Sunday, August 30, 2015

Last scene

I've been reworking an ending. Which reminds me of all the other endings I've reworked. There are many.

Endings are tricky. Beginnings are, too--they must hook the reader, set up the proper expectations, introduce us to the voice. But endings are what determine whether the promise to the reader has been fulfilled. Endings are what make the reader recommend a book to someone else, or set it aside in disappointment. Endings are where everything comes together--or falls apart.

Knowing how the story ends is different from knowing how to write the ending. Sentence by sentence, actually bringing to life the scene in my head, sounding the right note, conveying the main character's growth (or lack of it) ... it's a challenge. The wrong sentence can send the scene in the wrong direction, and there's no more room to recover if this scene deflates.

So I rewrite, again.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


August is a bit of a nostalgic month, and I reflected on this at my monthly YA Outside the Lines post. A sample: "August was the sunset of summer, the final golden days of freedom. August was the month when I realized summer really was finite."

I love August and hate to see the summer end. Most people adore autumn, but that's the hardest season for me. It's getting easier every year, though--partly because time passes so quickly now that I know I will just about blink and the season will change again.

Meanwhile, it's still August, for a little while longer.

Monday, August 24, 2015

What if

There's nothing like nearing the end of a book revision and thinking, "What if that character went in a WHOLE DIFFERENT DIRECTION?"

*All elements subject to change without notice.*

Friday, August 21, 2015

On not writing

"Writers write." "Write every day." You may have heard these or similar sayings, and there's truth in them. Writers cannot only talk about writing, or dream about it, or plan to do it; at some point, actual writing must be involved.

But not necessarily every day or all the time. Many writers have variable schedules. They write regularly, but not every day. Or they write in intense bursts, with rests in between.

Many writers also go through phases of not writing--by which I mean a time when they are not just "between projects" but depleted, out of ideas or the desire to write, or needing to attend to something else in life--health, family, career, whatever. Often, writers enter such a period not sure whether they will ever write again.

Most writers do seem to return to writing eventually. The well refills and starts flowing. If it doesn't, they may turn to other activities or creative outlets.

When I recently interviewed several writers who debuted with me in 2010, one question I asked was whether they had taken a break from writing within the past 5 years. Many had, including me. I suspect it's very common.

Writing is a creative act that takes energy. No surprise that we may need a hiatus, a wintertime, a break, a retreat, a leave of absence, a rejuvenation, or whatever you may call it. It can be a time to reevaluate what we've been doing, and where we want to go next.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Pieces of the past

My husband and I have been watching episodes of "Who Do You Think You Are?," a show in which people* study their genealogy. In the process, they find out about how their ancestors lived through historical events, as well as unearthing family stories (sometimes scandals). A few of them have also found living relatives.

My husband traced my family tree and his own, and so the discovery process we see on the show is familiar: the sometimes startling or amusing hints you find in old records (like the ancestor who started out in one census as 10 years her husband's senior, but downplayed her age in each succeeding census until they were finally recorded as being only a year apart). We didn't have cameras following us around, nor the budget to fly all over the world visiting archives, nor did we get personal one-on-one visits with historians and genealogists. But even without the resources that the people on the show have, you can still find plenty of information from local records repositories, family papers, and the internet.**

The information is never complete, though. You can see that a family lost several young children, or that a widow and her daughter married the neighbor and his son and all moved in together. You can see that a young man took off to a new territory, that one person sued another, that a person fought in a war. But you don't know the whys and wherefores; you don't know what they thought or how they felt. On the TV show, the people who are researching their families piece together the facts they've found and reach conclusions: "They must have really loved each other." "He really believed in something." "This shows his courage." Sometimes, watching, I've reached different conclusions from the same set of facts. You don't know if people married for love, money, self-preservation, or other reasons. You don't know if a soldier fought because he was idealistic about a cause or because he thought the millitary could give him more freedom than the indentured servitude he left behind. You don't know if a separated couple was happier apart than together.

For writers, for storytellers, these hints and bare-bones outlines of stories suggest all sorts of possibilities. They can serve as jumping-off points, because a single fact can be the seed for a thousand different tales.

*The people on the show happen to be celebrities, but that isn't really the draw. The real stars of the show are their previously unknown ancestors, whose stories come alive during the research. I have a feeling the celebrity angle was the initial hook to get the show made, but it would work just as well with random people pulled off the street.

**One thing that's striking about the show is just how many local historical societies, archives, and small libraries there are around the world, how many people devote themselves to these specialized fragments of history. Many of them seem to toil in tiny buildings with little funding. But they are keeping these stories alive.

Friday, August 14, 2015

New projects

When I have trouble focusing a new project, or even choosing what to write about, these are some questions that help me:

What do I find to be true?
What matters to me?
What subject will not leave me alone?
What character must be heard?
What have I always wanted to say?
What ground have I not covered yet?
Whose voice is speaking to me right now?
If I knew I could only write one more book, what would I want it to be?

Monday, August 10, 2015


"... I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before."

"And for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude."

--Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

If we live and work with others, time alone can be hard to come by. Nowadays, with social media, we may not be truly alone even when we are physically alone, if we're hooked into the internet.

But I find, as Lindbergh describes, a potent sense of groundedness, wholeness, and--paradoxically--connection when I am alone. After a long time of being with others, I may find the first moments of solitude disorienting, even scary. But then, as Lindbergh says, "life rushes back into the void."

Sometimes I need to be alone to figure out what I think. I need to come back to the center, to reunite with myself, to pay attention to whatever has been bubbling up in my mind and slipping to the back burner amid the busy days.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Bookitcon on August 9

Here's where I'll be on Sunday:

Bookitcon, an event composed of author signings, meet-and-greets, and an after party and dinner. as well as a book drive. The majority of the profits from ticket sales will be used to revitalize a library in a low-income school in Camden County, New Jersey.

If you're in the vicinity of Moorestown, NJ, we'd love to see you there! Follow this link for more information.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Every so often, it's time to stretch in writing, to try something new.

Things I've tried in the past:
Taking poetry classes.
Writing YA novels. (I formerly wrote mostly short fiction for adults.)
Writing short nonfiction.
Trying experimental forms of short stories.
Writing flash fiction.

I'm thinking maybe it's time to stretch again, but I haven't figured out how yet.
Have you tried anything new lately?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The puzzle frame

I've been reading more and more nonfiction over the years. But one thing I love about fiction, whenever I return to it, is that there's a definite ending.

There are some ambiguous endings in fiction, but for the most part, every piece of the story has a purpose, and the main plotline reaches some sort of conclusion. In nonfiction, there are no guarantees; there are loose threads. What we can know is limited by reality. There is no truly omniscient narrator, and some mysteries remain unsolved.

It's a comfort to know that every piece in a novel will, eventually, fit into the puzzle frame, even if it's not in a way we anticipated.