19 November 2009

The Cold Shoulder

Hi, all. I was meaning to post a nice, long blog entry this week, but my shoulder injury is acting up again, and it's looking a bit more serious than previously determined. I hope to be able to post some thoughts before Thanksgiving, even if I'm only typing with one hand.

In the meantime, have a great weekend. More next week (I hope) about managing stress, both during the holidays and throughout the writing process.

Over and out,
K : )

11 November 2009

Things that Currently Interest Me, Autumnal Edition

1. Barbecue chicken pizza

2. Vintage Vera Neumann scarves

3. The Haunting of Hill House, and the brilliance that was/is Shirley Jackson

4. Getting all my holiday shopping done before Thanksgiving, most if it done in antique stores, local businesses, and via Etsy

5. Honeycrisp apples, preferably with cheese (check out the Robusto at Whole Foods — you won't be sorry)

6. Informally committing to NaNoWriMo, and formally committing to not letting this novel kick my ass

7. Turkey, stuffing, gravy, and pie ordered pre-made, leaving just a few low-stress side dishes to make myself

8. Maintaining my green thumb by keeping all my indoor plants alive

9. Stripy wool tights

10. Being thankful for everything, every day

And you?

04 November 2009


One year ago, I was laid off from my job.

In the days that followed, I was shocked, and angry, and sad, and confused (though much of that could have been the Prosecco talking). But I soon learned that what I was actually given was an opportunity, an opportunity to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my life, what would be truly gratifying for me, what would make me happy.

Fortunately, that soul-searching didn't take long. What followed was an incredible year, and a life I can now call fulfilled, balanced, and completely my own. I'm living proof that setbacks can lead to good things — and sometimes, even better things! — if you let them.

Many, many thanks to those of you who've supported me, especially over the past year, when I was trying to get this bird off the ground. And big love to the writers and illustrators who allow me the honor of working with them every day. I am truly blessed, and I wouldn't change a step of the journey that led me here.

Tweet regards,
K : )

19 October 2009

Remembering Norma

I was fortunate to work with Norma Fox Mazer while I was at Candlewick Press, editing an adorable picture book called Has Anyone Seen My Emily Greene?, about a girl and her father and their special hide-and-seek tradition. As you might imagine, Norma was a delight to work with, and I was both thrilled and honored to help her bring one of her books into the world.

There was so much to admire about Norma, it was often difficult for me to maintain my focus when we interacted. Of course, I was impressed by her lifelong dedication to her craft and to telling young readers the truth. But she was also such a lovely person, both inside and out, and such an inspiring, encouraging teacher, willing to share her knowledge and her honest opinions.

She was brilliant, she was funny, she was beautiful, she was genuine, and she could rock braids like nobody's business. She will be missed — though whenever I need the courage to stay dedicated to my work and true to my stories, she'll be in my thoughts.

Norma Fox Mazer was, in every way, the real deal.

12 September 2009

A Great Quote

If you can come to such friendly terms with yourself that you are able and willing to say precisely what you think of any given situation or character, if you can tell a story as it can appear only to you of all the people on earth, you will inevitably have a piece of work which is original.

— Dorothea Brande, Becoming a Writer

25 August 2009

Revising: Do Not Disturb

I gave myself until the end of August to finish my revision. As of this writing, I have six days and a few hours left. In between, I have a bit of editing to do, and my husband is hoping we might spend some time cleaning the house this weekend, as the past few weeks have made it too hot to move around here, let alone snap on some rubber gloves and wield a toilet brush.

In other words, no major blog revelations this week. But if I do manage to meet my self-imposed deadline, I'm sure I'll have a lot to say in about a week. Until then, I hope you all manage to enjoy what remains of August — which, ideally, should include getting your hands on some frozen lemonade, either via your nearest Del's, or using this to whip up some of your own.

Stay cool,

19 August 2009

Seducing the Muse

In a perfect world, I'd be able to write at will, whenever and wherever I choose. But this is not the case, sadly. While I am working towards an easier, more open relationship with my muse, we're on uncertain footing now. Summoning her takes effort. 

In many ways, it's like seduction; just as one might dim the lights, break open some bubbly, and put on some Barry White to inspire a romantic mood, I have certain rituals to inspire a creative frame of mind. These things include:

I can't write in a coffeehouse, I can't write on a train. I can't even write with other writers in the room. Other people are just too interesting to me, and I get distracted.  When I really need to get the job done, I need to be alone, with the door closed and the lights low. If I lived in another era (and had a few more zeroes on my bank statement), I'd be one of those writers who checks into a hotel for a month or so. My muse loves hotel rooms.

Decaf is fine, but regular is much more effective; the caffeinated buzzing in my brain tends to quiet the negative you're-a-hack voices, and the jitteriness prevents me from dwelling on any one issue for too long, which is especially helpful with first drafts. Sometime I find that even the act of making coffee can wake up my muse and lift my spirits.

As I've mentioned, I am prone to distraction. I can't listen to music with lyrics while I'm reading or writing — I end up on a tangent, singing along to Liza Minnelli's cover of "You're So Vain" (which is fabulous, buy the way) or thinking how that certain song by The Cure reminds me of an old boyfriend. Even music without lyrics can be distracting for me, if it involves heavy percussion or syncopation. So I stick to classical music. In particular, there's an album called "Bach for Book Lovers" that I find really effective; it offers just the right amount of background music.  It lulls my muse, and allows me to tune in to my work while tuning out everything else.

On the occasions when I'm not sequestered (preferably in a 4+ star hotel room) with good coffee and the right music, it helps me to stay connected with other writers or otherwise creative people.  I have a few really good "writing buddies" with whom I talk shop at least once a week; it's a great opportunity to offer and receive encouragement, work through story problems, and feel a general sense of camaraderie, that we're all in this crazy writing game together. Regular creative communication can be incredibly invigorating and inspiring. While my muse doesn't do well in crowds, she can't survive in a vacuum, either.

What do you do to get yourself (and your muse) in the mood?

12 August 2009

Things that Currently Interest Me, August Edition

1. A new summer office (better late than never)

2. Homemade peach pie, with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream

3. These Crocs, for rainy days (yes, I wear Crocs sometimes, don't be a hater)

5. Finishing my revision Bird by Bird-style, one chapter at a time

6. Keeping my new houseplants alive

7. The season premiere of "Mad Men," and whether Joan is going to marry that awful doctor/rapist

8. Reading fabulous books by esteemed colleagues, such as Laurel Snyder's Any Which Wall, Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles, Going Bovine by Libba Bray, and Geektastic, anthologized by editrices Cecil Castellucci and Holly Black (whew, link-a-palooza!)

9. Listening to the Kossoy Sisters

10. Not getting too bummed out about being a year older

And you?

03 August 2009

29 July 2009

Things that Currently Interest Me, July Edition

1. The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

2. Nurse Jackie, my new (anti)hero

3. A tall glass of freshly-squeezed lemonade, with or without a shot of homemade limoncello

4. Spending a long weekend sitting by a pool, doing absolutely nothing

5. Realizing my shoulder pain may be all in my head

6. A date at the drive-in

7. Icebox cake 

8. Being invited to other people's cookouts, since we don't have a grill

9. Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, which compels me to travel — and, of course, EAT

10. A finished, however wonky, first draft. (More on this tk...)

And you?

08 July 2009

Sabbatical, Part Two: Retreat to Move Forward

When we last left moi, I'd enjoyed my teaching gigs at Rhode Island College and Lesley University, and was preparing to depart for my very first writing retreat.

Of course, I've attended retreats in the past. But this was my first experience in attending one as a writer, and not an editor. I must admit, I was a little bit nervous about the whole thing at first, especially when I saw the impressive roster of attendees. Would I find a way to fit in with these brilliant authors? I wondered. Or would I feel like a complete impostor? And most important, would I be able to get any work done?

I was pretty nervous about the work part. At that point, I had about forty pages completed of my first draft, and while I liked what I'd written so far, I'd been away from the story for a while, and was worried that I wouldn't be able to recapture the same level of breathless, miraculous creative energy I'd felt in writing those first chapters. I worried that what I'd write would be serviceable, but not up to the same standards. As I've been doing a lot of work on my house lately, I can equate it to painting half a room with one can of paint, then finishing the other half with a different can of the same color; the final product is often close, but not an exact match. So I went into the experience with one goal in mind: to write ten pages. I felt confident that I could at least make that happen, and of course, I didn't stipulate whether or not they had to be ten good pages.

Thankfully, the experience started off with a long car ride with a friend. I love a road trip, especially when the following elements are on-hand: good conversation, good music, beautiful weather, breathtaking scenery, and a fast food pit stop. In this case, it was check, check, check, check, and check. By the time we arrived, I was already exhilarated and inspired. 

The retreat center was, in a word, gorgeous. (Photo above of the view from the porch just outside my room.) And our gracious co-hosts thought of everything — when we arrived, we were given paper and pens, chocolate, and a wine glass. What, no wine? you ask. Oh, you just wait.  As the other attendees arrived, we all situated ourselves in our rooms, then met on the second-floor deck for a meet-and-greet, where we enjoyed snacks and wine (finally!) and a make-your-own-wine-charm station! I used alphabet beads to make mine, which spelled out JUST WRITE.

But that was the least of my charming experiences. Throughout the afternoon and evening, I spent time meeting and chatting with my fellow retreaters, all of whom were beyond lovely and amazing. I felt infused with creativity and goodwill (and more than a little vino), and so, after dinner, I found myself a comfy seat on that back porch, a view of Lake Champlain before me, and I started to write.

What I wrote, unfortunately, was terrible.

The next morning, I would not be daunted by the experience; I decided to write through it.  I didn't go back into my story at first, but instead did some journaling about the bad experience I'd had the night before, which led me to spend some time writing out some character studies.  I realized that in the time I'd spent apart from my story, I'd lost touch with my characters; that's why my reunion with them the night before had been so awkward. As soon as I figured that out, I was back on track, and this time, the writing came easier. Still, it wasn't as magical as it had been during that initial forty-page frenzy, but I was moving forward. I just kept telling myself not to feel discouraged, that I just needed to keep writing, that whatever was imperfect about the story could be set right eventually.  Slowly, slowly I went, and before I knew it, I was ten pages ahead. I made sure to journal again, because I find it just important to write about the high points in my process as it is to recount the low points.

In between, there was great food. And coffee. And conversation. And more great food. And then, more wine, along with a recounting of all we'd accomplished that day, complete with celebratory leis. (Insert joke about getting lei-ed here.) When it was announced that there would be a reading after dinner by those who were willing, my initial reaction was that I'd opt out. But I came to the eventual conclusion that I needed to read, that this first retreat experience would not be complete for me without writing and sharing my work with others. I needed to be brave.

I needed a barf bag and an oxygen tank or some combination of the two at first, when I found myself in front of the mike. But as I started reading from those first chapters, I was reminded of how much fun they were to write; it turned out they were just as much fun to read. And my audience, my fellow writers, my friends, were enjoying it, too. Really, I think the boost of confidence that reading (and the response to it) gave me was both the last thing I expected and the very thing I needed.  Because when I returned home and finally went back into the story, that positive feedback helped to move me forward.  

In fact, just a few weeks later, I was faced with something truly surprising: a finished first draft.  Once I got past the halfway point of the story, I wrote a rough ending, which served as the light of the end of the tunnel. Then I sequestered myself in my room with a pot of coffee and some classical music, and went at it; five hours later, I was done, and experiencing a combination of shock, euphoria, and over-caffeination. 

Many thanks to my fellow attendees at the retreat, Swinger of Birches, for being so welcoming and inspiring.  You helped me to feel like a real writer.  And that helped me to act like one.


Sabbatical, Part One: A Touch of Class

Hello, and thanks for your patience as I've rustled up some bloggable thoughts. Life has been pretty relentless for the past couple of weeks, and I've been in a bit of a slump for the past couple of days. I can't remember the last time I experienced this level of ennui.  Maybe my brain and body are just telling me they need to relax after all the hoopla? Or maybe it's just the RAIN? I find myself blaming the rain for everything these days. Somehow, my life has turned into a Milli Vanilli song.

In any case, I had an amazing time as the editor-in-residence at Rhode Island College's ASTAL conference, where I met many talented writers and spoke a bit about my experiences in publishing and the state of the industry and what we can all do in these changing times ("adapt or perish" being the suggested new mantra).  

I also critiqued several manuscripts during my tenure, and had some interesting discussions with the authors of those pieces.  In many cases, my main concern (given that I was only critiquing the first ten pages of novels) was that the story began too abruptly, with no back story to ground me as a reader. In each case, the author informed me that they'd been told not to include backstory in the first chapter, as it would bog down the pacing. On another occasion, I encountered a manuscript where too much information was offered up-front; when I suggested starting the story at a later point and offering some of the more pertinent information via flashback, the author informed me that they'd been told to be wary of flashback, as it would overwhelm the main story.

To each of these responses, I say (and said) pish-posh. Of course, we never want to abuse certain devices, but backstory and flashback are intrinsic to every writer's toolkit. When used appropriately and discriminatingly, these tools can help you to convey information in a succinct, engaging way, allowing you to move your story along at the right pace. Without any backstory, you end up starting far too in media res, leaving your readers feeling rushed and lost and frustrated; it's like showing up for a movie half an hour or more after it's started. Without flashback, you're forced to convey your previously-occurring events and information in the present, which bogs down your prose with exposition. So feel free to employ ALL of the tools at your disposal; just be sure to practice good judgement in how (and how often) you use them.

After my two days at RIC, I switched gears, spending a day at Lesley University for the kick-off of my course, "Editing: An Overview."  I gave two lectures that day, one on the structure of a publishing house and the process of acquisition, and one on the process of book production.  In between, I participated in several "first pages" critiques, aided by my friend David Elliott. Thankfully, everyone seemed engaged, including yours truly, who was aided in keeping her wits about her with the help of two venti Starbucks lattes.

I got home just in time to do laundry, pack my things, and charge up my iPhone and Kindle. Next stop: writing retreat!

(to be continued)

23 June 2009

Rainy Day Activities

Friends, we on the East Coast are caught in a rainy rut. Can you remember the last time you saw the sun? When you look out onto your back yard, does it resemble a jungle? Are you surprised when you remember it's June and not March?

Well, take heart. Here are some activities to get you through the gloom:

1. Bake. Do you have nothing but a Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix from your Super Bowl chili party two years ago? Suspicious-looking instant scones from the holiday goodie basket your in-laws gave you? Bake 'em, baby. Assembling and mixing ingredients kills time, and when it's in the oven, your house will be filled with the smell of sweet, sweet comfort. And if what comes out of the oven isn't exactly to your liking, just put a scoop of vanilla Haagen Dazs on it.  Instant deliciousness.

2. Nap. There is NOTHING better than taking a nap with windows slightly open, allowing the sound of rainfall to lull you to sleep. If you're lucky, you'll dream of sunshine. 

3. Paint. Certainly, there must be one room in your house that needs (re)painting. And you don't even need to be particular about the color you choose, because it's just going to keep raining here, people.  You can always paint it again.

4. Read old magazines. You know you have at least a year's worth of back issues of at least one magazine stacked precariously somewhere. It's the perfect opportunity to read all those articles you dog-eared. And then it's time to make a decision: recycle or sell on eBay, where you will no doubt make a mint on your canon of Domino issues. 

5. Organize. Does the medicine stored in your linen closet look like it was tossed by meth-heads on a pseudoephedrine raid? Time to pull everything out and make some sense of it all. Finding order amidst the chaos is a perfect rainy-day task. And you never know — you just might realize that the reason your migraine meds aren't working is because the bottle expired in 2003.

6. Call your mother. You've got nothing better to do, and it's not like you're going anywhere. Better get on it, or she's going to call you first. And then you are going somewhere: on a guilt trip.

7. Invent a new cocktail. Admit it: lemonade and iced tea just don't taste the same indoors. Add some sparkle with a slug of rum or tequila — or, what the heck, both. Or ditch the summertime bevvies and shake up some limoncello and the aforementioned Haagen Dazs.  Have you forgotten it's raining yet?

8. Take a bath. It's like going in the pool in your house! No need to worry about lightning storms, or bathing suits.

9. Do laundry. At last, a family activity. Engage the kiddies in a new game called Match the Socks. And for the husbands, a quick round of Why Can't You Remember to Take Your Clothes Out of the Dryer? 

10. Blog About Something Totally Random. Great for multi-taskers who need a little something else to do while drinking limoncello cocktails in the tub after a long day of organizing, laundry, painting, and baking. Best when followed by #2.

That's it from me. Care to add to the list?

22 June 2009

Found While Cleaning My House Last Week

(Lower-left corner nibbled by cat.)

Apologies for not staying in touch, friends; I was away, and returned to overwhelming deadlines and more than a few meetings with clients. And this week, I'm getting ready for my teaching engagements and my upcoming writing retreat. Also, in between, I've been cleaning my house and doing some gardening, much-needed chores I've put off for too long.

I'll be back in action next week, when I promise to update you all on my teaching and retreating experiences. In the meantime, I hope you're all giving yourselves the time and space you need to be your brilliantly-creative selves — and certainly, I hope we're all going to see more than a little bit of sun in the coming days.  I like a bit of rain now and then, but this is downright dispiriting.


05 June 2009

Things that Currently Interest Me, June Edition

1. Egg salad on a bulkie roll with lettuce, tomato, and honey mustard

2. Up

3. Seeing Anne Hathaway perform in Shakespeare in the Park's Twelfth Night

4. My neighborhood farmer's market, where I hope to buy ingredients to make more egg salad

5. Scott Magoon's latest (and most stirring) picture book endeavor 

6. Closing my eyes and letting my story take the wheel — at least, for a while. Wheeee!

7. My Kindle, which saves my shoulder and a few trees (don't worry, I only use it for reading manuscripts, not books)

8. The new seasons of True Blood, the Closer, and Weeds

9. Peonies, preferably without ants

And you?

29 May 2009

Memorial Day

I spent this past Monday with a very special find — my diaries, from 8th grade all the way through senior year of college. These eleven (!!!) volumes had been locked away in a file cabinet, which used to be in storage at my mom's house; I took them out and regarded them with a certain wariness for weeks. Did I really want to read them? How would they make me feel? There was only one way to find out.

I've finished reading, but I'm still processing the experience; for now, I am emotionally jet-lagged. I've gone back and read single volumes of my diary before, but never the whole enchilada in one sitting; truly, I have seen my life flash before my eyes, and it is a rare opportunity to see the narrative arc of one's own youth. 

Among other things, I'm glad I could reconnect with my twelve-year-old alter ego. It's exactly what I needed, the missing piece in the puzzle of the story I'm now trying to tell. If you can get your hands on your old diary (or any writings from your youth), I highly recommend taking a peek; you'll be surprised by how quickly you can tap back into the emotions and mindset of your former self. 

In many ways, going back in that diary time machine can be a painful experience, a reminder of how it felt to have your entire life ahead of you, to be full of possibilities and hopefulness and youthful energy. Also, it can serve as a reminder for all the stupid mistakes you made. (Why did I go out with that guy? And why didn't I go out with that other guy? Why didn't I study more?Whatever happened to those girls I lived with in college in that crazy townhouse?) But it can also be an uplifting experience. Reading those diaries definitely made me feel old(er). But they also made me feel wiser. Back then, I spent a lot of time writing about not knowing who I was or what I wanted to be.  While I still have a lot of questions about my life, I'm confident now of who I am and what my place is in the world. So I think things turned out all right.

By the way, if I knew you between 1982 and 1992, you are most likely in the LaReau Diaries, Volumes I-XI. If you were a boy who broke my heart during that time, you should be very, very afraid.

21 May 2009

Weeding and Writing

The writing life is not always a bed of roses — sometimes, it feels like a bed of nails. Lately, I've been in a bit of a funk, and I'm trying to make sense of it so I can work through it.

For the past few weeks, I've been working on something new, and my mood about it seems to change every other day.  At the outset, I was exhilarated, then I was wary ("Is this really a good idea for a story? Is this going to work? Can I pull it off?"), then I was hopeful ("Wow, I'm really doing it!  And I think it's working!") and most recently, I've become sullen and defeatist ("This is a schlocky piece of crap.  Why did I think I could pull this off? I am a terrible writer who should be embarrassed for even trying"). This latest creative collapse occurred just as a friend agreed to give my manuscript a read; the reality of giving the story an audience seemed to trigger a pervasive rash of insecurity (and I do suffer from chronic, stress-related eczema, so this is a valid metaphor).

In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott advises us to tune out our negative inner voice, which she likens to a radio station, KFKD ("you might as well have heavy-metal music piped in through headphones while you're trying to get your work done," she says), but it's easier said than done, especially when our (okay, my) creative antennae pick up nothing but that frequency. And while it's very easy for me to be a cheerleader for my authors, I can't seem to turn that megaphone around and use it on myself, perhaps because I've just never really thought I was as important or worthy. It can be a challenge to be surrounded by so many brilliant, successful writers all the time. It's difficult to nurture the writer in me when the editor in me is so fully formed and primed and eager to analyze and criticize.  And after a day of giving other writers the positive reinforcement they need to keep going, I often don't have the energy to give myself a pep talk. Sometimes I just have to stop writing and walk away for a while (usually to the TV, where I can find solace in a particularly grisly forensics show).

Thankfully, the weather is nice now, and I have yard work to do.  I've always likened weeding to editing; perhaps a weekend down in the dirt will exhaust my inner critic, at least for a while. If you have successful methods of tuning out KFKD that don't involve gardening gloves and a trowel, I'm all ears. 

13 May 2009

Blue Bird on Steroids!

I know, I know.  It's not a bluebird, it's a bluejay. But isn't he...kind of...large?  

Speaking of anomalies, I have recently begun physical therapy. This is in part because I am old and creaky, as those of you who know me are aware. It is also because I have been experiencing shooting pains in my right arm, from my shoulder to my elbow. Upon further observation (i.e. poking and prodding) by my physical therapist, it has been determined that I suffer from "editor's shoulder."  Yes, I just made up that term, but it is a very real affliction. Years and years of commuting to work while lugging tote bags stuffed with manuscripts have finally taken their toll. According to the experts, the bones in my shoulder have become misaligned, and the musculature is knotted and angry.

As a result, for the time being, I can no longer carry anything on my right shoulder, can't sleep on my right side, and can't really lift anything heavier than an iPhone with my right hand. Let this be a lesson to all you young, seemingly-fit editors out there: buy yourselves Kindles or Sony Readers ASAP. Your body will thank you later.

Hopefully the PT will straighten me out so I can fly right. But in the meantime, I'm going to see if the aforementioned bluejay might be willing to do some heavy lifting for me.

(Photo courtesy of J.LaReau)

07 May 2009

A Great Quote

The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies.

Kate Chopin, The Awakening

01 May 2009

Reverse the Stitching

The other day, I was working on a new story when my husband came into my office and showed me a new pair of sporty gloves he'd just bought. He explained how the manufacturer revolutionized the design of this type of glove by reversing the stitching, so the rough edges and needlework are found on the exterior. This makes the gloves appear pretty unfinished on the outside, but by keeping the interior smooth, the tendency for long-term chafing is reduced (the technology was meant for race car drivers, who compete in endurance events).

This little discussion made me think of my favorite technique to suggest to writers and try with my own work — determining the least likely, most counter-intuitive direction the story might take, and temporarily taking it in that direction. Have a character whose mother is constantly nagging him? What if she were supportive and encouraging? Have a character with an amazing best friend? What if the friend suddenly stopped talking to her, or moved away, or ditched her for a new boyfriend or girlfriend?  Does the guy have no chance of getting the girl? How would he handle it if she actually fell for him? Have a story that rhymes? What if it's told in prose (or at least, a prose poem)?  Or vice versa?

In other words, reverse the stitching.  Turn your story inside out. Flip the script. Don't be afraid to play. You can always return to your original path, but for a little while, take a walk on the road not taken. The very best things happen when we allow ourselves to take risks — both in our lives, and in our work.

22 April 2009

Things That Currently Interest Me, April Edition

1. This song from chanteuse Melody Gardot, which I cannot get out of my head (and don't want to)

2. French Milk by Lucy Knisley

3. A cup of vanilla tea, with Social Tea biscuits on the side

4. "In Treatment" and the über-foxy Gabriel Byrne, who can analyze me anytime

5. Saltwater sandals (I'm thinking yellow, but am equally drawn to the red)

6. Getting a pedicure, in the hope that I'll be wearing open-toed shoes soon

7. Pilot Varsity pens

8. A bird-in-a-nest on homemade bread with a side of bacon (if you don't want to make it yourself, and you live in the Park Slope area, a delicious version found here)

9. The rebirth of all things green

10. SCBWI New England and all the cool cats who will be attending. (I'll be there — will you?)

What's been interesting you this month?

06 April 2009

Break Time

Just a little announcement to let you all know that Bluebird Works will be closed for the week of April 13th. I'm happy to say I'll be taking a vacation.

My little break from work and blogging has led me to think about my writing process, which involves a certain amount of self-imposed break time.  Taking a break from creative work is just as important as doing the work itself — allowing ourselves time away from a project enables us to come back with a different perspective, fresh eyes, and new ideas.

Today, for instance, I've been faced with editing a particularly thorny project.  In between my reading and note-taking and line editing, I have also accomplished the following:

1. Talked to my sister on the phone
2. Watched a forensic show about serial killers
3. Checked up on a friend whose grandfather just passed away
4. Downloaded some fantastic new music
5. Watched the story of Raymond Burr on the Biography Channel (when he wasn't acting, he hybridized orchids, bred Portuguese Water Dogs, owned part of an island in Fiji, and a vineyard in Napa.  Who knew?)
6. Gazed out the window at the torrents of rain washing down my street

Were any of these activities at all related to the manuscript I'm supposed to be editing? Nope. Were they all necessary? Abso-freakin-lutely. Without the distractions, I would have immersed myself in the manuscript to the point where it would have started feeling like forced labor.  Once I start getting that feeling, I know it's time to step away for a little while, whether it's to clear my head entirely or fill it with something completely unrelated. 

If we could just make peace with the fact that watching a "Law & Order" rerun, seeing what your friends are up to on Facebook, going for a run, taking a nap, rubbing your cat's belly, or just staring out into space, are all an inherent part of the creative process, we'd spend more time feeling good and on-track and less time feeling guilty and lazy.

Recently, I started watching "The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency," and among many other things, I've fallen in love with the leisurely pace of the show.  One of my favorite scenes from the premiere episode is when Grace Makutsi insinuates that Precious hasn't been doing any work all afternoon.  Precious proudly informs her secretary that she's been working very hard, because she's been thinking, and thinking is a detective's most important job.  In fact, Precious most often comes upon the solution to the crime at hand while she's in the middle of thinking about something else.

We are, in many ways, like detectives. In writing (or editing) our stories, in figuring out who our characters are and why they do what they do, we are creating and solving our own mysteries.  As long as we ultimately crack the case, we should appreciate whatever we did (or didn't do) to get there. 

P.S. I also took a break today and wrote this blog. No regrets!

30 March 2009

The Bird's on the Wing

A few announcements of my comings and goings over the next few months:

I'll be attending the SCBWI-NE annual conference from April 24-25, critiquing manuscripts and hob-nobbing with fabulous writers and illustrators. If you see me, feel free to introduce yourself — I'd love to meet you!

In addition, I'll be attending BEA this year in New York; I should be there for two days, exact dates to come. If you're a publisher or agent attending the show, and you'd like to get together, drop me a line at query@bluebirdworks.com.

And FINALLY, I'm very happy to announce that I'll be involved in two writing programs, one this summer and one in the fall.

In late June 2009, I'll be the editor-in-residence at the ASTAL (Alliance for the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature) Institute at Rhode Island College. Exact dates to be announced.

Also this June, I'll be lecturing on the fundamentals of editing at the summer residency for Lesley College's graduate creative writing program.  This will be the kick-off for the semester-long editing course I'll be teaching, which will be offered in the fall. Exact dates to be announced.

More news to come! Let me know if you have questions...

27 March 2009

Inspiration Board

I've had a functioning home office for less than a year now, but it's easily my favorite room in our house. It's a lovely space on the second floor, tailored to my every need by my wonderful (and handy) husband, including plenty of natural light, extra-wide, extra-deep shelving for 11" x 17" layouts, built-in drawers for stationery and office supplies, and a big stuffed reading chair that rocks and reclines. In a word, heaven.

And yet, until recently, something had been missing. I'd feel it especially when sitting at my desk. Sure, I had a mug overflowing with pens, a framed photo or two, the requisite crocheted hotdog. But I needed something more. I needed inspiration.

I've spent a lot of time in the workspaces of my fellow "creatives" (editors, designers, et al), all of whom have an inspiration board of one kind or another. This is either an actual corkboard, or just the nearest wall, on which they've affixed all manner of ephemera — snippets of text, images downloaded from the web or clipped from magazines, funky postcards, movie posters, CD covers, successful (and unsuccessful) book jackets, and other evocative bits and bobs. In short, it's a bit like looking into that person's brain, at the creative potpourri whirling around inside. 

As we're doing creative work, it helps to have external stimuli to motivate and inspire us, especially as most of us spend so much time at our desks, away from the actual outside world. Hence, the inspiration board.

That's what I was missing. So, for Valentine's Day, ever-handy hubs took two vintage frames, some spraypaint, some foamcore, and some cork sheeting, and voila! My office was finally complete. (One of the two boards is pictured above.)

If you haven't already, I highly recommend assembling an inspiration board for yourself.  It could be a simple as taping your favorite quote to the wall over your computer or drawing table, or you could get yourself a little (or not-so-little) corkboard and go crazy. You could even tailor your board to whatever you're working on — images and quotes from an appropriate time period if you're writing historical fiction, photos from a particular locale to help you flesh out your setting, or photos of yourself as a kid if you're trying to get back in touch with your inner child.

So far, my own inspiration boards aren't as full as they could be — building them is a slow process. But here are a few things I've already put on display, to keep myself creatively-stimulated, not to mention amused:

1. A set of retro-80s ribbon barrettes, made for me by a particularly crafty author
2. A card featuring a dog standing on its hind legs while its owner awards him with a treat, under which another author of mine has written "The Editor-Writer Relationship"
3. A photo of my sister, age 8 or so, smiling while sliding headfirst down a slide, wearing a swimcap and goggles
4. A printout of my latest mantra, a quote by Octavia Butler: "Habit is more important than inspiration." 
5. A ridiculously lame toy from the 70s, in the form of an orange chenille worm with googly eyes, which I desperately wanted as a child, recently reissued (and renamed, inexplicably, "Squirmles") and bought for me by my sister at Target
6. A certain pithy fortune cookie fortune

What's on your inspiration board?

20 March 2009

17 March 2009

Things that Currently Interest Me, March Edition

1. Seeing $1.99 movies at the Patriot 

2. Dove Dark Chocolate Promises with Almonds

3. Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series

4. "Damages" and the very kick-ass Glenn Close

5. The SXSW book publishing panel and the simultaneous mutiny/Twitter-fest of its audience

6. Making a big clothing donation 

7. What the writers of the "L Word" series finale were thinking

8. Whether I should opt for a Kindle or Sony Reader

9. When I might afford to buy a Kindle or Sony Reader

10. Fat Bastard Blushing Bastard Rosé, and the day, not long from now, that I'll be sipping it on my back porch

And you?

10 March 2009

On Keeping a Writing Journal

If I could only give one piece of advice to writers (aside from back up your files), it would be to keep a writing journal. This is like keeping a regular diary, but you're specifically recounting your daily writing experiences and your emotional responses to those experiences.

I practice what I preach. I keep a little Moleskine notebook nearby at all times, and spend time each day jotting down story ideas and how I'm feeling about what I've written. More often than not, that feeling is crappy. But when I go on to articulate why I'm feeling so negatively, whether it's because a scene isn't working or a character doesn't fit or a dialogue exchange feels unnatural, I eventually and invariably solve the problem. There's something about figuring out a writing problem by writing it out that just works. 

For instance, I was muddling through a YA novel where the narrator's sister died in a car accident halfway through the story. After the accident, the story just fell apart. I was devastated. I wrote about it in my journal, about how everything turned to steaming doo-doo after the sister died. And then I wrote the question, What if she doesn't die? Whoa. That turned everything upside-down! Suddenly, I'd opened up the story to new possibilities, and opened myself up to a new sense of hopefulness. (Caveat: I still haven't finished the story. But that's another problem for another time.)

Also? It's valuable to keep a record of the ups and downs of your writing process. I may feel crappy and hopeless about what I'm writing most of the time, but at a certain point, a little more than halfway through, when I can see the end of the tunnel, I start feeling hopeful. When I'm working on my next story and I find myself in that crappy, hopeless mood, I can read through the journal of my previous experience and realize that A. I felt crappy and hopeless before, so this is all just part of my process, and that B. eventually, things worked out.

It may seem like a lot, to work in a routine of writing about what you're writing about, but it really is helpful. And if it helps the world's most negative, easily discouraged writer (aka moi), you should at least give it a try, don't you think?

P.S. Yes, I've used the word "crappy" a lot in this entry, and no, I'm not going to apologize for it.

06 March 2009

The Allegory of the Hotdog

Each holiday season, Providence-area artisans gather themselves downtown and offer their clever wares at a month-long festival called Craftland. I do a good little bit of Christmas shopping there — though, admittedly, it is mostly for myself.

This past year, I attended the event a bit late, having already done all of my well-deserved self-shopping. I was there merely to browse, and had nothing left I really needed or wanted. Or so I thought. 

Before long, I ended up buying two pieces of art, one by the very talented Jen Corace, and one by another fave of mine, Jaime Zollars. You might think I was finished at that point. You might think I was spent, both literally and figuratively. But no. Not so fast, Kara's wallet.

Wanting to make sure I did my due diligence, I browsed the rest of Craftland, giving each artisan a (however-futile) chance to tempt me. Eventually, I made my way past the kitschy-cool t-shirts and handmade messenger bags and lovely jewelry — all of it wonderful, none of it quite striking me. But there, at the very back, nearly hidden amongst some handmade baby clothes and googly-eyed magnets, was where I saw it.

A crocheted hotdog.

Let it be said that I never imagined such a thing as a crocheted hotdog even existed, let alone that I would feel such a strong desire for it. But it spoke to me in more ways than one — I have a special place in my heart for all things crocheted-with-love (thanks to my grandmother, a crafty lady in her own right), and I believe hotdogs are innately hilarious. So there it was, and there I was, and there my wallet was, and that was that. It was just so strange and funny and audacious, I had to have it. It was exactly what I wanted, exactly what I needed, and I didn't know it until that very moment.

This crocheted hotdog has earned a place of honor on my desk, for two reasons. It's a reminder of the way new ideas and projects can (and should) surprise and enthrall me. And it symbolizes what I'm always striving for in my work, both as an editor and as an author: something strange and funny and audacious. And something that gives you plenty of food for thought. 

Ideally, with relish.

-K : )

P.S. If you'd like to purchase your own crocheted treasure, the artist maintains an Etsy shop here. I don't see any hotdogs there at present, but you could always email for status...

25 February 2009

Tweet Liberty

Greetings, peeps. It's your friendly neighborhood birdbrain here, reporting from my perch in Providence, aka the Renaissance City, aka that funky little stop between Boston and New York.

In this new year, with so much Change in the air, I've been casting an editorial eye over my own life, and I'm eager to make some revisions. For too long, I've prided myself on staying grounded, on following the flock, on not ruffling any feathers. So, you know what? 

It's time for me to fly.

As part of my flight plan, I'm spreading my wings and focusing a bit more on my own writing. Just as our trusty flight attendants advise us to put on our own oxygen masks before tending to our loved ones, I've been taking some deep breaths of creative air, and I've never felt more inspired or energized — and in turn, more able and eager to offer a creative hand to others.

To that end, I've launched my own business, Bluebird Works, where I'm happy to offer freelance editorial and writing services to authors, agents, and publishers. If you haven't already, I hope you'll check out my website. Is there a way we could work together? I hope so. I look forward to more great collaborations with old friends, and making some exciting new connections.

Also, I'm happy to say that I'll be devoting some of my time to teaching, something I've wanted to do for years. As many of you know, I love nurturing new talent, I love talking about the writing process, and I love helping authors to develop and improve their stories; I think teaching will be a productive, satisfying way for me to channel those passions. I'll be sure to post here when my news is official.

Well, that's it from me, for now. Thanks for stopping by; I hope you'll check in now and then to see what I'm up to, and let me know how you're doing. I plan on posting here at least once a week, about whatever seems pertinent or interesting or funny in my life or in the world. Until then...straighten up and fly right!

Tweet regards,
K : )