Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Books That Make You Go "Oh!"

I completely forgot to link to my latest Book Look column in the Prairie Wind, so here it is! For the summer issue, I wrote about how National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr used secrets to help create tension in her powerful young adult novel, Sweethearts. Check it out, and try to put a few secrets into your work-in-progress.

I've already found my next book for my column. In fact, I have a total author crush/book envy thing going on. (More on that later.) But if you've read a book that made you go, "Oh!" please let me know about it in the comments.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Psychology of First Drafts

I have always wanted to be one of those authors who can whip out a first draft in no time. Every time I start a new novel, I say I'm going to do just that. Write without stopping. Get the story down. Don't look back. But my inner critic never lets me speed through this process. I'm slow and careful and analytical. You would think all that slow and careful writing would result in amazing first drafts. But nope! It doesn't work that way. I still end up revising like crazy. I change just about everything. I write many drafts over a couple of years before I even get close to the story I envisioned when I started.

So when I told my sister and husband that I was going to make the most of these last eight days I have with no kids home by writing as fast as possible, maybe even ten pages a day, they were supportive but doubtful. They've heard it all before.

Yesterday, though, I was able to do it! Here's how it worked. Instead of telling myself I have to write something good, something worthwhile, something I'll love and something my critique group won't shred to pieces, I told myself I have to write the worst ten pages ever! Not mediocre... Terrible! No stopping. No showing it to anyone. No feeling good about it. Just 10 pages of story unfolding.

Let me tell you... It was seriously bad. Some pages were only dialogue. Some pages were only thoughts. And I'm sure some pages were plain gobbly gook. But aha! The story unfolded. And that's the whole point!

Do you play tricks with your mind to help you with the writing process? If so, I'd love to hear about them.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Libba Bray wrote the funniest post ever about how writing a novel is like falling in love. I'm so glad I'm not alone in my craziness.

Check it out: http://libba-bray.livejournal.com/36896.html

Meanwhile, I've got to get back to my first draft... I'm supposed to be madly in love with the story at this point. Hmm....

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Five Things I Love

A random sample of things I'm loving lately...

1. My MacBook. This computer is so amazing!!! I watched a video tutorial for iMovie, and within minutes I was making movies. Seriously! It is so easy. I am having a blast. (I am also totally procrastinating. I only wrote three pages of my w-i-p today, which is not a lot considering I have no kids at home.)

2. The Horn Book Magazine. I just read the July/August issue, my favorite each year because it contains the Newbery and Caldecott acceptance speeches. When I read the speech by Laura Amy Schlitz, I was in tears. No, not because I wish it were my speech! But because she is such a fabulous writer! I loved A Drowned Maiden's Hair, but I haven't had a chance yet to read Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Must add to my to-be-read list (which keeps growing thanks to the enticing reviews in The Horn Book).

3. My critique group. We meet tomorrow, and I'm so looking forward to it. I love my writing sisters!

4. Weeds. Did you see it last night? Nancy is crazy! They are all crazy. I love them.

5. Swingtown. Have you started watching? This is my favorite new show. Great characters. Great tension. Fun.

What about you? What are you loving this summer?

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I bought a camcorder.
I drove seven hours to Camp Birch Knoll.
I shot tons of footage and interviewed a whole bunch of campers so I can make some fun book trailers and other videos for Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire.
I drove seven hours home.
I uploaded the video onto my computer.
I watched the video.
I saw feet.
I saw grass.
I saw sky.
I realized I should pay more attention to that stupid little button, you know the one. You press it once and it starts recording. You press it again, and it stops. And if you're like me, you reverse it and record when you think you're stopped, and you stop when you think you're recording. And you miss about half of your interviews!


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My "Process"

The truth about my writing process is that it is constantly changing. What worked for Julia's Kitchen (detailed outlining) didn't work for Jemma Hartman. And what worked for Jemma Hartman (starting with a setting and a climax) isn't working for my current work-in-progress.

Someone wise once told me that each book has something new to teach you. Just because you've written one novel doesn't mean you know what you're doing. And I am pretty sure I don't know what I'm doing.

Yet I persist. It's the journey that I love anyway, so here I am, learning again how to write a novel.

This novel started with a character and a voice. The pages flew out of me. I wrote in vignettes, not thinking about plot or structure or anything. I wrote because I had to understand this character. I wrote thinking I would never be brave enough to try to publish this novel. It was too edgy. Too hard to believe. Too close to reality. So I wrote with utter freedom.

Then I started to show some of the pages to my critique group. And they loved it. Still, I didn't think I would ever really finish this story or attempt to publish it. I was just playing around. I went to a workshop where more people told me they loved my main character's voice. And Richard Peck himself told me I would finish this book and that it would open new doors for me.

So that's when I got serious. I decided I needed more than a character and a situation. I needed an actual plot. So I wrote a one-page synopsis. And I froze up. For months I procrastinated and found other projects to work on.

But I'm feeling braver now. And I've been back at work on this novel for the last week or so. I started over. Kind of. I've got about 40 pages written, and the story is surprising me. I'm determined to finish a first draft before I show any more pages to my critique group. In my dream writing life, I whip out a first draft in a couple of weeks. But I know myself. I'm slow. I will write a few pages every day. I can't give myself a deadline. I've got to just keep taking baby steps until I get to the end.

So what am I learning about this process? That I need to be free. I need to let the voice shine through. I need to write as if I am only writing for myself.

Here I go.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Vacation All I Ever Wanted

You know that overwhelming feeling you get when you arrive home from a vacation and you think about all the stuff you have to catch up on? Well, joy of joys! I don't have that feeling at all. Alan and I just got back from a fantastic week in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and here's the fun part... our kids are away at summer camp for the next five weeks, so the "vacation" continues!

Wondering what there is to do in Jackson Hole?

Well, you can meet a moose:

You can hike up into the Grand Tetons and play in the snow:

You can drive to Yellowstone and see Old Faithful and other cool geysers:

You can be take in gorgeous sites like this one of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone Park:

And this one of the Grand Tetons:

You can even pretend to be a cowgirl and buy the right hat:

You can't really get away with wearing a cowboy hat in Deerfield, Illinois. But one of my critique partners, Carol Grannick, is writing a fabulous novel called Cowgirl. And when she sells it and has a launch party, I'll have just the thing to wear!

Off to write!