Friday, January 23, 2015

An Impromptu Friday Feedback: 59 Reasons to Write and then some. . .

Five short years ago, I was still just a writer aspiring to be published.

Two critically-acclaimed, traditionally published books later, I hate to tell you, but I am merely the same thing.

Out on submission as we speak, trying to find not only the right editor for my current manuscript, but the whole publishing team that is needed these days to rally behind same, and this single, particular work of writing.

It aint easy. In fact, if I had the energy, knowing what I know now, I'd add a whole slew of chutes to THIS POST. 

The good news? I'd also add a whole slew of ladders.

Like the tween & teen readers I've met, who have been inspired to read or write (!) by my stories!

A reader named Francesca who was waiting for
her namesake book to come out. <3 b="">

Like the astoundingly caring educators I've met who spend their days AND NIGHTS wracking their brains for new ways to inspire students to read.

Like the Teachers Write! campers I've met, whose manuscripts I've started to read, many of whom I believe will be in the next crop of published MG & YA writers. . . or the crop after that. 

The beauty of writing, I remind myself, is there is no age limit or time cutoff. We have all the time we have.

At any rate, Teachers Write has been an incredible and inspiring part of MY writing life and now I am part of this beautiful book that Kate Messner made happen, and it's one of the great honors of my life.
59 Reasons to Write. Out this week!!!
And, this morning, I noticed on twitter that there's a whole #59Reasons hashtag developing, so I thought, why not jump on the bandwagon! So here, in honor of #59Reasons, is an impromptu Friday Feedback giving you yet a 60th reason to write. If you've been here before, YOU KNOW THE RULES. If not, please click on that link and read em. I will read and provide feedback on any excerpts received through Sunday morning.

Now, for something not usually seen here, I'm posting two of the possible openings for my piece of women's fiction most often referred to as SWIM BACK TO ME. I have a third, but am not posting it here now. You'll notice the first is more prologuey (yes, I made up that adjective) and the second right into the story. . .

So, does one hook you more? Make you want to keep reading? What works? What doesn't? You know the drill. And, if you're working on a piece and struggling with the same questions, I invite you to do the same. Although, I warn you (and myself!) that exercises like this usually invite an equal amount of writers arguing for each version. We shall see! 

p.s. I'm including the opening quote because I love it so much.

Sometimes God calms the storm. At other times, He calms the sailor.
And sometimes He makes us swim."

-Author Unknown

Choice One:
            The air is brisk, the sky, of an Ansel Adams photograph. Charcoal bestrewn with gray clouds, backlit by an ivory moon. Leaves rustle in the silhouetted tree branches above.  
            Below this moody sky I drift, on my back in a maroon one-piece, irradiated by the hot-white pool light which reflects the artificial turquoise of the liner. A mist of illuminated steam swirls at the water’s surface.
            Here I am, floating. 
Here I am, serene and breathing, soaking in the calm, relative-perfection of my life. 
            Here I am, content and grateful. 
This is me, in August. An expert at this ritual, at this state of being. After fifteen years of marriage and motherhood, this is my rote, my order, my routine.
And, if I knew better, I would stay here. I wouldn’t move a muscle. I would not get out.  Because, in a few short weeks, everything will be different.
Everything will be undone. 


Choice Two.

The phone is ringing, Richard is in the shower, and I have mayonnaise on my hands.
I can’t ask Cassie to answer it because she’s already running late which is ridiculous since it’s the first day of school. Of course, I’m not ready either, am still laying fake turkey slices between bread slices, a water bottle squeezed under my arm, a veggie chip snack bag gripped in my teeth. So, I let it ring.
            “Cassie,” I yell, dropping the chips to the counter and shoving the whole mess into her lunch bag, “Let’s go!”
            She appears, flying down the hall in a Little Miss Grumpy t-shirt, a pair of frayed jeans, and her new Steve Madden lace ups adorning her sleek, 5-foot-6-inch frame. She has make-up on, a new privilege permitted by us now that she’s in tenth grade. She’s done a good job – a hint of green eye shadow, some smoky eyeliner, and a pale blush gloss on her lips. Her long, corn-silk hair is just-brushed, splays about her shoulders, errant strands lit by filtering sunshine and static-charged rise around her head. She’s a lovely girl, my daughter, if difficult and moody at times, and, as always, the moment I see her, my morning’s anger and frustration melt away, and I want to hug her and tell her how beautiful she is. Of course, I wouldn’t dare.
“No meat, right?” She snatches the bag from my hand and kisses my cheek which actually takes me by surprise. She seems to scowl at me way more than anything these days.
“Right,” I say as if I could forget. She’s reminded me at least a hundred times in the past few weeks.
“Great! Thanks. I’m likely staying after. I’ll text you,” she says, and is gone.
            The front door slams and reverberates leaving this memory: Cassie's first day of kindergarten, her grip on my hand on the way to the bus stop, the only thing that belies her confident pace, her pigtails bobbing above her favorite yellow sundress with the white daisies and big blue bow in back. The bus arrives, and she suddenly buries her head so forcefully between my thighs, she nearly knocks me over, given I’m not anticipating. How Richard laughs and comments, captured on video forever, that, if she could have, she’d have jammed herself right back up into my womb. “So, fearless Cassie’s not so fearless after all,” he says, moving the camera to settle on my frazzled face after I’ve finally pried her away and hustled her sniffling up the steps of the bus.
The recollection fills me with a momentary, overwhelming, sense of loss. It’s one of the last times I remember her being anything but arms’ length with me. 



  1. Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay! LOVE Friday FEEDBACK! My writer's group that I met HERE at TW has become so vital to me and we share every Friday. So, so great.

    First, always first, feedback: Can't help but compare the two pieces...even though that's not the point here. The first piece is so peaceful and such a glimpse into the setting of this woman's mind. I mean....the sky of an Ansel And, the beautiful chosen boundaries of time, space of this character. This is a woman who needs what she has in her mind because as we see in the last line her real world is going to be chaotic soon. Wonderful quick suspense. I want to know what's going to happen!

    Second piece: very real! I love the pace. I want a teen who says "likely". MY teen just barks "I'm staying after". So kudos to Cassie on some manners....or maybe to the mom for teaching them. I'm not sure why but I don't like Richard. I sense that Richard is a negative....I guess it's because of his comments with the video camera. KEEP GOING!

    Next a question: I'm, for better or worse, a poet.....MG and YA are my thing. I don't see where poets hang out. Trust me, I love you prose folks.....but where are all the MG and YA poetry people? I"m going to my first SCBWI conference soon and I want tips on how to enjoy it as a poet. TIPS?

    THIRD---- a submission. Thank you all for your indulgence.

    Poem 1
    South Dakota Summer 1876

    Dead George Armstrong Custer driving

    Cheyenne from the plains toward

    Dead spruce in the gulch

    Hills promised to Lakota-Sioux.

    Dead man’s hand

    Black aces and eights wild card in the hole

    Dead to rights Crooked Nose Jack

    Shot Bill Hickok in the the head.

    Dead man walking, tried twice for the crime

    A noose for the execution

    Dead law and order in this territory

    Too open, too treacherous, too sacred to own.

    Poem 2

    Happy Sounds

    -Colored leaves whispering on the sidewalk
    -Click of my apartment door closing school behind
    -Zip of my backpack opening
    -thumping through folders, notepads
    -swish of pulling my library book into my hands
    -slow turn of Divergent’s pages in my lap.

  2. Gae,

    Thanks for another Friday Feedback! I like both of these starting scenes, not to equivocate, but I would want to see the next chapter or two before I voted because the tone and the voice seem different to me. The second is voicey and vibrant, a hectic domestic moment with a simmering undercurrent of dissatisfaction and something brewing. The first is introspective and sad, a moment just before dropping off the edge. Both lovely, but I think it depends on what the tone of the rest is and what happens next. And in a way, I like the contrast between them, the contrast between the mc's internal life and her public/family self.

    Here is a piece from the last third of my work in progress, it is a scene between my mc (Skyler) and her older brother (Brian) after a bad thing happens at school. Thank you! --Jane

    “Do you want me to play you something?”

    I’m going to say no, because I don’t want to bother him, and
    I know he hasn’t finished his Spanish essay, but I nod instead.


    “Yeah. Maybe the Pathetique?”

    Brian grins and rumples my hair in a way I usually hate but
    don’t mind so much this time.

    “You got it.”

    “Brian?” He stop and turns back around.

    “I like the way you play.” And suddenly I’m shy because I
    want to tell him that his music is peace to me, like steam lifting off the pond or the shadows of birds flying over our field. That it makes my arms hurt and tears rise with the beauty of it. But I don’t know the words to say.

    Brian washes his hands, so I guess he wasn’t so oblivious to
    the mess after all, and by the time I’m cracking eggs, he’s deep into the music, where the grace notes are tucked into the fast parts. And just when you think you know where it’s going, Beethoven pulls it back and changes it all, with trills skipping over the pounding left hand.

    One time I looked out my window early, and there was the
    most amazing sunrise, coming up over the field. I just stood there, feeling its beauty soak into me. And I felt connected to the whole world, to time, to everything. Like I might be a tiny, messed up speck in the universe, but I was part of that moment, part
    of everything in the world. And it made me feel strong and aching and full of love all at the same time.

    That’s how I feel when my brother plays Beethoven.

  3. Jane, haven't read your piece yet... going back to, but what's interesting about your comment is that the way the ms stands now, the first one opens the book and then the second one immediately follows. So I could just leave it that way. Curious to read more feedback. Okay, off to read your contribution!

  4. Jane, this is GORGEOUS. I love it, and love it more really knowing these characters more as I do. This especially:

    “... I want to tell him that his music is peace to me, like steam lifting off the pond or the shadows of birds flying over our field. That it makes my arms hurt and tears rise with the beauty of it. But I don’t know the words to say."

    So poignant.

    I was confused by the transition where he's washing his hands because it seemed like he was already playing piano, then washes them, then plays again. Just a question there.

    LOVE. (Keep going)

    I put it in parenthetical so you don't use it back on me. ;)

  5. Thank you--I cut something and moved something to make it shorter for FF, and I think I left in an extra hand wash. :)

  6. Oh, Discus, how I hate thee and how thou erase my valiant efforts.
    Ok, Moving On.

    Gae - I might be feeling sentimental, but I love the second start. BUT I also like the first, and I think that Jane is right. What tone do you want to set here? Who is your audience? Your first start is gorgeous, but it plunges into mystery and drama. The second start empathizes with the frantic and unappreciated parenting life: adoring and exasperated.

    Discus is trying to kill this post, so I'm going to move on quickly with a section from a revised start to my ms. It may or may not be where I need to go...

    The trail on the far side of the bridge was dry. Owen veered off the trail and picked his way through the woods to the stone wall. He found a quiet spot off the trail and squatted down to gently tip the wolf spider out. The spider scrambled under a rock jutting out from the wall. He replaced the lid on the container and was about to leave when movement caught his eye.

    He looked again at the spider. There was, indeed, movement on the spider. Tiny bugs skittered across the large spider. Ants, guessed Owen. He might have put the spider down where she would be attacked. He leaned in for a better look.

    It wasn’t ants. The movement was coming from baby spiders, hatching out of the egg sac and climbing onto their mother’s back.

    Owen caught his breath in wonder. Slowly, he eased his backpack to the ground. Then he eased himself slowly to the ground as well, dropping onto his stomach so he could watch as the translucent spiderlings entered the world.

  7. I love the addition you made here, Jane.

  8. So, gosh love Owen and I'm so happy to see him again. And this may be your new beginning though i'm having a hard time letting go of that big first line I loved -- "Owen never meant to be famous... " or whatever it is. You know what I'm talking about.

    Having said that, if you are meant to start here -- and I love Owen and the Wolf spider too (*shudders*), then I want that spider in the first sentence and the sentence to compel and beguile. SO:

    "The trail on the far side of the bridge was dry" doesn't do anything for me as the FIRST sentence. I want to go ooh. I want to be grabbed from that very first sentence.

    So what about something like this (not this but the concept - because I'm wanting you to capture your reader's imagination from the get go):

    Owen veered off the trail and picked his way through the woods, staring at the giant wolf spider cupped safely in his hands. He found a quiet spot off the trail and squatted down to gently tip the wolf spider out. The spider scrambled under a rock jutting out from the wall. . .

    Also, when you get to here -- and I know this is all new writing -- you'll want to revise. Don't need the word spider so many times.

    He looked again at the spider. There was, indeed, movement. Tiny bugs skittered across its back. Ants, guessed Owen. He might have put the spider down where she would be attacked. He leaned in for a better look.

    It wasn’t ants. The movement was coming from baby spiders, hatching out of the egg sac and climbing onto their mother’s back.

    Owen caught his breath in wonder. Slowly, he eased his backpack to the ground. Then he eased himself slowly to the ground as well, dropping onto his stomach so he could watch as the translucent spiderlings entered the world.

    Isn't that just lovely? Even for me. and I don't like spiders. KEEP GOING. I love how we get to really know Owen so well in this tiny little glimpse.

  9. At this point I am using the line about "Owen never meant to become famous." This is a new version of the spider incident, which I have happening after the intro --

    I'm not that pleased with the bit right before this, however. I might be giving the whole damn story including what he ate for breakfast and the headlines in the newspaper (figuratively). I want to lay the groundwork for the problem - and I know that's what I'm attempting to do, but I don't like how absolutely uncompelling that section is - and then I have to have Owen walk across the bridge and snuggle down to watch his spider, which I do think has some compelling elements.

  10. I am loving 59 Reasons as you have probably noticed. How special to be included!

    I agree that these two pieces are very different in tone. The second one got me involved. I was that mother! The first was not drawing me in, too ethereal maybe, overly descriptive. I did like the repetition of "Here I am."

    I have been working mostly on revisions for both my verse novel and the Blessen sequel. Here is a new piece from Sunshine (Blessen).

    Nanny Rose and Elizabeth Kay arrive with a bouquet of Get
    Well balloons. Harmony’s face brightens
    when she sees them. Elizabeth Kay holds
    the balloon bouquet while Nanny Rose lifts Harmony up and onto her lap as if
    she were a toddler.

    “Blessen and Harmony, I am so happy you are alright. I’m sure you’ve had your fill of admonishment,
    but you two gotta be more careful. You
    are playing with fire.”

    Nanny Rose’s eyes get wide.
    She checks out the cast on Harmony’s arm. “Royal blue is an interesting color for a
    cast. When I was young, they all came in
    plaster white.”

    Harmony raises her arm. “Wanna sign it? I gotta a Sharpie right there.” She points to the side table where the nurse
    left a marker for cast signatures.

    Nanny Rose is artistic.
    She draws a pretty flower, her name Rose in bubble letters, and then a
    smiley face.

    “You could leave a little space for the rest of us,” jokes
    Elizabeth Kay.

    The room is starting to look like a party. Mae Mae walks in with a box of the best smelling fresh-baked oatmeal cookies.
    She’s grinning her big shiny smile and talks in that high-pitched
    I’m-not-sure-what’s-going-on-here voice.

    “Why, hi, y’all.
    Lookie here! I got some of my
    fresh cookies. Hope everyone is hungry!”

    I’m about starved having eaten gummy bears for the last two
    days. I take one of the cookies and start humming. Harmony joins in. She adds words to the tune.

    Cookies and people
    I’m happy to see.
    What ch’all want
    this party to be?
    A celebration of
    falling from the tree!

    Laughter fills the room, and I want to hug this moment. Harmony makes the world a happier place. She has even transformed the depressing
    hospital room into a place of joy.

    Miss Juliet walks in along with my momma, and the room goes
    quiet. Momma looks like she’s been
    crying while Miss Juliet has a fake smile plastered on.

    “What y’all doin’, Blessen?
    Having a party without me?” Momma comes to me for a hug. I put my arms around her and run my fingers
    through her silky blonde hair. How I
    long for silky smooth straight hair.

    “I’ve got some news for you girls.” I look toward Miss Juliet.

    “What’s going on?” I ask afraid to hear what they social
    worker has advised.

    “Seems like my sister over there has been working on her application
    to be a foster mom without my knowledge.
    Social services has agreed that Nanny Rose can take in Harmony until her
    mother gets out …gets better.”

    I let out the breath I did not know I was holding. Nanny Rose lifts herself with Harmony off of
    the bed and twirls. Elizabeth Kay looks
    like she might cry. Momma is
    crying. I hug her again. The worst day of my life just turned into the
    Best. Day. Ever.

  11. oh der. I thought you said the revised start, but you said section of revised start. Just ignore me and go forth.

  12. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJanuary 24, 2015 at 8:48 AM

    Hi, Gae.

    I'm so happy to see another FF here! Thank you for doing this. You are totally awesome.

    I agree with what Jane said down below, about wanting to know the tone of the rest of the ms. I love both of these openings, and would keep reading either way. The first seems more introspective and literary. The second is a tad bit lighter. However, Option 2 had me a bit teary-eyed at the end (perhaps due to my ability to make a personal connection to it). Without seeing the whole ms, I'm going to say that Option 2 could potentially find an audience with more mature YA readers, not just adult women.

    So, here's an excerpt from Lily's story. She's just met Charlie, another orphan, who happens to be a whiz at farming/gardening. He's showing Lily and the other new children the orphanage's property and livestock"


    The two cows are standing about the yard quietly, except for the large bells tied around their necks, which clang like a spoon in a tin can. Lily is stunned by sight of these creatures. Just like all the other farm animals, she’s only seen them in books. They’re not like the horses that pull the carts through the city’s streets. These animals don’t seem to be serving any function.

    “This is where our milk, butter, and cream come from.”

    Now Charlie really has the children’s attention. They are stunned into silence. Lily is fascinated too, although of course she knows that milk comes from cows, Momma always had it delivered in bottles.

    A man emerges from the barn. He’s the same man who waved the scarecrow’s arm at Lily earlier. He places a large metal jug on a hand cart.

    “This is James,” Charlie explains. “He’s our handyman.”

    “And cow milker!” James announces, laughing. He tips his hat to the attentive crowd.

    Lily likes him immediately.

    “Is Sam around, James?” Asks Charlie.

    “Yessir he is. Sam, come on out here. You have visitors.” He winks at his audience.

    “Yeah, Pa?” A young boy, about Lily’s age she thinks, walks out into the light of the barnyard. He’s the spitting image of his Pa, with the same dark skin, smooth round face, and mischievous grin. His denim overalls bunch at this ankles and hang on him like he forgot to grow. The open look on his face says that he is ready for anything. Also just like his Pa, Lily likes him straight away.

    “Young ladies and fine gentlemen, this here is my boy, Sam. Handyman-in-training, cow-milker extraordinaire, friend to all growing things, and future world-famous writer.”

    The boy takes an exaggerated bow, and rising, exclaims, “Samuel Clemens Barnes, at your service.”

  13. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJanuary 24, 2015 at 9:14 AM

    I love the Southern tone of this piece. You're dialogue is wonderful I want to read more, because I feel like I'm missing out on something.

  14. About to read your excerpt, Wendy. But I assure you this ms in NOT YA. My mother compared it to Fifty Shades with better writing. Ahem.

  15. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJanuary 24, 2015 at 9:31 AM

    Al rightly then! Lol!

  16. Aw, love this new character I'm meeting, Wendy. Love how Lily can assess whether she likes someone or not quickly -- it's one of the things we get to know about her, that she takes in a lot of what goes on around her in a very sophisticated way. Can't wait to read more about Sam and Lily's blossoming relationship! Love the description of the overalls "... like he forgot to grow." Nice stuff.

    p.s. watch the two "stunned"s.

    Keep going.

  17. Margaret, agree with Wendy. Absolutely lovely writing (as usual) and lovely piece and I want to read more. Having said that, please watch the FF rules. This is actually two full pages of work (482 words!!), way over the limit and I can't possibly have everyone posting so much now or in the summers when I have guest authors reading... <3

  18. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJanuary 24, 2015 at 10:51 AM

    Thank you so much.
    Those darn "stunneds" :)

  19. beautiful Jane. I have not seen this excerpt before. I love how Skyler sees beauty in what her brother does. I wonder why he washed his hands? I wonder why she hasn't clicked or tapped in the parts where she is shy and wants to say more. But, I love that Brian is peace to her.

  20. ready for anything face.....he's already our friend....nice touch.

  21. Thanks, Gae! Poem 1 does have line differentiation.....which I carefully put in and then it disappeared when I hit send. tsk. tsk.
    Elena is a character I'm working on. She's a happy little thing.

  22. Margaret -
    I'm so glad I'm getting to read more about Blessen and a happy moment at that! Thank you! Really lovely. (now I'm going to duck and hide so that I don't get in trouble with Gae)

  23. Gae, I haven't posted in the past except in the summer for TW, but I'm hoping that is changing as I've finally done what I've been intending to FOREVER and started a blog! It's a huge accomplishment for me just to have it started!

    I wanted to respond to your two openings. My favorite of the 2 is definitely the 2nd one-- I didn't even have to think about getting into the story; I was already there! The first has a sense of mystery, and I like it, but it didn't grab me the way the 2nd did.

    I'm not posting anything for FF this time...but hopefully in the future! Thanks for letting me "play"!

  24. Virginia,
    Yay for starting what you've been intending to do forever!!! Such a good feeling, right?!? :D

    Thanks for chiming in on the opening. Good to know that the second is drawing people in. I was thinking about going with that, am still wavering between leaving as is with both, or just leaping right into two.

    Look forward to many more postings from you!


  25. Ugh, sorry that disqus is f**ing with your line breaks. So frustrating. Just seems like another diss to my poets here, but is NOT! You're one of us. Can't wait to read more.


  26. If anyone posts here today, I am off to a book event in Westchester and won't be back till later this evening -- so will comment on anything that posts then. Happy writing.

  27. :) It does feel good-- and even though it is related to my professional work, it feels like I'm doing something "for me"! Thanks for the encouragement. It's my plan to be back!

  28. So sorry. I just copied and pasted. I didn't look at the word count. "My bad." Posting removed.