Monthly Archives: May 2005

Choosing

Early in my childhood I learned the safety of books. Libraries were places to discover hidden treasure. After I’d finished reading everything I wanted in the children’s section I walked the aisles of the adult area, searching for the perfect story. The librarian steered me toward Grace Livingston Hill and Victoria Holt. I read all she had of both of them and then found others. Books on royalty. Bloody true crime stories. Historical romances with just enough sex to intrigue me but not enough to traumatize my young mind. 🙂
I loved books. I still do. Today I like bookstores better than libraries, but I don’t go on reading scavenger hunts as often either. I rarely take chances the way I did in the past. A part of me wants to, but another thinks there are too many books in my TBR pile to risk time on a bad book.
I’m not sure if that mentality affects what I write or not.
When I first started writing, I chose to target Harlequin Silhouette for a number of reasons. I thought it would be easier to break in…hahahahaha! I thought the shorter word counts would be easier to write. I loved Margot Early and Debbie Macomber and Judy Christenberry and Nora and Judith Arnold and a ton of other H/S writers. Honestly (and so totally wrong!!!!) I thought writing for H/S would be easier because of the “formula.”
I started off writing what I figured was an American and sent it off into that other world of New York publishing and started on another book. When I got a request for full I figured I was months away from being a published author.
I spent hours working but no real thought on any of my stories. I just wrote them. I didn’t really respect the craft. I didn’t think much about it at all.
That changed with time as did my target markets.
This summer I’m experimenting with my writing. I’m still having fun. I’m tossing the idea of formula out the window. I’m trying to find combinations of words that make me happy and still tell my characters’ stories. I’m working on weaving my voice with their voices. I have no idea of market. Some would say that’s unprofessional. I figure it doesn’t much matter.
I’m reading an interesting book right now. When I started reading it I wasn’t sure I liked it. The story captivated me, but the story’s written from the protagonist’s point of view and it’s not easy to read at first. I stuck with it though because the story was so rich, the language and descriptions so full. I’m 2/3’s through now and I’m glad I kept reading. The book is The Shipping News. It’s a Pulitzer winner from a few years back. I don’t know why I picked it up. I guess the whole News angle interested me. I’m not sure what I’m learning as a writer as I read this story. It’s completely different from anything I’ll ever write. But I like it a lot. Somehow I identify with the characters. The author has made the human connection, the emotional tie. It’s set in Newfoundland. I’ve never really thought much about Newfoundland, but I find myself drawn to this barren area and these people. I hope I don’t need a box of Kleenex by the end of the story. But if I do, I trust this author. I trust that she won’t have me crying for no reason other than author manipulation. I HATE reading stories and getting to the end and some horrible tragedy taking place for no other reason than the author wants to make readers cry. I won’t read Nicholas Sparks anymore because of the end of Message in a Bottle. Author manipulation. Sad ending are fine if the story calls for it, if the characters demand them, if the lesson learned requires that end.
Maybe that’s a lesson I’m supposed to learn as I read this story. My new WIP has a lot of opportunity for author manipulated tears.
Don’t get me wrong. Manipulation is part of the author’s job. But there’s a difference in telling a story, crafting something rich and beautiful and enduring, and throwing in a sad ending just to make people cry. It’s the difference between The Notebook (I bawled and loved every minute of that book) and Message (I threw the book across the room and swore I’d never read another Sparks).
Another choice. What to read, how to write, who to send to. Those choices all play a part in molding me, the writer and me, the reader. But the biggest choice I have to make as the writer is to sit down and write and forget all the rest of this. I think now’s as good a time as any.

Weight loss update: I’m still down 51 pounds. I didn’t lose any last week, but I didn’t gain either. I hope this week breaks the never ending plateau. If I can get through the hours of 2-6 without snacking, I’ll be doing good!

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What it takes

One of my favorite classes to give at conferences is Time Management for Creative People. It’s usually packed because I speak at high school journalism conferences and those kids tend to be a lot like me. My desk is crazy to the non-creative thinker, but to me it’s perfect. Stacks coordinated by class, by importance, by the need to get to something quickly. I know where everything is, and amazingly, most of my editors do too. But Lord help if I have to be absent.
I start my time management class by telling my students all about priorities and how important it is that we have them. That we can build an entire time management system around priorities.
For years I’ve gotten thank you’s from kids and fellow teachers who wanted me to know I was right.
So how come I’ve been neglecting my own list of priorities?
It’s nothing new really.
When I first started writing, I threw myself into the idea of being published. For two years my family gave me all the space I needed and I took it. I forgot all about being mom and wife and me. I was focused on being “Published by Harlequin in Whatever Line Would Take Me.”
Two years later I was multi-rejected by Harlequin in all lines except the ones in London. Not quite, but almost. I also had five complete manuscripts and one incomplete. All revised and revised and revised again before getting the big R.
I took a year off after that. I didn’t really mean to, but I did. One day I was chasing the dream, the next I’d forgotten the dream and settled back in to the Pretend to be Writer by sending out previously rejected material. My family was thankful and I read a bunch of good books of fiction and a few thousand How to Get Published books. I learned all about Scene and Sequel and GMC and Beginnnings, Middles and Ends. I glommed SEP and discovered Deborah Smith and I rolled in the floor as I read Jennifer Crusie’s Tell Me Lies. And every day I called myself a writer even though I wasn’t writing anything.
That year I toyed with not renewing my RWA membership. DH called it an expensive club. That’s when I realized somehow I’d quit. I can’t stand quitting. I don’t know why. But I opened my documents folder and realized I hadn’t written anything new in a year and decided I’d had enough of that. I went to my first National conference that summer. I spent the next three years writing all over the place. I finished several manuscripts, reacquainted myself with the rejection-revision-rejection-request-rejection merry-go-round. I discovered I had voice, and I liked it. The books I wrote were fun or turbulent. I had fun. I thought I’d discovered the road to publication. I was sure I’d find an editor who would love my work and then I’d know the secret.
Then this year hit. Dallas National was great. I was sure I’d sell the suspense action adventure I’d written. I started a new suspense. I had the kick butt heroine down and I loved her and she loved me and we were going to find the success I wanted together.
Only we didn’t.
Once again rejection came knocking.
About the same time the school year from heck kicked my butt.
It wasn’t a great combination for dream chasing, and I found myself back on the old road to pretend writing, resending things already rejected.
For months I played at writing. My critique group practically shriveled up and died. Somehow we stayed together, but only one of us really worked.
And then a few weeks ago a new idea came knocking. I pushed it away at first because it was different from anything I’d written before. But it didn’t go away.
Now I know I’m going to write that book. It scares me because it’s different, but it’s a challenge too.
Just sitting down in front of my computer and writing is going to be a challenge. I have a list of priorities for this summer. At the top of the list is writing. But that’s nothing new.
It’s been at the top of my list for almost eight years.
The key to time management is taking that list and working it, step by step, minute by minute, day by day.
If I don’t work it, it’s just a list and nothing’s going to happen simply by making lists.
I’ve got work to do.

YA fiction

I’m in the middle of a YA book right now, but I stopped writing it when I scared myself.
It’s not cool to jump at every little sound in the house just because you’ve created a ghost in your WIP.
This new work has me thinking more and more about what attracts teens to books. Their likes and dislikes an dreams and desires have changed over the last few years.
DD is definitely more world aware than I ever was. She’s not interested in romance per se, but she is interested in her future. She and my students sit round discussing politics, peace, student rights and music in thirty minute time spans. They’re very aware of everything. I was a news junkie as a teen, but I never thought about my political affiliations or my thoughts on war and peace or nuclear weapons and global warming. I didn’t much care about life outside of my own space.
It’s strange to think about.
Tomorrow is graduation and I’ll say goodbye to another group of kids. It’s sad and exciting at the same time. So many of my kids have so much to offer to the world. I can’t wait to see what they do!
After graduation I have to decide which WIP to work on. I think I’m going to start with the emotionally draining one and use the YA book to give myself a break.
I better decide soon. Tomorrow’s just a couple hours away.

The Lure of the Dream, H/S

McDonald’s, a millionaire, a french fry will and Mr. Novak are all responsible for my quest for publication.
The thrill of reading my work out loud to a class quickly morphed into hours spent trying to make my friends cry. Only it wasn’t quickly at all. Mr. Novak was fifth grade. My friends weren’t crying until eighth.
By then I’d fallen in love with the romance genre and the idea of being an author.
I forgot about that dream for awhile but it didn’t forget me.
Now all these years later I’m writing books that make my friends cry again. And still I’m chasing the dream.
What is it that keeps a writer going, spending the 74 cents on a query, the hours on a manuscript even when they know chances are the story will end in rejection?
When will the rejections add up to some insurmountable wall? Does that even happen?
I don’t know. For me, the time has not come. I still enjoy the story and the process of creating it even though the rejections still sting.
The dream still lures, drawing me in and willingly I go. And with each word typed, I know the dream is there, just a few steps ahead of me. Waiting for me to find the right path to get there.

For years I’ve read Harlequin and Silhouette romances. They’ve been a sort of comfort for my soul. Lately they’ve been in the news all the time. They’re losing readers and people are wondering what’s next.? I wonder too.
By the time I was my daughter’s age, I’d already fallen in love with a few hundred Greek Tycoons. I dreamed of being the secretary who won the lottery vacation of a lifetime, or maybe I was a nurse called Sister Mary. (It took me the longest time to figure out all the nurses were Sister so and so!)
I couldn’t wait to share my love of the genre with my daughter.
She tried to read romance. She really did.
But she never got past the first couple chapters.
She eats up Shopoholic and Bridget Jones, but keep her away from romance. She’s just not interested.
I thought maybe it as just an age thing, so I asked my students. None were reading romance. At least not romance without a chic lit feel or a suspense or horror element.
I was stunned.
I have my own theory on what’s happened, and I don’t really think it has to do with the fact that kids are reading less these days.
I just think the hopes and dreams of teenage girls today don’t rest on the fantasy of wife, mother and wealth. They want careers and credit cards and cute cars and a life filled with trips abroad. And a bunch of them have seen the lifestyle of Sex and the City and decided that’s not for them either. They want stability but not necessarily husbands.
It’s interesting and it’s really made me think.
Who is my target audience? Who do I want to read my stories?
If I’m thinking those thoughts, you can bet editors are too?
Answering that question first just might help the dream of publication come true.

The End Is Near

The end is near.
For eleven years I’ve been lucky enough to walk into a classroom and love my job. Even on bad days when my students are whiny, my staff misses deadlines and teenagers drive me berserk, in the back of my mind I know I’m lucky.
How many people love what they do?
I sometimes forget how much I love what I do.
This year’s been trying to say the least. A new schedule made it seem like I was on deadline all the time. Writing was something I dreamed about and played at but never really did much of. Over night my biological on time switched to off. In the olden days (read: last year), I could stay up and write from 10-2. It was marvelous the way the muse hit and words poured from my fingers onto the keyboard and across the screen. I’d click my Playlist to Evanescence of AirSupply and off I’d go on a journey to whatever new country I’d created.
This year 10 hit and I was beyond exhausted. By 9 my eyelids would start to weigh down, my eyes burned. I’d try coffee, my old secret weapon, but even that didn’t work. For seven years coffee had inspired me to write. Now nothing could. Not even chocolate. Not even the knowledge that someone else had sold. I was just too tired.
But that was then.
I plan on erasing those wordless months next week.
And next year I’m shifting gears in the newsroom. My kids are going to write and they’re going to read and they’re going to read some more.
For years I’ve been preaching the virtues of voracious reading, but I haven’t really done anything to make sure it happens in my classroom.
I realize now that’s essential. Not only to them but to me. To my writer’s soul.
It’s going to be war.
You wouldn’t think it would be since the majority of my students are honors kids who make 5s on their AP Lit tests. But this year I’ve realized most of my students don’t read anything more taxing than Lucky or Cosmo when it comes to entertainment. They read the old dead white men when they have to just because their teachers tell them they must. They tell me, and they’re quite proud of this fact, that they hate reading. That their love for reading was destroyed right around the time of seventh or eighth grade when they were forced to read Frankenstein and analyze it for figurative language.
Yeah. I would’ve hated reading too.
Not that Frankenstein is a bad book. Mary Shelley’s bio. would’ve been enough for me to read the book in awe and terror, but when kids are forced to read for grades and no one’s encouraging them to read for pleasure, a problem starts and festers until suddenly I’m stuck with a classroom filled with kids who can analyze the heck out of style, can tell you all about figurative language and what the author meant to do, can write one awesome paper, but ask them the last good book they read and the look at you with blank stares until one of them whispers, “Did you just say good?”
I know I can’t undo years of I HATE READING mentality in all of my kids. But I’m going to do my best. Sure some of my students will still read the classics, but hopefully some of them will pick up some newer authors. I can’t wait to share Isabelle Allende and Rudolfo Anaya and Andre Breton and Rick Reilly (the BEST writer in America in my opinion) and Mary Higgins Clark and Janet Evanovich and Meg Cabot with them.
My students have already been warned. They know a reading revolution is brewing in the newsroom. I saw a girl surreptitiously checking out my Princess Diaries book the other day, so the first shot’s been fired.
I love my job now. I think I’ll love it more soon.

I’m back…weigh in and retreat

Four more days and summer’s here. I can’t wait.
I missed yesterday’s update. I’ve now lost 51 pounds. I looked through my weight log and realized I’ve either gained or lost what I gained the last two months. ICK. Time to move on.

The retreat was a blast. It’s always rejuvenating to just hang out with other writers and veg. We plotted, talked, critiqued, ate and drank. Some of us even went swimming. The hundred degree days warmed the lake perfectly.
I shared my synopsis and the opening of my new work with the writers there. It was intimidating to say the least. This is a whole new direction for me and here were these incredible writers sitting there willing to listen. Two are my normal critique partners, but it was different at the retreat.
I wanted to share. I was excited about what I’d written. I never planned on crying. But I did. A LOT. I was just overcome with sadness and then overwhelming peace and then more sadness. It was so strange. But it was amazing too. I’ve never really felt this close to a work before. It made me wonder if maybe I’m not a little too close to this story. I’m writing it because I feel like it’s the story I’m supposed to write. We’ll see what happens.

woo hoo, thank you LORD!

1400 yearbooks out, only three angry parents. I’m one happy camper!
It’s been a little crazy in the Lee household these days. One more week and I’m a full time writer for 2 months. I can’t wait. My goals: to flesh out my inspirational and finish my YA paranormal. Life is good.
Life really is good. It’s something I sometimes forget in the midst of all these crazy days. This week one of my good friends found out her husband has terminal cancer. Last month he went to the doctor and was diagnosed with a little stomach virus. This week that little virus turned out to be a few weeks, maybe months, to live.
I’ve been gripey these days, complaining about my crazy life and the horrible hours and whiny students and a witchy hormonal teenager who loves me one minute and wishes I’d fly away to the moon the next. This helped put things in perspective.
I’m gone the next three days on a writers retreat with friends. My goal is to write…LOTS. My friends will be plotting. I don’t plot first all that often, but I like to help them.
Life is good. 🙂

Whew!

Back to my 50 pounds down. DANG! Why does it take two months to lose seven, two days to gain it and then another month to lose it again?
Very strange.
Interesting note and something I probably have said a million times before:
I started drinking 1-2 diet drinks a week again this last month and didn’t lose a single pound.
I quit this week and re-lost the five I’d gained.
A long time ago my doctor told me Diet Cokes were the worst thing I could drink. I should’ve listened to him then.
Diet sodas are out of my diet for good!

Redemptive, uplifting, the power of forgiveness

I just finished The Lovely Bones. I wanted to love the book. I really did. Millions of people have raved about it. The story was masterfully crafted.
But when the cover quotes say a story is redemptive, uplifting and something that shows the amazing power of forgiveness, and those quotes are from top reviewers working for the top papers in the nation, you figure they know what the heck they’re talking about.
The story was interesting–captivating even. But it wasn’t redemptive…or uplifting…and as far as the power of forgiveness goes, I never really saw it. It was a glimpse at what might have been forgiveness, but felt more like a sort of resolution, an acceptance and attempt to make things okay even though they never would be.
I can’t blame the author. She didn’t write the cover quotes.
It’s definitely time for a romance. I dug Heaven, Texas out to read again for the millionth time. Now that’s a story of forgiveness. And it’s uplifting. Especially the ice cream scene. 🙂

Computer Problems

Last week it was no computer access, this week it was no LiveJournal access. I can’t believe how addicted I’ve gotten to this thing!
But something big has happened to me this week. An epiphany of sorts.
Somehow in the last four or five years I’ve allowed myself to become the biggest kind of hypocrite there is.
Hi. My name is Mary Beth and I’m a pro romance snob.
For years I’ve responded and talked about how so many in the world of NYT and literati and those that embrace Oprah put down the romance industry.
I’m a reader. I’ve always been a reader. A reader of everything. Romance, Sci-Fi, The Wall Street Journal, cereal boxes, the classics. I love reading because I love words.
But in the last few years I’d quit reading everything except news and romance. It had to be a subconscious response to the anti-romance comments I’d heard and read. I’m not exactly sure why I thought it was a good idea to surround myself with romance and the occasional mystery and nothing else, but it limited not only my reading world but my appreciation of the craft of world building and word usage.
This week I’ve read two excellent books. They weren’t romance.
Peace Like a River (see my last blog entry) and The Poisonwood Bible. Both were incredible. Both touched me deeply. Both helped me grow as a writer, I hope. I’m reading The Lovely Bones now. I don’t know why I’m just now reading it. It’s been on my TBR list for a long time.
I love romance. That’s not going to change. But I’m not going to limit myself again.

On another note, one of my former students stopped by today. It’s amazing to see these kids all grown up. It makes me happy. 🙂 If you’re reading, hi Tom.
He told me he googled my name and the first thing he found was my LiveJournal. It surprised him to think of his former teacher as a person. I understand. I still call my journalism teacher Mrs. Gillespie and we’ve been competing against each other in UIL events for over 11 years. She told me I could call her Anne once. I still can’t even imagine doing that! I’m lucky I get to share my love of language and writing with my students. I hope I do make a difference.
Tomorrow I get to be the vice-principal for a day. At first I was honored at being asked. Then I was terrified. 99% of my kids are incredible. Discipline issues aren’t exactly a problem in my classroom. Tomorrow, they’ll be my life.
I’ve thought about going into administration, but I’ve shied away for several reasons. I can’t share that love of language as a principal. My job is my dream job (other than being a full-time writer). I teach because I really do think I can make a difference in kids’ lives. I really do think publications are essential to the continuation of life in the good ol’ USA. I believe teaching kids about their constitutional rights and reminding them to read for the fun of it is important. None of that is possible in the admin’s office. I guess I’ll get a crash course on what I do or don’t want to be when I grow up tomorrow. Yikes.