Archive | December, 2010

Quote Parade #3

14 Dec

“It is not a bad idea to get in the habit of writing down one’s thoughts. It saves one from having to bother anyone else with them.” – Isabel Colegate

“Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality.” – Jules de Gaultier

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

“The best way to become acquainted with a subject is to write a book about it.” – Benjamin Disraeli

“Writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard.” – Daphne du Maurier

“Humor is a rubber sword – it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.” Mary Hirsch

“The wit makes fun of other persons, the satirist makes fun of the world, the humorist makes fun of himself.” – James Thurber

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” – Albert Einstein

“To live a creative life, we most lose our fear of being wrong.” – Joseph Chilton Pearce

“My office is outside man made walls.” – Crave Cravak

When to Attack a Publisher

10 Dec

In the transient world of publishing, “keep your eye on the prize” is misleading and problematic.

While some writers focus on one picture book at a time. I’m a factory. Generating new ideas is not only a breeze, but also a subconscious excuse to avoid finishing a draft. But there’s no greater distraction then ‘eying the prize’ and imagining your own display in Barnes and Noble.

Upon finishing a handful of picture book manuscripts, I got the ‘fever for fame.” I became obsessed with longterm career planning and searching for the right publisher for books that were merely ideas. Like many, I picked up the most recent copy of Writer’s Digest Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market guide book. In addition as a SCBWI member, I took advantage of their free and useful Publication Guide. For weeks, I hilighted and took down notes on prospective publishers.

Disillusioned, I felt having a personalized publisher list would make it easy to find the perfect home for each book as it came off the assembly line. This list was to be an excel file  complete with contacts, genres, leads, tips, etc. I got as far as scratching notes in various notebooks and failed to completed the list.

Presently, I have 37 manuscripts.Of these, 15 have been chosen for the next round. They’re currently in the factory being revised and examined and torn apart as they would at a publisher’s acquisitions meeting. As each piece is nearing the finish (though nothing creative is ever truly finished) The time has come to locate a distributor for my ‘products.’

Some say it’s best to write a book specifically for a publisher. I disagree. I think inspiration should come from the natural world and not the desire to be published. Though, I suppose one could be inspired from a catalog and then naturally develop an idea that comfortably snuggles in the publisher’s nest of titles. 

Instead of hunting for a publisher one book at a time, I decided to scan my un-finished list for leads. Evaluating the publisher’s core values, audience, genres, and style I would decide if any of the 15 titles were a perfect match.

I remembered Barefoot Books standing out. Now, most of my books are chaotically zany and initially felt they didn’t embody the soft and mature style Barefoot embodied. Nonetheless, I stopped by their website, and soon realized… I had a book for them! “Excuse Me Mr. Thunder” would work perfectly” I thought. “It compliments existing and selling titles such as “I Took the Moon for a Walk,” “Star Seeker,” and “Boy Who Grew Flowers.” I won’t be the illustrator, but I could picture the drawings matching Barefoot’s catalog. “YES!” I shouted. I found a prospective home for “Excuse Me Mr. Thunder.” Then I looked at their submission guidelines and read: “We appreciate hearing from members of our community, however, our publishing program is currently full and we cannot accept manuscripts, queries, or art samples. Thank you for your interest, and we wish you the best of luck!”

Reality’s ugly fingers took a needle and popped my hopes and dreams. Last year when I had begun compiling the publisher list, Barefoot Books was accepting unsoliticed manuscripts. For whatever reason, they aren’t now. Of course, in the future they will again open their doors, and hopefully not to agented material only. In the meantime, what should I do?  Fast track to an agent to work their magic to get me in the door, or perhaps ‘pucker up’ make a contact at Barefoot? Those may appear to be brave and bold acts proving a writer’s passion for the piece, while in truth they are merely acts of desperation. We can’t forget the cliche, “There’s plenty of fish in the sea.” While the number of publishers accepting unsoliticited manuscripts is dwindling, the fish are still biting. Just make sure you’ve got the right bait.

I always consider a manuscript as a draft until I find the publisher. This way if I have to slant or tweak the piece to meet the publisher’s needs, it’s easier to do since I’m not attached.

Consequently, don’t even look at prospective publishers until you know your piece is ready for that final treatment. Sure it’s ok to keep a journal of notes of possible publishers, but don’t foster expectations. It’s fun to think you’re a social services worker. and think “We’ve got this great kid who we believe in, now we just have to find the right home that will equally believe in him.” Though, wait until that child is born before you start looking for its home.

Keep your eye on the product, and not the prize (publisher).

Fisherman’s Net: Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

7 Dec

Using my ‘reading as fishing’ theory, I sat aside simplistic yet bizarre lake of Haruki Murakami’s short story collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. All of these snippets swam into my soul. Each one, even out of context, maintains a concise sense of clarity while widening the eyes. Some are figurative gems, some are prime example of using specific details, while others are delightfully odd. Of course, it’s not a parade of quotable that make a great story, but it doesn’t hurt to fish out the goodies for inspiration.

Haruki Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

“A friend of mine had a habit of going to the zoo whenever there’s a typhoon. He’s been doing this for ten years.”

“Clothes aren’t important. The real problem is what’s inside them.”

“…the ground we walk on goes all the way to the earth’s core, and I suddenly realised that the core has sucked up an incredible amount of time.”

“She had held the words back and rolled them around on her tongue again and again before she let them out of her mouth.”

“…people’s hearts are like deep wells. Nobody knows what’s at the bottom. All you can do is guess from what comes floating to the surface every once in a while.”

“Cause and effect were good friends back then…”

“And us fellows with our newly brand new genitals and the wild, joyous, sad sex we had.”

“When you listen to someobody’s story and then try to reproduce it in writing, the tone’s the main thing. Get the tone right and you have a true story on your hands.”

“…a novelist – a story specialist”

“The older you get, the more boring travelling alone becomes.”

“…imperfect people always choose similarly imperfect people as friends.”

“If…we ever broke up, I want you to know I’ll always think about you. It’s true. I’ll never forget you, because I really love you. You’re the first person I’ve ever loved and just being with you makes me happy. You know that. But these are two different things. If you need me to promise you, I will. I will sleep with you some day. But not right now. After I marry somebody else, I’ll sleep with you. I promise.”

“Almost all the guests were locals, it seemed, and they called out to the waiters by first name: Giuseppe! Paolo!”

“I felt as if the world was out there just for me.”

“…a fairy tale that had such a strange ending. This is how it ended: “And when it was all over, the king and his retainers burst out laughing.”

“They flew so low you could almost make out the expressions on the faces of the pilots.”

“Swimming in such clear water, I could see my own shadow on the sandy bottom, as if I were a bird gliding through the sky.”

“She sat up. Sweat was beaded on her like flies on food. The rolls of fat started just below her ears and sloped gently down to her shoulders, then in one continuous series down her chubby arms…I couldn’t help thinking of the Michelin Man.”

“A student was working the hot-dog stand, which was shaped like a mi-van. He had a boom box on and Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel serenaded me as I waited for the hot dogs to cook.”

“I was beginning to feel like a dentist’s chair –  hated by no one but avoided by everyone.”

“Another thing he liked to do was sleep with his friends’ girlfriends and wives.”

“It’s hard to have a bad impression of somebody you have no impression of.”

“She just faded into nothingness, as if someone had gone backstage and flicked the switch.”

“…they had a clarity that made any explanation a waste of words.”

“…with such utter naturalness and grace that she could have been a bird that had wrapped itself in a special wind as it made ready to fly off to another world.”

“He was absorbed in his book, never once moving or looking up, as if trying to convince himself that he was completely alone.”

“Up till then I’d never given a though to what kind of people want to make maps – and why in the world they would.”

“Sometimes I can’t even remember what I was trying to say in teh first place. It’s as though my body’s split in two and one of me is chasing the other me around a big pillar. We’re running circles around it. The other me has the right words, but I can never catch her.”

“…in a very natural way, she started walking next to me, not in front.”

“And on Sundays I went on a date with my dead friend’s girlfriend.”

“I was always reading, so people thought I wanted to be a writer.”

“Her ten fingers, in search of something, roamed over my back.”

“A white shirt someone had forgotten to take in was pinned to the clothes line, swaying in the evening breeze like a cast-off skin.”

“Since I’m a novelist people assume that anything I say or write must have an element of make-believe.”

“It rained a few times each day – violently, as if someone were tipping a huge bowl of water out of the sky.”

“In all honesty, however, Sachi had never really liked her son. Of course she loved him – he was the important person in the world to her – but as an individual human being, she had trouble liking him, which was a realisation that it took her a very long time to reach.”

“There are only three ways to get along with a girl: one, shut  up and listen to what she has to say; two, tell her you like what she’s wearing; and three, treat her to really good food. Easy, eh? If you do all that and still don’t get the results you want, better give up.”

“She brushed off an imaginary, metaphysical piece of lint on her skirt, just above the knee.”

“Writers don’t have any talents to offer. A pianist could play you a tune. A painter could draw you a sketch. A magician could perform a trick or two. There’s not much a writer can do.” / “Oh, I don’t know, maybe I can just enjoy your artistic aura or something.”

“What a writer is supposed to do is observe and observe and observe again, and put off making judgements to the last possible moment.”

“A life without a name , she felt, was like a dream you never wake up from.”

“”It’s what I do. I’m a monkey who takes people’s names,” the monkey answered.””

“Pretty outrageous thing for a monkey to say,” Sakurada said, shaking his head. “Chief, I can’t stand it any more. Let’s beat the $hit out of him!”

Job Done!

6 Dec

In November, 2010, children’s book author Tara Lazar issued a challenge: “Write 30 picture book ideas in 30 days.” In the end, 198 dedicated writers answered the call.

For anyone wishing to explore the innocent world of picture book writing, I highly recommend Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo). Each daybrought a new guest blog post from an established author, editor, or agent arriving in my mailbox which also allowed me to make several new contacts. In addition, there were hoards of tasty prizes from jewelry, to signed picture books, to manuscript critiques.

Compared to the 50,000 words demanded in NanoWrimo, creating 30 ideas in one month is not as severe of a challenge. Though typically each month I’d probably only produce 5 or 6 original ideas. The beauty of PiBoIdMo is that it keeps your imagination focused on strictly picture books.

Even if you missed out, and don’t want to wait until November 2011, you can always do it another month on your own. Visit the PiBoIdMo site to access the motivational posts.

Overall, I feel accomplished. PiBoIdMo helped me launch into my 10th Children’s Book Ideas journal, and gave me a handful of ‘ready-to-write’ ideas.

Special thanks to everyone involved and congratulations to all who participated.

Btw…for laughs/lollipops below is a list of some of my titles for ideas generated during PiBoIdMo:

  • Are You Really a Kid?
  • Wild Wando
  • Ropunzel
  • We’re Not For Dinner
  • The Cheercrow
  • Christmas Palm Tree
  • The Best Man is a Boy
  • Witches Day
  • Foolish Frederick
  • Mr. French Toast

Quote Parade #2

2 Dec

“Let me let you let me down again.” – Hefner – ‘When the Angels Play Their Drum Machines’

“I could have been someone.” / “Well so could anyone.” – Pogues & Kirsty McColl – ‘Fairytale of New York’

“Just like every other fool out there, we all think we’re so unique, such special freaks.” – Caesars – ‘Paper Tigers’

“Grew up too fast, now there’s nothing left to believe.” – Goo Good Dolls – ‘Name’

“All I really know is that I don’t know.” – Black Lab – ‘Ecstacy’

“I write what you’re afraid to think.” – Crave Cravak

“It’s better to want something you don’t have than to have something you don’t want.” – ‘Denny Crane’ (William Shatner) from Boston Legal

“It’s a funny thing about coming home; looks the same, smells the same, feels the same; you realize what’s changed is you.” – ‘Benjamin Button’ (Brad Pitt) from the Curious Case of Benjamin Button

“Everyone has plans, plans to be the spaceman. I don’t give a damn, cause I am the spaceman.” – Primitive Radio Gods – ‘Motor of Joy’

“You can’t be afraid of words that speak the truth.” – George Carlin

The Sound of Typing

2 Dec

For me the essential medium of writing is neither the pen nor the modern word processor. It’s the typewriter.

From 1984 to 1996, the typewriter was the best friend to Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury), TV’s most coveted mystery writer. Each episode was a real life version of Scooby Doo. Murder She Wrote, wasn’t exactly the ‘featured item’ on a boy’s TV menu, but when Grandma was babysitting, the only other option was free-throwing your He-Man action figures into the toilet. That Skeletor sure can’t swim. I fondly recall the opening sequence where the show’s title was literally typed on a typewriter. For avid (psychotic) fans of the show, you’re probably eager to point out Fletcher eventually turned to a personal computer for her mystery novels. Respectfully, the typewriter remained in the opening shot, as it was truly the symbol for her as a writer.

The same can be said for another ‘80s icon. While off the radar for anyone born after 1981, Mr. Belvedere was a writer in disguise. Unlike Jessica Fletcher, his creative ink surged at the end of each episode with his daily thoughts on the Owens family. Though, I have just lied to you. It turns out Mr. Belvedere did all of his writing in a journal. Even a friend agreed with me that Mr. Belvedere rocked a typewriter in the closing moments of the show. Why do I always imagine him wailing away on the typewriter? Because the symbology was already planted. Looking back, I can’t possibly conceive Mr. Belvedere as being one of those pre-teen poets bleeding their creative hearts into a black and white composition notebook. Nor can I see him browsing the aisle of overpriced novelty journals at Barnes and Noble. The fact is I’m looking back at my past through modern judgmental eyes.

My fandom for the typewriter was etched in stone with the 1988 motion picture Funny Farm. Andy Farmer (Chevy Chase), is a run of the mill doofus who takes his wife to a remote town in order to work on his novel. The typewriter became a metaphor as Chase suffered  writer’s block, yet as the sun slept his wife did not. She was pounding away as the typewriter sang its song. In the end, he had nothing while she was published.

It comes as no surprise that one of the happiest days of my life was when my younger sister Rachel purchased a typewriter. This was one of those electronic dandies capable of erasing mistakes. I think I used more of the eraser solution than I did ink. It’s hard to fathom why a 12-year-old girl, especially one who didn’t write, would want a typewriter. Nonetheless, I gave that machine more love than a ‘cool kid’ hates Nickelback.

But when I went away to college, the typewriter stayed at home. I could have easily transported it from Buffalo to Boston in the van my Dad rented despite owning a van.

Then something terrible happened. I burst through my society hating, self-loving bubble. This was all due in part to the three B’s: Booze, Broads, and Bands. My typewriting days were over. And sadly I forgot about my treasured symbol. The Internet was bursting with user-friendly sites, and I quickly hopped on LiveJournal.

When I graduated and moved to South Florida to teach high school I suddenly found myself overwhelmed by the desire to write creatively. My eternal symbol resurfaced and I brought the typewriter with me. I even acquired an antique typewriter so it wouldn’t get lonely.

But a question was begging to be asked. Why was I refusing to let go of something that never once helped me to produce a lengthy manuscript? One year for Christmas, I even took my typewriter home with me on the plane.

I guess it all results in me growing up with the idea that a typewriter is a writer’s medium. I find it hard to attach myself to a personal computer. In a sense the computer is the modern typewriter. But nearly everyone has a computer now. I can’t allow myself to be associated with the millions of inconsistent bloggers, term paper typists, and ‘check out this great recipe’ e-mailers of the world.

So I had gravitated to notebooks/journals. The journals were a success as I actually finished a few. But these were meant to be the starting point. These were ideas. Most ‘aspiring’ writers are merely people full of ideas they are confident enough about to convince themselves that they will someday stop everything to pen it. But a writer is someone who writes. Not just ideas, but also drafts that will morph into submittable manuscripts. It’s committed determination and hard work that makes this happen, often on a personal computer.

Still I wasn’t ready to abandon my pursuit of the typewriter. After all, my fictional idol, Ted Cole, a children’s writer gloriously played by Jeff Bridges in “Door in the Floor,” refused to conform. In one scene his adolescent assistant suggests Cole should purchase a computer, to which Cole rhetorically replies, “Maybe for the next book.”

When I was hired to teach English in Japan, I had no choice but to abandon the typewriter. I couldn’t picture Japan having typewriters only to discover that a kanji typewriter was invented in 1915. What would I do with that? Print out cool temporary tattoos for American children?

So I adopted the Neo, a lightweight portable word processor. I used it often and felt like a “real” writer. Though, in the end I had to transfer the data files to my computer. In reality, Neo was just a lighter temporary laptop. Compared to a freshly stamped piece of paper, there’s no sense of accomplishment in looking at a USB drive. As I discovered incredibly cute cheap journals in Japan, my use of the Neo faded.      I became so accustomed with my journal and laptop system that I thought I would never be with my friend the typewriter again. Until now.

This lengthy essay has been a ploy, a ringing endorsement, for Typewriter Keyboard. This shareware program’s function is simple: when I type on my keyboard, authentic typewriter noises sound. There’s even a metallic swooshing sound when I press enter. But I only turn it on though when writing or editing a draft. I don’t want to de-sensitize or associate the therapeutic experience with Skype chats or searches for McDonaldland toys on eBay. Thanks to Typewriter Keyboard I am reacquainted with my long lost friend, well at least in spirit. With over 37 picture book manuscripts to date, all I needed was the sound of typing. Now how do I get over my fear of revision?