Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Living Past the Angst

The last months of 2012 brought a host of trials to the Ghost Clan. Some will pass into the ether as if they never existed while others will haunt us until we can reconcile our own failures or forgive ourselves for bad decisions. One thing that hit this writer hard, however, was the depth and the visceral reality of what it means to be a teenager.

As I watched my child struggle with the pressures of making decisions at the age of 15 that could forever change his life path, I thought, “My god! How did I ever survive it?” I’ve always said that there wasn’t enough money in the world to entice me to relive my childhood, especially my adolescence, but living it through my son gave that sentiment a whole new meaning. We tend to romanticize teenage “angst” and talk about it with a sense of nostalgia or condescension, but there is nothing romantic about what my kid is going through.

It’s insane! We stuff their heads full of what we think is important information and ask that they “learn it” in the most ridiculous ways, test them using the most ludicrous methods and demand that they perform because their life and the funding life of the school depends on it, then ask them to decide what they plan to do with their entire life, eternally punishing them for mistakes or minor lapses in judgement, all while their brains are swimming in hormones and growing new synapse connections at the rate of a rocket breaking through the atmosphere. How does anyone survive that?

So far, my little Ghost Clan has managed to hack our way through it, but it ain’t pretty. As I struggle with my current WIP, I realize that I can’t rely on my own memory of an angsty adolescence as a point of reference because time has warped my sense of urgency and, surprisingly, healed some of the insecurity that is essential to that experience. So I write these characters with a fresh look at their hell. Determined to get to the “real” heart of it, I mark my son’s experience and learn from him what my soul struggles to remember because it has worked so hard to forget. 

What kind of “wake-up” have you had recently that is influencing your writing?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Running with a Coyote

Anyone who knows me gets why my handle is Ghost Girl. I believe that there is a connection between this world and the world beyond and sometimes, those we have loved slip through the veil to remind us that we are never truly alone.

Over the weekend, a friend shared with me a beautiful spiritual story that inspired him to create a stunning picture book.  Lee Harper's  COYOTE takes us on a journey with a boy through the lonely, lovely paths of his world as he rides his bike past all the landmarks that have become home to him.  Late in his trek, he meets a mysterious coyote who runs with him and becomes a part of his world for one breathtaking moment.

Lee Harper's illustrations are magical and warm and his tale moving. Inspired by the death of his own brother and his own journey through that loss, COYOTE will surely be a friend that will run with young readers everywhere.

For Lee, the book was a labor of love and healing. He finished the illustrations about a week before the Sandy Hook tragedy. Though he had intended to take this book through the traditional publishing process, the Newtown events have left such a devastating sense of loss that Lee and his wife, Krista, thought COYOTE might have something more to give. They decided to publish this book on their own and are offering it through Amazon. 100% of the profits from this book will go to help the families affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy.

As another famous writer once wrote, "Those who love us never really leave us." May we all have that moment to run with a coyote...

Lee Harper is the author/illustrator of THE EMPEROR'S COOL CLOTHES and SNOW, SNOW SNOW. He is also the illustrator WOOLBUR by Leslie Helakoski, TURKEY TROUBLE and TURKEY CLAUS by Wendi Silvano.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Expiration Date

As I watched the tribute to Jody Foster last night at the Golden Globe awards, I couldn't help but feel like the amazing shrinking woman again. She is barely two years older than I am, and we are celebrating a life-time achievement award for her career while my career has yet to begin—at least in any official capacity. Watching all those accomplished people in their glittering gowns and perfect hair as they live their dream was both inspiring and nauseating.

I can't help but feel somehow it's too late to get it right. I wonder if I should have started chasing this dream earlier or even if that would have made a difference.  I was a very different person at 20 than I was at 36.  While I feel guilty every time I get that twinge of resentment, I have to admit that watching 20-somethings break into the business with a bang sort of stabs me in the gut. Wunderkinds abound and here I sit feeling sorry for my 48-year-old self who has yet to get that big book contract.

Don't get me wrong. I have no intention of giving up (not today, anyway), but I sometimes wonder whether 48 is too old to ever conceive of a writing career. Is there an expiration date on a writing career?

According to one blog, the average age of a first time published author is equal to the meaning of life: 42.  Apparently I've reached beyond such metaphysical enlightenment and am on my way to oblivion.

After a little more checking, however, I found a few encouraging nuggets of information.

  • Raymond Chandler launched his career at 51 with The Big Sleep.
  • Sue Monk Kidd set things abuzz (sorry, I couldn't resist) at 54 with The Secret Life of Bees.
  • Alex Haley hit it big with Roots at the age of 55.
  • The beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her 60s when she found her place in the annals of literature.

I'm not looking for awards or wide acclaim (though I would take them if they were thrust upon me), but I am hoping to write for an audience who will actually read my books and want to read more. I want to say something worth hearing, share something intimate that might inspire someone or jar a reader's creativity. I want to know that what I write is actually worth something more than 255k on my laptop. Is it too late?

I'm going to say NO and keep working on my craft.

And I must give Ghost Hunk big snaps for sensing my doubts and encouraging me last if he could read my mind. With a word from me, he just gets it.

In her acceptance speech, Jody Foster alluded to the fact that she is beginning something new now. That 50 isn't the end and that she is eager to break new ground. I'll bet dollars to donuts that come this time next year, there will be a shiny new kids' book on the shelves with her name on it.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Stymied by the Invisible Audience

I've decided it is time to professionalize myself one step further and finally build my website. The problem is I cannot decide on a target audience. YA readers? Other writers? Industry people? Who would visit silly old me online anyway?

I have looked at the sites of several authors I admire and found a variety of approaches. John Green's pithy, nerdfighting site seems to be aimed at savvy YA readers who love his books (and most likely are crushing on him in a big way—who can blame them?). Of course, I don't have even 1/8 his wit, so I'm not sure how I would frame my content.

Maureen Johnson has a little something for both readers and writers. Her clever bio takes you through her journey to publication, hitting each book as a signpost. Her blog is directed at writers and offers entertaining insight into the business of writing.

Sadly, Libba Bray's site has been marked by our administrator (yes, I'm writing this post at work) as a potential malware menace and has been blocked. Curses!

Meg Cabot has such a wide array of publications and her website focuses on her reading audience, including contests and discussion boards.

All these examples are people who have already hit huge success, celebrity status even. I'm at the beginning of my journey, so what do I focus on?  I don't have any FAQ's yet or any published titles other than a magazine article.  But I need to build something.

I've also looked at some great sites from writing buddies—Kimberly Sabatini, Joyce Moyer Hostetter, Marissa Doyle—all at different points in the journey.

I guess what it comes down to is a battle with my lack of confidence. Writing is a world of constant rejection, self-doubt, and crazy ideas that could be brilliant or could be crap. It is hard to feel I have anything more than my finally published manuscript (whenever that happens) and then to whom do I offer it? What should my website intend? I guess it's just another existential crisis. (That's why I write YA!)

If anyone is out there and actually reading this blog post, do you have any ideas? Suggestions? List of no-no's? List of must-haves?