Thursday, December 6, 2012

Really Bad Writing Advice: 5 Top Reasons You Shouldn't Read Books

I have just finished reading an extremely good book.  Well-written, poignant, moving. 

I was horrified!

I’m not actually going to tell you what book it was, out of concern that you’ll make the same mistake I did.  But suffice to say, as I made my way to the last page and gently closed the cover, it hit me, Big Epiphany: for writers, reading books, particularly good books, and without question outstanding books, is a terrible mistake.

Here’s why:

1.) When you are reading, you aren’t soaking up life experience or doing your butt-in-chair writing thing.  Everybody knows that all you need to create your stunning opus is life experience, a butt, and a chair.

2.) Really good children’s books are short, sweet, and rip your heart out.  Having your heart ripped out can distract you from your mission, and also get blood on your desk.

3.) Really good books are no doubt better than your struggling manuscript which, if you’re me, could remain in the shitty first draft phase for years.  Your book will no doubt never ever be as good as the really good book, no matter how long you keep your butt in that chair.  This realization has been known to propel writers out of their chairs and to the refrigerator for some highly comforting chocolate chip ice cream.  Ergo, really good books are fattening.

4.) Those fiends over at Goodreads no doubt liked the really good book better than they liked your book.  Reminding you that life is unfair, and depressing you so much that it becomes challenging to form sentences.  It is also possible that those fiends over at Goodreads hated the really good book, also reminding you that life is unfair, the reading public is dopey, and depressing you so much that it becomes challenging to form sentences.

5.) Paper cuts.  The really good book can give you paper cuts.  Also, if you spend your time reading really good books, you will be so depressed, bloody, and fat that you will never finish writing your book, and therefore your book will never give anybody paper cuts.  There is some form of irony in there somewhere.

Monday, December 3, 2012

YA for NJ

Hi All,

I'm taking a break from really bad writing advice to support YA for NJ, the brainchild of YA writer Kieran Scott, who lives in New Jersey.  After the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, she sought support for fellow-Jersians (Jerseyites? Hmmmm....)in the YA community, and voila!, 206 ebay auctions with signed books, author visits for the NY/NJ area, Skype visits, a phone call with Simone Elkeles, and manuscript critiques from major editors and YA writers.

All of the proceeds of the auction go to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, so not only will you be winning something wonderful, but you'll be helping a very good cause.

This is the link for the whole shebang, so you can scroll through all of these wonderful auctions:

And here's the link to bid on a signed copy of WHERE IT BEGAN plus, a bonus, a signed copy of my new picture book, THE WOODEN SWORD, a folktale from Afghanistan that just made it onto the NYPL's 100 list for 2012. (Yay!)

Given that everyone here is a giant consumer of YA books, I hope you'll decide to acquire some through these auctions.

Kudos to Kieran Scott!


P.S. I just bid on Carol Tanzman's CIRCLE OF SILENCE, which I've been dying to read.  Let me know what you've bid on.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dreadful Writing Advice: Timelines are Bad

Perhaps you’ve been wondering where I’ve been for lo these many weeks while my unfortunate internet platform has been withering and dying.

Well, I’ll tell you: I’ve been rewriting.

During which, I was saved from hum-drum tasks such as going to the market and washing my hair and having any leisure time whatsoever because, ta-dah, right from the start, I stood fast to my writing motto, “Chaos Works Good,” and eschewed the timeline.

(Also, the outline. But I’ll save that for several other helpful posts.)

Here’s the thing. In this rewrite, I took three years of story and boiled it down into a more intense single year. Actually, more like nine months. And during this process, which was already hard enough, I decided to avoid unpleasant mathematical endeavors, such as counting. Because I prefer to allow my characters to float freely through the time-space continuum, throwing caution, the laws of nature, and the story arc to the wind.

Soon I had chapter after chapter of events all unfolding organically during quite the protracted fictional month of December. As it turned out, my characters had revealed themselves exquisitely (and don’t forget organically) during a month with 84 days in it.

Sadly, this book is supposed to be realistic contemporary, so I was trapped with the conventions of my genre.

What can I say?

But let me assure you that the book was much, much better before I became enslaved by the calendar and the soul-snuffing dictates of the timeline, and had to spend weeks and weeks digging myself out of my deeply creative hole.

So if you, too, are a deeply creative soul, so fully immersed in your own process that counting the days in a month would introduce tedium and crassness to a universe of inspiration and flashes of magical whatsit (as indeed you should be), avoid that timeline!

You didn’t want to go to the market, wash your hair, or finish that book anyway, right?

Friday, September 7, 2012

International Where It Began Giveaway at Jean Book Nerd's Blog!

Hi Gang,

I’m still in San Francisco revising as fast as I can, when not eating my way across the city with my husband. (And it’s his birthday today!!!)

So this is just a quick note to let folks who don’t have Where It Began yet know that there’s an international giveaway over at Jean Book Nerd’s fantabulous YA blog, along with a q & a and a really nice review.

So if you’d like a signed copy, do go check out Jean’s blog. Here it is:

Just think, if you’ve been shooting yourself in the foot with my really bad writing advice, how much you’d enjoy a 384 page respite!

Go win a book!


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Really Bad Writing Advice: The Power of Negative Thinking

All right, I get that there are people who swear by affirmations. They bound out of bed in the morning telling themselves that they are glorious human beings who deserve the best day ever. They put post-its on their bathroom mirrors telling them that they are writing the Great American Novel. When confronted with the hideous prose they wrote the day before while chanting “I am a superb writer and this is superb,” they tell themselves, “The worse the dress rehearsal, the better the show, and man, I put on a great show.”

I am here to tell you: Stop it. We all know what a sick, unhealthy defense mechanism denial is, and beyond the gag-me-with-a-spoon aspects of positive thinking, you are undermining the necessary and desirable angst, self-doubt, self-flagellation, misery, pain, and horror that will lead you to the frozen stupor of the truly great.

Don’t you want to grow from pain and have sensitive, artsy bags under your eyes that cause people reading dog-eared copies of obscure German novels in German at Starbucks to make passes at you?

So, in my continuing quest to wipe all other writers off the face of the earth due to a truly great frozen stupor, I have compiled a list of things you should be telling yourself:

1.) I can’t write.

2.) Even if I could write, which I can’t, I’ll never get an agent.

3a.) Even if I do get an agent, which I won’t, this manuscript will never sell because i) it sucks or, in the alternative, ii.) it is too, too brilliant and innovate to meet the crass demands of the marketplace.

3b.) My agent will hate this and refuse to try to sell it. Not to mention, any agent who took me on in the first place no doubt sucks.

4.) Even if this manuscript sells, which it won’t, it will tank and I will never publish another novel under my own name, which will be excoriated by publishers near and far.

5.) My dialogue is stilted.

6.) Even if my dialogue weren’t stilted, which it is, the plot is predictable/too far fetched/boring/not credible/derivative/stupid/non-existent.

7.) I am incapable of finishing, and why should I, because it sucks.

8.) I am incapable of revising.

9.) Even if I could revise, which I can’t, why would anyone throw their time into the black hole of this godawful manuscript unless s/he were a delusional positive thinker?

10.) I suck.

I think that pretty much covers it. Have a nice day.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Really Bad Writing Advice: When to Resist Criticism, Suggestions, and Meddlesome Sane People

We’re all friends here. We know the world is full of small minded, jealous people who want to trample our dreams and squelch our deeply creative natures. Also megalomaniacal people who wish to hijack our work and transform it into something it’s not. (Everyone who’s snickering and going, “Yeah, something good,” should leave this site immediately, never to return.)

Anyway, in the quest to extend my really bad writing advice into new frontiers where only the wise have gone before, here are some helpful tips on when to stick your fingers in your ears and go neeee-neeeee neeee-neeeee. (Or, for international readers, whatever cool, culturally-appropriate sound you make when sticking your fingers in your ears and acting petulant.)

So, in the interest of becoming the only writer left on earth when my bad advice is universally embraced, this is when to ignore suggestions:

1.) When that’s the way it really happened. Especially when writing picture books that pass down cumbersome yet preachy events from your youth. So it’s incomprehensible. That’s what people said about Finnegan’s Wake – which I’ve always thought would make such a piquant PB.

2.) When you’ve already done every single thing that every single person in your critique group suggested, and now your mean Aunt Martha says that an elephant is a greyhound designed by a committee. Elephants are nice. Ask Mo Willems. Where would Piggie be without Elephant? Think about it.

3.) When you’re sick of revising. This is your helpful inner-voice telling you that you’re finished. Buying handbags online is the surefire antidote to being sick of revision, and also to the creation of literature. Screw it. Which would you rather have, a lovely new knock-off Prada bag or a horrifying sense that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing and you might have to redo every single syllable?

Go Prada. Go Prada. Go Prada.

4.) When you’re pretty sure that every word that passes through your fingers and onto the page comes directly from God. Like the Bible, only a trilogy, with zomboid elves and without the didacticism.

5.) When small-minded people point to submission guidelines and shake their heads. As if publishers know what they’re looking for. Come on. So the University of Chicago Press seems to be saying they’re not in the market for zomboid elves. How do they know, until they’ve had the chance to peruse your stunningly literary but still hot zomboid elf sex? Like they’re going to publish yet another masterful history of the Civil War once they’ve seen your zomboid elf sex? Please.

6.) When you’re right and everyone else is wrong. Who has the finely-honed literary sensibility, you or them? Duh. (Unless they wrote Bird by Bird, in which case, shut up and listen.)

I’d offer some even worse pointers, but I’m in dire need of a knock-off Prada bag in stunning trompe l’oeil leatherette.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Really Bad Writing Advice: Worst Tips Ever - When to Write

Being sadly short on the kind of blatantly idiotic questions that inspire really bad writing advice, I have taken to generating dreadful tips.

Follow these tips scrupulously, and soon I will be the only novelist on earth and it won’t even matter if my rewrite has gaping holes in the so-called plot because everyone will be so desperate for a book.

1.) Write only when you’re inspired.

2.) Write only when you have finally saved up enough to purchase an ergonomically perfect chair. In leather. From Sweden.

3.) Write only when you’re not tired.

4.) Write only when you have found the exactly right software to organize your every word. It’s out there somewhere. Keep looking.

5.) Write only when your children, husband, and dog are asleep.

6.) Write only when your house is immaculate. Dirty dishes and unmade beds are a terrible distraction. How can you write when you ought to be vacuuming?

7.) Write only when you’re not tempted to surf the internet. If you want to surf the net, it means your head isn’t in your book anyway.

8.) Write only if your have the perfect outline. Rework that outline. Is it perfect yet? I didn’t think so.

9.) Write only if you have carefully revised every word that you’ve already written.

10.) Write only if you have a womb that has produced children. OK, this is a shocker coming from me, big opponent of the mommy wars, but if you haven’t read the world’s least charitable obituary post on Maeve Binchy in The Telegraph, don’t write until you’ve seen it. Don’t write until you’ve scanned any number of online newspapers for disturbing articles; the adrenaline rush will help you write faster. Should you ever write.

Here’s the article: Don’t quit before the last line. You’ll write so fast.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Really Bad Writing Advice: The Writers Conference

I have been so busy with revision – in the practice makes a hot mess school of novel-writing – that I’ve neglected my mission to share dreadful writing advice. Apologies! And here is a lovely break from all that good writing advice with which we are constantly assailed.

Dear Clueless One,

My eleven-year-old niece, Lulu, has written an epic novel about magic pigs and vicious talking spiders in space, kind of an homage to Charlotte’s Web, only with time traveling maggots that feast on pig brains in an even more pointed homage to the vibrancy of cannibalistic slasher movies.

In my effort to get her work in front of Important People so she can get the adulation and seven figure contract she deserves, I have been taking her to writers conferences where, during the Q&A, she reads her (exceptionally long) first chapter to the panelists. The reaction is stunning. A hush falls over the room. The issue of appropriateness never even arises because, hey, who wants to make an eleven-year-old cry?

I also like to line up with her afterwards to meet the Important People, where she wows them by reciting, from memory, as much of Harry Potter in pig-Latin as possible before the conference staff turns out the lights. I figure that all the people behind us in line have had thirty or forty years to make their impression, and now it’s Lulu’s turn.

Do you have any advice for us, and also, how can I keep Lulu awake during these conferences?

Signed—Proud Aunt

To which I reply (with apologies to 11-year-olds everywhere who have written brilliant epic novels about space pigs)

Dear P.A.,

Having attended any number of conferences where people young and old have hijacked the proceedings, often receiving adulation, seven-figure contracts, and the occasional death threat in return, I honor your determination! It is well-known that the quality and commercial viability of the work is best represented by the willingness of the writer and her aunt to leap the bounds of propriety and carry on shamelessly. I say, carry on! And on and on. (Although your willingness to fold up your tent just because the conference staff has turned out the lights, does make me question your commitment…)

Love, Clueless

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Self-Indulgent Moaning About Revision

The national SCBWI conference is only three miles from my house and I am not there. I am at home engaging in a rewrite that is challenging, frustrating, and going well. It is also sucking up all my time, including the time I generally use to wash my hair and go to the farmer’s market.

Yesterday, I ate Honey Nut Cheerios for lunch. But not at the dining room table.

This is because I am so serious about this rewrite that I have moved my 86 note cards from the floor of my bedroom to my dining room table because, let’s face it, my dog is 15 years old and it’s unlikely I’m going to be able to get him to stop eating paper. And if he eats this particular paper, it will ruin my life.

My husband and I are eating on TV trays. It’s a good thing that our son is working on set 12 hours a day 6 days a week and isn’t here to notice the complete break-down of our usual domestic routines – although the lack of clean towels has been noted.

Every night at SCBWI, another group of people with whom I want to hang out is meeting at the bar of the Century Plaza. First it was the Blue Boarders, and then Los Angeles first time YA novelists, and then Los Angeles YA novelists period, and then the LA Kidlit group. There is a party with a ‘60’s theme where others will, no doubt, dance to White Rabbit. While I’m at home.

The SCBWI, for anyone not heavily immersed in the children’s book writing world, is the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Friends and colleagues from all over the country converge at the national conference in L.A. every summer. I love that conference. I get inspired at that conference.

I actually conceived the idea for my first book while sitting at that conference. I met the editor of that very book at that conference. I heard my agent speak at that conference (twice) and dreamed about how wonderful it would be to have her representing my work. And a few years later, she sold Where It Began and this new novel that I am sitting in my dining room reshuffling.

And, all right, the reason I’m not at that conference is, to some extent, the result of the wonderful success and impact of that conference in my life. The same motivations that got me to that conference, also landed me in my dining room with a TV tray eating Cheerios while contemplating my many, many index cards, and writing new scenes.

I am supposed to be here and not there. I am supposed to be doing what I’m doing. Writing here and not having an inspirational good time there.

Damn it, I still want to go play. Boo hoo. Moan moan. But I want to be a writer with a deadline even more.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Suspension of Disbelief When Revising A Novel

Here’s the thing, when you’re sewing, when the dress has pieces sewn on wrong (such as the sleeves are inside out, and the neck facing is on backwards and you forgot one of the darts in the front), what you’ve got still looks more like a dress than it does after you rip the pieces apart and start planning the reconstruction.

Even though, by taking the never-gonna-be-a-dress, inside-out-sleeves garment apart, you have, in fact, moved one step closer to finishing the dress of your dreams.

And this, ladies and gents, is where I am with my revision. I have written some new chapters that I love and eliminated some parts that don’t work, but in order to integrate the new and fix the transitions where the old used to be, I had to do the equivalent of a whole hell of a lot of seam ripping.

And this is the part where suspension of disbelief comes in. Or some metaphorical variant thereof. As in, belieeeeeeeeeve or Tinkerbell falls from the sky and dies, writhing, on your keyboard.

That would be my keyboard.

(It wouldn’t be a mixed metaphor if I introduced The Little Engine That Could here, right, as long as Tinkerbell was passed out in one of the boxcars?)

You have to believe that this thing with the many improved moving parts can, in fact, be put together again in a new, improved version. That new seams can bind together all the old and new and radically overhauled parts, and that the sum of those parts will be, well, seamless. And also a book.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Even More Really Bad Writing Advice

Do we even need a preamble?
Dear Clueless One, 
My 7,500 word picture book, “Give an Aardvark an Ambien,” written in bouncy yet mind-numbing (It’s a bedtime story; I was going for mind-numbing. ) iambic pentameter that came to me in a drug-induced daydream yesterday will be ready to submit tomorrow if only my hairdresser doesn’t take too long with my Brazilian blowout and I have the afternoon to rewrite it in its entirety, choose a really cute font, and promote my self-esteem by chanting forty or fifty unreastic affirmations while having a few drinks.

It is the best book ever written.

Do you think I need a beta reader before I send it off? 
Also, people keep saying not to include art from illustrators who aren’t me unless they have a Caldecott, which I had never heard of so how big a deal could it be, seriously, but my cousin Missy has done a the cutest sketch ever of the scene when the insomniac aardvark goes out back for a smoke. I should send this in and say that Missy has to be the illustrator or I’m “hoppin’, skippin’, jumpin’ down the road and round the happy pumpkin,” (a heartfelt line ripped straight from the oevre) right? 
Signed, Rhyme-Meister

To which I reply

Dear Meister, 
About the beta reader: of course not. It is, after all, the best book ever written. Trust your instincts. 
As for the illustrator, get real! How many pictures of insomniac aardvarks taking a smoke do you think editors have seen? You have a truly unique concept and you will only increase your chances of hooking up with a publisher deeply committed to your vision by acting inflexible, petulant and ever so slightly unhinged. Artistic temperament being what it is. 
Love, Clueless

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Horror of Deleted Scenes

A couple of weeks ago, I did a guest post at the wonderful blog, Words At Home, which consisted of a deleted scene from Where It Began.

Due to the fact that I write in random order without an outline, I have many, many such deleted scenes from which to choose -- some deleted as a result of brief interludes of good judgment and others deleted as a result of the strongest possible suggestions my agent could muster without being undiplomatic or making me listen while she banged her head on her desk.

Anyway, I really did love this scene. It tied up some loose ends and it had an element of characters from different social groups singing "Kumbaya" and, coincidentally, not getting drunk during school lunch. I fought for this scene. I bitched and moaned and mourned while cutting this scene.

And now that it’s back, I’m in a state of Oh My God. Never mind that it actually contains grammatical errors and clunky repetition, but there’s a slight chance that it’s cheesy. Oh My God. Is this cognitive dissonance, I wonder? Do I have to think it’s cheesy because otherwise, noting its wonderfulness and the fact that it’s no longer in my book, I’d be too sad and miserable to go on? Or would a propensity for cognitive dissonance have more sinister implications for how I feel about what I left in the book…?

Self-doubt, recrimination, and hyperventilation probably being worse for branding than the dispensing of Really Bad Writing Advice, I read back through Where It Began in a state of perfect calm detachment, at the end of which I concluded that I still love it a lot.

I am, on the other hand, so glad that I saw reason and deleted what I deleted. And four months post-publication, I am ready to concede that Where It Began would not, in fact, have been all that much better at 986 pages.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Return to Really Bad Writing Advice

OK Gang,

Perhaps unhinged by an excessively good mood, I posted some Not Half-Bad Writing Advice. And so much for that! People were all over my Really Bad Writing Advice, but as for the sorta good advice, forget it.

So all right, screw the little engine that could. I have removed the sorta good and I'm returning to train wrecks. The not half bad advice is down and I'll be back with something truly rank as soon as possible.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Afterparty!!!! Heeeeeere's the cover!

What can I say? It's perfect. It's beautiful and it evokes a key scene in the book -- a scene which, by the way, the designer hadn't read yet. (Jessica Handelman, design goddess and all-round purveyor of aesthetic wonders, if you are reading this, I love you!)

And all right, I get the part that revealing the splendor that is the cover of my new book after multiple posts in which I carry on at length about how I didn't outline and this was not an entirely wise choice, followed by days of Really Bad Writing Advice, might not be self-promotionally wise.

But look at this cover! I would kill for this cover, but I don't have to, because it's my damned cover.

And all right, I love the characters in this book. I love Emma, the protagonist, a good girl trying hard to embrace badness, her best friend Siobhan, and Emma's dad's choice for her best friend, the darling Megan Donnelly. And also, not one or two but three guys who are not, ta da, sociopathic louts. I love Dylan and Arif and Joe. I loved writing the Hollywood Hills and I love the kiss at a sidewalk table at The Griddle near the corner of Fairfax and Sunset.

And these characters deserved gorgeousness. Stumbling barefoot, shoes in hand, toward Hollywood Boulevard late at night, Emma deserved a cover that says, "Here I am."

Ta da. Emma Lazar, here you go.

Friday, July 13, 2012

More Really Bad Writing Advice

Having succeeded beyond my wildest expectations with my initial foray into Really Bad Writing Advice (e.g. there were comments none of which employed the phrase “you mean-spirited bitch”) I have decided to sally forth into the realm of even worse advice.

Here goes.

Dear Clueless One,
I have just finished my stand-alone historical fantasy in which pirates and mermaids team up to change the course of the Russian Revolution using only their wits, rusty sabers and sex appeal.

Beyond its obvious appeal in raising deep, philosophical questions about Communism, this book is the manifestation of my personal crusade against boring, lazy writing, taking aim at that infinitely overused phrase, “he said.” I am proud to tell you that I never once use “he said” in my book, ferreting out compelling facsimiles such as: 
  • he wholeheartedly yet heartrendingly exclaimed with a plaintive naivete that could draw tears from a mashed turnip, could they have obtained turnips, which they couldn’t because they were pirates who had been at sea for a really, really long time; 
  • she bellowed with the steely yet ladylike determination of sinuous seaweed that now overflowed the banks of the Moskva River with rampant yet implausible abandon; 
  • and the simple yet elegant *he ejaculated truculently.”
Noting that you used the phrase “she said” 2,914 times in your last – and might I point out only—novel, will you reform and join my Crusade? 
Signed, Crusader

To which I reply:

Dear Crusader,
Sure. Why not? The plot of what was supposed to be my next book just imploded and I’m not in a good mood. Indeed, the prospect of committing writing suicide sounds quite alluring. Let’s all hold hands and jump. Off the gangplank. Into the depths of the seaweed-riddled Moskva River. She agreed with crazed alacrity. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Really Bad Writing Advice

Hi Gang,

Having noted that the internet is loaded with fabulous, and, all right, possibly a tiny bit of less fabulous, writing advice, I have decided that the moment is ripe for someone to start handing out really bad writing advice.

In the self-promotional vein, I am thinking that not only will I be able to corner the market on appalling directions for would-be novelists, but that this will go a long way toward winning awards as really bad branding too!!!

I’m so excited.

Anyway, here is wee sample of the misguided pap that I plan to send into cyberspace for all eternity:
Dear Clueless One, 
Because there are no good books out there for teen readers, I have taken it upon myself to write a uniquely superb (and also uniquely long) trilogy with magic elf robots who save the world, reinstitute the meaning of Christmas, and also promote dental hygiene. I am calling it “The Dental Floss Games.” Get it? 
Is 895 pages too long for the first book in the trilogy? Also, I’m not completely sure of how the first book ends, so I decided that that would be a good cliffhanger. My know-it-all critique group is being very negative, but this is all right, right? 
Whiny Genius

To which I reply:

Dear Whiny, 
No and yes. I think. Or maybe yes and no. Or possibly, oh my God, no! I guess what I’m saying here is that you should just follow your own inner voice, no matter how long-winded. Ignore the advice of others; you should only be around positive people who support your dream.

Also, after 895 pages of magic elves with pristine gums, your readers will be so damned glad to reach the ending that they won’t actually care about the ending. 

You too can send writing questions great and small to the Clueless One. Really stupid questions are particularly appreciated, but I guess that an intelligent question would be OK too, if you insist. I'm at

Friday, June 1, 2012

Romancing the Rewrite

(in which I reveal the downside of wandering through the thicket of the narrator’s outpourings sans outline, just in case there’s anyone on the planet besides me who hadn’t already figured this out)

Whenever anyone asks me about writing, and my process, and turning out prose, I tend to support chaos. I tend to jump around insisting that there is no one true way to go about this. If you like to outline, I cry, outline! If you like to write mostly at 4 a.m. while sobbing and exploring your inner angst, go for it! If you get up at 6 a.m. and have a cup of Earl Gray tea with clover honey, after which you sit in your office writing 1250 words before lunch, when you take a run through the woods with your Brittany spaniel, go you!

The problems with this non-system are not immediately evident when writing picture books, probably because I can keep a whole PB in my head as I work. But with novels, there’s an element of whoopsie upon seeing the first draft. The first draft of the novel I just sent off to my agent 9 days ago was an enormous, lumbering tome.

It weighed in at 107,000 words, and not because it was a multi-generational saga spanning several continents and two centuries.

Nope, it just had thousands and thousands of words of subplots and back story and really cool characters who didn’t actually belong in the book. People quote Faulkner’s, “Kill you darlings,” when they talk about revision. I had to kill entire clans, tribes, and marauding hoards of darlings, pests, and downright pills.

The problem with killing, say, 30,000 words, is that even though those words involve completely ridiculous elements that don’t belong in the book, there is a whole lot of characterization in there. Bits and pieces that are relevant to the whole book are now discarded. Even though the story is way better without them, the characters now have missing pieces. The reader now has no idea how the characters react to large numbers of completely superfluous situations.

So then the whole book has to be rewritten and all of the remaining stuff has to be improved to convey all of the necessary elements now moldering in the 30,000 word trash bin. So I did. Over and over. It was torture.

All hail the outline! I swear to God, next time I’m going with one of those.

I'm Ba-a-a-a-a-a-a-ack!!!

I was about to post my new post when it hit me that probably when one disappears from one's blog for a meaningful period, one should say something about it upon one's return.

So, okay, I've been in a writing cave revising my new novel.  Which was so late.  My wonderful publisher even sent me the world's most gorgeous and evocative cover which has details that mirror the text (also, it glows) and I didn't have a book to put in it.

Which is to say, I had too much book.  More about that in my next post.

I sent the book off to my agent last week, and now I'm returning to normal life!  I'm going to BEA!  I'm signing my new picture book, The Wooden Sword (Albert Whitman, 2012) in the autographing area on Wednesday.  (If you're at BEA, do come say hi!) I'm no longer spending 14 hours a day on my couch, communing with my laptop and my dog. 

I'm back!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I’ve been neglecting this blog completely while trying to finish my (long since overdue) WIP and writing guest posts for all of the wonderful YA bloggers who have been so supportive of Where It Began.

But how do you not blog on your book’s birthday?

I don’t actually have anything profound to offer here. I am, in fact, too tired from the writing-round-the-clock, suspension of personal grooming, manic jamboree that is me trying to finish a book, to be able to express anything profound all that cogently.

But I do want to say thank you.

First of all, to the universe. I am so acutely aware that things didn’t have to turn out like this, so glad that everything was lined up to make it possible for me to become a writer, right here, right now, in this particular city and country and family.

To all of the writing fellow travelers who get it, and to the SCBWI where I found so many of them, and to Pubsters, which got me through so much, especially at the beginning, and to YAWriters, and to LAYAS, because even though I don’t think of myself as much of a joiner, joining has meant so much to me. And Verla Kay's Blue Board. And my critique group! (And as long as I’m here, Alexandra Flinn, there hasn’t been one agonized, paranoid book snit that you haven’t been able to talk me down from. Thanks for everything.)

To YA bloggers, who are the most passionate and dedicated and enthusiastic and snarky and sweet lot! And who have inspired some writing I’ve just loved. (Evie Seo, that Everything I Know About True Romance, I learned from Pride & Prejudice thing – never would have done it without you!)

To Alethea Allarey, website genius, blogger extraordinaire, and the most supportive woman on planet earth, and to Alyson Beecher, whose kindness, internet savvy, generosity, and enormous enthusiasm for books and writers knock me out: Wow!

To the extraordinarily helpful and energetic and wonderful people at S&S and Simon Pulse, Paul Crichton and Lydia Finn and Carolyn Swerdloff, and Dawn Ryan. What amazing luck to have the opportunity to work with you! There is a too good to be true aspect of my experience at S&S.

I have thanked my family and early readers and agent and editor in the author’s note and in person to the point that they cover their ears when they see me coming, but as long as we’re doing bookish thanks here, Brenda Bowen is a goddess and Jen Klonsky is pretty much the answer to all writerly prayers.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

On Defining One’s Blog (Er, That Would Be My Blog) In Order Not to be Creeped Out by Said Blog

Anyone who's been on my blog in the past few days knows that there was a blog post here about a preorder giveaway I'm doing for Where It Began. Which is no longer here. Which now exists only in a word fine in my laptop. (The blog post, not the contest.)

Only three days on the blog, and the damned thing was creeping me out to such an extent that it just had to go.

All right, there is a certain shameless aspect of blogging; one (that would be me) reveals one’s strange, sick obsessive relationship with goodreads; one gets sappy about how powerful birthdays can be after cancer, which doesn’t have a whole hell of a lot to do with writing but, hey, it was on my mind; one generally exposes unattractive quirks and how and no doubt lapses deep deep into the realm of TMI.

Possibly way TMI.

But despite the fact that, in the realm of TMI, I had a swell time picking out all the stuff for the giveaway, and I’m perfectly happy to have it on a very nice page on my website, complete with attractive photos and funny descriptions, and it makes me kind of happy to tweet about it from time to time (I swear not spammily), just seeing it here in the body of the blog depressed me.
Because the blogging wasn’t supposed to be stealth marketing. (Or in the case of the poor, deleted entry, pretty damned direct marketing.)

I wish I had a really good definition of what the blog is supposed to be, the parameters, the artistic intention, the deeply deeply meaningful semi-literary whatsit in which I plan to wallow here. And perhaps one day I’ll have a sudden impulse to inveigh all blog readers to wear sandwich boards with the cover of Where It Began plastered front and back.

But that day isn’t today.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

OCD and Goodreads

Writers with any slight hint of OCD in their make-up should not be on goodreads. Period. They should block it from their computers or, if that doesn’t work, they should somehow rig their computers to make an unpleasant noise and shock their fingertips when they so much as type…

Not because goodreads might just have some inherent issues (to be discussed some other time, or maybe never, because it sounds a lot like whining) – that is not my issue.

My issue is obsession, flat-out obsession, naked unembellished obsession. And did I say obsession?

There are so many tiny elements to be obsessed with too. How many people plan to read my new book? How many people added it today as opposed to yesterday as opposed to that really great day in November? What is the rating? Why has it gone from 4.11 to 4.10? Yay, it’s 4.14, but wait, now it’s 4.9. Whew, it’s 4.10 again.

The thing is, the numbers are ever-changing, with tiny yet fascinating shifts every few seconds. Especially with a book giveaway. OMG, as we say in YA.

Where It Began has a goodreads book giveaway going.

It started yesterday afternoon. At this moment (wait a second, gotta go check) there are 257 people signed up for it. And how many times have I checked to see how many people have signed up for this giveaway? Hint: It rivals 257.

This is not healthy. This is not a good thing in so many ways. I would make a list of the ways but I have to check goodreads.

And lookee here: it’s 258.

Are there pills for this?

Friday, January 13, 2012

From the Sublime to the, Um, Less Sublime: The Wonderful World of Getting the Word Out

Time was, sitting around writing in spiral notebooks with pilot pens seemed like the coolest work in the world. (Intellectually and artistically satisfying; fulfillment of a childhood dream; a way to explain at-home motherhood that didn’t trigger highly politicized, lip-curling disdain…)

Still does.

But time was, also, that anything even vaguely resembling self-promotion seemed creepily, shamelessly materialistic -- a form of unappetizing bragging, that could cause friends and strangers alike to literally and figuratively unfriend me.

I was wrong.

And here we have the few, incredibly obvious truisms that have finally permeated my consciousness to make shameless promotion somehow less shameful: legitimizing my forays onto twitter, facebook, and my shiny new website; transforming these previously embarrassment-riddled jaunts into necessary activities in support of my writing. As opposed to a hideous time suck.

Or maybe it only takes one. And here it is:

For me, as much as I love sitting around and guiding pilot pens from one end of a spiral notebook to another, the point of writing is saying something to someone.

Someone who has to know that the book is out there, what it’s about, and about my sensibility as a writer. (All right, given twitter, the sensibility of my dog is also on the table. As is my dog. ) Someone who does not, in fact, live next door and whose primary access to information about books involves a computer.


And did I mention my pre-sale giveaway?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Birthdays After Cancer

OK, this isn’t about writing. Sort of.

It’s about my birthday, which was yesterday, when my husband and my 20 year old son drove me up the California coast to my favorite outdoor cafĂ© in Santa Barbara and to a sunset walk on the beach that I’ve loved best since childhood.

When my daughter called from Manhattan to have a wonderful birthday conversation, and my 88 year old mother offered to share the grisly details of my birth before I stopped her.

Yesterday was also my 19th birthday since I had cancer.

As it turned out, I had a good kind of cancer, the kind that can be cured. (Knock on wood. Po po po. Masses of salt over the shoulder.) The kind for which the cure is not a walk in the park, or even a walk through the hospital because, post-surgery, you end up swallowing so much radioactive iodine that you can’t hold your kids or get too close to anyone who ever wants to get pregnant. (A fact graciously shared with me from across the room by a nurse who wanted to get pregnant.)

It is also a cure that can make you feel so sick that you become a lifelong advocate of the medical marijuana that made you stop feeling sick. Indeed, you run around threatening to grow the stuff behind your house when the feds start manhandling California’s pot dispensaries. (In case anyone is planning to come visit, I don’t. I have a black thumb and a soft spot for our many, rose-eating gophers.)

But here I am.

With a very clear memory of when I didn’t think I’d be here. When a thoughtless and possibly evil doctor gave me some outdated articles (that turned out to have no relation whatsoever to my illness or to my prognosis) that seemed to suggest that I wouldn’t be around to raise my kids.

I don’t think about that much. But on my birthday, I do.

Here I am.

It was a very happy birthday.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Addicted to Television

There is nothing like the winter holiday season, a time of warmth, fellowship, good friends, and spiritual uplift, to remind a person (that would be me) of how addicted she is to television.

I do have an ever so slim excuse for this addiction. One of my kids is a budding cinematographer and we get to sit around and marvel about the gorgeousness of the lighting of Mad Men and the gloriously well-shot Modern Family.

Unfortunately, this excuse is, how would you put it, a complete crock.

There is nothing educational, bonding-with-kid promoting, or pretty about me slamming around the family room, panting and throwing lovely, down-stuffed decorative pillows against the wall and screaming, “What do you mean Revenge isn’t back yet?” “Where the hell is Good Wife?”

And reassuring myself that I’m not actually that far gone -- at least I’m not hyperventilating in the absence of Survivor 17, Stranded in Waukegan, Illinois -- isn’t doing all that great a job of calming me down.

I mean, I’ve heard Laurie Halse Anderson’s inspirational talk about finding time to write, dedication, and commitment.

And so I ask myself, if not for my blood lust and inability to turn away from Emily Thorne wreaking havoc with all those evil, rich people with, btw, spectacular houses in the Hamptons, would my WIP that is due in 28 days be, say, finished? If not for The Good Wife, would I now be an expert on the folklore of the Sephardic diaspora?

Never mind that the answer to these questions is, No, I would be playing Scramble on my cell phone.

Does this mean I have to turn in my credentials as a literary type? Probably not. Last month my critique group of well-published doyennes of kidlit spent a good long time discussing Castle.