I have a plaque with a quote from Mark Twain that reads:
“Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today.”
At some point, I should have crossed out “today,” and wrote
“in 2019” above it.
Sorry, but 2019 was full of so much suckiness, not just for me, but for a number of people I know. I heard “I can’t wait for this year to be over!” exclaimed a lot more this December, which means a lot of us must have been ready to toss that old calendar to the curb. Goodbye, good riddance, don’t let the door hit ya in the rear on your way out, 2019!
If I remember correctly, 1999 and 2009 were equal in suckage. I mean, if we’re going rate years by level of suckage. Now, I don’t have any background in numerology, but I’m going to propose that this is due to them all ending in the number 9. Obviously.
And I’m making a mental note to prepare for 2029 by hoarding
bottles of vodka and buying a helmet to shield my head from falling crap.
Because I’m a planner.
Unfortunately, 2019 has not left me in my usual place for goal setting. At the end of the year I’m normally buying a new planner, making new word lists, and greeting the new year with hopefulness and lots of fresh office supplies. Since that’s not the current situation, I decided to try the “setting intentions” approach for this year. It feels like a kinder, gentler version of goal setting. Goals feel more pass/fail to me at the moment, and the bad taste in my mouth from 2019 makes me assume I’ll fail. There’s no sense in setting myself up for that.
I’m so excited to share an interview with Erica Waters. Erica was a member of the Pitch Wars class of 2017 and I’ve been able to read a bit of her work – I love it! Erica’s debut Young Adult novel, GHOST WOOD SONG, will be released by HarperTeen/Harper Collins this summer. GHOST WOOD SONG is a spooky, contemporary fantasy – and good news – it’s available for pre-order! Follow any of these links:
Erica Waters grew up in the pine woods of rural Florida, though she now resides in Nashville, Tennessee. She has a Master’s degree in English and works as a university writing tutor. When she’s not writing books, you can find her hanging out with her two dogs, Nutmeg and Luna, and forgetting to practice her banjo.
Before we head into the interview, check out the awesome summary for GHOST WOOD SONG…
Shady Grove is her father’s daughter, through and through. She inherited his riotous, curly hair, his devotion to bluegrass, and his ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle.
That cursed instrument drowned with him, though, when his car went off the road, taking with it the whispering ghosts, nightmares, and the grief and obsession that forced her daddy to play.
But Shady’s brother was just accused of murder, and so she has a choice to make: unearth the fiddle that sang her father to the grave and speak to the dead to clear her brother’s name, or watch the only family she has left splinter to pieces.
The ghosts have secrets to keep, but Shady will make those old bones sing.
So let’s find out a little about how GHOST WOOD SONG came to be!
Anyone else feeling overrun with decisions that need to be made lately? What’s the perfect holiday gift? Do we invite the family to stay with us, or travel to them? It’s not just the holidays, though they seem to make it all a bit more anxiety-inducing. Personally, I’ve been staring down my mental decision trees for so long now, all I see is brambles. For example, with five days of NaNoWriMo remaining, I was noodling through the following: tether myself to my computer, coming up only for life-sustaining necessities, in order to churn out approximately 5,0000 words per day to make the 50K finish line; OR be (relatively) normal, but fail to qualify as a “winner” this year.
For some of you, this isn’t much of a conundrum. For me at the time, the decision wasn’t straight forward. In retrospect, it felt like a microcosmic reflection of a number of decisions that have been tripping through my mind lately, and which, like the cosmos itself, are expanding ever outward in scope and importance. Should Julie and I continue feeding energy into this blog or use that time and effort for other writing goals? Should my family stay the course on limiting screen time for the kiddo, or use the electronic babysitter to create more time for my husband and I to get work done? Do we continue here in New York or once again go adventuring? Etc., etc. And I always wonder, even when the issues appear entirely disparate, how will any one of these decisions impact the others?
Back to NaNo and my pie-in-the-sky goals, the last five days of November this year included Thanksgiving, complete with family commitments (and actual pie), not to mention a host of other seasonal temptations. Perhaps these facts are enough to drive you firmly in a certain direction. For me, though, the pull between “winning” and “family” is stronger than I should probably admit. Even though I do really believe that every word written is in itself a win, the decision to give up going for the gold was still tough.
What pushed me over the tipping point, however, wasn’t family, nor missing out on Black Friday (which turned out to be one of my higher word count days), but the needs of my story. Sure, I could have rushed it. It wouldn’t have been the first time (hello, NaNo manuscripts from 2014-2017). While I still believe there is a certain dark logic in the adage, ‘don’t get it right, get it written,’ admittedly, it can make the revision process not just longer, but hairier . It’s one thing to realize you have a plot hole or two, or a character that isn’t fully developed, or an internal inconsistency – it’s another thing all together to realize you’re staring down all this AND MORE as you start your revisions. So, in the end, I decided discretion was the better part of valor this time and I’d let my story continue to spin out at its own pace. Which is to say, I’m hoping to be done with the draft before Christmas, but I’m willing to give it the time that it needs, even if that means I’m still plugging away at the first draft into 2020.
November is National Novel
Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. If you’ve never heard of NaNo, as it’s commonly
referred to, check it out here. The goal
is to get 50,000 words down on paper in the month of November. It’s November 20th
as I write this, and, well, let’s just say I’m not on track to hit that number.
At the rate I’m going, I’ll hit my NaNo word count maybe 12 days this month. Are you in the same sinking boat? Take heart! I’ve written a little parody to cheer up all of us NaNo-not-quites. I combined my NaNo failure with the excitement of the upcoming holidays. I present to you…
The 12 Days of NaNo (Note: In writer world, MS = manuscript.)
Welcome to November! Just as Julie returns to sporting themes periodically, I seem destined to return to NaNoWriMo around this time every year (see Ready, Steady, NaNo or Eeking out time to write). If you’re not participating in NaNo 2019, don’t x this article out! While NaNo was what got my gears turning, this article is aimed at anyone who’s been wanting to do something creative and new, but hasn’t…yet. To those of you who find yourself thinking, “I’d love to try, but…”, keep reading.
First, a brief aside; I promise it will all come together by the end. I LOVE NaNoWriMo (in case you hadn’t already figured that out). This is my 7th year participating, though, if I’m being honest, two of those years were total flops. Maybe this year will be a flop too – it’s too early to tell. So, the question is why do I love NaNo so much, especially if I can never be certain if I’m going to be a “winner”?
It’s because NaNoWriMo is one of those opportunities in life that is ALL win.
Let me explain.
Outcome A: You work really hard and you find out that your story only has 40,000 words to it (not the 50K required to ‘win’). YOU WROTE A STORY! A WHOLE STORY! (Ok, at least two-thirds of a story.) That’s amazing! You’ve just birthed art into the world and you’ve exposed a part of your deep dark consciousness to the light. How can that be anything but a win?
Outcome B: You have the best of intentions, but life is overwhelming and you only manage to write 5,000 words of a story that you know is going to be a blockbuster one day, if only you had the time to write it. FANTASTIC! You’ve tapped into that inner muse, the genius of the universe, and as a result you WILL come back to this addictive idea another time. November is a weird month, sandwiched between back to school frenzy and holiday insanity. My kid doesn’t have a single full week of school this entire month. It is NOT the ideal writing month, from my perspective. So give yourself credit for unearthing an award winning idea and allow yourself to be excited about getting back to it in January, February, July, or whenever it is that YOU can make time for it.
Outcome C: You write 10,000 words of something that feels totally frivolous. You’re writing in a genre you never thought you’d write in, that maybe you don’t even read in, and you have no idea what you’re doing or where you’re going with it. It has no place to occupy on your short-list of professional goals. WHAT A GIFT!! You just learned something new about yourself. Or maybe you knew, but you’d forgotten and allowing this part to have a little time in the sun feels like a reconnection with yourself. Maybe your brain needed to do something different in order to be able to knuckle back down to the hard tasks you demand of it all the other hours in the day. Whatever the reason, take a moment to honor how it felt, and to reflect that perhaps not every minute of your day needs to be task oriented.
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford
I’ve got a note on the wall in the shower (if you haven’t discovered Aqua Notes, you’re missing out – they will change your life) that reads:
If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you’ll know that September was not my month for writerly achievements. It was, in fact, the month I wanted to take a sledgehammer to my laptop, delete all my files from the cloud, and otherwise burn it all down. Which isn’t really my style, generally speaking. Luckily, the phase passed after a few days of self-pity. Then it was time to begin again. To start over. To redefine the way I approached the things that were draining me.
But where? What should I do differently to ensure I didn’t end up back at the nuclear option?
The act of writing the note was my start.
It was an exhortation to myself to get moving. It was a new set of goals, and maybe most importantly, it was a reminder to break my goals down into small, achievable pieces.
The idea of setting achievable goals in order to create a cycle of successes isn’t a new one. In fact, it might be THE lesson life has been attempting to teach me in 2019. As usual, though, I’m a slow learner. Despite having encountered this notion in several formats this year, I keep setting goals that lead to frustration. I couldn’t figure out how to reconceptualize the goal-setting process.
Then I had one of those fortuitous visits with a couple I love dearly who have recently achieved dramatic, healthy weight loss. I’m not exaggerating when I say that they’ve, together, lost as much as I weigh. It’s amazing. And so inspiring. Especially for someone who has stubbornly hung on to the last 10 pounds of baby weight accumulated over six years ago. I asked my friends how they did it, expecting guidance on apps used, food systems implemented, etc. My mind was blown by the simplicity of my friend’s response. She said that she had never had much success trying to lose 10 pounds or 20 pounds, so she decided to lose ONE pound. And then she did it again. And again. And again. It was a success she repeated so often that it became habit.
THIS is the lesson the universe has been trying to teach me! One pound. I can lose one pound. Even if it is one pound of die-hard, stick to your hips baby weight. I can totally do one.
If you love to write, it’s natural that you want (and maybe
expect) your kids to love writing. Totally misguided, but natural. I think I’ve
raised all three of my boys the same way when it comes to reading and writing,
but there have been drastically different results. Because they are their own
persons with their own interests and gifts. The nerve, right? Anyway, I still
stand by some of the techniques below because they’ve helped each of the boys,
albeit in different ways. So, if you’re looking for some help with your
reluctant writer or you want to encourage your budding Stephen King, check
Yes, the same advice that was given to you
when you first expressed an interest in becoming a writer. Read. Everything. For
kids, that translates into reading aloud often and exploring different genres
with them. One of my kiddos didn’t read independently until age seven. As we
encouraged him to learn his stinking sight words, we continued reading aloud
every night. We took books on CD in the car and made sure he had a little CD
player so he could listen to them on his own, too. By fostering the love of
story, you can expose them to the parts of a story, dialogue, and characters.
All things that are good foundation for when they are writing themselves.
We recently started picking up PlayAways at our library and they love them! Check to see if your library carries them!
2. Take Dictation
I let all three kids dictate stories to me when they were too young to write. You can fold some paper in half and – to everyone’s delight – get out the stapler. The most exotic of all office supplies. Or you can buy some of these. Whatever works. As they told me their story, I would stop them now and then to ask a question with great interest. What happened next? Was anyone with the mechanical robot bunny? How did that make the monster feel? It becomes a bit of a conversation. You’re getting more details and helping to build their story. In our case, it helped if I didn’t censor much. They felt free to be as imaginative as they wanted. So, there were lots of farting, mechanical robot bunny defeating the three-headed monster stories.
I’m excited to share an interview with author Sarah Kapit. Her debut middle grade novel, GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN!, releases February 25, 2020. From Sarah’s website:
Vivy Cohen yearns to throw her knuckleball in a real game. But her mother is convinced that an autistic girl won’t be able to handle the pressures of a full baseball season. When a Little League Coach spots Vivy practicing with her brother in the park, she gets her chance. She makes a deal with Mom: Vivy can give baseball a try.
But pitching for a real team isn’t exactly easy. During her first season, Vivy must deal with nerves and bullies. And after a line drive smacks Vivy straight in the forehead, keeping Mom on board with Vivy’s baseball dreams proves just as tough as keeping the ball in the strike zone.
Through all of her travails, Vivy writes letters to the one person she can be honest with: MLB pitcher VJ Capello. Then, VJ writes back.
Sounds amazing right?! (You can pre-order it here!) Read on to learn about her inspiration for the book and some of her thoughts on the craft of writing.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Sarah! Congratulations on your upcoming debut middle grade novel! Can you tell us where or how you got the idea for GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN! ?
As a baseball fan, the idea of a woman pitcher in MLB is so exciting to me. When I first saw the previews for PITCH–an absolutely wonderful show that was tragically cancelled after one season–that was really the genesis of the story. I just had an intense emotional reaction to seeing a woman taking the pitcher’s mound.
So all of that was percolating around my brain. Plus, I’ve long believed it’s likely that the first woman to play in MLB will be a knuckleball pitcher because the pitch relies on finger movement. Knuckleballers don’t have to be capable of throwing the ball 95+ miles an hour. Since I write middle grade, a girl knuckleball pitcher with big dreams came to my mind. I’ve also long wanted to write an explicitly autistic character, in a book that explores themes of neurodiversity. When I realized that all of this could fit together, the book’s concept just fell into place.
You recently received a box of ARCs of your book. How did you feel finally seeing it in print?
Completely amazing! I keep one copy by my nightstand and it’s hard to stop liking it. Vivienne To did a great job with the cover art, and it looks even better in print. I also love the way the interior design team laid out the pages.
And here’s the awesome cover!
Your main character, Vivy, has autism and her mother is reluctant to let her pitch for the baseball team. Do you think this book will open up dialogue between kids who have autism and their parents?
I hope so! Mostly, I hope that autistic kids who read this book realize that their way of advocating for themselves is valid, and that what they say matters.
A long time ago, in a lifetime far away, before I was a
SAHHM (Stay at Home Hot Mess), I had the privilege of managing a very talented
writing staff. Part of my responsibility to that staff was providing “fill the
well” activities and opportunities. We wrote greeting cards and, as you can
imagine, we had to find exercises and activities to keep our brains fresh when charged
with finding new ways to say “Happy Birthday.” Today I thought I’d share a few
of the exercises we worked through.
I’ve adapted the first exercise a bit since you’re probably not working in a group environment.
Character Snapshots helps stretch your brain muscles for
character development. It’s intended to be like freewriting. You’ll write
quickly and without editing yourself.
With the writing staff, I gave them each a brown paper bag
and a photo of a person from a photography website. There were five random
objects in the bag. They had to write a character sketch explaining who the
character was and why those items were important to the character. Below is a
modification.Find a few photos of individual people on the internet. If you write middle grade or young adult, try finding photos of kids who might be characters in your book. Print those out. The bonus of printing out a photo is you won’t need to write about physical characteristics – which lets you get to the good stuff faster.
Print ten photos of random objects from online.
Do this quickly and don’t think too much about what you choose. You’re trying
to re-create the randomness of the paper bags here, so the less you think about
what you’re choosing, the better. You can paste the images into a Word
document, so you can shrink them and not use up all of your printer’s ink. Just
cut them into little squares once you’ve printed.
Turn the print-outs of the items upside down so
you can’t see the images. Pick five along with a people photo.
Now, clear your brain and do a character sketch.
Set a timer for 10 minutes. The point of this is to do some quick thinking and
not get too hung up on details. Think of it as a nice warm-up for your gray
Things you may include: character’s name, where they live, their job, if the items belong to them or if they were given to them, what they mean to the person. Here’s a quick example:
(Photo credits are at
the bottom of this post.)
Name: Penelope Tinker, age 30, lives in Nevada
Antique watch: was her grandmother’s, she gave it to Penelope in her will.
Ring: Penelope is married. Married very young. They seem to be drifting apart as they enter their 30’s.
Dice: Her gambling problem
Coffee mug: affair
Running shoes: She’s training for a marathon
After jotting down some quick ideas, I
started fleshing the sketch out below.
Penelope Tinker has a gambling problem she’s trying to hide from her husband. She’s in dangerous debt, as in owes some scary people a lot of money. She’s trying to figure a way out of debt without hocking her grandmother’s antique watch. She’s training for a marathon with her best friend. Her husband has seemed more distant since she started traveling for work so much. Last time she left town for her job, she came back to a mug with lipstick marks on it. Unfortunately red isn’t her color.
You can go as long or as short as you want.
You might start some freewriting and not want to stop. You don’t have to write
about the current situation the character is in…maybe you write about something
that’s happened to them in the past, incorporating those items.
You may never get a main character for your next book out of this exercise, but if you save the snapshots, you can go back through them to mine ideas on days your brain isn’t cooperating. Remember – your fictional characters are more than likes and dislikes or the color of their hair!
I recently attended a writing workshop sponsored in New York City – my annual effort at professional development. It was a great day. I met other writers, many of whom are also seeking to land an agent, desperate as I am to find someone else to validate their dreams of authorship. It felt like group therapy, talking to all these other people who are walking the same path, encountering the same hurdles, worrying the same questions on the finer points of query letter etiquette.
The seminars were really useful too; I jotted down pages of notes on everything from social media management to revision techniques, and, of course, on finding the elusive agent. Speaking of whom, the workshop had several agents on-hand, spending their Saturday leading the seminars and fielding pitch after pitch from hopeful authors (like yours truly) willing to pay $30 for 10 minutes of the agent’s one-on-one time (instead of just querying them for free – more on this in a future post.)
Three weeks on, I’ve gotten a kind but entirely unhelpful rejection from one of the agents I spoke with, and I’m still waiting in the usual interminable purgatory for the other agent I met. But while I’ve been waiting, I’ve struck up a number of new online friendships with some of the authors I chatted with at the workshop. One of these new writer friends began venting about the fact she hadn’t heard back from the agents she queried after ONE WEEK.
Now, I’m not a fan of the way this whole find-an-agent system works. It seems overwhelming to the agents and unnecessarily anxiety- and depression-inducing on the author. But I get that this is the system that we have, a direct result of supply outstripping demand, and that agents are humans too. Having just surrendered a Saturday away from their friends and family to field the same questions they’ve probably heard 100,000 times before, they may need another couple (dozen) of weekends to get around to actually reading what we were all only too happy to send them within minutes of getting their nods. I mean, everyone deserves a weekend.
I tried my best to convey this to my new writer friend, but I could feel her resentment dripping off my screen, impervious to my attempts at humanism. That’s the problem with resentment, though. It’s a cumulative condition, built a hair’s width at a time, until you’ve got a wretched, snarling beast on your hands.