Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of 2009

Woosh! There it goes. Another year full of spastic hopes and kids that are growing just too darn fast.  Yes, the ghost children have probably gained a collective 12 inches in height over the last 12 months, though it came in bursts.  Adolescence has set in on one side and pre-adolescence is in full swing on the other.  But how have I grown this year?  If adversity is any indication, I should be a giant any minute, now.

Let's start with the bad:
  • Couldn't sell house for what it was worth and it took far too long.
  • Spent August 2008 - April 2009 apart from Ghost Hunk.
  • Moved away from a home I loved to a cultural desert
  • Still no book contract
  • Best friend's mom died
  • My Mom died
  • We won't even talk about the Estate...

What about the ugly:
  • Lost a lot of furniture in the move, (which was 2 days of driving in the pounding rain)
  • Caught a horrible respiratory infection while running the Pocono Retreat
  • Dealt with horrid relatives at the funeral and beyond
  • Had some wicked RA flares
  • Came home from Indiana with the freakin' Swine Flu
  • Discovered my YA is really a better MG...not sure how to feel about that one.

Okay, let's have some GOOD stuff:
  • Sold the house and reunited with Ghost Hunk
  • Stayed with a wonderful writer, Joyce Moyer Hostetter, on our way to GA
  • Had a FABULOUS Pocono Mountain Retreat
  • Met even more awesome kidlit writers
  • Put some kick-ass revision on my YA-turned-MG with my awesome agent
  • Watched both ghost kids blossom in their new school
  • Saw Ghost Hunk's book come out in paperback
  • Got my own writing office (finally!)
  • Learned to play golf again, and love sneaking out to the course with Ghost Hunk while the kids are at school.
  • Got my first article in print in the Nov/Dec Cricket Magazine
  • I'm still writing...

So now it's on to 2010.  Predictions?  Okay, let's play:
  • My stunningly spooky MG will be sold before March
  • I'll finish my brilliantly creepy and exciting YA (which will be genuinely YA)
  • We'll find a wonderful place to live that will still have a writing office for me.
  • We'll have another amazing Pocono Mountain Retreat
  • My kids will grow and flourish
  • Ghost Hunk will do brilliant work at ASU
  • Dear friends will never be far from my heart
  • And Danté the dog will learn to quit tugging at my clothes.
Wishing all the best to everyone out there, and thanks for following my rambling little blog.  A new website and blog is in the works for 2010 as well.  I hope to see you all there.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Happy Holidays, and may 2010 be full of shiny book contracts, glowing reviews, and the next bestseller in progress...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Are We There Yet?

It looks as though I'm in for another round of revision. At first the rejection news is disheartening, frustrating, and reason enough to down a vat of raw cookie dough. But when the dust settles, I think a little harder on the suggestions so kindly offered by the rejecting editors and slip them into three neat categories:

1.  Matters of Personal Taste—  You just can't win these battles.  And they are not necessarily wrong or twisted or evil.  They are simply opinions.  So I file these away in the "Ah, that's what this editor likes/doesn't like" file.

2.  Repeat Offenders — These are those annoying little points the seem to crop up in several rejection letters so you can't ignore them.  Now these can fall into 2 sub-categories:  things I can fix and things I don't want to fix because they have little or nothing to do with my goals for this book.
    • Things I can fix:  These will not change the story.  They are little quirks in my writing or basic structural or characterization issues that require more tweaking than full-on re-writing.  Quirks can be good, but sometimes they are distracting, so I weigh the comments and decide how to proceed.
    • Things I don't want to fix:  These are things that involve completely altering the direction of the book or trying to make it something it will never be.  Sorry guys, but I won't add sex or romance or addiction just to spice things up or appeal to a broader market.  Uh-uh.
3.  The Identity Crisis — Where does my book really belong?  I have a great story, but the how of it might fit better into MG than YA.  What?  But I always thought of myself as a YA writer!  Yep...I'm a straddler.  Much about the story is YA, or at least it would have been in another time.  But the modern YA reader comes from a very different place than many of us did at that age.  Add in the historical element and you complicate the issue even further.  How do I keep it authentic but still appeal to a modern teenage sensibility without completely re-writing the book?  That's the tough point.  It's a question that I have to ask myself.  And because I am a writer, I will ask it.

But how do I overcome this breathless sense of failure?  I revise my vision of success.  I want to write the best story I can write and I want kids to read it and enjoy it.  That part hasn't changed.  Refocusing this piece won't change that either.  I'm just starting this part of my career in a slightly different place than I thought.

So here I stand contemplating yet another revision.  Thanks to my dear BB buddy Mindy for talking me off the ledge and to my fabulous agent for hashing over all of it and coming up with a good plan for the next round.  And as Ernest Hemingway once said:

Optimism can keep a fool from accepting failure.

I guess I'll just be a happy fool and dive right back into what will surely be an awesome MG book.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Agent Appreciation Day

Skimming through the Blue Boards this morning, as is my usual a.m. habit, I came across a post entitled "Agent Appreciation Day," complete with a link to a lovely blog by Lisa and Laura Roecker. In their latest post, they pay tribute to Catherine Drayton and encourage everyone to take a minute to celebrate their agents today.  Thank you Kody Keplinger for getting the ball rolling.

Well, it's the first day of Chanukah (or Hanukkah), so it seems as fitting a time as any to pay tribute to my beloved agent, Elana Roth.  Okay, so my name may not ring any significant bells on anyone's list of authors, yet, but I have no doubt that Elana is the one who is going to help me change that.  To follow suit, I guess I'll list three reasons why I love my agent.

1.  She got me from the get-go.  When we spoke the first time about my book and our vision for it, we were definitely on the same page (pardon the pun).  She asked about my process and told me what she liked about my manuscript.  When I asked what kind of revisions she thought would make it stronger, she was dead-on straight with the spirit of the book.  She wasn't interested in stripping the guts out of it and creating something completely different (and believe me, some would).  Her strategy was all about enhancing the story, not changing it.

2.  She puts it all out there.  From pre-selling an idea to editors, to knowing when to put out an idea and then leave you to it, to helping authors develop their promotional presence, she's all about working it.  She's got the whole submission gig down and makes it so much easier for me to obsess about who's reading it, who's going to say yes, when are they going to SAY YES!!!?

3.  Twitter love!  I can't help it.  I always get at least one solid laugh or "uhuh, I know what ya mean" as I pop on twitter and see Elana's journey through the query pile or her latest jaunt through NYC (I miss you, East Coast), or the glory days of teaching Hebrew School.

So, as I await that fabulous first book contract (any day now...), I do appreciate you, dear agent.  Thank you for believing in me.  Thank you for always sharing the positive even when it comes nestled in rejection.  We've both had a wild ride through this last year (outside of our literary lives) and I hope the tracks are a little straighter from here on out.  But then again, where would the fun be without a few mind-numbing challenges?

One more thing...  HAPPY CHANUKAH!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Too Much Information

Most kids in the throes of puberty will tell you that adolescence is hell, but more importantly, their personal hell is much worse than any other in the history of the world.  I come from a generation whose parents walked 5 miles up hill in a snowstorm to school everyday and heard the words, "you have it so easy" almost every day of my teen years.  Yes, and my grandfather had to work to support his family when he was 14 years old while at that age I was only babysitting for pocket money.  I hate to burst my parents' bubble of martyrdom, but the stories of the modern teen experience I could share from my teaching days would easily curl even their hair, no doubt—kids with addict parents, abused kids, kids with no parents or guardians to advocate for, love, or support them.  There is plenty of hardship to go around.

But what about the average kid's experience?  To sum it up, too much information.  Texting, sexting, Facebook, LiveJournal, IM.  No longer is the honor of torturing a kid at school reserved for the odd note passed in study hall or taunts in the hallway or bullying at the bus stop.  Now they have 20 techno ways to exploit even the tiniest error in judgement wrought by raging hormones.  We've heard the stories of distraught teens hurting themselves because of something that is going around on FB about them or an incriminating photo snapped with a cell phone and launched into cyberspace by some petty kid to grace a thousand LED screens and invite even more denigration.

For most of us, the hardest and most haunting remnant of adolescence is also the most eternal lesson:  we are the choices we make, for good or ill.  But we don't really get the until we are old farts.  So teenagers should be allowed to screw up and face humiliation as we all did.  BUT, it's just not that simple these days.  Every mistake a kid makes could be broadcasted to the entire school with the touch of a button.  And it often is.  That's a lot to take when you are still just trying to figure out who you are.  Why do you need 30 text messages to remind you about the dumb remark you make in front of the hottest guy in school.  A mild example, but a blow to self-esteem nonetheless.  Let's try another.  Back in the day, if you succumbed to pressure and took off you clothes for your boyfriend, people may have heard about it, but now they can see it in living color if you were naive enough to believe the cell phone photo you snapped really was for his eyes only.

And if cliques aren't bad enough in the hallway, let's just take it online and compete for the highest number of friends on Facebook.  Or better yet, start fan clubs for people who hate Courtney or whoever is lucky enough to wear the crown of most-hated loser that week.

I love Facebook, and I've been able to reconnect with some dear friends who fell out of touch over the years.  And when we moved away from PA, my 12-year-old son started an account so he could keep up with his buddies so far away.  As for the cell phone, I rarely text, but my smartphone is indispensable with its address book and calendar and instant emergency contact no matter where I am.  My 7th-grader, however, does not need one of his own.  He'll be just fine sitting in class without the aid of technological subterfuge and textual harassment.

I'm not saying we should ban social media or cell phones, but as a parent and a former high school teacher and now a writer for young adults, I think a lot about the impact this constant hook up to information has on our kids.  Every generation has its cross to bear.  Every generation changes what it means to be a kid.  Adolescence is about making choices, screwing up, and making new choices.  It's about learning how to be human, the good, the bad, and the ugly of it.

Laurel Snyder made a fabulous observation when we were talking about YA vs MG characters at a recent SCBWI event:  "The middle grade kid is looking out at the world and trying to understand it all, while the YA kid is looking inside, trying to figure himself out."  I think that is exactly right.  Add a barrage of information, a large portion of which can petty and destructive, and where does it all go?  Deep inside.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Spring is Coming!

Okay, so it's only December, but you know what that means...registration for the SCBWI Eastern Pennsylvania 2010 Pocono Mountain Retreat is OPEN!  Just click here to go to the registration website and get things started.  OR head over to our chapter website to download a PDF brochure.

Registration will be open until February 20, 2010 so maybe Santa will put a little something special in your stocking!  I hope to see you all there!