Sunday, January 30, 2011

India, hope, and my epiphany!



When I was in India a few years ago I had an epiphany (no, it wasn’t that I was meant to eat lentils everyday – I already knew that). We were stopped at a gas station on the side of the road somewhere in India. I came out of the squat toilet to see my traveling companion Amber, the driver and a couple of other guys standing around a clump of bushes. They had enormous smiles on their faces. They beckoned me over. I peered into the bush to see a dog and her new born puppies. 

Imagine these dogs - but smaller
My first thought was – wow, this country doesn’t need any more mouths to feed.

My second thought was – wow, that’s what hope looks like. In a country of more than a billion people, many hungry and living in slums, the others competing on a daily basis for space, jobs, and resources, they could still marvel in the miracle of life and the birth of puppies.
I thought about the signs of hope I saw everywhere in India. Plants grew, highways were paved (albeit really slowly), children smiled, people shared resources and lived as harmoniously as possible in one of the most geographically, politically, ethnically, linguistically, and spiritually diverse countries I’ve been to. 


I saw hope on the faces of the men who got joy from seeing new born puppies. What I learned from this epiphany was to leave your characters with hope – whatever hardship they navigate through and obstacles they overcome in your story – always leave your characters, and your readers, with hope. 





My last day in India - tired but happy!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hug a Librarian - Part Deux & Video Vednesday!

In the ongoing celebration of libraries and reading I present Video Vednesday featuring library related videos. 


This one's hilarious:





"...it's by the man who wrote the other one ..." 





And I can't let you go until you see librarians singing and dancing.               "... check out that book like, ya." 





Pop over to Cindy's Love of Books this Friday where she'll review my debut novel for young readers Dead Frog on the Porch. On Monday she'll review Dead Bird through the Cat Door and on Tuesday she'll feature an interview with moi. It's a veritable Cyd, Jane and Jan-a-palooza over at Cindy's Love of Books.   

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hug a Librarian - Part I

Nothing like curling up on the couch with a good book!
I was going to call this post: tribute to the book, but since pessimists predict that the future of paper books is furniture, I'll call it the tribute to the written word. No matter what happens to books we will still have the written word electronically. Does anyone remember the record?

This is a good movie: Paper Man
My SCBWI writer friends and bloggowers in England have decried the budgetary attack on libraries in their country, so I decided to dedicate the next two blog post to reading, libraries and librarians.

There have been a series of blog posts on the subject of the importance of libraries. British young adult author Keren David lists who uses libraries, at Notes from the Slushpile, my writer friends Candy Gourlay and Teri Terry (fellow Canadian to boot) give a round up of all the library related blog posts, and Nicky Schmidt in South Africa weighs in on the importance of learning by highlighting the limited access to education for some African children.

Now, a veritable video montage dedicated to reading and libraries (there were just so many good library videos - I had to go with a two parter blog post).

An avid, and slightly scary, reader:



When good librarians go psycho:



Will Smith - the keys to life are running and reading:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rejection #33 - Jocosa of the Earrings

When we left our heroine of the earrings she was waiting to hear back from Donald Maass about her submission. 


It turned out to be ...


Rejection #33.

Can anyone say crushed, shredded, pruned? But I didn’t cry, I keened. 
I couldn’t get passed the image of myself drowning in a mall of rejections. I’d never write again. I couldn’t even deal with e-mail. And why, oh, why had I agreed to blog about my journey to publication? So, with my creative tank in a dustbowl, I allowed my inner actress to mourn. Wrapped in a blanket on the sofa, with a cup of African Cream Arooibis tea in one hand and a dozen vegan zucchini muffins in the other, I watched Gossip Girl (for a month) until it was time to board the plane for the 2010 Surrey Conference

And now? I’m rewriting. Why? Because I can. And once again because I can--is one of the best mantras I’ve discovered on this road to publication.

Writing is a process. The more we do it the better we get. In the fall of 2010 Harlan Coben re-released his debut novel Playing Dead. In his forward he says, “If this is the first book of mine you’ve picked up stop now.” He’s an author of 20 books and continues to grow in the craft because he recognizes where he’s been and challenges himself to find better ways to keep us up all night. Go Coben.

Life would have been oh, so grand if Donald Maass had offered to be my agent. He’s an amazing advocate for his clients. And he is one of the best motivational instructors on craft around. His workshops are standing room only. But even though he passed on my last draft, he’s given me three gifts. 

1-In 2008 he gave a speech titled Storyteller or Attention Seeker. Yes, publication will be nice when it comes but it’s a bonus, right? Writers place the words on the page to discover the story that needs to be heard, first by the writer and then by an audience. The intrigue is in the story—the story is what keeps us coming back to the page. I love my story. I love my heroine. And I’m willing to be patient with the process in order to make them both marketable.

2-In 2009 he confirmed that the structure of my story works. And his interest provided the fuel I needed to plunge into what would be my sixth draft.

3-His rejection brought clarity. Intially—not so much. But armed with my rejection, I was able to attend the 2010 Surrey conference with an objective for my Blue Pencil sessions: please, tell me why an agent is going to pass. And the answers arrived in the one-on-one feedback sessions I received and the workshops that seemed geared specifically to my weaknesses as a writer. Destiny guides again.


The submission process is scary terrain. 




Rejection is harder. But when the tsunami of our angst settles, if we are the storytellers we hope we are, our rejections are the building blocks for the next draft, or new manuscript.

Onward and Upward.


I think Jocosa deserves a big round of blog applause for agreeing to share her story with us. And she's not done. The universe (and I) are not letting her off the hook for her vow. She will continue to write, rewrite and pursue publication and she will not cut her hair until then. 


Here's how hairy she is these days:





Not quite Sasquatch material! Oh, yeah, Jocosa will start her own blog soon. Stay tuned to Three Dead Moths ... and I'll provide a link when it's up.   


And remember dear bloggowers:



Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Submission Fear - Climbing the Great Wall of Rejections - Jocosa of the Earrings Update

Here on Three Dead Moths ... we've been following the progress of my friend, Jocosa of the Earrings, on her journey toward publication. About a year and a half ago at the Surrey International Writers' Conference, Jocosa must have been all hepped up on the fumes from her mechanical pencil because right there and then in the lobby she made a vow not to cut her hair until she was published - book on shelf published, not just a contract. We've been following the growth of her hair and her progress rewriting her woman's fiction manuscript. In the last update, our heroine of the earrings was a writer in the midst of rewriting hell. I'll let her pick up her story from there ...


Before The Surrey International Writers' Conference and prior to Jan Markley, I was wandering in Submission Hell. I’d completed three manuscripts, had polished manuscript #1 until I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore, and had given in to the pressure of friends and family to “get published already.”

Since I was more than clueless, I agreed. I compiled an agent list, bought manila envelopes and sent my protagonist into strange hands. The results are documented in the picture to the right.

32 rejections.

Each one jabbed at my hope for publication—especially this one: “your heroine seemed to be a bit of a dishrag and her ex a creep…and the way she just “takes it” gives the reader little reason to respect her.” Ouch. But in the end I wasn’t surprised. Sure, I’d polished and purged and reshaped and I’d been pleased with the improvements in all four drafts. But I wasn’t all that certain it was publishable. Not deep in my gut.

Fortunately, destiny dealt a hand and I ended up at a workshop sponsored by The League of Vermont Writerswhere Chuck Sambuchino taught us everything we needed to know about pitches and submissions. He also agreed to read our first ten pages. During my ten-minute session, Chuck renewed my confidence and gifted me with the best writing advice I’d heard to date: Why aren’t you going to conferences?

I followed his blog from then on and a few months later destiny flipped another card. Chuck interviewed literary agent Jeffery McGraw from The August Agency. McGraw raved about The Surrey International Writers Conference. I registered and attended for the first time in 2008.

By the end of the conference my brain had less consistency than scrambled eggs. But I knew why I’d received all 32 rejections. My manuscript was lifeless. I’d done everything wrong, including opening with my heroine driving a car while drinking a cup of coffee.

Mortified.

The overload of information left me in a fog for another week. Then I chose to write. I plunged deep and armed with a notebook full of guidance and Chris Vogler's The Writer's JourneyI finally figured out what the double L toothpicks my story was about.

My reward came in 2009 when The God of Agents—Donald Maass requested the first fifty pages, which I agreed to send after another rewrite. If you’ve been following my journey, you know I finished the sixth draft last September. On a happiness high, I believed without a doubt that this was the draft. I sent the first 50 to The God.

Find out what happened to her submission to Donald, and how long her hair is in the second installment on Thursday. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cat Bird Wars

Dogs have owners and cats have staff. Well, we must enjoy being staff to our cats because cats are the world's most popular pet. There are 50 million pet cats in North America and another 50 million homeless cats. I watched a great documentary called Cat Crazed which profiles the environmental impacts of the world's cat over population crises. (It's available to view on line). 


Those cats  - both the ones with homes and the ones without - are wreaking havoc on native flora and fauna and forcing their human companions to take sides in a cat-bird war. 


While cats aren't the only animal that eats birds (snakes, raccoons, and rats are culprits) and birds are subjected to decimation through urbanization and decrease in wilderness areas, cat's aren't helping matters. 
  
In Dead Bird through the Cat Door the director of the local bird sanctuary Aviary Finch is stealing cats to kill birds. Little did I know when I wrote the book that he'd have 50 million homeless cats to choose from, and that it wouldn't take him long to decimate the bird population. Good thing my technology loving twin protags, Cyd and Jane, with a little help from Macbeth, a little old lady and their own cat, stopped Finch and his cohort Souris Vole in their tracks. 


My books are funny and non-didactic or theme heavy. And if there is a larger message for kids to take from reading them, I hope it's the interconnectedness of humanity and the environment. 


There are many approaches to this issue (unfortunately one of them is cat killing). One group called Alley Cat Allies, advocates the capture, spaying and releasing feral cats back into the environment (but they also encourage feeding so I'm not sure how feral they are). 


My cat Sprite (who starred in her own video destroying my rejection letters) has taught me a lot about writing. She was a rescue cat - I imagined that she lived with the coyotes in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains because she was a bit wild when I adopted her. I can't imagine she'd still be alive if she was sent back to live with the coyotes. Right now she's dipping her paw into my cup of tea, sitting beside me at my computer, and licking it off! 


The City of Calgary (my town) has been held up as a worldwide example of how to manage the cat population without euthanizing stray cats. It has to do with cats being licenced like dog, so cats get returned and the licensing fees are used to provide low cost spay and neutering for those who can't afford it. 


It was an interesting documentary and it shows how fragile, and changeable, the eco-system is with all the elements needing to co-exist in harmony. 

You want me to pack for my trip to visit ... the coyotes!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Video Vednesday!

It's Video Vednesday here at Three Dead Moths ... And with the cold snap and snow hitting most of NA and Europe (yes, to my bloggowers in South Africa and Australia, I know it's warm there - don't rub it in) we need a little comic relief. 


The first one looks at the proliferation of technology in society or as I like to put it - technology hits the local grocer with hilarious results:



Students rapping through the mean halls of the library - they got big books:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Good reviews for Dead Frog and Dead Bird!

CM Magazine (Canadian Review of Materials) is an electronic book review journal that reviews children's literature and profiles authors. It's a great resource for parents, teachers, librarians, writers and anyone who works with children and wants to keep up to date on the latest in children's literature. 


CM reviewed Dead Frog on the Porch, my debut novel for middle grade readers and the first in the Megabyte mystery series. It was 'recommended' and got 3 out of 4 stars!


Here's a highlight:
The story is told from Cyd's point of view, and readers will enjoy her sharp wit and highly imaginative expressions. Cyd's voice comes across as modern and genuine, complete with a hint of pre-teen strife.


This lively mystery-adventure will encourage readers to contemplate serious issues, such as ethics and biodiversity. There's also a strong message of empowerment reinforced. Yes, kids can change the world—one frog at a time! The book includes a handy discussion guide for teachers who might want to incorporate it into language arts or science lessons. Dead Frog on the Porch and future installments in the series may also pique readers' interest in the classic or modern versions of Nancy Drew stories. 
The complete review can be found here


A review of Dead Bird through the Cat Door was posted on the Ten Stories Up blog. 


Here's a highlight:  


Dead Bird Through the Cat Door blends community issues, wildlife conservation, technology and literature into a single madcap plot.  The villains have the same larger-than-life feel and the twists and turns of the story will keep kids guessing until the ending.


The complete review can be found here.


Here's a reader review of Dead Bird through the Cat Door. 


Dead Bird Through the Cat Door rocks as the second installment in Jan Markley's Megabyte Series. Twins Cyd and Jane are back and out on a limb saving birds, cats and themselves in this high stakes mystery. Once the game is afoot there is no turning back for these modern day detectives who aren't afraid of technology or Shakespeare. These cool sleuth's have the brains and the banter to mesmerize readers of all ages.


Review of Dead Bird through the Cat Door by my mom who read it over Christmas:
Where did you get such an imagination!


Here's a review that was left on my key board scrawled on a shredded piece of paper:


There used to be more cat nip around here. 
Less typing, more cat nip!

signed, the Katz.  
At least they help with the dishes!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Macbeth meets Google

Writers (and readers) are by nature curious. We're interested in what motivates people as they traverse the vagaries of life.

Curiosity has seen me jiggling the handle of a locked door at the British Museum that said PRIVATE- KEEP OUT. I was certain that's where they hid King Tut. (I was there researching interesting bits about King Tut and honey for the next in the Megabyte Mystery series Dead Bee in the Sarcophagus. 


Dead Bird through the Cat Door has been described as Lady Macbeth meets Nancy Drew. You might wonder how Macbeth and his wife got mixed up in an eco-mystery (for young readers aged 8-12) about the owner of the bird sanctuary Aviary Finch kidnapping cats to kill birds. 


Curiosity about the bird kingdom led me to research birds, their habitats and what (in nature kills them). I had a lot of bird facts (thanks Google) and I thought I should weave in some bird imagery. 


WARNING: You are about to get an unprecedented, never before seen, glimpse inside the brain of Jan (yes, I am talking about myself in the 3rd person - I've become that sort of writer!)



So, I'm thinking, bird imagery from literature ... maybe Shakespeare. I google: birds and Shakespeare and Macbeth pops up - lots of bird imagery in Macbeth (aka the Scottish play). Two of my characters are Scottish (one of them is a bad guy). 
Lightening Bolt! I'll make one Scottish character a Macbeth fanatic and pepper in clues by using quotes from the play. 


So Dead Bird through the Cat Door can be described as Google meets Shakespeare ... meets Macbeth ... meets out, out dang spot! ... meets Nancy Drew.


Wow, lightening bolt hurt - writer needz to rest now!      

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Year of the writer and a writer's year in review



By the powers vested in me by the blogosphere (which is pretty much none) I hereby declare 2011 the year of the writer! 


And why not. We've come through a year of change - a crop of new e-readers, a weekly 'the death of publishing as we know it' article somewhere, and bookstores closing down - we deserve our own year. 


The earth will continue to rotate around the sun (at least until 2012) so we might as well do what we do best - write! Be it a blog post, a work-in-progress or ubiquitous revisions, 2011 will be the year of the writer (and publishing contracts!). Let's hear it for writers groups, bloggers, writing conferences, books on writing, Sasquatch writing caves and butt in chair time - it all leads to our development as writers so let's celebrate all of it.  


2010 was a great writing year for me. My second novel Dead Bird through the Cat Door (Gumboot Books), the latest in the Megabyte Mystery series, was published.  


I embraced the international organization that is the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and attended the New York conference and the SCBWI Symposium in Bologna where I mused about what would happen if rookie publishing mistakes were met with medieval torture techniques. Along the way I met up with some fellow SCBWI-ers in London, Candy Gourlay, Nick Cross, Jenny Woolf and Jackie Marchant


I did a number of school visits and taught classes on Writing with Humour where I mused on the top ten reasons I love being an author. I also attended the Surrey International Writers' Conference which is where things started happening for me a number of years ago.    


Alright, I wasn't going to put this in writing, but my goals for 2011 are to eat so many sour ju jubes my eyelids twitch to finish the third book in the Megabyte Mystery Series Dead Bee in the Sarcophagus, finish a solid draft of a young adult work-in-progress that I won't reveal yet, and go to the LA SCBWI conference to get some feedback on the aforementioned y/a w-i-p. I also vow to occasionally wash my dishes and feed myself something other than sushi.


Here's to 2011! 


2010 was also the year we confirmed that cats are taking over the world cuddly, loyal animal companions.