WIP

waiting

Well this writing of my time in New Orleans is helping me in the thinking department of the new book. Not so much in the actual writing of words on paper but that’s okay. I’m spending a lot of time just sitting in my room, spinning in my chair and thinking about Frankie. I feel like I am unraveling my story and Frankie’s story at the same time. And because I shared some of my story by writing it down, I’m hoping he’ll share some more of his.

I’d like to know his sister’s name and I think I know what happened to Max, the dog, but I’m not sure he’s willing to tell me about that part yet. It’s okay. I know he’s scared. I did dream about him last night in his hiding place. He’s very good at being quiet. Very good at being invisible. Even better at keeping secrets. But that’s okay. I can wait.

Sunday, September 4, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |8 Comments

Writing from life, even when you don't want to

Maybe it seems wrong in the face of all that is going on in the wake of Katrina to even think about writing and the writing business but that’s what I am doing, trying to find a path to normalcy because the alternative is nearly too much too bear.

I’ve been silent for a week for a variety of reasons. Busy? Yes. Major overhaul on the office is still going on which in turn puts a major overhaul on the rest of the house. Day-job? Sure. After a 6-day weekend my workload is a tad overwhelming at the moment. I’ve also been working on publicity for my picture book coming out next month (Oliver’s Must-Do List) and will probably spend a lot of time across the long weekend working on that sort of thing.

But mostly it has been a thinking time. I’m thinking a lot about my new book project which has a lot, well, icky stuff going on in it. Bad stuff happening to a good kid. I’m doing some writing but mostly jotting down thoughts and thinking about plot and structure and having to research things a bit. But the icky stuff has to come first. It’s the day that is different. It sets the story in motion. And I don’t want to write it. Instead I clean house and putz and play with the dog.

And, this week, I watch TV for news of Katrina’s devastation, most especially to the city of New Orleans, a place I once lived but never called home.

New Orleans was never a part of my master plan. I landed there due to a series of poor choices on my part. Looking back, remembering, reliving the pain of those three years in New Orleans is not pretty. It’s not something I want to do, especially right now, but every news report triggers a memory. Every photograph I see online is replaced with an image in my mind of my time in the Big Easy (which was anything but.)  As a result, many emotions I have been trying not to feel about a time I want to forget from a place that is unforgettable, are pouring out of me. I am writing it all down, letting myself remember everything about New Orleans, the good and the bad, though it is much too long to post here.

I hope there is a catharsis at the end of it all. One never knows when you cut yourself open on purpose, if the bleeding will ever stop or if it will just keep on flowing and become something else you just learn to live with.

Friday, September 2, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , , |10 Comments

Dreaming our writing

One of the things I believe is most important in our writing is to write with emotional honesty. For me that means finding something in my own life that somehow will connect itself with the main character so I can use my emotion to fuel the character emotion. I’m not talking about an exact match in the event that causes the emotion but a matching emotion that can drive more events. So far it’s missing in Frankie’s story which means I think about it a lot. For me the emotional connection between my life and my character’s life makes the difference between a book with voice and just a bunch of words on the page.

I read a recent interview with Deborah Wiles that she did for The Institute of Children’s Literature. In it she said, “When I say I start with a voice, I think I’m also saying that I start with a feeling. And that’s how it works for me that I get my life into stories. It’s a voice, yes, but it’s really a feeling that I want to make manifest, if that makes any sense. I don’t even understand it myself all that well. I just know that when something is bothering me, or making me particularly joyful, it can find a voice in story.”

That resonates with me, most especially with Frankie. I know he is in pain and I know he hasn’t had an easy life. I don’t know the details but I know that he doesn’t believe his life can be anything different than what it is right now and that somehow it is my job to help him think differently. I try to use my dreams as a way to help me with my writing. I often give myself a sleep suggestion to let my subconscious work while I rest. Of late it has been the same suggestion: “tell me more about Frankie and his story.” Most mornings I wake up and remember very few dreams but sometimes they are vivid like one I had just the other night.

In my dream I went to answer the front door and there was a man there, kind of old, his short beard was gray but he had some black hair on his head. He wore a bit a suit that had seen better days. He handed me a box, a white box, like one you might get clothes in or a little bigger. It was tied with string, not a ribbon. I asked him what was in the box. He shook his head. I asked him again to please tell me what was in the box. Nothing. I don’t know why I didn’t just open it myself but I didn’t. Then he walked away. I asked him to wait. He kept walking.  Then I asked him who he was. He turned around and said, “I am your father.” And then I woke up. And I have NO idea what was in the box.

No, this is not a Star Wars connection. I haven’t seen that movie since it came out and am not a big fan. And here’s the thing, I don’t know my own father. I’ve never met my dad or anyone in his family. In my 47 years I’ve only seen the few wedding pictures of him from when he was a gawky 18-year-old in a white suite. He was gone before I was born and I have heard little about him. What little I did hear wasn’t good. In fact, it was so bad that back in elementary school when someone asked me if I was Tommy Webb’s daughter I automatically said no, so conditioned was I to hiding the truth.

So it is odd and maybe a bit scary to think that my father, who never paid a dime of child support, might give me a gift, perhaps even what I need. And it is sad to think I don’t know what is in the box.

Saturday, August 20, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , , , , |10 Comments

We know more than we think we do

Yesterday I wrote about the confusion I was having with my current WIP, wondering if it was even the book I was supposed to be writing. I could hear my MC talking to me but when I tried to put it into the book I THOUGHT it belonged in, nothing fit. I thought I was working on another verse novel, MTLB. I had a few poems, an idea of where it was going but the more I heard the MC talk the less he fit into MTLB. But doggone if I didn’t keep trying to jam him in there.

I sat myself down and had a little talk about form and function and all the various WIP I have. I was so fed up that I thought about working on a picture book even though I promised my agent I’d commit to novels for a while. Funny thing was, as I reread all the bits and pieces of unfinished stories I started to see a bit of a pattern. Many of them had one really great scene, a few pieces of dynamite dialog, or an image in words that showed exactly what I wanted to show. One them had a perfect title. (I love titles and can’t work on a book until I have the title.) They all featured a boy MC who was a big brother. Yet each of these bits and pieces were in different stories. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe the excitement that got me started fizzled without a plot (a common occurrence for me) or perhaps something else grabbed a tighter hold of me and begged to be written. I think a lot of these are stories that just didn’t work, won’t work, but I was afraid to let them go. They had “pretty pieces” in them and I wanted to save all the pretty pieces until I could fix the story to go with them. And I’m sure I was thinking that if I had 5 unfinished picture books with some good parts in them, with revision I could have 5 new picture books. I was thinking quantity, not quality, which is a bad idea with writing. I know better. I know that’s not the way I work. I know I’m an instinctive writer who needs to trust herself to let go and hold on according to some invisible inner guide.

Annie Dillard says, “One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.

It may not have been what Dillard meant but I had the feeling a few of those pieces still spoke to me and still belonged somewhere, just not spread out across 5 picture books that had no future. With some cut and pasting, I yanked the pretty pieces from the gaudy frames of poorly written stories. And as I reread them all I got that little electrical charge of adrenalin, you know the one, your personal geiger counter as Stephen King calls it. There was a voice here. Someone worth listening to. Someone who needed me.

For a few minutes, I confess, I contemplated trying to shove the pieces into the verse novel even though I knew they wouldn’t fit. (Yep, sometimes I’m a slow learner.) Then I got to the title I had saved, TMT. I remembered when I first found the title. I remembered knowing that I would use the title. I remember being sure it would be a picture book.

That was about the time that Frankie tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, that’s me! I’m TMT.” And it hit me, yes, it was time to tell Frankie’s story but MTLB wasn’t Frankie’s story, TMT was.

Nancy Werlin says, “When I write a thing, I write it with a ferocious trust in the unknown stuff that lurks somewhere in my mind.

Keeping that trust in mind I looked at my saved scraps again, only this time through Frankie’s eyes, and the picture became a little clearer and his voice a little louder. (He even told me about the dog and the little girl.) So this is it. I will put aside MTLB and work on TMT and try to help Frankie’s voice be heard. Most of all I will trust that the rest of the story is hiding in my subconscious and will be there when I need it most.

 

Thursday, August 18, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , , , |12 Comments

The doubting writer

You’d think that by now I would be used to the fact that my writing path is always filled with doubts of one kind or another, but no, each time I hit a hill of doubt I’m caught off-guard. Once I am deep into a project the doubt usually (but not always) fades away. In the early stages of a project the doubts attack me like highwaymen hidden in the dark woods waiting to steal my treasures. I think the hardest part of it all for me is trusting myself enough to know when I am on the right path, the mostly right path, the path likely to lead to the right path or the path headed directly for a dead-end. It should come as no great surprise that I have the same issues in many other areas of my life but it is the writing doubt that bothers me most of all, perhaps because the writing, because BEING a writer, matters so much to me. Whenever I do something that my “inner me” considers wrong or a bad choice, I hear a lengthy diatribe that starts with something like “I told you so” and ends with something along the lines of “why don’t you just give up now.”  Sigh. Not that I intend to give up or give in to the “inner me” at all. This whole inner lecture can take place in a minute or two but boy, the impact can last quite a while.

My current doubt centers around my choice of project to work on. I’m still waiting for the revision letter for Hugging the Rock so I have time to get to work on something new. It shouldn’t be a problem as I have many projects in various stages all waiting for my attention. And even if one of those didn’t appeal to me, ideas are not usually an issue for me.

There was an interesting post which was an offshoot of another post from about the concept that every writer starts off being able to do one thing well, one free card you don’t have to work for. I won’t repeat the whole conversation here here since you can go read their posts for all the juicy details but I decided that ideas was my free card. I’m working on characters and voice, plot still eludes me, and theme always has to tap me on the shoulder when I am done to remind me that it needs to be included. But ideas, they are constant for me. So I took at look at 7 of my projects in various stages and picked another verse novel to work on. It was the least together of them all, only a handful of poems, a hurting character, a setting, and not much more. Nothing recognizable as plot. I was drawn to the character, wanting to save him or at least point him in the right direction away from the pain. But now . . .

It’s going nowhere. I mean nowhere. I can deal with a crummy first draft (second and third drafts even) but I don’t think I’m feeling Frankie as strongly as I THINK I should. I don’t know if I have his voice or if what I have IS his voice or if his voice is even one worth listening to. I don’t know what happens next, but that’s okay, to be expected even. Most of all, I don’t know if this is the right time to tell this story or if I should just force myself to keep going even when I feel like I am driving with a flat tire. I could pick up my YA instead. I know the story. It’s all written and “just” needs to be revised for about the 20th time. I could pick up any one of several MG novels that I have started and then stopped somewhere after chapter 4 or 5. I am not feeling obsessed by any one story more than another at the moment which is what makes it most difficult. The obsession phase is important to my creative process but it is difficult to attain when there are so many other non-writing things that want my time, like the darned day job, cleaning house, and sleep, just to name a few.

I am filled with doubts so I will probably do nothing for a while (which then inspires great guilt) and hope for the best. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , , |5 Comments

Ideas come at the darndest times

I worked late, again, which meant I was driving home later than usual, which means traffic. While I drove I let my mind wander, knowing that I needed some good thinking time to figure out what is going on with MTLB (my WIP). I’m trying to figure out where a good thinking place would be because other than the drives through the backroads on the way to Santa Cruz, I’m fresh out of thinking spots. The doctor told me no walking the dog until my knee heals. I don’t think my husband, as supportive as he is, would agree to just drive back and forth through the woods for a few hours every night so I could think. But this book is new. It needs lots of thinking time. Traffic got worse. Cars slowed down. Slower still. I inched along waiting to merge into the metering lane which would merge into another metering lane and then it happened. One idea popped into my head. Then another. I couldn’t reach for a pen, not in that traffic. I couldn’t reach my phone to call home and leave a message for myself (yes, I do this sometimes if I’m afraid I might forget). So I started repeating the few lines to myself over and over again, like I wanted to remember them for a play. I didn’t want to forget a single word.

Frankie (my MC) tells me this is VERY IMPORTANT STUFF. I mutter to myself. I merge. I keep muttering. Merge again. Add a couple more sentences. Mutter louder. Harder to remember them all now. I never was any good in drama class. 4 lane freeway, at last. I drive faster. Frankie talks faster, like he’s afraid he won’t have enough time to get it all out. I accidentally hit my horn and tick off the guy in the white truck next to me. My heart is beating like crazy so I know this is good. I can’t wait to get home and write. I can see the entire scene unfolding and Frankie is screaming  “no no no” in my ear. I miss my turnoff so I have to get off at the next exit and make a U-turn. Frankie is still yammering at me but I don’t want to tell him to slow down because he might run away again. He does that a lot. Finally I pull into the driveway and shoo the squirrels out of my way as I race into the house, throw open the back door for the dog and grab a pen and my tablet.

As fast as I can I write it all down. Every single word. I reread it once then twice. Suddenly I’m the one screaming “no no no” in my own head because Frankie is nowhere around and he left out a few important pieces of information.

Was it the little girl or the dog?

Thursday, August 11, 2005|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , , , |0 Comments