Archive for July, 2012

I can totally visualize myself here.

It’s been a pretty consistent triple digit July here in Oklahoma. The lowest high for this week looks like Friday at 106° right now. I’m totally useless in the afternoons as my brain turns to goo, so I have adopted the beautiful Spanish tradition of the siesta.  It’s especially effective in combination with a quick dip in the pool with the kids, then they are usually quiet in the afternoons for my second round of writing time. The siesta’s  just the thing for revitalizing me and making the worst heat of the day pass by almost unnoticed. Almost.

I’m not sure how I did it, but I missed my #writemotivation goal check-in last week. I think I was so excited about my interview post with Anna Myers that I totally spaced it. It was an interesting week with some contest results, agent action, etc., so I should at least give you the highlights before moving on. I received my 30 page critique that I won from the Fresh as a Daisy contest from Daisy Carter. She had it to me in record time and it was a very thorough, thoughtful critique. Daisy played devil’s advocate with some of my rougher spots and helped me see a way to fix one spot in particular that was just fantastic. I’d really been struggling with how to introduce a certain element into my story that hadn’t been working; through her comments, she gave me just the right push to grasp the idea I needed. I wrote through several days in a blur of creative outburst, trying to capture all of the inspiration before it evaporated into the ether.

This is why feedback is so important! Thank you, again to Daisy Carter. It was an exceptional critique.

I also received a full manuscript request from the Entangled Mega Pitch contest, which was very exciting! My first editor request! Woohoo! The more I practice with my queries and my pitches, the better the results.

And in the middle of all of this positivity, a little dark cloud must occasionally float in unnoticed and pee all over your happy mood. I received four rejections out of the fifteen I currently have out. The real kicker was when I received three 36 hours. That was tough. I did break out the New York Super Fudge Chunk on that day, I tell you. I started twitching every time my e-mail notification chimed. It did put me off sending out more submissions that week. This week, it’s time to get back on the horse.

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sahlgoode/

So, for an official overview of my goals, here they are:

1.Write full rough draft of new WIP. Oh, boy. Not doing well with this one at all. May need to rethink what I’ll be submitting for the novel workshop in September or really hit it hard next month. I’ve been working more on revisions of my current project after receiving that critique and some other feedback. Priorities! I need to focus!
2. Continue to submit current YA project out to agents. No new submissions last week. Will make up for that this week and keep on fighting the good fight. (Husband should love the Triumph nod.)
3. Keep up with my blog posts, commenting on blogs, etc., but also keep a limit on this time so that my writing comes first. Still room for improvement but doing better. Thumbs high!
4. Exercise three times a week. Shockingly still the best achievement made out of all the goals, even while visiting the folks this weekend. I managed to squeeze in some cardio both days, walking in the unforgiving Ozark hills. Today my legs are on fire.

I missed my #writemotivation friends over the long weekend, so let me here from you! How are you doing with your goals here at the home stretch? Are you also melting in the heat? How are you staying cool?

I am often taken by surprise when others remark on how amazed they are that I find any time to write because I have a son with autism. Maybe because I don’t know any other way. Maybe because I have to write and I must find the time.

True, some days he can be very demanding. Here are some typical interactions we have on those trying days:

“Mom, are you having a good day?” (This is asked at five minute intervals.)

“Mom, are you hungry?” (Which means he’s hungry and I need to find him something to eat before he uproots the pantry and the fridge trying to find something on his own.)

“Mom can we order an Abby doll?” (Which means he wants me to buy him a character doll from the Disney movie Chicken Little that you cannot buy anywhere on the planet, but my son refuses to believe this and continues to ask for several times a day even when told “no” – not a pretty argument.)

“Mom, where is Dad?” (This is also asked at five minute intervals even after he’s given the answer.)

“Mom, can Joey and Ashley come over to our house?” (Or whatever relatives couldn’t possibly travel large distances to reach our house today – another fun way to disappoint him.)

“Mom, you look great.” (Said repeatedly, but not often enough.)

“Look, Mom! Bananas!” (I must then pretend to be hit with a face full of bananas and cry, then Trevor will console me and apologize for ‘hitting’ me with said pretend bananas. yeah, thanks for THAT game, DAD. Also repeated ad nauseum.)

Not to mention the odd number of head noogies and bone-crushing hugs that come out of nowhere.

On these days, I do struggle to find time for anything else, let alone time to form a cohesive thought or capture that thought onto the computer in a string of words that make any sense at all. (I should always stop writing once he asks any of these questions the first time. Always.)

And he is only one person in my family that requires some of my attention. My time is in high demand.

So how do I find time to write?

I steal it.

Writing is more than just a hobby to me. It is something that I have to do. If I’m not allowed to express myself through the written word, I will… well maybe not climb a clock tower and do something blood thirsty and violent, but I will be extremely cranky. You don’t want to see me when I’m cranky. Just ask my family.

So. Instead of making their lives unbearable, I get up early in the morning while they’re all still asleep – and more importantly, silent – and I write.

Without interruption.

For as long as I can.

Some days I steal the time while they are all away at school or work. On those days, there are many other things I could do with this time; laundry, walk the dogs, yard work, etc., but none of those things will fulfill me as much as my writing. Maybe it’s selfish to use this time just for me, but when I do get to exorcise my writing demons and exhaust that creative spirit, I don’t resent my family’s demands on my time. I’m a much more patient parent, a more tolerant spouse.

I am happy.

And we all know that when Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.

I think we all have to steal a little time for ourselves, to be selfish a bit with our time. If we don’t take any time to pursue our own interests, we cannot be there for our loved ones without feeling resentment or frustration.

Make sure you take a little time this week to be selfish. Your family will appreciate it.

Anna Myers is fond of saying she has a great opening line for her autobiography, “I was born in Pinky George’s liquor store.” It definitely grabs your attention and there’s a funny story behind it. Anna is always telling great stories, especially ones that revolve around her family. She grew up surrounded by storytellers; stories are in her blood.

Thankfully, she shares her talents with us, her writing community.

Anna Myers is not only an award-winning author of nineteen novels for young adults, including Assassin, Time of the Witches, Spy, Tulsa Burning, The Keeping Room, and her latest title, The Grave Robber’s Secret, but she is also the SCBWI Regional Advisor for our motley crew of writers here in Oklahoma. A job she is very well suited for. The skills she acquired wrangling a classroom of rowdy eighth graders into submission often come in handy when addressing a bunch of children’s writers. Although she may call us out to sit down and behave, she is also there to offer support and guidance to those of us who have found a similar calling. One thing she doesn’t do is sugar coat  the life of a writer. Many times I have heard her say, “If you can be a truck driver, be a truck driver.” But if you have to write, you cannot live without writing in your life, be prepared to work hard. Study your craft. Get your writing critiqued and be prepared to listen to the critiques. Many times beginning writers send out their work too soon. It’s the biggest mistake she sees them make.

The best thing Anna Myers ever did for me was comment on some of my writing she heard at an informal gathering one night. I was a little more than nervous because she has a reputation for giving very direct critiques – the non-sugarcoating kind.

She doesn’t subscribe to the sandwich method.

After I read my pages – voice shaking, hands sweating – I waited for the ripping to start. One of the first things she said to me was,

“Wow! You are a writer!”

Everything else fell away. I was ecstatic. An actual writer that I respected had called me a writer. She saw enough talent in me to encourage me to keep pursuing my dream. That is so huge to someone who is struggling and fumbling and not even sure if they are good enough to keep trying. After that, I stopped saying that I was “trying to write a novel” or “aspiring to be a writer” and started calling myself a writer. It may seem like a simple thing, but many of you may know how hard accepting that label is.

I have never forgotten that evening. Any time I hit a rough patch or I feel like giving up, I remember those words and I keep going.

Mine is only one story. Anna has mentored, encouraged, and cajoled many of us in our SCBWI OK group to reach farther, dig deeper, or to even write something we ourselves aren’t sure we’re capable of writing. She keeps challenging us to be better writers, to keep learning. For our part, we follow her lead. She isn’t often wrong and we wouldn’t be where we are without her.

We aren’t the only ones who think Anna is amazing. Earlier this year, Anna received the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book. I had the privilege of  attending the event, along with several of her other writer friends and many members of her family. Anna’s son, Benjamin Myers, an exceptional poet in his own right, gave her an introduction that didn’t leave many dry eyes in the room. Here’s just a brief excerpt from that speech:

Near the beginning of her masterly novel, Fire in the Hills, Anna Myers gives us this exchange between young Hallie and her dying mother:

          “Ma,” said the girl, trying not to scream. “Ma, you can’t die.”
          “We all do, child. We all do. There is worst things. Sing to me, Hallie.
            It  will rest us both.”
This brief bit of dialogue sums up much that is great about my mother’s work. Her novels are rooted in the common human lot of suffering, in the ties that bind us together even in the hardest of times, and in the universal song that transcends the sorrow: “Sing to me, Hallie. It will rest us both.” Anna Myers comes from folks who know suffering and from folks who know how to tell a story, a long line of yarn-spinners and survivors. Thus, her books often begin with sadness, like the gut-wrenching first line of Red Dirt Jessie – “My sister Patsy is dead” – or the heart-rending execution scene with which she opens Spy, her account of the life and death of Nathan Hale. This story structure, this motion from pain to the pleasure of narrative, reminds us that the stories we tell are born from our sorrows and that our strength to face such sorrow is often born from the stories we tell.
When these stories belong to all of us, we call them “history,” and much of my mother’s career has been dedicated to bringing history alive in narrative. Red Dirt Jessie, is set during the Great Depression, a stark backdrop to mirror the emotional depravation of its young protagonist and her father. In Assassin, the turmoil of the Civil War matches the inner turmoil of young adulthood as Bella wrestles with her identity, the possibilities of good and evil in her young soul a microcosm of the equally polar possibilities within her young country at a great moment of crisis. Anna Myers knows that the stories we call history are the stories of individual lives. In Rosie’s Tiger, Rosie herself says so:

                   I didn’t understand much of what the newsmen said. It took me the
                     longest time to get it straight that the United States was mad at
                     North Korea and wanted to help South Korea.  But all along I
                    understood that Ronny might not come home. When I set two
                      plates out on the table for super, I’d look at his empty chair and
                      be so awful afraid it might stay empty, always.
My mother’s novels remind us that the stories we share as history are stories of empty chairs and of changed lives.

(To read full speech, click here.)

Me and Anna at her awards ceremony.

I asked Anna if she would let me interview her for this little blog and she agreed without hesitation, always willing to help out.

Valerie Lawson:  As a young kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into? And what was your punishment?

Anna Myers: I am afraid this will make me sound terribly dull, but I never really got into trouble as a kid. I was number six in a family of seven. My parents were easy going about rules. Yet, I knew full well that I was expected to behave and use my head. I did not want to disappoint them. At school, I had lots of fun and sometimes went just to the edge of aggravating the teacher, but I always stopped before I got in trouble.

VL: What did you want to be when you were in grade school? What influenced this choice?

AM: The summer before first grade I decided to be a writer because I loved stories better than anything. I also knew it was a lucrative profession because I dictated a story to one of my older sisters. I then charged each of my older siblings, including the one who wrote it down for me, a quarter each to read the piece. I made $1.25, my last big money.

VL: Thinking back to your childhood heroes /role models when you were a kid, who were they? What drew you to them? What powers/abilities did they have that you wished you could have? Do you still feel that way about them now?

AM: Anne of Green Gables comes quickly to mind. I admired her spunk and identified with her imagination. Another of my heroes was my sister Shirley. Six years older than I, she was always quick to protect and help me. When I was in first grade, she taught me to recite “The Night Before Christmas.” Next she took me in before school to recite the piece for my teacher. Shirley also suggested my recitation would be good in the all-school Christmas program, and my teacher agreed. I grew up wanting to be like my sister. I still do. Shirley read Anne of Green Gables to me when I was about eight. A few years ago my two sisters and I went to Prince Edward Island, where the story is set and to see author Lucy Montgomery’s home there.

VL: I wouldn’t mind a sister like that. She really instilled a love of stories in you, in sounds like. Although, I think that pretty much was part of your family tradition wasn’t it?  You grew up surrounded by storytellers. One of your first books, Fire in the Hills, is loosely based on your own family, right?

VL: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

AM: I always enjoyed writing, but I did not get serious until I was forty. When I attended my first SCBWI conference, I sat by a lady in her seventies. She told me she intended to write someday. I realized I was following in her footsteps, so I went home and got busy.

VL: Wow. That would be a serious wake up call to any writer. Don’t just think about writing or talk about the story you’re going to write, get busy doing it.

On to the next question, were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?

AM: As number six in a family of seven kids, I was never alone long enough to be afraid.

VL: Who was your childhood best friend? Are you still friends today?

AM: My best friend was Darlene Fast, who lived about ½ mile down the country road from me. A few years ago when I woke after brain surgery, Darlene was standing at the foot of my bed. I told the nurse, “This woman has been with me on every important occasion of my life except my birth, and the only reason she missed that is because I am a month older.”

VL: So many people come and go in our lives. I think that is so rare, to have a friend who has known you from childhood to adulthood.  Tell me about your most memorable adventure you had with your friends outside of school.

AM: For a couple of years starting in about 5th grade, my friends and I greeted spring by going on what we called “safari.” We spent days making lists of who would bring what, everything from first aid paraphernalia to food, reading material, and blankets for rest. We met at Darlene’s house because she lived near the creek. Some of us brought wagons belonging to younger siblings. We went to the creek and stayed until dark. Our safaris continued periodically until fall.

VL: That sounds fantastic! And very organized. Did you ever have a clubhouse or secret place of your own? What did you do there?

AM: I grew up in the country, mostly with other kids whose fathers worked in the oil fields with my father. We roamed the countryside, climbed on oil derricks and swam in creeks.

VL: Did you ever have to deal with a bully? How did you handle it?

AM: When I was in junior high, a boy who was a year younger used to spit on my friends and me, usually from steps above us. After that happened several time, we jumped him one day and made him sorry. He yelled loudly, but the duty teacher ignored him. Things were different in those days.

VL: Kids solved their own problems. Interesting. What was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid?

AM: As a small child, I believed that a kid had to stop playing at some point. My older sisters never played with dolls or with dogs outside. They were not pretenders, and I decided they must be beyond the age such things were allowed. I don’t know why I never expressed that fear, but I remember lying in bed at night wondering when I would cross that terrible dividing line.

VL: I think that is one of the most terrifying things I have heard. I wonder why children keep such dark thoughts to themselves. I remember suddenly realizing that everyone I knew would die one day and then that I would die, too. I would lose sleep thinking about it. I didn’t talk to anyone either. I was probably seven or eight.

Tell me about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?

AM: My current home, a house built around 1920, is the most interesting place I have ever lived. I have lived there with my husband, Johnny, for five years. When we moved in, I felt I had finally come home, as if the house had been waiting for me. Shortly after we moved in, I had a dinner party for several of my close friends from college. I was struck by the number of my old friends who made comments similar to, “This house is so you” as soon as they entered. I feel the spirits of others who have lived here, and when I sit around the dining room table with my writing buddies, I feel especially peaceful.

VL: I would agree that it does have a very comforting, creative vibe.

What was the worst job you ever had while going to school?

AM: I worked my freshman year in college at a two-woman credit union. This was before computers.  I am not good with numbers, and I made lots of mistakes. People can get really upset just because you leave off a zero when working with their account or a check.

VL: What is the most embarrassing thing one of your friends ever did to you?

AM: My two best college friends and I did our student teaching in the same high school. I was careful to buy a new heavy tweed suit that I thought made me look really mature. On the first morning, we were walking down the hall together, my arms full of books, when my wrap-around skirt suddenly came off. Rather than helping, my friends stood there laughing while I, dropping my books, collected my skirt, got behind a classroom door, and did a retie. I threw away the skirt when I got back to the dorm, but for some reason, I kept the friends.

VL: HA! The skirt was probably easier to return. Did your parents ever talk to you about the facts of life? What is the most memorable thing they told you?

AM: What facts of life? I don’t know what you mean. No one ever told me anything.

VL: What is happening in your writing life now?

AM:  I am finally working hard on a project that I’ve talked about for years, my first novel for adults. It is about three women teachers who form a garbage company to supplement their teaching salary. I wanted to celebrate the camaraderie I enjoyed with the women with whom I worked when I taught. I also wanted to write about the death of a husband from a wife’s point of view. It will be finished by November.

I am also involved with my friend Pati Hailey in a writing business. We hold writing retreats at my home. For information about them go to http://www.critiquecafe.net.

VL: Having heard a short excerpt of this story, and having met the women who inspired this story, I am really looking forward to reading this book when it comes out!

Tell us more about your involvement with SCBWI; what type of events to you sponsor?

AM: For twelve years I have served as the region advisor for the Oklahoma chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. We sponsor two major events each year. In the spring we bring in editors and agents from New York who speak to us about writing and who critique our manuscripts and art.  This fall we will hold retreats for picture book writers and for people who write novels. We also have small, informal gatherings each month in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Anyone who wants to write or illustrate books for children or young adults needs to join SCBWI. Check out the international organization at www.scbwi.org and our local group at www.scbwiok.org.

VL: It is the best thing I ever did for my writing, for sure. I’ve met so many fantastic writers through SCBWI. That’s also where I found my phenomenal critique group.

Why are you willing to put so much time into helping other writers?

AM: I believe in paying forward. I was lucky to be born to very supportive parents and to be given siblings who have always done a great deal for me. My late husband, Paul, had more writing ability in his little finger than I have in my whole body. He taught me to write. Besides, after I gave up teaching, I needed to do something to satisfy what I call a “sick need to teach.” The main plus of working in SCBWI is that I’ve gotten to know so many great people. I treasure my SCBWI friends.

VL: Anna, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. It has been a pleasure.

If you would like to learn more about Anna Myers and her books or the critique services she offers at the Critique Café at Heron House click on the links.

Thanks to the hilarious AE Welch for tagging me and giving me the responsibility privilege of participating in her challenge. I suggest you all go check out her page and watch her own 11 question vlog post. It’s superb. My daughter even stopped what she was doing to come ask me what I was laughing at. Teen life interruptions are not easy to come by. They can block out all kinds of stimuli – parents asking them for the millionth time to put their dirty clothes in the hamper that is two feet away from the growing mountain of reeking, sweaty cast-offs; teachers reminding them about the major project due the following Monday that they don’t remember until one hour before bed on Sunday night because somebody else tweeted about having theirs totally finished. Seriously, check her out. HERE.

I’ll wait.

Are you back? Excellent! Although, I am not yet brave enough to tackle the vlog and I do NOT look fabulous in hats like AE, I will pick up the gauntlet and tackle the 11 questions for her.

Questions to answer:

1- What are your five favorite movies?

This is almost as hard as picking your five favorite books. Way to start with an easy one! I decided to to list the first five I could think of that I watch every time they comes on, now matter how many times I’ve already seen them. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Broadcast News There are so many great quotable lines from this movie that I have a hard time keeping quiet when it’s on. One of my favorites is, “Wouldn’t this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If needy were a turn on?” Holly Hunter and William Hurt are amazing, but Albert Brooks just steals the show as far as I’m concerned. When everyone else is being utilized to cover a huge breaking news story and he’s been sidelined, Brooks decides the best salve for his wounded pride is alcohol and a bi-lingual singalong. The funniest scene in the movie. Okay, ONE of the funniest scenes, There are too many to narrow it down to just one.

2. Hot Fuzz Dynamic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost together again in another action packed blood bath set in the tranquil town of Sandford where no one misbehaves and nothing goes wrong…for long. There’s very little crime and never any murders, but there sure are an indecent number of grisly accidents. So fantastic. If you loved Shaun of the Dead – and who didn’t, I ask you? – you’ll love this one even more.

3. Shakespeare in Love Could there be a better movie for a writer to watch ad nauseum? I don’t think so. This one has it all. This is also another movie I can’t keep my mouth shut through. Too many great lines! And how will it turn out?  “I don’t know; It’s a mystery.” The camaraderie of writers with Marlowe helping Shakespeare find the right title for Romeo and Juliet – how many times did he get ideas for great characters names from someone else? – the writer’s doubts and insecurities, the muses, oh! I could seriously write a whole entry about this one all by itself.

4. V for Vendetta Because everyone needs one kickass revolutionary film in their top five. “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” This one’s so epic that the Occupy Wallstreet crowd adopted the Guy Fawkes’ masks as part of their identity. And Natalie Portman acting superbly even with a bald head? C’mon!

5. The Princess Bride Not your average fairy tale. It’s way funnier and far more quotable. Yes, this is another movie I can’t stop talking through. (Maybe that’s another criteria for a great movie for me. Fantastic dialogue.) If you’ve never once shouted out, ” Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father; prepare to die!” then you just haven’t lived. I wish my grandparents had come over to read me stories like this when I was sick. Of course all of mine were dead by the time I was this kid’s age. That may be part of the nostalgic appeal for me. I can’t help but tear up every time he say “As you wish.” at the end. Every single time.

I feel so bad for all the movies I left on the cutting room floor that I’m going to list them all as honorable mentions – again in no particular order – but with no descriptions or links. Look them up if you’ve never heard of them: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pulp Fiction, Amélie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Big Chill, Raising Arizona, Alien, Stand by Me, Donnie Darko, Chocolat, A Knight’s Tale, Bull Durham, Breakfast Club, Life is Beautiful, Juno, The Virgin Suicides, Fargo, Silence of the Lambs, Atonement, Good Morning Vietnam, Sweeney Todd, Almost Famous, Die Hard, American Beauty, Casino Royale, Heathers, Star Wars, LOTR, The Matrix,…stop me already!

2-  Would you rather go without makeup for a year, or without shaving your legs for a year?

Finally an easy question. I rarely wear makeup so I could easily go without it for a year.
3- What book have you read recently that you really loved?

Shine by Lauren Myracle. Obviously. I just wrote a love poem of a post to it the other day. See that post here.

4- What book have you read recently that you really hated?

I haven’t read anything that I really hate, but I didn’t exactly love the last two books in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. So why read them? Mostly to know what’s being published and why and because I did enjoy the first book enough to want to see how the series concluded.
5- If you had to eat one food for one meal every day for a year, which would you choose?

Chocolate. (chocolate is food, right?) It can be prepared in many different ways so I wouldn’t get bored. Psh! Like that would happen.

6- What was the best part of your senior year of high school?

One of my best friends was a year ahead of me and was attending school at a university in town, so I’d have to say hanging out with her on campus every spare moment I could and enjoying college life a year early. It helped me hang in there that last year.
7- What piece of electronic equipment do you think you could easily live without?

Ummm. Alarm clock.
8- Do you prefer your beverages through a straw, from a bottle or from another container?

I like straws…I do like to drink beer from a bottle. This is a weird question.

9- Would you rather have glow in the dark skin or squishy teeth?

Now the questions are just getting even stranger. I would have to go with glow in the dark skin, although that would highly diminish my sneak-attack abilities. Just the thought of squishy teeth makes me queasy.
10- Who would win in a fight between Gandalf and Dumbledore?

I’m going to take the controversial opinion of Dumbledore.

11- Do you consider pushup bras to be a form of dishonesty?

No. I consider lies a form of dishonesty, omissions of truth a form of dishonesty; not a piece of clothing.

Well that was whimsical. A nice break from all of the serious writing I’ve been doing. Now to tag some fellow writers who need a bit of whimsy to lighten their day.

Tag! You’re it!

Lisa Rosenman at Lisa the Word Nerd

Jamie Dement at Write Backwards

Abigail Kern at Lesson of the Day

M. Andrew Patterson at Dyadic Echoes

Rachel Russell at Rachel Russell (yes, that’s me trying to be funny)

Have fun with the brief writing break, guys!

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sahlgoode/

Now, on to the last order of business, the #writemotivation goal check…

1.Write full rough draft of new WIP. Slow and painful progress, just like a first draft should be.
2. Continue to submit current YA project out to agents. Yes, add five more to the board. So far, no rejections this round, but it is early.
3. Keep up with my blog posts, commenting on blogs, etc., but also keep a limit on this time so that my writing comes first. Doing better, but still want to try to keep daily limit to two hours. Not quite making that yet.
4. Exercise three times a week. Far exceeding this one. Who knew that this would be the easiest goal to make? Not me!

I’ve had so much encouragement from my #writemotivation peers on Twitter this week. You guys are just the best. When any of us need you, there you are. Our thoughts are with Becks this week, especially.

How are you all doing with your goals?

I woke extremely early this morning, knowing the results of the Christmas in July contest would be posted today. I still had about an hour to kill before the anticipated hour arrived and then, BOOM! It was up! My eyes scurried down the winners on both blog sites…

I didn’t make it.

Again.

I waited for the stabbing pain of sadness to hit me square in the chest, but it never did. Instead, a more subtle shift in mood passed over me, more like mild disappointment. Maybe I was starting to develop that thicker hide of skin required of writers in order to survive the querying and critiquing process. That’s about the time I noticed that I had received an honorable mention. One of the hosts, Ruth Lauren Stevens, explained how difficult making the final cuts had been and said of the honorable mentions,”I don’t know if it helps but I want all the people on the list to know that I wavered A LOT over this first set of mentions.” I was in this first set of ten she was talking about.

That was nice and it took some of the sting out of losing. I made sure to thank the hosts for the honorable mention and went about my day. I then got a response from both of them that made me start to feel even better and really look at my honorable mention and how well I’d done in a different light.

Here they are:

Did you get that?

Great query. Great! Query!

Someone had finally said I had a great query!

My. Query. Had. Improved. FINALLY!

Holy crap! Then I started to think about the number of entries. There had been 356. Only 30 entries were chosen. An additional 41 received an honorable mention. Even if I hadn’t made the cut, I’d done better than 300+ entrants. That is quite an accomplishment. Then I started getting congratulations tweets from other writers on my honorable mention and saw several posts congratulating the winners AND the honorable mentions. I thought, hey! That’s me!

A fellow honorable mentioner(?) pointed out that it was fate. She said that if we were involved in this contest as winners, we wouldn’t be actively submitting to agents and might miss an even better opportunity. Getting this close and not winning would only light a fire under our butts and encourage us to get out there and start submitting even harder while the others were hung up in the contest.

Perhaps.

It is a more positive way of looking at the situation, I admit. It also explains how I feel at the end of this day; completely charged up and ready to hit the querying trail. I no longer fear/despise/loathe the query. Bring on the submissions! Butt fire lit!

As a bonus for following me, and because I’ve had some requests to do so, I’m posting my query that doesn’t suck here. It’s quite a difference from the last time I posted one. Enjoy!

CHRISTMAS IN JULY CONTEST ENTRY:

Dear Agents:

The life Sara Peterson knows ends when she climbs the ladder to her sister’s bedroom and witnesses an unimaginable scene. She finds herself exiled from home, surrounded by deviants and sociopaths, while trying to convince those in charge that she’s not crazy.

Sara is admitted to Whispering Sands treatment center as an alcoholic runaway to protect a secret that’s not her own. She’s a straight talker but no believes her when she says she doesn’t need to be there. It’s like a convicted felon claiming they’re innocent. Abandoned in the middle of a strange, violent world with too many bizarre rules to learn and assigned a suicidal roomie who wants to rip everybody’s face off, Sara must find a way out. Never a rule breaker on the outside, she can’t stop breaking rules on the inside, especially when she meets Matt, the only one she trusts with the real reason she’s there. Stolen moments with Matt in secret places are Sara’s only refuge from the craziness and may save her dwindling sanity. Even if Sara does manage to escape her hopeless situation, her future is uncertain. One thing she does know, she can never go back home.

INSTITUTIONALIZED; I’M NOT CRAZY is a young adult novel complete at 86,000 words. I have worked in the mental health field directly with adolescents in psychiatric facilities similar to the one described in my book. This manuscript won first place in the YA category in the 2012 Oklahoma Writers’ Federation, Inc. annual contest. I am also an active member of the Oklahoma SCBWI. Thank you for taking the time to consider my book. I look forward to hearing from you.

First 500 Words:

That last rum and Coke was a big mistake. I gripped the aluminum ladder. The world swirled around me. I burped and the sickly sweet smell made me gag. Mom would be so proud. I giggled at the thought, letting loose with one hand and swaying a little.

“Damn it, Sara, hold on with both hands up there,” Dylan called from below.

“Shhh,” I held a finger up to my lips and looked down at my date. “I got this.” I adjusted the plastic crown that slid to the side of my head. I smoothed down the fly-away toile of the dress I borrowed from my sister Sam, straightened my shoulders, and started climbing. Man, is this thing wobbly. I started giggling again. I tried to choke it off, but ended up snorting instead. That only made me laugh harder.

“C’mon! You’re gonna wake up your parents.”

I sighed. Dylan was getting tiresome. He’d been awesome at the Spring Fling dance. He’d told me that I was beautiful and the kissing – oh, my God. I could’ve done that all night. My heel slipped on the metal rung.

“Ahhh!” I hugged the cold metal. It felt soothing on my cheek. Everything was spinning.

“Shit!” Dylan said. “Are you all right?”

“Mmm, hmm.” I clung to the flimsy ladder, still swaying. “Gimme a minute.” Looking up, I could see my sister’s light was on. She’d called me freaking out. I didn’t know why. So, I was out after curfew. No one else had noticed.

“C’mon, Sara,” Dylan said. “Do I need to come get you down?”

“I’m alllllll riiiight.” The spinning had slowed. Still there was no way I was gonna make it up any further with my heels on.

“Look out below!” I kicked off my obnoxious shoes.

“Nice.” Dylan mumbled.

I laughed and then started climbing again. He was so serious. I hadn’t noticed earlier. I’d been focused on other things. Like how strong his hands were when he’d held me and how I felt all tingly when he kissed me right on the dance floor – in front of everyone. And me just a sophomore. So surreal.

I made it to the top. I hitched up my dress, swung my leg over the railing, and climbed onto the deck. When I stood up, I knocked into the ladder. I caught it just before it banged against the house. Dylan swore below. I muffled a laugh.

The rough wood prickled my bare feet. I maneuvered between deck chairs to avoid the squeaky boards. I crept up to Sam’s window. It would be fun to scare her. She was always jumping out at me from behind closet doors or around corners. Now it was her turn. I stifled more giggles. She’d left her window cracked. For someone so perfect, she was pretty good at this sneaking around stuff. I could just see through a part in her curtain.

I peeked in and froze. My dad was there. Shit!

Have an excellent weekend. Good Luck to those who made the cut! And to those who didn’t, keep on revising, we’ll get there!

Valerie

Lauren Myracle is no stranger to controversy. She has been called Satan, Satan’s handmaiden, and many other colorful things, but lucky for us, she continues to write amazing books and with such a great attitude. Even when her book Shine was erroneously nominated for the National Book Award because it so closely resembled a similar title Chime by Franny Billingsly and all nomination discussions were conducted via telephone. After the initial announcement including both titles, Myracle was asked to withdraw her nomination to uphold the integrity of the award. While many of us may have cried foul and stomped our feet in anger, she handled the situation with grace.

Even when Myracle gets a book placed on the banned list, it doesn’t hover somewhere near the middle, trying to blend in with the other books, embarrassed to be there, like the prom queen caught out at 2 AM partying with the hard edge stoner girls, oh no!  It stands up tall and whoops out at the top of its lungs, “Yeah, I’m a free-spirit who can’t be contained, what of it? Now, who wants to party?!!”

In 2009 and 2011, her books were THE MOST challenged books in the country. Myracle said, “If you’re gonna be on a list, you might as well be No. 1.”  She doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects like sexuality, homosexuality, and alcohol abuse. She writes complex teen characters that explore these topics and respond like real teens would. Just the thing to get some parents seeing red. When asked about why she thought she was on the banned list, Myracle responded:

…most people who challenge a book haven’t actually read it. If you’re skimming it, words jump out at you: “fuck,” “penis,” “condom.” It triggers a set of reflexes.

I understand why parents worry about books—they’re worried about their kids. They want to keep their kids safe. But parents aren’t always realistic. One said to me, “I can’t believe you introduced my 13-year-old daughter to thong underwear.” I’m pretty sure she knows about them already. She probably owns a pair.

This reminded me of a story my daughter told me about a friend that actually made her own thong underwear out of the respectable panties her mother bought for her. I asked the only rational thing that popped into my head when given such classified information, “Wasn’t she scared that her mom would find them in her laundry?” I was then informed that the young girl in question started doing her own laundry. I’m sure her mom thought she had taken a responsible turn and didn’t think twice about it. Ah, the mind of a teenager. So devious. So resourceful.

Parents aren’t the only ones who try to protect our children from what they deem as harmful topics. Sometimes even well-meaning librarians who should know better than to censor books that could be helpful to the right student just can’t help being judgmental. Myracle recounted one incident in particular:

I remember going to a library once in Ohio. They had invited me, telling me, “We’d love to have you talk here.” But when I got there, a librarian said, “We don’t have your dirty books on display here.” I didn’t want to get into a fight, but I thought, “You should serve your population—kids have different needs.” I asked if they had a book called Thirteen Reasons Why, about a girl who commits suicide. She said, “Heavens no! It’s pro-suicide.” But it’s the opposite. The book shows how horrible it is for everyone when you take your life.

Kids are smart. Knowledge is power. Let them figure things out. Don’t turn into that grown-up who they won’t come to. (All quotes from Daily Beast article, April 11, 2012. See full article here.)

I wanna be this gal when I grow up!

Hell, yeah! that is my kind of author. I so wanna be Lauren Myracle when I grow up.

I was first introduced to her books a couple of  years ago when I picked up one of her “internet girls” IM series to see what all the fuss was about (and because I like to support banned book writers). After reading ttyl, the first in that series that is written entirely in texting dialogue, I was slightly underwhelmed. It wasn’t so much the texting format itself that bothered me, you adjust to it pretty quickly, I think it was more because all the action was happening off-stage, so to speak. We kept hearing about everything that was going on through the texting, but not really “seeing” it. For me, l liked it well enough and I could see the appeal to teens – it was almost like it was written in code just for them, talking about things they actually discussed when alone with their friends – but it didn’t hold the emotional punch that I desired. Undeterred, I decided to give her another try when Shine came my way and I’m so glad I did.

Emotional impact achieved.

This book , which is not written in text dialogue, but in a very convincing teen voice, follows the story of Cat, a young girl living in poverty in a rural North Carolina town. Her estranged best friend Patrick, the only openly gay teen in this backwater town, has just been beaten within an inch of his life in what appears to be a hate crime. The local law enforcement is intent on pinning it on unknown rowdy out-of-towners, but to Cat, it feels too personal. She thinks someone closer to home is responsible and she plans on finding out who. In a place where most folks want things left well enough alone and where even the kids are armed, that may not be the best idea she’s ever had.

All of the characters and all of their relationships have such depth. There are no caricatures of southern hicksville here. It feels like a place I’ve been before and didn’t want to return, in most instances. The level of poverty only felt in rural areas with no future of growth in sight and the emotional despair of the people – some struggling to eek out a livable existence, some trying to blot out the pain through drug use – are palpable. I could relate to Cat’s emotional state as well, having been through a rough estrangement with one of my very best friends when I was in high school. The reason she is estranged from Patrick is a familiar one, too. My situation wasn’t anywhere near as severe – Cat experiences a sexual assault from a family friend – but I must say that closing myself off from everyone I knew was a natural response . When something happens to you that you can’t talk about, even to your best friend, you push the world away and embrace a world of solitude and silence. When Cat’s closest family members choose to turn a blind eye rather than see she’s been hurt, this teaches her to bottle it all up, shut off from the rest of the world, and close her own eyes to what others are going through. It takes this awful incident with Patrick to reawaken Cat and to start forcing the truth to light.

As I read this story, I began to wonder about my own situation back in high school and my estrangements from the people who loved me. Would I have risked everything to find out what happened to my best friend if something like this happened? Would I have done the right thing? I hope so.  Any book that touches me emotionally and makes me think long after I put it down is brilliant and one I wouldn’t hesitate to let a child of mine read.

Here is the book trailer for Shine. It is truly beautiful.

To keep up with everything Lauren, follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sahlgoode/

Welcome to another edition of  “How are we doing with our goals?”  It’s the beginning of week two. Are we crying in our beer, yet? Scarfing down the New York Super Fudge Chunk by the pints? Hopefully not. We at the #writemotivation gang are well-known for our supportive nature, and I am more than willing to share some of my ice cream. (Thankfully, I am not at the beer-swilling stage.) And so far, it’s been just a one pint week. (Of ice cream.) I made it into the first stage of yet another frantic contest. I know, I know, right after I just finished with one. The last one had positives and negatives; I didn’t get a request from the agent, but I did win a critique of my first 30 pages. Not a bad secondary prize. After receiving some great feedback, I reworked my query for the bazillionth time. I think that was the lucky number. In this latest contest, my freshly scrubbed query (plus the first 500 words of my manuscript) will be up against 300+ other entries and only 30 will be accepted to continue to the ultimate agent fighting round. We won’t find out our fates until Friday. I may be up to two pints by then. (Maybe not just of ice cream.)

Wheee! So exciting this writer’s life. Actually there’s been a lot of anxiety-driven humor quipped about in the Twitter feed today. Glad to know it wasn’t just me. #xmasinjuly was even trending for awhile today the movement was so intense. Feel free to check out the action any time this week. Friday should be especially exciting.

For those of you who missed this opportunity, remember, there is another contest coming up next week with

better stock up, it’s gonna be a long month.

Entangle Publishing. See this earlier post here for details. Also, our very own#writemotivation leader, K. T. Hanna, just celebrated her one year blogiversary and is offering an opportunity to win a query critique with her agent Judith Engracia of the Liz Dawson Literary Agency. You have through Tuesday to enter. See K.T.’s blog post here for details.

On to the GOALS!!!!

1.Write full rough draft of new WIP. Barely started, but at least I did get started so let’s say “Eh, not bad. Not great, but not bad.” on this one.
2. Continue to submit current YA project out to agents. YES! YES! YES! Sent out five brand new, fully researched submissions. “Rock star!”
3. Keep up with my blog posts, commenting on blogs, etc., but also keep a limit on this time so that my writing comes first. Dead modem helped me limit my time better than I would have on my own. I was shaking like street hustling junkie by end of the third day. This will continue to be a challenge. We’ll say. “You squeaked by with a pass this week, Lawson.”
4. Exercise three times a week. Done and done! A hearty “You can do it!”here. I may be freakin’ sore all over, but I have plenty written in my exercise journal for the past week and this week is already looking good. Just someone tell me when the aching muscles subsides and I can have more ice cream. Please?

Hope you all are having a fantastic time wrestling with your goals. Hang in there!