Monday, September 24, 2012

It's Been a Long Time

Wow. It's been a very long time since I've posted.

Blogging can be way too much fun. A total time suck. There are plenty of other distractions that stole bits of my novel writing time since my last post, but none that I would give up. Travel, weddings, rescue puppies, a grandbaby, our baby off to college and the new empty nest. So blogging got the boot--but I'm back! The novel is almost complete.

April 2012

If you're truly a writer, you write through everything. Writing is what you do. You can not not do it. All this no-blogging while, I've been diligently working on a realistic (contemporary) YA, clearly not a "speed project." (Ideas of how to do the next book faster are lining up in my head.)

I used to be uber competitive with word counts and page accumulations, but I had to let that go. What I want in the end is an excellent, complicated quality tale. I'm blessed to be a fast writer whose grammar should make her teachers proud, but I am indeed a slow plotter. I added a lot to the beginning of my novel as I approached the end. What was page one is now approximately page 85. I tried so hard not to include backstory, I left out a gorgeous chunk of the story.

Of course, there will be critics. Oh, believe me, I've dealt with them. At first I took what people said so seriously. I embraced the good stuff. What I interpreted as negative or harsh made me grumpy. I doubted myself. I whined. Complained. Buried contest results. But then I got brave and reread everything. The comments weren't as negative as I thought. Some were "twisted" help. I threw all suggestions in the big mixing pot of my imagination (What if she is right? What if I...) and what do you know! I could take what I wanted and ignore the rest. You can fix problems if you know about them. I swear someone told me this a long time ago. I was just too sensitive to hear it.

My pride in finaling in several contests last year was leveled when my desktop computer crashed in April. I'd saved EVERYTHING on flashdrives and another computer--except scoresheets and ultimately contest entries. This was not my first computer crash. I should have been smarter and taken my time to back up EVERYTHING. (I told you, I needed to slow down!) I can't tell you the names of all the contests I entered. I can't even tell you the names of some I finaled in. If I sift through my 6000 saved yahoo emails, I will probably find my submissions and scoresheets again... but sift is the keyword. Sift is a slow word. Like sifting through sand. An unproductive slowness. Sifting through emails won't get the book finished. But what wasn't lost is what many of my awesome judges gave me: confidence. 

Since I last blogged, The Novel has undergone severe revisions. The story's not what I thought it was going to be--it's better. I accept that some will say it absolutely is not better. (I didn't write it for them.) I'm eager to yell, "I'm done!"--which should be, "Done again!"  So I will leave you for now and get back to work. I wish you a happy whatever-you're-doing today!
Wear yourself out!

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Good Ship Bowden Rides Techno-Wav​es

This was a techno-difficult week on the Good Ship Bowden.

Working hard to get on line to read my Emily contest judges' feedback knocked the wind out of my sails on Tuesday. (I tied for second place in the YA category!) Once I was in possession of the score sheets and comments, I was pleased to find good news--and some of what I expected. In all, lots to think about,lots to put to use. 

The internet "weather" calmed down, and the Good Ship Bowden sailed smoothly--for two whole days--before hitting rough water again. This time it hit a storm. Hours of battling dueling Hurricanes Comcast  and Xfinity before sending out the SOS. After an entire hour with an uncommonly brilliant tech rep somewhere in India, our internet was back up and running. But it's amazing what frustration can do to your creativity. Like sink it completely. Not forever, but for most of the day.

I needed distraction and decided to watch "Lost in Austen," a clever time travel about an avid Jane Austen fan who finds a character from the novel she's reading in her bathroom.

It turns out there's a door in the bathroom wall that leads to... well, I won't give it all away. It's worth watching if you're a fan of time travel and/or Jane Austen. I give it a "not quite" B+.  

Par for the day, wouldn't you know, the copy I ordered from had issues? I am still not laughing. Skips and blips, digital scrambles, dialogue coming from the wrong lips, etc. Arrgh! It was a long, long movie, what with rewinding several scenes over and over again, trying to figure out what was going on. (I pay great attention to dialogue.)

Our heroine's singing debut was cut entirely, probably due to copyright issues. I'm guessing it was a rendition of Petula Clark's "Downtown." I would have liked to have seen it.

I had to run the end of the movie three times to see it, thanks to phones, door bells and barking dogs.

Tomorrow will be better. It always is. Which reminds me of that song from a 1980's movie, sung by a little orphan girl with red curls. Hmmmm. If I need a creative distraction tomorrow, perhaps I'll create the soundtrack to my WIP. As long as iTunes is working.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Setting of a Previous Novel

   Sometimes I wonder if I love taking photos more than I love writing. It's not true, but I do love my camera...

   Everywhere I go, I take pictures. My dogs get majorly annoyed with this, by the way. They are probably the most photographed dogs in the universe. And there is my super-photographic family. Thanks to digital, I'm not going broke on my photography habit (yet.)

   I take pictures for possible scenes in novels I think I might write. For some reason unknown to me, if I take a picture, I will forever remember what I see through the view finder. I have thousands of photo files but don't refer to them often. I don't think this is photographic memory, but I wonder if I should take faux-photographs of every textbook page I read. Maybe I should try it with Bible verses I'd like to remember.

   Last April, while researching my current WIP, I drove to Austin on what is often called "The Blue Bonnet Highway" in the heart of the blue bonnet season. Blue bonnets are not in my WIP.

   Because I was by myself, I stopped along the road to my heart's content. (I could insert a thousand photos here. I will not. I'm guessing you are so pleased.)

    I turned off the highway at the tiny town of Giddings to find the tinier town of Dime Box which has always intrigued me. I didn't find it. Maybe it's so small I drove right past it.

    Actually, the search for Dime Box wasn't my first detour. I'd already 
turned off 290 at Chapel Hill, opposite the corner where an Exxon gas station advertises the best kolaches (sausage in bun) in Texas, which is absolutely not true.

   Once through Chapel Hill, the scenery along the road forced me (at gun point) to stop and take photos. A certain novel I've written and abandoned came to mind.

   Perhaps I forgot the novel takes place during blue bonnet season????? Did I include blue bonnets? I think not. Perhaps I needed to pull out the novel and look at it again???

   Okay not now, I told myself. I am sticking to my 2010 New Year's Resolution: One novel at a time.

This could have been the place!

   I got to Austin later than expected that afternoon. The usual two and a half or three hour drive, depending on traffic, took five highly-inspiring hours.

   I know many writers collage the novel they're working on and that's always sounded like really good fun (alas, distraction.) I've bought the poster board and glue sticks after collecting pictures I've cut from magazines and... but they wind up forgotten when I get busy and write. 

   But inhaling the setting of a future page? Standing in the middle of it? 

   I have to tell you, I did get back on track with the work in progress. In fact, the day after I arrived in Austin, I was given the most fantastic tour and forgot all about blue bonnets and my previous novel which I will revisit one day, perhaps when I am finished with this one. Well, I couldn't ignore blue bonnets entirely. They are, indeed, everywhere around Austin in April. But I became consumed with the hills, rocks, water and coffee shops (yes, ha ha) that are in my WIP. I took more photographs (okay, only seven hundred.) Before long the WIP was off and running in my mind... and on the page. 

   BTW, I didn't make a 2011 New Year's resolution, but if I had, it would be to
1. take more pictures! :)
2. blog on a regular basis! :)
3. finish the WIP and take a peek at the old one--curiosity is killing me.

   Time for coffee and the WIP...

Friday, February 4, 2011

Great Expectations

No, this is not in Texas.
      So yesterday school was cancelled for today. With the promise of snow and constant TV progamming interruptions last night, thousands of Klein ISD kids in Spring, Texas went to sleep knowing they could 1. sleep in late and 2. play in snow (maybe for the first time in their lives.) 
     I hope they enjoy sleeping in, and I wonder if breaking icicles off the roof will be as much fun as building a snowman would have been. While all things are supposed to be "bigger" in Texas, snowmen are the one thing that breaks the rule. Generally, Texas snowmen are knee high or shorter due to our teeny, tiny snowfalls. And, like today, there are the snowfalls that don't quite make it to Spring, Texas.
     I grew up in the Chicago suburbs where I experienced blizzard conditions and walked to and from school in them (up hill and down, in barefeet--NOT.) The only time I remember a school cancellation was for the
one particularly gianormous January 
blizzard in a year that I will not reveal so I can remain eighteen-til-i-die. On my day off, I dug snow tunnels in the backyard, and my dad and I walked to the local grocer's for bread and milk. We got the last loaf of bread and found the milkman and his truck stranded in a snowbank and bought milk 
right there on the snow covered street. That's about it, memory-wise. Snow=pretty much no big deal to kids in Chicagoland. In fact, by now, I imagine there are lots of kids who are tired of it.
     But in Texas... 
       No snow today in Spring, Texas is a disappointment, even for me. I'd charged the camera batteries (yes, more than one) for those great photos I would take... :(
     The characters in plots I write often have great expectations and, of course, playing God to my characters, I twist the plot to delight or disappoint them. Nine times out of ten, their reactions to disappointment are much more exciting to write (and hopefully to read) than their reactions to whatever makes them happy, fulfilling their desires.
     Several brilliant authors have said it quite simply, "Make it worse. Make it worser. Make it the worst thing ever. Hurt your characters." 
      So with that in mind, I will trudge through another very cold but snowless South Texas writing day with emotional weapons in hand (well, in my mind) and give my characters a few good pokes and see what happens.
     But coffee first!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A late welcome to 2011--I'm back on track!

   This post has been a long time coming! 
     Blogging "eighteen" took the back seat to real life which included adopting another amazing rescue puppy who, uh hem, chose to blog her experiences adjusting to life at the Bowdens'.

That's me holding Layla on top of Annie in October. Their sizes are now reversed.

         I no sooner started eighteen-til-die when the family calendar filled up with irresistible activities that could inspire both sitcom and and heartwarming drama. Tux fittings. Finding something for me to wear to--oh, did I mention our second daughter's wedding was one year and one month after her older sister's wedding? Thus, a dress for me to find (for me.) Tux fittings for the father of the bride and the youngest groomsman. Bridal photos. 
The shower. Packing for the out of town wedding. Boarding Annie and Layla. Creating a festive hotel hospitality room, aka our room. The arrival of relatives. Yay!

The bride and flower girls at the wedding venue, the UT Austin Alumni Center

 And another fantastic family reunion in the hills of Austin...
The Family Tree missing a few members, including me

Of course there was Christmas and, earlier, Thanksgiving-- a very happy full house and puppies running around.

Birth sisters Ellie Wynn and Layla Bowden

    AND then came the event that really prohibited getting back on track with all-things-novel-writing. My mother's heart attack at the tail end of 2010. (She came through it like a champ!)

    I spent the first two weeks of 2011 in Chicagoland. Talk about research for a novel. I thoroughly explored life in the ICU and nursing homes. I cleaned and redecorated my mom's apartment in her retirement for her eventual homecoming. I drove in the snow.  I photographed snow.

   I figured out that layering up in cold winter weather is the best way to stay warm when the temp gets down to single digits. I quickly remembered, how while in Houston, you wear a sweater indoors in the summer so you won't freeze in the air conditioning and, how indoors in Chicago in the winter, you peel off your clothes indoors so you don't melt indoors in extreme heat. Surely antiperspirants sell better during the winter months in the northern United States. And I proved this: Chicago is dryer than Houston--no frizzy hair (but lots of static.)

   I made friends with a darling friend of my mom, an amazing first generation American who told me stories of her family's arrival from Italy that must be written down or fictionalized. My mom's stories about growing up in rural Illinois and moving to the Big City after high school graduation are inspiring too.

   I stared down at the beautiful, snow covered garden from my mom's second floor nursing home window, and realized it was the last place my kids visited with my dad before he died. It gave me an intriguing idea for another young adult novel, something completely different from anything I've ever thought of writing.

The window of my mom's room

The garden, mid-day

The garden, late afternoon

The garden, at night

    Which brings me right back to where I was on December 30th, 2010, the day I got the call (about the heart attack.)  I planned to get back on track, reconnect with my favorite critique partners and finish polishing the book. After Thanksgiving, in the middle of all this comotion, I got the call--it finaled in the YA category of The Emily, West Houston RWA's annual writing contest! The first twenty-three pages of my novel had been sent to an agent and an editor for final judging.

   The awards are February 12th, and I won't hold my breath--my novel is realistic YA fiction, not vampires or werewolves or anything supernatural. My competition is--whoa!--fellow unpublished authors I respect.
Nevertheless, the way I look at it, I'm a winner, no matter what. I entered The Emily to get anonymous feedback on the project when I was in doubt. Finaling is far beyond my wildest expectations. I'm honored.

   So a whole month later than expected and not a penny richer (except in experience,) I have begun completion of a novel that began as little nuggets of ideas in Laurie Campbell Schnebly's on-line writing class "Plot Via Motivation" a year ago this month--ideas that systematically formed a plot that's held me captive for an entire year!

Wish me luck! No, wish me writing time! :)

(www. laylastail. blogspot. com  No spaces!) 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dana Wright Talks about Barnes and Noble and Book Sales

A couple of years ago, Dana Wright was eavesdropping while she worked at her Barnes and Noble. She overheard me say I write Young Adult and ran after me. She caught up with me at the check out counter. Turns out YA is her "baby." She not only sells it but reads it and writes it.

A friendship was born that day and, last week, when I learned she was speaking at the next Houston’s MG/YA writers' meeting, I was thrilled. Dana has worked in bookstores since she was in high school and possesses a wealth of knowledge on the subject of books and bookstores.

Here are my notes from Saturday's event...

According to Dana Wright, who works at Houston's Champion Forest Barnes and Noble, everything starts with "Receiving." Individual stores order some books, but essentially the corporate office chooses and sends books to the stores. Monday through Friday, the store receives one hundred to four hundred cases of books to put on the shelves, which means older titles must be removed to make space for the newer ones. If a book is not moving, three months on the shelf is too long, and it will be sent back.

Dana is the Merchandise Manager at her store. Barnes and Noble stores' Community Relations Managers (CRMs) are in charge of author signings and acquiring educational accounts from schools and libraries. As a Merchandise Manager, Dana has approximately six hundred assigned tasks per month. In addition, she networks with publishers and authors and receives many ARCs (advanced reading copies) which she enjoys and often reviews.

The first third of the store is prime "real estate" for bestsellers and new release hard covers and whatever publishers want you to see. Publishers pay for their "real estate," which includes every Barnes and Noble store nation-wide and lasts about a month. The teen and middle grade area is growing very fast, and teen novels get two endcaps on the main aisle. (Endcaps are the sides/ends of shelves.) The teen area of the store includes themed shelves determined by the corporate office. Dana has one table that is "her baby." It's in the center of the school and has great visibility, and she gets to pick what's on it.

"Brick and Mortar" (real) stores work hard to get you through the doors because of competitive internet sales. Of course, Barnes and Noble keeps a finger on the pulse of this with their digital option, The Nook. Right now there's a Nook kiosk as you walk through the doors of Dana's store, but soon there will be a Nook boutique, which will look very Apple-esque. Check your local store for informational Nook workshops. Other changes include Bible boutiques, educational games and toys, and adult puzzles and games. The Woodlands (TX) store is adding a teen boutique.

Dana confirms that the YA trend is HUGE. She can not keep her YA table full. TWILIGHT is slowing down. CATCHING FIRE, MOCKINGJAY, and HAUNTED are selling fast. Paranormals and novels with edgy, gritty teen issues are still moving. Dana doesn't read as much MG as YA, but she has noticed lots of middle grade paranormals and zombies. She has a tougher time finding MG "boy" books to recommend to customers than MG "girl" books. For girls, there are clique series type, paranormals and gritty realistic stories. There are more YA girl books sold than YA boy books, but MG sales are 50/50.

To find out what’s selling, Dana suggests reading store blogs and YA blogs, and subscribing to Publisher's Weekly. She also suggests reviewing what you read but warns be careful what you say. Be honest but nice. "Netgalley" (online) is for people in the book industry, bloggers, booksellers and librarians. If you review books and post your reviews online, you can sign up for Netgalley and read books before their release date for an extended amount of time.

Dana's advice: Watch the teen and middle grade sections of your local store and study your rival base. Make friends with your bookseller! Introduce yourself! The people working the departments are the people you want to talk with; the general manager is probably too busy. Booksellers LOVE to talk to authors. Bring samples. Ask questions. Booksellers are voracious readers. Hand selling works.

I can tell you this for sure, nobody talks about the books she loves more enthusiastically than Dana Wright! She took me for a spin around "her table" and the rest of the store yesterday, and I couldn't resist her recommendations. Needless to say, I didn't come away empty handed. You want this woman recommending YOUR books!

If you have a question for Dana, be sure to post it. She says Tuesday is her busiest day, so please be patient waiting for her reply.


The next meeting of Houston MG and YA Writers is 9am, Saturday, October 16th at
La Madeleine's off the Sam Houston Tollway near Town and Country Mall.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fingers to the Keyboard Week

Since I am behind on my self-imposed deadline,
I am not allowed to blog. I wish I was landing at La Guardia (NY) to meet with my editor... However, publishers don't publish unfinished novels. So it's Fingers to the Keyboard Week.
See you soon!