Thursday, January 28, 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Blogger

Okay, I must admit that I'm still learning about how to be a good blogger. I know I don't really have a focus to the blog - beyond occasional posts about my journey to become a published author, or various blog entries about what little I've learned about writing or my mantra of living your life with passion, perseverance, patience and positivity (have to work harder to make more blog entries on that last topic!). Here and there I'll have blog entries on movies, tv, kids and the various ephemera of life. Once in a while I will blog on a book that has impacted me or my kids significantly enough to warrant what I hope will be a thoughtful, or at the very least heartfelt, blog post. I try to respond to the blog comments as I'm always surprised and grateful when someone bothers to stop by and read what I've written. But sometimes I miss those comments and the opportunity to respond. I was reminded of how much a comment from a blog reader can make your day when I was checking into some old posts last night.

Every once in a while I'll check and see how people end up here at Out of the Wordwork. Like fellow Blueboarder Mary Witzl's post recently about how many of her blog readers came to her via a post on eating slugs (!) I know that how a person stumbles on to a blog can be quite a random thing. For example, a lot of my visitors seem to stop by when searching out info on Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Not surprising since it is a hugely popular series and its author, Jeff Kinney, is a star amongst mothers who have young sons who don't want to read. Except for Mr. Kinney's books. Hence my October 15, 2009 blog post on Boys, Books and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Basically the Wimpy Kid post tried to figure out why these books were so popular with boys - especially my boy. I don't know if I quite figured it out (who can figure out a phenomenon?) but I had my theory. Anyway, I wrote it, checked back a couple of days later and didn't notice any commentary then promptly forgot about it until I read it over again last night - and noticed there was a comment on it. Huh. I clicked on it and this is what it said:

I loved your blog post, Nelsa! Thank you so much for your insight. I think I learned something here :)
October 20, 2009 1:46 PM

Nice, huh?

Even nicer when I found it was from - wait for it … JEFF KINNEY, the author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kids books!

Colour me shocked. Seriously, I almost fell off my chair. I DID fall off my chair when I realized he had made the comment in October and I hadn't noticed it until 3 MONTHS later!! My son (a tried and true Kinney fan as well) just shook his head in disgust at my oversight and said, "Geez, Mom. How could you miss that??" momfail

Now, Mr. Kinney did make the comment 5 days after I wrote the post and I had already moved on to another post by then, but really people, The Boy is right. How could I have missed this??? I mean, not that Mr. Kinney and I would have ever gotten into a blog comment back and forth or anything. The man kind of has a few other things on the go, right? But I'm a serious fan girl of his books and for him to take the time - Jeff Kinney!!! - to comment on my little blog entry when there are probably a gazillion other mentions of how awesome his books are and what an impact they make on boys and reading that missing his comment was truly a hit-your-head-against-a-wall kind of moment.

So, my take away lesson from this? Pretty obvious but sometimes I do need to be hit over the head:
Check on your comment section for at least a week after you've made the post, people. It's nice if a favourite author of yours stops by but appreciate that every comment posted is precious and you lose out on the possibilities of connecting with other people who have taken the time to read - and write about - what you've posted. Thank people for stopping by. I know I've probably missed some awesome comments from great people and for that I do apologize. I'm still learning how to navigate this blogger and twitter world thing and, like everything else, I strive to improve.

And just for the record?

Thank you so much, Mr. Kinney, for your comment. Please know that I didn't mean to ignore it but, like your creation Greg, I sometimes am a little clueless about stuff. Rest assured, my son got a huge kick out of my head-banging but, most especially, your comment. Once again, you have entertained him immeasureably. I will always, always be grateful for you and your books and the reading pleasure they gave my son. Thank you!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When Freaky Things Happen In Your Writing

Okay, so all writers know that to make a story have a greater meaning or resonance you need to go beyond the surface. It's not always necessary but sometime it's good to have a reason or a symbolic meaning behind a name or a place to give it added significance in a story. The reader may never find out about the 'behind the scenes' meaning but you as a writer know, and that helps you create a more layered, textured story.

I have to admit that I don't always put those meanings or symbols in on the first go round. I'll pick a name because I like it or sometimes I will research its meaning to see if it fits with the story's themes. But many times, the themes evolve as I write the story. So sometimes I'll go back and change something because I've learned more about my story as I've written it and I want a particular scene or character or place to represent those themes more accurately. But sometimes - and this is where the freakiness comes in - I'll have written a name or described a place with no more thought or knowledge beyond, "Yeah, that name is good enough" or "yeah, I'll have them meet in a school yard not a parking lot". I'll find out later that the meaning of the name or significance of the place setting is almost exactly symbolic of the larger theme or themes of the book I'm trying to convey. Let me give you an example.

As I was going going through the copy edits on ILLEGALLY BLONDE I became totally paranoid about Portuguese language references and names and such. An abandoned church plays a big part of the setting where my heroine first meets the hero, and where she comes to many realizations about who she is and what she wants for her future. I named the church Igreja de Santa Ines. I just made the name up. At the first draft writing stage I didn't even know if a Santa Ines even actually existed. Then, as I was going through copy edits, I thought I probably should name a church after a real saint. That's kinda important, right? So I googled Santa Ines and this is what I found:

Saint Agnes is the patron saint of young girls; folk custom called for them to practice rituals on Saint Agnes' Eve (20–21 January) with a view to discovering their future husbands. This superstition has been immortalised in John Keats's poem, "The Eve of Saint Agnes."

Agnes is represented in art as a young blonde girl in robes, holding a palm branch in her hand and a lamb at her feet or in her arms.

Agnes suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve or thirteen during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, on January 21, 304. The Prefect Sempronius wished Agnes to marry his son, and on Agnes'refusal he condemned her to death. As Roman law did not permit the execution of virgins, Sempronius had a naked Agnes dragged through the streets to a brothel. As she prayed, her hair grew and covered her body and protected her. When led out to die she was tied to a stake, but the bundle of wood would not burn.

Agnes is the patron saint of chastity, gardeners, girls, engaged couples,rape victims, and virgins.


Ines(Agnes)is the patron saint of young girls - Illegally Blonde is a coming of age story of a young girl.

The miracle of Agnes is her blonde hair growing to cover her body - my heroine (Lucy's) hair and her dying it a blonde colour is a huge symbol in the book - the covering up of her real self.

Lucy and the hero,Filipe, have many significant, emotional meetings at the church - Ines is the patron saint of engaged couples and folk customs say young girls can discover their future husbands on Saint Agnes' Eve.

They tried to burn Ines but the fire wouldn't light - fire is another element I have in the book related to the church and to the plot. I described the abandoned church as being burned inside.

Remember, now, I knew NOTHING about this saint's history before I used it. I just picked the name out of the blue. Yet it was the most perfect, fitting symbol to give resonance to my heroine's journey.

Like I said, sometimes writing is very, very freaky.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Failure Breeds Success: So says Michael Jordan

I've never been much of an athlete. Anything that requires an inordinate amount of physical sweat just turns me off. However, I am always impressed when I read about the mental will power that goes into shaping a star athlete. The ones that are the stars, the winners. How do they think? What is it about their attitude that makes a difference in their performance? Sure, you have to have some God-given talent and ability - but that can't be enough to push you into a superstar range.

My son is a hockey player. He's got a lot of inate skill and ability. He's a thing of beauty when he skates. But, as his parents, my husband and I need to tell him just because something comes easy to you doesn't mean you don't have to continue to work hard for it. Especially when you are not doing so well - that's when the true grit of a star athlete comes through - the never giving up bit. And, of course, anything we say as parents is immediately suspect to him. What do we know about being athletes? I don't even skate, for pity's sake!

So my husband did a little digging and found an amazing quote from one of the most superstar of all superstar athletes: Mr. Michael Jordan. Here's the quote and a segment from the article on him that sums it all up quite nicely :

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

But Michael admits he lost hundreds of games. He missed thousands of shots in his career. He failed multiple times.

And yet he says, this is exactly why he is a success.

Michael Jordan wasn't born a basketball star. He spent hours and hours practicing.

It took time.

It took great coaching.
And it took persistence.

And there you have it, writers. Persistence. Practice. Doing something again even when you failed at it before. Superstar athletes know this. They know they will fail. And they know that learning from failure is the key thing that will help you, eventually, succeed.

We're going to print this Michael Jordan lesson out for our son so he can tack it on his wall. But you know what? I think I'm going to print one out for myself too. We all need to remember the lesson: Failure breeds success. Don't be afraid of it. Learn from it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

We Live Who We Believe We Are

A wonderful thing about Twitter - you get sent these terrific links that you'd probably never come across otherwise. The amazing Michelle Rowen retweeted this Tony Robbins link to a free video on his website that was so insipirational (duh - what else would it be. It's Tony Robbins!) - I had to write about it in a blog post.

There were dozens of quotes in this video that made me finally understand why Tony Robbins is such a force in the change your life, be who you want to be world. Yeah, there are so many "power of positive thinking" speakers and writers out there but I finally got what makes Tony Robbins different. He doesn't just say "Think and it will be" it's more like "Work at what you want to become". That message is much more empowering to me than just thinking about something.

The most important message in this video to me was about Raising Your Standards. You are only as good as what you think you are or want to do. But it's not just about raising standards. You have to back up standards with rituals. Visions need rituals. THAT's where the power is - it's the little things you do every day that help you succeed. You want to write a book? It's not enough to say that. You have to write - every day or whatever your ritual will be - to accomplish it. You want to write a better book than the last one? Raise Your Standards and figure out what will make the next book bigger, better, and stronger. The only thing that will make you happy is if you step up - always progress.

There were so many quotes to get inspiration from but here are just a choice few that resonated with me:

People are rewarded in public for what they do in private.

Great ideas don't interrupt you - you have to chase them.

Success and failure are not giant events. Failure comes from the little things we DON'T do.

There is the pain of discipline and there is the pain of regret. Which do you think is worse?

Demand more from yourself than anybody else.

It's not what we get that makes us happy - it's who we become.

So on the day that's supposed to be the most depressing day of the year, I am instead feeling hopeful, motivated and inspired. And it doesn't hurt that all the amazing writing awards like the William C. Morris, Newberry, Printz etc. were awarded to some awesome writers. Writers that are also an inspiration.

Live who you believe you are. All the rest will follow...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What makes you buy a book? Cover, Blurb, Recommendation or Review?

I ask this question because I'm really fascinated by the whole process people go through when choosing what they read. There are just SO MANY BOOKS OUT THERE! How on earth do you choose?? I know that, like everything else in publishing, choosing a book is subjective. For me, in the past choosing a book would be a very immediate, personal thing. I'd browse through the bookstore, sometimes picking a book up because the cover called to me, sometimes because the backcover blurb spoke to me. But that was when I had time to browse. As my reading (and choosing what to read) time diminished with each successive child, my book buying selection process changed. Buying a book became more about whether it had been recommended to me by a trusted friend who I knew wouldn't steer me in the wrong direction because I just didn't have the time to spend on a book that wasted those precious few reading hours I had left.

Now, my process has changed yet again. As part of a larger writing community I want to read what that community is writing - to support them for sure, but also to learn and be aware of what works and sometimes doesn't work in the YA and Romance genres. As for reviews and award nominations, I've sometimes been influenced to buy a book because I've read a review or seen a book's been nominated for an especially prestigious award (I bought Beautiful Creatures soley because of the William C. Morris YA Debut award nomination). But those things usually influence me very little.

So here's an interesting question to all my writer friends: if you had to choose, which would you want the most for your book: a great cover and blurb, word of mouth recommendations or awesome reviews/awards? Sure, sure, it would be nice to have them all. But you have to choose only one.

Me? I think I want that "She told two friends, and they told two friends" kind of buzz and momentum. You know - the kind of publicity you can't buy. I'm still very happy with my book cover, for sure. But friend to friend recommendation? That would be awesome.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

An Ode to Writer's Block

I love it when I don't have to think too much about writing a blog post. When Daughter One came home with a pile of poems that she wrote (and with perfect marks to boot) I was very pleased - and amazed - to find one that resonates with writers so easily. The dreaded writer's block. She gave me permission to share, so without further ado here is

Untitled - Sonnet
(I love the irony of a poem on writer's block that is called untitled!)

A never ending struggle for each word.
Plucked from the depths of confusion to see
the blinding light of day. Never been heard
for a reason. Recoiling they soon flee.

Ideas do not breed a masterpiece.
They writhe in agony, fighting for life
which cannot exist. Every thought a feast
that vultures scoop up, with no care for strife.

Every attempt is scrapped and incomplete.
Self-entombed by a message too complex.
Before it’s begun, all thought obsolete,
whatever remains will only perplex.

Time races by staring up at the clock.
Stricken by this plague that is Writers’ Block.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Suspended Animation

So I'm almost ready to hit the send button on the final copy edits to Illegally Blonde (still double/triple checking things like my usual obsessive self). I should be very excited (and I am!) but more and more I'm feeling like I'm in a state of suspended animation. I know that as soon as I hit that Send button that will be it. I'll lose that last bit of control I've had with the book to this point. And that's as it should be. I guess, instead of just getting on with it, I'm taking the time to enjoy this last little bit of time alone with the book.

It's a scary thing sending a book off for this last part of the journey. Don't get me wrong. I know it's in great hands with Great Plains Teen Fiction.I know it will be taken care of by talented, responsible, incredibly supportive people. Yet, here I sit, not minding the waiting, liking the calm of this time and preparing myself for the unknown that launching a book will bring in the spring. But I also know that in the next few days I will hit Send and my state of suspended animation will stop. My anxiety and worry over launching a book will take over and I will wish for this time that seems so quiet now.

But I also know you get nowhere by being in a state of constant suspense. I know there will be huge, stressful, exciting changes that will replace my calm, suspended state very soon and who willingly wants to go through stress? But like my daughter said to me tonight, "What's the problem? Isn't your book being out a GOOD thing?"

Yes. Yes it is. A very good thing. Sigh.

Maybe hitting Send won't be that hard at all...

Friday, January 1, 2010

Well Hello 2010! Will We Be a Good Match?

I've been waiting a long time to see you, New Year. Pull up a chair. Let's chat a bit before we begin our new shiny 365 days together, shall we?

Oh, I know I've put a lot of pressure on you even before you showed up on my door. I mean a year that promises me the publication of my first book in April has a lot of hopes and wishes already on its shoulders. So what more can I expect from you? Really, the fact that you showed up at all is enough. I shouldn't ask you for more.

But just in case you want to really hang out with me, really get to know me and not just be a flashy one-time Charlie who wines and dines me in the spring then moves on leaving me waiting by the phone for the next eight months, let me tell you what I'm all about and what I'm looking for in an awesome 2010. Here, have a glass of wine and put your feet up. We have time.

I know you're still young and have too much energy but I admire patience in a Year. Hopefully, you'll be able to offer that as I write my next novel. I love the splashy events you have planned (book publication, book launch etc.) but I also love the not so glamorous companionship that a good Year gives me - the time spent just writing quietly and revelling in a good story hopefully well told. Can you give me that patience and time?

I also like to learn something from a good Year. What can you teach me that will help me grow and become a better person?

Will you be a Year that runs roughshod over my emotions only giving me drama and stress or will you make life fun, exciting and carefree?

In essence, 2010, what kind of Year will you be for me? We'll be taking this journey together - I'm investing a lot of hope and time in you and I hope - I really, really hope - that when our time is up (and we know that we will only have this one year together)that I can look back on our time and say: "That was one of the best Years of my life. I'll never forget it."

Oh, you've finished your wine? You're ready to start our adventure together too? I'm so glad I haven't scared you off with my expectations. Okay. I'm ready. Let's go for it!