Thursday, January 28, 2010

Here Comes the Sun...

Today looked like this:

After a week of snow (which was much needed on ski slopes), seeing the sun again was glorious. The one time I was not smiling, the lift operator came out and told me I had to smile on a day with blue sky. (I think he was upset that he had to work on a day like today and was considering coming down with a case of fake something.)

I played hooky for a whole two and a half hours.

Here's hoping that tomorrow is like today:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Adventures in Car Trouble (Part II)

Losing the keys

Yesterday, the nice management service people came by, drove the car up the road, and left the key with me. That part when off without a hitch. But when I got inside the car, I couldn't find the keys.

I looked first in the cupholders between the driver's seat and the passenger's seat. Not there. Then on the floor, near the pedals. Not there. Then under the seats, in the doors, in the backseats, under the seats again. Not there.

I had not locked the keys in the car. I had lost them. Somewhere between the car and the hundred meters to the cabin.

And for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what I had done with them.

This was unhelpful for a variety of reasons, the main one being that it had snowed all night. The keys would be under a layer of snow.

Key Hunting

The most likely place to lose the keys would be between the car and the snowbank. Actually, that's the only place where I could find the keys. The snow plow had actually come, so there was a chance that the keys had been swept away in a mound someplace, never to be seen again (at least until spring). The snow could not reach that place since the car was in the way.

So, I searched. I combed through the snow bank with gloved fingers. I dug pretty deep. I retraced my steps. I ran back to the cabin for a shovel, and I dragged it over the ground, scraping the snow to the ice below until....

Finding the Keys

The shovel uncovered the keys. They're attached to a bright green keychain, so that was also helpful.

So, I picked them up and trudged back to the house, holding the keys very tightly, determined not to lose them again.

Inside, I hung them up, changed out of my snowy clothes, sat on the couch, and proceeded to get very upset.

Look, finding the keys was a miracle. You do not understand the amount of snow involved. This should have been a happy occasion, even better than chunks of sludge falling off the car in the Target parking lot.

Usually, I would find the whole situation a huge joke - to be shared with family and friends and blog in the form of a funny anecdote. Instead, I broke out the tissues and sniffled a little bit.


Something terrible had happened when I was dealing with all this snow-related car trouble. I should have realized it when I started getting a little dinky. I started running fever. I had been feeling a little funky this past week, but I had been so focused on revisions and getting my mom and sister back home that I hadn't noticed.

This is how I discovered that even full-time writers need sick days. Since Christmas, I finished a novel, revised that novel, and revised another novel without more than a day's rest in between. And queried agents too! Which you do actually lose sleep over! (Not huge, huge amounts, but the scariness is real.) This is a manic sort of pace, especially when you don't take weekends.

Thus, I took a couple sick days. I'm not sure if I actually ran fever today, but I didn't feel up to my normal perky, revision-driven routine.

So, you might call today's day a "mental health day." Which are also very important. I slept in. I read a book (a memoir! Nonfiction! For adults! Not even remotely work-related!). I took a couple ski runs. I watched a movie. I ate soup. I drank tea.

I shall have to remember to take breaks every once in a while, so that the universe doesn't need to send me epic car trouble to make me see sense.

Of course, tomorrow is another work day....

Adventures in Car Trouble (Part I)

On Sunday, it never stopped snowing. The weather proved to be pretty tough on the car. We had a bunch of problems.

Snow Plow

On the way to the airport, a snowplow crept so far into our lane that it ran us off the road, throwing us into a skid. Luckily, my mom is a fantastic driver. She corrected the slide, and we continued on our merry way.


Then, parked at the airport, as Mom and I were saying our goodbyes, we discovered that there was so much sludge caked around the tires that there was only about an inch between the muddy snow and the rubber. The tires couldn't turn properly. Mom (already a little worried about snow plows coming too close) made me promise not to drive back up the mountain until it was off. She suggested a car wash.

Unfortunately, a car wash with an outside temperature of sixteen could have its own share of problems. For instance, water getting in the doorframe and freezing the lock shut. (I had an awful vision of parking in front of our cabin with the overwhelming need to use the bathroom and not being able to get out.) That would be unhelpful.

So, I went after an ice pick. When I couldn't find one, I improvised. I bought a $0.99 screwdriver at Target and some icemelt salt at Target. Then I chipped away at the muddy snow caked around the tire. Picture a girl in a purple puffy down jacket kneeling down at each tire, digging holes in the muddy slush, and cheering every time a chunk fell onto the Target parking lot. (I was so proud of my success that I called my dad to brag.)

The windshield

The salt they put on the roads has this habit of dissolving, and creating an awful sort of mud that can be easily sprayed on your windshield. A little white car cut me off on the way to the highway and covered my windshield. I had to park at the first turnout and break out the Windex so that I could see.

The incline

It's not a big hill. I'm talking about twelve feet with a gradient of maybe 20. I've never once had trouble before. No one I know has ever had trouble before (that I know of anyway).

But I went up this hill three times. The car would go up a little, stop, spin its wheels until the snow gave way to ice underneath, and then slide backwards. Annoyed and anxious to be inside, I decided to wait until the snow plows came by and parked the car on the wrong side of the road.

Unfortunately, I was in a kind of distracted mood, and I lost track of the keys.

Locking the keys in the car

I dug through my purse, my pockets, and all the bags I brought in with me. Not there. I surmised that I must have locked the keys in the car. I went looking through the house for another key. Not there. Sadly, my family only has one key to that car.

The other set was with a management service that would not be open till morning. I contacted them, and then I trudged back through the snow to put a note on the windshield.

Then, I waited until morning - when someone could drop the key by.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Kristen Cashore posted this on her blog first, and I loved it so much that I needed to share my enthusiasm.

The dance starts at around 2:20. The woman is dancing with her fear.

There's something moving about the way that it (ie. he) holds her back and holds her back until she faces it and conquers it. (It even made me download the song and watch other dance clips.)

I think I needed to watch this at this particular moment in my life. I sent out my first query yesterday.

I have made an executive decision not to disclose many details of the process. I have seen much ranting and raving and listing of agent names by other newbie authors, which I choose not to participate in. It's not my style. I would much rather tell you good news than bad.

But I will share this:

Shelby's Rules for Querying Agents
  1. Send no more than one query a day.
  2. Send no more than three queries a week.
  3. If my manuscript gets no bites after ten queries (ie. four weeks), then query letter must be defective and must be revised.
  4. Enter all correspondence in my Query Log.
  5. Do not get my feelings hurt for something as silly as not being a good match for an agent. This is how it works. I want to work with someone who loves my work (and also thinks that I'm hilarious).
Ironically enough, one of my characters (the one that everyone knows is crazy) taught me something. Before my young heroine and her two best buds head out on a quest, my crazy character* says this:
Fear is inevitable. But for every fear that makes you weak, there will be a fear that can make you brave. If you are to succeed, you must discover what you fear more than what you fear the most.
(Please note: This was one of the things that I didn't know was in the story until after I finish the first draft. It turned out to be necessary later when the plot had unfolded and characters were revealed, and so, in the midst of the revision, the crazy lady scene came to me. (I love it when revisions do things like that.))

The parting words of the crazy lady reminded me of a part of this post on Kristen Cashore's blog:
I'm not saying you have to let your manuscript go NOW, or even SOON. I waited until I felt like I was ready; until I was ready to take the risk. I can't say what "ready" feels like -- I expect it feels different for different people -- and it DEFINITELY doesn't feel like success is assured. "Ready" always contains a little bit of "OMG I AM SO NOT READY." But it also contains enough "I am ready" for you to be ready.

Oh, good lord. That paragraph was meant to be helpful, I swear. Here, read this poem by Anaïs Nin:

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to Blossom.

Do I feel like I'm ready? No and yes. No - not for adults who are mean-spirited for reasons of their own (although I am sure that I can handle it when the time comes). Yes - for the little girls I know, for the ones who want an adventure story with a heroine every bit as heroic as Harry and Percy. I couldn't stand facing them one day knowing that I didn't do everything I could to bring that story into the world, and I don't want to face myself in the mirror twenty years from now, wondering what if?

Guess what made me much, much braver? Reading the manuscript that I'm using to query - reading it as a reader, not a writer.** I AM funny. I did create characters I <3 like whoa. I did write a story that I'm proud to acknowledge and happy to reread.

Will this keep me from revising in the future? Of course not. Do I think that I've taken the manuscript as far as I can without a second (professional) opinion? Absolutely.

So, despite the fear, I'm in a good place right now. It also helps tremendously that I have a lot to do in the meantime - another manuscript to revise and an IP to finish.

*I love crazy characters. They can say so much more than regular characters. (If you don't believe me, then read Shakespeare.)

**Well, I read slightly as a writer - instead of writing a list of revisions that need to be made, I made a list of questions I had about parts I'm not sure I pulled off. I am my own worst critic.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Isn't it gorgeous?

Taken on the drive back from Livingston. You can even see the streaky windshield... :-)

The Search Begins.

I just wrote my first query letter!!!

Exclamation points aside, it's not the funnest thing in the world. A little nerve-wracking, to be honest. How do you boil 70,000 words to just 250, while making it sound enticing, lively, and irresistible?

Wait, this sounds like something I've done before...something I did in my previous incarnation as an editorial assistant....It sounds like...


Yes, once upon a time, I wrote the descriptive copy on book covers. (I considered picking out a few of them from Amazon, but then I thought there might be legal issues there.)

I'm not saying that every single paragraph of cover copy was a brilliant masterpiece. Some of them could definitely be improved upon, but I have practice.

I will admit that it's a little tougher to describe your own manuscript - probably because only half of you sees the actual story in front of you and the other half just sees the vision of what you wanted it to be. (One category is not necessary better than the other.)

But if you think about it, query letters are actually a better opportunity to represent your work. In the post-publication world, you usually only have two chances (ie. editions) to sell the book to readers: the flap copy of the hardcover and the cover copy of the paperback. On the other hand, if one query letter doesn't get a lot of attention, I can always rewrite it before before I send it out again - to a fresh list of agents, of course.

Now, to compile my research into an agent query log on Excel...

(Please, note: This is euphoria after completing a task I've been stressing over for weeks. This bugged me much more than cover letters for job applications, but really, it's the same concept. You must learn to brag about yourself in a believable way.)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

How many retired stars do YOU know?

I found another one of those literary echoes when I was reading C. S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader!

'I am Ramandu[,' replied the Old Man, '[But I see that you stare at one another and have not heard this name. And no wonder, for the days when I was a star had ceased long before any of you knew this world, and all the constellations have changed.'

'Golly,' said Edmund under his breath. 'He's a
retired star.'

'Aren't you a star any longer?' asked Lucy.

'I am a star at rest, my daughter,' answered Ramandu. 'When I set for the last time, decrepit and old beyond all that you can reckon, I was carried to this island. I am not so old now as I was then. Every morning a bird brings me a fire-berry from the valleys in the sun, and each fire-berry takes away a little of my age. And when I have become as young as the child that was born yesterday, I shall take my rising again (for we are at earth's eastern rim) and once more tread the great dance.'

'In our word,' said Eustace, ' a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.'

'Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of. And in this world you have already met a star: for I think you have been with Coriakin.'

'Is he a retired star, too?' said Lucy.

'Well, not quite the same,' said Ramandu. 'It was not quite as a rest that he was set to govern the Duffers. You might call it a punishment. He might have shone for thousands of years more in the southern winter sky if all had gone well.'

'What did he do, Sir?' asked Caspian.

'My son,' said Ramandu, 'it is not for you, a son of Adam, to know what faults a star can commit.'
(Dawn Treader 208-9)
Who else is a former star?

I can think of two off the top of my head.

Mrs. Whatsit from Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, one of my favorite books of all time, and I believe the only favorite book I share with my mother. Mrs. Whatsit had given up her starhood by the time Meg (the book's protagonist) meets her. The former star was a very warm character, who tried very hard to be (or seem) human, even if she was sometimes a little off.

Stars could go bad in Mrs. Whatsit's world, too. (It's been over a year since I reread this one, so I'm not completely positive.)

And also, Yvaine from Neil Gaiman's Stardust. Of course, it was Yvaine's destiny to be knocked out of the sky and find her true love, but first she was a star. She glowed a little when she was happy, but I don't remember if that was in the book or just in the movie.

As I recall, neither of Mrs. Whatsit nor Yvaine could ever become a star again (ie. no fire-berries for them). It was tragic for them both but wonderfully rich for the story.

In other news, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is going to be a movie! I saw the other two. While the first one was my favorite, and I liked the second one too, I'm incredibly excited for this one. It was my favorite when I was very young. I think it was the spirit of exploration that I loved.

Sadly, I think the earliest it comes out would be December. Sigh...

Frog Kissing is probably not as bad as they say.

I finally saw The Princess & The Frog!

I remember when old-school animated films came out every summer. My sister was head over heels for the Lion King, and so, not to be outdone, I went through a Pocahontas phase - at least until Mulan came out. Pixar is fantastic, of course, but I missed 2-D drawings. I've been looking forward to this since my college friends told me about it. (They were excited about two Disney first in this film - an African-American princess and an interracial couple.)

Highlights for me:
  1. Tiana's can-do personality - I loved that she was working two jobs to make her dream happen before her adventure began, and I loved how more often than not, she was leading the charge and Naveen was stumbling to catch up.

  2. Lotty - She was spoiled and hilarious, but she had a good heart. She put her plans on hold without even a hint of temper tantrum to try and help Tiana. That's real friendship there.

  3. Prince Naveen - What can I say? I'm a sucker for the reformed rake. (In fictional character form, I might add.)

  4. The Shadow Creatures - Halfway through the film,when the Shadow Creatures were coming after our hero, my mom said, "If I was a kid, that would scare me!" I haven't been a kid for a while now, but they really freaked me out! If I was younger, I would probably develop a fear of the dark.

  5. Dreams...With Hard Work - Disney has come a long way from "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes." They give Tiana a dream with goals - one that can be accomplished through her own efforts, but Tiana also learned that you have to let your dreams change. You don't exclude the things you've always wanted, but your dream will just get bigger to encompass the things you never knew you needed. In other words, you can have your restaurant and your prince - if you're willing to wait a little longer and work a little harder to get both.
This isn't really a criticism exactly, but watching a Disney movie as an adult, I watched them construct the message. I knew exactly what they were aiming for when Tiana's dad came onscreen for the first time. Between that scene and the trailers, I had a pretty good sense of the rest of the plot.

The same thing happens in books. I call it the "stitching" of the novel, where a writer plunks down something - a character, a detail, a plot device - so obviously that you know it'll be important later. It's easiest to see it in young or immature writers (I'm not excluding myself here) - in the stories written while the writer is learning their craft. Later, when a writer has covered the basics, he or she learns how to mask their stitching - either embroidering over it with humor, or taking smaller stitches by using more subtle (and usually more beautiful) language.

J. K. Rowling is a master at masking her stitching. She dazzles you with the richness of her world - or she makes you laugh so hard that you remember the joke, not the detail she revealed. You don't miss the point exactly, but you don't recognize it until she wants you to. For instance, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, how did Harry, Ron, and Hermione figure out who Nicholas Flamel was? (HINT: Harry knew even before he reached Hogwarts.)


One more thing: I noticed that E. D. Baker's The Frog Princess has a sticker on it that says, Read the book that inspired the movie The Princess and the Frog, or something similar.

It's a good book in its own right; I read it when it came out. I know that it would be hard for Bloomsbury to resist, but I would be very wary of the outcry against it. The book and the movie differ greatly in plot, setting, characters - well, pretty much everything except the fairy tale they stem from and the fact that the girl protagonist accidentally becomes a frog too. E. D. Baker herself blogs about it here.

But after all is said and done, I'm probably going to purchase The Princess & The Frog DVD. Probably not right away, but eventually. I have this feeling...

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Danger of Getting A Narnia Box Set for Christmas

I was bad yesterday. I procrastinated. Instead of getting straight to work, I read three-fourths of Prince Caspian.

Confession: the two-chapter-a-day goal has already been broken. I only did one chapter, and it only had seven pages. Less now actually, because I basically threw out the first two pages and condensed the information that followed. In fact, at this point, Chapter 1 is so short that it'll have to merge with Chapter 2.

In my defense, it was basically a rewrite. Look:

In case the pink ink is hard to see,
let me just point out there are more corrections than original text.

Beginnings are difficult. I have the feeling that this one isn't exactly right, but it's definitely better than it was before. It's shorter, for one thing. The perfect start will probably come to me the dead of night...when I am attempting to sleep...

In the meantime, onward!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Struggling to Emerge from the Vortex

I know. I've been neglecting my blog. It missed me, I'm sure.

I've been super-focused. I wrote 32K in ten days. In fact, I handwrote 32K in ten days, and then I had to type it. (Typing took four days.) In the middle of that, I caught the flu bug and ran a little fever.

This is the vortex - a time of little sleep, little food, and much much writing (I got the phrase from a biography of Louisa May Alcott). Only now, I'm emerging from it slowly, remember that I have bills to pay, laundry to wash, thank you notes to pen, and holiday cookies to bake.

For days, I lay awake at night, imagining the next scene, and now, I lay awake at night, struck by revision ideas. I've even started keeping a notebook by my bed. If I think of something I'm worried about losing, then I'll go so far as to turn on the light and write it down. (If I'm not so worried about losing it, I don't turn on the light and take a chance on not being able to read my own handwriting in the morning.)

I've never written this much this fast in my life - I'm pretty sure. (I've also never really kept track of word counts like this before.) It's not my best work. I'm not saying that all of it is bad, but I changed parts of the plot midway without going back to fix what I've written before. Everything needs some revision before I show it even to my closest friends.

Realizing that I had roughly 70K of revision in front of me - ie. a whole manuscript to make coherent, funny, and meaningful - I started to feel a little overwhelmed.

So, I broke it into steps:
  1. Gather all my revision notes and type them up in order of plot chronology (I have nearly 1500 words of notes to myself alone).
  2. Tackle one chapter at a time, revising a hard copy and inputting the changes on a new digital copy.
  3. Aim for at least two chapters a day.
  4. Once Round 1 of revisions are finished, read it all the way through for coherency and consistency.
  5. Read competitive titles for comparison.
  6. Read the whole thing outloud.
Number 6 is a trick I was told sometime in high school. I never got the chance to test out this great advice, because I wrote all my papers and assignments either late or the study period before it was due - and thus barely had time for Spellcheck.

In college, my hardest class was actually a course on Fairy Tales. We did great things like have a skit every class and make our own magic carpets, but it was also my first class ever where my teacher/professor took off points for unnecessary words and handed back my papers with as much red marks as black ink.

I was furious, at first. I started writing my papers (gasp!) a week early, and I read them aloud to myself several times before the deadline. Then I did some of my best scholarly and creative work, and the course become one of my favorite classes ever.

(I'm sorry to say that I still wrote the rest of my papers a few hours before they were due with coffee and iTunes and my procrastinating friends for company.)

Okay. Off to revise Chapter 1...