Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

For the People Out There Who Equate Fantasy With Drug Abuse

"All advances are [fantasies in origin] until someone makes them into reality. Airplanes have existed in fantasy ever since the story of Daedalus; Arthur C. Clarke invented communication satellites as part of a fantasy; a thermos flask figures in several Celtic tales as one of the miraculous Treasures of Britain. And so on. The ability to fantasize is the most precious one we know. Because it solves problems, it has tremendous survival value. And--fortunately--it is built into us so that, unless mistaken adults inhibit us, we all have to do it.

"Children, of course, do it all the time, but even the most adult of businessmen in the most boring meeting will say "Let's play with a few figures here" or "Let's play around with this idea for a bit"--and this is the right way to talk about it because it helps if your imagination is exercised with a lot of pleasure and in a great deal of hope. Then your "What ifs" go with a verve and you're really likely to get somewhere.When the missing bit is found, it is often accompanied with wonder and enormous delight. Eureka! I always see Archimedes bounding about punching the air like a soccer player who has just scored a goal, and dripping all over the street.

"People probably thought Archimedes was insane, but actually what this element of play and delight is doing is keeping you sane...[fantasy is a way] of keeping your mind cool enough and clear enough to deal with a difficult situation."

--Diana Wynne Jones

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

From William Faulkner

“I would say to get the character in your mind. Once he is in your mind, and he is right, and he’s true, then he does the work himself. All you need to do then is to trot along behind him and put down what he does and what he says. It’s the ingestion and then the gestation. You’ve got to know the character. You’ve got to believe in him. You’ve got to feel that he is alive, and then, of course, you will have to do a certain amount of picking and choosing among the possibilities of his action, so that his actions fit the character which you believe in. After that, the business of putting him down on paper is mechanical.”

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Thanks, Patricia.

I just read this blog post by Patricia Wrede on research and imagination and thought I'd share.

This is something I've been thinking about for awhile, since I often wonder if I'm over-reaching myself. It sometimes seems outrageous to be writing what I'm writing, about a culture that not only isn't mine, but was mistreated by mine. I'm sure I've mentioned this before. Not long ago, a friend whose culture it is (sort of, though you could argue nobody quite knows precisely what culture that is, as the city which inspired my story disintegrated almost 900 years ago and everybody argues over where the descendants went and where the ancestors came from); anyway, this friend warned me that bad things happen to people who over-reach themselves when dealing with such stuff. She casually threw out an ominous warning or two about skin-walkers and other ghostly wreakers of vengeance. And about strange, coincidental accidents.

To those who like to send such curses: I mean my story as a gift. An offering. Please take it as one. Also, as an apology for the evil things my ancestors did to yours.



To Patricia Wrede: Thanks for reassuring me that, no, I don't have to know from personal experience or have been there to write about it, as long as I've done my research and have imagination.

Imagination can make it real. Of course I know that. Does any writer not know it? But your validation gives it authority. So, thank you. Curses are at stake.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

When Writing Turns into Map-making

This week I realized something while working on my novel: Until I chart out my city and its outlying regions in detail, I can't write my final battle scene. Got the climax basically wrapped up (that final showdown between the two brothers), but what's going on down below them in the city is fairly important, too, and that's just a little hazy in my head, because I haven't figured out where everything goes. Not exactly.

I need a map.

This would not be a problem if I were an artiste.  Or if I hadn't played around so much with my setting, which is only loosely based on reality. I had to play. The real setting didn't fit my story well enough. And anyway, it was fun.

Apparently, this sort of thing happens to writers a lot.

I came across this entertaining article on the subject while I was looking for ways to procrastinate drawing my own map. I laughed a little. Those crazy writers! And sighed. Because I'm one of them. And yes, I know I do need that map.

I was interested--and a bit relieved--to learn Tolkien didn't draw his own maps. He commissioned a map-maker for Middle Earth. And then C.S. Lewis borrowed Tolkien's map-maker for Narnia.
Map of Narnia by Pauline Baynes

However, Robert Lewis Stevenson and Ursula Le Guin didn't need to borrow anybody. They drew their own maps of Treasure Island and Earthsea long before they ever began to write the books to go with their drawings. Even Faulkner drew maps for his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, and was duly proud of the result.

Apparently, writers are obsessed with maps.

Perhaps because we live in other worlds and want those worlds to be real? What we want is the biggest possible map, with as much detail as possible, and then to step into that map and...

Well, whole stories have been written about that.

I don't draw. And unfortunately, I'm too impatient to wait around until someone who can has enough time and ink to create a map so I can plot out the details of my big battle.

So this week I am writing by drawing a map, and wishing I'd taken an art class or two in college. Who knew drawing was one of those prerequisite skills for creating a novel?  And I keep running out of room on my paper.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Neil Gaiman Cometh. Also, Grapes.

I did two productive things today instead of writing. Might have gotten ahead of myself on both, just a little.

Thing 1: Harvested and turned my grapes into juice, even though we haven't had a decent frost yet, and everyone knows you have to have a couple of good frosts to set the sugar in grapes, right?

Juice was good, but a little on the tart side. Don't care. I like tart.

Thing 2: Bought tickets to An Evening with Neil Gaiman in Park City. Yes, Neil's coming. Here. Soon.

All right, not that soon. April 2015. There were plenty of seats. Everything was available, in fact. Perhaps I was a little overanxious. But I'm not about to miss Gaiman when he comes within 35 minutes of my house.

In case you're interested, you can click on the link above for info. But you might want to hurry. It's only six months away. Meanwhile, you can watch Neil expound on koumpounophobia, below.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Even the great ones had to work hard...

"Despite attending lectures by J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis [at University], I did not expect to be writing fantasy. But that was what I started to write when I was married and had children of my own. It was what they liked best. But small children do not allow you the use of your brain. They used to jump on my feet to stop me thinking. And I had not realized how much I needed to teach myself about writing. I took years to learn, and it was not until my youngest child began school that I was able to produce a book which a publisher did not send straight back."
                                                                 --Diana Wynne Jones

It's nice to know even Diana Wynne Jones's stories didn't just fly off her pen from the beginning. Yes, we all have to put in our hours. And learn as we go along. Though whether we end up as good as Diana in the end...Hmmm, yes. Well, it's something to reach for, isn't it?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Letter From John Steinbeck

Dear Writer: 
Although it must be a thousand years ago that I sat in a class in story writing at Stanford, I remember the experience very clearly. I was bright-eyes and bushy-brained and prepared to absorb the secret formula for writing good short stories, even great short stories. This illusion was canceled very quickly. The only way to write a good short story, we were told, is to write a good short story. Only after it is written can it be taken apart to see how it was done. It is a most difficult form, as we were told, and the proof lies in how very few great short stories there are in the world.
      The basic rule given us was simple and heartbreaking. A story to be effective had to convey something from the writer to the reader, and the power of its offering was the measure of its excellence. Outside of that, there were no rules. A story could be about anything and could use any means and any technique at all – so long as it was effective. As a subhead to this rule, it seemed to be necessary for the writer to know what he wanted to say, in short, what he was talking about. As an exercise we were to try reducing the meat of our story to one sentence, for only then could we know it well enough to enlarge it to three- or six- or ten-thousand words.
      So there went the magic formula, the secret ingredient. With no more than that, we were set on the desolate, lonely path of the writer. And we must have turned in some abysmally bad stories. If I had expected to be discovered in a full bloom of excellence, the grades given my efforts quickly disillusioned me. And if I felt unjustly criticized, the judgments of editors for many years afterward upheld my teacher’s side, not mine. The low grades on my college stories were echoed in the rejection slips, in the hundreds of rejection slips.
      It seemed unfair. I could read a fine story and could even know how it was done. Why could I not then do it myself? Well, I couldn’t, and maybe it’s because no two stories dare be alike. Over the years I have written a great many stories and I still don’t know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances.
      If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.
      It is not so very hard to judge a story after it is written, but, after many years, to start a story still scares me to death. I will go so far as to say that the writer who not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium.
      I remember one last piece of advice given me. It was during the exuberance of the rich and frantic ’20s, and I was going out into that world to try and to be a writer.
      I was told, “It’s going to take a long time, and you haven’t got any money. Maybe it would be better if you could go to Europe.”
      “Why?” I asked.
      “Because in Europe poverty is a misfortune, but in America it is shameful. I wonder whether or not you can stand the shame of being poor.”
      It wasn’t too long afterward that the depression came. Then everyone was poor and it was no shame anymore. And so I will never know whether or not I could have stood it. But surely my teacher was right about one thing. It took a long time – a very long time. And it is still going on, and it has never got easier.
      She told me it wouldn’t.

                                                                                 ---John Steinbeck

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How do you know when you're done with your book?

I wrote a post on this a few years ago, when I was finishing up my last book.

I think the main thing I have learned since then is this: if you think you're done, you're probably not. You probably need to send it off to another few good critique friends and get more feedback, then ponder the advice you get, and overhaul the damn thing. Again. I guarantee it needs it. And then do it again. And maybe again. As many times as it needs. It's not as good as you think it is.

Sorry if you thought so.

And when you get your novel
all perfect and polished into oblivion, and an editor loves it, that's when the real editing begins. Because it won't be perfect then, either.

But that's ok, because it's the rewriting that makes a book good. It will never be perfect, but it can be wonderful. Enchanting. Exciting. Brilliant. Magical.

Writing is like that. Excruciating and wonderful. Exhausting and invigorating. And if you love it, like I do, it's totally worth all that.

Happy re-writes!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Confessions of a (Sort of) Hobbit

I have decided I am a hobbit.

I'd really rather stay home by the fire with my books and my laptop and garden (even though it happens to be dead because it's February) than go anywhere at all.  Even to the grocery store. Even for an adventure. Not that I have many adventures at the grocery store, but that isn't the point.

The point is: I don't like to walk out the door.

Unless Gandalf shows up and pushes me out. Er, not necessarily Gandalf. Maybe just a crazy wish to publish my crazy books. And the cat randomly biting me. Hiss! Grrr! Go to New York!  I took it as an omen. Or, something.

So last Wednesday, yes, I did leave my poor children in the care of my poor husband and also a severely disturbed cat, and I walked out the door and got on a plane to a children's book-writing conference in New York. No, Gandalf didn't come. My daughter did, which was almost as good, except she doesn't carry a magical staff--only her phone with a subway app--and her hat isn't pointy.

Running out the door

First mistake: taking the red-eye flight. What was I thinking?
Second mistake: taking Dramamine 45 minutes too late. Four hours of sick and not sleepy enough to sleep upright from 12 am to 4 am.

The result: a woozy Thursday that only an enormous double-dark-chocolate cookie from Levain Bakery could fix. Yes, it worked. Everything got better from there. Especially the food. New York bagels for lunch and Indian food for dinner. Delicious.
View out my window
Friday: 45 minutes on the treadmill plus intensives with an agent and a publisher and two groups of lovely people who also happened to be great writers. Plus Cuban food for lunch and New York pizza for dinner, with a little MOMA in between. Umm, yes. Good thing about the morning run.

Saturday: 35 minutes on the treadmill and an inspiring keynote by Jack Gantos, former drug-smuggler-turned-children's-author, then agent Daniel Lazar on getting and communicating with an agent. Shake-shack burgers, fries, and chocolate shake for lunch.

Editor Nancy Siscoe talked about middle-grade novels in the afternoon, then Elizabeth Wein gave a powerful speech on a writer's responsibility to her audience and to the people she writes about. A little scary, considering what I'm writing. But it was good to ponder.
Me, eating again

I skipped the panel on book-banning next because, yes, of course I agree books should not be banned. You don't have to convince me. I'd rather go eat. Preferably at The Eatalian. So delicious.

Oops--missed the buffet dinner and social. But my daughter was meeting friends later and it was our only time to hang out. And eat really good food, as opposed to light banquet food. Which I'm sure was lovely, but I'll bet not as lovely as what I ate instead. Then back to the hotel and a good book, because I was pretty jet-lagged by then and also socially burned out. I'm used to my evening books by the fire. After all, like most writers I know, I am a thorough introvert.

Sunday we slept in and didn't attend anything but a hot shower and church and the top of the Rock and Le Pain Quotidien for lunch. Seriously delicious. And then a sick-making taxi ride to the airport because I forgot to take my Dramamine again.
Anna and me on top of the Rock. Except you can't see the view. Huh.

We were early. Really early. Which meant dinner in the airport. Food could have been worse. Could've been better, too. Had a yummy green smoothie at Jamba Juice. And then fell asleep on top of my book and leaning over a counter because the Dramamine finally kicked in with a vengeance.

Top of the Rock, with view
The upside of the earliness: we didn't miss our plane and I was never sick the entire flight, thanks to even more Dramamine. Finished reading my book and we didn't die, either--always a worry for a person with anxiety disorders, like me. And for my kid, who's way too cool and old now to say, the way he always used to: "Have a good trip, Mom, and don't die!"
What do you say to a send-off like that, anyway?

I could never think of anything but, "Ok, honey. I won't." Which always prompted the obvious: "How do you know?"

Well, um, I don't.

But somehow I managed. I went to New York and back and I didn't die. Not even from good-food overdose, which might have been a miracle. I'm not sure. Still too strung out on Dramamine. I'll tell you tomorrow when my brain is back. After I've curled up by the fire for awhile with my books...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Finished; Heading to NY

Finished the book today, after a minor panic attack because it wasn't done and two ultra-marathon writing days living on trail mix, clementines, and Dove's dark.

Still needs polishing. And a better name. And, yeah, reducing. Fattest book yet. Oops.

But 'tis done. A draft that I like.

And now, oh, yeah, time to pack. And buy face-wash. And dental floss. Leaving for SCBWI NY in two days. I'll tell all y'all about that soon. See you later!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The February Post

It's February again, the Unspeakable Month, and time for the annual Trash-on-February post.

January brown air
Because February, Month of Love, is also the season of toxic air, no sun, brown icicles hanging off cars, and cold that goes on and on and on.

January: no new snow, and dog
Tis the time of left-over, tired-out snow, and pollution-induced bronchitis; also pneumonia, sinus infections, flu, and any other lung disease you've ever heard of. There's nothing to sing about but inversion-magnified pollution, the tedium of cold ugliness everywhere, and did I mention the really bad air?

Fa la la, and so forth.

 I barely need mention the decking of halls with pukey-colored Valentines' decor, fuchsia underwear ads, Pepto-Bismol candy, trashy movie-trailers for films that think sex is romance...and yeah, of course, the really, really bad air.

We keep topping the charts for worst in the nation.

Me, trying not to breathe brown January air
And then the depression. Call it SAD if you want. Self-medicate with brownies and a Happy Light. As if I owned such a thing. Whatever. The big D is as inevitable as cold-air inversions along windless mountain valleys. I hear it's an artist thing. My personal feeling is it's a February thing.

Skip the season and move on to March. That's how I feel about it.

February: snow cloud, not smog, and dog

HOWEVER, um...Not this year. I hate to admit it.

I've tried to despise this February enough to write a really great trash-post, but...huh. I can't.

After a full month of zero snow and January impersonating February for thirty days straight, the Month of Love swept in with one lovely, fresh snowfall after another, white dusting all of the trees,  wind blowing out all of the sick air.

Green air quality, people! Joy!
February clean air

And since I barely leave my house (other than to walk the dog, obviously), because all I do anymore is write my novel, I am spared visions of models in heart-stamped undies. I'm too busy for depression. I even wrote a kissing scene. Not that I'm sending Valentines' Day any love. That holiday is still way too tacky to be romantic.

And then I just realized February is only eight days in.

Still plenty of time to get ugly.

More beautiful February snow

HOWEVER... I don't think I'm going there this year. Feb. has been good to me so far, so I'll just stake out with lots of Dove's Dark and my fantasy world and stay far away from the literal until March rolls by. With a quick trip to New York for SCBWI in the middle.

 So there, February! You don't terrify me.

Actually, that's a complete lie. February is terrifying. I think I need my Happy Light.

Oh, wait. I don't have one.

Maybe some brownies...and a long walk in the snow with the dog...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Who needs November? January is the Real Novel-Writing Marathon Month

January is marathon month.

I'm not talking about running. I have no motivation to run lately: four miles max for long runs, if you're being generous. Probably you shouldn't be that generous. I'm not sure I ever run that far.

On my off days I watch Merlin reruns while I ride the bike trainer. Sometimes I have more off-days than on-days. Sometime I think all days should be off-days.

Running Shoes  
 Vs.       Biking Shoes

Clearly running isn't one of my New Year's resolutions. I run when I feel like it. That keeps it fun. And I believe in doing what the season calls for. In December it calls for good food and family get-togethers, and, of course, gaining weight. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without the extra five.
Family get-together  2014 

And right now the season seems to be calling for a marathon write.

So I write. All morning long. All afternoon. All evening.

Because it's dark and cold outside. The air looks like poop. Most of the Christmas lights are turned off and everything's hunkered down and closed up. A bulldozer dug up a piece of my usual mountain trail a couple of months ago and it's ugly now without snow to cover it.  It hasn't snowed in over a month and everything's gone brownish.

I'm not depressed about it. Not yet. Depressing is for February.

But in January you need a warm place to go inside your head. Also, when you sign up for a writing intensive at SCBWI New York in February--attempting to balance the evils of that month--and have to bring a polished, complete version of your novel with you, you know you've got some work to do between now and then.

Forget National Novel-Writing Month of November.  November is crazy and busy. January is slow, with hot chocolate and day-dreams. So I hereby declare January Marathon Writing Month. Join me if you like. Come over and we'll have a write-in with Starbuck's peppermint hot cocoa and butter cookies, which you can run off (and I'll bike off in front of Merlin episodes). Or we can do a virtual write-share on the One-Page-a-Day Blog.  Or something.

Either way, I'll be writing my way toward February in New York, where I begin attacking the business side of the job again, after a lovely, long break focusing on nothing but creation. Until then, I'm in my head in front of my laptop.

See you again in a month.

Playing High and Dry with Sourdough

Lately I've been playing with dough. It's become a sort of a compulsion. Maybe because I'm tired of driving all the way to som...