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.


This week in writing… Shakespeare edition

To commemorate The Bard, I thought I’d do this post in iambic pentameter. And then I remembered who I was… and who I wasn’t.

First things first. You know that  Pottermore is up and running, right? Good.

Next up, we recently celebrated the Bard’s birthday #448, and still looking good! Mark Ravenhill wrote a new sonnet to commemorate the great playwright. There’s also a meme circulating the interwebs of all the words that we use today because Shakespeare made them popular. Haven’t seen it? Here you go.

Also, big news, the world of Children’s Literature has “exploded.” (Um. I think we already  knew that.)

On the SCBWI blog, Malcolm Gladwell (of Blink and The Tipping Point) talks about the future of publishing and why editors are “king.” Over at Horn  Book, Stephen Roxburgh also takes a look at the future of publishing in this very, very, VERY lengthy article. (The upshot: authors and illustrators are OK but publishers are screwed.)

Speaking of publishers, Forbes discusses Amazon and Apple’s effect on  publishing, and how big publishers who are now shunning Amazon are probably going to come crawling back. Yowza.

The Hunger Games is doing for North Carolina, what Twilight did for Forks, W.A. Readers are flocking to the destinations of their favorite books. And speaking of Hunger Games, last weekend it got knocked off the top spot for movie-goers, replaced by Think Like A Man.

At the LA festival of books, some YA authors talk about inspiration, and some interesting hate mail.

For newbies, a list and definitions of basic publishing terms from Jane Friedman. You may need to know those if you’re going to query Capstone’s new trade publishing division for young readers.

As for our future writers… is there any hope to develop good writing when a computer robo-reads kids essays? I’ll tell you right now that I’ve been teaching my older kid that there are two ways to write: the right way, and the way that will get you points on a test.

That news may make you grumpy as a parent, but know who’s really grumpy? These 10 writers, courtesy of Flavorwire. #1 Franzen. #2 Sendak. Awesome. What do they have to be so grumpy about? Sheesh! (On the list is my fellow Trinidadian, V.S. Naipaul, who seriously, seriously needs a kick in the ass. He should move back to T’dad. You can’t be grumpy on a tropical island.)

And, you’re going to want to see this documentary: Library of the Early Mind. Here’s the trailer. Enjoy!

[Shakespeare image via Wikipedia]

Red writing hood

Red Riding Hood is one of those classic pieces of literature that lends itself to deeper interpretation. There’s the sinister and deceitful wolf, the archetypal hero that is the woodsman, the naughty but innocent girl, and then there’s Grandma who gets consumed by the wolf, comes back from the dead and takes a swig of whiskey to calm her nerves. This thing has been re-worked, parodied and referenced so much it’s practically laughable, and yet every time I see a new Red story, I’m interested.

That a hundreds year old story can still have this kind of appeal is a testament not just to good writing, but also to using the stuff that works:

Archetypal characters

Classic plot arc

Classic imagery (though perhaps this is one of the stories that created the color red, the woods, and the wolf as classic)

Redemption (for Red and her grandma)

and Death (for the wolf)

It’s the kind of thing that makes you go back to your own writing to make sure it’s clean and simple, employs classic plot lines, and uses archetypal figures and strong imagery.

The new Amanda Seyfried movie premieres the week of my birthday, and since I saw Alice in Wonderland for my last birthday, the tradition continues. Though I have to tell you that the trailer and the fact that the director, Catherine Hardwicke, also did Twilight does not give me high hopes. But I’ll give it a shot in the hope that the writing of this movie lives up to the original. And if not, I’ll do my own version. I mean heck, everyone else has.

Fantastically crazy

Catwings are real! I knew it!

You can call me a Star Wars geek or a Trekkie. I haven’t met a human/insect hybrid or helicopter-eating croc, or a living piece of art that I didn’t like. I even like vampires.

His eyes were the color of rubies! And when his fangs pressed against my flesh I felt…

No. Not that kind. The oh my lord did he just rip someone’s spine out on live TV? kind.

So why haven’t I written fantasy before? I mean, Q, Dorian Gray, and a fae-loving vampire all reside in worlds so ridiculous they might make you snarf your beverage hard enough to fountain out of your nose. And that’s about the only reason to write anything.

Come on. Dude gets turned into a carbonite wall hanging and then later is miraculously  revived without so much as bed-head?

Ridiculous. And yet, totally awesome!

That’s why I’ve started writing fantasy. It’s a job for the awesomely nutters. Over the top, imagination-stretching plots where drinking unicorn blood is a sign of the wizard-pocalypse is right up my alley. And in fantasy, the difference between the real world and the fantasy world can be as varied as an entire world of color-blind people, or a countryside rampant with winged cats.

I’m like a kid in a candy store. Except with words. Frankly, I’m shocked it’s never occurred to me to write fantasy before.

Granted, some fantasies are higher quality than others. Rebels fight old ugly dude and his asthmatic sidekick bent on galactic domination probably trumps Sharktopus eats bikini-clad girls with bad acting skills in terms of quality. But both deliver on their premises, so everyone’s happy.

And that’s pretty much the only rule in Speculative Fiction (that’s what the literature cognoscenti are calling it these days). Deliver on the premise. Other than that, go nuts. Like, literally nuts.

[Image from: http://www.geekologie.com/2007/05/cat_grows_wings.php]

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.

Authors behaving badly

The publishing industry is in a sad state lately, and bad wanna-be writers are just making it worse.

Publishers are used to spending the majority of their marketing dollars on a handful of blockbusters, leaving us mid-listers in the dust. With the economy in bad shape, and everybody and their mother wanting in on the action, it’s getting crowded and lean.

There seem to be a few factors. On December 12, 2008, Paul Greenberg’s article “Bail Out the Writers!” for the New York Times expressed that overcapacity was causing “snow-blindness” in publishers. God knows, if you walk outside your house right now and put up a sign that read: WRITER WANTED, you’d stop traffic in an instant. And because there are so many of us vying for attention, it’s hard for publishers to sort the wheat from the chaff, which leads to all kinds of bad behavior.

I recently joined the social networking site JacketFlap. This morning as I scrolled through some member profiles, I came upon the same messages from a few members. Each of them was a small ad for their own book. Each of them seemed to have been sent to every single member in the network. This kind of behavior is disgusting. I realize you’re trying to promote your book, but spamming people is just unprofessional. These are probably the same people who would steal your seat at a conference when you get up to use the bathroom, even though you left your notebook there. Yes, this happened to me.

Then there’s the fact that new technology has made it easy for anyone to publish a book. Bowker reports that the number of titles every year is increasing, but who is publishing those titles? According to Motoko Rich’s New York Times Article “Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay Tab” it’s increasingly the authors themselves. And because you can publish a title for $99, you will be responsible for doing all the promoting you can on your own, which can lead to more bad behavior. You can, for more money, purchase a marketing kit with some vanity presses, but these prices go into the thousands.

Self-publishing is enticing. I could have my next novel available at Amazon in a couple of months if I wanted to. And for a couple of hundred dollars out of pocket, earning 45-55% of the cover price and selling for $12, I could make back my money after the sale of 37 copies and the rest is bank. Who wouldn’t? (Actually, I’m thinking about it. A LOT)

Some authors have even found traditional publishers this way after selling several thousand copies on their own. Of course, there are no guarantees you’ll be that diamond in the rough. Then there are the independent bookstores being innundated with requests to sell self-published titles that may not be any good. One such bookseller said, “For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there’s two that should have been published.”

Harold Underdown on his Purple Crayon site has a new article “Working in Children’s Books and the Recession of 2008-09” that breaks down the current economic trend as relates to the publishing industry. Harold is always pretty positive about the way things will turn out. I’ve known him a while and have never known him to grouse. He writes that Hachette Book Group recently handed out bonuses after a banner year, but since Hachette publishes the “Twilight” series, and those books sold more than 2.5 million copies in Nov/Dec 2008 alone, I wonder how much of those bonuses came driectly from the Stephenie Meyer or Rob Pattinson fan club. Even Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” won’t get those kinds of sales, and it won this year’s Newbery!

With a bad economy, everybody self-publishing, rock-star authors and their marketing-$-sucking-power, and authors behaving badly, I’ve had about all I can take.

The current state of affairs may be bringing out humor or a can-do attitude for some. I for one, feel the pressure of my shoulder to the grindstone. Every time I write, it just feels harder. And maybe that’s the job (one that I would do regardless), but I dislike sugar-coating except on pastry. It’s not pretty out there, people. So those of you who kind of suck at writing, (you’d know who you are if you read what you wrote) could you just roll over? The rest of us are feeling crowded.

Stephenie Meyer Bio begins

Yesterday I started skimming articles for the Stephenie Meyer biography. After 53 articles, I have a nebulous idea of how I could structure the book, but I still need to read them through thoroughly, and I’m still trying to figure out if I can get an actual interview with this author.

Publishers are notoriously guarded about requests to contact authors, and are expecially so when it’s an author who is extremely popular and making them crap-tons of dough. I think the likelihood that I’ll get to speak to SM is small, though it’s in everyone’s best interest that I get all the facts straight and write an interesting and informative book. But, we’ll see. I’m not sweating it either way. The book will get written regardless.

I’ve found that I’m pretty fond of the non-fiction stuff even though I prefer to write fiction. It’s really informative. Plus I like having to find the underlying story and use the facts to shape an interesting story. It requires a different skill-set than writing fiction, but it’s no less creative, so I’m looking forward to starting my notes.

What I’m not looking forward to is trying to get my hands on all the Twilight books. Every single library in Bergen county is out of copies. Sadly, I can’t afford to buy them. Well, I could, but… if I bought all the books I needed to do every biography I wrote, I’d be seriously broke. Meyer’s list is pretty small, but imagine if I’d done that for the L’Engle and Spinelli bios? The money I made wouldn’t cover the cost of covers!

Alrighty. Back to work. Those articles aren’t going to read themselves.

Oh, and if you happen to be Stephenie Meyer and happened upon this page while googling yourself, would you contact me for an interview? My editor and I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks!