Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The goal is not to get to the finish line.

Writing a book is long journey, one rife with all kinds of obstacles and hurdles. Plot, thematic coherence, characterization, dialogue, etc. - any one of these can become the barrier that proves insurmountable, pushing that manuscript into the forgotten recesses of your computer's hard drive. Every author I've spoken with has encountered at least one significant hurdle in the writing of a novel, and each has had to deal with it. These can be considerable setbacks, sometimes lasting several months as the author wrestles with the hurdle. But this is the point - the author wrestles and deals with it, refusing to simply quick-fix the problem with a roughshod job, because (s)he knows the novel will be all the better for their efforts. It's what transforms a mediocre novel into an unforgettable one.

Of course, you can just ignore the problem points and rush to the end, impatient to finally type THE END. Trouble is, if you don't fix the problems, if you just bludgeon your way past and through the hurdles, you may get to the finishing line, but you have not exactly won the race. See the hurdler in video below.

When my agent, Catherine Drayton, told me that there were some "hurdles" that had to be dealt with before submitting to the publishing houses, I wanted to pull my hair out. When I realized that these were not quick fixes but would require a bit of actual thought, creativity, and work, I wanted to pull my teeth out. Then I wanted to pull her teeth out. What I wanted was for her to submit the manuscript yesterday, already.

I'm so glad she didn't. Catherine was so spot-on in her critique. It took work - hard, bruising work - but it ultimately made the novel that much better. It was a good reminder that the point is not simply to write a novel, blazing through all the hurdles, but to take the time and effort to write an AWESOME one. And that means playing by the rules, putting the time in.

Friday, May 13, 2011

How my writer's block saved a cat

This morning, I was suffering from a bad case of writer's block. I did what I usually do when the writing doesn't flow: I drove to a nature preserve and put on my running shoes. Running has this way of unclogging my brain, something Nathan Bransford (whose excellent Wonderbar novel launched this week) (yes, that was a shameless piece of product placement) has also found effective.

Anyway, after my run, just as I was about to get into my car, I heard a meowing. I was in a desolate parking lot in the middle of nowhere, so my curiosity was piqued. I looked down, and this is what I found:

I'm not a cat person - I'm firmly Team Dog - but something about this cat broke me inside. It was famished, thirsty, and frail. When I patted it, it was sticks & bones. But clearly domesticated - it didn't have a feral bone in it. I poured it some water and it lapped it up. Finished a whole bottle, in fact. It kept meowing, clearly hungry. And it was starving for affection - it kept trying to rub its body on my leg. And then it crawled under my car, coming out only when it wanted to rub its body on my leg again.

(its eyes are focused on my leg it wanted to rub against. again.)

I couldn't leave it, so I called the animal shelter. They were great - they got there within minutes. The staff lady calmly put it into a box, then into the van. She told me a cat owner had called about a week ago, frantic about a cat she'd lost at that very nature preserve. Hopefully, this is the same cat, and there's a happy ending to this story. I'm going to call the shelter next week and make sure this cat found its owner. If not, I might just head down to the shelter myself and adopt the cat. It did a number on me, it did.

Anyway, this just goes to show that writer's block isn't always a terrible thing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Soba Ni Iru Ne by Thelma Aoyama

I might make this a regular feature on this blog: a weekly peek into Asian culture (music, movies, books). I'll keep it to one video (or movie scene/excerpt) a week, featuring an aspect of Asian culture that the western hemisphere is missing out on.

This week, I'm featuring a song, Soba Ni Iru Ne by Thelma Aoyama.  In my mind, it's an instant Top Ten song simply begging to be translated and brought over here. Beyonce (featuring Usher) would rock this song.

Not that Thelma Aoyoma is any kind of slouch, either. She grooves, silky smooth. Part Afro-Trinidadian and part Japanese, Thelma brings so much nuance and depth to this song.

Also, there's a companion song Koko ni iru yo. Same song with a heavier emphasis on the soft rap male part. Nice video, though not quite as good a song, in my estimation. Those of you who speak Japanese must love the ne and yo ending of both song titles.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Long Island Library Conference and more recognition from Booklist!

Had a great time at the Long Island Library Conference this morning where I was the keynote speaker. You couldn't have asked for a better audience - about 700 book-lovers otherwise known as librarians. They kindly laughed at my jokes and kept the egg-throwing and hissing to a minimum. It was a blast.

Afterward, when I'd gotten into my car and checked my email, my editor informed me of another distinction from Booklist! Crossing was chosen as a Top Ten First Crime Novel! I think the coolest thing about this distinction is being lumped in with Paul McEuen for his novel, Spiral. I just finished reading it and it was tres awesome. It certainly helped that McEuen - a Cornell professor - gave lots of detailed description about Ithaca in general and the Cornell campus in particular. It was, as the Japanese say, natsukashi.