Monday, May 31, 2010

Writing Mentors


Last week I went to a class on being a mentor teacher. I think we've all heard statistics about teacher retention- after 5 years of teaching, almost half of all teachers will leave their profession. Yowza.

Most jobs have some sort of mentorship program, the idea being that if a master helps out a newbie that newbie will learn more and stay in the position. Teaching kind of exists in a bubble- we go into our classrooms and do our thing, often going the whole day without speaking to another adult. It's important to have another teacher you know you can turn to for advice, someone with a whole lot more experience than you have.

But writing is done in an even tighter bubble. (At least until you give the MS to your agent or editor.) I think most of us have critique groups or beta readers, but having a mentor is a little different. I haven't heard of too many writers having an honest to goodness mentor- Meg Waite Clayton mentioned Brenda Rickman Vantrease as her mentor- both are now successful authors.

So now I'm curious. Do any of you have a mentor writer you can turn to for advice?


Image from Thinklings.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Little Princess



Today I was having a lovely little conversation with my resident princess while she was eating spoonfuls of peanut butter. It went something like this:

Me: Mommy didn't have a very fun day. I had a long class I had to go to. And I just want someone to want my book.

The Little Princess: What book?

Me: Remember the book I wrote? The one about Hatshepsut, the princess Pharaoh from Egypt?

(Note: The Little Princess is rather keen on Egypt ever since she got to ride a camel at the Pyramids.)

The Little Princess: Yes.

Me: Well, I'm waiting for someone to say they want my book.

The Little Princess: (takes my cheeks in her hands and pulls me close to her peanut-buttery face) Oh, Mommy. Someone will want your book someday.


Man, I hope she's right! And I hope it's someday soon!

The Terror!

Today I'm over at Archives of the Alliterati, posting about the sheer terror of this crazy writing business.

Check it out!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Hardest Thing You'll Ever Do

Getting published may be the hardest thing you'll ever do. Writing is hard. Getting published is harder.

Take these great writers:


1. Martin Luther: Posting the 95 Theses on the castle church gate in Wittenberg, Germany had to be tough decision for Luther. The guy started the Protestant Reformation and was excommunicated for his criticisms of the Catholic Church. Yowza.


2. Harriet Beecher Stowe: When Abraham Lincoln met the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, he commented, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war." Her written depiction of slavery incensed the South and angered the North. Big time.




3. Thomas Paine: The former corset maker originally hailed from England, but wrote a pamphlet supporting the American independence movement before the Continental Congress penned the Declaration of Independence. He claimed it was Common Sense that an island could not rule a continent. Americans listened and began clamoring for independence. Treason, anyone?


These people surely poured blood, sweat, and tears into their manuscripts, just as all of us have. But what they wrote was considered outrageous, words that were dangerous to put on paper. All we have to worry about is finding an agent and an editor who love our work.

Easy peasy, right?


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Why I'll Never Be An Agent

The last two weeks of grading gave me a taste of what life might be like as an agent. I could never, ever be an agent.

School got out on Thursday, but here's what I graded in the two weeks before that:


1. 66 Semester Finals
2. 48 Projects
3. 48 Speeches
4. 114 Essays
5. 66 Lincoln Douglas Debates
6. 48 Annotated Bibliographies
7. 114 Volunteer Work Verifications

My eyeballs almost fell out of my head. Here's why I'll never be an agent:

1. If I were an agent, the incoming assignments would never end- queries, partials, fulls, and client manuscripts. ACK!

2. I'd have to read a lot of the same stuff- vampires this week, angels the next, and who knows what else. Kind of like reading a gazillion essays on the Civil Rights Movement.

3. I hate rejecting people. Writing an F on someone's paper stings. I'd imagine having to reject a manuscript, not to mention a gazillion queries, might also draw a little blood now and then.

4. I like my eyes. Reading that much just isn't good for the retinas.

5. I'd have to be one of those agents who responds in a day or two. Otherwise, the pile of work starts to drive me crazier than I already am.


Let's just say I'm glad summer has officially begun. I get to hang out in my garden, finish Draft #1 on Book #2, and read. A lot.

Happy summer everyone!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Way Back in Mesopotamia

Right now I'm researching crime and punishment in ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, there's not a ton of info from the time period I'm looking at and I really need some examples of more extreme punishments than the Egyptians typically doled out. After all, these are the folks that would banish the worst criminals to the granite quarries at Aswan. That sucks, but I need some evidence of the death penalty. And not just capital punishment- creative capital punishment.

Look no further! Hammurabi's Code is here!

For those of you who don't remember good ol' Hammurabi from high school history, he's the guy who codified law back in ancient Mesopotamia. Hammurabi was pretty old school when it comes to punishment. The consequence for just about any crime?

Death.


Some random examples:

- If any one buy from the son or the slave of another man, without witnesses or a contract, silver or gold, a male or female slave, an ox or a sheep, an ass or anything, or if he take it in charge, he is considered a thief and shall be put to death.

- If any one break a hole into a house (break in to steal), he shall be put to death before that hole and be buried.

- If fire break out in a house, and some one who comes to put it out cast his eye upon the property of the owner of the house, and take the property of the master of the house, he shall be thrown into that self-same fire.



Perfect! Okay, maybe not for the poor Mesopotamian being tossed in the fire or buried alive, but perfect hearsay for my little Egyptians. Hammurabi also has some fun laws like using your daughters to pay your debts, but we won't get into that.

What are you writing or researching this weekend? I hope everyone has a great one!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Banished to the Tower



Writing is a lonely business. I commented to my husband the other day that I felt like Anne Boleyn, banished to the Tower of London. He reminded me that poor Anne's story didn't end so well (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived and all that) and maybe I should pick a different analogy.

So now I'm Queen Elizabeth, also banished to the Tower. (I think I just like the Tower of London.) Now I won't lose my head, but instead I'll get to be Queen after I get out. Yay for me!

But seriously, I do feel like I'm locked away and someone lost the key. Maybe they swallowed it; I don't know.

Writing. Revising. Waiting.

Waiting is the hardest part.

Do you ever feel like you're all alone in this business? What the heck do you do to stay sane?

Monday, May 17, 2010

When Your Heart Speaks, Take Good Notes


Last week, I had the opportunity to listen to the mother of Greg Mortensen, author of Three Cups of Tea. Dr. Mortensen came to our high school to talk about her son's work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She had two main messages for the students.

1. They get to go to school.
2. When your heart speaks, take good notes.

I could go on about both these lessons, but as this is a writing blog, I'll stick to the latter. I think most people have a good story in them, but for whatever reason, most of them never write it down. There has to be a reason (other than the fact that we writers are mentally insane) that writers sit down and start writing. Maybe we listened to our hearts?

I had to get Hatshepsut's story out of my head. There are a couple novels out there about her and while they're both great, I would read them and think, "No, she wouldn't do that."

Because I think I know a Pharaoh that's been dead for 3,500 years better than anyone else. Snarf.

So I started writing. It was hard and I wanted to stop, but I couldn't. I'm in the same boat with Nitokerty now. It's like pulling all four wisdom teeth at once trying to get words on paper, but I have to get her story on paper or I'll soon be blogging from a padded room.

So that's my story. I'm driven to write by Egyptian Pharaohs who've been dead for millennia. What about you? What forces you to sit down and type? How do you finally get to the point where you can write THE END?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Holy Guacamole! I've Been Tagged!

I've been tagged by Amalia for the latest round of blogosphere tag. Yay!

Question 1 - Where were you five years ago?

1. Just married
2. Just bought our first house
3. Graduating with my Master's
4. Going to Egypt for the first time
5. Working as a tour director in Alaska

Question 2 - Where would you like to be in five years?

1. Published
2. Still living in my dream house
3. Traveling to Machu Picchu, Angor Wat, Morocco, Istanbul, and Egypt (not in the same trip)
4. Still teaching, but maybe part-time to accommodate my writer's schedule ;)
5. Writing Book ???

Question 3 - What is on your to-do list today?

1. Working on RELUCTANT QUEEN
2. Run 2 miles
3. Hanging out with the three-year-old monkey
4. Planting hanging baskets
5. Baking grapefruit pecan bread

Question 4 - What snacks do you enjoy?

1. Red wine
2. Chocolate covered pretzels
3. Spicy picante cashews
4. Fresh guacamole- I eat it almost every day.
5. Fresh tomatoes from my garden

Question 5 - What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?

1. Travel the world
2. Build a killer wine cellar
3. Buy a villa in Italy and spend January-April there. I like winter, but not six months of it.
4. Donate a chunk of change to St. Jude's. Or build a library. Or both.
5. Buy my own island. Just because I could.

The rules are that I must pass the Tag along to 5 Bloggers I admire....

1. Dawn Simon at Plotting and Scheming
2. Guinevere at This Is Not My Day Job
3. Aubrie at Flutey Words
4. Laurel at Laurel's Leaves
5. VR Barkowski at VR Barkowski: A Writer's Blog

And I apologize if any of you have been tagged already. I'm out of the loop after my unplugged week!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Student Analogies & Metaphors- Back By Popular Demand!




In honor of this being the second to last week of school before summer break (and the fact that this week I will grade 50 projects, 75 final exams, and 100 essays), I am unplugging. Must. Stay. Sane.

However, I wanted to leave you with an encore presentation of Student Analogies and Metaphors! Without further ado, here are some lovely metaphors, compliments of America's youth!


1. Her artistic sense was exquisitely refined, like someone who can tell butter from "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter."

2. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

3. It came down the stairs looking very much like something no one had ever seen before.

4. The knife was as sharp as the tone used by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) in her first several points of parliamentary procedure made to Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) in the House Judiciary Committee hearings on the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton.

5. The red brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon.



Okay, since I just finished teaching Clinton and the 90's, I will say #4 is pretty funny. But I love #5. Which one made you snort your coffee up your nose this morning?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Do the Write Thing



In case you haven't heard, three amazing ladies have organized an auction of all sorts of writerly goodies at Do the Write Thing for Nashville.

There are agent critiques, signed books, and even phone calls with your favorite agents. All the proceeds go to helping with flood relief for Nashville- just check out their blog boiler photo for proof that the area needs help. Check it out and bid!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Books, Books, and More Books!




Today I'm posting over at Secret Archives of the Alliterati regarding change and questions in your manuscript. Got change? No? Then you might have a problem. A big problem!


So I thought I would leave you with a list of some of the books I've read recently. I'm still working on branching out of my normal genre of historical fiction. Let's just say that's a work in progress.

1. Going Bovine by Libba Bray
2. Hester by Paula Reed
3. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
4. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
5. Alcestis by Katharine Beutner
6. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
7. The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
8. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
9. Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn
10. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (my daughter's first chapter book!)
11. Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd


What about you? What have you read recently to branch out of your comfort zone?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

You Can Fly!





My daughter really likes Tinkerbell. Why?

1. Tinkerbell can fly.
2. Tinkerbell can "pixie" anyone and then they can fly.
3. Tinkerbell can go to Neverland.

I've been told that I can't be Tinkerbell; I'm only Wendy's mom. I get to wear a pink gown for my consolation prize (which really doesn't make up for the fact that I can't fly). But I'd really like to borrow Tinkerbell for a little bit.

What would I have her do? Sprinkle pixie dust on Book #2 to get the first draft finished!

If you could borrow Tinkerbell or some other sprightly creature (elves, fairies, gnomes, Oompa Loompas), what would you have them do to help out your writing?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spread the Awesome- Books That Deserve 10 Stars

Today we are celebrating authors who've made it, those with books on the shelves at your favorite bookstore. You all know I'm a history nerd so I decided to focus on the best historical fiction novel I've read in a long, long time.

Mistress of Rome by KATE QUINN



Synopsis: Thea is a slave girl from Judaea, passionate, musical, and guarded. Purchased as a toy for the spiteful heiress Lepida Pollia, Thea will become her mistress's rival for the love of Arius the Barbarian, Rome's newest and most savage gladiator. His love brings Thea the first happiness of her life-that is quickly ended when a jealous Lepida tears them apart.

As Lepida goes on to wreak havoc in the life of a new husband and his family, Thea remakes herself as a polished singer for Rome's aristocrats. Unwittingly, she attracts another admirer in the charismatic Emperor of Rome. But Domitian's games have a darker side, and Thea finds herself fighting for both soul and sanity. Many have tried to destroy the Emperor: a vengeful gladiator, an upright senator, a tormented soldier, a Vestal Virgin. But in the end, the life of the brilliant and paranoid Domitian lies in the hands of one woman: the Emperor's mistress.



My Thoughts: This book was amazing! And it's a debut novel so that's even better! I've heard agents say Rome is impossible to sell, but this was a riveting story from start to finish. My favorite character was Lepida. She reminded me of a Scarlet O'Hara you just wanted to strangle through the whole book. And talk about voice! I got excited every time the POV shifted to Lepida.

If you enjoyed the movie Gladiator, (and who didn't?) then you'll love Mistress of Rome. It's a history lesson in itself, but without ever losing sight of the plot. There is a ton of blood and gore in the Coliseum (all historically accurate) and includes an intriguing look at the Vestal Virgins and Emperor Domitian. There are also some other historical folks who show up so those cameos are like special treats if you know your Roman history. And if you don't, it's still a wild ride.



The Books That Deserve 10 Stars tour continues! (Please keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times.) Head on over to Susan Adrian for the next stop! For the full list you can check out Elana Johnson's Reading List. Thanks to Elana for organizing this!