Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
Imperfect Mothers are Perfect
This is partly from a facebook thread that I started yesterday. I began with a quote from The Bishop's Wife book 3 (untitled and still very much in progress), from Linda Wallheim's point of view as she is arguing with her husband:
"I spent most of my life raising children. It's the thing I'm the best at in the whole world. I know how to teach a child to pick up his toys. I know how to keep a child from touching a hot stove. I know five different ways to bribe a child to sit on the potty until his first success. I know how to talk about dating. I know how to make a teenage boy see how to look at the world differently. I know how to teach compassion and hard work. I'm a mother, Kurt. This is what being a mother has made me. I'm good at this one thing, and around me, people keep saying that maybe it's time for me to learn how to do something else. Go back to school. Get a degree in something so I can start a new stage in life."
I got comments from several people who said that they were surprised to read about a mother who thought of herself as a "good mother." The problem is that it sounds arrogant and possibly wrong-headed for any woman to think of herself as a good mother. This is probably true of any woman thinking of herself as good at anything--we're supposed to be quiet and sit around waiting to be complimented by men, right? But motherhood in particular is fraught with this image of perfection. No real woman can live up to that, which is why Mother's Day is so painful for women when it ought to be a celebration of all that they do and give in a way that makes them comfortable rather than making them feel like they can never live up.
I wrote: "I feel like one of the most important parts of mothering is showing kids that mothers are human, with strong and weak parts. This is vital, because our daughters will grow up to be mothers and we don't want them to be afraid to be imperfect. Our sons will grow up to marry mothers (and possibly do mothering of their own) and they need to know what is a reasonable expectation. That is, not perfection. They will need to step in and help and not be afraid that they're not perfect, either. Imperfection is part of perfect mothering."
This idea that when you become a mother, you are endowed with some kind of angelic insight into your children, along with this perfect love that makes you capable of knowing how to do everything right, and the capacity to give and give until you are sucked dry--that is so unhealthy. Really good mothers ought to be pointing out their flaws left and right to their kids so that this horrible, angelic ideal of motherhood is good and well destroyed. When you give birth to a child, or adopt, or however you get your child, you aren't promising never to do anything wrong. You are engaging in a special, lifetime relationship with someone else. You agree to share your self, good and bad, with someone else, to keep working things out, to compromise, negotiate, and love. And like with any other normal, human relationship, you will get things wrong. You will want to give up. You will question yourself and wonder if you should turn into someone else to make this work. You shouldn't. You're doing it just fine.
Another one of the problems of the angelic,perfect mother is that there are crappy mothers out there, but we so very rarely call them on it because of this bizarre ideal. That is, I think children want so much to pretend that their mother is good that they end up unable to see what real good mothering is. A good mother isn't a mother who refuses to let you make your own decisions. She doesn't smother you with love. She doesn't nitpick you to perfection or make you wonder if you're crazy. A good mother doesn't make problems for you with a new spouse. A good mother doesn't tell you all the things you're doing wrong with your kids. Or at least a good mother doesn't consistently to that stuff, and apologizes for it if you call her on it. There are no perfect mothers, but imperfect ones are the best kind.
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Guest Post & Giveaway: Becca Puglisi on Where Do Character Strengths Come From?
for Cynthia Leitich Smith
Quick, name a favorite literary or movie character. Now, what is it about him/her that’s so appealing?
In all likelihood, the reason you love that character is because he or she embodies a trait that you value: Atticus Finch
’s bravery, George Bailey
’s selflessness, James Bond
It’s not surprising that these icons landed in the top ten of AFI’s Top 100 Heroes and Villains list
. While flaws play a part in eliciting reader empathy, it is a character’s ability to overcome his weakness that inspires the audience.
And what enables the hero to win the day? Usually, it’s his positive attributes—his persistence, confidence, responsibility, or ambition—that allow him to succeed. This is why it’s crucial that we pick the right attributes for our characters.
But how do you know which ones are a good fit for your hero? Fully-realized characters, like real people, aren’t formed out of the air. They’re a result of many different elements that come together to make the character who he is in the current story.
When determining which attributes your character will embrace, consider the following influencers:Past FactorsGenetics
: Since this one is simple, we’ll get it out of the way first. Some traits, like intelligence, talent, and creativity, are simply handed-down through DNA. Having a character share a trait with his mother, grandfather, or even a distant uncle can add believability to his embodiment of that trait.Upbringing and Caregivers
: Everything about your character’s first role models will influence him, from their personal values to the way they spoke to him to the amount and quality of time they spent with him.
If his relationship with his caregivers was positive, he may adopt their attributes as his own as a way of showing respect. If the relationship wasn’t great, he may shun the qualities that they espoused so as to create distance. Family dynamics play a huge role in forming personality; this should definitely be taken into consideration when choosing positive attributes for your hero.Negative Experiences
: While these wounding events from the past are most often associated with the formation of flaws, positive attributes can develop from them, too. The victim of a vicious attack may become cautious and alert because of it. The boy whose father never kept his word may grow up to value honesty. The oldest child of a neglectful parent may learn, by necessity, to embrace maturity and resourcefulness.
Without a doubt, flaws do tend to form when we experience these traumatizing events, but positives can come out of them, too. Keep that in mind when mining your character’s backstory for potential strengths.Present FactorsPhysical Environment
: A character who grew up in the mountains is going to have a different perspective than someone who was raised in the big city. Americans tend to value things that Parisians or Brazilians or even Canadians don’t. Physical environments are formative—the ones from the past, and even the place where your character lives now. A southern belle who moves to downtown Chicago is likely going to experience some personality shifts during her transition.
Your character’s environment will subtly influence the kind of person that she becomes; choose her living places deliberately so her attributes will make sense to readers.Peers
: At certain points in life, your character’s peers will become her biggest influencers. Through her desire to please them and be accepted, she may adopt some of their values for her own. Sometimes, she may become like them out of a genuine respect for their beliefs and a desire to embrace them for herself.
Like caregivers, past and present peers can greatly impact who your character becomes, so take them into consideration.Values and Ethics
: This one is a biggie, because, in my opinion, it overrides all of the other factors.
The bottom line: your character will adopt or reject attributes based on what he or she believes. Does she place a high value on her reputation and what others think? Then she will likely espouse propriety and discretion while rejecting uninhibitedness. Your character’s morals and personal beliefs will play a powerful role in the formation of her strengths. If you want her to make sense to readers, make sure that her values, ethics, and positive attributes line up.In Summary
Every character needs some strong positive qualities so she’ll be capable of reaching her goals and
drawing in readers. While the easiest method would be to pick and choose random attributes, doing so will result in a character that lacks authenticity.
To avoid this, explore your hero’s backstory. Dig into these developmental factors to learn as much about them and their effect on your hero as possible. With this kind of information, you’ll be able to create a realistic and well-rounded protagonist armed with the qualities she needs to succeed.
And who knows? Maybe she’ll end up on somebody’s Top 10 List someday.About Becca Puglisi
Becca Puglisi is the co-creator of The Bookshelf Muse, an award winning online resource for writers. She has also authored a number of nonfiction resource books for writers, including The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Emotion
; The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Attributes
; and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Flaws
A member of SCBWI, she leads workshops at regional conferences, teaches webinars through WANA International
, and can be found online at her Writers Helping Writers
Enter to win a PDF copy of The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Attributes
from Cynsations. Eligibility: international. Author sponsored. Enter here
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To Self-Publish Or Not To Self-Publish
I’ve been asked a lot lately by new writers whether they should self-publish their first novel or go with a traditional publisher.
To me the answer is very obvious: find an agent and publish the traditional way.
What follows is my reasons why I think the answer is obvious but first a disclaimer.
Disclaimer: I have never self-published. Unless you count the short stories on this site and even then they were all published somewhere else first. I have zero direct experience with self-publishing though I have seen several friends go through the process. Some to a great deal of success. I am definitely not anti-self-publishing. If you have questions about self-publishing I recommend you read what Courtney Milan has to say about it. Her blog is a fantastic resource.
I do, however, know a lot about traditional publishing. To date I have had nine books published by the following publishers: Allen & Unwin Australia (How To Ditch Your Fairy, Liar, Zombies v Unicorns, Team Human), Penguin Australia (Magic or Madness Trilogy), Penguin USA (Magic or Madness Trilogy), Bloomsbury USA (HTDYF, Liar), Harper Collins USA (“Thinner than Water” in Love is Hell, Team Human), Simon & Schuster USA (Zombies v Unicorns) and Wesleyan University Press (Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction, Daughters of Earth).
Ask Yourself This Question First
Why do you want to be published?
There are many many answers to that question. But the most usual ones are: because I want to be read by people who don’t know me, because I want a career as a writer.
But sometimes people answer that they just want to see their work as a real book with their name on the spine and they don’t really care who reads it and they don’t want to have to send out to get an agent and all that jazz.
In that case, self-publishing probably is the way to go. You pay to have a few copies made with your name on the cover and then give them to your friends for Christmas.
This post is addressed to the people who want their work to be read beyond their immediate circle of family and friends.
Why You Should Try To Get Published The Traditional Way First
I first sent out a story for publication when I was fifteen years old. It was rejected. And repeat. A lot.
I sold my first short story almost twenty years later. My first novel sale came not long after.
Yes, you read that right, it took me twenty years to get published.
Getting published the traditional way is a slow, gruelling, heart-breaking and soul-destroying process. At least it was for me.1 My first two novels never sold. I know people whose first ten or more novels never sold.
I was desperate to get published back then. DESPERATE.2 I get the impatience many people feel with how long everything takes in publishing. It really is awful sending your work out over and over and over again to the same No, no, no no, HELL NO. No matter how the agents phrase it that’s what it sounds like on the receiving end.
Or even worse: no response at all. Despite your multiple queries.
Here’s why I think it’s worthwhile going through the gruelling process of finding an agent. (For why you need an agent read this excellent article by Victoria Strauss.) And then the just as awful process of your agent trying to sell your book to a publisher.
You learn to deal with rejection.3
Being a professional writer means dealing with rejection all the time. Every time my latest novel goes out to publishers it gets rejected. Multiple times. I can’t remember now how many publishers rejected HTDYF and Team Human. I find it best to forget those things but, trust me, at the time, it felt like an endless chorus of NOs.
You only need one yes. No matter how long it takes.
My first novel, Magic or Madness, was published in loads of different countries, each successive book of mine has been picked up by fewer foreign language markets. I’ve been rejected by pretty much every language market in the world. Eastern Europe has never published so much as a haiku of mine. I try not to take it too personally.4
You don’t need a tough skin. I certainly don’t have one.5 But you do not need to be able to keep writing despite rejection.
All too often I hear from people whose first novel has been rejected by gazillions of agents. Years now they’ve been sending it out, rewriting it, sending it out again. They’re filled with despair. They’re ready to give up. I ask them how their second novel is doing? They blink at me. They have not started a second novel, let alone finished it and sent it out to agents.
Always have a novel on the go.
When your first one is out there trying to land you an agent get started writing the second novel. And so on. Did I mention that I didn’t sell my first novel? Or my second? That I know people who did not sell their first ten novels? Jonathan Letham did not sell his first novel. From memory I think he sold his fourth. His earlier novels then sold after the first one to be sold was published. This is a very common story.
Keep writing is good advice when you’re trying to find an agent and it’s good advice when you’re a career writer whose agent is trying to sell what will be your hundredth published book when it finds a home.
Never stop writing!
People trying to find representation for their first novel often think that once they find an agent their book will automatically sell. Not true.
They also often think that once their first novel sells all their subsequent novels will also sell. Sadly, not always true either.
True story: there are successful, published writers whose agents have not been able to find a home for all their books.
Rejection: it just keeps on giving.6
You Learn How To Write
In those 20 years I was sending out and being rejected I never stopped writing.
I would occasionally get little hints from my rejectors as to why my stories weren’t working for them. Some of those comments were useful, but far more useful was all the feedback and comments I received from other writers. Having my work critiqued by other writers improved my writing immeasurably and prepared me for the brutal edits I would get once I became a published author.
(Here’s a post on how to find people to critique your work. Check out the comments as well.)
Even more helpful was learning to critique other people’s work. It is eye opening to read someone else’s unpublished work and see that they’re making similar mistakes to the ones you make. Suddenly you understand what everyone was talking about when they were critiquing you. It teaches you to see the flaws in your own work.
Obviously continuing to write was also very important. During those twenty years I learned how to write novels. I learned that I was better at writing them than I was at short stories. I learned to write stories and novels that people other than me wanted to read and that is when, at last, they started to sell. (Hopefully you’ll be a faster learner than I was.)
Once You’re Published
This is when your learning curve takes off with a steepness that is dizzying. No critique I have ever received from friends has ever been as detailed or demanding as any of my editorial letters.
I am a much much better writer because I have been professionally edited, copyedited, and proofread.
Had I self-published I would never have learned how far my work was from where it needed to be. I would not have learned how much time and effort goes into getting a novel to a publishable standard. The many revisions and fact checking and proofing that are needed.
Then after the long and exacting editorial process, there’s the design of the interiors of book. What fonts are used, how the titles, and sub-titles look, how the words are arranged on the page. Then, of course, there’s the cover. Is there a more important ad for a book? No, there is not.
Traditional publishers do all that for you. And, on the whole, they do it pretty well.7
They also know how to distribute your book: how to get it to readers. They have long established relationships with booksellers all over their country. They know how to get books reviewed and talked about. They’ve been doing so for years, decades even.
You, a first-time, unknown novelist have little of that knowledge.
There’s a reason the majority of successful self-publishers already had a career publishing with traditional publishers. Or were very well-known in fan fiction circles. They had what is known in the industry as a “platform”. They already had a core audience; they didn’t need a traditional publisher.
An unknown first-time novelist does not have an audience. That’s why they should go with traditional publishers. Traditional publishers can make a new author known, can help build their audience.
When Courtney Milan started publishing her own work she’d already published many books with a traditional publisher. Her name and work were already known by many romance readers. She had dedicated and loyal fans such as me, who were willing to buy her books no matter who was publishing them.
Most importantly she had the knowledge and the contacts to do it right. She knew which editors, copyeditors, proofreaders etc to hire. She knew what professional books look like and how to produce same.
Writers with platforms, who have the inclination to do all the hard yards in producing their books exactly how they want them to be, can now do that. I think that’s wonderful for the industry. And truly great for writers.
I have never self-published but I certainly don’t rule it out in the future. The landscape of publishing has changed a vast deal since I first started out. Self-publishing has changed a vast deal. We writers now have more options.
However, the vast majority of first-time authors, without a platform, are still better off going the traditional path. Even if they wind up self-publishing in the end they’ll do so with a great deal more knowledge of what they’re doing than they would otherwise.
Which ever path you pick, GOOD LUCK!
And keep on writing!
- I do know a couple of people who were picked up by an agent and whose first novel sold basically within minutes of sending out. That’s unusual. Also annoying.
- I wonder if self-publishing had existed back then if I would have gone ahead and published my work as it was? Back then I was pretty sure what I was writing was genius despite all the rejections. Reading it now I know it was rubbish and it being published back then would have been at best really embarrassing.
- Which is not to say you ever learn to like it. I hates rejection, I does. HATES IT!
- But let’s just say I’m not barracking for any Eastern European football teams in the World Cup.
- Oh, the tears this profession of mine has made me weep. Fortunately a fair few of them have been tears of joy.
- Show me the profession that doesn’t involve waiting and being rejected. I suspect it does not exist.
- Yes, there are exceptions. Horrible exceptions. No industry is perfect. Least of all publishing.
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Tuesday, December 10th, 2013
Review Number Two!
Thank you, Publishers Weekly! Two down, and now I'm going to try to let the breath go that I've been holding.
"Filled with moments of discovery, wonder, and sorrow, Lord’s story captures Lucy’s artistic sensibility and photographer’s eye, as well as her compassion for both animals and people. Through Lucy’s thoughts and actions, Lord (Rules) elegantly conveys how complex stories can be told through moments frozen in time."
You can read the full review here: http://publishersweekly.com/pw/reviews/single/978-0-545-03533-0
current mood: pleased
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Mothers and Heroes
When I started working on The Bishop’s Wife, one of the things I most wanted to do was to create a character who was a mother and a hero. This is done less often than you think. There are a lot of kick-ass heroines, but most of them don’t mother actively. I guess this may seem obvious, but having little children who cling to and depend on you can get in the way of guns blazing.
But what if you could do a great female hero who wasn’t a guns blazing type? My favorite mother-hero of this type is Cordelia Naismith, who is a former member of the Betan Expeditionary group and ends up rather unwillingly fighting a war, and then being captured. But once she gets married, she wants to settle down and have babies and be happy. Only the world doesn’t let her do that. Or she doesn’t let herself do that, depending on how you look at it. So she saves her new planet from civil war, and she saves her son at the same time. But she does this in part because she isn’t pregnant and she has a uterine replicator to make it possible for her to not have to deal with our real-world realities of pregnancy.
I wanted to write a mother-hero who is in our real world and has to deal with real world stuff. In particular, I wanted to write a story about a woman who is a mother in a culture in which motherhood is lionized and women are told that motherhood is their most important role. To wit, Mormonism (which is, in fact, my home religion).
It’s one thing when you’re a dad and can go off, guns blazing, sure that your wife and children are safe left behind. Even when you’re Jack Ryan or James Bond and your wife/kids are killed or threatened with death, you aren’t held to the same standard as I think a mother is. Yes, you deal with guilt the rest of your life for failing to protect them. But what happens to the reader audience if a mother lets her kids be threatened in that way. I think the series beginning with The Boy in the Suitcase is a great exploration of complex motherhood.
But in Mormonism, the religious overtones of motherhood matter even more. What if you’re a mother who isn’t a mother anymore, whose kids are grown up? What are you good for? Do you continue to hover over kids who don’t need you? Do you find people you do need you? What are your internal excuses or explanations for putting yourself in physical danger if you get involved in crime? What about when you start wondering about the underpinnings of Mormonism and the expectations of male and female roles? What if crime seems to be helped rather than hindered by the Mormon culture?
Anyway, these are some of the things I’m exploring with the character of Linda Wallheim, Bishop’s wife and 50-something mother of 5 boys whose last son is a senior in high school and soon to head off on a mission.
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Forgot to say . . .
Forgot to say: for those of you who have wads of cash lying around, for this fundraiser I'm attempting a first: a Tuckerization. My head usually doesn't work that way, but I think I could make it happen this time. Anyone who wants to be Tuckerized will end up a cackling bat!
Also, critique offer. That can include novel length.
Click the pic if your wallet is just too weighed down with simoleons, and you need to lighten the load!
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"I just can't face myself alone again."
It doesn't seem to matter that I'm almost fifty. It's still a big let down when promised snow fails to materialize. Like today. Three to six inches were forecast. But something went awry. I suspect the ground is just a little too warm. So, the snows falling, but it's mostly melting on contact. No snow day. Get up. Go to school.
That wouldn't be so bad.
I'll never understand readers who believe – fervently – that an author should never speak up in her own defense. Readers have the right to speak their minds about what I write, and I have the right to reply to their criticisms. There is no author/reader contract that protects them. The choice is mine, whether or not I answer my detractors. The choice is mine, whether or not I answer those who compliment me. That's just the way it works; no one is immune. If you seriously believe otherwise, you need to grow up.
If you haven't already, please have a look at the current eBay auctions. Thanks!
The winter's off to a rough start. I'm trying to keep my eyes on May. In Alabama I would have said I'm trying to keep my eyes on March. But no relief, no real relief, comes to Rhode Island until sometime in May. Cold Spring holds sway. I blunder into every winter a little less stable than the winter before, it seems.
On Sunday I wrote nothing much. Sunday is sort of inexplicable, and so I'm will leave it with no attempt at explanation. I spent a lot of time reading over what I'd done on "The Mote[L] 2032." It all looked like crap. Everything I had liked about it seemed like a mistake, and I couldn't understand what virtue I'd found there. Finally, I forced myself to put the pages down and step away (yes, actual fucking pages; I edit on paper). I went back to the piece yesterday, on a far less inexplicable day. Yesterday was only shell shock, that numb, stunned feeling that comes on the underbelly of every now and then. Yesterday, I sort of "bounced back" and wrote 1,023, finishing the piece. It'll be in Sirenia Digest #94. I like it, and Sunday remains inexplicable.
My thanks to Mark West for getting my blog off Goodreads, where it was being mirrored illegally, i.e. without my consent.
And we watch stuff. The last two nights we plowed through the fifth and final season of Damages. I wasn't disappointed by the conclusion.
Little Lamb, smile
current mood: confused
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I admire people who make resolutions and stick to them. I tend not to be contrary when it comes to New Year's and resolutions. Statistically, I know most folks make resolutions and then stick to them for a short time before letting them go. Quite a few years ago, I made a resolution not to make resolutions for the coming new year. That does not mean I do not make commitments; I do.
I committed to blogging some years ago. I manage most days to post to this blog and the book blog (www.ls5385blog.blogspot.com). When I miss a day, I feel guilty somehow. I committed to reading a bookaday or reading for the New Centurions group (213 books in 2013). I write and read on a daily basis. Why? How can what I have managed to do be something I can encourage in others? Here are the guidelines that guide me. When I do workshops, I ask for the participants to make a commitment (in writing) accordingly.
1. I set aside time at the very beginning of my day for reading (and sometimes for writing as well). But I broaden the definition of reading. Reading my Twitter and Faebook feeds is where I begin. It is fun to see status updates, posts, photos, and other stuff from my colleagues, friends, and members of the larger social network. I read the Nerdy Book Club post of the day. I see what friends are reading and recommending. I follow links to articles, mailing links to myself to inspire my writing at some point.
2. I have a stack of quick reads by my chair all the time: picture books, poetry collectoons, short story anthologies, graphic novels are there. I can pick up one of these slim boooks and finish reading it in the time it takes for me to have my morning cup of coffee. #bookaday accomplished.
3. If I have some extended time, I read several books. This makes up for days when I just cannot fit in my reading.
4. I do the same thing with blogging. I blog books in batches. Right now my book blog is done until next week. I have a stack of new books waiting to be blogged. I try to do a handful at a time.
5. If I know my schedule is going to be full (NCTE and ALAN week), I schedule posts.
6. I do not beat myself up if I fail to read a book or post a blog from time to time. I want this experience to be something I always enjoy. If I miss a day here and there, so be it. I will make up for it eventually.
And so I am a reader and a writer. I make time for what matters. I commit to doing these small things. And I find it easier to then make the larger commitment when it comes time to work on a book or an article or a chapter or to read through the stack of books for my committee work. Small steps, tiny bites, slow and sure progress.
I think we need to help kids find small spaces for growth, tiny bursts of time for reading and writing in addition to the more extended times we can offer. Quick writes, poem in my pocket, and other elements like them can help us develop the good habits of reading and writing.
I wonder if we could get Arne Duncan or David Coleman or Michelle Rhee to set these examples? If beinng college and career ready is essential, could they then pick up the commitment to model their own REAL literacy actios on a day by day basis? Show us your reading, your writing, your thinking. Put it out there for others to see. Instead of putting your money where your mouth is, put your reading and writing out there for all to see. Oh, one more thing, my reading is the stuff that kids read; my writing is accessible. It would be nice for a change to see that from our educational leaders.
current mood: busy
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Guest Post: Greg Pincus on Writing & Marketing with Serious Lead Time
By Greg Pincus
for Cynthia Leitich Smith
's CynsationsGreg Pincus
is the first-time author of The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.
(Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013)(author blog
). From the promotional copy:Gregory K. comes from a family of mathematical geniuses. But if he claimed to love math he'd be fibbing. What he really wants most is to go to Author Camp. But to get his parents' permission he's going to have to pass his math class, which has a probability of 0. Hilariously it's the "Fibonacci Sequence," a famous mathematical formula, that comes to the rescue.
I can safely say I never expected to be making my authorial debut in 2013...or at least I didn't when I agreed to the deal for The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. back in April of 2006. Admittedly, there was no manuscript at the time, so I didn't think I'd be debuting in 2006... but if you'd said 2013, I'd've laughed politely and said "I sure hope not."
The journey, I will freely admit, has not always been entirely pleasant. One low point for me was the decision to jettison the entire first draft of my book and start over.
Okay, not totally over - the basic family structure and bones of the plot remained intact, as did a joke about fish sticks. Still, I think there are fewer than five sentences in the final book that are recognizable from the first draft, it went from first to third person, the structure changed, and the style/tone changed.
Even at the time I knew that my editor, Arthur Levine, was right in his suggestion to rethink...but that first draft was a labor of love and was fueled by passion and excitement.
So...no, that was not pleasant. Necessary for sure, but not pleasant.
I've learned plenty of lessons along the way, too, some of which are not necessarily applicable to other people or situations. For instance, if you happen to finish a draft of your novel when your editor is working 168 hours a week on the final Harry Potter book
, you will not hear back with notes as quickly as you would under normal circumstances. Go figure.
Other lessons, though, strike me as more universal. In no particular order, here are things I learned or was reminded of during the 14 Fibs trip from brainstorm to final book:
- writing is hard;
- rewriting is hard;
- listening deeply to intelligent notes will make your work better;
- focusing on the story you want to tell and not treating others' ideas as prescriptions will also make your writing better;
- patience might or might not be a virtue but it is definitely necessary;
- be kind to yourself as you struggle to find the right word or phrase or storyline;
- and remember that everyone who gives you notes or hears you talk about your process wants you to write the best possible book and is offering their thoughts to help get you there.
It's been quite a journey from inspiration until publication, and when all's said and done, I'm thrilled to be making my debut in 2013 - the perfect time, because that's simply how long it took to be ready.
|Dog in a desk!
It also turns out that there are advantages to a longer road to first publication. After all, author/marketer Seth Godin
has said that the best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out.
Heck, I had seven years lead time!
It does seem to me, though, that I hear more about marketing and promotion being an author's job now than I did back in 2006.
Another advantage of my long journey, then, is that I've had lots of time to observe what others have done in terms of promotion. As a result, I've been able to pick a few ideas to focus on that I think will work for me and
which make me feel comfortable - I know why I'm doing what I'm doing, so it feels good to me. Plus, I've found that most of my PR/marketing "ideas" are opportunities that spring up organically or are simply things I think would be fun.
The organic is easier to describe: because I've spent a lot of time over these years being active offline and online - blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, and the like - I've developed amazing relationships with wonderful people, and it turns out that these relationships have ended up creating lots of opportunities for me and The 14 Fibs.
For example, I have Skype visits set up with teachers who I've known and often blogged alongside for years and with others who I've only recently come to know. I've had bloggers and Twitter/Facebook friends help spread the word about my book trailer, cover reveal and other news. I've found myself in newsletters, been given names of people to talk to, and had wonderful interactions with folks all around the world.
Of course, I would pursue a brilliant PR idea if I had one, or hire someone to help me, as needed. But so far, my "big ideas" have all be things I think would be fun for me and others.
Along those lines, I streamed my book launch live on the web so my friends and family could be part of the celebration with me. Sure, that gave me another chance to remind everyone that my book was out (it is, by the way. You should all go buy it, of course, as I hear it makes a great gift!) and could lead to interesting PR opportunities, too, as it was "new"... but, for me, it was simply a blast to connect with others in a fun, different way.
What I'm doing may not be considered traditional PR or marketing paths, of course, but it's all about the ideas that work for me. Nothing feels like a chore or a task, so I never resent it. I have fun, still have time to work, and also know I'm doing what I can to support my book.
And after the long journey I took to publication, I can't imagine doing anything less than giving The 14 Fibs the love it deserves.
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One more photo...
At the Rochester Children's Book Festival, some of the many volunteers run the Busy Bookworm activity center, with book-centered arts and crafts for young readers. This year, there was a simple-but-GENIUS craft project to go with XANDER'S PANDA PARTY: an awesome paper-plate hand puppet!
Sarah Mead, with book and puppet. Sarah not only helps with the activities but also does the Festival's website.
I am the proud owner of one such puppet. Every home should have one (along with the book, of course). ;-)
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I've mentioned a few times (and do not expect anyone to remember, which is why I'm mentioning it again) that I've got this fun novel idea called "Commando Bats"--basically what happens when a bunch of old women get powers.
The idea has been simmering away waiting for an excuse to start it, but with everything else going on, kept receding like a mirage, until I got an invitation to submit something to a proposed anthology called Athena's Daughters.
I really liked this interesting bunch of women and their publishing group, Silence in the Library. (One of them is a jet pilot in the military, how cool is that?) I liked the project, and since mine met the requirements--strong women, magic . . . I wrote the beginning of the novel as a short story. (Well, short for me, at 8k words). The story doesn't get much into Hera, who I always thought one of the most interesting of the mythological figures, conflicted as the stories are about her, but my key bats are definitely in it, getting a start to their new careers as superheroes.
If you've hit the link, you'll see that it's a fundraiser, so that we and the artists will get paid. As fundraisers go, it's pretty modest. I hope anyone interested with a few bucks to throw into the kitty will check it out, and be sure to watch the vid, shot in Washington D.C.
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Monday, December 9th, 2013
Misc photos, aka 'things you didn't know about M.T. Anderson'
November: The Rochester Children's Book Festival. Captained by Sibby Falk and Kathleen Blasi, with help from scores of volunteers, this event gets better every year. I get to meet hundreds of readers, and hang out with the authors & illustrators.
At the Festival, signing books with the help of a special visitor:
(photo credit: Stephanie Dobbin)
Susan Beckhorn Williams and Paul Zelinsky.
Bruce Coville & Jane Yolen starred (as agent & editor, respectively) in a skit written for the occasion by Sibby Falk and performed at the post-Festival dinner for authors & volunteers.
December: Rochester Area Children's Writers & Illustrators Christmas party. Graciously hosted by Vicki Schulz in her family's lovely home, this year's entertainment was a talent show. The talents on offer were varied and delightful--from Deena Vivian's recitation of all 44 presidents to Bill Thomas playing the mountain dulcimer to Marsha Hayles arm-wrestling, I learned things about the members that I hadn't known before! M.T. Anderson was a special guest, and his talent was awe-inspiring: He can play Rossini's William Tell Overture by hitting himself in the face.
(photo credit: Vivian VandeVelde)
Now if that don't make you wanna read his books, I don't know what will. ;-)
For the next year or so, I'll be doing almost no school visits and relatively little travel, for two reasons. One, I'll be in The Cave, working on a project.
And two, this is my world now...
Wishing everyone a safe and joyous holiday season!
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