Sunday, March 29, 2009

What's Magic About Writing?

When I was thinking of subtitles for my blog, "The Magic of Writing and More" just seemed like a good idea--mostly because in the last couple of years I've been writing so many princess and fairy books. But let me confess that when I'm drafting a story, writing often feels more like hard work than magic, and getting to the end of a story can be a cold, hard slog.

The author Gore Vidal once said, "I never reread a text until I have finished the first draft. Otherwise it's too discouraging." I'm of the same opinion. Forward movement has always seemed a good thing to me in first draft writing. Though I do a fair amount of rewriting as I go along, I try not to get caught up in improving my prose too much in a first draft.

Instead, my usual modus operandi is to reread the last paragraph or two I wrote the day before, then go on from there. If I realize while drafting chapter 8, that I should’ve foreshadowed an event in chapter 4 or 5, I may go back and add that part to the story, otherwise, I just make a note about what needs to be changed or added on a piece of paper labeled “Notes for Draft #2” and go on with the story.

So where does the magic come in--especially in a first draft? For me, it's in those rare moments when a clever line of dialogue or description pops into my head. Sometimes those lines later have to be edited out (we writers hate that, and sometimes refer to it as "killing our babies"), but often those lines survive successive drafts intact, or with just a bit of tweaking. And even when the writing comes slowly, and in fits and starts, there's a certain magic in simply seeing the pages accumulate. And when those pages have been sprinkled with the fairy dust of successive drafts, helped along by many fairy godmothers and godfathers (my agent, my writing group, my editor and a whole publishing staff, and an illustrator), voila! A book! What could be more magic than that?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My Hawaiian Family (Not!)

I love this family photo. It makes me laugh. Only my mother and youngest sister Nancy actually traveled to Hawaii when I was young. They were invited along when my grandmother went on vacation to Maui in the mid-sixties. The photo was taken after their return home, against a bamboo screen in our backyard. I don't know why I'm the only child smiling. My brother looks like he's in pain, and my sister Becky looks like she's doing a good imitation of Christina Ricci in her role as Wednesday in The Addams Family Movie. Perhaps she's glowering because she didn't get a cool (fake) grass skirt like the one I'm wearing. I loved that grass skirt. I wonder what happened to it. It probably disappeared to the same place as those wonderful glasses my mom is wearing. Ah, memories...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Old Family Photos

My sister Becky recently finished scanning 2000 of our parents' old slides and photos. I hadn't seen the slides in a hundred years (only a slight exaggeration). Even after my brother and sisters and I were grown up and no longer living at home, my dad still carried around in his wallet a copy of the b & w photo I've posted with this entry. (I'm the one in pigtails.) We used to tease him about that old photo, till finally one holiday when we were all together, we decided to make him a more up-to-date replacement picture. As you can see, we kept the pose the same. My sister Nancy had a little more trouble fitting on my brother Dave's lap, however.

I was always a redhead, btw. But I can see from the picture of me on my first birthday, that my hair isn't quite as red as it used to be. There's a fair number of gray and silver threads in it now that never used to be there too. That's life.

Mmm, that birthday cake looks good, doesn't it?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Happy Dr. Seuss Day/Week

It's become something of a tradition at many schools to invite an author to speak during Dr. Suess's birthday week in March. I think anything that highlights and celebrates the fun and importance of reading and writing is a lovely tradition, and I had a great time speaking at two elementary schools last week. The students and staff at A.G. Bell in Kirkland and Panther Lake in Kent were wonderfully attentive and enthusiastic. They made me feel like "Queen for a Day." (Now if that reference doesn't date me, I don't know what else would!)

When I worked as an elementary school librarian, it was easy to get my "kid fix." But I've been writing fulltime for the past nine years. I miss teaching and interacting with children, so school visits are a treat. I enjoy all the grade levels. It was exciting to see what great ideas the third and fourth graders at Panther Lake came up with during my "Show, Don't Tell" workshops. The primary graders at both schools were adorable and had great questions. And because the intermediate students were so mature, I could share much about my writing process and the ins and outs of becoming published.

I love it when students come up to me after a presentation and tell me about the stories they are working on. When that happens I think to myself, perhaps this child could be the next Dr. Suess in the making!