Fueling the Writing Process
Just realized that I haven't yet discussed the writing process in any of these blog entries. So... what is the key to writing a novel? How do you craft a story, breathe life into characters, and paint pictures with words? How do you find the inner strength and self-discipline to complete a full-length novel and then revise, revise, revise ad nauseum? What's the secret?
Yes, my friends, those delectable little morsels that look alarmingly like mouse droppings are more than just an overpriced movie snack...
I'm serious. OK, partially serious. When writing is going well, I get the munchies. So I have started keeping a secret stash of Raisinets within arm's reach of my desk. It keeps me at my desk (which is key). And it's practically a health food, right? Come on, there's a raisin in there. That's a fruit.
Anyway, quick progress update on INTO THE WILD: My manuscript is back from the copyeditor. She did a fantastic job -- caught some mistakes that have been there since draft #1, which I read right past about a hundred times. I've spent the past few days agonizing over every last punctuation choice and I'm finally done obsessing. It goes back to my editor tomorrow morning. On to the next step!
Also, guess what came in the mail today. My shiny new business cards! They're just as pretty as I hoped they'd be and I'm all excited about handing them out to everyone I meet at World Fantasy Convention.
I am now officially Google-able!
Nearly two weeks ago, I submitted my site to Google. For days, Google ignored me. I began to feel unloved. I searched the help guides for why, oh why, my site was deemed unworthy. I turned to the official explanation of how Google works:
Perhaps I hadn't bribed the Google pigeons with enough bird seed. Maybe Hansel and Gretel ate their bird seed... But now it looks like the Google Gods have forgiven me:
Check out what you get if you google me!
In other ego-surfing news, I also now appear on Amazon.com:
The first time I saw this I almost peed my pants. My thought pattern went something like: me ... amazon ... ME ... AMAZON ... AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!! And then I had to lay down and rest for a bit...
They list the old title, RAPUNZEL'S DAUGHTER, instead of the shiny new title, INTO THE WILD, but that's my book. And it can be pre-ordered!!! How crazy it that?! Now I just need to finish revising it...
I also learned from Amazon that INTO THE WILD has its very own ISBN number: 1595141561. Isn't it pretty? If you say it with just the right lilt in your voice, it's really quite melodic. One five nine, five one four-o-our... I think I need to rest again...
Obscure Fairy Tale: Jack My Hedgehog
I ran into a lot of obscure fairy tales while I was researching INTO THE WILD, and this one stuck with me. (Get it? Hedgehog. Prickles. OK, fine, stupid pun.) It has a memorable protagonist who deserves his day in the sun. So without further ado... for the second edition of my Obscure Fairy Tale segment, I give you: "Jack My Hedgehog."
Jack My Hedgehog (from Andrew Lang's The Green Fairy Book)
Once upon a time... a farmer wants a child so badly that he says, "I must and will have a child of some sort or kind, even if it be only a hedgehog!" Shortly after, his wife gives birth to a son who is human from the waist down and a hedgehog from the waist up.
Thing I Love About This Story #1: hedgehog-boy. Who wouldn't love hedgehog-boy? Sounds like a superhero. He needs a theme song.
One day, the father plans a trip to the fair and asks his son what he wants. "Daddy," says he, "bring me a bagpipe."
Thing I Love #2: hedgehog-boy wants bagpipes. No real reason. Sure, he plays them later, but it's not that important to the story. He simply likes bagpipes. I'm thinking that he knows he needs a theme song...
Once he has his bagpipes, he asks his father to visit the smithy and have their rooster shod. In exchange, he promises to ride off and trouble his father no more. Delighted to get rid of him, his father does as Jack asks, and Jack rides off on his rooster followed by a herd of pigs.
Thing I Love #3: rooster shoes. I think it's very thoughtful of Jack to consider his poor rooster's feet, and I'd really love to know what rooster shoes look like. I'm thinking something like a ninja throwing star... Thing I Hate #1: his father's anti-hedgehog bigotry.
For a few years, Jack hangs out in a tree, playing his bagpipes and watching his herd. One day, a king loses his way in the forest. Jack offers to show him the way out of the woods if the king will promise to let him have whatever first meets him on his return. Jack demands this in writing, and the king (certain that a hedgehog-boy can't read) writes that he will not let him have whatever first meets him. Naturally, the first thing that meets him is his daughter. The king explains to her how he cleverly tricked Jack, and she's relieved that she doesn't have to marry hedgehog-boy.
Thing I Love #4: the king thinks he's clever. Perhaps most hedgehogs are illiterate, but why would Jack ask for a written promise if he can't read?
A little while later, a second king loses his way in the woods. Jack again offers to show this king the way out if he will promise to let Jack have whatever first meets him on his return. The second king writes a sincere promise, and naturally, the first thing that meets him when he returns home is his daughter. He explains his promise, and she says she will be willing to marry hedgehog-boy because of the great love she has for her father.
Thing I Love #5: kings with lousy directions. Two kings lost in the woods? Get a map, boys.
After a while, Jack's herd of pigs grows so large that he decides to leave the forest. He visits his dad again, everyone eats a whole lot of pork, he re-shoes his rooster, and off he rides. First, he stops at the castle of king #1 who has instructed his guards to keep out any half-hedgehog, rooster-riding, bagpipe-playing boy. They try to do so, but the rooster leaps over the castle gate...
Thing I Love #6: GO, ROOSTER!
... and lands at the king's window. Frightened, the king gives him his daughter. Jack takes her outside the city, strips off her clothes, pricks her with his bristles, and sends her home saying, "This is what you get for your treachery."
Thing I Hate #2: Um, how is this the girl's fault? Not cool, Jack. Not cool.
Jack goes to the castle of the second king, who has instructed his guards to welcome him with cheers. The king's daughter marries him, but she is afraid to let him kiss her because of the prickles. Jack asks the king to place four guards outside his bedroom door and light a fire. As he climbs into bed, he sheds his hedgehog skin. The guards rush in, grab the skin, and burn it -- thus releasing Jack from his enchantment.
Thing I Love #7: Jack knew all along how to break his enchantment. He must have. There's no wise old woman or whatever to tell him the trick. He orchestrates his own transformation, which implies that he could have done it at any time. He just didn't want to until now. He liked being hedgehog-boy. Thing I Love #8: a girl who puts her foot down about facial hair. Marry a stranger, no problem, but the guy has to shave. She has her priorities -- warped as they are -- and she sticks by them.
Later, Jack and the princess visit Jack's father. He doesn't recognize him at first sans-prickles, but once Jack explains, his father welcomes him with open arms.
Yeah, his dad is still a hedgehog-bigot, but if Jack can forgive him, so can I. I do wonder, though, what happened to the rooster?
And that, my friends, is the story of Jack My Hedgehog. In case you missed the first edition of Obscure Fairy Tales, here's a link to a story with a donkey who shoots gold out of his butt...
Working in My Sleep
This morning, while I slept late, my industrious husband, A, designed my business cards. When I woke, he presented me with this bit of gorgeousness:
We went online and ordered 500 of them. (We meant to order 250, but it was only $5 more to order twice as many...) Now I have something to hand out when I attend the World Fantasy Convention in November! (Do that many people even attend the World Fantasy Convention? Guess I can hand out extras to friends... Note to self: make more friends.)
I've been practicing a nice casual lead-in to handing out my shiny, new card:
Friendly person: "So what do you do?"
Me, jumping up and down at this perfect opening: "I'm a writer."
Friendly person, wondering why I'm bouncing: "Oh? What have you written?"
Me, only slightly shouting: "My debut novel, INTO THE WILD, is coming out from Penguin next summer. Here's my card. It has my website address on it: www.sarahbethdurst.com. I have a blog too. Did I mention it's coming out in hardcover? The book, not the blog. Here, there's information on the card. Take it. Take it! TAKE IT!"
Friendly person, backing away slowly: "Uh, thanks. I think it looks like rain. Do you know if it's supposed to rain today? Maybe I should get my umbrella. Oops, I left it at my hotel. Five miles away. Brisk walk. No problem. See you later!"
Hmm... perhaps I should try it without the wild gleam in my eye...
At any rate, I am very excited to have my own business cards, and I think A did a great job. Best part is that I feel like I got work done while I was still sleeping. :)
On an unrelated note, my manuscript is now with the copyeditor! Another step closer. So cool!
Tamora Pierce is AWESOME!!!
Tamora Pierce offered to blurb my book!
OK, that definitely needs a few more exclamation points. And all caps.
TAMORA PIERCE IS GOING TO WRITE A BLURB FOR MY BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I feel like cartwheeling around the house. (Not a good idea. I'd probably break myself. Or the house.) But the little Sarah in my head is doing cartwheel after cartwheel. This is so awesome!
For my friends out there who aren't quite sure what a "blurb" is, here's a definition I stole from a random dictionary website:
blurb n. A brief publicity notice, as on a book jacket. [Coined by Gelett Burgess (1866–1951), American humorist.] Example: "Tamora Pierce is AWESOME!!!"
And for my friends out there who aren't quite sure who Tamora Pierce is:
Shame on you. Get thee to a bookstore. (Or click thee to Amazon.) She writes YA fantasy in which a girl in medieval garb kicks lots of butt and/or outsmarts everyone. Her books have scene after scene that make you want to shout: "Yes! That is THE coolest thing that could have happened."
I have read and loved her books for 20 years now. In fact, her Alanna books are one of the reasons why I'm a writer. She creates worlds you can escape into, characters who become your friends, and stories you want to re-live again and again. She makes people happy with her words -- and that is what I have always dreamed of doing. In short, she is an inspiration for me. A few years back, I had the chance to tell her so in person at Boskone (a Boston SF/Fantasy convention). Since then, she has been a wonderful friend and source of encouragement.
Check out the sweet comments she left on my 9/4/06 and 9/2/06 posts to this blog!
And now Tamora Pierce has offered to blurb my book, INTO THE WILD. Commence the Snoopy Dance of Joy!
Dreams DO Come True
First, a little background...
My daughter has a "play-a-sound" book -- a board book with sound effect buttons on the side -- about the morning after Cinderella marries the Prince. It's a very eventful day: she wakes up, wears a pretty dress, drinks some tea, chats with some talking mice... no conflict, no prince... which is odd because he just married the girl. Why is she waking up alone? Anyway, there's a very tinny, low quality sound effect that accompanies each event, and the most hilarious one is Cinderella saying, "Dreams DO come true!" in an extremely mannish voice.
And now, today's anecdote...
For years now, I have subscribed to "Locus," a trade magazine for SF/Fantasy. My favorite section is called "Books Sold," a listing (as the name implies) of recent sales. Every month for years, I have looked at this list and imagined my name there in big, bold, black letters.
After the deal was finalized with Razorbill/Penguin (a few weeks after The Call), my agent submitted news of the sale to Locus. It was too late for the July issue, so I knew it would appear in the August issue... maybe... if they printed it... if this was all real. My husband and I haunted the Locus website, waiting for them to say that the August issue had shipped. Finally, it shipped.
But the magazine didn't come.
And it didn't come. And it didn't come.
We started visiting local bookstores to see if perhaps they had it in stock. We called further away bookstores. We called comic book stores. We even called a bookstore two states away that we knew normally carried the magazine just to see if anyone had the most recent issue -- and they did have it.
We contemplated driving a few hundred miles.
We decided that was insane.
We called a few more local bookstores. We reconsidered the drive. We thought about people we could bribe or bully into going to that bookstore and mailing us a copy. We thought about calling the bookstore back and asking the bookseller to please read us page 8. (We knew from looking at the table of contents online that "books sold" would be on page 8.)
Just as we were about to give up hope (and/or resort to measures that would publicly reveal the true depth of our insanity)... it arrived!
With my daughter tucked under my arm, I carried the mail gingerly and reverently into the house. I deposited my daughter in the middle of a pile of toys and books, ditched the rest of the mail on the couch, and turned to page 8.
Not me, not me, not me...
Me! At the bottom of page 8, in big, bold, black letters: SARAH BETH DURST...
At that precise moment, my daughter hit a button, and I heard Cinderella's mannish voice say: "Dreams DO come true!"
Fairy Tale Sighting on Sesame Street
Has anyone watched Sesame Street recently? My daughter and I watch a LOT of Sesame Street. They've been doing lots of clever things lately with fractured fairy tales, and I love it. Here are some of my favorites:
1. Little Red Riding Hood thinks everyone is her grandmother. She sees Elmo, hugs him, and cries "Grandma!" This is the best explanation for why Little Red falls for the wolf-in-grandma's-clothing trick that I've ever seen. Brilliant.
2. Baby Bear's favorite game is Porridge-Ball. To play, you shout "Porridge!" as you toss the ball and "Porridge!" again when you catch it. (He LOVES porridge.) While he's playing, Cinderella's fairy godmother appears and says that the ball is actually Cinderella -- the godmother mixed up the spell and turned Cinderella into a ball instead of sending her to a ball. She transforms the ball back into Cinderella, who then stumbles around the street mumbling "Porridge! Porridge!" in a wonderfully deranged fashion.
3. Another time, the Big Bad Wolf auditions a replacement. He needs a vacation, you see, because he's working two jobs: chasing the 3 little pigs and disguising himself as Little Red's Grandma.
A big thank you to the writers of Sesame Street for introducing kids to fractured fairy tales -- and thereby preparing them to enjoy INTO THE WILD. :)
Obscure Fairy Tale: the one with the bricklebrit donkey
As I said in my last entry, I read a lot of obscure fairy tales while I was researching INTO THE WILD. Many of them are fantastically random, and I think they deserve their day in the sun. So I'm starting a recurring segment here in this blog: the Obscure Fairy Tale. Our first entry is... drum roll, please...
The Wishing-Table, the Gold-Donkey, and the Cudgel-in-the-Sack (from the Brothers Grimm)
A tailor has 3 sons and a goat. He asks his sons to feed the goat. After each son takes his turn guiding the goat to sumptuous grasses, the goat lies to the tailor and says he was fed nothing but rocks and weeds. So the tailor kicks his sons out of his house.
Okay, I have to comment here. The Thing I Love About This Story #1: the random talking goat. There's no explanation for why the goat talks. No one is fazed by it. It has zero bearing on the rest of the tale. It's purely there as the set-up to the sons leaving home so they can find something magical. Um, hello, talking goat, right here.
Each son apprentices himself to a craftsman, and at the end of their apprenticeships, they each receive a magical item.
Thing I Love #2: the magical item as a job performance bonus. The equivalent would be: you spend a summer waiting tables at a seafood restaurant, and at the end of the summer, the owner gives you a magical golden fish that grants three wishes. Sweet.
The eldest son receives a magic table. When you say: "Table, set thyself!", the table produces a lavish feast.
Thing I Love #3: it's a table. Kid has to lug around a table. In some variants, he gets a tablecloth that you spread out. At least that's portable. But a table?
On his way home, he stops at an inn and uses the table to feed all the guests. During the night, the greedy innkeeper secretly swaps the table for an ordinary one. When the boy reaches home, he tells his dad to summon all the relatives for a feast, but the table fails. Much embarrassment ensues.
The middle son gets a magic donkey. When you shout the word: "Bricklebrit!", it spews gold pieces out of...
And I quote:
... its front and back.
Yes, folks. Thing I Love #4: the Bricklebrit Donkey. You shout a word, and gold comes flying out its butt. Fairy tales don't get much better than that.
On his way home, he too stops at the inn. The innkeeper steals the magic donkey, and the second son is similarly embarrassed.
The third son is given a magic stick in a sack. When you shout: "Cudgel, out of the sack!", the stick hops out of the sack and beats up your enemy.
When this son arrives at the inn, he announces to all the guests that he has a treasure in his sack. When the innkeeper attempts to steal it, the son shouts, "Cudgel, out of the sack!" and the stick beats the innkeeper until the innkeeper agrees to return the magic table and donkey.
Thing I Love #5: the plot hole large enough to drive a semi through. How does the third son know that the innkeeper stole the other magic items? He hasn't gone home yet. How does he know to set a trap? How does he even know the other items exist? Were the brothers text-messaging each other?
The third son returns home, they invite over all the relatives, they have a big party, and everyone goes home very rich.
Meanwhile, the tailor discovers that the goat lied to him, so he shaves him bald and kicks him out of the house. Embarrassed at his baldness, the goat hides in a fox hole. The fox mistakes him for a monster, and a bee offers to help drive the monster out. So the bee stings the bald goat. The goat cries "Ma-ma!", runs out of the cave, and is never heard from again.
Thing I Love #6: shaves him bald? Excuse me? And where did the fox and bee come from? Did someone switch the channel to Aesop's fables?
And that, my friends, is the story of the table, the donkey, and the cudgel in a sack. The Disney movie version should be out any day now...
The Red Fairy Book
While I was writing INTO THE WILD, I did a LOT of research on fairy tales -- everything from the obvious (Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella... sidenote: do you have any idea how many versions of Cinderella there are?!?) to the obscure (e.g. the one with the poodle who eats burning coals, the one with the talking dead horse head...). Pretty much decimated that section of the library, which made me feel guilty because what if some kid wanted a fairy tale for a bedtime story? So that Christmas/Chanukah, to assuage my guilt, A gave me a fabulous present. It came in a non-book-shaped box (always a bad sign) so I steeled myself to feign enthusiasm. But when I opened it, what did I see?
Eleven books. 11!
A beautiful rainbow of books: the Lilac Fairy Book, the Violet Fairy Book, the Blue Fairy Book, the Olive Fairy Book, the Green Fairy Book, the Yellow Fairy Book, the Orange Fairy Book, the Pink Fairy Book, the Crimson Fairy Book, the Brown Fairy Book, and the Grey Fairy Book.
My magnificent and wonderful husband had gone to Amazon.com and bought every single Andrew Lang fairy tale book except for the Red Fairy Book, which I already owned.
And Amazon.com can't handle the fact that he bought every one except the Red Fairy Book. Each time he logs on, the poor recommendations software practically begs him: "Please, you must want this book! Every bit of my software says that you will want this book! It's recommended for YOU! Why, oh, why do you torture me? Please, for the love of UPS, buy the Red Fairy Book!" And A, who knows perfectly well that I already own an older edition of the Red Fairy Book, simply clicks past the poor, sniveling recommendations feature.
Someday I expect him to go to Amazon and find the recommendations feature huddled in the corner of the screen in fetal position sucking its digital thumb and rocking back and forth repeating: "Red Fairy Book... Red Fairy Book... Recommended for you..." -- the first and hopefully only casualty of INTO THE WILD.
Before I veer off into random entries (and I'm sure I will -- I know me, and I'm betting I won't last a week before I tell you about the Bricklebrit donkey or that dream I had where I was Cindy Brady's imaginary friend...), I probably should tell you what my book is about. Here's the blurb from Publishers Lunch (a listing of books sold) on June 28, 2006. Note that the title has since been changed to INTO THE WILD.
Children's: Middle grade
Sarah Beth Durst's RAPUNZEL'S DAUGHTER, the story of a 12-year-old who must fight wicked witches, avoid glass slippers, fly griffins, and outwit magicians in order to rescue her mom and save her town from becoming a fairy tale kingdom, to Liesa Abrams at Razorbill, by Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger (NA).
And if you want a little more detail, here's the description that I wrote for my website:
"'Let me put it this way,' Julie said, 'when your mom cooks, she doesn't have to close the doors to make sure the Gingerbread Men don't run outside.'" Junior high is tough enough, even when your family is ordinary. And Julie Marchen's family is anything but ordinary: her brother is a talking cat, her grandmother is a bonafide witch, and her mother is Rapunzel. Yep, that Rapunzel -- long hair, tower, prince... 500 years ago, Rapunzel escaped the fairy tale with her fellow storybook characters to live incognito in our world. But now Julie's world, our world, is about to change -- the fairy tale wants its characters back.
OK, now you know what my book is about. Stay tuned for more about that Bricklebrit donkey...
So here's how it started:
May 22, 2006, 4:15pm: the phone rang. I was finishing up some work for my day-job and had my phone headset on, which meant that I didn't see the caller-ID so (A) I didn't have that precious extra second to prep myself for a life-changing phone call and (B) I answered with a very dorky sing-song: "Hi, this is Sarah."
The voice on the other end said, "Hi, this is Andrea from Harvey Klinger. I have some news. We have an offer from Razorbill." (Andrea is Andrea Somberg, my magnificent agent, and Razorbill is part of Penguin Young Readers.)
Like Armstrong on the moon, I commemorated this moment by saying something very articulate and composed, such as: "Great! Really? Wow. Oh, wow, really? That's so great! Really? Wow."
Then I instantly called my husband (who, for purposes of this blog, I'll call A). I must have dreamed of that moment a million times: calling him with THE NEWS -- the news that I'm going to get published. But all of a sudden, the moment was here and it passed so quickly that I nearly didn't realize I was dialing.
As soon as I finished the call to A, I had the terrible thought that maybe I had dreamed this moment one time too often and now had actually hallucinated it. (Not that I have a history of hallucinations, but hey, there's always a first, right?) So I scrolled back through "received calls" on the phone... And there it was. She really did call. As if to prove it, she called a second time with more details.
In record time, A zoomed home from work. We pranced around the house, called our parents and our siblings, and then pranced some more.
It is an incredible feeling when you are in the middle of a day, and you know in that moment -- not in retrospect years later, but right then while you're living it -- that this day is a turning point. You can feel yourself turning, and you know that from now on, you'll point to this moment of this day and say, "Here's how it started..."
All Dreamers Welcome
Have you ever had a dream come true?
Welcome to mine.
I'm Sarah Beth Durst, and I'm about to be published! My debut novel, currently titled Into the Wild, is coming out in summer 2007.
I have wanted to be a writer since I was ten years old. Before that, I wanted to be a ballerina, an artist, or a superhero. Preferably Wonder Woman. But with actual flying ability instead of an invisible jet -- way too many logistical problems with an invisible jet, not to mention how idiotic it looks to sail through the sky in a seated position. Remember the Super-Friends cartoon? She was never invisible, just the jet. How did she see the instrumentation? Seriously, if I had an invisible jet, I'd reach for the throttle and hit eject. Not a good idea.
Anyway, I wanted to be a writer so badly that I never talked about it except in really vague terms:
friendly person trying to make casual conversation: So... what do you do?
friendly person feigning interest: And what do you write?
friendly person now feeling somewhat discouraged: Oh. That's nice. What kind of novels?
me: I think it looks like rain. Do you know if it's supposed to rain today? Maybe I should get my umbrella. Oops, I left it at home. Five miles away. Brisk walk. No problem. See you later!
I think I was afraid of being teased. Becoming a writer -- a published writer, a professional writer -- mattered so much to me that I knew from age ten that I didn't have a sense of humor about it. That's how badly I wanted it: so badly that it wasn't funny.
And now it's happening. It's really, really happening! [Insert Snoopy dance-of-joy.]
So I'd like to take my first step in turning my private dream into a public dream-come-true: I'd like to invite you (hello!) to share this time with me here on this blog. Please, post comments. Email me. Or just lurk and read.
All dreamers welcome here.