Thursday, April 28, 2011

Meeting the Muse

This weekend, is a big one. I'm heading over to Grub Street Writers' Muse and The Marketplace conference. This is my 3rd time at The Muse, and there are a lot less jitters. Partly, this is because I know that whatever happens, it'll be an instructive and interesting, and partly because I am practicing my Zen conference attendance skills.

Though I am meeting with an agent, I am approaching my 20 minutes without a smidgen of that do-or-die bustle. Rather, I've attained a state of reasonable detachment. I chose an agent who's focus is my weakness (yep, you read that right). She emphasizes the importance of plot. And, I, dear friends, get caught up in character and setting and voice and sort of struggle with plot. Rather than hawking my first 20 pages-- which I suppose I can do by email when the time comes, I am hoping to learn a thing or two about what makes a good plot tick and how she assesses the tick. I mean, does it have to look like this? How do I get it there?

Also, I want some feedback on my much-revised query before I start sending it out.

Also, I plan to take a bunch of seminars about plot and revision, hang out with some old writing friends, and meet some new ones.

There are many, many blog posts out there about making the most of a writers' conference. Most involve how to pitch and dress and optimize. I have no idea how to pitch.

And my clothes are Salvation Army issue "eh."

So I can't help you there. If you are going to a conference, it would behoove you to check out this or this. (I love using "Behoove" in a sentence!)

My tips mostly involve taking a few deep breaths and...

1) Have realistic expectations. It's alright to dream about some high-powered agent clutching your manuscript to his/her chest and declaring "This is absolutely perfect, I MUST have it!"

But perhaps you might set out some goals that you yourself can control, to learn something, to find out if a particular plot point works or doesn't, to meet 3 new critique partners. Maybe that agent will find you, but if this is the sole focus, anything short of it will be disappointing.

2) Meet and greet and meet and greet and meet and greet. When you are at a conference, talk to everybody! How often do you have a chance to mingle with so many serious writers-- in person? You never know who will stick and who you'll never hear from again, but let me tell you, I met the most wonderful critique partner and friend in the line for the bathroom at the last Muse.

3) Push it. I am a sort of shy person (people never really believe this, but at one point I very seriously wanted nothing more than to live alone in a remote cabin in Montana ala Ted Kaszinsky. I truly am a natural-born recluse.)

But when I am at a conference, I push myself to do things I normally wouldn't. Like participate in an open mic reading (gulp!) and attend a mixer alone. Push that envelope because, if you are going to all the trouble and expense of a conference, you don't want to go home with even one woulda shoulda coulda.

That's all. I can't tell you how to take good notes (Mine are always illegible) and can't figure out how to tweet for crap, but I can tell you to go into the thing with an open heart and Zen sense of whatever and enjoy!

What experiences have you had at conferences? Any additional advice?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

...And Versatile Too!

Well, I feel doubly blessed. Magpiewrites has send a shiny new award my way. Thanks so much, Magpie! (You should check out her blog, guys; it's a good one.)

Here are 7 (more) things about me:

1) We raise our own Thanksgiving turkeys here at Maggie's Farm. These turkeys free-range around the orchard, wander the pasture and grow to gargantuan proportions. Some are 35 pounds!

2) When I was a kid, I thought "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was the coolest thing ever. I watched that movie at least 10 times. But recently, I revisited it with my kids (thanks Greenfield Library!) and didn't like it at all, not even a teensy bit. My kids weren't crazy for it either.

3) I have no writing space to speak of. I mostly write at the kitchen table (Amid near-constant interruptions) and at coffee shops and bakeries. If one of my books ever gets published, I will have a long list of cafes to thank in the acknowledgements.

4) I used to tell my little brother and cousins stories about a giant friendly shark named Edward. These evolved into tales of a whole, complex ocean kingdom with gangs of "badsharks", sea witches, and a giant eel that was able to wrap itself around the whole globe.

5) I went to Montessori school until 2nd grade and my early school memories involve pouring colored liquids from one size pitcher to another, sand tables, and a giant wooden farm house with plastic animals (this was my favorite-- little did I know, I'd end up with a farm of my own!)

6) The town I live in has one gas station, and one pizza place that is open only 4 days a week.

7) When I was eight or so, my friends and I tried busking, singing "Paloma Blanca" for spare change (this didn't work out so well, but it's a memory I won't forget.)

Hey! Since "Una Paloma Blanca" is indeed a one hit wonder (1975 by George baker Selection,) I'm including it here as part of my Weekly One-Hit-Wonder feature:

(Baffling that this one ever became a hit. But then, that's the 70's for ya)

Passing it on now:

There are so many terrific blogs out there. It's so hard to choose just a few. But I'm passing on this award to these worthy (and versatile) bloggers:

StoryTeller at A Life Less Ordinary

Teresa at A Likely Story

Jen at Unedited


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It's Query Letter Blogfest Time!

Today is the Supercool Query Letter Blogfest hosted by Slice of the Blog Pie. So I am posting a query from WIP #2, Family Genius, Species.

Now, I'm in the middle of revising this project... and I've tentatively added a sort of fantastical element. So this is really, more or less, a giant, bloggy trial balloon.

Okay, enough with the disclaimers here it is:

"Rocker Roger “Zorro” Weitz is living off 70’s cool. Almost thirty years after his hit, single “Hate You (Gonna Eat Cheese),” he’s still driving his trademark purple Buick, sporting a jet black mullet and working on his next great song. He’s the closest to big-time cool the town of Burning Falls has ever seen. And since a near-death experience in a motel bathroom in 1978, he hasn’t aged a bit. Life is good… until he falls off his roof and has another go at the almost-dying thing.

As his internal clock lurches into fast forward, Zorro seeks the purpose his super-long adolescence never had. He dedicates himself to helping his girlfriend Carla’s social outcast of a daughter. Although children have never been his “thing”, he will school the adolescent in the mysterious art of “cool” even if it means going behind Carla’s back to do it.

Cool is beyond her, but the kid, a budding zoologist and certified genius, has no trouble mastering the art of blackmail. Her quest to find and rescue a long-lost gibbon drags Zorro into theft, kidnapping, and an actual car chase, and—most unexpected of all— he finds he actually cares for the kid, enough to sacrifice his last shot at the big time to save her.

Readers of Tom Perrotta and Nick Hornby will enjoy FAMILY, GENIUS, SPECIES, a sort of reverse Pygmalion, with a touch of Peter Pan, a few cheesy music references, a lesser ape, and a lot of heart. The book is 84,000 words."

Okay then, have at it!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Your Weekly One Hit Wonder!

Paper Lace and "The Night Chicago Died"

I've been keeping a picture of Paper Lace on my computer desktop these days.
Take a look at these guys! 1974 personified.

They inspire the heck out of me.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

And the Winner is......

Whew! My very first blog contest has been there and done that. After a quick trip to the random number generator, I am happy to say I can finally announce the winners:

In 3rd place, winner of 3 skeins of Icelandic Yarn: Kate at My Life in Fiction

In 2nd place, winner of a $10 itunes gift card: Becky Wallace at What's Your Thought on That?

and... da da da-DAH......

In 1st place, winner of a 101 page critique is Redleg at Manuscripts Burn

Congratulations to all!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Contest Ends Tomorrow!

The blogosphere moves so quickly, doesn't it? 101 seems soooo long ago. (Welcome followers 102-128, I feel so blessed when I look at all those little boxes.)

Here's a quick reminder the 101 is Wonderful Contest ends tomorrow.

So if you want to win a a 101 page critique, some free music, or even some cool Icelandic yarn, head down to the contest post and add your first 101 words to the comments section.

Winners will be determined by random number generator (Nobody's judging here...)

I'll be back over the weekend to announce the winners!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Your Weekly One Hit Wonder!

"Funkytown" by Lipps Inc

This 1980 hit has been described as "disco's last stand" and yeah, it is so darn catchy. You can't help dancing.

My kids' PE teacher has them jog around the gym to Funkytown. It was upon their recommendation that I put it up:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Work and the Work

I work with "at risk" high school boys in an alternative school setting. It is challenging, terrible, rewarding work. The sort of place where I might be cussed at one minute and privy to the most intimate details the next. I have been at it for over 11 years now, and forget what all the teaching manuals tell you, it doesn't ever really get easier.

I like to say I've managed to put up a sort of emotional wall, that the harshness of my work doesn't seep into my everyday family life or my writing, which is its own sort of challenging work.

But last week was a tough one, several long-time students made some pretty awful life-changing decisions, we lost a colleague. Hard stuff all around. And I realized-- as I do periodically-- that my "emotional wall" is about as thick and as strong as tissue paper.

I took it home. In fact, I wept on the way home and then took it inside the house with me where it colored my interactions with my own kids. And kept me from writing anything more emotional than a quickie blog post.

Um, what does this have to do with writing? you ask. Because this IS a writing blog, after all...

Well, a lot really.

For one thing, like all of us, I filter the world through the lens of my work-- both school-work and writing-work and my characters-- who I put through all sorts of horrendous things, who are not always sweet or nice, who make bad decisions all over the place-- are informed by the sort of work I do.

I would never (never!) write one of my students into my fiction, even indirectly. To me, this is disrespectful to the nth degree. It presumes to understand and to capture and it just feels terribly, terribly wrong. (When I was much younger and teaching in a rural Florida classroom, I wrote a poem from the point of view of one of my 4th graders and I still cringe at its memory. ugh!)

But the writing does relate. To be successful as an educator, especially with challenging students, I believe one must truly "see" them. (Deep end alert: I am going to get a little mystical here...) One must see the good stuff-- the sweet, smart, curious kid-- under all those layers of grump and anger and fear, and reflect it back so that the student can see it too. This is by no means easy. I often find myself frustrated or short with students, thinking "Why can't you just....?" but really what's the point in that? If it was as simple as "bucking up" as "dealing with it"-- they would have managed it long ago.

And so I must take that deep breath and try to understand, to absorb and reflect.

Good fiction is not so different really. Good fiction reflects for us-- an image of ourselves that is almost as complex and intricate and messed up and wise as our real lives.

At least, this is true of the sort of fiction I most enjoy, the sort I aspire to. I can't tolerate cardboard bad guys, because I know (from that other, everyday sort of work) that there are no real bad guys-- at least not the kinds that rub their hands together and chuckle maniacally as the train runs over the lady tied up on the tracks.

And this understanding extends to all my own flawed characters and their bad decisions, to the way I approach a page and what I hope you might get from it.

So yes, my work does impact my writing, beyond just making me so tired I can only manage new pages on weekends.

How does your work affect your "work"?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Check This Out!

Alicia and Miranda over at "Slice of the Blog Pie" are hosting a Query Letter Blogfest April 19th. This sounds like a lot of fun... and a great opportunity to get some feedback on your query. Check it out!

Also, don't forget my 101 is Wonderful contest concluding April 15th. You could win some cool stuff and-- no worries-- the winners will be chosen by random number generator (I don't presume to judge, though I thoroughly appreciate all the brave souls who've posted their first 101 words.) There are soooo few entries, if you enter you are practically a shoo in-- I promise!