Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Unread - Interview with Paul Greci

Paul Greci is a supercool guy. I met him through Twitter when I started talking about random mountain stuff like baking potatoes in the woodstove and skiing to my car to go to town. Paul is sympathetic to my strange mountain lifestyle, he lives in Alaska where things aren't always easy, but he loves the outdoors and where better to experience it! Just wait until you read about his bicycle riding. Now that's dedication! Paul is also a great supporter of writers, sharing his knowledge and expertise when needed. He's certainly helped me before. Paul is a full-time writer of Young Adult novels and is represented by Jennifer De Chiara. He's my next victim on The Unread...

You were a teacher for fifteen years. What sorts of things did you learn from the kids that made you decide to start writing?

I taught English in an alternative school for at-risk teens. I discovered YA fiction while searching for books that my reluctant reader students would actually read, and I fell in love with the genre.

My students were also reluctant writers so we started writing scenes using characters from the novels we were reading. I figured if the characters were already developed my students may have less resistance to writing. Plus, I wanted to make it fun.

So, we’d all write these scenes and then read them out loud. I’m the kind of teacher that participates in the things I assign so I wrote, too. And, I loved it.

(See, I told you he was supercool.)

What types of stories do you write?

So far I’ve written wilderness survival stories, and edgy school stories that have a touch of humor. I have five WIPs. A couple of those I might end up mining for parts, but for now they are intact.

How did you get your agent?

I met my agent at a fund-raiser for starving artists. No, wait. That was a dream I had.

Actually, I sent Jennifer a query letter.

But really, how I got my agent is that I kept rewriting my novel. It took six weeks to write the first draft, then about a year and a half to revise it to get it into querying shape.

(That is a great example of how important revising is!)

Why did you choose to go with Jennifer De Chiara for representation?

I chose to sign with Jennifer because out of the five agents who offered representation I felt like she best understood my writing. She made it clear that she wanted to represent me and not just the one book of mine she’d read. She has a really great reputation, she’s a talented editor, and she doesn’t give up. She totally believes in people going after their dreams. And, she’s fun to work with.

(Five offers! Your book must be awesome!)

How has having an agent changed your writing life?

Having an agent has changed my writing life in a couple of ways: I run ideas by Jennifer before starting a new project. And, I think I’m more motivated to write well. I mean, here’s this amazing person who has offered to work with me on building a writing career. I want to give her the best writing I can. I feel totally fortunate to be in partnership with her.

What do you think is the hardest part about writing? What’s the easiest?

The hardest and easiest parts of writing change for me. When I don’t have an idea for a new story, coming up with an idea feels like the hardest part. When my wrist and thumb rebel from too much keyboard time, or my neck turns to cement, or my eyes ache, the physical act of writing feels the hardest. It constantly changes.

Do you think living in the wilds of Alaska gives you a different point of view than most people? Does this make its way into your writing?

Living in Alaska definitely makes its way into my writing. Two of my five WIPs are set in Alaska. All of my mistakes and misjudgments and close calls in the wilderness are good fodder for stories.

(Well now, that makes me wonder about these wilderness survival stories even more! Eek!)

You have a spot for your computer on your treadmill, how the heck did you come up with this awesome contraption?

My treadmill desk was inspired by pain.

After I left my teaching job to write full-time, my body started rebelling against the countless hours of sitting.

I used to ride my bike to and from work year-round, even when the temperatures dipped to forty below. And, I’d participate in gym class three times a week. Over the years I injured my shoulder playing dodge-ball, cracked a rib playing touch football, pulled various leg muscles, jammed my fingers… the list of injuries goes on. But staying at home and writing was pretty brutal.

A physical therapist suggested a treadmill desk. I had a treadmill because I’m kind of an exercise addict, so I took a piece of plywood and cut a pattern with a jigsaw so it would slide right on. I was pretty amazed that it fit as well as it did. Usually things I build don’t really come out the way I think they should and this actually did.

I spend about half of my writing time walking very slowly and typing. The other half I’m often slouched in a glider-rocking chair by the wood stove with my laptop, basically cancelling out all the good-posture-points I’ve earned. I figure as long as I don’t have a negative balance I’ll do okay.

Can you run and type at the same time?

That sounds like a pretty scary combination of activities. Although I don’t have a cell phone, I’m guessing it’d be like texting while driving, and there’s a law against that.

(Hee hee. I imagined that the faster you ran the faster you could type, whipping up stories at great speed like some writing superhero! Okay, enough of my fantasies, back to Paul's interview.)

What are you working on now?

I just finished a first draft of a YA adventure story set in a post-oil era, global-warming-affected Alaska. It’s still what I’d call realistic fiction even though it is set a tiny bit into the future.

How far would you go to get your book published?

You know, although I definitely obsess about having a book going on submission, I try to tell myself to remember what I do and don’t have control over. I have control over my writing, not how other people respond to it.

So, how far would I go? I think I’ll just keep on writing regardless of whether I get published, but hopefully my writing will continue to improve if I keep pushing myself, and an editor will fall in love with one of my books.

(Well, you should get major points for riding your bike in forty below temperatures, imho.)

If you could live in any book, which one would it be and why?

I never know how to answer this question. But today, I think I’d choose Tuck Everlasting. To be able to travel through time with your family sounds pretty cool. There was something about the combination of magic and realism that sucked me in to the story. Mostly, I read realistic fiction but Tuck Everlasting has stayed with me for years and years and years.

(What? You've had to answer this question before? Maybe I need a new end-of-interview question. And yup, I would have probably drank the water too. It would be so hard to resist!)

Thanks for having me here today, Heather. This was fun!

Thank you, Paul! I was so glad to finally get to ask you some nosy, in depth writing questions! :-)

You can find out lots more about Paul and his Alaskan adventures at his blog: Northwriter. You can also follow Paul on Twitter. He's very nice to talk to.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I Wrote a Book, Now What? (#1) -- Critiques and Revising

I've been getting this question a lot lately and I totally understand. It can seem overwhelming to find your way into a huge industry like publishing. Lucky for us, there is more information out there on publishing than ever. I'm going to do a series of posts answering this question and I'm going to start with something basic--revising.

You may have a great story, but it will get even better with revision. Put it away for a little while until you can get a fresh perspective. I find three months to be helpful. It's okay, you can work on writing something else while you're waiting! You could also go read a bunch of books in the genre you're writing. What? You're doing that already? Good. It's always fun, and when you read tons in your genre it can help you see what works in a story and what doesn't.

When you're ready pull that story out and revise it again (I know I'm ready when I can't stop thinking about the story!), as many times as it takes. Put it away again for a little while if you need to, but when you feel like you can't see anything else that needs to be changed you're ready for the next step, getting critiqued. There are many ways to do this, but the best method I've found is to trade with other writers in the same genre, or at least those that understand the genre. (I know, picture books are kind of a specialty, so I find this point especially important for what I write.) There are lots of ways to find critique partners if you don't have any: writer's chatrooms, local and national organizations, the library...I found my critique group on Verla Kay's Blue Board.

Once you've gotten your critiques, revise accordingly. I know, this can be difficult and the critique/revision process can happen more than once, but it's good to have an open mind and not take offense to anything anyone says. You are all there to help each other. (Yes I know there can be the occasional 'bad critique partner' but I think they are the exception to the rule.) Just keep in mind that it's your story. You don't have to use all of the suggestions. I do take all comments into consideration, and really take notice if more than one person points out a particular spot.

When your critiques and revisions are all done and you cannot see how in the world you can make the story any better it is time to a.) go to a conference and/or workshop and get a professional opinion from an agent or editor. No, this is not a requirement, but it can be pretty eye opening to hear what a professional in the business has to say about a manuscript. OR b.) start querying, which involves writing a query letter(and a synopsis for those of you who write longer books), studying the market(if you haven't already), and submitting to agents and/or editors. I'll do some posts on those topics soon.

Write on people!

Go to: I Wrote a Book, Now What? post #2 -- Market Research

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Speaking Spanglish--Why I Chose to Write a Bilingual Picture Book, guest post by Suzanne Santillan

Suzanne Santillan's bilingual picture book GRANDMA'S PEAR TREE/EL PERAL DE ABUELA was published by Raven Tree Press this spring. It's a cute story with beautifully sweet illustrations by Atilio Pernisco. Her book has just been nominated for the California Book Award and a Cybil! Since Suzanne is a fellow Raven Tree Press author I've been lucky enough to get to talk with her a bit and she was nice enough to stop by today to tell us about how she came to write GRANDMA'S PEAR TREE...

When I was young, my father thought it was important for his children to speak Spanish. Growing up in Southern California, I can see why he thought this would be a good thing. I remember sitting at our favorite Mexican restaurant while dad taught us the Spanish words for spoon, fork, chips, etc… This information would help me later in life when I became a manager at a restaurant and I was required to communicate with some of the employees. Thanks to my dad I was able to state such valuable phrases as; “No lechuga in the sink” or “Clean the baƱo, por favor.” Yes, I had truly mastered speaking “Spanglish.”

Years later, I was grateful when I was easily able to speak with my mother-in-law who lapses from English to Spanish in the blink of an eye. I would find myself translating her “Spanglish” for my husband and my children nearly every conversation. I began to see the wisdom of teaching my children basic Spanish vocabulary, if only so that they could understand their grandmother just a little bit better.

Taking inspiration from real life, I wrote a simple story about a boy who gets his ball stuck up in a tree and has to find a way to get it back down and added a few twists and turns. The end result was a humorous story that taught 16 Spanish words and the phrase “Aye Caramba!”

It is my hope that this story will help children in the future so that when they have to communicate they can say in true “Spanglish” style; “Throw el gato into the tree” or “Use la escoba to get your things down.”

You can find out more about Suzanne and her book, GRANDMA'S PEAR TREE, at her website and at her blog, Writing on the Sidewalk. You can also find her on Twitter @suesantillan.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Picture Book Idea Month is Coming!

In 2009 I participated in Picture Book Idea Month and I learned a lot. I'm excited because it's almost time for Picture Book Idea Month 2010! You can learn more about Picture Book Idea Month at Tara Lazar's blog, and don't forget to pick up this year's monstery badge by James Burks. It's so cute!

Who's in?

Friday, October 8, 2010

New Things

It seems that with the release of Bedtime Monster lots of new things have come along. Of course, having a book release is all new to me. I've been doing interviews and writing press releases about myself. I've written press releases before, but talking about myself is a bit different than talking about the next library event. I'm planning a book release party. I'm even getting ready to do a small library tour.

But it hasn't only been book things that have been happening, it just seems like having my book released created some sort of waterfall effect of new things. I've learned how to drive a tractor because my husband I are trying our hand at garlic farming. We planted fifty pounds of garlic. We're creating business plans. We're thinking ahead. Hopefully the garlic will grow!

I've become a line judge at volleyball games at school. Now this may not sound like a big deal, but I am not known for my powers of concentration. My mind tends to wander off into thoughts of stories and fantasy worlds if I am doing something boring like watching a line, but I have prevailed! I can concentrate when I have to and make important line calls under pressure. Don't want to disappoint the kids with a bad call.

I went on a job search. I made a resume and everything(never had a need for one before.) There isn't a lot of places to work in my small town but I managed to find one place. I had a real job interview--only the third one in my entire life, then worked in an office. I haven't done that since I moved away from the city and became a mountain girl. There wasn't even a window. The horror! Lucky for me I'm on call. I can live with that.

And just the other day I got a revision request on an article. I don't write much non-fiction for adults so this is exciting. I hope I can change the focus of the article to their satisfaction. I'd better get to work. I'd like to add having an article published to my list of new things someday.