STORYSTORMing in January

So I don’t remember which of my friends posted about this on Facebook, but a week or so ago I learned about Tara Lazar’s StoryStorm 2018.  It is a renamed version of PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and though I’m not a picture book author by ANY stretch of the imagination, I figured why not?

storystorm18participantThe idea is to generate 30 new book ideas in 31 days (the month of January). So I grabbed a mini notebook to keep on hand just for that purpose, and have managed to come up with one idea a day so far.  Some of them I like, some of them may never see light of day, but it’s a really cool concept to force your creative mind to do something even when it may not be inclined to do so.


Official registration for StoryStorm ends today if you want to get in on Tara’s action – there are prizes to be had if you achieve your goal of 30 ideas in 31 days.  Of course, there’s no reason you couldn’t do it on your own, too, if you wanted.  Check out Tara’s blog for more info or to sign up today (January 9).

The more ideas you can generate, the more books you can write, whether they are picture books, chapter books, middle grade, young adult, new adult, or plain old adult.   Don’t wait for inspiration to miraculously strike – get your creativity juiced and generate ideas, ideas, ideas!

For example – this morning, as I was driving to work, the car in front of me had a license plate that read CAL A and a couple of numbers.  Within a few minutes, a new character named Calla Lily Burkhart was tapping on my shoulder and whispering her general story in my ear. (I’m not sharing the idea itself, but just how it came to be).  What will your daily drive give you by way of story ideas?

Write the Wave! 🙂

More procrastination

Am I the only one who drags my feet on revision?

My agent wants to start subbing my manuscript in February.  I told her I could get her the polished revision she requested by the first of the year.  Which is Monday.  And while I’ve done a good portion of the necessary work, there are a few things left I keep putting off.  I know I’ll feel better once I get it done.  I know I’ll enjoy the rest of my winter break without the pressure over my head; I leave Wednesday to spend the rest of my vacation with my family in Arizona.  But something keeps holding me back from getting it done and moving on.

Could it be fear of success?  I think there is only one book in my history that got WORSE with revision, and that book was telling the wrong character’s story from the get go (only I didn’t see that).  This book is GOOD.  With the requested minor revisions (and they really are minor) it will be even BETTER.  And yet, instead of hauling out my binder and legal pad, I’m writing this instead.

Will someone please just smack me upside the head and make me go write my final revised scenes so I can put the manuscript to bed (until it sells and an editor wants changes, of course)?

Gear does not equal “Better”

In addition to being a YA novelist, I am also a photographer.  I have been shooting fairly regularly for about 28 years, having started with film cameras and eventually making the jump to DSLR and now to Mirrorless.  I belong to multiple groups on Facebook for photography and one of the things I see a lot from newbie togs is this:

“I’m getting a new camera!  What should I charge customers?”

Most of the time, this question comes from photographers whose skill sets are not elevated enough to be considered “professional” – their photos are inconsistent, they don’t understand lighting or posing, etc.  They have craft to learn before they should be soliciting paying clients.

And today, I thought to myself, as writers, do we ever say, “I’m getting a new word processor for my laptop! Should I sub my book to agents?”

It’s a little laughable, isn’t it?  Writing and Photography have a lot in common.  They are creative fields that require technical skill – you could have the best ideas in the world, but if you can’t express them on the page . . . well, we all know how that goes.  And photography is similar – you can have a great eye for composing, but if you don’t understand how the exposure triangle works, you may not get decent images despite “seeing” them in your mind’s eye.

Yet, photographers think better gear translates to better photography.  I’ve yet to meet a writer who thinks a better computer or better writing program (Word vs Scrivener, for example) will translate to better writing.  Better writing comes from practice.  Better writing comes from taking workshops on craft, and learning how craft and structure work together, and how dialogue, narrative, and action interact.  Better writing comes from being involved with critique groups, and getting feedback, and revising for improvement.  Better writing comes from being open to that feedback, and allowing yourself to look for imperfections in that “perfect” baby.

I know of writers who, after participating in NaNoWriMo, are so pleased with their rough draft that they immediately start sending out queries to agents.  Anne Lamott called the first draft the “shitty first draft.”  I believe her.  Even if you get a completed rough from a month of frantic writing, you still need to mold it, shape it, and better it before trying to send it out in the world.

So when you’re writing, always remember it’s great to get the first draft down on paper.  But the first draft is just that.  Revise, rewrite, review, repeat.  Because as clichéd as it is, “you only get one chance to make a first impression.”  Don’t try to skip steps in the process. The process results in a sellable product, and isn’t that what we all want?

New computer or not. 😊

The Journey, not the Destination

Yeah, that’s a total lie.  My destination of choice has always been “traditionally published YA author.”  I want my book on the shelves of the bookstores that remain, and to be available through Amazon. I want to go speak to classrooms on writing and do book tours.  I want teens to send me e-mails about how much they love my characters.

But the one thing I learned a little over a decade ago, through fellow writer and teacher and best friend Joyce Sweeney, is that rarely happens overnight.  I was in her Thursday night critique group for a long time before it disbanded, and the biggest takeaway I had was PERSEVERANCE.  This industry is HARD.  It can take, Joyce suggested, ten YEARS to get an agent/book deal/etc.  And a lot of people don’t want to hear that, nor accept it, and they quit trying or they decide to self-publish.  And while I have nothing against GOOD writing being self-published (sadly, a high percentage of self-publishing does NOT fall into that category), I was determined that if I didn’t traditionally pub my YA, I would not publish it at all.

So while Your Mileage May Vary, my journey to this point has taken about ten years.  Once upon a time, I went to a panel on why boys don’t read.  It was mostly aimed at librarians and teachers, and I fall into the second category.  Two of the speakers that day were Joyce Sweeney and Alexandra Flinn.  While getting my copy of Breathing Underwater signed by Alexandra, I mentioned that someday, I’d like to be on her side of the table.  She wrote a web address on her business card and handed it to me.  She said if I was serious, this was the best organization to be a part of.  So the next day, I joined SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).

And I kept writing.  And I went to conferences, which scared me to death.  I’m an introvert recovering from low self-esteem, so it was really intimidating to be around and talk to published authors.  My first conference critique netted me a fan – author Gaby Triana – who offered to look at a revision and, if she liked it, pass on a recommendation to her agent.  I thought that was IT! Connection made, my book would be published!  Ultimately, her agent at the time passed on my book, but it didn’t stop me.

I kept writing.  I kept going to conferences, and workshops, and learning and writing and schmoozing and everything you do to try to break in to the business.  I actually became FRIENDS with Alexandra Flinn.  She critiqued one of my manuscripts at a conference and really liked it.  That manuscript got a revision request from an agent, who helped me realize the book was trying to go two different directions.  Shelved and moved on.

Rejections are a part of the business, and as much as they hurt, every no is one step closer to a yes.  My next foray into securing an agent was almost successful as well – except the book I was pitching had a character dying from leukemia, and John Green had just released The Fault in Our Stars – no one wanted “sick lit.”

Back to the drawing board.  More writing, more workshops, more conferences.

Sold My Soul to Rock and Roll is the book of my heart, more than any other I’ve written to date.  And I went through a couple of rounds with agents who liked it, but didn’t love it.  My current agent took over a year to offer representation.  She requested the full, suggested revisions, and offered to look at it again if I chose to revise.  I did, and resubmitted, and she’s now my agent.

It took about TEN YEARS.  Ten years, five books, countless workshops.  And I’m still not at the destination.  Getting the agent is one step on the path.  Now, I have to revise the book one more time, work with my agent on a business proposal to present to publishers, and wait.

But while I wait, I must keep writing.  Because writing, after all, is a journey.



My revised manuscript is due to my agent soon. (I still get a little giddy being able to say “my agent.”)  I told her she could have it by the new year.  Which gives me just under three weeks to get it done.  And I’m dragging my feet.

Some authors will tell you that revision is their favorite part of the writing process.  It’s absolutely NOT mine.  I love the thrill of getting the first draft on paper, no little editors on my shoulder.  That’s one of the reasons I’ve always been a fan of National Novel Writing Month, having participated twelve times in the fifteen years since I first discovered NaNoWriMo.  I “won” eight of the twelve years, completing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days (or less).  Four of my NaNo novels – three which I did complete during the month of November, one that I didn’t – went on to the revision phase and ultimately had full requests from agents.  Sold My Soul is one of those four, the one I didn’t finish in 30 days.  But that’s the one that finally earned the honor of representation.

This manuscript was revised multiple times for multiple agents, and will likely have to undergo even more revisions for whatever editor decides to purchase it.  And I hate revising.  It’s not so much the revision itself that I hate, it’s my consistent fear that revising a manuscript is going to make it worse, not better.  Realistically, only once did a revision not make a book better, and it was a book I ended up shelving because I was telling the wrong character’s story and it wasn’t working.  That doesn’t change the fact that honestly, the revision process scares me to death.

So I’ve made the small changes to the manuscript, but there are a few new scenes I have to write and layer in, and I’ve been dragging on that.  Am I the only writer out there that HATES the process of revision?

Weigh in!

Not Good Enough?

I was straightening up my room yesterday and came across some notebooks.  One of them I had used in a multi-purpose fashion: there were workshop notes, poems, some journal entries, etc.   Within the notebook were some journal entries from my first-ever SCBWI national conference in Los Angeles.  It was my first trip to California, and it served double duty: I got to see family that live there as well as one of my closest friends in the world, a man I refer to often as my “brother from another mother,” musician Robbie Gennet.

In my entry, written on the Saturday morning of the three-day conference, I found something that still resonates with me.  I had written, Last night Robbie was asking me what I’m afraid of.  It suddenly seemed silly to say “of not being good enough.”  Robbie logically asked me good enough for what?  For who?  Who am I comparing myself to?  Would Paula Danziger have ever said, “I’m not as good as Judy Blume so I won’t write?”  My students are my audience and they mostly enjoy my writing, so what the hell?

That was back in 2006, and even to this day, sometimes I still fall into the trap of “I’m not good enough.”  I posted the other day on Facebook asking my writing friends if they ever think the work they’ve labored over, that an agent wants to represent, just sucks; I’d experienced that feeling upon re-reading my manuscript to do one last polishing before my agent sends it out into the world looking for a home.  And finding this entry last night reminded me to not compare myself to anyone (except for a marketing plan, of course!).  My writing stands on its own merit, I’m my own worst critic, so I’m flicking off my shoulder that little editor voice that sneers in my ear that I’m not good enough.  Go away, little pessimist!

Musing about Music

So my novel, Sold My Soul to Rock and Roll, is about a teenage musician with a musician dad.  The other day I was thinking about the fact that although I’m not a musician, music has always been an integral part of who I am, and it was when this love for music came through in a character, that I wrote a book that really sings (no pun intended).

The only singing I do is through my The Voice app on my phone, belting out karaoke in my living room where no one can hear me, but I grew up with music.  My dad played guitar.  He had a record.  He wasn’t famous; my grandmother would have liked for him to be, and when he was a kid in Brooklyn, he took dance lessons and singing lessons and acted and auditioned.  I have a framed 8 x 10 on my living room end table of one of his headshots from when he was a teenager, holding his guitar.  I remember when I was little and my dad would play guitar and sing doo-wop songs for me and my little brother, recording his performance on a reel-to-reel tape recorder.  It’s a good memory.

Dad tried to teach me to play guitar.  I’m left-handed, and it was hard for him to teach me.  I learned to play “With a Little Help From My Friends” from his Beatles songbook.  I tried to be a musician in middle school – I joined the orchestra in sixth grade, wanting desperately to play the violin.  But everyone wanted to play the violin, and as I was a tall girl with a long wingspan, the orchestra teacher suggested viola.  So I played viola for two years, going from Beginning Orchestra in sixth grade to Advanced Orchestra in seventh (skipping Intermediate altogether).  The problem was, I couldn’t tune my own instrument.  It was then I realized I would likely never be a musician in my own right.

But the music was always a part of me.  I loved listening to it (still do) in most of its forms.  I love the 50s doo-wop my parents exposed me to.  I adore Elvis Presley and took a pilgrimage to Graceland in 2014.  Some of my favorite bands ever are Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, KISS, Whitesnake, and any number of 80s glam bands.  But I also like some country and newer rock as well.  I have favorite Broadway show tunes (Chess, Wicked, and Sweet Charity among them), and even listen to some Disney musicals (Camp Rock’s soundtrack is on my iPod).

I think that’s why, when I finally created a character with music in her soul, this book is the one that resonated with the agent who now represents it.  The authenticity shines through the pages – I love music, and so does my character, Destiny LaRoux.  I used some of my musician friends to model her father and his bandmates, so they read genuine as well.

I’m looking forward to the day when an editor snaps this book up and gets it out for the world to read.  Though I’ve written other books and will likely write more, this one is special.  And it’s the music that makes it that way.