Monday, November 29, 2010

Back to the Middle Hundred

Whew!  It's been quite a month.  While this blog was... elsewhere, I was deep in the Middle Hundred, revising Orleans.  That question I had asked about flashbacks?  Yeah, that was a cry for help from the depths of my rewrite.  How much information is too much information for an audience?  There are so many deleted scenes in every novel I write, it would fill an extra book.  I wish authors could do that-- release a companion book of deleted scenes and commentary, like the bonus features on a DVD.  Hmm... I might be onto something here. 

The decision so far is to avoid the flashback in favor of informative actions and conversation.  Sometimes this can come off as "and now an explanatory speech," but if it's done right, the reader doesn't notice.  You know those moments when a character is telling a story and you find yourself asking "yeah? what happened?!?"  There's a great scene in the movie JAWS like that.  (Know which scene I'm talking about?)  I wish I had written that scene.

That said, Orleans is now off in the hands of my new editors (yes, that's something else that's changed recently).  Now I have a little bit of breathing room to rebuild this blog, and toy with some other projects.  Case in point?  "Keeping Christmas."  I've written a short story for a collection of holiday tales produced by a local indie bookstore, Vromans in Pasadena, CA.  We'll be doing a reading of the stories this Sunday, December 5th at 5pm.  Join us and start the holiday season right!

Back to the Future... and St. Louis - a little note on travel and flashbacks (originally posted 11/2/10)

Well, I'm off to the suburbs of St. Louis for what should be some very entertaining writing workshops. We're riffing on photos students took with a pro photographer a couple of weeks ago. I love visual springboards for story ideas. It's amazing where a good picture can lead you.

Speaking of good pictures, it's the 25th anniversary of Back to the Future. Kids, if you haven't seen this movie, see it now. I envy you your first viewing!

As a storyteller, I've been thinking about this movie a lot lately and the literary technique of the flashback, or moving into the past of your narrative in order to deliver important information needed for the current day. BTTF is all about the flashback... literally. And it works. But is it always the best method to fill in the blanks in a story? What other ways can you impart information without: a) starting the story at birth so nothing is missed, or b) breaking the flow of the narrative by inserting a "last year this time" scene? Thoughts? Opinions? I'll share mine when I return!

Teen Read Week 2010, Florida - The Details (originally posted 10/28/10)

As promised, here is a little play-by-play of my trip to Florida for Teen Read Week 2010.  The invitation was initially extended by lovely lady librarian Paula Godfrey in Pinellas County. 

Paula is awesome.  Tall, great hair, strappy shoes, and pleasure to be around.  On a lunch break, she even took me to the beach!

She's also super-organized.  I was taken care of by no less than six incredible librarians, zigzagging the breadth and width of Pinellas County, with a jaunt into Hillsborough to boot.  I learned about education (high school starts at 7 am in Florida!), the Goodyear blimp (there are 12 blimp pilots and three blimps at any given time!), and soft serve ice cream flavored with fresh squeezed orange juice.

We started the day with a live webcast from the Pinellas County School Board.  It was fantastic-- three cameras, a sparkling hostess named Susan, and a live studio audience.  This was the 13th year of the author webcast and I was honored to be the guest.  The day wrapped up with a visit ot Largo Middle School.

Tuesday began with a crack-of-dawn visit to Palm University High, and then a jaunt over to Tarpon Springs Middle School-- this is in a town known for it's natural sponges, which they dive for a the "Sponge Docks."  I love that name.  It's like "boondocks" but spongier.  Sadly,  I did not get to visit.  Next time!  Then it was on to Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School and back to the hotel for a Chick-fil-a dinner and some sleep.

Wednesday we visited Dunedin High, Boca Ciega, High, and Bay Point Middle School.  The highlight?  It was Mardi Gras Day at Dunedin, as evidenced by the Divine Miss Cappel-Kane, ENglish teacher extraordinare.  Need I say more?

Everywhere I went, students and teachers had put such great effort into giving me a warm welcome, I was floored.  Handmade signs, research, chocolate chip cookies!  It was amazing.

And that was just Pinellas County!  Thursday was an all-day extravaganza in Hillsborough County at the Instructional Services Center thanks to Christine Van Brunt with Hillsborough County Schools.  I was chaperoned by the fantastic, funky Lorie Tonti-- a Hillsborough librarian and a kindred spirit I'm happy to say.  We read the same books, like the same bumper stickers... the list goes on.  The day was spent talking to two ginormous groups of high school and middle school students.  It was a great discussion, but my favorite question?  "Have you ever judged a book by its cover?"  How very zen!

Thanks to everyone who came to the Center and brought their books!  I signed so many copies of HOT, SOUR, SALTY, SWEET and FLYGIRL that my signature has gone on vacation and I can only mark and X now.  It was AWESOME.  After a long, but exciting day, Lorie dropped me off at the airport where my next host retrieved me.

Nancy Millichamp is the wonderful Library Information Specialist at Madeira Beach Fundamental Middle School.  She's got an amazing library, complete with a dolphin statue,

a hammerhead shark on the ceiling (not to mention sea turtle shells confiscated by the authorities and donated to the school),

and a beautiful antique scrimshaw collection (including a Sweeney Todd carving!).

The school is right on the water and boasts its own mangrove grove (repetitive but grammatically correct)

and a fantastic Marine Science program.  We watched kids toss nets from the school's pier into the water, and admired the bat ray in their own touching pool.  It was fantastic.  On top of a couple of assemblies, I got to do a writing workshop and an animation talk with some of the kids from "Mad Beach."  It was great fun.

At the end of the day, Nancy and her funky daughter, Clio (I should have asked, of course, is it with an "e"?) took me out for the aforementioned orange juice ice cream, and even let me hold them up while I took pictures of the cone-shaped building across the street.

For the record, cross the street to Citrus Country for the ice cream.  It's delish.

After a quick cone, it was back to the airport for the flight home to LA.  Thanks so much to all of my caretakers.  I enjoyed every lunch, every car chat, and tour I was given.  And to the students of both counties-- thank you reading my books and hanging out with me.  It was a blast.

Next week, I'm off to North Kirkwood Middle School outside of St. Louis, MO, then home again for the winter and more work on ORLEANS.  Then the true work of the Middle Hundred begins!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

So long Sunshine State! - originally posted 10/25/10

I'm back from sunny Florida.  The weather was perfect-- 85 and balmy every single day.  Los Angeles paints a very different picture.  It's raining of an on, and in the low 70s.  But you don't want to hear about the weather.  You want to hear about Florida! 

Soon, I promise.  For now, here's a sneak peek to tide you over.  Stay tuned!

Teen Read Week in the Sunshine State - originally posted 10/17/10

(Sorry about the photo, can't find it!)

I admit, this photo is just clip art.  I haven't had a chance to pull out my camera yet.  I'm in beautiful Clearwater, Florida for five days of school visits in honor of Teen Read Week.  How awesome is that (the trip and the week)?  I suggest we all read a book to celebrate!

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet had the honor of being on the Sunshine State Young Readers' list for 2009-2010, so I'm looking forward to "dishing" on my favorite foods with students this week.  For instance, crab.

I like a food that comes with special tools and a bib for eating.  I like to throw caution to the wind, along with the bib, and dive in with both hands.  Tonight I ate a bucket of crab.  Sweet, succulent snow crab slathered in Old Bay seasoning.  You cannot get this in Los Angeles.  Dungeness, sure, but snow crab?  Not that I've seen, or I'd be eating it every day.

It.  Was.  Heaven.  In a bucket.  With butter on the side.  Soooo good.  I'm liking Florida already!

A work in progress, redux


So.... if this post looks familiar, and the URL doesn't, it's because I accidentally deleted my blog while trying to... well, nevermind.  The point is, I've been gone for a few weeks, and now I'm back (so hopefully it won't happen again, despite the Battelstar Galactica reference).  To make it up to you, I'm relisting all of my original posts, minus a few of the photos I'm afraid.  And then there will be new material.  A lot has happened since then.  Thanksgiving, for one thing.  I hope yours was happy.  And now, back to the show, already in progress.

A work in progress...  Isn't everything?  This blog, for instance, is a work in progress.  My next novel, Orleans, a massive work in progress.  Who I am going to be when I grow up... also a work in progress (that's very zen, actually-- I am and WILL BE a WIP).

So, to explain.  I already have a blog on My Space.  If you follow such things, you may know that it also appeared on my Amazon Author Page.  That's no longer possible without an RSS feed, so time for a new blog.  Ta da!

The thing is, I'm technologically an Eloi (that's a reference to H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, kids!  Check it out!  The original movie's pretty good, too!).  So I'm muddle along making this blog prettier and more interesting as time goes by.  In the meantime I just need it up and running.  That's where my fantastic website design goddess, Ren comes in.  She's the one that put the aqua blue shine on my website.  Thank you for the header, Ren!

And now, to explain the title.  A I've said, I'm working on my next novel.  After reading the last draft, my manager Garrett said "The first hundred pages were great, I kept reading.  The last hundred were fantastic.  It's that middle hundred that needs work."

I live in the middle hundred.  To me, a book is like a tent with two poles holding up the first and third acts.  If the tent sags in the middle, it's not a tent, it's a catastrophe.  The struggle for me, and in my experience many other writers, is to keep the middle hundred from sagging.  That is what this blog will be about.  Writing the middle hundred and all the other things that happen when you SHOULD be writing the middle hundred and you're designing a blog instead.   I hope you'll stick with me.  I'll try to be interesting.