Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Power Plotting

I have the capacity to get into a project, like my novel, and feel this urgency to finish, finish, finish!! But, it's like my daughter playing soccer -- sometimes she is running so fast that, when she gets to the goal, she has blown right past it before she can slow down, refocus, and bomb her power kick into the goal. (She's beautiful to watch though.)

Yesterday I was talking to my writer friend Shelli, who I will be excited to see in Atlanta this weekend! She said that she wrote her first novel using the non-linear method in which I am currently working. However, it caused some problems with her plot. She just finished writing her second YA and found that it worked best to outline the whole book repeatedly, and keep this outline open as she wrote. She worked on the novel, and the outline simultaneously. She explains her process much better HERE. And trust me, it is worth reading, printing and possibly tatooing.

Our conversation made me stop my mad dash to the finish line, and re-examine my plot structure. Like I said before, I have all of the major plot points in place, and am now trying to fill in the empty spaces in between. So I have decided to do "The Shelli." But before I do THAT, I am going to print THIS, which was gifted to me by Mermaid Robin and is a fantastic outlining and plotting tool (also found in Our Favorite Places). 'Cuz what's the point in being the first one to get to the end of the field if you miss the power kick into the goal?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Inside the Presidential Debate!

First, everyone is asking how we got our debate tickets . . . so, here it is.  Jim Lehrer was supposed to stay in our guest house while he was here in Oxford.  The Debate Commission ended up moving him to another location that was a little closer to the Ford Center which is where the debate was held (disappointing!).  We got to keep our "golden tickets", though.  Sorry for all the secrecy, but Lehrer wrote the questions for the debate--which obviously meant that he knew the questions that were going to be asked before the debate took place. People didn't need to know where he was.

At around 5:00 yesterday afternoon, we went to a parking lot about half a mile from the debate venue.  We parked and walked up to a huge white tent, and there were signs everywhere on the outside of the tent saying "No cell phones!  No cameras!".  Since we had been told that we could bring cameras, my husband told the volunteer at the door that we would just take them in and check on it for ourselves (love that man!).  We asked our friend from the Debate Commission what to do about our camera, and she asked the secret service agent who was screening everyone.  He told her we could bring them in--just to turn them off.  Done.  We scarfed down some great hors d'oeuvres since we knew we wouldn't be eating again for five or six hours.  Then we went through security--metal detectors and bag search and boarded a bus for the Ford Center.

When we arrived, we were tunneled by barricades right into the door of the venue, and people were directed to their floors.  We stood around in the lobby for a while . . . waiting . . . .waiting, and then the doors opened.  The place looked amazing--you saw the stage for yourself on TV. We were on the lower balcony, so we had a great view of everything.  About half of the seats on the back of the lower orchestra level (about 200 or so seats) had been removed to make room for the six major news networks who were allowed inside the venue.   Platforms had been built and six mini televisions studios had been partitioned off.  This is where people like Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw, and Shepherd Smith were broadcasting from.  The rest of the press (3000 or so people) were outside in the press tent.  More about that later . . .

We walked around and talked with people for a while, and then everyone started heading for their seats.  At 7:15, it was lockdown.  You could leave the room--but you could NOT come back in for any reason.  The pre-show began at 7:30 and the Debate Commission directors spoke about turning off cell phones and cameras (they pretty much drilled that one in).  They talked about the role of the Commission for Presidential Debates which is a private organization--not sponsored by the government or any party, and their mission is voter education in presidential elections.  Our Chancellor Robert Khayat spoke next.  He spoke with his usual endearing eloquence and mentioned that earlier that day, someone had been putting in an irrigation system in Morton, Mississippi, and accidentally cut the fiber optic cable feeding the entire debate venue.  Only in Mississippi!   He did mention that they had put in two of everything so that a back up would be in place--but you didn't want to have to be using your backup before the debate even began.  Whew!  He also revealed that as chancellor of the university he was given 150 tickets, and he gave them all to students through various essay contests and lotteries. He asked all of the students who were present to stand.  This is one of the amazing things about our chancellor--he could have given those tickets to wealthy donors and VIPs, but he gave them to the students.  Lastly, Jim Lehrer spoke to the audience about the debate format and about his expectations for us as an audience--we were basically to remain completely silent.  He even threatened to specifically point to disruptive people and take time away from their favorite candidate if they misbehaved.  

Then the debate began (I won't rehash the specifics of the debate since you all saw it on TV--but I did think both candidates were great).   My friend at the Debate Commission had told me that when the candidates walked out onto the stage, it had to be perfectly orchestrated so that they would arrive in the middle at exactly the same moment so no one would appear to have an advantage.  Also, McCain's podium was a little shorter so that more of his torso would show--to even the playing field in the all important "height" issue!

After the debate, we were herded back out to wait for the buses, but our friends who work for the debate commission asked us if we would like to come with them to "Spin Alley".  Well, of course we would!  We jumped the barricade and walked down to the gigantic "tent" that was put up about a month ago to house the thousands of journalists from around the world.  We were soon shoulder to shoulder with cameras, people, lights and general chaos and craziness.  At one point I turned around and found myself staring at Madeline Albright who was being interviewed by about twenty different news organizations.  My mom actually spotted me on TV in the background of several interviews as she flipped channels post-debate (I'm so famous!!). We saw Hannity and Colmes, Rudy Guliani, Trent Lott, Howard Dean, Senator Danforth, and hundreds of newscasters whose names I could never remember.  We went by the hospitality tent for a beer but were sad to find it closed--so we headed back and caught the last bus to the parking lot.

Then, we went to the Square to people-watch and attend after-parties which were winding down by the time we arrived.  John and I sat at the Lyric rehashing the debate before calling it a night.  I wish I had gotten lots more (and better!) pictures, but the camera issue was a little "iffy".  The last thing I wanted to do was be thrown out for taking a picture when I wasn't supposed to be.  Scroll down to the next two posts to see the pictures that I did take.

I just cannot express how proud I am of our town, state and university for pulling this off without a hitch--especially with all the uncertainty on Friday.  The Debate Commission, Secret Service Agents, and the international press consistently said how impressed they were with the people they worked with from the university.  They all said that this debate was handled beautifully with perfect organization and capability.  Mississippi gets a bum rap a lot of the time (and sometimes we deserve it), but I'm thrilled that we were able to shine at an international level.  

And, I haven't even mentioned the Ole Miss Rebel victory over Florida today!!!!!  We've definitely got some good karma workin' for us here in Oxford.


Presidential Debate Pictures (Part 1)

John and I before the debate.

Trent Lott

Sean Hannity (Alan Colmes is on the left--no pun intended)

Okay, I think that's Cindy McCain in her red suit exiting after the debate

Before the debate begins!!

Pictures from Debate Night (Part 2)!

Okay, my husband John has many, many talents . . . but photography isn't one of them!  Because he is tall, he took all of the pictures from "Spin Alley" last night, and either TV cameras were bumping into his arms while he was snapping away or he had a serious case of the jiggles.   Anyway, here they are . . .   This is Guiliani

Madeline Albright--I accidentally bumped into her

Howard Dean

Okay, I'm getting frustrated.  I can't figure out how to put captions under my pictures.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Debate Week Pix

Okay, I walked to the Square with my camera today.  Here's some pix . . .

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I'm trying to decide what to wear . . . .

to the Presidential Debate!!!!  Uh. . . .  or to the Barack Obama press conference.  Drat!   Today was going to be the day that I told the world (or at least our blog readers) that my husband and I scored a pair of coveted golden tickets to the presidential debate.  But, at least it looks like SOMETHING is going to happen here in Oxford on Friday night.  Everyone is going ahead as planned--full steam ahead debate preparation.

I am heartbroken for our town and for our state that the debate has been potentially derailed. Countless dollars have been spent (as my mom said, "People bought new clothes!"--not really what I mean here, however) and countless volunteers have worked tirelessly to ensure the perfect debate venue.  State of the art press tents have been constructed and wired for every conceivable high tech hookup.  People from all over the world have traveled here.  And, I must say, our town looks amazing--every home is sporting an American flag, and my house is appropriately "blinged" with flags, balloons, and streamers.  Tomorrow night we are having a community celebration on our town square to celebrate the big event.  

Tonight, my husband and I were interviewed by a Dutch radio station about our thoughts about John McCain's whammy of an announcement this afternoon.  We expressed our disappointment for our town, for our state, and for our country whose citizens may be denied the opportunity to hear their presidential candidates debate important foreign policy issues.  Seriously, I know the bailout plan is important--but SO IS THIS ELECTION!!  Senator McCain, you can hop on a plane and be here in a few hours.  Really, you can.

Anyway, I'll be going to the event on Friday night--whatever it ends up being.  Regardless of this major glitch (and I'm thankful the glitch could not be blamed on Mississippi for once!), I'm excited beyond belief to get to attend.  Check back for a full report . . . . 

(photo credit:  Anne Hardy)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Turning Your Writing into Art --Part Two

The last time I posted, I was chopping up my manuscript. And let me tell you, it was a mess.  I had recommended that method of revision based on the advice of a Linear Thinker. I discovered, however, that "The Chop" works best for them because they are straight laced, orderly types who need to learn how to make a mess every once in a while. But for ADD thinkers like myself, this method creates A Double Disaster. We need to streamline, baby! So, today I shall explain my new method. It is called "The Cards."

The Cards was introduced to me by another screenwriter, who has actually sold more than one screenplay, so she can be trusted. For this method, you will need some index cards, a beer, some twinkling lights and a wall. (Seriously - those were the instructions) First you write out the scenes in a few key words on the index cards. Most screenwriting software will do this for you. But if you are working on a novel like myself, you have to write something small like, "Emerson's first kiss." (Em is my MC) This method is great for messy writers because it is nice and neat and organized and cuts through the chaos.

Next, you give your main characters a color and if the scene emphasizes something major for that character, you write it in their color. So my card might have that phrase about Emerson in red. Then you turn on your sparkly lights to set the mood, crack open a beer and post those babies all over a wall. Stand back and look at them, and then get in there and physically rearrange the cards. In particular - if you see too many red scenes in a row, you can add a blue or green character's scene to break it up and add interest to the story. After a semi-trial run, I am giving The Cards a thumbs up.

Finally, I was reminded this week of something that I struggle with.  ~That we need to remember in writing, as well as in life, that the magic and the beauty is simply found in the process, and not the end result.  So whether you are brainstorming, or writing, or revising, you are exactly where you are meant to be.  Enjoy where you are, and don't think so much about where you want to go.


P.S. Some of my closer friends are no doubt thinking, "Is she already finished, and now revising?" Those peeps would be Linear Thinkers. Just like I write back to front, and all in between, an occasional full edit sneaks in too-- even though the whole manuscript is far from done. Just a Katieism I suppose...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The "Unwavering Band of Light"

I love Kurt Vonnegut's book Breakfast of Champions.   In this book, a modern artist is one of the main characters, and he paints minimalist paintings featuring an "unwavering band of light" which represents all that is "alive and maybe sacred" in all of us.  The artist's paintings are simple straight lines painted on canvas.  

In my first novel Paper Tiger (okay, it's my only completed novel), the main character connects with a wacky and passionate art teacher who pushes her to explore her creative voice. Toward the end of the book, the teacher has her student create a sloppy, expressive collage.  Then she cuts a small window out of cardboard and has the young girl "frame" small, essential areas of her collage (using the cardboard window as you would the viewfinder of a camera). The girl moves the frame over different areas of her artwork until she finds one perfect curve of red sliced by a sliver of yellow.  Then, she creates a giant painting of this one small area--the essence of everything that she has learned over the course of a year.  The painting itself is rich and painterly--not a simple minimalist rendering--but it's structure remains that one curving arc.

I just read a great post by the Disco Mermaids in which Robin talks about the theme of her book which magically presented itself to her--kind of like Vonnegut's "unwavering band of light."  It's a tricky and often elusive thing to find--that essential thing that makes our artwork or book exist and breathe.  

I do believe that once you find that fundamental core in your writing, you can and should exploit it.    This makes the cutting and revising process so much easier, almost sublime--everything that supports the soul of your story should stay and be made stronger, while those extraneous plotlines and characters should be eliminated . . .but, you can always leave some Jackson Pollock splatters in there--as long as they give support to the story at its heart.  

(photo:  Onement 1 by Barnett Newman 1948)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Turning Your Writing Into a Work of Art - Literally! (Part 1 of ?)

*** before I go on, I'd like to announce a bonus post at the end of this one :-)

I love to read about other writers' and artists' methods for producing their art. Their process. So, today I thought I would share a bit of mine.

I write much like a movie director shoots a film's scenes - in no particular order. Maybe I do this because I write screenplays? Or maybe I am truly ADD and refuse to medicate myself? At any rate, for my latest novel, I wrote the eight to ten "power scenes" first. And once again, they were in no particular order. I just knew they had to happen. After that, I would generally wake up and read one of them, chosen at random, and then try to write either what would lead into that scene, or what might happen right after it. Therefore, I still have large chunks of space in between these free floating, powerful icebergs. Now, don't get me wrong, I know what needs to go in these spaces, I just haven't found the words to fill them yet.

A writer friend of mine came over the other day and we were discussing our methods. She is one of those people I am usually jealous of--she writes page one, chapter one and then follows it with chapter two and three and so on... I call these people "Linear Thinkers." She told me that her professor required all of his Linear Thinkers to physically cut up their manuscripts and attempt to rearrange the scenes. To ask themselves, what would happen if this chapter happened first? Or what if this happened after that? etc...

I jumped on this idea. And although potentially terrifying to a linear person, I felt right at home chopping mine up. I am reminded of SF's killer novel, Paper Tiger. Not to give the story away, but it centers around an artistically gifted child, who at one point, paints a fabulous painting, only to be asked by her teacher to cut it up, rearrange the pieces and then glue them down in another way. Fascinating. So I did this with my manuscript. And honestly, it wasn't all that helpful for the ADD thinker.

But, right after that, I remembered that SF and I have a Screenwriter/Director friend here who does this exercise in another way. She...
well, maybe I shouldn't tell you today. Yep. I'll save that idea for part two -- 'Cuz it's cool and I think I'll try it next. I'm pretty sure it WILL help my disjointed, yet lovely way of writing :-) And it was designed for screenplays which is the way my brain thinks. I can't wait!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Kate's Debut Photography Exhibition --- Taking Flight

Being a lover of all things creative, I encourage the chickens to delve into artsy endeavors. Kate is a wonderful little photographer, and so I am posting her first show :-)

This is Kate and her friend Anna.

Friday, September 12, 2008

School Visits by a Pre-Published Author

Last week, I attended a PTA meeting at my daughter's school.  Her teacher pulled me aside saying, "The kids have been working on a writing project this week, and I would love it if you would come in and talk to the class about getting published as an author."  Because six years ago, my daughter told her preschool teacher that I had won a bronze medal for my floor exercise routine in the 1984 Olympics, I figured my proud little girl had told her teacher that I was a published author.  I sidled up to Mrs. Edwards and whispered, "Uh, you know, I'm not actually published, right? . . . and, the imaginary sister named Horsehair, she's not real . . ." (my creative child has a rich fantasy life--go figure). Mrs. Edwards replied that she knew that I wasn't published--yet (sweet of her to add the "yet"), but that she thought the kids would enjoy hearing about the whole process.  Cool!

I brought in lots of props: reference books, stacks of query and rejection letters, manuscripts and one of my book dummies.  The kids in the class were wonderful and attentive.  I don't think they had ever thought about the whole process of sending out manuscripts and figuring which editors might be interested in your books.  We talked about how it felt to receive a rejection letter and how it felt to send your work back out there again and again.  We talked about how if you never tried to send anything out, you would never know if it could have made it as a published book.  One child told me that her mother had sent one of her poems to Highlights magazine . . . but that it was turned down.  I loved that she felt okay about telling me that in front of the whole class!

I also read my book dummy to the class and talked to them about my novel.  They gave me a great little ego massage by telling me how much they loved all of my work.  Now I know why people are tempted in their queries to say "I read my book to a class of fourth graders and they LOVED it!"--but don't worry, I won't be adding that line to my submission letter.   These kids probably would have enjoyed my reading the instruction booklet that came with a microwave if I had read it with enough animation and drama.

I left school thinking that this was a great concept for a school visit--the pre-published author!  Then, you have the bonus of getting to go back in and talk to the class again if (when) you actually are published.  

(photo credit:  Anne Hardy)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Katie...a force to be reckoned with.

For those of you who don't know much about politics, read: me -- our dear little Oxford has been chosen to host the first presidential debate! How cool is that?! The University of Mississippi Ford Center for the Performing Arts will be the venue. Due to the fact that this is such a huge election, and the first debate will discuss foreign policy, almost three thousand journalists are slated to come from all over the world. And they have already started shipping in their cameras and stuff. At least that's what it looks like.

Since I will not be fortunate enough to be one of the 300 non-press ticket holders who get to go to the actual event, I thought the closest I might get was to have my picture taken with the lovely cobra security guards pictured above. This proved quite a bit harder than you might expect. Let me explain . . .

I casually pulled up to the rear parking lot and asked if I could take a photo with them and all of that cool equipment. They laughed and said, "NO WAY! GET OFF THE PREMISES NOW!!!!" Ummm.... I repeated in my cutest voice, "What about, just a picture of those big white things?" Again they told me to leave immediately. Hmmm.... I decided to lay it on thick, "I am a children's book writer and I want to post a funny little thing about the debate on my blog." (not sure if they know what a blog is) They became downright angry. "NO!! NOW, MOVE YOUR CAR!!!"

Humph!! Obviously, they had no idea who they were dealing with. After a few brief phone calls, a short interrogation, and a likely background check, I had permission to take my ONE photo HA! And the previously unfriendly guards were REQUIRED to smile and be nice. As I posed with them, I had the distinct feeling that a satellite far above my head was honed in on me, lest I sneak more than ONE photo. Yikes! And to make matters worse, I later found out that I missed the secret service agent speak at my daughter's school about how they always fly the president's armored car to other countries if he is visiting. Dangit!!! Oh well. SF and I intend to keep you posted on all of the happenings around town during the week of the debate. And of course, when we run into celebrities, we'll take some pictures. (Notice, I said, "When" we run into celebs, not "if.")

Signing off....

If you are interested, here's a great rundown of some presidential activites at the University. Oh! And those white containers have something to do with electricity. I had to capture that photo kamikaze style while driving by. I'd make a fierce CIA agent, don't ya think?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Licking my wounds

Last Tuesday, I got four rejections in ONE DAY!   Two of those rejection letters were particularly crushing because they were from an editor and an agent who had shown "interest." And, I received advice in two of the letters that was completely contradictory.

I barely had time to process these blows to my ego because I immediately had to rush to a PTA meeting (and now, btw, I'm kicking myself for not throwing my name in the hat for the vice-presidential nomination--I mean . . . PTA, soccer mom . . . I could totally do that job). Anyway, I didn't get to spend time wallowing in my misery until Wednesday when the noise of my life shut down for a bit.  I read back over my submission letters, manuscripts and synopses.  I looked over my notes about dreamy, pie-in-the-sky editors and agents.  And I sent my babies back out into the world.

So there.

I also indulged in a little retail therapy (thanks Michael Stars) and unhealthy indulgence (oreo Sonic blast).  Plus, I watched a great interview that Newbery Award winning author Kate diCamillo did for Adlit.org and WETA  (you can download it for free on itunes).  She said that she didn't know why she kept sending her work out after receiving so many rejections--she just knew she didn't want to die saying "I think I could have done it."  She also said that she had attended hundreds of writing workshops with super-talented people whom she knew would never be published because they didn't have the persistence and tenacity to keep putting their work out there.  

Persistence and tenacity.  Yeah, I can do that.  

Thursday, September 4, 2008

My Tummy Needs a Tailgate!

This past weekend was the first home football game here at The University of Mississippi. SF and I gathered our chickens together and headed to the Grove to partake in what Sporting News calls, "The holy grail of tailgating." I think it was Sport's Illustrated that said, "Tailgating in The Grove before an Ole Miss game is an experience so sublime even native son William Faulkner would be at a loss to describe it." In fact, it is this very tradition that inspired my latest picture book. Funny how inspiration hits you.... I wrote my second PB based on a random comment my hairdresser made about her lunch. Hmmm....food must be on my brain most of the time.

As we walked from SF's house to The Grove, visions of tailgating food began to form in our minds. We were salivating while imagining ham biscuits, fried chicken, sugary sweets and no less than 10,000 different dips. After a couple of beers and some chit-chat, we dug in. The first tent had so much food, that I couldn't even begin to list what I saw. The second, smaller tent had the following: Monterey Jack salsa, fried and grilled chicken fingers with two dipping sauces, ham and cheese biscuits, Reuben dip, fresh fruit, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate white chocolate chip cookies, various canapes, a cheese ball, tiny chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing, bigger strawberry cupcakes with strawberry icing, and homemade caramel popcorn. Today, I thought I'd share a couple of recipes that we particularly enjoyed.

MONTEREY JACK SALSA (courtesy Come on In! Cookbook)
1 can green chilies (4 ounces) chopped
1 can black olives (3 1/2 ounces) chopped
4 green onions, chopped
1/4 pound Monterey Jack cheese shredded
1 tomato, chopped
1/2 cup Italian salad dressing
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Blend together and serve with tortilla chips.

REUBEN DIP (courtesy Whitney Byars)
6 ounces shredded Swiss
6 ounces shredded Cheddar
1 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons chopped onion
5 ounces shredded corned beef (I think I'd use pastrami)
12 ounces sauerkraut, drained

Mix together. Put in greased dish and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Serve with Wheat Thins


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