Friday, September 18, 2009

Still sitting at the kids' table...

2009 has been a weird writing year for me. I've greatly increased the amount of paid assignments I've been taking on; so far this year I've invoiced almost 20 pieces, which is double the number of invoices I've issued in the last three years combined. (Unfortunately, this is not double the revenue, as many of the pieces are shorter and don't pay as well as the one project I worked for those years.) Of course, the other side of more paid work is that I've had very little time for my own writing. Over the last eight months I think I've managed a few chapters (and chapters is a generous term) in the middle grade novel I'm writing. I've only sent out four query letters on my three finished projects, and all four of those were rejected. (Although my picture book manuscript did get a champagne rejection, and one editor did request the full manuscript of a novel before sending a form rejection.)

On the other hand, I did get a very nice "maybe" from an agent I wrote to last year. After holding on to my novel for a few months, he finally wrote and said he was intrigued, but thought the manuscript needed work before he could represent it. He said he'd be willing to consider a revision, or another piece of mine. This was very exciting news, but it's left me in a kind of limbo. He wasn't specific about what revisions he was looking for, so I'm not ready to drop everything else and start rewriting. In the meantime, I'm hesitant to send out anything else to an editor or another agent, in case this does pan out. I'm going to a writers' conference in a couple of weeks, and I didn't try to sign up for any critiques—partly because I'm still in limbo, and partly because I've already had most of my stuff critiqued at other events.

This whole pursuit of publication and the upcoming conference reminds me of when I was a little kid at family gatherings and I would watch the older generation play cards. It looked like fun; I wanted to join in; but I was told, "your nose is too short." I knew this meant I wasn't old enough, or didn't know how to play well enough, but when when when would I get to play with the grownups? (Eventually I discovered the truth: when they were desperate for a fourth for euchre.) This is how I feel at these conferences: I see the writers who are already published, and they are encouraging, but when when when will my book get to play with the publishers?

I know each query, rejected or not, is making progress. I can see the progress: from form rejections, to personal comments, to this "maybe." It's still very frustrating, and combined with the focus on paid writing it's making it very hard to get back into writing fiction. So I've decided I'm going to participate in National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. In November I'm going to write an entire 50,000 word novel from scratch. I'm giving myself permission not to worry about plot or language or making it to the big kids' table; I'm just going to write. I've got six weeks to think a little bit about what to write; I have a germ of an idea—a character and a narrative device, really—and we'll just see what ensues.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In praise of libraries...

I wasn't really thinking of writing in the blog today; I have a deadline Friday and I wasn't feeling particularly inspired, but then I read this in an industry blog: the Free Library of Philadelphia has announced it is closing. Philadelphia is a city of over 1.5 million, although, like Detroit, it has lost about half a million residents in the past 40 years and is in poor financial shape. Now granted, the library could be (and probably will be) rescued by last-minute financing from the state of Pennsylvania, but to me the thought is unimaginable. No library? No free access to books and movies and magazines and newspapers for 1.5 million residents? No reading programs for kids, no afterschool activities, no school or day care visits? No computer classes, classes for small businesses and job seekers, no visits to senior centers? No space for community meetings, GED classes, and ESL classes? No internet access to reference databases (without which I couldn't do my job)? Seriously, no library?

I know the financial situation is dire ... but I also know from talking to librarians and people in publishing that when the economy goes down, library use goes up. More people seek out free entertainment or use the free internet or take classes to improve their job skills. So seriously, no library? It's like roads or police services—everybody uses them. Everybody should be willing to pay for them, you would think. I don't want to get into the politics of library funding, since there are always some who complain we're taxed too much as it is, government should cut waste, blah blah blah. I don't care if that's true: some things are worth the money, and public libraries are high on that list. Ben Franklin founded the first public lending library in the U.S.; what's more democratic, more American, than the library?

No libraries? That's like no music, or no air.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Photo of the Week--9/14/09

I'm on my second cycle of vacation photos, this time featuring people; this one was taken 11 years ago, on a trip to Amsterdam. I didn't take many pictures on this trip (this was pre-digital photo era), mostly because we didn't see many "sights" but just walked around the city, taking in the canals and the gabled houses. It was fun seeing all the different ways people used the canals (for transportation, or even for homes), and you can tell Boy was fascinated. On that trip we traveled by bus, ferryboat, train, and yes, via canalboat. I love the photo because you can see Boy's stubborn double cowlick, which refuses to be tamed unless his hair is cut short.