Archive for June, 2011


Writing Road Trips

June 28, 2011

Sometimes, writers need inspiration. Sure, we can find anecdotes from our families, our friends, and maybe even from doing the laundry. However, when separating the darks from the lights just doesn’t cut, we need new form.

Every four months or so, I go on an overnight writing retreat. There are a few writers’ havens nearby which offer a cheap bed and a small town full of secrets waiting to be told.

This past week I tried something new and traveled to the plains of Colorado. The winding road reminded me of the Nile, as I followed a thin river slightly surrounded by green brush but with vast dead earth beyond. While it wasn’t the best venture for scene writing, I did come across a few colorful characters.

My small motel proudly served a free breakfast, complete with fried eggs, hash browns, buttered toast and a choice of bacon or sausage. At least there was a choice in the matter. I found a table near a group of older men who the waitress knew by name.

While I ate my salty eggs and drank black coffee, I listened to the men. It may have been America, but it was definitely a different country. While racist slander wasn’t what I had in mind when I left on this particular retreat, their conversation made my imagination roll. I wondered about their wives, their homes, and whether or not they left bags of Doritos in the back of their trucks. I may or may not write a book with such characters, but they sure helped my creative process.

Next time you’re stuck, try something new. Be an observer to characters you don’t know and write about what you see, plus what you don’t. I promise, you’ll be writing for hours.


Dystopian Summer Reads

June 21, 2011


Question: What do these four young adult novels have in common? Answer: A dystopian theme.

And what, exactly, is a dystopian theme? A dark, disturbing future. Dystopian novels have been around for awhile, but they’ve recently swamped the YA market. These four novels tackle issues of love (and lack of it), evil empires, and ways of living different than the Red, White, and Blue.

While all of these novels have fantastic followers, Hunger Games grabbed the market a couple years ago and became so popular it’s currently in movie production. Honestly, I’m not one for dystopian novels, but I couldn’t put it down. Think Survivor meets Lord of the Flies with high action and philosophic questions.

The question I have is, what is it about dark futures that make readers want more dystopian books? Is every day teen life so stressful that it helps to read about something darker? Does a small measure of fantasy, no matter how disturbing, bring relief to the daily grind? Maybe teens need to visualize victory and believe they can conquer the big, the bad, and the ugly.

Let me know what you think and give one a try. At the very least, you’ll be hip in the teen market this summer.


Agents: how to find one

June 14, 2011

For those of you not familiar to the bizarre world of publishing, there is a process. First, you write a book. Next you edit. And revise. And edit and revise and edit and revise and edit and revise, and well, you get the picture. When it’s as good as it gets, you decide whether you want to self-publish or find a publishing house to deliver your work. Because self-publishing deserves a blog all its own, I’ll concentrate on traditional publishing here.

First, you need to find an agent who will pitch your book to an editor. The editor’s publishing house will transform your words into a book. The entire process takes time. Lots of time. Some say the average number of years it takes to create a book is four. That’s some serious time.

Believe it or not I’ve been blessed and cursed with two agents. They’re not easy to find and for reasons sometimes out of their control, the agent can’t always deliver. My first agent was with ICM. She represented my non-fiction book, and although it made it to a couple of editorial boards at big publishing houses, it never sold.

Agents handle specific genres. Those who represent authors writing adult non-fiction, rarely represent authors who write for kids. So, when I wrote my middle grade novel, I found a different agent. After a year of searching, my agent with Kirchoff/Wohlberg could not find a home for my middle grade novel. During that time, my dad died and life was lost for a bit. When I came back to the page, I decided to find a different agent who specialized in young adult fiction, because my voice had changed. I wanted to write something new.

My current project, The Crystal Cave, is now complete, and I’m beginning the great agent search yet again. Oh joy. And yet, it is exciting. Please wish me luck.

First, the process begins by doing research. I have a list of agents I’ve met at conferences, as well as a list of agents I’ve either read about or have been referred to by other authors. Websites like Agent Query and Publishers Marketplace offer information about agents. Most literary agencies have websites with specific submission guidelines. They must be followed, exactly.

Once an author is ready to submit, he or she writes a query letter (I’ll devote an entire blog to the query later). If the agent wants to see more, hurrah! However, sometimes an

agent does ask to see more of the work and then, says no. Boo hoo! Even worse, the agent may say yes and takes you on, but still doesn’t sell your work, double boo hoo.

In the end, finding an agent is a long and difficult process, but it can be done. The best advice I can give is to persevere. While you’re searching, keep writing. After all, that’s what you do.


Writing Tip 101

June 1, 2011

Often, participants in my writing workshops ask for specific writing tips. I’m happy to offer such wisdom, if I’m able. I can’t always provide the answers that I know my students would love to hear “I promise you’ll be published” or “Don’t worry about cutting your work, it’s perfect just the way it is”. Heck, I’d like to hear that too! However, I can offer some suggestions.

Every few entries of Rock, Paper, Write, will be entitled Writing Tip 10something. Because this is the first, it’s Writing Tip 101.

Big Tip One: Write.

It’s simple. The difference between an amateur writer and a serious writer is just that. Write. Some writers think they can slide by and write only when they feel like it. Maybe their writing is so profound; the words fall to the page in perfection. I’ll bet my new pair of skis that’s never the case.

Writing is a practice. Like anything else, we need to write to improve. It doesn’t need to be profound. It doesn’t need to be good. It just needs to be. Certainly, writer’s block can happen, but it shouldn’t stop you from writing. Try these prompts to get you going.

-Write what you see from your desk

-Write about your breakfast

-Do you have a pet? A kid? Plenty of fuel there.

-Pick up a copy of Natalie Goldberg’s books with prompts. They’re great!

-Do you have a neighbor who’s pissed you off? Write down how you feel, it’s

more productive than egging their house.

-Write about your vacation

-Write about your toenail polish

-Write about your Grandmother’s purse. What was in there?

-Write about your first concert experience

-Write about anything your little heart desires

It doesn’t matter what you write, just write. Keep a folder, a computer file, or a journal for your musings. Who knows when they’ll come in handy, but for now, concentrate on your practice.

Write Away!