Sunday, December 23, 2007

Why I write picture books instead.

Just saw this listing for a children's magazine seeking submissions:

"Publishes ideas, activities, crafts and tips for different ages. No fiction, prose, or poetry. Feature articles 1,000-2,200 words - payment $75 to $400. Teacher and Parent Tips 200 words - payment $40. Games, crafts, and activities 200-500 words - payment $40."

Holy cow! Talk about slave wages. And, from my perusal of the Children's Writer's Market, this is a fairly standard offering.

The last picture book I sold is about 575 words. I was paid thousands for it. (None of your biz exactly how many thousands, but more than ten times the top pay above, let's just say.) The one before that was about 225 words. Also paying WAY more than the measly 40 bucks offered above for 200 words.

And I'm a new, mid-list writer, not a superstar. My earnings are measly compared to theirs.

I know not every story fits as a picture book. I know new children's writers are often told that magazines are a good way to break in. But are they? I've heard of people waiting as long for their $25 poem to appear in a magazine as it takes for my books to land on bookstore shelves.

Maybe that's not true about smaller mags. Maybe with them, the time from sale to print is only a few months. And there's something to be said for the instant gratification of a quick query and sale. But my 3rd book was bought about 2 or 3 weeks after I queried my editor. (Granted, it was a query to an editor with whom I had a pre-existing relationship, not a slush pile submission.)

And even from the slush pile, with my 2nd sale, the editor replied to my query in 7 days. She bought the book about 10 weeks later. Not such a bad wait.

I know there aren't as many places to sell a picture book as an article. But these insulting wages are just... well... INSULTING. So my radical opinion is, if you're going to write, write for a venue which compensates you properly for your labor and inspiration rather than arrogantly assuming you'll be thrilled with the pittance they're paying just to see your byline in print.

Monday, December 10, 2007


December 10th, and here I am outside in a t-shirt, STILL picking up pecans, and it's about 76 degrees outside! Ridiculous. Sorry all you folks everywhere else in the country, hunkered down in snow and ice storms.

I thought how absurd it was as I entered the house and felt the heat around the door which sports my Christmas wreath. The only thing that reminds me it's December is this nasty cold. Blecch! Hope my voice is usable by Thursday. I've got a school presentation that night.

Monday, November 05, 2007


Well, it's that time of year again, a time I always look forward to... and not just because the temperatures are lower. (Although that's a big part of it!)

It's also the time I can spend hours day dreaming, thinking up new plots, while I harvest pecans. We've got a good crop this year. See...?

In case you're wondering, that long-handled gizmo is a tool many of us have in the south for picking up pecans while sparing our backs.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Something welcome this way comes...

...and his name is Alan Gratz!

It's my great pleasure to host Alan Gratz on the 2nd day of his book tour. Alan's 2nd book, Something Rotten, has just been released from Dial Books. His first, Samurai Shortstop, came out in 2006. It's great to have you here, Alan. I'm just going to launch into my nosy questions!

1. I know you've written drama as well as "book" fiction. How do your skills as a drama writer come into play when you're writing a book? Is there a difference in pacing, dialogue, etc.?

Dialogue is of course very important on the stage. Most directors want to strip out the stage directions I write anyway, and just use the words I've put into the characters mouths. Writing for directors who do that made me much more conscious of my stage directions. I began putting in only those directions that were vitally important to the scene and leaving out a lot of the little things like "he pours a coffee" or "he stands." I'm learning to cut out a lot of those in my novels as well. There's just so much sitting and standing and looking and nodding and such a character can do before those things become meaningless in a book. I still find them sprinkled throughout my manuscripts, but I'm learning to cut those out as much as possible. Punctuating dialogue with actions like that helps to pace things, but I'm focusing now on making those actions more specific and meaningful, or perhaps expressing them in more creative ways. "The look on his face told me my idea stank worse than a weightlifter's armpit." That kind of thing.

2. I love that you survived a "humid childhood." Haha! So did I! Do you think you write in a southern voice? Or just a moister one?

I've been thinking more and more lately about whether or not I'm a "Southern writer." *Technically* I am, as I was born and raised in the humid climes of East Tennessee and now live in the more temperate mountains of western North Carolina. But geography alone does not define "Southern writer," at least not in the way I think of it. When I think of Southern writers I think of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Lee Smith, Larry Brown, Cormac McCarthy--authors whose stories are in and *of* the South, whose palettes are filled with people and places that are unique to the region. Samurai Shortstop was written in Knoxville, Tennessee, but it certainly does not qualify me as a "Southern writer." Something Rotten comes closer, however. I chose to set my modern retelling of Hamlet in a fictional Denmark, Tennessee, which I place on the map somewhere near Knoxville. The novel's landscape is Appalachia, but does that make me a Southern writer? I'm still up in the air on that one. I'm not sure Something Rotten is *about* the South. It's just set there. I'd like to be thought of as a Southern writer--there's certainly a wonderful literary tradition here--but I may need to write something where the South is almost another character to really put myself on the map.

3. How do you handle the muddy middle of a long book project, when you're past the exciting beginning but far from the breathless finish?

Outlining! My stories used to sag in the middle like a carnival pony until I learned the art of outlining before writing the first word. Now I don't hit that big dead space in the middle anymore between how I knew the story began and how I knew it ended. When constructing the outline, I focus on making sure that something happens in each and every chapter that moves the story forward. That sounds simple, but it's really harder than it sounds. There's all kinds of opportunity in a novel to stop and dwell on the philosophical meaning of something, or veer off into an internal monologue or an aside, and many modern novels relish in this. When writing for young readers though, I try to keep such musings to a minimum--or at least fuse them with action. It's not that young readers can't understand* deep thoughts, it's that many of them don't want to make time for them. There are just too many things begging for the attention of young adults. I feel that competition, and I do everything I can to beat it. Besides, that's the kind of book I enjoy reading too. :-)

4. How do you think YA differs from adult fiction, since so many barriers have come down about sex, language and violence in YA?

The difference for me will always be one of perspective. Adult books may have a teenage protagonist, but are often couched as nostalgia or remembrances, or the books stand away from the character and make observations that come with the maturity of years. Young adult novels, on the other hand, are immediate. The characters live *in the moment,* as real teenagers do, often giving as little thought to what happened last year as they do to what will happen a year later. With no subject taboo anymore, YA isn't an issue of content, it's an issue of point of view. Teenagers have a limited point of view due to their age--they just can't have seen as much of the world as an adult, and so their viewpoint is unique. For them, every relationship is the best they will ever have, every breakup the worst they will ever have. A bad test score means the Worst Day Ever, a sports victory means the Greatest Day Ever. They've yet to learn that these ups and downs are a never-ending part of what it means to be alive, and I love them dearly for that. For young adults the world is constantly new, which means that everything, from the mundane to the taboo, is a totally emotional experience.

5. Do you plan to retool any of Shakespeare's other plots? Or perhaps to continue to write for this character, now that you know him so well?

Yes! I've already sold two sequels. The first is Something Wicked, which is based on Macbeth. My detective Horatio Wilkes will return, this time following his friend Mac and Mac's girlfriend Beth (yes, you may groan now) to a Scottish Highland Festival in the mountains of East Tennessee. There he'll solve a murder, fall in love, and wear a kilt, though not necessarily in that order. Something Wicked will be published by Dial next fall (2008), and will be followed in the fall of 2009 by Something Foolish, based on A Midsummer Night's Dream. I haven't written that one yet, but it will be set at an all night keg party where Horatio must solve a date rape and repair a few broken relationships. I have plans too for Julius Caesar (think toga party at a college fraternity) and The Tempest (Horatio interns at a Disney-like theme park ruled by an animatronics wizard), and hope to sell those if the first three books do well. I'll keep writing mysteries based on Shakespeare as long as people keep reading them!

6. Have you any plans to write for a younger audience?

I have sold a middle grade novel (ages 8-12) called The Brooklyn Nine, which follows nine "innings," or generations, of an American family as told through the children's connections to baseball. It's American history, family history, and baseball history all rolled into one. The Brooklyn Nine is currently slated for release in spring of 2009--just in time for baseball season! As for anything younger, I have a few ideas for intermediate reader series, but my plate's so full right now I wouldn't have time to write them!

Thanks Alan.

Thank you, Kim!

Don't miss Alan's other blog appearances this week:
Monday: Elizabeth O. Dulemba
Wednesday: Karen Lee
Thursday: Kerry Madden's Mountain Mist

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Elements

Couldn't help bragging about my son, who -- with a little bribing -- memorized the period table of elements, sung along with the the hilarious Tom Lehrer song... which is, of course, originally a Gilbert & Sullivan song.

If the picture quality is too bad, (and you'll really miss out if you don't see his dancing eyebrows keeping time to the music!), hop on over to YouTube and view it by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A truly odd guest!

No, just kidding! There's nothing odd about my friend, Karen Lee. But she certainly is special! She is the illustrator of two Sylvan Dell titles, One Odd Day and My Even Day, as well as BOTH author & illustrator of ABC Safari. She's joining me today on the 2nd day of her blog book tour.

It's great to have you in for a visit, Karen. I'll just jump right in with my questions!

Who are your favorite illustrators? Do you feel they influenced your work?

My favorite of all time is NC Wyeth – my son’s middle name is Wyeth in his honor. Among contemporary illustrators I admire Adam Rex , Tony DiTerlizzi, Peter Ferguson, Kadir Nelson, and Tim Bower . If you look at the work of these artists you can see some of the same elements; powerful design, masterful execution, drama, style, but all with something uneasy about them. These artists’s work all challenge the viewer rather than simply lull them. That is exciting to me and something I aspire to do with my art.

Now that you're a southern girl like me, (after your Ohio childhood) do you think your southern lifestyle has had an effect on your work? Or does it just make your materials melt faster?

I love living in the south and have for about nineteen of my adult years which is crazy because I’m only 29, but that is a whole other interview. It’'s pretty laid back and I love being able to be outdoors year round. I can'’t seem to think clearly unless I’m moving. We are fortunate to have a paved greenway path near our house and I do almost all of my best thinking while walking the dog every morning. There is also a strong writing tradition in the south and I think it has given me access to some phenomenal role models.

And what ABOUT that Ohio childhood... how did it affect the artist you are now? (And I mean artist in all senses, including your writing and any other arts to which you may lend your talents.)

I am the second oldest of five kids born within five and a half years so my poor mom didn'’t have much time to entertain me – she hardly had time to breathe – can you imagine? Just about all of my most vivid early memories are of either art or of books. I read all the time and I remember feeling anxious that my small town library was running out of things I hadn'’t read. I read anything I could get my hands on from my dad’s scientific journals to my mom’s Redbook Magazine. Back then Redbook featured great fiction and always had lots of short stories coupled with art from wonderful illustrators. It was my introduction to writers like Judith Viorst and artists like Charles Santore. I even read almost all my dad’s collection of classics from Shakespeare’s comedies (couldn'’t do the histories and only a few of the tragedies) to Hawthorne, Doyle, and Dickens.

The books I remember the most from my childhood are an illustrated David and Goliath that I checked out of the library over and over, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’'Engle, The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, and Illusions by Richard Bach. It’s interesting to me that several of these books have essentially the same theme – the triumph of good over evil at great odds. It is such a universal story.

We lived in a small suburb of Cleveland and, as a teenager, I took a bus into Cleveland to attend Saturday classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art. That was the perfect combination of freedom and creative stimulation for me and probably influenced my decision to go to an art college more than anything else.

Do you prefer illustrating your own books or the books of other authors?

That’'s an interesting question and I’m not sure how well I can answer it yet because I’ve only illustrated one of my own books. I can say that while it is satisfying to be able to have control over the entirety of a book it also comes with the burden of being solely responsible for the success of that creation. There is something to the gestalt that comes from two or more minds coming together to make something greater than the sum of its parts and I think that has happened with One Odd Day and My Even Day.

Do you have other books in the works that you have authored?

I have two manuscripts that I am currently storyboarding and maybe here I can shed some light about how I feel about illustrating my own work. One of these stories is a quirky, creepy story that I don’t feel adequate to do the finished art for. I have convinced my husband, illustrator Tim Lee to collaborate with me on the art in the event that it gets accepted. He can bring something to this picture book that I can’t pull off alone and he also is much more experimental than I am and will push the art to a level that matches the story better.

The other picture book I am working on is also a story that wouldn'’t be well matched for the style of work I am currently doing but this one is my challenge. I am hoping that when I begin the sketches for this I will launch my work into a new direction. This particular story has also been a departure for me - it is written in prose after several years of writing primarily in rhyme.

I know Sylvan Dell is a well-respected publisher which does a good job of promoting its authors and illustrators. I've met Lee German, your publisher at Sylvan Dell and he's a great guy! Since many beginners start out thinking they would like to be published only by a "big" house, can you share some of the things a smaller publishing house has to offer which may even be superior to a big publisher?

I have loved working with Sylvan Dell. Besides being extraordinarily friendly, they have a real passion for what they are publishing. For me the assets are that the author or illustrator has greater creative freedom. They will also keep these books in print and remain committed to them long after most big-house books are out of print.

Karen is also on tour the rest of this week, so to get more in depth information, follow her to the blogs of our other talented friends:

Elizabeth O. Dulemba
Kim Norman
Ruth McNally Barshaw
Barbara Johansen Newman
Dotti Enderle
Kerry Madden

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Here piggy piggy... SOLD!!

Wee haw! Just sold book number three a few days ago!! To my editor at Dutton. What a relief. I was beginning to worry that my first sale to her was a fluke and I'd never write anything which appealed to her again.

This is a rhyming pic book based on "I know an old woman who swallowed a fly." If we don't change the title, the new book is called "I know a wee piggy who wallowed in brown." Color concept book, obviously.

This will be my 3rd book. I'm almost starting to feel like a real-live author! (I guess the "rich-and-famous" prefix will come later!)

Saturday, September 01, 2007


Played Martha Stewart for a while on vacation. Picked apples from my grandfather's old apple trees, planted over 50 years ago, and made two batches of applesauce. (The first batch, more virtuous with cinnamon & Splenda, and the second with plain old sugar.)

Gathered the apples in this grand old picnic basket of my grandmother's. Knocked off the cobwebs and removed the little shelf inside which was obviously an innovation to allow for "non-squashed" sandwich transport.

Apples were a popular theme during this vacation. I discovered these old cookbooks on my grandmother's shelves by "Mrs. Appleyard." They're a hoot. More like novels than cookbooks, written by a woman named Louise Andrews Kent in the 40s & early 50s. Mrs. Appleyard is an invention with her crisp New England matron's attitude and speech patterns. Often very funny. The funniest part was that my 13-year-old son decided the books were funny, too, so he began to read them aloud to me, only, instead of trying to sound like, say, Julia Child, he read them in his deep "movie announcer voice." Either way, it was a pleasant way to pass the time while I peeled apples. Nice to get him away from the video games and spend time with his old mom.

I made enough to bring home a batch to his older brother who had stayed home to work.

Monday, August 27, 2007


So here's a little video of the turkeys I spotted that day near the farmhouse in Maine. It was a nice surprise to look out the window and see them there. We'd been watching them way up in the field with binoculars. This was much better!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Now how's THAT for a room with a view?

This is the window where I sat earlier this month, at my grandparents' old farmhouse in Maine, working on a revision. Who wouldn't be inspired by this? (Although this is sunset and I mostly wrote in the early mornings looking over misty fields.) Was even visited by a flock of wild turkeys one day. They came around the side of the house, stopped to snack around the oak tree stump, then ambled up the road.

And then there's the "feelin' famous" part: having my name show up in big bold letters on the public library sign in Lovell, Maine. What a great group of folks! Made me feel so welcome!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

You won't accept "no!"

A new song! I've put it on my podcast, The Kimmy Awards, but since some folks were having trouble, I also uploaded it to YouTube, or you can view below. Many thanks to my talented friend, Layne Rowland, who plays the pushy newbie writer in this dialog between writer and overworked, under-appreciated editor.

Warning: One naughty word at the end of the song.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hi kimnorman!

I was telling my friend Sara today about an odd phenomenon I've noticed since doing some school visits in my own town -- where I'm likely to encounter the children again. When they see me elsewhere, (even if they already knew me as Mrs. Norman from church, say) suddenly I'm their best friend: "Hi Kimnorman!" The name comes out like one word.

This has happened 3 or 4 times now. Very odd. "Hey, aren't you kimnorman?" "Hey, Mom! It's kimnorman!" (The moms, many of whom already me as Kim Norman -- two words -- are always mightily impressed, let me tell you.)

Just wondering if other authors have experienced that after an appearance.

By the way, if you're curious about the above photo, she's one of my Evil Inner Editors. View the rest of them here.

And don't forget to listen to my hilarious new song featuring an overworked editor and a pushy writer on my podcast, The Kimmy Awards.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Announcing "The Kimmy Awards!"

Okay, I'll admit I'm not handing out any awards... yet. It just seemed like a good, short name to buy for my podcast.

And today we have a new song!! Your editors are going to love this one. A dialog between a harried editor and a pushy newbie writer. Listen to my newest song, You won't accept "no!" here:

Friday, July 06, 2007

A gift from a dream

For the first time that I recall, I came up with a story idea in a dream last night. In my dream, I watched this little boy singing a song that sounded like a nice premise for a picture book. I even began scribbling the idea down in my dream -- with the usual plot twists and interruptions. Does everybody dream like that, with lots of obstacles in the way of their intentions, or is it just my cluttered life that makes me dream that way?

Within the dream, as I wrote down the story idea, I suddenly thought, "Wait a minute. What if that was a real, copyrighted song he was singing?" Because when I first heard him, I was sure it was original. You know, one of those tuneless, chant-like songs children sing when they're busy doing something else. But as I wrote down the idea, I began to worry maybe he was just tone deaf.

Before I had a chance to finish writing down the idea, I woke up coughing. Makes me wonder: was that a real cough, or my body trying to wake me to write down the dream? Of course, I always have allergies, but no cold or cold "remnants" right now. Curious.

And then, of course, out for my morning walk to think about it. Snapped a few photos along the way, including one of my favorite subject, that old farmhouse which is bound for doom with developers encroaching. Sigh.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

All in one place...

It was fun doing all those interviews last week. A form of self-analysis. I was embarrassed at how nebulous I had to be about my next project. Also was dismayed at how long it has been since I had a good, solid habit of early morning walks followed by journaling. (Which I always find to be a good way to "center" myself for the day.)

So, even if NOBODY read the interviews, I got something out of them. Have started back my early morning walks, have started a new journal and have gotten a solid start on that revision I've owed one of my editors for way too long!

Thank you thank you to everyone who hosted me, forcing me to take a look at myself.

Here's a recap of the blogs I visited last week:

Monday - Elizabeth Dulemba's blog
Tuesday - Dotti Enderle's blog
Wednesday - Kerry Madden's blog
Thursday - Barbara Johansen Newman's blog
Friday - Karen Lee's blog
Saturday - Ruth McNally Barshaw's blog

Here are some views I enjoyed on my sunrise walk this morning near the marsh, including the photo at the top...

And here's where I journaled when I got back... my new gazebo!

Got that great hanging ornament for only SIX BUCKS!

Monday, June 25, 2007

And last, but by NO means least...

My blog book tour completed over the weekend with a stop at my friend Ruth Barshaw's blog. Ruth is the author of the newly released Ellie McDoodle, Have Pen, Will Travel. She is carving her own exciting niche in the graphic novel field. My friend Ruth -- the pioneer!

Click HERE to read the interview.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


My book launch party was lovely. It took place June 14th in the garden at The Smithfield Inn. The weather was perfect, (67 degrees in the summer!); the company was delightful; the crowd size was just right.

Aside from delighting in celebrating the long-awaited release of my book, it was also gratifying for me to see that people looked like they were having a really good time. Many thanks to John and Anne Edwards of The Smithfield Times for generously hosting the party. And of course, to my family and friends who came out to celebrate with me.

Here's a glimpse:

At my friend Karen's "house!"

On Friday I visited my friend Karen Lee's blog. Karen is an author AND illustrator. She's' got a great new book called ABC SAFARI which just came out from Sylvan Dell.

Like me, Karen is fascinated by the creative process. We discuss it on her blog, Karen's News.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Today I'm at Barb's!

Barb Newman, that is, my good friend and fellow critique group member. Barb's new book, Tex and Sugar just came out. It's party time at Barb's house! (Or, it was last weekend when she hosted her western themed launch party.) Check out photos of her party on Liz Dubois' blog. Lucky Liz lives close enough that she could go and even bring the family!

Anyhoo, visit Barb's blog, Cats and Jammers Studio, to read the latest interview!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Two places at once!

As my blog book tour continues, today I'm two places at once... and I'm not even dizzy! (Kind of like doing Good Morning America at 8:30, then scooting up the street to appear on Regis by 9:15.)

Today you can find separate interviews at:

Dotti Enderle's blog
and Kerry Madden's blog

And if you can't get enough writer interviews, (I can't!) check out the great answers they gave me a few weeks back:

On May 24th, I interviewed Kerry,


On May 3rd, I interviewed Dotti.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I'm on TOUR!

I've always wanted to say those words! I'm on a week-long "blog book tour" among my blogging author and/or illustrator friends. Today, (Monday) I'm visiting Elizabeth Dulemba, illustrator of such books as Glitter Girl and the Crazy Cheese.

To read the interview, click her name above or HERE.

See you there!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Happy birthday tooo Jaaaaack!

Well, it's our birthday. JACK OF ALL TAILS' official publication date, June 14, 2007. Sometimes I thought this day would never come. But my hair is already fixed and I'm gettin' ready to go upstairs and put on my fancy duds for my book's birthday party.

I've had 4 years to prepare for this. So how come I just picked out my outfit a few hours ago?

Anyway, as of today, I'm officially published. To borrow and paraphrase a hokey line from the old musical 110 in the Shade: "Ya been published, Kimmy. Ya don't ever have to go thru life a gal who ain't been published."

See you after the party!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Feelin' like a rock star

Enjoyed a fabulous visit to my local elementary school yesterday. What a great group of enthusiastic kids! So much for the old saying about a prophet not being accepted in his own land. (Or however that saying goes!) My hometown kids at Hardy Elementary treated me like a rock star. Because they're so nearby, I had stopped in to meet the lovely librarian some weeks ago to give her an advance CD of my song, "The Storytime Boogie." By the time my visit rolled around, the kids were familiar with the song. (A big thanks to my friend Mrs. Chapman, the music teacher, for taking the time to introduce the kids to the song.)

What a great audience! (Both groups, K & 1st and 2nd & 3rd.) The younger ones worked themselves into a cheering frenzy as I pulled stuffed "pets" from my big bag -- culminating in that huge crocodile I found in a 2nd hand store a few weeks ago. The older kids were equally entertained by my photos of my Evil Inner Editor. But they never got out of control. They'd quickly quiet with a simple "shhh" into the microphone so I could bring up the next image. You couldn't ask for a better audience!

Both groups laughed in all the right places when I read Jack of All Tails especially at David Clark's illustrations. It's important for kids to understand how much of the story is being told by the illustrator. I tell students that the illustrations do more than depict the actions described by my words. As we read, I point out humorous details in David's art that don't even show up in my text. Sometimes we guess what's going to happen next in an illustration, such as when the mom -- dressed as a cat and lying on top of a piano -- is mischievously eyeing a child's chewing gum bubble. When my sons were little, we'd see if they could name other books illustrated by that artist just by looking at the covers of our library books. It's amazing how often they could. I really admire a strong signature style like that.

I don't usually give out postcards to the entire student body, but I happened to have a batch of 1000 "free" postcards because my printer messed up my order a few weeks ago. The full-color front showing the bookcover looked fine, but the back side was unacceptably light. So they reprinted and shipped new ones, leaving me with a box of 1000 extras. So I put stickers on the back announcing my booklaunch party for any kid who can talk his/her parents into bringing them. (This, since the book isn't being released for another two weeks, so I couldn't sell them during the visit.)

I closed with "The Storytime Boogie" at both presentations as kids clapped along. Hey! Hardy Elementary has rhythm, too! All in all, a very fun afternoon.

(Jack of All Tails published by Dutton Children's Books - Illustrations copyright ©2007 by David Clark)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Meme. I've been tagged!

Just found out my buddy Barb Newman has "tagged" me to participate in a game of Meme. In a meme each player lists 8 habits/facts about themselves, then tags 8 others at the end of her post.

Here's my 8:

1. My parents restored a Victorian home in which my father left one deliberate flaw: a hole in the first floor ceiling for my dad’s pet raccoon to stick her upper body through, hang from, and wave at you. Really.

2. Since my parents raised innumerable foster children, I fit into nearly every possible birth-order category.

3. In junior high, my best friend and I used to experimentally snap Butterfinger bars in two, (searching for a “fresh one”), buy one each, then eat them over teen magazines in the snack bar, after which we’d return the mags to the rack.

4. I've never tasted even a nibble of a mango since I learned, during my family's two years in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, (yes, the currently infamous "Gitmo"), in the late 60s, that I’m allergic to them. (Used to breakout when kids brought them on the bus.)

5. I took up tap dancing at the age of 44… and found that I wasn’t half bad at it, for an old broad.
This is me and my friend Rene tappin' our hearts out. Rene is tall, gorgeous one with the cheekbones to die for. I'm... the other one.

6. After school in junior high, I’d watch an afternoon re-run of Star Trek, then listen to Broadway albums for hours.

7. Because of the above misspent youth, I can amaze my children by singing along with Robert Preston to the "Trouble" song from The Music Man and not miss a single syllable. Sadly, I cannot do the same with Yul Brynner in “A Puzzlement.”

8. Our yellow Labrador retriever actually dashes out and fetches the paper every morning. Watch the amazing movie of her paper-retrieving exploits here...

Okay, at the risk that they've already been tagged, I'll tag a few folks from my book marketing group:
Elizabeth Dulemba
Joe Kulka
Alan Gratz
Ruth McNally Barshaw
Karen Lee
Greg Fishbone
From my crit group:
Liz Dubois
and also, my friend, illustrator Amy Cullings Moreno

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Happiness is... a big box of books!!

Or, even better, TWO big boxes of books! They're heeeeeere.

Ordered 100 books in preparation for my book launch party on June 14th. So kind of my boss and his wife to offer to hold this party for me. It will be in the beautiful outdoor gazebo of The Smithfield Inn, covered & cozy no matter what the weather. (But we're hoping for a gorgeous June evening, of course!)

Time to start addressing invitations!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A voice that sings

Today, I'm excited to host Kerry Madden, author of Gentle's Holler and the recently released, Louisiana's Song, second in her Smoky Mountain Trilogy. As a writer who often battles insecurities (and my Evil Inner Editor) when writing longer works, I'm especially awed by a writer who can produce a trilogy! So I'm going to selfishly ask her questions that might help me as I struggle to tame my "EIE."

First, Kerry, the age-old question for novelists: (Nope, not "where do you get your ideas?") Rather: Outline...? or just feeling your way along uncharted paths?

I borrow from real life and then I just feel my way along "unchartered paths." With this Smoky Mountain trilogy, I began by imagining my husband's family, but the characters have changed and grown into their personalities and lives. My husband's family never grew up in a Smoky Mountain holler - there was no blind child, no daddy with a brain injury and auditory hallucinations recovering in the holler, no bookmobile, no Uncle Hazard dog. But the spark was imagining how my mother-in-law coped with having babies in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s...(she's the mother of 13) and how her children might have thought or acted growing up in that big family. I also grew up drawing pictures of huge families - they intrigued me from childhood.

What is your writing schedule? Set number of hours, pages, words?

I write when the kids are in school and if I'm under tremendous deadline, I write into the night and weekends. I have taken a few times to go away to the mountains and write and I love this - no distractions from home, and my imagination just opens up with the freedom of not having to stop and make supper or drive. When I needed to make serious tracks on shaping the story, I would make myself write 2000 words a day - or a chapter a day - and I would make myself move forward - not go back and revise. That never lasted long - I would go back and shape and revise anyway. Other times, I would just make myself write two pages a day when the plot wasn't coming. I struggle with plot. I usually write a very dull, bland first draft, which is embarrassing, but it makes me go back in for the attack and I am ruthless at cutting and taking risks at that point - it just takes me a while to get there.

Do you spend time researching your topic (especially location) first? Or do you just start writing, planning to fill in details later?

I start writing and fill in the details later. The best part (of writing this Smoky Mountain Trilogy) has been my research trips back to the Smokies. I never went back when I was writing GENTLE'S HOLLER - I just remembered and wrote - we were too broke for a research trip. Then Viking asked me to write two more books, and there was no way I could stay away then. I met a woman Ernestine Upchurch who drove me up to Waterrock Knob and showed me plants...I spent time with kids, listening to them in the writing workshops. I took my daughter there last summer and watched her play - catching lightning bugs, running from wasps, finding a spider and egg sac (horrifying!). A family of groundhogs lived under our cabin and now they're in JESSIE'S MOUNTAIN. So is that awful spider and egg sac...but I needed to look closely at the towns in the mountains and Maggie Valley, especially.

I know with your 1960s setting, you've probably chosen a period close to your own childhood, (sorry I don't know your age and won't ask!!) But I've found myself, when trying to write about that period, that historical details are still fuzzy. Did you need to refresh your memory about the time period? If so, how did you do that?

Well, I picked the 1960s because my sister-in-law was ten in 1962, and I wanted to capture that time. So I began doing research by looking at headlines. LOUISIANA'S SONG, set in 1963, is grounded in that turbulent year - the Alabama Girls in the church bombing, the first woman (a Russian) in space, Patsy Cline's death, JFK's death...I also went to the Nashville Public Library and did research in the archives of old Nashville Banner newspapers. I discovered that 1963 was one of the coldest winters on record - even the lake by the Parthenon froze, and the ducks were at a loss as to what to do - that went right into JESSIE'S MOUNTAIN, because Jitters is worried about the ducks. (JESSIE'S MOUNTAIN has a chunk of Nashville in it.) I would look up movies and songs of those years too. And GHOST TOWN IN THE SKY opened in 1961, and I interviewed my husband's aunt Iris, who worked in the blacksmith shop and told folks the chairlift was "lightning proof" to set their minds at ease in thunderstorms. She told me great stories...

Your writing has been called lyrical, your voice very strong. Is that a voice that comes naturally in your first draft, or something that evolves after many drafts? Speaking of which: how many drafts? Do you know?

I am very good at voice - I can write lyrical forever, but I'm awful at plot, so there can pages and pages of beautiful description that lead to nothing. But I've accepted that I just write that way - and much of it gets cut - has to...because there's no forward momentum. Then I add plot...I'm sure chapter one of LOUISIANA'S SONG was revised at least 100 times and GENTLE'S HOLLER too...typically I probably write 30-50 drafts with all the tinkering and revisions. I revise as I go most of the time...

Thanks, Kerry. Heartiest congratulations on the trilogy! (What a coup!!)
Oh, that reminds me. One more question, if I may: Did you sell it as a trilogy from the start? I'm wondering since we're so often told to just sell one book at a time; then to offer a sequel to your editor if the first does well. Since 1 and 2 came out almost simultaneously, obviously that didn't happen here, you clever girl!

I sold GENTLE'S HOLLER first, and it came out in 2005 in hardcover, but the paperback just came out in April. So it's been two years between books. GENTLE'S HOLLER did well, and in the summer of 2005, Viking asked me to write two companion novels in Livy Two's Voice. I had been thinking of writing from every Weems' kid point of voice, but wise editors at Viking said "Livy Two is the voice of the family." And I'm so glad it worked out that way now. So one book sold, and then they asked for two more. I'm calling it the Maggie Valley or Smoky Mountain Trilogy for now, but I may write more stories of these mountain kids. I hope to after I finish the Harper Lee biography for kids. Thank you so much, Kim. It was lovely to talk to you!

You, too, Kerry!
Be sure to check out Kerry's other stops on her blog book tour this week:
Elizabeth Dulemba
Dotti Enderle
Alan Gratz
Ruth McNally Barshaw