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Julie Swanson's Journal
20 most recent entries

Date:2009-05-26 21:50
Subject:check out the featured author in Grand Magazine!
Mood: surprised


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Date:2009-04-12 13:23
Subject:Happy Easter and Happy Passover! And something to keep in mind when gauging a reader's reaction...
Mood: happy

As we watched the old Ten Commandments movie last night--so good, even the kids enjoyed it (though they laughed at the outdated special effects), it occurred to me how much history and cause for celebration we share as Christians and Jews. We tend to forget that and focus on the differences and think of Passover as a specifically Jewish holiday, but the Passover's really not something Christians can't/shouldn't marvel at, too, Jesus being a Jew who celebrated the holiday. It was his God who passed over those marked doors, our God, all of our God.

It's a beautiful out here and I hope you are all enjoying your day much as I am!

On a brief writing-related note, my 16-year-old daughter was just reading a book outside (I won't say the title, but it's a mass market YA book by an author who's published multiple books and at least one series, a book she picked it up off her older sister's bookshelf out of boredom the other day) and as I walked by this daughter #2, who's not a very big reader, she looked up at me and said, "How did this get published? I mean if this got published, yours definitely should be. I don't get it."

"Well, it must have a good plot," I said. "You don't often read when you don't have to and you're reading it quickly."

She shrugged and wrinkled her nose. "Yeah, but it's not very well written."

"Tell me," I asked, "what's better about the plot of that book than the plot of my books?"

"I didn't say the plot was better; you did," said #2.

"Yes, but you're reading that book so much faster than you read mine," I said. "Well written or not, you're really enjoying it."

"Mom, I enjoy reading your books!" she said, somewhat exasperated with me. "I just already know how your stories are going to go by the time I read them."

And I left it at that. That's something to remember when considering a friend/family member/critique group member's reaction to your story. If you really want to see how a story grabs them (or doesn't), see if you can keep quiet about it until it's done.

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Date:2009-03-23 10:01
Mood: jubilant

A couple weeks ago I hesitantly asked a writer friend (Jennifer Elvgren, www.jenniferelvgren.com) to read a draft of my YA w-i-p. At 360 pages, I felt it was too long, yet I'd been cutting back at it and didn't know how I could cut anymore and just really needed someone objective whose opinion I trusted to read it through and say, "This part is boring" or "As interesting as this part is, it just really doesn't belong in this story" or whatever. I wanted her to tell me where it got slow or where she felt it could be cut. So I apologized for its length and begged her to read it.

Well, yesterday Jenn emailed me pointing out a couple places she'd either gotten confused or thought I should add something (add!), and to tell me two areas where she felt I might be able to trim it down--but she seemed to think it wasn't too long. And best of all, she said she really liked it and thought it was ready to go out!

Wow. I mean I've cut another 15 pages since I sent it to her and I still have half the manuscript to go through another time with an eye for cutting, but I was thinking I'd be working on revising and polishing this until May or June. I was ready for Jenn and my other readers to respond that it needed major plot changes that might end up taking another six months. But she liked it and felt it was ready to go...

As if her email wasn't enough, she called last night and said she was worried I wasn't going to understand from her email how much she liked it, so she thought she'd better give me a call. She gushed, reassured me that my concerns about the story were unfounded, and pushed me to get it out there.

It's just one person's opinion and I know the ms isn't ready to send out this instant--it needs at least another month, and then probably a sit-and-stew after that--but still, she lifted my confidence like it hasn't been lifted in several years. How amazing is it that a busy writer friend would take the time to read and comment on 360 pages, and then call you late at night before she goes to bed to make sure you get her enthusiasm?

Thank you, Jenn! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
And thank you to my other readers--Becky, Raven, and Carolyn--who've also gotten back to me with invaluable support and validation!

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Date:2009-03-14 10:37
Subject:A break from Spring Break
Mood: calm

Our oldest came home from college for spring break, bringing with her the four girls she'll be sharing a house with next year. Compared to the cold climate where they go to school, they thought Virginia would be tropical, and in this economy, it seemed like the perfect Poor Man's (woman's) Spring Break.

So four college freshman and a sophomore stayed in our house for 5 days, and let me tell you, girls this age definitely provide you with material that's perfect for YA. They think they are so mature--you can hear the effort in their voices and in the words they choose, see it in their calculated gestures--but they are still kids, and they react so immediately to everything and they're trying everything out. Seeing them, watching my daughter, all I could think of is that even though they are old enough to be in college and to be driving across the country, they still have so much to learn (and we as parents have so much to teach them) before they're ready to be out there in the world all on thier own. In this regard I say, "Thank God for cell phones"--I get daily calls as problems crop up that she's not sure how to deal with. You forget all the stuff we had to learn, and we only got to call home once a week or so. We had to figure out so much of it on our own!

I enjoyed getting to know the girls and am glad to have faces to put with the names I hear so often, but what a mess, what mass confusion. They were polite and caused us no worries (they were home by midnight each night!) but you can't imagine the wet towels I found, the garbage cans overflowing with food wrappers and make-up removal stuff. They cooked and ate and showered and fixed their hair, they talked about their families and boyfriends and hometowns and they got dressed up each night to go out to meet my daughter's high school friends and they watched endless episodes of Law and Order... The weather didn't exactly cooperate with their tropical plans. They did get an 80+ degree day their first day, in which they laid out and got sunburnt, and that got their hopes up, but things only went downhill from there. It got cool, it rained, and then on the last day, yesterday, they woke up to SNOW!

So I think they were ready to go back, and were maybe even a teensy bit sick of each other (although they still had 11 hours to drive together in a car). And I think we were ready to have our house back.

One cool thing we did do while they were here is go to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. (very good but, thankfully, not as grim as I was expecting). I was flattered that they insisted I go with them, even if it was just because they wanted me to drive (my daughter didn't want me to go anywhere with her the last few years!). It was a fairly decent day weather-wise, and we had enough time to take a short walk so they could at least all say they'd seen the White House and the Lincoln Memorial, the mall with the reflecting pool (emptied and being worked on) and the Washington Monument. It was heartening to hear how excited they were to see the capital and "feel the history."  They expressed much pride and hope in both our new president and our country. It was good to hear them talk politics and sound interested!

It's daughter #2's 16th birthday today. I cannot believe my little drooling, peachy, big-cheeked, silky-haired baby is so old! 

#3's birthday is tomorrow, and he will be 12.

Happy Birthday Cous and Schmee!

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Date:2009-02-19 22:07
Subject:a certain sense of accomplishment
Mood: accomplished

It's not much, but it's something; today I finished neatening up a draft of my latest YA novel and submitted it to a couple people who said they'd read a manuscript that's way too long and give me their thoughts on it.

Ahh. Now I can turn my attention to another story for a day, or plan B for this story if my readers don't like plan A, and then it's a weekend full of basketball tournaments and cleaning up a house I've let get away from me ...and, if it warms up, maybe even cutting the perennials in the garden back like they say you're supposed to do here in February.

Have a great weekend!

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Date:2009-01-18 19:48

This afternoon my husband and I took our son to his basketball game at a neighboring high school. As we were walking through the lobby of the gym, I was aware of two boys looking at us, two boys I didn't recognize who looked to be a little older than our 6th grader. One of them leaned over to whisper to the other and pointed our way. Sure that they were whispering about my son and feeling a little protective of him, I looked over my shoulder at them as we went up the stairs to the gym--only to find the boy who'd been whispering coming toward us.

"Aren't you the author of Going for the Record?" he said.

"Yes," I stammered, astounded that a kid would recognize me as something other So-and-so's mom or my husband's wife (my husband gets to know a lot of kids through his coaching). 

"I was there the other night when you came to our school and talked about your book," said the boy.

I'm not sure what I said in reply. I probably smiled and said something stupid like, "Oh, you were? You're in seventh grade then." Whatever it was, all I remember was that it was awkward and not enough, and what I really felt like saying was "thank you" but that didn't seem appropriate. ...In retrospect, I should have told him I was glad he could come, I should have asked him his name, I should have shaken his hand and told him it was nice to meet him. But he caught me off guard and rendered me speechless.

It was an odd/rare moment. A nice moment. To someone other than myself, I was an author. Thank you, boy, for being brave enough to explain your whispering. I went from irritated to flattered in a split second.

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Date:2009-01-08 08:45
Subject:A thanks to Henley Middle School
Mood: happy

Last night I did a presentation at J.T. Henley Middle School in Crozet, Va, the middle school my kids go/went to, and the turnout was amazing. Two teachers have their students read my book (Going for the Record) as a part of their classroom curriculum. They also ask the students' parents to read the book along with their kids, and then at the end of the unit there is this author presentation they are invited to attend. The 7th grade teacher who started this a couple years ago, Chuck Miller, does a great job. He rearranges the  whole library, drags a ton of chairs in there, buys cookies and drinks, and really builds the event up so that there's a good turnout. Last night 137 people came! By far my largest event ever. Last year there were nearly 60 kids and parents in attendance and I thought that was good.

It's such a nice thing, speaking to people in your community, many of whom never even know you write until all of a sudden you're standing up there in front of them. This is the third year my book has been used in these 7th grade classes, and it's amazing how many people I've come to know, and who I feel have come to know me better, even if we already were acquainted--my obgyn doctor, people whose houses I go by on my walks, people I recognize from shopping in their stores, our kids teachers and coaches, people from church, kids who played on teams with our kids... Definitely one of the best things about having become a published writer!

I'm also impressed with the questions kids ask (about a book where death is such a central issue), and that the boys take so much (or any!) interest in a book with a teenage girl for a main character. The teachers must do an excellent job of engaging the kids in the story. I also have to give credit to so many parents who actually read the book with their kids, and who would drag themselves and their child out at 7 pm. on a rainy, raw school night to come to an author presentation. Thank you for making me feel like such a part of the community!

At the end of the presentation, there was a booksigning period where the kids came by with their copies of the book and I had a moment to chat with anyone interested in getting their book signed. One girl was cute; she asked if she could take my picture with her cell phone so her mom could see what I looked like--she said, "She didn't read the book so she didn't think she could come."

So again, thank you Lanell Rakness and Chuck Miller for using my book in your classrooms and for inviting me to do this presentation at Henley!

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Date:2008-12-16 20:24
Mood: happy

annemariepace has tagged me in this meme. What are the last five things that made me smile?

1. Oldest daughter. We were at dinner and she said, "Wow, Mom cracked a funny!" I'd just made a comment everyone laughed at, something I'm not clever enough to do very often. Nice to be thought funny once in a while, intentionally funny, that is.

2. Several Christmas songs I listened to while making dinner--Jewel's Christmas version of Hands, Elvis Presley's Blue Christmas, one by the Chipmunks, a couple beautiful ones by Sarah McLachlan

3. My new corduroy pants that came UPS today--they actually fit, are long enough, and I like the color and style. A rare occurence.

4. My husband got home safely and early from what has become an annual mid-Dec. pheasant hunting trip to Iowa (his grandpa had a farm there; it's still in the family so he's started taking our son there each year to pass on a tradition he and his dad enjoyed together when he was a boy. Boy is too young to hunt so he tramps along behind with a bee-bee gun. Loves it. Me, I'm from a family that can't stand to shoot anything!).

5. Above mentioned 11-year-old son. I was hiding behind a tree today waiting for him to get off the school bus (not something I usually do, but he's been gone for the past 5 days and I missed him; husband dropped him off at school as soon as they got back) and he came down the drive sort of shuffle-dancing, almost like tap, and singing to himself. I wanted to stay behind the tree and listen/watch him longer, but felt like I was spying on a private moment, so I jumped out at him as planned.

I tag jmprince (everyone else I know has already been tagged!)

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Date:2008-12-02 10:03
Subject:Thanksgiving continues...
Mood: grateful

...and I'm not just talking about leftovers. Yesterday, on my mom's 71st birthday, she found out the results of her MRI and the growths on her liver and pancreas are BENIGN!


So we go forth into the holiday season with a new sort of glee...

Thanks for your prayers!

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Date:2008-11-25 08:43
Subject:Happy Thanksgiving
Mood: working

Our oldest daughter is coming home tomorrow and it will be the first time in over three months that we've seen her. How weird it's been, to go from having seen a child nearly everyday for 18 years and then--GONE. She does call home often, and happy, and she's going to the same college my husband and I went to, so we don't really feel that disconnected or stressed about it, but still, I need to see her to believe she is really doing as well as it seems she's doing!

One last day of writing before the kids are out of school and then I want to set things aside (or at least make it last priority; because I'm not going to lie; if I get a stolen hour of time when everybody's gone or happily occupied, I AM going to write). I've met my deadline fairly well and after today I will have one complete version of my story from beginning to end. But then I need to go back at it and do what I always have to do. Cut. Cut, cut, cut... There are a few other things I want to deepen and layer and tweak as well.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(P.S. If you get a moment, say a prayer for my mom. The doctor found two growths while doing an ultrasound of her abdomen (she had a kidney stone attack), one on her liver and one on her pancreas. He thought he'd better check them out so he did a CT scan; they still looked "suspicious"--yet he keeps assuring her he's not worried, that they are probably benign?--so yesterday she had an MRI to get a clearer picture of what they are. She's supposed to hear the results by tomorrow and we are all anxious. So any prayers for her would be appreciated!)

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Date:2008-11-16 17:22
Subject:take a look at Mette Ivie Harrison's website
Mood: bouncy

I happened upon the website of children's author Mette Ivie Harrison and it's chocked full of things for writers, and not necessarily just your generic stuff for newer writers that you've read a thousand times before! Check it out:  http://www.metteivieharrison.com.

If you click on the heading of Writing and scroll down, she offers her Free Thoughts on Writing, which I found especially interesting. Not only does she give tips on revision, dialogue, and writing romance (among other things), she also shares before-and-after excerpts from her manuscripts which include her editors' notes so you can see what she was asked to do and how she did it.

I'm still making my way through through her thoughts and advice, but I'm finding it so interesting I thought I'd share. It speaks to me--where I am as a writer--in a way that few other authors' websites have, and her honesty and insights are very refreshing!

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Date:2008-11-12 09:12
Subject:Judging a book by it's cover isn't always bad...
Mood: artistic

Stealing from my reply to another blogger's post yesterday (about a 6th grade reluctant reader)...

Our 6th grader used to love reading, but lately he only does it when he has to. His taste in books has changed. He's suddenly all into adventure and fast-paced action and is no longer patient enough for the quieter stories he used to enjoy.

So when he had to pick out a school book to read for Language Arts this past week, I was surprised to see him come home with The Tale of Despereaux. I didn't love it and didn't think he'd enjoy it but when I asked him how he was liking the story and he said, "A lot." He then remarked how much he loved the cover, and the spine (he pointed out the gold lettering on it, how its red color makes it stand out from the rest of the cover and gives it the look of an old-fashioned leather book), and the fact that the edges of the pages are rough-cut and uneven.

"See if they can do that on your next book, OK?" he said, fingering the jagged edges of paper. I wish! But how sweet that he's counting on there being a next book (I always assume I'm the only one who believes there will be). And how interesting that a kid like him--a boy who no longer seemed to appreciate the finer things in books!--notices and enjoys the design and construction of a book.

I used to examine books like that as a kid, loved books with maps printed right on the paper glued to the inside of the hardback, there and the first endpaper. I loved any sort of design or artwork printed there, especially if it was a book with no illustrations. Ridiculous as it sounds, that's one of my goals, to have this one story I've written published in hardcover with a map right when you open the book! I have always seen it that way in my mind's eye.

Other physical things I love in a book:
-Pages with gold edges; they feel so smooth when you run your finger over the closed book!
-Thick paper with texture and rough edges
-Little black and white sketches by the chapter headings
-Thick covers that are almost pillowy or have texture, letters indented in the cover. Shiny gold or silver letters. Or covers like Story of a Girl, where there's an overlay of some sort that changes the look of the cover depending on how the light hits it.
-if a cover can't be thick and/or textured, I like it smooooth.

Physical things I dislike in a book:
-when the book jacket comes off and the cover underneath is different, more boring
-how small and crowded the text is in mass market paperbacks
-the grey newsprinty sort of paper used in mass market books
-books that smell bad (some of the chemical smells of print/illustrations I love, others... shiver)

What about you?

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Date:2008-10-30 17:21
Subject:Rutgers discussion on college-age main characters
Mood: determined

Last month I attended the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference. In both my one-on-one with my mentor and my five-on-five discussion with four other authors and their mentors, I posed the question--how do editors and agents feel about YA stories featuring college-aged main characters? My mentor (an editor) and the agents and editors in my five-on-five all agreed that this is a place few dare to go, and that it's mainly because they're not sure how to market such stories. Are they YA or are they adult; where would they sell better? Would they sell well in either classification?

(Agent Elana Roth of the Caren Johnson Literary Agency, who was in my five-on-five, has posted a blog entry titled Rutgers Recap (Oct. 19th) in which she discusses this: http://johnsonlitagency.wordpress.com.)

I have my own strong opinions on this. I have two works-in-progress featuring  college-age main characters. The story lines are definitely YA yet they cannot be rewritten so that the main character is in high school, because in both cases the character's being in college is vital to the story. The first story, featuring a college freshman, I'm 100% sure would appeal to YA readers as opposed to adult readers (whereas the second, featuring a college soph/jr., has some crossover). So I'm definitely in the camp that's pushing for acceptance of stories with college-age main characters in YA. Why do I think these belong in YA, why do I think they'd sell?...

Most people agree that kids like to "read up" and kids in high school aren't any different. Yes, many older teen readers turn to reading adult fiction, finding YA to be too juvenile for them (or at least thinking it is). But older teens are curious to know what it's like to be in college. It's their next big step in life. My daughter spent the greater part of her junior and senior year in high school thinking about college and what it would be like. Maybe if more YA books featured older teen/early 20's characters, older teen readers wouldn't find the YA section in bookstores to have such a juvenile feel. Or maybe these stories with college-age main characters can find their own shelving between the YA and the adult area somehow, or even in the adult section. But I think we're missing out--older teen readers are missing out--if we don't open up to the idea of these stories. College is a setting ripe with stories, and not always the super edgy, adult issue ones. Many kids in college are still  that, kids. Leaving home, being on your own for the first time, dealing with a roommate, falling in love for the first time (not everybody experiences their first love in high school as kids would be led to believe by what's out there in books and on TV)... these are topics that are still YA in my opinion. An adult has moved beyond those things.

There was a discussion again in the afternoon panel at Rutgers about what set older YA apart from adult fiction and the thing that came out as a distinguishing characteristic of YA is 'immediacy'--the intense, super-present state teens experience, the vivid awareness of all your emotions and new feelings, the freedoms and choices you're suddenly presented with for the first time. Everything's RIGHT NOW and seems life-or-death important.

I agree that such immediacy is typical of kids in a certain age range, but disagree that that age range falls so neatly into the teen years. As I said earlier, many kids in college are still that, kids. And there are always late-bloomers, whose college years have all the immediacy of other people’s teen/high school years (my own college experience was very YA; it was the period of my life that had the most immediacy). Except for a few stories and movies like the 40-Year-Old Virgin, late-bloomers go largely ignored, or get poked fun of; it would be nice if slower-maturing or sheltered young people  could read stories that show they’re not alone and are not necessarily weird for being behind what's perceived as the 'normal' timetable. I think there’s even a need for stories like this! And I hope editors and agents open up to these stories--regardless of how they're classified.

What are YOUR thoughts on this?

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Date:2008-10-23 15:14
Subject:Better than standing still...
Mood: content

It amazes me how slow going the process is. I get so impatient. I mean I know exactly what needs to be done, but it takes so long to do each scene right and fix all the other parts of the book it's linked to and are affected by changes to it. But day by day, hour by hour, if I can keep myself from procrastinating, it gets done. IF the story is working. If it's not, then I stall, keep bumping into the brick wall. So I suppose today I should just be glad there is no brick wall.

I hope this is a no-brick-wall day for all of you!

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Date:2008-09-24 23:10
Subject:Mean Mom or Country Bunny?
Mood: determined

I used to pack lunches for our two oldest when they were younger and didn’t feel like eating hot lunch. But then the lunch bags/boxes starting coming home with half of the food uneaten. When I asked why, they’d say it was because I packed things they didn’t like or things that were “too healthy,” so I stopped. I told them if they wanted a packed lunch, they should pack their own, because that way they could choose what they felt like eating. So they did, or they ate hot lunch.

Our third and youngest started school after this “pack your own” practice had already gone into effect. But he never ate anything but hot lunch, so except for a few field-trip brown bags I had to pack for him when he was too young to do it himself, I've never been in the habit of packing his lunch. However this year he has decided to eat only packed lunches (he says the cafeteria food is bad in his new middle school, and the lunch line too long) so he does what he sees his sister doing and packs his lunch everyday. That's just become the norm at our house--Want a bag lunch? Pack it yourself. So it was funny when he came home yesterday and innocently said, “Mom, did you know some kids’ moms pack their lunches for them?” He said it as if he were amazed and I would not believe this. He said it like it like he thought those kids were sixth grade babies, having their mommies pack their lunch for them! I told him, yes, many mothers pack their kids’ lunches, even in high school, that probably even more moms pack lunches than kids, and that I, in fact, used to do this for his sisters. Then his face changed, and I could see that he was feeling like the orphan child and wishing that I packed his lunch.

I asked him how it was he had just discovered this moms-packing-lunches phenomena and he said, “Well, Clark opened his lunch today and he said, ‘Oh, shoot my mom forgot to pack those cookies!’ And I said, ‘Your mom packs your lunch?’ And then all sorts of other kids stuck up for him and said, ‘My mom packs my lunch, too—what’s wrong with that?’”

So anyway, instead of being proud that my son is independent enough to pack his own lunch (and he seemed to be enjoying it, too, packing big, healthy lunches of leftovers he looked forward to, picking out things in the grocery store that he'd like...), I felt guilty. I asked him if he’d like me to pack his lunch and he said yes. This morning I packed it for him and he was very happy.

Part of me knows I shouldn’t feel guilty, but another part of me wants him to know I love him enough to pamper him and make his lunch like so many other moms do (I’m not knocking you if you pack your kids' lunch; I realize many kids wouldn’t pack big, healthy lunches if it were left up to them or they’d make a giant mess; but given that he’s totally capable and in the habit, this is pampering for us). So now that I re-started this lunch packing thing, I’m wondering; do I keep it up, just pack for him once in a while, go back to having him do it? I mean aren’t we doing our kids a favor if we teach them to sew a button back on themselves instead of always doing it for them? Don’t they need to know how to cook and do laundry and clean bathrooms and mow the lawn and iron? In my favorite old Easter story, The Country Bunny, Mother Bunny had her twenty-one baby bunnies running the whole house for her and she was admired for that! ...That does it, we are not taking a step backwards. Tomorrow, he’s back to packing his own lunch, and I will have to make a big deal about how great it is that he does such a good job of it. 

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Date:2008-09-20 21:32
Subject:Setting scene intentions for your character
Mood: excited

I just started reading this book called Make a Scene (by Jordan E. Rosenfeld) and in the second chapter, it talks about how you have to “set scene intentions for your character,” and, reading it, I realized I don’t do that! Or at least I never think about doing it, except for maybe in the very first chapter of the book. I have intentions for each successive scene as a writer, things I want each scene to show or add to the story or to the understanding of the character or the full depth of his problem. Each scene has its purpose in my mind, but this says I need to know my character’s intention at the launch of every scene, and I don’t!

This could really help me, might be a missing key in my writing. I mean I probably unconsciously do this most of the time, but maybe those scenes that aren’t working aren’t working because of this. I can think of a scene right now that would benefit from adding the character’s intentions at the launch (a word this book uses instead of “beginning”) of the scene, because the character does have something she wants to do at the opening of this scene but I don’t show it. I just have the MC coming into the room and being met by her mother, who wants to talk to her when she doesn’t want to be talked to, about something she does not want to talk about, and the mother shoves a list in front of her that she has no interest in reading or thinking about. If I first showed what it is the girl DID want to do when she came into this room, it would make the mother and what she wants the girl to attend to even more irritating, which would be good because I’m trying to ratchet up the tension and conflict.

Now I have to go through this story I'm working on—and every story I’ve got—and check it scene by scene to see if I’ve set my character’s intentions. I know there are exceptions to rules and no one can go exactly by the rules every time (last night I read a YA with my son—a novel recently published by a huge NY publisher and written by a many-times-published author—and it began with a dramatic scene that turned out two pages later to be a dream the main character was having!!!), but it will be interesting to see if my character's intentions are there at the start of most scenes and I've just been unconsciously doing it ...or if I have this bad habit of just having things happen to my main character and him/her reacting. This is what I'm afraid I'll find. But why should I be afraid? Now I can fix those things, those things I didn't even know to fix before (can you tell I'm excited?)!

This revelation may be elementary to some of you (all of you?), but we all learn at our own rate, and we all learn things in different orders, or are born instinctively knowing how to do certain things that others have to learn, but... the more I learn, the more I realize how stupid I am, how much I have to learn! Which is depressing in one way but exciting in another; this means there’s a lot of room for improvement and every time one of these lightbulbs goes off in my head, I’ll be that much better a writer than I was the day before.

Am I the only writer in the whole world who didn't know about this? Have you all been beginning every scene thinking, "OK, now I've got to show my character's intention here and then show how it was thwarted, or how she achieved what she wanted.." ??? Or do you just do this without thinking about it, because you've read so many stories it comes naturally?

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Date:2008-08-21 13:38
Subject:Daughter #1 Happy at Hogwarts

I'm back from taking our oldest off to college for the first time. Drove 11 hours straight and got home at 1:30 in the morning so when I woke up this morning I was not a pretty sight. I had bags under (and above?!) my eyes, bags like I have never seen before, weird, tiny, asymmetrical pockets of  swollen  tissue.  And I didn't even cry as violently as I expected I would. But after I cry, I'm a mess. Other people cry and then they blow their nose and ten minutes later you'd never know. Me, I get this sleepy, puffy-eyed look, a headache, and dry, scratchy eyes to go with it, and I'm like that for a good 24 hours. Can't believe I lasted 11 hours behind the wheel with my eyes so tired after saying goodbye to her, but I was a woman on a mission, had to get home.

My daughter didn't take a lot to college, but she took all 7 of her tattered Harry Potter books. They're hardcover copies she's read over and over; they are her comfort things. Whenever she's sad or stressed, she rereads one. So it was funny when I thought I'd finally said my last goodbye (there were several; I left my cell phone in her room and had to go back up for it, then she forgot something she left in the car and called me...) and she called me again just as I was pulling out of the parking lot to tell me she was missing one of her Harry Potter books and she thought it was under the front seat. I pulled back in front of her dorm again and she came out to get it. As she was going back in through the open front doors of her dorm (being move-in day, everything was propped open), with the name of the dorm hanging down on a banner over her head, I beeped and she turned around, clutching her beloved book to her chest, and I snapped a lovely picture of her, smiling in the arched doorway. Her dorm is an old-fashioned ivy-covered brick building, one of the oldest on campus, with paned windows and a slate roof and bay windows and concrete turret-like things, and it occurred to me that it looks a little bit like Hogwarts. Maybe that's why she seems to feel so at home there. Her room is tiny and I thought she'd be disappointed in it's ancient windows and woodwork and  plaster walls, but she 's thrilled with it, thinks it's the best dorm room she's ever seen. I'm so glad she's happy at Hogwarts! Now to gut her dungeon basement bedroom...

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Date:2008-07-07 17:28
Subject:the speed of childhood, smelling those little roses
Mood: satisfied

Being that this is our oldest daughter's last couple months at home before going off to college, and seeing how fast time with children flies, I determined that I would put down my computer this summer whenever they were around. If they started doing something with each other or had a friend over or were otherwise happily occupied, I could write. But if they were resorting to sneaking off to watch daytime TV or were looking sort of glum and bored or called for me, I would put my laptop down and be there to do something with them. That was my plan. Write early in the morning while they are sleeping, write at night if they're watching TV, write when they are working or off with friends or at a camp, but otherwise be there for them. Don't be remembered as the mom who never did anything but peck at her keyboard, who never did anything with them.

So the other day my 11-year-old and I are riding in the car and the subject of books or writing comes up on the radio, and he looks over at me and says, "Mom, are you, uh ... writing anymore?" He asks it hesitantly like that, as if maybe it's a touchy subject or I won't like the question, the noticing.

"What do you mean?" I say, a tad defensively--he was right.

"Well, you used to always be writing on the computer, but I don't see you doing that very much anymore."

I felt a strange mixture of happy "Yes!-I-accomplished-what-I-wanted-to-do, He-noticed!"  but I also felt something not so good. Did he think I'd given up? Maybe it wasn't so good to jump up and set my computer down every time one of the kids came around.

So I explained it to him, that, no, I hadn't stopped. I was still writing, but was trying to do it at times when they were gone or otherwise engaged so I wouldn't always be too busy writing to do things with them. He seemed satisfied with that, happy with that. Happy that I was available more often AND happy that I hadn't quit. So I guess I should be happy, even though it feels like I should be writing more, even though I want to be writing more.

How many times do I have to tell myself how the years fly, how all too soon I will be an empty-nester with all the time in the world to write? I have been telling myself this for 18 years. Seven more to go, I'd say, but I hate to even think like that, because my 11-year-old is so sweet, and the 15-year-old is lots of fun to have around, too, and I only get three more years of her.  And our 18-year-old is working 40 hours a week  earning money for college, so I only get her for a few hours a day for the next month and half. And then she's gone!

Having gotten to this point with one child, I see just how fast a childhood goes, how scary that is. Before I know it, I really will be an empty-nester. How do you go from a mother of three little kids to that in the blink an eye? Where do high school years go? Seems once she hit middle school, it was SWISH. And our youngest is going into middle school in the fall... I'm going to savor these next seven years. I'm thankful I have at least that many.

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Date:2008-07-01 08:54
Mood: anxious

I had a dream last night that I was at a writer's conference of some sort in a small group session, sitting around a table with a half dozen editors agents and maybe a couple authors. See, that was the problem--I didn't know who any of the people were, didn't recognize their faces or names. They didn't have name tags on so I was straining to read the upside-down and sideways papers (to me) that everyone had in front of them. I was searching for a name I knew, but didn't know a one. And apparently no one knew me because I was being ignored. I felt so frustrated that I had come all this way and hadn't done my research or whatever, that I wouldn't know a single one of these people. How could that be, I kept thinking to myself, you've been writing and researching the market and you know so many names and imprints and who belongs where and who represents who and has edited what after all these years. The dream never got better. I just stared at the blank faces feeling invisible, getting nothing whatsoever out of being there.

Subconsciously, I must have realized that today is July 1 (I never know which day it is!), the deadline for the Rutgers One-on-One conference. I applied over a month ago and haven't given it much thought since, so I find it amazing that my brain comes up with this just as the calendar is turning over to July. Maybe it isn't  so much that I haven't truly thought about Rutgers then, maybe I've been repressing it! Maybe I am scared that I won't get in, or scared to go if I do. Yes, that's it.

If I get in, I'm going to have to find someone to go with. I am always braver if I can at least walk through the door with someone. Do any of you know someone in the VA/NC/DC area who has applied and might want to share a ride? This question is probably premature. I should wait until we know who's gotten accepted, but it might make me feel better in the meantime to know there are possibilities.

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Date:2007-12-12 08:38
Subject:How much time do you give a book?
Mood: curious

I have a stack of great books from the library, books I have had on hold there:

Wednesday Wars
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
The Green Glass Sea

Julia's Kitchen
First Boy
Way Down Deep
The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley
Jim the Boy
Freedom Writer's Diary

...but I'm finding it hard to find the time to read them this time of year. I've already renewed them once, so my new strategy is that I start a book and if it grabs me and I can't put it down, I'll keep going. If not, I guess I don't have the time for it and it goes back to the library unread. Which is sort of sad because I like to give books a chance. If I've heard people rave about a book, I don't usually mind if I'm into chapter 2 and I'm still bored with it--I figure there's the promise of something good to come and I don't want to miss out on it by being impatient (but if I'm halfway through it and I'm still forcing myself, I give up on it, figuring our tastes are just different).

Oddly, I am still not into Wednesday Wars (I expected to like this one right off as I loved Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy). I didn't exactly give up on it yet, but I did crack open The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian last night to see if that grabbed me any more, and I couldn't put it down. I'm having a hard time resisting finishing it right now, instead of getting to my writing.

Makes me wonder how others read; if they keep going with a book they don't love just to know the nature of what's current and hot, or if they consider their time so precious that they don't waste a minute of it on something they don't love.

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