17 Nov

Projects + rejects = prejects

Let’s face it: Between the holidays and the Cybils and the fact that my current nonfiction project involves slowly reading a great big book, 2006 is just about over for me, productivitively. (Don’t bother looking that one up.) And between rewrites of older stuff and new projects that have gone into circulation, it’s been a satisfying year.

Which is kind of surprising, when I think of the projects I worked on this year that didn’t go anywhere, or at least not as far as I’d hoped. Remember E.F.? Toast? Tennessee? There was at least one more picture book manuscript that I don’t think I ever even gave a pseudonym to. Some of these took up a lot of my time, involved interviews and considerable research, and — for a while, at least — were what I expected to be working on for a long time to come.

As much as I’d like to have spent that time on projects that might sell, I don’t regret them. (And, of course, I didn’t know at the time that they wouldn’t sell, or that I wouldn’t be able to get them to a point where we could find out whether they would or not.) I learned a lot from each one, if not from the writing itself than from the research I did for them. I’m smarter as a result.

More importantly, I think I’ll enter 2007 with a better sense of the sort of project that’s right for me and right for the market. And if I don’t? Well, just watch this space next November.

28 Mar

Later, Tennessee

Sufficiently frustrated by my lack of an angle for Tennessee, I jettisoned all my research materials over the past couple of days. Back to the libraries went six books, a CD boxed set, and a DVD, but only after a last-ditch effort early this morning, in which I re-watched the DVD while skimming two of the books. Other than a minor, pre-coffee case of information overload, nothing came of it.

Nothing yet, anyway. As I said last week, I learned a lot of interesting stuff, and as I mull it — subconsciously or otherwise — who knows what I might stitch together? Maybe I can put my new knowledge to use in some fiction project down the road. Or maybe the whole exercise will prove to be a dead end. It wouldn’t be the first time.

But when I left the library after my lunch hour today, I felt a lot lighter than when I went in. It wasn’t just that I was no longer burdened by the materials I’d unloaded (which also included, unrelated to this nonfiction project, at least a half-dozen picture books and a jumbo graphic novel). While I was there, I began writing longhand the first few hundred words in the first draft of my sample chapter for E.F.

I’d begun thinking that having two proposals (or would-be proposals) in the works at one time was one too many, and I’m not entirely sure I was wrong. Lately, I’d been feeling a little overwhelmed, burned out, fed up with facts and how to find them. But if Tennessee was going to end up thwarting me, at least for now, I sure am glad I’ve got a more promising project to balance things out.

23 Mar

A modest proposal (or two)

I’ve spent most of my “writing” time lately on research for a couple of nonfiction projects for which I hope to start shopping around proposals this spring. These would both be different from anything I’ve done so far — targeted to teen readers and centering not on an individual person or people but on historical concepts or trends.

And so far, anyway, they’re very different from each other, not just in subject matter — one’s political, one’s cultural — but in how clearly I can see the shape I think these books would take.

The political one, E.F., is coming along nicely. I know the material is there, in spades, and I know how it ought to be framed. I’ve figured out the lens through which the story should be told, and now I just need to conduct a few interviews that will, I hope, give me what I need in order to write a sample first chapter for the proposal.

The cultural one, which I’ll call Tennessee… well, I sure am learning a lot. And it’s fascinating stuff, none of which I was more than vaguely familiar with prior to digging in. But I haven’t a clue what to do with what I’m learning, how it can be made relevant to modern young readers, or where to focus. There’s no physical action and I haven’t come across any intriguing personalities, both of which would be nice to have for both reader and writer.

I’m going with the assumption that I just haven’t dug deep enough into Tennessee yet, haven’t looked at the subject from enough perspectives. So, I’ll keep at it. Besides, this being new territory in so many ways — the subject matter, the audience I’d be writing for, shopping a proposal instead of a full manuscript — I’m not sure I’d know when to stop.