Category Archives: writing advice

Rekindling the Flame (at a Writers Conference)

I love writing and I’m grateful to make a living at it. But sometimes, when I’ve been hunched over my computer for 73 hours straight and I still haven’t quite broken the story that consumes every recess of my conscious and subconscious mind, and my right hand has attractively stiffened into its mouse-clicking position at all times, like the desperate final clutches of a melting witch—I tend to get a bit cranky about the whole business. So, how does the burnt-out writer get her mojo back?  She goes to a writers conference!

The view from the Whidbey Island Writers Conference.  October 25 – 27th.

The view from the Whidbey Island Writers Conference. October 25 – 27th.

Like leafing through my wedding album after a marital spat, attending a writers conference reminds me why I fell in love with writing in the first place.  It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching a workshop, or taking one.  Just being among so many other people who share my passion for writing always renews my energy for my own work. Plus, where else are you able to speak so freely about the creative process without sounding like a total douchebag?

It’s all too easy to take the things we love for granted, if we’re not careful. Even a cool job, like writing a pilot for a TV network, can become mundane when you’re banging it out every day, word by painstaking word. Which is why, every now and then, it’s important to ship the kids off to grandmas, squeeze yourself into that expensive silk negligée, and slow dance to your old favorite song (even if you are only doing this metaphorically from the comfort of your conference hotel room).

There’s so much I’ve learned at writing conferences over the years and I’m thankful to have made many friends. But just as meaningful is the feeling these gatherings always rekindle in me—that even after all these years, I’m still just as excited about writing as the day I first fell in love with it.  Which begs the question:  why don’t I go to writers conferences more often?  Writing holds such an important place in my life it’s rather ironic that I often fret over taking time off from my writing (duh) to honor it.

Because the truth is: being a writer is more than just a job. Our work is sacred (this blog post notwithstanding), because in order to do it, we must be willing to give up pieces of ourselves. If you’ve never been to a writers conference, this is the secret we writers whisper in each other’s ears once we’re squirrelled away inside its secure confines, reveling just as much in our shared suffering as we do in our joy. But if you are not at a writers conference while reading this, a belated warning: this is the douchebaggy part.

I will be teaching two workshops at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference located in beautiful Puget Sound, October 25 – 27th. For more information, CLICK HERE.

 

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We Are All The Hardest Working Man in Show Business

Watch me, now.

Watch me, now.

Yesterday, I started the 7-minute workout, the latest fitness craze made popular by an article in the NY Times. According to the article, “exercises should be performed in rapid succession, allowing 30 seconds for each, while, throughout, the intensity hovers at about an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10.” So, when I told my husband I’d done it, he asked if I’d remembered to work at 80% of my maximum effort. To which I responded: “Doesn’t everyone?”

My argument being that most people rarely function at 100% of their capacity unless they’re under special circumstances, like competing in the Olympics or being chased by killer bees.

It’s like when you go out for a run and finally settle into a rhythm, then a car drives by, or another jogger comes along and you speed up your pace. Turns out, you did have more to give, only you didn’t want to use it unless you absolutely had to, which, thanks to a hearty dose of shame, you did, as soon as that cute guy in the short-shorts whizzed by you.

I was thinking about the idea of pushing ourselves to the max and how it relates to being a screenwriter/novelist. There’s a lot you can say about showbiz folks, but the one thing you can’t accuse them of is not giving it their all. Be it the grueling dance rehearsals and tour schedule of a highly paid pop music diva or the hours a writer like me spends toiling away in solitude—the competitive nature of this business require that when we perform, we do it at no less than 100%.

I guess, in a way, being in showbiz is it’s own kind of interval training—sprint and rest, sprint and rest.  And we need those calm periods in between film shoots and manuscripts in order to slow down and reconnect with ourselves, to get more than five hours of sleep a night, and refill our creative wells. But the second we’re called to action, we’re off and running again. Because no one ever gave that break-out movie performance or landed a life-changing script deal by giving anything less than 100%.  

At least that’s what we tell ourselves each time our screenplays fail to sell, or when we don’t get that directing job or land that plum role. We rally, regroup, then push ourselves to do better next time. We double down. Then, we double down again.

Yet, in the rest of our lives, I think most of us operate at around 80%, at best.  Just last night I was talking about this with another mom (as we watched about 20% of our sons’ baseball game) bemoaning the fact that no matter what we do, we’ll never be better than be B+ parents.  I know this because during the first three years of my son’s life, I tried parenting 100%—hauling my floppy-necked infant to mommy-baby drum circles, my valuable hours spent filling ice cube trays with homemade organic baby food.  Turns out, 100% mommying is about 20% too much mommying for me.  At least it is if I want to leave space for any of the other important things in my life, like my writing, my husband, and my friends.

In general, I believe there’s nothing wrong with living life at 80%. It’s steady. It’s not totally exhausting. If life is a marathon, 80% is what we need if we want to cross the finish line. 

But what I’ve had to come to terms with over the years is that creative types like me don’t like to run at a steady pace.  We prefer pushing ourselves to our limits, even if we have to put ourselves in extraordinary circumstances and under extraordinary pressure in order to find out exactly what those limits are. Which is why we are all the hardest-working men in show business. (No offense to James Brown.) And even though it can feel utterly depleting at times, dancing as fast as we can without any guarantee  we’ll win the dance contest, I believe there’s great value in challenging ourselves. Like mothers who suddenly find themselves able to lift a Volkswagen off their child, unless we’re pushed to our limits, we may never find out how strong we truly are. 

 

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3 author visits in one day! A new personal record…

As some of you already know, I could talk about the writing process all day long.  And yesterday, I got to do just that!  HUGE THANKS to the students & teachers of Fenway High School in Boston, the Boston Public Library, and the Merrimack, NH Public Library.  And best of luck to all of the fabulous NH writers I met last night who’ve started NaNoWriMo. Now stop reading this and get typing! ;)

Oh, and I told the Fenway High School kids we’d vote on whose picture was cuter–the left side of the room, or the right side of the room.  But clearly, it’s a tie.

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Calling all Los Angeles Reader Girls! (and boys)

On October 25th at 7:00pm, I’ll be doing a reading/book signing at the Glendale Americana Barnes & Noble along with the fabulous Carmen Rodrigues (34 PIECES OF YOU) and Suzanne Lazear (INNOCENT DARKNESS).   We’ll also be talking about the process of of seeing a Young Adult novel into the world.  So, if you’re a YA fan and/or an aspiring writer, please join us for a night of books, fun, and giveaways!

Writing Young Adult

Date:  October 25th

Time:    7:00pm

Admission:  Free

Location:  Glendale Americana Barnes & Noble

The Americana at Brand 210 Americana Way

Glendale, CA

(818) 545-9146

Event website:  http://store-locator.barnesandnoble.com/event/4005813

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A Good and Bad Writing Day, and Other Questions for Author Rachele McAlpine

This week, I’m featuring an interview I did with Rachele Alpine, author of the YA novel CANARY (Medallion Press) due out next August.  
Rachele is also a member of the Lucky 13’s,a group of YA & MG authors debuting in 2013.  Here’s a synopsis.
CANARY
If she stays quiet, it will destroy her. If she speaks out, it will destroy everyone.

Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete.

But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. She knows she should speak out, but her dad tries to silence her in order to protect the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.

 1. What’s your biggest piece of advice for new writers.
Write, write, write and read, read, read.  Seriously. Find the time every single day to do both.  They go hand in hand.
2. What was your favorite scene to write in CANARY and why?
This is a great question (and one I never thought of before!).  I think some of my favorite parts were the non-narrative parts that my main character, Kate, creates.  She chronicles her time at her new school with blog posts told in poems, lyrics, quotes, and free-writes that don’t follow the traditional writing structure.  She writes these as letters to her former self, giving words of advice.  Each of these entries starts with a rule that she wish she would have known and then she reacts to the event in an artistic way.  I really liked the idea of stepping outside the traditional way of writing a novel and playing around with how I present information to the reader.  As we get closer to the book book’s publication date, we’re going to publish Kate’s post on a blog, as if she were released them in real time.  I’m pretty excited about that.
3. Describe a bad writing day.  Now, describe a great one!
A bad writing day to me would be a day when I can’t sit down and write as much as I want to.  I’m a high school English teacher and MFA fiction candidate, so my life is pretty busy.  I try to fit some time in for writing each day, but in the perfect world, I’d have endless amounts of time for everything in my life.
A perfect writing day would include my weekend/summer vacation routine.  I wake up, make a big pot of coffee and write in my pajamas for a few hours.  My dog sleeps by my feet, I play my favorite music, and if I’m lucky, the stories flow.  When the words don’t come as easily, I’ll take a break and go on a walk with my dog.  It’s just so easy and relaxed, and I love the possibilities that a whole new day of writing brings.
4. What surprised you most about the publishing process?
I love how I have been able to connect to so many readers and writers.  It’s amazing to talk with people who are already excited about your book, to connect to people who love YA literature as much as I do, and experience the amazing support YA writers give to each other.  The YA community is incredible, and I love being a part of it.
5. What are the best books you’ve read in the past year?
That’s a hard one…I’ve read so many great ones!
Right now I’m head over heels in love with Carol Rifka Brunt’s TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME.  I want to devour every word, but I’m reading it slowly to make it last.  In the last few months, I’ve also raved about WONDER (R. J. Palacio), WHAT HAPPENS NEXT (Colleen Clayton), and IF I LIE (Corrine Jackson).
If  you’d like to enter to win an ARC of CANARY, go here:

For more info. about Rachele or CANARY, here are some other links.
 
 
Author Bio:
Rachele Alpine is a lover of sushi, fake mustaches, and Michael Jackson. One of her first jobs was at a library, but it didn’t last long, because all she did was hide in the third-floor stacks and read. Now she’s a little more careful about when and where she indulges her reading habit. By day she’s a high school English teacher, and by night she writes with the companionship of the world’s cutest dog, Radley, a big cup of coffee, and a full bag of gummy peaches. Rachele lives with her husband in Cleveland, Ohio, but dreams of moving back to Boston, the city she fell in love with while attending graduate school there.

One half-caf, soy mlik cappuccino, extra mustache, please.

Blogger’s Note:  Rachele also crafted the wonderful REUNITED Teacher’s Guide (available for Book groups as well!) which can be downloaded FOR FREE, right here.

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No Room For Envy

I met fellow NH writer Laura F. B. at my “Meet & Greet” at the Manchester Barnes & Noble last weekend.  A few days later, she pointed out this great blog post to me, so I’m re-blogging it here.  No Room For Envy (from the blog Live to Write, Write to Live).

Despite what Morrissey says, being happy for other people’s successes really does feel a lot better. Still, it’s a great song. ;)

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Last Stop: Blue Bunny

I’m still riding the high from last night’s excellent reading/book-signing at Blue Bunny Books & Toys.  Or maybe it was all those cupcakes I ate. ;)

Store Owner/Cupcake Maker, Janet Reynolds

So happy I got the chance to meet some local tweens & teens as well as some lovely and enthusiastic booksellers.

Books & vanilla frosting. Two of life’s greatest pleasures.

 

And how often do you get a photo op with Babar and a life-size stuffed sheep?

Of course, no Road Trip Book Tour stop would be complete without the obligatory Pea Pod photos.

Kids: don’t read & drive.

Booksellers extraordinaire: Cheryl, Margie & Janet

Overall, I’d say Kristen-Paige and I had a very successful (albeit slightly exhausting) week.  Thanks to all the booksellers, friends, and readers who came out to join us!

 

 

 

 

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Sandwich, a personal history.

1. A long time ago, I was in an all-girl band called Sandwich.  We only played one song, also called Sandwich.

Sandwich, at a Halloween party, circra 1998. We’re sitting because we can’t play standing up.

2. Once, I invented a sandwich. The ingredients were: Fluff, Nutella, and sliced bananas on white bread. I called it the “HW Yummy” (patent pending).

3.  Last night, I had the honor of doing a reading/book-signing at the lovely Sandwich Public Library with my fellow road-trip author, Kirsten-Paige Madonia (FINGERPRINTS OF YOU).  The event was sponsored by Titcomb’s Bookshop.

We started off our night with an interview for a local cable access show, hosted by Kathy & her #1 YA reader, Emma, a high school senior.

We’ll be back, after this message from our sponsor.

Then we moved downstairs for the reading & book discussion.  Boy, were we surprised to see how much work Kathy put into our event.  The room was decorate with maps and travel guides, and she even had a bevy of tasty road-trip themed snacks!

Mmmmm, sugar.

Afterwards, we chatted with fellow YA author Scott Blagden, author of Dear Life, You Suck (Harcourt, March ’13) and signed some books.  Of course, we ended the night with some pictures in the Pea Pod photo-booth.

Kids, do not try this at home.

Vicky & Kathy hit the road!

HUGE thanks to Kathy Johnson of the Sandwich Library and Vicky Uminowicz for making our night so special.  It really means a lot to know there are such devoted booksellers & librarians out there willing to go the extra mile to help out a couple of debut authors.  And kudos to the amazing Emma for being so darn literate & cool.

If you’re in the Dedham, MA area tonight, it’s you last chance to catch our Road Trip Books Hit the Road Tour at the Blue Bunny Bookstore at 6:30pm.  Hope to see you there!

 

 

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My Middle School Marathon (with a high school visit & a book reading thrown in there, too)

Kristien-Paige and I are still recovering from our back-to-back school visits yesterday at Pinkerton Academy & Londonderry Middle school.  Not to mention the fact that we capped off our day with a book-signing at the Toadstool Bookshop in Milford.  But, boy, did we have fun!

I don’t know what they’re putting in the drinking water in Derry & Londonderry, but those kids were all so great!  Amazing questions, lots of enthusiasm.  And as you can see from the pix below, they are totally rocking the Pea Pod!

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I have something you don’t have

26 days ’til release day and I got my author copies of REUNITED in the mail!  The real book.  The actual thing.

If I had more time, I’d take a series of photographs of my book and me on location— sharing a stolen kiss as we sit together on a porch swing in the moonlight, giggling to ourselves as we try on hats at the mall while “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” plays in the background, walking along the beach at sunset, holding hands (but mysteriously leaving only one set of footprints).

But my book cover and I are way too busy for such frivolity.

Fascinating…

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