Thursday, June 21, 2012

First day of summer



Disappointment, like a slightly sulphurous fog, dragged along the floorboards, pouted in the corners, swirled behind her and puffed from the cushions when she threw herself into the chair.  Summer was not living up to her expectations.

Friday, June 15, 2012

More lies

“Know the story before you fall in love with your first sentence. If you don’t know the story before you begin the story, what kind of a storyteller are you? Just an ordinary kind, just a mediocre kind – making it up as you go along, like a common liar.”    John Irving


My first week of summer leave flew by in a cloud of dust and debris.  The detritus of six months of inattention and schedules that are just too tight to allow any real deep housecleaning had to be purged. The house usually appears relatively tidy on the surface but underneath lurks a monster.  This week I attacked the monster... and clipped it's toenails.  Last night I told Bob that what I really want right now is a dumpster.  I would open the windows upstairs and just toss everything in.  Craft projects never completed?  Into the dumpster!  Clothes that haven't been worn in years.. or ever?  Into the dumpster!  Paper.. paper.. and more paper.. into the dumpster!  I'm like this when overwhelmed by my own inaction and desperate to get on top of the problem.  Obsessive, over-committed, willing to throw it all away and start fresh.  You've probably figured out that I'm not just talking about housekeeping now, right?

A fresh start.  In life this is pretty hard to achieve but in writing it's easy.  If you don't like where your story is going just toss it out and start again.. it's all just made up anyway!  And that is the problem.  If it's just make-believe to you then you aren't telling the truth.  If you aren't planning a future for your characters they will never live on paper or in the minds of your readers.  If you have no compunction about literally throwing your baby out with the bathwater then why in the world are you writing?

Unfortunately, my writing life lately is a lot like my housekeeping.  Six months of doing nothing has left me aching to write but there are monsters lurking in my subconscious, and they won't consent to being tossed, shredded, or stuffed in a box and dropped off at goodwill.  What kind of storyteller am I?  Desperate to get something on paper in the six weeks I have left before I go back to work I risk becoming a common liar.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

I lied

More than two months ago I claimed that I was going to start posting to my blog again.

I'm sorry my friends.

I lied.

This morning I had a rare opportunity to sit at my computer and read other people's blogs. Rare because, while I used to spend hours every day parked in front of the computer, reading, writing, researching, and often just goofing off, I now do nothing on the computer but monitor my bank account and pay bills. I check facebook and email on my phone while sitting at the pool for Delaney's swim practice but I avoid my computer like the plauge when I'm home from work.

Oh, did I mention work? Those hours that I used to spend on the computer, or cleaning the house, planning meals, baking, running kids around, bathing the dogs, gardening, and thinking about what I would like to write... those hours now belong to Scholastic.

I'm the first to admit I have been fortunate, some would say spoiled, to be able to spend so many years at home. I made good use of much of that time but I also wasted a lot of it. I don't have that luxury anymore.

I need to work.

Don't get me wrong, I really do enjoy my job and I am so lucky to have it! When I finally accepted that I needed to start working full time I had no idea what I was going to do. I never imagined that I would spend all day talking with librarians, teachers, and parents about children's literature.

I also never imagined how exhausting it would be to add ten hours of work related activity into my day.

I know a lot of you have been doing this your whole adult life and have managed to achieve far more than I have. So tell me, blogging friends, how do you do it? How do you drag yourself out of bed at 5am, work all day, feed your family, get them to their activities, keep your house clean, and still manage to find time to write?


Sunday, February 19, 2012

I'm baaacckk... maybe

A little history...

The title of the blog was originally Ginaagain, and again, and again because ginaagain has been my email address since the beginning of time (if you take into account that time did not actually exist before we had internet access.) Back in the old days of newsgroups and chat rooms I was occasionally hit on by guys who thought my screen name was an invitation of sorts.

But it wasn't.
And I'm mean to guys who hit on me.

Ginaagain is actually a reference to my mobius strip life.
Round and round I go thinking I'm actually getting somewhere.

But far too often I end up back where I started.

A year or so ago I changed the name of the blog to Gina again.. rethinking everything.
Then I stopped writing.

And didn't think about much either.

So.. I'm back..
again..
and again...

Until I get it right.

Rain


by Shel Silverstein

I opened my eyes
And looked up at the rain,
And it dripped in my head
And flowed into my brain,
And all that I hear as I lie in my bed
Is the slishity-slosh of the rain in my head.

I step very softly,
I walk very slow,
I can't do a handstand--
I might overflow,
So pardon the wild crazy thing I just said--
I'm just not the same since there's rain in my head.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Reading Everything

I have long believed that the best way to become a good writer is to read voraciously, read deeply, read obsessively, read what is popular, read award winners, read crap, read outside your genre, read other's evaluations of what you are reading... READ! I will be the first to admit that my philosophy is often my downfall because, in the face of some of the amazing literature I am reading, what I write often falls far short of my hopes. Conversely, some of what I read leaves me grieving for the state of literature and despairing that, if I should ever complete a novel, there will be no one to read it.


For the last few years I have been a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. The Seattle chapter hosts monthly professional education meetings with speakers that range from award winning authors to up and coming literary agents. I never fail to learn something useful at an SCBWI meeting. There is also a small SCBWI group that meets in my town. There are perhaps twenty people who visit these local meetings and the format has evolved into more of a critique group/ social club rather than an educational meeting. I don't see this as a problem. Writers tend to be isolated and most could benefit from an occasional outing with others who are chasing the same dream.

Several months ago this small group was discussing our favorite books or what we read that inspires us and my turn to talk came soon after a woman who told us that she loves the Junie B. Jones series, that she has stacks of JBJ books and her series is going to be just like them. Any book that encourages early readers to pick up a book is a good book, although I don't particularly like Junie B. Jones, so I didn't have anything to say as this woman gushed about the books. When it was my turn I started to talk about my goal of reading the last ten years of Newberry award winners when I was suddenly interrupted by the JBJ woman. "I don't know why you would bother reading those!" she crowed. I stuttered.. I'm not a great public speaker.. something about the idea that reading good literature is the key to writing good literature. "I know a librarian who says that she would never recommend a Newberry winner to a kid because they are too boring!" she said and then went on to further extol the virtues of Junie. I am ashamed to say I that the best retort I could come up with was to mutter about writing for different levels of readers and that there was a market for both types of literature. She sneered at me! "Well you must be veeerrry smart because I tried to read one of those and it didn't make any sense to me! And you think kids are going to read it?"

I've never been back to the local meeting. I'm afraid she'll stomp all over me with her Junie B Jones rainboots. She truly intimidated me. Not because she was right but because she was loud and opinionated and so sure that if she didn't understand something it must have no value to her goal of writing for children. Months later I'm still trying to figure out how I could have handled it differently. Honestly, I could not begin to understand what had motivated her attack on me.

This week I've read two very interesting articles that have given me some insight into the mindset of this loud woman. The first, by Laura Miller, a senior writer for Salon.com, is a criticism of Nanowrimo and the fascination that people seem to have for writing books while rarely reading them. I so clearly see JBJ lady in this article. She wants the glamour of calling herself a writer but doesn't seem to understand that the goal must be to produce literature that makes people want to read.

"Rather than squandering our applause on writers -- who, let's face it, will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not -- why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers? Why not celebrate them more heartily? They are the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built. After all, there's not much glory in finally writing that novel if it turns out there's no one left to read it."
Laura Miller, Better Yet, DON'T Write That Novel


Whether writing for five year olds or adults, quality matters. More importantly, variety matters.. writing for the reader so that they will continue to read. We don't need a Junie B Jones clone. We need writers who understand and love to write for first graders.. or second graders... or precocious sixth graders who need a literary challenge and find it in "boring" books like "When You Reach Me" the 2010 Newberry winner by Rebecca Stead.

The second article I read was in preparation for a SCBWI lecture in Seattle tonight. The lecture is on point of view and the speaker will be referencing essays written by Zadie Smith, award winning (adult) novelist and Professor of Creative Writing at New York University. It was suggested that attendees take the time to read the essays. Oh what a challenge! My poor shrunken mommy brain struggled to comprehend the material.

"All novels attempt to cut neural routes through the brain, to convince us that down this road the true future of the novel lies. In healthy times, we cut multiple roads, allowing for the possibility of a Jean Genet as surely as a Graham Greene." Zadie Smith, Two Paths for the Novel.

In the time it took me to read the essay I became convinced that my brain might be made of quicksand and any attempt to cut a neural route would simply be swallowed by the muck and mire, and quickly overlaid with images of SpongeBob and his icky friend Patrick. It would be so easy to dismiss Ms. Smith's essays with a flippant declaration that I'm not writing for adults and this stuff is boring anyway... Ah.. a new empathy for the Junie B Jones Lady... Perhaps her shrill dismissal of my personal reading goal was simply a symptom of her fear of inadequacy? As I struggled to comprehend the material I faced my own fears. Fear of not being smart enough or creative enough. Fear of failure.

Writing a book should be a simple thing. There are no new stories after all. You simply decide what you want to say and write it down, right? Character A meets Character B, they have a problem, they solve their problem, the story ends. Simple. But characters, like people, are complex and can be difficult to understand. They argue about stupid things, they run away from conflict, they hide in routine, they fight with other people rather than fighting what they fear. I will never have the patience or persistence to argue with the Junie B Jones woman but I think I understand her better now. I have a feeling her character will show up in my fiction someday.

Yes, reading is the best way to become a good writer. Read books, read people, read everything, but don't stop there. Filter it through your own complexities and the unique structure of your compounded experience and fears.. and then.. write.