Does your need to publish outpace your abilities?

My 12-year-old daughter is an artist. She creates her masterpieces on and then emails them to me to download. This green apple is something she worked on yesterday evening.

This got me thinking about my own need to publish my writing. The shorts stories, essays, and novels I've written are all important to me. I wrote them because they express ideas that I believe in and that I care about. As you can probably tell, civil rights, fairness, individual freedom and responsibility and beauty, laughter, and perspective are among those things that weigh on me. I write about them, and I want to share those ideas with others.

I admire author John Green. He writes about the time it takes to produce a good novel--for him, about three years. So I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I wrote my first novel in 22 days. I gave it a two week rest and then spent another month rewriting it. To be fair, it was summer break, so I really devoted myself to the novel, at least when I wasn't shuttling a pre-teen and a teenager around. Here comes the really embarrassing part. At this early stage, I shared my ms with at least five friends and family members. I cringe now to think of that amateurish (and I mean REALLY amateurish) draft.

Now, I'm really embarrassed to admit THIS part. After a few more tweaks, I queried ten agents. Within days Mitchell Waters at Curtis Brown requested my full ms based on a mid-novel chapter that he found intriguing. Need I say that he did not find the rest of the novel equally intriguing. He said nice things, and in passing called the novel "voicy." Voice is good. Voicy, not so much, at least not for my novel, I thought.

So here's what I had learned so far: 1. I had a query that worked. 2. The premise of the novel was of interest to at least one agent, and thus probably would be to others. They do read queries! 3. At least in one chapter I proved I could hook a reader. 3. The novel needed more work.

I know what you're saying--that was just one agent! Yes, but every time I gave my ms to someone to read, I cringed just a bit, not because there were situations that made be blush, but because I knew some of the writing just didn't ring true. I believe it's called sentimentality, cheating. In other words, the drama hadn't come from the characters in action so much as because the character said so. Beginner mistake. As John Gardner writes, ". . . we are moved by the characters and events, not by the emotion of the person who happens to be telling the story." So it was back to work. In the next month I scoured through the pages, eliminating lines and passages where my character explained himself and his world and instead let his actions and words speak for him. Over New Year's weekend, I queried again. A month later I received an offer of representation by Myrsini Stephanides at Carol Mann Agency. (It really does happen.)

Now (Myr, cover your eyes a moment), the ms I had sent out still wasn't ready. But it was as ready as I could make it at the moment. I knew it needed more work; I just didn't know exactly what. All I knew for certain was that I desperately wanted to share these characters and this story. Fortunately, Myr saw something she liked and wanted to help me shape my work. So while my ms has been sitting in Myr's computer awaiting its first round of editing, I've been working over two other novels and contemplating the craft.

Yesterday I read Gardner's The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers and I had one of those aha moments! I'm always concerned about boring my readers, and thus my narrative at times seems rushed. What I learned from Gardner (besides the many beginner writer mistakes I'm making) is that failure to provide sufficient detail prevents the reader from engaging in what he calls "the vivid and continuous fictional dream." I want my readers to walk among my characters, to sit with them, to feel what they feel, to cry when they cry and laugh when they laugh. It's my job to "stir and guide the reader's imagination." The very thing I was trying to avoid (boring my readers), I was insuring by not drawing my readers into my world sufficiently so they could engage. And I can't wait to take another crack at it.

So back to my point. It's true--my passion for sharing my work has outpaced my ability to render it beautifully, but acknowledging you have a problem is the first step, right?


Adam Lambert sings with school band

I love this video! Anyone who knows me knows what a crazy Adam Lambert fan I am. So when I saw this video this morning I had to share. He sings "Whataya Want from Me," accompanied by a group of kids on recorders, guitars, and drums purchased with the money Lambert raised through his DonorsChoose program. And it's adorable! I happen to be very fond of band kids, being a former flute player myself. Did I mention my 15-year-old tuba-playing son is trying out for State in May (and in Texas, State is a big competition indeed)? Yeah, Danny! I think band kids are some of the coolest kids in school, which is also why the main character in my third book is a band geek. So here's "Whataya Want from Me" with recorders. I love the music director!


We are the World Again!

I loved this song the first time around, and I'm loving it even more now. I can't resist singing along every time I hear it. And I love the way the harmony reflects the lyrics. Enjoy.


So what's your book about?

I get this question all the time. What I usually say is it's about two teenage boys who fall in love and come out of the closet, which sounds lame since the book is about so much more. So I thought I'd post the teaser that attracted the agent that read my ms that prompted her to represent me and will lead, I hope, to the the publication of the DEBUT NOVEL (sounds so awesome) that Janet wrote:

NATE #1 (working title) chronicles the junior year of 17-year-old Nate Saffle who has had enough of playing a game he doesn't love, enough of pretending to be someone he isn't, and enough of playing it safe. With one last taunt from his dad, he commits to taking back control of his life. Football is out; music is in. But when it comes to love, taking back control is a little trickier. Loving Adam in secret is frustrating enough, but the hurt and jealousy that come from the public pretense drive the boys to take the plunge. It's best friend Juliet who comes up with the coming out plan. And it's all so, um, easy . . . until it isn't. In this tumultuous year Nate goes from longing to loving, and anonymity to headline news as he struggles with what it really means to be a man when you're a teenage boy in love with another guy.

I'll let you know how that publishing thing works out.


If you don't know John Green . . . you should!

John Green, author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and the soon to be released collaboration with David Levithan--Will Grayson, Will Grayson--is one cool guy and totally irresistable, as you'll discover from this video. So don't wait. Play it NOW! And then check out his awesome online vlog--Nerdfighters.