Writing from dreams

“Jacob’s Dream”
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Joyce Carol Oates once said, “Ideas have come from strange places. In 1976 I remember I had this kind of dream or image of a walled garden and there was a baby in a cradle, and it was something like a legend or a fairy tale. I was haunted by that image of the walled garden, something that just evoked memory, and a feeling of nostalgia. I have a thing about walled gardens, they just teem bery beautiful, and so I just kept thinking about this and eventually that turned into my novel Bellefleur. Where it came from I have no idea. It’s just the unconscious, I guess, or a dream.”

We’ve all had dreams that become pieces of art in our lives, and somehow they always seem to address something deeper than they seem on the surface. I had that once with a story that I wrote in college, which I illustrated as a final project for my teaching degree. I never tried to sell that story, or show it to anyone outside of my family. It was so private, even though it’s a story for children. My mother has been trying to get me to submit it forever. Nearly 20 years. I can’t do it.

But not everyone is as reluctant as I am, fortunately. Oates’ book is an example of that, as is Twilight, think what you will of it, it was originally a dream that Meyer had one night. Clearly, it speaks to millions of people.

If only all of our dreams were like that: stories that we can mine for gold.


Just in time for Mother’s Day

Yesterday I was looking up my ISBNs on bn.com for an upcoming event. (I should have those in a central file somewhere, right?) And I came across this cover.

So the release date for the Meyer bio is May 7th. Just in time for Mother’s Day. Why doesn’t my editor tell me these things? I guess I should consider it a surprise present.

Now go tell every vampire-obsessed mom you know.

Point of view in non-fiction writing

Since reading William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, my approach to writing non-fiction has changed. I think my Meyer biography benefitted greatly from it, but I am really struggling wth the Creech bio. Zinsser’s book advises that for non-fiction writers, it’s not just about finding the facts, verifying them, and plopping them down in order, it really is about the author’s response to the subject. Readers respond when the author injects a little of themselves into the writing, in whatever small way. My interpretation of his advice is that when writing non-fiction, it’s important for the writer to have a definite point of view.

Now, I like Sharon Creech’s books a lot. Love That Dog is my hands-down favorite, followed very closely by A Fine, Fine School. But awe and respect isn’t really a point of view about a person. It’s the same as when your 2nd grade teacher forced you to stop using the word “like” for every description. I like Sharon Creech, I like her books, I like her writing. This does not make for interesting reading. I didn’t have this problem when I wrote the Spinelli and L’Engle biographies because back then, awe was enough for me. I thought my sole job was to write about all the things they did that I thought were so great. Now that I’ve read Zinsser, it’s not enough. Thanks for nothing, William.

It might be that I’m a little overwhelmed because I’m doing multiple projects at the same time, or that I’m incredibly tired. It may also be that I haven’t read through enough of the articles I’ve pulled. Part of me wants to blame Creech herself for being so darn likable. I’m sure I won’t have this problem when I start Al Gore’s biography in the Spring. I have definite feelings about ol’ Al and I’m really excited to get to his story. He’s polarizing, maybe by nature of being a politician, but he makes a great story.

So back to figuring out my point of view about a person whose books I admire, but whose personality I have no bead on. It’s going to be rough. And that deadline isn’t getting further away.

Confessions of a no-good writer

I’ve been holding this secret for a long time. It embarassess me. It makes me feel terrible even though I know it’s pretty common. Or people have told me it’s pretty common. But maybe they were just being polite. I’ll tell you what it is anyway. I need to get it off my chest. Ready? Here it is: After nearly five years, my first novel has still not earned out it’s advance.

Ouch! That was like ripping off a band-aid. I thought it was going to be worse than it was. Actually, it still feels pretty bad. My chest hurts. I’m totally serious.

Two weeks ago I got a statement from my publisher. It turns out that I’m VERY close to earning out my advance. I actually should do it in the next quarter. But then you know what happened? The books were released on paperback and for Kindle. That means, rather than $15.95 a copy, they’re now $9.99 and $8.99 a copy respectively. So I’m going to have to sell even more books to earn it out. I feel like it’s never going to happen. I might cry.

This is yet one more of those things I’ll use to put pressure on myself. And here’s how:

I haven’t earned out my advance = I am useless as a writer.

I have not been able to sell a new work of fiction = I really suck at writing.

Writing the Stephenie Meyer biography made me want to hang myself = I am a bitter, jealous little writer.

Researching the Sharon Creech  biography makes me anxious = I am a talentless, pitiful writer who should probably go back to a day job.

I can’t figure out my next novel = I couldn’t write my way out of a greasy paper bag with a sharp-nibbed pen.

So what’s a talentless hack to do? Go back to writing I guess. What else is there besides writing? True, not everybody can be as fantastic as Sharon Creech, or Jerry Spinelli, or Madeleine L’Engle or Christopher Paul Curtis. But Goddamn it, I am going to work so hard I’ll be good someday. I swear.

Panic and the Pareto Principle

With just a little over three months remaining in the year, I decided to check my career progress. My 2009 goals included:

1) Writing instead of whining. Check! I’ve definitely done a lot more actual writing this year.

2) Generating more freelance. Check. I worked with new people this year and a good thing too because only 1 company that I worked with previously had new assignments for me this year.

3) Finish and send out a new novel. This did not happen. I did go through the entire F1rst Pages process and felt good about the manuscript enough to have it proofread so that I could send it to my agent, but ultimately I felt that it needed considerably more work, so it’s shelved for now.

4) Drafting a new picture book. This didn’t happen. I haven’t even thought about it.

5) Writing every weekday. For the most part, this did happen.

6) Drafting the new novel. I started it today and I plan on doing the 30 day draft. Then we’ll see where it goes.

7) Meeting my financial goal. Didn’t happen. I’m not even close. Which is where the panic comes in.

Although I didn’t have that much cash-generating work, I did accomplish a lot so far this year. I wrote the Stephenie Meyer biography. I did major work on my 3rd novel. I rewrote my 2nd novel. I am writing (through the end of the year) passages for a test prep company. I just began the draft of my 4th novel which I hope to have complete in a month. I was re-hired by the same vendor I’m working with now to do a 2nd project. I read loads of books that helped me improve my work including Nabokov’s “Lolita” (which was beautiful, but hard to read as the mom of a young girl). I started the research for my next biography (Sharon Creech).

I’ll rely on the Pareto Principle and hope that all of the effort I put in this year pays off at some point. Fingers crossed.

Stephenie Meyer bio done

I finished writing the Meyer bio this morning, even though my younger child is at home sick. I credit both his love of Disney DVDs and my organizational skills for being able to get work done this morning.

Now I have to do the backmatter, starting with the dreaded endnotes. These are the worst. THE WORST. Unfortunately, the program in Word does not format them the way Chelsea House wants them, so I have to do it manually. I suppose there are worse things… like having to scrub toilets… but it will get done.

Off to administer more cough medicine and bring my little dude something to eat. Poor sweet thing.

Good morning!

Well, I’ve been productive today. It’s just 11:20am and I’ve written about 2,000 words on the Meyer bio, bringing me close to finished. There are only 2 more chapters to write, both of which I have extensively researched, so it’s going to be fairly easy. I am going to have to cut considerably from one of the chapters, because I’m going to be seriously over my word count by the end.

The problem is that there is so much information out there, that it’s hard to distill. I could probably write another book of equal length about all the other stuff that I’ve found out. Oh well. A word count is a word count, and I was paid to stick to it. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned, but I am going to be SO HAPPY when I’m done with this project. It was huge. Too huge for the paycheck attached to it.

But so far, it’s the best biography I’ve written. Sorry Jerry Spinelli and Madeleine L’Engle. And it’s not due to the subject matter. After reading William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, I found a better and more engaging way to craft the book. If you’re doing any non-fiction writing, I highly recommend it.

Vampire + Zombie + Cat = awesome

So my online writing class ended this weekend and during the chat session, someone mentioned that at a recent conference, editors were saying that they didn’t want to see any more zombie or cat stories. Of course immediately, I thought about a zombie cat. Poor thing! And I know that the whole vampire thing should be dead, but remains, characteristically, un-dead. Even Nathan Bransford is polling people about the demise of the vampire. Which led me to think of a vampire zombie cat. I know. My brain is… well… it’s interesting in here.

And since I’ve already (pretty much) finished my Meyer outline and sample chapter and tomorrow is April Fool’s, I’ve decided to treat you all to a story that I know will never be published.

Tomorrow, look for Chapter 1 of: The Vampire’s Zombie Cat.

Mwah ha ha ha ha!

(Oh and if you want a fast and dirty and HYSTERICAL summary of the Twilight series, you can get it here.)


I have two weeks to produce an outline of Stephenie Meyer’s biography and a sample chapter. Even though I’ve been working steadily, there are significant holes in my information. While there’s a lot about the industry that Meyer has generated, there isn’t a lot of story about the woman herself, and that’s the stuff that makes a biography. It’s about the person, not the paraphernalia.

I have been finding this particular bio incredibly difficult to write and at this point, I’m quite worried that I won’t be able to do a good enough job. What I have so far is solid, but it only makes up about half of what I need to write. I’m a good writer, but I can’t create a factual story about a person out of thin air.

Alrighty. Off to slog through some newspaper records.

Very, very busy

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Freelance is sometimes very hectic and right now I’m working on a bunch of things, plus fighting off some mysterious ailment that’s making me tired. I give it one more week before I visit a doctor. Probably a bad idea to wait. Remember what happened to Jim Henson? Yeah, but right now I just don’t care.

I finished all of the Twilight series. It only took a week. The last book took me the longest because it was a tough one for me to get through. Now I’m reading “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher, who I met several years ago at an SCBWI conference, and who I count as an all-around good guy. So far, so brilliant. I’m considering Asher’s book as my break in-between projects. My brain is seriously fried after a very technical editing project for an educational publisher, so the thought of reading through my very many Stephenie Meyer articles and making notes right now is unappealing. Plus I still have massive amounts of research to do on the various websites and blogs dedicated to loving or hating her. Poor woman. I can’t imagine.

In my personal writing, things are at a standstill. I’m waiting for my F1rst Pages editor to get back to me with corrections on the last novel I sent in, even though I’m probably going to abandon that novel entirely. It won’t be the first time. I have been trying to write that one since before my debut novel was published in 2005. This is its third incarnation beneath my fingers and I still can’t get it right. Sometimes you just have to let go. I’m not sure what it is about that story that keeps wanting to get told, but right now, I’m way too exhausted to seriously consider continuing.

That might all change if Harold comes back with positive insight. My moods are very tied up in what other people think. It’s awful, really. I’m not sure if that’s the nature of artistry and if Hemingway and Picasso went through such angst over the reaction of other people to their work, or if my emotions just run too close to the surface and I have no self-esteem to rely on.

Despite all of this, I seem to have a bunch of stories forming in my head. I wish I was in a better emotional state. I might be able to pluck one out of the air and start working on it. But illness and mental exhaustion from other projects prohibit this, at least for now.

The good news is that if my current work rate holds, I’ll meet my financial quota for the year. I feel pretty good about that.