Writing Conference Overload

September 28, 2010

I spent last weekend in Tucson with a writer friend. We attended the Society of Southwestern Authors’ 38th Annual Wrangling With Writing Conference. This is my third conference/workshop/writing weekend for 2010 and I’m happy to say I’m done. That’s it for the year.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the conference. I did. But after two full days of workshops, keynote speeches, crowds, and pitch sessions, the brain becomes a bit frazzled. At least mine did. Does. Is.

Anyway, now it’s time to process what I learned. And relearned. The most important thing for me was hearing bestselling author Bob Mayer’s keynote speech, “The Green Beret Approach to Conquering Fear and Succeeding.” It impacted me so much that I bought his book, Warrior Writer: From Writer to Published Author, and have started going through the exercises in it. The book deals with conquering fears, many that we don’t realize we have, and setting goals for your writing career.

I’ve never been good at setting goals for writing, usually because I assume I won’t reach them. (Anyone see the problem?) But now I’m excited about the changes I’ll be making in my career as I set goals and focus on the things that will bring those goals about. First up, getting my submissions in order to send to the agents that I pitched to. Then, writing as if it were my job. (Duh!) And, all the while, allowing my brain to slowly process what happened during the weekend.

Anyone have conference or post-conference experiences you like to share? How do you process what you learn?

For more information on Bob Mayer and his books, check out his website—http://www.bobmayer.org.


It happened on this day!

September 24, 2010

Welcome to a new little bit of fun.  Ever wonder what happened on this day in the past?  Were there any major events or minor ones that you remember?  Well here are a few events that have happened on September 24th throughout history.

1789: The Judiciary Act of 1789 is passed by Congress and signed by President George Washington, establishing the Supreme Court of the United States as a tribunal made up of six justices who were to serve on the court until death or retirement.

1908: The first factory-built Ford Model T was completed which became affectionately known as the Tin Lizzie.

1938: Russia and Germany carve up Czechoslovakia.  Both countries give warnings to Poland, Great Britain and France to stay out of the area and not to send troops near Czechoslovakia or it would be considered an act of war.

1941: The Japanese consul in Hawaii is instructed to divide Pearl Harbor into five zones and calculate the number of battleships in each zone and report findings back to Japan which was then used in the planning of the Pearl Harbor attacks.

1960: The USS Enterprise becomes the world’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier.  The USS Enterprise is still part of the US Navy but is scheduled for decommissioning in 2014.  The USS Enterprise holds the record for the longest naval vessel in the world.

1961: The last episode of I Love Lucy aired. (in ode to Emilie)

1968: The investigative television newsmagazine program “60 Minutes” is shown for the first time on CBS.

1991: Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as “Dr. Seuss,” died in La Jolla, California, at age 87.

1998: New $20.00 bills entered into circulation to deter counterfeiters. The new anti-counterfeiting measures include the use of color-shifting ink and a watermark. The bill is also redesigned—the picture of the White House is changed to the north side view and a larger, off-center portrait of Jackson is used on the front.

Contest Winner!

September 22, 2010

Congratulations to Emily! You are the winner of the ARC (Advance Reading Copy) of Kirby Larson’s The Fences Between Us. Please e-mail us at damselsinregress [at] gmail [dot] com with your address so we can mail it to you.

Time Travel: Beginnings!

September 21, 2010

Let’s talk about beginnings in time travel novels! If there’s one comment I get more than any other, it’s that everyone is always telling me to start the time travel sooner! It’s like a broken record when it comes to critiques from school, editors, and contests. I recently got feedback on my opening chapter to The Schoolhouse Disappearance from a contest I entered. I received some great feedback, but amongst the comments (from four judges) were two suggestions that I start the time travel sooner! I should expect it by now, but I thought I’d finally written an opening that worked. After all, my main character travels through time on page four…any earlier and I’d be starting the novel in the past. How much earlier can I start it? This has been an issue for me since I first started writing time travel—something I’ve worked to fix!

Sometimes the best way to learn is to study what’s already been done, so I started reading all the time travel books I could find. I discovered three things. One—there are not a lot of time travel books out there. Two—it’s hard to find a well plotted time travel. Three—not a single time travel book that I read started the time travel in the first chapter. In fact, most of them didn’t start the time travel until the third or fourth chapter. In one book I read, it didn’t happen until a quarter of the way into the novel!

I admit, the time travels I read picked up once the time travel started, but they all had slow beginnings. However, most of those beginnings set up what was to come, and without that set up the books would never have worked. That said, some creative replotting and these books could have been much stronger.

I know how important a good beginning is, but I believe that the rules we apply to beginnings for novels need to be altered for time travel. The first two novels in my time travel series have my main character time traveling before the end of the first chapter, and everyone is still telling me to start sooner. I don’t (in most cases) think this is possible. The story needs to be set up to some degree before the time travel can be introduced. I do believe that the time travel should happen in the first chapter; the second chapter at the latest (in most cases). I also believe it is possible to do—despite all the novels out there that don’t do it. It takes practice and some creativity, but it is doable. The first and second books in my series start the time travel by the end of the first chapter—it took many, many revisions to get them there. In fact, in the first drafts of both novels the time travel didn’t start until the third chapter.

When it comes to “rules” in writing, my mantra is: the rules are more like guidelines. That said, I think the writing world could benefit from some “guidelines” for time travel beginnings. I truly believe that the success of a time travel lies in the opening chapters. I think that part of why there are so few time travel novels published is because so many editors and agents fail to get past the first couple chapters. A time travel, just like any other novel, must hook the reader. The conventional rules of openings should be followed, but there is an extra element to consider that other novels lack—the time travel itself. Other questions need to be considered when writing the beginning of a time travel novel. What makes a good time travel beginning? What elements need to be in the opening chapter? When, exactly, should the time travel begin?

People are comfortable with how historical, mystery, contemporary, romance, science fiction and fantasy novels should be written, but time travel is in a league of its own. Ask a writer, agent, or editor what makes a good time travel, and I’ll bet the responses would be vague and varied. Answering these questions and establishing guidelines will help editors and writers better evaluate time travel and not ask for the impossible. We need to quantify what makes for a good time travel beginning before there’s any hope of finding consistently well written and entertaining time travel novels being published.

Contest: The Fences Between Us

September 17, 2010

We’re giving away an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) of Kirby Larson’s new book, The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis, which marks the return of Scholastic’s Dear America series.  To enter the drawing, leave a comment and tell us which book in the Dear America series is your favorite and why.

If you’ve never read one of these (and I hadn’t until recently), simply tell us what your favorite historical novel is and why.  The winner will be announced next Wednesday, Sept. 22.  Good luck!

Interview: Kirby Larson

September 15, 2010

Please help us welcome Kirby Larson, award winning author of Hattie Big Sky, as we discuss her new book, The Fences Between Us.

Welcome to Damsels in Regress, Kirby.  It’s fun to talk to you, rather than about you as we so often do here. 😀

1. So, how did Piper’s story come about?

A combination of factors came together — as often happens in writing! I was researching another book and came across the story of Pastor Emery Andrews, who relocated his family from Seattle to Twin Falls, Idaho during WWII in order to continue to minister to his congregants — most of whom had been sent to Minidoka War Relocation Camp. I thought this was such a compelling story but it didn’t fit the book I was working on at the time. Then Scholastic approached me about writing a WWII book for their relaunch of the Dear America series . . . and the rest was history! (no pun intended).

2. Piper is both a sweetheart and a typical teenager.  Was it fun developing her character?

Piper is probably not all that different from a typical teenager today. Or from the teenager I was. Though I love creating characters, what was most fun about her was tracking down all those details that would make her a believable teen from the 1940s.

3. You’ve included a lot of period details in this book—everything from teenage girls wearing dungarees to Tangee lipstick and Sky Bar candy bars.  What kind of research did you do?

More than you can imagine!!! I love scouring through newspapers, not only for news but for ads which give you brand names and even prices (that’s where the Tangee lipstick came from). The Sky Bar came from my mom who remembered them being her favorite candy bar when she was a kid — it was a great bargain because it was 4 different candy bars in one.

In addition to getting my fingers grimy with newsprint, I spent a lot of time in the special collections at the Seattle Public Library and the University of Washington. And, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, there is so much more information available on the internet now than even 5 or 6 years ago when I was working on Hattie Big Sky. For example, the Library of Congress has great photo archives that are accessible from the comforts of home. I spent hours pouring over those photos — there’s something about black and white that so powerfully captures emotions.

Another terrific resource I found was the Densho Project (www.densho.org). This is a nonprofit group committed to recording the stories of the Japanese and Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in the War Relocation Camps, before it is too late. I spent many teary hours listening to these stories.

I also listened to snippets of old radio shows, read books popular during the time period, studied maps, read government publications — I do everything I can to construct a solid foundation from which to build a book.

4. I can understand how fear and long-standing prejudice caused people to demonize Japanese Americans during WWII.  What I don’t understand is how President Roosevelt could have issued the Executive Order that resulted in American citizens being incarcerated.  Did your research uncover anything about why he did it?  Was it pressure from the military or Congress?

I’m no presidential history expert and I focused more on the ordinary folks affected by the Executive Orders President Roosevelt signed. But, as bold as he was about some things — like the New Deal — Roosevelt didn’t exhibit the same boldness when it came to standing up for American citizens. I would imagine the pressure to do what he did was tremendous. You could probably count on one hand the number of influential people and papers speaking out against such exclusionary tactics. But you’ve given me something to learn more about!

5. I enjoyed your video on Scholastic’s Dear America website.  Could you talk a little bit about “making a difference?”

I think one thing books help us do is figure out what it means to be a decent human being. In my experience, that means to contribute in some way to your community, to the world. That’s why I served for two terms on my local school board and why my husband and I started a nonprofit foundation to help build a theater in our community; it’s also why I support literacy efforts like Page Ahead (www.pageahead.org), Jane Kurtz’ Ethopia Reads (www.ethiopiareads.org) and fellow writer, Michele Torrey’s, Orphans Africa (www.orphansafrica.org). The glasses I wear are rosy enough that I believe one person can make a difference in this crazy, hurting world. “A kind word can warm three winter months.” ~ a Japanese proverb

6. What are you working on now?

Oh, take a wild guess! You’re right — another historical novel. Only this is more of a historical chapter book. I started my career writing for the younger reader and it’s been great fun revisiting that voice. Next on the docket (it gives me the willies to even say it) is a sequel, or perhaps companion, to Hattie Big Sky. Wish me luck!

7. Good luck!  What were some of your favorite books when you were a teenager?

I was a maniacally voracious reader with an itty-bitty social life. I read so many books, it would be hard to recall one specific title. But I loved (and still love) J.D. Salinger’s short stories, most specifically “For Esme, with Love and Squalor.” I re-read that every year at least, and sometimes more often when I just need to be reassured that even when life clocks us a good one, there is still something worthwhile to move toward.

Thanks so much for chatting with us today.

Thank you for inviting me. I love your blog!


For more information on Kirby, visit her website at www.kirbylarson.com. And don’t forget to stop by on Friday for a chance to win an ARC of The Fences Between Us.

Review: The Fences Between Us

September 13, 2010

The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis
Kirby Larson
Ages 9-12
320 pages

Thirteen-year-old Piper Davis lives in Seattle, Washington, in 1941.  Her father is head of the local Japanese Baptist Church and her mother died when she was a baby.  The biggest concern in her life is that her adored older brother Hank has enlisted in the navy.  His assignment after boot camp?  Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  His ship?  The USS Arizona.  The date? November, 1941.

That’ll hook you into a story pretty darn quick.

Author Kirby Larson starts there and expertly pulls the reader into Piper’s story.  I was conscious of real anxiety as I read Piper’s November diary entries.  She writes about the boy she likes, Bud Greene, about her best friend Trixie, and her older sister Margie.  She writes about corresponding with Hank.  All the while, we draw closer to December.

In the interest of keeping this review free of spoilers, I’ll have to skip ahead.  The US is now at war with Japan.  Piper, who’s grown up near Seattle’s Japantown, watches with confusion as people act with hatred, anger and, at times, violence toward Japanese-Americans she’s known all her life.  She receives “Jap lover” notes on her locker.  Her father is hounded for trying to help the Japanese.

Then begins the evacuation of those of Japanese ancestry to military holding centers known as assembly camps, and then months later to relocation centers in different states.  The conditions are primitive, to say the least.

With the Japanese gone, Piper’s father has no congregation.  He spends his time trying to get his denomination’s leaders to do more for the Japanese.  The leaders approve Pastor Davis’s plan, which means he and Piper are moving to Minidoka War Relocation Center in Eden, Idaho.  Needless to say, Piper reacts to this news as any young teenager might.  She stops speaking to him.  But to Idaho they go and there Piper has experiences that change her life.

The Fences Between Us is a compelling, educational read that I highly recommend.  It left me wondering if I would’ve reacted any differently than the majority of Americans overcome by fear and prejudice.  Not a comfortable feeling.

Join us on Wednesday for the interview with Kirby Larson.  There’ll be a contest on Friday to win an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) of The Fences Between Us.