Fine Arts vs Cartoons


I’m inching toward writing a new book. I need to keep my mind off queries and onto something that excites me. I am developing the main character, a fourteen-year-old girl in 1965 and I want her to be a creative thinker with a healthy vocabulary. She’d be a reader, right?

In an effort to get into the mind of this girl, I gathered some of the books she would be reading and wondered how they’d affect her. These are books I read and loved at that age so it’s a chance to revisit old friends.

I had the books stacked in front of me and I reflected on the titles: Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Lord of the Flies, among others. They’re classics and timeless. I mean, sure, Harper Lee only wrote one book. But it was To Kill A Mockingbird. Catcher in the Rye still sells around 250,000 copies a year. What would that be like, to write a story that spans generations of readers? I read beautifully written, wonderful new stories all the time, books that may become the new classics.

When I was much younger, I tried my hand at art. (Didn’t we all?) I sketched a lot; drawing animals and people and flowers and whatever was in front of me. Everything came out looking like a cartoon. I can do great cartoon dogs and bunnies and horses. When I try to draw people, they come out looking like something out of the Archies Comics. Which is not to say that’s a bad thing. But it isn’t fine art.

I wonder if my writing is like that? I may aspire to write something dramatic and deep and poignant, but what if all I produce is the equivalent of drawing cartoons? I suppose I could live with that. Cartoons are art, too. And some comics certainly can be considered classic. I know what I want to do, always, is tell a good, fun, readable story.

Then there’s my obsession with age. My age, that is. Every year I get older. Does that happen to you? It seems to be moving faster now. I do the math. How many books can I write in X amount of time? Is there anything near a To Kill A Mockingbird in me?

I always tell people what I truly want from publication are readers, lots of readers, enjoying my book. What I realized was that isn’t all I want. I want immortality. Then age doesn’t matter, the eventual end to it all doesn’t matter.

Artists are kind of like vampires — we suck every experience to the marrow and we can live forever. If I have to live forever as a cartoon artist, then I will strive to be the best cartoonist I can be.

Stay tuned.


While Waiting


Before I begin I must digress about the title.

When I was carrying my son, I had a pregnancy book called While Waiting. I always saw the title as Whale Watching. I think the reason was my ever expanding belly. Now back to the subject at hand.

I’ve finally begun the query process for Alex Bullied, a middle grade novel, complete at 54,350 words.

This is how I’ve done it in the past:

Prematurely. The manuscripts were not ready. I thought they were, but I was kidding myself. This time, after going through my critique groups a couple of times, I had the manuscript professionally edited by a respected author and free-lance editor. I was willilng to go the extra mile and pay the extra bucks.

Disorganized. This time I made a list and am sticking with it, starting with the first two names even they were the most simple. I’ve had a list before and queried from it willy nilly, sending to the easiest first. It seemed to get confused no matter how many notes I take. I sent a query to one agent with the last agent’s name on the letter. That’s just unprofessional. This time I am determined to start at the top and work my way down the list, no matter what.

One was to an editor who attended the SCBWI Summer Conference this past August. She required a hard copy of the entire manuscript by snail mail. The other was to an agent who also asked for the full ms, in an email attachment. Both are unusual in the querying scheme of things.

I’ve queried other books and usually the agent will ask for a cover letter, a synopsis, and five or ten pages of the ms by email. This time the first two requierments on the list were a bit more involved than the usual. But instead of passing them by, I put my ducks in a row; converting my Word Perfect document to a pdf, printing up a complete copy of the book, buying book boxes for sending and filling out the literary agent’s online form. It took a couple of extra days, but it was worth it.

As of this writing I have seven possibilites for publication out there. I know agents and editors reject ninety-nine percent of the time, but there’s always a chance of falling into that point zero one percent. It happens. So now I wait.

As prepublished writers we know the waiting is not the fun part. I understand why some writers decide to self-publish. They’d like to bypass the agents and editors and the agony of the wait. But for those of us who want to be traditionally published, it’s a necessary evil. The question is what to do while waiting.

Start a new book!

I’m putting my Morning of the Mermaid revision on a back burner. If (fingers, toes, eyes crossed), I do get interest in the bully book, one question I may be asked is, “What’s next?” I don’t think a darker, young adult novel would be the best follow up to my humorous middle grade. So my next book is a story that has been working itself out in my mind for awhile. It is also a humorous middle grade, this time with a girl in 1965 as the central character.

So I am in the pre-immersion phase of my writing process. Pre-immersion equals housework, yardwork, cooking and reading instead of starting the book. But all that other stuff gets done, so it’s not a total loss.  And after all, what is up ahead for me? A different kind of expectancy begins, a different kind of labor and a different kind of whale watching.

A first chapter! Yikes.

Stay tuned.

So Much To Do


I have heaps piled on my desk: my Alex Bullied edit (finally finished), lists of agents who promise they’re looking for books just like mine, Morning of the Mermaid revisions (thirteen critiqued chapters, waiting for corrections), notes for this blog. There are novels to read, how-to books to study, scraps of paper with notes on them and file folders galore.

I organize and reorganize, use stacking trays or wire baskets or file folder holders. I still have heaps, though. They’re just stacked or upright.

I keep thinking I’ll whittle these heaps down into something manageable, but they keep growing. They become crushing mountains of white. Eventually there will be an avalanche and I will be buried alive. And still unpublished.

Then I stop and think about Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s a must-read writer’s book, but really, everyone should read it. The central lesson concerns Lamott’s brother and his school project about birds of America. He didn’t know where or how to start, it seemed so overwhelming. So his dad told him to take it a bird at a time. And really, is there anything else we can do? Bird by bird.

When I got involved with my son’s school’s PTA, one of the things I took on was to organize the school’s annual Family Fun Day. Talk about overwhelming. I’d never done anything like it before. I had some moments of gut-busting fear. The solution was as simple as breaking it down, bird-by-bird style. Focusing attention on one thing at a time. It’s a philosophy that works for everything.

Then, to really help remind me, there’s my name. I wasn’t born Brix. I never cared for my given name. I was always on the lookout for a new name, something that felt more like me. When I was about twenty-five I had a friend who was something of a guru to me. One day, this being my mid-terrible-twenties, I asked him to fix my life.

He said, “The problem with you is that you want the wall to just be there. You don’t realize you have to build it a brick at a time.” This was years before Bird by Bird, so for me, it’s more brick by brick. My friend dubbed me “Bricks.” I loved it and spelled it with an x and changed it legally. So I am always reminded.

That’s what I’m doing now. Perfecting a book and getting it published is my wall and I’m building it a brick at a time. In that way I can face what seems insurmountable and make it manageable. I can organize my desk and my work. I can stop being so hard on myself. As someone recently reminded me — people with messy desks are creative. From the looks of mine, I must be the Queen of Creativity.

Do you also have a lot going on? Work piling up? How do you stay organized? Do you have a special trick that helps you? I’d love to know.