First of all, I want to thank everyone who’s been reading and following and commenting on a regular basis. I know it takes some effort to stop and give feedback and I appreciate all that I’ve received. Then I want to thank all of you silent readers as well. It really does make a difference to me and I have been overwhelmed by all of the responses to my blog here and in person. I’ve only been live for two months and I’ve just passed my thousandth web hit. That’s just unbelievable. You never know when you start something new if it will go over well or fail spectacularly. You guys are amazing. Thanks for taking time out of your day to visit and read my crazy rants. It means the world to me.
Second, a huge heap of thanks to Leonard G at weirdconflicts for nominating me for the “Beautiful Blogger” award. I shall have to build a shelf now that I have two blog awards. (Seems silly to carry them both around everywhere.)
The award works in this way:
1. Thank the person who gave you the award
2. Paste the award on your blog
3. Link to the person who nominated you for the award
4. Nominate your choice of bloggers
5. Post links to the blogs you nominated
So, on to my nominees, you lucky bastards. Here are the blogs that I think deserve the “Beautiful Blogger” Award :
Tanner Willbanks who I think deserves this award not just because he loves all things nerdy like me, but because he is currently reading the entire collection of Stephen King’s written works – and watching every film adaptation made – you heard that right, in chronological order and blogging about it in fantastical detail. He calls it The Great Stephen King Experiment. Such a daunting task! It’s almost like we don’t have to do it ourselves. And for that, we thank you and give you this lovely award.
Cassandra (Cassie) at Books and Bowel Movements not just for having the oddest blog name but for being the most passionate young bibliophile I’ve come across along my web travels. Her posts are always intelligent, quirky, inspiring and always beautiful.
I know there are many more beautiful blogs out there and many of you already have been showered with various awards and don’t need my humble praise. For the rest as yet to be discovered, I hope to find you soon. In fact, if you know of a great blog, tell me about it and I’ll check it out! Have an excellent Friday everyone!
I am at this tumultuous point in my writing life where my days vacillate between sad departures and happy beginnings. I’m wrapping up final edits before prying my over-protective hands off my newborn YA manuscript, kicking it out of the nest into the big, scary world to fly on its own where it will be rejected, requested only to be rejected some more, requested again, and then hopefully, FINALLY to be adored by just the right person. The more exciting, joyous parts of my days are when I’m moving forward on my next YA manuscript. I think I’m enjoying the beginning of this new manuscript because it is much lighter in subject matter than the last novel. No longer am I trapped in the psych ward with my main character, Sara, struggling through the ugly situations that I put her through. I do love her story, but I’ve lived with it for a very long time and, man, was I brutal. She should never forgive me. With this new novel I get to be funny and explore new things. I’m also I’m dying to try out what I learned while writing the last novel.
First, I want to write my rough draft without constantly editing myself. I’m going to follow some wise advice from a dear writer friend and give myself permission to write a very bad first draft. Although I’m not a big Hemingway fan, I did love this quote I read from him recently that said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Succinct and to the point. (Maybe I will give The Old Man and the Sea another go after all.) I want to have fun with my new manuscript without constantly correcting.
Second, I want to keep a journal of my ideas for changes and questions I have about plot issues or character motivation, etc. I believe I got the idea from Kathi Appelt when she spoke to our Oklahoma SCBWI group last fall. She keeps an ongoing project journal which are conversations with herself about her characters and the choices her characters could make. She writes out where her characters are going mentally and physically, drawing maps to keep directions straight. She turns to her journals whenever she gets stuck while writing to work through the rough spots. I tried something much less organized with notes in the margins of my last book and it wasn’t as easy to reference or to keep track of through all of my edits and it wasn’t remotely conversational. I really like her idea. I have a funky new spiral that will serve this purpose. I must write “hands off!” on the cover so my daughter doesn’t steal it – it is that cool.
Third, I want to handle my stress better. When I start to feel overwhelmed, I’m not going to sabotage myself or stop writing or start doubting that I can do this, I’m just going to take a break and play for a little while. Just play.
My inspiration for this final idea? I found some old pictures of my kids playing a game they made up called Barbie Tossing, which is exactly what it sounds like. Man, were those dolls aerodynamic! This was during a time in our lives when we didn’t have much money, we lived in a cramped apartment while I worked in a very demanding management position that required a lot of travel-time and my husband was still in nursing school, and we were still new to the whole autism diagnosis with our son – juggling all kinds of appointments with specialists and therapists to see what he needed – STRESSFUL! And yet here was this moment when the kids didn’t even notice any of that and just made due with what they had – a bunch of Barbies and a patch of grass right outside the apartment door. They tossed those Barbies for hours. (Finally, a way of playing with them that didn’t make me cringe. I even joined in – yes, I did my fair share of Barbie Tossing, too.) I looked at those pictures and then I remembered how those bright-eyed kids could turn a small corner of our tiny living room into the most fantastical adventure with a blanket and two bar stools and they always, ALWAYS invited me to come along. Once I’m done indulging my need for play, I won’t feel as stressed anymore and all the doubts and worry won’t be able to hold me back.
As some of you may know, I participated in the Cupid’s Literary Connection Surprise Agent Invasion Contest. The details of which are here in this previous post. Well, the contest has officially ended and I was indeed struck by Cupid’s arrow a few times – such a giddy feeling! The contest as a whole was so much fun. It was also incredibly intense and nerve-wracking as well. I met some fantastic new writer friends. We bonded over on Twitter where we totally obsessed about what agents would stop by, WHEN agents would stop by, would the current agent browsing through the list pick our entry (please, please,PLEASE!!!) We really knew how to obsess. But the best thing we did was offer up support and congratulations to each other when an agent made a request – and there were many requests! There were a total of 86 requests made by 12 agents and 1 editor who stopped by for surprise invasions during the three week period that our entries were posted. Not bad! I’d definitely call that a huge success.
I learned some valuable things about my writing from the agent comments on my entry, mostly that they loved my first page and that I apparently lack the ability to write tight, clear queries. (I kind of already knew that part; I loathe the query.) It was a good thing my writing was strong enough on the first page for a few agents to over-look my atrocious query. As I am always looking for ways to improve my craft, I decided that I should suck it up and dispense with the query-loathing and master the damned thing. Several writing friends have already sent me in the direction of their favorite query sites and given me helpful tips, but I am always open to hearing more from others who excel in this area.
In the column of even more exciting news, hot on the heels of her vastly successful Surprise Agent Invasion Contest, our lovely, hard-working Cupid has a new contest starting May 3rd called “The Writer’s Voice”. She is patterning it after the hit show “The Voice”. Entries will be picked based on their queries and first pages and then a few select coaches will get involved to help the chosen candidates improve their entries for the final round where agents will pick their favorites and request to see their manuscripts. One major change in this contest is that you do have to have a blog to enter. Check out the details if you are interested in entering. It should be another amazing contest.
For me, I plan on watching this one and cheering on the hopeful competitors. I still have one agent reviewing my manuscript and once I brush up my query skills, I will start submitting. I may have a few more agents requesting soon. Who knows. Good luck to the new competitors!
Darleen Bailey Beard is an active member in our local Oklahoma SCBWI chapter who has published six books including The Babbs Switch Story, Twister, The FlimFlam Man, Operation Clean Sweep, The Pumpkin Man from Piney Creek and her latest book, Annie Glover is not a Tree Lover. Last fall at one of our conferences, Darleen did a fantastic talk on school visits. I was so inspired that I asked Darleen if I could come along and watch her in action some time. She was very encouraging about the idea and this spring we were able to coordinate our schedules. During that fall talk, Darleen said that one thing we as writers could do that teachers couldn’t was get kids excited about writing. After watching her do a school visit, let me tell you, she can also get kids excited about reading.
It’s not an easy thing to hold the attention of a room full of 3rd and 4th graders, especially if you’re a complete stranger, interrupting their day for an hour to talk about books and writing, but Darleen Bailey Beard captivates her audience of readers – voracious and reluctant alike – by reaching out to them at the very beginning. She starts off by telling the kids stories from her own childhood about how she always wanted to find something that she was good at; how all of her friends were great at swimming or great Girl Scouts or being the prettiest, but she was never good at anything. What kid can’t relate to that? She takes them on her own journey of self-discovery through a lens they can understand, just like any great storyteller. The kids are enraptured. She asks them questions, gets them involved, and then tells them a secret about herself that is totally and completely…embarrassing. Do they really want to hear it? YES!!! Oh, she is theirs for LIFE!
I learned so much about how to do a school visit the right way after watching Darleen give her same talk time after time with the same level of
enthusiasm. School visits are not for the weak. Darleen was often surrounded by kids, receiving hug after hug (for being a writer of a book they loved!) and still she found the time to talk to the lingerers who were too shy to speak to her in front of the crowds. One girl barely raising her voice above a whisper told her how much she loved to write, too. Maybe another future author being born. I knew all of this was why I wanted to write. To matter. To make that emotional connection that only written words can facilitate. Now I understand why Darleen has unofficially been crowned Queen of the School Visits. She has earned that title.
Several weeks have passed since that author visit and I asked Darleen if she would answer some interview questions for me. Ever giving of her time to her fellow writers, she agreed.
VL: As a young kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into? And what was your punishment?
DBB: Hmm, that’s an interesting question. The first thing that came to my mind was when I threw my sister’s Barbie doll out the car window. We were living in [Pennsylvania] and our way to visit our grandparents in [Oklahoma]. My sister was five years older, five years bigger, and five years smarter than me. She was doing something and I can’t remember what it was but it was bugging me. I held her doll up by the toe and said, “If you don’t stop it, I’m going to throw this doll out the window!” Well, she didn’t believe I had the guts to follow through with my threat, so she kept on doing whatever it was she was doing. So after I’d had enough, I rolled down the car window and thwack! I threw that doll right out the window! Of course, she had to tell on me and my dad didn’t want to stop the car to go back and look for it on the highway, so when we got to [Oklahoma] to visit my relatives, my punishment was that I had to sit on the bed in the back bedroom at my grandparents house while everyone else got to visit and hug and share in the excitement of our arrival! But I have to say, it was worth it! Ha!
VL: Whoa! Guess your sister believed you from then on.
What did you want to be when you were in grade school? What influenced this choice?
DBB: This is an easy one–I knew from the age of 10 that I wanted to be a writer. I fell in love with writing when my fifth-grade teacher would make us write stories with our spelling words every week. I knew then that I wanted to be a writer and have been writing ever since.
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?
DBB: My role model was my fifth-grade teacher. She made me believe in myself. She was an amazing teacher and did so many creative things in our classroom. She even made a jail cell out of a refrigerator box and put a chair in there and magazines so that if anyone misbehaved in class, they had to go to jail and the only thing there was to do in jail was read…imagine that! She had this amazing bulletin board in the coat closet area where she put current events from the newspaper on it and added to it on a regular basis. She would make us write about these current events and I remember standing in the coat closet just looking and looking at that bulletin board. Somehow just looking at that board made me realize how big the world really was and she made it look so exciting and fun. She made learning and education fun, too, which was something my other teachers had not managed to do (with me, anyway!). She made every single day a day to look forward to in the classroom. She was tall, too, and I really liked that because I was such a tall kid. I was taller than my third-grade teacher and as tall as my fourth-grade teacher, so when I walked into my fifth-grade classroom and saw this six-foot teacher, taller than me, I was thrilled! I loved having a teacher taller than me.
VL: Reading jail! The horror! She sounds like an amazing teacher; no wonder she inspired you so much. I think we can all relate to that one teacher who touched our lives for the better. Teachers ARE heroes.
Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?
DBB: My sister and I had bedrooms on the second floor of our house. In the middle of our rooms was a hallway and a bathroom. We always managed to forget to turn off the hall light and we’d each lie in our beds yelling to the other to “Turn out the light!” until one of us would eventually get up and go turn off that light. How scary it was to run back to bed in the dark!
VL: Who was your childhood best friend? Are you still friends today?
DBB: My best friend was Kathy. Kathy would pick her eyelashes out. A strange thing. And she’d eat her own Kleenexes. Another strange thing. But what fun we had playing tricks on the neighborhood kids and riding our bikes to the 7-11. We are still in contact but not much. Being the writer that I am, it’s easy for me to write or call but it’s harder for her as she works at night as a nurse and sleeps in the day. I wish we were still in touch but we haven’t talked in a couple years. I think I’ll go call her now!
VL: Did you ever have a clubhouse or secret place of your own? What did you do there?
DBB: Kathy had this wonderful beautiful cherry tree in her backyard. We would play Barbies under this tree. It had tons of cherries and it was such fun to eat the cherries. One cherry would make an entire meal for our Barbies. We also played in my game closet in my bedroom. It was this small closet which my dad had built–around 4 feet by 4 feet. We’d get in there and play games and eat sugar cubes!
VL: Tell me about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?
DBB: We lived in a motel for about six weeks. We were moving from [Pennsylvania] to [Arkansas] where my dad had this crazy dream of owning his own chicken ranch. Anyway, we lived in a motel because the van line that was moving our belongings went on strike after it took all our things. So for six weeks we had no furniture, no clothing, no nothing. We didn’t know what else to do, so we ended up living in a motel. We rented two rooms, side by side, with a door that opened between the rooms. And that’s where we stayed. My parents wouldn’t buy me any new clothes (not sure why, but I guess they didn’t have the money??) and so I had to start my 7th grade year with only the few clothes that we took in our car on our move. I think I had a total of three pairs of shorts and three shirts and had to wear these very same clothes for six whole weeks! I also remember wearing a pair of my mother’s shorts which were too big for me and came way down to my knees. Boy was I glad when the van lines stopped their strike and I got my clothes back! During that time I remember being very creative and doing a lot of painting and coloring and jewelry making as there was nothing to do in a motel room except that or watch TV.
VL: I imagine starting a new school year like that in a new state must have been very challenging.
What was the worst job you ever had while going to school? Do you have any interesting stories about working there?
DBB: Going through college, I cleaned houses. I had this one customer, Mrs. Kelly, who would follow me from room to room watching me. She watched my every move. When I cleaned her toilets, she stood over me, making sure I did it right. Then she would make suggestions while I cleaned like, “Use only one paper towel” or “Don’t touch the walls with that paper towel” or “Be sure to get that spot off that dish” or “Dust with only one spray of polish, not two sprays.” She drove me nuts. She didn’t even like it if I moved her furniture to vacuum. She’d get mad if I moved her chair one inch. THEN she started going to her bedroom closet and coming out with different clothes on when I was there. I’d be in the kitchen and she’d come out modeling some new dress and new shoes. I’d be in the living room and she’d come in there with another dress and shoes. She’d twirl around and want me to compliment her. Of course, she was just a lonely, old, obsessive-compulsive lady with a touch of dementia but she drove me nuts. After working for her about one year, I finally quit.
VL: Wow. She would make quite an interesting character in a book some day. She reminds me a little of Annie Glover’s Grandma. I think you lasted at that job much longer than I would have, and I’ve had some pretty crazy jobs myself.
What is your current writing project and what can you tell us about it?
DBB: I’m working on a book called “Princess Dandelion of Valley View Mountain” and it takes place in southeast [Oklahoma] during the Depression in 1931. It’s based on a true story about a girl who lives in the traveling lumber camps that existed in that area until 1963ish. She finds a starving mule and tries to keep it from dying and wants to bring it home. Of course, her parents don’t want a mule or have money to feed a mule so the fun begins. How is she going to convince her parents she needs this mule???? She’s also convinced that she doesn’t need a friend–she’s moved from town to town to town and has lost a lot of friends in her many moves–so she doesn’t want to bother with making another friend in her new lumber camp but the girl who lives next door is determined to be her friend. This, too, causes some fun trouble!
VL: I’m really looking forward to that one. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. It’s been such a pleasure getting to know you better!
The recent uproar surrounding Ashley Judd and the ugly media speculation on her changing appearance and her thoughtful response really got me thinking about a conversation I had with a close relative (who wishes to remain anonymous). It started something like this:
“I need this new lip gloss.”
“What? Why? You have tons of makeup.”
“It will give me more confidence.”
“That’s what it says.”
She was not joking.
That was the beginning of the most disturbing conversation I’ve ever had with her. Voices were raised. Tears were shed. It was very uncomfortable for both of us. When we finally got down to the heart of the matter, she revealed that she thought of herself as some disfigured troll that couldn’t go out among normal, flawless humans without a coat of protective camouflage hiding all of her most hideous deformities, and that she actually needed this new lip gloss to feel better about herself. The Kissaholic Lip Gloss from Victoria’s Secret did not promise to boost one’s confidence as it turns out; it only promised to “increase lip volume for a fuller, sexier, more kissable pout”, apparently something my young anonymous female relative, who has very full lips to begin with, was in desperate need of acquiring. The advertising went on to say that it was “infused with an exotic blend of aphrodisiac ingredients designed to inspire desire.” How embarrassing to have to explain to me that she wanted, needed to feel desired by someone. And how embarrassing for me to have to explain that she had been duped by a marketing campaign aimed at her vulnerable heart.
I was in shock. Did she really think that beauty was all she had to offer anyone? Had I myself influenced this young woman in any way to be so dependent on her looks for her self-esteem?
I hoped not. I knew better. I had taken some enlightening college courses in the past and I was amazed at what I learned from a paper I read on toy advertising; how we as women are subjected to not only societal expectations, but blatant marketing strategies encouraging us even as young girls in toy commercials to find satisfaction and pride in our physical appearance and care-taking skills, unlike boys who are encouraged to take pride in skills like problem-solving and risk-taking. One of my favorite passages came from another paper I read entitled Analysis of Gender Identity Through Doll & Action Figure Politics in Art Education by Anna Wagner-Ott, an associate professor at California State University at Sacramento:
“It is from popular culture that most people weave their identities and establish their relationships with others and the environment. Mass media images saturate our lives, structuring much of what we know beyond personal experience.” (Duncum, 1997, p.70)
She wanted her paper to help other art educators to “gain insight into how cultural forms, marketing, and aesthetic productions are generating gender identities” and to help them emancipate their students from these contemporary forms of domination. Heavy stuff.
After studying these subjects, I wanted to make sure my own daughter knew that she was more than just a pretty face. I made sure I told her often that she was smart, compassionate, a talented artist, and a tough soccer player among many other things. I couldn’t help it that she heard from other people that she was also beautiful.
Then puberty hit and that struggle to find her unique identity within the crowd and “Mom you couldn’t possibly understand what I’m going through” period came along with it. Although I do know exactly what she’s going through, there is no way she’ll believe it and there’s no way I can make it any easier for her. My compliments hailing her many fine attributes now fall on deaf ears. She’ll have to survive her own battle of self-esteem.
So how do you fight against that overwhelming tide of societal norms and let your children know it’s okay to be exactly who they are and that they are more than a beautiful face? As with Ashley Judd’s comments, I am reminded just how much other young girls – other women – help perpetuate the obsession with YOUTH and BEAUTY and devalue those who stray from this path. How quick are we to say something snarky about someone else gaining weight or a cosmetic surgery job gone wrong? How many women hold real positions of power? What do we say about them? Do we value each other as women for traits NOT tied to appearance? Do we cheer other women on for their accomplishments or tear them down? If we want our daughters to be valued and teach them to find value in themselves, we need to lead the way. Do you agree? How do you teach your daughter to love herself for all that she is?
I leave you with a fantastic performance by slam poet Katie Makkai that I am stealing from another awesome blog. (thank you, Cassie.)
The ever fantastic and ever floral Laura Stanfill tagged me for the Lucky 7 meme about a week ago. As it is a holiday weekend and I’d like to keep things fun I thought I’d give it a go.
The rules ask me to open my novel-in-progress and:
Go to page 77.
Go to line 7.
Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs as they are written.
Tag 7 new authors.
What a lovely, self-indulgent excuse for me to post a random tidbit of my latest novel and force you to read it totally against your will! I love it! I shall choose seven paragraphs from my YA novel Institutionalized, which is currently on display – or at least the query and first 250 words – at the Surprise Agent Invasion on the Cupid Literary Connection Blog and finally getting some responses and even its first agent request – woohoo! I’m choosing the longest form because the particular section in question wouldn’t make much sense otherwise and because it’s my game, my rules, and…because I said so. (I’m also not going to tag seven new authors because I think everyone I would tag has already been tagged by this particular meme.)
Excerpt from Institutionalized:
“Why?” I turned to her, crossed my arms, and huffed. “Cause knowing he likes green is so top secret? C’mon.” I seriously was about to lose my patience with this Nazi control crap. And I didn’t want Matt to get into any trouble. Not because of me.
Courtney shook her head. “Sara, you’re a smart girl. You know it’s more than that. Think about it.”
“I don’t see anything wrong with just talking.” I flopped back down in my chair. What was she getting so uptight about? “Everybody’s always trying to get me to talk – all the damn time. It’s all I ever hear from you people! Then I start talking to someone – oooh, a boy – and you freak out. Whatever!”
“Why do you think you’re here? To find a new boyfriend?” Courtney reached over and gently took a hold of my wrists. “You are here for a reason.” She looked over my bandages and then up into my eyes. I had definitely acted crazy and she was letting me know it. As far as she was concerned, I belonged here.
I pulled away and turned my head to look out the window. There was a pond in a little circle of trees with a fountain floating in the middle. I wished I could explode like that right now; shoot jets of emotion up into the air and let them fall all over everyone. I could feel the storm edging up to the surface, but I knew I had to keep it together or I’d never escape this place. I pushed the feelings back down. After a moment of silence, Courtney spoke again.
“If you spend all of your energy focusing on a male peer, you won’t make any progress in your treatment. Don’t you want to get better?”
I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say there was nothing wrong with me and I didn’t need to get better, but I realized that I’d been acting like a real nutcase since they’d locked me up. Besides, I’d already tried the ‘I’m not crazy” defense and it hadn’t worked. So I stared down at my feet and tried to keep the tears from bubbling out of my eyes. She didn’t understand. It wasn’t my fault that I was here. No one was ever going to understand. My parents had made sure of that.
“Can I go now?” I asked. “I have a map to finish coloring.”
I hope you enjoyed it. Happy Easter/Passover to all!
I’ve often heard the debate between writers – music or no music?
While I can respect both sides and I myself can write with both silence and with music, I do prefer to have a soundtrack to my story. Not that I necessarily need a structured song by song, chapter by chapter playlist matching every moment, but I do create a writing playlist and put songs on there that I think my main character might listen to or songs that might inspire a certain mood my character needs to be in at certain parts of the story.
How do I put myself into the right frame of mind when I enter my writing space?
Usually I can get back into my scene by just rereading a few passages from my last writing session. I picture in my head where I want to the story to go next and off I go. Other times it takes a bit more work. I may have just had an enjoyable conversation with a friend or just woken up in a pleasant mood. Not the best time to be writing a heartbreaking sobfest moment, is it?
When I’m writing the toughest, most intense scenes in my manuscript and I need to connect with my characters – how they are feeling when their worlds spin apart, when they’ve been dealt a devastating blow – it helps if I can access those deeper emotions in myself.
What music does for me.
The problem is that these feelings aren’t always easily accessible on my complicated surface – I don’t always wear my heart upon my sleeve. For me, the right music cuts through my over-thinking, defensive layers and lets me tap into those deeper emotions. When I listen to music like Bon Iver’s self-tilted album with tracks like Perth and Wash. and Holocene, the piercing melodies along with Justin Vernon’s haunting harmonies dig inside, deeper than I let anybody else in. They help me access the raw energy and emotions that I need to help me bring my characters to life. Once I feel what one of my characters is feeling – maybe utterly and completely alone in the world – then I can write it. That is hard for me to imagine in an emotionless vacuum of silence. I must have access to the emotions first.