Writing Life

Looking Ahead to National Poetry Month – Your Chance to Ask Me Questions

ask-npm2014After a blog hiatus I am back, and as often happens when I take a hiatus, I come back to blogging as National Poetry month approaches. In the next few weeks I will be moving all my old Grace Notes over here (if you follow me on Facebook, you already know what I mean. If not, stay tuned.) But for now I am thinking about April 1 and how it signifies the month long celebration of poetry lovers everywhere.

Here in the blogosphere many poets, myself included, set a challenge to write and share a new poem each day. I’m planning on doing that again this year but what I have been pondering to do is a topic to build upon for the month. In the past I have written about my native garden, about taking a month off to learn how to play, and about growing up without knowing anything about my father (and then finding him after he was already dead.)

This year I thought I would solicit questions from friends and readers and then pick one each day to use as a jumping off point for my poems. So here’s your chance to have a say in what I write about, at least during the month of April. Leave me a question in the comments and at the end of this month, I’ll print them all out and toss them in a bowl. Then each day for National Poetry Month I’ll pick on question and write an original poem around that question.

Oh yeah, there’s the fear that even with 27 days left in this month I might not get 30 comments with questions to answer but I have a plan B for that – if I don’t get enough comments I’ll hit up friends via email until I have my quota.

I think this could be a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to seeing what questions people might ask.

Note: If you subscribed to my blog in the past, there’s a chance that the subscription did not make it over to the new website so I invite you to subscribe again, please, so you don’t miss anything. The subscription notice is on the top right corner of the blog page. Thank you for staying connected.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014|Categories: Writing Life||8 Comments

Do You Need a Mission Statement?

susan3As I tip-toe my way back into my blogging on a regular basis I thought I’d talk a little bit about my newly designed website. When I began the massive undertaking all I knew was that I wanted to combine my writing, my art, and my photography under one website. It meant it would be huge. It meant a lot of work. It meant I walked around for a few days mumbling to myself about having no idea where to start. So I decided to do what I always do when starting a new book – I reread old material. In this case I started with rereading some grant applications I had written a few years ago. They were for a writing project and I remembered the process of writing the grant really helped me better define my identity as a writer. So I decided to apply the same technique to creating my website, beginning with a mission statement.

A mission statement, at its most basic level is who you are and why you are doing what you are doing.

Before people start jumping up and down about the differences between mission statements and vision statements and artist statements I’m going to say that I rolled mine all up into one. As the sole proprietor of my creative business venture, that works for me.

I think my first introduction to mission statements came many years ago when the company I was working for adopted the Franklin Covey Habits of Effective People. It was a personal productivity program about getting things done but also about having a good idea of your personal and company values and how they could work together for success. An old version of Microsoft Word even had a mission statement template built into the software. It wasn’t easy but the program asked you simple questions which you answered and then it spit out a draft of something you could then edit. Okay, for the heck of it I just Google mission statement generator and Franklin Covey offers a free one here. It might be a good place to start. If you Google mission statement template or generator you can find lots more.

As a writer I do a lot of revising. In fact I’d say my best writing often comes from revising. The new website is about revising my own way of looking at my creative life. It is about defining myself as not just a writer, but as a writer, an artist, and a photographer. And now when I have doubts about my creative identity, I can reread my mission statement and be reminded of the path I am meant to be on, even if sometimes life is a bit too foggy for me to see the path in front of me.

So do you NEED a mission statement for your website? Maybe not. But it might not be a bad exercise to try and see where it takes you.

You can read my mission statement here.

Note: If you subscribed to my blog in the past, there’s a chance that the subscription did not make it over to the new website so I invite you to subscribe again, please, so you don’t miss anything. The subscription notice is on the top right corner of the blog page. Thank you for staying connected.

Monday, December 2, 2013|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |4 Comments

I Found the Courage to Create

stbFor many years the sound bite I used to describe my creative life was that I was in constant motion, always searching, always trying, to find the courage to create. I hesitated to claim certain book publications because they were published by small presses or in foreign countries. I worried about calling myself a poet even after I published a verse novel. I couldn’t imagine calling myself an artist even though I had some of my work hanging on the walls of an art gallery. I resisted calling myself a photographer despite the many people who bought my work.

I told people, I told myself, I was trying to find the courage to create.

But I lied. I was creating all the time. What I needed to find was the courage to claim my creative identity.

Hello, my name is Susan Taylor Brown and I’m a writer, of books and poetry, of essays and more. I’m an artist, with a weakness for mixed-media featuring dogs, and I’m a photographer who stands still in the garden and waits for the birds to pose in front of my camera.

This new website brings, at last, my three creative identities together under one roof. This blog will dip into all areas of my creative life. I give up trying to keep the writer, the artist, and the photographer in separate rooms. Why should I? They inspire each other, they feed off each other, they need each other.

I found my courage to create.

Thursday, November 28, 2013|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |4 Comments

A Snippet from my WIP

Because dear and inspiring Beth Kephart asked to read a snippet of my WIP, here’s a little teaser from my YA verse novel-in-progress.  You can read a snippet of Beth’s current WIP here.


My best friend Emmet
is posing for me.

Okay, so maybe he’s just sprawled on the floor
ignoring me
while Mozart kneads his chest and purrs
but he’s laying there, hanging out and I’m sketching him.

I’ve got the outline done
his nose and ears, easy enough even his lips,
slightly open while he recites Ogden Nash to my cat.
I’m working on the eyes
trying to capture
the secrets I know are there

Look at me, I say.

So he does
and he grins that smile that fills his face
with the kind of glow you see on a movie star
after they’ve spent three hours in makeup
only with Emmet, it’s completely natural.

I could fall for him hard
if he liked girls.


Monday, February 18, 2013|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |8 Comments

Dear Teen Me

I wrote a letter for the Dear Teen Me website.

It was both harder and then easier than I thought it would be. By the time I was done writing the letter (and staying within the word counts) and then sorting through the photos, I had ideas for at least another dozen letters.

I think it’s a great exercise for writers trying to bring up some youthful memories.

You can read the letter here and see some funny old photos of me and my sense of “fashion” too.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |8 Comments

On Being True to Your Writer Self

I signed up to be part of this wonderful crazy-making idea that Ed DeCaria came up with – a March Madness Poetry Tournament, where poets are assigned a word and matched up in head-to-head battles. They have to write a kid appropriate poem. Readers vote, winners move on to the next round. Some of the words are insanely difficult. Some are silly. The poems are great fun to read, many of them are light, funny verse.

The seeding is random and the words range from 1 (easy) to 16 (how will I ever use this in a poem). I was seeded, randomly, at 16. Which meant I was going to draw the tough words. The word I drew was “nonconfrontational” Uh, huh. To use in a poem for kids.

Here’s what went through my mind. Is he crazy? I can’t use this in a poem for kids. I can’t use this in a poem for anyone. If he wants nonconfrontational, I’ll give him nonconfrontational. Well maybe I won’t because he lives in Chicago and I’m in California but boy, if he was here. Gee, if I was a real poet, I would probably feel differently about all this. I might look at it as more of a game, a challenge, maybe it would be fun. Oh man, looking at the discussions from other people it sounds like there are going to be a lot of funny poems. I don’t write funny poems. I write poems that break your heart and hand them back to you with an apology and a roll of Scotch tape. I can’t do this. Why did I sign up for this? Okay, maybe I can write funny. Rhyming couplets would work, right? I Sure, let’s give it a try. Oh man, that didn’t work. Double Dactyl, yes, it’s the perfect word for a Double Dactyl, the only problem is that I’ve never written a Double Dactyl in my life. And they’re supposed to be funny too. I am so not a poet yet. I need to study more. I need to learn all these forms. I shouldn’t have signed up for this. I’m not a poet.

Does any of this self-abuse sound familiar? The things we writers do to ourselves. I actually considered quitting without posting anything. Yes, dumb, I know.

But here’s what finally came to me. I was trying to force myself into a mold that no one told me I had to fit into. I don’t write light and funny verse. I don’t read much light and funny verse. I’m not a light and funny verse kind of writer.

So I decided to do something radical. I decided to lean into my strengths.

And as soon as I let go of all those preconceived ideas of what I was SUPPOSED to write, the poem came together. In ten minutes.

Writing is tough enough. Let’s not make it any harder than it has to be. Lean into your strengths. You might just surprise yourself.

I hope you’ll go read my poem for the poetry match-up. Voting is only open for the next day and a half and you can only vote once. So please read, vote and share.

And of course, I hope you’ll like my poem, At 13 I Walk on Eggshells, enough to vote for it.


Thursday, March 15, 2012|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |13 Comments

A Patchwork Life is Okay With Me

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done with love is well done.”- Vincent Van Gogh

I’m interested in a lot of things. Writing novels and essays and poems. Making art. My dog. My California native plant garden. The birds and other wildlife that visit my garden. Photography.

Any one of those could be a full-time job and sometimes I make myself crazy jumping from one thing to another. And sometimes I beat myself up for what I fear is a lack of focus on any one thing because I worry it will lead people to think that not specializing in any one area of my life means I’m not very good at any one thing. Of course that’s complicated by the fact that I am quick to shout out my shortcomings and less quick to announce things I do well.

In moving old blog posts over here to my new blog I’ve been rereading a lot of posts, seeing if they still hold up over time and if I should keep them around. I noticed a disturbing trend, there was a lot of guilt, a lot of beating myself up for what I did and didn’t do. If I stopped blogging for a while I reentered the blog world with a long list of explanations. If I didn’t finish a book project by my personal drop dead date I got out the old hair shirt and wore for weeks and weeks. I whined a lot about my deficiencies as a writer, poet and artist. I called myself a rotten person, wife, mother, daughter, and friend. I gave a lot of space to the negative things in my life. Wow, what a bummer, eh?

There weren’t very many posts where I shouted out about how great I was doing with a book project or how a poem came together absolutely perfectly or how a piece of art went from the picture in my head to the picture on the page in a way that made me gasp. I have those moments but I didn’t write about them very often. I’d like to change that. I’d like to celebrate the every day moments of my life, the weird, the wacky, and the wonderful.

Today was a pretty typical day. The first thought I had when I woke up was about how to fix a design issue on the garden site. Which got me to thinking about the garden blog. Which got me to thinking about how I wanted to relaunch this writing blog/website today which meant I needed a blog post.  So I stayed in bed, closed my eyes, and sorted through some possible blog topics. Greg Pincus just wrote a post about social media guilt and I thought about writing a response to that since I’m returning to blogging after a long absence. I decided not to because sometimes giving voice to something I’m thinking about gives it power and for once I wanted to step back into blogging without making an apology. I blogged. I stopped. I decided to blog again.

Because I want to write more Of Dogs and Writing posts I wondered if I could find a way to link them together. Which for some reason made me think of National Poetry Month and the project I have planned for this year and my Kickstarter idea for next year. Then I thought I should really write about exhibiting my art in a gallery for my very first show which has me alternately excited and petrified. (I don’t expect everyone to like my work, or to buy it – though that would be nice – but I sure hope I don’t overhear anyone talking negatively about it.) All that thinking reminded me that it was probably time to reread my three “go to” books:  Art and Fear, Callings, and The Creative Habit.

Keep in mind I had all these thoughts before I even got out of bed. That’s the way my mind works.

By afternoon I had checked in with a couple of friends, titled and priced my art for the show, worked on the cover of the art journal that is also going into the show and took Cassie to the vet. In-between times I spent in my chair in the corner of the library taking pictures of the birds and then later, I wandered around the garden and captured some great shots of a few newly blooming plants.

It was a busy day. I didn’t finish any one thing and yet I am profoundly happy. I saw some progress on a couple of projects. I jotted down ideas for an art series and some notes for a poem about Cassie, and brainstormed my Kickstarter poetry project.  I spent the day doing things I love.

I’m a lucky gal. I can finally not only recognize but accept that my life is always going to be a patchwork sort of life made of blocks of time devoted to the various things that interest me. Maybe that doesn’t make me an expert in any one thing. Or maybe it does.

I’m pretty good at being me.

Monday, February 20, 2012|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |17 Comments

It was just a little thing

Really. Just a little thing to share some new words of a new project with my weekly goal's group, not my critique group of published writers, a group of readers who would just be listening for story and not thinking about construction and whether or not the book had the potential to sell.

It was just a little thing to read seven poems about one of the sisters in my novel. Really. Just a little thing. Or was it?

I've been away from writing and sharing and critiquing for a while so the thought of putting myself and my words out there made me feel all quivery in my stomach, just like a brand-new writer. But I printed out some pages and put them in the car before I could give myself a chance to change my mind. After all, I didn't have to read them if I didn't want to.

At my goal's group we go around the room and share the progress we've made in our creative life over the last week and talk about our plans for the coming week.I listened to a couple of friends, one beating herself up for not getting things done and another who regularly sets and achieves her goals. And then it was my turn.

The last few months while I've been getting physically healthy I've been doing a lot of thinking, trying to let go of excess emotional baggage (okay, all emotional baggage is excess and needs to be dumped.)  I've spent many years measuring my writing worth against too many of the wrong things — Whether I write like someone else or as often as someone else. Whether I sell to a certain publisher or make a certain amount of money. Whether I get mentioned some place or not. Whether my reviews are good or bad or whether my books are even reviewed.

Like I said, all the wrong measurements.

Because for me, my writing worth can't be measured by what someone else does or doesn't do for me or to me.

I needed to remind myself of that. The reason I write may not be the reason anyone else writes and that's okay. I've felt a change in my writing self the last few months. Less need to compare, to feel jealously, to worry that I am somehow not doing it right.

I'm doing it the only way I know how. My way.

Writing has always been my way of making sense of the world. I write to discover who I am and why I think and feel the way I do. I write to explore the implications of choices I have made and to investigate the whys behind those choices. I write because writing defines me.

So today, when it was my turn to share about my week, I picked up a few poems and shared a bit of my WIP with readers who just wanted to hear an interesting story. They laughed at what I thought were the funny places. They gasped when I shocked them. And I could see in their eyes that question that every storyteller hopes to see in their audience, "What happens next?"

The best stories, the ones that stick in our hearts and minds, are the ones that reflect life as it is, not as we wish it were. The ones that bring us up close and personal. Sometimes the significance of a piece of work is not just in the work itself but in the memories each reader, and each writer, brings to it.

This is why I write.

I'm going to try and remember that.

Monday, September 26, 2011|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |12 Comments

Friday Five – the office edition

1. I’ve been cleaning my office this week and have succeeded, at last, (probably for the first time in YEARS) in having no miscellaneous paper pile. But I don’t think it will last for long unless I can figure out better homes for things I touch a lot in the office area. I tossed a multitude of PR material for books that are no longer in print. That felt odd.

2. Like my current WIP folders. I have, in no particular order, Plant Kid, the sisters book, Max the dog book, the dog essay book, another MG verse novel and a whole bunch of loose poems. I do a lot of my writing by hand and all my editing off the paper so I need to keep lots of papery things around. I have three baskets on a shelf behind my desk but paper has to go in it vertically. That’s okay for file folders but I have little snippets of paper or pictures and things that fall out. There’s no room on my desk for the folders.

3. I have two empty drawers in the file cabinet in my office so yes, I could put the folders in there but there’s something weird about me (okay more than just one something weird about me but here’s ONE weird thing) I like to have all my stuff out where I can touch it, see it, not hidden away.

4. I have three drawers of nothing but potential books and articles. Some started and then abandoned. Some just filled with ramblings and research. These go back 15 years at least. I’m thinking I should go through them and if the idea no longer appeals to me, I should toss them. But that feels really weird to do.

5. I also have giant stacks of papers from books that have gone through various versions and have editorial marks on them. I’m not famous enough to think they should be donated somewhere. I’m about ready to toss them but it feels weird to think about doing that too.

*** Okay, this is not office related but LiveJournal related. Why can I no longer choose html formatting??? Also my tags no longer auto fill??? And when I look at this in the preview, it shows no date at all.

Friday, July 1, 2011|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |6 Comments

Writing life update

I haven’t written a lot about what I’m doing writing-wise lately. I’ve immersed myself in art because it is soothing my soul which has been troubled by not writing. I have finished some fun art projects like my quote art journal and the art journal for my 15 words or less poems. But writing. I’ve jumped around a lot lately, which is my normal process. For now my focus is a book of essays about the 14 dogs I’ve had in my life. I have no contract, not even a publisher in mind. I’ve been told by a couple of agents and a couple of publishers that it is going to be a hard to impossible sell. I’ve been told writing books that aren’t teaching an aspect of craft don’t sell unless you’re famous. I’ve been told collections of essays by not-yet-famous people don’t sell.

I’ve been told a lot of things that should discourage me from spending time on this project.

But here’s the thing. Working on this book makes me happy. Seems like a good enough reason to work on it for me.

Monday, June 20, 2011|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |5 Comments

Reading the book is only part of the solution

As long as I can remember I have turned to books to learn how to do something new. Eventually I would have to dig in and get my hands dirty with whatever it was but I always, always started with reading a book about it first. So it should come as no surprise that when I came to writing, I did the same thing. Long before I bought my first Writer’s Market I was a member of the Writer’s Digest book club. I didn’t have a lot of money back then but I would scour the flyer for the best combo deal so I could build my writing bookshelf.

When the books came in I would devour them, cover to cover, in no time at all then go back through them again, a second time, mining for nuggets. I was sure that the secret to writing success was in those books. Over the years I added many books to those shelves. When I moved cross-country (and back again) I weeded out lots of other books but not the writing ones. I kept them all. Until now.

Lately I’ve been rereading all the books on my shelves, making sure that they still speak to me and therefore deserve some shelf space. While we have a lot of room for books, it’s not unlimited, most especially the shelves in my office. There are some favorites I know will never grow old for me, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, Take Joy by Jane Yolen and Writing Alone and With Others by Pat Schneider. A few craft books that I return to again and again, but as I go through the shelves, rereading one book a night, I find I am ready to let go of a great many of the books I have carted back and forth across the country.

I used to think those books contained the secret to creating my writing life. That I would read them, learn things, absorb things and then, miraculously, be living the writing life of my dreams. Now, as I reread many of them I find my stack to trade in at Powell’s growing and the number of books staying on my shelves shrinking. Some I’ve outgrown. I’m no longer a brand-new writer with questions about manuscript format and query letters. Some have been displaced by the Internet (which we didn’t have when I first started writing.) And some just don’t speak to me anymore.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have learned a TON of stuff from reading those writing books and I will continue to buy new ones to read and learn from going forward. But all this rereading I’ve been doing has reminded me that reading the book is only part of the solution to building a writing life.

You still have to do the work.

Get the words down on the page. Show up every day and write a lot of crap and then come back and revise a lot of crap and then keep on doing that until the crap turns into a decent story and then, then you let it go. You don’t hold on to it for fear it’s not perfect yet. You do the work. You do your best with the writer you are at that moment in time. And then you send it out to the publishing world and move on to the next project.

It’s easy (at least for me) to get caught up in the stories of other writers on the pages of all these books on my shelves. And I start to second guess and third guess and forth guess my process, my ideas, my every little thing about MY writing life that doesn’t match up to someone else’s writing life. And that’s so wrong.

When we read a book we love or a poem that moves us, we don’t say, well, the author used a process I don’t approve of therefore I can’t allow myself to enjoy the book or the poem. That would be crazy, right?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |9 Comments

The Writing-Art connection

I wanted to come up with some wonderful title about the interesection of writing and art in my life so I could write more posts using the same wonderful title about the interesection of writing and art in my life but, you see where this is going right? I spent fifteen minutes brainstorming titles and got nothing. I seriously, I mean SERIOUSLY, considering not writing the post until I came up with the perfect title which would have meant, of course, that the post would never get written.

Luckily I caught myself in the middle of that vicious cycle and I stopped. I told myself it was just a blog post. Just get the darn thing written. (Ah, if only that worked on me for novels.)

I spent some time this weekend printing out some photographs to use in some art journals for my poetry. I printed out all the inspiration photos from any of the 15 Words or Less photopoetry exercises I’ve done over the years on  ‘s blog. I printed out all the in inspiration photos to go with the Native Plant haiku I wrote for National Poetry Month a few years ago. This meant a lot of fighting with the color printer, some good prints made and some so-so prints made. And eventually I pulled out some matte photos of the same stuff I had printed at the drug store thinking I’d use some of them too. My idea was to collage the photos into some of the lovely blank journals I have painted recently and then print the short poems in the journal along with the inspiration photo. I had lots of journals prepped because my go-to thing when doing art is to do a color-wash on a page of a blank journal.

In my head I had this picture of a journal full of watercolor pages with these pictures and my poems and then I’d do some collage with my beautiful papers and then some of the doodling I love. I didn’t want a scrapbook. I wanted art. And in my head, it was a masterpiece.

In reality, at the moment, none of the project is making me happy. The thin paper has photos that don’t look very sharp and the drugstore photos look like, well, modern photographs which don’t match up with the watercolor backgrounds. I’m two steps away from tossing it all in a box and putting in the laundry room so I can forget about it for a while. I’d much rather just grab a blank journal and start covering the pages with color. It’s easy. It’s fun. And I already know how to do it.

And I realized that’s what happens with my writing too. When the going gets tough, I go write something else. Beginnings? No problem. I’m great at first chapters, first pages. Poems that will never be published? Sure thing, I’ll get right on that. Novels that are broken or unwritten or finished but need to be tossed and started over? Stories that exist as a perfect vision in my head that never make it onto the page? Got lots of those too.

Now I’m not beating myself up (much) about my habits of starting and my failures in the follow-through department. I’m just noticing the pattern. And I’m thinking that maybe what I have been worrying about so much of the time, the not finishing, the starting way too many things and then discarding them, maybe it’s not always a bad thing. Maybe it’s just “my” thing. My process. Like working a puzzle. Some people might put the outside edges together and then look for matching colors and work within that group of colors, putting things together. Other people might just start in one corner and pick up piece after piece after piece to try against the same spot. They’ll eventually make the connection, it’s just going to take them longer.

I don’t always work that way but when I do I have allowed myself to feel “less than.”  And by that I mean even while I’m doing it, I know I’m taking the longest, hardest way possible and I know other people would do it differently and get there faster and the fact that I’m not doing it the same way as other people has often made me feel less than them. Less than right. Less than the creative person I know I am.

And that’s wrong.

Now I can see that my long meandering way is just that, my long meandering way to the same end, just with a different view as I journey.

This morning I took another look at the photographs printed on paper and printed like photographs. And I looked at the colored journal pages. I gazed at the blank white pages of another journal, still tempted to just grab my watercolor crayons and do something easy.

But I thought about Max, the dog in one of my novels-in-progress. I thought about how I found that newspaper clipping last week that confirmed the crazy painful plot idea I had was valid. I knew from the start that Max was going to be a hard book to write but that it was also going to teach me a lot about writing. And I got that tingle. That little tingle we get when we know we’re on the right path even if it looks like we’re going to fall off the edge of the cliff with just one more step. I love that feeling. It confirms that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, even if I’m marching to an off-beat drummer.

I took another look at my piles of poems and photographs. I torn some photos into pieces. I grabbed some paint and glue.  And I started to think about how I could create a different sort of art, a different masterpiece than the original vision. I don’t know how long it will take. I’ll only know that when I am done, I will have told another story my way, the only way I know how to do it.

Monday, May 23, 2011|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , |8 Comments

Seven random things, the writing editon

Terri at  bestowed this lovely, Stylish Blogger award on me yesterday and I’ve been trying to decide how to respond. Check out her interesting list of things about herself. Thank you, Terri, for giving me this award and the opportunity to ponder a bit deeper.

Along with this award comes a few responsibilities.

1. Thank and link to the person(s) who nominated you.
2. Share seven random facts about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to five blogging buddies.
4. Contact those buddies to congratulate them.

Now for my seven things. I was going to do them about me but really, I’m not very exciting. So instead I thought I’d do it about some projects that are vying for attention in my writing brain.

I have seven projects of interest. Now the trick is, of course, to pick one, commit and finish it. But it seems I no soon pick and commit that another one is waving a hand and begging for my attention. Then there are the days when none of them are talking to me and I figure I’m just going to give up writing and become one of those statistics that didn’t live up to her potential which means, (according to Celebrity Apprentice) someone who isn’t doing their work. Anyway, here are some thoughts about the seven near work-in-progress projects I have.

1. A young adult verse novel which has me struggling with how to merge the inspiration of the true story, two sisters who never knew the other one existed, with the fictional reality of a book that would be interesting and meaningful to teens. What I love about this is the idea of doing a verse novel for teens and being able to push the envelope farther than I did with Hugging the Rock. What worries me about this is trying to tell a story in two voices and somehow tie it all together.

2. Max. A middle grade prose novel that deals with animal abuse and child abuse. So a dark, dark place to journey. What I love about this is the relationship between the main character and the dog in his life. What worries me about it is that it is so dark that it won’t work for the middle grade audience. And I worry about pulling myself out of the dark places this book will take me.

3. Plant Kid. A middle grade prose novel about a boy’s discovery of native plants and the man who mentors him. Of course I love the native plants and gardening aspect of it but I worry that there’s no plot and that it would be a total snooze fest for this age group.

4. Flyboy. A young adult prose novel about a boy who loves to fly and his search for where he fits into his world. Hmmm…sounds like the story of my life. I have loved Flyboy for 25 years. I am afraid I might have overloved him. Perhaps after finding my father, learning more about my family, maybe I don’t need to write this book anymore. But after having so many years invested in this story and becoming, I hope, a better writer over time, I would like to think I could still write it.

5. An adult memoir based on the poems I wrote last year, for National Poetry Month, about the father I never knew. I love the idea of writing a memoir in verse. I got some wonderful support in the writing of the poems last year. But I have also, in times since, gotten some really harsh feedback on them as a memoir project so I don’t know if I am strong enough to go there again.

6. Essays about dogs and writing. I want to do this, to do something with the essays I wrote in the series of blog posts, “Of Dogs and Writing” but I confess, I queried a few people about it a year or so ago, got some negative feedback, and dropped the ball. I don’t think a traditional publisher would buy this. But I am pondering the idea of self-publishing it through Lulu or CreateSpace or something like that. It’s just hard to convince myself it would be worth the time and effort it would take.

7. Some kind of art and poetry project, perhaps native plant poetry combined with some of my collage work. But again, this would probably have to be self-published. I think it’s wonderful that we have the opportunities to publish our own work when it is the right move for us but I worry, after being involved with the traditional publishing world for so long, if self-publishing would feel odd to me.

Hmm…I was hopeful that writing these out would help me focus but I guess it isn’t going to be that easy.

I’m going to pass the award along to the following people because I would like to know more about them.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |11 Comments

Career Stalls – what, if anything, can we do?

Last nights #kidlitchat on Twitter had a two-sided topic. One question was what to do when you are blocked with a current writing project. That one generated, as expected, a lot of great tips for jump-starting the writing machine.

But I want to talk about the other side of the question that didn’t get much (if any) discussion – what, if anything, can we do to jumpstart or revive a stalled career?

I guess the first question is, what’s a stalled career? So much of this business is out of our hands. We can control one thing, the manufacturing of a product to sell, a book, a poem, an article. A speech to give, a class to teach.  We can control to the quality of that product and we can control the completion of that product but the actual sale of that product, the sale which builds our career, well, we have no control over that.

So is a stalled career one in which you used to sell and now you don’t? Is a stalled career one where you made it to one level of income and you’re trying to jump to the next level? Is it that you want to be more known that you are now? What is a stalled career?

And the bigger, more important question is, what can you do about the state of being stalled? Because if you can’t do anything you might as well just hunker down and get back to work on what you can control – the writing.

I’m interested in your thoughts.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |33 Comments

Do you keep a commonplace book?

I spent some time today gathering all my previous Poetry Friday posts as well as poems other people had posted that have touched me. I want to put them all in one place. So yes, I have a file but for me I also want them in a book. I seem to remember some people talking about keeping some sort of a commonplace book. If you do, do you have a picture? The logical side of me knows I’m not going to hand copy all the poems, especially the long ones, so I’m trying to figure out how to gather these together in a nice fashion.

Saturday, January 8, 2011|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |2 Comments

Goodreads question

Those of you that use Goodreads, could you please let me know HOW you use it? There’s no way I can catalog my whole library. I’m thinking of deleting the books I have in there right now (because I can’t remember how I was going to use it) and then start to use it just to keep track of books I read this year. Then maybe another shelf for booklists I’d like to track.

I’d love to hear how you use Goodreads. Thanks.

Saturday, January 1, 2011|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |4 Comments

What does it mean to be a poet?

In keeping with finally claiming my poet’s hat, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a poet. I’m going to try and spend a few days thinking out loud about this idea and I hope you’ll think along with me.

On one hand I think that being a poet is as simple as what makes a writer: a writer writes and a poet writes poems. But on the other hand I know it is much more complicated than that. I think it’s a way of looking at the world around you as well as a way of recording what you see. And it is, of course, how you choose to record it. There are many aspects of being a poet but today I’m just thinking of one side of it all, slowing down so you can pay attention.

I think to be a poet you need to be willing to sit still and be. Later you can sit still and think and ponder one word over the other but there needs to be a willingness to just sit and be. And I have trouble with that. I always feel like I need to be racing off to do one thing or another (because I usually do need to be heading off to do one thing or the other) and I short-cut my way through too much of my life.

When I wrote my father poems last April for National Poetry Month I didn’t try to do them in the middle of my busy day. I did them at night, the last thing before bed. My brain was full and tired. I sat on the couch, my laptop on my lap, and thought back over my childhood, forcing myself to remember as much as I could. Then I would pick an age and a scene and I just wrote. The poems came quickly, probably because they have been festering all my life. But I also think it was because I spent some quiet time before trying to write, time where I let myself just be.

If this is what I need to be a poet why is it so hard to give that gift of quiet time to myself?

I don’t know the answer to that. But perhaps, like the acceptance of myself as a poet, it is enough for me to know that is something I need. That it is part of my job description. The trick, I suppose, is how to find those quiet times in the midst of our crazy days.

So what about you? What does it mean to you to be a poet (whether or not you are one?)

Monday, October 18, 2010|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |4 Comments

A new muse for me

I decided my new artsy self needed a new muse. I picked up this wonderful doll at a little shop in Pacific Grove called Tessuti Zoo. I’m trying to find the perfect name for her.

Suggestions, anyone?

Sunday, February 21, 2010|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |24 Comments

What soothes your soul?

A lot of people took the holidays off from blogging and online activities intentionally. I took some time off but it wasn’t so intentional. I was in one of those dark holes I fall into sometimes and it sorta surprised me. But here I am and now I’m wondering how to jump back into things because it feels a bit odd to  be away from everything for a while. It was good for me, though. I realized that online noise is just as noisy to this introvert as going to a crowded cocktail party so my brain has had a chance to rest. And then hubby and I got sick and this year’s cold has been a bugger to shake. I’ve beaten myself up a few times about things that haven’t gotten done and stuff that’s fallen through the cracks. But you know, sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug.

Writing is one of those things that fell through the cracks. I think I know why. Or at least part of the reason why. I was working hard on Flyboy and making great progress. Then I took a few classes. The classes were all wonderful and helped me in a lot of ways but I have ended up with feedback from way too many people and it just short-circuited my brain. I needed the time away from everyone’s input so I could just let it go and then return to the project with their comments in the back of my mind but not so forward that they overtake me. At least that’s the plan.

Lately I’ve been thinking about things that soothe my soul.

Birds. We don’t have anything fancy or unusual in our yard but just seeing the little house finches or the mourning doves hanging around the yard makes me smile. They help me feel connected to nature here in the big city. And they make me feel that little things, like our native plantings for wildlife, can make a difference

Unexpected love. Cassie isn’t an affectionate dog but sometimes she just seems to know when I need a little something and will come over and nudge my hand with her nose. It might not be an all-out love fest but for her it’s a big deal so it means a lot to me.

Hearing from a friend. An email (not a Tweet or a Facebook message) but an email from a friend that speaks to my heart is a good one. Or a phone call. I do love to hear the sound of a friend’s voice.

I can see those things, or the need for those things, in my writing. My characters are always looking for where they fit into a family or a group because they need to feel needed, to feel loved, to feel wanted.

What about you? What are that things that soothe your soul? Do those things show up in your writing?

Monday, January 11, 2010|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |11 Comments

Over 200 Movies about the literary life

I’ve been building this list for a long time and thought I would share it with friends. It’s a list of over 200 movies about authors, poets, editors, screenwriters – basically anything to do with the writing business. I don’t claim it as a complete or perfect list so please feel free to add titles or corrections in the comments. The links will take you to IMDB.

84 Charring Cross Road (1987)
A Murder of Crows (1998)
Agatha (1979)
Alex & Emma (2003)
Almost Famous (2000)
American Dreamer (1984)
The Answer Man (2009)
As Good As It Gets (1997)
Ayn Rand — A Sense of Life (1997)
Balzac: A Life of Passion (1999)
Basic Instinct (1992)
Becoming Colette (1991)
Becoming Jane (2007)
The Best Man (1999)
Best Seller (1987)
Big Bad Love (2001)
Boy Meets Girl (1998)
Breakfast of Champions (1999)
Carrington (1995)
Celebrity (1998)
Celeste (1981)
Chapter Two (1978)
Cheaper By the Dozen (2003)
Children of the Century (1995)
Cross Creek (1983)
Croupier (1998)
The Dark Half
Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Devotion (1946)
Door in the Floor (2004)
Double Take (1998)
DreamChild (1985)
The End of the Affair (1999)
Eternity and a Day (1998)
Factotum (2005)
Father’s Day (1997)
Fiction and Other Truths: A Film About Jane Rule (1995)
Finding Forrester (2000)
Finding Neverland (2004)
The Flower of My Secret (1995)
Freedom Writers (2007)
The Front (1976)
Gaby: A True Story (1987)
Get Bruce! (1999)
Gothic (1986)
Hamsun (1996)
Harriet the Spy (1996)
Haunted Summer (1988)
Hav Plenty (1997)
Heartburn (1986)
Henry & June (1990)
Her Alibi (1989)
The Hours (2002)
Impromptu (1991)
Infamous (2006)
In Love and War (1996)
In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
Iris (2001)
Isn’t She Great (2000)
Jack London (1943)
Jane Austen in Manhattan (1980)
Jewel of the Nile (1985)
Joe Gould’s Secret (2000)
Joshua Then and Now (1985)
Julia (1977)
Julie and Julia (2009)
Kissing a Fool (1998)
The Last Time I Committed Suicide
Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles (1998)
The Libertine (2004)
The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962)
The Lost Weekend (1945)
Love and Death on Long Island (1997)
Making of Daniel Boone (2003)
The Man From Elysian Fields (2001)
Margot at the Wedding (2007)
Mark Twain Tonight (1967)
Melinda and Melinda (2004)
Misery (1990)
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)
Miss Potter (2006)
Morvern Callar (2002)
Mother (1996)
My Brilliant Career (1979)
My Dear Secretary (1949)
My Left Foot (1989)
The Mystery of Rampo (1994)
Naked Jane (1995)
The Night and the Moment (1995)
Nora (2000)
Paperback Romance (1994)
Pola X (1999)
The Prize (1963)
The Proprietor (1996)
Purple Violets (2007)
Quills (2000)
The Raven (2006)
Reprise (2006)
Romancing the stone (1984)
Rowing With the Wind (1988)
Sade (2000)
Saint-Ex (1996)
Secret Window (2004)
Shadowlands (1993)
The Shadow Dancer (2005)
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Shining (1980)
The Singing Detective (2003)
The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Stone Reader (2002)
Storytelling (2001)
Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Surburban Girl
Swann (1996)
Swimming Pool (2003)
The Technical Writer (2003)
The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Theodora Goes Wild (1936)
The Third Man (1949)
Throw Momma from the Train (1987)
Time Regained (1999)
Todo sobre mi madre (1999)
The Trip (2002)
Where Sleeping Dogs Lie (1991)
The Whole Wild World (1996)
Wild in the Country (1961)
Winter Passing (2005)
Wonder Boys
Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)
World According to Garp (1982)
World’s Greatest Dad (2009)

A Fine Madness (1966)
An Angel at My Table (1990)
Beat (2000)
Beautiful Dreamers (1990)
Before Night Falls (2000)
The Belle of Amherst (1976)
Between the Lines (1977)
Blood In, Blood Out (1993)
Blue Car (2002)
The Business of Fancydancing
Byron (2003) (poet)
Color of Pomegranates, The (1968)
The Dark Side of the Heart (1992)
Dead Man (1995)
Dead Poet’s Society (1989)
The Edge of Love (2008)
Fighting Words (2007)
Gu cheng bielian (The Poet) (1998)
Heart Beat (1980)
Henry Fool (1997)
I, the Worst of All (1990)
Il Postino (1994)
In Custody (1994)
Keats and His Nightingale: A Blind Date (1985)
Love Jones (1997)
Mirage (2004)
Moulin Rouge (2001)
Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994)
Nostalghia (1983)
Pandaemonium (2000)
Pinero (2001)
Poetic Justice (1993)
Regeneration (1997)
Runoilija ja muusa (1978)
Satan’s Brew (1976)
Slam (1998)
So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993)
Sylvia (2003)
Tom & Viv (1994)
Total Eclipse (1995)
West of Brooklyn (2006)
Xiang ji mao yi yang fei (2002)

Adaptation (2002)
Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
Cabin by the Lake (2000)
French Exit (1995)
Hit and Runway (1999)
In a Lonely Place (1950)
The Lonely Lady (1983)
Midnight (2006)
The Muse (1999)
Out of Order (2003)
Paris When It Sizzles (1964)
The Player (1992)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Author! Author! (1982)
Barton Fink (1991)
Beaumarchais, the Scoundrel (1996)
Deathtrap (1982)
How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog (2000)
Prick up Your Ears (1987)
The Producers
The Savages (2007)
Tema (1979)
Wilde (1997)

Absence of Malice (1981)
Ace in the Hole (1951)
All the President´s Men (1976)
Call Northside 777 (1948)
Citizen Kane (1941)
City in Fear (1980)
Continental Divide (1981)
Deadline U.S.A. (1952)
Down With Love (2003)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
The Front Page (1974)
Funny Farm (1988)
His Girl Friday (1940)
It Happened One Night (1934)
La Dolce Vita (1960)
Libeled Lady (1936)
Meet John Doe (1941)
The Paper (1994)
The Parallax View (1974)
The Pelican Brief (1993)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Platinum Blonde (1931)
Reds (1981)
Roman Holiday (1953)
Salvador (1986)
Shattered Glass (2003)
Saving Sarah Cain (2007)
Street Smart (1987)
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Teacher’s Pet (1958)
Welcome to Sarajevo (1997)
Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

I haven’t seen all of these movies (not even half) so I can’t vouch for quality, only subject matter. 🙂 In many cases there are multiple versions of the film. I’ve only linked to one. Enjoy!

Monday, November 30, 2009|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |13 Comments

Giving Thanks

I am thankful for a great many things today – family, friends, health, ability to be home writing – but I wanted to speak specifically to a single recent experience.

Earlier this week I went on a retreat with a few writer friends and a few writer/artists strangers who are now friends. We gathered at the beach mostly with solitary intentions and yet, it seemed, the magic of where we were and the creative energy of those gathered had other ideas.

We came with no agenda, no speakers, nothing that absolutely had to be done.

Groups of two and three started to form. Individual work turned into freeform group writing fun. Books and art were shared. Gifts were acknowledged, praised. We were validated as professional creatives. Meals stretched for several hours as we lingered over coffee and tea. We sat by the fire and talked long into the night. We laughed (and some of us cried) and took a great many pictures.

Our backgrounds, our journeys to be writers, were of course very different.
Our passion however, was very much the same.

I am so grateful for the time spent with these fabulous and talented women. You have to understand that it isn’t because someone took me aside and said a particular thing to me. It isn’t because of anything we saw or ate or did. I think it might be because of what they didn’t do.

They didn’t say “do this.” They didn’t say “don’t do that.” They just listened. And accepted.

It rocked my world from the inside out.

Happy Thanksgiving to each of you. Thank you for all the times you read my blog. May your bellies and hearts be full of everything you need.

Thursday, November 26, 2009|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |13 Comments

Finding My Father

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you’ve probably learned a few things about me.

1. I love writing poetry and books for kids, my dog, my native plant garden, Santa Cruz, and chocolate.

2. A little over a year ago I was laid off from my day job and have spent the last year adjusting and enjoying being a full-time writer.

3. I’m filled with all kinds of doubts and insecurities about who I am, what kind of a writer I’m supposed to be, and if I am ever good enough whatever task is waiting right in front of me. (In other words, I worry a lot about things I should quit worrying about.)

But probably the single thing that tells you the most about me is that I have never known my father. His name, yes, but that’s all. I’ve never met him or anyone in his family. The only pictures I’ve ever seen were of him as a gawky young man in a white suit at their wedding. He was gone before I was born.

As I kid I used to bug my mom all the time for information about him but she never really said much. No one in the family talked about him and when they did, they never painted the prettiest picture. But here’s the thing, I didn’t want them to tell me whether the picture was any good or not. I wanted to see for myself. Still families do what they can to protect what they feel needs protecting and by the time I was in the 4th grade and someone asked me if I was Tommy Webb’s daughter I said no, without hesitation. I had been trained well.

When you have a hole like that in your life it’s like a scab you can’t let heal. And people who don’t have the same kind of hole often find it difficult to understand why just can’t leave it all alone and move on. I can’t explain the why. I can only claim the hole. It’s grown smaller over the years but it’s still there.

Last week I wrote about the distance we need between real life and our stories before we can write about them. In the past I’ve written about feeling safe enough to write the truth of your story. I believe we should always strive to write with emotional honesty, even when (or especially when) that seems like an impossible task.

That’s where Flyboy comes in. Every question I’ve ever had about my father, about my worth as a person, about how I felt something missing when there was no reason to feel that way because my life was just fine the way it was….all of that has been pouring into Flyboy for, well, over 25 years now.

Characters and plot, I’ve got them. But to take that emotional plunge into the ice water of my past…I just couldn’t make myself do it. I give myself a lot of sleep suggestions about my books, hoping my subconscious will take me where I need to go.

Four years ago I had a dream about my father. In my dream I went to answer the front door and there was a man there, kind of old, his short beard was gray but he had some black hair on his head. He wore a suit that had seen better days. He handed me a box, a white box, like one you might get clothes in or a little bigger. It was tied with string, not a ribbon. I asked him what was in the box. He shook his head. I asked him again to please tell me what was in the box. Nothing. I don’t know why I didn’t just open it myself but I didn’t. Then he walked away. I asked him to wait. He kept walking. Then I asked him who he was. He turned around and said, “I am your father.” And then I woke up without opening the box.

Last week for some random reason I decided to check for my father on Classmates.com. I knew where he had gone to high school so I kept hoping that he might show up there. It was a far-fetched hope since people in his generation aren’t as into the Internet as I am. Once I had gone there and found nothing I went through my normal little routine, putting in his name, the town he went to school in and the state where he was born. I’d never gotten anything back with that combo before but it was a familiar search I had done many, many times.

This time was different. This time an obituary popped up. I read it and burst into tears then almost as quickly I chastised myself for crying over someone who had never wanted me.

I’ve pieced together a story from my mom over the years. My father Tommy Webb was born in Arkansas and went to high school in Vallejo, California. His family eventually moved to Concord, to Bonifacio Street, into the little duplex across the street from where my mom lived. He worked at a service station in Walnut Creek, back when they had guys who pumped the gas for you. My grandmother’s name was Tina. She was pregnant with my uncle Robert at the same time my mom was pregnant with me. I had an aunt Kitty who was two years older than I am. There was another aunt Janette. That’s about it. Except for the not so pretty stories that I’ll keep to myself because, as my mom told me today. He could have changed. Turned his life around. People do it all the time.

My father died in Missouri. In January. This year.

In January I was still recovering from being laid off, trying to piece my new life together, trying to figure out how to create a life that nourished my creative soul. I was whole but with rough edges that still needed smoothing. I think if I had found him then it would have been too much. Much too much. Sometimes distance is a good thing. Even if it means we never get the chance to say goodbye.

His obituary mentions my aunts and my uncle. Where they live. It also says he has two sons and a daughter. My half-siblings. And lots of grandchildren. Aunts and Uncles. Bothers and Sisters. Nieces and Nephews. Family or not. It all depends on your point of view. The kind of picture you want to paint.

The obituary does not, of course, mention me.

I keep thinking about that dream I had. How odd to think that my father, who never paid a dime of child support, might give me a gift I’ve always wanted. Answers to questions that have haunted me for years.

The Internet makes things easy sometimes. Really it took no more than a few hours of searching to locate most of the family. They’re not active online. No websites or blogs or Facebook profiles. But mailing addresses. Phone numbers. I have some of them now.

It’s a chance. A chance to see at least part of the picture for myself.

Monday, November 9, 2009|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , |41 Comments

Where am I?

Well I am home but insanely busy in the best possible ways.

1. Working on a couple more work-for-hire projects that need doing and then finishing.

2. Diving deeper and deeper into Flyboy.

3. Taking an online class at MediaBistro.com with the fabulous editor Jill Santopolo which is helping me a lot with #2.

4. Trying to figure out more ways to get the word out to educators about the FreshBrain Book Trailer Scholarship contest.

5. Starting to ponder ideas on how to promote my Alamo book coming out next year.

6. Trying to implement a new computer file structure on Puck, aka, the radioactive computer.

7. Putting together a shopping list for native plants that I hope to buy in the next week or two.

8.  Coming up with a plan on where to put those plants once I buy them.

9. Working on the next online class – introduction to Social Media for Authors.

10. Falling farther and farther behind on blog reading, Facebook stuff and Twitter updates.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |3 Comments

Getting out of our own way

Many years I was told that I could probably have a good career in writing, under one condition. I had to get out of my own way.

20 some odd years later I’m still trying to figure out how to do that.

What do I do to block myself? I’m a big procrastinator for starters. I listen too much to other people instead of to myself. I let the fear of not being good enough outweigh the joy of writing. I worry about selling sometime instead of finishing something. I compare myself way too often to other writers or their work. Mostly I think it is a case of not believing in myself even when my friends and family continually tell me I should.

I’m older now. Wiser too I hope. I’m trying to kick all those negative thoughts to the curb.

How about you? What are your personal writing fears? What do you feel are your roadblocks to reaching your writing goals?

And more importantly, what are we going to do about it?

Monday, June 1, 2009|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |18 Comments

Thursday thoughts

Thinking about writing a book and writing a book are not the same thing.

Talking about characters and making characters talk are not the same thing.

Researching a setting and making a setting come to life are not the same thing.

Sometimes I need to remind myself of the basics.


Thursday, May 28, 2009|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |12 Comments

Social Networking for Authors Wrap-up

Yesterday was one of those days. One of those GREAT kind of days where everything seems to come together and I realize what a fabulous life I have and how it is populated with amazing and talented people.

What brought this about?

I’m so glad you asked.

I was asked to teach a class for SCBWI called Beyond Websites — Facebook, Blogs & Twitter — Oh MY! How to Juggle Your Promotion Efforts, Social Websites & Online Personalities and STILL HAVE TIME TO WRITE. Quite a mouthful, eh? 🙂

Thanks to Jill Ann Cooke for making the lovely collage of our event. You can check out more of Jill’s artwork at her beautiful website.

I was lucky enough to co-teach it with Lynn E. Hazen. Lynn and I are related in a couple of publishing families – we are both published with Tricycle Press and we are both represented by the wonderful Jodi Reamer.

Thanks to Keely Parrack for taking the picture and thanks to Lynn for remembering “product placement” for us.

As my great, great auntie Louella used to say, anyway. . .

We had a record turn out of attendess. How cool is that? I kept watching people come in and wondering if we were going to have to set up another table. Although this was the first time Lynn and I had presented together, it felt easy and comfortable, as though we had been doing it for years. I hope to get the chance to present with her again.

It was a hard topic to condense into just a 2 hour session and we warned folks that they would be stuffed with info until their eyes glazed over. But Lynn and I split things into easy chunks so no one hit information overload. I did the tech talk for a bit and then Lynn would talk everyone down and give them a breather with some time management tips.The group had fabulous energy which I was able to feed off of as I spoke. They asked great questions. There is so much to learn about online social networking and using it for book promotion that I think we could have just answered questions for 2 hours. Thanks to Keely for arranging for us to be able to stay a little later and talk a little longer.

The responses to the session both via evals and emails I’ve been receiving have been overwhelmingly positive. What a thrill to know that we were able to help dispel the intimidation factor that often accompanies the idea of getting involved with social networking. It was nice to know that all the weeks of time Lynn and I put into preparing for this were worth it. Thank you, Lynn. It was great fun!

Because I only touched the tip of the iceberg in the presentation, I’m going to be offering a more in-depth class on using social media for book promotion. Since this is the first time I am offering this class I would really appreciate people helping me to spread the word. There’s also a downloadable flyer for the class.

Here are a few snippets of praise from the evaluations:

Blogspicational!Chad Cameron

Great information on the various tech sites told in a user friendly fashion.Marya Ashworth

 Lynn and Susan took the mystery out of Twitter for me.Carma Dutra
A great introductiion to Web 2.0 for Kidlit mavens. Lynn and Susan make the world of social networking seem accessible no matter how busy you are.Dashka Slater
Susan Taylor Brown and Lynn E. Hazen paint realistic website and blogging panoramas. Practically focused, their energetic presenting made a believer out of me.Lyndsey Davis
I’ve been a web developer for 14 years and I learned so much!Marik BergitsColor me proud and happy.

Thanks to Laure Latham-Guyot, for the great write up about the event on her blog. Also thanks to the shout-out from Lyndsey Davis on her blog
For those of you who attended the class and are looking for some of those details we promised you, read on. If I promised you more info on something but forgot to list, please leave me a comment.Kidlitosphere.org is the website for kidlit bloggers.

OpenID is what allows your one sign-in (like your blog) to login to all your favorite website and not have to have a bunch of other accounts.

A few  Twitter tools – Tweetdeck and Twirl

Blogging platforms. Here are some free ones for you to take a look at: Livejournal.com (which is where you are now. My blog is hosted by LiveJournal.) Blogger.com (that’s where Lynn Hazen has her blog. There’s also WordPress.com .[info]beckylevine does something neat with her WordPress blog – she has made it her website and blog all in one. (Incidently, if you’re new to my blog and you see the little person icon next to Becky’s name, that means she’s on Livejournal too and you can “friend” her by clicking through to her Livejournal blog. Yes, she has two blogs.)
Blogging tip for newbies – this post is an example (albeit a LONG one) of what I was talking about when I mentioned linking to other blogs/websites in your post.Here are a few illustrators who blog for those who asked: (if you’re an illustrator with a blog reading this, please leave your blog in the comments so I can add you to my master list.)
Don Tate Kevin Slattery Elizabeth Dulemba
Elizabeth Jones Julie Fortenberry Jen Corace
Clair Milne Jennifer Thermes Mark G, Mitchell
Don’t forget to go see Lynn’s wrap-up too.And last, but not least, here is Lynn Hazen and Susan Taylor Brown’s Social Media Adventure Map.

Happy networking!

Sunday, March 22, 2009|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |12 Comments

I do have a story to share

I just read this absolutely charming post by Jim Averbeck and it reminded me that I do have a story to share with you.

On Tuesday I went to Hicklebee’s to see Susan Patron. I went early in order to do my part for the economy and buy lots of books. While I was there, a teacher was there with his junior high book club. Valerie (one of the owners of Hicklebee’s) was showing the girls the famous autographed doors and bathroom. Every time an author comes to visit, they sign the wall. The girls were having finding the names of authors they knew like Meg Cabot and J.K. Rowling and Lois Lowry. Then one of them asked if she had Dr. Seuss and Valerie said no. She did have a Dr. Seuss story to share though and the girls brightened up a bit.

Then Valerie pulled a book off the shelf right next to where she was standing. She told them it was a fabulous book about a girl and her father. She said that would probably make them cry but in a good way. And then she said, in a rather conspiratorial voice, and the book was written by a woman by the name of Susan Taylor Brown who just happens to be this woman right here!

And with a flourish she pointed at me, standing a few feet behind her, and the girls did one of those collective gasps that made me feel like a rock star.

Thanks, Valerie.

Thursday, March 19, 2009|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , |7 Comments

Letter to my author self

Dear Author who thinks she wants to write this book,

Maybe you should just give up on Flyboy’s story. Again. I mean, really, what is this problem you have whenever there are two people who need to appear in the same scene? What are you so afraid of?

I’d say go to work on Max or Plant Kid but you’ve already proved that you have the same problem every time. You’re fine as long as the main character is talking to himself or dealing with the world around him but bring one more person into the scene and you freeze up. Your characters turn into wooden puppets that would be better used as kindling than interesting page turning characters. Just because you’re a super shy introverted loner who is afraid to talk to people in real life doesn’t mean you need to model all your characters in the same mold. Come on, big yawn there, don’t you think?

Don’t you know that you need conflict and conflict is going to come from interaction with other characters?

Don’t you know that you can write pages and pages of crappy non-usable stuff that can be deleted later.

Can’t you remember what it was like to be a teenager anymore? Sure, there was lots of angst but there were lots of thing going on all around you too. People at school. People at home. People at the grocery store.

Why are you so afraid to put people in your book?

That other Susan, the one that DOES want to write this book

Thursday, January 22, 2009|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |9 Comments

Inside a writers a mind

I have now been away from the day job for a little over 2 months. During that time I was sick for 4 weeks. I also installed our native plant garden, front and back yard, worked more with training Cassie, finished up a bunch of work-for-hire projects, read some, worked on the budget 101 times, wrote a partial – the first 20 pages – of Flyboy for critique at an upcoming conference, and, oh yeah, did Christmas.

I felt like I was racing through each day to get to the next but with no master plan of where I really wanted to go. All of the sudden it is January and I am wondering where the time went.

Several people told me that after leaving the day job it would take a year to feel comfortable in my own skin again, a year to know where I wanted to go with my life. I didn’t understand it at first but now I do. I am racing less now, trying hard to be here, be now – to enjoy the moment. But I know I am not "there" yet.

I can feel my writer brain kicking on again. That might sound odd when I know that I have actually done a fair amount of writing in the past couple of months but this is different. Last night I was going through my books on the craft of poetry and found my pulse racing once more when I pulled Wishes, Lies and Dreams and Rose, Where Did You Get That Red, both by Kenneth Koch, off the shelf. I spent a few hours looking through old manuscripts and getting excited about some of the ideas. I opened my WIP and greeted it with joy rather than worries that I didn’t know what I was doing.

We are in horrible, crazy-making financial times. I haven’t sold a trade book in years. I’ve been out of the loop so much online that I have lost a lot of the networking that I had worked so hard to build up. Many people are filled with gloom and doom about the publishing business and yet. . . 

I feel like a writer again. It is enough, for now.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |8 Comments

In which the writer writes

Why is it that when you are in the midst of a writing drought you forget how absolutely wonderful it is to write? Sigh.

Not a lot of words, but new words. I opened my first three chapters that I had sent in for the conference critique, reread them with the intent to then move on to chapter 4. As I had hoped, when I got to the end of chapter 3 I knew what was coming next. I wrote it out and realized it was really a new, better and stronger, ending to chapter 3. A nice hook that after reading I dare someone not to turn the page.

A good morning’s work. I am pleased.


Monday, January 5, 2009|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |10 Comments