Thursday, February 25, 2010

30 years for a manuscript to get published

I read recently about an author, Selden Edwards, who worked on his novel, The Little Book, for thirty years before it was finally published by Dutton.

To be fair, he wasn't working on it non-stop during that time. He did what many of us have done: write it, shove it, revisit and revise, submit, rinse, repeat.

But really, how many of us have something that's been on our minds that we've doggedly worked on for thirty years?

I started my my first novel seven years ago. It began its life as an assignment for a writing course. Completing the book was the beginning of my journey to learn and hone my craft: I read books on writing fiction, experimented with different types of work, submitted my work regularly to critique groups, entered contests for feedback, and paid attention to the books I read as a writer as well as a reader.

And rewrote and rewrote and rewrote based on what I've learned.

So, while I've occasionally wondered about how slowly this first book came together, I also know that writing the novel wasn't the only thing I was doing during the time.

I don't know the fate of my book, whether it will be published, and when. But Edward's story of persistence gave me a boost. Sometimes it's good to file away early works as exercises, but sometimes it's good to hang on to the hope that willingness to improve and perseverance can win.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On genes and endurance and writing

When I wrote my post on the study showing that 20% of the population will not increase their endurance by training, I knew I would get some wonderful comments, and I did. I am lucky to have some very wise people check in on my blog.

It is so true, genes or no genes, talent or no talent, what matters is that we do: run, write, practice. Whatever tendencies our make-up predispose us to don't have the last say on what we choose to do. If our passion and our talents mesh: great. If we have the passion but no talent*: who is to say we can't pursue those passions and derive as much meaning and richness from them?

*Besides how do we know if a person has talent?

Lance Armstrong supposedly has a huge heart--I am talking about the physical muscle here, not the seat of emotions/ spirit--and an extraordinary capacity to use oxygen. He also loves cycling long distances. Perfect combo. Throw in determination and hard work and training and there you have it: a super star.

If it doesn't quite work out that way, if we have a regular size heart and our muscles don't process lactic acid easily and we still want to cycle: throw in the determination and hard work and still do it. Maybe the yellow jersey won't be ours, but the feelings of accomplishment, the pride in persevering, the enjoyment of the process: if these things could be quantified, they could very well match Lance's.

I am particularly interested in endurance because all my life I've felt trapped in a no-stamina body. I've allowed the disappointment and shortcoming to steer me away from anything that requires stamina. Oh, I was an active child, running on the playground, playing the game dujour of the week with my friends, but I didn't compete in anything that involved running, except for the one race where competitors had to do some math problems on a small chalkboard in the halfway point of the race (I know, some teacher was trying to be creative and help us nerds during Sports Day).

But now I have a new goal, I want to earn my black belt in TKD. So far my physical limitations haven't deterred my progress much, but at my next belt testing, I have to do all the forms I've learned so far, including the one I am working on right now, seven forms, with a total of I don't know how many steps. My biggest obstacle is not memorizing the forms but being able to do them all back to back without passing out.

In other words, my stamina is being called for, big time.

So I have been training, trying to include more running in my walk/run routines, practicing going through all the forms at half speed and half strength, hoping to increase in stages.

And not seeing as much progress as I'd like.

Very discouraging.

Then this article came out and I didn't know if I was more relieved (I am not a freak of nature!) or discouraged (I'll never go beyond what I am capable right now!)

Ice cream got involved, but so did some very stubborn practicing: "Not only am I not going to pass out after the seventh form, I am going to go through the whole series twice! So there!"

I don't have a success story to tell you (yet?) I still feel I can't possibly jog for more than a few minutes at a time, and one day very soon, I WILL pass out on the floor while sparring. But my sneakers are on, I am still doing what I can.

To quote some wise people:

Never underestimate the power of hard work.

maybe they won't be able to run 5 miles, but they'll definitely be stronger than before.

I'm certainly not ready to take a seat in the bleachers and give up yet.

Even if I learned I would never will be a marathon runner, I could still enjoy being outside. I say keep the sneakers and jog around the park.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Grab-A-Line Monday, Hot-Dog Edition

The synonym system knew that a dog was similar to a puppy and that boiling water was hot. But it also thought a hot dog was a boiling puppy.

That passage is from a WIRED magazine article on Google searches. Poor boiling puppies! (And poor puppies in those ridiculous outfits)

Incidentally, Mark McVeigh, super-editor turned super-agent, has a blog post on hot dogs today as well. The content is totally different but I thought it was interesting: what are the chances of two blogs devoted to writing and publishing focusing on hot dogs on the same day?

(Now my statistically-minded friends will consider that a challenge...)

Onto GALM proper. Since I am primarily a fiction writer, I will post a line from a fiction. This is from the The Elegance of Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery:

As always, I am saved by the inability of living creatures to believe anything that might cause the walls of their little mental assumptions to crumble.

A big thanks to those of you who came over to comment and to offer memorable lines. Last week, Bish enjoyed this line from The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo.

Peter could see the magician all too clearly. His beard was long and wild, his fingernails ragged and torn, his cloak covered in a patina of mold. His eyes burned bright, but they were the eyes of a cornered animal: desperate and pleading and angry all at the same time.

Nandini quote from Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Deryn felt brilliant, rising through the air at the center of everyone's attention, like an acrobat aloft on a swing. She wanted to make a speech: "Hey, all you sods, I can fly and you can't! A natural airman, in case you haven't noticed. And in conclusion, I'd like to add that I'm a girl and you can all get stuffed!"

And Corey will to back to the Berkshires soon to get her book!

What caught you this week? (besides hot dogs, that is.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

May I speak to Mark McVeigh, please?

Megan Rebekah posted this news about Mark McVeigh's new blog.

Mark's response to my manuscript was one of the nicest and most encouraging. It cemented my impression of him as a Good Guy and great person to know.

Basically, if you convince ten people to follow him on the blog, you get a 15-minute call with him. Given how protective agents typically are of their time, especially one-on-one time, this has got to be one of the most generous offers out there.

Even if you're not looking for an agent, I am confident that including him as part of your blog community will be a wise move.

So, head on over. Check him out. If you decide to follow him, will you come back here to leave a comment so I know? Thanks.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Not quite what I expected

Say you're someone who's always preferred reading and writing and drawing and playing the piano to running cross country. Say part of the reason is that you always run out of breath within two minutes and you hate feeling like a wimp. Say now you're older and wiser and realize that while reading and writing and drawing and playing the piano are still so much more enjoyable than running cross country, physical stamina is a very good thing that is worth pursuing.

What would you do.?

Well, you may put on your sneakers and start a very gentle program to build your endurance from, oh maybe walking 30 minutes in a session to eventually running 30 minutes? Sounds very doable, right?

What if, after a month of it, you still feel as wimpy and winded as you were? What would you think?

Just give it time. The stamina will come. It's common sense, right? Everybody knows that if you start training, you'll eventually get there.

But then a newest study shows that exercise won't boost endurance levels for 1 in 5 people.

What would you do then?

Cry? Curse your genes? Eat ice cream? Rant?

But what do you do with those

Writers know the meaning of toil. We do it every day. For most of us, we do it with no real, tangible reward in sight. We do it for a variety of reasons: we love it, we can't not do it, we know it's the good thing to do, we know it's the right thing to do.

Then we are reminded that talent and luck do play a role. What if we are one of those people who don't really have the talent (the right genes that allow training to build our stamina) or the luck. What is the point then?

Those of us who have been slogging for a while at writing will have our own answers to this question. And we've kept our sneakers on. I would love to hear some of yours.

(Incidentally, here is an article that tries to balance the hype.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

More Contests, You Say?

Happy to oblige. Here is one for those who love photos as writing prompts (as well as for those who squirm when presented with something like this, such as I.) This is a wonderful opportunity to exercise those creativity links between pictures and imagination and stories and feelings. This is the Three Minute Fiction organized by NPR. Here is the photo:

The deal: write a story no longer than 600 words, the approximate number of words that fill up three minutes of airtime. Why airtime? Because the winning story will be read on NPR
, The judge for the final round: Alan Cheuse.

Has the photo stirred up some emotions yet? Is there a story bubbling up inside waiting to be captured? Or are you still squinting at the photo like I am doing, pointedly ignoring the emotions that are indeed being stirred up? I do this because it's a lot easier to squint than to capture that first swirl of an idea, when everything is still unformed and elusive.

Onto two other contests, similar to the ones I've announced on this blog, in which the prizes include critiques by published authors and agents.

Elana Johnson has a Pay It Forward Contest. Read the deets here.

Shelli has a week long contest at her blog, Market My Words. Read the deets here.

Good luck, everyone!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Grab-A-Line Monday

It's late Monday night, and only now do I have the few moments to repost the lines from last week's post. Thanks to Davin, we have two selections from Alice Munro, a writer whose writing is tender yet uncompromisingly truthful. Her observations about relationships and motivations, especially, have often made me put down the book and just live in what I've just read. These two are from her latest short story collection, Too Much Happiness:

Her graying hair was cut short and she had a mole riding on one cheekbone.

Doree was pretty sure that these people weren't as bad as Lloyd thought, but it was no use contradicting him. Perhaps men just had to have enemies, the way they had to have their jokes. And sometimes Lloyd did make the enemies into jokes, just as if he was laughing at himself. She was even allowed to laugh with him, as long as she wasn't the one who started the laughing.

Nandini, in preparation for the movie release of The Lightning Thief, has been re-reading the series with her children. She offered this line, from The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan:

The Friday before winter break, my mom packed me an overnight bag and a few deadly weapons and took me to a new boarding school.

Don't you pack a few deadly weapons for your child going off to boarding school? :)

Incidentally, I haven't watched the movie yet, but my daughter, a huge Percy Jackson fan who timed her re-reading of the entire series to coincide with the movie, saw it with her friend at his birthday party. She liked the movie but was indignant at the number and magnitude of differences in the movie. Now I don't know if I can watch it, I'd be yelling the screen: "Where is Th___? How can the story make sense without her? And what about Cl___? What? Not a single Seaweed Brain? Arrggggh! That's not what they played at the arcade! What do you mean blue and not gray eyes? I need to speak to your manager, I mean screen writer or executive producer or whoever it is who made these decisions!"

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Two more contests

Through The Swivet, the blog of agent Colleen Lindsay, you can enter to win one of two scholarships to the
Backspace Writers Conference & Agent-Author Seminar, which will be held in New York City from May 27th through the 29th.

Some important details:
  1. You MUST have a finished novel that is ready to query. No exceptions.
  2. The scholarship covers admission to the conference only, not travel or hotel expenses. If you're coming from outside the New York-area, bear this in mind.
  3. The contest is open only to fiction (any genre, adult, YA or middle grade) and narrative non-fiction manuscripts.
  4. Entries must be postmarked by Monday, March 1st.

Entry fee
$10 per entry, payable to Gotham Writers' Workshop. Payments must be in U.S. funds. Entry fees are nonrefundable.

Entry must be submitted online by midnight, May 31, 2010.

1. Entries must be submitted online only, using the official entry form above. Mailed entries will not be accepted.

2. All entries must be original and previously unpublished in a book, nationally distributed periodical or Web-based magazine. Entries must be in English and submitted by the author, who must be at least 18 years old at the time of entry.

3. Entries may not exceed 2,000 words (including title). No graphic language, sex or violence.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Contest, contest, contest

I came across these three contests and thought some of you would be interested:

First, FEEL THE LOVE giveaway by the class of 2k10. Head on over and give a shout-out to someone: a teacher, a librarian, your parents, and you may win this:

And if you can't read the titles of the books, here they are:
Signed copy of THE SECRET YEAR by Jennifer R. Hubbard Signed copy of LEAVING GEE’S BEND by Irene Latham Signed copy of ISLAND STING by Bonnie J. Doerr and other assorted swag from Shari Maurer (CHANGE OF HEART), Jacqueline Houtman (THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS), Denise Jaden (LOSING FAITH), Leah Cypess (MISTWOOD), Rhonda Hayter (THE WITCHY WORRIES OF ABBIE ADAMS), Jame Richards (THREE RIVERS RISING), Kristina McBride (THE TENSION OF OPPOSITES), Mara Purnagen (TAGGED) and Janet Fox (FAITHFUL)

Next up, the Dear Lucky Agent Contest for Middle Grace and Young Adult novels, run by the Guide to Literary Agent blog. The judge is the fabulous Jennifer Laughran from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

I tried to read as much of the fine print as my 65-year old eyes (yes, that's what my ophthalmologist says)
can handle and I can't find anything about not eligible if you had been rejected by any ABLA agents. Correct me, if any of you young eyes spot it.

One more: The Surrey International Writers Conference Writing Contest. I believe this is the first year they offer a category for kid lit. The deadline is September 10th and here are the categories:

SIWC Storyteller's Award: short stories 3,500 — 5,000 words

SIWC Non-fiction Award: maximum length 1,500 words
SIWC Poetry Award: one poem per submission: 40 lines max.
SIWC Writing For Young People Award: short stories, maximum length 1,500 words.

Happy writing!

Happy 101

Ever since Tricia tagged me for the Happy Award, I've been thinking about what makes me happy. It's been an excellent antidote for a mind that tends toward the negative. Thanks Tricia!

The only problem is, I couldn't decide which ten I wanted to include. But I do want to do a post on this so I am just going with the first ten things that come to my mind as I write this:

  1. The return of my husband's quick wit and seven-year old cheeky grin, which have been in hiding for the past months, thanks to his nasty cancer and (nastier?) treatments.
  2. My family enjoying a meal I prepare for them.
  3. My children showing kindness and compassion unbidden, especially to each other.
  4. Listening to someone talk about their passion: xeriscape in the Rocky Mountain region, chromaticism in Mozart (yes, Mozart, not Wagner or Liszt or any of the other late Romantic composers), types of ferns found in the rain forests of Malaysia.
  5. My favorite restaurants bustling and keeping their staff, because that means they are treating their customers and staff well, and will stay around for a while.
  6. Writers who write well getting the recognition they deserve, even when their books are quiet and not trendy.
  7. Writers writing, preachers preaching, and bloggers blogging about something close to their hearts instead of being distant from their topics.
  8. My children's sleeping faces
  9. Their giggles.
Their songs and dances when they aren't aware anyone is around.

And, oh, the picture of this puppy:

Much happiness to you!

[A busy Tate Modern Restaurant by Kenudigit; goofy grin by Crazy Baby, happy puppy by B. Rosen. All pictures found on Flikr Creative Commons.]

Monday, February 8, 2010

Grab-A-Line Monday

Happy Monday!

Nandini's and Bish's comments last week made me decide to clarify something about GALM, specifically about being "late" to share their lines.

There is no "late."

Come on over any time of the week and post your comments on the week's GALM and I'll re-post it the following Monday.

Last week we had three short, deceptively simple, and lovely quotes from kid lit.

Sherrie shared this simple, yet memorable line from Home of the Brave,in which a young boy from Africa describes someone laughing on a cold day:

His laughter makes little clouds.

Brought a smile to me.

Bish enjoyed this from Evolution of Calpurnia Tate:

There was my whole life for you, socks stretching all the way to the infinite horizon, a yawning valley of knitting tedium. I felt sick.

I can certainly feel the narrator's sense of hopelessness. Poor Calpurnia.

Nandini has a line from STARGIRL by Jerry Spinelli.

She was bendable light: she shone around every corner of my day.

There is a boy in love.

My line this week is from Tana French's In The Woods again.

We think about mortality so little, these days, except to fail hysterically at it with trendy forms of exercise and high0fiber cereals and nicotine patches.

Maybe it is because I am thinking of mortality in this way a lot these days, specifically about how when you have children late in life, you have to work extra hard to keep healthy so you can be there for the important things in your children's lives. And if you see me exercise, you'll agree that my form of exercise, while not trendy, is very much of the flailing hysterically sort.

What caught you this week?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Grab A Line Monday on Wednesday

So Monday came and went and now it's Wednesday. Some weeks are weird like that.

Since I'm late in posting this week's GALM (GALW doesn't work the same way), I will post two quotes that I enjoyed this week. The first is from In The Woods by Tana French. This passage from the prologue describes the woods:

Its silence is a pointillist conspiracy of a million tiny noises--rustles, flurries, nameless truncated shrieks; its emptiness teems with secret life, scurrying just beyond the corner of your eye.

The second one, of a totally different style, is from Frank Portman's King Dork:

At moments like these, it's hard to tell whether you're being too paranoid or just paranoid enough.

Nandini, my supportive friend came back last week and offered this quote

As he glanced upward, he realized the courtyard was like a well for the sky--the stars and night seemed to flow into it endlessly.

What caught you this week?