Monday, January 31, 2005

Writing Time

Closing in on February (month of love, lovers, loving), and that marks the beginning of nine weeks of mostly clear writing time At the moment, I'm already on page 28, which translates to 6,325 words. If I can keep going, I should be able to have a full draft by TLA. It's a noble goal. I keep stating it so as to remain firmly on beam. Off to dinner at Hyde Park.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

This Thing + Mainstream

We're doing this thing where we read to each other whatever we've got even though it's way short of a full first draft. I'm not sure this is a good idea, and Lord knows, you can't say anything substantive about it, but who cares if it keeps us going. He's quite cute and--finally--updated his blog, so I can't really complain about him. We ordered pizza (chicken, mushroom, pepper, onion) on whole wheat tonight from Maggia; plan to watch "Desperate Housewives" and "Boston Legal." That's pretty mainstream, isn't it?

My Sharona No More?

I'm greatly vexed to learn that actress Bitty Schram "Sharona" has left my much-beloved show "Monk," supposedly because of a contract dispute. I would give her more money. I have, let's see... Forty-two dollars in my purse right now. Hm, maybe if a lot of people chipped in.

On the manuscript front, I'm up to 5,301 words, which translates to 23 pages and four single-spaced pages of additional notes.

I can already see opportunities to expand, but I don't want to go backwards at this point.

I'm just reading what I have each night before bed and then making whatever additional notes occur to me. I often get the best ideas as my brain is unclenching for the day.

Sometimes, just as I'm about to go to sleep, I come up with something, then I have to turn on the light and scribble it down so I won't forget (if I don't write it down, I will forget). Then I'm not sleepy anymore.

Saturday, January 29, 2005


A friend came to dinner--shrimp, mushroom, onion, asparagus stir fry (chopped tiny, of course) over brown rice with dark choco dipped strawberries afterward (well, one before), and we were talking about influences and aspirations. The difference between writers whose products (AKA finished novels) are inspirational and those whose processes are.

Writers whose finished novels I find motivating include my honey, Annette Curtis Klause, Holly Black, Nancy Werlin, Libba Bray, and M.T. Anderson, among others. Writers whose process I find the same is a subject for another post, or perhaps I should stay mum on the subject. Hm.


His Maj and I can be totally silent in the car, completely preoccupied with our respective fictional worlds. We get it. We each understand that the other isn't ignoring us, and that it's work, and that interrupting can lead to justified cranky-ness.

Ditto for interruptions while actually typing, which at least looks like work. In fact, a stray comment or ringing phone at the wrong moment can cause the next word or scene to vanish from one's mind altogether. Hence my intense hostility to phone solicitors.

Today, I got down another four pages, bringing me to 17 -- translating to 4,059 words. All I really need for the first full draft is, oh, ten times that.

Am also starting to get nervous about reactions to the revision. It's been just over a month since I sent it in with the holidays and ALA in between time (plus ALA was in Boston), so I can't imagine much work has gotten done or that there aren't a kagillion manuscripts with release dates before mine or.... Never mind.

Focusing on the manuscript in progress. That is the healthy, prudent, success-making thing to do.

Friday, January 28, 2005


I'm doing laundry, drinking water from my Wonder Woman mug, listening to "Rocky: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack," which I'm not even embarassed to admit, and printing the four pages I wrote today.

I won't jinx myself by dwelling, but this draft is coming fairly smoothly so far. As in "words are appearing when I hit the keyboard." Not as in: "wow, genius at first stroke." I'm happy.

Today's plans include watching "Enterprise," which is my least fave "Star Trek" (much preferred "DS9") even though it features the oh-so-luscious Scott Bakula, previously of "Quantum Leap" fame, and the newest ep of "Monk," which is my absolutely fave show.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Five Pages

I've written five new pages so far today, which is two and a half times my goal. They're rough of course, but the idea is to just get the draft down and then deal with it. G has asked me to help him with his proposal tonight, so we may just do that rather than any writing. Totally fine; I'm ahead of the game.

I've got nine pages, 2,230 words so far. It seems kind of sad and small, having just "finished" (as in "for now") a full length upper YA that's some twenty times that. But you have to start somewhere! Yes? Yes!

I've also jotted down some notes, so that's ready to go next time I sit down. At this stage, the main thing is just to keep myself psyched enough to produce.

Setting II

I'm having second thoughts about my setting concept. I've seen variations of it in works by a couple of major adult authors, and I'd just like to try something fresher, maybe a bit less elegant and more identifiable.

I have someplace tentatively in mind as an inspiration. I wonder if they'd let me sit there and ask questions for a week or so. I have the time now to do it.

Probably, though, I should keep thinking about it, maybe look at the Web site and get the draft down first. It isn't like I haven't already spent regular time there.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


I'm wavering a bit between basing the setting of the next section on a local site or one I worked at as a teen. The latter is suburban, and for the most part, all suburbs are alike, so I could just plop it in. Hm. Or maybe put it in a northern, but still mostly central neighborhood, so I can keep my driving bearings. And bus lines. Now, that I think about it, that's a logistical issue.

Okay, so I'll base it on my teen enviro, but put it slightly north. I have to pick up comics today anyway. I'll scout out locations then.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Alternating POV? Or not!

Okay, I'm not able to do this multi POV stuff. Make it my honey's domain and call it a day. It's interesting how the creative mind refuses to repeat. I could arguably do DD's POV which is not so much diff than QPM's...but no. No way, I have to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Sigh.

Still on course, but it's all about TK.

Chandler Bing voice: "I'm SO going to be burned at the stake."

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Nine Weeks

Looking at a pure nine weeks off speaking, starting today. My goal is to get down a whole draft of the new mss. Then, even though spring/summer will be busy, I'll have something to work with. Pray for me.

Had a great time last night out with suspense novelist Gail Giles (author of Playing In Traffic). Joined her and her husband at The Cheesecake Factory in The Woodlands for dinner and spent the night at their new digs. Won't say too much about her WIP, except just thinking about it kind of freaks me out. A good sign, don't you think?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

First Read

Defying conventional wisdom, I went ahead and read the first two scenes from D & T's POVs to see what G thought, since he's the reigning household king of MPOV. He was most encouraging, which was helpful. He's in the same place, trying to figure out what to do next. Will try another today while waiting for the plumber.

Watched a Sundance winning movie while keying in, "A Touch of Pink," which was a sort of southasian-Canadian-by-way-of-London coming out movie. Enjoyed it, especially Kyle MacLachlan as the spirit of Cary Grant.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Stoker Double

They say everyone has a twin. Take a look at Walter The Giant Storyteller and Bram Stoker. Then adjust for wardrobe and expression.

Speaking of Walter, he has this great book out:

VALERIE & WALTER'S BEST BOOKS FOR CHILDREN: A LIVELY, OPINIONATED GUIDE by Valerie V. Lewis and Walter M. Mayes (Avon, 1998). Seven-hundred-plus pages of recommendations, featuring more than 2,000 books. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Want to see two more "separated-at-birth" references? Check out today's entry on cynsations.

Monday, January 17, 2005

It's All About Your Point Of View

Okay, so today I'm all PMS-y and stressing over the fact that the only (make that, best) way to tell the proposed WIP is through alternating POV, which has become my honey's trademark. So, fine, I learned from the best.

But I'm stressing because it's his thing and even if it's in the best interests of my whatever, won't that prompt folks to think...well, ya know?

Thing is, tonight, after seeing "The Polar Express" at the IMAX, we're having red wine and scrambled eggs at Katz's and I solve his whole next concept. As in, map out for him the whole next novel to write.

It dawns on me then that it's fine if our fictional worlds co-mingle. After all, we co-mingle, and most of the time, I really don't mind.

Put mildly.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Who's Desperate?

Keyed in more notes while watching "Desperate Housewives" and "Boston Legal," which gets more interesting every week. Betty White? I love Betty White.

I think I know which novel I want to work on next.

It's a little...out of the box.


And literally.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Little Black Book

Keyed in notes today--trying to put them in an order that might suggest there will someday be a plot. G expressed an interest in maybe doing one of the projects with, as a dual POV thing. I'll give that some thought once I know where I stand on the T revision. Am in sheer amazement at how much I've got down in notes. Though it's common advice, I've never actually tried this before, leaving a notebook on the nightstand. I will from now on.

Had the movie "Little Black Book" on while keying in; found it fairly incoherent, but then again, I was distracted.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Story Behind The Story: Laura Ruby On Lily's Ghosts

Lily's Ghosts by Laura Ruby (Harper, 2003). Since Lily's mother has broken up with her boyfriend, they're broke and, therefore, have to move into Lily's uncle's summer house in Cape May, NJ. Only problem, there are ghosts there... Ages 9-up.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

I'd spent years slogging through an as-yet-unpublished-and-probably-for-good-reason YA novel — gritty, tragic, full of dysfunctional characters and atrocious behavior — and I was simply worn out. I just wanted to work on something completely different, something fun and quite possibly mysterious and magical. I was on vacation, getting an unfortunate sun burn by the side of a pool when I thought to myself, "Hey, why don't I write a ghost story?" (I've always loved a good ghost story). I had a friend that I went to college with, whose family had a huge old house in Cape May, NJ that was supposedly haunted. I knew she wouldn't mind if I set my book there. I had the title before I wrote a word of the text.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I began writing Lily's Ghosts in the summer of 1999, wrote a hundred pages, and then set it aside. When it became clear that my first novel, the gritty, tragic YA, wasn't going to be published in its current form, I picked up Lily's Ghosts again and finished a draft by spring of 2001. My agent requested a few revisions, and then the manuscript was ready to submit to publishers in the summer of 2001. At the time, I was a freelance copywriter, but the economy was starting to crash and I was a little depressed. I wasn't making much money with my copywriting, and I knew that the odds of selling a book were slim. In August of 2001, on a lark, I interviewed for fulltime job as a writer for a "collectibles" company — you know, commemorative plates, Precious Moments figurines, swivel-hipped Elvis ornaments, etc. — and tried to figure out what else I could write to keep from going nuts.

And then came September 11th.

My whole family lives in the New York/New Jersey area. I, myself, had spent three years living in Hoboken, NJ, commuting across the Hudson to New York City for work every day. I could not believe what I was seeing on the television. I could not comprehend what my closest friend — who lived just a mile from Ground Zero — told me about the devastation. I couldn't understand how my work, my little ghost story, could ever be interesting or important to anyone. When the collectibles company called a week later to offer me the job, I took it. It didn't matter to me that I'd have less time to write fiction, because who cared about fiction?

Looking back now it's amazing to me that just two months later, my agent called to tell me that two editors were interested in Lily, but that they felt the manuscript needed some revision. I agreed to revise the manuscript and turned in a new version in January of 2002. I got a contract from Clare Hutton at Harpercollins in February of 2002.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

Despite my desire to write something fun and simple, I had a lot of ambitions for this book. I wanted to take a traditional ghost story and expand it by giving the ghosts their own point-of-view sections. I wanted to have several story lines — the various ghosts' and Lily's — converge at the end. I wanted the book to be a tightly plotted mystery, but I also wanted the story grounded in character. I wanted the word "ghosts" in the title Lily's Ghosts to mean not only the ghosts of the dead, but also the ghosts of the living who haunted my main character.

Tall order. Especially since I really don't "do" plot well.

So. I spent a lot of time researching the history of Cape May, NJ, where my book is set. I took a trip out to Jersey and stayed in a Cape May B&B to get the lay of the land. I wrote outline after outline to try and get clear on the plot of the book — the red herrings, the big "twist" at the end of the book (entirely unplanned, by the way). I started out with one ghost and ended up with a town full (plus one plucky poltergeist and one shady Tarot card reader). I'm lucky to have found Clare Hutton, a careful, respectful editor willing to allow me to take a risk with the multiple viewpoints. Part of the reason I wanted to write this book is because I wanted to know what ghosts were really thinking. Turns out Clare did, too.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Mr. Monk And The New Draft

Okay, it's not Mr. Monk. It's just me, Cyn.

But I'm delighted to report that I have my newly released season two of "Monk" on DVD.

"Monk" is about an obsessive-compulsive, anxiety-ridden detective. It's great for murder mystery and humor fans; top-notch writing and acting.

My Mr. Monk-like attributes: fear of heights, airplans (the air and the height and the enclosed space), germs (carry handwash); also something of a neat freak, which is a challenge because I'm married to a piler. Hence my office is in the house with the door open, and his is over the garage (I shudder to think).

I did some research on the potential new manuscript (some commitment issues, too, eh?) online. What I'm thinking is that I've had great luck in the past combining a couple of vague ideas I've had for a novel into one. Ie., I want to write a grief/healing book, and I want to write a book about a Native girl living in a German American town. Hence, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001). So, I have these two ideas, and I was researching one of them. Also more scribbling in bed before going to sleep. It's funny how just opening yourself to the universe will give you ideas for your stories.

Feedback from group last night was that if I did the story I had drafted, I should keep the fantasy element I was thinking of cutting and that "my fans will demand" (I liked that so much I had her repeat it) a companion to T. So, I'm pondering that, too.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


I'm scribbling in bed with a turquoise pen on a yellow, lined note pad. About seven pages so far. Bits and pieces of plot points and dialog. Written in margins with arrows and brackets. Scratching at it, hoping to fall in love.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Over And Over You

Amy McAuley has a new site and an upcoming debut novel, Over And Over You (Roaring Brook, 2005), that sounds tremendously promising. Here's the catalog copy:

"I've been in love with the same boy for a thousand years. That's weird, especially since I'm only seventeen, and I can barely hold a guy's interest to the end of a five-minute conversation. Don't ask me how I've kept the same boyfriend for a millenium."

If a psychic told you about a past-life love, would you believe her? For seventeen-year-old Penny Fitzsimmons, the answer is easy. No way.

But then her nightmares begin. Strange voices interrupt her thoughts. Coincidences mount.

What if there were things that even the psychic didn't know? What if she told you about a thousand years of love, but left out a thousand years of betrayal and tragedy? What if it were up to you to shape the future, before history had a chance to repeat itself? What if your best friend's life depended on it?

Penny Fitzsimmons is about to find out.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

New Direction, Next Direction

Nothing delights me more than an all-consuming obsession with my work in progress, so it's only natural, I suppose, that being between leaves me feeling somewhat adrift.

This is not to say I'm done with my WIP, but I have no idea how long it will be until I hear back from my editor with additional revisions. Because January through March are the months I traditionally set aside to mostly stop gallavanting around the country and write (in a real and substantial block), it would be insane not to take advantage of this time.

I have a Post-It note on my desk with three titles on it. One would be for a companion book to my upcoming novel (from the POV of a secondary character); I've got three chapters and know the protagonist/universe cold. One would be for a manuscript I have rough drafted and is sitting in a file with revision notes. And the third is for something I have a concept and about two pages of scribbled notes on.

Today, of course, I'm most interested in pursuing the third.

I'll keep you posted.

Writing Tips: (1) any coincidences must be sparing and work against the hero (2) eavesdropping is a lazy way to impart key information to the hero; make him/her earn it in a more original way.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Story Behind The Story: Vivian Vande Velde on Being Dead

Being Dead by Vivian Vande Velde (Harcourt, 2001). Sometimes touching, sometimes really scary, sometimes just on the creepy side stories of the dead. "Drop by Drop" is guaranteed to keep you up at night (and checking under your car). "October Chill" is affecting, emotionally haunting--the kind of story that leaves its readers imagining what does or doesn't happen next. Ages 10-up.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

Being Dead is a collection of ghost stories. I'd written a few ghost stories over the years; then--being the basically lazy person I am--I decided if I put together the stories I already had, they would be about half a book. That meant that I only needed to write half as much as I normally would, and I'd have a book.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

The oldest story in Being Dead is also the shortest. "The Ghost" was originally published in "Upstate Magazine" in 1986.

"For Love of Him" was originally in Bruce Coville's Book of Ghosts in 1994. (For some reason, those credits never made it onto the copyright page of Being Dead.)

"Dancing with Marjorie's Ghost" and "October Chill" were written in the 1990s but hadn't been published.

"Shadow Brother" was the book that pushed me over the edge. I wrote it in 2000 in response to hearing about a particular anthology--but at the same time with the idea of putting together my own collection. It did not make it into the anthology.

The two remaining stories are "Drop by Drop" and "Being Dead"--which ended up being the first and the last stories in the book.

The Harcourt hardcover came out in 2001 with a spooky cover by Dominic Rouse which--depending on how you hold the book and look at it--is both a skull, and a graveyard scene with hands in the foreground. (My own personal interpretation is that the hands are releasing a soul, but I have no idea what Dominic Rouse would have to say about that.)

The Harcourt paperback came out in 2003 with a cover by Gary Isaacs--a girl with her skull showing through her skin.

I did not have a title for this manuscript when I sent it to editor Michael Stearns. He suggested we use the title of the last story for the collection. Neither of us knew at the time that there is an adult book by that same title. (I have to admit I don't read too many adult books.)

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

Of the seven stories, my own favorite is "Drop by Drop." And yet it does unsettle me. (And I don't mean the ghostly goings-on part.) I hate to give away the ending, but I will because that's what I started with: I wanted to write about a teen who is being haunted and who discovers that the reason she is being haunted is because *she* is the one responsible for the death that resulted in there being a ghost. I could have had Brenda, the main character, know but not tell the reader; but that didn't seem like playing fair. Yet how could she *not* know she was responsible for another's death? Something that had been bothering me for a long time was how tv and movies show some pretty irresponsible drinking, and I wanted to write a story where drinking and driving had disastrous consequences. So all of that was going through my head before I even sat down in front of the computer. Once I started, I concentrated on making Brenda likeable so that readers wouldn't just dismiss her reckless behavior but would have been identifying with her all along. I wanted readers to think, "That could be me." It was very difficult for me to write about a little girl dying, and a teen ruining her own life.

See also:

The Story Behind The Story: Vivian Vande Velde on Companions of the Night.

"Trick-or-Treating with Vivian Vande Velde" from By The Book, Author Interviews & Book Reviews for Kids by Julia Durango.

Vivian Vande Velde on Banned Books.

Note: editor Michael Stearns has recently moved from Harcourt Brace to HarperCollins.

Friday, January 07, 2005

The Story Behind The Story: Vivian Vande Velde on Companions of the Night

Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde (Harcourt, 1995). Thinking she's stumbled into a crime scene, Kerry, 16, helps Ethan escape from the seemingly crazy men who claim he is a vampire. But soon after her family is kidnapped, Kerry realizes that maybe they weren't so crazy after. Worse, she can't think of anyone better to help her find vampires than a vampire himself. But will Ethan turn into the love of her life or the creature who takes it? Ages 12-up, but content is more innocent than, say, Klause's (probably okay for 10-up).

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

I am a writer because I love books. When I read a good story, it catches me up and carries me away. I love that feeling so much I've always wanted to be able to create that magic for somebody else with my stories, my characters. Since one of the *types* of stories I enjoy is vampire lore, of course I wanted to create my own vampire story.

There are lots of elements to the mythology of vampires, some of it downright contradictory--for example, how a vampire is made, or what will kill a vampire. I had to consider what was reasonable (given, of course, that vampires are made-up creatures so NONE of it is truly reasonable) and what would help to make a good story.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

We're talking about ten years ago--I'm having trouble remembering what I had for dinner last night! My impression is that I wrote the story with no major problems in about six months. (But my husband points out that I say about every book: "No, I didn't have trouble writing any of the others, but THIS ONE that I'm writing NOW is really tough.") In late 1993 I sent it to my editor Jane Yolen--who, among many other fine qualities, was always quick to respond. Within two weeks, she called to accept the manuscript.

At some point while I'd been writing the story, I'd heard the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody." Being in a vampire mood, I heard the words in a different context than I'd ever taken them in before, and I thought it would be neat to quote the song--not in the story itself, but in the front of the book. I paid for the rights to quote the lyrics in the hardcover edition, but things got complicated when the book was due to come out in paperback. (At that point Harcourt was not doing its own paperbacks, but licensing the rights out to other publishers.) In the end, I decided not to use the lyrics in subsequent editions. But, because I paid for it once, I still claim "Unchained Melody" as MY song, and force my husband to dance with me whenever we hear it played.

The original hardcover (with a great cover by Cliff Nielsen) was published by Harcourt in 1995. The Bantam/Doubleday/Dell paperback (basically the same Cliff Nielsen cover, just cropped differently) came out in 1996.

When that license expired, Harcourt decided they wanted to do a paperback. Cliff Nielsen redid the cover (making it even better), and that was released in 2002.

Companions of the Night has come out in the U.K., in Italy, France, and Indonesia. On the internet I've found a picture of a Dutch edition--but I've never actually seen the book.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

There were no special challenges in writing the story or getting it published, but it is certainly the book about which I get the most mail. Some of this mail is very heart-warming, with readers telling me that the book helped get them through a difficult time. The vast majority of letters, though, are asking me about a sequel. While I can understand liking characters enough to want more of them, I have to say I think in the case of a vampire story this would be a mistake. In a one-time book, an author can make the vampire deceitful and mysterious in an intriguing way. But if a vampire is a recurring character, your choices are to not take him seriously but to make a comic character out of him; or you're writing about someone who is pure evil and who sustains his life by taking the lives of others; or you dilute the vampire by presenting him as reformed: just a regular guy now, who--sure--has some unusual dietary problems but mostly tries to make reparation for his previous evil by doing good deeds--most commonly, apparently, going into the crime solving business.

See also The Story Behind The Story: Vivian Vande Velde on Being Dead.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Second Verse

Playing around with a potential companion/sequel. G says maybe to think of it as a Rhett Butler; sure, he has a story, but so what? Counter is: what if it's a story worth telling? Until I start playing around, though, who knows? Now is a good time as I'm in limbo. Put down a prologue and two chapters in the past three days.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

"The Stepford Wives"

I watched "The Stepford Wives" last night and found it a fairly amusing horromedy. The downside is that it's very "star" studded and you can never lose yourself in the characters what with the awareness that it's Glen Close, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, and Bette Midler playing them. (Not that I don't admire each of those actors; maybe just too many names?). But the film still brings up some gender and comformity issues worth talking about. I found the parked line of SUVs at the Stepford Spa entertaining, and (ducking) it's hard not to recognize certain suburbs amidst its manicured lawns.

Received a note from my editor saying the mss is in her office "Hooray!" and that she looks forward to reading it. I am not thinking about it. The fact that I reported that tidbit does not mean I'm thinking about it. Really. I swear.

Playing around with a few pages of something related to see if they're worth fighting for. Not much to say yet except that the voice is a surprise plus.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Now You See It

Read an interview with author Vivian Vande Velde on her upcoming release, Now You See It, from the Harcourt Web site.

"Vivian Vande Velde is the author of more than twenty books for young readers, including Heir Apparent, Wizard at Work, and the Edgar Award–winning Never Trust a Dead Man. She lives in Rochester, New York."

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Deep

A post I wrote for one of my recent online discussions:

I think it would break my heart if I got a novel all down just right the first time. Fact is, I pretty much despise first drafting and adore revision. To me, that's where all the fun is and most of the discovery. I have this theory that most of the answers to the novel are in the novel. I just have to find them. And I love spending time with the characters once they're more fully formed. Again, I'm a relatively slow writer, so this may be part of it. But sure. My original draft of my WIP was from a completely different character's POV and had a completely different plot. I see no bad in that.

It's Vladimir!

Today, I read It's Vladimir! by Deborah Noyes, illustrated by Christopher Mills (Marshall Cavendish, 2001)(ages 4-up). A fiendishly fangtastic pick for little vamps still coming into their bat wings (and temperament). Highly recommended.