Sunday, May 30, 2010

Interrupted Interruptions

That is the Celtic symbol for chaos. It will all make sense to you in the end. Hopefully, that second sentence is true for most things.

In college, one of my professors told us how J R R Tolkien had several children, and he locked himself in a room and wrote for up to twenty hours at a time.

I was about nineteen at the time, and I remember imagining some kind of Mary Poppins in the background sailing paper boats with them on the banks of the Thames and feeding them porridge. I always imagined British kids sitting at the table eating grayish oatmealy things. It was probably from watching Oliver Twist one too many times. They were constantly eating gray, gloppy stuff out of bowls. I remember being absolutely fixated for a time on the word offal which I could not really believe anyone had or would ever consume.

I figured if I was going to have kids (and I was leaning toward the absolutely never side of that question back then), I would put them outside and go about my novel business. You can tell I didn't babysit much.

I am kind of interrupting myself here on purpose. Blogs are like little snapshots of what is going on with folks and I have been leading a life of non finishing. Here are some things I have learned in the past week or so:

1. When you sit down to work on your new middle grade, you can't believe you have an hour to work. It's a weekend morning. You actually lock the indignant cats out of the room so they can't walk across the keyboard. Five minutes into your manuscript, you hear an insistent "Moooommmmm" and you know, instantly, what is wrong.

2. Strep throat can transform itself into acute pharyngitis. This is when a kid's throat begins to close and fun activities like swallowing and breathing become difficult. You don't know this until you drive up to the ER and your kid is seen.

3. It's a very bad sign when the triage nurse in the ER says, "Aren't you Anne? I remember you..." You shouldn't know the employees of the local ER unless you work there.

4. A steroid shot in the butt can open the throat until the antibiotics take effect.

5. The next time you sit down, it is late on Thursday afternoon, after working most of the day on the non-writing job. The kids are, miraculously, quiet. You get almost a full paragraph written when the door opens, "Mom, I need a white dress shirt for the concert."

"Hmmm, when's the concert?"

"At six."

It is currently 5:10.

A white dress shirt is found in the back of a closet. Emma and I wash the cuffs and neck and use a blow dryer to dry it. You arrive one minute of six. You look up on stage and realize your dashing young man never put on the black dress shoes, but is up there in his dress clothes - and a very well worn pair of Nike sneakers. You decide this is fine because it's an arty, Andy Warhol kind of look.

6. Emma keeps introducing your Malaysian house guest to American music. Because she's 11, this spring's musical selection is Lady Gaga:

I wan you ugly/I wan you dizeese/I wan you ever ting/long as it free...

Eventually, I am going back to that middle grade. It's still waiting for me and it won't change unless I decide it will.

I wish the same were true for the kids.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Those Voices in Your Head

One of the main reasons teens dislike certain authors is, according to my entirely random survey, "They never sound like anyone I know." I think it's really difficult to get down authentic teenspeak; in fact, I think it's really difficult to get down any human dialogue that sounds authentic. But dialogue makes or breaks a story: if the writer lacks a good ear, it becomes dreary reading.

To some degree, you have to prune dialogue. I have this weird knack of remembering fairly long passages of conversation (and then forgetting to pick up ketchup two shopping trips in a row). Here is an actual dialogue that took place in my house on a Sunday morning:

Emma: "Mom, did you know that the juice of a dandelion root will remove moles?"

Mom: "How do you know that? And why would you want to?"

Emma: "I looked it up. It's right on Google."

Mom: "I'm beginning to think that you have too much free time. And you don't have moles."

Dad: "We have moles? Where? In the garden?"

Emma: "But I could get moles. You get moles when you get old. I never want moles."

Dad: "I haven't seen any moles and I was outside clearing brush."

Christopher: "Who ate the rest of that pizza?"

Emma: "You did. Duh."

Christopher: "I thought there was a piece left."

Emma: "You have to boil the dandelion root."

Mom: "Do you drink it or put it right on the moles?"

Dad: "Is that what moles eat? Dandelions?"

Christopher: "Are there any pizza rolls in the freezer?"

Dad: "You know moles are also spies..."

And so it went.

Alfred Hitchcock once said that a good story was "life, with the dull parts taken out."

I think the same applies to dialogue, maybe even more so.

Right now, I have changed the dialogue on a new YA no less than 17 times. I haven't written more than three pages in any one "voice", but none of them make me go, "Yeah, that's what she sounds like." I jot down different opening sentences that I think will fit this girl, but I think I'm having so much trouble because she's not really present in my mind. I'm going to put this idea away for a time, and wait for it to happen.

My guess is that writing good dialogue, dialogue that advances the plot and fleshes out the characters, rises from listening to those voices in your head of characters that don't exist - at least not yet.

I'm wondering how many centuries ago they would have burned you at the stake for admitting that.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Guest Post

I am blog hopping for the weekend.

I did a guest post over on Donna's blog at Bites. It's a great blog for YA writers with lots of book reviews and contests - hopefully you can stop over there and join the discussion on writing.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Breathless and A New Interview

I have been swamped these last two weeks or so, more swamped than I ever want to be again.


We had some family illness, a good friend in a car accident, the end of the college semester with term papers and final exams, college entrance forms, prom preparations and a few other incredibly time-consuming situations that all added up to some of these behaviors:

1. Buying underwear at WalMart on my way home from the college so I could put off laundry one more day to grade papers.

2. Not one, not two, but three family sized packages of Lean Pockets and two giant bags of pre made salad as dinner two nights in a row.

3. I can now name all the items on the McDonald's value menu.

4. Ditto Walmart and sock buying.

5. Only using the computer to post grades and/or correspond with students.

I've been remiss in keeping a blog and in visiting other ones, but I'm back now, and hopefully with the end of the college semester, I will be stalking all my favorite blogs again.

Foreword magazine, which did a really nice review of Light Beneath Ferns, just posted this interview.

I've subscribed to them, and not just because they wrote a nice review of my book; they do a great job of reviewing a lot of independently published books.

I'll be back sooner than last time. Hope you enjoy the interview!