Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Most Wonderful (and magical) Time of the Year

I recently relocated my "office" (which is basically just the location of my computer). Now, whenever I write, I have a lovely stack of inspiration in the corner next to me. That inspiration comes in the form of Department 56 Christmas figurine boxes. You know the brand right? All those awesome little intricately detailed villages that pop up in all the decorative stores around Christmas, and now even Halloween. I LOVE those things. In the last couple years, I've started a collection of them, and it brings me joy each time they come out of the box. They also tend to come out of the box a little earlier each year, because I just can't wait for freaking Christmas season. The date that I crack out my Christmas CDs also inches up every year, and the last couple years it's been hovering right around mid-September. Once the weather starts changing a little bit, I just get so darned excited for the holidays.

Christmas is my absolute favorite time of the year, which is why that Johnny Mathis song (of which this post is titled) is one my favorites. I don't care about all the shopping; I tend to avoid the stores at all the peak hours so that I can enjoy the season for what it should be. I love everything else that goes with it: Cruising past neighborhoods covered in lights, and searching out that one super-decorated house; that wintery smell of fireplaces that fills the night air; the crisp, fresh mornings; the festive music; the natural inclination to giving that people feel in all the canned-food drives and silver bells ringing outside of malls and grocery stores; DISNEYLAND AT CHRISTMASTIME; snow (although I don't live in it, so I can't say whether or not that's a positive); gingerbread houses; frosted and shaped sugar cookies; families travelling from all parts of the country/globe just to be together for one day; did I mention the music and decorations?

I think a lot of the reasons I love Christmas correspond with my affinity for Disney, and even further, why I want to be a writer so badly. Basically, during Christmas, or while you're caught up in a Disney movie or taking in the fireworks at the castle in Disneyland, you can just let yourself get swallowed by the magic of the moment. And when you do, it's glorious. I think that's part of our goal as children's writers is to "imagineer" (to use Disneyspeak) our own little version of the magic so that kids can get lost in each of our own awesome and unique worldviews. Because if kids were a bank, they would be the one I would sign up for. The interest on your account would be phenomenal! You deposit some knowledge into their brains, and their developing minds have the capacity to turn it into years of inspiration and innovation, if they can just keep that angle of curiosity in the world. If we don't bring that little touch of wide-eyed wonder to our stories, kids won't think it is necessary to dream, and then we'll be stuck in a world of hot, sticky, humid summers, where there is no Christmas, and you don't want to go to Disneyland because it's too hot, sticky, and humid. And where's the fun in that?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Writer's 401(k)

I was perusing through my dad's "Practical Accountant" magazine today (something ever writer does on a daily basis, right?) and I started to wonder how I could relate all this financial mumbo-jumbo to writing. Well guess what: I came up with something. It's one of those "sounds nice but is really tough to get yourself to actually do" type things that are oh-so-prevalent in writing. But maybe this new spin on what is essentially "write down your ideas when they come to you" will help you to focus, because your survival as a writer depends on it.

Is everyone familiar with what a 401(k) is? I'm not even sure I know exactly what it is, but I think it's this account that you put money in and it accumulates and then when you're done working you have plenty saved up to use. And if it's not, then let's pretend it is for the sake of this ramble. Well, my friends, the same saving principle applies in writing. When you are writing your first draft, you (if you're like me) riddle it with cliches and horrible dialogue, basically just working on hammering out that story arc. Also (if you're like me...I guess I'm assuming everyone writes like me. Maybe a mistake, but go with it) little nuggets of (what I consider) awesome dialogue or scenic description or emotional details sprout into your mind as you ramble about your normal day.

Here's where the 401(k) plan comes in. And it's not: Save up a bunch of money so that when you retire you can finally work on your book and then get published when you're 85. While there's nothing wrong with that, this isn't what my plan entails. Think of your manuscript as your 9-5 job (which you work on do, don't you?) and those little nuggets as the money in your retirement account (because it really is those unique lines that make your story come to life and eventually earn you those royalty checks). Your Writer's 401(k) is the little notebook that you MUST always have with you. If you regularly put those nuggets in your Writer's 401(k), then when it's time to retire from your bland first draft and do the stuff you really enjoy, you will be able to draw from your Writer's 401(k) at your heart's desire and have an infinite wealth of brilliant writing material. Makes sense, yeah?

So open your Writer's 401(k) today, and let your manuscript live its later stages in comfort!

(disclaimer: 401(k) plan does not include funeral costs for your novel, because it is implied that you will never give up on it!)

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Olympics, a Gold Medal Distraction...but Hope is on the Horizon

Why, oh why did the Olympics have to come right after the conference? I go to the conference, hear some great sessions, meet some awesome people and get super fired up to come home and crank out my novel so that I can send it off to an agent or two. I start off great, getting a couple chapters of full rewrites done a day. Then the Olympics really get going, and any night-work I might have gotten done gets otherwise pushed to the side as I watch to see if Michael Phelps is going to dominate yet again. I don't even know why I watch, he doesn't even come close in any of his races (knock on wood! don't wanna jinx him) After all this missed writing time, he better get those eight golds! I should write him a letter chronicling my sacrifices. Fortunately, I do not have a job yet, as the school district I'm gonna be subbing for does not start for another week or two, and water polo season doesn't begin until after labor day, so I try to get a few pages a day done--mostly I've kept it up. I just signed up for the Big Sur Children's Writer's Workshop, so I now have a doable, but still challenging, deadline.

Oh, and Eve was kind enough to read and edit some of my manuscript this week, so I returned the favor. From this MS exchange was borne what we deemed "Trolley Car Motivation." Let me explain this revolutionary method. Ya know those little cart things that ride on train tracks that you push up and down to move along? Well, I know they're not called trolley cars, but I don't know what they are called, and trolley car works for me. So to move those along, each person has to push kind of against the other person, and it results in you both moving forward. So you push the other person to finish their manuscript, then give them feedback on what they've done, they return the favor; and you both move forward! Isn't that inspirational? I think finding a fellow trolley car motivator is essential for getting anything done in this businesss, otherwise it's just lonely.

So thankfully I've got a couple things keeping me on track, otherwise I might get lost in the heat of an intense badminton battle, or an insanely elegant equestrian romp.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

a writing exercise with series potential

Last weekend when I was out for a walk across the street, I ran into and was lucky enough to chat with Bruce Coville for about ten minutes. It was a great talk, and the guy is brilliant...anyhow, we got to talking about how important the first couple pages are, and even more so, the first paragraph. He recommended to me that I should pick up a bunch of books and read their first paragraphs, or better yet! write them down, so they stick better in your memory. So today I just went and checked out a few books at random and copied down there first paragraphs, then at the end of the list, I wrote out mine, just to see how it stood up. I will let you be the judge, as I have copied and pasted them all here for your reading pleasure/learning experience (I know you'll all take a vast amount of knowledge from the little piece that I've included of my own work. No? Okay, fine.) I'm going to try to do a few of these every couple days or so, so if you enjoy looking at them, let me know, and I'll continue to post them!

The Monster’s Ring, by Bruce Coville
Russell Crannaker glanced up and down the alley.
He was alone.
Perfect. He could practice in peace.
Putting up his arms, Russell staggered forward. He rolled back his eyes so only the whites were showing. Then he began to moan.
Fantastic! He was going to be great as Frankenstein’s monster–the best ever.
Russell relaxed and grinned. Halloween should be all right this year after all. He moaned and lurched forward again.
Frankenstein. Boy, would he love to actually be Frankenstein’s monster for a while. Then he’d show that Eddie a thing or two. He could see it now: Eddie kneeling in front of him, whining, begging, pleading for mercy.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry
It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened. No. Wrong word, Jonas thought. Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen. Frightened was the way he had felt a year ago when an unidentified aircraft had overflown the community twice. He had seen it both times. Squinting toward the sky, he had seen the sleek jet, almost a blur at its high speed, go past, and a second later heard the blast of sound that followed. Then one more time, a moment later, from the opposite direction, the same plane.

The Snow Spider, by Jenny Nimmo
Gwyn’s Grandmother gave him five gifts for his birthday, his ninth birthday. They were very unusual gifts, and if Gwyn had not been the kind of boy he was, he might have been disappointed.

The Oracle Betrayed, by Catherine Fisher
The Procession was at least halfway down the terraces before Mirany stopped trembling enough to walk properly. It was hard to see clearly through the eye slits; the mask was too big, the slits too far apart. And in the sweltering heat, the dust rising in clouds, the flies, the shimmering mirage of the road, everything was bewildering. She flipped hair out of her eyes, tight with dread, her whole body sheened with sweat. Just as the back strap on her sandal started to chafe, the Procession shuffled to a stop. They had reached the Oracle.

Peter and the Starcatchers, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
The tired old carriage, pulled by two tired old horses, rumbled onto the wharf, its creaky wheels bumpety-bumping on the uneven planks, waking Peter from his restless slumber. The carriage interior, hot and stuffy, smelled of five smallish boys and one largish man, none of whom was keen on bathing.

Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell
I remember the day the Aleut ship came to our island. At first it seemed like a small shell afloat on the sea. Then it grew larger and was a gull with folded wings. At last in the rising sun it became what it really was–a red ship with two red sails.

Holes, by Louis Sachar
There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.
There used to be a town of Green Lake as well. The town shriveled and dried up along with the lake, and the people who lived there.

Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer
The Prologue: How does one describe Artemis Fowl? Various psychiatrists have tried and failed. The main problem is Artemis’s own intelligence. He bamboozles every test thrown at him. He has puzzled the greatest medical minds, and sent many of them gibbering to their own hospitals.
The first chapter: Ho Chi Minh City in the summer. Sweltering by anyone’s standards. Needless to say, Artemis Fowl would not have been willing to put up with such discomfort if something extremely important had not been at stake. Important to the plan.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the way because of the air-raids. They were sent to the house of an old Professor who lived in the heart of the country, ten miles from the nearest post office. He had no wife and he lived in a very large house with a housekeeper called Mrs. Macready and three servants. (Their names were Ivy, Margaret and Betty, but they do not come into the story much.) He himself was a very old man with shaggy white hair which grew over most of his face as well as on his head, and they liked him almost at once; but on the first evening when he came out to meet them at the front door he was so odd-looking that Lucy (who was the youngest) was a little afraid of him, and Edmund (who was the next youngest) wanted to laugh and had to keep on pretending he was blowing his nose to hide it.

Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
Ba-room, ba-room, ba-room, baripity, baripity, baripity, baripity–Good. His dad had the pickup going. He could get up now. Jess slid out of bed and into his overalls. He didn’t worry about a shirt because once he began running he would be hot as popping grease even if the morning air was chill, or shoes because the bottoms of his feet were by now as tough as his worn-out sneakers.

Wolf Brother, by Michelle Paver
Torak woke with a jolt from a sleep he’d never meant to have.
The first had burned low. He crouched in the fragile shell of light and peered into the looming blackness of the Forest. He couldn’t see anything. Couldn’t hear anything. Had it come back? Was it out there now, watching him with its hot, murderous eyes?

The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper
“Too many!” James shouted, and slammed the door behind him.
“What?” said Will.
“Too many kids in this family, that’s what. Just too many.” James stood fuming on the landing like a small angry locomotive, then stumped across to the window-seat and stared out at the garden. Will put aside his book and pulled up his legs to make room. “I could hear all the yelling,” he said, chin on knees.

Double Identity, by Margaret Peterson Haddix
My mother is crying.
She is trying to do it silently, but from the backseat of the car I can see her shoulders heaving up and down, her entire body racked by sobs. I look out the window at the darkness flowing past our car, and all the pinpoints of light on the horizon seem far, far away. My mother always cries, now. In the beginning, back in the summer, I used to try to comfort her, used to ask her–stupidly–”Is something wrong?” And she’d force her face into some tortured mask of fake happiness, her smile trembling, her eyes still brimming with tears: “Oh no, dear, nothing’s wrong. Would you like some milk and cookies?”

The Keys to the Kingdom, Book One: Mister Monday, by Garth Nix
They had tried to destroy the Will, but that proved to be beyond their power. So they broke it, in two ways. It was broken physically, torn apart, with the fragments of heavy parchment scattered across both space and time. It was broken in spirit because not one clause of it had been fulfilled.

The Bolertia Tales, Book One: The Quest to Solcrest, by Tyler McBroom
No upcoming magic carpet races, no Vernazza Entrance Exam results, and no dead Lorelei. Rigg’s thoughts concentrated fully on the excitement that lay before him, and the fun he knew he would soon be having. He had reached his twelfth birthday, and for the most part life was pretty good. His parents might not always pay attention to him, but he had a loving younger sister and some really close friends. Some time soon he would be finding out how well he did on his magic tests, and after he passed those he would be going to the Vernazza School of Magic. And now that he was twelve, he would finally get to compete in a magic carpet race.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Plotting: The Architecture of Missing an Awesome Speech

Can anyone who went to it please send me their notes on Bruce Coville's plotting session? I wanted to go, but ended up learning about query letters instead. Which was good, don't get me wrong, but I keep hearing about how freaking awesome Bruce's speech was. So...notes, please? Anyone? :)

Extra! PCPD Epidemic Sweeps the Nation!

A new disease has spread across the continental United States, and looks to potentially capture the world as well. Post Conference Partum Depression, or PCPD, as it becoming more conveniently known, is a severe form of delusional depression. When asked how such a paralyzing disease could have entered our land, doctors indicated that the bacteria that the disease grows from was likely born from a small mass of fun that gathered in the lobby every night at the 2008 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, CA. Symptoms include spending countless hours cycling through everyone else's blogs to read different spins on the exact same event, refusing to wear anything but red, making pillows with everyone's faces on them and sitting around in a circle to talk with them, aimlessly wandering lobbies of local hotels looking for fun people to talk to, and culminating in a series of creative bursts of energy. If you or anyone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, I am very sorry, but there does not seem to be a cure for this tragic disease arriving on the horizon of the foreseeable future. The only therapy suggested for PCPD is to continue to keep in touch with other sufferers of the disease. May fortune shine upon you and let the disease avoid your residential area.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My First Post (aka "The Conference")

I've never done this whole blog thing before, but someone told me it was necessary that I start one (Suzanne) because of the whole networking thing. So here I am. Why title it "The Singer," you might ask? I think it is reasonably evident for anyone whose been to either of the last two SCBWI Summer Conferences, but the reason I chose "The Singer" is because on Sunday and Monday of both years (the two days after the luncheon where I sang), if anyone I didn't know approached me, the first words out of their mouth were "Aren't you the singer?" Whether it was in the LA Ballroom, the elevator, or the most social of male gathering places, the bathroom, those four words were almost invariably the first four spoken to me. So, for better or worse, in the world of children's books I think I might be forever branded as "The Singer."

And now, onto my own brief summary of the conference. Eve, Robin, and Jay have the comprehensive list of highlights, and I am severely lacking in pictures, so my summary will probably be much weaker than everyone elses, but whatever. I headed into this conference quite skeptical that it would not live up to last year's, I really did. It was my first conference, and between my getting up on stage and several awesome speeches and breakout sessions, not to mention a really fun Silvery Moon party, I had a great time. I wasn't sure if I just got lucky that it was a good year, or if this is how it always was. The one thing I was definitely excited about, though, was that I was staying at the hotel this year, instead of commuting.

So when the time came, I picked up soon-to-be roommate Paul from the airport and we cruised on over to the hotel. I knew from that first night that I had nothing to fear about anything not surpassing anything. I was flung right into a great group of beautiful women and fun(ny) guys. How can you beat that? Throughout the weekend, we all had some pretty riotous times, and after a guffawing skip race, a quarantine for oxboxiousness, a discussion of the sexual habits of mermaids (it's all about the subtle holes), dancing and dancing and dancing (my jeans were still sweaty when I got home on Monday night...ew), the development of a new gravy serving product, a botched Sinatra imitation, a freaking hilarious "dinner show," a group picture book reading with a twist, five Beer:30's, many more drinks after the Beer:30's of every evening, and even more enticing, exhilarating, and extremely entertaining conversation, the conference came to more than surpass last year's. So thanks to everyone I got to hang out with over one of the most epicly fantastic weekends I've had in a good, long while. Oh, and I learned some stuff about writing, too.