Sunday, September 8, 2019

Solitude

"Solitude itself is a way of waiting for the inaudible and the invisible to make itself felt."
--May Sarton, Plant Dreaming Deep

Solitude is breathing room. It's being alone, yet not feeling lonely or empty. It's finding the richness of one's own thoughts or imagination. It's the white space around words, the room for a story to grow.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Why we like them

At YA Outside the Lines, we were talking about favorite characters. My spin on the topic was to explore some of the factors that make certain characters our favorites. As I said, "We like to be dazzled." The full entry is here.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

After the debut

Five years after my debut as a novelist, I contacted other writers who'd debuted the same year to find out where they were in their journey, how publication had and had not changed their lives, and so forth. I wrote an article about my findings, which I pitched to several writers' publications ... but I found no takers.

It surprised me, because once I had my first book deal, my main questions were about what might happen next, what would happen next, and how one might go about building on that first book. What were the odds and what were the options? I think writers' resources (magazines, conferences, etc.) are great in helping writers to first publication, and they provide ongoing support for career writers. But I'm not so sure about the bridge from the first phase to the second phase.

In any case, now it's been closer to ten years, and I've seen stories unfold even more. Back when I got my first book contract, Borders and Barnes & Noble were the big chain bookstores, Penguin and Random House were two separate publishers, ebooks were so new that contracts didn't always cover them, and self-publishing through Amazon was not a phenomenon yet. So much has happened--including the recession of 2008, which dealt blows to the industry that I think are still underestimated.

In ten years I've seen many writers go on to publish multiple books--some in the same genre in which they started out, some in different genres. People have tried out or wholeheartedly embraced self-publishing; they've found careers in editing, agenting, ghostwriting. Some are writing under pen names, some under multiple pen names.

But there are those who didn't publish again, as far as I can tell, or who didn't continue publishing. On the cusp of my debut, I used to think of this as a horrible fate, to be dreaded and avoided at all costs. What I didn't realize then was that disappearing from bookshelves doesn't mean disappearing from life. Many writers turn to other art forms, or they delve into new careers, or devote more time to family. And the thing about publishing is that you never know when a new project will strike--so much is possible. The track is not as narrow as I used to fear.

So for the debut authors out there who might worry about what happens next, I would say: A variety of things can happen, and there is no one thing that must happen in order for this to be a success. There are many, many paths.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Second chances

Sometimes I buy a piece of clothing that doesn't work out the way I'd hoped. I have nothing to wear with it, or I have no place suitable to wear it, or it has an itchy tag, or something. I am slow to discard such things--well, anything, really--so they lurk in the back of my closet, waiting for another chance.

And it thrills me when I find a purpose for them, when they get that second chance. A maxi dress I bought years ago never made my office-clothes rotation, the way I thought it would, but at some point I discovered it made the perfect beach dress. A short-sleeved sweater I couldn't find a use for has jumped into the lineup during this hot summer when I need a light coverup for the cold commuter train. 

I have pieces of writing like that, too. A character, a name, a setting, a scene, a first line, sparks my interest, and I try unsuccessfully to make it work in story after story. But it doesn't fit; it's like the beautiful bronze skirt I once bought that paired badly with shirt after shirt. Often those writing fragments lurk in files for years, like the misfit clothing lurking in the closet. And what a joy when they find their proper place, when they lock seamlessly into the jigsaw puzzle of a story. 

In hindsight, it seems that piece was always meant for that story. It's one reason I don't consider a failed story to be a wasted effort. The truth is that I may not know what will be useful for years to come.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Book to movie

It was my turn to blog at YA Outside the Lines, and this month I wrote about how films can extend the lives of books. As I say there, "Largely, the books we remember for more than a generation are those that were made into movies."

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Reading

The rhythm of the writing life is not always smooth and steady. There are bursts of productivity; there are lulls. There are times of research, revision, backtracking. There are times when an entire project gets shelved. And sometimes the words just won't flow at all.

What's more constant is my reading habit. No matter what's happening with the writing, I can always engage with stories as a reader. Sometimes I'm studying the craft by reading; other times I'm just immersing myself in the world that made me want to be a writer in the first place. 

I read widely, passing from poetry to long-form nonfiction to magazines to novels and back again. Woe to the people who ask what I am reading, because I will tell them. Do they want to hear about the memoir, the novel, the oral history, the biography, the book of poems, or the essay collection? I'm not even mentioning the news articles or blog posts!

I'm grateful such a feast is available to me. Anywhere from half to three-quarters of the books I read in a given year come from my local library; the books I buy are a mix of new and used. I also reread what's already on my shelves.

The first tip I give in any writing workshop I teach is this: read. But to me, reading is less the writer's obligation than it is the writer's great benefit, and joy.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

That special story

Over at YA Outside the Lines, we were asked to contemplate the question: How do you know if an idea is the one? Worth writing about? Worth making your next project?

I answered with a question that has helped me in the past: If you could only write one more story, what would it be? You can read more here.