I recently went to a weekend-long SCBWI conference (Wild Wild Midwest) that smacked my should’ve-had-a-V8 forehead. You can hear writing advice over and over sometimes before it really sinks in. This time it has sunk. It made me realize what was wrong with the beginning of my sisters novel (finally), and now that I’ve fixed that, I’m working on cleaning up the rest.
The main smacker was Lisa Cron of Wired for Story fame. You can get a glimpse of her charisma in this TED talk. She has a new book coming out in August, but I couldn’t wait for that. I got her old one so I could get straight to work.
One of the things I’ve relearned is that if there’s something in the story that isn’t necessary, it needs to be cut ruthlessly.
I found an entire scene that I’ve kept in up until now just because I liked the mood of it. But it is not moving the story ahead at all, so it must be cut. And since it’s hard to accept that it will never see the light of day, I’m putting it up here (even though you have no idea who these characters are or what’s happening in the story). That’s how hard it is to throw out writing.
And now for your viewing pleasure (or not), here’s the cut scene from Home Is Where:
Rain has left the air fresh.
I’m so tired from my sleepless night, that I drift off to the swaying of the car.
When I wake up, something smells different. We’re not in town anymore. The house we’re approaching is tall and thin and it sticks up out of the landscape like Luna Lovegood’s house, only not so crookedly.
There are two old ladies inside who belong to us somehow. Sisters to each other. Maybe cousins to Grandma. Or maybe aunts. I search my memory for the odd names and finally remember–Lulujean and Maydell.
We don’t stay long. We enter the house in a museum-going way. Mom is acting like she found a lost locket, drinking in the faces of the live portraits before her. Stroking the old ladies’ hands like they’re bunny-soft.
One sister pats my shoulder. The other lifts Zoë’s hair with wonder, like it’s strands of golden necklaces.
Zoë stands still for once in her life.
Remember? the sister says to the one near me right before we leave. Remember when we had hair like this?
I’ve started work on a new book. With this one, the setting is so important to the story that I had to understand it well before I could begin writing the book.
I knew the story was going to take place in a Victorian house. As I researched, I learned that I was thinking more specifically of a Queen Anne style house. I searched the web for a house I could use as a touchstone. This one fulfilled the requirements of what I needed:
The bottom floor of the tower will be my heroine’s bedroom.
I searched Pinterest to find floor plans that would work with the house so I had a clearer idea of how the interior might look to the characters…and how it might help develop the plot.
For additional building space on the property, what popped into my brain was a unique setting I had visited myself. The chauffeur’s quarters of the garage of a house museum will be the apartment of the heroine’s new friend.
I love old houses. I live in one.
(The trees that are hiding my neighbors’ houses in this picture are no longer there, and we’ve added windows to the second story.)
Because this book will depend so much on the character of an old house, it will be even more of a joy to write.
An homage to these guys (and for the Valentiny Contest):
Dragon Hearts, by Judith L. Roth (214 words)
I hear their hearts beating. Dragon hearts.
Blue’s heart beats like a tambourine because he’s flashy.
Green’s heart beats like a drum. So steady.
Yellow’s is bouncy like tap shoes.
But Red’s is grumpy. Today, Red’s heart is like a sad tuba with nothing happy to say.
What’s the matter, Red? I ask.
Red turns away. He stomps on each flower he passes.
A smash-flower bouquet? I ask.
Red turns away. He picks up stones and flings them into the stream.
A rock-skipping dismal day?
Red turns away. He bats at each redbud leaf he passes. Then he snaps one off, holds it high, and scorches it.
I finally notice. Each flower bud, each stone shape, each redbud leaf is a heart.
Valentine’s Day has come to the forest, and no one has given Red a valentine.
I race back to the others. Blue sprinkles Green and Yellow with flowers from a bleeding-heart fern. Green plants a heartful seed-pod in the dirt. Yellow serves up a dish of strawberry hearts.
Red has left too soon.
I call him with my beating heart. Come, tum-tum, and see.
Blue, Yellow and Green join in. Come, tum-tum, to me.
Red rumbles back, paws full of nature’s gifts–unsmashed, unflung, unscorched.
The best kind of hearts. Dragon hearts.
For my readers who are excited about a sequel–thanks so much for your enthusiasm. It motivates me to get this written. Your keenness inspires me to do my best so that hopefully I can give you another story that you will love.
I can’t look at your ideas for a sequel, though. It needs to come from a clear space within me. But just the idea that someone is so eager to know what happens next that they start writing it themselves is very gratifying.
Feel free to write your own sequel and post it on your own space. And I’ll do my best to get my version of what happens next to Sara and Serendipity into the world as soon as possible.
Stirred to work harder….
Some readers in the past have asked me to write a sequel to Serendipity and Me. I didn’t say no, but I didn’t say yes, either. Until recently, I didn’t feel any compulsion to write a sequel.
Now, suddenly, I do. I don’t know why or where it came from. I think I just woke up one morning and went, “Oh, that’s what happens next.” And because it’s a story with characters that I love, they are goading me forward. They are telling me, “This is our story. Make sure you write it down.” And so I’ve started.
The kitten that arrived after Serendipity was already written is making writing easier. She is such a wild, weird creature that there’s all sorts of new cat material to incorporate into this manuscript.
I don’t know how many of her antics I’ll use, but I’m happy for the inspiration.
The view from my writing chair has changed lately, and not just because it’s fall and the colors are starting to show. After ten years with my agent, I am recently unagented. (For some reason, that sounds better to me than “I don’t have an agent anymore.”)
With the decision came relief that the decision was finally made, and panic that it was really decided and my advocate was gone.
About a month has passed since then. It still feels very odd. Like my tether has come untied and I’m drifting on the Seven Seas and all the harbor masters of the world are not only hard to communicate with but also appear disinterested in my progress. There is no helmsman manning my wheel. (And I’m just throwing out these sailing terms willy-nilly without knowing if I’m using the right ones. But I am unmoored, so what do you expect?)
Trying to figure out who to send my work to has given me the unexpected result of sympathizing with my agent. What a terrible job! But many literary agents write that they love their job, so it must just not be my cup of tea. Which is why I had an agent in the first place. And why I will search for another one. Hoping my boat will find a lovely way to wend through these waters.
Just another chapter in the book that could be called, A Writing Career Is Not for the Faint of Heart.
From Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie, illustrated by Flora White (Oxford University Press, 1914)
This summer I spent a couple of weeks visiting at my parents’ house. It’s the same one I grew up in from the time I was four. My mother has been trying to weed out books for the last few years, so it was finally time to decide which books we could bear to give away and which books were coming home in my suitcase.
This “Big Golden Book” of Disney’s version of Peter Pan was one that came home with me. Not because it’s a version I’ll spend time reading again, but because it’s a writing memento.
Writers bring all their experiences in life to their work. I didn’t remember this particular book when I was writing Serendipity and Me, but my heart recognized it when I saw it again.
And I had to wonder about the influence it had on my novel that I didn’t even realize. My narrator, Sara, is supposed to play Wendy in her class’s production of Peter Pan. Throughout my book, there are references to this iconic story. It’s such a rich buffet to choose from. (Spoiler alert. The excerpt below gives something away. Scroll down quickly if you don’t want to know….)
Illustration by Alice B. Woodward, from The Peter Pan Picture Book, 1907
The Big Golden Book was one of my first introductions to Peter Pan. Along with the Disney movie, there was the original Peter Pan in library hardback (with that evocative library smell) that I read when I was about 10. And I can’t count how many other references to Peter Pan I’ve experienced throughout my life. Hook is a special movie shared with my kids. Just last night, I saw a preview for a new Pan movie.
When I was finishing up copy edits of Serendipity, I searched for and found two copies of Peter Pan to buy. One was just a normal edition. One was an anniversary edition, illustrated by Michael Hague. The 100 year anniversary! That came out several years ago. Oh, to be like J.M. Barrie and write a book that lasts so well….