Wednesday, November 8, 2017

This is a writer's brain. . . it's exhausting.

I want to write a book. Like actually complete a book. I doubt I can, but I want to try.

*writes book that takes years. quickly discounts accomplishment*

I just want to get an agent. If I could only get an agent . . .

*after years of rejection gets agent*

I just want to sell this manuscript.

*after years of revision and rejection sells manuscript*

I just want decent critical reviews and a handful of readers.

*gets those. quickly discounts same.*

I just want more readers and to sell another book.

*does so. quickly discounts same. lather, rinse, repeat. Often multiple times.*

I just want a starred review.

(*fuck off. still waiting*)

I just want to win an award.

*gets a few. quickly discounts same.*

I just want to win a "real" award. The kind that comes with a sticker on the book.

(*again, fuck off. Who asked you? And see what I mean about discounting same. . . ?*)

I just want to write a book that matters.

*What does that even mean? And anyway, hard to tell. But let's just, for argument's sake, say that a handful of readers' notes could make one believe that maybe possibly they have done so. quickly discounts same.*

I just want to write the kind of book that's unique, that's different, that's never been done, that takes someone's breath away. . .

* . . . *

(I just needed to write that out so I could actually plow forward and write what I'm working on now. . . )

- gae

Friday, August 4, 2017

Friday Feedback: The Struggle IS the Writing. . .


I've been teaching a novel writing workshop for adults locally in my own town. If you told me ten years ago I'd be doing this, I'd have told you you were crazy.

But I am. And I love it.

We write, we talk craft, we drink fancy water, we share aloud.

It's intimidating, and hard work -- for them and for me. But more than anything, it is fulfilling. I never realized how much I would love it. How unbelievably rewarding it would be.

My students can write. Sometimes the work they share aloud takes my breath away.

But of course, writing a novel, or even a great short story, takes more than just being able to write well, or write pretty, or even beautifully, more than being able to make people cry, or wince, or laugh out loud.

It takes story. It takes tension. It takes conflict. It takes the dreaded plot. And it takes hundreds of hours of butt-int-the-chair.

It takes writing through muddy middles, and quieting the constant "You suck!" voice that seems to lurk in all our heads.***

It takes struggling, and more struggling, then forcing yourself to write right through the struggle.

And, here's the thing I realized the other night talking to my writing students: the struggle isn't stopping you from the writing. The struggle IS the writing. It is an integral part of it.

The struggle IS the writing.
This week's fancy water was blackberry, lavender, peach.

Say hi to it.

Get comfortable with it.

Pour it a cup of fancy water.


And then, settle in and push forward.

I'm here rooting for you. And you can always check in here at #Teacherswrite for a pep talk.

So with that said, it's somehow -- unfathomably -- our last week of #TeachersWrite Summer 2017. It flies by too fast every summer, but this one seems to have flown exponentially faster.

Today it's just you and me, but please take a moment to thank all my other guest hosts who spent hours chiming in here, Nora Raleigh BaskinJosh Funk, Vicki Lame, Amy Dominy (& Nate Evans), and remember to order their titles for your classrooms and share your reviews online if you've read them and loved them.

Speaking of which, THE MEMORY OF THINGS paperback comes out a few short weeks from today. We're very excited about it, and hope that in paperback, Kyle, the bird girl, Uncle Matt, and Marcus find their way into even more libraries, classrooms, and hearts. And preorders are really a great thing.

My editor holding up the first, lone paperback to arrive at
St. Martin's Press/Wednesday Books. :) 

So, if you haven't ordered it yet, please do! Can't beat a paperback. And please share #booklove and reviews.

This week, no excerpt from me (don't ask), it's just about you. Let's finish up strong. You know THE RULES!! I look forward to reading your struggled for words.

xox Gae


*** Don't believe me? Google "Imposter syndrome" and "novel writing" and you'll see how pervasive it is.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Friday Feedback With Amy Fellner Dominy (& Nate Evans!): How Mean Can You Be?

Today on Friday Feedback, we welcome back one of my regulars, and one of the people I have learned most from in this biz, my dear friend and BVFE** Amy Fellner Dominy.

Amy is the author of several books, both Middle Grade and YA, including the Sydney Taylor Notable OyMG, and a new mystery-adventure-roadtrip-romance YA coming out in April 2018 called THE FALL OF GRACE. I've read pieces of it and it is amazing! She also has a picture book and then some, coming out starting this September! You'll hear a bit more about them below.

Please support Amy and all her hard work here today by checking out and ordering all her books!

When I was a little kid, I hated math. I thought it was mean that math teachers would spend so much time making up problems. Weren’t there enough problems in the world without them creating more for me to deal with?

The irony is that now I’m an author and one of the most important parts of my job is to create problems for my characters. (Apologies to math teachers everywhere!)  

It's true: I spend my days not just thinking up problems, but trying to ruin lives.

Today, I want to challenge you to do the same!

It doesn’t matter what type of fiction you’re writing, or for what ages. I write for teens, tweens, and toddlers and no one gets off easy.

For instance:

A worth-reading book!
In my young adult novel, Die for You, I gave Emma a boyfriend who will do anything to keep her with him. Even if it means killing himself.

In Audition & Subtraction, a middle grade, poor Tatum has divorcing parents and a best friend who asks her to mess up a band audition or lose her friendship.

I CANNOT WAIT to meet Cookiesaurus!
How about you?!
My first picture book comes out in September and it’s about an adorable dinosaur cookie fresh from the oven. Why would anyone create problems for a sweet cookie? Well, I did. In the story, Cookiesaurus wants to look better than all the other cookies, but the hands wielding the frosting have different ideas…to hilarious results (for everyone but Cookie, of course.)

Here’s the thing about problems: They keep readers turning the page.

And they also make your job as a writer so much easier.   

Without problems, characters have no motivation to act.

Characters, like people, only take action when there’s something they want. What makes a story dramatic is when they can’t get what they want. When there are problems standing in their way, and when those problems seem insurmountable.

Makes sense?

So let’s talk about your story.

First of all, have you created a strong problem for your main character? A strong problem is one that:

A. Cannot be solved easily;

B. Comes with dire consequences if the character fails to solve it.

Can you verbalize that problem and the consequence of failure?

If so—congrats and welcome to Club Mean. If not—what problem can you give your character? Brainstorm the ten worst things that could possibly happen to that person, pick your favorite(s) and get writing. Watching your character work to overcome their problems is what will make your story flow, and what will make your readers cheer (or tear) at the end.
For today, I welcome you to share a bit of your story, and if possible, find a moment where your character is confronted by a problem.

This is Nate Evans a/k/a bonus guest host author
of Friday Feedback today! 
And—a bonus for those of you working on picture books. As it happens, I’m meeting today with Nate Evans, the co-author of Cookiesaurus Rex, who is a NYT bestselling author/illustrator with over 40 picture book credits to his name. He’s agreed to join me in commenting on your picture book story submissions for a few hours this afternoon.  

I look forward to reading!!


For my excerpt, I’m sharing the opening of THE FALL OF GRACE, my new YA coming April 2018 from Random House/Delacorte. It seems especially fitting because the problem with this book. . . was the problem. It takes months for Grace’s life to unravel, but when it does it leads her on a journey. So how to tell the story? If I were to start at the very beginning, would there be enough conflict to keep you interested as a reader? I decided to try weaving together both parts of the story: Grace’s unraveling and Grace’s journey. It turned out to be much more challenging to write than I expected, but in the end I’m really excited about how it turned out. Chapter 1 begins with Grace’s journey and I hope enough intrigue to keep you reading. But you be the judge of that.

(Gae interrupts to say: If you are new here or have forgotten THE RULES to Friday Feedback, please pause now to read them at the bottom of any of these posts HERE, HERE, or HERE!!!)


An awning stretches above the doors to the bus terminal, blocking the sun but doing nothing to stop the sweltering heat. It’s a struggle to breathe, the hot air trapped and unmoving.
Like me.
Someone bumps my shoulder and I turn, tightening my hold on my backpack. But it’s someone in a hurry who doesn’t even stop. No one here knows who I am—I remind myself of this as breath calms. I’m not breaking a law by being here. I’ve been “asked” to remain in Phoenix. I’ve been “cautioned” and “advised” and “strongly encouraged.”
Not ordered.
My new hiking boots take me into the bus terminal. They’re Salomons and not new at all. I bought them at Goodwill this morning. I would have been squeamish before—used shoes? Please. But now I congratulate myself on my ten-dollar find. The fitted black tee and dark green pants are my own—bought for a trip to Paris and made of breathable, movable fabric with pockets down the leg. I’m a long way from Paris, but they’ll do. A white hooded jacket with wind protection is in the pack.
It can get cold where I’m going, even in August.

xox Amy (& Gae)
p.s. Amy is on a hike and I am off on a swim. We will both be back here shortly after NOON EST. <3 nbsp="" p="">

**Best Virtual Friend Ever, though we have, since the title stuck, become friends IRL too...

Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday Feedback: A Treat with a Twist: My Editor's Take on Your First Moments



The day our first baby together arrived!
We have a second baby coming March 2018!!! 
You guys are uber, ridiculously lucky today, because I wrangled my shiny & fabulous editor at St. Martin's Press & Wednesday Books, Vicki Lame, into guest hosting Friday Feedback today.

Nope, I'm not kidding!

I asked her if she'd answer these three simple questions:

1. What grabs you in the beginning of a manuscript?

2. What keeps you reading?

3. And, um, would you give my nine zillion campers feedback on their beginnings?

(Okay, I may have slipped that last one in when she wasn't fully listening. . . but she agreed!!! And she's here to do just that!)

Because she's busy and spends her life reading submissions, I do want to make it as simple and easy for her to be here  -- after all, Friday Feedback can be a bit of a frenzy, albeit the best kind of wonderful frenzy.

So I'm simplifying the rules, and twisting them a bit today:


  • Please only submit the opening 3 - 5 paragraphs of your manuscript, or story. If you submit more, I have told her to only focus on the first 3 - 5;

  • Rather than our usual format of "what works, what doesn't, and would you keep reading?", Vicki will simply share with you what pops out at her -- her quick first impression: essentially what she sees in your writing, or feels as she is reading.  

  • I will only likely chime in on the excerpts she cannot get to if she cannot get to them all, because who wants to hear from me when you have her?!

  • FYI, she will be limited in how much she is able to respond to TODAY, but will be reading excerpts through the weekend. Having said that, please don't post new excerpts past Friday night. She will do her best to get to at least the first 50 excerpts between today and Sunday.

Pretty freaking amazing, right?

Right. :)

So, without further ado, here's Vicki with some absolute gems about what she is looking for when she opens a manuscript and begins to read that first chapter:



What I want to see in a first chapter:

-          A strong depiction of a main character. I want to know exactly who that character or what we might find out later by even the smallest of details… the crooked way his tie hangs, or the brief hesitation when she answers a call from someone. Your characters should be three-dimensional right from the beginning.

-          A propulsive first scene not bogged down by too much exposition/internal dialogue. Show us who your character is and what world we are in, don’t tell me. Let me learn about it and make connections for myself.

-          Tight writing. Don’t be flowery for the sake of being flowery. And don’t tell me every little action the character makes. I don’t need to know “she lifted her hand to the cabinet to open the door to take out the mug for her tea.” I just need to know she took out a mug.

-          No tricks. Those first few paragraphs tell a reader exactly what they are getting into. So, unless it is pivotal to the plot, I don’t want to see any tricks. If your manuscript is a young adult romance, it shouldn’t read like a thriller.

-          A willingness to be bold, to be different. There are a ton of books out there, more than ever before, don’t be afraid to write a book that will stand out from the pack. Don’t write something because you think it’s popular, write the story that only you can tell.

So, there you have it. No excerpt from me today. Just you, the comment box, and a real opportunity to be brave.

xox gae & Vicki

---Vicki Lame is an editor at St. Martin’s Press and Wednesday Books. Titles include, Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech by Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo, and The Memory of Things by award-winning author Gae Polisner. She is lucky to be able to work across age groups and genres, acquiring upmarket women’s fiction and historical fiction as well as select non-fiction and a variety of young adult titles. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her highly Instagrammable cat, Troy.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday Feedback: Josh Funk & The Read Aloud Picture Book


Hey, all,

Just back from one of those totally inspiring few days spent in the nerdy world of #nErDcampMI, where I even hosted an impromptu session on Teachers Write! so we have a bunch of amazing new campers, and I hope they're peeking in here.

A few times over those days, I crossed paths with my friend, Josh Funk, who told me more than once how excited he is to be hosting Friday Feedback this week.

I'm excited too. Not only do I know I have many aspiring picture book writers here who like to participate, but his post is amazing and inspiring and informative! Since, I'm never the best one to give picture book advice -- hey, I'd still like to write my own one day but have no idea how! -- I'm super excited he agreed to guest host!

If you post non-picture book excerpts -- and of course feel free to! -- I will do my usual chiming in in the comments, but otherwise, I'm going to leave it all up to him! You couldn't be in better hands. (And if you're new here, and before you proceed, please take a moment to click this link to read the Friday Feedback RULES):

Photo Credit: Carter Hasegawa


So, without further ado, here is the awesome Josh Funk, author of LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST, THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH, and wonderful forthcoming titles like IT'S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK. Be sure to check them all out and order them in to your libraries and classrooms if you don't already have them (are you crazy?!)!  












See you in the comments. Here's Josh:


Hooray! It’s Friday of Week 1! 

I’m thrilled that Gae & Co. invited me to join in #TeachersWrite - and I’m so excited to be able to share a work in progress, for your feedback.

First, I’d like to say - WOW! I don’t know how you do it. You educators work 80-100 hour weeks … AND you write! I’m not a teacher, but I’m married to one - and I can emphatically (and empathetically) say that you have the hardest job there is (hopefully it’s also an emotionally and psychologically rewarding job, too).

But (oops - sorry) you don’t want to think about school. It’s summer! Let’s write!

Gae tells me there are many of you interested and working on picture books! Great! Before we start, I want to go over a few basics by defining what a picture book actually is. At its core, there are four components, as I see it. A picture book is:

1.     A Story
2.     With Illustrations
3.     For Children
4.     Meant to Be Read Aloud

Yes, there are exceptions to all of the above (concept books and poems might not have narrative, The Book with No Pictures, parodies for adults, and early readers). But I believe that for the most part, the above applies.

What I’d like to focus on today is #4 - A picture book is meant to be read aloud - and usually read out loud by an adult to a child. We, the parents, teachers, librarians, and all adult readers have to perform picture books in front of children.

I know not everyone is a born thespian, but the best picture books (in my opinion) make it very easy for the adult reader to play act. In fact, one of the exceptions above, BJ Novak’s The Book with No Pictures, does a great job of forcing the reader to perform.

So I decided to write my own book that forced the reader to really get into character. If you know me, you’ll know most of my picture books are in rhyme. But my first non-rhyming picture book is coming out this September - It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk.


Yes, it’s a fractured fairy-tale, but not just a fractured fairy-tale - it’s a META-fractured-fairy-tale. Jack doesn’t want to do to what the reader says - and all the reader wants to do is tell the traditional story. So you, the adult reader, get to argue with characters in the book (and they argue back).

Here are a few samples pages to give you the picture (images courtesy of Two Lions, art by Edwardian Taylor):


Jack - Pages 14-15

Jack - Pages 20-21

The story evolved in script form, as my kids and I would read it out loud to friends and family members (the kids playing Jack and the Giant, while I played the storyteller). And while it wasn’t a motivating factor as I was writing the story, I do think it would make for a fun reader’s theater.

And. . . since it's Friday FEEDBACK, the writing sample I’m sharing today is from a follow-up manuscript called It’s Not Hansel and Gretel. The story is told by the same reader/narrator whose only goal is to tell the traditional story. I intend it to be the same format with colored speech bubbles for each of the characters. The section below starts on the third spread of the story:

Page 10-11
When the sky grew dark, Papa ran off.
Hansel: Gretel, I’m worried.
Gretel: Don’t fret, Hansel. I’m sure Papa will be right back with blankets and a bit of food. Our parents love us.
No! He’s not coming back!

Luckily, Hansel had left a trail of breadcrumbs leading back to home.
Hansel: Breadcrumbs? I didn’t bring any breadcrumbs.
Gretel: What kind of person saves breadcrumbs?
I … don’t really … know.
Hansel: It’s a time of great famine. If there are any breadcrumbs left, we eat them.
Okay! Forget the breadcrumbs!
Gretel: Now I’m hungry! Why’d you have to bring up breadcrumbs?!

Page 12-13
The next morning, Hansel and Gretel were still lost and alone. They spent all day searching for a way back home, but found nothi—
Gretel: Look! There's our house!
What?
Hansel: Yay! We found it!
No! You can't find it!
Gretel: Excuse me, but we've lived on the outskirts of these woods our whole lives. I think we know our way around.

Page 14-15
[inside the house]
Hansel: Mama? Papa? Where are you?
Gretel: Maybe Papa got lost on the way home to get blankets and food? He does have a terrible sense of direction.
Hansel: But where’s Mama?
Gretel: She’s probably out searching for us.
THEY’RE NOT SEARCHING FOR YOU!
Hansel [crying]: Waaa! Waa-aa-aa!
Gretel: Look what you did! You made Hansel cry!
I - I didn’t mean to do that.
Gretel: Don’t worry, Hansel. We can find Mama and Papa ourselves!
Hansel: *sniff* Okay.
Wait! You can’t leave without ME! I’m the one telling the story!

One side note - I normally don’t paginate my stories in early drafts. In fact, until recently I didn’t do much pagination at all, that was often left to the editor and art director. Lately, I feel that I have a better understanding of how pagination might work well with my texts (what and how much could/should be illustrated on any given page). If you don’t feel comfortable (as I certainly didn’t until I had gone through the process a half dozen times with editors) - I recommend not worrying about it. If you do feel confident about paginating your story before submission, it can sometimes be helpful - but it is certainly not required or expected.

Assuming this book will be the same length (40 pages) as It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, there will be 16 full spreads. For more information on lengths of books, see Debbie Ohi’s post explaining how 40 page self-ended picture books work.

So maybe as you write your next picture book manuscript, you might keep in mind the fact that this will be read aloud to a child by an adult - and see if that changes how your story evolves. 

And, now, since it's Friday Feedback, I’d love to hear your feedback on this portion of the It’s Not Hansel and Gretel manuscript, and look forward to any writing you might share for feedback in the comments! Thanks, in advance,

Josh

p.s. Again, for those of you who don't already know them, please first read THE RULES!!



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Find out more about Josh Funk at www.joshfunkbooks.com and even more on Twitter @joshfunkbooks.