Saturday, August 24, 2013

Buffy the book deal slayer and wisdom from Joss Whedon

This week, I'm beyond thrilled for my former boss Buffy Andrews, whose first book "Gina & Mike: The Yearbook Series Book 1" was released on Kindle (with a paperback version soon to follow). Here's the description:
"Why is it that you never forget your first love? Maybe it’s because it’s the first person you gave your heart to, completely. The first time you were afraid to breathe for fear the moment would pass and you would miss some of the seconds. Life is seldom what we think it will be. Especially when you’re seventeen and the biggest concern you have is whether someone has the same prom dress."
I've known Buffy for eight or nine years now, and in that time she's written, by my rough estimate, about 800,000 books -- mostly middle grade and young adult fiction. This is on top of her full-time gig as the Assistant Managing Editors for Features and Niche Publications at the York Daily Record, raising two kids, running her church charity auction, golfing, finding complementary Glade fragrances for each room of her house, shopping at Kohls and maintaing active profiles on just about every social media tool that has ever been invented. She's a busy lady. 

For years, she's been sending out query letters in search of an agent who could help her get published (she often told me that could be another full-time job). And she's experienced a lot of frustration and heartache  -- expressing to me, at times, that she didn't think she'd ever get published. And I always told her that she would. She's a disciplined, talented, not to mention prolific writer, who sets her sights on a goal and by sheer will and determination, achieves that goal. That's just the person she is. To me, her getting published was a foregone conclusion, it was only a matter of when.

Fast forward to this past month, when I've seen Facebook update after Facebook update from her that several of the novels she's written are being picked up for publication -- and by several I mean five. Five books! I'm so proud of her. Also, I told you so.

I haven't read "Gina & Mike" yet, though it's next on my list (I promise Buffy!). 

Heeey, I know that author! (See Buffy, I clicked the link ;))
Buffy and other writing acquaintances like Megan Erickson (who just had a second kid this year and is working on her second novel ... redonks!) are giving me hope that I, too, will some day overcome my mental writing barriers.

Which is good, because my neighbor just informed me that she's been hoarding all the cards and notes I send her way (I'm a thank you note writer -- and she's someone I frequently have the privilege of thanking) so that when I'm a famous author she'll be able to say she knew me when. So now I have to finish the book if for no other reason then to ensure she doesn't amass years' worth of paper clutter for no reason. Also, I informed her that I'd ever reach a point in my career that she wouldn't be able to, you know, just call me.

For whatever reason, I've been on the receiving end of lots of affirmations like these recently. I'm not sure if I'm giving off an aura of desperation, despair and complete loss of hope* in the endeavor, but my stalwarts have been speaking out: 

  • From my mom: "Just heard about an author of 19 books who died today-- he published his FIRST book when he was 60! You will make it. Love mom"
  • From my sister Laura: "8,000 words is a lot on one subject, something that requires a constant battling of ADD tendencies unlike a blog which is perfect for this day, age, and place you are at in life. I say this as I blink my eyes as the front door slams shaking the whole would take a divine concentration or an extremely detached personality to make better progress, me thinks. I am proud of you for hanging on so tenaciously to your dream. I am utterly, completely convinced that it is that attribute that makes the difference between people who produce things and those who don’t. It really is truth. Mrs. Producer pants!"
  • And my sister Sarah in just about every conversation we have is offering up ideas for new books I should write or we should co-author -- the latest of which is a biography of our dad as told from our perspective -- sitting in the backseat of the crumb-encrusted family van sipping warm sodas and listening to "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" on audiobook on summer road trips that seemed to last anywhere from a week to eternity. It might be a skosh biased.

I really do have the best cheerleaders.

In other news (that strangely also is tangentially related to people named "Buffy"), Entertainment Weekly again shed light on writing and narrative, this time with an interview with Joss Whedon -- someone else whose work I've never really followed, but now I think I kinda should. I can't find the article online, but here were some of the highlights (for me anyway):

  • In talking about his childhood, Whedon said the rule in the house was that between breakfast and lunch he and his brothers weren't allowed to make a sound -- quiet time was required so his mom could write. I don't think that I could ever be the sort of mom who could demand and enforce complete silence in my household for several hours a day so that I could pursue my dreams. We all know how much success I've had at trying to stop the dog from barking every time the oak tree in our backyard twitches with the promise of squirrels. Asking children who seem naturally inclined to noisiness to not make noise is like asking Brad not to comment about how lovely the Duchess of Cambridge is every time he sees a picture of her. It's just not going to happen. And that's OK with me. I think I'm OK putting off my wild dreams during between the hours of breakfast and lunch, so long as I get them back in the hours after dinner. I don't mean to sound judgmental of Whedon's mother. Certainly her writing pursuits have paid off big dividends in his writing pursuits. What did he do during quiet time? "You're either writing or you're eating or you're walking up and down the driveway creating giant science-fiction universes and various elaborate vengeance schemes upon your brothers."
  • Whedon helped write the script for "Toy Story" (along with seven other people). One of these lines he wrote, which is also one of my favorites in the movie:

  • On letting your story be your guide: "Somebody once asked me if I have anything like faith, and I said I have faith in the narrative. I have a belief in a narrative that is bigger than me, that is alive and I trust will work itself out." Thank you Joss Whedon. I think a big part of my resistance to fiction is fear that I don't know where it's going. But just as with life (and George Michael classics), you gotta have faith. 
  • On writing about hope ... even if you don't have any yourself: After telling the interviewer that he honestly doesn't have hope for the future of humanity or the planet, Whedon explained why despite those beliefs, his storytelling isn't bleak: "My stories do have hope because that is one of the things that is part of the solution -- if there can be one. We use stories to connect, to care about people, to care about a situation. To turn the mundane heroic, to make people really thing about who they are." And thank you again, Joss Whedon, for reminding me about why I even try.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Happy school days (with squirrels in backpacks)

My parents were always giddy this time of year.

Usually, if we were on one of our annual summer roadtrips, dad would start commenting on all the goldenrod growing alongside whatever highway or byway we were on. "Look at all that goldenrod," he'd say. "It's school-bus colored -- must be time to go back soon!" And my brother, sister and I would groan from the back seat. Didn't he know summers were endless?

But then mom would chime in with "School Days," waving her arms back and forth as if she were conducting an imaginary choir -- which probably resembled the one shown below -- big bows, floral-print dresses and all:

Of course, now I miss school days -- the smell of a brand new box of crayons, the crack of the spine of those marble composition books and the line of freshly sharpened pencils in my school box. The hopes that I might get to sit next to Derek Leeuwrik, who somehow from fourth grade to sixth grade went from a giant-glasses-wearing nerd to sporty, cool, not-at-all-likely-to-talk-to-a-wild-haired-bookish-safety-patrol-sort of girl. Sigh. 

Where was I? 

Good tidings to all those who are school bound -- from my niece and brother who start their first weeks of college to my little neighbor who started kindergarten today (and all my nephews in between). 

May the squirrels be with you.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Broccoli ice cream is a thing (and other diversions)

Well, I decided to freshen things up around here. 

My Inside Voices is nearing its one-year anniversary (my actual inside voices have been chatting it up for 31 odd years -- but I didn't unleash them onto the interwebs until last August). 

Anyway, there's fewer goldfish and less purple, but more art by Lily. She's been watercoloring up a storm, so I borrowed one of her latest efforts for my header art. This particular piece was called "Giraffe," and is the second or third in a series of giraffe portraits* she's made since visiting Claws 'N' Paws Animal Park last weekend (a place worthy of a story -- if for the name alone). Now, I'm not saying she's the next Georgia O'Keeffe or anything, but my girl knows how to use some color.  (This ends the obnoxious, humble-bragging parent portion of the post).

Since last August when I decided to blog about writing and not writing, I've probably written an additional 8,000 words to my novel -- which is a paltry number compared with how many words I've written here (as Brad points out to me periodically). To which I reply, at the end of a long day blogging is like a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and the prospect of novel-writing is like a plate of broccoli. It's not that I don't like the broccoli. I actually enjoy it quite a lot. But it's just not my go-to nighttime fare and it's a little bit pungent, if you know what I mean. I suppose I'll just have to dress up the broccoli in ice cream's clothing or something. It probably already exists. Yup. Yup, there it is -- Broccoli Ice Cream and it's a kid's song, too. Thank you Google. Helping wannabe novelists procrastinate since 1998.

Where were we? Oh yes, squirrels. An unintentional side project of My Inside Voices has been documenting the squirrel statuary my neighbors dress up and accessorize. A side project I'm also a bit behind in (although less behind in, comparatively, then that dumb novel). Here's the latest on our bushy-tailed friends.

They continue to have a fun-filled summer, visiting the beach:

And apparently attending a luau -- to which the wooden dear was also invited:

And that's all I have for tonight. A little makeover. Excuses. Some squirrels. Oh, yes, and renewing my vows of novel completion. That is to say, here it is, in writing (uh-gain) that by next August, I hope to have an additional 8,000 words to my novel (but hopefully closer, to, like, 30,000 words. Or, just done. Done would be good, too.)

*Yesterday during dinner Lily was told Brad and I that she, too, had a long neck like a giraffe, but, alack she did not have the same purple prehensile tongue. Hers is just pink. And it definitely doesn't eat leaves. Or much of anything green and plantlike for that matter.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Facetime with your dark passenger

So I read Entertainment Weekly cover to cover every week -- not because I'm necessarily an obsessive TV/movie/music/book/entertainment consumer -- but because it offers really great insight into the creative process behind all of these mediums. And since all of these mediums are about storytelling in some form or another -- well, then, that's pretty useful reading for a wannabe novelist (also their great book reviews keep me motivated to finish my story). 

In this week's issue, an excerpt from an upcoming episode of EW/Sundance Channel's new show "The Writers' Room" caught my eye. Each week the show hosts a roundtable discussion with the creative minds behind a popular, game-changing show. The excerpt I read was on Showtime's "Dexter." We're not a premium-channel household, so I've never actually seen "Dexter." About all I know is that it's about a serial killer who kills other serial killers  whose also a family man and crime scene analyst of some sort. 

Anyway, during the discussion executive producer Sara Colleton talked about what made fans root for a serial character: 
"We all have a dark passenger. We all have some aspect of ourselves which we are terrified of letting it see the light of day ... and that is something that's been very relatable, particularly in the early years, when Dexter really had to keep himself hidden."
A dark passenger. Whoa. 

Now that guy's worth writing about.

It's one thing in your writing or art to expose your vulnerabilities. But I feel, somehow, revealing your dark passenger is a whole other level of investment. I guess they are inextricably linked -- but whereas your vulnerability seems more like something that others could empathize with -- the dark passenger -- that manifestation of your vulnerabilities seems less forgivable. If that makes any sense. 

I mean seriously, you can probably forgive Dexter for whatever hangups he has that lead him to be a serial killer. But you can't forgive the act of the serial killing, right? And sure, your dark passenger probably isn't something so extreme as serial killing (I hope) and it might be nothing more than a thought or a whim, but the fact that it exists at all seems problematic. 

I suppose that's the great thing about art though. It frees you to let your dark passenger get a little outside time and helps unload the burden of carrying him around all the time.  You know, if you're willing to take the risk.