Writing Wisdom Wednesday

So, I’ve been reading a lot about marketing and social media lately, mostly because of my volunteer position at Rotary International, where I’m the public image coordinator for Eastern Canada and a bunch of the Northeast United States.

And it made me think about how much I absolutely fail as a writer and marketer.

Seriously.

I am no John Green.

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Me = Not John Green

Anyways, I found this old interview with Cynsations, a blog run by the incredible Cynthia Leitich Smith where she asked me:

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?

It’s horrible. I grew up in New England and we are the kind of people who gasp and hold up garlic cloves and a cross when we hear the words, “self promotion.” I think M.T. Anderson (author interview) said something about that in an interview once, and it really resonated with me because it’s so ridiculously true.

So, I joined the Class of 2k7, a cross-publishers marketing group of debut authors, because I figured I could at least tell myself that I was promoting other people as well as myself. That made it a more altruistic thing, but it also takes a lot of time because I signed up for too many committees. Note to all other debut authors and my fifth-grade writing self: Sign up for only one committee.

Most of my time is still spent writing. The problem isn’t necessarily balancing the other aspects of the business in terms of time spent, but more keeping my mind from obsessively worrying about the other aspects of the business (the sales, the reviews, the promotion) so much that it affects my ability to write.

I still think this way. A lot of writers LOVE marketing. It makes me nervous. I can sing out the awesome stories of other people all day long? But when it comes to promoting myself or my own book? I shudder. I’m trying to be better about that but even right now, I’m all…. should I put in my website link? There I did it. (Seriously, I stared at it for five minutes).

Should I say, “Hey, there’s all this talk in the New York Times about ufos and the government investigating it and that’s totally what my book FLYING is about?”

It’s weird how hard this is.

But in happier writer news, look what I got at a holiday party this weekend. HANDERPANTS!!!

Yes… yes… I do write in them now.  Many thanks to the awesome Keri Hayes for the present and the photo.

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In that same interview, Cyn also asked: If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

Current Carrie: Hey! You! Writing in that notebook.

Fifth-grade Carrie: Ew! Am I really going to look like that? Where are my bangs?

Current Carrie: At least your glasses are gone.

Fifth-grade Carrie: Cool.

Current Carrie: Okay, listen. I have writing advice. You know how you’re having Captain James T. Kirk fall in love with your banged hair, glasses-wearing heroine?

Fifth-grade Carrie: Yeah.

Current Carrie: And how Mr. Spock is also in love with same heroine…

Fifth-grade Carrie: Uh-huh.

Current Carrie: And how the Dr. McCoy guy is in love with her too?

Fifth-grade Carrie: What’s your point?

Current Carrie: It’s not all that realistic, sweetie.

Fifth-grade Carrie: It isn’t?

Current Carrie: No, honey. I hate to break it to you. It’s just not. My writing advice to you is that not everyone can be in love with your heroine, unless you’re Laurel Hamilton and your heroine has the ardeur or something.

I still think that’s solid.

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Monday Motivation by Marsie!

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So, it’s Monday again and Marsie wants you to know that you can do this.

You’ve got this week.

Whatever choices you need to make, whatever actions you have to take?

You can do this.

It’s okay to be the small spoon, to snuggle with a different species, to shout out your story or to hold it close to your chest.

Live like your life is important. It is. You matter. Your words matter.

And if you feel worried, remember Sparty’s got your back.

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Write Your Way Up; Grudges are Ways We Stay Sane

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I was just thinking about how I’ve never been the kind of writer that teachers loved. I mean, even growing up, I was not the writer that teachers praised. I was the writer that the other kids thought was funny.

            Except for one teacher, but he didn’t happen until high school.

            But when I was in middle school, we had these Author of the Month contests. Every month, we’d read our stories in front of the class and there would be two Authors of the Month. One would be the teacher’s choice. That was Kathy A. It was Kathy A. pretty much every month. The other author of the month would be the kids’ choice. That would be me.

            Even before fifth grade, I wanted to be Kathy. She had a house with two floors. Our house had one. She had two parents. I had one at a time. She had a mom who made Swedish meatballs and worked in a library and did arts and crafts and took me to Pioneer Girls at the Calvary Baptist Church every Friday  and this is where I would hope really hard that Jesus had come into my heart finally.

            We’d sit around in a circle, close our eyes and silently ask Jesus into our heart. We’d raise our hands if we wanted help. I was really concerned about Jesus coming into my heart and forgetting to close the door behind him and all the blood rushing out of my heart and into my chest, which is probably what a heart attack was maybe.

            Maybe?

            I didn’t know.

            But I would always silently ask, “Dear Jesus. If you are not in my heart already, could you please come in and also could you please shut the door behind you?”

            I figured that it was a good idea to be polite to Jesus.

            Then I’d ask Jesus to come into my mom’s heart, too, because everyone seemed to think she was headed straight for help because she didn’t go to church because she caught the minister cheating at bowling and when she called him on it, he lied.

            “If someone doesn’t have bowling honor, how are they supposed to be my spiritual support system, huh?” She steamed. “A man who cheats at bowling is not my pathway to Heaven.”

            She never got over it.

            Nobody listened to her.

            Everyone said that my mom held a grudge.

            Here’s the thing though: My mother (and my Avó and my nana) didn’t hold grudges. They held knowledge. They held knowledge of wrongdoings for a long time. They had to remind themselves of the wrongs that had happened because nobody else would listen to their voice. They held that knowledge close to their hearts because that was all they had power to do. They held those grudges to keep themselves safe and sane.

            Anyways, Kathy  had the life I wanted. She had two parents who didn’t hold grudges, Swedish meatballs, knew Jesus was in her heart and didn’t really freak out about Author of the Month contests because she knew she was destined to win.

            I had no idea how that felt.

            How did it feel to know you were destined to win, that you were smart, that you were strong, that you were beloved and loved?

            I wasn’t that kid.

            I was the poor kid who needed to be saved, I guess. This is probably why a lot of the kids in my books are poor kids who want to be saved?

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            But the thing that saved me over and over again was writing. I wrote my way through it when my stepdad died, when men were bad to me, when my best friend died, when my brother died, when my mom died, when my dad died. I wrote my way into college scholarships. I wrote my way out of sleeping in the backseat of my car. I wrote my way out of living in an apartment where the ceiling was caving in. I wrote my way through pain and into triumph over and over again. I’m pretty sure I even wrote my way into political office – yes, it was just city council, but it still counts, right?

            Here’s the thing: Writing gives voice to those who society has silenced.

Here’s the other thing: Writing gives you power when you are absolutely powerless. It gives you hope when all hope is gone.

But reading? Reading is just as important. Reading outside your own experience, helps others to be heard. There is nothing better than hearing, than growing, than knowing about things and experiences outside of yourself. Empathy and knowledge aren’t swear words. They are words that make us all better, lifting us up.

            So, go write even if your teachers or your friends don’t give you an A-plus and you don’t know where the semicolon goes.

            So, go read even if it’s things that other people make fun of.

            Go create. Even if you feel like nobody else will ever listen to you, YOU need to go listen to you.

            Write your way through it.

            Write your way up.

            Be your own author of the month, author of the year, author of your life. You’ve got this.

            We all can’t be Kathys. But we can all be ourselves. And that’s even better.

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Why Write?

A few years ago, I was involved in a podcast with Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Melissa Marr, Janni Lee Simner, & Jennifer Barnes.

This is sort of weird, but cool. Anyway, it was really great talking about books and urban fantasy with them.

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This was during the era of NEED.

But the thing is…

I never get to really express what I feel about writing in those kinds of things. Sure, I can talk about hamster (or hampster) erotica, but I never get to say the reason I write. And I think that it’s easy for me to be quippy when I answer or even trite and those responses are still true (I’ve listed them below):

I write because I want my voice heard.

I write because I don’t know how not to.

I write so kids can have stories where they see themselves.

I write because I want to be part of building empathy, of lifting kids up instead of pushing them down.

I write because nobody can interrupt me. People always interrupt me. Even my dogs interrupt me.
But that’s not the whole truth. It’s not the truth beneath the truth. So, bear with me (or ignore this), the reason I write is this:

I started out as a poet (yes, a bad poet) and to me stories are still poems. When you craft stories to express what you see and you experience in the world (be it good, bad, cruddy, sexy) you are taking a massive amount of observation and imagination and  creating something with meaning… it’s a meaning that should resonate not just with you but with the rest of humanity.

I don’t care what genre you do or you don’t fit into. I think this applies throughout.

It’s the emotion, the search for understanding of people’s (characters’) actions and movement, that helps us make our connections to each other and to the rest of humanity.

That’s why I write.

Why do you?

Monday Motivation by Marsie

Good morning!

Look, people might tell you that you can’t do something.

They might try to define you.

They might even try to convince you that:

  • Cats cannot role-play Godzilla
  • Cats cannot eat gingerbread houses
  • Cats can’t motivate on Mondays

But those people? They are wrong.

Only you get to define you.

Go be Godzilla! Go eat gingerbread! Kick butt this week and this Monday. You’ve got this.

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Friday Writings and a Scholarship for Middle Grade Writers at the Writing Barn!

First off, there is an awesome scholarship being offered at the Writing Barn for Write! Submit! Support! an awesome online class that I’m teaching in 2018. The class is for novelists of all genres, but the scholarship is for middle grade authors.

DETAILS ABOUT THE AWESOME SCHOLARSHIP

Katherine Applegate, Newbery winning and NYT bestselling author, and good friend of The Writing Barn has created the Mary Carolyn Davies/Wishtree MG Write. Submit. Support. Scholarship to be awarded to:

 

  • either (1) MG writer for the full amount of a Write. Submit. Support. registration ($1800)

OR

  • to be shared by (2) MG writers for half the amount of a Write. Submit. Support. registration ($900)

 

This scholarship honors poet, novelist and playwright Mary Carolyn Davies.

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While most people know me as a young adult author thanks to the NEED series, I am in the middle of TIME STOPPERS, a middle-grade series published with Bloomsbury and before my time at Vermont College of Fine Art’s MFA program, I was a newspaper columnist, editor and poet. I think it is super cool how writers can write across platforms and how their work can change as the world changes, their understandings change, and their own needs change. So! Don’t be hemmed in by just writing one thing!

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This is a photo of me after receiving VCFA’s distinguished alum award. You can tell I acting in a super distinguished manner right after that. Kekla Magoon also received one. She was way more poised.

So, to harken back to that era of writing, here’s a column that was in a paper a few years ago. It ran alongside an article about drug use in Maine and the lack of care for transients with alcohol and/or drug dependencies. 

It wasn’t until well into the afternoon that we found him, dead beneath a shed on Water Street. Then he was only spotted because an oil spill into the Union River brought firefighters and reporters close by.

We noticed his naked feet first. Then we saw him stretched out between car tires and a garage door.

The Bangor Daily News reporter I was with told the firefighters who were still down by the river trying to mop up oil.

“Guys, there’s a body up here,” he said. His voice was quiet, still, a nothing voice and the words fell out into the world and for a moment nobody moved.

“A body?”

But Kenneth Butler was more than a body. He was a man.

According to Ellsworth police, Kenny Butler had a long history of medical problems, including heart trouble. No one’s quite sure where he was living before he died by abandoned car tires last week.

On a normal day, people go missing. Sometimes that gets noticed. Sometimes it doesn’t. On a normal day, people die. Sometimes that gets noticed. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I noticed Kenny Butler’s death. So did that Bangor Daily News reporter. So did his family.

Kenny Butler drank a lot. He did drugs. He couldn’t go to our county’s only shelter on cold winter days because they don’t allow people who are using drugs or who are drunk. Sometimes when people detox, they have seizures. Sometimes, they get violent. So, Kenny crawled beneath the basement of a shed, wedged himself between an old door and some tires. Then he died, in the cold, alone.

The police came, put on their purple latex gloves, strung up yellow tape to cordon off the area. As they took over, I thought about who Kenny Butler might be. I thought too about people who go missing from our lives by inches every day. The phone calls we fail to return. The smiles we are sometimes afraid to give.

I didn’t work anymore that Friday. My little girl, Em, stood close by all afternoon. She tugged on my sleeve.

“I don’t want to die alone,” she said.

Her eyes filled and just underneath that edge of sadness, awakening floated.

“I don’t want you to die alone either,” she added.

The wind whipping up off the Union River grew even colder that Friday afternoon. I knew what she meant. She looked up at a treehouse we were working on. It’s high among four trees. We could have stood on the platform, but there weren’t any walls yet, only tree trunks and branches separating us from falling, sheltering us from the sky.

“It’s the living you don’t want to do alone,” I told her. “That’s more important than the dying.”

 

Writing Wisdom Wednesday

When I wrote my first book, my parents were both still alive. I’ve always been the weird one in the family, the one who didn’t make sense, who wore Snoopy shoes and had a weird voice, and was born 14 years after my closest sibling. I never felt like part of a family, but I always felt like my parents liked me okay. 

While I grew up, my parents were divorced. My dad was a mechanic and a truck driver. My mom was a real estate agent and then an dental supply company office manager.  I saw my dad on Sundays when he remembered. He was an adorable hobbit man, but pretty forgetful, honestly.  So, after years of being weird trying to be a poet and things, my first book came out. One of the first blog interviews asked me: 

Now that you’re under contract, does your family better appreciate your writing?

This is a hard question.

This is what my dad said when it happened, “Someone bought your book? That’s great. What’s it called?”

Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend.”

We were on the phone.

My dad began laughing, “Ho boy. Ho… boy. Wait till I tell your Aunt Athelee that one. Tell me that again. .. Gay what?”

Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend.

My father then laughed some more. “Let me write that down. That’s really the title? Ho…boy. Hahahaha…. Ho . . . boy.”

Then about six months later, I was talking to my dad on the phone while simultaneously trying to make vegan shepard’s pie and he said, “How many books have you sold?”

I told him.

“Three? Three! In less than a year?”

“Yep,” I said, dicing onions, which always makes me cry.

He was really quiet and then he said, “Your grandfather was a really literate man. He was a great reader, you know. And my mother…she loved poems.”

“I know that, Dad,” I said, wiping my eyes with a paper towel that smelled like onions and only made things worse. I started snuffing. Dad didn’t notice.

But then he swallowed so loudly that I could actually hear it over the phone and he said, “I’m dyslexic you know. I don’t read very well.”

“I know, Dad. You’re super smart though,” I said this because sometimes my dad forgets that he is super smart because he only went through to second grade. He felt like everyone else in the family, in the world, was smarter than he was. He felt wrong.

The silence settled in and he finally said, “I’m just really proud of you. You know that, right? I’m really, really proud of you.”

So, even if no lovely people ever buy my books, at least I know that I did something that made my dad proud.

IMG_3643This it the Dana Farber certificate my daughter colored when my friend Lori ran the Boston Marathon. My dad died of cancer. He liked tractors.
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When I sold my first book, my mother said, the way my mother always said, “Oh, sweetie. That’s so wonderful. I knew you could do it. I am so proud of you. My daughter, the writer.”

To be fair to my sweet mother and to be honest, this was what my mother said about everything I do. Like the first time I made an angel food cake she said, “Oh, sweetie. That’s so wonderful. I knew you could do it. I am so proud of you. My daughter, the angel food cake maker.”

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The name of the second book wasn’t much better. My dad kept laughing. Even in my ‘glory’ moment, I amused the hell out of my family due to my complete lack of glamour, and my complete lack of normal.

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The rest of my family, I think, were appreciative of the fact that I sold a couple of books. It makes me more legit to them somehow. Which is strange, but typical I guess. In our culture it often seems that the process of learning and creating is often only considered worthy if a tangible product comes from it and if that tangible product has market value.

But to me… the big value was that I made my dad think about his parents and think about books and think about me and made him proud.

So where’s the wisdom in all this? Um….. I think that in our rush to produce, we often forget the joy in discovering. Our culture doesn’t make that easier on any of us, but there’s this great, beautiful joy in discovering, in being quirky, in playing, in creating just for the sake of creating.

RANDOM WRITING EXERCISE:

Write one random word.

Without thinking about it write another random word next to the first word.

Another word.

Start a new line and do it over again.

You’ll get something like this: 

Brussels sky bugs

Dad silences dog writes

Pear tree

Inside shadows

Eat trucks Nebraska

And it’s so weird, right? It’s like an almost-poem, but not quite. You should do ten lines of this and it’ll seem like a pretty bad poem, but that’s the point. The point is to make you not try to be perfect, to free up the random muse inside you so that you can write your story or your poem or your novel and be okay with a crappy first draft, or a rough sentence. Writing is work, but it is often play, and we forget that in our quest for product in perfection. So go play! You don’t even have to be a writer. You can find play in everything you do. I believe in you. Sparty does too.

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Sparty believes in you. So do I.

 

 

 

Monday Motivation by Marsie

Good morning!

I hope you all claw onto life and your goals today, the way Marsie my cat claws onto my leg. Make it hurt. 🙂

Protect your goals and your life. Guard them. Own them. Keep your eyes half open all the time. You’ve got this.

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#cat #monday #amwriting

Death By Christmas Tree; the U.S. has always been a hot mess

Back in 2008,  a man in Florida basically tried to kill his father with a Christmas Tree.
At first, in some horrible, weird way, I was kind of impressed, because seriously, how ironic and anti-Christmas is death by Christmas tree? Like, if I wrote that in a book some reviewer would say, “Jones’ quirky writing style sometime stretches the boundaries of the imagination. The Christmas tree assault was highly unbelievable.”
But the Florida Christmas Tree Incident really happened.
And I was also kind of impressed because this man tried to throw the tree at his dad, which made me think: Wow. Superman Strong. Captain America Strong. That’s strong.
But I was unimpressed because let’s face it — It’s never cool to try to kill your father unless your father is Darth Vadar.

Darth was at the Criterion Theatre last year. He was scary. Also, his zipper broke. You can tell he was angry about me noticing this as I took his photo.

EDITED TO ADD; SORRY! SORRY! IT IS NEVER COOL TO KILL DARTH VADER. VOLDEMORT? HE’S OKAY. RIGHT? 

It’s so bizarre because the Christmas tree is currently a symbol of family, of light in the darkness, of celebrating Jesus’ birth.

In 2004, the Pope called the tree a ‘symbol of Christ.’ Anyway, it turns out that the tree was not a normal-sized Christmas tree that touches the ceiling. It was a mini tree. A MINI CHRISTMAS TREE! This man tried to kill his dad with a three-foot-tall tree, and then the metal tree stand, because he didn’t give up after the initial tree throw.

So, in the United States, nine years ago a man was so propelled towards violence that he attacked his father with a miniature Christmas tree, a symbol of Jesus, which leads me to believe that no matter how much I love my country it’s a bit off. Violence isn’t something that we should exalt, use to motivate, or even use to dehumanize others.  Yet, we do.

Videos of people beating up other people are posted all over social media and even on our current president’s Twitter account. These are real people. These are people who are hurt or who died and the incidents of them being injured and attacked? That shouldn’t become a way to motivate other people to do what you want them to do. Because you know why? That’s a part of the terrorist playbook from all the way back to the 1980s.

Inspiring hate to go to any kind of war or motivate exclusionary actions isn’t the way to be.

Yes, it’s been done a million times before, but that doesn’t make it okay. Women have been raped a million times before, religions oppressed, races tormented, difference tortured. There have been how many genocides? Because it’s been done, because it’s currently being done, doesn’t make something right.

Taking an act of personal violence, twisting the facts around it, turning it into propaganda, and using it to incite anger against other groups of people isn’t the high road. That’s not what Christmas is about. Let’s work against it being what our country is about and all of us who have Christmas trees? Let’s not use them as weapons any more.  

I Totally Forgot to Title This Post, but let’s call it Giving Tuesday even when you think you suck and you aren’t doing anything at all that’s helpful in this world

1. One of my blogging friends was feeling sad yesterday even though he is published because, basically, he’s worried about being a mediocre writer.

2. It is easy to worry about this.

3. There’s that essential sense of horror when you’re a writer (in such a subjective field) about never being good enough, never making a difference, never being on a NYT bestseller list or being nominated for a National Book Award, or any award, or never getting published, or never having people notice your book exists.

4. That’s not what writing is all about. (Note: I forget this a lot.)

Spartacus: Believe me, she forgets this ALL THE TIME.

5. One of my friends who is not a writer wrote me this in an email a long time ago when I was worrying about not doing enough good in the world because I am just a writer (He does good all the time). He wrote this:

“You never know what kind of positive effect you are having in someone’s life as an author. Even if it is just that someone can escape for an hour from their life, that may be the best part of their day. Think of the kid who doesn’t like their home life or maybe their school life or maybe both. When they pick up a book by Carrie E. Jones, they get to escape the realities of their life and lose themselves in somebody else’s for a while. How cool is that?”

If you are a published writer and having a bad day you can just substitute your name in there because it’s true for everyone.

If you are unpublished writer and having a bad day you can do the same thing because you are writing, you are creating, you are escaping and thinking and plotting and feeling and that is a positive for you – FOR YOU! AND YOU MATTER! – and hopefully for other people too some day.

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There’s been a lot of articles about how reading builds empathy. And in this world? Empathy is important. Acting kindly, not making jokes about political opponents, not disrespecting other people, other cultures, other genders, other ways of being? That happens when empathy happens.

So, if you are a writer or an artist or a reader or just a person who cares, who feels like you aren’t doing enough in this world, like you don’t have any money to give on #givingtuesday, it’s okay. Give your thoughts. Give your time. Give your kindness. Don’t pull yourself down because you feel like you aren’t making a difference. Just keep going, keep doing, keep surviving, keep shouting/singing/whispering/loving/keening your story out there into the world. Try to treat people with love. You’ve got this. Thank you for being made of star dust and empathy. Thank you for being you.

Writing News: You can still get the ebook version of Time Stoppers on sale until tomorrow? The link to it is here.

My book.