Convicts in my Front Yard

Literature Blogs

There were orange suited convicts in my yard this morning… They are minimal security prisoners on work release to help with the storm debris clean up piled shoulder-high along the streets of my neighborhood. My husband’s gone. I am curious. There are a few city workers using the machinery out there, too. I must admit, for some reason, it was a bit thrilling. I mean, I know no murderers were released to do the work. Still…

Now comes the awkward part.

For about a half an hour after they had moved down the street, one of the vans with blue-suited prison guard drivers, sat in our driveway. We have no sidewalks, nor curbs and gutters. There’s just grass to the edge of our narrow little street. I was trapped. It wasn’t like I needed to go anyplace, either, but I had this irresistible urge to run.

About the van in our drive. The last I’d seen anyone around it, he was an orange-suited guy, taking an awfully long time to get something from the back. (Okay. We all know by this that I would never make a very good witness, but there’s nothing wrong with my imagination.) So I started thinking… why? Why was that van there when the convicts had moved down the road and no longer in sight?

The fantasy writer in me played with magic, and the fact that our baby red-tailed hawk never moved from its dead branch for the entire time the trucks and shovels and asphalt scraping and raking and beeps went on. What, exactly, did that hawk chick have to do with the person in the unmoving van? Or orange?

The SF writer in me wondered about abduction of the driver-guard… Boring!

The thriller writer in me knew someone in orange had slipped away from the crew, and was climbing through my opened three-season room windows. Didn’t you hear the small sound coming from that part of the house?

The romance writer in me thought of an unwed mother going into labor because of all the activity out front, but who was unable to get out of the driveway because it was blocked, so HE comes to the rescue… okay… I’m not romance writer.

The crime-writer part, figured the guard was dead in the back of the van. His jacket and trousers missing… along with one of the inmates. Oooo.

The picture book writer in me was thinking about community helpers, like nice police people and smiling city workers who help keep our streets clean.

As I was typing these scenarios, a blue-suited guard walked up to driver’s side of the van, got in, and pulled away after the rest of the activity. The reasoning side of me figured he’d parked there because it was out-of-the-way, plus our driveway faces the corner, and so had a good vantage point for prisoners working either street.

I have no trouble coming up with ideas for stories. And I honestly like writing for hours at a time. And when a day or – shiver – two go past when I do not write, I go into withdrawal and become grouchity and not very nice to live with.

So here is my writing challenge to you today: find one situation and come up with several alternative solutions to it, then run with the best idea. This can be a scene from your story, or it can be just a fun exercise to get your creative juices flowing, like looking outside your window to find your yard crawling with orange-suited convicts.

An Evening With Gary Paulsen

Literature Blogs

Last night I hd the privilege of attending a library-sponsored “Evening with Gary Paulsen” at the W.K. Kellogg Auditorium in Battle Creek, MI. Known for his Newbery Honor Books, HATCHET, THE WINTER ROOM, AND DOGSONG, at 73-years-old, Gary looks like a cross between Santa Claus and Red Green. Although his hour-long talk was biographical, listening to him was as much fun, and certainly as interesting, as reading a book by him. It isn’t that Gary has led a good and lucky live. Quite the contrary. His real-life adventure demonstrates a fascinating and interesting life of a writer.

Gary grew up in northern Minnesota with both parents drunks. As a kid, he was never a reader. His life changed when he escaped the cold one winter day, by stepping into a library. The librarian asked if he wanted a card. He never had anything with his name on it before, plus, someone took an interest in him.  It took Gary a long time to finish that first book, but when he did, he went back for another, and another. Each book took less time to read. He is the author of over two hundred books. 

At 17, he forged his parents’ signature and joined the army, mostly to get away from his parents. He worked as an engineer on missiles and satellite tracking. In 1963, he was making “two grand” a month, at a time when teachers made two grand a year. He decided one night he wanted to be a writer, got up, turned in his security badge, and quit his job. He wrote a story involving missile guidance systems, forcing the FBI to question him, thinking he was a spy. He was so excited with his first book that he didn’t tell them they misspelled his name for fear they wouldn’t publish it.

He went to Hollywood where he got a job by lying about his writing credentials. He made a penny a letter, which amounted to about $380 per month. He knew he wasn’t a good writer, but there were good writers where he worked. He wrote westerns. Gary approached three of them who agreed to meet with him each week to critique writing, insisting he write a chapter a day during the week, and three chapters over the weekend.

With no money, he left Hollywood, just like he left engineering. He paid $25 per month for a cabin on a Minnesota lake, snaring rabbits for food. He wrote all winter and in spring, he sold two books. He went to New Mexico where he started drinking for the first time in his life, and became “a full-blown alcoholic.” In 1973, he got sober and went back to writing. He signed a 20-book deal with a children’s publisher, but the book club never sent him money for his books. He went from rich to poor, and moved back to Minnesota.

Minnesota passed a law that it was legal to trap animals by dog sled, but not with motorized vehicles. So Gary invested in dogs and a dog sled. This experience changed his life. He didn’t have a lead dog, but he saw a dog lying in the back of a pickup truck, ready to be “put down.” Gary took the dog, fed it two beavers, and the dog, Cookie, survived and because his lead dog. Cookie also saved Gary’s life when he fell through some ice and was sinking in the water like a rock. He grabbed a dangling rope and Cookie pulled him to safety.

Gary heard about the Iditarod in Alaska, and businesses in MN supported him, allowing him to participate. He came in 42nd place on his first race, and was hooked. He wrote the Newbery Honor Book DOGSONG after a young Inuit boy approached him during a race, wanting to see what a dog looked like.

I could only post a few of Gary’s stories here. I could easily have listened to him for hours. Gary Paulsen is a fascinating man with fascinating adventures, and, of course, excellent writing skills.

Self-Published v.s. Waiting for the Traditional Press

 Literature Blogs

I had lunch today with a self-published children’s book author who has written and published three picture books, three middle school books, and will have his first young adult book published this December. He already has orders for 1,000 copies of the YA book. He travels throughout the USA, presenting a highly energetic, entertaining, and musically talented school visit.

Anytime we get together (he is a local author), and he happens to read parts of my WIP (whichever I may be working on or wish to share), he is impressed with how well I write. He says I am a much better writer than he. I humbly tend to agree, since I am associated with SCBWI, been in several critique groups through the years, have had numerous critiques with agents and editors, and am constantly improving my craft. Whereas, he tends to write for himself and doesn’t take a critique very well, although he may tend to disagree with that statement.  This author keeps trying to talk me into self-publishing. I keep telling him, “No, thanks.” So what is my hold-up?

1) Fortitude. I want what I write to last beyond my lifetime. I want my stories to be published by others who will continue the story long after I’m dead. Only a traditional publishing house would do that. My friend not only self-publishes, he self-promotes, self-markets, arranges his travel and hotel and meals for school visits, and carts all his books in his van on his tours. Who will do all that for his books when he dies?

2) Editors. I want a professional who is trained in literacy and experienced in what is excellent to look over my writings, to make them the best I (we) can make them.

3) Money. Time and money have always been deciding factors in things which I do. I haven’t got the money to put forth for a self-publishing adventure.

I am glad for my friend. He is happy with what he is doing. As I mentioned, he is highly entertaining, and kids love his visits, and he does encourage children to read and to write. Plus, many literary authors are rather dull speakers. (Rats! I know I’ve just offended thousands of friends. Double-dog-rats!)

Even though he is making a rather good living at what he does, and I am making nothing, I am not willing to follow his path, even if I were given a chunk of start-up money to do so — all for the reasons listed above.  He’d love to see me published. Hello! Me, too. But I’ll remain a hold-out for the traditional press, recession or not, e-books or not, wading through the ever-evolving world of publication.

Here’s to me — to my high hopes of every week becoming a better writer, and of someday becoming a book-published author with an editor in a traditional house.

Getting Published Today

Literature Blogs

Yeah, there’s the ression. Yeah, there’re editors getting laid off, and even publishing houses going under. When, 15 years ago there were hundreds of publishing houses in the USA, now there are only about five “umbrellas.” With more and more editors not wanting to accept unsolicited manuscripts, and agents getting 3,000 queries a month, it makes it quite difficult (but not impossible) to get traditionally published. And, like the way of traditional public education, there are many ways to get it done (book published or educated).

One writer friend (romance writer) never received a rejection letter. She submitted a couple chapters for a contest and won publication. She wrote 16 books after that.

One writer friend (children’s writer) was pulled from the slush pile and has written dozens of award-winning books since.

One writer friend (science fiction) was given a huge contracting deal because he lived within driving distance (CA) of where the producers needed their writer.

One writer friend (children’s writer, again) won a contest which attracted editor interest, published her book, then fell right off the writer’s planet, not writing any more.

One writer friend attended a NYC conference, told an agent of the picture book she was writing, the agent suggested she do graphic novels instead. Her book sold within a year.

One writer today pitches ideas to his agent. If the agent likes an idea, then the author writes 6 chapters. If the agent sells those 6 chapters, he writes the rest of the book.

I could list the stories I know of how famous writers got through that publishing house doorway, with each person’s story different. I know similar stories in the music field. Some stories deal with just plain luck.

So, how to get published today? Work on writing craft. Be stand-out different in story. Submit.  Be tenacious. Attend conferences. Network, network, network.

Family v.s. Writing Time

Literature Blogs

One of my critique partners made several suggestions for writing during the holiday times. She asked on her 2009/12/27 blog (http://dramaquill.wordpress.com/) How do the holidays affect your writing habits? Besides being a friend, she’s a mind-reader, for I was thinking of blogging about the same thing. So… hey, what do you know? Here I go and do it, anyway, post-holiday.

I have always made family a priority. To me, nothing else (except my faith) could rate higher. If I were to spend so much time writing that I ignore my family, could I live with that decision? Family time these days is precious and wide-spaced in the year. I will never regret giving up “my writing time” to eat and laugh and play games and eat and tell family stories and eat some more, whenever they are present. It is not a hard decision for me. Besides, even in the best of times, with all my other commitments, I tend not to put in a 40-hour writing week. It is all about priorities.

So, in answer to my friend’s question, during the holidays, I take the time off writing to be with family. Then, when it’s all over (i.e., they leave), I go back to feeling guilty about postponing my writing for so long, take one last look at my company-clean house, and then plunge back into my normal, haphazard, unstructured (but productive) writing schedule.

(And now there’s a question for curious minds: Can a schedule be haphazard and unstructured?)

NaNo Novel Decision

Literature Blogs

October is supposed to be planning month for NaNoWriMo. Part One of my plan is to decide which novel (story-line/plot) I’m going to be writing out.

When I first decided to take the NaNoWriMo plunge, I was going to rewrite one of my MG fantasy novels (North Wind) during the month. I’ve been struggling with it off and on for a couple months now and thought this would be the nice push to get it completed. 

I also considered rewriting my horrid self-published (PublishAmerica) adult thriller (The Spin Murders). Not that the plot or characters are horrid, but my word by word writing corrections was never put into the draft. My “editor” sent the original ms to be published. Yeesh. So I thought I’d use November to ready that novel for when my 7-year contract runs out.

Decades ago, I wanted to write a novel about my perfect school — what it would be like. (no working title) Years ago, I started the idea for a Native American school, incorporating many of the ideas from my other alternative school idea. (Golden Paints the Sky)

I considered expanding my 3 Tristan fantasy chapters I’d written for my son’s Carlson Photo Writing Challenge into an actual plot and story during NaNo, but all I had were three incidents/scenes, no plot.

Then I thought I ought to just start fresh, like the No Plot, No Problem philosophy of NaNo. I thought of a cool story of a town which disappeared. (based around Silver Lake, MI)

THEN I thought of writing a MG historical novel about dunes taking over a town and a mystery which is buried forever with the town. (East of East, working title) So the past two days I’ve been doing lots of research of different things I’ll need to know. I suppose I can also research it AFTER NaNoWriMo is over, when I do the revisions. Now, with 2.5 weeks to go, I think I’ve settled on this last novel idea. But what great fun it’s been to allow my creative juices to flow in just coming up with ideas and doing research. Writing is awesome.