Sunday, September 30, 2012

Spreading Fun Around

Life gets heavy. And the older we get, the harder it is to shake off the collective weight of The Bad Stuff. People disappoint. People betray. People you like and admire die. Time will whittle away at your optimism; at your spirit; at your views on what life can be.

If you let it.

I don't use this blog as a forum for my problems, but I may have mentioned that it's been a hard year.

(It's been a hard year.)

Actually, it's been more like two.

So yeah, life been heavy. And although I count my blessings and go through my litany of All Good Things, that's not the same as feeling joy or having fun.

So Mark (being the great guy he is), decided I needed a distraction and booked our family band (Risky Whippet) for a 3-hour gig at a club (uh, make that bar/saloon). The four of us have worked up about 35 songs (sneaking in about 6 originals) of mostly danceable rock.

With a little Metallica.

And Deep Dark Robot.

And Alice in Chains...

There is something exquisitely fun and indescribably therapeutic about playing in a rock band, and being in one with your husband and sons is 'nother-worldly. How lucky am I that my kids don't think it's completely dorky to play in a band with their parents.

Yeah, I know. Don't pinch me.

Very often when someone finds out we have a band I get the comment "I always wanted to be in a rock band!" And most often it's "I always dreamed of singing back-up in a rock band." Like they want to be up there and be part of it, but not in a scary out-front sort of way.

So I got to thinking that I wanted to help people check that one off their bucket list. I got this big urge to spread the fun around. After all, I don't have a corner on life feeling heavy. Everyone needs a little fun infused now and then.

So we came up with the idea of the Whip-ettes -- friends we would invite to come up and sing background on a few songs. I bought some cool purple-and-green sunglasses. ($3 close out at Claire's!) Three purple feather boas were dug out of my closet. (An old Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy prop, of course!) Friends were invited, purple tights have been ordered, and after two great rehearsals, I know the Whip-ettes are ready!

The eyes behind the shades on the left belong to my sister. I called her the Reluctant Whip-ette because singing in a rock band was definitely not on her bucket list. She doesn't like loud music. Stages make her nervous. I had a Whip-ette waiting list, but I hounded her and promised her she'd have fun, and after our first rehearsal she was a convert. It was so cool to watch her get into it!

If there's a point to be made here it's that the times I feel the happiest is when I've managed to make someone else happy. Life really is too short and gets too heavy to not make an effort to infuse it with joy, not just for ourselves, but for the people we know. Cut loose. Act a little silly. And spread the fun around.

We'll probably post pictures from the show on our RiskyWhippet FaceBook page if you want to investigate. Meanwhile, have a good week, find some fun, and spread it around!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Saluting The Shuttle

I was booked to speak at Whittier College in the Los Angeles area this weekend. Even though it was a long way to travel, I chose to drive because flying can be so frustrating and it takes way more time than the flight time would suggest. And then there’s the whole getting from LAX to Whittier…not fun.

Anyway, Los Angeles traffic lives up to its reputation. It’s a gamble every time you venture in, and the odds are you’re gonna lose a lot of time sitting still on a road designed to be speedy. And you’re not surrounded by palm trees and glistening oceans, either. Cement, barbed wire, graffiti, and tail lights--that’s the LA scenery you’ll see. The only time I like driving through LA is at three in the morning. It’s actually really cool to zoom through at that hour.

When it’s not three in the morning, you really have to concentrate ‘cause locals are crazy and not afraid to show it. They zig in front of you only to slam on their brakes before zagging out to do the same to someone else. So it takes concentration and patience to stay out of trouble, and by the time you’ve negotiated traffic for hours, you’re beat up tired, even though all you’ve really done is sit and stress.

Double-anyway, I knew all that going in, so that tells you how fond I am of flying. But a strange thing happened on the way into LA—we didn’t hit any real traffic. There were a few places where we crept along, but overall it was 55-60mph—excellent for LA freeways.

And then everyone on the 101 started noticing a big ol’ plane coming toward us. Not just a big ol’ plane, but a big ol’ plane with two little jets escorting it.

The Shuttle.

If you had told me that I would get all teared up seeing the shuttle fly overhead, I’d have said, Yeah, nah. But this was close. I’m talking right there. And as we drove along I realized we were timed such that it was going to fly directly over us.

Something about seeing it fly up close and personal really got to me. It made me proud to be American. It made me proud of all the people who dreamt it, designed it, and built it…and dared to fly into space in it. Seeing it fly piggybacked on a 747 overhead was, in the best sense of the word, awesome.

And yeah, I teared up.

I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. Right there on the 101 some people pulled over, got out of their cars and cheered. Most drivers slowed down to a creep—one eye on the car ahead, one eye on the shuttle above. It’s a wonder there weren't pileups galore.

In short order it was gone, but right there in LA traffic, surrounded by cement and barbed wire and graffiti, I was given one of the best visual moments of my life.

Glad I drove.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Little Ridiculous Philosophical Mumbo-Jumbo

Last you heard from me about Killer Cruise was that I was in the yabba-dabba-doo phase of it all coming together. 

Or, you know, the yippity-doo-dah phase.

And I was and it did.  And then I got to the end of the story and something completely unexpected happened.

I bawled my eyes out.

Big gasping gulps and sobs and waterworks galore. The kids thought something tragic had happened. Mark just held on and let me soak his shirt.

Don't get me wrong. The book has a happy ending. But it's the last book in Sammy's voice.(Kiss Goodbye, the final book in the series, won't be.)

I hadn’t actually realized that before typing the final sentence. Or maybe it just hadn't hit me. But as the final sentence came out my fingertips the waterworks started and then I just couldn’t stop crying.

Well, I did. Eventually. You know.

But it was just so overwhelming and unexpected and the opposite of how I usually feel when I type the last line of a book. I was anticipating being a basket case for Kiss Goodbye, but this...well, I just didn't see it coming.

Sammy has been in my life even longer than my second son, who is 18 and just started college. It's strange to spend so much time with a character--so many years with a character--because they become real to you. And I know there is a time for everything--a time for my boys to go off to college and start adventures of their own--and a time for a series to come to a close. But them happening at the same time is pretty dang hard on "the mom"! 

And it causes some strange ideas to form.  

For instance, old people often say, "All I have left is my memories," meaning the people who created those memories are gone but the memories themselves are still there. There were real, physical entities in this world creating those memories but their absence doesn't detract from the memories created, so the question is, are those memories more valid or 'real' than those created by fictional characters? Are the memories created by the imagined less real than the ones created by people who are now also not physical beings? People you can only now imagine.

I know this is ridiculous philosophical mumbo jumbo, and honestly, I don't believe that a character can equate to a flesh-and-blood person. But these are the kinds of thoughts that play around with my mind.

And man, did I cry.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Are Some Of Your Best Friends Fictional?

Nancy sent me one more guest post and I think it rounds out her entries nicely so, although I said I'd be back this week, it makes sense to keep her posts together. The questions left in the comment section at previous posts will be addressed later, although I can tell you that she can't answer your questions about Hudson or the Nighty Napper or characters' back stories, etc. I keep her in the dark about as much as I can because I only get one chance to have her read a manuscript for the first time, and that first read is very important to me--both for her reaction to the mystery (when did you know whodunit?) and the emotional impact of relationship development. Anyway, enjoy this last (for now) post from Nancy!

When I tell people that I edit children’s books, they frequently ask, So what qualifies you for that?

Probably they’re curious because it sounds like a great job, and they want to do it too.  But the question always makes me squirm a little because I don’t have a good answer.  What qualifies me?  Nothing in particular.  But also, everything I am.

I think it’s more revealing to talk about what qualities most editors possess, instead of what qualifications.  (Maybe because I don’t have any specific qualifications, but we won’t dwell!)

Some things to consider:

Do you love to read?  I mean, love to read kind of like you love to breathe?  Do you carry around not only the book you are currently reading but a second one as well, just in case?

Are some of your best friends fictional? Consider this:  I’m in Venice with my mom and sister, exploring an old cathedral, and my mom says, “This is Guido’s mother’s favorite church.” And I say, “Really? How come?” And she points out the paintings and the architecture that make this place special.  My sister asks us who Guido is, and rolls her eyes when we tell her we’re talking about Guido Brunetti, a Venetian detective in books by Donna Leon. 

Another example:  Wendelin is touring near where I grew up, and so I bring her home to meet my parents.  We’re all chatting around the dining room table and my mom turns to Wendelin and asks, “So how is Hudson?  I haven’t heard about him lately.”  Wendelin laughs, looks at me, and says, “Now I understand where you came from.” (Perhaps what this really means is that I have a great book-loving mom.  True enough.  But I think it’s more—I think it’s that characters truly live for us.)

Do you love words? Do you like slang and lingo and jargon and colloquialisms?  Have you ever stopped and sighed over a particularly elegant phrase?  Are you always searching for the exact right way to express something?  Does it make you inordinately happy to find it?

Do you have a fix-it gene? Are you constantly critiquing things?  Do you read a book or see a movie and think, Yeah, that was good, but it would have been even better if only they’d changed this.  Or, There is no way that character would have done that.  Do you imagine how the whole thing could have played out differently?

Would you rather be pointing the spotlight than in it? An editor’s job is to help.  Help writers express their ideas in the best way possible.  Or to help them clarify what it is they are trying to say.

For me, I’ve never wanted to be the lead in the play or the rock star.  Even in my dreams, I’m a back-up singer.  You know, shimmying in a cute fringed dress, adding the perfect harmony, helping keep the beat.  (Now that I consider it, I think I got this idea from a book—Laurie Colwin’s Goodbye Without Leaving.  Typical.)

Did you answer yes to most or all of these questions?  If so, you might just make a great editor!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Day In The Life Of An Editor

Before I turn you loose on Nancy's post #3, I'm happy to report that Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise is off my desk and on Nancy's. So although she's said she'll answer questions from last week and you'll see her here again from time to time, I'm planning to be back to do the full post next week (while she gets notes together about my book and sends it back to me for Round 2).

And also, first a little explanation about the picture.

I've told Nancy many times over the years that she looks like Snow White. It just strikes me when I see her and then it pops out of my mouth. Call me Dopey, but I just can't help it.

Well, on the wall of the movie theater where she and I attended a Flipped movie premiere, there was a mural of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  So of course I got all excited and made her pose like Snow White in front of Snow White. And since it was a Flipped premiere there were little fuzzy chicks everywhere, which is how we managed to get a little bird in the picture, too. So now I have proof. Am I right, or what?

Anyway! Here's Nancy....
* * *


Wendelin thought her readers might be interested in a day-in-the-life of an editor.  But really, each day is different—with the exception that I hardly ever accomplish what I intended to do that morning.  Things just tend to come up.  Which is why I try to work from home one day a week.  I think what will surprise most people is what doesn’t happen from nine to five (well, ten to seven-thirty).

What I do at my desk / in the office:

  • Email. Reading it—questions from authors and agents; updates from marketing, publicity and sales; book reviews; industry newsletters; notices of reprints, first prints, out of prints; the google alerts I’ve put on my authors; requests for meetings; submissions.  Writing it—answering questions from authors and agents; passing on the good and bad news from all that’s come in; requesting more info from pretty much everyone, and then disseminating the answers; passing myriad big and small requests to the assistant editor who helps me (blessings upon her).
  • Write long letters to authors extolling the virtues of their book and pointing out any weaknesses, holes, confusions.  Try to give a road map for how to make the book even stronger.
  • Write the copy for book jackets, catalogs, sales reps’ tip sheets, on-line book descriptions.
  • Prep manuscripts so they are in the proper format for copy editors and designers to deal with.  (The system for doing this seems to change yearly, requiring training on new systems, and a good deal of cursing.)
  • Review books in progress as they are set into type, proofread, corrected, and proofread again—as many times as it takes to get it right.
  • Eat lunch (occasionally dinner).
  • Meet with designers to talk about the illustrations for picture books and the possibilities for jacket art for novels.
  • Prepare presentations of my books for meetings with sales and marketing and publicity; slightly different presentations for meeting with librarians or teachers.  Always, always, always trying to explain the particular strengths and wondrousness of each book.
  • Go to meetings—prepare for meetings, follow up after meetings…
  • Talk on the phone with agents and authors and colleagues (and, okay, my mother).
  • Prepare a case for new books I’d like to take on—a written estimation of why the book is great, who will love it, who will buy it, how we’ll pitch it in-house and out-of-house, long term plan for the author, how much revision the book requires, and create a p&l (profit & loss statement) with some supportable guess of how many we’ll print, how many we’ll sell, what the costs to the company will be and what the potential profit might be.
  • Negotiate the terms for new contracts with agents.
  • Meet with authors, agents, and foreign publishers.
  • Talk with other editors about the difficulties that come up; ask and offer advice about how to handle things; generally kvetch about the things out of our control; offer congratulations or commiseration as needed.
What I rarely, if ever, do in the office:

  • Read.
  • Edit.