Thursday, May 30, 2013

Conference Recap (finally!)



You may have noticed it’s been a tad bit longer than a day since I last posted my daily review of the conference. Ah, well. Now for a few more highlights:

Publication primer: A published author (Mette Ivie Harrison; see below), five aspiring authors (including me), the first ten pages of all our books, and six hours to discuss those pages. Good times.

Slush pile panel: The first pages of about a dozen novels (including my current project) were read before a panel of agents and editors. After each one, they discussed what they liked/didn’t like and whether they would read on. The response for my piece was very positive.

First chapter contest: Alas, I did not place. But I will say that my first chapter now is much better than it was then, I think. Also, the people who did place certainly deserved it.

Classes and workshops: Lots of great stuff. Probably the two most influential for me (aside from the primer) were Hannah Bowman’s class on story structure and pacing and Howard Tayler’s class on practice. The story structure class made me look more carefully at individual scenes as well as the overall story arc of my books. The practice class (aside from being really funny) reminded me to view writing as a skill that can and should be, well, practiced.

People: One of the great things about attending this conference was the chance to interact with this amazing group of people. They were by turns kind, funny, enthusiastic, encouraging, smart, thought-provoking, and insightful. A few of them were even all of these things at the same time. I bought quite a few of their books, but even that didn’t seem like enough. I wanted more more more! I also got most of them signed in a mass book signing. So fantastic! Over the next eternity or two, I will be posting reviews of some of those books here, but for now I’ll just post up a quick recap of some of these lovely people. So here they are, in almost no particular order…

Mette Ivie Harrison: I was terrified to meet this woman. From her website, she is clearly confident, smart, in awesome shape (she’s a nationally ranked triathlete), and just someone who knows who she is. For a woman who struggles to decide between Mexican and Indian for dinner tonight, that was daunting. Add to this the fact that she writes retold fairy tales and fairy tale-esque stories (in a way that is at once alien and intimate—but more on this in another post) and that she would be reading the beginning of my novel. It was a little nerve-wracking.

What I discovered is that she is all of those things—confident, smart, self-assured—but that she is also generous, no-nonsense, encouraging, and a person who genuinely wants to help. She was even a little like the therapist that I once wanted to be (back when I thought I wanted to be a therapist… many eons ago): willing to call people (including me) on their baggage and give new metaphors and meanings to that baggage. And hey, writing really is a form of therapy sometimes.

Her latest novel, TheRose Throne, just came out. It was lovely and intriguing, and I look forward to reading the sequel (and again, more about that in a future post). She also just released Ironmom, which is nonfiction and sounds fascinating.

C. Michelle Jeffries, who I only spoke to for about ten minutes one afternoon but whose next idea involves fairy crafts and things for younger children. It sounds so fun. I have to go rummage through my business card pile to find the website so I can link it here.

Ali Cross: I got to sit with Ali at lunch, and she was delightful. Among other things, she told me about the contest that the Authors Incognito group (an online group of authors who have attended the conference) hold every year for rejections. The person with the most rejections in every year wins. One year’s winner got 188! Way to go! Ali was also funny and energetic and full of useful information, which I learned some of when I went to her class on indie publishing (see below under RaShelle Workman). She also runs a business helping indie publishers. Ali also took pity on me when I raised my hand like a lunatic fangirl to win a free copy of one of her books. Never read her writing, but I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

RaShelle Workman: Along with Ali above, RaShelle Workman cotaught the class on indie publishing. It was chock full of awesomeness and made the idea of indie publishing seem a little more approachable. It was also fascinating to see some of the numbers on how you can make more money in indie publishing. I mean, a lot more. It’s not that I’m dying to be a millionaire (and if I were, I probably shouldn’t be going into writing), but let’s be honest and admit that making at least a little money at writing would be nice. RaShelle talked about writing like a small business, and she and Ali were very helpful and informative about how they did that. (Note: I am not planning on indie publishing at this juncture, but it’s good to have some meaningful thoughts on the subject.)

Howard Tayler: Along with being funny and bald, Howard Tayler is smart in a know-how-to-make-good-decisions-for-my-craft sort of way. An overarching sense that I got from almost all of the published, working authors at this conference was that writing is work. It doesn’t magically appear. Sure, there’s the creative process and being an artiste and all that jazz. But at the heart of it is sitting down and taking the time to work, whether you want to or not. This is an excellent reminder for when the words don’t flow the way you want them to. And Howard taught about how to work smart, not just hard.

Hannah Bowman, who gave the wonderful presentation about story structure (which I will never be able to think of again without seeing a backwards Nike symbol in my brain).

Michelle Witte, an agent I only got to hear from briefly during the slush pile panel, but who gave some great advice on both my pages and some of the others. It made me wish I could have heard from her more. She liked my first page (hooray!) and also commented on two vague moments that I really did need to fix. Oh, also, I laughed when she said that she was sick of heroines with auburn hair and green eyes. Fortunately, my heroine has just plain brown hair and dark brown eyes (modeled after my daughter’s eyes—gorgeous!). So that’s a relief. :)

Angie Schilaty: One of the many lovely unpublished folk I met at the conference. She was so fun to talk to, and I’m looking forward to exchanging some pages and determining if we could start forming an online writing critique group. Again, I’ll have to dig through my business cards to find her email address. And I hope I spelled her name right! (I really would check these things, except that I’m on vacation and therefore away from all my useful conference-related papers.)

Janette Rallison, who writes some of my favorite excruciatingly embarrassing fluffy young adult romances. I have cringed my way through multiple scenes in almost every one of her books—cringing in a sympathetic way, I mean, for those poor characters who are living these embarrassing lives. Probably my all-time favorite is the performance of Westside Story in Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To-DoList. I never really loved Westside Story (the music is great, but it’s Romeo and Juliet, so… no), but I would pay good money to see this particular performance. But that was a sidetrack. What I meant to say was that I got to have a fangirl moment of getting her book signed and acting like a ditzy teenager in the presence of a movie star. At least it wasn’t as bad as that time I met Shannon Hale and said (brilliantly), “You’re Shannon Hale!” with my mouth hanging open stupidly.

Julie Wright: This woman had to have been in drama at some point. Her presentation about fantasy writing was energetic and funny and filled with life and a sense of comedy that not all authors have (certainly not me, at this point, as I drag you into word 1500 of this exceptionally long blog post). Plus, she has awesome hair. After her presentation, I immediately felt the need to go buy one of her books just to stay near her awesomeness for a little longer. I probably would have offered to have sleepovers and braid her hair and talk about boys we had crushes on too, but that seemed a little overboard.

Anyway, later I got to talk fairy tales with her and Betsy Schow (see below), and I found that she was just as delightful in person as in presentation. She was gracious and interesting and totally an author you want to meet. She gave me some excellent advice too (I love all these authors who are so willing to share their smarts!). I’m looking forward to reading her book soon. It’s on the stack….

Betsy Schow was like the funny, quirky, awesome pixie best friend every girl should have. She just radiated glowy, dryly humorous energy. She and Julie Wright were sitting next to each other at the author signing, and it couldn’t have been better for me. I first learned about Betsy through a site where I entered a personal essay into a contest, and then I suddenly got to meet and chat with her. What a nifty world we live in! Betsy and her book, Finished Being Fat, were featured on Good Morning, America! a while back, so doesn’t that just make us all feel cool? Aside from her overall brilliance and charm and good advice, I love her philosophy of finishing things. Sigh. That is part of why I am finally getting around to finishing this blog post, despite its lack of charm and its horrendous length.

Christy and Devon Dorrity, a husband/wife duo who took an incredible amount of time to talk to me about indie publishing and the pros/cons. Christy’s first book is out soon, and Devon did the graphic design for its shiny cover, including the photography and everything. Neat! They gave some excellent advice about conferences as well, and Devon wrote a great tribute to Howard Tayler’s bald head earlier in the day. These were people who were genuinely excited about their craft and excited about sharing their knowledge and experience with others.


Looking over this list, you might think that I am exaggerating. Not everyone could possibly have been as charming and funny and marvelous as I’m making them out to be here. You would be wrong. Not only were they this lovely, some of them were even more so. And I’m certain I’ve missed some who really deserve to be mentioned, like LaChelle Hansen in my publication primer class, whose book I really hope I get to read someday. Or that one guy whose name I can’t remember now who really wanted to hear my pitch and gave me some feedback on shortening it. Or my sister K-onna Mason, who let me sleep on her couch and eat her food. Honestly, I never knew there could be such a concentrated group of lovely people in one place at one time. I’m sure there were curmudgeons, but I didn’t run into them (well, not many). Tragically, however, I have run out of adjectives to appropriately describe all of these people, and that’s why you’re getting the same adjectives over and over. Oh, also because at the rate I’ve been going with this post, if I try to edit it nicely it will be another month or two before I finish.

So there you have it. To sum up: Good, exhausting, fun, educational, invigorating, motivational. Shiny (not unlike Howard Tayler).

Friday, May 10, 2013

Day Two: The Not-So-Play-by-Play

And now for something even less informative!


9:33 p.m. My brain is mush. Mushy mush. Like you cooked the oatmeal then stepped on it in a big vat like grapes except that it’s not grapes it’s oatmeal and so it probably doesn’t actually make it more mushy but it sure does make your toes feel mushy. Like that.

In other news, today was fabulous. I met a bunch of wonderful people, got some good advice and some incredible encouragement, got a whole slew of books signed by some of the aforesaid wonderful people, and ate some cheesecake. I will hopefully share more in the future, but for now I feel I should probably just end by mentioning something about mush

Day One: The Play-by-Play



It’s 9:33 a.m. now, according to my computer, which is still (in that metaphysical way that sometimes things are two places at once) in Maryland. I, on the other hand, am somewhere over the Midwest. Ish. Thinking back, I think this may be the first time I have flown on my own since I was about eleven and the flight attendants had to sort of babysit me. It’s kind of weird only managing my own stuff through security and not having someone to leave my suitcase with while I go for a snack.

It’s been a semi-uneventful morning. Which is to say that I did, in fact, walk into the men’s bathroom. But only once. But there was no one there, so I wasn’t horrifically embarrassed. And the urinals quickly apprised me of my mistake. (Although, I admit, my first thought was, “Why are there urinals in the women’s restroom? That’s a pretty shoddy update of an old building layout, if I do say so myself.”) Also, my daughter did throw up the bacon I so thoughtfully offered her for breakfast. But she waited until I was long gone and my hubby and the kids were almost home from dropping me off at the airport. So I didn’t have to deal with it.*

I finished reskimming Robin McKinley’s Beauty, a feat I have resisted for years as I worked on my own version of the tale. I am both dismayed and relieved: dismayed to find a number of things that feel eerily similar, relieved to find that my story explores some completely different avenues that I think will be intriguing and satisfying to many a fan of both McKinley’s version and the “original.”**

I have only thought of three things so far that I should have done while I was on the ground with internet access. Fortunately two will wait and the third does not require the internet. It’s the third item, however, that has driven me to my current level of procrastination and also given me flashbacks of all those college papers I spewed out at the last second possible.

Somehow I managed to miss the fact that I was supposed to bring a 3–5-page*** synopsis of my novel to one of my master classes tomorrow. Oops. So now I get to write it while I’m in the air over amber waves of grain or whatever else is down there. I actually wish I did have the internet for this. Then I could obsessively look up what I need to write in a synopsis. Or at least find out if it should be double or single spaced (hello, college flashback!). Funny how I took a conference class on this last fall and thought, “Cakewalk.” And now here I am thinking, “Only if the cakes are made out of chum and the players are sharks.” I wonder what kind of music would be playing for that cakewalk? I bet my husband can think of something appropriate.

It is now 9:52, metaphysically speaking. It is also, sort of, 8:52 and 7:52. Whatever the time, I’m headed back to the grind.


Whew. It is now 11 a.m. (unless you are a cat in a box). I have just completed a first draft of the synopsis. It is four pages, and it is dry. Brittle dry. Desert dry. Tumbleweeds-have-just-rolled-across-it dry. Is it supposed to be this dry? I don’t know. I am looking forward to asking the Googoracle later. Also, I am nearly certain now that it should be double spaced. That means I’m looking at cutting out half of what I have just written. Sigh. It’s 11:03, and I’m off to work again.

11:22. Only now much closer to 9:22. And not much closer to the correct number of pages. Chopping is hard. I’m down by half a page now (single spaced). Two-ish more to go. And it’s time to turn off the compy. Good-bye, compy!

7:16 p.m./9:16 p.m. My brain is mush. As evidenced by the fact that at first I subtracted two hours from my computer’s time (9:16) and ended up with 6:16.

* The hubby should probably be nominated as some sort of saint for all the barf he’s cleaned up since we got married--not just because he cleaned it up, but because he’s so often cleaned it up so I didnt have to. That's some serious love.

** I say “original” loosely since that’s not really a cut-and-dry topic.

*** Oh how I long for my Chicago manual right now! What would Chicago say about such a cumbersome hyphenated word? It’s an adjective, it has an en dash already in it, but then it needs a hyphen because it’s an adjective! Do I hyphenate? Use another en dash? Heck, why not proceed to a full-on em dash? Actually, I feel fairly confident that the correct option in this case is to reword. But I liked the conundrum so much that I’m keeping it. Even though the current hyphenation is most definitely incorrect.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Wolfskin



I’ve been reconsidering a lot of fairy tales lately, thinking how else they might have gone, wondering what might have happened in a different world. I am like the Beast I am currently writing in this way, always looking for a different way to see the same stories. In fact, many of the stories I’ve been rethinking have been because he was telling the tale, or was thinking about it anyway.

The following is another of his stories, along with a snippet of the conversation he and Isabel have after he tells it.


Once upon a time, there was a young tradesman who lived in the foothills of the mountains, a foolish man who believed he should be given all that he wanted, no matter the cost to others. One night in the tavern, when ale had loosened the tongues of the men, he heard the story of a beautiful young woman who lived in the mountains. In the daylight in the forest, it was said, she lived as a wolf. But when she wanted to, she could shed her wolf skin and become human, the most gorgeous woman imaginable, lithe and lovely, russet hair swirling around her the same shade as the wolf, golden eyes like the beast.
The stories went on as the ale flowed. “I saw her once, staring at me, just as close to me as you are,” declared one man.
“She came to me as a wolf,” said another. “Knocked me down and stood over me like she wanted to chew me up.”
“Then how come you’re not dead?” someone asked, and at the speaker’s stuttered reply, drunken laughter swept through the room. The young man listened quietly as an idea began to form in his mind.
He would find the woman and take her to wife.
So he began to lay his trap. He’d heard that the woman was curious, drawn by light and the unknown. He built up a bonfire and laid out foods that would be unfamiliar and strange to one who had lived in the forest. Then he stood in the shadows and waited.
Soon enough she came, a great red wolf with eyes a shade too human. She paced back and forth, just beyond the fire’s light, tempted but wary. The scent of the food covered the scent of the man. Finally, when it seemed she would draw away, she glanced around in a furtive manner that was certainly not the way of a beast. Then she dropped her wolfskin and walked forward.
The man sucked in his breath as the firelight fell on her. A wolf’s ears would have caught the sound, but she was all human now. She moved with the grace of a wild animal, but she was drawn to the fire as the wild would never be.
Faster than flame, he ran to where she had discarded her skin. He snatched it up and fled to hide it. When finally she had exhausted her curiosity, she went to find that her wolfskin was gone.
She howled in grief and fear, the human in her too weak to think of what to do. Here was the first secret of the wolfwoman: she was bound to her wolfskin, and to lose that connection would cause her anguish.
And thus, when she learned who held that skin, she was bound to him as well. At first she thought to find it, steal it back from him, but he had hid it too cleverly. In time, when she realized what he wanted from her, she determined that she would give it, so that she could stay close to her wolfskin. One day he would make a mistake. One day she would find that wolfskin, and on that day she would take it up and strike, her claws tearing into flesh, the satisfying crunch of broken bone beneath her jaw.
But she would have to bide her time.
So, in the way of humans, she was bound to him in marriage.
In time the man, who had thought only to possess her, began to see that she was not only beautiful but also kind. The children of the village would flock to her, following her around both for her beauty and for her strangeness. There is nothing that appeals to a child so much as mystery. And when they came to her, she would stop in her task and play with them or sing. She never spoke, only sang sweet, wordless tunes. Her voice was mournful and sharp, like the howl of the wolf on the mountain. The children hovered near her.
But the man could see her kindness only from a distance, for she did not share it with him. With him she was a caged beast, watching and waiting, refusing to be tamed. He began to see what he had not seen before—that he could not force such beauty to be his. But still he feared to let it go. If he could not have it, he still wished to be near it. So he kept her wolfskin hidden from her, and he kept her bound.
Now I mentioned that when the children came, she would stop in her tasks. There was one task that she favored above all others—that of knitting. Herein lies the second great secret of the wolfwoman. She was bound, it is true, to the man who had taken her hide. But there was a way to win free. It would take seven years, and during that time she could not speak, but if she spent that time knitting herself a new wolfskin she could be free again. One word, and she would lose her chance.
Though the man did not release her, he did all else that he could to treat her kindly. He brought her gifts of clothing and food she liked, making sure she had time to play with the village children as she loved to do. He learned the meaning of love.
So the years passed, and she knitted, and he watched.
But as the fifth year came, he began to finally realize it and admit it to himself. He would never have her willingly. So he went to the place where he had hidden her skin, those years before. He brought it before her and placed it at her feet, drawing back to watch what she would do.
Half expecting to be dead any minute, claws sunk deep in his chest.
The wolfwoman looked away from her knitting, down to where lay her skin and her freedom before her. She looked up at him wordlessly, searching his face.
“I’m sorry” is all he said before he could not bear to look at her again. He turned away, waiting for her to take her skin and go. But she did not. She did draw it up into her lap, rubbing it against her human skin to feel its softness against her cheek, but she did not put it on. She breathed it in, the wild scent of the forest still clinging to it after all this time.
Then she folded it gently and set it beside her.
She took up her needles and continued to knit. When another two years had come and gone, she finally took up the finished wolfskin and gave it to her husband. They both pulled on their wolfskins and went out into the mountains to howl and run together, then they returned back to the village. They lived both lives, the wild and the tame, and did so happily ever after.

***

This was a story to which there was no safe reply.
“Thoughts?” he asked, and I could not pretend that I didn’t understand its significance.
“I’m not sure,” I said slowly. “It seems strange that she would ever come to love him after he stole her.”
“Can he not change?” the Beast asked quietly.
I shook my head. “I don’t know.”