Exploring those mysterious, underlying forces fueling a writing life

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Call it serendipity

Call it serendipity. Coincidence. Divine intervention. Author Sharon Creech calls it the great unexpected.

But I thought about all the things that had to have spun into place in order for us to be alive and for us to be right there, right then. I thought about the few things we thought we knew and the billions of things we couldn’t know, all spinning, whirling out there somewhere. – Naomi, The Great Unexpected

In her latest novel, The Great Unexpected (2013, HarperCollins), Sharon Creech explores how unexpected things can be wonderful and how connected people are to each other, even if they are strangers, living oceans apart. I was fortunate to be “right there, right then” at the recent NE-SCBWI annual conference to hear Sharon Creech discuss the relevance of connections in her writing.

In an engaging manner, she explained how two poems, written by different authors and discovered at different times in her life, collided together at the right moment to provide the inspiration for her novel, Love That Dog (2001, Harper Collins). And how she found the message of her Newbery award-winning novel, Walk Two Moons (1994, Scholastic), in a most unexpected place – a fortune cookie.

I’ve had my own great unexpecteds: a visit to an Impressionists exhibit in Glasgow, a mix- up of the words to Gary Wright’s song Dream Weaver, and an introduction to the Velvet Revolution in the book The Wall (2007, Macmillan) by Peter Sis. Random occurrences that have all somehow connected to inspire and influence my own MG novel.

We may not immediately see the underlying web of interconnecting threads linking together, but they are most certainly there. And we need only to allow ourselves to be open to let them connect.

How about you? Have you had any connections, any great unexpecteds?

Thank You Sally Riley

During his ENCORE 2012 presentation this past weekend, Mark Peter Hughes encouraged us all to thank Sally Riley, the NE-SCBWI Regional Advisor, for her efforts in organizing this event.   So, this is my way of giving ways thanks…

I arrived at the conference with some trepidation.  In addition to the twinges of guilt over missing my son’s soccer game and (I admit with much chagrin) a slight hangover, I wasn’t sure if that’s where I really needed to be that day.

Here’s what I left with:

  • A method.   I had asked the main character of my WIP, a YA novel, to tell me about herself; but the four pages of enlightenment she provided wasn’t enough.  I needed something else.  Now I know I need to prepare an emotional biography, determine what she knows and doesn’t know.  I need to sort out the internal and external conflicts.  Thank you Karen Day.
  • Exercise.  I took a long walk in search of my character’s voice.  I walked in her shoes, tried to see the world through her eyes.  I must apologize to the many squirrels I frightened along the way with my mumbling musings.   Thank you Mark Peter Hughes.
  • A bedroom.  I used the Map It exercise to create my main character’s bedroom.  I uncovered details that revealed not only more of her personality, but links to more plot lines.  Thank you Jo Knowles and Cindy Faughnan.
  • A larger vocabulary.  I learned a new word: ascription.  And I’m currently on the hunt to rid all my stories of those annoying ascriptions and adverbs.  Thank you Mitali Perkins.

Finally, most importantly, I left with…

  • Confirmation.   Two years ago, at my first ENCORE, I wondered what it would be like to have a finished novel.  I now have two complete MG novels and I know there’s more to come, I have found a group of incredibly supportive and encouraging women to offer critiques, I am actively pursuing an agent, I am blogging and twittering (oops, I mean tweeting), and learning all I can about the craft of writing.  It was exciting to be able to provide some guidance and encouragement to Bob and Melanie, the newbies at our table.  I know I have truly grown as a writer.

I also know I was right where I needed to be that day.  So THANK YOU Sally Riley, NE-SCBWI, ASTAL, the presenters and assistants.   I promise next year, I won’t indulge in too much wine the night before (even if my birthday does happen to fall on the same weekend again).

Me, Myself, and I

SCBWI-NE recently announced their next “Overcoming Challenges” program to be held in October.  I was fortunate to attend the program a couple of years ago when Brian Lies, Mary Newell DePalma, Jo Knowles, and Barbara O’Connor entertained the audience with their discussion of the challenges they face as author/illustrators.  They talked about the difficulty balancing writing time with marketing/promotion and family time, their fears of public speaking, of meeting deadlines, the fear that no one would show up at their book signings, the lack of attention from their publishers.  And I thought to myself – what nice challenges to have.

Then I thought about the challenges I have, someone who hasn’t landed that book contract yet.  Three in particular came to mind – they are ME, MYSELF, and I.

First let me introduce you to ME.  She is the melting pot boiling with ideas.  Incredible, monumental, next-best-seller ideas.  ME gets so fired up she can hardly be contained.  She just itches to get at the keyboard to get those ideas out of her head and onto paper.  The problem is, she doesn’t know where the keyboard is.  She doesn’t even know where the ground is.  Her ideas are so great, they’ve already won her that SCBWI grant, a place on the New York Times bestseller list, as well as a Newberry Award, a lucrative film deal and of course, the admiration of every person living on the planet.  She needs either a lobotomy or MYSELF to get started.

MYSELF can be clever. MYSELF will trick herself into getting out of bed at 5AM and churn out a few pages before ME and I wakes up.   MYSELF will even have those moments during the day when she consciously sits her butt in a chair and actually writes.  She will glide along for a while, but MYSELF easily tires.  She tends to stop after only forty-five minutes. She likes to let ME go for long walks to think and dream because it gives her the break she hasn’t really earned yet.  MYSELF is also rather short.  She can’t see past any of the road blocks that appear out of nowhere.   That is when I takes over.

I sucks.  I doesn’t need to see over any road block.  I designs them.   I is the disparaging critic, the discouraging nay-sayer. I doesn’t think she can tell a story that is engaging, though-provoking and entertaining all at the same time.  I can’t manage to write a simple sentence without condemning it to the delete key. I can’t finish a paragraph without rewriting it five times.

I would rather go for a long walk.   ME, of course, has no objection to that.  MYSELF recognizes nothing is getting accomplished, but she tires of all the negativity, so she goes along as well.  Besides, there’s always tomorrow and MYSELF will set the alarm clock for 5AM and try to write some more before I wakes up.  It’s not the most productive writing process, but at least by the time ME, MYSELF and I finally publish the novel, we’ll be quite fit.

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