Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dear Baby Barbara

I was inspired by this post to write a letter to Baby Barbara.

Who is Baby Barbara? 

She's ME twenty-five years ago, longing to become a published author of children's books.

Now that I'm older and wiser, here are some of the things I would tell Baby Barbara.

** While all those rejections letters are coming in, don't just sit there and cry about them. Either figure out how to improve whatever is being rejected or work on something new, for criminey's sake.

** Hooray! You finally sold a manuscript. Now your foot is in the door and anything you submit after that will be published. Right? 

WRONG. No matter how many books you publish, each and every one must undergo the same scrutiny, the same consideration, the same acquisition discussions. Just because you've published one book, or twenty books, doesn't mean your next one will be published. Each one must stand on its own merits. 

(And when an unpublished author friend says, "Well, of course, your publisher is going to accept your manuscript. You're already published," you have my permission to punch her in the nose. Hard.

** Don't spend all that money mailing out a gazillion postcards to a gazillion bookstores. Just don't. Go ahead and get some postcards with your book jacket and reviews, etc., to give out at conferences and send to some key people or selected stores or whatever. But make wise choices. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I don't think doing a huge mailing is money well spent.

** Do get active on social media. Get a blog and post to it regularly. Get on Facebook and Twitter. Connect with book people regularly. This is a much cheaper way to reach a lot of people than all those postcards you mailed.

** Do take time to acknowledge all the wonderful book lovers who connect with you - thru emails or social media or whatever. Teachers. Librarians. Etc. Those people are champions of children's literature and you are lucky to connect with them. It's a win-win.

** Study the marketing done by writers you admire and who seem to be "out there" everywhere and clearly sell a lot of books.

** But remember that you are NOT those other writers. If you can't sew a moose costume or bake school bus cookies or design interactive games or create glow-in-the-dark bookmarks or visit every bookstore in the U.S. or deliver keynote speeches at major conferences, then don't. Do whatever YOU can do.

** Stop feeling pressure to speak at every conference or visit every school or make charming but educational videos or create brilliant brochures. Just stop it. 

** It's okay to say NO. No one will hate you. Your career won't be ruined. You won't be a useless, wasted, has-been, sorry-excuse-for-a-human-being.

** Some reviews will hurt your feelings. They just will. Read them. Cry. Cuss. Eat Oreos. Drink whiskey. Move on.

** Stay away from GoodReads. It is toxic to your soul. Haters gonna hate. 

People who feel the need to tell the world your book is a waste of a good tree (without thoughtful and constructive criticism) are puppy-kickers. Stay away.

** And whatever you do, do NOT respond to the puppy-kicking haters. Just don't. 

Buy yourself a voodoo doll if that makes you feel better. Or write cuss words on your driveway with chalk. Or buy those cute shoes you saw at Macy's yesterday. 

But do not write a response to haters. They will only hate you more and you will look stupid in the eyes of the world.

** Stop checking your Amazon sales rank incessantly. It's stupid. 

** You know all that time you spent checking your Amazon sales rank and reading hate reviews on GoodReads? You could have written six more pages of your new novel and had time left over to buy a purse online at Nordstrom.

** You will be envious of other writers. They win more awards. They get more starred reviews. They have more Twitter followers. They speak at more conferences. Their publishers send them on international book tours and they have their books made into movies starring Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp. 

Envy is a natural human emotion and you aren't going to hell and back for feeling it. 

But feel it and then....get over it. 

Remind yourself that you've sold a book. You've spoken at a conference. You had a nice review. Whatever. There might even be someone out there envying you

Focus on the positive and slam the door on the negative.

** AND remember your peers are your friends. Fellow writers will help you, give you advice and be there when you need to hash out a problem. They will cheer your successes and lament your troubles.

** Be grateful. 

You sit in front of the fire in your jammies and slippers on a snowy day and make up stories. 

You visit schools with hallways lined with welcome signs and drawings based on your books. 

You receive letters from kids that make you laugh. 

You see a book with your name on the cover in the book store. 

You receive letters from teachers who read your books to their classes.

You are doing what you love and don't have to ask "Do you want fries with that?"

Be grateful, Baby Barbara, be grateful.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Quote of the Day

Writers are always anxious, always on the run — from the telephone, from responsibilities, from the distractions of the world.

--Edna O'Brien

Monday, September 15, 2014

Frances Foster

Tomorrow I'm heading to New York for the memorial service for my editor of 18 years, Frances Foster.

She was the best of the best.

I was blessed.

So today I'm reposting this Macmillan blog about:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Things I Do (But Am Not Saying You Should, Too)

So, a while back I had a blog post called Things I Don't Do (But Sometimes Wish I Did).

You can read it HERE

I was surprised and delighted that I made a lot of folks feel better and maybe saved you a little money on therapy. You're welcome.

But in that post I promised to write about some things I do do. 

First and foremost, however, it's important to note that I am not telling you that you should do these things.

They are things that help me.

They might not help you.

So feel free to just roll your eyes and move along.

1. I make what I call a story map. You can read about what it is and why I do it HERE.

2. I often draw an actual "map" of my main setting. Clearly, I am no artist (as evidenced below). But this visual is useful when maneuvering a character around the setting.

A map of the setting of On the Road to Mr. Mineo's

Ironically, when the brilliant artist, Greg Call, was sketching a map of the setting for the interior of the book, my editor, Frances Foster, asked me if I happened to have drawn a map. I reluctantly told her I had, but it was, um, a bit primitive. (For a brief moment, I considered redrawing it - or better yet, having someone else draw it.) But I sent my silly map and, magically, here is Greg's version:

3. I use Scrivener.  I think most of my writer friends do, as well. There's so much to love about this program, but one is that it  provides a number of ways to organize a novel visually.

For instance, the corkboard, on which index cards can be arranged, rearranged, color-coded, labeled, etc.

This is The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis
I also love the Outliner feature, which can be customized to include whatever elements are important to you and your novel.

This is a work-in-progress. I've included a brief description of each chapter, along with setting and timeline. You could add characters or emotional arcs or whatever.
I had a computer crash a while back and lost my Scrivener version of On the Road to Mr. Mineo's. Dang it. I'd love to show you that because, since it had 10 points-of-view, Scrivener was invaluable to me. I was able to color code each point of view. I could also take them out of the manuscript and group them together to see how they flowed. (That probably makes no sense, but, trust me, it was very useful.)

Monday, September 8, 2014


Happy Adoption Day to Martha!
Two years ago....

All the way from Indiana

Car ride home

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Things I Don't Do (But Sometimes Wish I Did)

I've been reading this awesome book called Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo.

It's a compilation of LOTS of interviews with amazing songwriters, such as Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Carole King, Randy Newman, Frank Zappa, Carlos Santana, Dave Brubeck, Brian Wilson and on and on and on.

One thing I love about it is reading how different their writing processes are.

Some write every day.

Some don't.

Some write only when inspiration strikes.

Some force the writing.

Some write the whole song at once.

Some write part of it and let it stew for a while.

Some need total quiet.

Some write on tour buses or in hotel rooms.

So, that got me to thinking about writing PROCESS.

And I've come to the conclusion that.....different strokes for different folks.

There should be no RULES, because everybody is different. are the things I DON'T do, even though I've heard that I should:

1. I don't write every day. Some days I'm not inspired. Some days I'm in a school. Some days I'm watching Judge Judy reruns. But I've written 10 books, so I do, eventually, get the job done.

2. I don't outline. I would LOVE to outline. I'm a super organized person whose favorite possession is a label maker. But they just don't work for me. I develop the story as I'm writing.

3. I don't keep a writer's journal. I want to. So. Bad. I want to write really cool stuff like Linda Urban does. OMG. I LOVE her journals! I love reading how her thoughts and ideas turn into novels.

When I'm in schools, I want to tell students that I keep a writing journal. I want to tell them I carry a little notebook wherever I go. I've considered lying, but I'm a terrible liar. 

And I love journals. I buy lovely leather ones with handmade paper. And then I write stuff like, "Ate too many chips today. Dang it!" or "Got the cutest sweater on sale at Nordstrom! Yay me!" Maybe I'm just shallow like that. *shrugs* But journals just don't WORK for me. I journal in my head. Seriously.

4. I don't use color-coded Post-It Notes on the wall, rearranging them for plot and scenes and characters and all that stuff. I WANT to! Really bad. But that just doesn't work for me.

5. I don't create character sketches. I HATE them. You know the ones: What's your character's favorite vegetable? What does your character's bedroom look like? *Shudders* Before I put pen to paper, I know my characters really, really well. My characters tell my story for me (after a lot of prodding).  

But I know them in the context of the story. I don't give a rip what she has in her backpack or what her favorite ice cream flavor is - unless it has something to do with the story. I know my characters in the context of the story. That's all I need to know.

6. I don't write in airports or cafes or hotel rooms. Trust me. I've tried. I need a quiet, still, private, personal space. Just because. (Although I did write a great deal of Moonpie and Ivy on a train. It's never happened since.)

So what's my point?

My point is that you should do what works for you. 

Try some of the techniques other writers use. They might work for you. They might not.

Write on a train.

Write in a car.

Write in a bed.

Write in a bar.

Outline, journal, post-it, too.

Just do whatever works for you.

[My poem for the day.] 

BUT - there are some things that I do do that help me - coming in a later post.