Tag Archives: writing inspiration

Reflection: On Booze, Pickle Jars, Old Books, Typewriters, and Me

A couple of weekends ago I ran some errands. I bought Ball jars for a weekend pickle project I had planned. I replenished our booze (vodka! bourbon! red wine! white wine! rosé, too!). Near the discount liquor store is an antique/tag sale warehouse that gets new things in every week. I like to go and just… browse. I walked out of there with a new typewriter for my collection. I have quite a few typewriters. This one’s a black Corona, circa 1930-something, in nice shape. I also nabbed a Harcourt, Brace, and World first edition of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s  The Little Prince (which is not the one that’s worth beaucoup bucks, sad to say). And I got an illustrated copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Let’s talk about Little Women, shall we?

I wasn’t an Anne of Green Gables girl. I don’t know why. I’m pretty sure I didn’t read A Wrinkle in Time until I was an adult. I know I read Judy Blume, but for whatever reason, her books didn’t resonate with me. I was a mother myself by the time the Harry Potter books came out. But Little Women? That book spoke to me. I read Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys multiple times as a kid.

About 15 years ago I was in Concord, Massachusetts, and visited Louisa May Alcott’s grave. I shed some tears and left a rose. Then about ten years ago I was in a book group and I suggested we all re-read Little Women. I was shocked, when I started to read it again. I actually put it down and didn’t continue. It was so religious. It was so didactic and preachy and fusty. I thought, “Why did I love this book so much?!” I thought, “What was my Little Women love affair actually based on?” And then the other week I bought this new, old copy of the book.

My life has recently been a bit overwhelming. I’m not going to go into it here, but suffice to say I needed something soothing to my soul. Something familiar. Something that would provide solace. And there, on my kitchen countertop, next to my beautiful black Corona, were Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March. I picked up the book and dipped in. And stayed with it. When I got to page 90 I remembered exactly why this book spoke to me.

For those of you who know Little Women, I’m sure it’s no surprise that Jo was the sister I strongly identified with. Probably many of you reading this blog did. For those who haven’t read the book, she’s the one who’s the writer. She’s the one who’s sort of queer. She’s the one with the big mouth and the temper. I sure saw myself in Jo March.

 

Alas, 40 years later I’m Mrs. March’s age and still wrestle with my demons. It’s not specifically having a temper, like Jo speaks of. Louisa May Alcott’s Jo and family instilled something in me when I was a young girl though. It was hope. It was the idea that one could spend a lifetime endeavoring to be a better human being, and that is a worthy endeavor. It was that it is ok to keep trying—to aspire—to be good. That it’s a process. That it’s a journey. Can you tell I’m really enjoying reading this book again?

Sometimes a book can come into one’s life at a particular time when it makes a difference. And then later it doesn’t. And then it can again. Little Women is one of those books for me.

So keep writing, my friends. We writers can impact people’s lives. Children’s literature writers can make a huge difference for a young person—a difference that can last a lifetime—that can give hope and comfort, even when all grown up.

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On Reading & Writing: When a Monster Calls in a Hotel Room

I was in Virginia at a writing conference this past weekend, doing critiques, meeting with authors, and being on a panel of agents, with the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI. There are so many things I can talk about regarding the conference: how well it was run; why I think everyone who writes for kids should be an SCBWI member, what a lovely group of writers I met; the fantastic opportunity of watching Kwame Alexander and Judith Viorst in conversation; how lucky I feel to be a part of the children’s literature community, as a publishing professional and a writer. Really, I could continue this list for a very long time.

61guqyj17pl-_sx394_bo1204203200_But I want to talk about reading, and being a writer, and something that happened in my hotel room on Saturday night, after my long day of meetings and conversations with writers. I was so very tired. After dinner I went up to my room and got in my pajamas and took my book and crawled into bed. I’m in an MFA program right now, and one of the books I was assigned to read this week was A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness. For a variety of reasons it probably isn’t something I would have thought to pick up on my own. But it’s remarkably well written. It’s beautiful to look at. The level of craft in this novel is phenomenal. Now let me tell you the thing that happened.

I had to put the book down. I had to put it down because it made me cry. I don’t mean that I teared up but kept reading, like when Beth March or Fred Weasley died. Nobody had died, but I got to a point in the story where I was moved so much that I was crying. Crying, not tearing up or something. I had to put the book down so I could pull myself together. Of course I picked it up again, and finished it, and teared up a few times along the way. But when I had to put the book down? Well, that was something else.

I’m sharing this because that’s what I’m looking for when I look for new clients, and that’s what I strive to achieve as a writer myself. Not necessarily making people cry, but making people feel. That can be LOLs, tears, fear, compassion, connection…feeling. A fellow writer and friend of mine (hi Meghan!) says, “You know me, I’m all about the feels,” regarding what she’s looking for as a reader. And I wholeheartedly concur!

So, how do we achieve that, as writers? I think Lin Oliver, author, Executive Director of SCBWI, as well as one of SCBWI’s founders, really said it best at this past weekend’s conference. Lin quite succinctly said, “Be fierce. Create from the depths of what you feel.” Again, I concur. I believe that when we allow ourselves to be present to our feelings, and as artists we mine those feelings, that the results—our creations—can achieve the ability to authentically evoke feelings in others. Being present to the essence of funny. Being present to the finality of our own mortality. Being present to our grief or relief or fear or love or whatever. Being fierce.

So go do that, fellow writers! Be fierce.

 

 

 

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One Huge Thing Authors Can Do To Improve Their Writing

open-book1I recently attended a 3 day writing retreat for children’s book writers, in a beautiful beach house on the New Jersey shore. My job was to critique manuscripts, have one-on-one meetings with the participants, and generally make myself available to hang out and talk. It was small and quite intimate and the participants were a lovely group of people. It was a very nice retreat and I truly hope I made a difference for the writers who attended.

There was one participant who stood out for me though. She was a woman who is brand new to writing. Before the retreat, when I received her manuscript, I did an internal WTF. Was the short piece she submitted for critique the beginning of a middle grade or young adult novel? Was it a picture book? What was her intention with this? With nothing but the work to go on, I made an executive decision and decided to go with picture book. But I couldn’t and didn’t want to critique it using the same criteria I used for the other manuscripts. If I did, I could very easily rip it to shreds and subsequently crush and destroy a fledgling writer. That’s just not how I roll.

I can’t tell if this author has what it takes or not to be successful. The writing is decent, but not yet kid-friendly or focused. She’s clearly at the beginning of this journey. And that’s more than ok. That’s fantastic! When talking to any of the authors, I tried to drive home that where their focus needs to be is on their work, not on “how to get my book published.” With this author, we didn’t even speak about publishing. We talked about what her intention is and why she wants to tell this particular story (which was pretty interesting, by the way). I gave her a picture book lesson, explaining some of the many different structures picture books can be written within. We spoke about looking at the world with the eyes of a child and trying to leave our adult filter off the page. I told her about picture book lay outs, and page numbers, and all that jazz. But I think the best advice I gave her, which I’d like to share with you, is this:

Read in your genre. Know what books came before you. Know what’s in bookstores right now. Read books that are successful in achieving a similar goal to what you intend to accomplish with your manuscript. Allow yourself to be inspired. Immerse yourself in reading books in your genre; swim in the water of your intention.

I wish that new author all the best of luck, as she tries on being a writer. I hope that she finds her voice and perseveres.

How much do you read within the genre in which you write?

 

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