Monday, March 31, 2008

Avi: When writing doesn't come easy

My feathered wakeful thought for the week is inspired by Avi, one of the authors who has most influenced me. The first book of his that I read was Crispin and the Cross of Lead. I was inspired by the way he crafted a historical tale of fiction and make it feel like fantasy. I hung on every word. He is a true word smith. He has written 59 books, of which I have read 12. Many have won awards.

I always imagined that writing must come easy for writers like Avi. I imagine that writers as skillful as he, were top of their class and masterful words fall off their pens like rain from the clouds in the UK.

You can imagine my surprise when I recently read that Avi has dysgraphia, a learning disability that makes writing difficult!

I do not have dysgraphia, but I do find writing difficult. My first drafts are so awful that I often wonder if I was meant to write. However, I write and rewrite and my MS's do get better. I have even improved to the point of having a few articles published. It seems I have to work just a little bit harder than the average person just to come up with something mediocre. I often wonder if I'll ever have a book published. I write, because I love to write, not necessarily for publication. Publication is a goal. A hope. A dream. An aim. I will write if I'm published or not. But lets face it. I will be disappointed if I keep working and never publish a book.

But now! Now that I've read about Avi's disability, I am so encouraged! If Avi can write pieces good enough to win a Newberry, Newbery Honors etc. then I can at the very least feel positive that if I continue to work hard, and improve my craft, then I can achieve my dream too.

My attitude should not be "if" or "When" I will be published. But, rather "how" can I continue to grow and improve to the point of publication. Obstacles are just that. Obstacles. Something to work around or over. They are not stop signs.

Thanks for the inspiration Avi! I feel pumped up for the new writing week ahead!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Hello. I'm Christy and I'm a Beta-aholic

Meet my new writing partners

Here's the story:

My 4 year old and 6 year old have been asking for a pet fish to have as their very own. I thought they were ready so, yesterday I went out and bought them each a Beta. I've had betas in the past. They are easy to care for and they are beautiful. The kids fell in love with their new pets and I started to think "Gee! I sure love Betas. I think I need one for my office.

The Beta I had years ago met an unfortunate and gruesome death. In the middle of the night my cat knocked over the fish bowl and tortured the poor little thing. I'm sure he didn't mean any harm. He was a sweet cat and probably just thought it was a super cool new aquatic-cat-nip toy. Or maybe an interactive kitty treat. In the morning little fish pieces were scattered all over my kitchen. (Mental note to self: must be more discerning in placement of fish bowl.)
So, I went to the store and purchased the fish below. His name is C.S. Isn't he pretty--I mean handsome?

Well, you see, I really couldn't just have one fish named C.S. His very name demanded that there be a second. Hence the fish below. I named him Lewis.

C.S. and Lewis are very happy in my office. I love watching them swish around in their bowls. (Notice their rocks match the wild color scheme of my office.) Their colors make me happy and their movement is calming.

I noticed that there were some spots in my office that needed "livening up." I KNEW that more Beta fish were exactly what those voids NEEDED. So I went to buy another fish.
That would be the fish below. His name is J.R. (see where this is going?)

However, I realized that I couldn't just leave the store with ONLY J.R. That just wouldn't be right! There HAD to be a Tolkien!
So, this is Tolkien. He lives among the the psychedelic palm trees.

But you know what? I think I need two more. And I think my husband needs one for his office too. I told him he needed a fish and he just gave me a funny look and didn't say anything. I think that's his way of saying "Sure! Great idea. I'd love to have a fish! Please get a beta for me too" (did he just say two?!)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Agent Quest: AKA the search for the needle in the haystack

Who to send to? Who accepts what? Who's looking for what genre? Who is currently looking for new clients?

If you're on the hunt for an agent, there are two great sites out there. The first one is
There, you'll find tips, resources and advice on submitting to an agent, plus it has an advanced search feature to help you find an agent targeted to your specific genre. This one also allows you to find out what agents represent other authors.

The other site is
This site has similar features as the first site, and this one also has a "submission tracker" feature to help you stay organize. Isn't that nice? :0) The results are a little easier to follow from this site.

Both sites are great and allow you to find agents who are actively seeking new clients and will also tell you if they accept e-mail queries and what works they represent.

Good luck in your search

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

How do you do it? Learning to revise and rewrite.

My current WIP is a YA fantasy novel. This is the first novel length project that I have taken on and has been quite the learning experience.

When I started writing this piece I took the advice of many authors and writing books and I just sat down and transfered the ideas from my head to the page. That part was fun.

But I'll never forget when I sat down to revise what I had written. Though I still liked the story idea, the writing was horrible! There, before me sat 50,000 ugly, misplaced words waiting for me to give them a makeover. This was the hard part. There was so much to change, I grew very anxious trying to figure out how I was going to take all those words and make them worthy of submission. I was overwhelmed at the thought. I struggled to find a revision routine, but when I did, things really started to fly! I'm now ahead of where I thought I would be and I'm almost done with the second draft of the entire MS. Just 6 more chapters to go!!!!!!! I finished my chapter 22 rewrite last night.

What ended up working for me was that I just took one small section at a time. Sometimes it was just a sentence, sometimes it was an entire paragraph, depending on how much neede to be rewritten.

Once I'm done with the full second draft, I will do a third. Then it will go to my critique group, then to my husband and my parents, then I'll try to find someone to read it who will just say "wow. This is really good." so I can get up the nerve to send it out. :0) Who knows how many drafts it will take to get to that point!? I was happy to read somewhere that Avi does 50-70 rewrites on his work. It looks like an exhausting amount, but I think that will probably be the amount I end up with too.

I'd love to hear how other people tackle their rewrites. How many drafts do you go through? Any suggestions? How do you know when you're ready to send it out?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cliche-Slayers Unite! Tackling the choking weeds of cliches one vine at a time

The cliche = The poison of manuscripts

How can we describe that funny feeling in the pit of our stomachs when we're around that certain someone that make us go weak in the knees? (note the cliche)

Butterflies? Nope. Way over done.

Fluttering? Nope. That one is used a lot too.

Here's how Shannon Hale tackled this cliche in "Princess Academy".
This is from Chapter 11.
"Being near him made her insides feel like twisted vines, choking and blooming all at the same time, and her only thought was that his smile was worth trudging for."

So, here's to Shannon Hale! I here-by name you Master Cliche-Slayer

Monday, March 24, 2008

Here's my plan. . . (My feathered wakeful thought of the week)

Back in February I was inspired to use my blog as a writing discipline. As it turns out, it's much harder to do than I anticipated. I can't always think of something to blog about. So, I'm going to try something new. I usually like to be spontaneous and fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. In most cases, I function much better when I don't have too much structure to follow. It bogs me down. However, I do see the benefits of structure. I do wish I functioned better in a structural surrounding. Especially now, with more people in my life to think about and more responsibilities, life is hectic and w/o structure, chaos ensues. Too much chaos is equally as binding as too much structure.

Monday's are my slowest day of the week. I usually use Monday as my big cleaning/organizing day at home. Then, the rest of the week happens and things pile up faster than I can deal with it all. I'm in search of a "structure" that will help me deal with this new phase in my life.

I find all of this is very similar to the Discipline of writing. A plan will probably make me more productive. I'm going to try to have a loose structure to my blog and see if that helps me to stay on track.

So, here's my loosely structured writing-discipline blog plan:

In honor of a phrase by Henry David Thoreau, Monday's writing discipline will be like my cleaning/orgainzing day. It will be my day of "Feathered wakeful thoughts" in aticipation of the new week. This is the day to organize, get inspired and look forward to the days ahead. So, that makes today's feathered wakeful thought about making plans for a writing blog. :0) Each day will feature a different topic:

Monday = Feathered Wakeful thoughts: Anticipating the new week.

Tuesday = Current readings: Book reviews or thoughts/observations on what I'm currently reading.

Wednesday = My current Work in Progress/ Learning the business of writing

Thursday = Pick of the week: What I've read on other blogs or web-sites that I find noteworthy.

Friday = Share Day: Illustration Friday, favorite lines, poems or whatever I feel like sharing

Saturday/Sunday = open.

Now, that seems to be just enough structure to keep myself disciplined, but flexible enough to avoid monotony. I hope. We'll see how it works.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Vacation landscape pictures

There were also some gorgeous plants

and flowers

and more flowers

and more plants

and more flowers

and more plants

I hear there's supposed to be some large body of water called an OCEAN in Florida. I'll have to try to find that next time and snap a few pictures. ;0)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Come to a Schmooze in Raleigh, NC!

What is a Schmooze? You may ask.
It's an informal get together sponsored by my critique group and SCBWI Carolinas.

Our guest speaker is none other than award winning author Frances O'Roark Dowell
Author of Dovey Coe, The Secret Language of Girls, Chicken Boy and many others.
(As a side note, Dovey Coe is one of the strongest "voice" books I've ever read.)

Date: April 13th
Time: 3:00
Place: Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh

We had quite a big turn out at our schmooze last year so you may want to come early to get a good seat.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Art for a Cause: A Turtle Tie and a Special Needs Skater

Want to know a great way to sponsor a special needs skater? The tie, pictured above, will go up for auction and proceeds will go towards sponsoring a skater from the Triangle Special Hockey Association. Click here to find out more about the tie and its designer, Ian Sands. I hear turtle ties are all the rage this year!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

I'm excited! I just got word tonight that I'm going to the Chapel Hill Novel Retreat in April! I'm excited! And better yet, I see that a couple of my critique group buddies, Janelle and Jennifer, will be in attendance as well. I'm looking forward to it! :0)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Book Review: The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous

"The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous" has so many notable lines!

What this book is about: A 13 year old girl with Aspergers Syndrome who thrives on keeping a strict schedule. However some changes come into her life that make "order" a difficult thing to maintain.

What I like about this book:

1) Though there is a very strong "reality" of how cruel people can be, especially when someone is "different", the humorous style of writing, as well as the title give me a strong sense that something good is going to happen. There is a "hopeful" quality about the writing style.

2) A very strong voice and distinct characters.
This book does a great job of keeping descriptions true to the main characters voice. I think this is what I like most about it. Here are some examples that I've fallen in love with so far:

"Veraleen had one of Grandma Birdys white eyelet aprons on and it looked like a postage stamp suck over her tummy. She wore a white chefs cap that had flopped over from exhaustion. And those big ole nurses shoes, she was wearing those too. At that exact moment I saw Grandma Birdy peeking in through the screen door, her face all pinched up and her nose twitching, taking in the good smells. Then, like a silent specter, she was gone."

And this next one I think is hysterical, because I know people who do this and it bugs the tar out of me! I love how Suzanne Crowley captures it. FYI: "Jumbo" is the name of the town where the main Character lives:

"Jack," my father repeated. "So you've moved into the Porter house.
"That I have," he replied with his Irish lilt that even I had to admit had a nice sonorous ring to it.
There was a long silence. I wondered lots of things about the Poet, and I'm sure everyone else did too. But in Jumbo you don't ask direct questions. You wait till later when you can speculate with others and build your own embellished truth."

And I'll just do one more.

This last one I find very sweet and very true description of how wonderful it is to have someone, especially a father, take interest in your feelings:

"Grandma says men have a way of disappearing when anything is afoot, and it's true about Daddy. But sometimes he tries to talk to me and when he does, it's like soft raindrops making hopeful marks on a desert plateau."

Monday, March 3, 2008

To retreat or not to retreat? That is the question. (I'll know the answer by March 10th)

I signed up for my very first weekend retreat in Chapel Hill, NC. There are only 24 participants, so if more than that sign up they will choose via lottery. So, I won't know if I'm "in" until March 10th.

I REALLY REALLY REALLY hope I get in! There will be 3 editors in attendance and participants will receive a one on one critique with one of the editors. Since I've been on this writing journey I've come to appreciate any feedback I can get from editors. It's GOLDEN! I hate wondering what an editor thinks. I want to KNOW! How can I make my manuscripts better unless I really know what an editor is thinking? This is the #1 reason I'm excited to go.

#2 reason for wanting to attend: it seems like contacts in this business are about as important as good writing skills. I need to make more contacts.

#3 reason: I'm also excited about the prospect of having a full weekend to concentrate on writing and not have to worry about cooking or cleaning or worrying about anything else except developing my craft.

While I wait to find out if I'm "in" or not, I'm starting to do my homework. I want to become familiar with the editor's works so I picked up some books that were edited by those who will attend the conference:

Martha Mihalick - Greenwillow/HarperCollins:
Chase, by Jessee Haas
The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous, by Suzanne Crowley

Sarah Shumway - Dutton/Penguin
The Beasts of Clawstone Castle by Eva Ibbotson

Krista Marino - Delacorte/Random House
The Alchemyst, The Secrets of the Imortal Nicholas Flamel, by Michael Scott

I like to read, so even if I don't get in, there's no time lost. Plus, Martha Mihalik will also be at the Annual Carolina's SCBWI Conference in September, so I can prepare for that as well.

I better stop typing. I've got some reading to do!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Book Review: Goose Girl, By Shannon Hale

Goose Girl
By Shannon Hale

Two of my critique group buddies recommended this book. They said that the YA novel I'm working on has a similar "feel" and "tone" as "Goose Girl." Now that I've read the book, I've got to say that I'm giddy beyond words to be compared to the likes of this book! I loved it! And if my current WIP is even half as good as this one, I may actually be published one day.

Goose Girl is a clever tale about a young princess, Ani, who has the ability to talk to birds. This gift is not looked upon favorably in her Kingdom which leaves her feeling out of place and inadequate.

When Ani's lady in waiting leads an elaborate scheme to steal Ani's identity, Ani begins a journey where she develops her self-worth and learns the value of her abilities.

One of my favorite passages in this book is from the evening of a Royal Ball and Ani feels out of place. When I read this passage in the context of the chapter, I was able to visualize the scene as well as emotionally relate to Ani. It's a simple passage, but it captured so much for me.

"She reached the pond and looked back to where the pink marble ballroom gazed brilliantly out at the night, the glass and walls trapping the music in. The people inside looked beautiful, graceful, and completely at ease in their place. It helped her to resolve to realize that she was nothing like them."