Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Publishing: Inspirational or horribly depressing?

The other day, I heard a story about an author who had taken 35 years to publish her first book. However, that book has since been an overwhelming success, published in dozens of countries, and it recently secured a film deal.

What an inspirational story, I thought. This poor woman, plugging away for years upon years, never gave up, and was finally appreciated by the market. However, a friend of mine had the opposite reaction. He found this "success story" horribly depressing, and said had he known when he first started writing that the publishing industry was like that, he would've never gotten involved.

I've been thinking about inspiration and the publishing industry recently, as this past Saturday I co-taught a course on writing for children at Bristol's Folk House. Rachel Carter (whose book is coming out from Scholastic in 2013!) and I covered character, setting, voice, tense, plot, all the biggies, but we also spent a bit of time on the market, and how to submit work to agents and publishers (Rachel will be offering the course again--minus me--this autumn if any local people are interested!).

The course was a great success (if I do say so myself!), though I was amused that when it came to talking about the publishing industry, we found ourselves playing good cop, bad cop. Rachel would point out how competitive the market was, and I would chip in and say there's always a place for awesome stories. Rachel would say she recommends agents, and I would add that some publishers accept material directly.

In truth, we didn't know what our class wanted to hear. Different people are inspired by different things. Some people want to know exactly what they're getting into, while others need to hold onto hope and dreams.

What do you wish you knew when you started writing?

In other news, why yes, I am moving across the ocean exactly a week from today! So there definitely won't be a blog post next week, probably not for a few weeks, as I get my bearings in Massachusetts. In the meantime, be good, take care of yourselves, and please send positive moving thoughts my way!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Writing: what's worth hanging on to?

I'm not very sentimental when it comes to things. It's probably true, as fellow writer and blogger Fiction Forge claims, that international moves will do that to a person. And the past few weeks I really have been intent on that clearance sale mindset, everything must go!

So this past Sunday, I settled myself comfortably on the floor, and began to go through two drawers (and 15 years worth) of writing: drafts, notes, rejections, memorabilia. I knew it would be painful--I would've never dared get rid of it all if it hadn't been for the move, and the premium on space--but I hadn't realized what a lovely trip it would be, too.

I discovered multiple copies of a poster from a reading in I did in college, an encouraging note from a writer friend in Chicago, even a hysterical parody of a high school English teacher. I found a piece I wrote from my dog's perspective, of which I have no memory, but it's surprisingly heartfelt (it may have to be resurrected) and included this beauty of a line: "If you can't kill a bone in one night, it wins." I also discovered a lot of rejections--but some lovely rejections, with handwritten notes, back before I knew what a big deal that was. 

Here's what I piled in the kitchen hallway for recycling:

  • Old Writer and SCBWI magazines
  • Several year's worth of SCBWI membership cards
  • At least seven notebooks, filled with drafts and notes
  • Printed drafts
  • Drafts from workshops with handwritten notes
  • Assignments from my MA, including my ginormous (and, I must say, quite insightful on re-reading!) essay on cover art
  • Plot charts, character maps, exercises galore
  • Two ribbon-tied stacks of notecards, filled with plot points
  • Handouts from classes, workshops, conferences
  • All those old rejections (who saves rejections, even nice ones?!)

Like I said, painful, even scary, but I think it's the right move. It's not like I ever look through that stuff, except for occasionally diving in for a useful handout. It's all for past work, which will either be read and enjoyed as is in the coming years (in which case, I don't need to worry about all the notes and edits), or which will need to be massively rewritten at some point, in which case I really don't want old notes and plot charts to interfere with seeing the work with fresh eyes--though that was some of the hardest bits to toss. All the drafts are saved on my computer, which is frequently backed up--I even dug up the dog story!

Of course, my future biographer may forever look back at this moment with agony, but I'll just have to take that chance.

Here's what I kept:

  • Typed evaluations from each module from my MA (some of those comments are a goldmine!)
  • An envelope of critiques on the piece that won me a placed in the SCBWI anthology, Undiscovered Voices.
  • A stack of agents & editors' business cards--okay, some of them have since rejected me, but still, I have a stack of agents & editors' business cards!
  • Handouts on plot, tension, character building, and synopsis writing to which I still frequently refer
  • That parody of the high school English teacher--goodness, who knew I was such a clever 18 year old! And I bet that's NOT on my hard drive!
  • A personal essay I wrote for my MA in Chicago, including my teacher's encouraging handwritten notes
  • A single copy of that poster from my college reading
  • And, of course, all my notes and current notebooks for Project Demo and Project Fun. Still a full folder of stuff--I'm not totally crazy, really.

What old writing do you hang on to? What do you toss?

In further news, the last day in Bristol is two weeks from today. I'm also hoping to get my latest revision of Project Demo off by then. So yes, life continues to be manic!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The tangibles (and intangibles) of an international move

The first time it really hit me that I was moving back to the US, I was in the check-out line at my local grocery store. I was buying meat and ice cream for that night. Then I had this wild, crazy thought: in the US, I'll have a fridge taller than me! With a freezer! I'll no longer have to consume things like meat and ice cream the day of! And I couldn't help this manic grin creeping across my face.

I may not consider myself the most patriotic American, but there are numerous things I love about the US, and not just giant fridge/freezers. It's also my home, where I was born and raised, and without even realizing it, many of my opinions and expectations have been formed by that. How could they not?

Yet this past weekend was a short trip to Paris. Yes, I have been traveling a lot lately! Not so much to do a whistle-stop tour of Europe before I leave (though that's been a nice side-benefit), but to spend some final precious days with friends before I live much farther away.

Anyway, I was in Paris, in the lobby of the Musee d'Orsay, when my friend got an emergency phone call from work. She spoke rapid French into her cell, and I leaned against a front desk and thought about that Renoir painting, Bal du Moulin de la Galette. In person it makes you feel like one of the crowd, like if you fell forward, you would fall inside the painting, find yourself spinning in some suited stranger's arms, dancing through the park. And amongst the incredible art, the rush of French, the Seine in the distance, it occurred to me that there are some things I'll miss about living in Europe.

But not to worry! This morning it's 55 and pouring rain in Bristol. My mini British fridge is empty, so I have to go grocery shopping--and no car, so that means hauling my groceries home, uphill, through the rain. And once again, I'm looking forward to the move. It's the tangibles that make it real for me--whereas it's the intangibles, the atmosphere, the culture, and of course, my friends, that I'm not sure will feel like real losses until they're very far away.