Sunday, December 21, 2008

Where is the Love?

the love is right here.

After holding onto the Love Award for way too long, I'm passing it on to someone who inspired me when I was in doubt and didn't even know I needed encouragement. I met Jacqui Robbins at the NY SCBWI last February. She's funny, confident, professional, and someone I always want to sit next to in the conference rooms.

This summer I had a very mixed review of my manuscript and she caught me in the lobby and kind of pressed me about what I was doing with it. She was very encouraging and really ignited my enthusiasm when I was thinking of putting The Pardy Boys aside. So here's a small token for your help. I love you THIS much.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The University of the Kitchen Timer

I went to the SCBWI Westside Schmooze where we all shared stories of procrastination and secrets to avoiding writer's blocks.

There were some great ideas on things to keep us writing (like (I have this down wrong if someone has the correct name, it sounds like a great idea), and My contribution was the kitchen timer (which I use to just get my butt in the chair and start writing). What I forgot to mention was the 50 Minute Rule.

I often find my mind wandering after about an hour (ok, usually under). Coincidentally, this is also the length of the average class in America. If, after about an hour, you don't leave the writing entirely (say, for a completely different project), it can be a great time to stretch for a minute, to make a cup of tea, or give your mind and eyes a rest for just five minutes. Sometimes I push myself for hours, and it's not very rewarding. I'm punishing myself like some kind of marathoner and it doesn't really help my writing. I forget who said it in the meeting, but they mentioned that Roald Dahl's secret was stopping each day while he was still having fun. That, I'm definitely adopting.

I have a lot of time to write so I often feel the pressure to write, or do write-centric things, for up to 7 hours. Lemme tell ya, it's exhausting. I read Stephen King's book on writing, and thought I could do the master one better (I'm that good, right?). Even though he recommends against writing too much, and especially working on more than one project at once, I gave it a try. And I burned myself out. And the Schmooze just reinforced what I already knew. Don't work too hard.

Breaking your day up revitalizes and reinforces your own strengths. The mistake I was making was activities that were too similar. Like writing on the novel for a couple of hours, and then switching to a short story. Or writing, and then doing some agent research. All of those things are on the computer, involving writing, and don't really use different parts of the brain.

One of the most interesting things brought up at the Schmooze was the Activity Epiphany. That's when you're driving, or in the shower, or on a hike and voila, you have this incredible epiphany, breakthrough, or idea. It's often revelatory, effortless, like magic. So I try to emulate that by doing some light filing, or exercising, or doing what I call puttering. I recently moved and I have pictures to put up, curtains to hem, doors to fix. All kinds of small, physical tasks that break me out of the highly mental/emotional process of writing. And it works. I get both kinds of work done, come out the other side feeling accomplished and kind of invigorated.

I call it Graeme U. because it feels like I'm back in school. And when I look back on old notebooks of school, I can't believe all the work I did. And all of it was just 50 minutes at a time, five days a week. The Activity Epiphany seems to be especially strong with a change of environment when I'm nowhere near a computer or something to write with. I bike up to Griffith Park here in Los Angeles. It takes about two hours round trip from my house and I always have great ideas while pedaling my heart out. Usually it's just two or three distinct things, so I remember them and jot them down as soon as I return. I refer to the whole package as Bikewriting.

So thanks to Greg and Sara for the Schmoozes past, and Lee and Rita for Schmoozes future. This is Graeme Stone for epiphanies present.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holiday Catalog Madness: or, Attack of the Jule Nisse

My boyfriend made the mistake of buying something from Williams-Sonoma. Once. 18 years ago. The catalog still comes, and the Christmas catalog is the best.

Growing up in north Florida (or LA as we jokingly referred to it - as in, Lower Alabama) our only views of the outside world came through HBO (when my parents finally broke down and got it circa 1981), the New Yorker, and catalogs. Stacks and stacks of catalogs.

My mother got everything from Miles Kimball and the Sharper Image, to its competitor Hammacher-Schlemmer. We also got LL Bean, Sears, JC Penney, the Horchow Collection, American Dolls (which was enough to give anyone with eyes a nightmare), Childcraft (way past childhood), and any number of other catalogs I've since forgotten.

A pass-time around the house was for friends to visit, to have coffee, and sit and talk about the world while flipping through catalogs and making fun (or secretly coveting) whatever was in them. In that light, I bring you the 'Nisse' mug collection from the holiday catalog of Williams-Sonoma (pictured above):

(actual catalog copy)
In the regions of the far north, mythical elves are famous for spreading good luck during the holiday season. We collaborated with Norwegian artist Svein Solem in creating these mugs from his popular renderings of nisse, as gnomes are known in Norway. Each mug is different, together telling the tale of an industrious elf who builds a snowman and decorates it with classic kitchen wares – a copper pot, wooden spoons and a kitchen towel. Use the companion mugs for all sorts of warming beverages, especially hot chocolate. 16-oz. cap., 4 1/4" high. Sets of four, one of each design. A Williams-Sonoma exclusive.

My favorite adaptation of W-S is that the snowmen are decorated with self-referential W-S cookware. Now imagine if Target or Kmart produces their own line of decorative mugs? It suddenly slides from class to crass. Or maybe it's all what my brother Brian calls 'crapitalism.' I mean, do we really need cook-ware hawking Nisse mugs? Or $78 coconut cake, or $16 hand-made marshmallows? No, but then what would I make fun of in our apartment while trying to figure out Christmas dinner and what to get my relatives this year?

While the auto industry begs for $15 billion dollars, and the country lurches toward a depression, all that keeps my spirits bright is making fun of things I've never been able to afford, and will never buy when I'm able. I am making cheese/sausage balls, and my mother's Danish recipe for peppernutter. That's my scandinavian contribution to the holiday. Maybe I'll decorate the cookies with images of our industrial loft-space surrounded by the homeless and the missions trying to save them. Now that's something you won't see in any catalogs.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Whether there is Weather

Ok, so it's a lame title. Like "I Wonder as I Wander." What was Johnny Mathis thinking? Didn't he realize how many 5th graders like me who had to sing this song at the Christmas Show would be totally confused? "I wonder as I wonder out under the stars..." hmmm, that's an odd lyric. Or: "I wander as I wander out under the stars..." hmm, I think maybe the music publishing company had a typesetter asleep at the printing press.

But seriously, Whether there is Weather.

I'm a huge weather freak. I love extreme, unpredictable, record-breaking weather. Like back in 1978 or so, my brother and I were out in the yard when suddenly the tops of the trees started swaying, and the air temperature dropped about 30 degrees. No kidding. Years later I read in one of my weather calendars (yes, I own weather calendars that I keep to peruse later after I've forgotten some of the factoids, like the ones about the 1888 NY Spring blizzard, etc. you know the one), when I came across that very event, which is the largest single-recorded temperature drop to date. It was just so cool to be standing there in our yard and sense that something really big was sweeping over us, all around us. We were wondering as we wandered so to speak.

But here in LA, there isn't much "weather," so to speak. Yes, technically there is temperature and humidity, and sometimes it rains. But it is so seldom, and the differences from season to season are so slight as to make any comments about meteorological conditions sound ridiculous. For a long time people have made fun of my Weather Channel addiction, and the fact that I know Jim Cantore from Dave Schwartz (not to mention that I used to run into and chat with, Schwartz at the YMCA lockerroom), but I finally figured out why I really love weather. It's one of the only things left in our society that is without bounds, without controls, and impossible to predict.

Sure they can get pretty close, but even hurricanes, which they've been studying for decades, confound them. It's pretty exciting to think that the entire coast of Florida can have a weekend planned, only to have it interrupted for a day or two by a gigantic, cyclonic storm whose birth is somewhere off the coast of Africa days or even a week or more before that very weekend. Tornadoes... just amp up the timing from days to minutes or seconds. One day the house is there, the next, it's gone.

In LA where the rain can refuse to fall literally for nine months at a time, the idea that a white-out blizzard can paralyze the central US and Canada, or that a thunderstorm cannot knock out power to metro Atlanta is pretty awesome. It reminds me that there is more than just the computer, the TV, the car, the electricity. There's something up there that is unconcerned with me. It's daunting, forbidding, and gives me a thrill to think about. Sure, in LA I can feel the earth, move, under my feet, but everywhere else I can feel the sky tumbling down.

For the Whether Channel, this is Graeme Stone reporting.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

6th Grade Glamour Puss

Ok, ok. Here it is.
Now it's all become clear to me.
It was jealousy.
Jealousy of my blond hair, peaches 'n cream skin, and eyelashes that curled the breezes on which butterlfies flew.
If only I hadn't gotten my teeth knocked out for it... What price beauty!
The experience sure made me question organized religion, private schools, and cliques. I ran. RAN to high school. After a class of 15, it was a cake walk with its 2,000 member student body, range of diversity, and wide hallways where you could hide a Titan missile, much less an escaping homo.

So there you have it, soul bared. And to top it off, they spelled my name wrong. They got "Yoneice Mitchell" right, but couldn't spell "Graeme"? Bastards!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Did I say I was done? I've just begun

Didn't someone write me recently and say that their kid said that when you think you're finished, you've just begun. So Pardy Boys 1 is basically done, but now I have PB2 and PB3 to go. See, they've even lost all their majestic length of title and become abbreviations. It's all business. I recently discovered that people have been writing on my "wall" and the "Facebook." I use quotes because me navigating Facebook is like a Southern Baptist talking about "the Gays." I have no idea what I'm doing, and yet enter the waters like they may welcome me. So to all my writers who have "walled" me, I did just find the "wall" and have written back. Email is best. That I'm really good at.

So other than writing, I've been horrified to be contacted by someone from Middle School. Oh, so horrible. But I will have you know that of all the pasty white rich kids I went to private Christian (not really very Christian at all) school with, I was absolutely the prettiest one. I swear someone I have apple cheeks and Betty Crocker hair (if she were a blond). If you beg me, I'll 'grab' the photo and email it to special requestors. Even I cannot believe my innocent beauty, even as it was being crushed by God's Soul Suckers. Now there, there is a title for a book. I'm not sure who else was destroyed in Middle School, only to be reconstituted in High School, but that was me.

Now get back to your books!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Egads! the Research to find an Agent!


Since I only had three agents on my list, I went to Writers and did a search for all the agencies that handle gay material (and thrillers, mysteries, novels, and YA).

There are 12 agencies on that list.
Of those, 1 has already sent in a rejection.
Two agents I found on my own are also not on the list.
That leaves 14 possible avenues.

Most agencies list what material they've sold recently (some of it so recent, it does not come up on Google searches), and the authors they represent.

By looking at the authors they represent, and then in turn, those authors' books, I can get an idea of how good a match these agents might be.

Egads that's a lot of clickin' and mousin' and huntin' and peckin'. But I think it's the only way. The confidence that I gain in approaching an agent with some knowledge is well worth it. Plus, once I get an agent, think of all the free time I'll have.

Thanks to everyone who responded to my preliminary query letter. All the feedback really helped make it the best it can be. Now the material has to stand on its own.

Now get back to your books.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Read It And Not Weep


One more stage and then I'm printing this sucker and submitting: The Query Letter Pirate Plank.

I've drafted a basic query letter and just need an Idiot Check because I've re-written it too many times. It's one page:

Dear Anne,

I was fortunate enough to meet you at the first ITW conference in Phoenix two years ago. Thank you for being so friendly to a first-time fiction writer. At the time, I pitched a gay mystery series called “The Pardy Boys.” You had expressed interest then, and I’d like to pitch you the first novel, “Mystery of the Black Book”.

When framed for their father’s murder, adoptive brothers must catch his killer or go to jail. With evidence pointing to the family lawyer, it’s time to flee. He might have access to the family fortune, but they have access to their father’s black book. In it is the last appointment he had: three days away in Provincetown. There, the discovery of a lost love letter reveals their father’s secret life and enrages his mortal enemy known only as the Soldier. Find him and they’ve caught their killer — get caught by him and they’re dead.

I previously sold the action-thriller “The Devil’s Pocket” to Regent/HereTV and have written one other book, the tweener boys’ adventure story “The Abominable Plan of Dr. Rasp.” The local LGBT bookstore A Different Light said “the Pardy Boys” was perfect for them and that they’d put it on the shelf tomorrow. That said, I’m sure it needs the fine-tuning of an experienced agent like you to really be ready. Enclosed is a synopsis and the first 30 pages.

Please let me know if you’d like to see the complete manuscript.



Any thoughts?
Anything unclear?
Can I be more nervous about this submission?
Should I use professional labels instead of writing on the 9x12 envelope by hand?
Why? Why are we all here?

Now get back to your writing!

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Curse of the Were-book

What is "ready"?
What does "ready" really mean?
What happens when a seemingly innocent manuscript turns out to be riddled with typos, grammar and punctuation problems?
It's the Curse of the Were-book, a shape-shifting demon that has confounded writers through the ages.

I read recently that a book should be three months finished before you even begin to approach people about representation. Whoever it was, she was right! Now that I've narrowed my list, and I've got my queries drafted, I can't lick the stamp, hit send, or even sit down anymore from worry. It's the Curse of the Were-book.

I'm reading, re-reading, and have had several readers give me their line notes. But is it "ready?" Will it ever be "ready?"

By Monday it will be ready. I'll have had four more days to ponder and procrastinate. They won't get it until after Halloween, Day of the Dead, and the scariest day of all, Election Day! Finally the Curse of the were-book will be broken!

Happy Halloween to all. I'm renewed, refreshed, ready to kick some curse ass!

Now go get some writing done!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Chicken or the Egg

So after more research and picking out a handful of agencies (two of the agents I met at conferences), I'm now afraid to submit. I've read in most of the submission guidelines very cautionary language about submitting before the book is ready, and suggestions for a professional editor. Doesn't this suggest targeting editors first?

I did hire an editor, and Tyler's observation is right. I liked a lot of her changes, but a different editor will most likely have their own suggestions. That said, all my readers have suggested a technical edit for stupid mistakes, and that the book could be "tightened" with regard to confusing plot elements, or language that sometimes bordered on too cute or too on the nose.
I think I could accomplish both of those before submitting to an agent, but will they see that it's not been given a thorough professional edit?

Chicken or Egg?
Editor or Agent?


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ghost Writing?

For the cover of The Pardy Boys, I hired two actors to portray Joe and Frank. One of them has a pretty great life-story he wants adapted into a YA thriller and he wants me to write it. I love the basic story and he's flexible and enthusiastic. Does anyone have any ghostwriting experience. I want to sign a contract with him, but don't know what to charge?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

- Now get back to your writing!


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Great Reads and Good News Needs Advice


So I've gotten some good reads on "The Pardy Boys," and Jake (the buyer) at West Hollywood's A Different Light read the book and said it was perfect for them. He was so enthused that he said I should go to Kensington and start talking a deal.

Readers have suggested a professional edit to smooth out the bumps before submitting, but said it was a good enough read to submit.

So now what? Do I approach an agent? An editor?

Lastly, the book is intended to be part of a trilogy, and I've only outlined the other two books. Do they have to be finished before starting a dialogue with Kensington, or editors or agents?

- Happy in Hollywood

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Agony of the Finish Line

Ok, so I'm not at the Galley stage on Pardy Boys, but I am finishing what seems to be a close-to-done draft. And it's agony. Five hour spell check, including formatting, etc. I've spent hours going over 30 pages of line notes. And at the last moment a draft got lost in the shuffle, so I had to painstakingly recreate it using TrackChanges: merge. It was as much fun as it sounds. But I am really familiar with my own material which feels nice. But I fear getting so close to it, I'm not seeing the problems from above. My mind wanders to "the next" book. I feel so well-armed from the conference that I don't want to lose momentum. But my arms literally ache from the hours of typing and mousing. Secretly I dream of sleep and Kansas where a country house I seldom get to visit waits for me.

The finish line. It waits.

Now get back to your book!

Graeme Stone Agency Review Invitational

Now that I'm in the "readers" stage of the Pardy Boys, I've got to start thinking about agencies. Anybody else poking around, got feedback that's printable? If not, email me privately and I swear it will go with me to my grave.

My dream is Writer's House, though I secretly believe they're too literary for me. I'm intrigued by FireBrand, and have a card for an agency from two years ago, which is when I first started pitching Pardy.

Lastly, if anyone wants to read it (250 pages of wild, young gay detective-ness), I'll gladly trade. If you know anyone who would like to read it, please pass them along to me.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

If it’s good enough for Pixar...

Hey everybody,

I was listening to a podcast on a local show called The Treatment by host Elvis Mitchell. He interviews people in the film industry. So it’s not publishing per se, but his show is sometimes it’s really amazing in terms of the art of storytelling. In his interview with Andrew Stanton, one of the creators of Wall-E, one of the most inspiring things Andrew said was that it was four years of failures and creative mistakes. So if making mistakes and moving on to the artistic successes is part of the process for an outfit like Pixar, that’s pretty inspiring. Check out the link above to listen to the entire interview.

Another inspiring story is John Favreau’s adaptation of “Zathura” from picture book to film. The original story is a sequel by Chris Van Allsburg’s “Jumanji” also a picture book that became a film. The bare bones suggested by Chris’ story are brilliantly fleshed out in a script by David Koepp. Capitalizing on an antagonistic sibling rivalry set against a fantastical background, what is simple on the page becomes complex in the script story. It just goes to show you that if you pull on the yarn of a story, you can weave it into some great stuff.

Last on my list of inspiring adaptations is screenwriter Tony Gilroy’s novel-to-film work on Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne. King has said it’s one of his favorite adaptations. Though the film did not do well critically or commercially, it is one of King’s most somber, realistic, moving, and frightening stories. From its trappings of a family melt-down on an island in Maine, the book is told in first person by the titular protagonist, the battle ax Dolores Claiborne herself. But the script takes a spare two paragraphs that mention Dolores’ daughter and uses that as a springboard for one of the thriller genre’s most complex mother-daughter relationships. While Taylor Hackford’s masterful direction, and the haunting cinematography Gabriel Beristain illuminate the darkest corners of a family implosion (during an eclipse no less), it is Gilroy’s genius that is the vaulting point from which all that creativity followed.

I was living in New York when I first saw the film (3 times at the then World Wide Plaza’s dollar theater). So obsessed with the film’s effect, I called Gilroy after finding his number in the phone book. He was gracious enough to chat with me for a few minutes and told me that he credits a background in journalism with his spare, economical style. Much like the Michelangelo analogy you hear a lot (‘chip away everything that is NOT the sculpture’) he wrote to emphasize what would work on screen. A line-by-line study of the script that two friends and I undertook one afternoon in LA a few years later showed that almost every line of dialogue overturns, contradicts, or illuminates the one before (not a wasted line in the script).

The story also has the most seamless set of flashbacks (one flashback within another) I have ever seen. While I’m sure I’m a little gaga over this particular story and adaptation, I’m sure that even if you don’t become a cultist like me, you’ll appreciate a rich script borne of two simple paragraphs of a novel in which the main character had no foil to help her tell her story. Stephen King said of the final product that he wished he’d thought of the angle himself.

The examples above are all fiction-to-film adaptations, which is not what we’re writing. But the revision process often involves re-examining your original position, finding a new one, and proceeding with a better version than your first (or 2nd, or 3rd!) draft. So take inspiration from some of the most entertaining stories I’ve seen that weren’t afraid to fail miserably, or radically expand a story, or radically depart from a story. Writing is re-writing.

Now get back to writing!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Signs of Apocalypse

Sliced apples.

Looks like Sunkist has been comparing apples to oranges. On the same day that I was busy blogging about the pre-sliced apple phenomenon, Sunkist announced that it was launching a joint venture with Taylor Farms of Salinas to market pre-sliced Sunkist fruits to grocers, schools and fast-food chains.

Taylor Farms sells more than $750 million in pre-packaged lettuce and vegetables to McDonald's, Subway, Burger King, Red Lobster, and the Olive Garden. Bruce Taylor, CEO of Taylor Farms, predicts the sliced-fruit venture could reach sales of several hundred million dollars in the next two years.

“We think there is a tremendous opportunity for fruit at the retail level as a consumer snack. It could be a healthy alternative to what people eat today,” Taylor told the Los Angeles Times.

Sunkist's Chief Executive, Jeff Gargiulo, told the Times that the idea was to make eating fruit as simple as munching on potato chips. “Not even my kids will peel an orange.”

“If you're too lazy to peel your own fruit, get scurvy and die,” was Bill Maher's reaction on last Friday's HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher. “Hoping to appeal to teenagers who say they're too busy to peel oranges,” Maher reported, “Sunkist is introducing a new pre-cut, pre-peeled snack version. Not to be outdone, Baskin Robbins has created a new, coneless ice cream that your mother pre-chews and spits down your throat.”

Now Get Back To Work.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

This Will Take Time

In today's Pop Culture Conveyorbelt world of lazy-susan entertainment, I'm often left with a debilitating sense that I'm not productive enough. Just flipping through an Entertainment Weekly at the check-0ut stand leaves me bewildered by how much is being published, filmed, recorded and sold. It's daunting. But none of the good books are being written at the break-neck pace at which the stream is issuing forth. It's hard to remember that it takes months to hone a book, and that's the process at its fastest. From concept to printed-book-in-store is usually at least two years. It sounds like an eternity to someone like me who has not been agented or published. But it is a necessary eternity, and one that should be used wisely. I've made the mistake of submitting work that was not typo free--and I got rejected immediately. I've learned to let something sit for long enough to forget what I've written, and then the mistakes jump off the page. I keep telling myself, 'slow and steady pressure.' We'll see if it works.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Notes from Lisa Yee's Revision Session

Wow, what a boring title for such an inspiring session. (And Lisa Yee is nothing if not inspiring.)

But the class was anything but boring. In fact, she made a few people cry with her essay twists.

Ok, so here's a very down and dirty version of what she recommended for effective revision (also with an eye toward a direction you can gain in the beginning of the novel-writing process.)
  • Take a character and write a 5 minute essay involving 3 specific items from a child's room.

  • Write in the 1st person as the child.

  • Then write the same passage, same details, but from 3rd person.

  • Then, after that's gelled, rewrite the passage again from the point of view of a mother who has lost that same child. (yes, this is what got more than one attenddee cry.)
What was great about this was the exercise of it. I know that sounds obvious, but despite all the reading that you can do about writing, it's not as effective as literally writing as a form of exercise. It changes synaptic connections, and makes you experience things from new and different perspectives.

I took this same idea and combined it with the Career Strategy session that Steven Malk gave. Taking several ideas I have for upcoming projects, I put the titles in columns according the genre and whether the idea was appropriate for kids, YA, or mabye even adult. Just the exercise of putting things on one page made me look at them with a revisioneering (yes, I just made that up) eye. What books would be the most interesting to work on? Which ones would be most marketable? Which ones crossed genres? I would have asked myself none of these questions if it weren't for Lisa and Steven's talks.

The second part of Lisa's talk had to do with simple techniques for revision that aren't so much about exercising the writing muscle as they are about shaking yourself out of your comfort zone. After you finish a draft, try the following when you're revising:

  • Revise the font and the margins, then re-read it like it's brand new.

  • Read a hard copy in different location from where you write.

  • Read it aloud.

  • Circle the great stuff with your goal being to bring everything up to that level.

My addition to that is to change your music playlist, or edit without music.

Lisa also recommended reading:

  • The Lovely Bones, and Bird by Bird.

  • listening to and the KCRW Tobias Wolf episode on podcast on Bookworm, he wrote This Boy’s Life

Last. Talk to the writer's you know about how they revise. You never know where the next best idea will come from. I ran into Jacqui Robbins who recommends: Writing the Breakout Novel: The Workbook, by Donald Maas. Again, exercise is the operative word. You can talk and blog and pontifiate about writing all you want. But the writing itself is the only way to get to a finished manuscript.

Now get to work!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

To Age or Not To Age

Ok, so I'm FaceBooking now (is it a verb yet? If only all this electronic activity burned calories), and I'm wondering how everyone feels about birth YEAR in addition to the date. Some people have their full date, which gives their age, others discretely have the date tucked away like a quarter under a pillow.

Does anyone really care how old I am? My LA-inspired nightmare is of course that a publisher will see my hideous Dorian-Gray-esque age and run screaming from the website. Or worse, the Plastic Surgery Commission of Beverly Hills wills end in agents or robots to perform an emergency procedure while I sleep.

But seriously, I'm not an actor (but I play one on TV), who what's to fear. And maybe I'll get some responses exactly because I'm a certain age. Please, chime in.

Now, Get back to work!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Chapter Titles for Grown-Up Fiction?

Like all reviewees this last conference, I took an entire manuscript in hand because I knew that behind the Hyatt ballroom is a secret print shop that does print-on-demand for publishers who are looking for the hottest new authors. Well, they didn't snatch up my Kinko's 3-hole punch, double-sided copy this time, but next year I just know that after signing with an agent at breakfast that my book will be in the conference book store at lunch.

So new to the industry, I only recently read (and realized, duh!) that YA and adult books do not have chapter titles. But what's the fun of that? It certainly didn't stop me from putting them in my YA cross-over "Pardy Boys" draft. And though I know I'll have to take them out (wah!) for a more market-aware professional look, they have really helped me define sections of the book. It's one of the tricks I learned in screenwriting. Yes, my tawdry Hollywood past has come to haunt me (I feel like the poor girl in 1984's "Angel", tagline: Honor Student by Day...Hollywood Hooker by Night.)

In screenwriting, the script is broken down into "beats", much like paragraph breaks might represent the scenes of a novel in an extensive book outline. But an extra recommendation to really fully illuminate your intentions with each beat is to give each movement of the script (or book) a chapter title. And though you can't keep them for your book, chapter titles are not only kinda fun to write, but give an instant road map to where your novel goes. And if you insert a Table of Contents (using Word's "insert: reference: tables: toc") you will literally have a one page listing of your chapters. Think of it as an at-a-glance reference tool.

I found this really useful when dividing the book into its chapters without being limited to just the stale breaks of "chapter 1...chapter 2...", etc. Dividing chapters into fairly even breaks of 5 to 10 pages is a great start, but chapters don't always break evenly when a chapter is often unified by a theme, goal, or pursuit for the characters involved. Chapter titles make it much easier to see where the story breaks organically. After you find those natural breaks, you just take the descriptive titles out, leaving the professional chapter listings behind. Your reader/agent/editor will never know you dipped into the customs of a chapter-book, but they'll definitely be caught up in the powerful rhythms of a book that has its own ebb and flow.
Now get back to work!

Dirty Secret

I drive a ’94 Geo Metro, and I drove it before car recycling became cool six months ago. (Touch that, bitches!). Though I’ve never had any engine trouble, the car has charming quirks like missing hubcaps (stolen in Atlanta where I guess someone was desperate enough to steal, umm, Geo Metro hubcaps), and windows that are increasingly hard to roll up and down. In keeping with my efforts to ‘go greener’ and in deference to California’s drought, I also don’t wash the car very often. I’m not sure what my excuse is for not washing the inside of the car is, but the interior is definitely sorely neglected. Blame the straight genes, ok? (Or is the straight-gene what causes MAOCD? (Masculine Automotive Obssessive Compulsive Disorder)

But as I was going to be attending a conference, and the possibility of leaving the SCBWI campus with passengers became a possibility, I thought I might invest in a ‘wash and detailing’ that is so popular in car-conscious LA. $40 later and probably 20 lbs of dirt lighter, I drove away from the Palms Car Wash II (even car washes have sequels in LA).

Looking through a windshield so clear that I had to reach out to touch it to make sure it was still there, I realized all the windows were still up. Rolling down the driver’s side, I was amazed at how smooth the handle turned. And then it dawned on me: the windows were just…(gulp) dirty! It’s like my grandfather who was nearly deaf because he hadn’t had his ears cleaned in too long. Oh, the shame. So from now on I’ll be going in for a wash ‘n detailing every six months, or whenever I start building biceps trying to roll the windows down.

Signs of the Apocalypse

Remember I told you about the Q4 Network's show "Hurl." See, I wasn't making up a show about force-fed contestants competing to see who barfs first (or is it last?) while enduring carnival rides.

Read all about it on Defamer.

I just don't know why they keep rejecting my proposal for a spin-off (or would it be a spew-off?) called "Dump" in which the losers of "Hurl" are forced to wait 8 hours, climb back on the same rides, but this time chugging laxitives and wearing diapers. Lows are the new high on reality TV.

Same Page, Different Music

Lisa Yee's brilliant tip on changing the fonts and margins before printing out a working draft was brilliant. I've also found it useful to change my playlist (or at least the song order), as well as where I work. If I do too much writing in one place, I find myself stagnating, or procrastinating. So a combination of printing a reformatted draft, new music, and a trip to the library usually produce newer, better results faster. God, it's beginning to sound like some kind of efficiency seminar instead of the Zen-pleasure that I'm proposing. Without a pastoral view and chirping birds, these few things really have helped me go from one draft to the next without it being drudgery.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Facebook? I've got SNSF!

To take Tyler's lead, I've got SNSF, or Social Networking Site Fatigue. First it was MySpace (musicians), then LynkedInn (hotels), now it's FaceBook. Models? No, writers. Or so an editor claimed at the SCBWI conference. One more "age" "name" "birthdate" set of blanks to fill in. Pictures to post. I'm scared! Someone hold me! What am I, a layout studio?

But if it will get my name and (no pun intended) face out there, then dammit, I'm all for it. But please let this be the end of it. I can barely keep up with it all. Mac needs to create a magic "cloud" to update all the sites at once (oh Graeme, you're a genius, if only you had the technical know-how and some capital...).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Glass Table

You've heard of the glass ceiling, right? Well in publishing-especially at conferences-there is the glass table. The one you don't get to sit at. The one where sparkeling, witty, and life-changing conversations must be going on. Or at least I imagine they must be going on. For most of the conference I sat with my posse, cutting up, telling highs and lows of the day, and hoping that before it was all over, I'd have met an editor or an agent. But throughout the days and nights, we all cast a curious glance at the tables where we longed to be. Inviting glances were never cast our way, nor was there the expectation they would be. These are closed tables, a refuge from the day's work. And can you blame them?

The editors agents and published writers are faculty, giving lectures, signing books, and having professional dialogues. And when they're eating, well...they're eating. Imagine if a very green writer crashed your table, asking questions that just a little research would answer, how would you feel? Still, the glass table stood just out of reach, tantalizingly real. All the more so because a place at the table has to be earned. Not just for the asking, but through the accomplishment of being published.

We were lucky enough to have editor Elizabeth Law of the forthcoming American launch of Egmont come visit our table. She was very friendly, talked a little shop, but mostly hung out. The house is obviously looking to expand submissions, but she could easily have relied on the normal submission process. Instead she came and put her feet up for a while. It was demystifying to have a visit from "the other side." She didn't levitate or quote Tolstoy or anything, and revealed that an editor can be just as easy to talk to as any other conference goer. If only writing like a published writer were as easy, we'd all be sitting at the glass table.

Submitting: No, Not an S/M Essay

One of the best things about the SCBWI Summer Conference was submitting a manuscript for review. Though I wasn't quite ready (are you ever?), I went ahead, pulled together 15 pages, and submitted the work. The synopsis was even rockier, but I went ahead and sent it in. And you know what? It didn't burst in to flames. It didn't bring down the ire of an editor who I had imagined would scream something like "How DARE you submit such garbage, now kneel! Kneel swine!" Ok, so maybe this veers slightly into S/M territory, but only because the whole process lends itself to that.

But what I took away, regardless of how the review had gone (I mean, how many editors are there? That's how many opinions you'll get, right), it was the idea of a deadline that got a fire going under me. Months before I was actually going to be ready, I had to turn in pages. And then for the conference, I HAD to have the entire manuscript entirely finished. That was another deadline.

Now that I have a response, and have talked the book up a little, I now have another deadline: one week to polish this and submit it to the boys at A Different Light here in LA. They read, they gave me great tips on some recent book purchases, and they said they'd read it.

conferences -specifically SCBWI


So the Summer SCBWI conference ended yesterday and it was stellar. I made a lot of new friends, half of them published, and had good manuscript review with a New York editor. New York editor people. That's royalty. Although "manuscript" isn't really accurate because it's just 15 pages and a synopsis. But what good editor can't predict the trajectory of a novel from that, right?

It was a long, but very satisfying 4 days hanging out at talks, break-out sessions, and the bar, and all at the Hyatt Regency in Century City, a pretty swanky hotel. I paced myself, sleeping in at my loft, and then heading over whenever I got up. One afternoon I took off and went for a swim in the fabulous pool, sunning on the steps, chasing the sun across the large round disc of grass.

The things that stuck out:

- One speaker said that they themselves weren't the important contact that we'd make, but other people in the room. And it was true. The friends I made there will be people I'll stay in touch with as we rise up the publishing ladder.

- Slow down. Publishing is a slow process. It was Steven Malk at his talk on a career strategy who advised not only thinking of the long arc of a career, but of giving it enough time to happen.

- Michael Stearns of Firebrand Literary encouraged being sure of an offer on a manuscript before accepting it. This was kind of a running theme through several of the break-out talks actually. If an offer comes in, it doesn't mean it's the right offer. It might be another six months or a year before you get the right editor/money/agent/house that you're looking for.

- The keynote speakers like Susan Patron and Sara Pennypacker reminded me that there is great heart in great writing. Sara's speech literally brought me to tears, inspiring me to create something new out of the ashes of something that is dying.

- Lisa Yee's talk on revision was so inspiring, hearing that "Millicent Ming: Girl Genius" took six years and three completely different versions to be successful.

I ran into a few agents/editors in passing, and there was that awkward stalker/victim dance you have to do at conferences. They seem to hold magical keys to the universe of publishing, while you may hold a magical manuscript. But they were all gracious and willing to take a question or two. Each answer illuminated a path or gave a direct answer.

After my editorial review by Mark McVeigh, I'm still not sure if my gay boy-detectives book needs to be fully pulled out of YA or not. Mark was sure, and I feel kind of silly doubting someone with such impeccbable credentials. But after looking at some of the hard-hitting YA books, I can't imagine that I'm squarely in the adult category either. I heard that Firebrand has an expanded list of YA/adult crossover, that Laura Rennert has taken on some properties that straddle both, and that another house (as yet no word on the name) has a list that ranges specifically for cross-over at 18-36. The best advice I got was to just write the best book, get the best agent, send it to the best editor, and then work with them to place it where it fits best.

Well I've got notes to type up, pics to put on the web, and reading, writing, and research to do.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

How Many Licks Does It Take?

A lot apparently.
It has been months since I've blogged. But that's because I've been writing. And writing and writing and writing. I have this illusion that I'll turn into a Stephen King or a Ray Bradbury one day. These men who can do three drafts and a polish and then send it off to be published. Maybe they can. For me it's six, seven drafts. And then I'm not sure. And the conference (SCBWI) is coming and I've got to have the pages ready and on and on.
Meanwhile life swirls around. A very complicated life that constantly intrudes on the solitude that writing needs to flourish. I don't remember writing, but each day I'm 20 pages ahead in my edits, rapidly approaching the finish of the draft. A pretty good draft. I think. I think.
So that's where I am. "The Pardy Boys: the Midnight Meeting Mystery" is almost done. I had a photo shoot today to get images together for the business card/ website. It was a lot of work, but so much fun, and from the looks of it, we got some great stuff.
Half of me thinks it's silly to have wasted so much time on images for a book that has not been bought. But it helps me visualize it, made me really think about the characters, and I think in today's web-aware world, it can't hurt.
More stories swirl, and short stories keep telling me how short and easy they'll be. Like bar sirens luring me onto rocky coasts. But I stick to the book, and after it's done, maybe I'll take a break and write a couple of short stories.
And after that, a trip to an oasis to do nothing but get a daily massage by a handsome Arab.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Slow and Steady Pressure

Writing is like First Aid. To survive, you have to apply 'slow and steady pressure.'
I'm 40 pages from the end of a 9th draft.
I've hired an editor.
I will sign a contract with said editor.
Then I will pay the editor first half of money for said contract.
I will wait until editor is done in 2 weeks.
Patient. Yes, I'll wait patiently because that's part of my mantra: slow and steady pressure.
Then I'll have to see what she says.

In the mean time, I'm editing about 20 pages a day.
Reading the books that I'm logging at LibraryThing (2 so far, but that's a start).

And I'm journaling and thinking about other projects, mainly the one I start after this one, which I want to have ready by SCBWI's summer conference.

In addition to being like First Aid, writing this book has been like archaelogy. You know where they brush away layers of a great find. Well this draft has been kind of fun because I've changed almost something in every sentence. I thought I was done, but I've discovered all these tiny changes that just had to be made. I haven't felt this confident in a long time and it's a great feeling.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pay Attention

In my never ending quest to grow up, I'm trying to stop and really listen. Paying attention isn't easy when you're busting at the seams to show everyone how amazing you are. Or how amazing you think you are. Ok, so 40 is no time to grow up, but I can learn to pay attention.

I'm getting replies back to my queries for a freelance editor. I approached the mailing with all the seriousness of a college application. I'm sure that every email will arrive, that it's the most exciting thing that any of these prospective editors will get all day, and that they'll write back with the following message:

"Graeme, I know there's a God because I reviewed your website and what else can I say? Let me get an agent on the phone because the bidding war has already started!"

Well, I got three bounced emails, a few replies, and some emails are just waiting out in cyberspace where it's probably getting cold enough for a blanket by now. Bounced? How is that? Well, some of the emails were incorrectly addressed (my fault) and some were bounced because the editor never updated their email address. So of the 17 emails I wrote, I've heard back from five so far. Two can't do any editing, one was so impersonal I know it's not a good match, one was so-so, and one sounds really good.

Since my goal is to find one good editor, my search may already be over. But I'm going to give it until the middle of next week before making a choice. Just like I believe there isn't just one agent for me, or just one publishing house, I know that there are a lot of good editors. What I'm looking for is a clear understanding of what I'm paying for, a realistic deadine for the job to be done, and a good working relationship with someone who's as industrious as they are responsive.

Now I have to go do some writing, research, or procrastinating on A tornado just hit downtown Atlanta. How often does THAT happen?

Friday, March 14, 2008

I Want Patience and I Want it Right Now

WARNING: thsi bolg containes typsos


So I just finished my first set of emails to freelance editors for my book, "The Abominable Plan of Dr. Rasp." I'm naturally very impatient and want someone else to "figure out" all the messy stuff, like polishing the book. Fortunately the universe has a great sense of humor and I'm stuck dotting my i's on my own. This all started though, becasue I blew a submission to an agent I'd been courting for two years.

Yes, stupidly, I didn't fully proof my own text for my website, and it bit me right on the ass. They rejected the book based on the one page they read - a page with typos in it. Of course I railed because "they're just typos" but agents use simple mechanics as a screening tool. If you can't get your ass organized enough to do your own math, then how will you show up on time, make it through a book signing, or a host of other challenging situations? It's akin to showing up late to a meeting.

So instead of writing even more agents, I got one friend to proof the book, and another to proof my pitch letter to freelance editors. Yes, a work-for-hire editor. I'm taking a step backward because I want to put my best foot forward. Eventually. In a formal move to address my own impatience, I'm purposefully taking more time than I want to take. As much time as it takes to draft a letter, to interest an editor. (And embarrassing as it might be, out of the list of 15 or so that I wrote to, three of them have already come back as undeliverable because I made typos in the email addresses! Proofing, proofing, and more proofing is still needed.)

What's good about this? I realize that I have a horrible, blind weakness in the fine, technical part of my writing. Why is that good? Because it's just math. Someone with a finer eye than mine can find ALL of the mistakes where I might never be able to. How often do you have the luxury of knowing that all your mistakes can be corrected?

So now that I'm not chomping at the bit to go directly to publishers or agents, why pay someone? I mean, what about a writer's group? Or friends? It's debatable. First of all, I don't have a lot of free time, not the kind it would take to read the work of three or four other writers. Second, friends are just that: they know me too well to do the sometimes-difficult work of a professional. And third, a trained editor is going to contribute a wealth of knowledge from a perspective that will allow me to polish the book to publishing-industry standards. And although everyone I know reads, none of them work in the publishing industry. But because we all read, we assume that a casual reader can do the same job as someone who might seem a little pricey on first look. Where we wouldn't give a computer to a friend for a repair job, we want to be able to give our manuscript to someone with no professional experience.

If you can find someone who you really click with, who will edit for free, then do it. I'm just at a point in my life where I do not want to have to spend six months combing through Craig's List for experienced (but free) readers only to wonder if I'm really getting my money's worth. No pun intended.

Now I'm not completely tied to the pay-for-evaluation service, but I'm completely ready to invest in my career. Just because writing is a virtually free pursuit does not mean that there are not expenses that are worthwhile. Conferences is a great example. I've gone to three conferences, and after air fare, hotel, registration and food, I've easily spent a couple thousand dollars. So $500 for a close read of my book doesn't really seem like poorly spend money.

And since I'm on a roll: Writer's Groups. I joined one, and it wasn't a great experience. While the book is in mothballs right now, the experience is still freshly unpleasant. Most importantly, I do want to find a group, but I recognize that it's important to trust my instincts. From the first moment I stepped into the room, I felt that something was off. More valuable than any critiques I recieved was the lesson in knowing what was good for me and my book, and what was not. A second group was more helpful, but too large for in-depth work, so the search continues. People have recommended on-line groups, or trading via email, both of which I'm looking into. But if I never find a writer's group, it doesn't mean that my writing won't shine. But I will miss a sense of community that I know I would find rewarding and fun if I'm unable to find a group.

Perhaps I should break this blog up. To further the topic I started with - patience - I wanted to talk about the time the overall writing process takes. I finished the bulk of the book months ago. I'm on my 9th draft now, but what has taken lots of time is the business of writing. And I know that I've barely scratched the surface. Writing to people I met at the last conference I attended. Researching prospective editors, agents, and publishing houses. Exploring websites to see how other people are working. Working and reworking my own website and my submission materials. There is so much to do that for the moment I've stopped writing. I don't feel like I can move forward with the book I've written until I have some handle on how to begin placing it. Part of that is slowing down enough to do something like placing the book with a freelance editor BEFORE even thinking of submitting to agents or publishers. That has taken weeks of time and is another investment because it has already begun to streamline itself. In the beginning all the information was new and overwhelming. But now I have a way to organize the information so that it grows without drowning me. And as I write to people, I get a better sense if I'm a good match for them with this project. Some people are not right for this book, but I put them down for the next couple I'm working on. So already I've begun to gain a little ground for the next time I have to do this.

When I started this book last year, I don't think I realized how much work it was going to be to just get the damn thing to leave the house. I would say it's easily half the work. But it's the only way to do it. Something stuck with me from the recent SCBWI Westside shmooze that I went to. And that's to really get my hands dirty. Do the research, the hunting around, the emailing, and just see what comes of it. It's more like play than I've made it and that's where the fun is. In the spontaneous discovery, the coincidences and the finds. Just like writing itself, the business of writing can be like a treasure hunt of its own.

Friday, February 15, 2008


So after SCBWI, I was sure I was ready to submit my book. Agents, editors and publisher were just waiting for it. I was sure.

And then I got my first rejection. Too many typos to even read past the first page. And what's worse - I can't even see the typos - still - after a few read-throughs.

I had contacted an old agent who was once a publisher and have burned a contact. Sure, I'll probably be able to submit in the future, but it just feels sloppy, like showing up at a dinner with a dirty tie.

The solution?

A professional editor. No, I'm not here to take your money, or even to tell you where to spend it. But unless you're a natural editor, paying may be the best way to go. After having spent a year on the book, I can't see my spelling errors, much less catch small mistakes in logic I may have accidentally committed. While friends are great for an opinion, only an experienced editor is going to be able to give me the professional polish I need to get this past the gate-keeping eyes of other publishing veterans.

I only wish I could take back the first submission and start over.

Live and learn.

I had ready in many publications to read and read and read my manuscript over. But at some point, the saturation does me no good. So when you think your book is ready, give it away to someone who's never seen it, and get fresh eyes to mark up a fresh copy.

SCBWI Winter '08 - A Mouthfull

SCBWI or Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is more than just a comprehensive organization name, it's a great conference. Packed tightly into the New York Hilton, the intensive 1.5 day conference was loaded to the rafters with speakers, agents, publishers, and other writers.

My roommate Chris and I crashed a publisher's party and met Jacqui Robbins, Bob Cochran, and Ro (Roe) who wasn't even attending the conference, but was celebrating his recent sale of "Herbert's Wormhole," a project he'd been shopping around for ten years. If that's not inspiring, I don't know what is.

The keynote speaker at Saturday's lunch was Carolyn Mackler who's speech was "My Life as a Teen Novelist." It should have been called "Letters from the Front Lines." Having never read her material, I was so touched by the letters she read that it moved me to suggest an archive of kid's letters as evidence against censorship.

My break-out session with Molly O'Neill's presentation on the brand new imprint - Bowen - was also inspiring. Mark McVeigh's session from his perspective at Alladin was enlightening. Susan Patron's speech on her run as a Newbery award-winner was exhaustive, funny, and - did I use the word inspiring yet?

I met a couple of agents, pitched my idea through business cards I had made up. They were a hit, and I'm waiting to see how my website does. I decided to put up a tagline, a synopsis and the first 5 pages, which is basically what everyone wants to see. Rather than emailing, or snail-mailign, I hope to cut down the time and the amount of paper out there. Which I'll cover more in the next blog.

SCBWI's summer conference is in Los Angeles, and I can't wait to save on hotel and airfare by living in the right city at the right time.

Lastly, Lin Oliver's introductions and m.c. duties were charming and disarming. She took the early morning fire alarm and made it something to laugh about. I'll definitely go back. It was a well-organized, warm event. And that's got to be from the top down. Accessible authors, agents and publishers all make SCBWI a place to both listen and ask questions.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Procrastinating? Me?

I'm just past the halfway mark in the second-to-last draft of my kid's book. If that sounds like I'm counting too much, and looking too closely, and measuring success in teaspoons, it's because I am dammit! How else am supposed to measure something that advances by ten or twenty pages a day if I'm lucky?

And the exhaustion. Did I tell you I'm exhausted? Did I mention that? Ready to flop on the couch for a week exhausted. And all I'm doing is editing. But it's like pulling a long squid tentacle out of my nose: long, difficult and uncomfortable. A bad sign? Not at all. I think it's just a long, pain-staking process. I made the horrible mistake of reading the how-to books by S. King and R. Bradbury (their names have been changed to protect them). Oh my God. If you follow their lather-rinse-repeat advice, you'd think all you had to do was whip up the bulk of your story, then do a quick, edit, a polish, and then drop it off at your editor's. I guess I'm not the Stephen Bradbury I imagined I would be. But I am finishing the damn thing. And this month. Dammit. Did I mention dammit?

So, enough complaining. It's time to stop procrastinating and get down to writing this article. So I'm going to a book conference. The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. It's not nearly auspicious as it sounds. Just some really cool Children's and YA writers getting together in balmy New York. In February. I've paid my conference fee, bought plane ticket, committed to the hotel. But the book? Is it ready? Will it ever be ready? Will I ever be ready? Well I sure would be if I'd finish the book. But it's not that easy. I've got work. Then I've got to have some social time. I've got to check email, the stove, how's the weather outside? What's in the fridge? And don't I really need to start my taxes? Yeahhhh. Riiiight.

Beware all else that needs to be done lest you talk yourself right out of finishing. Beware the spontaneous phone call for drinks, the impromptu lunch invitation, the ringing phone, the email inbox, and a hundred other things that will seem like a really, really great idea. They're not. They're distractions. The great idea is the one you're avoiding. The one you're putting off while you fix the toilet leak, the squeaky bedroom door, change your anwering machine message, and starting taking "Spanish In 20 Minutes A Day".

Writing takes about two hours a day. Well, for me that's how long it takes. That's just the actual sitting in front of the computer and interacting with the text, the words, the document, the manuscript. And if I can just do that, I can really feel I've done enough. Much more than that, and I somehow start to feel drained. A lot more and I'm totally wiped out. And writing isn't just writing, it's synopsizing, and chapter-outlining, and looking for agents and publisher and reviewing the list of speakers at the upcoming SCBWI conference in balmy February New York. So AFTER you've done your "pages" for the day (that's exciting writer-speak for what you're really committed to working on), then you can play with the cat, think about cleaning the rain gutters, check out Oprah or, or see what's on your Tivo listing.

Me, I think what I'm exhausted from is all this procrastination.