Thursday, February 26, 2009

Just Hangin'

Well, I've been busy spinning my wheels again. You see, I am practicing what most writers love most: avoidance! Blogger and Facebook have wormed their way into my brain, taking up enormous amounts of time and what limited brainpower I have by day's end. This morning, I slept right through my writing time, because I was up way too late the night before. That cute little bugger, the internet is becoming a monkey around my neck. What am I avoiding?

The dreaded QUERY letter. Oh God, do I hate those things! How does one reduce two hundred pages of manuscript to one paragraph or two? I've always been a lousy self-promoter to begin with. My other obstacle--revision. I'm back to work on a completed young adult novel, straddling the two worlds of new work and old, trying to go back, while I'm addicted to the new story, that new character and the full array of possibilities there.

So, instead of getting back to work on any one of the aforementioned items...I'm hanging out, dangling, blogging and watching Katherine Hepburn and Bogie in African Queen. I've been warned about the black hole called the internet by all my friends. Bogie and Kate have encountered raging falls, massive swarms of mosquitoes and now they're lost. Boy, do I know how they feel. "You've paid your money, so make your choice," says Bogie. "That way," says Kate pointing. Ironically, 'that way' sends them into a swamp of muck. They've got to paddle, and push themselves..."All the twisting and turning we've done, we'll probably come back where we started. This river is crazy," he says.So what does he do, this Bogie. He gets out and into the murky water and pulls the boat along. When the leeches came, I had to turn it off!! Enough already. It's time to write again. Hangin' out always looks so good in the beginning, but then what looks cute always turns ugly. Time to hoist myself onto dry land, get my butt in the chair and focus on the next right thing. Query, revise...and work toward the new piece. 'That way,' I say! Let's hope I make a better choice than Kate. Brother!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Who Says?

Picture books are not wanted anymore...WRONG! They are much more expensive to produce, though. And therefor should become a coveted form of art and story. I predict that picture books, after a long period of absence, will re-emerge in a way that was never imagined even five years ago. I do. They are treasures of our culture...real windows into the dual world of writing and image-making. I can't imagine living without them.

I had to wait for Wabi Sabi, written by Mark Reibstein and masterfully illustrated by Ed Young. I'd read a piece about the lost original illustrations that showed up in the back of a church. By then,  Ed Young had completed the second round of illustrations. I was excited about the storyline, because I teach world cultures to sixth graders. But, Wabi Sabi, so it seems, was in high demand. There were none on the shelves. Now, I know why. 

Wabi Sabi is, on the surface, a pretty common type of kitty, one that would probably live its life unremarked upon by most passersby. She takes a journey, one my kids at school would call...'a steppingstone' type of trip, to find out the true nature of her name. It is in the less perfect, the ordinary, that she finds the absolute true meaning of who she is and what that means.

Wabi Sabi herself is a teacher, much like the picture book itself. In my collection, I have many, many picture books...most, you'd have to wrestle me down to the floor for! In fact, if there ever was a real fire at school...I'd probably be the last one out of the building. I'd be stuffing my bags with all the magnificent works of art that sit on that shelf along the wall across from my desk...not too far from my watchful eye. Picture books are incredible launching points for writing, in world cultures, in life. In all of these hard times, I do think the picture book will survive...and perhaps make some sort of comeback. These are the times when our spirits need a lift, a small escape of the thirty-two page illustrated type, a little wabi sabi book that has it all...a small kitty, a little journey, a bit of haiku from the masters, and an eyeful of beauty!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Curious Case of a Wonderful Movie

Curiously Wonderful!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button deserves everything it's nominated for and more. It's a terrific story, which unfolds through the eyes of a wonderful character: Benjamin. Benjamin is somewhat reminiscent in a way of Owen Meany. (A much nicer version...very wistful and full of appreciation of life and people.) It actually has that southern feel of Fried Green Tomatoes too."You're odd," says Daisy. You bet he is. But it's the odd and irregular that we long for in great story. I love great writing. And what could be better than a deathbed revelation told through the words and vignettes found in a journal of a missing person. Benjamin Button is an anomaly from birth. He is born old, and lives his life in reverse, becoming younger each day. Kate Blanchett (Daisy) is the beautiful childhood friend, who becomes his love and soulmate over the course of their parallel lives.  Each night, whether near or far, they wish a soft good night to one another. Yet beyond this unfolding tale lurks death and Hurricane Katrina, both knocking all the while from the outer realm of time. This story is framed as a reminiscence and we begin with a huge clock set in 1918 in a train station somewhere in New Orleans. The clock's minute hand spins backward, and so does this tale. I fell in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald and the whole notion of writing in my own college days. But I'd never read this short story. The screenplay was so well done that my 'Doubting Thomas' sat there silently for once and even cried at the end right alongside me. Which in itself is a miracle! This movie crosses not only racial barriers, but age barriers, handicapping barriers and barriers of culture. My cup is full Benjamin. I hope you clean up! (Did somebody forget to nominate Kate?) 

The Wind Blows

The door 
but went
at first,

amid the clatter,
the raucous
it came.

that scurried
the door, 
silenced and

Laughter was
made silent too,
for there
was a newer,
more somber 

Grim news 
had come,
and stayed 
a while too.

But then…
after a bit,
a hopeful
a giggle,
a wink...and a nod,
lost its grip.

And it
was spring 
once more.

The wind
that door wide,
winter's darkness

But inside,
the laughter

© gaellynch, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sage Advice from a Master

Saturday, February 14th, better known as Valentine's Day to some, is also known as Kids-heart-Authors Day. All over New England, authors flocked to independent booksellers to show their love and support to these last safe harbors of informed discussion related to the children's book industry. I don't mean
to demean the efforts of the big chains, but my heart still clamors for those small places in our world where children and books can be celebrated for their own sake...and under one small roof. Because, after all, I am still a kid. 
On Saturday, I went off to my favorite independent bookstore  in 
Fairfield, Connecticut: The Dinosaur's Paw, Jimmy Giff's store, where I am regularly delighted with the presence of my mentor,
the Newbury Honor Medalist, Patricia Reilly Giff. Pat's class is a treasured part of my writing life. I'm a regular there...and so are my 
good friends, many of whom have become recently published! But none of that matters when we're there. What matters is Pat. Her soft voice, her gift of story, and her keen sense of the market are all that 
matters. She's amazing! Just hearing the words I've written in that New York accent of hers is a treat. It gives me a real sense of possibility...of hope.

I spoke to Pat during the break this week about an idea she had for my work. It was, as always, just the right thing to do. I spent this week deconstructing and then reconstructing parts of the book and now I see the characters in new they relate to one another. It works! 

But then Pat asked me, in a very quiet voice, "Why did you stop [writing]?" She'd never asked me that before. I've been with her for many years, but I went AWOL for about five years. I had no reason good I just told her I was a dope, that's all.  She smiled then. "It'll probably make for good story in the long run. Nothing ever gets wasted, you know."

We had a good laugh about the stupid things that take us away from ourselves. But as always, she got me thinking. Why did I stop? Well, I didn't stop writing, I just stopped pushing toward the finish line. I went to my critique group monthly and I did go to SCBWI conferences; Whispering Pines, New Hampshire. I spent a few sessions with Anita Riggio and learned to add depth to my work. (I-heart-Anita too!) But I stopped working toward the outside realm...with a real audience in mind and publication. I stopped understanding the buzz of the business. And worst of all, I stopped this terrific connection with Pat. My husband's illness, raising my kids, managing my teaching career. Sure, I was busy. But none of that is a good enough excuse. You have to write toward the finish line, no matter what. And that's what I get from Pat. She's right. There's nothing more satisfying in the world than the writing itself.
So...I, the kid, heart all you authors out there--published or otherwise! I no longer have that need to distinguish, although I'm in awe of all those that do make it over the finish line. They do it one idea, one word, a string of sentences...and with a butt in the chair, every day and always. 

And of course, I *heart* Patricia Reilly Giff, what a master she is!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cooking Up Story in the Grocery Aisle

I never understand why people would want to give up  those daily treks to the grocery store.  My husband has been trying to get me to use Peapod for about three years now. I'm just not the Peapod type. I'm a writer. I like to pick everything up, turn it around, squeeze it, smell it, and compare it to every other thing like it. I know, waste of time, right? Wrong. I've always been a little putzy. Used to drive my sisters crazy. They'd send me to the store, and I'd always get distracted. It's not that I love the grocery store. Really. And it's not that I so enjoy picking up and putting down all the things on my grocery list...well, I usually don't have a list. But I love to people watch. Especially in the grocery store. 

Today, I was pushing my cart out of the produce aisle, when a blonde-haired woman in a baggy twill kind of coat came straight out of nowhere in my direction. She looked me straight in the eye in a kind of expressionless way. Not like she didn't see me, but she wasn't processing me I don't think, a little worrisome. I didn't give it too much thought in that moment, though. She was quite pretty with very, very pale white skin, a little bit of leftover lipstick and bright blue eyes. But I kept thinking once she saw me, she'd let me go since I was there first, and it was the right move. I had her typecast as a pretty kind lady, fortyish, a little tired...probably waiting to pick up one of her kids in town. My cart was pretty well into the aisle, so I got ready to keep making my turn. And what did she do? Well...clearly, I am slipping. She came at me even faster. I had to veer to the right at the very last second and let her pass. She went by me with a smirk on her face. She was playing 'chicken' with me! Dared me, and I stepped down. 

Later, I came across her again. She was shaking her head and talking to herself. Now I'm thinking maybe she was late for a date with her therapist, I don't know. So much for my grocery shopping. My dad used to ask me what was going on between those ears of mine. I'm a writer...those wheels just keep on spinning. I love to take it all in, store it in the aisles of my brain. You never know when you might need a shopping cart maniac. Story happens, characters too! 

Monday, February 2, 2009

Quite a Storyteller

America can still rock out!
So...who would even know what's going on in the world, the economy, the job market...just to name a few? The Boss took the stage and rocked out to the heavens! Today, I was on my treadmill listening to a few of his tunes, and a few other assorted tunes as well, and I started to listen just a little more carefully to the lyrics. What a storyteller he is! That led my right-brained mind to think a bit about the conversation I had with my sixth graders today too as they recalled with exact detail all of the commercials they saw last night. We discovered one pattern in all of them...the one great ingredient: story! Maybe it's because we're studying African stories, naming the structures and likening them to anything that we know in our story world. I don't know. But one thing's for sure, marketers are much keener on story, than ever before. They have to hook us, hook us quickly and keep us from hitting the remote to change the channel. That was the message from all the editors at the conference...hook 'em quick, and keep those pages turning! Pages turning equate to dollars and cents, that's for sure. As for the Boss...I've been hooked for years. He makes me proud to be a Jersey Girl, that's for sure!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Keep Writing, Keep Hoping...Keep Sending!

See this? This little tube represents hope!
I was worried about this year's SCBWI conference, I really was. Last year, so many of us were able to head down to NYC, and stay overnight there. Little did we know, that the days of luxurious spending like that might be behind us. Not to worry, I'm not going to add any more of the bleak thoughts on the economy to your day. I got a little worried, though, when Claudia
Gabel, my very first break-out speaker was half-way through her presentation and announced that we could not send our work to her, because she'd just lost her job. I began to wonder what my day would be like. There were many questions about what lies ahead, both spoken and unspoken, as we shuffled en masse toward the door. 
Next-up: Jennifer Greene from Clarion. Therein lies the hope. Jennifer spoke for nearly forty minutes about books, elements of good writing, and then...the future. "Everyone knows during these tight economic times, consumers will buy two things: a ten dollar tube of lipstick and books for their kids." Keep sending, she said, keep sending. I had the good fortune of crossing paths with Lin Oliver, whom I love! She brings such fun and laughter to these gatherings. We had a momentary conversation about the mood and tone of so many of the people there. She was worried, I think, about the tone. Lots of pessimism out there.
Me? I'm going with the lipstick factor. I'm not going to be unrealistic. But it doesn't matter. There's nothing we, the little guys and girlies, can do about this big monster they call THE ECONOMY. I've decided...yeah, there was a monster in my closet, and now he's out in the living room. But you know what? No one took away my computer, my ability to eject the words out of my brain, and to play on the page! Jane Yolen herself showed up on the did Tomie dePaola, The Blue Rose Girls and a whole array of others, but Jane said, "Just get your Butt In
the Chair," and so...I shall.  Just this moment, Tommy Lee Jones, in the movie In the Valley of Ella came on the screen and said to Charlese Theron's little boy, "That's how you fight monsters. You draw 'em in closer. You lure 'em in. And you smack 'em down." I'm smackin' that monster down too. I'm using a little hope,  a lot of determination...and a big comfy chair, so my butt, and my brain, will stay put.
There was an error in this gadget