Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An Accidental Adventure...

Today I'm plugging my post on my other blog. If you know of a child (preferrably 8-12, since that's the target age) interested in adventure stories, please check out the interview I conducted with C. Alexander London, all about his Accidental Adventure series (it's tres cool, I'll tell you that much here).

Speaking of accidental adventures, I thought today would be a good day to share stories about how we writers got started in the writing business. My first attempt at writing for children was definitely an accident, in case you were wondering how an accident and writing connected in the real world.

Oh, you want to hear that story? Well, okay. But it's dull. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Here's my accidental adventure/how I go started in the business for writing children:

You see, I'd been writing stories for adults for years, but I couldn't ever finish one. Usually I gave up somewhere in the first chapter or two, most often when I'd hit a brick wall with the plot and couldn't figure out a way forward (then, as now, I'm a pantser). So I was pleased when I had made it to the middle of a manuscript. The problem I ran into this time, however, was that main characters kept acting like children. I was so irritated at them that I flung the story right out the metaphorical window and took a break until I could figure out how to fix it.

Not long after, my young son was being silly with rhymes, and he giggled when he came up with "enormous porpoise." I knew there had to be a picture book in there somewhere, so I wrote a (badly-written) 5,000-word rhyming story about a porpoise, Dorcas, and her tiny friend, Jose. The book was terrible, but I enjoyed myself so much that I realized the best way to fix my problem of writing characters that acted like children was to...wait for it...write books where the children were the main characters.

Yes, I was a little slow on that uptake.

So, you see, a rhyme by a 4-year-old and a manuscript that will never see the light of day accidentally helped me find my true calling as an author of children's books.

Okay, now it's your turn. What's your story? Accidental or other-wise, I want to know!

*pulls up a chair and leans forward to listen*

Friday, November 11, 2011

Are You Listening?

You've probably noticed that I'm what you'd call a funny(ish) gal. So it wasn't a big surprise when my first novel (a mystery) turned out to be a humor(ish) book in places. My second novel was a riot--it housed talking geckos and robot pirates and flying space galleons and monkey overlords and a SECRET that could blow up the universe if it got into the wrong hands, which (of course) it did. After that, I threw a funny(ish) sequel to my first novel into the mix, and then attempted a spoof on the Hardy Boys novels of yesteryear.

Yes, funny is my playground.

So it came as quite a surprise when my current WIP wouldn't leave me alone. It's poignant(ish), literary(ish), and completely beautiful. I can feel the main character's longings as if they were my own, and in some ways I guess they are. It's a book about growing up in a dying culture, the culture my mother and grandmother and great-grandmother lived in and passed down to me. It's also about learning to let go. I'm writing this book because it shares the childhood I had but a childhood my kids will never know. I'm writing this book for my grandmother. I'm writing this book for me.

But, as much as I love this book, I realize its genre is a dying culture of its own. You know, one of those quiet books. Today, industry folks use the word as if it was a bad thing. I have serious reservations about ever selling it, but I'm writing it anyway.

Sometimes, there are story ideas that sneak up on you and take up residence on your shoulder. They whisper straight into your ear and don't bother to check and see if you're paying attention. When those kinds of stories start to talk, it's best to listen.

Sometimes those story ideas aren't dressed like the rest of the stories you've written or plotted either. They don't fit your brand or the trends. So what do you do?

You write them anyway.

Don't worry about whether or not you can sell them. Don't worry about whether or not they fit with the rest of the books you've written (or will write). Don't even worry about whether or not they speak to anyone else.

They are speaking to you. Are you listening?

Chances are, once they've finished speaking to you, and you've written them down, they will speak to others, too. Those kinds of story ideas make the best kinds of books. And even if they don't speak to others, you've been transformed by them. That's all that matters, really, because it will make a difference on the next book you write, and the next and the next and the next.

So do the rest of the world a favor and listen. Okay?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Just Do It...Or Take a Class First?

How many of you writers out there have taken one writing course after another in order to learn how to write (or write better)? Or who went to college for a degree in writing?

I'm curious to know who out there has learned through formal courses and who, like me, is mostly self-taught. I've taken one creative writing college course (which focused primarily on writing poems, thanks to an instructor who had a PhD in poetry and no real love of prose), but everything I've learned has been through trial and error.

I ask because, as a self-taught writer, I see what I think is a strange phenomenon in this industry: writers who compartmentalize.

Now, by that I mean that I am often amazed when I hear of other writers asking for information on one very specific and often narrow category in the writing process. These people gather grundles of information from other writers in order to study this very narrow category before they attempt it on their own.

I know there is nothing wrong with this--it's probably a great way to learn--but I taught myself to write. I didn't use textbooks. I didn't study the writing process.

I just did it.

And then I did it again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

Sometimes I wonder if this more organic way of learning actually puts me at a disadvantage. Because I'll admit that sometimes writers talk and I'm at a loss. I have no idea what they are talking about. They talk about things I've never consciously studied or thought about, but some time during my organic self-teaching I must have picked up and perfected without knowing it. And I only know that because others who have read my writing tell me so. It's like carrying on a conversation with someone with a very thick accent. I should understand them but sometimes I have to ask them to slow down and explain themselves.

But other times I think I might be the lucky one. I do think outside the box, mostly because I never learned what the box was to begin with. I also trust myself more, because this whole writing thing really has been intuitive for me.

So, weigh in, folks. I want to hear your thoughts on this. Do you think your schooling (or lack of it) has helped or hurt your own writing process? And give some examples, please!