Monday, September 19, 2011

What I Learned By Watching a Tree

You read that title right.  I have learned something by watching a tree.  And not just a something, but a something that was brilliant enough to make it into a blog post.  A something so fantasmic, so alarmingly insightful, so....

Okay, fine.  I'll stop waxing eloquent and tell you what I learned.

But first, I should explain a few things.  The first is that, yes, I am guilty of being a nature lover.  I do watch trees.  For fun.

The next explanation is this: yes, I'm weird.

Now that we have those basic facts out of the way, let's get to what I learned by watching a tree.  This should delight all of you, unless you are devout tree haters, in which case I don't think we can be friends anymore.

So, today I was watching a tree as it shed the first of its autumn leaves.  It did so in front of a stream of middle-schoolers and their parents, but I doubt anyone (except me) noticed.  It quietly let go of some of its showy canopy and retreated inside.

And I realized how similar I was to this tree.  How all of us who are writing for publication are like this tree.

No, I'm not losing my leaves.  Bear with me here...

You see, being an author, especially one with an online presence to maintain (which, last time I checked, was just about every writerly person on the known planet), is pretty much like a tree in summer.  Our showy canopy glitters in the sunlight for the world to see.  We preen and rustle in the wind, and people see us and say, "Gee.  That tree...uh, PRETTY."  And we like the attention, and we realize how much we love what it is we do.

But then something happens.  It could be that we have a book hitting the shelves, and we realize we are terrified of the reviews.  Or maybe we are in the middle of a first draft and we realize we have written the worst draft ever in the history of the written word.  Or it could be that we receive our one-hundred-and-forty-seventh rejection from an agent--and it was THE agent for us; the one we had placed the last of our hopes and dreams on.  Or it could simply be that we realize we are tired of the business of writing.  Whatever it is, we start to lose a little of the love we had of being a writer.  And, before we know it, we've retreated from the world.

Now, you are probably wondering why on earth I would share such a depressing story.  This isn't my usual  earth-shattering, amazingly inspiring posts, you are thinking to yourself. In fact, you are ready to take the tofu burger and fries that you are eating and squash them into your computer screen in the hopes of forever blotting out the drivel you just read.

But if you did, then you'd miss the other half of this post.

And that is, that I have learned more from watching a tree.

You see, I have learned that a tree is a magnificent, plant.  Because it has learned that, sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is to turn inward and focus on what matters most.  In this case, its roots.  And if it does so during those months where being a tree is a difficult thing to do, then soon enough it realizes that the spring sunshine is just around the corner.

So trees don't give up.  They don't wither and die in those cold winter months.  Instead they forget about that showy canopy and focus on the roots.  And if they do, soon enough they are rustling in the summer sunshine once again.

So, the moral of this story is:  there is a season for everything, and sometimes it's not only okay but imperative that we focus on our own roots..our writing (our stories).  If we can leave the worries of this business behind for just a little while, it makes all the difference when it is our time to blossom.

So go ahead.  Be a tree.  I, for one, won't call you crazy, even if I am a little weird.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

She'll be coming to Seattle when she comes...for Kidlit Con!

So, yes, it's true.  The lovely folks at Kidlit Con have graciously extended another invitation for my blogging buddies from that other blog and me to speak to the attendees.  We won't tell them how crazy that idea is, because...SHHH...

...come closer...

...we don't want them to know that I'm just making things up as I go along.


Anyway, This year, it's all about group blogging, and I am thrilled to have some bona fide smart people speaking with me: the very talented Rosanne Parry and the amazing Katherine Schlick Noe.  I think we were invited to speak because of them, quite honestly.

So, for those of you who might be coming, make sure to stop by and say hi.  I'll be the one up on stage, for an hour, at least.

Now, I must pack.  Where are those clear Ziploc bags for my things, anyway?  They are all the rage at aiport terminals, I hear.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Mixed-Up Middle-Grade Skype Tour has left the driveway!

So, many of you know about that other blog I work on. I try to keep the two blogs separate, since I know not all of you are middle-grade authors or have middle-grade kids.

Well, I'm breaking my "never the twain shall meet" rule today. You're just gonna have to deal with it, I guess.

That's because, on rare occasions, we do these really cool, super amazing, lots-of-love-and-work-involved projects to help get books (and their authors) connected with middle-grade readers. And it just so happens that today is one of those days.

Today our Mixed-up Middle-Grade Skype tour begins!

Each season a group of middle-grade authors donate a full-fledged Skype visit to a school, group, or club. And this time around we have the following authors:

Sarah Aronson (BEYOND LUCKY)
Tami Lewis Brown (THE MAP OF ME)
Kathy Erskine* (MOCKINGBIRD)
Erin Moulton (FLUTTER)

*Yes, you'll notice this National Book Award winner has graciously donated a Skype visit. I want to be just like Kathy when I grow up.

So if you know of anyone who might be interested in winning a visit with one of these middle-grade authors, please send them to this blog post about our giveaway.

And please spread the word via Twitter, FB, G+, or your own blog.  You can even link to this cool YouTube video all about our project:

Thanks for sharing if you do.  I really appreciate it!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tomatoes and Manuscripts

If you follow me on Twitter you might have realized that today was canning day around my house.  This mostly came about because the three ginormous mounds of tomatoes on my kitchen counter were causing just a small space issue in the kitchen, but I'll admit it also had a lot to do with the fact that I have a small amount of freezer space but a large amount of canned food storage space.

Now, before you think I'm some domestic goddess, I should warn you that the last time I canned anything was when I was eight, and then I was just helping my mother.  And my mother's lawyer suggests that I add a disclaimer here about how I didn't do any of the really dangerous work like pouring the boiling water or pulling heated cans out of the pot.


It occurred to me today that canning tomatoes for the first time (or the first time in almost two decades) is EXACTLY like writing a manuscript.  Well, okay, not EXACTLY like it, but there are a few things you can take away from the job of canning tomatoes and use when you are working on a manuscript:

1. Things turn out better if you do your homework.

It's true: I had to look up information on how to can tomatoes.  I went straight to a university agriculture extension and read all about the art (and science) of canning tomatoes.

It turns out that doing your homework is also a good idea when you are writing a novel.  For example, I am currently researching teen adoption for a possible side story in a WIP, but the more I research the more I realize my original story idea would not have worked at all. I would not have know that had I not taken the time to do a little research.

So do your homework.  It can be before you start a manuscript or while you're writing one, but it needs to happen sometime during the process.

2.  Percolating is good for the project.

Because of the elevation where I live, I had to leave the jars of tomatoes in the boiling water bath for 50 minutes.  Letting them percolate in the boiling water killed all the bad stuff and preserved the good stuff.

Letting your stories percolate is a good thing, too.  Percolating before you write helps flesh out your ideas.  Percolating after the manuscript is written helps you find and kill the awful parts but polish the better work.  It's good for the mind, too.  Well, at least it gives it something to think about when you have to wash all those dishes.

3. Sometimes things don't work out.

Most of my bottlesof tomatoes dutifully sealed, but I had one stubborn jar that just kept popping when I pushed on the lid.  (For you non-canners out there, when a bottle is successfully canned, the lid is firm and doesn't move.  If the seal doesn't take, though, the lid will move up and down and make a popping sound.)  But it's not a total loss, thank goodness.  I can empty the jar and try again with a fresh one (or rewash the old one and try again).  It will just take a little more work.

Sometimes manuscript ideas don't work out, either.  You think they are going to be amazing books once you finish them, but the ideas refuse to jell into solid stories.  But don't fret.  Sometimes they just need a fresh, some additional plot points or characters, a new setting or a combination of all three.  Or maybe they just need a good wash, I mean, a do-over.  Starting with a blank screen and trying again may just work.

4. It's hard work, but it's so worth it.

Need I say more?

(Photo: Tomatoes by ajstarks on Flickr)