything to do with a month of writing.

I just need to say, that for anyone else who didn’t make the 50,000 word count this month, no worries. It’s only a challenge, so don’t beat yourself up. There’s always next year. Be sure not to give up on your novel, either. Keep working on this year’s NaNo project until it’s completed, so by November of 2015, you’ll be excited and fresh and rearing to go on your next novel.

American Thanksgiving Day – Meaning and Purpose

Today is the American National Day of Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Turkey Day. It is interesting to note that this is not a religious holiday, as one recognized in Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion.

It took Sara Hale several U.S. presidents before she at last found one (Lincoln) willing to set aside a day in the fall as a day of thanks to God for the harvest (food). Later another president (Roosevelt) moved the day for economic reasons – to extend the days of buying before Christmas, for Christmas is the season supporting many American capitalistic merchants throughout the rest of the year.

For nearly four hundred years, Americans considered the First Thanksgiving, the three-day harvest feast the survivors of the Mayflower held when they invited the people whose land they now lived on, held in November of 1621. There were fifty-three people from the ship who attended, and ninety dark-skinned men, who probably wore more clothing in cold November than the paintings give them credit. Only the four women who survived from the Mayflower ordeal did the cooking, along with a few small female daughters and some male servants. Naturally, the host men had shot several turkeys for the feast, but they hadn’t expected so many guests. So, naturally again, the Indians went out and hunted five deer to supplement the feast. Which makes me wonder why we don’t have venison on our Thanksgiving Day plates next to the turkey.

Days of thanksgivings were common in the summer and in the fall, not just in the New World, but through the centuries among any people who believed in a deity in whom to give thanks. Some Indians gave thanks to the animals they killed for giving their lives for their survival. But whether in the summer harvest or fall, the people always gave thanks to God.

I find it interesting how we Americans have changed the meaning of words in the past couple of years, or even past few decades. For example, bald used to mean white headed (e.g., the American bald eagle); gay used to mean happy; marriage used to be the relationship between a male and female to procreate; Thanksgiving used to be a time set aside to thank God. I realize I’m sounding all politically incorrect here, but I’m actually aiming towards historic word accuracy. Words we use today have changed in meaning. That’s a fact.

So my question is: what do you think of when you think Thanksgiving? Chance for a four-day weekend? A day off of work? (At least for schools and federal agencies, for it is a national holiday, after all.) Is Thanksgiving a time to put up with relatives? A time society makes you feel lonely because you have no family to be with, or no money to spend on a forced feast? A time to feel guilty that you don’t eat meat or fowl? A time to read your Bible and reflect on who God is and how he has helped you?

Again: Thanksgiving. What do you think of when you hear that national holiday word?

Keep it Relevant…Even with Historical Fiction…Even with Kindergarteners

In a recent kindergarten storytelling, one child called my china teacup “a pinky cup.” Another called my metal ladle “a soup slurper.” And when I named the ladle a “dipper,” kids in each class shouted out: “The BIG Dipper!” Well, it was. Big.

I also showed and told some string stories. Parents and grandparents were also in the room. After several pulls with the prattling of the story going on, I showed them a completed broom. On the lovely little faces in front of me, the kids wore blank looks. When I then asked the kids if any of them had ever seen a broom before, the adults snickered but the kids kept up with their stoic blank looks. Although no one replied, I could see their answer in unison: “I donno.”

On the way home, I evaluated my school visit. I realized that even though I talked about things 400 years old, I honestly thought (oh-ha-ha) that six-year-olds would have a knowledge of certain, what I thought were, basic things. What it ended up being was like telling a very funny joke, but having to explain the buildup for them to understand the punch-line, by which time no joke is really quite funny any more.

Still evaluating…

I had fun. The kids seemed to, too — by eye contact and responses to my comments or questions.

Among a ton of other things, they learned that a dipper is more than a constellation and that brooms make a sound that go “swish-swish-swish.” Although I’m not sure they know what they swished, nor where the batteries went.

From the four pictures that one of the teachers took with my iPhone, my coif (cap) had fallen downward over my forehead, over my eyebrows. Hmmm. I was so into the exciting stories that I didn’t even notice.

400 years ago, or even 150, kids would have had the same basic knowledge about dippers and brooms and teacups. Today, I wonder what basic knowledge is. It makes me wonder what they think of Sleeping Beauty, when Beauty pricks her finger on a wooden-machine-with-a-wheel-you-push-to-go-around-that-makes-yarn-and-cloth-for-later-weaving-or-sewing-clothes-because-they-didn’t-have-stores. There. Put that in your story. Or just call it a spinning wheel and hope for the relevant best.

Character Motivation — Analyzing your Characters

I popped into the grocery store for a few items. I almost didn’t need a cart. As I started to unload at the checkout, a large woman in a baggy coat charged at me and practically yelled, “Can I go in front of you!” It wasn’t a question.

Usually when I’m in line at a store and someone behind me has only a few items, I always ask if they want to go ahead of me. So why did this woman irritate me so? It wasn’t like I was in a rush for an appointment, or that I may have left starving, wailing children and husband at home. As she counted out her pennies from her coin purse to give the exact change (when my swipe of a credit card is so much faster), I had to stop to breathe deeply and analyze why I was so upset.

Could it be because I didn’t have the opportunity to be gracious and kind and offer the woman the spot in front of me like I normally do? (i.e., my gift-giving was snatched away)

Could it be that I had six items in a cart and she carried her two items by hand? (i.e., not much of a difference in ringing up the items, so why did she need to be ahead?)

Could it be that I felt forced to say, “Why, yes, of course” instead of being given a choice? (i.e., I’m all about options)

Could it be that this woman didn’t even take the time to say thank you? (i.e., how uncouth)

Could it be that I knew she could beat me up with or without her cookies? (i.e., terror motivates many an action)

The reason I got upset may have been some of all those. I’d hoped to get out into the parking lot and pull out before she did just to let her see how fast I was. But once outside I didn’t see her. I recalled a quote: “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” Was the baggy lady with her two bags of cookies really an angel in disguise? If so, I certainly failed any spiritual or good character test. Even though I had done the polite action. My attitude did not parallel my action.

This bitty incident in the grocery store made me think of my book characters. How well do I really know them? How well do I really express in my language their true motivations?

So, here’s your writing challenge: Take this situation, but put your own characters in it. How would X respond-reply-act to this woman? How would Y respond-reply-act to this woman? And continue plugging in your various characters into the same situation.

Happy writing. (And now back to NaNoWriMo.)

Balancing Your Writer’s Life

Ah. Writing. There are so many ideas, so many characters, so much internal and external conflict to wrestle with. I love getting my thoughts down onto paper or up onto computer screen (and drives). It feels wonderful to accomplish such a feat with so many other non-writing-related activities pressing in all around.

Wouldn’t it just be grand if writing was all there was to a writer’s life?

But it’s not all there is.

Of course, there’s the mental struggling with plot and character, and the writing it all down (or typing it). Writing is a very romantic career, and I don’t limit that to genre. There’s so much more. There is research, and revisions, and critique groups, and more revisions, and more research. There’s setting the story aside to decide later it needs a full rewrite. And checking your story word for word for silly little errors. Then you must search what to do with your completed story — agent, editor, self-publish, alternate, or trash it.

When your story is published, of course, you go on to writing your next story. That’s a given. While that happens, you also must coddle your already published toddler.

What does this coddling entail? Updating your website, being “visible” on social media sites, printing business cards for live encounters. There are book signings, speaking engagements, and follow-up, including evaluations, to all. To each of these coddling suggestions, I could write chapters.

My mantra has always been that family comes first. That said, it’s often difficult to find time to write when you have babies to care for, toddlers, work which pays bills, school activities, church activities, social activities, house, yard, etc. Surely, there are at least 33 hours in any given day, right? And who needs sleep? Yet, somehow, the writing bug wiggles deeply into people who work and have families and family activities.

Family always comes first, which means sometimes writing must be put on hold.

Writing demands discipline. You can finish stories one sentence at a time, or as Anne Lamott puts it, bird by bird–writing during your children’s nap times, and then compartmentalize it while you focus on other aspects of life, like your kids.

Discipline is also required for all the published book coddling. Organization of sales for tax purposes, keeping track of  your PayPal account with their automatic withdrawals, remembering to update your domain name each year (or every third), contacting places to speak, putting together talks and PowerPoint presentations for the various requests, making your author name and book title visible both on social media and face-to-face, advertising, press releases, media kits, updating everything and often…

Is there no end to what an author today must do?

The short answer is no. So prioritize your time and what needs to be done. Focus. Be a disciplined person. Write. Market and promote. But most of all, hug and spend time with your loved ones.

But Cessation — The Case of Too Many Buts

So…when I started in on yet another revision of a manuscript, I noticed I’d started a sentence with the word “But.” I acknowledge occasionally I begin sentences with “but,” but it’s not necessarily intentional or even voice. It’s just how I speak. My voice. But still, I know I shouldn’t translate sloppy speech into my writing.

So, I did a Find and Replace to discover there were too many buts in the manuscript to even list them. I’m not sure how many, but it sure must be a lot. So I started at the beginning. An hour later, the Find and Replace let me know there were 92 buts left in the remaining five chapters. NINETY TWO! But I didn’t let the large number daunt my but cessation. I was on a but mission. I continued to the end of the manuscript, deleting nearly every one, of course, leaving in a handful of someone necessary ones, for everyone ought to be entitled to a few if, ands, and buts. To my relief, I discovered I’d tagged on a second manuscript in the same file. So, huge sigh.

So, if you find, too, are a but addict, my suggestion is to use the Find and Replace to tighten your writing. So go get rid of your buts!

(One revision mission accomplished. So now I think I’d better go to the beginning and do a search for all the times I use “so.”)

Post Writers’ Conference Weekend Evaluation — The Punchline (i.e., Part II) – Intellectual Property

It’s now two weeks after the SCBWI-MI fall conference on Mackinac Island. It was time spent in a lovely location, thinking about my writing, learning new things, and networking with old and new friends.

One thing I used to do after each writers conference or listening to an author speak, was to share that experience and knowledge with others. That was intended to be today’s post. However, these days, more and more, intellectual property is flicking it’s finger on my temple letting me know that is no longer acceptable; that if people want to hear the speakers, they need to pay to go to the venu. So now I wonder what I can share outside of “I learned so much and I networked with fellow writers and illustrators.”

One of my friends spends a lot of the conference time in her room, writing. It is quiet time away from family and her busy lifestyle, surrounded and inspired by fellow writers. My goal was to speak at the conference and help others understand the pitfalls and successes of self-publishing and ePublishing, and to do island research while there.

When a big name speaker talks mostly about him- or herself, I tend to get a bit ho-hum-y. I could read about that information elsewhere. I’m at the conference (paying the big bucks for their intellectual property) to find out what’s current in the book industry, what works for them, and if they are an editor or agent, what tickles their fancies so if I have a story I think will match their likes which I can submit to them later. Mostly, I think success in this industry is a matter of luck — of outstanding writing, of course, but also luck. Constantly develop your writing craft, and be lucky.

I did learn things at the conference, but since I’m unable to share this information, I’ll let it marinate for a while and perhaps it will be tweeked and transformed someday into Sandy-speak.

Or maybe I’ll just write. There are always three or more stories I have in progress at any moment.

Whether you are able to attend a conference or not, keep on reading about craft; keep on bettering your writing. Every six months you should be a better writer than six months earlier. Read. Write. Learn. Wishing you each the best in your writing endeavors.

Post Writers’ Conference Weekend Evaluation — The Set Up (i.e., Part I)

It’s been a week since the SCBWI-MI fall writers’ conference on Mackinac Island. The day after the conference, life swung immediately back into normal mode. So now, one week later, I need to evaluate what went on.

My husband thought it best to make the 4.5 hour drive a day early so I’d be fresh going into the conference (v.s. leaving home at 3 a.m.). I took advantage of the alone time by stopping at Hartwick Pines State Park for logging photos (for Logging Winter) and at McGilpin Rock (for Tales of the Lost Schooner cover shots). I bought my ferry ticket that Thursday evening to avoid the rush the next morning, then drove over to the International Sky Park for sunset over Lake Michigan and a view of the galaxy plane (a.k.a., Milky Way). I returned to the motel room where the owner and I chased a big grey bat out of my room. (It was huge!) And then I slept. I think.

Friday morning I found I ‘d been successful in avoiding the ferry rush to Mackinac Island, for I was the only passenger on board for the 8 a.m. trip. As I couldn’t check into the conference hotel until 4 p.m., I decided to do some research. I’d written a MG story eight years ago, set on Mackinac Island, and thought to revive the story by renting a bike and seeing the inland spots I’d only seen photos of. At Crack-in-the-Island, in the middle of the woods, on one in sight, the chain fell off my rental. I wasn’t too worried. You can’t really get lost for long on an island with an eight-mile circumference. Still, it took me 45 minutes to find another human, during which time I discovered that when a chain if off a bike, not only can’t you pedal forward, but you also can’t brake. Did I mention I was near the top part of the island? My 1-hour ride turned into three, but upon my return I still had an hour before conference registration, so I mingled with the other early conference folk.

From Friday, 2 p.m., until Sunday, 1:30 p.m., the SCBWI-MI writers’ conference hosted speakers like editor Arthur Levine, editor Christy Ottaviano, and agent Jodell Sadler, along with a host of Michigan speakers and writers including yours truly.

The 3 p.m. ferry was the earliest post-conference way off the island. By 4:00 I climbed into my van on the mainland. Four and a half hours and three cans of Red Bull later I pulled into our driveway.

(Stay tuned for Part II of Post Writers’ Conference Weekend Evaluation, as in the actual writers part of the weekend.)