Tuesday, June 25, 2013

~What’s Right with Writing SYNOPSES~

Synopses are summaries of books, written in third person present tense. Most writers don’t like writing them, because how can we, for all the gold in the vault of the Central Bank, put our whole novel into one or two pages? We feel, nay- we think, this is barbarous.
But writing a synopsis is a must. Agents and editors require it. Many will not even look at a sample of inspired writing unless the synopsis passes muster.
Let’s be positive here. This is what I find to be helpful about doing this dastardly deed.
First, it will expose a flawed or nonexistent plot like no other writing or reading exercise will. Better than a much more wounding or expensive critique from another. As a writer distills her plot, she also sees it from a bird’s eye view.
Second, it will reveal themes the writer hadn't realized were there. This is part of the great joy of self-discovery, which is a part of the raison d'ĂȘtre for writing, pardon my French.
Third, it will require a focus of the mind, which is also part of the joy of writing.
Fourth, it will leave a writer feeling virtuous for having gotten through something necessary but unpleasant.

I can’t think of a fifth. Can you?

Can you tell what I’m struggling with today? Hint…^

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Writing in Summer

When my kids were smaller, I ran Camp Mama every summer. Summers became the time I did not write any first drafts. Their school vacation was my on-the-job-times-two.
DD *just* graduated from HS, and I am adjusting to the fact that I won't "need" to have a summer break. The thing is, as they got older and I did not need to chase after them, I could have written in summer. But my writing-rhythm got used to the revving-up the engine in August, getting going in September, being productive until late May, unwinding in June, and re-charging the batteries in July.
Someone said, “If it works, don’t fix it.”
I think I’ll keep my summer break. At least this one, my last before I move on to the next stage of my life. Get ready for some empty-nester posts.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Childhood Baggage

When Jeannette Walls finally told her beau that if he knew the true story of her childhood he would not want to be with her anymore, she told of the shame she carried about such severe parental dysfunction she could not bare to reveal it.

But her soon-to-be husband’s reaction made bearing-all more than bearable.

“This,” he said, “would make a great book.”
The Glass Castle went on to sell millions of copies, and Jeannette went on to literary fame. If ever there was a Cinderella story, this has to be it.

I wonder sometimes if those who were blessed with wholesome childhoods could become great writers. What do they have to pass on? That if you eat your peas and mind your manners all shall be well? Great stories, after all, are about overcoming challenges. Who better to conjure tales of woe and redemption than those who lived them?

Few have lived the horrendous abuse and neglect Ms. Wells endured, and fewer who had managed to rise up the social ladder as she had, long before her memoir was published. But in our way many of us have a story to tell; variations on the theme.

Fiction, more than memoir, allows us to really go there. If you write fiction, I’d encourage you to eschew the protective instinct and let your characters experience that which you know so well: the helplessness, the deep sorrow, the profound self-doubts. Let them make their way out of the darkness.

These make great books.
Use it. It’s called making lemonade.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


So many of my stories began with a house. I see a house in real life or in my mind, and the house won't let go. What happened here? Who lived here, loved here, left here?
Sometimes the house remains visible in the final draft, and sometimes it is only perceptible to me. But the house was the genesis and the anchor to the tale. A sacred or cursed space, left with only residues waiting to be set free.

It is the storytellers’ duty, as I see it, to flesh it out and make the house’s story be known.
If this sounds too lofty, and no doubt it is when the result is a humorous three-hundred-word toddler book, than so it is. It’s a quirk of mine that I take this storytelling thing seriously. The reader shouldn't, but this writer must.

And so it is with my published novel for middle grades, The Voice of Thunder. A house stands at the core of what is happening, a silent testimony to how we got here.

The house is less obvious in my picture storybook, There’s a Turkey at the Door. You’ll have to trust me, the house is there. It is about home, feeling at home, and going home. The telling made the illustrator focus on the characters and not the house, bless her. It's what was needed. But my writerly mind was guided by the house.

And so it is at the heart of the novel for middle grades I am working on now. But here I will give no details. Like the wonderful and much-lauded writer Avi, I’m of the school that the more you talk about your work-in-progress, the less you need to write it. You’ll have to believe that the house is there.

For some the setting is a valley, a meadow, a beach. For many it is the belly of a bustling city. For the introvert that I am, everything starts inside. Inside the house, that is.