Friday, August 31, 2012
Thursday, August 30, 2012
And that, of course, is the point: travel light, travel slow.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Monday, August 27, 2012
Sunday, August 26, 2012
“What are you doing?” he’ll ask. “I thought you had a deadline?”
“I do,”I’ll reply, with the slightest smile. “And I’m working hard on it.” To which, he’ll usually just roll his eyes.
Don’t get me wrong, we still have to put in the hours sitting at the laptop and trying to make sense of all this wonderful inspiration, somehow piecing it together into something that resembles a book. But occasionally it’s OK to just step away for a bit and dwell on the novel whilst doing something completely different. I like to think of it as constantly having a song playing in the back of my mind. One that I just can’t get out of my head. Sometimes I focus on it more than others and pick apart every lyric, and other times I just listen to the tune. But it’s always there. It never goes away, until one day, I set it free, ready to be heard by everyone.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
First up, Stefan, I should know better than to trust the internet as a reliable information source, but I wanted to ask you about one rumor in particular. My sources tell me you’re eighteen years old. So my first two questions are: 1) is this true and 2) how do you deal with the unrelenting, fiery hatred being directed at you by older authors who resent your youth and talent?
In their review, Publishers Weekly said it was, “An absolute treat for readers of any age.” Pretend I am Grumpy Old Mr. Throckmorton who lives next door. You know him: terminal scowl, hikes his pants up to his armpits, looks like he might feast on village children in his spare time. So, I’m Mr. Throckmorton. Convince someone of my considerable age to read your wonderful book. AND SPEAK UP, SONNY!
Ok, Mr. Throckmorton, FIRST OF ALL: You need to stop eating village children. Seriously. Someday you might eat one who has a scissors in her pocket and she will snip her way out like Little Red Riding Hood. That being said, if you’re into being creepy, there’s a fair bit of creepy stuff going on in this shiny book raht heah. *holds up shiny book*
What, you were not utterly bedazzled by the cover? Oh. Well, letsee,,. It has a character in it named after you. He’s a jerk, but don’t worry – the book also takes place around the time you were a wee lad, so it'll doubtless bring back all sorts of good memories!
You were a wee lad in 1850, were you not?
Oh, you weren’t? Ahem. *flees*
THE PECULIAR has been described as a “gothic-steampunk-faery tale.” Why so greedy? Why write in so many subgenres? Is it a sign, perhaps, that you just need to focus more?
But- but I like gothic-ness and steampunk and faery tales!
Yeah, that's pretty much my reasoning, right there. I wanted to write a book with all the things I liked squished into it, and so that's what I did. It could have ended badly, but I think these things happen to work well together. Victorian England has something innately gothic and grotesque about it, and steampunk has its beginnings in that period anyway. Also the juxtaposition of faery magic and clockwork technology is interesting to me.
You’re a composer! That’s so cool! And sad, because now people have another reason to hate you. (Try not to let it get you down.) A sample of your work can be heard here. Who are your musical inspirations and what do you hope to do with your musical skills?
Thank you! And again, no reason to be haytin’. There’s nothing enviable about going to conservatories, and practicing for hours on end, and playing at nerve-wracking concerts, and then doing edits until midnight.
But I digress. My musical inspiration comes probably mostly from film and classical music. I think Danny Elfman, Alexander Desplat, Dario Marinelli, almost all the big current film composers are completely brilliant. And of course, Beethoven and Chopin and those folks. I used to be very uppity about pop, but now I don't think I could survive without some good acoustic voice-driven stuff. Regina Spektor, for example. Or Amy Macdonald. Look her up, and you will be happy for ever and ever.
Eventually I hope to get into film composing. Or TV music. Or any kind of commercial composing, really. I'll write jingles! For ice cream trucks!!! :D
Now we come to the part of the interview called JUSTIFY YOUR TWEET. This is where I pick a random tweet from your twitstream and demand that you justify its contents. On July 1, you tweeted:
So my question is: 1) what could your little brother possibly have done to deserve you unleashing your unparalleled martial arts prowess on him and 2) what kind of unparalleled martial arts prowess can you claim to have if your younger sibling can slip an elbow past you (did you have to return your black belt with head hung low)?
My little brother and I need no justification to fight. We’re almost like adults that way. Also, by “unparalleled martial arts prowess” you mean, FLAIL/YELL/LASH, and my black belt in that art is MINE, and I will not return it. Little brother got lucky, is all.
So, if I get this right, you were born in the US but have spent most of your life abroad (or, for you, I guess, it’s not really abroad and more like home). Do you get back to the States often? Where do you see yourself in five years?
I do go to the States! Not very often – maybe once a year – but any more than that and I would eat all the Reese’s EVER, and die, so all’s good. In five years, I see myself… hunched over a desk writing my fifth book? I hope? That would be great.
What is something from the world of THE PECULIAR that you wish was real (something you could possess or some state of being) and what from that world are you glad can NEVER be real?
I’d like the bird on the cover. And since I’m not greedy at all, an airship would be ok, too.
The thing I'm very glad is not real is a certain faery named Jack Box. I won’t say exactly who or what he is, because it’s a SURPRISE, but he is rather frightening, and has many tails, and many eyes, and many sharp, sharp teeth.
How much did you draw from established faery lore and how much is your own creation?
A lot of the basic concepts in The Peculiar are based on English folklore, but there’s only so far I could go with that. For instance, everyone has a vague notion of what a goblin is, but there isn’t a lot of concrete information about what they look like, or what their characteristics are, or whether they are vicious, or gentle, or wild. So I had a lot of leeway there, and a lot of room for inventing my own details, which is one of my favorite things to do. The interesting thing for me was seeing how all these “English” faeries would fit into industrialized Victorian cities. Answer: there will be problems.
I definitely did tons of research, but most of it was into London and Victorian customs rather than folklore. Sooo many hours spent studying 19th century city maps.They're complicated.
You write about faeries. Are you now or have you ever been an elf sympathizer?
Of course. I’m all into saving trees and whales, and blowing things up in the process.
Except for that last bit.
Okay, okay, all joking aside: I mean it when I say this is a fantastic book (one of two I’ll be recommending to people this fall). My sincerest congratulations to you, Stefan. I can hardly wait for Book Two in the series.
Thanks so much! Also, people, the other book he’ll be recommending is doubtless going to be awesome. I mean, Lemony Snicket’s artist made the cover. And it's about master-thieves. What more do you need to know?
Stefan Bachmann’s THE PECULIAR hits stores September 18. Run, don’t walk, to get it!
You can find Stefan:
--At his blog
--On his Twitter account
Friday, August 24, 2012
I've been working for almost five years (off and on) on this funny middle grade novel. It's gone through numerous revisions and numerous plot and character changes, (not to mention it has snagged the attention of three agents). It's got heart and humor and a splash of magical realism. The plot starts perfectly. The middle definitely does not sag, but, darn it, something still is not right starting with the climax! Don't get me started on the rushed ending. And for the life of me, I can't figure out what is missing. Two agents couldn't help me figure it out, either, and I suspect it is time to walk away from the story altogether.
Here's the problem. I am in love my main character. She's so spunky, so real, so tortured, so flawed. She deserves a happy ending.
Of course, I've done some other writing over the years. I mean I sold a different book and all. It's not like I've been slaving away on this one manuscript this whole time. I have half a dozen abandoned novels on my computer, a couple of them are actually over 40,000 words and have complete outlines and character bibles. I have six or seven really original ideas for novels in my notebook. I even wrote one very bad picture book and actually had the guts to share it with my agent.
I lie awake at night thinking of how to "fix" the plot. I've come up with ideas while I'm pulling weeds. I've jotted things down while I'm waiting for my son to finish up at baseball practice. I have sat up in bed and thought, "Eureka!" But nothing seems to work.
It's time for me to put this manuscript under the bed.
And I'll probably have to take some time to figure out my next move, which honestly will probably be planning my book launch and booking school visits and appearances in 2013.
I have to turn off that little voice inside me that whines, "But, what about your option book?"
I'll have to learn the art of letting go.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Raised in the high discipline world of ballet, I grew up believing that results were achieved by hard, grinding, relentless work. Work at the barre, work at center floor--always driving, pushing, straining. Some of this was useful training for a writer, or for anyone who must work daily to accomplish a goal (writing a novel) that may take years.
Some of it was not.
It took me years to understand that such an attitude toward work, beneficial as it may be for muscle training, can be counter-productive to an art form that demands a high level of creativity—such as fiction writing. Gradually, I’ve redefined my definition of hard work. Here is what I’ve learned.
Swinging in a hammock under a maple tree while turning over some story problem in my mind is far more likely to result in a creative solution than beating my head against the computer. So is taking a walk or gardening, or any other activity where I consciously allow my mind to drift and hover over my story.
Consciously is the critical word here. I’m not talking about the popular notion of “refilling your well” though that’s important, too. I mean holding an idea about plot or character or concept loosely in my mind and playing with it in order to generate new ideas. This is like a child holding a marble in her hand and turning it randomly to see the different ways the light catches the colored depths. Sometimes my thoughts do stray from the story, and that’s fine--drifting is part of the process. As soon as I realize I’ve strayed too far, I gently bring my thoughts back to the story problem.
Because this process is conscious, because it produces results, such time certainly counts as work. It COUNTS. Almost always, after fifteen minutes in the hammock, I find a new solution. My BEST work is now done in this manner.
Our culture has conditioned us to believe in the “Ballet” method of working because it can easily be seen and monitored by others. A person in a job at a company typing away at a screen “appears” to be working. Put her in a hammock under a tree—there you can’t measure or monitor her the activity of her mind and subconscious. People watching believe she is just being lazy. But I believe new continents rise from such creative drift.
Imagine a company where people do creative work. Imagine that each employee has not only a desk but a hammock. And each person has been taught to consciously drift to solve problems and generate new ideas. Now stretch your imagination to the limit and imagine the company actually valuing this method of working. How dazzling forward the world would leap.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
This month's theme has been a great reminder for me to get outside and knock the cobwebs off. A few scenes from my latest get-outta-the-house jaunt, at the Finley River in nearby Ozark:
|My dog, Jake, is always sooooo glad when we push ourselves away from the desk...|
|...and walk near the Finley...|
|...and check out the skies. I swear, Missouri has the best skies.|
|And the sunsets aren't bad, either.|
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
As much as I hate to admit it, Nancy Reagan was right. Sometimes "Just say no" really is good advice.
Usually, saying yes is a good thing. Yes is an enabling word. It's a move-forward kind of word. It's a get things done kind of word. I recently listened to the audio version of Tina Fey's excellent Bossypants, and I loved what she had to say about improv theater. Here's her first rule of improv (summarized by me):
1) Agree. Always agree and say yes. You are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. The rule of agreement reminds you to respect what your partner has created. Start from a yes, and see where that takes you.
That's a great rule. It's particularly great for creative work, when an early "no" can be crippling. Say yes, and see where that takes you.
Where saying yes all the time gets you into trouble is with obligations. Yes, I'll come to your book festival! Yes, I'll speak at your conference! Yes, I'll judge your writing contest! Yes, I'll critique your manuscript! Yes, I'll blurb your book! Yes, I'll do your interview! Yes, I'll write an essay for your anthology!
Oh, and yes, I suppose I'll get that book written too.
Don't get me wrong--I want to do all those things. All those things are a big part of why I wanted to be an author in the first place. Before I was published, I wanted to be a guest at book festivals and conferences, I wanted to be asked to judge writing contests and critique manuscripts and blurb books. I wanted to give interviews and write for anthologies.
And I still do. But I've learned I have to start saying no to some things. I just don't have time to do all the writing things I want to do that aren't actually, you know, writing. I've had to walk away from some of those things. I've had to prioritize.
The only person who is really going to guard your writing time is you. It's hard, but saying no is sometimes the most important thing you can do.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Way back in early 2010, I had one of those rare, precious experiences in writing: I heard a girl's voice in my head, whispering:
Here's the thing about me: I don't give up.
I knew it was the first line of her novel. Within about an instant, I knew so much more about her (Antonia O'Toole) and about her story, too. It was going to be a road trip. There would be ghosts and gangsters and witches. Antonia would be racing across America in the 1930s, heading for Hollywood.
I was on a high of excitement as I went out to dinner with my husband that night, telling him all about it. He loved the idea, too. I wrote up the idea as a little page-long summary, and my writer-friends all cheered me on. "Go for it!"
And then reality crashed in just as I sat down to start making it happen. Wait a minute. What was I thinking? I wasn't an expert in 1930s America. I'd never structured a novel that way before. Why would I think that I could do that? Possibly worst of all, it would have to include so much personal family history that it would feel intensely vulnerable to write.
This was going to be way too hard. I fled straight to a novel I thought I could handle, one that would be so much easier.
But I couldn't stop thinking about my 1930s novel. Antonia was nagging at me, with her spiky attitude and her snarky voice. I started reading up on 1930s America, "just for fun". I devoured books and documentaries, even as I kept on working on that "easier" book. Obviously I wasn't going to be dumb enough to really write something that would be so much too hard for me to pull off, but...
Over a year later, in February 2011, I sat down again with the idea. With my heart in my throat, I started writing. I wrote the first 6,000 words...
...And then I panicked again. No way. This book was turning out to be way too personal, way too raw. Way too scary.
I wrote the first 12,000 words of a different novel, one specifically designed to be safely impersonal. It was completely different from the style I prefer reading, but that made it feel safer, in a weird way.
I sent it to my writer-friends. They said, "Ah...." Their enthusiasm was, um, less than deafening...and it resonated with a truth inside me. This book wasn't me. But my 30s book was too hard! I certainly couldn't let myself write that!
So I threw myself headfirst into another project, one that would be light and frothy and absolutely safely commercial. I wrote the first 12,000 words almost too fast to think, and I sent them to my agent and editor.
Long story short? Everyone could tell I hadn't taken the time to think. I retired, to lick my wounds.
Here's the final, essential truth I came down to.
I have no idea which ideas will be successful, which books other people will love. So when it comes right down to it...the only thing I can do, as a writer, is write the books that I love, no matter how much they scare me. That way, no matter what happens in the end, I'll still be glad to have written them.
I finally went back, with fear and trembling, to my 30s book in September 2011. In March 2012 I won a bursary from Literature Wales to work on it, based on those first two chapters of the book (tentative working title: Antonia O'Toole Takes the Low Road to Hollywood).
Today, on August 16th, 2012, I finally finished the first draft of the book. It's been over two and a half years since I first got the idea, and a year and a half since I first started writing it down. There's been a lot of walking away - or, more honestly, running away - in the meantime.
But oh, am I happy to have done it.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
This summer I've been watching Season 2 of The Glee Project with my daughter. She just finished her freshman year in college and I'm finding there are more television shows and movies that we both enjoy and can watch together (ie: The Wire, Modern Family). For a stretch there, there weren't too many programs we had in common and we are not a big TV family so we were working with a limited number to start with. I like to write YA and I'm finding that watching a show like The Glee Project (or Glee for that matter) gives me ideas, background, impressions, language, and really, just lots of material to ponder about the lives of teenagers. I also love the music and the talent. Plus the lyrics to so many of the songs are just plain great writing. It's all a pretty uplifting package.
After watching last night's episode (the season finale!), I find myself humming and singing all kinds of things this morning, so I'm just going go with it. With this in mind, and in a desperate attempt to connect to this month's theme, using perhaps the simplest writing form known to man (the list), here's some of my favorite "walking music" for your playlist:
As She's Walkin' Away - Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson
Walk on the Wild Side - Lou Reed
Walk this Way - Aerosmith or Run - D.M.C. versions (both great!)
Under the Boardwalk - The Drifters
I Walk the Line - Johnny Cash
I'm Walkin' - Fats Domino
Walking to New Orleans - Fats Domino
Sleep Walk - Santo and Johnny (instrumental)
Walk on By - Dionne Warwick
Walk Away Renee - The Left Banke
Walk Like an Egyptian - The Bangles
Walking On Sunshine - Katrina and the Waves
Walking On the Moon - The Police
Walking the Dog - Rufus Thomas
You'll Never Walk Alone - Jerry and the Pacemakers
Walk Like a Man - The Four Seasons
Hey, each one's a little story of its own. And you can dance to them!
Monday, August 13, 2012
Saturday, August 11, 2012
So I walk away. I do it almost daily. My two-mile path takes me to the elementary school and back. I pass the same houses and trees, tread along the same sidewalks, watch out for the same cracks. I do not vary my route. I do not take social walks.
This is work. This is part of my process.
It was on one of these walks I realized I had the wrong main character for The Seventh Level. It was on one of these walks I learned why Gil wanted to win The Gollywhopper Games so badly. It was on one of these walks I discovered the twist for Gollywhopper 2.
It’s on these walks I come up for new workshop ideas, for ways to word speeches, for different variations on my school talks.
My favorite times to walk (weather aside) is that point in my writing day when I have come to an impasse, small or large. The routine of walking the same speed along the same path provides the white space I need to for accidently-on-purpose brainstorming.
I don’t force any issues. The problems are already entrenched in my mind. When I close the door behind me, my thoughts may meander from last night’s dream to tonight’s dinner to the color of peacock feathers. Somewhere along the memorized path, I come back to my characters and my plots and other necessary inspiration. And often – nearly always – I come back inside the house, back to my computer, ready to stay and face my problems.
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Maybe I’ll return to nature and commune at some point, but in the meantime when I need to walk away from writing for a bit I love watching movies with my kids. And not only movies, I love many of the current cartoon series on Disney, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon. There’s an art form there, crafted in 11 and 22 minute chunks, that I find inspirational. Okay, maybe not front-leaning-yoga-on-the-beach-at-sunrise-as-a-sea-turtle-slips-into-the-ocean inspirational, but still kind of neat.
I enjoy storytelling on all levels, and there’s an artful abstraction at work when you only have 11 minutes and you want the audience to empathize, worry, cheer-on, and laugh over such a short arc. I think it’s fascinating to see what resonates with my kids (I have seven, including four teenagers, so I end up doing a lot of ad hoc focus groups). So for me, I’ll recharge the writing batteries with an animation-fueled laugh-fest with my kids (we also love classic Three Stooges!) Of course that may also explain why I authored a book called Bad Unicorn, and why there’s a stuffed squirrel impaled on the cover.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
- What if…? Nothing gets your creativity engine revved like a “what if” question.
- Readers love characters with big emotions. What are situations you can put your character in that will bring out some powerful feelings?
- Work out a hook or catchy line to start or end your next chapter.
- What do you think your readers are hoping will happen for your protagonist? Tease and deliver (but maybe not quite in the way your reader is expecting).
- Pick of a part of your story you think readers might start skimming. How can you get them through that scene quicker/better?
- Readers like to see how others handle problems. What is something that worried you as a young person? How can you have your character wrestle with that fear?
- What have you done to make readers care about your protagonist in the first chapter? Consider ways to make that emotional connection stronger.
- What are important aspects you want to reveal about your protagonist/antagonist? Develop a secondary character or situation that illuminates this part of the protagonist/antagonist’s character.
- Ponder why readers will read your story. What is it that will appeal to a young reader? How can you make that more appealing/powerful?
- What are you doing/saying with your story that no other author would?
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Sunday, August 5, 2012
As a nonfiction writer in the children’s library market, I have felt the ground shifting under me for some time. When I first started writing library books about twelve years ago, this segment of the publishing world was a smoothly operating machine. Publishers laid out their schedules two years in advance. I was offered reasonable advances with fair royalties from a variety of publishers. Deadlines were spaced well apart, allowing me to do in-depth research and quality writing. I was booked out six months to a year ahead of time. But slowly, things began to erode. First, it was the schedule; deadlines came faster and faster until I had to start turning down jobs that would not allow me adequate time to do the kind of research and writing I insist upon for a book bearing my name. Then it was the royalties. Gradually, they trickled away, replaced by work-for-hire salaries that have decreased year by year. Last summer, a publisher I had worked for in the past (and that paid an acceptable fee) asked me to write 12 books (about 4,000 words each) in five weeks – that’s a book every three days. It was an impossible task, even if the work-for-hire fee had been reasonable (it wasn’t). I never expected to get rich writing children’s library books, but now, I am fighting to hold on to an industry that is losing its grip. Soon, for my own safety, I am going to have to let go. And that breaks my heart.
Friday, August 3, 2012
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Here are some activities (besides walking) that often seem to help my brain relax into writing solutions:
--driving somewhere familiar (grocery store, the gym, the library)
*I like old-fashioned stamped cross-stitch. It takes less thought than counted cross-stitch, so it allows my brain to wander while I stitch. Plus, the slow nature of hand-stitching is a nice reminder of the way we embroider stories, one phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, a page, many pages, and one chapter at a time.
|Pillowcases embroidered by the author|
|I learned embroidery from my mom. She made this alphabet sampler on the occasion of my son's birth.|
|Love of embroidery goes back generations in my family.||This sampler was stitched by my paternal grandmother.|