Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Babies

I have a new baby.

Duh, right? Nearly every post for months has mentioned my darling Charlotte.

But that's not the baby I'm talking about. I'm talking about the book I'm writing now. Actually, I'm talking about any book I've ever written. They're all my babies. Even the ugly wart-covered ones I wrote as a child. I birthed them all from my heart and brain, devoted labors of love for hours on end.

Some books took me years to finish. I would let them sit in the final scene, mere pages from ending, because I knew the only way they could end was to kill off a character. And by then I loved each of my babies so much, I couldn't bear to kill any of them off, even though I knew I had to. A loving mother never hurts her babies.

Right now, one of my precious babies is out on submission, already in the hands of several New York editors at the biggest publishing houses. Which means that every day it's being scrutinized, discussed, dismissed, considered, critiqued, and at times even outright rejected. The publishing industry is Ivy League and only a few get in, and as much as I want my little baby to grow up into a Harvard's hard. I mean really hard. My baby might not be right for Harvard. My baby might be a better fit for community college, or never graduate from high school at all. (How's this obnoxious extended metaphor treating you?)

And that's okay. Because I'm a proud mama no matter what, just because my baby exists, and I created it.

I can't wait to find out what happens to my babies in the future. Even the newborn 3000-word novel I just started writing. One day they will all grow up to be whatever they are destined to be. Hopefully their paths will take them to bookstore shelves, but I'll be happy with however my book babies turn out, even if it doesn't fit my dream. Sometimes mamas have to just let go of their babies and hope for the best. I've done my job by writing and editing and polishing and releasing them into the wild. Now, it's up to the wild to complete them.

Still...keep your fingers crossed for Harvard!


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

More of Fiction's Fabulous First Lines

I know I've posted on this before, but since this is a time of new beginnings in my life, I have beginnings on the mind. Which is why this article from the American Book Review caught my eye.

Three weeks ago, just before my daughter Charlotte was born, I started writing my next book. I'd been bouncing a few ideas around in my head for months, procrastinating on actually starting the work by researching, revising, researching some more... But once the countdown to her birth had begun, I figured that if I didn't start writing before she arrived, I'd certainly never get around to it with a newborn and toddler in my lap. So the weekend before she was born, I sat down and clicked out a couple thousand words of the first major scene. (Of course I haven't touched it since, but that's a post for another time.)

Coming up with the first line is almost always the hardest part of getting started. Once I get the first line down, writing the rest of the book usually comes fairly easily (assuming I've outlined and not pantsed my way through). In fact, a large part of my procrastination usually comes from not being able to figure out what that first line should be. Sometimes I know the last line already, or even random lines from Act II scenes or whatever, but the first line can elude me for months. Years, even. And that's because first lines are so important. They're the gateway to your story, the decisive point that allows the reader in mere seconds to answer the all-important question: Am I willing to spend hours of my valuable time with this book?

So I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Study the masters! My post last year was on the top 10 first lines in fiction, but the ABR article is even more comprehensive, clocking in at the top 100 Best First Lines from Novels. Most are from classic literature, but that's okay, because classics become classics for a reason, right?

In case you're interested, right now the tentative first line of my work-in-progress (a contemporary YA with elements of magical realism) goes something like this: "I know when the world will end." 

Would you read on?


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Back After Baby! And Other Thoughts on Naming

My daughter Charlotte will be exactly two weeks old in a couple hours. And just because it's so dang cute, here's a pic of all my kiddos together two days after we brought Charlotte home from the hospital:

As you can see, they are all beautiful and perfect and healthy. :)

So now it's time to get back to work, which means getting back on the blog. There's no such thing as maternity leave for mothers who work from home and take care of their kids full-time. But I love my kids and I love my job, so I wouldn't have it any other way. (I'm actually typing this right now with one hand so that I can feed Charlotte with the other. Parenting is all about multi-tasking, IMHO.)

Several people have asked where we got the name Charlotte. Many assume it's from E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. And although I love that book and the spidery namesake character, that's not where we got the name. I mostly fell in love with it through watching endless reruns of Sex & the City with my college roommates ten years ago. SATC's Charlotte is so pretty and classy and put-together, and the name is classic, not trendy. People won't hear her name in the future and automatically think, That's so 2013. 

Naming is important when it comes to fictional characters too. Each time you set out to name a character, you have to think about what connotations that name brings up. My name (Tiffany) conjures up images of Valley girls in the 80s. Growing up, my brother went by Bubba, a name that now makes people think of crooked-toothed rednecks. Names like Harry and Hermione, Bella and Edward, or Katniss and Peeta will remind people of their famous fictional forebears, and will thus likely never again be valid choices for mainstream fictional characters in the future.

When I was eight, I bought a baby name book at the grocery store that contained only 6,000 names. I got some funny looks, but I used that book to name my characters until its pages were yellow and crinkled. And then I replaced it with a 35,000-name book, which I still use to this day. But for today's more technology-oriented writers, there are some great resources online, including a random name generator and a tool for researching etiology.

A name gives others an idea about a person's personality even before they meet, so be sure to think about both the negative and positive connotations of a name before you give it to a character (or to your kid). It's my hope that Charlotte's name will incite preconceived notions of beauty, sophistication, intelligence, and kindness--all traits that I hope my daughter will have in spades.

What ideas do you want formed about your character? Be sure to take them into account before you start to write.