Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Because Forbidden Fruits Taste Much Sweeter...

... Read A Banned Book!

All over the blogosphere and in libraries and literary circles this week, writers and readers are celebrating Banned Book Week. Now, my parents were pretty liberal about what we read when I was growing up-- they were just glad we were reading. And I learned more accurate information from books about life, sex, and relationships than I ever learned at junior high slumber parties or overheard in the locker room. No one ever told me not to read Flowers in the Attic, or The World According to Garp, or A Clockwork Orange. Hell, I'd seen the movie versions by then, all of which struck me after the fact as far more graphic than the books. Thanks, Stanley Kubric. You're a right merzky droog. Real horrorshow.

I've read quite a number of banned books. And here I am before you, as well adjusted as any young writer. I don't have sex with my siblings, or beat up old or homeless people, and I've never given someone oral sex in a car without first making sure we weren't going to be rear ended. ;) See, you can learn a lot from banned books.

I even had to read more than my fair share of banned books in juinor high and high school, since my teachers were pretty liberal, as well. Lucky me. Maybe I'm just fickle that way, but being told that Of Mice and Men had been banned in other schools made me want to read it that much more. It didn't necessarily make me enjoy or appreciate the subtle symbolism of Steinbeck, but it exposed me to some great writers I probably wouldn't have bothered with on my own. And I'd rather be forced to suffer through A Catcher in the Rye fifty times than be told I can't read it.

Even so, I could usually spot the reasons these books had been banned. But I didn't exactly understand it (well, not until I read Little Black Sambo, or Tintin in the Congo). To me, Harper Lee's use of incest and the N-word in To Kill a Mockingbird contributed to the realism, and the sympathy the reader feels for the characters, not to mention motivation... And this was before I was thinking like a writer.

I know how lucky I was to have been blessed with such a liberal education and upbringing, which has had a profound effect on me as a writer. Not only where craft is concerned, but about having the courage to stick to my convictions-- even if I know my writing might be challenged. This has been one of the most emotionally difficult parts of being a writer: including my soul, my core beliefs in my work and really meaning it. Many of my decisions as a writer derive from what I learned from banned books, who have been my good friends over the years.

In the Night Kitchen (my first banned book!)
Huck Finn
Gulliver's Travels
The Lorax
A Wrinkle in Time
Forever, Deenie
A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Cider House Rules
The Handmaid's Tale
The Color Purple
The Awakening
Go Ask Alice

More recently banned books I've read that I'd recommend include:

I was a Teenage Fairy
Heather Has Two Mommies

And on my must read list:

The Bermudez Triangle
Looking for Alaska
Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging
The Perks of Being a Wallflower

When did you first understand the concept of banned books? Have any favorites?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Brainstorming Session; or Inspiration in a Tub

Afternoon, y'all! Still don't have my home office to myself yet since it's doing double duty as a temporary storage container/tool shed. But it's okay. I lived without a home office for years and found other places to write and think and brainstorm. You might laugh, but one of the places where I'm the most creative is the bathtub.

The tub has always been my go-to pace to relax. Not only is the feeling of the water soothing on my skin, the trickling and splashing noises calm me, too. Certain smells invigorate or inspire me, and I can really let go listening to the birds and wind-chimes in my backyard.

When I start thinking about my writing the ideas flow around me like the scented water. I feel free to imagine all the possible outcomes of my writerly decisions, seeing them as if I'd typed the scenes. There's no worry that I might make a mistake and choose the wrong path; I can see them all laid out before me like a master chess player. When I'm stuck, nothing helps me see all my options more clearly than a nice long bath.

Just this morning I worked through a particular problem in the tub that had been plaguing me for weeks now. I needed to introduce a character earlier in the manuscript, but I just couldn't think of where to stick him in until this morning's bath and VIOLA! Fifteen minutes of soaking and thinking did the trick where an hour's worth of brainstorming in my notebook failed.

Where do you do your best brainstorming?

Coffee shops, public transportation? The park, hidden away in your dorm/bedroom/office?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Too Many Hats: Writer, Editor... Marketing Machine?

Today's blog post by literary agent Rachelle Gardner got me thinking about marketing. She linked to an article from yesterday's Washington Post and asked; "Does the requirement to be a marketer have any effect on your desire to be a published author?"

In my response to her post I immediately wrote:

"Isn't this the reason we writers blog and Tweet and network in the first place? I understand that writing the book isn't the end of my job-- I'm still trying to get a literary agent, and I know the hard work won't end there. Why would I want to stop working hard to sell myself once I finally get the opportunity to reach a huge market?

Reading articles about authors like Corrigan actually inspires me to do a better job marketing myself. And I want to get myself out there before my book is released. Book trailers and websites are one thing, but Corrigan got herself out there and physically sold over 2000 copies individually. It seems like a good strategy to spend a huge chunk of your advance (what the IRS won't take) on promotion. It paid off in the end for her."

But the more I've thought about it, the more daunting the task of selling myself seems. Do I have an online presence worth bragging about? Does anyone even read my blog? What do I need to do to get people to pay more attention to my writing? How the frack do I make a book trailer? Do I need my own website if I don't even have an agent yet?

Is it ever too early to begin marketing yourself? I mean, the querying process is like a practice marketing stage, right? Now that I've got a few rounds of querying under my belt, I ought to be ready for the next level. But I always thought I'd need to wait until I got an agent and sold a manuscript to start advertising myself and my novel. In today's competitive market (where agents can check a writer's blog or google them before offering requesting a manuscript or offering representation) am I selling myself short if I'm not presenting my best self to the online community?

Who cares about little old TereLiz if she don't even bother to use her real name?

I love the anonymity this blog offers me. I've also never been a fan of Facebook or *shudder* MySpace and never had an account for either. At first I didn't want to use my full name because I will probably be using a pen name if I publish a novel, using my own name for scholarly art history articles. I don't want to compromise my success as a writer just because I like my privacy, but am I shooting myself in the foot if an agent can't find my writing blog online by googling my name?

Reading Rachelle's post has me worried and the demons of doubt are starting to claw their way back into my life. It's been over a month since I've made any real progress on my WiP. Sure, that time hasn't been wasted since I'm still querying EVANGELINE, but I can't help feeling that the three partials I have out will garner me no full requests. Doubt demons are the cruelest of the bunch, you know, making me second-guess every decision I've made about my professional life. I feel like Bartholomew Cubbins up there, perplexed and not knowing which hat is which and when to wear it.

Perhaps I ought to lift the veil of anonymity here on my blog. If it is only holding me back, and hurting my chances of getting an agent, I should do it. I just didn't realize when I started this blog that I should be cultivating an online presence. As not another nameless, faceless writer, but as myself, a real person with a story to sell, er, I mean tell. ;)

I do know this, despite the demons of doubt: when I sell a manuscript to a publisher, I'll do whatever is in my power to sell it to the world. Writing the book is the easy part. Selling it takes long hours, hard work and devotion that make writing the book seem like writing a bad haiku. (Is there a such thing as a bad haiku? I mean, as long as it has the correct number of syllables it's a haiku, right? Something to think about.) If selling my book means traveling and spending my own advance and then some to do the marketing my book needs, I know I'll do it. But what do I need to do before I get to that point?

Any thoughts about the lengths you'd go to sell your book?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

WiP Wednesday: Motivation is the Key

Does planning my new home office count as writing progress? ;)

Of course, that room is still acting as a staging area for all the boxes yet to be unpacked, so it'll be a while before I can work on it. But our kitchen and bedroom are pretty much finished and I just love this apartment.

It's a half-shotgun, so you have to walk all the way through the house (including the bedroom) to get to the bathroom, but damn near every rental apartment in this city is a half-shotgun so I don't really mind anymore. It's clean and there's lots of storage and no neighbor on the other side yet, so for now it's perfect. Most importantly, it feels like home. And when I have an office of my own, I'll be able to shut out all the stress of work and the lure of the television and just plug away at my WiP. Maybe it'll even get a working title one of these days.

I can imagine myself being very creative here. Once all the boxes are unpacked.

I just need to keep myself properly motivated. In fact that's one of the reasons I've kept the office for last. I need to dangle that carrot in front of me to power through the unpacking process.

But all this analysis of my own motivations has helped me to work out some of my new MC's. I can blame not writing on moving all I want, but in reality, I've also been struck with a case of "Now what?"

I knew since I began this novel that there would be a shocking twist in the middle of the book. Well, I finished writing the twist, but now my MC is falling apart. I had no way to know how to put her back together again. Yesterday I found this sort of flow chart that was posted on a writing blog a while back-- I searched and have no idea where I found it, though-- and I spent some time thinking about her motivation:

What does she really want? How do her actions to get what she wants drive the plot forward? How do I, the author, keep her from attaining her desires? Hey, you've got to be cruel to be kind to your novel. She can't get what she wants the first time, and she can't get it without some kind of challenge, or without some kind of personal risk. I did some serious thinking about what really makes her tick, and how she's going to go about getting what she wants. I also have a better idea of how to keep her from getting these things.

The pieces are slowly but surely starting to resemble my cocky heroine again. Actually, she's coming together in the same sort of way as my house, one familiar part at a time. I'm thinking that by the time I've finished unpacking and I finally sit in my writing chair in my new office, I'll know exactly what she's up to next. And what troubles I'll be putting her through.

I'll keep you posted!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Nerd is the Word


It's been a while since the amazing Abby awarded me with this fabulous award. But I had to take the time to decide exactly which blogger would be the next lucky "Word Nerd". It's been a long and difficult decision, but I know the winner truly deserves it for all her selfless blog posts, her informative posts, her fun posts, her personal posts, her contests and everything else she gives us almost every day.

I found her series of posts on her experience at SCBWI to be extremely helpful... okay, I'm sure you all know now who has won, so without further ado, I award the Word Nerd Blog Badge to...

Jess Jordan at Say What? !!!!!

Your posts never fail to amuse, inform and entertain me, and I know you put a lot of hard work-- and yourself, which I know can be even harder work-- into Say What? with every post.

Thanks for making my decision even easier with your post on Mary Pearson's recent article What YA lit Is and Isn't. May your blog followers be fruitful and multiply, and may manuscript requests fill your inbox!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ahh, the joys of scholarly writing...


... where I can use all the parentheses and semi-colons I want!


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

WiP Wednesday: Publish or Perish!

If you've been reading, you'll know that my WiP has been on hold for a while. Sure, I can blame it on our moving across town, or stress, but just between you and me, I haven't made much progress since the third week of JULY! But I have a feeling that once we're in the new place-- and I have my writing desk in a separate room, a space of my own-- that the story will come back to me.

Meantime, I've been trying to work my master's thesis into an article of publishable length. I figured that since I do tend to use historical settings, my professional publishing experience would be relevant to a query letter. Sure, it's not a published short story, but it's still proof that I can write well enough that a journal would accept my submission.

Writing this article has been a little like writing a synopsis. To bring a 75 page paper down to a 3K article means stripping away the "subplots" until I'm left with the meat of the argument. My thesis statement, if you will. Synopses for novels have this, too, except we call it theme. Is your novel's theme obvious from your synopsis?

Most importantly, I'm continuing to flex my writing muscles. Sure, it's technical, MLA writing, but sometimes it feels easier than spewing out prose. And I love immersing myself in history, wondering what life must have been like. The woman above, Sadie Irvine, was one of the most prolific decorators of Newcomb Pottery, an American Art Pottery made in New Orleans. The phot was taken circa 1912. Irvine worked as a decorator until 1929, when she became an instructor. She made her own wages and was an extremely independent woman for the time in which she lived. From the turn of the century to World War I, Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement dictated style, and the Newcomb College's pottery industry became a bit mired in these styles after they were out of date.

The topic of my paper (if you care) is that a particular style of vessel design that became popular with the buying public, actually limited the artistic development of the decorators and the led to the downfall of the pottery industry at Newcomb College. Luckily, this industry laid a foundation for craftsmanship, and the buildings currently house Tulane's Art Department, but Irvine herself even stated her eventual distaste for the design that she and her fellow decorators conceived.

"I have surely lived to regret it," she said many years later. "Our beautiful moss draped oak trees appealed to the buying public but nothing is less suited to the tall graceful vases -- no way to convey the true character of the tree. And oh, how boring it was to use the same motif over and over though each one was a fresh drawing..."

Kind of remids me of all the query letters I keep writing, changing them just enough to say each one is unique, yet feeling caught in a rut, never getting anywhere.

At least Sadie and her colleagues made something that will stand the test of time. They had strict quality control regulations, as well. No piece was given the Newcomb "mark" unless it was absolutely perfect.

After rediscovering this subject, one I haven't really thought about since I graduated and started writing fiction, I remember why I love art pottery and art history so much. Students ask why they should care about history. Well, people were alive then, too. Why shouldn't we care? And look at how much I've been able to take from my study of history that pertains to my own life, to the writing nd querying I've been doing. I'll take my lessons where I can find them. Especially since I don't have kids. People's writing blog posts are always full of gems their kids say that they can use to reflect on life, writing and other blog-worthy topics. With me, you'll just have to settle for some dead people and dusty vases.

Maybe next WiP Wednesday I'll have some fiction progress to report.

Don't hold your breath. ;)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Intertwined Sweepstakes

So Harlequin Teen is hosting a contest for their release of Gena Showalter's "Intertwined", which released last month. You will have a chance every day to enter to win, get this, $10,000. So I thought, who are the poorest people I know? Why, my fellow writers, of course! ;)
Plus, they're giving away a Harlequin TEEN prize pack, with a copy of Intertwined, My Soul to Take, Elphame's Choice, an Intertwined t-shirt and a My Soul to Take t-shirt. Sounds like quite a haul.

Enter here daily until November 16th for your chance to win!

Good luck!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Evangeline's New Orleans; A Virtual Tour Part II

Clang, Clang, Clang!

Quick, push the buzzer for the Chartres Street stop! We've got a short educational field-trip on our way to the French Market.

This is the Williams Research Center at 410 Chartres St., where Evie's mother works. In reality, it is the research center for The Historic New Orleans Collection on Royal St., where I am gainfully employed. If you want to learn anything-- and I do mean anything, from old city directories to Storyville bluebooks-- about the history of New Orleans, this is the place to come and do your research. We even have an online catalog now, where the thousands of items yours truly has scanned/shot over the years are visible to the public. Right now some of my favorite oil paintings are on display in the foyer.

Yes, I know it's a bit formal, but it's air-conditioned. Suck in the cool air now, cause we walkin' the rest of the way to the Market.

Oh, look, there's St Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in the U.S., and Jackson Square! Almost exactly the same as it was in the late 1800s, when our heroine visits it for the second time.

It is not usually this crowded in August. Be prepared to spend about $20 on street musicians. Some are good, some are great, and some make you turn around and walk the other way. But we are on a strict schedule and won't be deterred by anyone or anything. Except a beignet.

Across the street as we pass through the square is Cafe du Monde, which, as Evie learns the hard way, has been in the same spot since the 1860s. Man, look at the line already! Okay, maybe some of those people are waiting to cross the street to the square, but even at 8am the line is out the door. (Shhh... The powdered sugar on the beignets contains crack.)

Well, now that we're covered in powdered sugar and drank our chicory coffee, we've only got a few more blocks till we get to the French Market. And here we are!
I know it looks a little daunting, but once you get inside, well... okay, it's still a little overwhelming when it's crowded, as you can see:
First you'll find every brand of hot sauce available in the south, and boy, do we like it hot! Then there's an area for fresh produce and other Louisiana food specialties. But then we continue to the "flea market", where retailers of jewelry, luggage, clothing, hats and other items crowd in, vying for attention:

It can get really full and really hot REALLY fast, but you can get really cheap sterling silver jewelry and prints by local artists if you look hard enough. Though this is the setting where my novel opens, our tour stops here, for now. Lord, I need a cold-drink, then let's get back on the streetcar and head back home. But don't pick up any strange tarot cards...

Till next time!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Evangeline's New Orleans; A Virtual Tour Part I

Hey, y'all! I know it's been a while, but I have been exceptionally busy in real life. We're moving across town at the end of the month to a safer neighborhood with cheaper rent. Rental prices are finally coming down since Katrina-- yay!-- and this new place is going to be perfect for us.

So I thought that since I may not have much time for blogging, I'd start a series of posts called "Evangeline's New Orleans", to act as a sort of visual journal of the world I've created for my novel, EVANGELINE. I find inspiration for my writing every day in this city (which may be part of the reason I'm stalling on my WiP set in Belle Epoque Paris, but that's another post), in its sights and smells and situations. There's no place in the world like it.

This is Evie's house.

It's actually a house in my current neighborhood that is one of the oldest houses in New Orleans, and dates back to the 1700s. Right after I chose this house to be "Evie's", it went up for sale for $1.7 million. For a brief flickering moment I thought I'd be the Anne Rice of Bayou St. John and buy the house my characters lived in when I was obscenely famous and wealthy...
That pipe-dream didn't last long, and the house sold later at auction.

But is it any wonder? Not only is the house beautiful and historical, it's located in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city, and right along the bayou. Isn't it gorgeous at night?

There are turtles and egrets, and plenty of people kayak and canoe on the bayou. There are fish-- mullet-- that leap out of the water and skip along the surface like a silvery stone. The Fairgrounds are nearby for easy access to Jazz Fest, and the New Orleans Museum of Art is just up the bayou at the bottom of City Park. City Park is about 1500 acres of trees and moss and walking paths (and derelict golf-courses after Katrina, but the city is slowly fixing them) and beautiful bridges, many of which are WPA projects that date back to the Depression Era.

Since it's so huge, it provided the perfect place for Evie to test out her increasing strength after school. And the Botanical Gardens there, with its variety of plantlife, provided the perfect place for Penny to do her dirty work.

In real life, the Botanical Gardens is also a local music venue, but it is worth your time to check out the sculpture here, too. It is a relaxing kind of place, not the dark and terrifying unknown that I make it into in my novel.

Hope you enjoyed this little tour of Evie's modern New Orleans. Next time, we'll take the streetcar to the French Quarter. Keep your head and arms inside the vehicle at all times. Ya-heard-me?