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November 21, 2016 / Angela Sylvia

Things That Cheer Me Up

Between the election and some particularly terrible personal stuff that’s been going on, it’s been a rather craptastic couple of weeks. I haven’t had the time to get all of my writing and house chores/baby prep done, but when I have moments I find myself lying sideways on the bed, staring at the wall. But even as I sink into these moods that range between heart-twisting sadness and an echoing emptiness, there are some things that cheer me up and lift me out. Read more…

November 14, 2016 / Angela Sylvia

How It Is, What I’m Doing

I have voted in elections where the candidate I did not choose has won. I was disappointed, or annoyed, or frustrated. I gave a deep sigh, thought “Well, that’s how it is, then.” And I moved on.

Not this time.

This time, I’m scared. This time, I’m angry. This time I want to do something.

Over the last several years I have grown into someone who identifies as a feminist. I think and care about issues that don’t affect me personally, but which I know are so, so important. I have cared about the environment I think since I knew what the phrase “endangered species” meant. With this election, all of that is threatened.

So, what to do? Read more…

November 1, 2016 / Angela Sylvia

On Becoming a Writer Parent

Earlier this week, Austin Kleon wrote a post on one of my selfish worries, how being a parent will intersect with my being a writer.

In his post, “The Pram in the Hall”, he brings up his own point of view, along with the point of view of many other writers, that you don’t have to be a bad parent in order to be a bad writer, or that focusing on your parenting necessarily takes away your ability to write. Read more…

October 25, 2016 / Angela Sylvia

Meeting Authors at Boston Book Fest

Last weekend was Boston Book Fest. Being a free festival, and me having a Saturday with nothing planned, I drove down to amble among booths with a friend and sit on on a couple of panels.

The best one I sat through was a middle grade panel, The Power of Friendship, featuring panelists Jo Knowles, Ali Benjamin, and Paul Griffin. All three of them talked about some great things: where ideas come from, keeping your child character in danger as long as possible, and the pain of childhood. And the kids in the audience asked some dang good questions at the end.

What hit home for me was when Ali Benjamin (The Thing About Jellyfish) brought up the idea that got stuck in her head that there was an “other world” of writers that she could never be a part of. Now she’s written a book, and is even nominated for the National Book Award. She discovered that there is no other world.

Before leaving, I grabbed a copy of Ali Benjamin’s book to have her sign. When she asked me about my interest in children’s literature, I answered: it’s what I’m trying to write. She got very excited and interested then, even when I brought up the struggle of getting my work noticed, and of comparing my progress with others. “I didn’t get my first book published until I was 40,” she said, and Jo Knowles, sitting right next her, chimed in that it had taken her 10 years before anything happened with her work.

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“Trust yourself,” Ali wrote in my copy of her book, right about a quick sketch of a jellyfish. And I will, whether that means genre hopping (I think it’s time to go back to that contemporary story of mine) or tossing out something old to work on something new. I’m going to keep doing what I think is right, and maybe someday it will be.

October 20, 2016 / Angela Sylvia

All Those Selfish Worries

Oof, I haven’t written in a couple of months! But I do have an excuse. My husband and I are expecting our first baby in March, and as we crest the halfway point in the pregnancy, I keep finding things that take up a lot of thinking and researching time: day care, pediatricians, which cribs are actually safe…

Image result for steven universe baby sour cream

Here’s hoping my baby is this cool.

But while I stress over all these things that are technically for future baby girl, I’m also stressing over things that are a little more selfish. Namely, the things that I’m going to lose, or that I’m worried I’ll lose. Most of these are just me overly panicking, because I have to think about something when heartburn keeps me up at night, but they’re there, all the same. Read more…

August 25, 2016 / Angela Sylvia

Query Problems: Writing That Synopsis

Probably the thing I hate the most about querying (aside from the hours spent researching and emailing agents, only to get very polite but still disheartening rejection letters) is writing the synopsis. Not ever agent I research asks for one. Some will only want the query letter, others a few chapters, a blessed few who just want you to send the whole dang thing along. But many want a synopsis, so they know what the story is about before they decide to ask for more and dive in.

I get it. Agents don’t have a lot of time, and a synopsis is a quick way to figure out what you’re trying to sell them before they invest more of their reading hours on your stuff. But it’s hard to do.

Take a book you have spent years writing, where you’ve changed and reworked and perfected all the twists and turns. Now condense the whole thing into a page. Maybe two.

wp-1472136525235.jpgI have to decide what events are important enough to describe, what plot twists need to be left out because it takes too long to explain. I have to keep the whole thing concise, while also making it perfectly clear what happens, and why.

The issue for me is that the story has swollen to something so big in my head, I feel like I’m taking a mountain and shrinking it down to a vaguely detailed fist-sized rock: you look at it, get the gist of what it is, and can still imagine how impressive the real thing is. That’s not something I do easily (which is why I’m sure I failed miserably at #PitMad last time I tried), so I spend a lot of time staring at my notebook, or my screen, and feeling very frustrated.

It is useful, though. Not just because if I can figure out how to do it, writing a decent synopsis can get my one step (half-step?) closer to getting published. But also, if I learn how to shrink down the description of my story, I feel more confident when I describe my novel to other people: friends, family, maybe by some luck a person in the publishing industry. Other than it being required for some queries, I want to get good at this, so I will keep working at it, tweaking it, and I will force ask very nicely that my friends and writing group mates take a peek and give me their own opinions, and maybe I can figure out how to concisely, and intelligibly, describe what the heck my novel is about.

What do you have trouble with when gathering your query materials? Do you have trouble writing synopses as well?

For useful synopsis advice, I’d check out Jane Friedman’s post on her blog.

August 16, 2016 / Angela Sylvia

So We’re Pumpkin Farmers

This year, having a back yard and all, we decided to start a vegetable garden. Peas, green beans, zucchinis, hey even some kale, why not?

I had high hopes for lots of these things. Mountains of zucchini bread, fresh peas every week. KALE SALADS. It was going to be great.

Some things turned out like I thought. We consistently get some zucchinis. I have more tomatoes than I know what to do with. But other things worked out badly. The kale never came up (I think I planted it on the only patch of bad soil in the whole garden), and I discovered that peas are apparently the least drought-resistant things I could have planted.

Then there are our pumpkins.

We started a few seeds, and I thought, They won’t all come up anyway, so make sure we plant a bunch! And then they all came up. Then I planted them alongside the other vegetables, thinking, This can’t get too much bigger than the zucchinis.

They got much, much bigger than the zucchinis.

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Woops.

That’s an old picture. The vines have since spread even further, overtaking the cucumbers and encroaching on the strawberries. They’re growing up the back fence, so that I wonder what, exactly, will happen once pumpkins start appearing. And, oh man, are the pumpkins appearing.

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Hey there.

So, the moral here? Read more about pumpkins before you try to plant a bunch of them in your cramped garden. Also, sometimes things don’t work out like you thought. That can be bad (R.I.P. peas, you will be missed) or they can burn out, really, really well.

Now do figure out how to make some pumpkin pie…

August 11, 2016 / Angela Sylvia

Moments in Editing: That Paper-Wasting Stage

I’m back to that paper-wasting stage of editing, where I print out the whole danged novel, read it out loud slowly and scribble directly on the paper. As I’ve said in the past, this has always been the best way for me to get my thoughts out, and also to make sure I actually fix the mistakes I see rather than just let my eyes pass over them. I need it, so I don’t feel bad, plus I recycle everything afterward, so I feel even less bad.

I like this stage of my editing. I’ve gone through already to fix plot and character problems, I’ve already did the really hard parts of trying to make myself as clear as possible. So now, as I read, I find the little things. Weird spacing, misspelled words, changing the wording a little when I need a pronoun instead of a proper noun or I accidentally rhyme.

wp-1470924179811.jpgThere are some times when I cross out sentences and paragraphs, because I can see where they aren’t needed, or I rewrite a phrase to make it sound just a tad bit better. But mostly, I find myself enjoying my story, feeling satisfied with the flow of the words, and with the emotions that it seems I just maybe finally got across clearly.

I like this stage of my editing because, for now at least, it feels like the hard work is done. I can enjoy what I’ve written, and feel confident that this is something that other people will like, that other people will read, that other people will publish.

And that’s why I have to hurry up and finish editing, so I can send this puppy out before my self-esteem comes crashing down again.

July 26, 2016 / Angela Sylvia

Things Books Made Me Want to Do

Books can inspire you to do a lot of things: learn a new topic, go somewhere, or eat something you’ve never heard of before. Or they can just make you wish that something existed so you could actually do it.

For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, here are a few of the things books have made me want to do.

  • A Ring of Endless Light by Madleine L’Engle made me want to go to school for English. This is all because one person that the main character, Vicky, meets tells her that if she’s serious about her writing, she shouldn’t major in creative writing in college, but she should major in English so she can study stories. I may have been the only person I knew in middle school who knew what she was going to college for.

 

  • My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George made me want to live in the woods. If I could get my own peregrine falcon, even better.

  • Amelia’s Notebook series by Marissa Moss inspired me to fill my childhood journal with awesome doodles.

 

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis gave my a lifelong desire to try Turkish Delight. (It didn’t work out so well.)

 

  • And, of course, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling made me hope, hope, hope that I would be a witch. Still waiting on that owl…

Check out The Broke and the Bookish for more lists! What have books made you want to do? There are still so many other foods books made me want to try…

July 12, 2016 / Angela Sylvia

Moments in Editing: Move Your Body, Find Your Words

I’m sitting at my desk, staring at my screen. Specifically, staring at one paragraph in my novel. A paragraph that sort of gets at what I want to say…except, not really, no. The idea is firm in my head, but the words that will make it clear, understood, those are out of reach.

Or maybe, I’m beginning to suspect, they don’t exist at all.

I delete. I type. I write in my notebook. I write again. I stare out the window, flip through Twitter, pet my dog. Nothing helps. I don’t know what I want to say.

sweet pea outside writingMy water cup has run dry, so I get up. Go downstairs. The rain has stopped, so I open the door and stand on the porch. The dog runs past my legs, and I breathe deep the smell of warm wet grass and dirt.

And I know what I want to say.

Just like that the words are in my head, perfect — or at least, perfect for now. I write them out, plug them in, and with a little bit of jamming they fit into the story. Not a one hundred percent fit, but I can sand them out later, when they’ve settled more, and I’m not quite so proud.

Right now it’s a relief to have found something workable. I sigh, and take a satisfied sip of water.

And I look at the next paragraph.

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