Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Mentoring Aspect

Like many of my fellow pre-big-time authors (I think we all have the hopeful optimism that we'll be "big-time" authors one day), I still have what you might call a "day job." And I'm lucky enough to have a day job that I enjoy doing; the kind of job that doesn't make Monday into a four-letter word.

You might be wondering at this point what exactly I do for a living: I'm an English teacher at an Alternative High School for at-risk teens. And in the short six months that I've called this school my home, my kids (as I can't help but refer to them as) have taught me more than I can possibly explain. I'm proud to say that for a certain few of them, I've given back almost as much as I've received.

My students come from various backgrounds. They have different family situations, different sets of problems they deal with, and sometimes different criminal records. (And yes, I love each and every one of them; problems, misdemeanors, and all). My point is; they all have a very different story to tell.

That, as you can imagine, is where I come in.

Not every one of my kids finds solace in writing like I do. Some rap, some are athletes, and some find peace in ways I wish they wouldn't. But a special few (I suppose I might be guilty of having a few "favorites," as much as I'd like to say differently), are writers at heart. And another special few are readers. And these are the students who I am in a position to make a difference with. A huge difference. At present count, I have four students who are endeavoring to write full-length novels. One is nearly done with a full draft of a fantasy novel. They see my small (to me) writing credentials, and the hard copy of my first novel as real power; and this has inspired them. It's shown them that it is indeed possible. I've taught them proper formatting, worked in lessons on grammar, and explained structure to them. Mostly, I've been incredibly impressed.

Some days I feel as though my job takes away from my writing. After a long day or week, and having brought papers home to grade, written lesson plans, and finally torn my eyes away from the computer screen, sometimes I just can't bring myself to open up the document for my latest novel, even though I should. (Even though I can practically hear my agent tap-tap-tapping her foot all the way across the country). But when one of my kids hands me a roughly typed ten pages, and proudly states how many hours it took her at the computer to write, all I can think is that this is where the real value is.

So I guess my whole point here about writing, and the writing process, and the writing profession, is that I've finally discovered the mentoring aspect of it all. And even though I've been very grateful for my writing skills time and time again (especially during my AP English exam), I think this tops them all.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Process Vs. Product

Product enters the boxing ring, his slick dust jacket sporting beautiful and evocative photography, a special effect and the coolest title font on the shelf. He’s ready to go with those rough-edged pages and don’t forget that bonus poster in the back. Oh man, the characters have Twitter accounts? And dang. His shoes are Pro Wings. As Macklemore would say, “Aw, he got the Velcro.”  

Late, as usual, Process ducks under the ropes, held together by crisscrossed rubber bands. He wobbles on his feet, one clad in a sandal, the other in a glossy red four-inch heel. Oh man, and the coffee stains from his last fight with Midnight Hour are still visible in the upper right hand corner.  “Untitled,” his front page reads in plain old Times New Roman text, twelve point font.

Ding Ding Ding!

The fight begins.

Product swoops in with a well-timed right hook, reminding Process just where he stands—or doesn’t. Pages splatter, going everywhere. Good thing they’re numbered, right? It’s a knock-out, instant. The referee makes the count, and the winner is announced. Product wins again!

And what was Process’s fatal mistake?

He should have known better than to get in the ring with Product. Why? Because the two are separate entities, ill matched opponents. They’re not the same thing. And chances are, if a child version of you or I was put into the ring with a future grown-up version of ourselves, then that young version would probably lose, too.

Except the whole point is that there shouldn’t be any fighting at all, because it’s cruel to pit these two against one another.

That’s a difficult thing to remember when you’re in the thick of a project that you’re working hard to bring life to.

While you’re working, you want to envision your book on the shelf, face out and glowing. You want to picture your name in print and you should. Dreams are what we’re made of after all. And it’s fun, invigorating and exciting to imagine what your dust jacket might look like, and what kind of art might appear on the first page of each chapter. Print your work-in-progress out, make a cover for it yourself, dress it up, envision and plan, but let that all be part of the process.    

Process is where the magic happens, but that is easy to forget, especially today when things in the publishing world are speeding up with e-books, and the market is becoming bigger and more competitive every day and even every hour. Writers are being asked to produce at lightening speeds and, sometimes, that’s where I think the battle between process and product begins.   

Of course, the truth is that the books we write are a product. Because this is a business. But just as with any form of art, before our books can be books and something ready to be put in the hands of a reader, they need to be ideas. Our first efforts are loose and often poor. I don’t know of a way around that. And I don’t know of anyone who knows of a way around that, either. Process is messy. Characters come and then chapters, and then new ideas, and then a work-in-progress manuscript and then a first draft. Pages get chopped out or maybe you chuck the book and, in despair, realize that you must start over from the beginning. So then you get a second draft, third and however many more drafts after that. Process demands that we do whatever it takes to get it right. Product-focused, we tell ourselves to do whatever it takes to get it right the first time. And that is the equivalent of the knock-out punch that sends our process sprawling.  

I have learned that maintaining a goal of publication and writing to complete a marketable item seem as if they are one and the same thing. They aren’t. And I believe that the difference is found in our focus.  

If I am focusing on doing whatever I can to create something that will sell then, naturally, I find that my joy depletes while I’m in the thick of the work. The need to fill a niche siphons away my courage and my originality. The other books sitting on the shelf begin to loom too big. They take on the form of monsters that will devour my novel before it can ever even touch the shelf.  

If, however, I keep my mind focused on a goal of creating something that only I can create and listening to the whispers in my head and the fancies in my heart, then I can hear my characters more clearly when they speak. The whole crazy task seems less insurmountable, and I think we can all agree that the Goliath that is writing a novel can certainly stand a bit of shrinking.

So yes, imagine your book as a book. But don’t think too hard about when, where and how it will sell, and what you will do if it doesn’t. That’s equivalent to looking up at the peak of the mist-covered mountain when you should be focusing on finding the next available groove that will allow you to inch up just a little higher.
 Focus on process. Keep your strength. Fall in love with what you’re doing, not with where you’re going and what it will or won’t bring. Writing is hard enough. If we can enjoy the journey, then the victory of publishing will be what it always should be—icing on a cake whose sweetness has satisfied us already.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

YA Short and Sweet…and Now, Potentially Profitable

About five years ago, I attended a children’s writing conference during which the editorial panel launched into a discussion of how it was a shame there wasn’t a stronger market for short fiction. After all, many of us writers begin honing our craft with short pieces of work, some of which harbor just as much emotional impact and tell as strong a story as longer, novel-length manuscripts. Most of those stories never found publishing homes and were slipped into drawers and computer folders without hope of being presented to a market.
Five years ago, of course, there were and still are short fiction contests, which are fabulous for writers trying to get their name out there. Also, literary journals and a handful of children’s magazines catering to teens are great avenues for YA short fiction publication. But now, with the digital shake-up of the publishing industry, a fresh and lucrative market for YA short fiction is emerging – the YA short fiction digital-only imprint. It is new. It is awesome. And it is a huge chance for many of us to pull out those short fiction pieces, dust them off, and see what kind of impact they have on a very eager and voracious YA market.
At the end of 2012, both Random House Publishing Group and HarperCollins announced the launch of their short fiction imprints catering to the ever-growing young adult market. Along with two adult lines, Random House introduced a New Adult digital-only imprint called FLIRT. The submission page for these digital imprints states, “There is no strict word count limit for submissions” -- a very refreshing statement, for sure, in an industry where writers often cut or add words fervently, knowing each word counts when it comes to editorial consideration.
HarperTeen Impulse also launched at the end of 2012 and currently publishes short stories and novellas from established, high-profile authors but will branch out to lesser-known authors once the imprint is more established. Susan Katz, President and Publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books says, “Readers of YA have embraced digital reading in a big way… and HarperTeen Impulse allows us to experiment with new concepts and deliver content quickly.” With short stories ranging in price from one to several dollars per story, readers will have the chance to get a smaller but still fabulous taste of great writing from established and new authors.
As Gina Centrello, President and Publisher of the Random House Publishing Group, states, these imprints offer writers the chance to create and readers the chance to read “compelling characters and great stories published frequently at an affordable price.” For writers trying to snag every piece of the market they can, this is a very beautiful and welcome trend, indeed! So, here's to more publishing houses looking to buy manuscripts that may be shorter but are just as sweet! 

Monday, February 4, 2013

My Bookshelf Brings All the Boys to the Yard...

I was at a lost when it came to this blog post. I just finished line edits on my NA (new adult) FRIGID and my brain is really dead, which is especially bad because I need to jump back into Sentinel before four more edits roll in. Yes. You read that correctly. I’m expected four edits, all of them in first round. Ouch. So I took to Facebook and asked people what they would like to see me blog about.

Here are some of the highlights:
1.     Write about Valentine’s Day.
2.     Write about being brain dead
3.     Write about the death of Twinkies and how it will have a catastrophic effect on Sara when someone breaks her heart
4.     Write about Jayne’s extremely odd allergy to mangos.

I actually got a lot of good ideas for the future, but for today, I settled on a bookshelf tour—a tour of my bookshelves. Be prepared. They’re messy. In no order. It’s chaos. 

 So here is two of the shelves and my Chicago hat, plus a eat more chicken thing.

A glance at one of the top shelves. Hey. I do put books in series order for the most part.

This is my stash of books I do giveaways from
 My copies of my books plus Gizmo, a sticker from Jena, and fan-made bracelets
 I've lost the rest of the HP books. Sad face.

Another slew of books

 A different top shelf
All my swag stashes. Well not all. The rest is in the closet
 Gamble Brothers posters

Tons of paperbacks stacked two rows deep

Opal poster and my proclamation 

The Covenant wall plus a glass skull (don't ask) and a really old Ouija board. 

Hope you enjoyed!

And now I have that damn milkshake song stuck in my head.