I’ve been busy on my middle grade novel as well as working on some new picture book ideas, but between shuttling my kids for summer tutoring (dyslexia!), I’ve been able to sneak in some guest blog posts.
The first is one for author Kirby Larson. She hosted me for “Friend Friday” on her blog. I met her a few years ago when she visited my school as a visiting author, where she did an excellent presentation despite not feeling all that great. More recently, was fortunate to chat with her over a group dinner at our local WWA SCBWI Inside Story event, this time as a fellow children’s book author.
Her blog is wonderful and supportive. She continually contributes to the world of children’s literature like so many children’s authors and illustrators. The link is below. Check out her other work as well:
The third is a post on the Sasquatch Publishing blog about my writing desk. At many readings and events, attendees want to know where authors work (I always want to know, too). This is a peek at my workspace.
This year we have two gorgeous
yellow warblers nesting in the honeysuckle bush.
The other day I stuck my head in the bush.
The nestlings weigh one-twentieth of an ounce,
about the size of a honeybee. We stared at
each other, startled by our existence.
In a month or so, when they reach the size
of bumblebees they’ll fly to Costa Rica without a map.
I sent the latest draft of my current project to a few critique partners. It was good timing as I was getting tired of thinking about it. (Family was getting tired of me thinking about it, too.) Since it’s been mostly in my own head for months and months, it’s time to hear from others what holes need to be filled and what characters don’t ring true. There is always – always – a part of me that has hope for a perfect novel at this early stage. “It’s just perfect, Mark. I don’t see the need to change anything.” That’s the sentence I’d love to hear. It never, ever happens.
I’m nervous for what changes I’ll have to make, but rational Mark knows the changes are inevitable. I’ll go through the feedback grief process (see a post here by my Winged Pen cohorts – we all go through it) and then get back to work eventually.
We listened to the BFG in the car on a recent family trip. Roald Dahl was such a strong storyteller and the BFG (read by amazing voice talent) had us all engaged, laughing and worrying along with the characters. I caught myself listening as a writer. When the BFG and Sophie have to sneak through downtown London as a large, potentially loud duo, I could hear Dahl’s early readers (maybe his children) saying “that’s not possible, Daddy… how would a giant sneak through a busy city with no one noticing?” Then I pictured Dahl scratching his head, asking himself the same question, and skulking off to think and experiment.
That’s what I’ll have to do soon enough. I’ll have to hear the problems, face them and deal with them. It stinks to hear bad news that makes for more work, but there’s nothing to do but try to figure out solutions. Also, to get ready for lots of dead ends along the way.
I always return to words from a book entitled, Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland:
“Uncertainty is a virtue…”
Feeling quite virtuous at this point in the process.
I’m reading A Wrinkle in Time to my son (Beverly Cleary to my daughter) and came across this passage:
“In your language you have a form of poetry called the sonnet… ..It’s a very strict form of poetry, is it not? There are fourteen lines, I believe, all in iambic pentameter. That’s a very strict rhythm or meter, yes?”
“Yes,” Calvin nodded.
“And each line has to end with a rigid rhyme pattern, And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet, is it?”
“But within this strict form the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants, doesn’t he?”
“Yes.” Calvin nodded again.
“So,” Mrs. Whatsit said.
“Oh, do not be stupid boy,” Mrs. Whatsit scolded. “You know perfectly well what I am driving at!”
“You mean you’re comparing our lives to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.”
If you haven’t read any children’s literature lately – and I mean the quality stuff – (there’s plenty of contemporary, too) I encourage you to do so. Don’t have time? They’re shorter so will take less time. And the right one can pack a punch.
My latest writing metaphor: Getting to the truth of a piece of writing feels like trudging through a snowstorm. You’re searching for your cabin in a whiteout and have to keep moving forward blind with your hands out in front of you. Hopefully you’ll stumble upon the front door – see the lit windows so you can head inside to feel the warm hearth of truth. Needs work and tinkering but I like the image.
I recently came across a note to myself regarding ideas for my current children’s novel. The email was from three years ago. Some of the ideas made the book, some didn’t, but it’s the time that’s passed that caught my interest. Most of my ideas marinade in my brain for months. Often years. They float up to the surface every so often, shooting off flares from the life rafts on the ocean of my brain. (Got about three metaphors going now – let’s see how confusing I can make this) From my rescue Coast Guard chopper, I see the flare, consider those in the raft, maybe drop them some supplies if I deem them worthy (getting morbid now). Every so often I’ll drop the rope ladder down to rescue one raft of ideas from their certain demise.
My current novel, set in tunnels, is finally feeling like a book. I’ll have four critique partners read it as soon as this draft is done. Fifth draft? Fourth? Third? The amount doesn’t matter. It’s not done. There are always things to improve and this one will be no different. There are always characters to deepen, scenes to cut and themes to highlight. I outlined in November of 2013, then wrote my first incomprehensible draft during NaNoWriMo in November of 2014. That’s over two years of work with breaks for picture book PR and teaching in between. It’s a big time commitment.
That’s the way of the creative process, though. It’s done when it’s done. Maybe it will lead to another sale and an agent. Maybe it won’t. I already have plans for another couple novels in my head. I have an idea for a sequel to this one (that’s never happened before). I have a few picture books I’d like to explore. There is a trunked novel, which had much interest from agents a few years ago, that has sent up flares lately. It would like some supplies flown in. Hold on there, ideas. I’ll get to you. Catch and eat some shark meat or something.
Until then I have a few more readings (Powells!) around the Northwest for A Ticket to the Pennant, the national SCBWI conference in LA in August and writing writing writing. Oh, and hang out with my kids. It is summertime.
This site, Early Work, created by my friend Matthew Baker, showcases the childhood art of working artists. The collection inspires me on so many levels (and not because I’m featured). It’s worth a browse. I’ve added it to the list of links at the side of this blog. He reveals a new artist each week.