Archive for November, 2011

4. I have to be thankful for Steph

Why?  You could throw us in a ditch and we’d have a good time.  We could be stuck in a heavy rain, in a big dank puddle, wearing leather sandals and we’d have a good time.

I like watching her make dinner.  I like her watching me wash dishes.  I like going to the grocery store with her.  I like the mall.  I like the gas station.  I like the doctors office.  I like the DMV.

I like it when she picks me up from class.  I like dropping her off at her class.  I like eating Chinese food with her, even if it’s from the basement of the student union in Mankato.  I like Thanksgiving with her, even with all the poor kids going stir crazy after four days of too much pumpkin pie, fantastic sing-alongs, video game anxieties, big-time football, large wolf spiders in the damn shower, broken picture frames and food mushed into the floor — our kids are hilarious and we had a great time.

I like airports with her (early in the morning, late at night).  I like parking lots with her (big ones in the city, little cold ones covered in ice).  I like going to the bank, going to the post office, climbing through the crawlspace with a mousetrap, terrified of what I might find… it’s still good.  I like everything more with Steph.

When I give my kids advice about how you know if it’s right, I’ll say this: is it better when he/she is around?  Is regular life better better?  Is the good better?  The bad better?  The bored off your ass better?

Everything is better.

And now Steph and I are married.  Yes.  Thankful.

Even freaking Perkins is better.

Thus ends 2011 Thanks.  It’s the end of the semester and I will begin my bitching.

3. Thankful: @sourcebooks @sourcebooksfire You know it!

I’m really happy at Sourcebooks.  I’m hugely, dorkily in love with Sourcebooks, actually.

Yes… Yes…

I love my publisher, because they are smart and right and human and excellent.

You know what I like? Emailing the publicist, Derry Wilkens, at Sourcebooks Fire and getting a reply.  That doesn’t happen at all publishers (true story).  Publicists have really hard jobs. Publicists have whole gaggles of honking authors who assume the publicist holds all the keys.  Authors like to get mad a publicists.  We sit around on our couches bitching, “My publicist looks like a high school cheerleader and she doesn’t like books!” Really what we’re saying is that we’d all like to look like high school cheerleaders, metaphorically, and we want our publicist’s undivided attention. That can’t happen.  They have too much to do.  Derry actually pays enough attention to me (I try not to ask too much).  She reads lots of books and she loves books (I’ve heard her talking!).  She figures out all kinds of cool little opportunities and she helps me with directions from airports and train stations.  She sends me emails asking if I’ll have dinner with some librarians.  I always say yes!  She’s really, really good at her job, and so I am thankful for Derry.

In love.  I’ve met sales people at Sourcebooks (excellent people).  I’ve met several of their venders (had a great time with them at trade shows).  I’ve met the editorial director and he’s great.  I’ve met a bunch of their other YA authors who are excellent, too (Leanna Renee Hieber, Janet Gurtler, Katrina Kittle, Miranda Kenneally to name a few).  Man… you know, I just have one book out there so far (another soon), but I already know all these people working with me.  It’s incredible access you don’t get other places.  In freaking love.  Really.

Best… You know what I really, really like? Having an editor, Leah Hultenschmidt, who reads my manuscript and makes fun of me for dumb stuff and laughs about it and gives great suggestions and gives me all kinds of room to figure stuff out without getting upset or stressed — at least not openly — I really had to stress her out in the last six months… but I never saw her stress!  Well, I guess she did ask me sometime over the summer if I was cracking up (as I completely trashed a manuscript and started over), and maybe in retrospect I can remember a little fear in her voice, but also serious good humor.  Serious. When we talk on the phone we laugh like wee goofy kids.  When I get notes from her, they’re concise and powerfully on the nose.  This is a great situation.  The new one, Nothing Special, is a good book, even though it was super hard to write (I didn’t make it easy on myself), because Leah both gave me huge space and reigned me in.  I am so lucky.  Very thankful.

I’ve said it before: I love this work.  I love being a writer.  But, good God, it can be stressful and depressing and you can get all hopeless all over it, sometimes… I’m very, very thankful to be with a publisher that does it right.  Thank you Sourcebooks.

Sourcebooks

Thanksgiving 2. Leo

I’m a little like a Jewish mother with the bragging, but that’s what I got. Of course, this is the time of year to be thankful.  In February, during my winter festival of bitching, I’ll reveal all of the stuff that’s crap.  Today, however, I give thanks again.

My son, Leo, is almost 14.  In a lot of ways, he’s like me.  We like the same stuff: football, music, movies (when visiting New York last summer, we went to a bunch of indie movie theaters and saw film after film, day after day).  In many ways we’re not alike at all.  When I was thirteen, I watched a lot of TV in the basement.  Leo practices piano, drums, ukelele, accordion.  He is getting very good at all of them.  When I was thirteen, I rode a BMX bike around and around, looking for garbage cans to knock over.  Leo films and edits increasingly crisp narratives (funny, goofy-ass stuff).  When I was thirteen, I had to stay after school for breakdancing in class.  Leo has a doofus streak, but he seems to understand where to use and where to not, which is a fantastic skill. I wonder what was wrong with me?  I always did well enough in school, but I always felt on the edge of out of control, like a small, back wheel drive car on a curving gravel road.  I can’t tell you how happy I am to have a self-possessed child.

Yes, I am very thankful for all of this.

Leo

 

1. Thanksgiving Mira

Every year around this time I think, I’m going to take this business seriously. I’m going to get all thankful all over it.  Usually I post something or other about being filled with gratitude and then I’m done because other crap gets in the way  and I miss mentioning about a thousand things I’d like to mention and then Minnesota winter sets in and I stop feeling good about anything, because it’s hard to stay alive out here on the frozen savannah.

I need to remember the good stuff through the winter. I’m going to pop them out fast and furious so they are documented before the big snows…

1. Mira. My daughter. She’s hilarious and smart and dramatic and I’m very thankful that she is still huggy.  She still likes sitting next to me on the couch. I imagine, as the winter of her early teens approaches, that she will stop liking me so much pretty soon. I am extremely thankful for Mira.  She is in fifth grade and she is excellent right now.  Right this very second.

Mira

You want to write? Don’t blow the easy part.

So, I’m teaching an undergraduate screenwriting class.  It’s at night (undergrads have a hard time at night).  It’s in a computer lab (terrible place to hold a creative writing class).  Still, it’s a screenwriting class.  At the very least, it should be of mild interest.  These are the stories we’re surrounded by in this culture.  And, if you want to be a writer, it should be important to you.

In screenwriting, we watch a bunch of films.  The whole thing is focused on classical story structure.  Three acts.  Character with a serious desire overcomes obstacles to find a new way of being.  We talk about how stories like that are built.  It’s stuff that fascinates me.  As the teacher, I should love this class.

But, it’s a complete struggle.  Energy in the room is very low (not my normal classroom).  Some of the better writers skip.  Several people occasionally have their phones out (I generally forgive a little of that — I sometimes pull my phone out without thinking).  Worst: a couple of people just cruise the internet while class is going (I asked one kid to leave last night because he was scrolling through his Facebook feed in the middle of discussion).

This is an upper-division class — there are lots of creative writing majors, but it’s not a good student mix (too many burnt out seniors, maybe?) and I didn’t adjust to the mix soon enough.  Bummer.

More bummer for the students than for me. I’ll teach the class again next year, just like I did last year (when it wasn’t such a struggle).  My poor kids, many of whom I really like, will have lost long months of opportunity to get better.  This is troubling.

From the email I get, I know a lot of aspiring writers read this page. I’m going to say something important: If you want to be a writer, you don’t mess around in your writing classes.

If you’re bored by the teacher or tired by the time of day, put your head down and work on your writing… if you don’t have internal strength, you will absolutely never make it.

If you love Facebook so much, you can’t get enough of it in your non-writing-class time, go to work in a cubicle.  Don’t even think about being a writer.  You simply don’t got it.

If you skip a bunch of writing classes, don’t ask your teacher for a recommendation (for grad school, for agent, for anything).  The writing world is small and they’re not going to stick out their necks for people who have shown signs of irresponsibility or disrespect.

There is nothing easy about being a writer.  Yes, I think it’s fun.  It’s definitely exciting sometimes.  You do work you love.  But, for 99% of us, it’s a huge struggle to stay afloat — don’t underestimate the difficulty.

The easiest part is being in school.  You show up.  You add to the discussion.  You do work that is assigned.  You do your best to learn (even if the teacher bores you and you’re tired).  You write, which is what you claim you want to do, right?

After school, it is hard to get help.  You don’t get prompts.  You don’t have natural deadlines.  Nobody wants to read your work.  Lucky for you, you still have your phone and Facebook… but you’ve lost the support network and the time in your life when your main job is to pursue what you love.

Pretty soon, your main job is to pay back student loans.

Jesus.  If you want to be a writer, don’t blow off your writing classes.  I’m serious.