Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's about time

I’ve never let so much time lapse between blog entries. Prepping myself for another writing conference on the heels of my last took time; absorbing the great advice of successful authors, agents, and editors fueled my inspiration; and returning to my waiting computer with an active mind and willing digits all conspired against blogging, in favor of writing stories for (hopefully) a much wider audience.

Last week, I performed a cut-and-slash on my longer piece of work. Now it needs serious resuscitation. Fortunately, I fancy myself as a good health care provider. But the thing’s pretty sick and will suffer a long recuperative period. 

Last week, I also revised one of my picture books, started another, and wrote what I’m hoping is something Lola Schaeffer—author of 230 picture books and with whom I ate lunch not once but twice!—calls a “given.” (A given is one of those rare stories that just flows out, barely needing revision.) I’m sure to change my mind after the rejections pour in.

I love to write; I love to read—not only others’ work but my own. I read one of my stories aloud in church recently; the service covered evil, and this particular story featured Alice, the elephant, who overcame an obstacle to defend the jungle. Apparently, moralistic stories in today’s publishing word have one thing in common—they share the kiss of death. But I do love this story; it rhymes and it’s terribly funny. Fortunately for me (in an optimistically publishing sense), I’ve learned to get beyond morals and rhymes; my current tales, for the most part, focus on humor.

Reading aloud, as somewhat of an introvert, I’m still never sure how my body will react. Usually, I’m nervous and try to deal with it the best way I can—using my trembling voice to portray a certain character’s hesitation or fear, for instance. But other times, I completely surprise myself with my lack of fear. In other words, whether I’m nervous or not seems to be completely out of my control. But what I try to remember when my heart’s beating in my throat is the feeling I had, at age 17, playing Lily Dilly (one of the Dilly sisters in a play called Pick-a-Dilly). I was 17 years old, on top of the world, and frightened out of my wits about performing. But I memorized like crazy and approached the stage bravely. After the first couple of sentences, my fear dissipated, and I just had fun. How could I not? For part of it, I pretended to have a lisp. “I thimply adore big throng men like you!”

Writing. Reading. Acting. Sharing. Fun’s what it’s all about.

Monday, October 10, 2011

There are always two sides to every story

You remember Cinderella, the poor girl whose father had questionable taste in women. By the way, whatever was he thinking? Did Lady T emit powerful pheromones that he couldn’t resist? Or maybe there were health reasons; the best I can tell, he died shortly after his marriage. Did his health start to deteriorate before he even met her, causing him to hallucinate her warmth and sweetness? Or, in the final analysis, was he simply a dolt taken in by a woman a bit smarter than he? It does seem as if a good, healthy, conscientious, nondoltish father would have detected unfriendliness toward his daughter BEFORE he married.

But maybe Lady T hid her devilish nature. At any rate, Cinderella’s father up and died, leaving her with a stepmother and stepsisters, Ana and Drizzy, who teased her unmercifully, forced her to do their dirtiest chores, and tried to keep her from meeting the man of her dreams. But did you ever, just once, think about it from their point of view?

There was the trio, minding their own business—a bedroom slipper business by all accounts—when their main source of money (via Lady T’s husband/Ana and Drizzy’s father) just dried up. (By the way, I don’t think that was any accident. I can’t be alone in wondering what happened to him. No one ever mentions his death, which makes it all seem very mysterious and hush-hush. I think an investigation is warranted. Grown women don’t just turn cold and cruel overnight, you know.)

In my opinion, the evil widow, together with her equally wicked daughters, hoped to inherit millions from his demise so that they could sell their business and live comfortably thereafter. What happened instead was that, upon his death, they quickly squandered their inheritance and were forced to seek a new source of revenue. Voila! Cinderella’s father made a play. Business was going reasonably well when he kicked the bucket. (By the by, his death was minimalized and requires further investigation as well.)

But everyone’s innocent until proven guilty, so what choice did they have? They demanded Cinderella do all their nasty chores, but it was no picnic for them either. Just when they thought they could eventually sell their business and live comfortably off the proceeds, they found out Cinderella’s father had spent all their money on food and shelter, so they were forced to continue with the making, selling, and schlepping around of bedroom slippers.

Business was slow, though, so Lady T always made them wear their own products—except for Cinderella who had to wear boots that were always a little too tight.

When the King announced a ball for his princely prince of a son, Ana and Drizzy couldn’t help but hope that one of them would be the lucky bride. What’s surprising is that Lady T didn’t make a play for him herself. (After all, everyone knows that the third time’s the charm.)

Naturally, the business ladies forked over what little money remained to invest in some brand new ball gowns. But since the dresses reached the floor, they wore their bedroom slippers to save on shoes. On the night of the ball, they got themselves all dolled up and left Cinderella, a little young for a ball, in charge of the homestead. No one was no more surprised than they when they heard about the hoopla afterwards. A fairy godmother? Mice turning into horses? A pumpkin turning into a coach? Poppycock! But happened it did, as they discovered when Cinderella’s slim foot slipped right into the glass slipper. Girl meets boy, runs away, loses shoe. Boy tracks down girl, slips shoe on foot, and marries for no other reason than her dancing ability. Weird.

But there was a lot of money at stake, so the three of them bickered about it to their dying day.  The two stepsisters blamed Lady T, claiming it was her fault that their feet were wide. After all, she and her slipper business had forced them into comfort.

But, really, I’m guessing they were better off. Who wants to wear glass slippers when you can wear slippers like these?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Half my life is an act of revision" (John Irving)

Keeping a blog carries with it a certain responsibility. I have to jumpstart my creativity in a way that’s new and different from what I usually write. Beginning any writing project is not an easy feat, but I’ll tell you something else that’s hard: knowing when to quit.  

I’ve been revising several picture books for years. A non-author probably reads a picture book and thinks, “It’s so short—must’ve taken about five minutes to write.” And, really, maybe the initial jot-down doesn’t take a lot more time than that. But inevitably that first rendition doesn’t quite work; neither does the second; neither does the 50th. But maybe the 51st does. But what if I go on to revise 52, 53, 54 times? Will my work never get published because I inadvertently pass over the sweet spot? How’s a writer to recognize a finished project when she sees one?

The trouble with PBs is that each word matters, so I constantly run into dilemmas. Should I say, “Sure, you can,” or “Don’t be silly!” when a child says he can’t do something and you know darn well he can. As parents, we’re supposed to encourage our children, but doesn’t real life dictate that we cajole them periodically, and shouldn’t books reflect real life? They can’t all be sweetness and light, right? Or am I revealing something about myself that should just stay hidden?

I fear that my approach to writing simulates my approach to life; it’s in a state of constant revision because I possess contradictory opinions on just about everything (barring my liberal political views). Should I live in the city where everything’s near, including neighbors who are decidedly much too close; or should I move to the country where I can appreciate the nature that I love, understanding I could shrivel with loneliness and would have to drive everywhere? Should I serve my guests on paper plates--oops! serve FOOD to them (actual guests should always be served on real plates)--because of the convenience factor, or should I go for elegance and wash dishes? Should I eat an egg sandwich for lunch, or a tomato sandwich? Should I go, or should I stay?

Whatever decision I make, whether on the written page or in life itself, will very likely be revised at some future point.

Yes, the act of starting a story is no easy feat and knowing when to end eludes me.

Or does it?