Friday, January 25, 2008

Novel Inspiration

I'm taking a few weeks to talk about novel writing. One of the most daunting tasks I've ever faced writing novels is staying motivated. It takes a driving will to slog through that million words to reach a reasonably paced story with mostly believable characters. Where does that come from?

Today, my friend Judy Gregerson will share an insight or two on how she's been able to sustain enthusiasm and keep inspiration in heart while writing novels. Judy graciously took the time to answer several of my burning questions.

Who are you? (This question is really what it is all about, folks.)

I'm nobody!
Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Emily Dickinson

That pretty much sums it up. I’m just a regular person pursuing my dreams and hoping that they come true.

What work are you most proud of? (Exactly what do we want?)

I am very proud of the job I did on Bad Girls Club and out of all my writing, this book really makes me feel like I’m a competent novelist. And since I’m getting such great reviews and comments from readers, I’m feeling pretty good about what I did with that book.

What or who inspired you to become a writer? (This is really a part of where we are all going.)

E.B. White inspired me. Of course, he didn’t know it at the time.

What is your greatest fear as a writer? (Ah, the heart of finding sustainability.)

Not being able to find or get to my readers scares me. I write my books with my readers in mind and it really bothers me to think that they will never find the book. I think that’s one of the reasons I worked to hard on publicity. I wanted my readers to know that the book existed. And with so many books published every year, it’s hard to get noticed!

How does your own personal history affect your writing?

It affects it in a lot of ways. I like to write about survival, struggle, loss, and abandonment. All of my books have some of those issues in them because they are the things I know best, so of course I write about them. I’ve tried to escape writing about them but they always pop up.

Do you have a message? If so, how do you avoid being preachy? (I've yet meet a writer without some agenda within. What are you about?)

My message is “be careful what you believe”. If you show the reader the results of believing what’s not true and acting on it, I think they get the message better than if you tell them. I tried to show the reader in Bad Girls Club that the main character suffered greatly because of what she believed and what she believed about herself, as told by her mother and how none of it was true. Yet she was trapped in thinking she was bad because she’d always been told she was bad. I think we should think long and hard about what we think about ourselves and other people.

How do you steer around writer's block? This answer should really give you hope.

I really don’t. I hit it head on at about a hundred miles an hour and it knocks me out. Sometimes I look around that big brick wall and try to find ways around it. Other times I lay in bed and do a lot of thinking, trying to figure out what has me stumped. Thinking helps a lot. So does talking to my characters. They usually know what’s wrong.

What is a typical writing day like for you?

There is no typical day, but when I get in the groove, I can write for 10-12 hours straight and I can keep it up 7 days a week for a month or more, sometimes three. When I’m not in one of those grooves, I might not write at all.

Who are your heroes (real or fictional)?

I honestly can’t think of one, so I guess that means that I have no heroes. I can tell you the kind of people I admire, if that helps. I take honestly and integrity very seriously and people who display those qualities are people I can look up to. I think honesty is the one thing I require from friends, no matter how bad things are, I always want to know the truth. I always find the truth fairly easy to swallow. And if you throw in loyalty, I think you have created a perfect person.

What is your motto? (Everyone should have one, really helps keep you on the path. )

Be kind for everyone you know is fighting a great battle. Philo of Alexandria said that and when I read it, I made it my own. I think there’s a lot of truth in it. It’s easy to forget that everyone is struggling and has problems. It’s easier to believe that you’re the only one who’s hurting at times.

Last, borrowed from Inside the Actor's Studio, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

I’m sorry it took me so long to get you here!

Want to know more about Judy? Judy was born at the very end of Long Island on a very warm and sunny summer day. Everyone was happy she made it because the cord was wrapped around her neck and there were a few scary moments before she popped out.

The rest of her life went a little better. She grew up in a town that shut down at 5 p.m. and got out as soon as she found a college that would accept her. That was SUNY Oswego and she attended school with famous people like Bruce Coville, Al Roker, and Jerry Seinfeld. Ok, only Bruce was there at the time and she didn’t know him. But it makes for good copy.

After college, Judy worked as a newpaper copy editor, a marketing assistant at Viking/Penguin, in the advertising department of The New York Times, and then had various jobs at an ad agency, doing public relations, and the likes. Finally, she worked herself into an ulcer and moved to the west coast.

Her first book was published in 1980 by Doubleday (a memoir) and she was named in Who’s Who in America that year. It really didn’t help her any. In fact, no one seems to remember.
Judy now lives in the Seattle area with her two daughters, husband, dog, cat, frog, gerbil, and two mice. She is currently seen doing yard work and getting the mold off her windows.

OK, now go read her book, Bad Girls Club!

Saturday, January 19, 2008


What happened to Friday! This has been a busy week. I have been working on my two informational picture books about grammar. Yay! I've also been slogging through the rewrite of Crying for the Moon, my happy chapter book.

My critique group threw a party to celebrate the publication of my new book and the new year. I will have awesome pics soon.

I'm going to talk about novel writing for a few posts. It's comforting to think that a novel is like a container. A novel can only hold so much information like any container. I always start a novel that is like an empty container. In other words, I totally understand the shape of my story from beginning to end. I map out the high points the low points; there are just some thousands of words that need to be slapped on a page to get me where I am going.

I'm a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can't and then tries the short story which is the most demanding form after poetry. And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing. William Faulkner

Friday, January 11, 2008

Working Hard

I had a very full week. I worked on my little project Crying for the Moon. I also put a few more thousand words into the sci-fi working project. World building is hard work. I had critique group this week and got lots of sage advice.

I got a call from my Picture Window editor and am pleased to say that I will be writing two non-ficiton picture books about grammar for first and second graders. I'm really jazzed about this gig. It's a great way to start the year.

Below is the cover of my non-fiction reader, New Travels Fast, for first graders. This book really got me thinking about communication. I'm using much of what I learned researching this book to fuel my WIP. It's funny how earlier projects seems to feed later ones.

I need to get some manuscripts into the mail, so this week's entry is going to be short. I want to close with just a touch of inspiration from the Latin.

Dum spiro, spero. "While I breathe, I hope"

Friday, January 04, 2008

2008 Happy Days

It's 2008! I'm paying the kids to put away the many Christmas decorations so I can focus on work. It's time to pack up Christmas and move on to the new year. I'd like to start out with goal setting.

This year the goals are simple:

40 submsissions

Take any decent paying gigs that come my way.

Finish the first draft of my YA scif-fi novel Profit. Profit is about a reckless, naive teen, Sarai Corren, who is drafted into a galaxy wide peace-keeping corps. Her journey from carefree teenager, surfing afterschool and dreaming of a career in mall management on her homeworld, to the harsh reality of life in the corps is an epic adventure spanning the galaxy, entangling this girl in an ancient war. This story challenges readers to think about our part in history and what price are they willing to pay for peace.

Finish the first draft of my middle grade ghost story, The Big Thicket. This story, actually set in the Big Thicket of Texas, tells of a lonely girl, Sofia Victoria Maria de la Vega, who seeks revenge from her enemies. A backwoods witch promises to give Sofia the power to exact revenge if she will help calm some restless spirits wandering the Thicket. Sofia takes on the task and learns the secret of destroying her enemies wasn't exactly what she thought.

And last, I must finish my part of the draft of a super secret project that I am working on. Ooh, I love having a secret.

Too cool news, friend Janet Lee Carey has a movie adaptaion of her book Wenny Has Wings coming out. I love this book so was thrilled to hear this. Here's a link to read all about this upcoming movie.

A fab quote to keep us going in the new year:

May the love hidden deep inside your heart find the love waiting in your dreams. May the laughter that you find in your tomorrow wipe away the pain you find in your yesterdays.