Saturday, November 29, 2008

NaNo and Post Thanksgiving

After two days of not writing, I wrote about 1200 words this morning. I wrote a scene with Faith's grandmother. And is that grandmother angry! Or resentful. Or something else bugging her. Apparently, the grandmother blames Faith for Faith's mother leaving the family. At least that's what Faith thinks. Not really sure if that's what is happening, but I'm letting it be, for now.

I may not make it to 30K, for my personal end of NaNo. However, I did get to one ending of the novel. With much to develop and research in the coming months. And I'm happy about that.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

NaNo and Thanksgiving Prep...

NaNo continues despite my list of holiday cooking preps to do. Chinese sausage, check. Sweet rice, check. Soak dried mushrooms...

These past couple of days, my main character Faith, makes some realizations. Realizations that I know she has not earned yet. She's close to epiphany-land, but the epiphany feels shallow and contrived. It's where I think she is heading. And I hope, with revisions, it will change and deepen.

My 3rd semester advisor, Uma Krishnaswami, once told me that my MC must earn his/her keep, her reasons behind her actions, her big moment. Uma must have said it in a much more eloquent way, but I can't find her exact wording at the moment. "Earn your ghost" is another phrase which comes to mind.

But it shows me where I need to dig deeper, fill the well, develop the character and ultimately, the story. Because, after all, I'm just trying to get to the NaNo end.

Can't wait to dig... next month and beyond.
And after I make sticky rice for Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Keeping up my word count and installing new doors do not mix. No, no, no. Wrote very little the last two days due to saws sawing, hammers banging and stucco busting. Oh, but it was sure fun to try.

I'm so close to 20K, all I have to do is sneeze and my word count should change. I'll keep trying for moments during the day, hankie in hand, and see if I can come up with a sentence or two... or three. A paragraph would be killer.

Ran into a slight wall with the story, but I plan to plow forward, despite the ever growing hole I'm digging myself into.

Dig away. Achoo!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

NaNo Slow Go

Oh my, today was rough. Decided to rewrite yesterday's conversation between my MC and her art teacher, instead of an art contest judge. I liked that much better, but there were so many holes that I was unable to move forward. I also wrote a lot of notes to myself, which I counted toward my total word court. Don't delete, remember?

My resistance reminded me of what my VCFA 2nd semester advisor, Sharon Darrow, once told me: when I'm unable to write a scene, I'm not ready to write it yet, I'm not there emotionally, physically, mentally-- everything! And she's right. (Those VCFA advisors, I tell you, always popping up in your head.)

Mentally, I'm thinking of home improvement projects literally knocking on my door tomorrow;
Physically, I want to leave my chair and refill my coffee cup.
Emotionally, I'm not ready for my MC to have any kind of epiphany. Way too early.

That's okay.

Tomorrow, maybe I'll go back, even though I'm supposed to go forward with NaNo, and I'll try one of those scenes that I want to fill. I'm sure the NaNo police won't arrest me!

Words written today: 1123

My total word count should update to a little over 18K. That's closer to 20K, right? Soon. Very soon.

Ha, I sound like Grandmother Moccasin, the thousand-year-old snake in Kathi Appelt's THE UNDERNEATH, who hisses, "SSoooooooon!"

Monday, November 17, 2008

NaNo Continued...

Started off slow, but gained momentum in the second hour of writing.

Was going to stop at 1200 words or so, but decided to write a conversation between two people. In the middle of it, I thought I wanted the conversation to be between the main character (MC) and another character. But I kept writing it the way it was.

Leave it alone for now! Just get to the end of the conversation.

So, 1733 words today!

Didn't write at all during the weekend, but glad for the break.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Yesterday, I wrote more words than I ever have in one day: 1670!

I kept resisting this one secondary character, but I let him in. Anything to get my word count moving. Just get to my quota, keep typing, do not leave the chair... Most of the scene was a big tell-all fest. I had envisioned this scene for a long time, and it is filled with holes. But that's for later. For now, I got it down and I have an idea of where the main character is going. At least for now.

You can see my ongoing total above.

For a middle grade novel, I'm shooting for 30K words, but who knows, maybe I'll write more. Maybe I'll write 50K and win NaNo.

National Novel Writing Month

I'm taking part in National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo for short, NaNo for even shorter. The goal is to write a 1st draft of a novel, at 50K words. That's about 1666 or so words a day. The NaNo folks stress quantity over quality, at least for this month. Next month will be spent revising and filling up all of those lovely and deep dark holes. The aim is to get that 1st draft down on paper, and outta your head.

My goal is to write a 1st draft of my middle grade novel that I started in my 4th semester with Rita Williams-Garcia. I'm aiming for 30-35K words. That's about 1000 or so words per day. That's a lot for me. I usually write 500 words or less, or most days this year, zero!

Some freelance work fell through for November, so I signed up, not really knowing if I could pull off 1000 words/day. I jumped, and I'm glad I did.

After one week behind me, I've realized how freeing this process has been. When I was at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and writing for my packets, my 20-40 pages of creative work, my ego got in the way. I wrote, re-wrote, and re-wrote again. You're supposed to do that, but I worried about what my advisor would think; I worried whether my work was workshop-critique-worthy… I let all those "worries" get in the way, and so wrote very slowly.

After I graduated, with no deadlines looming, I wrote even slower.

NaNo says not to delete any words. Fine. The writing comes out clunky, chunky, holey-moley, and just plain bad. All rules of grammar and show vs. tell are broken. And that's great. The words are on the page, finally, to tinker with later. For now, just write. I'm getting out of the way. Move, I tell myself. Move!

And I did. I've been averaging 1000-1450 words/day. I didn't know I could do that.

NaNo also sends out these pep talks from authors. I received one from Katherine Paterson, author of BRIDGE TO TEREBITHIA, JACOB HAVE I LOVED and many other classic novels for young people. I've been fortunate to have met Katherine in San Francisco during USF's Reading the World Conference, and at Vermont College of Fine Arts where Katherine is on the board of trustees. She attended our graduation in January 2008. So I felt like she was speaking right to me. This paragraph I love and keep it nearby, all highlighted. Katherine wrote:

"I aim always to get to the end of the first draft even though all the time I'm telling myself that I'm writing nothing but garbage that no one on earth would ever want to read, especially me. But I tell myself that this poor little attempt, this garbage, deserves a chance. Just as our beautiful dog Annie, who was the runt of her litter, grew into the most beautiful, loving dog anyone would want, so there may be hope, even for this pitiful mess of words I'm accumulating. So I say to myself: Don't read back too far, don't try to start rewriting, just get to the end."

Give garbage a chance. Just get to the end. Off to do so.

Friday, February 22, 2008

More Reading the World

I’ve been thinking about the many speeches and reunited friends that I came across at the Reading the World conference.

Rita Williams-Garcia's keynote speech, “Getting Off the Block,” was about getting out of your comfort zone, your block, physically and emotionally. As Page mentioned, I had a chance to see a side of Rita that I don’t often see… Rita as a young girl, from a military family, packed up in the car, dealing with racism and moving from coast to coast. For her, one fear that loomed large was the fear of coming home to a house all packed up and ready to leave.

While living in Seaside, CA, Rita told how her class had “traveled” to Japan. They did this by learning all they could about Japanese culture and customs. And when the US dropped the bomb on Hiroshima to end WWII, Rita said her class cried with them, they cried for the people of Japan, the people they had recently “met.”

Sarah Ellis brought the conference to a close with a “Synthesis of Reading the World.” She marveled and mused on how we all traveled there, by plane, taxi, BART, to gather to celebrate books for young people. (like how we do for our Res!) How all things, from the Kabuki Hot Springs schedule (found in her hotel room, Miyako Hotel in Japantown) to goddesses on stage (a reading by Doris Orgel), and the power of letter-writing (Alma Flor Ada speech) connects and energizes us.

In addition to Rita and Sarah, Naomi Shihab Nye was also a keynote speaker. She blew me away…

Naomi spoke about the power of the possible switch of perspective in our stories, of making mistakes and gaining redemption when you least expect it. She told this story:

Once Naomi mistook someone’s house for a museum. I missed how she ended up in this house, but she and a friend walked in, thinking the house was a museum, wondered why nothing was tagged or marked, and looked around at the objects in total awe. Soon she realized it was someone’s home after the owners asked her- hello? What are you doing here?

She was so embarrassed and never told anyone. A few years later, a young man came up to her and asked if she had walked into a home once and thought it was a museum. Naomi said yes, but how did he know? The young man turned out to be the homeowners’ son, a teen back then. He had always wanted to thank her because, from that day, he saw his parents in a different light; he began to see how special his parents were because Naomi, a stranger, had seen the special-ness in the things they “collected”. She thought she had made a terrible, embarrassing mistake and wanted to forget the whole thing. But to her surprise, the mistake turned out to be something more, not just for herself, but for a stranger as well.

I’m not doing justice to the story; you had to be there. Sniffles, reaching for Kleenex all around. Naomi is such a bold speaker… she speaks with frankness and enthusiasm, and with such reverence for the written word & for young people.

Sarah had the brilliant idea to have Naomi as a guest writer at VCFA. I agree; her writing and stories would inspire. This week, I’m reading Naomi’s book of poems for girls, A MAZE ME. I’m sure you all have read her poetry and novels.

I felt lucky to hang with VCFA folks and I didn’t have to leave home!

Ok, guess I did my writing for this morning.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Poetry & Reading the World

Over the weekend, I attended READING THE WORLD, a conference on multicultural books for children and young adults. Poet and author Naomi Shihab Nye spoke on Sunday. Her keynote address engaged every audience member, bringing tears to many. I fell in love with her voice, her reflections on making mistakes and how redemption heals the heart, and her love and reverence for words.

Yesterday, I got her book of poems for girls, A MAZE ME, from the library. Reading the 1st poem, ROSE, I wonder about writing a poem myself. Rose is not a flower, but a spider; a spider and her web forever living in a girl's memory.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Now I'll talk about the rain. My 1st July '06 residency was hot and humid. Icky sticky. So I wasn't looking forward to going back to Vermont in July 2007. To my surprise, the weather was wonderful, breathable. Warm, cool at times, with lots of rain. Rain and cool weather I can handle.

The first Sunday morning, before the Res took off, I sat in my dorm room with the window open. I was going to go out, but a downpour started. The rain came straight down and filled the streets with swirling waterfalls. The sound lulled me, not to sleep, but to a sense of quiet. I was somewhat nervous about the upcoming, final "creative thesis" semester, but I didn't care about that, at that moment.

The rain was cool and soothing. And I knew it would be a good residency.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

There's a moment during one of my residencies that I want to remember. It happened last January, my 3rd semester residency. It snowed a lot during that Res. I remember sitting in one of the lectures (can't recall which one), and noticed the snow falling outside the window. The snow falling is gorgeous beyond any words I can put together. It floats and hovers. The snow collects on the tree branches and makes more gorgeous art. And I felt so happy. So happy to be there, listening to that lecture, among writers, while the snow floated outside. And at peace.

Now I understand why so many writers write about the snow.

Monday, February 11, 2008

I've been home from my VCFA graduating residency for 2 1/2 weeks. Finally feel like a normal (somewhat normal) human being after getting a nasty cold.

This week, I'm polishing my manuscript PAPER SON. At the residency, I read the prologue and chapter 3. The reading went very well, and I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment and surprisingly, calmness.

Faculty member David Gifaldi wrote to me and said the Vermont College graduation was a highlight of his life. With my family and VC friends there, I now understand why. I didn't anticipate how emotional every part... the lecture, the reading, the moments with my classmates, and of course the graduation... would be. I'm still feeling its glow.