Cathy-on-a-Stick Pops Up at Springmingle (And Runs Amok)

Usually, I go to writer’s conferences and walk halfway around a room to avoid the tables with all the books.

I sit on my hands, leave my wallet at home, eschew adult beverages–well, there are all kinds of tricks I use to keep from buying more books. But Cathy-on-a-Stick has a mind of her own. It’s not much a mind, and rather flat, but still. She would keep heading to the book table at Springmingle, the SCBWI Southern Breeze conference this past weekend. Every time a speaker finished, I felt this…this tug. And before I knew it, I had a stack of books.

2014-03-29 05.39.53Agent and author Ammi-Joan Pacquette had all these books about ghosts and they were picture books and middle grade (which come on, ghosts AND PB’s and Middle Grade? I was doomed from the start). Plus Joan was so darn sincere and engaging in her talk. She called to me–so I bought one of her books.

2014-03-29 05.32.26And then Vicky Alvear Shecter went on and on about Anubis, the Egyptian god of the dead. She sucked me in with her humor and expertise and Anubis tidbits. Who knew the Land of the Dead could be so darn entertaining? So before I knew it, Cathy-on-a-Stick was in the line for an autograph.

2014-03-29 05.48.12Elizabeth Dulemba was nearby, explaining that her muse had grabbed her in North Georgia and wouldn’t let go till she told the story in A Bird on Water Street. You cannot argue with the muse. And apparently, you cannot argue with Cathy-on-a-Stick either. There she was again, stick-deep in Elizabeth’s book.

2014-03-29 05.53.44I was just about to make a dash for it when, out of the corner of my eye, I spied Ruth Sanderson’s books! A whole pile of books with the most gorgeous covers ever, of woods and castles and princesses and–oh. My. Word. Fairy tales. And stained glass windows of saints. Stick a fork in me, I was done (for).

2014-03-29 05.56.52Wait, I take that back. I was not quite done. Janice Hardy’s book, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, was calling my name. I tried to resist, I really did. But Cathy-on-a-Stick whispered in my ear, “Really? You think you can afford to pass on this gem of writing craft?”

Ahem.

2014-03-29 05.36.37And as I glanced over at Cheryl Klein (Executive Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, a Scholastic imprint), I thought how much her book, Second Sight, An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, had helped me on my writing journey. I’d won her book three years ago, so at least I didn’t have to buy that book at the writer’s conference, too.

But I’m pretty sure she and Cathy-on-a-Stick were up to something. I’m kinda afraid to check my credit card bill.

 

 

Tag, I’m It! (Or How Answering Writing Questions Keeps A Writer On Track)

My friend, Vicky Alvear Shecter, author of the wonderful Cleopatra’s Moon and the soon to be released Anubis Speaks, invited me to participate in a Blog Tag wherein I must answer a couple writing-related questions.

And I jumped on that tag. Mostly because I was thinking, wheee! Now I can answer questions and won’t have to think up something scathingly brilliant for my next blog post.

Er…then I perused the questions. And realized that I’d still have to think. But in figuring out answers, I honed in on the focus of my projects! So thanks, Vicky–I needed that!

What are you working on right now?

This year, I’m striving to incorporate a little more balance in my writing. Which means that while I’m working on long-term goals (like book-length manuscripts and sending out queries), I’m also working on short-term goals (like essays or short stories for immediate markets/contests). For September, I’ll submit a short story for the Springfield Writer’s Guild Prose and Poetry Contest and I’m thinking on an idea for Kid’s Ark. I haven’t exactly come up with the idea yet, but the theme, “Store Up” has been staring back at me from my calendar so I’m counting on some kind of osmosis to kick in any day now. And for my manuscript, that means finishing the final revisions of CALLED.

I’d set CALLED aside till this summer because I kept fixing (or mucking up, depending on your perspective) little things without really tackling bigger issues in the story. Now that I know the story I want to tell, I think the edits are going much better. I don’t know that the writing’s better…Anyway, CALLED is the tale of fifteen-year-old, Tish Connery, who has been called to serve, called to help others. It’s just that the particular other who needs her help happens to be a little girl–who died six months ago. And even though Tish is not exactly the Catholic Teen of the Year, she’s pretty sure that a calling like this is against at least one of the commandments. But the spirit is persistent and Tish has always been a Good Samaritan sucker. She figures helping one little ghost can’t really hurt. (P.S. She figured wrong.)

So CALLED is a story of spirits and the spiritual, a coming-of-faith journey within a middle grade mystery/thriller. And it’s kind of funny, but not nearly as funny as it started out.

How does it differ from other works in the genre?

Gosh, I hope CALLED differs in its spirituality. I don’t think a girl with a psychic gift is that unusual in the paranormal genre. But from the start, I wanted Tish to be conflicted about her calling. And for that, I needed her faith to be a bigger part of the story. I thought about Joan of Arc and even Mary, the Mother of God, and how difficult it must’ve been to say yes when God called them to serve in ways so far beyond what they understood. But the bible is full of ordinary people who see and hear extraordinary things. And through a lens of faith, we believe, too. So I began to see that CALLED was a story of faith.

I think, too, I wanted to look at the protagonist differently. In most middle grade or YA stories, girls are kick butt heroines. Tish is more of a “kick you in the shins, then run” sort of heroine.

Why do you write what you do? 

I think for CALLED, I’m writing about questions that have rattled around in my brain since I was ten years old and my mom drove me past the notoriously haunted house in downtown Savannah. Savannah is a city steeped in spirits. But it’s also a city known for its St. Patrick’s Day parade and historic churches. The two have always coexisted, and I wanted to explore that paradox.

But in general, whether I’m writing for children or adults, I’m working out the questions rattling around in my brain. I don’t always realize what I’m trying to work out when I write, so that often, after I’ve finished a poem or a story, I’ll think, “Ooooh. Okay. Now I get it.” Sometimes, the writing of it is cathartic but not so great, and that’s okay, too.

What is the hardest part about writing?

The hardest part of writing is also the easiest to answer. Is the writing good? It doesn’t matter if I’ve received a “Congrats! You’ve won and we think your story is brilliant!” email just that morning. I’ll finish a story that afternoon and the doubts begin. Is this any good? Will anyone want to read it? I should go get a decent job, make money like normal people. 

Pffffft. Writing is easy. Sending your writing out into the world takes courage. (Fortunately, I realize that writing is not life or death and I get over myself.)

Holy cow! See what I mean about answering those questions? I had to think. And now it’s my turn to tag three authors, and I’m going to choose Lisa Ricard Claro and Donna Volkenannt and Sioux Roslawski. I’d love to read their answers to these questions!

So tag, you’re it!

Sharing the Love Winner

ImageThe winner of the Cleopatra’s Moon giveaway is…Donna!

It will soon be winging its way to Missouri, complete with a personal inscription from author, Vicky Alvear Shecter.

And for those who didn’t win, you might want to pick up the newly released paperback of Cleopatra’s Moon at your local bookstore.

But you know you’re all winners to me, right? (Happy writing!)

Sharing the Love, Writer-Style

ImageIt’s Valentine’s Day and I promised you a heartfelt gift, so how about something classic? Something with romance, intrigue, politics, religion? Something like Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Vicky’s YA novel was recently released in paperback, and to celebrate, she gave away several copies. But I already have a lovely, inscribed copy of Cleopatra’s Moon, so I’m giving her book to a lucky Valentine commenter.

ImageI’ll be catching up with Vicky at a conference next weekend, so I’ll ask her to pen a lovely inscription for the winner, and then I’ll mail the book off to you. I know you’re going to love Cleopatra’s Moon, so get your comments in and I’ll pick a name next Thursday before I leave.

Actually, you’d love Vicky Alvear Shecter, too, but I’m afraid I can’t afford to mail her to you. (But you can visit her blog whenever you like.)

Happy Valentine’s, y’all! I so appreciate the writer love you share with me each and every day!

Finding Tips on Writing Historical Fiction

I’m so glad that Vicky Alvear Shecter (author of CLEOPATRA’S MOON) guest posted over at Cynsations! Because when she spoke recently about writing historical fiction at our local schmooze, I was so busy doing the schmoozing that I forgot to do the note-taking.

Vicky’ book, as you can guess, is based on ancient Egyptian times, during the reign of Cleopatra and beyond as we follow the Queen’s daughter (Yes, Cleopatra had a daughter. Her name was Selene.) So as you can also probably guess, Vicky had a handful of researching to do.

Of course, she loves ancient history. She’s really kind of geeky about the whole subject, in an infectious way. And though she doesn’t mention this as one of her tips, I think you should keep “loving your subject matter” in mind. Because you’re going to be cozying up with your subject for quite a long time. Not to mention that your readers will sense your passion in your writing.

I’m always impressed with authors who take on historical fiction. Not only do they have to come up with a great story, and a story that’s believable for the time period, but they also have to be on the lookout for people who’ll read their book and say things like, “Pardon me. But you referred to this man’s cape as magenta. Magenta was not even invented for another 37 years. Ha!”

Attention to detail is very important with historical fiction. But don’t take my word for it. Go read Vicky’s post–and the comments, too. (Um, you may want to take a few notes.)