Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Texas Library Association 2010

By: Duane Sherman, Fiction Marketing Manager at Moody Publishers

We had a great time this year at the Texas Library Show in San Antonio (April 14-17th). John Matsuoka, marketing manager for Moody Video, and I staffed the Moody Publishers booth for this three-day show. We had some great traffic with over 1,000 librarians stopping by to say ‘hi’.

We saw some enthusiastic interest in our fiction products, especially books for children and teens. Folks really gravitated towards our urban fiction (designed to be 'clean') from our African American line, Lift Every Voice Books. Especially popular was the Yasmin Peace Series with librarians stating a hole in the market for good, clean, yet “real” youth fiction.

Another highly requested product was fiction for High School age students. While we haven’t done something just for this age range in a while, several adult fiction books were well received including William Henry is a Fine Name, I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires, and The Missionary.

After show hours John and I had some good times visiting the Alamo, the beautiful Riverwalk (don’t miss this if in the area!) and dining on some of Texas’ finest cuisine (octopus is chewier than I expected).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Writing is Like...

By: Stephanie Duncan

At the Festival, I am always interested in hearing authors desrcibe their own writing process.  Sometimes it is like a battle, fought until the last word, or like the struggle then joy in having a baby, or once I heard an author explain that his writing is like making his way through a mud swamp.  Because writers are (of course) so good with words, it is interesting to learn from them how they understand the journey of writing a poem, story, or book.

So here are some 'writing metaphors' I've collected below...

Leslie Leyland Fields, author of 6 books and professor at Seattle Pacific University, compared writing to a more painful process in her session titled, "The Art of Bloodletting: Translating Suffering to the Shared Page." Her basis is that writing can be a painful, though holy, activity, as we honestly struggle to face the reality around us with our pen.

Kate DiCamillo, children's author of Because of Winn Dixie and other books, said her writing is like building a ladder as she's climbing it, "as I rest my full weight on the rung only just built, and prepare to take yet another step."

These next few quotes do not come from Festival speakers, but some speakers quoted these classic writers:

Dorothy Sayers, after finishing a novel, said, "I feel like God on the seventh day."

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness." -George Orwell

"An idea in the head is like a rock in the shoe; I just can't wait to get it out." -Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

"Writing is like walking through a dense forest in the dead of night with a pencil flashlight between your teeth..." -Kurt Vonnegut

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." -Red Smith

“My stories run up and bite me on the leg-I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.” -Ray Bradbury

Many of these quotes, if not outright violent, imply something of a risk.  It is a risk for authors to pour themselves into a work they know they will have to share with the world.  It is a risk to be vulnerable to the story and let it take you where it may.  It is a risk to invest so much in a manuscript that readers may either adore or critique. 

I'd like to hear your thoughts:

Do you have a particular 'writing metaphor'? What does writing feel like to you?

And why do you think writers feel so much violence or risk in the writing process?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why Writers Think Backwards

By: Stephanie Duncan, MP publicity assistant, writing from The Festival of Faith and Writing

Apparently, writers think backwards.

Countless authors this weekend have said that they write not what they know, but in order to know. As professor and poet Jeanne Murray Walker put it, “My writing is a feedback loop, in that, by writing, I discover, I am able to name what I feel.” Author Scott Russell Sanders said similarly, "I write into confusion, in the hope that I will end up in a higher degree of clarity."

But what about all those story maps we did for homework in second grade? What about sequence and plot and three-point essays? It seems almost nonsensical to understand through writing, instead of writing what we already understand.

Yet, this seemingly backwards writing method has won the very authors who use it Newberry medals, so we’ll give them a chance.

Jeanne Murray Walker, a professor at the University of Delaware whom I quoted above, gave us an example from her writing life. She described an image she saw once that haunted her, and she did not know why until she spilled her thoughts onto the open page. One day she watched a nursery truck transporting six Maple saplings, off to where she supposed they would be transplanted into new landscapes. The image struck her as almost savage: here these trees had grown together in the nursery, in some sort of community she imagined, and now they were being uprooted and separated forever!

She went home and wrote a poem about it. Her agent told her that to be so dramatically empathic with twigs she was either crazy, or resonating with a deeper theme of which the saplings were only a symbol.

So she thought. She did not know at first why the injustice of the scene shook her so, but knew that the theme of being uprooted disturbed her. It was not until years later that she connected the fact of the moment with another significant happening in her life: her daughter and family had just moved a thousand miles away, and Jeanne was adjusting to, though grieving, the distance.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fresh from the Festival!

If you haven't heard about the Festival of Faith and Writing (see my previous post), it is a conference hosted by Calvin College in Michigan where authors, readers, writers, librarians, publishers, and more gather in community for three days to celebrate the art of language. It is a biennial conference, so the last time I attended was two years ago. And you would think, with a two-year head-start, that I would have been all read up on the authors and their books speaking this year. Well...you know how that goes. But as I listened to the lectures of Tim Stafford, the senior writer of Christianity Today, Wally Lamb, novelist of the bestseller She's Come Undone, and Lisa Samson, author of over twenty Christian Fiction novels, I cannot help but put them on my never-ending list of things to read.

Some fun things that have happened so far:

First, remember what I said about rubbing elbows with literary luminaries? Well, it happened. My sister and I walked into the first session with an older couple twenty minutes early, who joked with us about the crazy 80s-styled carpet of the meeting hall. Later in the session, the speaker referred to the man by his name: Eugene Peterson. The man who translated The Message, pastoring and authoring other books since. We had no idea.

We also heard from Wally Lamb, author of She's Come Undone (featured on Oprah's Book Club) and three other novels. He informed us that when he was a boy, he once told the nun who taught his catechism class a tall tale that began with a truth and ended with a completely fabricated story including a volcano and the Pope. "And that," he said, "is when I knew that I wanted to write fiction."

How does this author get his inspiration for new books? His characters start talking to him while he's in the shower. And then, because he wants to get to know them and find out more about them, he writes. He confessed that he also feels somewhat "parental" toward his characters, saying, "I write about my characters because I worry about them."

This afternoon, I heard from Kate DiCamillo, the children's author who has penned The Tale of Desperaux, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, and The Magician's Elephant. Kate explained that she wound up writing children's books because she worked at a book warehouse on the 3rd floor where they packed and shipped the Children's Books (and she spent a large part of her time there reading on the job!).
She also told a story of her friend who picked up E. B. White's Charlotte's Web and read it over and over again. Kate finally asked, "Why do you keep reading? Are you hoping that if you read it again, Charlotte won't actually die?" "No," Tracy answered, "I read it because it feels like someone is telling me the truth. And I read it not because I believe Charlotte might not die this time, but because I know that she will, but in reading I find that I can bear that." Kate told us this to illustrate that, "Stories help us to bear life." Her parting words to all the aspiring writers in her audience were, "It is not easy [to be a writer] and it is a privilege and words do not fail."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Festival of Faith and Writing!

By: Stephanie Duncan, Publicity Asisstant at Moody Publishers

You have to understand one thing upront: for a reader, for a writer, for anyone who loves the written word, Calvin College's biennial Festival is magical.

This is a place crawling with ideas, where you might just bump into a literary luminary any second while taking a coffee break in between sessions. It is a place where Luci Shaw (dear friend of A Wrinkle in Time's Madaleine L'engle) reads poetry and after the last line, the whole room ripples with gasps of awe. This is a place where opening lines of greeting are not, "Hi! How are you?" but "You know, you look just like the washer woman in a Dutch 18th century painting." (True story--two years ago I was just sitting under a tree eating lunch when author Nikki Grimes hit me with this one). It is the place where authors are constantly making the my-writing-process-is-just-like-birthing-a-baby metaphor, which either deeply resonates with you (like it does me) or makes you never want to read again (like it does my fiance)!

The festival is held at Calvin College's campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with the purpose of "provid[ing] a vibrant community where people come together to discuss, celebrate, and explore the ways in which faith is represented in literature and how it plays out in our world today. Check out the website here at http://www.calvin.edu/academic/engl/festival/ and make sure you find their recommended reading list!

So while I am in the midst of all these brilliant minds for four days (this year features Mary Karr, Avi, Kate DiCamillo, Tim Stafford, Eugene Peterson, and many, many more) I will be blogging each day about what goes on here. Check back for stories, updates, happenings and more and I hope you enjoy! :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Public Library Association "Smorgasbord" Part II

By: Christina Berry, author of The Familiar Stranger

Continued from Part I...

I loved it all, a veritable smorgasbord for the senses. Booths doled out wine, cheese, crackers, candy, cookies, popcorn, lemonade, grapes, and more. I enjoyed meeting so many incredible people who were excited to take my baby home with them. And the books! Aisle after aisle celebrating the written word.

(The low moment might have been when my daughter, who thinks I’m ready to find a husband, pointed out a book about how to find your perfect match online and the man at that booth shared all his horror stories of online dating. In front of my mother. And my kids.)

Braving the cold rain and longest possible waits between trains and trolleys, we six made our way across downtown Portland to PF Chang’s. Duane informed the children of the one rule set down by Moody: that they order absolutely anything they wanted.

And so began the veritable smorgasbord of appetizers (calamari, egg rolls, and ribs), entrees (duck, chicken, and beef), and desserts (The Great Wall of Chocolate, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Strawberry Shortcake, and Fried Bananas with Pineapple-coconut ice cream). 

It’s sad, really. My kids are only 11 and 8, and they’ve eaten the best meal of their life already. Though my son was slightly disappointed that an eggroll was NOT a bun with an egg cooked in it.

Deuteronomy 16:14 says, “Be joyful at your Feast—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.” I’m quite sure we ordered food for all of them, goaded on by Duane’s repetitive line, “Does that look like enough? I think we might need one more appetizer/entrĂ©e/dessert.”

An author spends many hours with a laptop, typing words, creating stories, portraying emotions. It can be a lonely endeavor. To be treated to such a lovely evening by my publisher, to be able to include my family who have given up so much time with me in support of my writing, felt like a piece of heaven.

Think of the fun and feasting that awaits us there, where our Father God says again and again, “Are you sure that’s enough? I think you might want more.” Where our loneliness and hunger exist no longer. A veritable smorgasbord of Love!

Craig Littleton's decision to end his marriage would shock his wife, Denise...if she knew what he was up to. When an accident lands Craig in the ICU, badly burned, with fuzzy memories of his own life and plans, Denise rushes to his side, ready to care for him.

They embark on a quest to help Craig remember who he is and, in the process, they discover dark secrets. An affair? An emptied bank account? A hidden identity? An illegitimate child?

But what will she do when she realizes he's not the man she thought he was? Is this trauma a blessing in disguise, a chance for a fresh start? Or will his secrets destroy the life they built together?

The Public Library Association "Smorgasbord" Part I

By: Christina Berry, author of  The Familiar Stranger

When I think of a LOT of food, I can’t help hearing Templeton the Rat from Charlotte’s Web sing, “It’s a veritable smorgasbord, smorgasbord!” I felt like a rat at the fair after the crowds were gone, but, instead, I was an author at a library convention.

In God’s gracious planning, He scheduled the biennial Public Library Association’s convention in Portland this year. The year after my debut book released. Six thousand librarians gathering a mere forty-five minutes from my house? Could there be anything cooler?

To me, librarians are the Godfathers of the writing world. They hold all the power. Patrons read what librarians tell them to read. Or they end up with concrete shoes. Or wrapped in carpets. Or, worse yet, have their library privileges revoked.

Getting librarians excited about your book is the best kind of marketing.

When Moody offered to let me sign 100 copies of The Familiar Stranger at their booth, my heart leapt within me. (Far better than leaping without.) My mother and eldest daughter wanted to come as well. My son only seized the opportunity once he found out there would be—in his opinion, spy-worthy—security badges.

So a rainy Spring Break day found the four of us wandering through the Oregon Convention Center in search of booth #732. Yes, my children chose to spend Spring Break at a library convention!

A line awaited my appearance. Seriously. I met Roger and Duane from Moody Publishers, then started signing books before I even laid my purse down or got the candy out. What fun we all had. Joshua loved asking, “May I swipe your card, please?” and using a (spy-worthy) machine that kept track of who stopped by the booth. Andrea’s favorite part was after the signing when we took in as much of the show as we could get through in two hours. I’m willing to bet my mother’s highlight was joining the conga line behind a life-sized robot...(continue reading in part II)

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