Thursday, June 28, 2012

on writing and creativity

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.” Annie Dillard

It's so tempting to store up words, to hoard them like treasure. But it’s also dangerous. Creativity and imagination are these amazing renewable resources. They’re the kinds of things where the more you use them, the better you get at using them. So if you constantly stockpile words, you end up being so busy holding on that there’s no room for you to catch any more words floating through the atmosphere. And so they pass you by. But if you use those words you love so much, if you fasten them into something now, then you open yourself up to the next ones. And there will always be more words. Like Annie Dillard said, most likely they’ll be even better ones.

It’s like a brand new bicycle that sits, waiting to be ridden. It’s perfect, pristine. You don’t want to take it out because you’re afraid of getting mud on the tires, or scuffing the paint. But if you don’t use that bike, it’ll rust up. And then it’s no use to you at all. And you’re no use to it.

Besides, there’s only so much time in a life. If you sit, waiting for that perfect place in the story to use your perfect words, what if that place never comes? What if the story veers off in an entirely different direction? Just like in life, it’s dangerous to sit waiting for that moment when x will happen. What if x never comes? Have you wasted all the moments before it?

Use your words. And your moments. Make the most of them now, so that you can be open to the next ones, the better ones that come along.

Monday, June 25, 2012

a bit of magic

Sometimes when I visit the farm I grew up on, this strange feeling comes over me. It can happen as I drive down the street, which is all vineyards on one side, and all valley on the other. It can happen when I walk between my mother's house and my grandmother's house, making little stops along the way - to pick some grapes, or step inside the barn, or stop at the lilac bushes. It can happen when I go downstairs to fetch something out of my grandmother's cellar. It's the kind of feeling that steals the breath from your lungs and fills you up with wonder. Anyways, when I first began to notice this feeling, I thought it was nostalgia. But lately I've been thinking it's something else. It's often associated with very particular things. Things like this:

(Those are little plants growing out of the barn wall.)

I think I've figured it out. When I was a little girl, I had a strong belief in magic. And magic, for me, was in the little things. Magic was in my grandmother's cellar. It was in the way the sun warmed the grapes that burst across my tongue. It was in the smell of the lilacs and the sight of the little plants growing between the barn wall cracks. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I still think these things are magic. And then, inevitably, I wonder...

Maybe they are magic.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

so, this happened

Something fantastic happened this week. Want to guess what it is???

I’m now officially represented by a literary agent!!

Her name is Emily Gref and she was my first choice out of all the agents in all the lands, which is pretty amazing, I think. Want to hear how it happened?

Okay, I’ll tell you.

It began with a query for my first book. I don’t remember how I came across Emily’s blog, but somehow I did, and it was there that I discovered her favourite reads of 2011 - which just so happened to coincide with a ton of my favourite reads of 2011 (Chime and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, for example). So I sent her a query letter on March 30 and she emailed back on April 9th, asking to see the full manuscript. But by this time, I had just finished my second novel, so I told her about it and she asked to see that one too.

And then? I waited. Well, sort of. There were other agents involved, requesting material, rejecting material, or asking for revisions. By the end of May, I had kind of lost hope in the possibility of Emily being interested. After all, it had been almost two months. (In her defense, she was reading TWO fulls.)

On May 30 I got an email. It was from Emily, and she wanted to know if we could set up a time to discuss my manuscripts. Um…what? Had I read that right? My heart did a little flip. I read her email again. She made no mention of offering representation, but I still couldn’t stop myself from being excited. She was going to call! Call me! About my manuscripts!

It was a week before she did, and by the end of that conversation, even though she hadn’t offered rep, I was even more sure that (if I could choose) I wanted her to be my agent. We discussed my books, the second one in particular (though she loved the first one too, which made me nearly cry) and then she asked for a revision. Since I had just spent the last month and a half on another agent’s revisions, it didn’t take long to fix the manuscript up for her. When I did, I sent it back.

And then, a day later, I got an email from a different agent who wanted to set up a phone conversation. It was Monday morning when this agent called. I remember sipping coffee on the back porch and I remember the way the sunlight made the magnolia leaves glow around the edges. I barely remember anything else, only that she offered representation, and I told her I needed a week to think about it and to let the other agents know, and then we hung up. I sat there for a good five minutes just staring into my mug.

It felt… surreal.

But it was Emily who I really wanted. So, with hope in my heart, I sent out emails to the other agents who had my manuscripts and waited. Soon enough, an email from Emily popped into my inbox and she offered too. That was it for me. She called early the next morning, and after I hung up the phone I went and jumped on the bed (careful not to jump on a certain someone sleeping there).

Exactly twenty-three-and-a-half hours after Emily’s phone call, I officially accepted her offer. And now I’m her client. I’m an agented writer!

It still feels surreal.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Memory is such a strange thing. This weekend I was at my grandparents’ house for Father’s Day and my cousin was reminiscing about our holiday dinners, and how the basement used to be full of people, with two long tables that stretched across the room and family members everywhere, while all of us cousins sat beneath the stairs, hiding. I had forgotten all about this. (I’ve always coveted my cousin’s memory.) All I remembered were recent holiday gatherings – much smaller, never downstairs, and fewer of us crammed around the dining room table.

This conversation made me think of other ways that I’ve allowed the present to erase the past. Namely, I think about my grandfather and how I’m starting to forget the man he used to be, to forget what our relationship was like before the dementia set in.

I grew up in my grandparent’s house and when I was little, my grandfather used to always say, “One day you’re going to forget all about me.” Up until this weekend, I always thought that was ironic, since he’s the one who’s forgotten me. Except, as I sat with him after dinner, I realized that he was completely right. I have forgotten him. I’ve forgotten the man he was and who we once were together. And that really scares me.

I don’t want to forget things. I don’t want to forget anything. I wish I was better at just writing down the seemingly mundane things about my life, a little bit every day, so that later I can see the world not just through the lens of now, but through the lens of now, and before, and before that.

Before I forget it all.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

literature or not literature?

Wow, this article is a breath of fresh air. An English professor at Kansas State argues that children's books (like, say, Harry Potter) are in fact literature.