Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Just for Fun (and craft-development, and edification...)

On June 11, the world celebrates the 200th birthday of Harriet Beecher Stowe. (You can read my post from last year about my new-found admiration for this woman...she wrote while raising seven kids!) In honor of her birthday, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is "re-releasing" Uncle Tom's Cabin in the modern form closet to the way readers first experienced it in 1851; in the mid-19th century, serial stories in newspapers were the "in thing"--now that's being translated to blog form. Starting on June 5 (the day the first segment was released in 1851), and going on for 44 weeks, a segment of the story will be published on the National Era Blog, along with an introduction by a scholar or fan--but otherwise keeping true to the way it was first published in the National Era Newspaper.
I know you're all busy keeping up with current reading (right, my studious writers/readers?), but at just one segment a week, it's hard to turn down this chance to relive that kind of experience.
Now we'll know if it was true that waiting for the next chapter of a serial story was akin to waiting for the next Harry Potter book... I'll let you know in 45 weeks or so. :)
P.S. And if Blogger is still being weird and not letting you comment, my apologies. I don't know what's wrong with it...but don't worry. I know you still love me. ;) (Even if Blogger doesn't!)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Food for Thought, with a Cherry on Top :)

I recently saw a description for an intriguing workshop offered by the Highlights Foundation, titled “Food and Fiction.”

My first thought was, “How cool is that?” My second was, “Blast it all, my secret is out.” Okay, so it's about the worst-kept secret in the world since I talk about it all the time (as those in my critique groups can attest to), but seriously...nothings adds spice to your scenes like throwing in a little food. Think of the Redwall feasts... Harry Potter's pumpkin pasties and treacle tarts... Anne Shirley's run-in with raspberry cordial... I remember craving cinnamon toast and lemonade for weeks after reading Elise Broach's Shakespeare's Secret.

Food is a big part of who we are, our cultural identities and our individual personalities. You could probably guess a lot about my nationalities and/or family background just by hearing some of my favorite foods: pierogi, sauerkraut, corned beef, fresh maple syrup. You'd get a (rather embarrassing) insight into my personality if you knew that when I was two/three years old and Dad would put hot sauce on my siblings' and my tongues if we bit one another when we fought, I cockily asked for more...and then received that punishment so many times that I developed a real fondness for spicy foods.
I sometimes eat fruit loops one color at a time. I like to bite hard candy, but I suck skittles to make them last longer. (Okay, so maybe the picture you're getting is just that I'm weird...)

On top of this character-revealing aspect, one of the great benefits of food is that it simply gives your characters something to do—and their personalities will be further illuminated by how they do that. How many times have you written a scene and scrambled around in your mind for something, anything, for the characters to do with their hands while they chatted about the evil lord about to take over the world (or something like that...)? The scene takes on a new aspect altogether if your hero pulls out a Snickers and casually chews it, or your heroine chokes on her raspberry cordial, or the evil lord shows up to steal their last loaf of bread, or, or, or.... The possibilities are endless.

Then there are those ever-important sensory details. Nothing is going to pull a reader into your scene like the smell of frying bacon or the taste and texture of a just-picked blackberry. I know just reading about the smell of ginger and cloves will always make me feel like it's Christmas. A sentence where watermelon juice is dripping down someone's chin will put me right back at the beach in the middle of summer.

And, finally, when you have that release party someday, you want to have some great snacks to serve up, right? Book-themed snacks are always the best. :)

(Incidentally, when THE WITHERING VINE is released someday, I am definitely having a private party with fine Pinot Noir. But for the big bash, they'll be lots of Welch's, some homemade bread, French cheese, and as many kinds of grapes as I can find.... I hope you can be there! :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sources of inspiration

 Thanks to everyone who had your fingers crossed for me last Wednesday as I read a chapter of THE WITHERING VINE for the Tassy Walden Awards ceremony. Surprisingly, I found that I wasn't nervous in the least, and (as far as I can tell) I didn't pronounce anything drastically wrong or anything like that. :) I think I actually like reading in public, at least to a public so supportive as everyone at Wednesday's gathering! I love having the chance to meet with other writers...between the Tassies and last weekend's NESCBWI conference, I've been on a bit of a writing high.

Which is lucky, because at 34 weeks pregnant, I can use every encouragement I can get to get me energized. I know I have six weeks left, but I'm ready for Baby to come already!

I want one of these....
Another encouragement was attending the Connecticut Renaissance Fair a couple weekends ago; there's nothing like browsing the wares of medieval clothing and hat and instrument vendors—and seeing swordplay and jousting reenactments—to refresh the Medieval world in my mind as I complete a few more “tweaks.” I hope the pictures inspire you, too!

"Robin Hood" was kind enough to stop robbing the rich long enough to pose with "Princess Lucy" :)
And I definitely need one of these...
There's nothing like the clang of steel against steel!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ah, l'amour (a NESCBWI conference gem)

I'm fresh from the 25th New England SCBWI conference...three words: a-maz-ing. ;)
I haven't had so much writing energy in weeks, maybe months. We were treated to keynotes by Steve Mooser and Lin Oliver, the founders of SCBWI, as well as the very funny Tomie DePaola and the prolific Jane Yolen. I attended incredible workshops by Janet Fox, Donna Gephart, Sarah Aronson and Susan Raab, which pulled my plotting and marketing thoughts into a hitherto-unknown sense of order. Special Interest Groups allowed writers (and illustrators) to connect to others with the same interest for a group discussion--and I was thrilled to learn (judging from the size of my very large group) that historical fiction is alive and thriving.
But my gem for the day comes from an incredibly helpful and encouraging critique from my "one-on-one" with agent Lauren MacLeod. She critiqued the first ten pages and synopsis of my historical fiction ms, THE WITHERING VINE; her key bit of advice was, in my own very loose paraphrasing, "Don't be afraid to be really romantic. Teenage girls want scenes where their hearts pound and they're holding their breath; make sure you have at least one scene, somewhere in the middle, that does this."
So, as you can see, I've redecorated my writing space with things to help me remember... I guess my life is a lot sappier than than my novels. :)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A little brush with greatness

I've been a rambling writer this past weekend...okay, only a little bit, but I love to share my rambles with you. :)

On Saturday, Mark, the girls and I took a jaunt over to the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Have you ever heard of the woman known as “Miss Florence”? She lived in the late 1800's-1937, and even though she wasn't technically an artist herself, she was an important figure in the birth of American Impressionism and the flourishing of American art...for one basic reason: generosity.

She was the last of a once-wealthy family, living in a great big house right next to the beautiful Connecticut River...and one day she decided (I'm sure it was a little more complex than that) to open her home to artists so they could have a place to stay and gather and be inspired and be fed. (Don't underestimate the feeding part—even artists need good food, right?)

And besides the whole flourishing of art thing, this also made for the coolest house ever (which is why we love to visit, mostly). Paintings line the walls. Literally. I mean, like, on the walls—not just hung, but also painted on the paneling. One of the bedrooms where artists stayed was recreated, complete with easels and palettes and liverwurst can for holding tubes of paint. A table sits on the wide front porch, and it's easy to picture the lively outdoor dinners Miss Florence held there with her guests. In fact, that is probably what makes the house so unique and wonderful—that feeling that still lives there of camaraderie and inspiration and encouragement. Just being there reminds you that there are like-minded people in the world and that you should be doing your part, like them, to create something beautiful.
Here we are in an amazing stick sculpture recently constructed on the grounds. You can also get your first peek at the newest member of our family, currently bulging out my belly. :)

It also makes me want to do my part, like Miss Florence, to be an encouragement to those who need it. So, please, keep up your hard work—sometimes the work is as rewarding as the result, but here's hoping that your results are well rewarded!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

In which I share great news and resemble a rooster

I feel like I'm "crowing", but I want to share some wonderful news with all of you, who have been such a huge encouragement to me in all my writing progress.
Earlier this week, the winners of Connecticut's Tassy Walden Awards for New Voices in Children's Literature were announced, and my historical fiction ms, THE WITHERING VINE, was given an honorable mention in the YA category!
I can't even say how thrilled I am about this...for months I've been collecting lovely rejection letters for this ms, in which agents essentially told me, "We'd love to see anything else you write, but...historical fiction? Medieval France? A vineyard? You do know that teens like vampires, right? You should try the adult market." I stubbornly kept sending it out as YA, convinced that the story is a coming of age story at its heart, but as I got more and more of the same response, my confidence was dwindling.
So receiving this honor in the "Tassies" was a huge, huge deal to me. For the majority of you who aren't from Connecticut, let me explain how this contest works (and how cool it is ;). It is designed to mirror the "real" submission process as much as possible; any unpublished CT writers may send in 25 pages and a synopsis of their book (or entire picture book, or illustrator's portfolio). First the mss are sorted into categories to send to different judges--and any mss which do not follow the proper guidelines (page numbers, margins, etc.) are thrown out. The remaining mss are sent to the first panel of judges--real (but anonymous) literary agents, who choose a few that they consider representation-worthy as finalists. These few are sent to the next panel--real (but anonymous) editors at major publishing houses. If there is a ms which they consider truly excellent, they may choose it as a winner (sometimes no winner is chosen, at the editor's discretion). And if there are two mss which are really really close, the editor may choose one as an honorable mention, to be distinguished from the remaining finalists.
I've been a finalist twice and won once (for different mss), but this is my first honorable mention, and I feel very grateful that THE WITHERING VINE was so honored. I have a lot of love for this story, and it was just the encouragement I needed to hear that at least one agent and editor loved it, too!
Now (obviously), winning or being honored in this competition doesn't guarantee publication, but I will mention that many of the past winners have gone on to very successful, award-winning writing or illustrating careers--Leslie Connor, Frank Dormer, and Stacy DeKeyser, to name a few, were first "discovered" by the Tassy Walden judges.
The BEST part about the results of this year's awards is that the real spotlight goes to my dear writing friend and critique partner, Betsy Devany, whose ms SAVANNAH'S MOUNTAIN was the winner of the MG category! Be sure to stop by her blog and offer her your congratulations!
But the WORST part is that the winners and honorable mentions have to read a chapter aloud at the award ceremony. Reading in public...yeah...not the thrill of my life, shall we say. But I guess I need to start practicing--keep your fingers crossed for me!