Monday, May 19, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

The Spanish Inquisition has found me! Ack!

Okay, okay, it's not the Spanish Inquisition exactly. It's the Writing Process Blog Tour, but you see the parallels, right? Introverts kissing and telling all in an open forum. I shudder and wish for tea. 

The idea behind this whirlwind tour is that after one writer confesses her deepest darkest secrets about how she really does what she does, she tags two other writers and so on and so on, until there are no untagged writers left. Again, there are parallels.

I add my confession to the long list of venerable writers who go before me, starting with Annemarie O'Brien, fellow Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) alum and author of the middle grade novel, Lara's Gift, who tagged me. You can read her deep dark writing secrets here.

Want more juicy tidbits? Just follow the link in Annemarie's post to Lisa Doan, to Kelly Jones all the way back to the first Divulger of the kidlit writing secrets. Who is it? Ah, you must follows the Confessors to find out. Or, jump forward to next week's pair. They're a wily duo of rose-snipping, pen-twirling swashbucklers if I've ever met one. See below for blurbs on each.

So, without further ado, thumbscrews please:

What am I currently working on? 
A couple of different things. I'm in the marketing stage for two picture books that release this year - Toby and Waggers - which takes up A LOT of time, but is fun because I get to talk to real people in real time! Heady stuff. 

I'm researching a project set during WW II that is loosely based around my grandfather's canoe trip down the Mississippi from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico and into the World War II, working title H. I am revising a YA novel that is a retelling of Moses in a Blade Runneresque world, Skin Deep. And I'm writing two new picture books - Tour de Trike and The Four Tenners. I like to mix things up. It keeps me sane...or so I tell myself.

How does my work differ from others of its genre? 
Man, that's like asking me how my fingerprint is different from someone else's. Let's see. I don't like boxes. The idea of writing only one form or one type of story is Dante's special level of hell for me. I am the Potpourri Writer. Whatever the story is, that's what I'm following and working on. It's all about the story and improving my writing. And my writing gets better the more I cross-write. The brevity of picture books tightens my novel writing. Dialogue heavy film scripts improve my novel dialogue. Novel plots hone my skills for descriptive, scene setting. Poetry reminds me to value the weight, feel and sound of words together and alone.

Why do I write what I write?
I write what peeks my curiosity, worlds I want to live in, worlds I don't understand, subjects I want to learn more about. Writing gives me the chance to explore and understand our unbearable lightness of being and reimagine it.

How does my individual writing process work?
I'm on the rack now!  For me, writing is messy - process and logistics. I tend to write by the seat of my pants. I'm not a big outliner...unless I'm doing a film script. I'm not sure why. It could be that scripts are so dialogue heavy, I need the outline to know what my characters are going to say. I don't outline for picture books. Novels vary. I can go either way, but if I outline, it's more of hastily road map than a cartographer's masterpiece.

As for focus,  I don't ever work on just one project...mostly. Ironically, months into a novel ms, that's when picture book ideas crop up like night mushrooms. I usually take an afternoon or morning off to get them down. Sometimes that blossoms into a week. And then I go back to the novel. It's messy.

And finally, logistics - still messy.  I'm at my desk every day from 8:30 - 6:00, but there are varying unavoidable breaks in there to pick kids up from school or ferry them to after school activities. I get in at least 4 hours of solid writing a day - in between the breaks. I hope for inspiration. It meanders in some days. More often, I curse the writing gods and plow on.

Secret weapon - a secret drawer of chocolate AND gummy bears for those really rough days. FYI  - Gummy bears cannot type. You can, however, make really neat crime scenes with them without ever having to leave your desk. Not that I do...much.

Next week's Confessors:

Marsha Diane Arnold
Marsha has been called a "born storyteller" by the media. Already an award-winning author, 2013 was a banner year. She sold four picture books to Neal Porter Books, Kate O'Sullivan of Houghton Mifflin, and Tamarind, UK. Her Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books has helped many writers develop strong, spunky characters. She grew up in Kansas, walking barefoot and climbing trees, and still loves bare feet and trees.
For her kiss and tell answers to the questions above, click here.

R.A. Costello

R.A. Costello mostly writes fiction for and about LGBTQ teens who are figuring out who they want to be - and be with - while fighting against the jerks and bigots that stand in their way. He has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is hard at work on his debut YA novel, The Shelter Sea.
For his kiss and tell answers to the questions above, click here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Book Review Club - Cinder, Scarlet & Cress (The Lunar Chronicles)

Cinder, Scarlet & Cress
Marissa Meyer

This review has me torn. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Cinder. On the other hand, I had a hard time moving from book 1 to book 2 because main protagonists change. Is this a revolutionary way to avoid the sequel slowdown? Or does it kill the reading momentum?

But one thing at a time. First, Cinder.

Basic premise: A retelling of Cinderella as a cyborg/lunar girl living in a future Beijing in which the Queen of the Moon threatens to attack and enslave (or destroy) earth. Cinder, a mechanic and adopted daughter of the archetypically evil stepmother and one evil stepsister and one nice stepsister, is (spoiler alert!) secretly the rightful heir to the lunar throne. She doesn't know it yet. She thinks she's just a mechanic, who is also partly cyborg, and thus despised by most. Cyborgs are considered de-humanized by the cybernetic parts. Add to that, earthens suffer a plague caused by a viral strain introduced by runaway lunars.

As Fate would have it, the crown prince, Kai, is looking for the lost lunar heir, and comes to Cinder to repair  a broken android that may hold the answers to the lost princess's whereabouts. Cue: meet-cute.

The rest of the book is action-packed unraveling of the plague, who the princess is, the love interest between Cinder and Kai that all lead up to the annual ball where (spoiler alert!) the princess does not get her prince. In fact, he sacrifices her to the Lunar Queen to save earth.

Despite how much is going on in this story, it held my attention and was a fun read. Definitely a dessert book. My youngest loved the book so much, she asked if we could get the second book. We listened to both as audio books. We got it. We almost didn't get through.

Scarlet begins with a wholly different protagonist, namely, a character based on Little Red Riding Hood, with a parallel story about the people who helped Cinder escape from the moon, hide her and transform/heal her as a cyborg. It was very jarring to trade out one main protagonist for another, and in this instance, Scarlet is a very angry 18 year old, which makes it hard to feel empathy for her. She constantly lashes out. But we stuck with it (partly due to a very long car ride) and eventually, about halfway through the book, were able to listen without checking the clock.

I'm not sure I'd have bought the third book, but Scarlet ended in the middle of said long car trip, so we did. Cress follows the same pattern as Scarlet, introducing yet another new main protagonist and another retelling of a fairy tale, Rapunzel.

All of the main female lead's stories are connected and interwoven. The writing is tight and filled with action. And I admire Meyer for coming up with a novel way to avoid the sequel slowdown. I'm not sure introducing a new protagonist as the lead works particularly well. The reader is forced to alter heroes from one protagonist to another, while also following the original protagonist's main story as it unfolds in a sort of b-story role.  Clearly, these books have sold exceptionally well, so something is working. Maybe it's my misperception that I'm getting hung up on. This isn't a trilogy. These are chronicles, loosely related stories that are nevertheless connected and do move forward toward a common goal. Still, it was jarring to move from book 1 to 2. And yet, here I am on book 3. Like I said, these books have me torn.

For other great May treasures, click on over to Barrie Summy's website. Happy reading!