Lacey Louwagie's Blog
September 8, 2014
I’m not real big into writing conferences. I tend to skip over pages about conferences in writing magazines, and my mind sort of
If you can’t take the workshop, there’s always the book!
shuts off when I read advice about how to pitch at conferences, or how they are a good way to “get your foot in the door.” I think, but can’t my writing speak for itself? And, I can’t afford the travel + the time off work, and the only way to get better at writing is to write anyway, right?
But when the SCBWI brought Cheryl Klein, executive editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, to the city I now live in, and on a weekend, nixing the cost of travel and of taking off work, I figured I would have been crazy not to go. And I was right.
It was an intense weekend, so much so that I’m still a little tired and going back to work feels almost like a “break.” An intense week of “story mapping” led up to the workshop, and I used my middle-grade novel Ever This Day as my project. I spent about a year and a half sending the story out to agents and gathered a folder full of rejections, then put it aside to work on publishing and promoting Rumpled. I looked forward to the chance to see it with “fresh eyes” when I did the story map, but when I was working alone it was still pretty easy for me to fool myself that I could leave things the way they were.
Ms. Klein’s workshop shook that assumption up, and it’s a good thing.
I felt as if I had hit a wall with that particular piece; I know I care about it perhaps more deeply than anything else I’ve ever written — it’s the novel closest to my own experiences — but I had gotten to the point where I couldn’t really “see” it anymore. I still believed in it, but I had received so many rejections that I was starting to feel it behooved me to take another close look. Cheryl’s workshop finally opened my eyes to some of the things that are left to work on, and I’m excited to return to the novel and bring it into closer alignment with what I dream it can be.
Cheryl will accept one manuscript for review from each person who takes one of her courses, and that alone is worth its weight in goal, and certainly the cost of admission. So, this is what my writing schedule looks like for the next few months:
Finish the second draft of my Rapunzel retelling
Pound out another NaNoWriMo novel and then
Return to Ever This Day for another round of intensive revisions
Although Cheryl is an editor for children’s books, her workshop will benefit anyone who writes fiction. Definitely go if you get the chance — if you read YA and Middle-grade books, you get the added benefit of being starstruck to hear how some of your favorite books have come to be. And you’ll feel inspired to see that editors, if Cheryl is any representation, at the “big 5″ publishing houses are still just as passionate about books as you are.
September 1, 2014
This weekend, I am taking a YA and middle-grade novel class with Cheryl Klein, and I’m going to be cramming my “homework” all week. I’m about 1/3 of the way through “story mapping” my middle-grade novel, Ever This Day. Below are the instructions for the exercise:
For each scene, note:
The scene number
Starting manuscript page number
What is the action of this scene (paragraph version)? Write a paragraph describing the action of this scene. Note any significant information introduced, interesting lines relating to the themes or character growth, or any recurring images.
What is the action of this scene (one sentence version)? Summarize the scene in one sentence.
What is the change that takes place in this scene?
The “change” question is definitely the most challenging one, especially in flashback scenes. Are we talking about the change that happened in the flashback, or some present change that is somehow tied to the flashback? I’m sort of wobbling around using whichever one seems most relevant.
At the end, you’re supposed to line up all your answers to #4, and they make your “story map.”
I’ve read lots of suggestions of doing this sort of thing, and some agents and editors ask for one while they’re deciding whether to take on a manuscript. But even my desire to get published never motivated me to make one. Why? I think, as self-motivated as I think I am, I am truly discovering the power of a looming deadline.
And I was never one to blow off homework.
August 25, 2014
I found this book to be superior to APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. How to Publish a Book as a handbook for self-publishing, and it was indispensable as I worked on the release of Rumpled, especially in the technical aspects of preparing a clean and professional file. Like most “for dummies” or “idiot’s guide” books, this one is not necessarily compelling reading if you’re going to sit down and read it straight through, but it offers valuable and easy-to-follow instructions for various aspects of publishing e-books, from securing cover art to preparing the file to marketing. It also takes into account that many writers may be on a tight budget and offers lower-cost alternatives while not downplaying the importance of professionalism.
While the encouraging tone is reassuring, one of my main criticisms of the book is that I think it sugar coats the reality of self publishing a little bit, setting high expectations with the rare authors who have made it really “big” going this route. I think it would be easy for inexperienced authors to have an inflated expectation of their success. Still, those who have read this book probably have a slight advantage over those who don’t, and I would recommend it without hesitation to anyone planning to publish an ebook. Read it quick, though, because technology changes fast and I expect it may be out of date before too long.
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August 18, 2014
A library friend of mine asked me to come to the library in October to share “tips” on completing NaNoWriMo since I’ve “won” it several years in the past. I agreed. And then I realized that if she is asking this of me now, November is not very far away.
This is one of my “on” years for NaNoWriMo — I tend to do it every other year, and last year I skipped. What’s more, I want to do it this year. I have several ideas, and I look forward to being part of the community that will be set up at my local library for it. I’ve never before had the opportunity to participate in many social NaNo events, and having a friend at the library who is heading them up can bring me closer to that comfort zone. There’s just one problem.
I can’t seem to finish my NaNo novel from 2012, which is a retelling of Rapunzel.
It sort of boggles my mind that a novel that takes place primarily in one room with three characters can end up being so much longer than my recent novella about Rumpelstiltskin which, while not epic in scope, at least had a fair amount of movement between settings.
I guess a girl in solitary confinement can have a lot to say.
I’m about 2/3 through my second draft, and I don’t want to abandon this project for a month to do NaNoWriMo. So if I can’t finish this draft in the next 2.5 months, that means I’m going to have to take this year off from NaNo. It seems a little ironic that I’m trying to write more so that as a reward I can write more, but there it is.
I write almost every day, but I don’t work on my novel every day. I rotate my novel-writing with book reviews, marketing, blogging, and journaling. But I think I’ll need to work on my novel every day, or almost every day, to make my deadline. It’s doable, but I don’t have time left to mess around. This will mean quite a few days of writing double shifts — blog posts and novelling in the same day, for example.
This comes in the midst of one of my primary clients amping up the amount of work they’re asking of me, sometimes bleeding into evening work, which means I need to start writing in the morning again. This is bad for the procrastinator that lurks within every writer, but it’s good for the rest of my life, and especially good, I think, for my writing.
At least, it better be. The fate of NaNoWriMo rests on it.
August 11, 2014
This mash-up of Greek mythology and Beauty & the Beast retelling is somewhat lackluster. It reads more like a paranormal romance than a fairy tale, right down to the “Beast” being described in a such a way that you can only picture him as a vampire. Although the book came across as overwritten, especially in the beginning when Nix just kept obsessing over her fate as a “sacrifice” offered in return for a bargain her father had made years ago, at the same time some aspects of the story just didn’t come together for me. I never did totally understand the mechanics of the spell on the “Beast,” and I’m not sure if that’s because it wasn’t explained well, or if it was because there were slow spots in the book that allowed my mind to wander and miss things.
Much of the book takes place inside Nix’s own head since the cast of characters is very small. I don’t mind introspective books, but it still kept the story feeling a bit slow in places. None of the characters particularly appealed to me, although I suppose the Beast piqued my curiosity in places. Still, there was never a moment when I really connected with the story, and the subplot in which (view spoiler)[ Nix betrays Ignafex for her sister bothered me more now that I'm married than it would have in the past, which was just one more aspect pushing me away from the story. (hide spoiler)]
I didn’t hate this book — it was an interesting take on Beauty & the Beast and it had potential. It was mostly well written. It just kept coming up short for me.
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August 4, 2014
One of the best jobs I’ve ever had was as a teen services librarian for a rural library. It was incredibly fulfilling, as working with youth is often rewarding, not to mention FUN, and I got paid to know lots of stuff about Young Adult Literature. On top of that, it was a part-time position, which meant I could balance it with my freelance work and still keep my primary clients happy.
Leaving that job was one of the hardest parts of moving away after I got married; I worked in a circulation position in my new city for a little over a year, but it just wasn’t the same. When I was offered a reporter position with a national news agency, I quit the library and wistfully wondered if my library days were over.
Well, they were NOT over. In addition to retaining a relationship with my beloved rural library, I am now the owner of a Little Free Library! I’m back in business as a part-time librarian!
From left to right: My dad, who built and installed the library, my husband, and me.
A closeup (come on, you know you want to try to read the book spines!).
Solar lights allow browsing after dark!
And as if this book goodness isn’t enough, over the weekend I received a copy of Living True: Lesbian Women Share Stories of Faith, the book for which I wrote my personal essay “Where I First Met God,” which I then submitted to Unruly Catholic Women Writers. Unruly found a publisher first, so my essay went into Living True as a “reprint” despite being written specifically for that collection. Publishing is funny that way.
The production on Living True is absolutely gorgeous, and it was worth the wait. My only qualm is in the subtitle, since the anthology includes stories by queer Catholic women who don’t identify as lesbian per se — my essay is about the experience of being bisexual and Catholic. I guess that’s why I’m glad places like the Religious Institute are specifically addressing bi invisibility.
Still, it’s a blessing that a book addressing the lives of queer-identified Catholic women exists, and I can’t wait to read it. First, however, I will be finishing my re-read of my friend Marie’s book, Plover Landing. So many books, so little time!
August 1, 2014
July 28, 2014
This book started as a blog for friends about a professional single woman’s unplanned pregnancy (REALLY unplanned, as in the IUD failed, which is really rare.) It still reads like a blog, but since I’m into published journals, that was okay with me, especially since I probably never would have spent the time sitting in front of a computer to read Laura’s whole saga (I use the word lightly, it’s not a very long book), and I’m glad that I did.
I related to Laura — she is a librarian who lived alone (with a cat, who died over the course of the book — wish she had written more about that) with liberal politics and a tendency to write to make sense of her life’s biggest transition. I think that I would have been a lot like her if I ended up pregnant and unmarried, and (not to pat myself on the back too much), even though the pregnancy totally freaks her out (understandably), there’s still a sense of calm that somehow permeates her entries, and I get the feeling that she has a good head on her shoulders and that she is going to be just fine.
The book is professionally designed, well-edited (only noticed one or two errors), compelling and smart. I wish the author had done a little more to bring outsiders into her story — I could not keep characters straight because they were all referred to by letters; I appreciate Laura’s respect for anonymity, but I would have preferred that she use false names because names are easier to attach people to than letters. The narrative arc worked well enough, although I wish it had been more balanced — tons of entries early in the pregnancy, then a whole trimester without any entries. I found myself wondering if I would have liked this better as a memoir than as a journal, and I’m not sure. Still, it is a high-quality self-published book, and one I would recommend to people who appreciate the intimacy and/or voyeuristic pleasure of published journals or stories about pregnancy, especially unplanned.
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July 22, 2014
July 21, 2014
This book, although only 125 pages, took me six weeks to read. Not because it wasn’t good, but because it WAS. I so craved affirmation and validation after my cat Phoebe died that I wanted to savor the experience of, as far as I can tell, one of the only books on the market written specifically for grieving a beloved cat.
“Soul Comfort” is self-published, but it is self-publishing at its highest calling, fulfilling a need that mainstream publishers seem to mostly ignore with a high-quality offering. The book is accessible and well-written, with a clean, consistent layout and is virtually error-free. Growing out of the author’s own grief after a beloved cat died, she shares her experiences as well as information from grief counselors and animal experts. The first part of the book validates the experiences of grieving after pet loss, and then moves into ways that you might honor your deceased pet and integrate your grief more fully. I especially liked her idea of choosing “continued connection” over “closure,” because it helped me reframe the way I’ve been addressing my own grieving process. In the beginning, it felt sort of frantic — like as soon as I got all Phoebe’s photos and videos together, as soon as I got her urn, as soon as I wrote her a goodbye letter, then I would have “closure” and be ready to “move on.” I did all those things and simultaneously started writing in My Pet Remembrance Journal, so then that journal became a proxy for my journey, and I started to feel anxious about finishing it so I could have “closure.”
But that chapter made me realize there really is no “rush” in my attempt to remember and honor Phoebe, and I’ve taken a more relaxed approach to putting together her mementos so that I can treasure that time rather than have it feel like “one more thing I have to do” instead of moving on.
The final third of the book explores the spiritual side of grief and the possibility of a loved one’s “essence” continuing to connect with you after they are gone. For me, this was the part that lagged the most, partly because it didn’t have a lot of “cat-specific” reference points but also because it felt as though the author tried just a little too hard to reassure the reader that life does continue after death. Even though she didn’t push any one religious agenda, and even though I do believe that mortal life is not all there is, something about it still rubbed me a bit the wrong way.
Still, I’m so glad that a book like this exists, and that Liz gave her project the time, effort, and professionalism it deserves. I will be holding onto my copy for a possible reread when I have to take this journey again (hopefully not for many years) or to lend to friends when the sad time comes for them to say goodbye to a cat companion.
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