Blog Archives

Building Character

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Protagonists, antagonists, supporting characters… Where do they come from? Our heads of course. We can shape them, manipulate them any old way we choose. And by adding bits here and there we eventually leave our readers with an impression of the person we’ve created. If it’s our protagonist, we usually want our readers to feel empathetic towards him or her so maybe we make them vulnerable. If it’s the antagonist, we often imbue this character with traits that conflict with the protagonist thus creating tension.

We can get lots of mileage from physical attributes as well. Take Captain Hook for instance. He was mean and menacing and what could be scarier for a child than a villain with a silver, pointed hook for a hand. Or how about Fantine in Les Miserables? We see her beauty fade as she first sells her hair, her teeth and then her body.

Right now I’m creating characters for my next novel. Piecing together parts from people I know or characters from movies, books and television. Kind of like a quilt of granny squares. The eyes for one of my main characters, a 13-year-old Jewish girl, I got from from the cover of a book. It’s pinned to my bulletin board. Her friend looks a lot like Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver – tough and lanky.  And the Jewish grandmother is soft and round with an ample bosom just like a dear friend I once knew.

And if we’re really good at it, creating a character, sometimes that fictional being takes on a life of his or her own. One such character for me is Francie Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Francie sang to me. I loved her spunk, pluck and tenacity. I found myself wishing that I had known her for we’d surely have been best friends.

So what characters have left a lasting impression on you?

Write on everyone!

Conferences Count

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Writing by nature is a solitary endeavor. Ask any successful author and they will tell you that getting to the point of publication took countless hours of alone-time in front of a screen. Things can get pretty quiet; just you, a blank piece of paper and the ticking clock. And that’s one of the reasons some writers never become authors. It’s just too lonely out there.

That’s why we need to reach out to others like us and attending a conference is a great step. I just got back from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators annual conference in New York City. I was surrounded by people just like me! Writers who are almost authors. Artists who are almost illustrators. And of course those who have already found success.

While I didn’t come away with a lot of new tools for my writing box, I did leave with a renewed conviction that this is what I was meant to do. What I got out of the experience was validation that I am on the right track and that if I keep plugging away, success will follow. I just need to be patient. And I know we read this type of advice all the time. But when you pay good money for the advice, somehow it matters a little more. You are invested, literally.

In the Grand Hyatt’s ballroom on Sunday, I stood three feet away from Arthur A. Levine  (publisher of the Harry Potter series)  and was tongue-tied. This year I had nothing to offer. But next year? If he’s there, I’m going to give him the best break-out middle grade chapter book pitch he’s ever heard!

Now that’s the attitude!

Write on everybody.

Getting Noticed… It’s Nice.

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A few days ago, after my morning tea, I  discovered that my blog had been nominated for a Liebster Award! WOW! I jumped up and down and did a Happy Dance. But then I asked myself… What is a Liebster Award? After a little Google search I found that it’s a fun way to get people excited about your stuff and, at the same time, pay it forward. So THANKS to the fair and talented Lily of odetocreation.wordpress.com. She thought my stuff was worthy of a shout out!

The Rules:
  • You must link back to the person who nominated you.
  • You must answer the 11 questions given to you by the nominee.
  • You must pick 11 nominees with under 200 (or 2000 if you want to go with that) followers to answer your questions.
  • You cannot nominate the person who nominated you.
  • You must let the people you nominate know they have been nominated.

My answers to Lily’s questions:

  • Favorite movie:  Little Miss Sunshine
  • Song that makes me feel alive:   The Logical Song  by Supertramp
  • If I could live anywhere, where would it be:   Bath, Maine
  • Favorite food:  Greek salad or chocolate cake
  • Favorite word:  serendipity
  • Favorite hobby:  collecting Fire King
  • If I could change my name:  I like my name.
  • Favorite snack:  buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese
  • Favorite class in college:  Editing. I know. I’m weird.
  • Favorite poem: The Red Wheelbarrow, by William Carlos Williams
  • Favorite season:  SPRING!

Here are some noteworthy blogs that I think you’ll really like. Most deal with writing and books while a few focus on travel and cooking. Enjoy!

Margaux’s Blog

One Book, Two Books, Old Books, New Books

A Penny and her Jots

Emu’s Debuts

Wicked Words

Jodie Llewellyn

papermashed

nicholasandriani

kateloveton

thriftyniftynancy

AngieKozBlogs

Now, for those I nominated, here are your questions:

  1. What was your favorite cereal as a kid?
  2. What is your favorite movie?
  3. How old is the oldest thing in your closet?
  4. What is the name of your favorite pet (past or present)?
  5. Who is your favorite author?
  6. What is the coolest city you have ever visited?
  7. What is the oldest food in your fridge?
  8. What is your favorite brand of soap?
  9. What do you crave when you crave?
  10. What is your favorite TV sitcom (past or present)?
  11. What era in history best defines you?

I guess that’s it. Carry on everyone. I will be rooting for us all when they announce the winners of the 2014 Liebster Awards! – Kathy

Rejection’s Evolution

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When No Isn’t Necessarily No – Some Useful Insights

Got two manuscript rejections yesterday. One in the mail the other in my email inbox. But I’ll tell you about these later.

When I first started sending out manuscripts and began receiving rejections I took them hard. I would vow not to do it again – not to put myself out there and be vulnerable. But invariably I would get over it and begin once more. The submission, followed by the waiting and then the rejection. Usually addressed to “Dear Author/Illustrator.” They were forms – mere slips of paper shoved into a SAS that I had provided. But with those I guess I was lucky. For it was when I didn’t hear anything for months that stung the most. My writing not even worthy of a stamp.

But things are changing. My rejections now appear on publisher/agent letterhead or are addressed to me personally via email like the ones I got yesterday. And while they both were a “pass” there still is hope. After getting over the initial let down of rejection, I reread the letters and both included invaluable insights into my writing and where I might improve. Both the editor and the agent suggested that I “tighten things up” and be more “succinct.” The tension needs to be increased.

I will take this generous editorial advice and put it to good use. Those thoughtful words will fuel cuts, rewrites and revisions. And when I think I simply cannot improve my writing any more, I will do it again.

Only then will I re-submit.

My advice to all receiving rejections: if the editor or agent takes the time to write something constructive about your piece you are SO CLOSE! Follow through and do what they say.

Sometimes the “no” is a “maybe”.

Are the 1970’s history?

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How often we find ourselves using that term – HISTORY.  If we want to make something that happened in our lives seem insignificant we say, “Oh, that’s history.” We’re over it. But what is history when it comes to writing? Some history teachers tell their students that history is anything that happened in the past. So yesterday, I made a broccoli and chicken casserole for dinner. So is that now considered “history?”  I don’t think so. But no one will argue with me when I say that in June 1815 Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo as Abba so poignantly reminded us. So where is the line between “history” and “not history”? There are differing opinions. And what about the terms “historical fiction” vs. “period fiction.” Yikes… This is getting complicated!

According to The Historical Novel Society, a novel is considered to be “historical fiction” if the story is written fifty or more years after the events described therein or prior to the writer’s birth. The American Library Association’s RUSA says that the events within the novel need to be at least a generation (25 years) before its publication. And yet, according to the veritable Encyclopedia Britannica, a historical novel need only have its setting be within a period of history with events and details depicted accurately.

So would the Sherlock Holmes series be considered historical fiction? According to the definitions above, yes. However, there are those that profess it is not because historic events are not the primary focus. The same with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. There are those that claim that these works should be considered “period fiction” – novels that occur within a specific time period but have no real focus on depicting actual historic events.

So this brings me back to the 1970’s – the time period for my next novel. Will I be writing a historical novel or a period novel? I guess it doesn’t matter right now because I’m just beginning. But come time to pitch The Summer Girl to agents I will need to be sure which genre I use. (Agents hate it when you get your genre wrong!)

What do you think? Is period fiction a sub-genre of historical fiction? Or is it a genre all of its own? Or is there an ever-morphing line between the two?

Food for thought…

Packing for the Trip

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Getting ready to begin a novel is a lot like packing for a trip. There’s a lot of planning. An itinerary. Consideration of transport. Not to mention who’s coming along. It’s like when your finger hesitantly hovers over the enter button before you press it and commit to purchasing airline tickets. Did I get the dates right? Is this really the best deal I can get? Is this the right decision?

Committing those first words on paper (or screen) is a scary step. Either you are the craziest person on earth or you think waaaaay too much of yourself.  At least sometimes that’s how we feel. It’s that little twinge of doubt that keeps us from typing that first sentence.

But sometimes we don’t start for a whole different reason. We simply aren’t ready. That’s where I am. I mean I have the story all here in  my head – the plot, characters, story arc. It’s all there. But for it to be good (and I mean really good) I need to do my homework. Get it right.

That’s why I have decided not to start. Writing that is…

I’ve completed a novel already. It’s not the greatest. It’s not the worst. Do I think it’s good enough for publication? Maybe. But it’s no break out novel. It’s one to be tucked into my sock drawer and whipped out sometime in the future when my agent asks, “You got anything else?”

So for now I’m just packing my suitcase. I’m filling it with knowledge. Places, dates, fads, fashions, culture,  religion. I’m taking that all-important first step in doing a period/historical story justice – RESEARCH. It’s going to take some time and effort but hey, that’s what we gotta do if we we’re gonna do it right.

So every now and then I’m planning on conducting a Baggage Check. Just to let you know how my progress is going. I also plan on providing some helpful information for fellow travelers.

So follow me if you are interested and I will do the same!

Bon Voyage!

 

Marie Lamba, author

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