"Woods in Winter," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
When winter winds are piercing chill,
And through the hawthorn blows the gale,
With solemn feet I tread the hill,
That overbrows the lonely vale.
O'er the bare upland, and away
Through the long reach of desert woods,
The embracing sunbeams chastely play,
And gladden these deep solitudes.
Where, twisted round the barren oak,
The summer vine in beauty clung,
And summer winds the stillness broke,
The crystal icicle is hung.
Where, from their frozen urns, mute springs
Pour out the river's gradual tide,
Shrilly the skater's iron rings,
And voices fill the woodland side.
Alas! how changed from the fair scene,
When birds sang out their mellow lay,
And winds were soft, and woods were green,
And the song ceased not with the day!
But still wild music is abroad,
Pale, desert woods! within your crowd;
And gathering winds, in hoarse accord,
Amid the vocal reeds pipe loud.
Chill airs and wintry winds! my ear
Has grown familiar with your song;
I hear it in the opening year,
I listen, and it cheers me long.
Please come visit me at my new location at Meg North.com! Thanks and see you over there.
Wednesday, November 26
"Woods in Winter," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Tuesday, November 25
Ah, is there any better place to post a new blog entry than at work? Haha. I'm taking a quick break and musing about . . . writing. What else? I was chatting with my husband last night about our particular inner drives - what motivates us. It's important for you, dear gentle reader, to find your motivation to write. The world is full of wonderful ways to procrastinate. Why does the laundry seem so inviting when I have a synopsis to write? And what would possess me to suddenly put myself through the tortue of a frigid morning jog if I didn't have three chapters to edit?
Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to figure out how to compell yourself to put your tush in the chair and stay there.
My husband confessed he's motivated by urgency. He just feels like he's not doing enough and he could do more. He wants to help people, to make the world a better place. This slight feeling of inadequacy propels him out of bed every morning to keep working on his energy audit business. He's passionate about fixing up houses and making them more energy efficient. Bravo to that.
My motivation to write comes from two sources: curiosity and aliveness. I am so nosy! I want to know more about my characters, about their motivation and their world and what the heck is going on! I love doing research because it's like a gigantic treasure hunt to find those fun and interesting tidbits to put into a story. It's discovery!
By aliveness, I mean I'm motivated by being in tune with my world and rejoicing in its beauty. My old soul gets an extra zing when I sigh over Victorian fashion, teatime rituals, etiquette, textiles, and gorgeous mahogany furniture. It's magical and it's joyous.
Unfortunately, I come across many people in my life who are 'dead' inside. They have stopped learning, they've let disappointment or circumstance swallow their joy, they do the same thing every day, they don't embrace change. Do you know anybody like that? I look at people like that and I don't want to be them. I want to feel alive. I fear that slow deadening process and I actively take the time every week to do something to stretch and grow.
What's your motivation to write? When you find it, write it down and post it near your writing space. I keep a bunch of Victorian images on my computer in a special folder. If I ever need a boost of motivation, I just browse the images. I love my lady in her pretty dress with a book open.
That's me. That's why I write.
Monday, November 24
Good morning! Brr, it's cold here in Maine - I guess winter is right around the corner. I thought for a second the car wouldn't turn over this morning, but she did! My husband and I share a car, so it's very important to keep her on the road.
I didn't post yesterday because I was eyeball-deep in writing a query letter for my just-completed novel. I've read so many mixed opinions on publishing options this past year that I'm going to be old-fashioned (how appropriate, eh?) and try to get an agent, then pitch the story to the big guys. HarperCollins, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, Random House, Little, Brown & Co. Some people have their dream car. I have my dream publishers. :)
After a solid Sunday of slogging through the letter, I thought I'd share some tips. My novel's been done for a week, but I'm not looking at it until I get some 'business' writer stuff done. Stephen King, who lives three hours north of me in Bangor, Maine, puts drafts in a drawer for six weeks. Sometimes you need that length of time!
Query letters remind me of job application cover letters - you're squeezing your personality, pitching yourself, and showing off your credentials all in a very small amount of space. I've been in retail long enough to realize this is the 'first glance' the product (my book) receives. A passerby glances at the product in the store window, which entices them to want to go inside. How can I entice a future agent to want to read more?
First is presentation. The paper has to be substantial, the type a 12-point-font and easy to read (I use Goudy Old Style or Garamond), and spelling and grammar has to be perfect! Every query letter should be tailored to a particular agent at a particular agency. Here is a breakdown of the standard query letter:
Date: November 24, 2008
c/o Agent's Name (spell this correctly!!!)
To Ms. Wonderful Agent,
Please accept my submission of Daniel's Garden, 91,000 words, a young adult coming-of-age novel about a wealthy Boston Brahmin who, together with three school friends, leaves his family and joins the Civil War. Include the title, word count, target audience, genre, and story's pitch. First-time authors take note: YOU MUST HAVE THE BOOK DONE BEFORE YOU SEND A SINGLE QUERY. No agent will look at your work unless they know you can complete something. Oh, and the first paragraph should be MUCH shorter than this!
The second and third paragraphs sum up your novel. Mine was rather complicated, so a two-paragraph synopsis took me all afternoon. This is the chance to hone your writing - use those action verbs! Include the main character's name, any major secondary characters, the antagonist/villain, and the plot.
My stories follow the traditional 3-act structure. Plotting like this becomes helpful when putting together a synopsis. Here's the formula: One sentence for introducing main character, what he/she wants, and the main conflict in the story. One sentence for describing Act One. One sentence for describing Act Two. One sentence for describing Act Three. One sentence for wrap-up. Give all major plot points in your synopsis. This includes the ending. You're not trying to put your agent in suspense - you are pitching your book.
Whew! Now, you're in the 'my book will sell' paragraph. Why do you think your book will be popular and sell-able? Is your genre popular? Do you have a large target audience? Is there a current event that coincides with your book's topic? Also, you need to keep your agent's other clients in mind. Do they represent somebody else who writes stuff like you? Do your homework - this is where those brown-noser skills from high school come in handy! I suggest you keep notes on why your book will sell WHILE YOU'RE WRITING IT. This paragraph will be MUCH easier to write!
Last, but certainly not least, is the 'I have credentials' part. This is where, in two or three sentences, you put your writing resume. Mention what you've published, the writing conferences you've attended, the writing gigs you've had (volunteer and paid), and anything else. Explain, but don't show off. Pretend you're pitching your credentials to your boss. Be professional.
Your email (if it sounds professional - mine doesn't!)
Your telephone number
Enc: Return envelope, first three chapters, author bio (whatever the agent asks for in their submission guidelines)
And there you have it. Quite the project, eh? If this is your first novel and you didn't know much about query letters, then this project will be a little tough. I was in this boat, but for all of my future novels I will keep an extra Word file with 'how my book will sell' notes in it. It will streamline this process tremendously.
So, to recap (and I love bullet points!):
- Be professional - this letter is your 'first glance at the product'
- Do your homework - tailor every query letter to a specific agent in a specific agency and let them know why you picked them
- Make that synopsis sing - pull out all the stops to pitch your book
- How will your book sell - publishing is a business and your book is a product
- List your credentials - but don't brag!
- Include the enclosures - most agents ask for more than just a query letter
The query letter is a first glance, but it makes a huge difference. It's your first crack at showing a business person (the agent) who you are, what you've written, and why it will sell.
Saturday, November 22
OYSTER SOUP (Mrs. Lincoln's Boston Cook Book, 1884)
1 quart oysters
Put the milk on to boil in the double boiler, while you prepare the oysters.
Strain the liquor into the milk, and put the oysters where they will keep hot, but not cook.
This receipt may be varied by boiling one cup of fine chopped celery and a small slice of onion with the milk ten minutes; then straining and thickening it with half a cup of powdered cracker. Add the butter, the seasoning, and the parboiled oysters. Serve at once.
Friday, November 21
I first saw Les Mis on stage as a five year old, at the Schubert Theatre in Boston. I've since seen Les Mis four times on Broadway and Phantom twice. Both times I saw Phantom I sat in the front row - close enough to see inside those big singing mouths!
It was a joy to watch the film version of Phantom with Gerard Butler, although I am a true Phan and adore the original Michael Crawford. Sigh. I was swept away by the music, the emotions, the touch of the macabre, the forbidden, the theatrical. What a story!
Are you thinking of going to graduate school for creative writing? After I got my bachelor’s in English and realized I was not interested in teaching, then grad school seemed the next logical choice. However, after the student loan repayments for my bachelor's kicked in, I thought long and hard about the decision.
What would a Master’s in Creative Writing really teach me? I looked up some sample programs online, perused their reading lists, and thought about my own writing goals. What did I want, in terms of my writing?
This was at the same time Dan Brown was blazing up the best-seller lists with The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. He’s not the best writer – he just has a marvelous hook. He’s got the kind of story that makes you perk up your ears.
That’s what I wanted. I wanted to write a best selling story.
I was startled by the realization that grad schools don’t necessarily turn out publishable writers. Yikes! When it comes to publishing, agents and editors may glance and nod at your academic credentials, but what they’re really looking for is the answer to one question:
HOW CAN I SELL THIS?
Does this book have a marketing angle? Creating a marketing plan for your novel or short story, even if it’s only a page of scribbled notes in some sort of logical order, is better than most of the beginning writers out there.
Who is your target audience? What’s your genre? Do you know of any publishers who target that genre? Do you have a current copy of Writer’s Market? Are you reading Publishers Weekly regularly? What three things could you do to market and sell your book?
Publishers want to see that you’re interested and engaged in the entire process of book development, not just the writing. An author who is willing to put forth their best effort in regards to selling their work will become more successful (i.e. best-selling) than someone who decides just to grab up academic credentials in the hopes that it will ‘make’ them publishable.
Nothing will make you more attractive to your publisher than honing your marketing skills. As for credentials, Einstein flunked math. Just because someone has academic credentials doesn’t make them any more or any less talented than the next guy.
Thursday, November 20
- Sweet Peas
- Scented Generaniums
- Morning Glories
- Sweet William
- Queen Anne's Lace
Wednesday, November 19
when slumb'ring 'neath the moss
for me to wear for eternity -
I have borne a worthy loss.
Misplaced I the pain'd remorse
of the wounded slain within.
Shadowed is the haunted course
of ghostly, spectral sin.
Thine hand in mine to pull me from
the phantom of my past.
I sigh for thy words of balm
and off my shroud doth cast.
Until the eve of our last kiss
each day with thee resides in bliss.
- Meg North, 2006
The Victorians were obsessed with the rituals of mourning. After Queen Victoria lost her beloved Albert, she took to wearing black for nearly the rest of her life. Thus, the concept of mourning began. One macabre but fascinating aspect became photographing the dead. When the Victorians lost their loved ones, usually children, they created photos of them.
My poem is an homage to the Victorian contrasting images of love, eternity, death, and mourning.
Claude Debussy, born in 1862, was technically an Edwardian composer. He straddled the line between the two centuries. I am not familiar with much of his music, but I absolutely love "Clair de Lune." I recently bought the sheet music and am learning to play it on piano.
I love to create my own soundtracks and listen to many different kinds of music while I write, but it's all haunting, beautiful, melodic, and mostly instrumental. Sometimes I put on the local classical station, but I have ripped a lot of my CDs to my laptop, so I have a steady stream of music to listen to.
While writing my latest novel about love and friendship in the Civil War, I listened to the soundtracks for the following films:
- Girl with a Pearl Earring
- Out of Africa
- The English Patient
- Pride & Prejudice (2005)
- The Piano
- Last of the Mohicans
- Sense & Sensibility (Emma Thompson version)
- Cold Mountain
What music do you listen to while you write? Do you have any favorites? I love putting together playlists in Windows Media Player of my favorite tracks from each of these soundtracks. In essence, I 'create' my own movie.
The best free recording of Clair de Lune is on YouTube. Check out this link to get you started: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKPBtZ0Zzok
Tuesday, November 18
I was in the local bookstore the other day and wandered over to the writing section. I have several how-to-write volumes that I refer to again and again, but I’m always seeking a new one to add to the collection.
As I stood there browsing the titles, several caught my eye, but none really satisfied that fall-in-love feeling I get when I find the perfect book. Most were either practical (Writer’s Market, What Editors Are Looking For, How to Craft a Scene) or spiritual (The Zen of Writing, Cultivating Creativity, Listening to the Muse).
I thought about my favorite books and why they were so compelling. Although I love the 19th century, it wasn't just the history. Why were these stories so gripping? I realized that it wasn’t the plot that grabbed me. It wasn’t the style or the genre or the time period.
It was the characters. I could read about an accountant as long as that accountant was a compelling person. It was the character I was looking to fall in love with, not necessarily their adventures. They could be tangled in a love triangle, solving a mystery, steering a ship, leading a band of creatures on a fantastical quest, murdering their family, or simply growing up.
I wanted a book on how to create a character others would fall in love with.
Well, scratch that. Not just fall in love with. Obsess about. A character that would keep the reader thinking, churning, feeling. The way a piano's notes hung in the air after I took my hands from the keys.
The writing books that cautioned against this brand of obsessive passion seemed too bland when I thumbed through their pages. I didn’t want to balance my habits, nor did I admire writers who had no quirky habits. I delighted in finding out that Dickens was an insomniac, John Donne kept a rotting apple in his desk and would smell it for inspiration, Louisa May Alcott would write for twenty hours at a time, Thoreau composed journal entries during fifteen-mile walks, and Hemingway’s alcoholism is almost as famous as his prose. I wanted to know about the weird, the obsessive, the passionate, the crazy, the outlandish, and the unconventional habits of writers. What did they ultimately do? They created in a fury, and they created characters I can’t help but return to again and again because I have fallen in love with them.
I shun balance and mediocrity of habit as a writer. I can’t push the envelope and go deeper if I am to pull that compelling person from inside me and stamp them upon the page as firmly as if I made a physical impression of myself.
Some books you can take to the beach and speed-read while laughing at your children’s antics. But not mine. I want you to be haunted by what I write, as surely as my characters are haunted by themselves, their relationships, and their circumstances. I want you to fall so deeply in love with who is between my covers that you can’t stir from your bedcovers and must stay there as if chained.
For you, dear reader, cannot walk away from my stories without having the strangest feeling that you are inextricably entwined with the tale you have just completed. How can I write a book about living as an obsessed writer if I am not also an obsessed reader?
Writing a book such as this is not for the faint-hearted. Chick-lit, romance, and light-fare authors need not apply. This exercise is only for the brave, the obsessed, the crazy, the passionate, the ones who dare.
You must be consumed by your story. Find that which consumes you and put it stark naked on the page. Are you obsessed with a lover? With food? With music? With unrequited passion? With color? With a celebrity?
Be bold, be sexy, be adventurous. Be fearless and a little mad. Put it there and put it there with nary a backward glance. If you find yourself still pounding away at the keys or reaching for your third pen at three in the morning, count yourself as one of the blessed. In your sinful madness, you have attained the divine rank.
You need a little devil in order to create a god.
Stories/Movies About Obsession:
- Hamlet – obsessed and haunted by his father’s death and mother’s indiscretions
- Othello – Iago is mysteriously obsessed with Othello’s downfall
- Great Expectations – Pip is haunted by his obligations and his feelings for Estella
- Interview with the Vampire – vampires are obsessed with getting their next victim
- Wuthering Heights – Heathcliff is obsessed with Catherine
- Frankenstein – Viktor is obsessed with reanimating dead tissue
- Jekyll & Hyde – Jekyll is obsessed with discovering absolute evil
- Moby Dick – Ahab is the quintessential mad-man, hungering for the white whale
- Tell-Tale Heart – narrator obsessed with the murder he committed
- The Lord of the Rings – Gollum obsessed with the ring
I bought a book on Amazon a month ago featuring the Civil War dresses of Godey's Lady's Book. Read more about this remarkable magazine: http://www.history.rochester.edu/godeys/. I had to do oodles and oodles of research to finish Daniel's Garden, and it was a remarkable journey. Along the way, I immersed myself in the 1800s and fell in love with the clothing.
I also do reenacting with the 3rd Maine Civil War Volunteer Regiment here in the Portland, Maine area. I am their newsletter editor as well. We're always looking for new soldiers and civilians!
Dressing up in my 'hoops' is always a fun experience! This was taken at the Christmas Gala in 2006. I love plaid prints. I need to buy a hoop skirt, and will ask for one for Christmas this year. The first time I tried on all the layers of clothing the ladies wore in the 1860's, I joked that I felt like I was wearing a mattress! It was definitely an interesting experience, but nothing feels more fun. We had such a good time dancing at the gala. Swing your partner. Do si do!
Well, look at me now!
I completed the final chapters this past weekend and now embark on a wonderful quest: publishing. I was flabbergasted earlier this year when I read the remarkable story of Stephenie Meyer's journey to publish Twilight: http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/twilight.html. I laughed out loud when she talked about how horrible her first query letters were! Yikes!
But her story was so inspiring that I had to get my own 200-page baby finally out into the open. My only child right now is a funny fat pug named Jane Eyre, but this book has been a labor of love.
Happy Birthday, Daniel's Garden. I can't wait until I can hold you in my hands for the first time!