I’m excited to announce that my newest manuscript Thoughts and Prayers won second place in the Utah Arts Council Original Writing Competition in the Novel category. It’s my first story for adults, although I snuck a couple of teenage characters into the mix!
I also did an interview with the Davis Clipper. You can read that here: http://davisclipper.com/news/writer-places-in-state-competition/
A couple of nights ago, I had dinner with several writer friends, and we got to talking about Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert’s book about living a creative life. Different aspects of the book resonated with each of us.
I love the way she dismisses the notion that we should have to “suffer” for art.
My project this past year has been to put the fun back into my writing life. I joined a pen pal group with people all over the world. I’m working my way through a challenging writing exercise book. I’ve written a dozen short stories. Retreating a bit has reminded me why I write: I LOVE IT! (And I probably couldn’t stop if I wanted to.)
Big Magic is an easy-to-read, light-hearted, and accessible cheerleading book–sometimes we need to remember that the creative life should be a happy one!
Mother’s Day is coming May 10th. If you have a mom who loves to write, here are some great gift ideas!
Powell’s Indiespensable Book Club
Good writers are great readers. Powell’s City of Books (worthy of a pilgrimage to Portland, OR) will send your mom a specially-chosen, signed first-edition novel–along with some fun goodies that often relate to the story. Often they send another book too! Writers will also love the author interview included in the package. Packages arrive every six weeks or so.
LizzyKate Tea Of The Month Club
Nothing will help Mom achieve her word-count goals than a lovely cup of tea! LizzyKate will send a selection of three amazingly delicious, high-quality teas in cute packaging every month. You can choose from Specialty teas, Caffeine-Free teas, or both. LizzyKate also has a nice selection of tea-related products to keep mom happily sipping, and cruising along on that WIP!
I’ve been working my way through Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I almost always choose to read a book instead of clean or tidy anything, but Kondo’s true passion (absolutely infectious) in this charming little guide inspired me to go through ALL of my stuff.
Step One: clothing. I had no problem tossing out old clothes, giving up a significant portion of my writing wardrobe (old, hole-y, but soft sweats).
Step Two: books. NOOOOOOO!!!!! I procrastinated this step for a couple of weeks, but now I love having space on my shelves for exciting new books. I really don’t miss my old Russian language text books, out-dated writing industry books, really boring literary criticism. Or any of the other books that made me feel guilty for not wanting to read them.
Next I tackled Step Three. Papers.
Recycling manuals for appliances I no longer own felt great. Same for kiddie birthday party ideas that I’d cut out of magazines. I don’t see any unicorn parties in my high school daughter’s future. Old insurance policy papers? Out! This is easy!
But then I got to my writing papers.
Every short story I’ve ever written had its own file. Every novel I’ve written had its own file(s). Plus, hunky rubber-banded first drafts, second drafts, sixth drafts… My file drawers barely closed. My presentations had spilled into a different file cabinet: 30 (!) different talks in 30 (!) different folders.
All weekend I pretended that my home office didn’t exist, and read a book I’d rediscovered in Step Two. On Monday I made myself face those overstuffed files.
The magazine market has changed dramatically since I first wrote all those short stories. Thankfully, so has my writing! Penning all those stories taught me about characters, plot, language–and the meaning of “ready for submission.” I won’t be sending any of them out again, so I simply saved one copy of each story and discarded its file, submission sheet, and other notes and correspondence. I do like to see how my writing has changed, and many of those stories reflect things from my daughters’ childhood. But now they hang together in a “Retired Stories” folder in the back.
I tossed all but one copy of each unsold novel manuscript. Each is revised, so I don’t need old marked up copies. I didn’t need copies of queries to various editors and agents, many of whom are no longer working in the industry. I kept only the papers relevant to current submissions.
So many of the papers clogging my files aren’t relevant to where I am right now in my writing career, so I recycled hundreds and hundreds of pages!
I realized while going through my presentations that they fall into four categories: generating ideas, nuts and bolts of writing, characters, and revision. I saved one handout from each talk.
I filled my giant recycling bin to the brim with my not-needed writing papers. Now I have space for all the new things I’ll be creating and doing–and that feels exciting and, yes, a bit life-changing.
Next week my critique group is having our annual holiday breakfast. We always exchange small writerly gifts. And I have no idea what to do this year. Some of my favorite writerly gifts that I’ve received are:
A framed ornament of my first ever book cover. Both my critique partner & I wrote stories that appeared in Blooming Tree Press’ Summer Shorts anthology. I love seeing this on my tree & remembering how hard I’ve worked at writing for all these years.
A tote bag for all my critique group needs: notebooks, pens, books, and manuscript pages. And it’s true: if you’re interesting, in any good or bad way, I will put you in my novels! (That means YOU impressively grumpy woman at post office yesterday.)
I place all sorts of knick knacks on my writing desk, mostly so I can play with them when I get stuck. Or haven’t quite started yet… I was thrilled to receive this little framed message reminding me simply to WRITE. I loved that the message was composed in kitchen utensils because I also enjoy cooking.
The students at Two Rivers High School, where I’ve been teaching a class this fall, gave me this cute little journal. Now I always love a cute diary, whining, I mean writing, my way through several volumes each year. But this one is extra special because each student wrote a short message to me. I love peeking at the messages–especially on bad days!
What are you favorite things to give to writer friends or to receive from writing & reading friends?
Last weekend the weather finally warmed enough for our pet tortoises to play outside.
As I sat outside reading & watching Sunny and Sandy, I thought about my favorite tortoise quote:
“Turtles have everything a writer needs: tough shells to deal with criticism; soft, sensitive insides; the need to stick their necks out if they want to move forward; and the slow-and-steady patience to keep slogging away, day after day.” –Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star
I’ve been collecting turtle figurines on my travels for many years, but none are as charming as the real thing!
I always tuck a small notebook into my purse so I can record story ideas, interesting tidbits, strange human behaviors, cupcake places I’d like to try… But I especially collect potential characters.
(You can see why I did not pursue illustration!)
A cute grocery checker turned into a love interest in one of my stories, so did a teenager sipping a strawberry frappuccino that matched her hair… My next WIP idea sparked after a few random encounters with intriguing strangers (but I have to finish my current novel first!).
And it’s no secret that a neighborhood skateboarding hottie inspired the character of Xander Cooper in Swoon At Your Own Risk.
But I was a little surprised when he showed up at my daughter’s soccer game on Saturday. I did know that his little sister played on my daughter’s team, but he’s away at college now, and no longer skateboards down the street.
No one in his family knows that I’ve written him into a novel, and I really only borrowed his mop of curly hair and graceful skateboarding. Xander Cooper is a completely fictional character. Still–it felt so strange to sit close to someone who looks so much like the character I created…
But it was nice to see him cheer so sweetly for his little sister. (Nice guys DO live outside of books!)
Last week I traveled to the Northwest for a series of author (and family) visits. I had a wonderfully fun, wonderfully exhausting week–and it only rained every time I happened to be driving 70 miles per hour on the freeway. Yikes! Here are some other highlights:
Powell’s–one of my favorite bookstores ever! I taught a workshop for teens and tweens who like to write with author Anne Osterlund. This is a monthly event–authors mentoring students. Check the schedule!
We had a small, but enthusiastic group. And I got to fulfill my dream of signing my books at Powell’s. Plus, I had lots of fun visiting with my Portland family members and the next day I went bookstore hopping with author friend Rosanne Parry. We visited the big Powell’s and Annie Bloom’s (they have a bookstore cat–I LOVE bookstore cats!). I also added a few more books to my already heavy suitcase.
After a night in Olympia, Washington hanging out with my mom & brother-in-law, I rode the ferry to Lopez Island to do school visits at Lopez High and Lopez Middle School. Much thanks to the lovely folks at Lopez Island Library.
I had so much fun getting to know the fabulous teens of Lopez Island–lots of creative, funny, and nice people! (*waves* to MacKenzie & Kevin.) I showed them how I’ve added real life experiences from my diaries to my novels. And I made fun of one of their favorite teachers–my brother! (My sister-in-law is an amazing teacher too!)
Other Lopez highlights. Eating. Mmm. Galley hamburgers. Vortex burritos. Collecting rocks on Agate Beach, watching the seals at Shark’s Reef. And a post-school visit first: my brother convinced me to allow him to winch me 30 feet up a sailboat mast so that I could string a rope for him. Let’s just say that the thigh master has nothing on a sailboat mast as the wind picks up…
In other adventures, I spent the day with my five-year-old nephew, Quinn, at preschool. We were driving to school, rocking out to Taylor Swift, when I noticed flashing lights behind me. Oops! 35 MPH in a 25 MPH zone. As I’m trying to talk my way out of a ticket, apologizing, explaining, apologizing, my nephew calls out, “My dad got stopped by the cops too!” I started laughing, but I still weaseled out of the ticket. Phew! (My brother hadn’t been so lucky.)
A half hour later I got busted at preschool for suggesting that my stuffed squirrel karate chop Quinn’s stuffed squirrel. Oops! Karate stays at The Dojo, even for stuffed animals, on Lopez Island. But Quinn now thinks his Aunt Syd has some serious street cred!
Next I headed to Seattle–and lunch with my high school friend Amy. After spending a week reading my high school diaries, full of serious boy craziness, I thanked her for putting up with my seventeen-year-old self! We had a great Greek lunch near her office in the shadow of the Space Needle. How cool is that?
The next day I spoke at the WLMA (Washington Library Media Association). Just before my talk, I ran up to my room to brush my teeth, comb my hair, and look over my PowerPoint one last time–only to discover that my computer claimed that my presentation was corrupted (my HS diary isn’t that edgy!). The only presentation accessible was one geared toward 4th grade Girl Scouts. Quickly I scrambled to add a few slides. And the presentation went fine, but not exactly as I’d hoped. Next time I’ll remember to actually use that flash drive I carry with me!
I also had a great time visiting with old Whitman College friends: Margy and Roz are librarians, and Royce Buckingham writes great boy books (we took the same English classes in college–and never imagined this day!). I also loved hearing Sherman Alexie read the first chapter of his sequel to The Absolutely True Dairy of a Part Time Indian (it’s SO good) and listening to Alyson Noel’s publishing journey (she’s so charming!).
Oh, and if you haven’t sang karaoke with eleven librarians at midnight in an airport hotel lounge, well, I’m just saying, all that hush-hush stuff about librarians? Rumors, all rumors. Librarians are a blast!
Since the main character in my work-in-progress ends up on a couple of TV shows, I couldn’t resist a fellow SCBWI Regional Advisor’s invitation to join her for a taping of The View. Research, right? Okay, so I do watch Hot Topics during my lunch break–how else would I keep up on celebrity divorces?
We had to arrive two hours before the taping where we waited in line with about two hundred others. I’ve never seen so many people with great hair and makeup crammed into one place. Plus, we were all wearing our bright colors and uncomfortable shoes (no one ever saw my feet, but oh, well…)
See how shiny and clean everyone looks? I was a little surprised that ABC couldn’t spring for a bigger TV in their waiting area. Around 10:30 a.m. the perky staff began taking us in small groups to the elevator. When we arrived in the studio they handed us each a package of cookies and a cold bottle of apple juice as if we were about to have preschool circle time or something. But then I realized that they wanted to give us a quick sugar rush. And then we met this guy:
His job was to whip us into a happy, clappy frenzy. He relied heavily on butt jokes. I half expected him to start in on some my mom’s Uranus jokes, but we were spared stooping quite that low. And then there was dancing! Bring on the Beyonce!
The striking woman in green is a stage actress (we struck up a conversation in line and later sat near each other). And could she dance! Her friend did a totally Glee-worthy Single Ladies routine. Very fun to watch. Barbara Walters also came out to tell us how special we were as an audience. Aw! (I’m sure she says that to all the audiences, but it was still kinda cool).
Here I am just before the show started. My pink sweater made me easy to spot when I later watched the show. My daughters enjoyed pausing me with funny expressions–and then laughing hysterically. And here are the Hot Topics–a whole day of ’em! I have to admit I was a little surprised at how shabby the set looked in person. But I guess since ABC hasn’t bought a new waiting area TV since the early 90s… I loved watching what happened during the commercial breaks. Hair people came out to fluff Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Whoopie joked about her butt, Joy joked about her butt, Sherri joked about her butt… Elisabeth talked about her butt. The jokey-clapping guy joked about his butt. Again.
We all agreed that we received The Worst Giveaway Ever! (A book no one in the audience particularly wanted). But I did get some nice tidbits for my work-in-progress–and a package of cookies from Barbara Walters to take home to my daughters (they’re not fans–they think she wears too much leather. I brought the cookies as a peace offering of sorts).
Now I’m home and back to real life–revising that novel!