New Favorite, Old Favorite: Just Like the Movies and The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman

just like the moviesNot long ago I had the pleasure of reading Kelly Fiore’s Just Like the Movies, the story of two unlikely friends who set out to recreate scenes from their favorite romantic films in their own lives.  Marijke and Lily are two girls with a plan…now if only the boys would fall into line.

(I should mention that I was reading this book while directing Deaf Camp, and that it kept me up for hours reading even after I had been corralling middle schoolers in the woods all day.  That should tell you something about how engrossing it is!)

The heroines of this novel combine heartfelt yearning with a canny ability to analyze the tropes of the movies they adore so much – and that reminded me of an old favorite of mine, The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman by Louise Plummer.  Though published way back in the dark ages of 1995, Plummer’s novel features a canny, smart heroine who would have been comfortable plotting alongside Marijke and Lily.  (Though I guess she’d be quite a bit older now – so I will just imagine her as their English teacher, watching their antics from behind Tina Fey glasses.)  Kate’s thing was romance novels, not romantic films, but her take on them was just as fresh and funny as Marijke holding an iPod dock unlikelyblaring “In Your Eyes” in her boyfriend’s backyard.    Despite the fact that Kate warns readers in the second sentence of the book that it’s “one of those romance novels.  You know, that disgusting kind with kisses that last three paragraphs and make you want to put your finger down your throat to induce projectile vomiting,” her attempt to tell her tale as a romance novel (complete with revision notes) is involving and funny and something that is still in my mind almost twenty years later.

So do yourself a favor and get a hold of both books to meet Kate, Marijke, and Lily, three girls who discover that grand gestures don’t change a thing in real life,  and that real love isn’t like a book or movie – it’s better.

A Sampling of Words I Tend to Overuse in My Writing

  • slightly
  • moment
  • roiling
  • dart 
  • glance
  • realize
  • felt

I admit, some of these are weirder than others.  But these are the words that I always do a search on when I finish a draft, just to make sure they aren’t taking up too much space.  It’s always a challenge to find new ways of wording things, but, like every part of the editing process, it often leads to unexpected changes that make the story better, or – more often than not – the discovery that the whole sentence is unnecessary.  God gave writers the drafting process so we could be astounded by our own creativity, and the editing process to keep us humble.

The Call

Tonight I will be packing for Deaf Camp, but this mundane activity will always hold a little magic for me.  That’s because last year my packing was interrupted by my agent, Steven Malk of Writers House, calling to tell me that I had been offered a two-book deal with HarperCollins, that after ten years of working and hoping, after more drafts than I could count, it was finally happening.  It wasn’t an enormous surprise – I had spoken to Alexandra Cooper, my new editor, earlier in the week before she took the book to the Acquisitions Committee, so I knew that she was interested and was excited about the story.  But it seemed too much to hope that it might, finally, all work out.  And it did.

Looking back, I realize that there probably wasn’t a better time for the universe to spring such news on me, especially because I couldn’t post anything about it online at the time or scream it to the ends of the earth as I would have liked.  Instead, I had a great distraction, as I spent the week following the announcement with a bunch of middle-schoolers in the woods, none of whom, I assure you, were the least bit impressed with my authorly success.   Not even the camper whose unusual name I had borrowed for one of my characters when I wrote the first draft, back when she was in preschool.  Yeah, that’s how long I’ve been working on this book.

Tortoise in the Fast Lane

A tortoise crosses a road.After four straight months of daily work on revising my debut novel, I have sent it off to my betareaders and set it aside for two weeks.  Part of this is practical – I am preparing for, and then attending, the Deaf Camp that I direct during that time, and I could drive myself crazy expecting myself to write, but that would be setting myself up for failure.  And part of it is absolutely necessary – though I love diving into the world of my story on a daily basis, there comes a point where I have to step away and let it simmer.  I am hoping that when I come back to the manuscript in two weeks I will have a clearer vision of what needs to happen.

Two weeks is a really short time for my “mental drawer” though; I am used to putting manuscripts away for months at a time while I am working on something else.  Now that I am in the publishing process, this accelerated pace is going to be a challenge for a tortoise like me.  I mean, I have been revising this story for almost ten years.  I have become accustomed to the idea that I have all the time in the world to get it right.  So the idea that time is running out, that soon I will have to stop tinkering and truly launch it out into the world is a little terrifying.  

Fortunately, I can always fall back on the strategy I used when I was sending things out to agents and waiting months for a response: work on something else.

Little Hands and Big Hands in the News

Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together was featured in a recent edition of the Cape Gazette:

“In “Little Hands and Big Hands,” parents, grandparents, educators, and caregivers will learn about the benefits of signing with young children of all hearing abilities, including reduced frustration, expansion of spoken vocabulary, and stimulation of multiple senses. The book features songs, rhymes, crafts, and other signing activities that can be used throughout the day, whether at mealtimes, during diaper changes, or in a waiting room. Each activity is accompanied by clear photographs and descriptions of relevant signs. These activities were born out of MacMillan’s Little Hands Signing classes, which she has been teaching since 2005.

“There are many great books out there about the basics of signing with babies,” says MacMillan. “In ‘Little Hands and Big Hands,’ I wanted to go beyond just the signs and give parents specific, age-appropriate activities they could use to make everyday life with their kids more harmonious while also enhancing early literacy. Many people assume that signing is something you do only until your child is speaking, but in fact there are tremendous benefits to signing with preschoolers as well – signing gives them more tools in their language and communication toolbox. That’s why the book includes activities for kids ages birth to 6.”

Click here to read the entire article.

 

As noted in the article, I have several upcoming Little Hands and Big Hands programs and book signings in Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore:

 

 

Whose Book Is It, Anyway?

Whenever I hear an author say something like, “I wrote the book for myself – I really didn’t think about readers”, I  want to gag.

Warning: This post may have been inspired by reading just such a comment from a well-known author after finally reading the brutally disappointing final book in said author’s series.  I am not naming names, but if you have read the book, you can probably guess who I mean.

But this author is not the only one, by any means – you see those kinds of comments all the time:

“I was really writing it for myself.”

“I never really thought about how other people would see it.”

“I just had this relationship with my characters – I had to write the story, for me.”

Goat piffle, I say.  Having been on this long, arduous journey toward publication for almost ten years now, I can tell you that, if you really want to get published, there’s no way you can NOT think about your readers.  At first, it’s specific readers: your betareader, your critique group.  Then it widens: the poor put-upon editorial assistant who has to wade through the slush pile.  The agents you query.  The editors.  And of course, always, the people you hope will one day read your book.

So when you first write that story down, and it’s just you and the first draft – okay, maybe THEN you can write just for yourself.  But if you get a book deal and you have editors and agents and all manner of people tearing your manuscript apart to make it better – there is no way you can forget to think about your readers, because all those people will remind you constantly that you have to think of them.

Maybe part of the reason I feel so strongly about this is that, in every aspect of my life, I am a communicator.  As a librarian, I have to think about what my patrons need and how best to communicate that information to them.  As an interpreter, I darn well better consider how best to convey the source message and who the target audience is, or I can’t do my job.  And as a writer, I am communicating a message too – only it’s through a story and theme and characters and setting.  But I am always thinking about how readers will see it, and what they need to navigate the story and feel the emotions of the characters.  If I am not thinking about the people receiving the message, then what the heck is the point of trying to communicate it in the first place?

There are many authors I admire, but there are a handful whose books make me sigh and say, “That’s how I want my readers to feel after reading one of my books.”  Megan Whalen TurnerRachel HartmanKristin Cashore.  That feeling right there – that’s what made me brave enough to start writing in the first place.

If you’re not thinking about your readers, then you’re just shouting into the universe and not even listening for a reply.

The Messy Way

Back in May, I read this excellent post by Larissa Graham  on the SCBWI MD/DE/VA blog.  She sang the praises of writing software, Scrivener in particular.  I was intrigued.  Maybe I would find grand new vistas of productivity if I just found the right software!

So I downloaded the demos for Scrivener and a few other programs, eager to give them a try…but as soon as I opened them up, I knew that specialized writing software is not for me.  They do have neat features.  For example,  in Scrivener, you can organize plot and character information on “corkboards” and easily assemble a synopsis.  I can see how these programs would be valuable in organizing your manuscript and save time.

But here’s the thing: I am the kind of person who procrastinates by organizing my to-do list.  (I have a very long to-do list, which, believe it or not, includes things like “Breathe”.  That’s to remind me to stop and take a few deep breaths every now and then.)  I could get swallowed up by all the bells and whistles and never actually write a thing.

I need the freedom and tyranny of the blank page, or I will never get anything done.

And, I admit, I need to have at least some of my notes on actual paper.  I like my notebooks full of world building and maps and drawings.  I like using index cards and post it notes in different ways at different times.

I like that writing isn’t something I’m trying to do as expeditiously as possible, like so many other things in my life.  It’s messy and it requires time to do it right.

And I am okay with that.