Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I know. I know. Sustainability is actually one of the big millennia buzz words, usually referring to important things like, saving our planet. Recycle. Reduce. Reuse. I get it.

But right now I'm really worried about sustaining my hair. It's all because of the gray. Gray changes everything. It makes your hair wiry. And changes the whole styling thing. It pretty much makes you reassess your haircut and ask if there isn't something that can be done because, basically, you don't want to look like your kids grandmother just yet (okay, ever!).

I've thought about dealing with the gray by going short (I have long hair).

But I had a bad experience with short. A few years ago, after I had my second child, I let my hairdresser convince me to get a bob. It would be easier than having long hair, he said. I gave in.

He did a great job. It really looked good. Amazing. Effortless.

Until I washed it.

And then all of those layers went every which way but down. Horror. What was I doing wrong? I suddenly remembered with a sinking feeling how my hairdresser had started to sweat as he dried my hair. How he'd labored at those layers. They weren't effortless at all.

Ack! How was I supposed to manage this?

I let it grow out.

Which was great until the grey started to appear. I mean, it's not exactly like it's going to go away now (despite my complaint with the gene pool. They so are not returning my phone calls).

So, color, right?

But there was that one study they did that one time that showed a correlation between coloring and bladder cancer.

I don't want vanity to give me bladder cancer.

Okay, green freak, go all gray. Easy enough. Yeesh.

But I don't want to look like Barbara Bush.

Then cut it all off!'t that one of those options that sounds a lot better than it looks?

Why don't men have these problems???

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Maunscript Diet

Have you ever had a manuscript gain an unsightly number of pages, so much so that you cringe at the cost of printing it out?

I am usually a short writer. When I started college, I trembled at the thought of ten page papers. Ten pages? Who am I, Charles Dickens?

When I wrote my dissertation and managed a whole 250 (including 25 pages of bibliography and tables), I was flabbergasted. I'd maxed out. That was for sure. Never would I write anything longer. Ever.

And I didn't.


I started my present WIP. It's about a boy and a dolphin set in late 19th century New Zealand, and I even got to go to New Zealand last November for on-sight research. At that point, the ms was still a manageable 285 pgs.

Over the last year, I think my WIP secretly gorged on adverbs, Anne of Green Gables poetical monologues, and New Zealand scenery because it grew to a whopping 420 pages. A real full figured dame.

Given another era, another economy, another stage of existence in the publishing industry, and it might have been fine. Dickensian (or Botticelli) full, but fine. But it's a hard sell in today's market.

After a lot of thought, and talking with other authors, and speaking with agents, and pretty much hashing until I had come to terms with the inevitable, I put my ms on a diet. A serious diet. No liposuction here. I mean serious, word-counting, shave-off-the-excess pagery reduction.

I started three weeks ago. Being the slightly obssessive compulsive neurotic writer that I am, I'm keeping a "diet" journal. At the end of each day of revisions, I weigh in. The rule is that the ms word count cannot be any higher than where it was at the beginning of the day. I strive to make it a lot less. So far, it's been working. I have successfully shaved 11,000 words off, and I'm only through the first 120 pages.

Oh sweet success. I can almost taste the adverbs.

No, No! Bad writer. Stay away from the adverbs!

See how hard ms reduction is?


Please keep your fingers crossed. Pray to any and all writing muses. Send me parsimonic vibes. My ideal ms weight: 70-75,000 words (285 ms pgs), and I want to reach that by Winter Break. Which means, no adverbs on the side. No waxing poetically about scenery. Cut. Cut. Cut. Snip. Snip. Snip.

And, every once in a while, celebrate the hard won successes.


Now back to counting words...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

There is No Secret Handshake

The jig is up. There is no secret handshake. No magic formula. No deus ex machina for writers.


I was. Next thing you know, they'll be telling us there is no Santa Claus. Yeesh.

Leaving the big red guy out of it for a moment, I have to admit, when I started out writing, I was certain there was a secret formula. All I had to do was figure it out and the bestsellers would flow from my pen. I mean, honestly, it wasn't the craziest idea I've ever had (there have been crazier, like the time I decided I could prove girls are every bit as good as guys and jumped from a bridge into a river after a guy. Don't ask.) So what was it for writing? Writing for exactly two hours each day? Or writing nonstop, foregoing sleep, until I'd birthed my idea? Or if that wasn't working out, how about writing standing up, like Hemingway. Or drunk?

I will shamefacedly admit, I've tried all of these "formulas" out and then some. None of them worked. So finally, I resigned myself to the fact that I'm not clever enough to decode the secret handshake and will have to plug along writing as best I can.

It wasn't until I read Stephen King's On Writing a few weeks back (after four picture books and a middle grade novel, hundreds of school visits, and I don't know how many conference speeches) that I had my "Eureka!" moment. There is no secret formula to writing.

Not, at least, in the way I was thinking. I mean, the big secret is, to write. That's it. Everything else is fluff.

What King showed in his book was enlightening for me, or maybe I really had finally hit that "clever enough" to understand it point. His journey to authorhood, i.e. the early years of his life and what prompted him to want to write, couldn't be more different than mine, or thousands of other writers. It's eclectic, unique, what makes Stephen King, Stephen King and not Stacy Nyikos. His candid, tell all approach to describing his life as a writer made that clearer than anything I'd ever read before.

The thing that separated him from thousands of other writers is stubbornness. He plugged away at writing, day after day, year after year, rejection after rejection, until he had honed his skills - his, not Charles Dickens's or John Grisham's or anybody else's - to the point that he had mastered them.

And then he kept writing.

The best piece of advice he ever got in all those years of struggling and writing was a line scrawled at the bottom of a rejection letter from an unknown editor: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft - 10%.

Okay, so there is a formula.

But that's for revisions.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Book Review Club - Horns & Wrinkles

Horns & Wrinkles
by Joseph Helgerson

middle grade

I have to say, I've had this book for a while. I picked it up. Put it down. Picked it up again. And then put it down.

Finally, last week, I made myself read it. I don't know why I hesitated, but after reading John Gardner (yes, I am haunted by Mr. Gardner), Horns & Wrinkles was the perfect antidote. Funny. Insanely creative. Set up north where I grew up, so it felt like slipping into a comfy old chair that had been hidden away and forgotten. Gloriously complete.

Horns & Wrinkles is the story of a girl, Claire, whose cousin, Duke, has a spell put on him for being such a pain-in-the-you-know-what bully. Every time he bullies, he turns a little more into a rhino. Until all is really lost, and he becomes one, only he doesn't mind. And Claire, who hates all of his bullying, finds herself repeatedly trying to save his happily lost soul, help the river trolls find their fathers, turn her grandfather, aunt and uncle (and their dog) back into humans (they've been turned to stone), and hoping all the while that she's not actually a river troll disguised as a human herself.


Imagination cubed.

I couldn't have come up with this in a million years, and now I totally want to get to know Joseph Helgerson. His style in Horns & Wrinkles is a combination of irreverent Mark Twain, folklorish Mississippi-river, and Helgerson hilarity. I grinned. I chuckled. I even laughed. And I kept wondering, "what in the world will he come up with next," and try as I might, Helgerson kept surprising me. Amazingly refreshing.

For more fun reads, pop over to our fearless leaders website, Barrie Summy, and dive into the delicacies listed there. So many good books. So little time!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Commercial Books - All Sugar and Sprinkles Donut with sprinkles. Just thinking about one makes me want to ditch my blogging and find the nearest donut shop.

Okay, no. No, I'm a big girl. I can resist the urge (for twenty minutes).

But isn't that the effect commercial books have on our brains? Sugar rush pure. By commercial I mean dime store reads that make beach life perfect. I have guiltily indulged in them time and time again. My favorite, the Shopaholic series. Yep. Totally love those. Too much of them, though, and I start to feel a sugar rush coming on. I need a little meat-and-potatoes, and soon. Time to reach for a Lisa See.

So what is the value of commercial reads? They get such flack. They aren't National Book Award material. They aren't Pulitzer worthy. Worse, in the world of kidlit, commercial reads have been dodge balled for rotting out kids' brains, much like too much candy will rot their teeth.

Are they really that bad?

I don't know about you, but after I finished Where the Red Fern Grows a couple of weeks ago (and for anyone who has not read it, it's the Everest of dead dog books, two dead dogs!), I was glad the next books on my MFA reading list were my third grader's Rainbow Magic Series Shannon the Ocean Fairy and Joy the Summer Vacation Fairy. Fluff. Cotton candy fluff.

And just what I needed. I didn't need anymore emotional upheaval. I needed lightness.

That experience got me thinking about the value of commercial reads (and, I'll admit, the stuff for a much-needed second critical paper for my Vermont packet).

If books like Where the Red Fern Grows are the meat-and-potatoes reads (Barrie Summy's parent's terminology. I'm indebted to them for life) then commercial books like the Rainbow Magic Series are dessert. And dessert definitely has its place in a meal.

Dessert is the reward for finishing that meatloaf, or the perfect touch after a filet mignon, or the prize after a mystery meal cooked by (insert name).

At the kidlit level, commercial reads are also educational (just don't tell young readers that). By holding plot, characters, setting, and format constant, emerging readers can focus on the really tough issue at hand, learning to read. They are the chapbooks of our generation.

While I was reading my daughter's Rainbow Magic Series books (which thrilled her to no end because we could talk about them), I got her to read Sarah, Plain and Tall (Newbery winner that is still short enough for her to tackle). We both learned something. Dessert tastes pretty yummy. And meat and potatoes isn't so bad after all. It's all about balance.

Now where's that donut...