Friday, April 24, 2015

The Circle of The Writing Life

I recently shelved a manuscript but, while I was making decisions about how to proceed with that one (which still isn't completely settled), I was writing something new, sending it to beta readers, and revising it. Now I'm querying that one and working on another new one. I think I will probably go back to the recently shelved story at some point and try to do what needs to be done to make that one work, but for now I needed something fresh to work on. Or, to be more honest, something new showed up and felt more pressing. And so the cycle goes.

I don't usually share writing here but thought I'd share a little of what I'm working on now. Please feel free to share a bit of your work in the comments or link to wherever you share such things. Please also feel free to share stories of revived manuscripts that eventually found all their necessary elements after being set aside for a while.

CLOSING TIME (excerpted)

Holy shit! She’s flirting with me? Okay, gotta go. I smile and nod. And then I cringe—right before I run the hell away, ditch my shopping cart next to the Ace Bandages, and slam my sweaty palms against the bathroom door as I shove my way in.

Stevie is leaning over the sink, splashing water onto her face. I swear it’s all happening in slow motion. Water droplets shatter against her skin and cascade back toward me like exploded fireworks.

My hip slams into the sink next to Stevie’s and my whole body reverberates. Every uncontrollable to-and-fro echoes up from the soles of my feet and thrums along my spine before it crescendos in my brain. I’m like a crash test dummy bouncing against the steering wheel. I grip the edge of the counter and manage to steady my limbs, but I can’t slow my breathing.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Stevie stares at me in the mirror. Water drips off her chin.

“Tampon Girl.” It’s all I can manage between ragged breaths.

“What does that even mean? Are you hallucinating? Oh, shit.” She puts her hands on my shoulders and turns me to face her. “Don’t look at her, Brynne. Focus on me, okay? I need you to tell me what you took. And how much.”

I shake my head. “No. Nothing.” My eyes lock on something beyond her elbow. The stick on the counter looks just like the one on the front of the box—right down to the pink stripe.

Doesn't the writing process sometimes feel like hiking a trail after a heavy rain? Will this end in the satisfaction of a job well done, or with something broken?  

Monday, March 9, 2015

On Listening Harder

Our Austin SCBWI conference was this past Saturday and as usual, the lineup of presenters was stellar. But here's the part that may shock someone new to attending conferences and listening to presentations on craft: I already knew most of what I heard. And it was still worth every penny and every minute.

When I first started attending SCBWI conferences I knew a thing or two about writing but I still felt like I learned something new at every one. It was an exciting time. Information was being presented in a way that was specific to the kidlit market and crafting picture books and young adult novels and it was information I needed so I tried to soak it all up like a sponge. There is truly so much to know and so many ways to approach writing that no one could ever know everything, but it's also true that there comes a point where you start to think, "Yeah, I already know this." You think your sponge is full. You think it a lot. And you're probably right.

This is the point where it's easy to stop listening, to put up a wall. It's also the point, I would argue, where you need to lean in, to listen harder. Sure, I went to some conferences for a while where I really felt I might not have gotten much out of the material because I already knew everything I was hearing. But I listened anyway and then I listened some more. And then a funny thing happened.

It was like a door swung open in the middle of that "wall of everything I already knew" and it led to a new place: a place where all of those already known things began to apply very specifically to my projects. Suddenly, everything I already knew about writing in general, and even writing specifically for the kidlit markets, began to teach me (in big ways) about MY writing. The presenters didn't start opening their presentations with, "Hey, Shelli, this one's for you." But so very often it was.

Now when I go to hear a presentation on writing, I try to hear MY information. It's usually in there, when I listen hard enough.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Diversity of Diversity

I was lucky enough to get to hear the fabulous Cynthia Leitich Smith speak at our local SCBWI meeting about diversity yesterday. It was a great presentation with time in small groups to discuss diversity in the books we've read and loved and to create a list we could share. Each group chose their top 3 titles to share. Our group tried to choose books that may not have been championed widely and it led to a great conversation. I think all of us walked away having been introduced to new titles and/or authors.

Cynthia also asked everyone to create goals for themselves with regards to diversity in their own work. Don Tate, acclaimed local illustrator and team member of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, shared that one of his goals is to keep the conversation about diversity going long after the excitement of this initial campaign dies down. That's an important commitment and one I think we should all make.

As a white, suburban American, it would be easy at first glance to assume I have experienced no diversity and therefore, have no personal experience to pull from. That wouldn't be entirely accurate, but I understand the assumption quite well. I know a lot of authors, who wouldn't be seen as diverse, wonder how they can be a part of this diversity campaign; some even wonder if they'll be allowed or accepted into the conversation.

I think it's really important that we consider all aspects of diversity and if we do, I think most of us will be able to relate very well to the topic. It's important and necessary to consider race. It's probably the first thing most of us think of when we hear the word diversity, but we need to think deeper, too. 

That white, suburban American mom may have a cultural diversity that you're not at all aware of (I don't, but many do). She may be Jewish--and yes, that could still put her in an unrecognized and misunderstood category in many parts of the nation, especially in suburbia, or rural America.

What about the community Trish Doller showed us in WHERE THE STARS STILL SHINE? Callie is Greek, but she doesn't know anything about that culture until she's thrust into a thriving Greek American community. But even beyond that, the life she's lived with her mother hasn't been anything close to a "normal" upbringing. Her ability to relate to those who should be her peers is so clearly harmed by this. I think this book explores diversity on several levels.

It's also important to realize that every African American family isn't living a carbon copy life of everyone else who happens to look like them. Diversity has layers. I was raised by a single mom in a small town at a time when there weren't a lot of single moms at the PTA meetings. My mom was widowed, not (gasp!) divorced, but she was still "other," and as such, so was I and I felt it often. I knew the fact that there wasn't a dad in my house made me different. It was a loving, safe household, but I frequently interpreted signals in some disappointing and sometimes even saddening ways. We tend to think that single-parent households are so common today that no one thinks twice, but I know that isn't true everywhere. My daughter had a good friend growing up who was being raised by a loving, supportive single mom but I know that girl felt "other" all too often because of it. There is still, unfortunately, a stigma to that in some places.

Socioeconomic diversity affects kids across the spectrum of race. Every white kid isn't rich and every black or Latino kid isn't poor. Every Asian parent isn't an engineer any more than every one of them owns a restaurant or works in a nail salon. There is nothing wrong with writing a character who holds those occupations, but there's also nothing wrong with writing a Native American dentist. Just ask Cynthia Leitich Smith! 

I spent many years working in the mortgage industry and I worked with native Hawaiian, Mexican, Libyan, and Indian loan officers, and I'm sure many others from diverse backgrounds that I'm not even remembering. When I was just out of high school I worked with two sisters from Fiji. This was the 80s. In Texas. Diversity in our world isn't a new thing, but some of these cultures I just mentioned don't spark memory of any kidlit titles with representative characters. Why not? They're obviously representative of members of our society. 

Like I said, we definitely need to consider race when we're thinking about diversity, but we need to keep thinking and considering and including beyond that as well. And we need to represent race appropriately, which means diversely as well. The number and/or sex of the parents in the household, cultural identity even when someone looks "typical" for their community, mental heath, physical disability, religious practice, type of house (Family living in a yurt? Hey, some do.) -- any of these things can be included and explored to represent diversity and this is in no way a complete list.

I'm not by any means suggesting we should ban all white, middle-class, suburban characters. Hey, we're part of this world, too, but we're definitely not the whole of it. I am who I am and I'm valid, but I live in a world with people who aren't just like me. We are all valid. I want my characters, even when they are like me, to exist in a world that is just as vivid and real as mine.

We're off to a good start. We need to keep thinking, talking, and including. We can all do it. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Cynical Canine Critic Weighs In On My Efforts

 Hardened Eyes
Peeking Out of a Martini Glass
Her Syringe Through the Lens
A Sad Story in a Nutshell

Cynical Canine Critic tosses it 2 bones, says he would have found it 
more palatable if the martini glass had been filled with kibble.