Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bontebok Ridge near Cape Town, South Africa

Making major fixes to my book is just no fun! I've been staring at a blank computer screen all week, feeling guilty and frustrated. So I decided to ramble on in my blog instead.

One good thing to report this week. I got 12 of my collage greeting cards in the Oceanside Museum of Art gift shop. Yeah! Never thought I'd end up with stuff in an art museum - even if it is the gift shop and not the galleries!

I've been making "Caffeinated Cards" with teabags for a couple years now. First I drink the tea, then I dry the teabags, then I slit them and empty the tea into the compost, then I iron them, then I glue them onto the cards along with other odds and ends I find on my walks (feathers or leaves or eucalyptus bark or seeds.) I know, it's crazy but all that snipping and glueing is good therapy.

Anyway, seeing as how I'm not getting anywhere with the book fixes, I'm including a poem I wrote after my last visit to South Africa. I'd spent time there in the game parks and also on my friend's wine farm, Bontebok Ridge, near Cape Town. So peaceful and close to the earth you could smell it and feel it and connect with it.

And then, here I was back in Southern California where everything felt so rushed and crazy and superficial. So this is what I wrote:


"Please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order it was received."

Close your eyes, breath deep, remember Bontebok Ridge
Dust billowing behind the tires on the rutted dirt road
The ancient eucalyptus bordering the vines
A thrill of recognition as the farmhouse comes to view
below the craggy mountains where the fish eagles glide.

"There is a sig. alert on the north 805. A jack-knifed big rig is blocking all lanes."

Close your eyes, breath deep, remember Bontebok Ridge
Chaka, the golden ridgeback rushing out to greet the Jeep
Frost brushing my ankles and soaking my socks
Geese scratching for snails in the winter-bare dirt
Morning mist rising from the water of the pond.

"Are you considering breast augmentation, liposuction, Botox or collagen injections?"

Close your eyes, breath deep, remember Bontebok Ridge
Waiting in the boma at the edge of the dam
Numb fingers thawing round a steaming coffee mug
As the quagga, the impala, the eland and the bontebok
Step daintily down to the dam to drink.

Close your eyes, breath deep, remember Bontebok Ridge

Thursday, February 4, 2010

SDSU Writers' Conference. Brix, Louise and me in front of a board full of agents names.

Yikes. I'm overwhelmed. Exuberant, Exhilarated, Energized, Exhausted. Three chock-full days at the SDSU Writers' Conference. Listening to sessions on genres, synopses, query letters, pitches, editing, publishing, and even unleashing your primitive dog. And always the big fat bottom line - MONEY. If the Gods of publishing can't make a lot of it, your book is doomed.

My head is spinning. And the hardest part is I realize I've blown it. If I want to conform to the middle-grade genre structure, I shouldn't have all those different viewpoints in my story. I thought they brought my characters alive and helped them interact but all the agents I talked to said, "Only one viewpoint in middle-grade novels. Maybe two max."

Wish I'd heard that before I began writing. Do you know how hard it is to silence those people you have lovingly brought to life and nurtured? Alternatively, I can keep the viewpoints but make the characters older and aim for the young adult market. Either way, lots of sweat and tears. I don't think I can do it. Not yet, anyway. I have to come back down to earth first.

But the agents were all wonderful. Sat next to one at lunch who didn't get to eat a thing because she was pelted with questions from everyone at the table and she patiently put down her fork and answered as if we were all the next J.K. Rowling.

Overall they thought I had a good story and suggested a long reading list of Newbury Award Winners to help with the voice of that age level. They also offered to take a look at it once I've gutted those pesky viewpoints.

Well, that's enough whining. I'm honestly so glad I went. I learnt a lot. And the most inspiring moment came from Robert Dugoni, the bestselling author who gave the keynote address. He said that next time someone asks you what you do, tell them, "I'm a writer." Wow.