Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Tale of Two Kiddies

After rejecting—ever so nicely—one of my manuscripts, an agent suggested I streamline it.  Apparently, shorter works are having bigger success.  I took her suggestion to heart; but let me tell you, conveying a convincing tale in the least number of words possible takes finesse.  Not everyone can do it.

But these two have it down to a science.

twin baby boys have a conversation - part 2 ORIGINAL VIDEO

Write What You Know When You Know It

I’ve been reading a lot of young adult/middle grade novels in the past six months.  At heart, I’m a 13-year-old girl.  At any rate, I fell in love with Chris Crutcher's books, thus the following interview.  His works definitely reflect the maxim “Write what you know.”  There’s no doubt his chosen career provided him with lots of story ideas.  It almost couldn’t help but do so. 

But those of us who live decidedly less exciting lives probably sit at our computers, befuddled, thinking Nothing ever happens to me.  Maybe it’s true, maybe not.  But the thing is we have to scratch beneath the surface.  There are kernels of stories in everything that’s ever happened to us, everything we’ve heard.

A short time ago, I participated in a workshop led by Hester Bass, author of The Secret World of Walter Anderson.  She indicated that we should always be on the lookout—that an ancient family story might just lay the foundation for one of our own.  So simple.  Suddenly an idea struck, and I jotted it down; even so, I nearly forgot about it until a few weeks later when I faced my computer, thinking, What should I write today?  And it came to me with a jolt.  

What started as a picture book morphed into a 25,000 word novel.  I didn’t know I had it in me.

Write what you know when you know it.

Author Chris Crutcher

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

An Upsidedown World: What's Bad Is Good

Right before I participated in a strictly-do-not-do-this-at-home exploit  yesterday, I had my eye on the Today Show—yet another embarrassment to add to the morning’s events. 

At any rate, a leading teen store now offers padded bras for the 7-14 year old age group.  Of course, the bras reflect criminally bad taste and undermine what we’re trying to teach our daughters about body image.  (What’s important is what’s inside.  Don’t look in the mirror and think “implants,” we say.)  Of course, mothers everywhere demand the offending garments be taken off the shelves.  And, of course, the store anticipated and, no doubt, welcomed this response.  When it comes to sales, bad news is good news.  Always.

Everything’s suggestive now from TV ads to padded bras for 7-year-olds.  In a world that’s moving way too fast, we should find ways to encourage—not beat down—innocence.  Maybe that’s why I love to write picture books. 

There’s really nothing sweeter than a little body nestled next to me, hanging on to my every word.  I might lose that feeling if there were an underwire poking into my side.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Avoid the Treadmill

This story is very embarrassing and probably shouldn’t be written. 

Now is that a good story prompt, or not?  (See lots of them by clicking on the links to the right.)

But this is a true story that might save you from yourself some day, although I’m thinking no one else would ever dream of doing something so truly humiliating.

Anyway, I fell.  I fell on the treadmill.  I fell on the treadmill as I was speeding along at 4 miles per hour.  I fell on the treadmill while removing a pullover as I was speeding along at 4 miles per hour.  Actually, I didn’t really fall—well, not then.  The run-amok treadmill hurtled me backwards at warped speed at which time I slid down a wall.  Bouncing up hurriedly, I threw the stupid jacket off and pulled down my embarrassingly high shirt.  Suddenly, I was grateful for America’s lust for fast foods and little exercise; few people were there to witness the event.  One concerned man did ask me if I were hurt.  No, I assured him.  I’m fine, I said.  I think he was about to buy it when, lo and behold! I forgot the treadmill was moving and stepped back on.  That’s when I fell.  I fell down to my knees and slid right off onto the floor.  Surely, he thought I’d taken leave of my senses.  As I limped to the restroom to take stock, I assured him that only my ego was bruised.  Once there, I found slightly skinned knees but no bones protruding.  A kind lady with a first aid kit took me under wing.  She brought the kit with her after dropping a 15 lb weight on her foot.  Ouch.  Bless her heart, but maybe I don’t corner the market on stupidity after all.

The moral of my story is stay off the treadmill. 

And the hint:  So you have a lemon?  Make lemonade.  A minor setback in the scheme of things, my what-could-have-been avoidable, red-faced injury turned into material for my blog. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I Walk the Line

Me, me, me . . . it’s all about me.  I’ll just have to face that blogging is the ultimate in self-indulgence.  Are you interested in what I write?  Really?  Do you find my prose irresistible or my talent undeniable?  Will I teach you something, reduce you to laughter, or cause you to groan in pain?   If your head’s been bobbing, I’ve hit the jackpot—an audience that understands me.  It’s what any writer lives for.  (Or, if you prefer the olden days of outlawed preposition-ending sentences:  It’s that for which any writer lives—such a noble-sounding sentiment, indeed.)

Speaking of audience, mine is twofold:  folks in the writing field and personal friends and family.  Pleasing both will be a constant tightrope-writing exercise.  I just hope the net is strong.

New word for the day:  funambulist.  It means “one who walks on a tightrope.”  You and I are all funambulists.  Our whole lives our balancing acts—in the way we care for our families and ourselves, in the way we interact with others. 

I feel like a funambulist with the publishing of my new book.  I’m living in the heat of the moment with nerves of steel and chin up.  Since I do so like the view from the air, maybe my balance will remain perfect and the wire will lead somewhere.  I can only hope.

So here’s your hint for the day:  Put some fun in your ambulism!  If you fall, aim for the net.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Don't Throw Out the Baby with the Bathwater

I look younger than my age; at least, that's what people tell me.  I don’t usually feel old either.  But Mom kept one of my college papers that really dates me. 

In a discussion of abnormal psychology, I referred to “mental deficiency” as a form of abnormality.  So that you can truly appreciate the lingo of the time, I have to quote the whole paragraph.  “Included in this term are those persons with exceedingly low IQ:  idiots, imbeciles, and morons.  They are incapable of learning from experience and cannot distinguish right from wrong.  Although idiots and imbeciles do not profit from education as we know it, morons may benefit to a certain extent.”

OMG.  The prof didn’t throw me out on my ear.  In fact, he remarked, “Am pleased about this [paper].  You might enjoy a course specifically in abnormal psychology.”  Evidently, that was acceptable language; and I wasn’t an idiot, imbecile, or moron for using it.

Thank goodness we’ve discarded that particular vocabulary in favor of more respectful terminology.  Being politically correct isn’t always easy, but it’s usually desirable.

But not always.

I’m referring to the furor over Huckleberry Finn.  Talk about overcompensation.  Twain used the word “nigger” 219 times for a reason.  A reflection of the times, yes; but as soon as Huck overlooked Jim’s color and adopted an us-against-them mentality, we knew that he no longer thought of Jim as a “nigger.”  How could any publisher think that changing the word to “slave” would not dilute the impact Twain intended?  And, please.  Indian Joe?  Really?  Indian?  At  least, we were spared Native American Joe.

Feel free to disagree, but please don’t call me an idiot, imbecile, or moron.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Do What You Love, and Don't Give Up!

At least, I beat Grandma Moses’ record.  She was discovered at age eighty; it happened to me three days short of my sixtieth birthday.  

I always did do things out of sync with my contemporaries.  While others went straight from high school to college, I took off a year to find myself.  Staying lost for an unusually long time, I finally obtained my Bachelor’s degree upon taking one or more courses nearly every term for nineteen years.  I married at age thirty, only after family and classmates threw up their hands in despair.  (Most married young in my farm community.)  I didn’t get certified to teach until I acquired a Master’s degree that took only seven years;  in a better-late-than-never scenario, I was fifty-four.  And although I’d first learned Spanish in the mid-eighties and then immediately forgot it during the whole raising-kids-not-to-be-savages phase of my life, I sought out opportunities to re-learn it.  The success went to my head and at age fifty-seven foolishly switched from a cushy job as an ESL teacher—where everyone loved me, by the way—to that of a Spanish teacher—where, you guessed it, I became the devil incarnate to a handful of hormone-crazed teens.  Never mind that my eighty other students found me to be amazingly stimulating.  (Writers are given a license to exaggerate; are they not?)

At any rate, unlike Grandma Moses, who was discovered shortly after she launched her painting career in her seventies, I’ve been writing for twenty-seven years.  I’m acutely aware of the number because it correlates with my son’s birth and untold hours of reading Dr. Seuss, Al Perkins, and Robert Quackenbush.

 To give myself some slack, it’s not as if I were writing everyday and stockpiling rejection after rejection during all that time.  That only started happening recently.  At the risk of embarrassing myself, I did win a couple of questionable contests back in the eighties.  I was one of 100 finalists selected from 5,000 in the America’s New Traditional Homemakers Contest sponsored by Working Mother magazine in February 1986.  Oddly enough, the frozen-food industry held a contest seeking people who would speak out on the importance of incorporating frozen food into everyday food preparation.  I’m not kidding.  The other, the Redbook/Merle Norman Makeover Contest of 1984, netted me a whopping $50 worth of Merle Norman products and a complimentary makeover.  I’ve since lost my entry—no such thing as “save” on a typewriter—but seem to remember stressing the importance of “washing” my face with water instead of soap.  Ha!  I also wrote a few (less embarrassing) newspaper articles in the nineties.  All of these but the Redbook contest entry will become available on this blog if you only ask.

After a few years in a classroom, I decided that I might not have Grandma Moses’ stamina, so I stopped teaching and focused on writing.  Thanks to email, rejections came within days rather than months. But I knew my luck had changed when I attended my first writing conference in the fall of 2011 and my name was announced.   Bonita Herold, First Place, Illustrated Fiction, Southern Breeze SCBWI Annual Contest.  Wow.  I went onstage, grinning from ear to ear, knowing good things were about to happen.  Well, they didn’t—not measurably, anyway—although I started getting more personalized rejections due to my subject line: “Winner, Illustrated Fiction.”  Ah, those agents and editors were ever so hopeful.

I edited that darn manuscript dozens of times and finally changed it from lyrical rhyme to poetic prose after hearing someone read it aloud and butcher it in the telling.   Still no takers.

Back in September, I wrote a story with a moral.  I thought it was wonderful, got impatient, and sent it off immediately.  Of course, it wasn’t wonderful; first attempts rarely are.  So then I followed my usual path of re-writing—sometimes to the detriment of the story, no doubt—and eventually requested comments from my critique group.  

Despite hearing—and reading—that morals weren’t going over very well in the picture book arena, I found the perfect venue:  The Infinity Child Literacy Program contest.  I sent it off and won!  Check the contest out at:  http://leerconmigo.com/en/sign_up.php.  You’ll be able to download Alicia Saves the Day on this very blog at the end of spring. 

The bad news for me is that I love to read and sometimes do it to excess; the good news, however, is that I try to write something nearly everyday.  Particularly inspiring was the Picture Book Marathon group I joined in February.  The point was to write (or, at least, start) a PB manuscript every day of February except two, correlating with the twenty-six miles of a marathon.  I adhered to the plan . . . until February 8.  Then I realized that the story I was working on begged for research and much more depth.  I knew where I wanted the story to go and penned an outline.  Finding myself deeply engrossed, I dreamed about my story repeatedly over the next month and wrote from first thing in the morning to late at night.  Before long, a 25,000 word middle grade novel lay completed on my desk.  No takers as yet, but I’ve only contacted two agents.  It’s too early to be discouraged.

Once Grandma Moses was discovered, her career spanned another two decades; there’s still hope for mine.