The Great and Powerful Oz . . . Has Spoken

I arrived at the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop after a long drive up Highway 1. At San Simeon I’d queued up Tosca and for the next two hours enjoyed the brilliant voice of Leontyne Price singing one of Puccini’s best. She is my favorite Tosca, and the one I grew up listening to. So, driving up Highway 1 with the arias filling the car was a magical experience. It brought my mother back. I was filled with thankfulness that she’d brought us to Big Sur when I was a child, and for the year we lived there.

The Big Sur Lodge had a long line waiting to check in when I arrived. Because it took them so long to process us, I spent the next hour running to catch up, but at last I did and settled in to the workshop experience.

At the heart of the CWW is revision, and taking our manuscripts up a level. We met with two separate critique groups comprising one faculty member (agent, editor, or author) and four other authors. It was small and intimate and we each had time to read what we’d brought with us and then to return the next day with revisions or new material. We were also given the opportunity to have a fifteen-minute private session with a faculty member to go over something else.

My fifteen minutes were spent with an editor who critiqued my query and went out of her way to read it later once I’d revised it and make an additional suggestion.

The critique groups were also incredibly helpful. The prologue I’d written so lovingly is now gone. As I read it to the group I could see it wasn’t working. That sent me into a tailspin that lasted until the next day when I realized I didn’t need it.

I started off my other group with Chapter 4 because it had a big emotional moment, and discovered that without Chapter 1 they pretty much hated my heroine and her emotional moment didn’t work at all. But after reading the earlier chapter the next day, they understood. Fabulous feedback indeed.

Thank you Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane Books. Thank you Jamie Weiss Chilton of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Thank you Sara Zarr. And thank you Andrea Brown and Magnus Toren.

I recommend this workshop to anyone writing children’s literature who is serious about their writing.

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Off to see the Wizard

Tomorrow bright and early (or notsomuch), I head out on the highway to the Children’s Writing Workshop in Big Sur. I’m taking my polished chapters and my unpolished ones, a query, a synopsis (that–even though I’d rather eat rusty nails–I’m going to finish today), a flashlight, an umbrella, a computer and printer, clothes, a few snacks, and my excited self.

This will be the first time my story goes on display to people I don’t know since the major reconstruction and world-building I did this past year. It will be interesting (and a bit nerve wracking) to see how it flies. I’m still having trouble coming up with a blurb, but that’s partly just me. I don’t talk in sound bites either. I’m hoping when people ask me what my story is about and I stand there all tongue tied they’ll forgive me. Or maybe I’ll come up with something on the three-and-a-half hour drive.

I’m hoping to come back with ideas to strengthen my manuscript, an eye-catching query and synopsis, new writer friends, and a first hand impression of the agents and editors who will be attending. Editorial or agent interest would be a lovely bonus.

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When I was eight . . .

. . . I lived in a small redwood cabin in Big Sur. It was 1962 and I was in Mrs. Stewart’s third grade class at Captain Cooper School. That was the year it moved from next door to the ranger station to just over the hill from us.

Before the move, I took the big yellow school bus everyday. Because I lived on the east side of the highway, the bus picked us up and took us all the way north to get the boy who lived at the lighthouse. Then we’d turn south and travel all the way back–past my stop–to the school. Silliness, indeed. But they didn’t want us crossing Highway 1 (although we did it all the time to buy penny candies from the General Store).

After the move, I hiked over deer trails to get to school. It was much faster. Even when it rained and poured–which it did a lot that winter. Thinking back, I鈥檓 not sure why my mother sent me off like that, but she did, packing up a change of clothes in case I got wet. And I got very wet. It was quite an adventure.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Big Sur recently because I’m going to attend the Children’s Writing Workshop in December. It’s put on by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency in conjunction with the Henry Miller Library. I’m really excited about this opportunity to work with agents, editors, and other writers. I hope to kick my writing–and especially my query and synopsis–up to where it needs to be in order to get an agent and sell.

There’s something marvelous about this happening in Big Sur. The year we were there I did lots and lots of writing. We had no TV; there was no reception in any case. But, we did have my mother’s old typewriter, and I loved banging away on the keys inventing my stories as I went along. (I was a pantser in those days.) That was when I decided I wanted to be a writer.

It was my year to be the acorn. Now I am the oak tree.

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Yes, I’m still here! And it’s Halloween, one of my favorite holidays because–honestly–how could you not love a holiday that’s all about dress-up and candy!?!

This year my husband grew ghostly white pumpkins. He carved one of them which will be put out tonight to entice the neighborhood trick-or-treaters who will (thankfully) take the rest of the Halloween candy before he eats it.

Although I don’t dress up anymore, I loved, loved, loved it when I was a kid. My costumes went the full range from a Lady to a Hell’s Angel. Wish I had a picture of the latter one, but alas I do not. Here’s a piccy of me as the former, with my best friend Sally. We were three.

BTW–did you know the thing about poisoned Halloween candy is an urban legend. Just check Snopes. More shocking, the thing about sugar getting kids all hyped up is another myth. As to whether it gets adults all hyped up . . . maybe you should just leave the candy for the kids. 馃槈

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When I’m writing

my world often looks like this.

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I鈥檝e Been Away . . .

… from this blog for so long. In fact, it’s been exactly 2 years, 3 months, and 4 days, which is even longer than the gestation period of the Asian elephant (a very endangered animal, btw).

Looking back at my last entry, it’s ironic I was thinking I needed an agent because I’m still not done with the book. In fact, I took it back to the drawing board and re-figured it HUGELY. Although in many ways it’s the same story, I expanded the fantasy element so that it plays out on an intergalactic scale.

This involved much world building. Some of that involved science, and I find–as I stumble across bits and pieces that still need finessing–parts of it still do. This makes my brain ache. Since it’s not science-fiction, I thought I was in the clear–not that I have anything against science, but I haven’t taken any in a bajillion years. My last bits of chemistry were in the 8th grade. Physics and biology never. I did have astronomy in college in my second year, but I wouldn’t recognize a black hole unless I saw it on Star Trek.

Being the author, you’d think I’d have a certain amount of power over the story, and you would be wrong. Since I have such bossy, headstrong characters, they’re always taking over. Still, with what control I do have, I’ve been incorporating history and literature in my world building, which is fun and almost makes up for the science angst.

World-building wasn’t the only thing that kept me from the manuscript, and from the blog. A year of hard-core medication to rid my body of a long-held virus also resulted in taking away my imagination for that time. The central question to any creative endeavor is what if … and for the life of me I couldn’t have what-if‘d myself out of a closet (or, as the case was, out of bed). The good side to that was that I also didn’t worry. Much. It was a boring unblogworthy year and I’m well rid of it (and the virus, btw).

Another reason I haven’t been blogging is that other social media took over that place in my life. I’ve been tweeting, posting statuses, commenting on other people’s statuses, participating in forums. Now that I’ve done that for a while, that’s begun to lose its glow and there are times I miss being able to expound endlessly on things I know little about. And the rants. I miss the rants. Blogs are a great place to rant. It’s hard to tweet out a good rant in 140 characters.

In other words, I’m back and will be making the occasional post about my writing progress, writing process, pithy tirades about the cable or phone companies, and there’s likely to be more than a bit of general silliness.

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Needed: One Agent

Ah my lovelies, I did not visit my blog during May. That’s okay because it appears you didn’t either. But now it’s June, and June is a completely different month altogether. I’m feeling bloggish.

Do you all remember in the movie version of Mary Poppins when Jane and Michael Banks composed an ad for a new nanny after seeing what their father had in mind?

If you want this choice position,
have a cheery disposition…
Rosy cheeks, no warts…
Play games, all sorts.

As I’ve worked on my query letter and pitch for the last few days, I’ve had this little ditty playing in my head. Whereas I don’t really care about rosy cheeks and warts, I do think I want an agent who is very much like Mary Poppins.

Spit, spot, my agent will say and just like that my book will sell. Wouldn’t that be great? And remember the amazing carpetbag that was empty but still full of things? I think an agent with a briefcase like that would be able to negotiate lots of extra author copies and maybe a bonus or two fairly easily. Then there’s the tea party on the ceiling. I’ve always wanted to do that. (I know that has nothing to do with being an agent, but if they are like MP and we get together for coffee then maybe . . . ?)

Oh, and that bit about sliding up the banister? That would just be so cool.

I like Mary’s no nonsense approach. In the original P.L. Travers’ version, Mary didn’t twinkle like Julie Andrews–she sniffed. That would be just fine with me because I don’t need things coated with a spoon full of sugar. Just give me the truth and give it to me straight.

OTOH, Mary was always leaving abruptly. I could do without that part. It’s not that I would need my agent all the time, it’s just that I would need them sometimes–you know, when I need them. Then again, don’t you think that these days it would be easy enough for Mary Poppins to stay in touch? I can just see her flying off from conferences with an umbrella in one hand and an iPhone in the other.

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A Clue!

Well, my lovelies, I’ve been playing it pretty close to the chest about the BTWNBN1, so I’ve decided to give you all a clue. Ready?

Okay, here it is:

Any ideas?

1. Book That Will Not Be Named

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Why Zany?

Honestly, the only reasonable answer I can come up with is, why not?

Here, from the American Heritage Dictionary:

za路ny (z膩’n膿)

    adj. za路ni路er, za路ni路est

  1. Ludicrously comical; clownish.
  2. Comical because of incongruity or strangeness; bizarre.

It’s definition two that resonates for me. I adore that which is comical because of incongruity or strangeness. In truth, I dote on the bizarre. I find black humor delicious. I believe that in the bizarre one finds truth, and lots of it. In the absurd there is sanity.

I disdain the everybody knows school of thought. It’s not that there is no communal wisdom, but things that everybody knows are often digested whole. Careful consideration and perspective will show that everybody knows thinking results in a world-is-flat mentality.

I think the world is square. Too often it is unimaginative, and boring, or scary. It seems to me, that in order to understand the often complex and contradictory world we’ve created, it takes a good dose of humor. Sometimes it takes a gallows humor, and sometimes it just takes a great dollup of silliness. Which is why on a tough day something like this:

can make all the difference, and free up my too serious thinking, to that which is more . (I actually have this on my camera phone for an emergency pick-me-up.)

When I was in the eighth grade, I was voted the Zaniest Member of my Class (or maybe it was the whole school, I don’t remember). At the time I wanted to be the most popular, or prettiest, or most likely to live a great life (or a boyfriend!), and all that stuff. At this point in my life, I’m much prouder of being declared zany.

As adults, we’re usually encouraged to keep our inner zany in. Perhaps that’s because once it gets out, it can be hard to control. When mine gets out, I’m likely to laugh irreverently at the slightest provocation, dance at street corners waiting for the light to change, or dress up in costume when it isn’t Halloween.

How about you. Do you have an inner zany? If it got out, what would it do?

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“Once Upon a Time . . .”

These are words that carry the promise of breathless excitement, great conflict, strong characters, and unique settings. When I was a child, I used them to start all my stories, and since this blog is a story of sorts, it is how we will begin. But instead of some long-ago time, this is happening now, in real time. There will be events unveiling as we go along. Decisions will be made that will have the power to change the outcome. I expect it will be a good read. So sit down and grab your favorite munchies.

Gina by MarciaSince every story has a main character, let me introduce myself. I’m Theresa Black, a writer of young adult fiction. (If you want more information about me you can click on that About link above.)Seshat

Seshat, the Ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom, knowledge, and writing, has been pushing me power me these past months. I’m now finishing my first book in this genre. What is it about, you ask? I answer: Never fear, my lovelies, all will be revealed in good time.

Once the BTWNBN鹿 is done, I will summon another great power, the august Jane, to help me on the next step on the road. Over the following days, months, or (OMG I hope not) years, I’ll be sending out queries, synopses, partials, and fulls, in the dance to find the Perfect Publisher. It’s kind of like a love story, isn’t it? And I’m so hoping for an HEA.虏

Action JaneSo Jane, do your stuff. Please help find a Pemberton Publishing Co. Wait! I’m out of sequence. First I need an agent. Someone who will represent my best interests and give me good counsel while looking for that perfect mate . . . er, I mean publisher. Someone who will find me the richest match, who also appreciates all my best qualities. Someone more like Mrs. Bennett than dear Emma, but someone who wouldn’t think of suggesting a Mr. Collins. Someone who loves my story and characters as much as I do, and who sees their potential in the world of publishing–perhaps even better than I do.

So, my lovelies, you say you want to know why this is my sometimes zany world? Well, you’re just going to have to check back to find out. I’ll have more to share in about a week.

1. Book That Will Not Be Named
2. Happy Ever After


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