Silly Questions for Serious Writers

Silly Questions
for Serious Writers

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs lately in which authors who are on blog tours are asked a lot of serious questions about their craft, their process, their writing preferences.

Granted all these solemn questions are important to understand the hard work and dedication that it takes to be a writer, and others can learn a lot from the answers, but holy hell some of the questions make me want to snooze!

Yes, yes, there are no stupid questions, yatta yatta.

But everyone knows that the sillier the question, the more the reader catches a glimpse into the actual personality of the writer.

James Lipton was on to something when he added Proust’s (really Pivot’s) questionnaire to the end of Actor’s Studio:

  1. What is your favorite word?
  2. What is your least favorite word?
  3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
  4. What turns you off?
  5. What is your favorite curse word?
  6. What sound or noise do you love?
  7. What sound or noise do you hate?
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
  9. What profession would you not like to do?
  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

(There is a great article about these questions if you’re interested in the backstory, here.)

So, I’ve come up with a list of questions to ask writers (or anyone really), to get to know them better. (I’ll fill it in myself for my next post.)

  1. What book or movie has made you pull your hair out, scream at the screen, jump up and down and generally obsess over for weeks on end until you start to see people rolling their eyes when you bring it up for the hundredth time?
  2. Speaking of obsession, what’s one thing you are or have been completely obsessed with?
  3. Name one thing you hoard or collect (come on, you know there’s something. Besides rejection letters, that is. 😉 )
  4. If your writing style were an animal, which would it be? (Are plotters elephants? Are pantsers meerkats?)
  5. On days when you want to say “Sod it all! I give up!” A) what would you rather be doing, and B) what helps you get back in the writing groove?
  6. My favorite way to procrastinate is…?
  7. Singing in the shower. Your thoughts?
  8. How would your children describe you?
  9. Food that you absolutely couldn’t live without and would fight tooth and claw to consume, even if that meant stockpiling it before Brexit, or hiding it from your significant other in a top secret desk drawer and not feeling an ounce of shame about lying about it when asked point blank whether you have any.
  10. Oh yeah, and tell us about your new book.

What questions do YOU want to be asked while on blog tour?

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Guess who’s in the window?

SNAKE IN THE WINDOW 2

Look what my dad found in the window of the lovely Owl and Turtle Bookshop in Camden, Maine.

Can’t wait to be there this summer to visit in person 🙂

@owlandturtle

Mona Lisa’s Forehead

Let’s imagine there’s a power cut at the Louvre.

You’re wandering the majestic halls for the first time and you’re hoping to see the Mona Lisa. You’ve heard all about this great painting and you are excited to finally see a masterpiece.

You somehow arrive at the Renaissance section (this Louvre place is huge), and there she is… at the other end of the gallery. This is it, your moment.

You advance.

Then the lights go out.

Da Vinci’s beautiful lady is somewhere in front of you but you can’t see a darn thing.

Of course you brought your keychain flashlight (motto: always prepared), which you power up and shine ahead of you.

And what you see is a forehead. An amazing forehead, mind you. An unparalleled hairline if you do say so yourself, but that’s it. The moment you’ve been waiting for and all you can see is the tippy top of Mona Lisa’s head.

Where’s the enigmatic smile? Where’s the impenetrable stare that follows you as you cross the room?

HOW DO YOU SEE THE BIG PICTURE?

Here’s where critique groups come in. (You knew I had to get to my point some day, right?)

For writers, critique groups are like an extra set of flashlights (okay, ‘torches’ for you Brits).

You may think your story is spot on brill (“A-OK” for you Americans) but maybe you’re just looking at a forehead. What if there’s so much more of the masterpiece to be discovered?

I know it’s scary to have your work read by others (What if they hate it? What it they’re mean to me? What if it actually stinks and they’re just being polite? Self-doubt much anyone?) But critiques can bring so much more to the table than what you originally wrote. Some of it might be as useless as Madame Lisa’s elbow but some might shine a light on that little part of the upper lip that curves delicately into a cheeky smirk. And KAPOW! You have a better book.

Dare I say….masterpiece?

So get out there and show your work to people. Heck, the postman probably has an opinion, right? You never know who might help you turn your spotty forehead into a Renaissance triumph.

(Too much? yeah, well, I’m just going to roll with it.)

 

xJ

Making Your Story “Less Lame”

George Saunders wrote the following paragraphs in the Guardian and I’m posting it here to remind us all how writing is all about re-writing. And how important it is to edit your own work rather than just assuming that the first draft is the final draft just because it’s written down. And how to add specific details to really delve into the minds of the characters.

(It’s not kid lit related, but relevant nonetheless.)

… “When I write, “Bob was an a**hole,” and then, feeling this perhaps somewhat lacking in specificity, revise it to read, “Bob snapped impatiently at the barista,” then ask myself, seeking yet more specificity, why Bob might have done that, and revise to, “Bob snapped impatiently at the young barista, who reminded him of his dead wife,” and then pause and add, “who he missed so much, especially now, at Christmas,” – I didn’t make that series of changes because I wanted the story to be more compassionate. I did it because I wanted it to be less lame.

But it is more compassionate. Bob has gone from “pure a**hole” to “grieving widower, so overcome with grief that he has behaved ungraciously to a young person, to whom, normally, he would have been nice”. Bob has changed. He started out a cartoon, on which we could heap scorn, but now he is closer to “me, on a different day”.

How was this done? Via pursuit of specificity. I turned my attention to Bob and, under the pressure of trying not to suck, my prose moved in the direction of specificity, and in the process my gaze became more loving toward him (ie, more gentle, nuanced, complex), and you, dear reader, witnessing my gaze become more loving, might have found your own gaze becoming slightly more loving, and together (the two of us, assisted by that imaginary grouch) reminded ourselves that it is possible for one’s gaze to become more loving.” …

To read the full article, go HERE .

 

Wannabes

There are a lot of wannabes out there.

And Maybe if I had the time…

And Someday I’ll…

I’ve talked to quite a few people lately who say that they’ve always wanted to write a children’s book. That they have a story inside them. But that’s where it ends. They talk about it, think about it, complain about it, dream about it — but don’t DO it.

Why not?

Fear about not being good enough? Fear that they don’t know how? Fear of feeling silly or stupid or dumb?

There is really only one way to get over all of those anxieties.

Use the immortal words of Nike. Put the fears to rest. Just do it.

And yes, you might feel stupid, and yes you might think your story is dumb. But nobody starts out perfect. And to be honest, nobody ends up perfect either. I have nearly fifty children’s book manuscripts that I’ve started — thinking they were amazing ideas — and then realised that some plot detail didn’t work, or the story had been written before and wasn’t unique, or I just fell out of love with the idea.

These are not failures. I might return to some of those manuscripts in the future, or use bits of them in other stories. But if I hadn’t written them down I would have nothing.

Don’t have nothing.

Get those stories down on paper. Out of your head. Crap or not.

(The mantra above my desk is a not-so-child-friendly Anne Lamott quote: “Sh*tty first drafts.”)

Stop being a wannabe and start being a writer. And maybe nothing will happen with those stories –you’ll put them in your desk where they’ll languish for years. Or maybe something wonderful will happen, and you’ll be reading your books to your grandkids someday. But you’ll never know unless you get out that pencil or quill or keyboard and write it down.

Just do it.

 

I Had Dinner with Beyoncé

OK, not really, that is actual FAKE NEWS. I did sit at a table near her at a restaurant once, but I doubt she remembers.

But now that I’ve got your attention, I want to tell you about my upcoming BOOK LAUNCH!

Since we’re being honest here, it’s not technically a launch, as the book came out in January, but it’s as big a party as this wee picture book is going to get, so if you’ll afford me a little creative license…

Next Tuesday, here in Glorious Blighty (oxymoron anyone?) This Is a Serious Book will be thrust into the hands of its adoring public (that’s you people!)

There will be cake! There will be party games! Most importantly, there will be wine! I take that back (not the wine part, there will be wine, don’t worry), but MOST IMPORTANTLY it will be the culmination of 3 years’ wait from conception to birth of a 32-page bouncing baby book. (And let me tell you, 3 years is a long time to be pregnant with anything!)

So this launch has been a long-time-comin’ as they say. But it almost. didn’t. happen. Twice. The first time because the publisher that accepted the manuscript went out of business, but that’s a story for another time. The second time it almost didn’t happen because I didn’t make it happen. That’s the story I want to tell here.

The (second) publisher of This Is a Serious Book is a lovely, independent publishing company that graciously accepted the book that fell in their laps after the first publisher dissolved. But truth be told, this book was never going to be their money-maker. So after a few advanced copies were sent to reviewers and a nice tweet from the publisher on the day it hit the shelves, the publicity basically stopped.

Now I wasn’t naïve to the fact that this was going to happen. I’ve read enough about the publishing industry to be well aware that most books get a polite nod from the marketing department and are then relegated to the has-been department. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

So this is the part where I had to make it happen. (It being anything.) Here’s where I get all “Lean In” on you:

  • I had a chat with my local bookstore owner and she was keen to host a party for a local author (win-win for both of us).
  • I decided for a late-afternoon/evening party that would be kid-friendly rather than a weekend-morning ‘reading’, because let’s be honest, it’s the parents that buy the books. And parents like wine.
  • We chose a date and I contacted the marketing department of my publisher to let them know. They were excited and offered to put up the money for said wine. (Hooray!)
  • I sent them all the details and their design department made a lovely invite. (Double hooray!)
  • I created some puzzles and colouring games for the kids who would be coming, since kids need something to do At All Times. Plus their parents will be drinking wine. I asked the marketing department if they would make photocopies of the games and they agreed.
  • I sent out invites to every one of my kids’ classmates, even though many of them don’t read picture books any more. Who cares! People buy books as gifts (children’s book sales were up 11.7 percent in the UK for much of 2016) and who better to invite than supportive friends?
  • I made a list of columnists and reviewers who should be invited as well, and sent them the details.

And that’s it! Next Tuesday there will be a party to support This Is a Serious Book. I feel like this has gone from 0 to 60 in no time flat. Will this party rocket my book up the bestseller chart? Probably not. But am I happy that I got the attention of the publisher and made this happen? Absolutely!