Hawaii and an EMU’s Debuts post

A little over a week ago, my brother got married in Hawaii, on the island of Kauai, at Shipwreck Beach. It was a beautiful wedding, and a glorious vacation.  I had never been to Hawaii before.  I happily gave over to the slower flow of time that the islands seem to possess.  I didn’t write a single word.  Instead, I played with my son in the pool, and watched him go down the water slide and make new friends, and I took him into the ocean for the first time.  For me, having grown up a beach-dweller, this was a meaningful first.  Watching him shriek and try to outrun the surf was just gorgeous.  He’s so young that he’ll probably forget it, but I won’t.

Before we left, my son also helped me out with a post that I put together for the launch of Tara Dairman’s wonderful debut novel ALL FOUR STARS.  It’s a delightful, mouth-watering, middle-grade foodie adventure, starring a young food critic named Gladys Gatsby, whom we should all try to be a little more like, when we aim for our dreams.

I probably should have posted this here a few days ago, when Tara’s launch week was actually happening, but I think I may have brought a little of that slow-flowing time back home with me from Kauai…

In any case, here, somewhat belatedly, is the beginning of the post (a recipe, with pictures):

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CakeIngredientsAs I read Tara Dairman’s delicious ALL FOUR STARS, my mouth watered.  I longed to eat all the delightful desserts described therein.  What better way to celebrate Tara’s delectable debut than to eat something scrumptious?  And what better way to honor the indefatigable Gladys Gatsby than to invent a dessert?
And so, in the spirit of Gladys, and because ALL FOUR STARS is, let’s face it, totally amazeballs, I decided to invent some, you guessed it:
AMAZEBALLS!

The vague vision: The final product would be 1) shaped like a ball and 2) amazing enough to please Gladys.  Maybe it wouldn’t garner all four stars – that’s a little ambitious for the first draft of a new recipe – but perhaps I could achieve three! I initially thought about adapting a Mexican Wedding Cakes recipe, because those things are heaven.  But then the author herself, Ms. Tara Dairman, mentioned something about how she thought amazeballs ought to involve coconut.  So I decided to make…

Click here to read the rest of the post on EMU’s Debuts!

Achievements Unlocked

I reached two huge writing milestones this week.

1. I finished the copy edit of GROUNDED and turned it in.  
2. I finished drafting the second book in the Tyme series, and I turned that in too. 
Considering that just twelve days ago I wrote this post on EMU’s Debuts, I must say I’m relieved to have that draft off my desk. 
It’s the copy edit, though, that I’m really proud of.  The GROUNDED manuscript is now representative of repeated hard work and critical thinking – not just mine, but my editor’s, the copy editor’s, and the production manager’s.  
Amazingly, this means that my first book is finished.  The writing is done.  The time has come to let it go and look ahead.  The gap between unpublished and published authorhood is closing rapidly, and I’m once again plunging into uncharted territory, excited and terrified to discover what the production process will bring.  This will be a year of jacket art and flap copy, of blurbs and ARCs and blog tours.
One year from now, give or take a few weeks, I’ll be holding my book in my hands.
But for now, I’d better keep my hands and arms inside the vehicle.  Because this is going to be a wild ride. 

Schooled

Today’s lesson: If you’re willing to dish it out, then you’d better be prepared to take it, eat it, and cheerfully ask for seconds, thirds, and fourths.

I just got my copy edits for GROUNDED.  They’re excellent, and they’re not even super intense – this manuscript has been combed and picked so many times that many of the snarls and nits are gone.  But not all of them.  Which means that now, brand-new people – professional publishing people – have seen me make lots of little mistakes.
As I read through the copy-edited manuscript, flinching as every error and misjudgment is caught and highlighted by those whose experience and skill outrank my own, I can’t help thinking about the things I looooove to say to my middle-school students. Things like: 
“Getting critical feedback doesn’t mean you’re not smart.”

“The reason I corrected so many little things is that I care about you and I want you to do well.”

“Writing isn’t about getting it right the first time.”

“Don’t be embarrassed.  You’re learning.”
Yeah. 
And so!  This round of edits is for you, kids.  Here’s a big scoop of sweet, delicious justice for you to enjoy on your summer holiday.  See you in September.

Permission to Fail: Granted on EMU’s Debuts

I posted over at EMU’s Debuts again today – this time about first drafts, fear, and failure (it’s not as dire as it sounds).  Here’s a snippet:

A draft of my second book is due in a few days, but it’s not finished.  The reason it’s not finished is that I don’t want to write the end, and the reasons I don’t want to write the end are these:
1. I want to write a satisfying ending, but there can only be a truly satisfying ending when the structure of the plot is sound enough to usher the story to an equally sound conclusion.
1b. Therefore, if I write the ending and it isn’t fully satisfying, I’ll have proof that the plot isn’t fully cooked;
1c. Which means I’ll have to do rewrites.
2. If I write the ending, the draft will be finished.
2b. As soon as the draft is finished, it’s due to my editor.
2c. My editor really likes my first book.  What if I give her the second one, and she thinks it’s a total letdown?  What if, as an author – which is something I’ve worked very hard for a chance to be – I turn out to be a one-book wonder?

Click here to read the rest over at EMU’s Debuts!

Requiem

When I look at my students, I see many things.  I see them as children.  As teenagers.  As scholars.  As dress-code violators, gum chewers, and pencil forgetters.  I see them exhilarated and depressed, stressed and relieved.  I see them blunder.  I see them bully.  I see them sweet and vulnerable, and wrapped in emotional barbed wire.

And I see potential.

Every child possesses it.  The light that shines from within, the aura of the possible – of the future.  Some do their best to hide it, and some don’t know how to show it, but most of the time, young people’s potential is readily detectable.

Sometimes, it is blinding.

Tonight I attended a beautiful, heartbreaking candlelight vigil for a student – an exceptional student, a boy whose potential burned bright as any star – who died Sunday at age fifteen, in an accident.  It’s so hard to accept this.  He was my student – not my child, my friend, or my family member – he was part of my world for only a moment, and after he left for high school last year I never saw him again.  Perhaps I never would have seen him again.  Yet the news is devastating.  I grieve the loss of him – I grieve the loss of what he was, and more, I grieve what I saw radiate from him each day, the unmistakable light within him that promised a dazzling future.

When I look at my students, I see that light.  Middle school is just a bridge from childhood to young adulthood; each student is with me only briefly, and I get just a glimpse of that beautiful brightness before it is gone, off to illuminate greater things.  But I remember how they shine.  I think of them.  I’m happy when they come back to see me.

The depth of love I feel for my students surprises me sometimes.  Even after several years in teaching, I can’t quite fathom how or why I become so swiftly and fiercely attached to my kids.  I even call them “my kids” without thinking about it.  Maybe it’s because they’re entrusted to me by those who love them, and I am highly conscious of that charge. Or maybe it’s because, when you spend time helping something grow, you develop a very real stake in it.

I had a stake in that student.  I believed he would change the world.  And in his short time, he did.  I know he did.  I saw the influence he had on his classroom and his community; I saw how he inspired his friends and his teachers.  Where he walked, he shone, and he left the world brighter for having been in it.  He was too luminous to go out completely.

He is missed.

I Sold My Book: Now What? (by Anna Staniszewski)

I’m delighted to have author (and agency sibling) Anna Staniszewski as a guest on Making Tyme! Read on, as she shares her practical wisdom for new authors on what to expect – and what to do – after that first wondrous book sale.
~*~

I Sold My Book: Now What?
by Anna Staniszewski

Congratulations! You’ve sold a book! Make sure to jump around and celebrate and enjoy the moment! And then what? Well, I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but here’s what I’ve come to expect after the sale.

1. Get back to work. I know you just spent all that time writing, revising, querying, stressing. Don’t you deserve a break? Yes, but not too long of a break. The worst thing you can do after you sell a book is sit back and wait; you’ll be waiting a long, long time. The best thing you can do is start working on something new.


2. Think about your audience. Soon you’ll be getting emails from your publisher asking you for bios, marketing information, cover ideas, people to approach for blurbs, etc. Make sure you have a good understanding of who your target readers are so that you know how to answer these questions.


3. Create a marketing plan. The word “marketing” causes many of us to panic, but all it really means is figuring out ways to make people aware that your book exists. That could include reaching out to librarians and local booksellers, setting up book signings and school visits, or organizing social media campaigns. Your publicist will do some of that, but it’s good to have your own plan. Most importantly, do what you feel comfortable with, don’t beat yourself up for not doing enough, and don’t let it take too much time away from your writing.


4. Make swag. Having some book-related swag can be great, but it probably won’t sell books. Those toasters with your book cover on them are awesome, but are they really worth it? I personally get the most mileage out of bookmarks since they’re cheap, portable, and act like a business card. Feel free to get creative with your swag, but don’t go overboard!


4. Make friends. Having other authors to talk to and commiserate with (whether in person or online) is essential. You need people who understand what you’re going through and who can give tips and reassurance. If you’re supportive to others then those people will be your greatest supporters when your book comes out.


5. Celebrate. Your book is almost out. Hooray! Make sure to have a launch party to celebrate. Not only will this make your release feel more real, but it will also give your family and friends a chance to be part of your accomplishment.


6. Get back to work. Seriously. All of this other stuff is great, but make sure you to keep working on your next book. All the other stuff is fun and exciting, but remember that you’re a writer first.


Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, releases on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.

Five Reasons to Read It #12: MY VERY UNFAIRYTALE LIFE

My last “Five Reasons to Read It” was posted a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  It’s been a wild and crazy year, and though I’ve read many books, I’ve had zero time to write about them.

HOWEVER!  Tomorrow, author Anna Staniszewski will be stopping by this humble blog to share a little bit about her upcoming new release (THE PRANK LIST, coming July 1st from Sourcebooks) and to shed some light on what an author’s schedule looks like after she sells a book.

In advance of her visit, and in honor of it, I bring you:

Five Reasons to Read It #12

MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE
By Anna Staniszewski
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2011

Here are five reasons to read it:

  1. It’s funny.  A herd of angry unicorns is funny.  Lines like “These days everyone wants their hair crimped for that carefree llama look” are funny. 
  2. Cliches are cliches because they’re true.  Staniszewski makes a device of cliches by both turning them into a character trait and making them a tool in Jenny’s adventure arsenal.
  3. Little details about Jenny’s time in her “amazingly average” school rang true to this middle school teacher – things like “But no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t find squirting ketchup up someone else’s nose funny.”  Me either, Jenny.  
  4. The characters are their own people, with their own quirks. Aunt Evie prefers animals to people.  Jenny relaxes by putting golf balls. 
  5. For such a light romp, there were moments when I was creeped out, and I think that’s a good thing.  Without giving too much away, certain magic has an upsetting physical side effect, which is scary when the reality of it is reinforced with details such as reminding the reader that Jenny can now only breathe through her nose and can’t afford to let it get clogged.  Those are the kinds of little realities that make me tense, and tension is good. 
Come back tomorrow for more Anna Staniszewski goodness!

Pram Power

“There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.”
-Cyril Connolly

I encountered this grim quote on a writing blog, Writer Unboxed, where Meg Rosoff wrote a wonderful response to it.  Nothing more probably needs to be said.

But I’m going to write my own response anyway, because the Connolly quote has been bothering me, gnawing at the part of my brain where I attempt to jail the ideas I do not want to accept but which may have some truth in them.  As an author who is also the mother of a young child, the idea that the “pram in the hall” is the “enemy of good art” is an idea I’d like to gainsay.  But can I?

The Pram as Enemy

Okay, so let’s be real.  Parenting is hard.  It takes tons of time.  Writing is also hard.  It takes tons of time.  Often, having a son means that when I do sit down to write, it goes like this:

Write a sentence. Write another sentence. Write a third sentence.  Almost write a paragraph — 

“MAMAAAAAAAAA!”
“BUNNY!”
“Did you want to play in the back yard?”

Of course I want to play in the back yard.  He’s only going to be three for a little while longer, and I’m trying to savor it.  So I put down the manuscript and go outside, and when I come back, my mind has shifted.  I’m not in the same place.  I try to sit down and pick up that paragraph right where I left off, but it doesn’t always happen. I usually make myself write anyway, but the result isn’t always as good as it would have been if I’d been able to keep going when I was totally in the moment.

However:

The Pram as Friend

I have never been so productive as I have been in the almost four years since my son’s birth.  Never have I had the daily stamina to shake off the “Maybe one day I mights” and launch myself into the world of “Today, I will.”  I had tons of time, in the years before I was a mom and a teacher.  Tons.  I didn’t do nearly enough with it.  I was a dreamer for a long time before I became a doer.

I don’t think it’s the magic of motherhood that flipped the switch for me, either.  I don’t think that prams have to be literal, here.  Everyone has their pram in the hall, man.  A sick family member is a pram.  A partner is a pram.  A full-time job is a pram.  A neighbor in need, a beloved pet, a degree to pursue – anything that demands dedicated time and attention.

Productivity, at least for me, seems to be the direct result of having no time to spare.  Something deep in my psyche is stirred to action by this lack.  For just as the prams in my hall have straitened me, they’ve also blessed me with relentlessness and grit that I never used to possess.  I can’t understand this.  I’m just grateful for it.

So. 

Connolly has a point.  I might be a more artful writer if I were able to focus for longer periods without needing to manage the pram.

But it doesn’t matter, because if that pram weren’t there, I might not be writing at all.

Learning by Doing

I have nearly reached the end of the line-editing process for GROUNDED.  The school play is over, the school year is winding down, and my body is fatigued; I’m sick and gross, and have to knock out the rest of these edits from bed.

But I’ll knock ’em out.  They’ll be turned in on time, and I’ll even be mostly satisfied with them.

My growing belief that I can do my job as a writer is a very big deal, to me.  I’m still insecure about other things, like whether or not readers will like my work – I’ll probably always worry about that, because it’s outside my control.  But the part that’s within my control – the part where I write the words, and write them again, and revise and rewrite them until they pass muster – I believe I can do that now.

Ten years ago, I didn’t.  I knew I was capable of one thing: writing a draft.  In my hubris, however, I didn’t realize it was a draft; I thought it was already a super amazing book.  The first editorial conversation I ever had was the one in which I learned that I had only written a draft, and that while it had some good ideas, it needed a complete overhaul in order to make those ideas shine.

I realize now just how fortunate I was to get so much intelligent critical feedback on that draft.  But at the time, I could not feel that way. I walked away from that conversation embarrassed and disappointed, believing I wasn’t a writer after all, and I didn’t attempt any of the revisions that had been suggested.

At the time, I believed that I had stopped writing because I was afraid of further criticism.  Further rejection. Looking back, I can see that wasn’t really the problem.  It wasn’t rejection I feared – it was my own perceived lack of ability.  The real reason I didn’t jump right into revising that draft was that I didn’t believe I could.  I had no confidence in my ability to make it a better book.  I knew how to write, not how to write again.

Of course, as it turns out, writing is writing again.

It was only years later, when I finally grew up and threw myself at that draft like a linebacker that I began to gain confidence in my ability to revise.  The first round of revisions was hard.  Very hard.  It took years.

The second revision began in August of 2012, after I submitted the manuscript to my now-editor, who said, essentially, I like this.  I’m interested in working on this.  Cut 50-100 pages. 

I didn’t know how I was going to cut that many pages. But I was so close to realizing a dream and so determined to do what she was asking that I didn’t crumple at the request.  Also, I had already revised it once.  I knew I could probably do it again.  So I tackled it, and I was able to cut 45 pages.  My editor then asked me to change the first chapter of the story, which I had seen clearly in my head for years.  I struggled.  I grappled.  And I made the changes.

Then my editor wrote me a lengthy editorial letter, which took me four months to address.  (Four months.  Not four years.  Big improvement.)  I addressed it, because I was under contract, and because it was my job – and because I believed that I probably could.  After all, I’d done it before, and more than once.

Now I’m almost done with another long round.  When I opened the line-edited document and saw that my manuscript had transformed one giant, colorful salute to Track Changes, I spent a few minutes in the grip of my old fears.  My editor is intense, and there were literally thousands of suggestions and edits for me to address.  Oh no, cried the old fears, I’m not clever enough, I can’t write well enough, I don’t know all the answers, I’ll never be able to solve all of this in six weeks.  

But that voice was no longer singing solo.  There was a new voice in there too, and the new voice was louder.  You’ve done this repeatedly, said the new voice.  You know how to do this.  One sentence at a time. The ideas will come.  The words will get sharper.   Just go.

It’s the same lesson I’ve had to learn many times: I don’t get better at things by hiding away and wishing I were better, or by waiting for some great wisdom to come to me.  I get better at things by doing them.

Why is it that the simplest lessons take the longest to learn?

Updatelet

The things that are happening:

I’m working on line edits.  They are intense, and rigorous, and good.  They’re due in two weeks.

The school play is next week.  Conferences were tonight.  The culminating honors presentation is in two weeks.

I am tired, and having trouble keeping up.  But my husband is wonderful, and my son gives me joy that is a constant boost to my energy reserves.

All is well.

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