Dec 22, 2010

My friends are descendants of scoundrels (why I love twitter)

It started with a simple post.

@johannaharness: Back yard sledding in Idaho:

John Ross Barnes, who currently lives in Portland, Oregon responded and we had the following conversation:

@barnestorm2004: @johannaharness Your back yard (sledding)reminds me of back home in Kansas(only colder, no doubt). I miss the *farm*

@johannaharness: @barnestorm2004 My mom's parents grew up in Girard and McCune. They came to Idaho in the late 20s.

@barnestorm2004: @johannaharness Small world file - Lived in Pittsburg(no h), about 10 miles from Girard for 4 yrs. grew up in Coffeyville(we killed Daltons)

@johannaharness: @barnestorm2004 In 1990 we stayed a night in Pittsburg. Found the old farm site, visited cemetery. Finally saw location of family stories.

@barnestorm2004: @johannaharness It's good to see where our roots were from. Helps with sense of self & place in the world I think.

@johannaharness: @barnestorm2004 Agreed. I only have a couple generations of family in Idaho, but this picture shows Greg's roots:

@johannaharness: @barnestorm2004 Be sure to hover on the picture to see the identification notes. It's great to take the kids here. (We like cemeteries.)

@barnestorm2004: @johannaharness Thanks! cool hover thingy! looks like Cemetery just down frm the country place in Kansas. Walked my dogs there, good haunted

Now that seems like the end of the story and it's cool enough right there.  John lives in Portland.  I live in Idaho.  We both have roots in the same part of Kansas.  We both tell stories that include an understanding of who we are as influenced by our history and our geography.  That's really cool.

But then, three hours later, Kristina (also from Portland, Oregon) chimes in:

@quickmissive: @barnestorm2004 @johannaharness Wait, killed which Daltons???

@johannaharness: @quickmissive The Dalton Gang (At least that's what I'm assuming, yeah? In context of discussion abt Coffeyville, KS) @barnestorm2004

@barnestorm2004: @quickmissive @johannaharness The "famous" Dalton gang of train/bank robbers who tried to rob 2 banks at once.

@quickmissive: @barnestorm2004 @johannaharness Those are my illustrious ancestors...13 brothers & 1/2 are sucky thieves. Others were dr, lawyers, etc.

@barnestorm2004: @quickmissive @johannaharness Wait the Daltons were your ancestors or bank/train robbers? Grandma Barnes was a James(yeah, that James)

@quickmissive: @barnestorm2004 @johannaharness Yep. They ran with Jesse. Too bad they were only good at getting killed. My mom is a Dalton.

@johannaharness: @quickmissive @barnestorm2004 You two are dang near related. If gangs were families, you'd be cousins.

@barnestorm2004: @johannaharness @quickmissive Yup, some kind of shirt-tail, second cousin or so. Family all came from same area of Missouri,

@barnestorm2004: @johannaharness @quickmissive Grandma was Bell James, never met her, Psychotic from what I hear. Gramp John guided Truman on fishing trips.

@quickmissive: @barnestorm2004 @johannaharness What a random hoot is this? It is a small world, isn't it?

@barnestorm2004: @johannaharness @quickmissive My fam was not in on Dalton shoot-out, still in Missouri then. Cherokees & Choctaws bred to Drunken Scotts.

@quickmissive: @johannaharness @barnestorm2004 Yep! Come over here and give your non-cousin a big hug! Lol.

@barnestorm2004: @quickmissive @johannaharness Thanks! How weird is that from the small world file?

@johannaharness: @barnestorm2004 @quickmissive And this is why I love twitter. Do either of you mind if I capture this for a blog post? I love this.

@barnestorm2004: @johannaharness @quickmissive I would be honored.

@quickmissive: @johannaharness @barnestorm2004 Capture away! After all, as a descendant of the Daltons, I'm used to capture! Well, and being shot...

Yep.  That's why I love twitter.

I'm dying to see what scoundrel descendants show up in the comments.  Robert Ford, anyone?

Read more from John Ross Barnes on his blog, Love This Life, Onward Through The Fog.  And follow him on twitter too!

Read more from Kristina on her blog, Ten Minute Missive.  And, of course, follow her on twitter.

Dec 13, 2010

Happy to announce. . .

I’m happy to announce that I’m now represented by the Carolyn Swayze Literary Agency.

The details:

I attended the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in Seattle last July and first heard Carolyn speak on an agent panel.  She introduced herself and talked about the kind of writing and author she wanted to represent and I felt like she was talking to me. Kerry Schafer and I waited a long time in the hallway waiting to make appointment changes and I was delighted Carolyn had room for me. (Kerry also has a very grounding influence on me, so her presence there was more than a side note, yeah?  Looking for a secret weapon? Go to a conference with Kerry.)

The next morning I started my day with speed pitching.  I had no idea to whom I would be presenting, only that this was the young adult panel.  Speed pitching was great fun and I ended up at Carolyn’s table with three business cards (three requests) already in hand. I was having a great morning, but I really wanted her card the most.  When I ended by telling her I’d be meeting her later that day, she said, “Oh, you’re going to be tired of me by then.”  No, not likely.  And yeah, I liked her.

That afternoon at the longer session, I repeated my Claire Morgane pitch and also told her about my middle grade novel, Spillworthy.  She asked me which one I’d like to send first. Happy day.

I submitted Claire Morgane and then I was off to attend Willamette Writers Conference the next week.  I learned so much through writing workshops at PNWA and Willamette and, as we all do, I kept thinking about what I could do to improve.

My response to Claire came from Kris Rothstein, an associate agent working with Carolyn Swayze.  She said they couldn’t represent the manuscript yet, but she’d like to see a revision. Her suggestions were exactly what I needed to hear.  She invited me to call and talk about her ideas for the book and I emailed to set up a time.

And I called.

And wow.

The changes she wanted were big, but they were right.  She had the experience to isolate what I needed to do to take this book where it needed to go.

I wrote like hell for the next month.

I sent off the revision.

And then I waited.

And the more I waited, the more I started doubting myself again. The beginning of the book was all new material.  Reading it again, I couldn’t shake the feeling I’d submitted a first draft. What was I thinking?

The day I was supposed to hear back from Kris, I was sick.  I waited until the end of the business day and fell asleep early, not feeling incredibly hopeful.  A windstorm woke me at 3AM and, with my mixed-up sleeping hours, I couldn’t go back to sleep.  Might as well start writing early.

Yes. You guessed it. That’s when I heard from Kris.  Her email must have come in minutes after I turned off my computer.

She sent notes for the early chapters and I nodded as I read her thoughts. Yes. True. Absolutely right. And then she noted that this was new material and she hoped I’d smooth it out—because the rest of the book was really quite good—save a couple things I could change here and there.  She really hoped I’d consider making the changes.

I reread that section a couple times because it sounded like I was getting another chance.  And her suggestions were so good.  I had to make sure I wasn’t getting my hopes up for nothing. Yes. She wanted to see revisions.

And then I finished reading the next paragraph—the one that included talk of a contract and representation. She was going out of town, but she’d like to discuss it with me the next week.

And that’s how I found out I was on the cusp of representation.  The end of a long revision, discussion with someone who really understood what I wanted my book to be, weeks of waiting, another chance to revise, and then discussion of a contract—and there I was at 3AM, wanting to scream, wanting to tell someone, alone in the quiet of my perfect writing bubble.  If I startled everyone awake, I’d lose my writing time for the day. So, yeah.  I could tell them later.  I started revising.

Today my contract arrived and the news finally feels real enough to say out loud. And I'm driving today and have no internet connection.  Funny how these things work.  So you all will know in the morning.

Which is now *this* morning.

I'm happy to announce that I’m represented by the Carolyn Swayze Literary Agency.


Dec 5, 2010

Magic note cards (revision, yeah?)

Every once in a while I miss a blog post I wrote on the old blog and I need to duplicate it here.  Today I tweeted with another writer about note cards and I wanted to share these thoughts with her.  This post was originally published in my old blog on December 22, 2009.

Magic Note Cards

I’ve been doing a lot of work with note cards lately, sighing and saying, “Ah, note cards.  Is there nothing they can’t do?”  Questions follow, condensed mainly into one basic question:  “Why are you so in love with note cards lately?”

Most basic answer:  note cards help me see the big picture.

Here’s what I do:

Whether revising or planning, the basic rule is one scene per card.  If you don’t have scenes yet (early planning), go with one idea per card.  You may want to identify this core stack in some way.  Put a star in the corner, write in a different colored ink.  Add a sticker or a post-it note.

Add to the stack: ideas, discarded scenes, themes, settings, new characters, old characters.  Don’t filter.  If it seems important in the moment, jot it down.  Some of the cards will be thrown away or replaced with a better card.  Some cards will go into a stack for later inspiration.  Yesterday I went through more than 200 cards.  Don’t limit your ideas.  Add or delete cards any time you want.  This is a fun, creative process--not life or death.
Now that you have your deck?  Play.

Use more notecards as category cards.  I like using brightly-colored note cards for this, but you can note the type of card in any way (different color ink, notation in corner--whatever).  As you sort through your cards, you may find that some of the cards you’ve already written are category cards.  You can pull them out and add them to your category cards as you go through your deck the first time.

Use category cards to ask questions.

Thinking about the order of your novel?  Create a category card for each major section of your book.  Then go through your deck and intuitively drop the card in the category where it fits.  Based on this, are there scenes in your novel that are in the wrong place?  Are there scenes that don’t seem to fit?  (Do they need to be deleted?)  Are there duplicate or alternative scenes?

Looking for individual character story lines?  Sort by character and then arrange the cards.

Wondering about themes?  Write a theme on a category card and sort cards according to theme.

Arrange your main cards on a plot arc and ask yourself if the energy of the scene fits the energy of the arc.  (Building to major discovery?  Tumbling toward conclusion?)

Sort cards by tone to see if you have outliers.

Sort cards to see relationships between characters.

One of my favorite activities:  Does this scene fit in this book?  (This is a particular weakness of mine.)  Take the yes cards and fit them into chronology.  No fit?  Start again.

Want to see what your narrative will look like without a certain plot line?  Remove the plot line from your basic cards.  Want to add a plot line?  Filter it in and see how it flows.

That’s all there is to it.  One card per scene.  Add ideas.  Make category cards.  Play. Ask questions of the cards, but don’t force answers.  If cards or scenes annoy you, throw them in a discard pile.

I usually end up with a new base set of cards, arranged in the order the story is told. I’ll add tons of new notes to these cards, sometimes incorporating ideas from other cards.  Sometimes I number the new cards and then add related cards under that number, eventually labeling those cards by scene number and letter (4A, 4B, 4C, etc.)  When I’m writing or revising, I’ll look at all my notes and the related cards.

Then, if revising, save a copy of the original and apply changes to manuscript.  Keep playing and evaluating.  Are the changes improving the manuscript the way you thought they would?  Keep an eye on the big picture.  All changes should strengthen the whole.  Practicing this craft sometimes means acknowledging when things don’t work.  It’s okay to stop and start again.

Or, if starting a new book:  know how each scene fits into the whole story.  Avoid writing scenes that don’t fit with the whole.  At key points in the writing process, stop and evaluate.  If changes are made to the original vision, stop and find the whole again.  Plan around the changes before writing more.

Okay, so note cards aren’t magic.  They’re a tool.  But what you do with them?  That can be magic.