Friday, April 22, 2011

Picture This

So the lovely and talented Trish, EMLA's social media goddess, suggested we take a closer look at our blogs and determine what we can uniquely offer to the blogging world.

Two things I'm passionate about at the moment are writing and photography, especially if there's an eerie twist. (Hence my March 1 post on the amazing Ruins of Detroit photographers.) But how to combine the two? I started thinking about those exercises in high school English, the ones where they throw out a sentence to kick-start the creative process.

In place of inspirational sentences, I figured I could post photos to get the muse off her comfy couch and back to hovering helpfully over my shoulder where she belongs. Now I'm the first to admit that I'm VERY MUCH an amateur photographer, but this new plan helps me pursue three worthy goals: blog on a more regular basis (at least twice a week), take more pictures, and use those pictures to get unstuck when I hit a wall in the writing process. If this benefits anyone out there in ANY way at all, so much the better!

And what better day to start than today? I chose fall leaves on a weathered path, because based on today's forecast I'd swear we skipped spring and summer and jumped right back into fall.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mirror, Mirror

This weekend I had the privilege of attending my first EMLA client retreat. Leading up to the flight on Friday morning I kept waiting to feel excited but couldn't move past jittery panic. Those head voices kept taunting, "This was a terrible idea. You don't belong there. You're a groupie and a hack. A HACK, I say!"

Of course every person I encountered was warm, accepting, funny, shining with intelligence and good grace and advice and creative energy. Still, it took me a while to quit acting like a groupie. At one point I got up the nerve to talk to one very gracious, articulate writer and the only thing I could think of to say was, "I really like your shoes."

Why is it so easy to be accepting of others and so hard to accept ourselves? Why are we so MEAN to ourselves?

The hotel bathroom had one of those free-standing mirrors that magnify your face by like 20 times. (And remind me later to punch whoever came up with that oh-so-flattering piece of ingenuity.) It finally dawned on me, glancing in that mirror and being horrified even though I knew it was a distorted reality, that I magnify my nonphysical shortcomings the same way, complete with bad lighting and a handy Big Book of Insults.

You know what? Nobody at the retreat was mean. Not one soul. They opened their arms wide and welcomed me, and something amazing happened. My little bubble of isolation and head voices couldn't withstand the awesomeness. I learned so much. I smiled and talked SO MUCH. I listened to people read from their work and yes, a little envy crept in but mostly I felt inspired and lifted, able to recognize room for growth in my own work and be excited about it without the customary negativity and self-doubt.

It was joy. I miss it already. After inheriting dozens of writerly siblings, you can’t help but come home and attack your work in progress with new vigor and clarity and…dare I say it? Confidence.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mood Music

To any writers out there, do you listen to music when you write? Does music distract you, or does it get those brain waves hopping? And what if brain waves really did hop around like fuzzy little bunnies? Inquiring minds want to know!

I find that listening to music helps me settle into a more productive groove when I write--especially if I choose music to suit the fictional setting. The book I'm working on right now takes place in a small midwestern town amidst a family of junk collectors. My playlist for this book so far includes the group Mumford & Sons and the soundtrack from O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Yes, I'm channeling a group from London and a movie from the deep south, but somehow it works. Here's hoping the playlist--and the word count--will keep on growing!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In recent weeks I’ve seen several articles around the web about photographers documenting urban decay in Detroit. It’s fascinating stuff!

As someone who dabbles in photography and who also loves a good sprinkling of the eerie and unknown, I find these pictures irresistible. They give me shivers. They’re delicious, drenched in story, a feast for the imagination.

The photographers are Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, and their site is here.

Love, love, love, love, LOVE this stuff. Cannot get enough.

Oh, and the Phillips 66 pic is one of mine--a humble attempt from the first month of my first photography class. But I had a blast driving around searching for old, tumbledown stuff to shoot.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since my first hard-hitting journalism assignment on snails for the Balboa Elementary School newsletter. After cultivating a love for kidlit in college, I finally found my groove and finished my first novel about ten years ago.

Five more years went by before I got serious about submitting, but I was a hopeless newbie. I made a lot of mistakes, and seriously underestimated the amount of time it takes to hear back from anyone in publishing. I submitted to a handful of publishers before discovering the treasure trove of information and support that is Verla Kay’s message board. I switched my focus to agents. I cleaned up my manuscript and received a few requests, but it soon became clear that I was missing the mark.

So while continuing to query I did what good writers should: wrote another book. Unfortunately it was a sequel to the first one--another rookie mistake (can’t sell the sequel if you don’t sell the original!). Plus we lived overseas at the time, creating a disconnect in my own head that I couldn’t seem to overcome. All in all I sent about 50 queries on that first book before moving on.

We navigated our way through a foreign adoption, then moved back across the ocean in ’08. I wrote and polished book #3 and started querying again in Jan. 2010. There were more requests and better feedback this time, but after about 20 queries still nothing concrete. I branched out, rewrote the query, explored writing blogs, and eventually stumbled on an offer by blogger (now agent) Weronika Janczuk to critique a query + 10 pages for anyone who submitted. Her generosity eventually landed me an agent.

Weronika provided great feedback and posted my query in April. The next month I received a request to read the full from Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (!!!!!!!!) She later called to suggest revisions and invited me to resubmit. I quit querying and got to work.

It took a second call and another round of revisions before the book was where it needed to be, but on 1/11/11, I got THE CALL from Joan. She is wonderful. Life is good. Here’s what I learned:

Total time from request to offer: 8 months
a) Don’t give up.
b) Work hard to improve your craft.
c) Find writer friends. They understand! Help each other. Lift others up when they're down, and they will do the same for you.
d) Dig deep for patience and be productive while you wait.

Husbands with infinite patience of their own also help quite a bit. Thanks, honey!

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Weird and Wonderful Mr. Thurber

While browsing at an antique shop today I found a copy of The Thurber Carnival, a collection of stories, drawings, and poems by James Thurber. I discovered his work in college and remember being all at once charmed, amused, and utterly befuddled. So of course I snatched that book right up.

It's been fun paging through, enjoying the book in bite-sized pieces. This guy worked for The New Yorker. He collaborated with E.B. White (another favorite). He wrote the awesome picture book Many Moons. Composer Peter Schickele of P.D.Q. Bach fame wrote a really cool symphony called Thurber's Dogs, based on some of Thurber's most famous cartoons.

And you know what else is cool? Mo Willems's travel memoir You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When it Monsoons, a cartoon-a-day treasure with a very Thurber-esque flavor of humor.

I'm also reading Bill Bryson's The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. What better month than January to fill your reading list with plenty of funny?

Books are awesome.