10 Jun

The Writing Process Blog Tour

Melissa Wiley asked if I’d like to participate in this rolling series of authors’ monologues about their current projects and writing processes, and I thought…

Well, from the title of this post, it’s pretty obvious what I thought. So here goes:

What are you working on?

I’ve got a couple of things going on at the moment, both of them picture books under contract.

One is a biography whose ending my editor and I are still trying to nail down — we want to make sure that we hit the final note just right. Do we leave the reader with one last impression of the subject himself, or encourage the reader to view the bigger picture beyond this one person’s life, or invite the reader to look inward and consider how the subject resonates with them individually, or attempt to accomplish something else? The runaway for figuring this out is growing pretty short.

The other book is all made-up fun, or will be. Right now, I’ve got characters and a vague sense of what the conflict is going to be, but so far there’s neither a story nor, frankly, much fun. (Though I’m enjoying myself.) What I’m working on, then, is figuring out the specifics of what happens, or might happen, or could happen, or should, or ought to, etc. Opening lines popped into my head late last night, so I need to revisit those and see if they still seem to set the right tone and get the story going in a good direction.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

I don’t know that my picture books individually differ drastically from other narrative picture books, but collectively they stand out a bit by falling into two distinct camps. I love writing seriously researched nonfiction, and I love just making up silly stuff, and I feel just as comfortable doing one (The Day-Glo Brothers) as the other (Shark Vs. Train). Enough people have asked me some variation of “How do you do that?” that I understand that enjoying both types of writing is not the norm, but it feels perfectly natural to me. Writing for this audience wouldn’t be nearly as fun if I didn’t or couldn’t do both types of books.

Why do you write what you do?

I write my biographies because something about the arc of an individual’s life — regardless of whether anyone I know has ever heard of this person — fascinates me. I like writing about people who end up in vastly different circumstances from those in which they entered the world, and about how inner drive and outer happenstance work together to change the course of a person’s life, and about the impact that person’s life has on the rest of us. And I like writing about people whose fields of achievement offer lots for me to learn about along the way and lots to distill and convey to my readers.

I write my fiction because I’ve always enjoyed getting people to laugh — or at least taking a shot at getting them to laugh — through the words I string together. It’s no fun when my efforts fall flat, but the times when my audience (even if that audience consists of just one person) does laugh — those keep me going.

How does your writing process work?

For biographies, with the very first piece of research I consult, I generally start creating a timeline of key events in the subject’s life. From that timeline, the period of the person’s life that most intrigues me will begin to emerge — I don’t generally write cradle-to-the-grave biographies, so I’m on the lookout for a significant place to start my telling of their story and a meaningful, resonant place to end my telling. Then I’ll research and research and research until I’m not running into much new information, or not finding any information that alters the story arc that’s taking shape. By then, I’m feeling sort of full and antsy, and I can’t help but start writing, though I’ll probably continue doing research of some sort until the illustrator is entirely finished with the art.

That’s a fairly amorphous process, but it’s even more so for my picture book fiction. Sometimes, I bang out a full draft the first morning an idea occurs to me, or the first day I pull a previously-jotted-down story idea from a pool of candidates. Other times, there’s a lot of mulling — weeks and weeks of mulling — about how to approach a character or theme or plot point before I ever actually start writing what anybody else would consider to be a draft.

For both types of books, I tend to revise a lot as I go. I turn in very clean drafts — not that they necessarily get returned from editors in quite the same condition.

Who’s next?

Who am I going to ask to answer these questions after me? Well, Melissa has already gone to my go-to author.

So, I was thinking that instead I would ask the most recent commenter, which would be Tina Kugler. But I see that Tina has already taken a crack at these questions.

So, how about you? If you’d be up for keeping the Writing Process Blog Tour going — or if you’ve already done your bit — won’t you please leave a comment letting me know where the rest of us can find your answers?

20 Apr

What am I working on (4/09)?

Even while I’m waiting on all that other stuff, I’m managing to find a few ways to keep myself busy:

Putting together the Facebook page for The Day-Glo Brothers.

Planning the party celebrating the publication of The Day-Glo Brothers — Saturday, July 11, at 1 p.m. at BookPeople.

Getting the word out about my school visits, homeschooler workshops, etc.

Reading up on a couple of inventors for a nonfiction project.

Reading a few graphic novels (American Born Chinese, The Fate of the Artist, Blindspot, Dignifying Science) as research for another project.

01 Apr

What am I working on (3/08)?

Well, since last time, let’s see…

Researching and writing new profiles for my Impostors project, a.k.a. Pasta.

Booking a summer trip to Boston, where I’ll visit my Day-Glo publisher and hang out with my agent and some of her other clients.

Starting manuscript critiques for next month’s SCBWI conference, and making plans to entertain out-of-towners.

Revising my recent picture book manuscripts, starting with Bell.

Toiling away on a plan to raise the profile of children’s and YA nonfiction right here in the (or at least a) River City.

Trying to keep my writing-related-but-not-actual-writing-writing activities in check. So with that, I’m off…

20 Dec

What am I working on (12/07)?

It’s been a while since my last update along these lines, so the answer must be “not much.” But since I just met my final deadline of the year — three new sample profiles with which Pasta‘s publisher will try to tempt potential illustrators — now seems like a good time to get my head clear on what’s next:

Making copies of the many, many Lomax materials currently in my possession (Austin-area libraries and Interlibrary Loan have been very good to me) before I go out and get any more. And with an April deadline looming, I really ought to just stop gathering materials for a while, make sense of what I’ve got, write what I can, and then see what holes in my research still need to be filled.

Saying “no.” I’m full for 2008. Can’t take on anything else. Not that other folks are asking me to take on a bunch of other things — most of the opportunities that I’ll need to say “no” to will originate within my own head.


27 Mar

What am I working on (3/07)?

Making my way through the latest Carnival of Children’s Literature at Midwestern Lodestar (and belatedly welcoming those folks who got here through there).

Making my way through the March edition of The Edge of the Forest. The reading is fast, by the way — it’s the reader that’s slow.

Making my way (noticing a theme here?) through that stack of YA and middle grade novels I brought home a couple of weeks ago. I finished Inexcusable and Absolutely, Positively Not (which wasn’t in the original stack but quickly found its way to the top) and am now about 1/6 of the way through Out of Patience.

Mapping out the must-visit booths at the Texas Library Association conference in a couple of weeks. I definitely won’t want to miss them or them.

Enjoying this momentary lull between active writing projects. How long before it makes me go all twitchy?

21 Feb

What am I working on? (2/07)

At the moment, not so much:

The ending of J.R., still. I’m now on the third version, since version 2 — dashed off Friday evening while waiting for my takeout order of cheese enchiladas — turned out not quite as brilliantly as it seemed to at the time.

Arbor, again. I’ve been working on this middle-grade novel for years, and the latest round of editorial feedback showed that it’s still not quite where it needs to me. What’s funny, though, is that the main thing I need to work on is something that hardly of the editors mentioned at all — my main character. I figure that when your main character doesn’t seem to register with editors one way or another, that’s not such a good thing.

03 Nov

What am I working on? (11/06)

It’s been a long time since I’ve offered this summary, so thanks to Tim for suggesting I get back to it. Here goes:

I’m doing very, very preliminary research for J.R., the next picture book biography I hope to write. “Preliminary” as in slowly reading a big ol’ academic history of the period in which he lived, a book with only a handful of mentions of J.R. himself. Once I’ve absorbed all that, I plan to move on to J.R.’s autobiography — but boy, is it hard keeping myself from jumping right to it.

I’ve revised S.V.T. and resubmitted it to my agent, but I’m still thinking of tweaks, so I’ll be storing those up over the weekend and passing those along.

My role in getting the Cybils off the ground — while extremely limited compared to the effort that others have been putting into it — has squeezed out the rest of my writing work and much of my blogging. But I think it’s for a good cause — I recently saw a writer/illustrator make what I call the “nonfiction face” when the conversation turned to books about real, true-life stuff. In shedding light on the best nonfiction picture books (among other types) out there, perhaps the Cybils can reduce the occurrence of nonfiction face:

14 May

What am I working on?

I’m revising the middle-grade novel that I first “finished” 2 1/2 years ago — this time through, I’m just trying to make the narrator less obtrusive and irritating.

I’m reading about and considering candidates for a nonfiction project about people who _______.

I’m reading Across America on an Emigrant Train and The Americans: The Democratic Experience and watching (when I’m not too sleepy) a DVD about Reconstruction.

I’m making time in my schedule (or planning to make time in my schedule, perhaps this Friday) to begin work on a C.V. It should not take long, which is why I’m starting it now.