Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing all in the US a wonderful, blessed, and safe Thanksgiving filled with family, friends, food -- and thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia

It's the summer of 1968, and eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, fly from NYC to Oakland, CA, to visit the mother who abandoned them shortly after Fern's birth some seven years ago. The trouble is, though the girls visualize themselves surfing, spotting stars in soda shops, and visiting Disneyland, their mother Cecile just says, "I didn't send for y'all in the first place." The most motherly thing Cecile does is show up to collect them at the airport and admit "These are mine" to the stewardess who hands them over to her. Once they reach Cecile's house they are relieved of their money, fed once a day on Chinese take-out, forbidden to even step foot in the kitchen (where Cecile writes poetry and publishes it on her own small printing press) -- and sent to a Black Panther day camp to stay out of Cecile's hair. Though they're certain their father and grandmother, Big Ma, would be appalled at this treatment -- the adults consider Cecile crazy -- they also feel the girls can't be kept from knowing their mother forever. So the trio must stick it out for one month.

All three girls are strong characters. Delphine is conscientious, plain-spoken and humorous; Vonetta is a social-climber prone to the dramatic; and Fern observant and cagey. There are a number of good lines, and the interweaving of historical tidbits is smooth. This book has gotten a lot of love and plenty of Newbery buzz.

One of the most striking aspects of the novel is the portrayal of Black Panthers as more than strident revolutionaries. Particularly convincing is the fact that we don't just see a dramatization of events that made headline news, as we do in many historical novels. This book brings the Black Panthers all the more to life because it shows us the daily minutiae -- the gentleness, the teaching of children to respect themselves and their race, the providing of meals. I couldn't set this book down without concluding there was more range and depth to the Black Panthers than what we saw in newspapers and on TV in 1968. Without respecting them more. To me, this is the book's greatest achievement.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November Book Giveaway Winner! says the winner of Clementine, Friend of the Week by Sara Pennypacker is: Anonymous Amy!

You have 30 days to claim your prize, Amy. No later than December 16, email me at marcia at marciahoehne dot com, giving me your postal address, and I'll acknowledge receipt and get that right out to you!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Soapbox Series #1 (or Reading, 'Riting, Ranting) -- "I Want to Quit My Job to Write"

 Enter to win CLEMENTINE, FRIEND OF THE WEEK, through November 15!

You know those pet topics? The ones people raise over and over again, the oft-voiced misconceptions, the FAQs, the "if I had a nickel..." comments, the remarks that make you want to wax eloquent? Most any human endeavor offers them, certainly every profession, and writing is no different. Here, then, commences a new, probably irregular column covering such topics that I find commonly raised by aspiring writers, acquaintances, those closer than acquaintances, or people who are simply fascinated by what writers do, and allowing me to rant -- er, expound -- on them. So without further ado, today's "if I had a nickel" comment is: "I want to quit my job to write."

Well, maybe you do, and maybe you don't.

Writing at home is a subset of working at home, which has wonderful perks and definite drawbacks. Most of these lie on a continuum. Yes, I can work in my jammies (I can also let my appearance go totally to pot). Yes, I don't care if the mother of all blizzards is blizzarding outside (but I can become a big fat weenie about driving in other than perfect weather). Yes, I can set my own hours (but I may end up working more hours than employed people do, or fewer, because people think I'm interruptible, or I may have trouble separating life and work). Yes, I don't have to cope with office politics or prickly co-workers (but I may go nuts all alone -- actually no I won't, but you might). Yes, I don't have to commute (hmm, still trying to come up with a downside to that one). I'll take the pluses -- don't get me wrong -- but we can't have them without risking, and sometimes getting, the minuses.

But that's any working from home, and it's possible someone wanting to ditch the job to write is talking about ditching a work-from-home job. What do we have to consider specifically about full-time writing? Well, it's not like telecommuting for an employer. No salary, no wage, no benefits, no guarantee you'll be adequately paid for the time you put in, and a pretty good chance you'll not be adequately paid, period. Jim Denney, in his breezily titled Quit Your Day Job: How to Sleep Late, Do What You Enjoy, and Make a Ton of Money as a Writer advises this (my words): Realize that you'll start out poor, sock away a year's salary before you make the leap, and plan to squeak by on that money for the first 1-2 years. Hmmm -- save up a year's salary? Let me know how that works out for you. Another point to take into account is that it's awfully hard to know if you can make a go of it after only 1-2 years of full-time effort. Depending on the project, it can take that long to get one submittable-quality book written, the same length of time to sell it, the same length of time to see it between two covers, and another few months to see if it'll succeed or bomb. This could easily add up to 3-6+ years. Even if the book succeeds, that's no predictor that you can sustain a full-time career. Also, Denney has written a number of celebrity autobiographies and memoirs. Celebrities=sales=money, and nonfiction is very often the backbone of a full-time writer's career. Don't misunderstand -- Denney's book gives a lot of good advice. But writing nonfiction book after nonfiction book to tight deadlines is the usual name of the game here, and I'm not at all sure "sleep late" ends up as part of the plan. Because such writing can become another 9-5er (or 9-midnight) in a big hurry.

With fiction writing, the need to rely on your creativity to pay the mortgage or buy food for your kids can put unexpected and unsustainable heavy pressure on something you once found purely enjoyable. Yes, they say do what you love and (1) the money will follow, and (2) you'll never work a day in your life, but there's also truth to the idea that once you have to do what you love, it's work. I know writers who, when given the chance to go full time, chose not to, even though it was what they'd always thought they wanted.They didn't want to think that covering their bills depended on whether their latest project would earn them a contract, and when that might happen. They didn't want to lose the joy.

One big surprise full-time writers often face is that they don't get much more done full-time than they did part-time. Despite all that's been said above about long hours, sometimes 4-5 hours of writing a day is the maximum one can mentally sustain, especially with fiction. Let's say you only manage 3 most days, either because you're not yet as disciplined as you need to be or that's really all you can do. If you previously wrote for three hours most evenings while holding a day job, you're not getting nearly enough extra writing done to justify having dumped the job and its salary and benefits. Another surprise is that "full-time writers" may earn some, or most, of their income from related activities such as teaching, speaking, editing, or writing material much different from their preferred focus. All this drains time and energy from what you really want to be doing.

Quitting your job to write can work well if:
  • You're married to someone who has a regular paycheck, earns enough to support the family, agrees to be the sole breadwinner, carries the health insurance and 401k, and you consider your income gravy. 
  • You're a stay-at-home parent who would be staying home in any case (there's no job to quit).
  • You're responsible for only yourself and are willing to live on a shoestring.
  • You have high risk tolerance.
  • You're a pretty fast writer.
  • You write mostly nonfiction, have a solid network of editor contacts, and have a track record of delivering quality work on time.
  • You're pretty sure that if you ever go back to employment, you want a new job/career.
  • You sold a book for an advance that wowed you (yeah, it can happen), and/or got a multi-book contract, and now you need to go all out to write the next book to meet your deadline. This may be your big break. Hey, if you can go for it, go for it!
Quitting your job to write isn't impossible. People do it. But the reality is that most writers just don't earn enough.

So -- what do you think? Did I leave anything out? Do you write for a living? How does it work in your case? Would you not want to quit your day job? Why not?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

November Book Giveaway

In Sara Pennypacker's Clementine, Friend of the Week, it's Clementine's turn to be exactly that in her third-grade classroom. As friend of the week, she's line leader, gets to feed the class pets and collect the milk money, and, best of all, will receive a booklet at the end of the week in which all her classmates have expressed why they like her. Attention and positive strokes -- who wouldn't love it! Prompted by her BFF Margaret, a fourth-grader for whom "Friend of the Week" is SO last year, Clementine embarks on a plan to be the coolest friend ever and collect only the awesomest of comments. But when things get rocky with Margaret and her kitten goes missing, Clementine forgets all the helpful promises she's made. Is Clementine going to completely bomb as "Friend of the Week"?

This book has appealing characters and plenty of laugh-out-loud spots. Fans of Judy Moody and Ramona Quimby, not to mention the previous Clementine books, will eat it up.                            

To be entered in the drawing:
  • Comment on this post anytime from now through Monday, November 15.
  • For an additional entry, become a follower of this blog and mention that in the comment. Ditto if you already are a follower.
  • For additional entries, post links to this contest and give the URLs.
Winner will be announced Tuesday, November 16.

So, come one, come all--and meanwhile have a great day in the world of books.

Monday, November 1, 2010

October Critique Winners! says the winners of this month's critique giveaway are:  Kelly and lotusgirl!

Here's the procedure. Email me at marcia at marciahoehne dot com:
  • The first 1000 words of your magazine story, chapter book, mid-grade novel, or YA novel pasted into the body of the email.
  • Be sure to tell me the genre of the material (one of the above four).
  • Put "(Month) critique winner" in the subject line.
  • Deadline to submit is November 17.
  • When I receive your email, I'll acknowledge receipt and let you know when you can expect my response.
Congratulations to Kelly and lotusgirl, thank you all so much for stopping by and entering  -- the response was fabulous -- and by all means enter again next month! Wishing you all a great day in the world of books...