Too Much of This Story Sucks

I’ve been working on a story off and on for months now. The basic story is finished, but there’s one problem.

I don’t like it.

There are a few pieces that I think are great, but there are too many weak spots where the story sort of drags. My process for fixing something like this is to isolate those sections from the rest of my notes and toss around the old “what if” questions. I really like the part about the alligator because it’s fun and unexpected, but the two predicaments my main character is in prior to that are lifeless. I might be able to improve the second one, but the first should probably hit the circular file.

When writing a picture book, the basic rule is that the story happens in a series of three.  For instance, in my story When the Poor Man Danced, the bad guy goes to a wizard three times to obtain a spell that he hopes will enable him to stop his poor neighbor from being so happy all the time.  Each attempt fails; and in the end, the bad guy gets his comeuppance in a strange way.  In Wombat Wings, a kookaburra convinces a young wombat that he should be able to fly.  The wombat makes three different attempts and fails, finally realizing, “I’ve never heard of a sillier thing than a wombat who needs wombat wings.” 

You can see my Stories category for more, but you get the idea. 

So I have to rework the first two obstacles my character faces, building on the difficulty with each one.  I seem to have fallen into the much-hated trap of just putting the main character into a series of situations instead of having her live in a story. I have a great deal of work ahead of me on this, but I’m not the type of writer who dreads the rewrite.  I do have a story premise, a character I like, and a potentially good ending that still needs a little punch.  Something to work with. 

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I’ve been struggling with this story for a while.  There were times when I thought I had made great progress and nearly nailed it, but rereading it a few days later made its weaknesses obvious.  Writing for children means the story is shorter, but the struggles to get it right are pretty much the same as for any other writer in any other genre. 

I do love this stuff.

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This Is What I Get

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If you’re enjoying a Sunday morning bagel right now, you might want to stop while I explain this picture. I apologize in advance.

As promised in an earlier post, I bought a book containing four of Hemingway’s novels and began reading The Sun Also Rises yesterday.

It was a lovely evening. I was sitting on the porch with my husband, who was reading The Klingon Art of War. We were enjoying an adult beverage. The neighborhood kids were laughing and riding their bikes up and down the sidewalk. A gentle breeze lifted the day’s humidity and carried it away. And then,

SPLAT!!!

A bird, species unknown, dropped its cargo on page 62.

If I believed in reincarnation or shape-shifting, I would swear that a vengeful being who had once been my high school English teacher was ticked that I was actually enjoying a Hemingway tale without a three-hour explanation of the symbolism involved, followed by a pop quiz, and decided to find another way to turn me off Ernest’s best works.

Nice try, Mr. V.

I am undaunted. A great read, like a great writing session, sometimes requires sacrifice and a strong stomach. Bird poop be damned. On with the story!

It’s Been A Weird Week

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That’s Van Dyke Avenue in Warren, Michigan. My house is a few miles down the road. As you can see, the weather unexpectedly turned ugly and we got a little rain. It took my husband six hours to make the eight mile trip home from work. We’re not in a flood plain. There was little wind and just a few rumbles of thunder. Weirdest storm I’ve ever seen.  I now know what it means when people says the sky opened up. Growing up in New York I saw the tail end of a few hurricanes, but nothing like the roughly six inches of rain that fell here in about two hours. My younger son did some damage to his car trying to get home and both of our basements took on a little water, but nothing a Shop Vac can’t handle. Many of our neighbors were not so lucky and are finding out that their homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover them for this type of damage. You might want to read your policy.

My older son just started a new job on the night shift but temporarily lacks the transportation to make the 30-45 minute drive, so yours truly has been getting up at 4 am every day to pick him up, dropping him off again about 12 hours later. Michigan’s public transportation system is basically a joke, so no help there.  Hopefully, this will all change in a week or two.

On the plus side, my younger son was just approved for a mortgage and will be closing on his house this week. The crisis I feared has been averted.

I suppose it would be unnecessary for me to say I’m exhausted, but I’M EXHAUSTED!  I didn’t get any writing done this past week; and although I’ll be making a valiant effort today, I don’t know how much I’ll get done before I nod off.  I won’t make my writing group meeting this week either.  I’ve been a nonwriting writer all week and I hate that.  But like the bumper sticker says, “Shit happens.” 

I have so many flood images floating around in my sleep-deprived brain. Maybe there’s a story in there.

That Ain’t Me

If you asked someone to describe a children’s author, what would they say? I always pictured some nice old lady in a flowered dress with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders, sipping tea while sitting in her garden.

Then there’s me.

Old blue jeans. Torn sneakers. Snake cuff bracelet. Guzzling coffee. Smoking the occasional cigar.

Yep.

My husband says I look beautiful in a dress but I seldom wear them. Maybe all those years in a wool Catholic school uniform turned me off dresses for good.

I can do girlie. Sometimes I wear pink. I even have butterfly earrings, but I prefer the daggers with snakes wrapped around them.

Is this the kind of person you want writing for your children? What can a woman who grew up in the city under tough circumstances, a woman with a sometimes unfortunate vocabulary, possibly have to say to a child that would be even remotely acceptable in their vulnerable and  (hopefully) innocent world?

Lots, actually.

As a child, escaping reality is something I tried to do every day. I seldom bothered with stories that took place in the city. I wanted my make believe to take place in settings that were unfamiliar to me, in places that were nothing like home. I particularly hated picture books in which the pictures were drawn so realistically that they might as well have used photographs instead of illustrations. My favorite picture book was (and is) Alexander and the Magic Mouse, written by Martha Sanders and brilliantly illustrated by Philippe Fix. It was published in 1969, so I was 6 years old when I first laid eyes on it. I found a used copy on Amazon a few years ago and count it among my most treasured possessions. The Dr. Seuss books are probably the most inventive, fun, unapologetically outrageous stories ever written. The brazen use of made-up words makes my heart smile. I was able to read and write before I entered kindergarten, and I credit the Dr. Seuss books for that.

That’s what I want to give children. Make believe. Good triumphing over evil. Silly rhymes. A love for words. No dead pets. No dead grandparents. No natural disasters. No sex. They can get that crap on CNN, 24/7, so I think it’s more important than ever before to give kids a place to go that’s green, gentle, funny, sweet, or brave. Scary is OK, as long as it ends safely.

Those publishers who feel the need to cut that childhood innocence short under the guise of helping kids deal with reality are far too full of themselves to be in the business. A frightened child doesn’t need more of what scared her in the first place. I know.

Going For It

A few years ago, I told my husband (John) I wanted to be a writer. It wasn’t the best time for me to cut back on my hours at the day job, but he gave me his full support, saying, “If you want to write, go for it.” You can read the full story on my post How I Got My Writing Groove Back (in “uncategorized”).

Early yesterday, I sent him a text telling him I had hit 66 (now 67) followers on this blog. After dinner, I got into the car to head out to my writing group and found a yellow rose pinned to the visor with a card that read, “Congratulations on number 66”. 

I can’t tell you how much I love that man.

Thanks to all of you who follow here. When I started this blog in February, I never expected anyone else to bother reading it. Your support is precious to me.

For those of you who are pursuing the dream of being a writer, but without the unflinching support of family or friends, take John’s words to me and make them your own.

If you want to write, go for it!

I’m On A Roll!

Day two of my new writing schedule went very well. Worked out some of the rhyming dialogue for the main character (required some rewriting and new lines) and managed to find a place for that alligator.

Funny how you can do so well with the same routine for so long and suddenly find yourself in a rut. I’ve just shifted my writing time to weekday mornings and set my clock for 5 am instead of 6 am. Pretty simple fix. Nothing wrong with my creativity at all. Just needed a change.

FYI, I changed the sidebar on my blog so the categories are listed at the top. Rhymes for Children is self-explanatory (more to come in that category). Stories are some of the picture book stories I’ve written, as well as a couple of true stories from my childhood (The Riot on 17th Street and I’ll Only Ride a Blue Bike). Uncategorized posts are just regular blog posts like this one. Hope that makes it easier to sample the writing goods, as it were.

Time for a Change

Well, my old routine of focusing my writing time to a few hours on Sundays has finally fallen flat. Too many lawnmowers running; too many talkative family members.  I have been creatively crippled for a couple of weekends now, so I did the unthinkable.

I’ve changed my routine.

Got up at 5 am, had some coffee, did my workout, and hit the shower. I was dressed and sitting on the porch by about 7 am. Pulled out the notepad, intending to start on a new story since the one in progress had stalled so badly.

Nothing.

Did some “free writing”.

Nothing.

Pulled out the stalled story and gave it a look. Hmmm. This could work. And that. Looked at the mess of scribbled notes on multiple pages and the typed very rough first draft and decided to go to the computer and sort it out.

Still needs a lot of work, but it’s coming together. I managed to get in about 2.5 hours of work before going to the paying job (which I’ve put off to write this post).

Don’t know how long this new routine will work, but day one certainly yielded positive results. Onward and upward!