Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Challenge of Non-fiction

Two of my trusted Beta readers pointed to one of the characters in my WIP and wondered if this character was “needed.” When writing a fictional story— every character must have a function that advances the premise, or at the very least provides comic relief. If neither is the case, toss the bums out, much as it hurts. The story will be meaner and leaner and far stronger.
Fiction writers have two options with unnecessary characters—eliminate, or re-write to make them essential. I have chosen, this time, to do the latter. I had a good reason for this side character, but I failed to convey it properly. I’m going to fix this. Besides, I make a better booster than an assassin.

But those who write non-fiction don’t have this luxury. They are, in effect, historians. Mentioning people who don’t wind up being pivotal, or even interesting in themselves, is still something that they must do in places where the very presence of these people must be accounted for posterity.

Here lies the challenge— make the gray types seem interesting. Find a way to connect the dots somehow, even when the connections are flimsy. Make it stick the way a fictional story would, even as you write about real people and events.

I used to think non-fiction stories were easier to write. After all, the story is already there. A writer just has to do some research. This always felt like school homework, something I did with ease though never liked. Then the writer must have the organizational and verbal skills to produce coherency. Non-fiction that reads like a textbook is not wanted these days. It must be written so young readers will not put it down, same as fiction.

As I augment and change my fictional person, I marvel what I would have done if she and the story had had a reality outside my mind.
And I take off my virtual hat to all great non-fiction.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Begin the Begin, or— In the Beginning…

Before I had any books published, before I was agented, before I ever considered I would ever write anything longer than a long picture book text, and before I knew anything about publishing…

Let me begin in the beginning. I wrote, revised and submitted my first manuscript way back in ancient times. I mistakenly labeled my chapter book story in my query. I called it a picture book because, as I said^, I didn’t know better. This 7,000-word episodic story that was inspired by The Little Prince (16,000 plus words, which some still consider a picture book) had too many things wrong with it, and my query had many more faux-pas. But it must have had something right, because only ten days later I got a very nice and encouraging personal rejection from one of the six small publishers I had subjected my offering to.

After that all the rejections were forms. So were the rejections to stories that followed, for the next eighteen months. I learned that truly personal feedback was rare, and I also learned many more things about writing and submitting.

One publisher never responded, but this, too, was common. Even back then.

Years passed. Winters turned to springs and summers turned to autumns. I was forever grateful for that first personal rejection because it kept me going onto better writing and not giving up.

Until today. It’s been a long time since my stamped self-addressed envelopes showed up with regularity in my mailbox. Everyone had moved to E-subbing, and my agent takes care of this aspect now. But today, there it was. My final rejection to that very first submission for a story I sent, ahmm, nine years ago.

Lest you imagine it was a form, as in “clearing the slush” by a summer intern at this publishing house, I will tell you otherwise. It’s a nice personal rejection. It also states that the story is really a chapter book, not a picture book, and that it is filled with “child-like imagination.” But, alas, the house has never tackled this length of story. The response is dated from six days ago, signed by the senior editor.

I am flummoxed, flabbergasted, and flat-out speechless. I don’t know what it means, if anything. I almost let magical thinking take over: the first and the last… Oh, no! Then I got a grip and decided this is a blog post about how slow publishing can be, and how you can never give up. Much more positive.
Back to work.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Fox Update~

For those who were waiting for an update on the family that moved into our backyard, the Family Fox from this post, I'm happy to report they have likely moved to a more spacious abode. We heard their odd wailing/barking/meowing, from dusk to dawn, through the summer nights of June and half of July. Neighbors who've lived in this urban locale for thirty plus years, and have never seen foxes here before, reported sightings here and there. Then they disappeared.

Most likely the culprit was the arrival of Turk.

Turk, if you're curious, is a dog who came to town with his human. Turk’s human moved in to help a friend with renovations to their home. They live next door. Turk has the bark of a Great Dane, and the size to match. I suspect he’s a mixed breed of unknown origins, possibly a horse and an elephant.
I’m not a dog person, but this gentle (if loud) giant has got my heart. He’s also gotten the foxes, raccoons and opossums to flee away, as far as they can get to not hear his woof-woofs. My cats stay away from his yard, and occasionally run into our house in a hurry. This they do when Turk decided to tell them what he thinks of them. They do as cats will, making their fur stand on edge to double their size and appear larger. Poor dears. They don’t impress this mammoth of a dog one bit with their enlargements.

So why do I like this dog? Dogs, to me, are like people. Some just get you.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Claiming Credit – Taking Blame

A few weeks back, writing Facebook friends and colleagues lamented that their adult kids’ failure to acknowledge Father’s Day felt like their failure to parent right.

I thought about some of the personal reactions I got to my post, so pleased with my own progeny for their achievements. Some were of the “you-did-well,-Mom!”

I remember feeling this was not right. My kids’ achievements are theirs. So are their failures.

We have a tendency to claim credit when credit is not due, and after a certain point (for the sake of unified definition let’s call it the age of majority) what they achieve is not our achievement. When they fail to do the right thing, (and I know my friends and myself, we did teach them right and modeled it also) it’s all theirs.
The same for our other babies, our books. My achievements are in writing them, and getting a publisher to take them on. If they are not stellar marketing successes this is more a failure of the marketing at the publishers, whose main role is to publish, i.e. make public. A book that is a mega success is also more a credit to the publisher. The author’s role is limited. Writing a good book is one thing, having it make a commercial splash is another.
It’s about taking responsibility. I am happy for a friend who had overcome adversity, but I have no business being “proud of her.” We use the word proud all too often. It’s best to prick that balloon before it makes us explode, or implode.

The most empowering thought I can offer today— own your own actions. Take neither blame nor credit from others.
 The preacher steps down now.