Confessions of the Clueless, Part II: Think Outside of the Genre Box At Your Authorial Peril

[*Note: Confessions of the Clueless Part I was my #hashtag rant. Here comes Part II.]

Nothing like working on the cover design of a book to let you know how hard you’ve made life for yourself. I’ve been looking for an image that…

…captures the dark beauty of the Pacific Northwest, without being too beautiful

…suggests the ugliness of the American industrial underbelly, without being too ugly

…encompasses an aerial view, but not from too high

…orients the viewer toward the water, but still keeps the shoreline visible

…won’t involve me in complicated and expensive negotiations over copyright usage

…allows for the addition of text elements in line with the previous books in the series

Turns out I really could not have thought up a more difficult set of requirements. Starting with beautiful vs. ugly: waterfront pictures are generally taken for two purposes, a) to lure tourists, or b) to lure business. The first wants only beauty; the second, only utility. And don’t forget that je-ne-sais-quois whiff of Northwest! Gotta have some dark forest in there. I searched internet images from Oregon to British Columbia. These were a couple of the finalists:

Port Angeles, WA–good on ya!

Or maybe, further north:

Powell River, BC, anyone? Great town.

But the image dilemma is really a stand-in for the difficulty my books face in terms of categorizing. You see, the Flying Burgowski series 

…takes its time to drop its heroine into the action, and said action involves no combat, no werewolves, no vampires, and not a single zombie.

…is fantastical enough to involve flying humans, but otherwise very much real-world (sorry, no parallel universe lurking just behind Platform Nine and Three Quarters!)

…deals with political issues like religious extremism, homophobia, and human trafficking

…has a middle-grades heroine, but one who faces adult themes like divorce and addiction from a very early age

…follows said heroine into her mid-teen years where, guess what? sexual maturity is suddenly an issue.

Let me dwell on that last point a moment. Jocelyn Burgowski’s personal literary hero, Harry Potter, also ages in his series, has a crush, finds a girlfriend. But author J.K. Rowling managed to keep Harry’s physical responses to said girlfriend–his natural teenage lust–safely off the page. Author G.K. Wing was not that unrealistic, or smart, depending on your perspective.

So, bottom line? How would YOU characterize this series? Have I made these books difficult to advertise, or what?

I call the first two books of the Flying Burgowski trilogy Middle Grades Fantasy, and the last one YA Fantasy–because I have to call them SOMEthing. But you know what? I’d really just rather call it a damn good read. Can that be a thing?

 

Writing Prompts: A Hate-Love Relationship

“I don’t have TIME for writing prompts. I have serious revisions to work on!” 

Those were my thoughts a couple of weeks ago when my writing group met without anyone’s writing to workshop. We’d made a commitment, as a group, that when this happened, we would do writing exercises. Whoever hosted that week got to assign one.

My writing colleague/friend chose, “Create a list of scents from your childhood, good and bad. Then pick one and write about it.”

Luckily I LOVE my writing group. So I submerged my bad attitude in a pool of pleasant acquiescence. Inside I was thinking, “Argh. I’ve just ripped the guts out of chapters 5-8 of my new novel–the last thing I need is to be freewriting about my childhood!” But I followed instructions.

Here’s what my pen wrote:

Most people would call it a stink, not a smell: goats and their manure, goats and their milk. Goaty. Yes, hay is involved, and other sweet notes: warmth; cream; the nuzzle of a muzzle; baby-goat lips; that conversational “meh-eh-eh.” But mostly: ew. Little pellets everywhere, like those imported chocolate cordials, only made of shit. But they didn’t smell like shit. They smelled goaty. Hearty. Healthy. Researchy. Unique. Cute. Intelligent. Second-class but proud of it—“alternative,” like my school, my entire childhood. Goat Barn. Who has goat barns? No one I knew. Who could tell proud stories of being butted, of making “milkshakes” by bouncing a goat on one of the gangplanks across the muck? Who could use a goat as a safe spot in a game of tag and turn her teats into milk-guns?

Don’t worry. This stroll through the goat barns of yore is not going to cause a sudden veer toward memoir. I’m still working on chapters 5-8, and I’m still blogging about–as you see–whatever I feel like.

But this writing prompt, unwelcome as it was, did me an unexpected service: it reminded me of how important my weird childhood is to me, how I treasure that uniqueness…

My folks still have a goat or two, just for funsies.

…like everyone treasures his/hers/theirs. How we define ourselves gives us the courage to move forward. Sometimes that self-definition inhibits, and boy, when that happens, we have work to do. But when it empowers? We need to run with that.

So now, when my revisions start getting the better of me, when I start to wonder, Is this work even worth it? Is anyone even going to read this? Who cares?…all I have to do is think about that goat barn. And I’m armed “to the teat” with a powerful sense of worth.

Darn right, I have a story to tell. I was practically born in a barn. Thanks, Writing Prompt!

That same writing friend also shared this post, “On Hating Writing From Prompts,” by Alice Lowe, on Brevity’s Blog. Writing? You’ll love this. You know why.

 

 

Why Revising Writing Is Like Caulking Your Bathtub

There’s not much nastier than a grimy old bathtub, right? Who wants to scrub up in something that looks like this?

It's amazing what you can not-see when all you want is a hot shower...

It’s amazing what you can not-see when all you want is a hot shower…

Except when it’s YOUR grime, built up over (let’s not count how many) years, you kinda…how shall I say…fail to notice how grody it looks. It’s just, y’know–your bathtub. Hop in and soak your cares away.

But my parents are coming to visit. And even though Martha Stewart is NOWHERE in my family tree, parents still count as guests. And guests cause my vision to change. As in, “Oh, GROSS! Who bathes in THAT?”

So I re-caulked the sucker.

It was a messy job. As it happens, being deep in revisions of Book Three (of The Flying Burgowski series), I couldn’t help noticing the parallels between re-caulking and re-vising.

Here I am, for example, getting rid of some crusty old adverbs and parenthetical phrases that had built up through two previous drafts and were now gumming up the forward motion:

Away with you, needless exposition!

Away with you, needless exposition!

The old caulk fought back. “But I must be serving some purpose or you wouldn’t have kept me around for so long, right? If you get rid of me, you’re going to have to start ALL OVER! And who knows how many more leaks that’ll cause?”

Sound familiar, fellow writers? Those are the same protestations your words and paragraphs make under your editorial knife. That’s why Stephen King calls revising “murdering your darlings.”

Well, I murdered the heck out of that old bathtub grime. The new caulk felt silky as cake frosting beneath my index finger. 

Can you say "final draft"?

Oh, dear–now I need to bleach all the shower walls. Better, but a final draft this ain’t.

And I’m going to try and remember that smooth, fresh finish as I continue to peel away at built-up prose. 

But I’m also curious–for what other activities does re-caulking serve as apt metaphor? Let me hear.

Confessions of an Imperfectionist: On Second Thoughts, I’ve Nothing to Confess

I am proud to call myself an imperfectionist. Are you one too? Take this simple test to find out.

  1. When frosting a cake, do you skip the “crumb layer” and just start slathering that stuff on there?
  2. When sewing, do you skip the basting step, and use as few pins as possible?
  3. When doing carpentry, do you conveniently forget the mantra, “Measure twice, cut once”?
  4. When practicing a piece of music, do you more often than not say “good enough” and move on?
  5. Do you like yourself anyway?

If you answered No to any of these, congratulations–you have standards. If you said Yes, welcome to my world. Imperfectionists unite!

Nothing like working in the worlds of food, crafts, or arts to remind me how much I don’t care to push myself that extra step. After fifty-some years, however, I have found the one area where I can’t stop polishing, tweaking, fixing, de- or re-constructing: WRITING.

It’s hopeless. I’m a words girl. When it comes to words on the page, good enough is never good enough.

I think I know why. Writing was my first success, something people have told me I’m good at since grade school. Therefore continuing to improve has a high promise of reward, and I think the urge is deeply rooted in my psyche. Adult stuff like sewing? I’d have to work WAY too hard to get any compliments there.

(courtesy bernijourney.wordpress.com)

(courtesy bernijourney.wordpress.com)

Come to think of it, I’ve had compliments on my pies from a young age too. So there you go.

Yup--perfect.

Yup–perfect.

Am I on to something? Anyone else out there a perfectionist in only SOME areas? What are they, and what accounts for their special place in your otherwise imperfectionist life? Note: all you perfectionists out there, feel free to chime in too.

Does Your Muse Have ADD?

What’s your M.O. when your creative brain refuses to buckle down and do its thing?

Here’s me the other day, arguing with my Muse:

Me: OK, so, Vivian [new character in Book 3] originally was going to ___________, but now I need her to ____________ instead.  [sorry–no spoilers!]

Muse: la, la, la, I can’t hear youuuu….

Me: Help me out here! If Vivian _______ then Jocelyn would have to ___________, and that’s totally out of character.  What should I do?

Muse: Well, I dunno, maybe you could–ooh, shiny! Squirrel! All other indicators that my attention is elsewhere!

Don’t know what you do in this scenario. Me? I took my Muse for a walk in the wind. It took an hour and a half, but when we got back, I had my plot unsnarled, and hey! I got some exercise too.

This has happened to me enough that I even wrote a song about it. Don’t have a recording good enough to share, but all you need are the lyrics:

Muse

My Muse detests the interstate—in fact she hates to drive

But set my bike on a country road and then she might arrive.

My Muse is happiest outdoors; she’s never at the mall

And in a doctor’s waiting room I can’t find her at all.

 

But walk along a windy shore and soon she’s joining me

To whisper, prompt, or point me toward what she needs m to see.

She doesn’t love computer keys, but visits when I think

With notebook full of paper and a pen with real ink.

 

Her favorite drink is Earl Grey—it makes her twirl and leap,

But though wine may make me cheerful, it puts her right to sleep.

She’ll drop in when I exercise; she loves to see me sweat—

Not in a gym all safe and warm, but out in the wind and wet.

 

A nest of pillows on the couch she doesn’t seem to min

But never if there’s company of the distracting kind

Unless it be a small café with loud, generic din

Then she’ll consent to visit me to lay her treasures in.

 

But if I’m stuck inside a car, she’ll trail sadly along

And toss me wisps of poetry to turn into a song.

And though the life I call her to is busy, loud and crude,

She’s granted me these humble lines to show my gratitude.

DSC03360

 

Yeah. So that’s me. What do you do to get your Muse to settle down? Go for a walk, then let me know.

And the Winner Is…My Book; Now, How Much Do I Owe You?

What newly-published Young Adult novelist  doesn’t want to see this in her email inbox? 
The DANTE ROSSETTI 2014 AWARDS for Young Adult Fiction Official First Category Winners

dante-rosettiThe Dante Rossetti  Awards recognize emerging new talent and outstanding works in the genre of Young Adult, T’weens, New Adult, & Children’s  fiction. The First Place Category Winners will be recognized at the Chanticleer Authors Conference and Awards Gala held in late September 2015.

The DANTE ROSSETTI FIRST PLACE 2014 Award Winners are:

  • Steampunk: Padgett Lively for Odette Speex: Time Traitors, Book 1
  • Contemporary: Gretchen Wing for The Flying Burgowski
  • CyberPunk: Jesikah Sundin for Legacy: The Biodome Chronicles, Book 1
  • Romance: Roni Teson for Twist
  • High Fantasy: S.A. Hunter for Elanraigh: The Vow
  • Blended Genre: Nely Cab for Fruit of Misfortune: Creatura Book 2
  • Science Fiction: Chris Pawlukiewicz for Dreams of a Red Horizon
  • Dystopian: Scott Smith for  An Outcast State
  • Mythological:  Stephanie Keyes for The Star Catcher
  • Lighthearted/Humorous:  Elizabeth Barlo: Ruth 66
  • New Adult:  Tiana Warner for Ice Massacre
  • Teen Fantasy: Elisabeth Hamill for Song Magick
  • Tweens : Mark Murphy  for The Curse of the Thrax
  • Children’s: Kirsten Pulioff for The Escape of Princess Madeline
  • Manuscript: Ben Hutchins for The Lackawanna Prophecies: Black Shadow  
  • Honorable Mentions:  P. J. Martin for Riding with Crazy Horse (manuscript)

See my book? I highlighted The Flying Burgowski in red just to make her stand out. 

This is great news. I’m totally bragging on myself announcing this to everyone I know.

The email goes on to wish all the winners luck in competing for the Grand Prize, and to invite us to the conference and Awards Gala:

Good Luck to the Dante Rossetti First Place Category Winners as they compete for the Dante Rossetti Awards 2014 GRAND PRIZE position!

The 2014 Dante Rossetti FIRST PLACE category winners will be recognized at the Chanticleer Authors Conference and Awards Gala that will take place in September 2015. The Dante Rossetti 2014 Grand Prize winner will be announced at the Awards Gala.

But there’s a teensy catch: $$$$. I won’t go into details about how much this conference costs, even with the discount given to winners. I can’t fit a weekend conference into my current work schedule, so I’m thinking of just attending the final day, with the cocktail party and awards gala…and even that price tag makes me choke a little. I know, I know, these events are expensive to put on. And I really can’t pass up this opportunity for mainstream exposure for my book. And I’m super excited and grateful for being chosen.

It’s just…yikes. That’s a lot of money for one day. And I can’t help but notice that the organizers have misspelled Dante Rosetti’s last name on their invitation. Makes me a little uneasy.

My question for Wing’s World, then, is: should I attend? Anyone have any experience at these events? Worthwhile? Bad idea to miss? Missable? I would love some input here.

Attention, Tired Authors: Put Your Audience to Work

Sometimes my teacher training pays off (or maybe just my social-butterfly personality). When I applied to do an Author Event at Third Place Books in Seattle, and their application said, in essence, “Don’t even think of just standing there and reading; what do you plan to DO with your audience?”, I put that training (and that personality) to use.

I made my audience do all the work. 

First, I made everyone move to sit next to someone they didn’t know. They had to introduce themselves to their new seatmate.

Next, I made each pair play Fast Fingers. “Put your right hand behind your back. With your partner, count to three. On three, bring your hand out showing anywhere from zero to five fingers. First person to call up the total number of fingers showing wins that round. Best of three. Go!”

Five seconds later, my whole audience was laughing. Thirty seconds–relaxed, and ready for the next step…

…where I passed out discussion cards. I had four, and after each one, the paired discussion was followed by whole-group discussion led by people who wanted to share what they and their partner had talked about. Since my books feature a heroine who can fly, these were my questions:

  1. Have you ever had flying dreams? If so, describe them. If not…do you wish you had? Why/why not?
  2.  If you could fly, what would you do with that power? (Seriously!)
  3.  If you could fly, what would you worry about?
  4.  How might flying help solve any problems you have,or how might it have helped you in the past? How might flying create more problems for you?

Sure, after that, I read a couple of scenes out loud, and then I answered a few questions. But the main part of the Event was made up of a bunch of grown-ups enjoying the hard work of thinking and talking about “What if…?” No matter what a book is about, whether fiction or nonfiction, if you wrote it, you can easily think of dozens of thematic questions to pull an audience in. And you get to sit back and enjoy the discussion! Win-win.

002

So, that’s my tip for other authors, should you be one, or know any. Don’t let those nice folks just sit there looking at you–put ’em to work. (And then reward them afterwards with treats. 🙂 )

But while I have your attention: who says good audience questions have to limit themselves to a book store? How about answering some of those questions above? 

YA Lit Revisited: What About Old Young Adults? OYA Lit, Anyone?

It’s been almost a year and a half since I first addressed this question: “What is YA, Anyway?”

Here’s what I had to say in July of 2013:

In libraries it’s still called “Juvenile,” but everywhere else in the world of books you see this label: YA. It stands for Young Adult. Problem is, YA Lit seems to include everything from Judy Blume’s finding-out-about-your-adolescent-emotions books to some pretty dark, vampiry stuff, not to mention drugs, sex, and language that sounds like plain old Adult, without the Young. So what, exactly, qualifies a book as YA?

Sometimes publishers will subdivide YA into Middle Grades, meaning “Tweens”–11 and 12, I guess–but there’s still this question: what defines it? Is it a book where the main character is 12? Or one which mostly 12 year-olds read? Under that definition, the first two Harry Potter books both would and would not qualify. When those books first came out, I knew as many grownups in love with young Harry as I did kids. (I was one of ‘em!)

Or maybe the definition of YA/Middle Grades is silly, and who cares? Well, I do, but only for this reason: there seem to be certain rules about what you can or can’t publish under these categories. In later posts, I’m going to examine this question, and I’m going to be asking for your input. Whether you are a young reader, a parent, a teacher, a librarian, or all of the above (?!), your opinion is valuable to me as I wend my way through the thickets of YA publication.

Stay tuned.

Still tuned? Good.

It’s now November, 2014. In the past nine months I’ve published two YA/middle grades books–to give them the label that would seem to qualify best, based on genre, story content, age of heroine. Problem is, I keep getting excited, “can’t-put-it-down, when-is-Book-Three-coming-out?” reviews from people in their 30s, 40s, 50s…on up through 70s. (And one 84 year-old, but yeah, my dad doesn’t count.) So IS this YA?

Young people seem to like my first book too–phew!–but I haven’t heard from very many. Clearly, it’s not the “grabby” kind of book most teens and tweens have become accustomed to. It contains no wizards, vampires, zombies, werewolves, nor boyfriends. (Book Two has one of those beings, but it’s only been out for ten days, so I haven’t heard the results yet.)

I’m not complaining. I wrote the story I wanted to write. But I’m still scratching my head over what to call it.

What genre is THIS? (Courtesy Pinterest)

What genre is THIS? (Courtesy Pinterest)

“YA lit for young adults of all ages” is what I find myself saying more and more these days. “A coming-of-age story.” Or, if I’m feeling a little snarkier, “I don’t know–what would you call To Kill a Mockingbird? Is that Tween lit? Well–there ya go.”

Disclaimer: in no way am I claiming to be a writer on par with Ms. Harper Lee. But the point is still valid, right? Can’t you have a story about a young person without it being a story FOR young people?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this–especially that last question. Anyone?

“So How Many Books Have You Sold?” Why Does That Question Make Me Tense?

Before I published The Flying Burgowski, the question that used to tense me up was “So, are you published?” Now that I’m an Official Author, this is the question that clenches my gut.

“So how many books have you sold?”

Insecurity? That’s just a guess. Like, there’s this Standard of Authorness out there, some random number of units sold, and I’m pretty sure I don’t measure up. Which means…uh-oh…maybe it was all a dream? My hard work doesn’t really count?

My response to this question has been to willfully turn my back on all those handy stats offered by my publishing service. Oh, I could answer that question if I needed to. But I prefer to stay blissfully ignorant.

“I think I’ve sold one to all my friends,” I reply cheerfully. “Luckily I have a lot of friends.”

I’m not a total baby. Of course I set goals for myself: be published by ___, have sold ___ copies by ____. I know I’m roughly on that track–definitely for time, less definitely for number. Turns out that’s enough for me.

for blog

Could I be doing more marketing? Couldn’t everybody? But only at the expense of all the other things we do in our lives. YES, I’m going to invite my community to a book launch party for The Flying Burgowski Book Two, Headwinds, with a dramatic reading and cookies. YES, I’m going to contact the same bookstores and libraries and schools–and add some new ones to the list. YES, I’m going to use the heck out of social media (at least my version of it: this blog, Facebook, and the occasional tweet).

blog2

 I wanted to write a story. I did. Then I wanted people to read it. They are. Lucky for me, I never counted on making money from this enterprise. Therefore: I declare victory and move on…

…to Book Three.

Feel fee to weigh in here if you think I need counseling. I will listen gratefully. Just please don’t ask me how many books I’ve sold!

…and for my 200th Post, I Give You: Book Two!

Didn’t plan it this way, but you gotta love the symmetry. Are you ready to get back into the sky with Jocelyn Burgowski?

What if someone hated you just for who you are?

I came around the house to see my brother picking something up from the back steps. “Is that a doll?”

Michael held the thing up. It was a doll, sort of. A soft, shiny one, dressed in a little red toga. With wings made of silvery fabric. “Oh, it’s a Cupid! For Valentine’s Day.”

“Duh,” said my brother. “But what’s it doing on our doorstep? And—oh, man. Look at that. That’s just not right.”

It wasn’t. Cupid has arrows, right? To shoot love through your heart? And this cute little Cupid doll had arrows too, a tiny plastic one set in his plastic bow, and two more in a quiver on his back…plus a fourth one, stuck right through the glossy fabric of his wings.

The chill of the air swooped into my stomach. I couldn’t stop staring at the fake-feather end of that little arrow, its point buried in the silvery wing-sprouts.

Because that was no valentine, to Michael or anyone. That doll was shot through the wings, not the heart.

On tiny Dalby Island, fourteen year-old Jocelyn Burgowski has a hidden enemy. Her flying power is no longer joyous and free—somebody wants to bring the Flyer down. But can Joss fight a force she doesn’t understand? Can she protect her powers without revealing her secret? And can she open her heart to the promise of real love when love itself could be her enemy?

(image by Lanphear Design)

(image by Lanphear Design)

Official Book Launch: October 25th! Stay tuned for more details.

And till then…keep flying!

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