Updates and BBW

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Clearly, my five posts weekly resolution has been smashed. Then it was stomped on, put out with the recycling, and run over with a steamroller.

Oh well.

Tonight, the first 20-odd pages of YA MS the Third are on the chopping block in my Loft workshop. Early reactions are positive, but I manage to retain fear. It's my nature. I'm strong like that: in the face of positivity, I maintain a lack of composure.

I think I mentioned a trailer for YA Novel the First. Perhaps that was on Twitter. Regardless, I've decided, I regret to say, to redo much of it. The more I fiddled with it, the more of the book I felt I was "giving away," such as it is, and not adding much to the trailer itself, visually or oomph-wise. It eventually became really ineffective. So I'm backing up about three of hours of work, rethinking some of the sketches and the narration script. With a live-in babysitter set to arrive tomorrow afternoon, hopefully I can get it done by the middle of next week.

Not that there's any hurry, of course.

As I just noted briefly, by the way, Beth's mother-in-law will be arriving tomorrow afternoon. She'll be with us until Tuesday. I'd warn you that I might not update much during her visit, but since I've been about the slackingest blogger in Minnesota anyway, why bother.

I can hardly believe I haven't said a thing about Banned Books this week. Everyone did, except me. Of course, as you likely guessed, I am opposed to the banning of books. That said, I expect someone will challenge |-1|, and that bothers me not at all. It seems to me that much of the art teens have loved since "teens" became a demographic has been heavily challenged, regarded by much of the adult world as somehow dangerous. I don't expect that will ever change. And frankly, if it ever did, I expect art for teens would simply push farther, as it should. The teen age is one defined by its burgeoning individuality and independence from arbitrary adult and societal authority. Absorbing that which is challenged and subversive is a rite of passage, and a crucial one.

The Secret of Roan Pizza

Sunday, September 20, 2009

More excellent pizza!

This time it's on the east side of the Metro, and, though Hiawatha Pizza is certainly closer to home as the crow flies (or the bike rides), getting down there in the car is a huge pain thanks to the clusterfrak that is Lake Street. So, we present Pino's of Woodbury. I won't get into a whole review spiel here, since an excellent review is already up at S4xton. (Photo is from S4xton.) It's spot-on. I think Hiawatha is a little closer to perfect NYC-style slices. It's also a little cheaper and the slices are bigger. However, since Hiawatha does very little business, the product is often a little sitting-aroundy. I also have no confidence that Hiawatha will still be in business a year from now, whereas Pino's seems in good shape.

I'm out for some write time at the moment. Been stepping back and forth between my two most important WIPs (YA MSS the Second and the Third, that is). I'm 99% certain that the first 25 pages of YA MS the Third will be my first submission for crit at the Loft. Thing is, I feel like I'm just teetering on the edge of eureka with both projects. Like, at any moment, the thing that's going to make plots really work and feel organic is just around the corner.

So what am I doing here? Who knows. I'm probably a little afraid to get there.

Beth and I watched The Secret of Roan Inish last night. I still love it. Beth was very against it from the get go. I think the scene in which cousin Tadgh tells Fiona about the family's odd mating history is what got her turning around on the issue. Either that or she just said at the end that she liked it to shut me up and she actually didn't like it. Who knows. Anyway, I very much want to read the book on which it's based, The Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry. Has anyone out there?

Workshopping, finally

Friday, September 18, 2009

I haven't workshopped my writing since 2001. That was the year I did two classes at the Gotham Writers Workshop in New York. (In fact, while killing a few minutes before one such workshop, I ran into an old music biz/college friend, and yadda yadda yadda, within a month I was working at S&S Children's; thanks, Detroit*.) I found that experience to be at times horrible and useless, but very often invaluable. In fact, it's safe to say that my first instructor at GWW, one Alex Steele, was one of the three most important--how shall I put this?--cattle prods in my writing career. He was a big fan of some of the earliest scenes in |-1|, and without his confidence in the piece, I don't know I ever would have written even the novella it was this time last year.

I digress. The point is, been a long time since I was active in a workshop, but now it's on: I've just begun the Advanced Fiction Workshop at the Loft, and, no offense to Brian Farrey, I'm glad I ended up "stuck" in this class, rather than BF's "Better Writing through Buffy." That class sounded hell of fun, but probably would not have been quite the swift kick YA MS the Third really needs.

Already the workshop has been helpful. In selecting the 6500-word section I want to submit (I volunteered to submit next week, essentially right away), I determined that the wrong 25 pages are right now the first 25 pages, and the 25 pages I chose for the workshop should be the first 25 pages. Already a win. Oh, plus the first story we read was Kelly Link's "Stone Animals," which, swoon.

*My old friend's name is not actually Detroit. Detroit is simply what a particular mispronunciation of her name sort of sounds like, but not really.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

First, apologies for downer post on Thursday, particularly to my mother, who apparently cried.

Now then. The Minnesota chapter of SCBWI had its annual conference all day Saturday. Here's how it went down:

I met several people, of whom I remember few names and I thought to give a business card to maybe two of them. Of course I also saw a few people I already knew, such as Tina Lee, local pre-published writer, the AE, and Kurtis Scaletta, fellow Otter.

According to Kurtis, I write "pornography for teens."

Jill Dembowski gave major love to Sara Zarr during her talk on the "Do's" and "Don't's" of publishing. (Kurtis: "I hear she'll blurb anything.")

Mark McVeigh's presentation was highly informative. He's an immensely bright man. Also dapper. Oh, and he said thanks to the AE, Carolrhoda is an imprint he wouldn't hesitate to work with. His words seemed to be intended, in fact, to encourage the conference goers to get excited about another awesome, cutting edge place publishing YA in our hometown (in addition to Flux, of course).

Julie Schumacher, author of Black Box, also presented, on a topic near and dear to my heart: "trauma" lit for teens. I personally think the alleged recent explosion in the subgenre is bunk. Frankly, if we're seeing an explosion in a subgenre of YA, it is in my mind simply because we're seeing such an explosion in YA in general. But who knows. The point is, I was a proofreader on Black Box and it's quite good. Julie Schumacher reminded me of Joey Ramone a little bit, too. You can take that as you will. Anyway, I like her.

Donna Jo Napoli is a delight. She is lively and hilarious and a brilliant writer and critic of prose. One of the highpoints of the conference came after First Pages. As soon-to-be honcho of MN-SCBWI Quinette Cook was wrapping up, Donna Jo called out, "May I say a few things?" Quinette of course called her up, and Donna Jo ran, quite literally, to the mic from the back row. She then offered, rapid fire and from notes, her take on the first pages, with serious and substantial suggestions and criticism. Seriously, I was hell of jealous of the members whose first pages were looked at, because I would love to some real notes from Ms. Napoli (no offense, Otters).

Speaking of Quinette Cook, I hadn't met her before, but I knew her name: it appeared on my missed call Caller ID last week, and is pretty unforgettable. Turns out she was calling me for some last-minute material she might use in one of her intro talks or something, since she'd heard (through the grapevine) that I'd had such a great year thanks in no small part to last year's conference. I was flattered and frankly stunned that someone had sort of heard about me. Hopefully we can work something out so next year I (and other pubbed locals) can be more hands-on in the conference.

Tomorrow morning, Sam begins ECFE. Did I mention the kid took five steps on Friday? Yup. And it's happened a few more times since. I wholly expect he will be up and walking like a pro by the end of this week.

Wednesday night, I begin my first class at the Loft. It's an advanced fiction workshop. Today, I spent a little time with the WIP I'll likely focus on in that class, better known on the Exile as YA MS the Second. I'll tell ya this: the old advice about putting your frustrating WIPs aside, to distance yourself from them, is not to be ignored. When I returned to it this morning, I found slicing whole chunks, scenes, even characters that were taking the story nowhere, to be much easier. I think, with no unforseen problems, I have a chance at finishing this WIP sooner than I thought. Ooh, plus, thanks to Donna Jo Napoli's keynote address, I won't worry as much as I usually do when I find a hole; I'll just keep going. Just finish it. I can fix it later.

Seriously I should have that painted on the wall of my office if I ever get one: Just Finish It. Fix It Later.

And finally, I've spent free minutes here and there over the last few days throwing together a trailer for The Absolute Value of -1. I think, if I can convince Beth to do some narration, that it will be ready to premiere fairly soon.

I hate today.

Friday, September 11, 2009

More than a week since the last post.

It's a shame I decided to come back today. I could have come back yesterday, and then I wouldn't have had to post today. Or I could have just stuck to my lazy guns one more day, and then I'd come back on the twelfth, or even the thirteenth, with a post-MN SCBWI update. (I'm sure I'll post one of those on Sunday or even Saturday night.) But no. Instead, here I am, smack on September 11.

I sort of can't believe it's only been eight years. It feels like that was a different man, who woke up in Astoria, Queens, like it was any other day. He got on the N train at 30th Avenue and rode it right to 57th and 7th (I think . . .), to get to work at Good Housekeeping magazine. He was in his black slacks and white button-down, as always. It was completely normal. Only one thing seemed strange, just before nine that morning. The N train stopped at Queensboro Plaza, still above ground, like it always did. And the doors stood open for a little while, to get back on schedule and wait for the 7 train transfer, I suppose. But as we sat there, a man tapped his friend and said something quietly in Chinese. The two men then leaned over the seated passengers to look out the windows. A few others, curious, turned to see as well. I leaned with the rest and saw smoke and flames coming out of one of the Twin Towers. (Lord knows I didn't know which was One and which was Two.)

We shrugged it off as a curiosity: a fire in one of the Twin Towers. The train went on, under the river. But I emerged from the station into a quiet confusion. It just felt wrong. Good Housekeeping's offices were quiet, as they usually were that early. The Research Department, of which I was a member, was always first to arrive. We'd usually started our second cups of coffee before Editorial showed, generally between 9:30 and ten. That day, few editors showed up at all, I suppose. My boss and I watched one of the twenty-four-hour news channels and saw the second plane hit. I don't recall if we knew by then that this was an attack, and not some insane accident. But when the second plane hit, it certainly became obvious.

I started smoking again, right then. I told my boss I had been quit for a week but I couldn't take this and she said go downstairs, so I did. And the streets were filled with people--with New Yorkers. Cars were stopped . . . just anywhere, like that REM video. It sounds fantastic and sentimental, but it's true. People left their car doors open and stood on their bumpers or roofs to try to catch a glimpse. I think we all expected a fireball to come screaming up 8th Avenue, or at least a huge white smoke monster.

I'd told my boss I'd work for the day, but by the time I'd gotten back upstairs, that was an insane notion. No one would work that day, I imagine. We wished each other good luck and a few of us, my self included, tried to get friends and family on the phone; my cousin worked in one of the Towers, and was only late to work that day because he was casting his vote in the NYC mayoral election.

Getting home was tricky. Most subways were not running, and rumors about more attacks, biological weapons, god knows what else, flowed through crowds. There must have thousands of us roaming midtown, hoping an E might suddenly burst into action to get us across the river. I know a lot of people just walked.

An E did run, eventually, but then shut down at the first Queens station, to which I'd never been. I managed to find a taxi and get in. He was nice. He was scared, too. We kept watching the sky. But his car wasn't moving, not much. We didn't get far together. Once I recognized something, I said I'd get out and walk, and we said good luck to each other and he wouldn't let me pay him.

I don't remember when the towers collapsed entirely. I don't remember much else about that day. But I remember that morning, and I miss the Towers--really, I miss them--every time I take a bridge into the city and see that lopsided skyline, with downtown looking like it's sinking into the harbor.

I'm sorry this is so sentimental and ridiculous. The truth is, only the anniversary of my father's death affects me more than September 11. I hate today.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

I have a blog? How 'bout that.

Yup, been gone a week. No good reason for it, frankly.

My last Thursday afternoon for work, with MIL sitting Sam, is today. I'll be working mostly on an SAB title, which is nice. My two most promising WIPs (aka YA MS the Second and YA MS the Third) have been gathering dust, not for lack of time (though I haven't been taking write-nights as religiously as I ought to), but for lack of get-up-and-go. I think writing a quick football title for SAB will help me to feel potent again. Let's hope so, 'cause YA MS the Third is so freakin' promising, and yet I am afraid to approach it.

This has always been a problem for me, and I assume for many writers. I write and write like a house afire, and then, upon reaching some roadblock, stop. YA MS the Second has been wallowing for some time thanks to that issue, and I am afraid YA MS the Third is destined for the same fate. Heck, YA Novel the First wallowed on and off for about twelve years. It took some interest from the AE to really bang it into shape.

This afternoon, I have contractual obligations to attack that SAB title. It's due on Monday, after all. But after this weekend, I'm getting my BIC on, religiously. In fact, here's my vow: YA MS the Third will be agent-ready by Halloween.

Not to put to fine a point on it, but just typing that sentence gave me a small anxiety attack.