Interview With Author, Wendy McLeod MacKnight!

Hello Tuesdays!

Today, I’m pleased to be joined by my fellow Swanky Seventeens member, Wendy McLeod MacKnight, whose debut, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face, is scheduled to come out February 2017 from SkyPony Press

wendy-macknight

Hi, Wendy and thanks for joining us today!

JR: Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about It’s a Mystery, Pig Face and the impetus behind writing it? Fun title by the way.

pig-faceLove the cover!

 

WMM: Actually, I wrote the very first draft of the novel a LONG time ago (like in the Jurassic Period!) when I was living on the opposite end of Canada from where I grew up. One of the things that has been an absolute in my life is my firm belief that I grew up in the best neighbourhood ever. I wanted to try and translate that into a story. The lead character, Tracy, is like me, but times a hundred!  She wants to live a big life, and she sort of feels like that big life is waiting for her, just around the corner, if only she can sneak up on it. She’s kind of eccentric, and so is her bestie, Ralph, who is obsessed with cooking and wants to be a chef when he grows up. They’re infamous in their school for thinking there are mysteries where there aren’t. Actually, they’re dismal mystery hunters. So when they find a paper bag full of money, their imagination runs amok. The mystery would be enough for Tracy to deal with, but a boy from New York City (which is the center of Tracy’s universe despite never having been there in her life) moves in next door for the summer, her arch-nemesis Jasmine is always showing up like a rock in her shoe, and worst of all, Tracy and Ralph have to work with her little brother, Lester AKA Pig Face. At its heart, the story is about the meaning of friendship.

friendship

 

JR: I read on your site, www.wendymcleodmacknight.com that you grew up in the small town of St. Stephen. I went to the link and it looks beautiful. Has growing up in a small town as opposed to a larger city influenced the things you write about?

WMM: YES! So I grew up in a small town in one of the smallest provinces in Canada. And I love being from a place that most people have never heard of, where people spending the first five minutes upon meeting you to try to figure out if they know your mother or father.  In a small town, everything is about relationships. People know your strengths and your weaknesses and they just kind of accept them, and in a lot of ways, celebrate them, because you’re all in it together. So I’m pretty obsessed with that in It’s a Mystery, Pig Face!

st-stephen_nbI could definitely spend some time in a place like this!

 

JR: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point? 

WMM: Ack! Settle in with a cup of coffee and a piece of pie. I wrote the first draft of Pig Face in 1986. I’ll wait while you pick yourself up off the floor. Yes, I was two years old and a child genius. I sent it to exactly one publisher, who sent me the nicest rejection letter, and then promptly put it in a drawer. But I kept writing here and there and I kept wishing I was a children’s writer. I had this whole other career where I did pretty well – when I left Government, I was the head of the Department of Education in New Brunswick, but all I wanted to do was write. About a month before I turned 50 my last parent died and I said to myself “What do you have to lose?” I left my job. A lot of people thought I was brave, and a lot of people thought I was foolish. Thank heavens I had no idea what I was getting myself into. For example, I had to relearn how to write fiction. Since I already had the old manuscript, that’s where I started. I took courses, read books on writing, and then wrote and wrote and wrote. I began querying agents WAY too early, but some of them were complimentary despite the shape of my manuscript and I kept revising. I knew I had finally gotten the book in good shape by early September 2014; all of a sudden I was getting a lot of requests for full manuscripts and the week that I signed with my fantastic agent Lauren Galit at LKG Agency, I was offered representation by two other agents. But there were 48 other agents before Lauren. I’m always unsure as to whether to be proud of that number, or embarrassed, so I always choose pride! Anyway, Lauren had more changes for me and then we began the submission process in early 2015. Alison Weiss was interested early on and we went back and forth and then Sky Pony eventually bought the book in June of 2015. So while I started it 30 years before, the reality is that I went from beginning to write the book (because trust me it was a complete rewrite) in June 2013 to a deal in June 2015, which I know sounds crazy short to most of your readers, but which seemed really slow to me!

 

JR: What’s your writing process like?

WMM: Honestly, the most torturous thing for me now is finding a really good concept and refining it into something write-able. Initially, I was a pantser, but more and more I am becoming a hard-core plotter. I do sheets about all of my characters, I figure out the story ARC, and then I plot every scene. When I’m writing I usually pound out 2,000-3,000 words a day, but I don’t really write like that until I am ready to sit down and write the book. I managed to 100,000 words in six weeks for the first draft of my second book. And then I put it in a drawer for at least two weeks, at which point I take it out and marvel at the mess. And then I go for long walks and harangue my daughter into talking about it with me. Then I redo the plot on paper, figure out what new scenes are required, what darlings I must kill, and start again.

plotting

 

JR: What’s your favorite book and who’s your favorite author?

WMM: This is like a Sophie’s Choice question for me! My favourite childhood book was Anne of Green Gables and I would say that if I could only read one author for the rest of my life it would likely be Lucy Maud Montgomery or Charles Dickens. BUT can I say how much I love knowing that I live in the same world where Neil Gaiman and Susannah Clarke live and breathe? Because I really do.  As far as I am concerned he is a modern Charles Dickens and she is modern George Eliot – pure genius.

green-gables

 

JR: What’s your favorite movie?

WMM: Jonathan, you seemed so nice before this question and the last one. Hands down, The Wizard of Oz, but if you allow me a double bill, I’ll add Casablanca and treat you to popcorn!

JR: I’ll allow it.

ozcasablanca

 

JR: Something people would be surprised to learn about you?

WMM: If I’d never gotten published, I was going to open a shoe store! I may have a shoe shopping problem.

 

shoe-store 

JR: Do you do a lot of research when you write?

WMM: I did a ton of research for my second book, and I am currently doing a lot of research on two different topics for the next books I want to write. I am thinking of learning Scrivener, because I am not the world’s best organizer of all of my research. I read how Elizabeth Gilbert had this elaborate filing card system for her book The Signature of All Things, but I know that as much as I admire that kind of approach, I am wholly unable to replicate it!

 

JR: Here at the Tuesdays, a big part of our success and the purpose of this site, has been being involved in a critique group. Are you involved in one and if so, how has it helped you?

critique 2

WMM: I am!  I love my critique group because we write in all different genres and so we have a completely different perspective about each other’s work. They are so good at catching all of my flaws in logic and ill-constructed characters. I also have a critique partner who lives half a continent away in the U.S. – we meet by Skype regularly. What I’ve found in both cases is that it took us a while to get good at critiquing one another, but with patience and perseverance, we’ve gotten very good at it!  I absolutely need them. And what I love best about them all is that they are very kind and generous. That means everything! You have to trust your critique partners!

 

JR: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any advice you can give to writers looking to break in?

WMM: The best piece of advice I’ve ever read is to write the book you want to read. If you’re passionate about your story, that can’t help but some through! My advice: don’t query too early, but don’t work the book to death either. Listen to all advice and keep revising until you find the agent that’s willing to represent you or the publisher willing to publish you. I had decided to query Pig Face 78 times (don’t ask me where the number 78 came from, it escapes me now!) and then I was going to write another book and try again.

reading

 

JR: What are you working on next?

WMM: I’ve written a fantasy MG novel that there will be some big news about soon! Right now I’m researching three possible MG novel ideas. I also have a half-dead YA fantasy novel that I hope to raise from the dead sometime in the future!

 

JR: Is there anything that else you want to share with our readers or perhaps tell them how they can follow you on social media?

WMM: Please – don’t give up. As a now professional dream chaser, I can’t stress again how worth it is to try!  And I am all over social media and would love to hear from you:

wendymcleodmacknight.com  – I blog once a week there and share news that gets sent out once a week to subscribers

https://www.facebook.com/WendyMcLeodMacKnightAuthor/

https://twitter.com/wendymacknight

https://www.instagram.com/wendymcleodmacknight/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14223581.Wendy_McLeod_MacKnight

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26125085-it-s-a-mystery-pig-face

 

JR: Before we go, I always like to ask, who’s your favorite member of The Tuesdays?

WMM: Despite my admiration for all of the Tuesdays, I’m going to have to pick Cathy Castelli, because, you know, middle grade.

Cathy Castelli

BUT I love the title of your book Jonathan as much as I love my own title. I would buy a book with that title no matter what. It always makes me laugh!!!

 

Thanks again, Wendy!

 

…Okay, editorial note. See if we can edit out the part about Cathy being her favorite and really highlight the part where Wendy said she loved the title of my book. And please don’t forget this time, I always come off looking foolish when my comments are seen here at the end.

Thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sticking with it often the answer

By Faran Fagen

Freestyle Friday

When I was my son’s age, I loved Sesame Street. Snuffaluffagus was easily my favorite character.
I was an even bigger fan of the “word of the day.” It was repeated by Elmo or a celebrity throughout the show.
That’s how I feel this week about a certain word that keeps popping up like those plastic moles in the carnival game “whack-a-mole”.
So I decided to make this recurring word the basis for my Freestyle Friday.
The word of the week is … Perseverance.
It popped up when my wife, Kara, and I attended Parent University at my son’s elementary school. The faculty repeatedly referred to the perseverance the students need to pass the end of the year FSA test (thankfully my wife, a kindergarten teacher, is already preparing Spencer – more evidence that marrying her was the smartest thing I ever did)
It’s been all over the news. Perseverance for racial tension in the country, for the shortcomings of both presidential candidates that flood the media.
The word has surrounded so many of my friends and family this week. Perseverance for a friend of mine whose son is battling cancer. For a family who’s been trying to sell a house for six months. For my wife’s family who lost a loved one. They must persevere through grief.
Then, at a journalism/writers summit at my school yesterday, it came up several times. Ethan Skolnick of The Miami Herald and 790 the Ticket talked about how he persevered through many internships to get his first job covering the Miami Dolphins.
Our very own Jonathan Rosen, a member of the Tuesday’s, spoke about the many years it took him to find the right agent and secure a book deal. He told 100 students how you persevere through many rejections as a writer.
All this got me thinking about my writing journey. It took years to get the job as a major league baseball writer. Years of nos and just not quite good enough until the door opened.
Years of building on mistakes as well as successes.
I thought about the Tuesday’s – all the obstacles Jonathan, Stacie and Melody overcame to become published. And the perseverance of me, Cathy and Joanne.
In the end I guess that’s what we all do – we persevere. And in doing so we learn from mistakes, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and step back into the batters box and wait for that next pitch.
As I sit and wait for a response from three agents who are mulling my manuscript – the one I’ve sculpted for the last decade – I suppose no matter the reaction, I’m taking a swing at it, like my son, my friend with the son battling cancer, and everyone who wants to achieve more somehow.
When I was in college I sold educational books door to door one summer to buy my first car. It was probably the toughest job I ever had. We used to say that for about every 10 no’s, if you were lucky, you’d hear one yes and make one sale. There was a famous quote we all carried around with us for inspiration by former president Calvin Coolidge:
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Themed Thursday: Apprenticing the Muse

“The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.”

—Arnold Toynbee

Most writers we know have a long list of jobs behind them—some menial, some meaningful. Yet even when our jobs had nothing to do with writing, we still managed to get creative. For today’s Themed Thursday, we’re shining a spotlight on jobs from our past that somehow supplemented our creative juices.

Stacie Ramey

Stacie Ramey

Stacie: I have always worked around children. Always. Almost every single job I’ve had centered around kids. I was a camp counselor for a day camp for years, worked at a day care center through college, worked with college aged students with disabilities at both University of Florida and Penn State. But it all started with babysitting. That may not sound exciting, but believe me, it was good times! I had regular kids I babysat and I was tried and true with those kids and those families, but those add-on people? Well, let’s just say after the kids went to bed, Stacie got to work. I used to go through all of their things. Horrible, right? I would read their mail and look in their drawers. I would look in their pantry and their freezers. I was sure that each of these families had a story only I could discover. Yeah. Not so cool. But in my defense…okay there’s no defense. Still, I never shared my new-found knowledge and never took anything or moved anything from its original place because that would be wrong. Most times I was totally disappointed and didn’t find anything salacious or remotely interesting. Now if it were today, there would be computers to hack and DVRs to check. I’m sure I would have uncovered way more dirt that way. Oh well. Needless to say we never used a babysitter for my kids. Yeah. Wasn’t going to put up with that kind of scrutiny. True story. So did any of these people informed my character development? No. Not really. But I will say my search for their story never stopped and maybe that’s what made me want to write.

Jonathan: I like to think that every job I’ve ever had has somehow played a part in contributing to my writing. It may sound like a copout, but it’s true. Honestly, every one of them has given me some ideas or stories that I’d love to use someday. I worked in a clothing store for a couple of weeks in high school, and once I was able to stock up on all the employee discounts and a full wardrobe, I left. I worked in Customer Service for a healthcare company and had the strangest phone calls. People asking about coverage for everything from their pets to every type of personal enhancement you can think of. Another personal favorite of mine was summer camp counselor, since, for some reason, parents confided things to me and I was only a college kid at the time. I traded stocks and saw ridiculous highs and depressing lows, which probably helped transition me into the same mood swings in writing. And lastly, being a teacher has probably given me the most insight into the mind of a student and hearing all the stories and excuses they come up with. So, once again, I think I took something out of every job I’ve had and have been able to use it in writing.

jobsquote1

Maysonet-headshot

Melody Maysonet

Melody: I think it was my job as a grocery store cashier that most got my creative juices flowing. I worked the late shift, so I had a lot of time to think. To pass the time, I’d make up back stories for all the people who came through my line, based on, not only the way they looked and talked, but also on their hands, which I was able to study (and sometimes brush against) as I gave them back their change. A man with calloused palms might be a grave digger, and a girl with chewed-off fingernails might be worried that her friends were planning to ditch her. Ink-stained fingers meant a mid-level manager who hated his job, and dry skin was the hallmark of a surgeon who scrubbed his hands with powerful antiseptic. Looking at my own hands with their long fingers and knobby knuckles, I can’t help seeing a middle-aged woman who’s trying desperately to hold onto her youth as she strives to become a New York Times–bestselling author.

 

author-Jo-Butcher-writes

Joanne in scrubs

Joanne: The job that helped me most with my writing is nursing. I worked in many aspects of nursing throughout my career but my favorite places to work were in critical care. ICU, CCU and PACU created the most challenge for me. All of my writing has had some medical component to it. Be it articles or poems published in nursing journals, or aspects of my experience that I bring into my stories, the nurse in me is always there.  Aside from the medical knowledge, nursing taught me to be a good listener and to watch a person closely for things physical or mental that could be lurking below the surface. I find that helpful in characterization. In our critique group, The Tuesdays tap into my medical knowledge too, asking questions for their scenes involving illness, injury or hospitalization. I had a lot of amazing experiences with my career in nursing and I work to pay that forward in my writing.

 

Cathy Castelli

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: In 1984, my life and not the book, there was a summer job fair held at the University of Illinois. It was a bunch of summer camps looking for counselors.

Cheryl Olson (aka Gator) and me (aka Abbott)

Cheryl Olson (aka Gator) and me (aka Abbott)

There were some really cool sleep away camps in the Northeast, but I was practical. How would I get to Maine? And would it take all the money I earned for the summer to get me there and back? Then I found Girl Scout Camp Pokonoka located in Ottawa, IL twenty minutes from where my parents lived. I could get there and back easily.  When I arrived for staff orientation, I was told I needed to have a nickname. You know how nicknames are…better pick a good one before someone else gives you an awful one. It should have been obvious to pick Red as my nickname. Maybe it was because that’s what I heard people call my dad my whole life. It somehow seemed masculine.  There was also Big Red chewing gum at the time, and I did not want to be called that either.  Other counselors had names like Gator, Mex, Puddin, Coxy. I needed to hurry. So I decided that people should call me Abbott, as in Abbott and Costello which was sort of close to my name Castelli. God that was lame! I still have a heck of a time naming characters. But I loved the summer of platform tents, latrines, mice nesting in our tent flaps, and all the Girl Scout cookies I could eat.  My Nicole Tinker novel is essentially set in this area, so I guess that summer was more important than I thought.

Faran Fagen

Faran Fagen

Faran: As a freelance reporter for mlb.com, sometimes I’d write 4-5 stories a night. Part of the excitement of driving into Marlins stadium three hours ahead of game time and interviewing the players was, you never knew who was going to have a big night or who was going to be traded or brought up from the minors, etc. Every night was a new adventure. But because each game has its share of excitement and drama, that means a lot of news had to be reported. And all these story lines come with deadlines. Sometimes, I have less than an hour to write up a pitcher’s leg injury, or a half hour to send a quick blurb on the manager’s ejection for arguing with the umpire. While it’s neat sitting in the press box for free, the intense pressure of writing on the clock is there.

That’s why my job as a freelance writer for mlb.com taught me so much about writing under pressure. One night, there was a three-hour rain delay, and then the game went into extra innings. At 2 a.m., I had a to write a clean game wrap-up in less than 10 minutes because Josh Willingham hit a game-winning homer with two out in the 12th inning. Pumping out these pieces night after night trained me to write clean, meaningful, stories that meant something to my audience. Sound familiar? So now, when I get ready for Tuesday’s critique group, and I need 10 pages in less than 24 hours, or an agent requests my manuscript and I need to quickly finish a revision, I think to those days at Marlins Stadium. I remember running after Miguel Cabrera in the rain, in desperate need of a quote, my wi-fi going in and out, only 22 minutes to deadline—and I feel like I can accomplish anything.

 

 

dogdigginghole

Wrap-It-Up Wednesday: The Deeper You Go

dogdiggingholeIt’s amazing what you can see in your own writing when you let it sit for a few weeks. I had a chapter ready to read last week but ended up missing group, so I read it this week instead. I’d gone over it a million times and I thought I’d fixed all the flow problems, but reading it with fresh eyes really showed me where I needed to tighten things up. Funny how that works.

I got a lot of praise for the chapter, which was awesome, because, believe me, you have to earn praise from the Tuesdays. But they did have a problem with the last paragraph. My main character was telling another character something she’d gone through, and because what she had gone through had just happened in the previous chapter (and was therefore fresh in the reader’s mind), I chose to summarize her telling of it rather than going through the dialogue.

But that wasn’t a good choice. Faran pointed out (and the others agreed) that, because I summarized the conversation between the main character and her friend, the reader missed out on the friend’s reaction to what she was telling him. So now I have to figure out how to write the dialogue so it doesn’t feel repetitious. Thinking about it now, it occurs to me that I can make the dialogue interesting by filtering the telling through the main character’s fears and inhibitions. What details might she gloss over when she’s telling her friend what happened? What parts would it pain her to talk about? And most importantly, what would her friend say? How would he react?

Wow! This bit of dialogue I didn’t want to include could be fertile ground for character development. So I have to conclude that (a) the Tuesdays rock, and (b) every critique I receive challenges me to go deeper. For me, writing well means digging deep, and if left to my own devices, I’d probably dig a few shovelfuls and quit. Maybe that’s why this writing thing is so daunting at times. I want to be lazy, but the Tuesdays won’t let me—and that’s a good thing because it makes me a better writer.

 

How Not to Suck as a Writer (Tuesday Tips from Stacie)

How not to suck as a writer

doubt

For my Tuesday Tips post I wanted to write from the heart. I wanted to talk about what we all fear deep down. How not to suck. I mean, if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, we’ve got to start there.

Let’s face it; writing is one of those things that it’s hard to know where you fall on the not-sucking line. The Doubt Monster is always present in the life of a writer, but when should you pay attention to the nervous feeling in your stomach that asks if you’re good enough?

Writing takes a ton of time, constant reflection, and complete dedication. You can’t expect to write novels, poems, or picture books worthy of publication without an almost indecent amount of immersion in every aspect of the process. Start to finish most people take between five and ten years of devoted practice to get published. For me it took 7 years of writing (between 20 and 30 hours a week) before I broke in.

So how do you know if you have what it takes?

  1. Ask yourself if you are willing to dedicate 5-10 years of constant work in order to get published. Stop telling yourself that you are the exception to that rule; that you learn faster than everyone else, that you are such a natural and with such interesting stories to tell that it will happen faster for you. It won’t.
  2. Join whatever organization supports the writers in the genre that interests you. I write for young adults so I am a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It’s a lousy acronym for a wonderful organization. I joined the moment I decided I was serious about writing (i.e. 7 years before I broke in). If you write romance, Romance Writers of America has fabulous programming. Join and join in. Same for mystery writers. Nonfiction writers. You get the picture…
  3. Get feedback. If you are in a critique group that’s working for you, awesome. If not, find one. Or at least find critique opportunities or critique partners. The organizations I mentioned above will offer all sorts of places to find good critique opportunities and critique partners.
  4. Get education. There are so many different kinds of workshops and conferences and classes available online or in person devoted to nurturing, supporting, and educating writers. Find them. Invest in these. Take the time to learn how not to suck.
  5. Be relentless when it comes to revising your work. Getting through that first rough draft is wonderful. Once you’ve let it sit and have the time to return to it with fresh eyes, do that.
  6. Be cool with failure. I’m not just talking about rejections because those will be in abundance, for sure. I’m talking about being okay with the fact that at every part of this learning curve, you will realize your understanding of the writing process is so limited and that you couldn’t possibly learn all there is to know about writing if you spent your entire life trying. You don’t get better as a writer until you stare into the abyss of what-if-I’m-never-going-to-be-good –enough, and decide you want to keep going.

 

I know I’m making this writing gig seem so glamorous. Not!

But the thing is you have to spend a lot of time sucking before you learn how not to suck.

You have to be obsessed with getting better.

You have to hear a lot of hard truths.

You have to be willing to stand in the front of that 360 degree mirror that Stacy London uses on What Not to Wear and get comfortable with your flaws before you can change and emerge a not-so-sucky writer.

frog-in-mirror-with-purse                                                                                                                                            (I look gooooood!!!)

 

You’ve heard me say it before:  #writingisabadboyfriend— he is incredibly demanding and standoffish and way too much. Writing can be a total jerk. He asks you to bleed for him and then has the nerve to be bored if you don’t make the hemorrhage entertaining enough.

bored

You don’t need that. Not when you could have so much more fun growing orchids or making cookies or painting wooden benches.

But if you’re a true writer, you won’t be able to stop yourself. You will be seduced by the story so entirely that you will gladly endure it all. Morphing from sucky to not-so-sucky to pretty-good to really good requires exquisite pain but it pays off with so much glory.  True story.

If you are a true writer/sadist, you will continuously return to the 360 mirror and look at your WIP with the eyes of a perfectionist and a sculptor and a scientist and a teacher and an artist and you will carve out your story. It may take eight years and five other manuscripts to get it right, but none of that will matter, because the journey, all 10,000 plus hours of work will be worth it when #writingisabadboyfriend puts a ring on it and you have your first book birthday. Trust me.

 

 

 

Media Monday – Geoff Herbach

 Geoff HerbachI was fortunate to be on the Florida Teens Read committee when we selected STUPID FAST for our annual list. I was able to meet Geoff in person at the April is for Author event in Palm Beach County a few years later.  Author and college professor, Geoff Herbach, answers questions for us today. By my count, you have seven published novels. What is your favorite and why?
Geoff Herbach

I will always love Stupid Fast most, I think. I wrote the book to get my son to read something and it just sort of crashed out in big chunks that felt important and funny at the same time. Most writing doesn’t come like that!  I really do like the book called Anything You Want, too. The kid is so weird and so delusional and so sweet… But the title and cover are pretty awful (I think it should be called This Taco is a Keeper!), so I have a hard time getting entirely behind it.

We’re a critique group, so we’re interested in people’s experience with them. What has been your experience?

I’ve had good experiences, generally. I think getting a critique requires the writer to be a code breaker. You know what you’re trying to get at. The group by nature does not. You have to hear the critique through the filter of what you want to write and figure out how to make fixes based on your artistic vision. The danger comes from trying to write what the critique group wants you to write instead of completing the task you’ve set out for yourself. Those group think books don’t turn out, I don’t think.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever taken?

To write with all your senses. Remember the complete package of how it feels to experience an emotion and make sure you have a sense vocabulary to hang on it (smells, sounds, touches, tastes, and sights — not just adverbs and adjectives).

YA Writer Geoff Herbach

Since you are a college writing instructor, what is your favorite piece of writing advice?

See projects through. Don’t repeatedly start over. If you have a good idea, do your best to work it out to the end. Beginnings are just easier, but writing ten of them won’t add up to writing one good story to the end.

What is your writing routine?

It changes and changes. Right now I am working from index cards a lot. I’ll scope out a whole story using the cards, then write scenes on cards, then write full scenes in notebooks, then write on the computer. I’m working four or five days a week, usually in the mid-afternoon.

Geoff Herbach

I have been a morning writer, a thousand words a day writer, a three page a day writer, a pantser, a hardcore outliner, a 10,000 words a day get-a-book-done-in-two-weeks writer. it just depends on the project, I think. I’d say try something and stick with it for a whole project (like writing 3000 or 5000 words a week in 500 or 1000 word days…). No matter what, it’s writing that counts not whether or not you’ve blown your routine! (Yes, I know writers who are derailed by screwing up their routines…this is sad!).

I’m a big fan of Felton Reinstein your main character in three books, STUPID FAST, NOTHING SPECIAL, and I’M WITH STUPID. (I think I also love YA football stories with heart.) What made you create Felton?

Felton’s voice had been rattling around in my head for a few months. Then my son was hit by the puberty train, stopped reading — told me that books no longer applied to him, and woke up one morning with one of his armpits having gone really smelly (hilarious). We went to Target and I told a worker that we were looking for deodorant because my son’s left armpit had gone through puberty overnight and that made me laugh really hard (my son didn’t laugh). When we got home, I started writing a book I thought would “apply” to him. Sports, humor, music, a little romance. Felton just popped right out in the first 500 words of the book (beginning of chapter 2 now).

What are you working on (that you can tell us about)?

I’m doing edits on a basketball book called Farmer Reed Picks Up The Rock, which HarperCollins-Katherine Tegen Books is putting out in January of 2018 (I think that’s the date). I’m pretty excited about it. I also have a picture book coming out next year about a kid with very unruly hair.

I’m looking forward to seeing both of those! Thanks for joining us today!

magic_the_gathering-card_back

Free Write Friday: Sometimes It’s Magic

Melody Maysonet

Melody Maysonet

It was only a few days ago that my husband and I celebrated our 18th anniversary, so this week I’ve been thinking a lot about how we met and how unlikely it was that we ended up together. All of my family thought I was crazy for quitting my dream job and moving across the country for someone I’d only seen a handful of times, but sometimes you just know.

Here’s how it happened.

It was 1996, and I was living in Seattle, working for a gaming company called Wizards of the Coast, (which produces Magic: The Gathering). magic_the_gathering-card_backI was the editor for their magazine, and that weekend, we were the hosting the World Championships for Magic: The Gathering, which in case you don’t know, is a highly strategic trading card game that has hundreds of thousands of players worldwide. I’d been playing Magic for years, so it was my dream job to work for the company that made the game.

The Duelist magazine (for which I was editor) came out every month and was filled with deck strategies, advice from top players, and stunning original artwork.

The Duelist magazine (for which I was editor) came out every month and was filled with deck strategies, advice from top players, and stunning original artwork.

As editor of the magazine, it was my job to get to know some of the players, so at the welcome party we hosted for the World Championships, one of my fellow editors, Jeff Lin, introduced me to a bunch of players he’d already interviewed. (Interesting sidebar: Jeff Lin happens to be the guitar player for Harvey Danger. His band wasn’t famous yet, but it would be very soon. Remember that song from American Pie that goes “Paranoia, paranoia, everybody’s coming to get me?” That was Jeff’s band.) One of the players Jeff introduced me to was ranked number one in the world. I’d heard of him already as the creator of Magic’s deadly Rack-Balance deck, but now I was meeting the legendary Adam Maysonet in person.

It started off as a group of us talking, me and a handful of Magic players standing in a little circle. At some point, the others wandered off to mingle, and the next thing I knew, the caterers were taking down their stuff and Adam and I were the only guests left at the party. I wish I remembered what we talked about—it must have been good stuff because we totally lost track of time—but neither of us remembers.

Some people say there's a striking resemblance to me on this Magic card, and maybe that's because the character shown (Hanna of the Weatherlight) was based on my Dungeons & Dragons character of the same name.

Some people say there’s a striking resemblance to me on this Magic card, and maybe that’s because the character shown (Hanna of the Weatherlight) was based on my Dungeons & Dragons character of the same name.

The World Championships ensued over the next few days. Adam didn’t do too well in the tournament. (But he likes to say that he won anyway, given how things turned out.) I hung out with him and the other players in the evenings, and Adam and I got to know each other a little better. Maybe a lot better because when the weekend ended and it was time for him to go back to Florida, I felt like I was losing something important, something that was maybe meant to be. And yet, how could I know that after one weekend?

Adam went home, all the way back to South Florida (remember, I was in Seattle), and I thought—that’s the end of it. But it wasn’t. He emailed me the next day, and I emailed him back. We kept this up for six months, and then my company flew me out to another tournament, this one in Atlanta. Adam was playing, of course, so we got to see each other for another weekend. Three months later, we saw each other at another tournament in California. By then, I knew I was in love, but it made no sense. We’d seen each other a total of three weekends.

Sometimes you just know.

We knew we wanted to be together, but that meant one of us had to move across the country. I had no family in Seattle. Adam, on the other hand, had family and longtime friends in Florida. If one of us was going to move, it made sense that it was me.

And yet I was scared out of mind, mostly because I was leaving such a great job. I packed all my belongings into the back of my leased Ford Escort and drove across the country (it took five days) with no job lined up and only my credit cards to get by on. I drove almost 3,000 miles to a place where I knew only one person—and I’d only spent a handful of days with him. Maybe I was crazy. My family thought I was. But sometimes you know in your gut what’s best even though everyone else is questioning your judgment.

A-Work-of-Art-cover (2) - Copy

Merit Press/FW Media, 2015

And as it turned out, leaving my dream job and moving across the country to be with Adam was the best decision I ever made. It took me about a month to find a job (a crappy one). Then we moved into a bigger apartment and I got a better job. We got married, bought our first house, had a kid… The business Adam started took off and I was able to quit my job and focus on my writing. I spent years working on a novel, which finally got published in 2015. Another dream come true. (And can I just say? Getting A Work of Art published was way, way better than working at a gaming company, even though working at Wizards of the Coast was awesome.)

There have only been a few instances where I knew in my heart that something was right. Moving across the country to be with Adam was one of those times. Another was when I finished writing A Work of Art. I was told by many, many people (some of them agents and editors) that it might never find a publisher because the content was so raw. (It’s about a young woman who deals with child sexual abuse from her past), but I didn’t change it because I knew in my heart that this was the story I wanted to tell.

Like I said, sometimes you just know.

P.S. Whenever I tell the story of how Adam and I met, I always think we must have the coolest origins story ever. What do you think?

things-fall-apart_cover

Themed Thursday—Classics We Can’t Help Hating

We’ve all done it–read a book that’s supposed to be amazing, yet we come away thinking… meh. For today’s Themed Thursday, we’re discussing the classics that left us wondering what all the fuss is about.

faranFaran: A classic book I don’t like happens to be a book I read in high school, college, and taught in high school. By now, ironically, I know this book about imperialism all too well. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. things-fall-apart_coverIn high school, I was lost amidst all the tribes and customs. I thought the wrestling was cool and the yams sounded tasty. But I couldn’t keep up with all the characters and got very confused. In college, it bothered me that the woman and children were persecuted. Although I understood more about the tragedy of losing one’s culture, I still could not follow all the customs. As a teacher, I learned with my students and after one year really got to know the story. The last time I taught it, I used pop culture clips such as Star Trek and the movie Avatar to gain interest among my students. I also assigned projects such as an A-Z booklet to explain the customs. Unlike my experience in high school, I wanted to engage my students in a way that helped them understand the book more and get more out of it. Kept them far away from the same fate as Okonkwo. Have you ever read this book, and did you like it? Or did you have a similar experience?

Jonathan: I always feel funny about this topic, since I KNOW someone will look at me like I’m crazy. And even worse, people actually get offended when you say you don’t like certain “classics” But for me, I just could never get into Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. Yes, I get why it’s an important book. Yes, I get the significance of it. But, I always found the writing passive and telling and then, even worse, *SPOILER ALERT*…everyone dies. I mean seriously, everyone. I never liked it as a student and didn’t like it as a teacher. Students always asked me, “You like this book?” and I would sidestep the issue by only answering, “It’s a classic.” So, that’s my answer. Unless, of course, you like it, and then you must know that I was only kidding.

Stacie Ramey

Stacie Ramey

Stacie: I have always been a voracious reader. I was never one to avoid reading assignments or complain about books I was forced to read, with just a few exceptions. Two of the classic books I strongly disliked were by the same author, George Orwell. 1984I read Animal Farm in 6th grade and  Nineteen Eighty-Four in 7th. Animal Farm was not my favorite book, but I understood what it stood for and why it was heralded as an incredible book. With Nineteen Eighty-Four, I wasn’t bought into  most of it. It felt cold and freaky and I just never enjoyed it. The torture scenes at the end were so vivid and horrifying I still feel traumatized by them! When my kids were reading the book, I kept checking in to see what they thought, if they were okay, and if we all should go for counseling. Perhaps that should tell me what a great book it was, that it stayed with me for so long, but I’m just not a fan. Even now after talking about the book, I feel like I need to eat chocolate.

IMG_0373Cathy: No offense, Thomas Hardy, but Tess of the D’urbervilles was too much for me. So maybe I was only a junior in high school, but I loved Silas Marner and a Tale of Two Cities, which we also read in that class. I remember struggling with it. Reading it in my room and trying to stay awake. I just couldn’t care about the main character. Was there some milking of cows going on? Evidently when the book came out, it was considered morally scandalous.  If I had known that, maybe it would have seemed more interesting.

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. What if we’d read this version? tess-sexy

Instead of this one? tess-classic

profile pictureJoanne: I think Shakespeare stinks. Reading his plays in English class was pure torture. Shakespeare writingI tried to be open-minded and reread Othello when my children were in high school. It was just as bad. Schools should ban his work. There are plenty of other classics where the English is enjoyable and the female characters aren’t stuck in muck of the Middle Ages. He rambles on forever with horrible long-winded passages. I can just imagine what The Tuesdays would tell him to cut. It’s no wonder Paul Rudnick created the comedic play I Hate Hamlet. Shakespeare may be in the list of classics, but he’s sure not on my favorites list.

Maysonet-headshotMelody: The book I don’t get is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. greatgatsbyI understand that it’s about excess and the disintegration of the American Dream in 1920s America. But I don’t get what makes it an entertaining read. (It’s not!) I read it once in college and once again a few years ago, around the time the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio came out. The movie trailer (click to watch!) was so good (featuring Jack Black singing a cover of U2’s “Love is Blindness”) that I thought I probably missed something the first time around, but no—the classic novel was still a big snooze fest. Thankfully it’s short, so if you do end up having to read it (for a class—I don’t recommend reading it for pleasure), the pain will be over quickly.

Is there a classic novel you want to diss on? Tell us about it here. I’m sure at least one of us will be happy to commiserate with you.

Wrap-It-Up Wednesday or Some Tuesdays Better Start Rehearsing Now!

Hello Tuesdays!

Welcome to another edition of Wrap-it-up Wednesday!

I know you’re all in suspense, dying to hear what happened during critique group earlier. Well, far be it from me to keep you waiting much longer. So, let’s get right to it!

Today was one of those South Florida days, where it was on and off pouring throughout and by the time critique group rolled around in the afternoon, it was dark and gloomy. We in South Florida have a name for days like today, we call it Tuesday.

rainy-days

Anyway, with the weather being so bad, we were missing half of our group today. Only three of us showed up and braved the elements, because we have our priorities straight! And I want all of you to know, that I would go through anything to be at critique, and I’m saying that without acknowledging the fact that the group meets at my house. That’s irrelevant! Critique comes first for me, because our creed is: Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these writers from the swift critiquing of their WIP’s. (*Note: Any similarities to the Postal Workers’ creed is entirely coincidental*) So, three of us made it in, while three of us let fear consume them and stayed clear. And yes, I know all three said last week that they couldn’t make it and it had nothing at all to do with the weather, but what fun would it be if I didn’t publicly shame them? At least, I’m not mentioning their names, so Faran, Joanne and Melody, you owe me one!

faranprofile pictureMaysonet-headshot

But, I digress. Let’s get back to group itself. Normally, we meet for two hours, and we have six members. That may sound like a lot of time, but to have all six members read their pages and get meaningful critique on them afterwards, takes up more time than you think. That’s why we usually limit the number of pages we each read to between 8-10. Well, my fellow Tuesdays, today, with half the group missing and all this extra time, Stacie brought in eleven! That’s right, eleven!

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Jonathan, this is madness!

madness

I know, I know, you’re right. But, Cathy and I pulled out the Tuesdays rulebook, and under Section 97, subheading 24, paragraph 42, it does state that in the event members are missing, we will consider allowing more pages, after it goes to a vote of the remaining members. So, Cathy and I had a secret ballot and the results came out deadlocked at 1-1. I’m not really sure who voted yes and who no, and it’ll probably always remain a mystery, but with a tie, we felt it best to allow Stacie to have the extra page for today. Still, we’ll be watching for any future transgressions, because without rules, chaos happens.

rules

 

But, back to group. Cathy led us off for today and her chapter sounded great, but at the end, she had questions about a character in her story. After much discussion, it looks like Cathy is going to have to make some difficult choices, but I think she agreed.

murder

This was a good example of critique group, where everyone chimed in, but at the end, it’s up to the writer to decide what fits their story best.

Next up, was Stacie and her eleven pages. Well, I’ll say this, her chapter was great. We all thought it was just about perfect, so she’s lucky about that, because we didn’t even mind the extra page! At the end though, Stacie felt she wanted a little something more at the end of the chapter, so she’s going to touch it up.

This happens a lot as well. When you’re working on your story during the week, you can go over it hundreds of times and not pick up on something, and then when you’re reading it out loud in class, you find something that’s glares out at you and you start self-correcting. Sometimes, you start the correcting even while you’re reading. And while others may think it’s perfect, this is another case of nobody knows your story like you and you know what’s missing.

thinking

Finally, I went last, and it got some great reception. Of course, nothing goes without a hitch, so we spent some time discussing word-choice of characters. Would this character use this word? Yes, that’s a real discussion! See what you’re missing in critique? So, I grudgingly changed it after everyone left and it sounds better now.

word-choice

So, there you have it! Another week of great critique! And for those members who missed it, we look forward to you coming back next week. Though, you will be forced to sing the new, “I’m sorry I missed critique” song that we implemented this week. Lyrics will be emailed to you later today and please memorize them for next week.

singing-2

To all the non-Tuesdays out there, how’s your WIP going?