Thursday, August 30, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Jeannie Mobley

I feel so incredibly fortunate to be a part of this week's author's, book birthday blog tour. (Whew! Say that five times fast! Actually, scratch that. I  just tried and it wasn't too difficult.)  Ya know, my husband is a huge football fan. Me, not so much. Each Fall and Winter I am exposed to the muffled crowd cheers and the spurts of "yeah, baby!" screams, but rarely do I participate.

When I do choose to root and hoot, it is because there is a reason, a purpose. Like if I find out that so-in-so's quarterback was raised on a banana boat and though he had nothing, he helped little old ladies cross the street until he was drafted to the NFL, I'll watch. It interests me. I hope they do well because they have worked hard or they are nice people.  That is how I feel about this week's author. I have not read her book yet, but I will read it as soon as I can get my paws on it AND I will also buy all of her subsequent work because of the story she shares with us today. I am a loyal, rootin', hootin', fan of this week's author, Jeannie Mobely!

 On August 28th, I celebrated the release of my debut novel, KATERINA'S WISH. Like most debut authors, this was hardly the first manuscript I wrote, or even the first one I sent out in the world seeking publication. And like so many who came before me, my road to publication was strewn with banana peels.

The manuscript that was to become KATERINA'S WISH, however, had some fairly unique slip ups of its own, that I don't think are common to most writers. Most authors think of their first books as their beloved children. That is not quite my story.

The idea for KATERINA'S WISH began with a dream, in which a fish granted me a wish. It was a very vivid, realistic dream, and I woke and lay in bed thinking it would make a good novel. But what  really stuck with me about the dream, and what I set out to capture in my novel, was not the characters or setting, which I changed, but rather a feeling. I was intrigued by the idea of writing a book in which a seemingly magical wish is made and ultimately comes true, but maintaining ambiguity about whether the things that happen are the result of the wish and its magic or are because of what the characters do once hey believe magic helping them.

I wrote a reasonable story, but I didn't capture the feeling, and so I was disappointed with it. I thought I might be able to improve it, but my critique group all liked it as it was, so, against my better judgment, I sent it to my agent. She liked it enough to circulate it, but it came back from four or five editors with the same comments--it was underdeveloped, too skeletal, too simplistic in the plot. My agent and I agreed that it should be pulled from circulation and revised to address those concerns before going out again. Actually, it is what she said, and I nodded my head as if agreeing, but inside I was thinking, "See everybody, I told you so. This manuscript is garbage."

Those of you familiar with tropical fruit, will at once spot many little flashes of yellow in the above paragraph. I, of course, didn't see them for several years.

The first was not trusting my own instinct, and being wooed into disregarding my judgment because it was the easiest rout to go. So I KNEW the story wasn't what it should be, or more importantly what it COULD be, and I sent it out anyway. This has probably been my biggest self-sabotaging flaw throughout my writing career. It is my special cocktail: one part impatience, one part ego, one part laziness, and two parts banana peels. Slippery every time!

Thus far, I think my experience isn't that unique, but what happened next is where it gets weird. I tried to read over the manuscript with an eye toward revision--after all the editors had told me what they wanted. It should have been easy, but as I read, I was filled with a strong revulsion to it--embarrassed that I had ever  thrust such a dreary thing onto my agent and other industry professionals. The characters were dull, the setting more dull, the plot the dullest of all.  Horrified that I had showed it to anyone, I buried it deep in the bottom of a drawer and wrote something else. This slip landed me right on my tailbone!

First, I wrote a flippant little tongue-in-cheek fantasy about a girl who dooms the world with her birthday wish. I thought it was hilarious, so much more interesting than that last ugly manuscript I didn't want to think about!

This manuscript was my rebound relationship--something totally different, uncharacteristic for me, out of control and careless. My agent told me she wanted to strangle my  main character, and asked, "What about Magic Carp?" (the original title of Katerina's Wish).

I got it out, read the first paragraph, and wanted to puke. The revulsion was stronger than ever. So I put it away and went back to an old pet project of mine, one of my favorite story ideas that I originally wrote years ago, before I had the writing chops to pull it off. I wrote happily, savoring my favorite characters, my lovely setting, my exciting and twisting plot.

My critique group hated it. I mean, hated it. One said the plot was predictable, another hated the main character, the third said she could only keep reading because she had to, as my critique partner. The forth smiled kindly and didn't offer a scathing criticism, but kept asking, "What about Magic Carp? I really liked Magic Carp."

Uugh. I hit a new low. How could I ever make it at as a writer if I was this blind? The things I loved, others hated. The thing I hated, everyone else loved. What was wrong with me?

By the time I got Magic Carp out again, nearly two years had passed. Two years without a manuscript on submission, because I couldn't come up with anything that I loved and others loved as well.  So, feeling doomed and at the end of my rope, I pulled Magic Crap (as I was affectionately calling it) out again. I read most of the first chapter before dissolving into tears and deleting the entire file from my hard drive. I absolutely couldn't face it.  Couldn't. Face. It.

So, I began the rewrite from scratch, not revising anything old, but starting over completely. I hated the character. I hated the plot. I hated the ugly, boring, awful setting. And mostly, I hated myself for being such a total loser that I couldn't see the difference between good and bad.

Except for that last part--the scarring self-loathing part--my revulsion turned out to be a good thing. Because my failure to identify with the character meant I wasn't sinking into her character as I wrote, so I could focus more on my craft--on the actual words I was putting on the page. And as for hating the ugly, boring, awful setting? Well, that's exactly how the MC feels about her setting, so it wasn't too hard to capture her misery.

Still, I kept sending chapters to my critique group, thinking, "this is the chapter where they will finally agree that this is boring garbage and I can stop writing it."  But my critique partners kept telling me it was great, they loved it, they couldn't wait to see what happened next. And I kept saying, "really? It isn't horribly dull?"

I tried to quit several times, and was nagged into continuing by those critiquers. I flung manuscript pages across the living room in three-year-old tantrum style more than once. I angrily scribbled out passages so hard that the pen went through the paper and scarred the table top.  Yeah. I was totally mature about it all. It was, without a doubt, the most miserable six months of my writing career thus far (and hopefully ever!) But at the end of it, I sent the manuscript to my agent, who said she loved it, and who sent it to an editor, who also loved it, and it sold.

This is not a trajectory to publication that I would wish on anyone, but the lesson I learned, all too late in the process, is to trust the advice of others. I know, this contradicts my earlier statement, to follow my own feelings, but I think I had to learn a balance.

I struggled for months after the sale of the manuscript, because I still didn't like the main character. Trina seemed dull, utterly flat, predictable. And yet, everyone who liked the book talked about how much they liked her. I was at an utter loss as to why, until my agent told me, '"you can't see what's great about her, because she's too close to you. She's just like you, so she seems ordinary and predictable to you, but what makes her a great character is what makes you a great person."

Of course, being wrapped in my own loathing and self-pity, I thought, "oh, great, I'm just as boring as my character." And I spent a long time feeling guilty and hypocritical, because the theme of KATERINA'S WISH is to persevere and make your dream happen, against all odds, and the manuscripts that were my dreams were moldering in a drawer while the one I didn't believe in was getting published.

In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, "Doh!" That was my final banana peel. Because I was just like Trina. I had achieved the dream of publication against some pretty large odds--working through and persevering with the manuscript that had promise, even when I couldn't see it. Putting my faith and determination into something, even when it wasn't coming easy to me.  How could I not see that?

 I finally saw it when the book was all formatted and my first pass pages came to me. These are camera ready pages, looking exactly as they will in the final book.  By then, it had someone else's title (my editor came up with it),  the artist's vision on the cover and interior pages, the designer's choice of font, etc.  In other words, I got some separation because it was no longer my manuscript, it had transformed into Simon and Schuster's book. And I read through and discovered, "there's some good stuff in here. So that's what they've all been talking about!"

I feel pretty good about the book now. I can embrace it, and it's characters.. It is my debut novel, the critics have spoken well of it, and it's got one sweet, tough character who people love, and who might even be a bit like me. And as for all those banana peels? I'm using them as compost to fertilize the garden of my muse.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Sarah Frances Hardy

I was first drawn to author Sarah Frances Hardy after reading a particularly banana peely guest post she did during the promotion of her picture book, Puzzled by Pink. I thought to myself, "Self, we must get this woman on the blog!"  I can think of no better way than to kick-start the Banana Peelin' series-a-la-back-to-school than with the experiences of this lovely lady, right here. See. There she is. Down to the left. Great picture, huh?  Please welcome, Sarah Frances Hardy!
Hi all! Thank you Elizabeth for having me today.

 I was directed to your fabulous Banana Peel series by one of my readers who commented on this blog post in which I tell the story of a particularly horrific critique. Plus, it happened when I was a wee babe . . . okay, not so wee, but fairly new to this whole writer roller coaster.

 Did I let it stop me??

 No. I did not. I’m a little tougher and wiser because of it, and I’m happy to say that my debut picture book PUZZLED BY PINK which I both wrote and illustrated was released by Viking Children’s Books in April. It’s kind of a “Wednesday Addams meets Fancy Nancy” story.
I thought all those embarrassing moments would end once I grabbed that brass ring and had a book on the shelves with a Big Six publisher. Right. I can hear all of you Banana Peelin’ readers laughing.

Here’s my most recent moment (and I’m sure that there will be many, many more to come):

Several months before my book came out, I decided to be proactive on the PR front since publishers do precious little for most debut authors. I sent out postcards, contacted media, worked on a website for a birthday party inspired by my book (I still haven’t officially launched it yet--but it’s here if you want to take a look, and I set up book signings at every indie bookstore I could find within driving distance--and we’ve got lots of great indies in Mississippi.

My book was still just a few weeks out and I’d had some successful regional signings as well as a killer launch party at my hometown bookstore. Flying high and proud, I hit the highway toward a small Mississippi town about an hour away. I brought my giant wooden cutouts of my book characters, coloring pages, and spider rings. I was dressed in my black dress with my pink jewelry. I was ready for story time, my friends.

I took a couple of wrong turns but made it to the bookstore with fifteen minutes to spare. The store had pink and black balloons out front, and the owner came out to greet me. As I was pulling out my characters, she said, “Where are the books?”

I stopped. Stared. Cocked my head to the side.

“Wha . . .?”

“The books? Oh my god. You forgot the books??!”

“I’m sorry,” I managed to squeak out. “What books? Don’t you have the books?”

“Well, no. Every time we’ve had authors, they’ve brought their books.”

“I’ve never brought books,” I say. “I mean, you’re a book store.”

“Oh. You must have been doing signings at big stores,” she said.

“No . . . small indie stores . . . so what do we do?” I asked as little girls started showing up. It hit me that she was used to dealing with people who had self-pubbed.

“Look. I’ll get in the car and drive up to Oxford and get them for you.”

“That’ll take two hours there and back, and here’s the thing . . . I don’t have any books.” And this was true. My publisher gave me a box of fifteen free books which I gave away for promotions. It had dwindled away to nothing. “I mean we could go and buy some from Square Books, but these kids aren’t going to wait for two hours. And I doubt they’ll come back.”

We stood out in the parking lot a little longer, just kind of staring.

“I’m doing a signing next weekend at a store thirty minutes away. I’ll bet they’ve already got the books. Call them.”

So she called, and she drove frantically to another small Mississippi bookstore (one who’d ordered the books ahead of time). Meanwhile, I’m at her store crawling on the floor with the precious little girls who had shown up. We colored. We talked.

And then I literally read every single picture book in the store to them. Every. Single. One. (Even a self published one that a local preacher had written with his son and it was illustrated with crayons.)

Everything worked out fine, and I honestly appreciated the owner’s willingness to make the drive to save the day. But whew!! Lesson learned. I now carry a box of books in my car at all times.

AND I had a signing a couple of weeks ago, and the bookstore ran out of books. Woo hoo!!! Luckily, I could pop my trunk and replenish the supply without missing a beat.


Sarah Frances

Friday, August 17, 2012

Write On Con, Write On....

Ahhhhh! My EYES. MY EYES!

Just got finished with my first year as an attendee in Write On Con, heretofore referred as WOC. As a free, online writer conference, I think it is fair to say that this blogger's tushie was planted in front of a computer, still in her pjs mind you, for a total of two days. While this was fabulous for my soul, it wasn't so great on the old eyes.

Now in a new set of pjs and with teeth brushed, I bring to you a brief description of my impression of WOC. 

Let me say, I am oober impressed with the organizational skills of the founders and by the amount of passion and heart of everyone involved. So much great information was offered by industry agents, editors, and authors. WOWZA!

But my favorite part, my most favoritist part in the whole entire world, was to read finally get to read the work of my friends. I feel so lucky to share the same cyberspace with these people. I would especially like to send the world a fair warning that the following people will be invading your bookstores sometime in the near future:

Bethany Telles
Carter Higgins
Julie Hedlund
Marcie Colleen
Pamela Courtney

As you can see, this list is in alphabetical order by first name for ease of reference once their books hit the stores! ;)

On another note, I am also soooo happy to announce that NEXT THURSDAY (once my old ojos have recovered from all the wonderful screen time), the BANANA PEELIN' series will be back in full effect!  Ka-POW! Can't wait and I hope to SEE you then! (Crossing my fingers on so many levels!)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Compassion: It's Where It's At

I would just like to say thanks to the many of you who offered such kind words in response to my loss of mojo. While things have not changed much in terms of life circumstances, I have a deep and overwhelming love for this community.

Compassion is what gets us through. This I believe.

 I once heard an anthropologist on a  radio lecture recounting this very thought as to how it has been possible for humans to survive droughts, fires, floods, wars and other disasters throughout history. While some of the details might have escaped me, the essence of the story has stuck with me ever since.

The son of British citizens, this anthropologist grew up in Kenya. He was familiar and fascinated with the country's rugged terrain, the vast spanse of uneven land that seemed to never end. An adventurer, he lost both of his legs in an accident, I believe it was a plane crash.

As an adult, he was in London on a day where the rain seemed to come down in buckets.  Walking along a busy highway, he lost his footing, and one of his two prosthetic legs flew across the road. He sat there soaked for ages, while cars whizzed by. He was stranded.

Out of nowhere, a drunken man approached him. Confused, he asked him what he was doing sitting there in the rain. The anthropologist replied that his leg was on the other side of the highway and therefore out of his reach. There were some comedic exchanges between the two until the drunken man crossed the wet road to retrieve the prosthetic piece and then continued on his journey. 

Eventually, the anthropologist hailed a cab and made it back to tell his story.The two never met again, but what the anthropologist gained from his experience was this: That we humans, who originated from the African continent, would never have survived an ankle sprain on that uneven, rugged Kenyan terrain without the help of others. This compassion for our fellow human beings continues to enable us to withstand a rainy day spill on a modern London highway or even a loss of writerly mojo.

We need each other. Isn't that a beautiful thing?

P.S. Here is a picture of two of my favorite friends that would never survive without the other.