Saturday, January 30, 2010
I don't know about you, but I LOVED the Dream Big posts by all those amazing authors. Thank you, amazing authors, THANK YOU for being a part of it.
I started collecting those blog posts back in December. At the same time, things were happening in my life that were pushing me toward one of *my* dreams - to go full-time with the writing. The day job was getting crazy busy and I had books to promote and I just couldn't do it all anymore. But I was scared. Terrified. And then I'd read a blog post and think - dreams DO come true, Lisa. Go for it.
I've read that if you take a step toward your dream, the universe will respond and support you.
I didn't just take a step, I took a leap! And now I'm dreaming big that everything will work out.
I hope when you're feeling down, you'll come back and search on the "Dream Big" tag and find inspiration in the posts that were shared. I know I will!!
For now, I leave you with a few of the many golden nuggets to carry you through the month of February, and beyond.
"So if you have a dream, like I did, start visualizing now. Learn patience, how to work hard, and call up your bestest friends who'll give you the support you need." - Cynthea Liu
"Life is as big as you decide to make it." - Gayle Forman
"We need to push ourselves. Quit playing it safe. Chase after what we want." - Tammi Sauer
"I guess what I've learned is it's not wrong to dream big. It's fun! And it can lead to good things not just for your ego, but for your soul." - Jo Knowles
"Perhaps if I had Debbie Allen thumping her stick behind me, I’d work differently. But all I have is me. So I don’t think much about fame or sweat. I take a step. Then another. Then another. And what do you know? I’m dancing." - Linda Urban
"All books begin in dreamland. And so do lots of other good things." - Liz Gallagher
"Dream big. Big enough to get scared. Then do. Take a step. A small step, a baby step." - Christine Fletcher
Friday, January 29, 2010
The book came complete with illustrations, as you can see. (Full disclosure: my artistic skills never evolved beyond what you see in the photo.)
As I grew up, I kept writing. I remember handing out personalized short stories to my best friends in junior high about their fictional alter egos. In those stories, the girl always got the boy.
In high school my English assignments came back with enthusiastic praise from my teachers, and I even won a few trophies for creative writing. During college, I wrote angst-infused, cryptic poetry and short stories. Happily for the world of literature, my poetry phase did not last long, and I had sense enough to realize that my short stories were nothing special. I started writing my first novel, which was (wait for it) an angst-infused coming-of-age story about a girl who sounded an awful lot like me. (I know … you’re shocked!)
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was serving my apprenticeship in the craft of wordsmithing. (Yes, I said wordsmithing, and no I don’t think it’s pretentious. It makes me think of blacksmiths … muscular guys in leather aprons hammering away at metal. There are times when writing feels just that strenuous.) While I apprenticed, the dream of someday publishing a book kept me going.
Fast forward a number of years. No … we don’t need to be specific.
Okay, A LOT, all right?
I graduated college, got married, got a full-time job, moved from Los Angeles to Portland, got a new full-time job, and had a child. The coming-of-age novel rested quietly in a box (where it belonged). I still wrote short stories, but they were still nothing special. I spent more time writing journal entries to my son and essays about parenthood.
Reading to my son put me in touch with the world of children’s books, and reignited my imagination. I took a summer class in Writing for Children, and I penned a few picture book manuscripts.
But one day, as fully formed as a glimmering pearl, an idea for a teen novel came to me.
It was about a girl who finds a mermaid.
I plunged (forgive the pun) into the writing, and it flowed so easily that I realized, “Ohhhh! Of course I want to write for teens. I don’t have anything new to say to adults, but I have LOTS to say to young adults!”
The mermaid book got written, re-written, and sent out to agents. After several rejections, I set is aside. My apprenticeship continued. I wrote two more novels … they were contemporary realistic books, edgier than the fantasy.
One of them got published a few months ago. It’s doing pretty well. ☺
And in October, this is the book that will finally make it to the shelves:
L.K. Madigan is the author of FLASH BURNOUT, winner of the 2010 William C. Morris YA Debut Award, which honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens. She has way too many mermaid tchotchkes, but never too many dreams. You can visit Lisa on the web at www.lkmadigan.com.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
So far, that philosophy has gotten me where I am today. Sure, there have been some dreams that didn't come true, but the ones that really mattered are the ones I keep finding a way to live out.
One of my biggest dreams that came to me later in life was having a book published. Another is owning a log cabin in Maine where I could quietly write like Stephen King with Bambi outside a snow-frosted window.
With regards to the first, getting a book published has perhaps been one of my biggest dreams to date and getting there required all of the following.
1) Patience - I'm an impatient person.
2) Hard Work - I've been known to procrastinate heavily.
3) Good friends who wanted the dream for me, too.
4) Believing that dreams do come true.
So if you have a dream, like I did, start visualizing now. Learn patience, learn how to work hard, and call up your bestest friends who'll give you the support you need. And then ... dream BIG! If you have to picture yourself accepting the Newbery Medal to get there, by all means, why aim low? This is a dream we're talking about. One that
we hope will one day become a reality.
As for that house in Maine? I'm getting closer to getting that down payment together. I can still see Bambi just outside my window. Perhaps there is even a mug of hot cocoa on my wooden desk. My daughter is outside in her snowsuit with Daddy, feeding Bambi oatmeal out of the palm of her mittened hand.
Who knows? But at least I can dream, and that's over half the battle.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
I got my first tattoo—a pair of tragedy-comedy masks on my right ankle—when I was 19. The tattoo was a lot of things. A piece of body art. An entry into a community. But mostly it was an insurance policy.
I’d grown up in the mind-numbingly dull suburbs of Los Angeles always feeling low-level depressed. The life I saw around me wasn’t what I wanted. I dreamed of something bigger out there (and I didn’t mean bigger houses or bigger cars). I didn’t know what bigger was. I just knew how it felt: expansive.
I got my first taste of bigger, strangely enough, when at 16, I was an exchange student in England, living in this tiny village and going to this crazy school where you called your teachers by their first names and went to classes only if you felt like it. My teachers were all anarchists or socialists and Chumbawamba played at a school conference.
That was the year the world opened up to me, the year I became the person I am as opposed to the person I might’ve became. It was also the year I started writing a novel though I didn’t think of it as that at the time. We had a lot of free time at that school so when I wasn’t in the music wing dickering around on the guitar, I started writing this meandering story that grew and grew and grew. I don’t remember much of it. It was about a guy named Seymour and it was in the Douglas Adams vein.
I came back from that year, finished high school and a week after graduation, returned to Europe on a one-way ticket. I planned to travel around and live somewhere. Screw college. I was going to the University of Life. I was going to live my dream at last.
I wound up living in Amsterdam for what turned out to be an adventurous, heartbreaking, terrifying, amazing, life-changing year. A year of bigness. A year of my dreams (and of my nightmares; it was pretty lonely). But then I had to go home. My mom needed surgery and I had to go help take care of her for a few months. Coming home to my suburban house, it felt as though none of it—my year in England, my travels in Amsterdam—had happened. I was the same bored girl, dreaming of getting out.
But that summer, I met some amazingly interesting people, and my world felt bigger, even in my claustrophobic childhood home. At the end of the summer, right before I flew back to Amsterdam, I stamped a tattoo on my ankle as some kind of proof that I’d never get stuck, that I’d always seek out the bigger world I dreamed about.
I still have that tattoo. It’s pretty faded. And it turned out to be unnecessary. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the bigness I’d dreamed about, it had nothing to do with geography. It had to do with me. Life is as big as you decide to make it.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
At a writing retreat that I've attended the past few winters, there is a tradition of gathering for a huge bonfire behind the inn one night. It is almost always way too cold to be outside, but a few dozen authors, illustrators, and editors bundle up in scarves and hats and mittens (we loan these things to folks who have come from California) and crunch through the
snow toward the flickering fire.
There are snowflakes and stars and wood smoke. And singing. Always singing. And there's a ritual where everyone takes a small piece of paper and writes down a hope for the coming year. It can be anything -- a wish, a dream, a goal, even something that you feel like you need to let go of.
After a bit of singing and star-gazing, we drop those slips of paper into the fire and watch the sparks fly up to the sky. Soon thereafter, someone remarks how cold it is, and we head inside for warmer conversations.
I'm not much of a New Year's resolution person, but this is a tradition I've come to love. There's something magical about the physical writing down of that hope and then the letting go.
Most often, my wishes have to do not with anything too tangible. While I'd love for my books to be nominated for awards or get starred reviews, somehow, that feels too specific to be sending the universe in a shower of sparks, so my wishes tend to be of the big picture variety -- things like determination and patience and a sense of balance in my teaching-writing-parenting life. And often, throughout the year, I'll slow myself down and think back to that cold night under the stars, those sparks flying up, and that in itself brings me back to what's important.
This January, I wish you peace and joy and inspiration. Brilliant ideas and the patience to bring them to life. And I highly recommend building a fire on a cold night. Just try it. Write down a whispered dream and let it go.
Kate Messner grew up in Medina, a small town in Western New York. For the past twelve years, she has been a teacher of middle school English. In 2006, she earned National Board Certification in Early Adolescent English Language Arts and frequently gives teacher workshops on technology integration, differentiating instruction, and of course, reading and writing across the curriculum. THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z is her first contemporary mid-grade novel. You can learn more about Kate and her books at www.katemessner.net
Monday, January 25, 2010
For my Dream Big blog post, I decided to share a story about a dream that came true for me waaaaay back when I was in the seventh grade. Growing up, my mom tried to encourage my sisters and me to be active, and to use our imaginations instead of spending all our free time plastered to the TV. By encourage, I mean she created a house rule that proclaimed for every hour of TV we wanted to watch, we had to go outside and run for an hour first. Like any thirteen-year-old girl my age, I could not survive week to week without my fill of Beverly Hills, 90210. So I ran.
Shortly after my mom implemented this rule, I tried out for the school track team. It made sense to get my hour of running over with directly after school, and I had high hopes that running with friends would make the time go by faster.
At tryouts, the coaches labeled me a distance runner (this probably had something to do with the fact that I finished dead last in my heat of the 100-meter dash). Despite the fact that distance running meant I had to cover a lot more ground, I didn't mind. Our coach sent us off school grounds to run, and didn't come with us, which meant I could take walking breaks without getting caught. The Rec Center was also across the street from the school, so I'd often wander in, take a nice long water break, and rest for a couple minutes on a bench. I didn't work very hard, but I wasn't there to win. I was there to fill my running quota. I was there so I could watch 90210.
The day of our first track meet, my coach told me I'd be running the mile. As I set my toe on the starting line, I realized I didn't have anywhere to sneak off for water breaks. Plus, if I stopped to walk, the whole world was going to see. Suddenly I wished I'd worked a little harder at practice. The gun sounded, and we were off. Four laps around the track, and by the third, I'd already been lapped by the stronger, faster runners. I couldn't believe how pathetic I was. I was letting other people lap me! They were finishing the race, and I still had a fourth of the race to complete. As I started the fourth lap, I looked behind me and felt a stab of humiliation as I realized there was nobody left behind me. I was dead last! By the time I pulled across the finish line, runners were already lining up for the next race. Everyone was staring, but nobody was cheering. It was one of the most humiliating days of my life.
Later that night, when I was alone in my bedroom, I had the thought: What if I could be as fast as the girl who won the race? The thought carried me off to sleep. The next day at practice, when our coach sent us on our distance run, I didn't walk. Even though I wanted to – badly – and even though my lungs and legs were burning, I forced myself to keep going. I wanted to know what it felt like to cross the finish line first, and I knew in order to get there, I was going to have to work hard. Not only work hard, but I was going to have to work harder than everyone else. I had to go from dead last, to numero uno.
The team practiced Monday through Friday, but while everyone else took the weekends off, I strapped on my running shoes every Saturday and Sunday, and clocked extra miles. Week after week I did this. By the end of the track season, I'd shaved almost two minutes off my mile time. At the final meet, I came in fourth place. It felt good, but not good enough. I couldn't stop dreaming about what it would feel like to finish first.
The summer between seventh and eighth grades, I continued running. Every morning before my babysitting job, I woke up early and ran five miles. There was a time when I would have chosen death over the prospect of running five consecutive miles, but my body grew used to it. Five, six, seven miles became no problem.
When track tryouts came around my eighth grade year, I once again joined the team. I continued to work hard at practice, and diligently ran on the weekends. At the first meet, I placed third! I was in the top three! It was such an amazing feeling. It was proof that, with hard work, I could accomplish what had seemed impossible. The runner who placed second, just ahead of me, was a new girl on my team, a seventh-grader named Bree. After the race, I asked her if, like me, she'd trained in the off-season. She told me no; she was just naturally good at running. My first impulse was to feel jealousy, but the crazy thing was, it actually felt good knowing I'd finished in the top three because I'd worked hard. Cause and effect had never felt so good.
Of course, I hadn't quite reached my dream. My dream was to finish in first place, and it was going to be harder than I thought. Since Bree was on my team, she would be at every single meet I was at for the rest of the season. And she was a natural. She could beat me without trying. Holding onto my dream, I told myself this merely meant that I had to work harder than I already was.
The final meet of the season was in my hometown, at the high school track. The stands were full of parents, including my mom. When it came time for the mile race, I took my place on the starting line, with Bree beside me. She'd finished ahead of me at every other meet we'd had this season, usually beating me by one place, or, in other words, only a handful of seconds. Still, those two or three seconds were the difference between winning, and coming in second.
The gun sounded, and we were off.
I still remember rounding the final curve of that race, the final 100 meters, and seeing my mom rise from her seat in the stands, screaming my name, along with the chant Run! Run! Run! I was in first place, but I could hear the slap of shoes and short, determined breaths right behind me. I didn't have to look back to know Bree was moving up on my right, trying to pass me as we came in to the finish line. The only thought drumming in my head was that if I gave up now, I'd never reach my dream. I had to give more than I ever had, and I had to give it now. When Bree moved up beside my shoulder, I fastened my eyes on the finish line and ran harder than I had all season.
To me, it seemed like we must have crossed the finish line at the same time. It was such a close race, I couldn't tell who'd won. Our coach was at our sides in an instant, hugging us and congratulating us on finishing one and two. He'd congratulated us on finishing one and two more than once in the season. The difference was, this time, he looked at me and, grinning wide, said, “I guess today, Becca wanted it more.”
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Who could have guessed that a book about cheerleaders investigating cheating boyfriends would be my ticket to happiness? Um… not me.
But that’s exactly what it has become. From the minute I started writing, I met other writers in the cyber world who became great friends. Supportive. It was almost like learning a new language. A secret handshake. A society that could communicate solely in blog posts.
I found a home.
I didn’t set out to sell a book. I just wanted to write and tell a love story. Then I wanted to entertain my friends. The last piece was publishing it. And for me, I really think that’s why it worked. My writing is stream of consciousness and my intentions would have shown right through if my only goal were to “sell big." It may work for some people; it just wouldn’t have worked for me.
I write to find love (through my characters). I write to experience life (through my characters). And as a prize, my writing has brought me those things.
Now living in Portland, I have found the most amazing community of friends anyone could ask for. Just a stroll through my blog and you’ll find incredible writers that live here and have generously allowed me into their lives. I’m so happy and it’s because I followed my heart. I wrote what was in my heart.
I followed a dream, not just a goal.
Suzanne Young is a brilliant scientist. Not really. But she is a former middle school teacher turned zookeeper (mother). When Suzanne’s not fending off zombie squirrels or narrating her daughter’s Barbie soap operas, she can be found camping on the Oregon coast or writing obsessively. Suzanne is the author of The Naughty List series which is about a group of cheerleaders who investigate cheating boyfriends. Which Suzanne never did. Or at least, not that you can prove.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Those are words I constantly refer to as a children's book writer. At school visits, I urge kids to dream big. When I speak at writers' conferences, I challenge attendees to dream big. During those many moments in which I am struggling with my own work, I push myself to DREAM BIG.
Years ago--after a string of truly horrible picture book attempts--I wrote a story about a boy named Avery who didn't fit in at Cowboy Camp. It was the first time I had that heart-pounding YES! feeling about something I had written. I sent my manuscript Out There and received all sorts of responses. A few standard form letters. Form letters with actual ink-on-the-paper signatures. Many personal rejection letters, encouraging me to send more work. Three times the manuscript went to acquisitions teams. Oh, the joy! But no takers. Oh, the agony. But I didn't give up that dream. I believed in Avery and I believed in me. I pushed myself to send the manuscript Out There one more time. And it found the perfect home.
This business is tough. But deep down (waaaaay deep down) I appreciate this fact. If it were easy to get published, that would take away from the thrill and the magic of the acceptance.
We need to push ourselves. Quit playing it safe. Chase after what we want.
Because sometimes the payoff can be amazing.
Tammi Sauer is the author of the award-winning humorous picture books Cowboy Camp (Sterling, 2005) and Chicken Dance (Sterling, 2009). Her forthcoming titles include the following: Mostly Monsterly (Paula Wiseman/S&S), Princess-in-Training (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Mr. Duck Means Business (Paula Wiseman/S&S), Oh, Nuts! (Bloomsbury), and Bawk and Roll (Sterling).
In addition to writing, Tammi loves to read, ski, spend time with family and friends, go to the movies and eat out as often as possible. What is more, she is hopelessly addicted to checking her email. Tammi and her family live in Edmond, Oklahoma, with one dog, two geckos, and a tank full of random fish. Oh, and a giant Madagascar hissing cockroach. To learn more about Tammi, please visit her website at www.tammisauer.com.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
I blink rapidly, tears beginning to fill my eyes.
“Oh, no you don’t,” Sara says. “Do not cry.” She waves her hands in front of my eyes. “I practiced those eyes on myself for over two hours, trying to perfect the look. I saw it in Seventeen. It’s absolutely flawless right now and I don’t want to chance having to start over.”
I take several deep breaths. “Okay, okay. I won’t cry. It’s just; I’ve wanted this for so long. I can’t believe it’s really here. It’s like a dream.”
Sara wraps a hand around my shoulder and squeezes. “I know you have. And you’ll do it today and you’ll win. And then you’ll dream a new dream for yourself and go after that. It’s not like anything is really ending today.”
I nod, even though I can’t help feeling sentimental thinking about all those days I wandered the pumpkin patch as a kid, broken pumpkin stem tied on my head, pretending to be the Pumpkin Princess.
---excerpt from PUMPKIN PRINCESS, forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux
When I was about to graduate from college I made a list of all the things I wanted to be when “I grew up”. I never could just choose one. On this list I put that I wanted to:
-teach high school
-be a technical writer
-write for magazines
-be a wife and mom
-publish a book
It seemed like a lot of stuff and that it would take me a long, long time to cross each item off the list. But I’m a multi-tasker and soon I found that I was doing all of these things. Almost at once too. Except for the last one. Publishing a book seemed like the type of thing that never really actually happens. You just wish for it.
And when I sold my first book at 31 and found that I completed my “life list” already I was a little panicked. Uh oh, what now? I remember talking to one of my college students after class that week I sold the book. I told him how I just finished my list and how it freaked me out. He said what was probably obvious but hadn’t occurred to me. Make a new list! Of course! Genius!
I was thinking about this conversation when I wrote this scene in Pumpkin Princess. Just because my main character, Jamie, is finally at this point of almost getting this thing she’s wanted her whole life it doesn’t mean anything is really ending. She’ll just have to dream the next dream and go after it.
Kristina Springer's first young adult novel, THE ESPRESSOLOGIST, was published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in the fall of 2009. Her second novel, MY FAKE BOYFRIEND IS BETTER THAN YOURS, will be published 9/1/10 and a third novel, PUMPKIN PRINCESS will be published in the fall of 2011. She lives in a suburb of Chicago, IL, with her husband Athens and their four small children. Her website is www.kristinaspringer.com.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
One of my favorite movies as a young teen was ROOKIE OF THE YEAR.
A kid breaks his arm, somehow develops a 100-mile-an-hour fastball, and gets a job pitching in the major leagues. Freak accident=dream come true.
I owned that fantasy. No more playing second base in my girl's softball league--I could be the first female pitcher in the major leagues! All the glory (meaning--hot baseball players, endorsements ads, crazy salary and HOT BASEBALL PLAYERS), no preparation.
But dreams, for the most part, don't work out that way. "Overnight successes" may happen quickly from the outsider's perspective, but most singers/writers/athletes/artists have spent years and years working towards that moment. And that's kind of what makes achieving a dream so awesome.
Soon I'll have my first book published, and although it's definitely amazing to hold my very own book in my hands, it's even cooler to remember when it was all just an idea, an idea I typed into a word document and molded and agonized over for years. You see a story; I see my journey. It's my dream come true, and I'm so glad it wasn't the result of weird healing muscles.
So yes, dream big, but also--work hard. You'll be amazed at what you can achieve.
Lindsey Leavitt lives a wild life that includes playing board games alone, baking treats with disgusting amounts of butter and sugar, and reading Lisa Schroeder books. For more of her adventures, check out her website at www.lindseyleavitt.com
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
I don’t remember what I dreamed about, and I’m sure the subject changed from day to day, year to year. However, there was always a commonality.
Those dreams left me with
the energy to run twice around the world without getting breathless,
the satisfaction of eating hundreds of cookies without feeling sick,
the warmth of ten thousand hugs without being smothered.
But I could never imagine,
not in a million daydreams,
that I could capture
all in a single day
in a single school visit
from a single comment
by a single reader
in a single moment.
And so, I’ve come to believe this:
It may start with dreams, but dreams are only the start.
Monday, January 18, 2010
This time last year, I was living in Florida awaiting the publication of my first book. Would it tank? Would the dream of being a full-time author/freelancer be over if my books were cancelled and I couldn’t sell another? Those thoughts were paralyzing at times. Instead of sitting still, I did the only thing I could do—I threw myself into book promotion. Charts, graphs, calendars, TV, radio, blogging. Anything I could do to give myself the best possible shot at the professional life I wanted.
One tiny thing missing?
A personal life. And my eyes were opened to the possibilities of all I could have when I visited New York City in January 2009. I sobbed on the plane ride home, thinking that’s what I want, but how do I make it happen? I was frozen for months, unable to make that move toward what I wanted desperately. So, I threw myself into work and ignored my dreams because I thought they’d never happen. I was too scared to admit to myself that I’d regret every day I spent away from the city and not making a go at the life I wanted for myself.
But, in April 2009, the opportunity to move to NYC appeared and I did something terrifying and thrilling—I took it.
I’m living in NYC now and the dreams I had in January 2009 are so different from the dreams I have now. Toward the end of the year, as I thought about what I wanted to accomplish, I realized my dreams and goals for 2010 are an uneven mix of personal and work related. Last year, I had goals. A long list of book/career related things I wanted to accomplish. I was Career Girl who didn’t look beyond her laptop and only focused on writing the next Canterwood book, brainstorming new ideas and doing as much PR as possible. This year, I still intend to do all of that, but I want to go after things I want personally. Things that have nothing to do with my job. Things that will move me away from workaholic territory and into a balanced place.
Last year was the most challenging year of my life—both personally and professionally—and I think that’s made me stronger to face whatever comes my way in 2010. I think it has also given me the courage not to wait for things to change, but to go after them and make things happen.
Dreams, whether big or small, are important to have and to chase. I hope 2010 is a year of Dreaming Big for all! I keep thinking of the saying that you only live once and this is your only shot at life. I intend to dream big and go after what I want all year. I hope you’ll join me.
Twenty-two year old Jessica Burkhart is a writer from New York City. She’s crazy about horses, lip gloss and all things pink and sparkly. Jess was an equestrian before she started writing. Now, she writes the bi-monthly Canterwood Crest series for Aladdin MIX. Visit the all new Canterwood Crest series Website or Jess’s site.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
The Book Butterfly asks me about the challenges of writing a book with a dual narrative.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Friday, January 15, 2010
Sometimes the best way to dream big is to dream small. Growing up poor, in a neighborhood where few people read, I never dreamed of writing a novel. That would have been impossible, too big to even imagine, let alone dream. But I could see myself reading every book in the 000-100s at the library, and that's what I set out to do.
Once I had, I decided to read every book written by a given author. Tamora Pierce, Lois Duncan, Zilpha Keatly Snyder... When I discovered Stephen King, I discovered anthologies.
Short stories, oh wow, not only were they amazing, they were... possible. No way could I do an anthology, but maybe a single story? I wrote one, and then another- and then I couldn't stop.
I discovered that a short story leads to a novella leads to a novel, and now I can't imagine being anything but a writer. But when I was 10, all I wanted to do was read every book in the 000 to the 100s at my local library- and that small dream was big enough to grow.
Sometimes, that's all you need.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Like most authors, I dream of winning prestigious awards. Landing on multiple bestseller lists. Shaking hands and sharing words with Oprah and Ellen and even Obama.
Silly, I know, but true.
I try not to talk about all these lavish dreams; for one thing, quite a few of them are pretty far-fetched. Plus, who wants to hear some author whining about all of these impossible, unrealistic things?
But after recent conversations with both my agent and editor, I was reminded that my dreams are not mine alone. My agent, editor, friends, family—everyone I know—dreams, hopes, and wishes for good things for me. Maybe some of my dreams are unrealistic. Maybe some of them are far-fetched. But as lavish as these dreams are, they still fall within the realm of possibility—with a lot of hard work (and maybe a little bit of luck thrown in for good measure).
So when I think about giving up on a scene, or showing rather than telling, or using lazy adverbs, I try to remember that it’s not only my dreams I’m trying to make true. So I dig in deep, work hard, and try to write the best damn book I can.
Varian Johnson is the author of Saving Maddie (Delacorte / Random House, 2010), My Life as a Rhombus (Flux / Llewellyn, 2008) and A Red Polka Dot in a World Full of Plaid (Genesis Press, 2005). He was born and raised in Florence, South Carolina, and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a BS in Civil Engineering. Varian later attended the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. You can read more about Varian and his work at his website: http://www.varianjohnson.com.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
The Bumblebee Conspiracy
By Eric Luper
Before my first novel was accepted, there were countless moments when I wondered why I continued to write. Why stay up later than the infomercials? Why spend every spare simoleon on paper, toner, and postage? I was falling behind in my day job, I was seeing less of my children, and the weeds in the backyard were about to riot.
I was doing everything the books told me to do. I had several manuscripts circulating, was going to conferences, was meeting the right people. I was reading, reading, reading. Yet, my work was rejected every time. The more proficient I became, the more hopeless things seemed.
“All this time you spend writing,” one of my friends said to me over a beer, “even if you do get a contract you’ll be paid less hourly than a sweatshop worker.”
After I dumped my hefeweizen on his head, I realized I was in a major funk.
I approached my critique group, ready to bail out on writing and begin my life as a normal member of society, when one of the members quipped, "Aerodynamically a bumblebee should not be able to fly, but nobody ever told the bumblebee."
At first, I wondered what the heck this woman was getting at. What did my total frustration have to do with bees? Did her statement warrant dumping an iced latte on her head? Then, I realized it must be an allegory—or one of those other fancy writing thingies I know about because I’m a writer.
But I also knew that it would be impossible—even for a tiny bee—to violate the laws of nature. Then, it struck me. If a bee’s ignorance allowed it to perform impossible feats, then it follows that I could become a novelist if I found a way to forget that I’ll probably never make it in this business.
I decided to test this theory. I have a background in science and I am quite well versed in the scientific method. And since my lilies were in bloom, my backyard was filled with bees. I knew it would serve as an ideal “laboratory” to test my bumblebee phenomenon.
The hypothesis was: "Bumblebees are able to violate the laws of aerodynamics because no one ever told them they should not be able to fly." I shortened this to the "Bees-Are-Too-Stupid-to-Know-Any-Better” (or BATSKAB) Effect. If my hypothesis was correct, as soon as the bees discovered their ignorance they should drop to the ground and start crawling like the rest of us lowly earth-walkers.
See how easy science is?
Now, it was time to do the fieldwork. I headed out back and announced to the bumblebees that despite what they may think, they are violating the laws of aerodynamics and should be unable to fly as they do.
Then I waited.
Not a single bee dropped out of the air to begin its life as a land insect.
I repeated my statement—this time louder—figuring that the nectar collectors couldn’t hear me over their infernal buzzing.
My wife asked me why I wasn't weeding like I had promised.
I explained my experiment to her.
“Stop being stupid,” she said and went back inside.
I'm sure Sir Isaac Newton's wife called him stupid. Galileo's wife too. So, I took it as the highest of compliments.
Then I repeated my comment to the bees in case they hadn’t heard me the first two times. I was determined to prove this theory so I could try to forget that catching a publisher’s eye was impossible.
"Bees don't understand English," a voice said from over my shoulder. It was my neighbor, Mr. Smug [name changed to protect the innocent]. Mr. Smug thinks he's better than me because he uses all kinds of organic fertilizers and natural pH balancers to grow the perfect garden. "Bees communicate by a complex dance that consists of round patterns, figure eights, and waggles," he said. "Talking to them thusly will do no good."
Thusly. Mr. Smug actually said "thusly" in conversation.
Usually, I respond to my neighbor by flinging dog poop over his fence, but this time I thought he might have a point. I began shuffling amidst the day lilies, moving about in circular patterns all the while shaking my rear end like a jackhammer. And concentrating thusly on my bee message.
Mr. Smug laughed at me so I stopped my rhythmic dance long enough to fling a shovelful of dog poop over the fence. Moments later, I had a scientific breakthrough. I felt a searing pain on the inside of my thigh and another on my butt. Two of those little buggers had stung me—probably as they were plummeting to the ground!
I dropped to my hands and knees to find the culprits, when I saw something that intrigued me.
It was an ant.
This ant was marching toward a stone wall carrying a large crumb. When the ant got to the massive barrier, it stopped, backed up and tried another route. It kept trying to find its way without even a pause. Onward this little loaded-down guy marched and time after time it came to the wall. Each time it simply backed up and tried again.
“Stupid ant,” I thought. “You just keep trying and trying. Don’t you ever give up?”
I knew there was a lesson to be learned with this ant, but I was too busy looking for my new species (I plan to call it Ericus luperus) to be concerned with it. I never did find the flightless bee, but I’m sure it’s only because it instantly burrowed into the earth.
And that meant one thing: my experiment was a success. Now, it only stood to reason that if I could forget that I didn’t have the perseverance to become a successful author, I suddenly would.
That night, I booted up my computer, filled my printer with paper, and lowered myself into my chair. As soon as my first cheek touched the cushion, I leaped straight up and I decided to wait and make my theory a reality when I could actually sit down.
Eric Luper's first YA novel (BIG SLICK) came out in 2007 and his second (BUG BOY) in 2009. His third (SETH BAUMGARTNER'S LOVE MANIFESTO) hits shelves in June 2010 and he is busy as a bee working on his fourth, which is mega, ultra, top-secret. Find him at www.ericluper.com.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
When people tell me to “dream big” I admit to cringing. I can’t help it. I am a wimp. Oh, I’m not talking about being afraid to have big dreams for healing our planet or world peace. I don’t fear those dreams. But when someone tells us specifically to dream big, we know they’re really saying, “Don’t be afraid to succeed.” Not only that, “Don’t be afraid to succeed in a big way.”
Last year on New Years Day I was hanging out with three author friends when one of them instructed us to write down our dreams for the coming year. “No dream is too big!” she said. All three were New York Times best-selling authors. They’ve sold movie rights to their books. They’re my heroes in very different but significant ways, and not because of their books’ success. Sitting there, feeling kind of small, I realized I’d never dared to even entertain dreaming about achieving the things they already had. I’d never really even imagined the possibilities.
Timidly, I wrote down my first dream. It was to finish a project I’d been working on for two years. I knew it wasn’t really a dream. It was a goal. I peeked over at my friend’s list. She was dreaming big, oh yes. But her reality was already bigger than any dream I would dare to have. She elbowed me. “Dreams, not goals. Don’t be afraid.”
I nodded and stole one of her dreams. “Get a starred review.” She smiled. I kept going. Sell foreign rights! Earn out my advance! The more I wrote, the more I could actually imagine these things happening. Maybe.
And then the twinge again. It still felt wrong, somehow, to want more. Hadn’t my dream of selling a book come true? Wasn’t that enough? Who was I to want more? But they are just dreams, I told myself. It’s not a crime to dream. So I finished my list and put it away. I just now found it. I wrote eleven dreams. Astonishingly, I reached dreams 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10 and 11.
I admit, to the average published author, perhaps these dreams were not so big after all. But to me, they were mountainous. Sitting here now, I am stunned that they came true. If I hadn’t dared to dream them, would they have? And if they hadn’t, would I have reached as many teen readers? Would I have been able to attend conferences and events where I connected with amazing teachers, writers and students who inspired me in profound ways?
I guess what I’ve learned is that it’s not wrong to dream big. It’s fun! And it can lead to good things not just for your ego, but for your soul. Maybe if we all dreamed a bit bigger, even the seemingly unattainable dreams like healing our planet and world peace, could come true, too. I dare you to try it. :-)
Monday, January 11, 2010
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Fast forward two years and it's now almost impossible to do that because all around us, there are blogging friends releasing books practically every week! This is very good news, of course! More dreams coming true. And more books for us to read - hooray!!
This year, twitter proved itself to be THE place where people could quickly congratulate authors with books coming out and share their excitement for their favorites. Until this week, I'm not sure I *really* understood the true power of twitter.
On release day, hundreds of #bookbday messages went out on my behalf, thanks to @mitaliperkins and the @bookbday concept she's created. And everyday, I get messages on twitter letting me know someone has bought one of my books or is reading one of my books or has read one of my books, and they share their book love with me. And then there are the contests bloggers have! Contests are posted and retweeted and retweeted some more, and suddenly, many more people know about me and my books than knew about them before. The really great thing is that twitter is fast and easy, so any tweets sent to me or tweets about my book, I can easily respond back with a quick tweet.
6 months ago, if someone had asked me, I probably would have told them twitter is optional for an author. Today, I would say, if you are going to do one thing beyond a web site, I would say, establish a presence on twitter.
So, to help you make the most out of twitter, I'll share some things I've learned over the past six months, as I've went from 100 to almost 1,000 followers:
1) The more you can point people to helpful articles and information on the web, the more people will be interested in what you have to say. Retweets are the best way to get new followers, and retweets happen when you SHARE interesting, helpful information.So as much as possible, use twitter as a way to help others.
2) To that end, the web site http://bit.ly should become a companion to twitter. This web site allows you to shorten long URLs, but along with that, it saves your abbreviated links to retrieve again if you need to AND it tracks for you how many people clicked on the link!
3) As far as content on twitter, just like anywhere else, people will be turned off if you talk too much about your books. It's hard, because of course we want to talk about our books, we are excited about our books!
But we have to constantly check that excitement and remember that talking about our books isn't really going to sell books. We all know those waves of desperation that wash over us, as we worry, is anyone buying my books? Desperation does NOT sell books! What does sell books? OTHER people talking about your books. So, when that happens, stand back and let the buzz do its magic. I don't know that there is a lot we can do, from an author's standpoint, to make buzz happen, other than writing the very best book we can, and making sure we get our books into some readers' hands, through ARCs or contests or whatever. So yes, do the necessary leg work, and then at some point, you have to stand back and let go.
4) Save your book talk on twitter for when you have something REALLY great to share - a good review, a book trailer to point people to, an amazing contest, etc. As with so many other things in life, quality trumps quantity when it comes to twitter.
5) If you are Sarah Dessen, you don't have to work very hard to get followers or to have people tweet messages to you. She follows only a few author friends, and tweets interesting tidbits about her life and book related news for her 8,000+ followers to read. But most of us are not at the level Sarah is. So I say, if you can, spend time every week tweeting back and forth with some of your followers and who you've followed back. Talk about things you have in common - books you're reading, movies you've watched, pets, kids - whatever comes about organically by hanging out and seeing what topics people are talking about.
Some people don't like the big chat room like feel that twitter has, and I get that. It can be overwhelming. And it's hard to know how to jump in and be a part of a conversation. But really, it is just jumping in, like you would at a party, and walking up to a small group who are talking about something. You hit reply to the people you want to talk with, and give your take on the topic.
6) Twitter gives people the opportunity to be up close and personal with authors in a way they haven't been able to before. I truly believe it's this personal connection, when done well and not overdone where you are over-sharing, that will ultimately help an author to sell books. They get to know you, they like you, and as an extension of you, they want to read your books.
7) Finally, the search feature on twitter can be one of those obsessive things we have to be careful of. If I want to know how much people are tweeting about CHASING BROOKLYN, guess what? I can do a search on the title CHASING BROOKLYN. I think it's fine if you're curious and want to check from time to time. But if you do it, then panic because the results aren't what you hope for, and go on a tweeting rampage about your book and irritate people, it's going to hurt you, not help you. So use the search feature wisely.
8) I would be remiss if I didn't mention the chats that happen every week for authors of kids and teens. Tuesday nights, you can log in and follow #kidlitchat (9 pm eastern). Wednesday nights you can log in and follow #yalitchat (9 pm eastern). I haven't done it yet, but I hear downloading tweetchat makes tweet chats much easier. Agents and editors and lots of authors are a part of these chats and give great information, so here is another way twitter can really be an extremely helpful tool.
I'm still learning about the power of twitter. Everyday, I log in and watch people, and see how other people are using it. If twitter scares you, don't be afraid. You will eventually get the hang of it! And you too can learn a lot by watching others, and simply tweeting helpful tweets from time to time.
Hey, you can even tweet about this post, if you want to! I'm @lisa_schroeder on twitter. :) Happy tweeting!!
Saturday, January 9, 2010
- a sequence of mental images during sleep
- a series of images that pass through the mind of somebody who is awake
- something hoped for
- something beautiful
- to experience vivid mental images while sleeping
- to let the mind dwell on pleasant images while awake, often resulting in inattention
- to wish or want something, to imagine having or doing it
- ideal, perfect and wonderful in every way
I grew out of the fevers, eventually, and wrote off the delirium as “weird stuff that happens to kids when they’re ten.” I grew up to be relatively high-functioning, for an insomniac.
But recently, I revisited all that, really thinking about what it means to be afraid of your own dreams. At the time, I thought I was fending off madness. Lots of kids think they’re avoiding the monsters in the closet and under the bed. But the madness and the monsters are just us – the parts of us that are mysterious, the parts of us we have yet to know. And when we spend every waking hour turning records and talking over the noise, we miss out on the dream. The “ideal” dream that is “perfect and wonderful in every way."
Now, getting lost in “a sequence or series of vivid mental images” is my work. It is still scary sometimes, it does result in inattention, the mind does dwell.
But I go ahead and do it anyway because in there, somewhere, is something hoped for. Something beautiful. And I imagine having or doing it. Don’t you?
Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of All the World (illustrated by Marla Frazee and published by Simon & Schuster) and A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes (illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser and published by HarperCollins). She is also an assistant professor of creative writing at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas, and the mother of two daughters. Forthcoming books include Noodle and Lou (illustrated by Arthur Howard, Simon & Schuster, 2011) and Think Big (Bloomsbury, 2012). Scanlon blogs at http://liz-scanlon.
Friday, January 8, 2010
I think there are dreams that stay dreams and dreams that can become reality, and both kinds of dreams are worth dreaming. The first kind can get you through your day, and the second kind can guide your life.
If you’re looking to change your life, the trick is to realize which dreams are actually goals—things you want to and can achieve. And then remember that dreams come true usually not by the wand of a fairy godmother, but through concentrated hard work.
For me, writing books was once a far-off dream, but it became a goal when I realized that nothing was actually stopping me. And it became a dream come true after I learned and took the steps that worked for me to finish a book.
Now, little dreams of books pop up in my brain all the time. Some will stay ideas. Some, I will pursue until they become realities.
All books begin in dreamland. And so do lots of other good things.
Liz Gallagher is the author of The Opposite of Invisible (Wendy Lamb Books, January 2008) and a forthcoming companion novel. She is a graduate of the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, where she got to study under literary rockstars. As Seattle HOST for readergirlz (www.readergirlz.com), Liz documents the excitement of local teen book events for a nation-wide audience. Visit her at www.lizgallagher.com.