Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Week To Remember

This author is tired. But it's a good tired. I have been on the go-go-go for a week straight, visiting schools, doing a pancake breakfast fundraiser, signing books, and then today was the Oklahoma City Memorial marathon 5-K . The city has hosted this marathon event for 10 years now, and their symbol is the tree -- the lone tree -- that survived the brutal bombing 15 years ago. All runs -- the full and half marathons plus the kid run and the 5-K all originate in downtown Oklahoma City, and you can't help but pass by the Memorial. It's a very effective way to help people remember those who were killed or devastated by the bombing, and the money raised by the marathon is used for the memorial and victims' families. The attendance has grown tremendously in the last few years, which is great for fundraising... but no so great if you're zigzagging through thousands of people, trying to get to your starting area while keeping track of all the students you promised you'd take good care of. Ay-ay-ay! But in the end, we all found each other and huddled together in the cold Oklahoma dark (and wind) until the gun went off. It truly was a "day to remember." I loved being on the school bus with the kids both in the wee hours, and then after it was over. Educators who put together an event like this have big hearts -- they make sure the kids who can't afford books get them anyway. They quietly take care of registration costs. They shuttle and process and jump through hoop after hoop to take care of all the things that will make "Author Day" (or Run With The Author, or Pancake Breakfast With The Author or Whatever With the Author) an event the kids will remember for a long time. So I'm a little (lot) tired. So what? It's been an amazing week in Oklahoma.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Just A Little Babbling

I thought I'd share this exciting piece of Flipped movie art with you. My editor sent it to me on Friday -- it's from Warner Brothers. I'm not sure exactly what it's for, but I like it! Speculation is that the movie poster will look something like this, and, if that's the case, the movie tie-in edition of the book will look something like this, too. The release date of (around) September 17th has been (kind of) confirmed. So, for those of you who have been asking for details, this is the latest! This posting will have to be fairly short, and probably more newsy that philosophical. I'm catching a plane in a few hours. Off to accept an award for Runaway, visit the ETRTR winners, and meet up with educators from all over at the International Reading Association convention. Am I packed? Not quite! I'm always astounded at how much time and planning it takes to be away from home. Especially if you're flying somewhere. Double-especially if you have kids. It's actually way more time-consuming to get ready to be away than it is to be away. Stock shelves, water plants, coordinate rides...all that stuff, plus write speeches, and get presentations together. I wrote 5 speeches for this trip. Sheez. And now I've got to practice them so they're natural and not just being read. I hate reading speeches. I'd rather just get up and talk from the heart. But that can be very disjuncted, so I prepare, practice, and then put the speech away. School presentations aren't that way. I love talking to kids. They don't mind that I'm hyper and a little zany. Way better than being put into the snooze state. The adults, though, they always make me a little bit nervous. Anyway, I'm babbling, but that's what happens when you're not packed and you still have to go raid the ATM machine and charge your iPod. Which I'd better go do! I promise a mo'better post next time. Thanks for checking in!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Stranger In My House

Mark and I have a brainstorming process that works really well for us when it comes to plotting our stories. One of us will say to the other "I need to talk plot" and then we make the time to do that. Sometimes it's on a long car ride, sometimes just at home. But it's just so nice to talk about what you've been stewing up. It engages a different part of the brain and really seems to help move things along -- or expose the flaws in your plotting. So brainstorming with Mark is something I do with every book I write, but I guess I didn't really realize what a valuable process this is until this weekend, when I helped another writer brainstorm. I'm going to call this other writer Suzanne. Let's just say she's very well known in her field, and that field is not writing. When I met her about 6 months ago, I knew "of" her, and she knew "of" me, but it's not like we knew each other. At that first (and only) encounter, she sought me out and began talking about "her novel." My initial reaction was, Uh-oh, because a lot of people will do that -- they want me to help them get connected, or published, or whatever. But she had a certain credibility because of who she is, and when it came out that "her novel" was actually written, that helped, too. (You'd be surprised how many people talk to me about their "novel" but haven't actually written anything.) And then I learned that Suzanne was stuck on the rewrite--she just couldn't get through this one very emotional part -- and I realized that she was both serious and emotionally wrung out by her story. Something in it was sort of torturing her. I told her how I brainstorm with Mark, and how talking out your plot and character back story and all of that can really help get past the rough patches. I asked her if she had anyone she could brainstorm with she said no, so I encouraged her to find someone. A couple of months ago our encounter crossed my mind and I wondered if she'd had a breakthrough, or found a writer's group or brainstorming partner. I was actually feeling kind of bad for not being more helpful -- I could still picture the tears in her eyes when she was talking about her story. So I got an e-mail relayed to her, asking if she'd had a breakthrough. She wrote back immediately saying she had not. To make a very long story at least somewhat shorter, I offered to help. But this wasn't something that could be done over the phone and in the end she wound up driving for several hours to come to my house to spend the weekend here for a "writer's retreat" with me. We were two strangers, really, with only the assurance that we knew "of" each other, to keep from worrying that we might get murdered in the night. She came armed with a laptop and reams of printed pages. Scenes. Sections. The first third of the novel. A chronology. I began by asking her to tell me about her story. For the first hour I felt like I was in the middle of a tornado. Story parts were flying all around me! Characters! Scenes! Events! They all twisted madly, whirling and flying through the air. She talked and paced and gesticulated. I just held on and listened. She gave me segments to read. I read and absorbed. She talked and paced and gesticulated some more. And after two hours of this, I started making connections. And suggestions. Now, when a person has spent nearly two years with a story in her head, I know it's a hard thing to make mental shifts in who the key characters are and what they really want and how they're going to go about getting it. But she was amazingly open and excited to hear new ideas and see how weaving in certain threads could tie a theme, her story together. She let go of things that weren't working and embraced new ideas that might help her move forward. She took frantic notes on a yellow pad, with big swooping strokes. She asked me to repeat things. Considered my every suggestion. It was very late when we finally closed "shop" for the night, and I realized that we had completely dismantled her original story and that the restructure was going to be a tremendous amount of work. I was worried that she might be a little discouraged by the enormity of the task (and the utter destruction caused by my 'help'). But when I mentioned this, she said, "No! I feel wonderful! I feel like an angel has lifted me up and flown me here!" What a wonderfully receptive writer. And yes, I might be pretty good at structure. After twenty five books I've had a little experience with it. But I'm not nearly as good alone as I am with the help of Mark. And then my editor will usually add some additional ideas that improve the story or structure. It helps so much to talk it through. So really, what I think Suzanne needed most was just someone to talk to. Someone who would listen. She's definitely got talent as a writer, she just needed help figuring out how to apply it. The next day we made up a new "chronology" for her story, with a main plot, two subplots, and half a dozen smaller threads to weave things together tightly. She left here feeling happy and full of energy for a new approach to her story, and I watched her go feeling good (and still a little amazed) that I'd been able to help her.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Work In Progress

Perfection is overrated. There's no such thing as perfect, anyway, and always feeling that you've come up short somehow is very self-destructive. I could delve into the psychology of the whole coming-up-short thing , but why? If you're a female I don't need to explain it to you anyway. Our society makes it colossally hard to avoid. But there's perfect, and then there's likeable. And (where people are concerned, anyway) I actually find the two to be mutually exclusive. Which is interesting in light of our nature to try to be "perfect" - what did we hope perfection would bring us? This is not to say I don't try to improve as a person. I am definitely a work in progress. But see? Admitting to it is a very freeing thing. I feel lighter, just saying it. What prompted this musing was realizing that what I like about my main characters is that they're not perfect. Sammy Keyes? She's hot headed and fist ready. I love that girl! She's flawed, all right, but she does try to learn from her mistakes. Two steps forward, one back. So she is getting somewhere, but I guarantee you, the destination will never be perfection. Which is how I know I'll always like her. Holly in Runaway? She thought everyone in her life was stupid and wrong and mean and blind. It was when she finally admitted that she'd been part of the problem that her life began turning around. Evangeline in Confessions of a Serial Kisser? Her revelation came when she saw that in order to get forgiveness she first had to give it. Forgiveness is a toughie because at the core of it is acceptance, and we only truly accept someone else's mistakes when we admit to being capable of making mistakes, too. Anyway, it makes me feel better about my own flaws when I recognize that what makes me like my characters is their flaws. So I'll just continue to try to be the best person I can be, and if I stumble or come up short, I'll remind myself that I'm a (hopefully likeable) work in progress, and try again tomorrow. I hope you'll do the same.