Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Dullness of Perfection

My kids have school pictures this week. I was looking over the various packages, trying to figure out which one gave the most bang for the buck, when I noticed a new option. For a small fee, the photos can be retouched, brushing away blemishes and scars, birthmarks and moles. For a second I was tempted; my little guy has a honking mosquito bite right under his left eye. My fifth grader has something (Is it a zit? Bug bite? Boil?) hanging out at the tip of his chin. If I checked the box, my kids could have faces as smooth as GAP models. Very tempting...

But then I thought about my husband's fourth grade photo. The weekend before picture day he'd gotten into his first (and only) fistfight with his younger brother. Tom walked away with a split lip; his brother rocked a black eye. Those photos look like stills from The Little Rascals. And every time I look at them, I tell myself the story.

When I took my senior photo, my mom talked me into wearing this blue and white cotton sailor dress (??) because according to someone it was all the rage (I suspect she'd been browsing a 1936 Ladies Home Journal at our elderly dentist's office.). I showed up looking like Popeye gone rogue while my classmates all wore black, fake cashmere sweaters and pearls. Flip open to the senior section of our yearbook and you'll see row upon row of Betty Drapers with Bon Jovi hair and frosted lipstick. Then you'll see me. My eyes show embarrassment, humiliation. Something in my smile, though, reveals the faintest hint of defiance, and maybe, if you look closely enough, dignity. I'm proud of that girl, but no, you are not seeing that picture!

I love that my little guy spent every moment he could this summer running around outside with his friends, mosquitoes be damned. I love that my tween is at the start of all those changes guaranteed to wreck havoc with his complexion (among other things!). I want to remember those stories in twenty years; I want to glance at those photos and feel all the things I'm feeling now come back in a rush. I look forward to it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Little Bit of Structure

School starts tomorrow. (Let me take a second to luxuriate in that last statement.)

Ahhhh. OK.

Summer has its merits but it sucks for writing schedules. I don't work well without some structure to my process, and summer, if you're doing it right, is one meandering, destinationless float down a lazy river. I need a designated writing time every day in order to get anything done. One of my heroes, William Goldman, rented an office in Manhattan and furnished it with a desk, a typewriter and a coffee machine. He showed up five days a week and wrote from 8:30 to 5. I wear more hats than he did--mother, wife, teacher, chef, chauffeur, etc., but I LOVE that idea. Writing is your job, so treat it as such.

I'm fortunate enough to have my days pretty much free when the kids are in school. I write in the mornings after dropping them off, sometimes until lunch, sometimes even after. Yes, I've been known to stare at the monitor for three hours, or wander over to Twitter to torture myself with other writers' word count updates (2000 words today! I'll hit 80K tomorrow!), but the whole butt in seat concept actually works. Some words usually come, and yeah, they might get deleted the next day, but they are there, you know?

So how do you guys get the words out? Are you a morning person like me or do you work best late at night? Do you need to write every day? Are you a word count freak? I'm curious!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

From the Vault: Material Girl Version

My confirmation name is Madonna, so as you can imagine I have a soft spot for Madge, even in her current botoxed, "man-arms" state. (So glad the Kabbalah bracelets and pseudo-English accent have fallen to the wayside.) Women my age owe a lot to the Material Girl, more than we probably realize. Female artists especially. M has always approached her music with a combination of intense creativity and steely-eyed focus, and there are more than a few things we can learn from her long career:

1. Commit yourself wholly to a project. Yes, she's a control freak. But every good artist is to a certain extent, no? And she does take advice from people she trusts--look at what came of working with Jellybean Benitez.

2. When in doubt, reinvent.

From this:

To this:

To this:

All in the span of a few years.

3. Don't be afraid to take risks. Remember Madonna rolling around MTV's stage in a wedding gown singing Like a Virgin? Wearing a mega crucifix and making goo-goo eyes at Jesus in Like a Prayer? OMG, remember her SEX book? People stood in line for hours to buy some photos of Madonna hitchhiking in the buff.

4. Help out your fellow artists/Mentor the young. Too bad Brittany didn't have Madonna's force of will and business acumen.

5. Believe in yourself. The girl has not always been on top of her game. The acting. Her shaking hands at the 1990 Oscars. "American Life" sucked. But she takes lowered expectations as a challenge and always finds a way to surprise us.

So Happy Belated Birthday, M! We can't wait to see what you do next.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Freaky Friday: WriteOnCon Edition

I was crazy-woman busy this week, but not nearly as much as my friends over at WriteOnCon. Did you attend? It was fantastic, no? So much info for writers at every stage in the publishing process.

Here were some of the highlights, for me:

1. Mary Kole's vlog on stereotypes. Really great advice complimented by some incredible Rubik's cube skills.

2. The live chat between Molly O'Neill (HC), Martha Mihalick (Greenwillow), and agent Holly Root. Topic? Myths and misconceptions about publishing.

3. Lisa Schroeder's vlog about romance in YA...and, um, cupcakes. Who doesn't love cupcakes?

4. Martha Mihalick's "Choose Your Own Adventure" guide to the acquisitions process. Clever and informative.

5. The live chat on voice, featuring Anica Rissi (Simon Pulse), and agents Mary Kole, Suzie Townsend, and Joanna Volpe.

There were so many great vlogs and essays--I wish I could list them all. I don't have to, though, because the fine folks at WriteOnCon are establishing an archive on the site. Awesome, right?

Big thanks to the founders of WriteOnCon and to everyone who participated. I look forward to attending next year!

Happy weekend!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Where Am I?

I'm at! And I'll be there, soaking up advice from a ton of publishing industry professionals, from August 10-12. Go check it out!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Why You Need to Pre-Order THE DUFF

We take a break from our regularly scheduled Freaky Friday...

My head is spinning with the amazing books coming out in the next few months. MOCKINGJAY and THE CLOCKWORK ANGEL are atop my list, but the book I'm most excited about is THE DUFF by Kody Keplinger*.

"DUFF" is an acronym for Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Uh-huh. In any group of girls there is the one who is "not quite", as in, not quite as popular, not quite as pretty, not quite as fit. To gain the sympathy of the more attractive girls, guys who want to score befriend The Duff.

So a guy gets a hottie and the homely Duff gets a little attention--win/win, right?

Not exactly.

When man-ho Wesley Rush sidles up to "Duffy" Bianca Piper she throws a Coke in his face. Then she, um, kisses him. This is only the start of a very complex, secret relationship, where self-identity and motivation and desire all come into play.

Bianca is an absolutely fascinating character. She's angry. She makes questionable choices. She messes up. But still, I was wishing so hard for her eventual happiness. She made me laugh (often), cry, and sometimes want to throttle her. This girl is feisty, and you'll love her for it.

Wesley is also not your standard two-dimensional romantic interest. Just like Bianca, Wes is not the character equivalent of a shallow kiddie pool, but a guy working through some very real issues. Bianca starts to see the many layers hiding under Wesley's playboy exterior, and, because of Keplinger's skill, it's as surprising to the reader as it is to our heroine.

I finished THE DUFF wishing I had a teenage daughter to share it with. THE DUFF is not a book you finish with a sigh and return to your bookshelf--you'll want to carry it around and talk to your friends about it until the wee hours. We've all felt like the Duff as some point in our lives, have we not? It's this message that elevates THE DUFF from a great teen romance to a classic young adult book of lasting importance.

*Full disclosure: Kody and I share an agent and I think she's a fabulous person. BUT, even if she was a complete stranger I would love, love, love this book. It's really so very good.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

From the Vault: Forever...

Total score this weekend: I was at my local used bookstore and picked up a 1975 copy of FOREVER by Judy Blume for 25 cents. I actually squeed. Yes, the sound I thought I could never quite make burst from my diaphragm and scared the beejezus out of the poor kid behind the counter.

FOREVER was one of those life-changer books for me. In 1982, my progressive 6th grade teacher stuck it in the middle of a pile of more Catholic-school approved books she'd collected for me to read over Christmas break. The title intrigued me so I dug in. For a girl used to Nancy Drew's chaste kisses with her prepster boyfriend Ned, I was blown away. There's sex. Fairly explicit sex. A girl goes on the pill. A guy names his penis Ralph for heaven's sake. I think I read some passages twice (OK, maybe five or six times.), in complete shock. People were allowed to write about this stuff? I was barely allowed to acknowledge sex existed.

Judy Blume wrote about the things we were afraid to ask our parents about. Heck, my friends and I didn't even talk about sex with each other. I didn't necessarily feel more confident after reading FOREVER, but I definitely felt more normal. And, for a 12-year-old girl, that was pretty darn amazing.

So...which book changed your life?