Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Finishing My Teen Novel...It's a B.I.Ch. --Eve

I’ve heard it for years… The only way to get it done is the “Butt-In-Chair” (B.I.Ch.) method. Unfortunately, my butt doesn’t like to sit in one place for too long. I usually find plenty of reasons to move it…The dogs need to be walked, the toilets need scrubbing, I need a Starbucks mocha. And all this butt-moving has prevented me from finishing my 3-year-old novel in progress.

So yesterday, I experimented. I caffeinated. I exercised. I stretched my butt-muscles. Then I sat. And sat. And sat. I promised myself I would sit for a ridiculous amount of time at Linnea’s CafĂ© (the coolest little writer’s haven in our town, complete with pierced moody ‘emo’ kids, plenty of great coffee and treats, and resident little schizophrenic bearded-guy who sits in the corner every day with a notebook of squiggles and a jar of, um, sea worms or something…not quite sure).

So, there I sat, fighting the urge to get more carrot cake or shop at my girlfriend’s cute little boutique next door. And guess what? This “Butt-In-Chair” method works like magic! Man, I got a lot done. Don’t know if any of what I wrote is good…but it doesn’t matter, because I got stuff on paper (computer).

Who knew that good old-fashioned discipline would give me results? I’ve spent the last three years waiting for motivation to hit, or tending to all the random things around the house that “need” to get done and, consequently, I’ve written bits and pieces, but never really experienced the "writer’s high" of a marathon session. It ROCKS!

So, THANK YOU to all of my writer friends who’ve been urging me to try the “Butt-In-Chair” method for years. I’m going to try it every day this week. In the end I’ll have a finished novel…and of course a big, numb butt.

But, hey, it’s worth it!


Friday, March 24, 2006

The Easiest Way is Usually Not the Best Way -- Robin

I was able to get a lot of writing done today—not actually on paper, but in my brain. And I have Jay to thank for that.

Fridays are my writing days and I often talk to Jay about what my characters are up to and what they said to the other characters and oh, wasn’t that such a funny way to write that!? Then I usually add something like aren’t you sick of hearing about the silly antics of my characters? And he usually says something like no, of course he loves hearing about how a fictional 16-year old girl is falling in love with a boy and what she ordered at the coffee shop. (The funny thing is that he really does love hearing about that stuff!)

So today I was writing about my character interacting with a developmentally disabled character. I used to be a social worker for disabled adults and teenagers and have always wanted to include them in my books for kids so that I could show regular children having positive interactions with disabled children. Personally, I find many books include special children, but they often have an overly sympathetic tone.

My plan for today was to write about her observing a developmentally disabled person enjoy life and finding joy in the common moments. My character would miraculously learn that if someone with such a disadvantage could enjoy life so much, then she could too.

Jay listened patiently and finally said, “But isn’t that the easy way? Aren’t you just taking a disabled person and using them to cram a message down the reader’s throat?”

I realized that, yes, that is the easy way. And it’s not the best way. When I was a social worker, we were trained that the most important aspect of our job was showing respect and to treat our clients just like any other person. It’s the same in books. Singling out a disabled person just so that my character could learn a lesson from them, was, in effect, disrespectful.

I decided instead to still include the disabled character, but to have my character learn next to them, not because of them.

It’s not the easy way. But it’s the better way.

-- Robin

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Mad-Hatter Libs #1

Choose your words wisely, dear writer. We took the opening lines to some of our favorite children’s books, removed a few words, then asked children to replace them (noun for noun, body part for body part) with their own words…Mad Libs-style. Here are the results:

“Where’s Aunt Evie going with that booger?” said Weeping Willow to her mother as they were setting the loveseat for breakfast.
- from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Froggy Welsh the Two-and-a-Half is trying to get up my sock.
This is the third Monday that he’s come over to my tunnel after school. Every week we go a little further, and today, on September forty-ninth at 3:17 p.m., he’s begun inching his earlobes across my tongue and toward my retainer.
- from The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler

My name is Afghanistan Opal BacoBits, and last summer my daddy, the garbage man, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some purple rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a duckbilled platypus.
- from Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Zack Freeman woke out of a deep sleep to see his butt perched on the ledge of his bedroom window.
- from The Day My Butt Went Psycho! by Andy Griffiths
(Gotcha! We didn’t change a singe word in this one.)

Key: Aunt Evie=Papa, booger=ax, Weeping Willow=Fern, loveseat=table; Two-and-a-Half=Fourth, sock=shirt, tunnel=apartment, forty-ninth=twenty-third, earlobes=fingers, tongue=stomach, retainer=bra; Afghanistan=India, BacoBits=Buloni, garbage man=preacher, purple=white, duckbilled platypus=dog

Friday, March 17, 2006

Publish Me...I'm Balding! -- Jay

One of the best tips to strengthen any manuscript is to eliminate the “ing” words. “He ran down the hall” is stronger than “He was running down the hall.” That said, I want you to know that my head is not bald...it is balding. And this week, I embraced my thinning hair by introducing it to my razor. It’s not entirely gone, just closer now to stubble than a mane (and lookin' pretty good, if I do say so myself).

So what does this have to do with the main topic of our blog, the struggle to get published? I’ve noticed for a long time that many of my favorite male children’s book authors are bald (though some, like me, refuse to completely let go of the “ing”). Bruce Coville. Gordon Korman. Sid Fleischman. Richard Peck.

I’ve tried everything else to get published. Been through three agents. Won plenty of awards. Now I even look like a published author! So to any editor who might read this, if it’s the image that’s been keeping you away, I just took care of that.

I’m ready.

I’m waiting.



- Jay

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

My (lack of a) Day Job Gets In The Way Of My Writing Career --Eve

Does anyone else have this problem? Or am I the only lame one who can’t get my act together? Never mind, I know the answer.

Three years ago, I quit my wonderful first grade teaching job to write full-time. After all, how could I write whole books, when there were lessons to plan, papers to correct, kids to save? No time! No time!

“I’ll write full-time,” I thought. Crank out a couple books a year, make $5000 to $10,000 per book… “Hey, that’s about what I make teaching per year. But now I can make my own hours, sit around in my jammies, and go running in between four-hour writing sessions…It’s BRILLIANT!” I thought.

Problem is, I DO make my own hours, SIT around in my jammies, and GO running from time to time, but I don’t get any WRITING done! My lack of a day job has created a lazy, not-exactly-in-shape, mush-brained slacker. How did that happen?

Believe it or not, when I worked full-plus time (I call it that because no teaching job is ever full time, it’s ALL the time…grading, testing, planning, conferencing, running around from 7am to 7pm at least.), I got more writing done. How was I so efficient when I never even had time to go to the bathroom during the day? Well, that was the key. I HAD no time, so when I did have free minutes in the evenings or weekends, I wrote. I saved those precious minutes for writing…ME time. Time to sit with my thoughts and love the pen and paper (couldn’t afford a computer) and create stories and wonder and daydream…all the things I longed to do during the hectic days when I was obsessed with bumping little Ashley from a 6 to a 7 on the DRA scale, and thus a higher reading group.

So here I am with the perfect set-up. Perfect home office…check. No responsibilities or kids…check. Plenty of comfy sweat suits…check. Enough money saved so I can afford to sit in the office in my sweat suits and write ALL DAY LONG…check. Energy, motivation, and talent to write books…um…UNCHECK.

I wonder what the heck I do all day. And it kills me that the more time I have on my hands, the less I get done. It’s been three years, so I should have had 3-6 books done and published already, right? And I can’t even finish ONE. What is my problem? I still don’t know. But I think I know the solution…

I need to get a day-job.

Happy Writer's Block!

-- Eve

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

My 3-year-old is Gone - Robin

No, not my son, Luke. My other baby…my middle grade manuscript that I gave birth to three years ago. Alright fine. More like four years ago.

Today I sent him out into the world, all on his own, to see if he will be adopted by the loving editors at Dutton. I picture him sitting on their front door step, shivering from the New York cold. “It was so warm and cozy back on my mommy's laptop in California,” my manuscript will say.

The editors will crack open their doors early in the morning, push back the black snow, look down, and there they will find my cute little shivering manuscript. “He's so adorable!” they'll say. “Let's keep him! Can we? Can we…please?” They'll plead with their publisher, and she will reply, “Now we can't go keeping every sorry looking manuscript that shows up at our door. What are we? A publishing zoo!?”

And the editors will say, “But look at his unique voice and his story arc and his adorable little ending!”

The publisher will scratch her chin, tickle my manuscript behind the ears, give a little smile and say, “Hell no. Throw him out the back of the station wagon when no one's looking.”

At least, that's what I think will happen.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Bathroom Epiphanies -- Jay

In reference to my last post, I'm over it. I gave myself till the end of February to finish my YA, only to be without a computer for eight days.

But it's all good. It's all better than good.

I finished my manuscript on February 28th at 11:13pm...with 47 minutes to spare! If I had my computer those eight days, I probably would've ripped through the last few chapters, typing them exactly as I'd imagined them. Instead, I reconsidered my ending. I was happy with my ending, but I suddenly had time to reconsider it just for fun.

So where did I do this reconsidering? Well...

My greatest epiphanies occur in the bathroom. This one, lucky for you, happened in the shower. It was freezing in the house so I blasted the hot water. Because I didn't want to leave the warmth right away, I spent a few minutes standing there, thinking about my book. What if I did this instead of that? Hmm...could work. And what if, because I did that, I now do this? Wow! That's good. That's better than good.

At that moment, I smiled. And then I laughed out loud. I often laugh out loud in the bathroom, so my wife didn't think much of it.

I couldn't believe it. Because my computer went down, I actually came up with a better ending. So if they ever invent a waterproof computer, I'm writing all of my books in the shower.

- Jay