Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Revising again

I chatted with my agent about Blackbirds this morning.  She loves the book and the particular way I've portrayed the past (more on that later, for those of you who haven't yet read the novel).  But, as all fantastic agents do, she offered suggestions for making the book stronger.

Some alterations in the beginning will be tricky, but I think I can work them out with some tweaking and finessing.  I have too much flashback in the opening that needs to be moved into the main meat of the story.  Not impossible, but it'll definitely keep me busy over the next month or so.  As I've mentioned before, I love looking at plots as if they were jigsaw puzzles.  Sometimes the pieces need to be altered or moved to a different position to work just right.

Thanks for your input, Barbara!!  And thanks again to everyone who gave me suggestions before she read it.  Some of the aspects she liked best were the result of other readers' input.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Smart grrrlz

My sister recently sent me a link to a Girl Scout social media fact sheet that discusses the ways girls portray themselves on sites like Facebook and Twitter. The study found that "girls downplay several positive characteristics of themselves online, most prominently their smartness, kindness, and efforts to be a good influence." Moreover, "the most frequent words girls use to describe how they come across based solely on their online profile are fun (54%), funny (52%), and social (48%)."

I'm really not surprised girls downplay their intelligence—online and offline—but it's still such a sad comment about society's expectations of what makes a cool, attractive female. When I was in middle school, someone gave me the nickname of "Brainiac," and I hated it. I started resenting my intelligence, and I even let my grades slip until I started hanging out with other advanced students and realizing how foolish it was to ruin my education over a nickname.

Thankfully, today's world is full of smart grrrl role models I never had while growing up. I'm from a time when Madonna was the woman young teens wanted to be—and that was long before anyone revealed she had a high IQ.  Here are five reasons why it's cool to be a girl with brains nowadays.

Natalie Portman, who played Padme in the Star Wars prequels, graduated from Harvard and once told The New York Times, "I don't care if [college] ruins my career. I'd rather be smart than a movie star."  She's beautiful and successful—yet she values her brains.

A recent Entertainment Weekly issue spotlighted Emma Watson's quest for a college education. Not only does Emma play Hermione Granger, a character who makes intelligence look like a vital tool for undertaking an adventure, but in real life she attends Brown University. She says of her post-Potter university days, "I'm just...happy." 

I recently finished reading Jacqueline Kelly's The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and absolutely loved it.  The heroine of the 2010 Newberry Award-winning novel is an eleven-year-old girl who develops an interest in science and finds encouragement from her eccentric naturalist grandfather.  The problem: Calpurnia lives in Texas in 1899.  She's not supposed to be interested in science; she's supposed to be preparing to become a wife.  Her struggles against resigning to a non-academic life of domesticity are both entertaining and heartbreaking—and Calpurnia is proof that a smart literary heroine doesn't have to be the nerdy sidekick in glasses.

Once upon a time Danica McKeller played Winnie Cooper on a 60s-set TV show called The Wonder Years.  She grew up, had a tough time transitioning from child star to young adult actor, but instead of becoming washed up and drug addicted, she graduated summa cum laude from UCLA with a degree in mathematics.  Furthermore, she authored two bestselling smart grrrl math books: Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail and Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who's Boss.  My husband keeps both books in the high school math classroom where he teaches.  Girls tend to lose interest in math around the fourth grade, so it's fantastic that Danica has come along and written these books that show a hipper, non-threatening side of the subject.

If literary intelligence is your strength, check out Sarah Utter's line of "Reading Is Sexy" mugs, magnets, T-shirts, etc., available from BuyOlympia.com. She also makes "Future Librarian" items, among other designs. If you think guys will laugh at you for flaunting the sexiness of reading, do you really want those particular guys? Many males are book nerds, too, so there's no need to waste one's time, smart grrrlz.

Nothing bothers me more than a movie about a bookish woman in glasses who loses her specs and intelligence to get the man in the end. My top recommendation for smart grrrl cinema is Real Women Have Curves.  Not only does the protagonist, Ana (played by Ugly Betty's America Ferrera), embrace her less-than-perfect body image, but she fights for her education in a family that's pushing her to stick to tradition and work in a sweatshop.  I plan to show this movie to my daughter in a year or two.  It's young female empowerment at its best. 

There's no shame in having brains.  I'm proud of the fact that I just turned in a manuscript with a smart grrrl heroine, and my hope for my own daughter is that she doesn't feel any embarrassment about her intelligence. Thank you, modern role models, for showing girls there's more to life than surface beauty.  Here's to the females with brain power!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Thank you, critique partners!

Two family members, three critique partners, and one young adult fiction editor have now read Blackbirds (the editor read the first ten pages; everyone else read the entire manuscript). My last reader, Ara Burklund, posted the following lovely words about Blackbirds on her website:

"Every chance I got this week, no matter how small, I rushed to my computer to keep reading. Her story questions had me right where they wanted me: stuck in their pages, frantic to find out what happened next. And the ending? It delivered. Big time. Totally didn't see it coming but in retrospect, it left me thinking, Of course! Just the way a good ending should."

Thanks so much! I just read Ara's YA contemporary manuscript, which deals with heavy issues in a story packed with page-turning tension, and had a blast switching books with her. Thanks also to my other readers, Kim Murphy and Francesca Miller--two fellow historical fiction writers.

I'm going to make some final revisions and read through the manuscript one more time, and then I think I'll be sending Blackbirds to my agent. I originally planned to wait until 2011, but I think I'm at the point where I'm ready for her input. I'm hoping to send the book her way by the end of November.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Blackbird artwork

I finished the latest batch of revisions and sent the manuscript off to my final critique partner yesterday morning (thanks, Ara!).  She and I are swapping manuscripts, and the break from obsessing over my book's ending is much needed.

I've come across some artwork to help inspire me when writing Blackbirds.  As I've mentioned in past posts, dark birds now play a larger role in the plot than when I first started out, so it's been fun tracking down images of blackbirds, crows, and ravens.

Sitting next to me while I work is a postcard of Anne-Julie Aubry's painting My Only Friend, featuring a dark-haired girl and a blackbird on a moonlit night.  Her artwork is beautiful, whimsical, and gothic.  You can see her entire gallery at www.annejulie-art.com/gallery.html.

I also found the following crow wallpaper, which I absolutely love.  It's become my new Twitter background.   

Crow Wallpaper by ~Tiger-tyger on deviantART