What Writers Are Thankful For

Cheryl Zach

It’s November, and in the U.S., that means an annual holiday: Thanksgiving. Like everyone else, writers are thankful for loved ones: family and friends and pets; for good health; a reasonable prosperity, and a place to call home.

Writers are also thankful when the computer doesn’t eat your last and best chapter for no apparent reason. . . there’s never an apparent reason!

Writers are thankful for notebooks and pens of just the right size and color: variable according to individual. I have a friend who swears that lavender pens produce the best ideas–I wouldn’t dare argue.

Writers are thankful for odd minutes when ideas come from the strangest places.  Maybe in overcrowded waiting rooms when you’ve quietly made up life stories for every stranger coughing along side you, and suddenly the plot problem of your latest WIP seems ready to untangle itself because a character in your book has become easier to decipher.

Writers are thankful for hours when they actually get to write. Somewhere between baking the pies and marinating the green beans and wrestling with the turkey, somewhere among the blessed days of left-overs, when you sneak back to the sneakier computer, there will time to write!  And the annoying relative or dear but trying friend has surely jarred loose another promising idea. . .

Happy Thanksgiving.  Happy writing.

Cheryl

 

BEGINNING AGAIN

by STEPHANIE JACOB GORDON

OLD PICS ARE THE BEST PICS                                   How many times have I begun again? Somewhere between 96 and 1,811 times. It is what I do. I am not only talking about my writing, I am talking about my life.

It’s not so much because I’ve failed a lot, it has more to do with my expectations failing me. What else is new?

It wasn’t my daddy’s fault that he could finally buy a house so we moved one month before the end of grammar school, leaving behind my 6th grade teacher—the only one who ever liked me–far behind. It’s a long story about my other teachers and it has to do with my working in studios since I was 17 days old. My new teacher at my new school really hated me—I bit my nails—the whole class lost hearing Kon Tiki until my nails grew out—the kids hated me, too.  One month until Jr. Hi arrived.

Begin again.

It wasn’t my fault that at 74, having live around LA my whole life, I have moved To Mount Vernon, Washington. Yesterday, missing a slew of old friends, I was griping a “little,” and my granddaughter, Sarah, said, “Bubbe, go make lemonade with all those lemons.” She was right on. Upward and onward.

Begin again.

My oil painting teacher said I had talent—I painted and painted—my watercolor painting teacher said I had talent.  Really  Me?  My artistic soul dreamed, but it was not to be. My dream of a garret in Scotland and becoming famous—Poof! Three wonderful kids.

Begin again.

Then there was my stained glass window class of 10,000 cuts. Even if I was good at it (?), I felt I might need my fingers in later life. I took my 10 X14 masterpiece home, and covered my hands with Hello Kitty bandages. I found out I am blood type B negative.

Begin again.

Piano—zip. Violin—zip. Ballet—zip. My mother’s dreams for me—zip—zip—zip. My dreams—not so much. What was there out in the big world meant for me?

Begin again.

The UCLA Writing program? I liked children’s books, didn’t I? I liked essay exams, didn’t I? I loved writing stories for kids, wouldn’t I? Besides, if that didn’t work I could always…SIGH.

Begin again.

So I went back to college. I took classes from the best, Sue Alexander, Eve Bunting, Sid Fleischman, and met Judy Enderle. Authors, editors, agents, publishers. A new friend who was already published! Good start, right?

Miracle! Someone wanted to buy my first YA. All 140 pages of it. Problem was; it was 250 pages long. What did I do? Of course. Nothing new here.

Begin again.

Second book—perfect! Almost. Begin again!

Third book—exceptional! Nearly. Begin Again!

Sometimes the editor can be wrong. You have begun again so many times you’re not sure what you were writing in the first place. It happened to Judy and me, and the editor had the book for six years. Changes after changes.Beginning again and again and again. The editor was fired. The book was returned. We sold it to another editor. The last time when we began again, we put it back in its original form. Sometimes you are right—your book is perfect.

BUT, if you want to sell it you smile and…Begin again.

 

THE VALUE OF WAITING

Editing1     By Judith Ross Enderle

I’ve been waiting. My writing partner Stephanie has been waiting, too. We are both waiting for the same thing: for life to settle down so we can get back to revising our middle-grade manuscript.
(An editor is patiently waiting, too—we hope.)

So why all this waiting?

This has been one of those unexpected-events-in-life summers. MOVING! And I mean more than getting out of my desk chair and taking a walk. I mean choosing a different house, selling the house I thought I’d never sell, packing billions of boxes, piling those boxes in a new house, unpacking those boxes, trying to decide what goes where. (I swear I rearranged things on the living room mantle at least a dozen times, and I’m still not sure it’s right.) Decisions!

Yup! I moved. I moved about six streets from where I lived before. BUT—I wasn’t the only one.

Stephanie moved, too. She can tell you all about her move (much farther than six streets) in her blog post coming up.

So what does all this have to do with waiting? When I’m moving I find it hard to focus (and I’m too tired to focus) on anything but getting from point A to point B. The writing I do during this time consists of lists: who to contact to turn off utilities, who to contact to turn on utilities, change of address lists, to-do lists, must-have and want-to-have lists.

Writing during this time is brief: what’s in each box, all packed and taped, and what room does it belong in.

Writing during this time fills Post-It notes galore: things to do, arrange, give away, buy, calls to make etc.

And then there’s getting the office disassembled and reassembled, with fingers crossed that everything will work. And when it doesn’t,trying to figure out why.

Moving is not for sissies!

During all this moving, the revision has been waiting. But the time hasn’t been wasted. Time away from any work always seems to help to see the story in a clearer light. There’s that voice problem with the one character. I think there’s a solution now. The motivations of the characters can be shown in a clearer way, perhaps. Got to check to be sure we’ve shown what’s at stake, physically and emotionally.

Yeah! Waiting. Maybe not such a bad thing after all. Could mean a much better story. Now it’s time to stop waiting and get busy revising. Ready, Stephanie?

CONFERENCE MUSINGS

I’m back from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in Los Angeles, as usual a terrific conference, and slowly getting over the brain overload–normal– and slightly sprained ankle–not normal–that I acquired during the week..

The good news this year is that everyone from Simon & Schuster Vice-President and Publisher Justine Chanda, who spoke about ‘The State of The State of the Industry,’ to Deborah Halverson, who gave the annual market report, (available to all SCBWI members), to various editors and agents, all agreed that children and teen publishing is in great shape, which cheered conference participants immensely.

Young adult fiction is still going strong, with the exception of dystopian novels, which are generally believed to have passed their peak.  (Personally, I never liked them that much to begin with, although some good books have come out of the trend.) Self publishing continues to be more accepted, although those who do it are urged to do it well, with careful attention to editing and book design.

One of the most interesting comments I heard, several times, was the agreement that YA novels are getting a lot of cross-over; that is, that many adults as well as teens are reading them.  No wonder, then, that so many YA novels have graced this last year’s best-seller lists. Someone, I forget who, put up a quote from TV comic Stephen Colbert, that said something like:  YA novels are regular novels that people actually read!

There were many good keynotes and many, many good workshops–I wish I could have attended twice as many as I did.  There was an editors’ panel, one composed of agents, and one with marketing and sales people.  Add that to seeing old friends and making new ones, and it was a very productive week.  (Have to come clean:  I’m on the SCBWI Board and have been a member for over 20 years, so not exactly unprejudiced, here. : )

I think most of us came home with renewed enthusiasm to get back to work. So excuse me while I switch to the WIP.

Cheryl

PS During the Board meeting, the dispute between Amazon and Hachette Book Group was discussed, and a statement will be released about that, soon.

Time and the Writer

Some writers I know have been discussing how unfair it is that more and more editors and agents are not responding to queries or manuscript submissions. That is, if the writer doesn’t hear back, you are to assume that the publisher or agent is not interested in your submission. If the editor does want to read more or make an offer, or if the agent is interested in representing you, of course, they do contact you, although there might be a long wait first.

The writers feel this is unprofessional and, as I noted, unfair. The editors and agents usually note that they regret this necessity, but they are receiving more and more submissions and simply do not have the time and perhaps lack the staff to send out rejections for each one.

I can see both sides of this. I can’t help remembering my husband telling the kids when they were younger, “Who said life is fair?” when they made the same complaint over some household rule. And goodness knows the old form rejections were not satisfying. “Tell me what you don’t like,” we wanted to scream, when we got the meaningless: “This does not meet our needs at the current time.” Most published writers remember the immense relief when we finally graduated to a “good” rejection when the editor scrawled something specific on the rejection letter.

I know most editors are hard-working people who wish they could do more for hopeful writers. They often read queries or ms. on the subway home or while they eat a hurried lunch at their desks. And I’ve seen their desks–overflowing with paper, even in these computer driven days! They’re not out there plotting to make us miserable.

And yet, it’s more than frustrating for us writers. Time is what writers also don’t have, what writers snatch out of hours and minutes of their days and nights.  I remember well trying to write after a full day at work, after coming home to throw together dinner, get kids through homework and baths and bedtimes.  I remember going to sleep with a pad of paper in my lap–the original laptop! So what can we do? No magic answers, I’m afraid. Keep writing, keep sharpening skills, most of all, just keep on keeping on. Go to conferences for greater access to editors and agents, and as Winston Churchill famously said, never, never give up! Talent, hard work, determination, the same answers as always, are the ones that will- sooner or later–and sadly, it’s most often later than we wish–carry us through. Mostly, don’t give up!

And of course, there are more avenues today than traditional publishing, but that’s a whole other column. : )

WHEN THE MUSE VACATIONS by Judith Ross Enderle

shutterstock_132452552Every once in awhile my muse, that creative cheer leader that whispers encouragement and shares fabulous ideas, takes a vacation. I don’t know where she goes or how she chooses a time to leave, but sometimes she’s not anywhere around. This missing muse used to panic me. What if I never had a good story idea again? What if I couldn’t finish my current project? What if there were no what-ifs ever again? (Writers are so good at imagining the worst.) But then I realized that a muse needs time off in the same way a writer sometimes needs time off. And perhaps for the same reasons. So—

Here’s what I try when my muse takes time off:

I might take a break, too. Shift into a different mode, another interest. Gardening helps to calm my brain and I find it often helps me solve plot problems (no pun intended).

Read. Read. Read. I try to pay attention to what keeps me turning pages, how the author solves a knotty problem for the main character, word choices, the voice of the author and the voices of the characters, emotions made visible through showing, the setting details, the sensory images. I’ve learned a lot about writing from reading.

Walk. I enjoy walking. On a long walk I can let my mind wander and explore the outdoors.
Sometimes I call a fellow author. I’m not the only one whose muse goes off to a muse convention or on a Hawaiian vacation.

An afternoon out can help. Over lunch with a friend, we can catch up on life. We might talk about old times and new times to come. Sometimes we talk about everything except writing. Perhaps a muse notices when you aren’t missing her as much as she expected and she comes back sooner than planned.

Still, every once in a while, unexpected life happens outside of writing. Sometimes we need to abandon our muse to take care of family, ourselves, all kinds of life happenings. That’s important. The muse understands. How else will we know how to create the tough times and the emotions that go with them when we get back to our story characters, when life settles down, when the muse is there to whisper to us again?

Have you found other ways to get past the missing muse times? Or the tough life times? If so, please share in the comments.

That’s SO Cliche’!

images

I am Queen of the cliche’. I worked in advertising as a Copywriter and Creative Director.  Using snappy sayings and refurbishing cliche’s was a big part of the business, so I am always tempted to use them.  My writers group also knows that I am very good at spotting those sneaky ones and most often suggest rephrasing the line.

But what exactly makes a phrase a cliche’ you ask?

It’s very simple, over-use. In the beginning the expression was probably regarded as clever and unique—so much so that it started getting repeated, and just like the Faberge shampoo commercial …I told to friends about it, and they told to friends and so on and so on and so on! The phrase took on a life of it’s own loosing it’s originality and depth of meaning.  In the words of  French poet Gerard de Nerval: “The first man who compared a woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile.”

 So why shouldn’t you use cliche’s?

They are no longer interesting or very effective, and of course, they show a lack of originality. Of course ,sometimes they work in dialogue or in special circumstances but, generally your unique descriptions will have far stronger effect on your reader.

 Is it easy to fix cliche’s?

Once you have identified a cliche’ try to change it so your reader will feel what you are trying to express. A thesaurus can help. Look up the action words and try to replace them. Dive into your characters head and choose words she would use from her environment and sense of the world.

 Example:

Cliche’: She avoided Anna like the plague

Instead: She stepped off the path every time she saw Anna coming; the blackberry thorns were a better friend.

 Are you up to the Challenge?

Now you know how to avoid them, let’s have a little fun. Do you have a few favorite cliche’s? Here are a few of mine strung together.

Cliche’s are about as useful as a lead balloon. They bug the heck out of me, so don’t be all talk and no action.You may have to work like a horse to weed them out of your writing, but at the end of the day when the eraser dust has  settled, it was all in a writing days work!

(I showed you mine, now you show me yours.)

Unknown

 

NOTHING TO WRITE ABOUT

By Stephanie Jacob Gordon

I always thought that someday I would write the Great American Novel.   At the time I decided this I was reading JOHNNY TREMAIN, which I loved.  What I hadn’t decided in the third grade was…should it be about history (next to reading, my favorite subject) or about my daddy.  I loved reading historical books, but I loved my daddy more.  One thing I knew I would never write about was me.  Look how long I’d already lived and nothing wonderful or interesting had happened to me yet.  While I waited for something to happen, so I could write about it, I worked in the movie studios, met a gazillion great actors, rode on a fire truck, and went to school.

I took violin at the Los Angeles Academy of Musical Arts—I was not going to be the next Itzhak Pearlman.  Mommy and I rode the Red Line Streetcar.   My auntie Mimi came with sometimes.  One time I fell getting off the streetcar and slipped down the gutter drain.  Auntie Mimi saved me from disaster by grabbing my long curls and yanking me out.

I took tap dancing from Willie Cohan–Anne Miller was safe, no Music City Rockettes in my future.  I can still do a ball shuffle…but that’s all I can do (then and now).

I often went with my daddy to his fire station and hung out with the firemen he worked with.  I sat in the fire truck and read, made ice cream with the cook (my talented chef daddy, Jack), and watched black and white tv from the old theater seats that had been donated to the station, Palms 43, Los Angeles, California. Sometimes my daddy and I went across the street from the station to the Tootsie Roll factory and got a crate of candy for the firehouse to give out to visiting kids.  Believe me, I ate more than my share.

I took Piano—not a Hogie Charmichael, either.  Not even a Snoopy.  My mom got a note from my teacher thanking Mom for letting me quit.

I took ballet from Nico Charrise—no “Silk Stockings” lead dancer name Syd.  No tip and toeing through life for me.  The first day I tried toe…I broke one.  I can still feel Nico lightly hitting the back of my legs with his stick and yelling, “Right-right-right! And no back-knee, Stefff-fanny!”

After what seemed like a lifetime of waiting for something to write about, my indecision began to bug me.  Did we say “bug” in the 40s?  Then in the 6th grade, as part of the art committee for our Simon Bolivar presentation, I made most of the slides.  My portrait of Sen᷉or Bolivar was great, fantastic, and got me a big fat A+.  A light went on.  Why wait for something to write the Great American novel about…I would paint the Great American painting.  I had seen Grandma Moses’ pictures, and people thought she was amazing.  I wasn’t all that impressed.  I could do better.  So, what did I want to paint about?  I sat down to wait for an inspiration.

I entered the Miss La Ballona Creek Beauty Pagent—chubby, pig tails, tone deaf—what was I thinking?  “Do you have a talent, dear?”  Let me think…  Violin, tap, ballet, piano, singing, whistling, wood burning….  “Reading!”

I moved back to LA and got a 9th grade boyfriend—but I doubt any other girl wanted him.  For a long time (last 1/2 of the A9),I was in Jr. Hi Love Land…That’s Disneyland with hand holding and a little lip touching.  Then we went to Hi School…  Love and heartbreak followed me!

While I was still waiting to become a better painter than my little brother, Stevie (the commercial artist), I went to College, fell in love twice, my one true love was killed, taught school, got married, lost my daddy, had three children and seven Grandchildren, studied children’s book writing, found my life-long writing partner, became an author and editor, put a ton of get-up-and-go into SCBWI, lectured and taught writing for young people, wrote a tv series, edited a kid’s magazine, met my true soul sisters, lost my mama, Sylvia, divorced, became religious, got published in every genre for children I can name, and gave up my non-starter art career.

AND, I still can’t decide what my Great American Novel will be about.  History?  My daddy?  My mama?  Certainly not an autobiography.  In all these years, what have I done that anyone would want to read about?

If you get the message…  Start taking notes NOW!

New Year, New Words

Somehow New Years always seem to demand new year’s resolutions, no matter how many worthy promises  to ourselves were left in tatters last time around. From personal–those five pounds put on by grazing on too many holiday sweets that now need to be dropped–to professional, do we have resolutions!  As I cleared up shredded wrapping paper and fallen Christmas tree balls sent hither and yon by clever cat paws, I was already pondering.

My writing resolutions are clear.  I did finish the YA novel I was writing in 2013.  In December I read the last, much revised chapter to my critique group.  Now a little more polishing and I must brace myself and put it out there into the cold, cruel world–that’s resolution number one, and then, number two:  start a new project.  I already have something in mind, although I’m not ready to talk about it yet.

Number three: I want to learn more about ebooks and think about reviving some older novels that are OP (out of print) and decide if I want to try to get them back into circulation and if so, see what is involved.  Okay, I confess, that was a resolution for this year, too, so I really need to do that one, or at least, gather the info.  I do know that the books will need some revising–no one is as up to date on new technologies as teens and preteens, so if I do reprint a book even a few years old, it will have to be brought into the world of cell phones, texting, etc. So my tech horizons will be broadened in more ways than one.  Santa brought me a new up to date I phone for Christmas, so that will help.

And after that, who knows?  What are your resolutions?  More consistent writing hours?  Better research habits, or maybe reminders not to get so carried away by your research that you forget to write?  Are you determined to find a new critique group/start a new critique group?  Haunt the local library and book store and read plenty of the age fiction or nonfiction you wish to write?  Go to a writers’ conference and get the tips and networking you need to get past your current logjam?

Whatever your resolution, I wish you good luck and fortune in 2014.

Cheryl Zach/ WIP:  The Devil Tattoo