Saturday, March 22, 2014

World Jumping

As a reader, I’ve never had a problem jumping worlds. I can hop from Narnia or Middle Earth to Hogwarts to the Glade to Veronica Roth’s futuristic Chicago (occasionally all in one day) and have zero trouble completely immersing myself in each world without them really bleeding into each other. If I’m in a book, I’m all in. If you ask me to do the dishes or walk the dog, I will not hear you because in my head I’m busy following Katniss through the arena or trying to figure out what Eugenides is really up to in Attolia. Likewise as a writer of mostly MG fantasy, if I’m stuck on one story, I can usually hop from it to another and sink right into the new world without a second thought. Sure, they have some similarities. I have a fascination with castles (and evil queens if you ask one my critique partners), but there are plenty of societal differences between the worlds too.

Since I’ve never had a problem with this, it came as a bit of a shock to me when I got stuck on my YA fantasy. This is the one I began during NaNoWriMo ’13. Since November is one of my busier months as a teacher (end of first quarter and parent-teacher conferences) I actually turned it into NaNoWriMos by including December. I got about 2/3 of the way through and finished outlining the last third, but I realized I needed to do a bit more research into Joan of Arc and other teenage girls who got armies to follow them before actually writing the last third. I probably won’t have time for the depth of research that entails until spring break, so I started revising the horrible fast-draft that included a lot of  and-then-this-happeneds. Despite my VERY busy February, revisions were actually going pretty well.

Enter last weekend.

I mentioned that I finally bit the bullet and sent out query letters for one of my MG fantasy novels. I was super happy with my manuscript’s final-for-now revisions. It had gone through five or six rounds of revisions, and I was positive it was as polished as possible. Until I got a request for a full.

Then I panicked.

I spent all of last weekend reading through it just to be sure. (And two awesome friends read through it looking for typos as well.) Between the three of us we did find several typos/missing words that I’d somehow overlooked the last eleventy-billion times I read it over, so I’m very glad I didn’t send it right away.

At any rate, once I did send it, in order to (try to) keep myself from obsessing, I returned to the YA fantasy revisions only to feel like I’d smacked headlong into a tree. I worked at it for a few days, but anything I wrote just fell flat. While this was frustrating, I wasn’t too worried. I’ve had people mention to me that they have a hard time jumping from project to project/world to world. I’d never had this problem before, but there’s a first time for everything and I figured something about this particular world wasn’t working for me right now.

 Since the best cure for writer’ s block is to write, I started going through my other files and stumbled upon a MG sci-fi I had sort of outlined over a year ago before deciding I needed to do more research. As I played around with it, I found the words flowing pretty easily, despite it being set in such a drastically different world than any of my fantasies. That’s when I realized jumping worlds wasn’t the problem; shifting voices was. Having just spent a lot of time reading my MG voice, I’m finding it difficult to find my YA voice again.


Now that I’ve identified the problem, hopefully I’ll be able to overcome it soon. In the mean time, I’ll keep having fun with a couple of ten-year-olds aboard a spaceship.



P.S. If anyone else has run into the same problem, I'd love to hear about it. Especially if you have any quick fixes! :)

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Blessing of the Dreaded Synopsis

I finished the first draft of Cracked (the manuscript I'm currently shopping out) in late 2005/early 2006, and at the time it was the best thing I had written. Back then it was called Reflection. It began with a ten page prologue that happened when the main character was four years old and set the rest of the plot, which happens nine years later, into motion. The whole thing was from his POV, but the narration was self-indulgent; his vocabulary sounded more like mine, including during the prologue when he was four. Also at one point, he referred to porridge as "the watery concoction" because Heaven forbid I use the word "porridge" twice in one paragraph.

But I didn't see any of that as a problem then.


My problem was the synopsis. I couldn't write one to save my life. At least not a decent one. I wrote one before heading to Chautauqua that summer because I had to send one to my critique-r, but it was mediocre at best, and I knew it. Chautauqua was seriously amazing, but it did not, unfortunately, magically fix my problem with writing synopses: mainly that I suck at it.


Fast-forward a few years, and I returned to this story. I realized I needed to ditch the prologue and integrate the salient information into the actual story. As I did that, it quickly became clear to me that I'd been wrong completely delusional in 2006. What I thought was really good when I finished it was extremely...not. So I pulled it apart and put it back together again. It took for.ev.er. But it was totally worth the effort. The beginning is more hook-y (I think) and the narration is more authentic. No more "watery concoction"; it's just porridge.


All-in-all, it's a much stronger piece now than it was in 2006. And as much as still I loathe the dreaded synopsis, if it hadn't slowed me down, I would have attempted to send out a much weaker manuscript and gathered an armful of form rejections without really understanding why.


So thanks, dreaded synopsis, for tripping me up. (And you can stop doing that any time now.)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Querying update

So I've come to the conclusion that the first query fiasco ended up being a good thing. I was SO nervous before I sent it. It not only took me an hour to scrape up the nerve to press send, but also a volley of text messages between me and a friend and (because I'm a big dork) background music from Wicked the musical.

It's time to trust my instincts,
Close my eyes and leap...

I did. With my eyes closed, I pressed send right on the word "leap". (I did mention I'm a big dork, right?)

Anyway, I had originally started with just that one query as sort of a test, thinking that I'd wait to hear back (or not) before sending out any more. I was very concerned about unnecessarily blowing opportunities, which is exactly what happened with the first query. Once it happened, it didn't seem so bad.

I sent out four more queries last Saturday. On Friday night, I received a request for a full from an agent I really like!

Thanks to everyone who offered words of encouragement after my last post. You all were right.






Saturday, March 8, 2014

Really bummed

So I finally took the plunge and queried an agent a few days ago. I've spent more than a year just writing the dumb query. First query ever. I only sent it to her. I re-read it about 10,000 times before I sent it just to make sure there were no typos. I was so nervous I spent over an hour gearing myself up to press send.

And I addressed it to Ms. (Agency's last name) instead of her last name.

HOW DID I MISS THAT 10,000 TIMES????

I heard her speak a few years ago at a SCBWI convention, I follow her on Twitter, I've googled her pet peeves.


I KNOW HER FREAKING NAME!!!!

From what I've read, that's an automatic delete.

Maybe some day this will be a funny story, but right now I'm going to go eat chocolate.

Edited for further thoughts: It could've been worse. I could've gotten her name wrong on television, on stage at the Oscars...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Choice, choices...

Shannon Hale's new book Dangerous was released today. It's downloading to my Kindle as I type. I'd dive into it RIGHT NOW except the third book in Jennifer Nielsen's Ascendance trilogy also came out, and I finally have time to read it.

Are you trying to kill me, publishing industry?

Today has been an odd day. After a period of extreme busyness helping to prepare my school's six competitive Destination Imagination teams for the regional tournament last Saturday, we've had a Sunday and two snow days during, which allowed me to watch Adele Nazeem sing "Let It Go" on the Oscars, (Seriously, Trovotlo? I thought you were a theater guy. How do you NOT know how to pronounce Idina Menzel?) and catch up on critiques for my writer buddies, who generously allowed me extensions because of DI.

I also tinkered a bit with a query letter to an agent and managed to resist mentioning our mutual love of wombats in the off chance that marsupials aren't the best foundation on which to begin a business relationship. The wombat-free message is sitting in my e-mail box right now, but I can't bring myself to press "send" yet. Because I'm a humongous chicken.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Writers' Remote

Don't you wish SCBWI would issue all its members with a "writers remote controller"?

No, seriously. It could be awesome.

We'd have tons more time to write if we could pause our real-life obligations like cooking dinner and grading the fifty-three science notebooks currently sitting in a bag next to me us.

We could also fast forward the more unpleasant aspects of being an aspiring writer (like fighting with synopses and endlessly debating whether the time is right to send query letters that don't mention a mutual adoration of wombats to one's dream agent.) Oooo! And we could even fast forward to when we get rejection letters, then rewind and fix things (either in the query or the partial) prior to sending them out. It would be like an endless supply of do-overs! 

I'm liking this.

Get on it, SCBWI. (Please.)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Boys Without Names (Spoilers Ahead)

Every year my fifth graders study two novels in addition to expository texts and short stories from an anthology. They study Tuck Everlasting in January and Carolyn Reeder's Shades of Gray. (And yes, we do get raised eyebrows and sometimes confused e-mails from parents when we announce this, which is why I've started referring to it as "the-children's-post-Civil-War-novel-Shades-of-Gray-by-children's-author-Carolyn-Reeder.")

This year my awesome principal gave my team permission to add a third novel study. Instead of just picking a novel for the entire grade to read, we decided we want to offer choice literature circles to introduce our Heritage unit. The school where I teach is incredibly diverse. We have students whose parents are from six out of seven continents and something like forty different countries, so we wanted to offer novels that reflect some of the different cultures and backgrounds of students at our school.

Before the end of last school year, we decided on A Single Shard and When My Name Was Keoko (both by Linda Sue Park), Esparanza Rising (Pam Munoz Ryan), Dragonwings (Lawrence Yip), The Storyteller's Beads (Kurtz), The Breadwinner (Ellis), and Number the Stars (Lowry).

Then over the summer, I read Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth. Right away, I knew I had to add it to our list.

The story begins with Gopal's family secretly escaping moneylenders in their rural village by moving to Mumbai to live with Gopal's uncle. Things don't quite go as planned, and after falling for another boy's trick, Gopal ends up locked in a sweatshop making beaded frames from dawn to dusk.

It's hard to place my finger on exactly why I love this story so much, but I think it comes down to Gopal's purity of heart, and how he doesn't lose that even when his situation deteriorates. Even in the face of horrible conditions, he remains others-focused, which is a characteristic many of us here in the U.S. could stand to develop further. Additionally, Sheth creates a clear picture of Indian culture in modern Mumbai through Gopal's eyes, which makes it perfect for our novel study.

I'm really excited about these literature circles. My team and I hope to add more choices each year as we come across them. If anyone knows of additional middle grade novels (realistic fiction) you'd recommend--especially those set in South America and Africa--I'd love to hear about them!