Friday, December 17, 2010
Taking stock of the year, what has happened in it and what you've accomplished!
So many people I know with new agents, new deals...new connections and writer friends, even new blogs! (like this one!)
I am so grateful for all of it, for all of you, that I can hardly imagine that 2011 could get any better! But of course if will, as my book comes out in march! (insane!) I'd love to know what cool thing happened to you. Won't you leave a comment and let us know?
So from all of us here at Project Mayhem, happy holidays! And may you get your hearts desire in the coming year too!!
We will see you in the new year!
Friday, December 10, 2010
SM: Windblowne is my debut fantasy adventure. I set out to write the sort of book I would have wanted to read as a kid (or as an adult, I suppose), and ended up with a story about this mountaintop world of wind and a dimension-hopping lad named Oliver who befriends a self-aware kite.
PM: What inspired you to write Windblowne? Did you like kites as a kid? And/or giant old oak trees?
SM: I grew up on various hilltops in Maine and Arizona and there are pictures of me flying all sorts of kites on them. These landscapes inform various chapters of the book. Now I live in Durham, North Carolina, which is full of beautiful oak trees, and it was easy to imagine living in giant versions of them, as people do in the town of Windblowne.
PM: Why middle grade?
SM: In my life, this was the age when I was most influenced by books, so to me it’s the most important time for a reader, and that is who I like to write for.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Um ... had I gone completely crazy?
Maybe! But more important, I had stumbled upon a fresh way of looking at a familiar task.
For those who haven't witnessed the spellbinding appeal of Home and Garden Television, let me explain. Designed to Sell shows how to turn a tired house into a showpiece by giving sellers a minimal budget and a team of experts (like the amazing architect/interior designer John Gidding and designer Lisa Laporta) to transform their house into the hottest property on the block. On Income Property, wizardly carpenter Scott McGillivray helps first-time homebuyers turn part of their house into rentals to help with the mortgage. He transforms hideous basement dumps into beautiful living units, and we see the renovations and the incredible reveals.
These successful designers are continually harping on the importance of creating a "harmonious whole" and "unifying the space," "maximizing potential" and creating "curb appeal." They routinely find inventive, inexpensive solutions to a variety of homey shortcomings.
In my editing process, I too want to maximize potential with easy, affordable fixes, and I regularly come across problems that get in the way of a harmonious whole. Characters clash with settings, situations clash with dialog, and the all-important believability of the fictional world suffers, which brings down the property value of the material.
Likening editing to renovating a house has completely inspired me. I realize now that when I take the time to upgrade the kitchen linoleum, I'd better look into upgrading the cabinets and appliances too, and the backsplash and the lighting fixtures. If I spot a bit of mildew on a portion of drywall, I can be sure the frame needs replacing, or if the floor is the problem, the very foundation needs looking at.
I want curb appeal. As the reader approaches the story, I want to create lively interest straight away. Then, when the newly sanded and stained front door is opened and he or she enters the house, er tale, I want to show a space that flows. I want to highlight the view from the beautifully installed windows, which means rearranging the clunky furniture so it's no longer in the way. I want to create a welcoming home that grows warmer and more inviting from room to room. In short, I want a story readers will be happy to live in.
And what gets in the way of that? Too many knickknacks. Too much "personality." Mismatched furniture. Outmoded fixtures. The wrong shade of paint. Among so many other things!
Some changes are cosmetic. Some require drastic demolition and reconstruction. But in the end, there's a house to be proud of, and a story that sells itself!
—by Timothy Power
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
When I pick up a new book, setting is one of the key ingredients that will keep me reading. It may be a slow story or one in which I haven't yet connected with the characters, but if it has a captivating setting, I'll keep going just to visit that world a little bit longer.
Some of my favorite authors are masters at crafting welcoming settings. L. M. Montgomery instilled in me a sight-unseen love for Prince Edward Island when I first read her books. So much so that fifteen years later my husband surprised me with a honeymoon trip to PEI one autumn. How's that for the far-reaching influence of an author's imagination? And every time I reread an Anne of Green Gables story, I want to skip on over to Canada for another visit.
As a fantasy author, setting is also a crucial component of my world building. It can be difficult to find the right balance between an overload of details and the one or two lines that will sketch the scene for my reader. I often have to tone down my over-enthusiastic descriptions when I'm revising. But when I'm writing a first draft, I let myself go.
My favorite way to get my creative juices flowing is to weed through my hoard of magazine clippings. Whenever I spot an eye-catching setting in a catalog or magazine, I tear it out and file it away. Sometimes, the picture itself is so inspiring that I want to create a scene around it. That's what happened with the dormitory in The Tale of Una Fairchild. In my mind, the students were housed in a wooded area, and I had a vague idea that there were giant trees involved. Then I saw these clippings:
the beds that resembled trees,
and the lodge-like decor.
What do you think, fellow readers? Would you like to wing over on a flight of imagination and visit the rooms above? Have you ever wanted to go and stay awhile in some delightful book world? What are some things you remember about the setting of your favorite books?
Monday, November 22, 2010
I don’t remember ever participating in a Thanksgiving pageant myself, which is probably a good thing, because I didn’t have the kind of mother who could easily whip up a pilgrim costume. The time spent thinking about costumes seems to be a huge part of the anticipation of these events. Only a few of the children with worry personalities stress over the lack of perfection in a costume. Middle graders’ imaginations allow them to look at a child with a few feathers stuck on a brown shirt and see a turkey.
As an adult, I most love the part where each child has to say what he or she is thankful for. The more thoughtful ones always mention a mother, father or a grandparent, and that’s something so important I try to remember when I’m writing. Even though we come up with convoluted ways to get caregivers out of the picture in middle grade stories, their presence still is such a huge part of a middle grader’s existence and thoughts. When it comes to brothers and sisters, though, most don’t mention them. That always surprised me until we brought a second child to our own home and sibling rivalry hit us in the face. There’s no doubt siblings are of major importance, but the relationships even at that age are complicated and certainly not always smooth.
If siblings don’t get much mention, pets do. Has there ever been a middle grader who thinks they have enough pets, or who isn’t interested in them even if they don’t have one? My daughter knows the names and histories of all her friends’ pets but can’t remember the names of the elderly neighbors who have lived near us since she was a baby.
The kids who don’t spend much time contemplating life and relationships mention food. Pumpkin pie gets high marks, but I’m always astounded at how many kids are thankful for mashed potatoes. Most middle graders don’t have a complicated relationship with food. There’s no concern about cholesterol or calories. It’s either good or bad, or totally inedible and would probably make a person gag.
How the kids present themselves during the pageant is middle grade in a microcosm. Most aren’t yet self-conscious about appearing before their peers in handmade turkey costumes or pilgrim bonnets. They are so happy to have attention focused on them, even for brief moments, that they willingly sing silly songs and make gobble noises. For most, attention is not something to be avoided, as will become the case later on. There are always a few of the extreme shy ones who find it torture to stand up and talk. I agonize with those children as they wring their hands waiting for their turn and then mumble out sentences no one can hear. I think everyone in the audience holds their breaths hoping the child won’t cry. That memory, of trying hard not to cry, has to be one every adult shares, even if they weren’t the crying type.
I find when I’m writing about holidays from a kid point of view I have to strip away all the memories of disastrous family gatherings I remember as an adult. As a child, I didn’t catch every detail of the tensions between various relatives who didn’t like each other. I was unhappy if my parents were unhappy or snappy, but I never realized two of my aunts only spoke to each other on holidays.
I remember holidays as being a strange mix of boredom and freedom, where the adults were too occupied with discussing the health problems of distant relatives to bother making sure the kids were doing anything useful. I also remember how I schemed to avoid being served gravy, something I thought a disgusting invention, but one the rest of my relatives seemed to regard as some elixir of the gods. Then there was always the attempt to see how much whipped cream I could put on my pumpkin pie before someone noticed and disapproved. I guess if someone has asked me back then, I would have said I was thankful for mashed potatoes too.
So what do you remember about Thanksgiving as a child? ETA: I shouldn't have just asked about Thanksgiving, because I don't want to limit comments to American or Canadian memories. Jump in for any holiday that involves a family gathering and a large amount of food!
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
Friday, November 5, 2010
|Gratuitous picture of my new puppy, |
Noodle. Isn't he adorable?
For the longest time, this statement colored my perception of what the editorial process would be like. I pictured it as a horrible, heart-wrenching dictatorship where I’d be obligated to do whatever the editor wanted, even if it meant dismantling much of a story into which I had poured so much of my time and spirit.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
|What do you mean overcapacity??|
|I accepted your friend request, what more do you want??|
|Uhhh...You're doing it wrong...|
xoxo -- Hilary
Friday, October 29, 2010
Is NaNo for you?
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say no.
In all honesty, if you look at your sentences and think that you are the Next Great American Novelist, I would humbly ask you to sit back, stop smoking whatever you're on and think a spell.
Most writers work a long time on their novels. Think about them longer. (I mean, I had the idea for POSSUM SUMMER like what, 20 years ago? I knew I couldn't write it back in the day) Work on their skillset, their way to tell a story, their everything. What they don't work on is their ego.
Ego will kill a writer.
I can't tell you how many writers I've worked with whose ego has far exceeded anything they've managed to finish. Ones that don't want to edit, because "they know best". Ones that irritate agents with rants and make the process harder for writers who really try to improve and treat agents and editors like the humans they are. The ones that talk about their craft so much I puke.
These people, these egos, I will say, respectfully: they are not needed.
Save NaNo for the people who try to finish that book they have inside them. You've started a book a few times, set it aside when you didn't know what you wanted to do? You've had an idea for the coolest book ever and want to write it, just don't have the time? That is what NaNo is for.
To strive for the beauty of the book, not the stroking of the ego.
You? Know anybody like that? And will you be doing NaNo?
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
(Its first birthday, as a matter of fact, so technically there should be only one candle on that cake. Hopefully, when it reaches that many candles, it will still be in print!)
Something near and dear to me is now making its way in the world, and I'm reflecting on the many wonderful influences that got it there.
When I was a middle grade kid, I spent countless happy hours in my parents' bedroom closet, hiding from the daily drama, sprawled on my stomach, reading middle grade books. I visited Oz more times than I can remember, and Narnia, and Middle Earth. I made friends with Martha, Jane, Mark, and Katharine in Half Magic, and Eliza, Jack, Roger, and Ann in The Time Garden. I foiled a Hanoverian plot with Dido Twite and Simon the painter. I learned that a tesseract was a fold in space used by time travelers.
What made me happy yesterday was reading Danny the Champion of the World. I enjoyed it as much as I would have when I was ten years old. Am I eternally juvenile? Maybe so, but there's a better explanation: I'm just as much of a person as I was then, and middle grade books are about people.
Sometimes when I tell people about The Boy Who Howled, I get the feeling they think it's a lesser accomplishment to have written a children's book than an adult thriller or even a young adult romance. These people have forgotten that they've always been people, even when they were little. So it's time I made a blanket statement. Every great writer, without exception, was turned on to reading and writing by a book he or she loved as a middle grade kid. That would include all the authors on the New York Times bestseller lists.
Which makes middle grade the most important genre. (With every blanket statement comes a blanket conclusion!)
This is my birthday wish, before I blow out the candle. I want everyone who's starting a family to remember this:
Read to your kids. Take them to the library. Let them pick out their own books. And be glad that they're people, like you!
Friday, October 22, 2010
I once read an interview with J.K. Rowling where she said that several of her ideas were inspired by Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. And so I was introduced to this handy little book that provides a short definition for common phrases, mythological happenings, and other tidbits having to do with all things whimsical. Maybe I'm letting out a fabulous secret, or maybe every author out there is already combing Brewer's pages. But if you're looking for some great plot ideas (or a way to procrastinate), have a look through Brewer's compilation.
You can find it on Amazon or even browse online FOR FREE!
As you skim through it, you'll recognize a lot of familiar concepts, but I guarantee that your imagination will be sparked by other fascinating odds and ends. I'll pick the "E's" at random and include a few entries with story potential to pique your interest:
Earthmen (The) Gnomes and fairies of the mines: a solemn race, who nevertheless can laugh most heartily and dance most merrily.
Electuary Something to be licked up, a medicine made "thick and slab," which cannot be imbibed like a liquid nor bolted like a pill, but which must be licked up like honey.
Endymion in Greek mythology, is the setting sun with which the moon is in love. Endymion was condemned to endless sleep and everlasting youth.
Evil Eye It was anciently believed that the eyes of some persons darted noxious rays on objects which they glared upon. The first morning glance of such eyes was certain destruction to man or beast, but the destruction was not unfrequently the result of emaciation.
Elshender or Cannie Elshie. The Black Dwarf, alias Sir Edward Mauley, alias the Recluse, alias the Wise Wight of Mucklestane Moor.
I've never read Sir Walter Scott's The Black Dwarf, but, I mean, seriously? The Wise Wight of Mucklestane Moor? That's a title I'd totally grab off the shelf. I think Dr. Brewer - fortunate enough to be christened with the handle Ebenezer Cobham - had an eye for curiosities.
Have I sold you on the pure brilliance that is Brewer's yet? If not, hop on over to the online edition, and let us know if you find anything good!
So, now that I've dished on one of my favorites, do you have any sources of inspiration you'd like to share?
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
The most glaring way to make something not middle grade is to have too many snarky characters. Certain television shows may make it seem like 11-year-olds are the most incredibly sophisticated, world-weary, witty mini-adults, but middle grade writers who have actually been around children know 11-year-olds don’t have the speech patterns of Jon Stewart wannabes.
As brave teachers know, in a group of thirty middle-graders, there will probably be one or two precocious ones who can outsnark most adults, but the rest of them talk like kids. That means there will be lots of teasing, random thoughts popping up that have nothing to do with the current conversation, some one-upmanship, and general silliness. There is absolutely not going to be deep discussions about feelings, nor much talk about life beyond the next few weeks, except when it involves birthday party or Halloween costume planning, all of which are discussed months in advance.
There is also an amazing difference in the way most kids talk among themselves and how they talk (or don’t) when a non-family adult or close friend of the family is present. By middle-grade age, most kids don’t let their whole personalities show around unfamiliar adults. They become much more quiet, except for the few very confident ones.
I get tired of the articles I read that claim you can hook middle grade boys with stories containing jokes about body functions. By the time boys are middle-grade age, those jokes are no longer so funny to most of them and they don't tell so many of them. A first grader will laugh, but most fifth grader have moved way beyond that. When they are together, they are much more interested in talking about their current obsessions, whether it be games, sports, books, movies, tv shows, or anything that fascinates them. And a fascination for one kid will lead him to talk about it whether or not anyone else is interested. There are books that describe toddlers doing ‘parallel play’, where they are playing next to each other, but not interacting. I think middle-graders have a lot of parallel conversations. It can be very funny to listen to three kids discussing three different subjects all at the same time. Sometimes one will listen to another, but often they just keep talking.
I have loved my years of being a mom chauffeur and eavesdropping in on middle-grader conversation. Kids at that age are so funny, it is one of the reasons I chose to write for this age group. I'd love to hear more tips and thoughts from any of you as writers, parents, teachers or librarians ~Dee
Thursday, October 7, 2010
One type worked with humans, the other type was the human.
Let me esplain. Those that worked with humans were the loyal sidekicks. The animal the kid in the story aspired to save / ride / win over. They were animals, had animal feelings and we as the humans could only guess at their motives.
The other type were those that 'were' the humans in the books. Anthropomorphism, I do believe it's called. Where the animal made the city, saved the day and they had their feelings out there for all to see...they were the humans (except for that small 'has a tail and excessive body hair' bit).
An excellent example of these two types are actually blog books here, actually. *g* Hilary Wagner's NIGHTSHADE CITY features anthropomorphic rats at their best - and earthworms! - while my book, POSSUM SUMMER, is on the other end of the scale...with the heartbreaking yet (hopefully) uplifting storyline.
I've read them both, and others, and really? Some days I just want to be picked up and hurled into a world where the animals are the humans. Some days I want what was my reality for so long. Who hasn't looked at their cat, watching them from the window, and wondered what exactly that dastardly beast was planning?
And you? Which type of animal story fits you best?
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Friday, October 1, 2010
|Billycan from Nightshade City|
your support!!! I can finally relax now--NOT!!! ;)
xoxo -- Hilary
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Friday, September 24, 2010
I once saw an interview with Ian Holm (think Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring) where he described this approach to his film roles: for each take of a scene, he would adopt a fresh angle.
The lines were the same.
The setting was the same.
But he always tweaked his delivery, just to see how it could be different. The end result was that he thoroughly explored his character and gave the director a whole slew of different options for the final film.
Are you stuck on a scene? Do your characters feel wooden? Or maybe something’s just not right, but you can’t put your finger on it.
Try writing from a fresh angle. Play around with your characters. Give them a stance, a voice, or a motivation you haven’t seen before. Make adjustments to the setting. What would change if the scene took place in the middle of the night? During a busy workday? First thing in the morning?
Or pick a side character – maybe someone who merely passes through a scene – and explore her backstory. Tweak her delivery, just to see how it could be different. You may be surprised by the end result.
Some writing friends I know have done this as a group. Everyone hands off a chunk of a current work in progress to someone else in the group. Then they each write the next scene of their partner’s work. It’s a challenging exercise for a writer.
On the one hand, you must try to enter into another author’s world and continue the story. Writing in an unfamiliar voice, exploring a different genre, tackling the type of writing you might never do on your own – all of this is great practice.
And, on the receiving end, you get fresh insight into your own work. Perhaps your partner will take the story in an unpredictable and interesting direction. Perhaps these new ideas will reveal the weak spots in your plot or setting. If nothing else, the combined effort should get your creative juices flowing.
As writers, we can often be so motivated to print off that fat draft of our manuscript that we focus primarily on productivity. Of course, this is important, or we’d be stuck in endless cycles of revisions.
But sometimes it’s worth it to playfully rewrite our work in progress, even if it doesn’t seem very productive at the time. What are some things you do to bring new energy to a project? What has (or hasn't!) worked for you?