What I’m Not Going to Blog About:
—I will not be describing in detail the immense pain in my liver and lymph nodes that has taken over my every waking thought over the past few days
OR whining about how miserable and itchy and rashy I am
OR sharing interesting metaphors to describe the digestive troubles that have set in and turned my tummy rock hard
OR putting in a video of my “don’t throw up” mantra for the day
AND I will refrain from sharing the should-we-or-shouldn’t-we discussions about going to the ER that we held all weekend, the frantic Sunday night phone call to the oncologist on-call, or yesterday’s emergency trip to the oncology clinic to get some much-needed meds–on Valentine’s Day!
Because blogging about those things would be lame.
Instead I’m going to share with you My Road To Publication. Woo hoo! So much more fun. I love hearing other people’s stories and several people have asked me to share mine, and I think today is the day.
Forgive any pain-killer induced rambling, please!
Setting the scene: I grew up writing and had notebooks stuffed full of novels, poems, and fragments. After graduating from high school, I tried all sorts of other career options. I went to massage school, worked as a jazz dj, earned a bachelor’s degree in theatre and generally looked for interesting things to do (click here to learn more about crazy jobs I tried).
Then I started working in cancer research. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was NOT the job for me. I loved the idea of saving-the-world etc., but it was a less-than-cheerful job (and my office didn’t even have windows!) and not at all the puppies and rainbows sort of thing I like.
This was when I discovered that what I needed to do with my life was to write fiction for young people. I fell really and truly head-over-heels-in-love with writing. It was a great escape from my job and, even when I quit that job and moved on to more satisfying work, it was still absolutely perfect for me. In what other job do you get to spend your days living through crazy high-jinx, falling in love, making cool friends and having damn fine adventures? Writers get to create a world with each novel—a fun, gorgeous, tantalizing world with inhabitants who crack you up.
My writing voice turned out to have a strong teen vibe and that was what I had the most fun working on, so it was clear what I was going to write.
I joined writers groups, took classes, went to conferences and workshops and got that buzz-rush of sharing my work with other people. I finished my first novel (after getting some of those less-than-stellar pieces out of my system), revised and revised and revised it, then began researching the publishing industry. I decided to query both agents and editors, but focused primarily on editors.
I got a whole range of responses from form letter rejections to requests for the full manuscript to requests for revisions. One of the major stumbling blocks was that when I started on the novel, no one was writing anything on that subject for teens, but by the time I was submitting the novel, apparently several other people had gotten similar ideas as well. And they’d gotten there just before me! While I’m sure our novels were all quite different in style and tone, most publishers don’t want novels that have too similar of a theme or subject coming out at the same time. This was when I first discovered that Ideas Out of the Air sometimes float around and get snatched up by multiple writers.
I wrote a second novel and revised and revised and revised, did more research on the publishing industry, and began submitting it. I got the whole range of responses that I’d gotten before, but with different (though no less frustrating) reasons. It needed a bit more… something. Or it just wouldn’t fit with the current list.
Before I had time to dwell too much (I still hold out hope that these two novels will find homes someday!), something happened to grab my focus.
Picture this: It’s an early morning in December of 2007 and I’m sitting on our couch in Madison. The best couch of all time that I’d bought years before with my first real salaried-job paycheck. Oh, that couch! It was a gorgeous couch. The perfect amount of support, a soft, nubbly texture, the back and arms were just the right height, and it was perfectly adorable. (I miss the couch, can you tell? Our new Portland couch, it couldn’t claim to be a distant backwards uncomfortable cousin of that couch!).
Here’s a photo of the couch and our Madison living room to get you in the scene:
So it’s morning and Barrett is making me toast and tea before he heads off to work downtown and I go to work at the library. Bleary-eyed and making very little sense, I’m trying to tell him about this absolutely fantastic dream that I’d had the night before.
Me: “And this super bad-ass teen is sneaking into this building and she’s like this crazy master potioner and she has these six-inch long throwing needles tipped with poison strapped to her thighs in special holsters.”
Me: “It was so crazy—like a whole complex action movie and every twist and turn was a surprise.”
Barrett: “Here’s your tea, Bridge. It sounds, um, interesting.”
Me: “Yes, I know how annoying it is when people go on and on about their dreams and they’re all a jumble and don’t make any sense, but THIS WASN’T LIKE THAT! It totally made sense. It had like a plot and everything.”
Barrett: “Hmmm….” Sips his coffee.
Me: “Fine. I’m going to write it all down so that you can SEE just how great this dream was.”
I sat down during my lunch break that day and typed the whole thing up.
It wasn’t right. A couple pages of re-telling just wasn’t the same as living it.
I had to turn it into a novel. THEN Barrett would get the full experience.
I set all of my other projects aside to focus on my new novel, Poison.
The following fall, I submitted a chapter of Poison to the SCBWI-WI conference. The editor who read it there was encouraging. One year after starting Poison, I finally had a readable draft of the entire novel for Barrett. I submitted it to my writers group’s annual novel-exchange weekend retreat. The editor who spent the weekend with us was encouraging.
A couple of drafts later, by mid-to-late summer of 2008, I decided to start querying. This time I focused on agents.
Wherever Poison came from, it apparently wasn’t an idea out of the air caught by other writers. It only came to my house. There was a lot of interest from the agents I sent it to which was incredibly thrilling, especially after years of rejection and near-hits with my other novels.
About this time two years ago, I signed with superstar agent Michael Stearns.
Michael and I went through a round of revisions together (which took longer than it should have due to the whole stupid cancer thing) and my agent got crazy-fun interest on the manuscript when he submitted it to editors, it went to auction, and a little less than two years after I began to write this novel, I had a publishing contract with Disney-Hyperion with a slated pub-date of summer, 2012.
Almost eleven years after I’d decided to become an author.
Love to you all,
You give some people a tiny bit of fame and they just can’t get enough. As is the case with Barrett’s mom — her hands made the last post and then she really really really wanted to get her face in. So I’m indulging her. Us in Forest Park:
This also seems to be the case with my cats who usually see the internet as something to sit in front of, but I’ve noticed that since I haven’t blogged about them for a while they’ll be laying around looking cute and then see me looking and seem to make an effort to look extra cute. Also, Harpo jumps up on the back of Barrett’s office chair, puts his two front paws on Barrett’s shoulder and peers over it to look into his work webcam making loud commentary right in his ear. This has lost him his hanging out in Barrett’s office when he is actually using the webcam privileges. An example of cuteness:
And here’s an old one where they tried tweaking the cute but ended up just looking weird:
But I do have a nice picture of my friend April Henry looking cute at her book signing last night:
Her fame is burgeoning far beyond the reaches of my blog. New York Times Bestselling Author PLUS she just got a TWO PAGE SPREAD in Henry Holt’s catalog PLUS an additional full page ad in the back of the catalog!!
V. exciting stuff.
Must slip in some writing before cats wake up and insist that I pay attention to their cuteness.
Love to you all,
These lovely, lovely flowers were sent to me by my Madison writers group as congrats on selling my novel to Disney/Hyperion. Aren’t they gorgeous?
Earlier this year, my group got together with some other SCBWI-WI folks and made me a healing quilt. My cats took a liking to the quilt so now it’s hanging up on the wall instead of on my bed to protect it from the little hairy monsters. It still sends off healing vibes, just from a little higher up.
I’m especially fond of the Bridget in a Cake square that Michael Kress-Russik (whose first illustrated book Moon Over the Mountain just came out — check it out here!) made.
My writers group is awesome.
We are celebrating pie this year for Thanksgiving with some Portland friends in a Piesgiving Fest. This involves eating a lot of pie and pie shaped food and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Thanks to everyone for all of your support this year and Happy Thanksgiving! Or Piesgiving, if you are so inclined.
Love to you all,
p.s. Don’t forget the auction is starting up tomorrow. Check out details here.
Recently, I got an email from one of my darling cousins about writing. She was asking about getting motivated to write, especially after having taken a break — in her words “get back on the ol’ writing horse” and how to complete projects and make writing a more integral part of her life. This comes up a lot with writer friends, so I thought I’d post my thoughts for you all (if you mainly read my blog to check on my health and are not a writer, I’m doing great, thanks! Feel free to skip this post).
I have to admit that I hardly feel like an expert in many areas of writing (as you can see by my random punctuation) and I’m always learning a lot from other writers and from my agent, but the one element of writing I feel I have managed to whup into shape in the past eight years or so is the Getting a Lot of Writing Done and Finishing Projects aspect of writing. Even and especially when I’m busy with a million other things.
The busiest year of my life, I was a full time grad student, had three jobs, made the movie The World’s Fastest Librarian, and belonged to loads of various groups and things (because, I’m embarrassed to say as it does nothing for my teen street cred, I am a “joiner” and can’t help signing up for things). I still wrote a novel that year and worked on revisions for an earlier one.
Different things work for different people and I will be the first to admit that my methods might not work for everyone as I march to the beat of a really crazy drummer who has quite possibly taken too much acid. But they work for me and maybe they will work for some of you (especially if your drummer has similar issues to mine).
This is a longer than usual post so we’ve created an audio recording of the following for those who can’t be bothered to read so much. Or for those who, for some reason, want to hear me reading to them.
My Sort of Naughty Methods For Getting Writing Done: Click here to listen.
1) I am a sneaky writer. I like to think of writing less as something that should be done (and done with a capital “W”) and more as something sort of naughty that I absolutely should not be doing because there are other capital letter (and lame) things to do like Cleaning.
I think it’s sort of like the Catholic school girls (like the one who raised me) sneaking out for a smoke. It just feels a bit bad and yet oh, so good. Writing when you shouldn’t is just like eating cake for no reason at all.
After a while, it seems like writing weaves itself into your life and you don’t realize that you are spending all of this time Writing with a capital “W”.
2) I write whatever crazy thing comes into my head — even sometimes when I’m revising something. Because, well, it’s fun to write scenes like that, but also that crazy thing might actually be good. If it’s REALLY crazy, the next time you try to write the scene, the pressure is off because nothing can be as off the wall as what you wrote last time and you’ll probably write just what you need to.
3) I never force myself to sit down at a desk. It feels naughtier and less like Writing to write in random places. I sometimes end up at a desk after a while, but I like to just “play around” and take my laptop or notebook wherever seems like the most fun at the time. Right now my favorite sneaky writing spot is at the table on the back porch with a big pot of tea (and a lot of cushions under me), but sometimes I write in bed with a cat cuddled up with me or on the couch (ignoring the dirty laundry) and I used to write all over Madison depending on when I had a little break between jobs, classes, etc.
4) Rewards. I am a huge huge huge believer in rewards. For big things, little things, in between things. If I write so much as one word a day, I get a reward. This sounds so impossibly inefficient and yet I can look back and say it must work because I’ve written quite a few novels with this method. Some days one word is enough. Usually, my reward for writing is to spend some time reading whatever novel I’m currently in love with. I get bigger rewards for finishing things. Like cake! (Reward Cake is not to be confused with No Special Reason and Feels a Bit Decadent Cake — both are good but you enjoy them differently).
5) Deadlines. This sounds anti-fun, but it’s kind of nice and can actually take the pressure off. Being in a writers’ group, you just have to get your behind in gear and get SOMETHING done before you meet. And if it’s a good group you get fired up to work on revisions after you leave.
Getting submissions ready for conferences is a nice deadline too.
I also make up arbitrary deadlines like how I currently want to finish the revisions of the novel I’m working on by mid-October. This is a pretty random deadline so I made up a reason. My birthday is November 2nd and I will want to lounge around and have parties on my birthday so I can’t write then. Also, the birthday extravaganza will take some planning so I better damn well be done two weeks before so that I can idle away time researching what cake I’m going to make (or buy or talk someone else into making) and what I’m going to wear.
6) I make separate time slots for the “business” part of writing. Right now I’m working on revisions for my agent so he can get on with business and spend my “business” time blogging but when I was querying I dedicated usually one day a week (more or less depending on what was going on) to work on queries, send queries, do industry research, create website content, update my submissions records, and log all of the kidlit books I’d read recently with notes on who published it etc.
Even if you aren’t looking to be a career writer and don’t really feel all that hot to get published, I think this is important. You learn a lot from the responses you get from editors and agents and I think it helps you want to write more because it’s a challenge — you keep going until your work is good enough to get an offer. And once you’ve found someone who wants to work with you then you have even more motivation because you’ll have feedback to work on.
I wish you all happy (and sneaky if you think it could be your thing) writing!
kt literary did the world of authors a great big favor by asking editors what they’re looking for in an author site/author blog. If you’ve been racking your brains trying to figure this out, you should definitely check it out. While I enjoyed finding out this information very much, I was stunned to hear that it seems as though a serious-ish blog might be preferred by some editor types. As I know editors work v. v. hard and are experts in their field and those editors I know I like very much, I feel I must comply.
Some things that will have to go:
Personal blatherings about trees and my great love for them
I will miss them.
A word that came up in the blog post was “professional” which got me thinking. Professional can mean a number of things one of which is that you are paid for your work and another refers to being sort of uptight like how I dress “professionally” for an interview by hiding all signs of cleavage both of the toe and upper regions. Leaning towards the getting paid for what you do angle, I decided to do some research.
What a random sampling of professional (meaning they get paid, not that they are hiding their cleavage) authors have posted recently on their blogs:
Meg Cabot — Outliers, Britney Spears, and her planned slumber parties at the White House.
Justine Larbalestier — following the news is more interesting than writing
Holly Black — birthday cat, zombies vs. unicorns
John Green — driving around the country in a mini van
Neil Gaiman — being sick, tea for two
Sarah Dessen — cold playgrounds and diaper changing
Maureen Johnson — why unicorns are bull&$#%
I must say I like this form of professionalism. Not as binding as the covered up shoe/shirt type. I am especially fond of the pics of Holly Black’s demon cat. Still, that seems to be breaking some of the other rules. I’m not sure what to make of this.
But wait, there is a loophole! Some editors allow for “quirky funny writers” to have “quirky funny blogs” — how does one qualify for “quirky funny”???? Maybe more cats and more pajamas! I think both cats and pajamas and maybe even cats in pajamas are both funny and quirky.
Expect some interesting posts in the near future.