AYY…

So, I finally met Henry Winkler. It’s been a long time in coming, actually.

I attended Emerson College for my undergrad and spent countless days walking past a human sized picture of him in the lobby of the Little Building (which is, in a since unmatched left-turn of wit and irony, the largest dorm on campus). There he was every day. The Fonz. And I finally met him.

That’s just one of the things that happened on Saturday at the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) winter conference in New York. Henry was a surprise. He co-writes some pretty sweet MG novels, it turns out, and he addressed the crowd with a lot of humor and a super bright shirt. He was very sweet and very encouraging.

Other highlights from the weekend:

– Two amazing roundtable critique sessions – one with a lovely, insightful editor and one with a lovely, insightful, and intimidating agent.

– A session on building romantic tension in YA literature given by Cassandra Clare (author of The Mortal Instruments series — CUDDY, YOU GET ON THIS RIGHT NOW!) This was one of my favorite parts – she used examples from so many dorky things I love: Buffy, True Blood, Felicity, Twilight, etc. It was totally entertaining and really helpful as well.

-Breakout sessions with different editors, one of whom handed out an amazing, robust list of revision strategies. Probably more bang for your buck than a semester in a publishing class.

Chris Crutcher was, hands down, the best speaker I’ve ever seen. I won’t try to summarize what he talked about but everyone in the gigantic ballroom was crying and laughing simultaneously. He is brilliant. Read his books.

-Lots and lots and lots and lots of incredibly kind, talented and generous people. The SCBWI is an absolute gift.

And then when I got back home I found out that I won a small writing contest! The winners were chosen by a literary agent and the prize is that he will review the first three chapters of THELMA. Yay!

Also, the lovely and insightful editor from the SCBWI roundtable critique also asked to read a bit more of my little story – so in total, it’s out to five people now. Just keeping my nose to the grindstone, as it were. After this I fully intend to do a google image search for “grindstone” to see if it’s a thing I would ever think about putting my face on.

That’s the update!

 

Omar Comin’ (also, kids books)

Three writerly notes:

1. The first 250 words of THELMA are up on Miss Snark’s First Victim as a part of her Secret Agent contest. Mine is entry #31 if you want to take a look — also there are a number of really interesting excerpts there, so by all means read away! The blog itself is an amazing resource for writers.

2. I’m leaving for New York tomorrow with my cute business cards and a boat-load of social anxiety. Off to my first writer’s conference. I’m hoping everyone is nice and no one forces me to go to a drug bar where I get shot. Somewhere in my brain I think this is going to happen.

3. I’m reading The Books of Elsewhere, Volume 1 by Jacqueline West and it’s awesome. It’s a kiddy book, but a really charming and quick read. The protagonist’s name is Olive Dunwoody and she’s fantastic.

 

Guys, I’m so scared of drug bars. In unrelated news, we started watching The Wire.

“You come at the king, you best not miss”

– ME (and Omar)

 

 

In the kids’ section

There are a group of adults that I know who love young adult (YA) literature.  I’m not going to name names here, but they MAY have ties to a certain comedy theater in Cambridge and some MAY be involved in the current run of My Dark Love, the Twilight-based improv show (FRIDAYS @ 10!).

I love YA too. I love it in a “The Hunger Games was one of the most important things that happened to me in 2011” kind of way.

I think it’s curious that I have had more profound reading experiences while enjoying these books than I’d  had with most of the so-called adult material I’d been reading for years. For some reason I feel so much more connected to these characters and their points of view.

I wonder if it has something to do with story. Each YA or MG (Middle Grade) book I’ve read recently has had a keen focus on story and character. They aren’t so concerned with the style of the writing or how clever the author is. I think I have previously been drawn to language — the more inventive and gymnastic, the better. And over the course of years I maybe got exhausted with that scene. These younger books are like breaths of fresh air.

I just finished Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech and am afraid to write again.

Her narrative voice is so pure, so full, and so simple that I actually feel intimidated. Add to that a careful, sad, funny and layered story about love and family and loss and growing up…it was just such a fulfilling experience.

Now, Twilight is different, obviously. It’s kind of like comparing Cheetos to oranges to lump these books together, but one thing remains — the story moves.

The takeaway comes in two parts:

1. If you’re in a reading rut, try something that isn’t made for adults. You might be pleasantly surprised.

2. Go see MY DARK LOVE at Improv Boston! The cast is a bunch of freaks.

Tons of adjectives

I suppose life is always made up of tragedy, love, family, pain, success, and failure. It’s seldom, however, that all are packed tightly into one weekend.

It hurt to go to my uncle’s services. He was so loved and is so missed – and yet to see my extended family and spend some time with them was kind of joyful. Lots of time with my parents and sister too which always makes me feel happy and strong. My father has amazing stories about growing up with six siblings in the 1950’s. It was really wonderful spending that time.

Meanwhile, I received two requests from literary agents, one Thursday and one Friday. They would both like to read the full manuscript for THELMA BEE. I am blown away and so excited by this. Also, wildly anxious. And hopeful.

So far we have deep sorrow, joy, validation, and let’s cap it off with excruciating physical pain and fear, followed by exhaustion.

Without going into details, I had to go to the emergency room yesterday. It was a bad scene and they had to give me morphine. By the time they were ready to let me go home my blood pressure was super low and my head was swimming. Then I slept through a bunch of football games and had really vivid football related dreams.

Today, I’m still getting acclimated…a slow transition back into regular life. I think I’m still a long nap away from feeling normal, but I’m taking baby steps.

So, that’s what’s happening with me! Happy MLK day!

Some sad news

The blog may be quiet for the rest of the week because we’ll be heading down to Cape Cod to attend services for my wonderful uncle Jack McGhee.

When I was a child I thought Jack was a giant. He was positively redwood tree-sized in my eyes. And yet, he was never scary, always sweet and gentle and kind. He was the kind of guy who made you feel loved. And funny. He always laughed at the dumb things I said. So, I love him for a whole slew of excellent reasons. Jack had a wonderful huge heart.

My love goes out to my aunt Sandy and her kids. What a great family, what a great life.

Jack’s services.

Put Your Dumb Book Down

It was hard, but I did what everyone says you should do. I finished my book and (revised it four or five times, developed at least seven drafts of a query letter, made a few floundering attempts to submit it to agents out of burning curiosity, got quality feedback from some beta readers who are way smarter than I am) then PUT IT DOWN.

All of those parenthetical things are not supposed to happen until after you’ve PUT YOUR DUMB BOOK DOWN for a month or so, but I really couldn’t help myself. I was too excited. Like, compulsively excited. Therefore, I didn’t do things in the right order.

In actuality, it’s OK. I’m just kind of going about things in a roundabout way. Like a slinky. That’s actually the only satisfying image that pops into my head when I think about this post-writing process.

You see, my initial fantasy was a powerful one. It went like this:

1. Finished rough draft

2. Send casual email query to agent with one or two details of my masterpiece

3. Said agent shows up at my door the next morning. The poor woman has been running down route 2 all night. Her car stalled at Alewife and she had no money for the bus, but dammit, she wasn’t going to let me get away. So she ran in her stocking feet. The poor woman is bleeding but her eyes are wild and she seems to feel no pain. She HAD to represent my novel. That’s why she hopped in her SUV at 10pm and started driving from her Brooklyn apartment the second she finished reading my email. How did she find my address? I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. We’re together now and no one in this wide world can tear us apart.

In the back of my mind, I was pretty sure about how these events would unfold. Alas, there seems to be a little more to it. But I had to go through the motions and experience countless mornings with literally no one pounding at my door at 6am in order to revise my process.

THELMA has been with the wonderful Ms. Jess Barnett (artist, former roommate, coworker, copy editor) for about a month and I haven’t looked at it in that time. In a few days I will get it back and begin another loop of revisions. I have a few more brilliant readers who are ready to give me some feedback and I also found this…

If you love short lists, you will not love this list. However, if you’re a writer who is really trying to poke and prod your manuscript, screenplay, play, etc. this might be really very useful to you: 40 Questions to Test Your Manuscript .

What. A. Great. List.

SHIFTING GEARS,  My Dark Love premiers tonight at ImprovBoston at 10pm! I’ll be the one wearing black.

MY DARK LOVE INFORMATION!

Here’s the mail it never fails, it makes me want to wag my tail, and when it comes I want to wail: MAAIIILL!

Look what came in the mail today!

I ordered some writerly business cards from moo.com and I’m very excited about how pretty they came out. And different colors! Like a fun-pack!

At the end of January I’ll be traveling to NYC for the SCBWI NY Winter Conference.The letters are too numerous and nearly out of control, I know. But SCBWI stands for Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

I have never ever done something like this before and I’m prepping myself to be socially anxious for three days straight. Even thinking about it now…the sitting next to people and making conversation, the lunches, the standing in line at the bathroom…it’s …

I literally just stopped in the middle of that sentence to pour myself some water. I’m back now.

But, it will also be a wonderful opportunity to meet other people from around the country who are writing and agenting and editing and publishing. I’m very excited to attend all of the talks. Also, I’ve signed up for a workshop where some folks in the industry will review the first 500 words of THELMA, and that’s going to be extremely helpful to me.

So, come January 26th I’m going to head down to NY, check myself into a little hotel room and proceed to wander around Manhattan by myself in between writing seminars. So, social anxiety shall be overcome by the fact that this is going to be an incredible, unlikely solo vacation.

I’ll probably meet a ninja turtle and have lunch with Mandy Patkinkin too. Because I’ll be in New York.

Re: The cards. I think I like the pink one best, is that wrong?

 

getpsyched.doc

In the wilds of suburbia I got excited about writing again. I was itchy to create something, but I didn’t know what it should be initially. I felt myself pulled in certain directions but it all felt very ambiguous.

So, I got a notebook and I started making a list. Not so much a list maybe but a…word splash? I’d call it a graphic organizer but there really wasn’t anything organized about it. For our purposes I’ll call it a Get Psyched Document (GPD). Some of the things on the GPD were book related — plot points, character names, etc. But some weren’t.

For example, I know two amazing ladies who own an adorable shop in Portsmouth, NH. I love that one day they decided that they are passionate about design, printing, Portsmouth and running a small business — so they went for it. They went for it and they succeeded! So, I added Gus & Ruby to the GPD.

A snapshot of the original Get Psyched Doc:

Also, a coworker was describing an odd former roommate and said, “She’d listen to Pink Floyd…and then start giving her stuff away.” Awesome description. Added it to the GPD.

I traveled to a school for students with special learning needs in Maine for work. There, they have a gigantic Newfoundland dog (Humungous. Like a couch.) with only one eye. She plays with the kids at recess. This dog was truly amazing — I added, “one-eyed dog” to the GPD.

Salem, folklore, the idea of gardening…the list got bigger and bigger until it spilled over onto another page and then another. Soon the ideas began to blend and morph and soon they became the world in which I was writing.

Now, I don’t know if my little middle grade novel is any good, but I know that I love it. And I love it because it’s made up entirely of elements that I am absolutely 100% psyched about. It’s comprised of things I wanted to research, characters I wanted to live with, and places I wish I could visit. In short, it was really really fun.

Born Right Next to the River

I’ve spent a long time doing a lot of comedy. I love improv and I love ImprovBoston.

Last year though, there came an exhausted moment. I needed a little bit of slow time to quiet up my life a little. My husband and I moved to a town well outside of Boston in the summer and I fell suddenly in love. Less frequent trips into the city, more farmers markets. Fewer late night parties, more buying a laundry machine and actually using it. It was nice. Also, air and trees. Overall, a marked rage decrease accompanied the easy parking.

Everything comes in cycles, of course, but this time away is what led to the creation of my first novel, THELMA BEE.

It was the river, specifically. Our new home has a yard and the yard has the Assabet River – full of weird awesome animals and the occasional kayaker. Ryan and I would sit out by the river and eat dinner at night and I found my imagination racing. Keep in mind that I grew up by Logan Airport. Lots of cars, lots of noise, lots of …cars. Living in a place where bats come out at night and beavers paddle against the current felt like living in a Discovery Channel documentary. I was excited and inspired and it made me feel like anything was possible.

I started making lists of things that inspired me. Words that I thought were cool. It kept circling back around to a few themes — Old New England, Ghosts, Childhood

And then Thelma, little by little, came into being and that was the beginning.

More on the writing process later, but I do want to mention that I’m still performing and THIS: Image

…is happening starting this Friday. My Dark Love is a YA Parody based on Twilight. Yeah, I’d trek into Cambridge for this one too.

xo

Erin