Sunday, June 12, 2011

June or JK?

Somehow today, the family conversation turned to my writing. (Honest, I wasn't the one who brought it up!) My husband and daughter wanted to hear the synopsis for a middle-grade novel idea that I've mentioned in the past. My husband thinks (and I agree) that it is an idea that is quite possibly marketable, much more likely to be published than the novel I've been working on for the past seven (!) years. He said I ought to start working on it, and that if I could get interest in it, then I might be more likely to get the first one published too.

The problem is, it's going to take a LOT of research before I can start any writing. This idea is another historical, and as you probably would guess from previous posts, I am a hard-liner about historical accuracy. Plus, this story involves actual historical figures quite prominently, which means it's even more important to be accurate. I love doing the research, takes a LOT of time. A lot.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. When I brought up the amount of time needed to do the research and then the writing and the revision and how hard it is to find any time to write, my husband said, "You can't be June Cleaver and Gilbert Parks and JK Rowling all at once." (Gilbert Parks is one of my teaching colleagues who has been teaching for nearly 50 - yes, you read that right - years. For all his years in the business, he is still one of the most energetic and involved teachers I've ever known.) I understood what he was saying - a person can do one thing really well, or a person can stress over trying to do everything well.

I posted his advice on my Facebook page, and very quickly a number of my friends jumped on to say things like "Yes you can!" and "Why not?" I guess they think Jeff is being a male chauvinist, but realistically, he's right. People who are really successful at something tend to devote the lion's share of their time and energy to that one thing. As just one example, how many hours a day did Michael Phelps spend in the swimming pool?

I think my friends are still buying in to the "Superwoman" concept when they say it's possible to be the perfect wife/mother, the perfect employee, the uber-successful writer at the same time. I guess it depends on what your standard for "perfect" is, but in my life, there's just not enough time in the day to be "perfect" in all those roles. This past school year has been super-stressful -- and all I found time to do was be an employee and a mother/housewife, and I was definitely less than "perfect"! Writing fell by the wayside completely. I did some substantial revision when I chaperoned my son on a trip to Chicago in early March; the next time I was able to do any work on my book was late May. I had to go back and re-read the whole thing just so I could remember who the characters are!

What this boils down to, I guess, is that I really appreciate that my husband understands single-minded pursuit of "perfection" and has given me permission, no, encouraged me to go for it. Now whether he still buys into it when there are no clean socks in the drawers.....ha, ha. The two things I always manage to do are keep the family fed and in clean underwear. Dust bunnies off the floor....well.....they'll just have to wait. I have some research to do....

Thursday, June 9, 2011


(guest post by my daughter - she read this book in about 24 hours)

The book Rules by Cynthia Lord is a really great read that pulls at the heart strings. This book was made for the young adult reading group. The main character is a twelve-year-old girl named Catherine. Catherine's problems keep mounting up; her best friend is in California with her father, her little brother has autism, and her old neighbor is moving away. Then a new problem comes -- she meets a boy who can't talk. Suddenly she finds herself trying to figure out what does normal mean? Will she get a new best friend? Can she help herself to not feel weird around her brother? Find out and read this book. Oh, and don't forget the rules!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I Want to Write Like Her!!!

Because I've so many times held Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond up as a model work of fiction, I decided it might be good if I actually went back and read it instead of relying on my memory. Sometimes, you know, memory isn't completely reliable. But in this case, it was, and re-reading Witch has reinforced my hero-worship of Elizabeth George Speare!

I read differently this time than I did as a teen, having studied the art of fiction writing over the years (I had never heard of "show, don't tell" back then!). One of the things I found myself appreciating this time around was the way Speare developed the romantic relationship between Kit and Nat (oops, sorry for the spoiler if there's actually anyone out there who hasn't read this book). Not until the last chapter, like four pages from the end of the book, does Kit realize what she feels for Nat is love. The reader is aware of how good they are for each other long before Kit is. And maybe it's just me, but there's something so satisfying about watching it develop instead of being told it is developing. For example, I found this section amusing:
"She expected that when they reached South Road Nat would turn back, but to her consternation he strode along beside her, and even when she hesitated at Broad Street he did not take the hint. The happy mood of the afternoon was rapidly dissolving in apprehension. Why on earth had Nat persisted in coming too?"
Well, we know why!

Later, in what would I suppose be the climax of the story (when Kit is at a hearing to determined if she should be tried as a witch), I got the same thrill reading the following passage that I had the first time I read it:
"Every voice was suddenly stilled. Almost paralyzed with dread, Kit turned slowly to face a new accuser. On the threshold of the room stood Nat Eaton, slim, straight-shouldered, without a trace of mockery in his level blue eyes"...(skip a couple of pages)..."In the warm rush of pride that well up in her, Kit forgot her fear. For the first time she dared to look back at Nat Eaton where he stood near the door. Across the room their eyes met, and suddenly it was as though he had thrown a line straight into her reaching hands. She could feel the pull of it, and over its taut span strength flowed into her, warm and sustaining."
She doesn't call it love yet, but as a reader, I'm saying "Yes!" It's just right, in every way.

That's the reaction I want to bring my readers to. They say a person ought to write what he/she would like to read. In that case, I think I need to spend less time on agent blogs and more time really studying what Speare has done, and Janice Holt Giles, and Ann Turnbull, and Lisa Klein. Those are the literary footsteps I want to follow. If I can come close, I'll be happy, even if my work is never published.

(And Ann, if you read this, I'm not sucking up - I mean it!)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Favorite Summer Memory

It's the first day of summer vacation, and already my daughter has complained - tearfully, even - that no one will do anything with her, and that she doesn't have anyone to play with. "You had sisters to play with," she said. After reminding her she will be going to band camp in about a week and a half, I said, "It's not my responsibility to keep you occupied all day, every day of summer vacation."

That got me to thinking about summer vacations when I was growing up. One of the things we had that Lily doesn't was the library's bookmobile. Once a month (I think), one of the area libraries would send out a truck sort of vehicle to the rural communities, stocked with all kinds of books. We could check out (I think) five books, which wasn't a lot to last a month, but back then, the twelve miles to town for the library is a lot longer than it is now, so we were pleased to have something different to read.

I can still remember some of the books from the bookmobile and even where in the bookmobile they were located. There was the little book called Let's Make Doll Furniture, which told how to use matchboxes, spools, and contact paper to make doll furniture that I thought was really cool. I checked out that book several times, and I think it was in the non-fiction section in the end of the truck above the checkout desk. I think the bookmobile was also my first exposure to Pioneer Breed, which was influential enough that I remembered it and hunted it down 25 years later. It was in the adult fiction section along one of the walls. Finally, the children's books were near the floor, including over the wheel well, which made a great place to sit while trying to make a decision about what books should be included in the five.

One of the other reasons we so enjoyed going to the bookmobile, possibly, was that sometimes we would stop at the local general store for a yellow, banana-flavored popscicle. They cost six cents at the time. Those are still my favorite frozen treat!

Maybe I'll load the kids up tomorrow morning and take them to the library in town. It's not the same as the bookmobile, but maybe Lily can find some literary "friends" to hang out with for a while. And maybe we'll stop at the store for a banana popscicle - they still have them, although they aren't six cents anymore...