Monthly Archives: October 2008

The Devil Went Down to Texas

This just in from perhaps Heck’s biggest fan, Dawn Cline: teacher and librarian at Timberwood Middle School.

“Timberwood Middle School is in Humble, Texas (oxymoron!). It’s named after Humble Oil, which is now Exxon. We’re about 30 miles northeast of Houston. We’re still picking pine needles out of our back sides due to Hurricane Ike. The students pictured are sixth and eighth graders. The eighth graders are some of my amazing student assistants.”

This makes it official: Timberwood Middle School is most DEFINITELY near the top of my list of favorite Texas children’s learning institutions northeast of Houston!
Congratulations! I am, however, rather jealous of the poster. I didn’t even get a Heck poster! Man…

Read ‘n’ Riot

On Wednesday, October 15th I had, what I’d like to call, my first reading. It was at Powell’s Books in Beaverton. I had never been there before, and most certainly never played guitar, flung charts, and read a chapter of my book as Blackbeard the Pirate in the expanse bridging Children’s Books and Gender Politics. The staff couldn’t have been more wonderful (well, I suppose there is always room for improvement…champagne and a stack of Double Stuff Oreos would have been nice). My friends Jennifer Pidgeon, Jonathan Maier, and Cindy Leitner stopped by which helped soothe my nerves. I hardly threw up on anyone! Truth be told, there were only about nine people there, but it was fun and I got to stay and sign people’s books: even books I hadn’t written, which are most of the books published. No kids showed, however: I think it’s because the last presidential debate was on, and kids love politics. Actually, if you squinted your eyes, it played like an incredibly boring Men in Black outtake.

On Saturday, October 25th I appeared at my FAVORITE bookstore: A Children’s Place. I did my same shtick: a few songs (Grizzly Mall, Theme from Heck, and It’s Now in Limbo Now), some charts, and a reading. I even gave away the papier mâché devil mask I made for Anne Rice’s Halloween party in New Orleans over a decade ago to 10 year-old Ashley Kim who could name three teachers in Heck! Phew!

Next, I will be at Portland’s Wordstock Festival on Saturday, November 8th at 4 PM. I did just find out, however, that I won’t be allowed to do any songs! However, I will have a slide projector and…well, that’s not nearly as cool, but I’m trying to stay positive. It will be a lot of fun and I hope to see you there!

The Letter

The moment you send the first draft of your novel to your editor, it ceases to be a book and becomes, instead, a boomerang. It announces its return with a dull, thunderous thud on the doorstep as the UPS man bids a hasty retreat. It’s as if he/she had placed a bomb or a flaming turd at your door. Or, worse still, a manuscript gored with an editor’s red pen.

You stare at the bulging envelope all morning. Anticipation and trepidation do battle in your chest cavity for control of your palpitating heart while perspiration claims your shirt. Suddenly, like ripping off a Band-Aid while simultaneously diving into a freezing lake, you rush toward the package, slice it open, thrust your hand into the gaping wound and emerge with The Letter. It’s the summary of all the work you need to do to take your manuscript to the next rev.

The whole experience isn’t actually that bad. It simply depends on whether I’m feeling fragile, insecure or merely defensive.

My editor is swell. She let me know, from the very beginning, that if she had to write everything that she loved about my writing, that there wouldn’t be any room for any edits. This particular situation sounded like heaven to me. But that said, she respects me enough so that she doesn’t feel she has to couch every criticism or smother every suggestion. Her feedback is keen, and she knows all of my tricks. It’s unnerving. It’s also the blessing of my professional career.

Firstly, editors don’t want you to follow their edits to the letter (unless they do). They want you to be the writer and take their suggestions, put them in your mad, bad brain, and come up with some solutions to bridge the lapses in logic mining your first draft, or to breathe life into flat characters, or tie up the numerous loose ends fraying your secondary plots. Secondly, your editor is your co-pilot, and if she says dive, you dive. Or at least think about how your character, the hypoglycemic airline marshal who left his candy bar back at O’Hare and must summon the courage deep within himself to deal with the situation brewing in Coach before he crashes.

The Letter is your road map. You will refer to it often. It will seem like a Shopping List for the impossible, at first, but any writer worth his or her weight in legal bond paper will have themselves musing, after the first wave of nausea has passed, “Well, I suppose I don’t need the stewardess character to bridge the luggage carousel scene and the protagonists’ high-altitude sugar coma.” Whatever you do, don’t try to have all the answers posed by this disturbing letter upon reading. You won’t. But later that day or after a fitful night’s sleep, ideas will pop into your head. You’ll actually find yourself excited about the possibilities for improvement. And that’s what it comes down to: feedback from your editor doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. It means that someone is nearly as invested in your work as you. They believe in you enough to be straight with you. After all, at the end of the day, would you rather have a nice letter from your editor, or the best book you could have written?