Query Letter Tips

I think every writer I know detests writing query letters. Here are some tips to help!

Advertisements

Write Every Day?

o-WOMAN-WRITING-facebook

Write. Write more. Write even more. Write even more than that. Write when you don’t want to. Write when you do. Write when you have something to say. Write when you don’t. Write every day. Keep writing. ― Brian Clark

You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world. ― Ray Bradbury

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at 9 am every morning. – Peter DeVries

These quotes, and more like them, can be found all over the internet, in writing craft books, and in those images with words on them that get put up in classrooms everywhere. They are repeated because they are quotes from writers who are published, renowned, and – perhaps most importantly – successful. Somehow, I think we writers believe that if we can just follow the advise of those who have gone before, who have “made it,” we’ll be able to make it, too.

The concept of writing every day, sticking your but in your chair and typing away until you have something, is common in quotes like these. That’s why they make me nervous. There was a time in my life when I did, in fact, write every single day. No matter what. Sometimes it was a paper for school, sometimes a blog post, sometimes a newspaper article, sometimes just a few pages in a journal. After a few weeks of doing this, I did find that when I decided my writing for a given day would be directed toward an essay or a story that my fingers moved a little faster and the words flowed more readily than before. It was great place to be, having a semi-regular schedule that offered the opportunity of following all of the advice of the writing gods and writing every day.

But those times never last for ever. Since I’ve been working through my MFA, I find that the few short weeks where the workload is lighter during semester transitions are cherished times – times where I do home renovation, catch up on housework, do a ton of yard work, go to parties, watch TV in the evening, catch up with friends, and generally do not write. At all.

During the heavier parts of the semesters, I find myself thinking of these in-between-weeks wistfully. But during the in-between-weeks, I find myself afraid, because I absolutely do not write every day. I find myself wondering, is this what my life will be like when I’m done with my program? Will I make myself so busy with home and friends that my writing desk is just sitting there to hold up the wall? Will writing simply be there, in the back of my mind, as something I will do when I have time?

All of which makes me wonder – is writing every day really necessary? Are quotes like “Don’t be a writer, be writing” both inspirational and unnecessarily harsh? If I only write a few times a week, or even once a week, does that mean I am not a writer?

I don’t think so. But while I am enjoying this time of home improvement, relaxation, and “spare time,” I am looking forward to beginning the next term, where I will once again be writing every day.

What I’ve Been Reading…

Since I switched my genre of study to Writing for Children and Young Adults last November, I’ve been enjoying the reading that comes with that category. Children’s books have a sweetness and a truth about them that isn’t usually there in fiction written for adults. So I love sharing them with other readers!

PicMonkey Collage

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a YA novel about a girl with a horrible secret and no friends. Recommended for teenagers who feel misunderstood or who want to understand their friends better.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Shmidt is an older, upper middle-grade book that brought me to tears. The Vietnam War, Shakespeare, and 8th grade can never again come together with so much beauty. Recommended for mature middle-grade readers who want a poignant story.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate tells the story of Ivan the silverback gorilla who was once on display in a shopping mall in Washington state. The story of how he was rescued from the mall and integrated into a zoo is a contributor to the larger story of the animal protections we have in place today. Recommended for animal lovers and activists.

Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani is the amazing epistolary story of two children who become pen palls and then best friends. One of them is an immigrant from India who lives in New York, and the other is a Kentuckian who is watching his beloved mountains destroyed by mountaintop removal mining. Recommended for everyone.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is the classic tale of Francie Nolan’s childhood in Brooklyn, New York. It is a v e r y long book… but it is full of beauty. Recommended for anyone who wants a long read that is guaranteed to move them, some time or another (especially writers).

Blue Mountain by Martine Leavitt is about a heard of bighorn sheep who are crowded out of their mountain’s winter valley by a human settlement. Tuk and his bandmates set out to find the legendary blue mountain where the herd will graze in peace, and they meet, defeat, and are helped by many other animals along the way. Recommended for animal lovers and preservationists.

In addition to what I read for my MFA studies, I also read a lot of the children’s books that I order for the library where I work. Here are some of my favorites:

PicMonkey Collage1

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton is a super cute book. The story is pretty short, but young children will adore it.

Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers is not a short book, but it is lovely. Each letter of the alphabet gets it’s own mini story, just a few pages long. The fun is in finding out which stories are linked.

Home by Cason Ellis is a beautifully illustrated celebration of what a home can be in many different parts of the world, different time periods, and a few places that aren’t on earth at all.

Flare by Kallie George is an easy reader book about a young phoenix learning to be the best phoenix he can be. Companion to Spark, which is about a young dragon who is learning to control his fiery breath.

A Rock Can Be… by Laura Salas is a wonderful successor to Water Can Be… which I loved. Spectacular illustrations help children think outside the box by showing examples of the many, many things in our lives that a rock can be.

2014: A Big Year

Yes, this is a recap post. 🙂 2014 has been such a huge year for me, personally, academically, and in the world of literature. Instead of summarizing my summary, I’ll get right to it.


Winter

January Wedding

In January, I became Mrs. Vander Ark and moved all the way up to Southwest Michigan, during one of the snowiest winters they’d had in years! Our wedding was largely DIY, and it was a huge relief to be done planning for it.

Shortly after we moved into our cozy basement apartment, I received my first online publication (independent from my undergraduate school’s journal) from TWJMagazine.

In February I started working at the Bridgman Public Library, where I do children’s programming and order picture books through middle grade books – which increased the number of books I read quite a lot!

Notable Reads

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
  • Fortunately, the Milk – Neil Gaiman
  • Bats at the Library – Brian Lies

Spring

Left Bed

My MFA in creative writing at Spalding University began at the end of May, and the week I spend surrounded by other writers in Louisville, KY, was probably the most inspiring time of my life. It came just after the official closure of my undergraduate degree when we walked with our classmates in the early May graduation ceremony at University of the Cumberlands.

After Memorial Day, I also began writing for the Infusco Coffee Roasters blog… and spending a lot of time in the shop!

Caleb and I also tried our hand at raised-bed gardening for the first time and were far more successful than we anticipated.

Notable Reads

  • Wonder – R. J. Palacio
  • The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap – Wendy Welch
  • Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers – Frank Walker

Summer

Brick House

We bought a house! And proceeded to spend an entire month renovating. We refinished the floors, painted ceilings, walls, and cabinets, and moved in to our first house.

My CNF story “There Are No Buffalo Here” appeared in print via Garbanzo Literary Journal this summer. I couldn’t have picked a better place for it!

Notable Reads

  • Norman, Speak! – Caroline Adderson
  • Young House Love – the Petersiks
  • This Moose Belongs to Me – Oliver Jeffers

Fall

j

As if we hadn’t been blessed enough by the rest of the year, September brought us our beloved beagle/foxhound puppy, Juliet. She is smart, loving, playful, and generally pleasant, and we love her to pieces.

We hosted our first Halloween Party and Thanksgiving dinner in our new home, and settled in for the rest of the holiday season.

I switched my concentration at Spalding from CNF to writing for children and young adults, and so far I’m loving it!

Notable Reads

  • Landline – Rainbow Rowell
  • Wild – Cheryl Strayed
  • We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

If you’re interested, you can see everything that I read in 2014 (200+ books) through this link. If you’d rather just know which books I had a lot to say about, check here, here, here, or here.

Here’s to a great 2015! Anyone want to share your resolutions? Mine are to start running again, have a more successful garden, and read more than I did this year. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo: The Power of Titles

Participant-2014-Web-Banner (1)As I’ve been away at residency in Louisville it’s become glaringly obvious to me that my NaNoWriMo project is stuck. When I arrived, I had 24,000 words (no, I haven’t added to that in a week) and no idea where my story was going, what it was about, or what I needed to write next.

This is not to imply that I’ve been uninspired. While here, I’ve drafted two picture books and a flash creative essay. Thanks to workshop, I’ve been more than successful in figuring out what last year’s project needs in it’s next revision, but I’ve made little progress as far as my current project is concerned.

Which leads me to a conversation about titles. Great titles are amazing. They’re like a muse that is always there to remind you what your story is about, and never fail to lead you back to the heart of the book when you’re floundering. Without a title for this project, I feel like I’m wandering around in the wilderness with no idea where I’m trying to go. So my new goal is: come up with a title. Even a placeholder, a throwaway, a horrible title that would never market.

Naming the thing makes me more powerful than the thing itself.

So that’s what I’ll try to do. Then I’ll try to write 25k+ in the next ten days. That can be done right?

Shh. I don’t want to know your answer.

 

Beginning the End

It feels a little surreal to be back to writing and routine after the craziness of the past month. As I begin working on my fifth and final packet for this semester – and final packet in CNF for a while – it’s fun to look back at the work I’ve done since May. More than a dozen new essays in various stages of revision are now living happily in Google Drive folders on my laptop. I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo – which allowed me to use my school writing as my camp project – for the first time and met my self-appointed goal. I’ve “survived” my second Michigan summer, which involved spending a good deal of time on the beach, collecting glass and fossils and sand under my toenails. I’ve learned a lot about Michigan ecology – both land and lake – and reflected this in my writing. I’ve learned a LOT about home improvement – and not just by reading about it! And, bonus: I’ve learned a lot about coffee and the importance of the gathering place that a locally owned coffee shop like Infusco can provide.

It’s been a good semester. Here’s to finishing strong… assuming I can find more words to write!

Up next on the reading list:

A 1,000-Mile Walk on the Beach – Loreen Niewenhuis

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

You Have Given Me a Country – Neela Vaswani

Fernwood Gardens

What I’ve Been Reading

Reading List

One of the great advantages of the MFA program I’m in is that I get to read whatever I want. It’s approved by my mentor, of course, and he sometimes makes suggestions based on what I need to work on, but mostly I read what I want. Right now, I am more than halfway through the reading for this semester, and I’m having some trouble choosing what to read next. Have a look at what I’ve read, and what my options are for my next four books. Suggestions on which to choose are welcome!

1. Best American Essays of 2013, edited by Cheryl Strayed. There were many good essays in this collection, and very few that didn’t keep my interest. I chose to write about Megan Stielstra’s poignant “Channel B.”

2. Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard. Dillard might be my favorite when it comes to CNF. Like her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (which I wrote about here), this essay collection is full of her marvels at creation, observations of the natural world, and realizations that we as humans are a part of it. My paper focused on the short essay “Living With Weasels.”

3. A Pearl in the Storm by Tori McClure. The first book I read this semester that was a memoir rather than a collection of essays, Pearl is full of both personal triumph and the recognition of physical inability.

4. The Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Philip Lopate. I’ll be honest, I haven’t actually read this entire brick of a book yet. I am still working on it, and I have finished the contributions of the American essayists. For my paper I chose to write about Edward Hoagland’s “The Courage of Turtles,” which is a sad reflection on loss of childhood wilderness and wilderness in general.

5. The Essays of E. B. White. White’s casual honesty and ability to criticize in a happy voice made this book my most pleasurable read so far. I’d recommend it to anyone who writes or reads. One theme I notice in my own writing is a nostalgia for things that are going away in the world, and a desire to preserve those that are heading that way but are not gone yet. There is a strong sense of both these things in White’s essays.

6. The Books that Mattered by Frye Gaillard. Another memoir, this time focusing more heavily on research than on experience, this book was useful to me not necessarily for it’s content but for it’s example. Although I was familiar with some of the books Gaillard mentions, it was his ability to weave the contexts of many books together to make a real-life story that impressed me.

Up next, these are approved books I have on the shelf (or in the stack) and ready to read, but can’t quite decide among them which to write essays about. Wanderlust: A History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit, I very much want to read next. It might even be decided. That leaves me with three more slots to fill, and here are my choices: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, The Gods of Noonday by Elaine Orr, You Have Given Me a Country by Neela Vaswani, and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.

Anyone care to share an opinion?