Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Worst Advice Ever: Spoiler Alert--It Involves Pretty Tissue Paper.

Dawn Metcalf, whose debut YA novel, LUMINOUS, is due out next spring, offered up on her blog a terrific post on How NOT to Get Published.  Her "tips" are hilarious and brought back memories of the day I received some really bad advice.

One of Dawn's pointers on Screwing Up Royally: Ignore The Blather. She writes, "You know those helpful bits of information professionals put on their websites or submission pages? Who needs 'em? Certainly, this is put there to weed out the mindless drones who can't think creatively for themselves. Do anything it takes so that *your* piece of genius stands out from the crowd! Perhaps try colored paper with pretty graphics in the margins, purple ink..."

And another: "You want to be remembered? Send chocolate, cookies, balloons, potential swag, buttons, postcards, bookmarks . . . a list of potential actors who can star in the movie..."

Funny thing is, years ago I went to a writing seminar where I was told, "Don't query, stand out!"  The basis of the the Speaker's recommendation?  "James Patterson sends out a beautiful media kit."

I bet he does.
My cheeks burned red, but I raised my hand. "But Nathan Bransford says we have to put together a query letter," I said.  "A synopsis too."
She advised that, instead of a query letter, I should send to each of my Fantasy Agents an 8x10 photo of yours truly with my full manuscript and a biography and cover sheet, printed on--wait for it--pretty colored paper. My mug shot and bio were to be affixed, not with a regular paper clip, but I was to run forsooth to find the most sparkly paper clip at Staples, ideally, a novel star or heart shaped clip.  Lastly, we were to wrap the bundle in colored paper tissue before we sent it off priority mail.

I didn't heed the Speaker's advice, but I knew it all along: write the hook, form an enticing query, craft the synopsis, and if Fantasy Agent requires, affix my most awesome five or ten first pages. Nothing fancy, just good words written well.

Still, I cringe when I picture my four-pound package landing unannounced on Janet Reid's desk.  And the bonfire that would ensue. 

So that's my story.  Tell me, what is the worst writing advise you ever received?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Romeo and Juliet and Tight Leather Pants.

You know the story: two lovers from feuding families fall desperately in love and then they die.

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (CST)'s Romeo and Juliet pimps my shakespeare with a cavernous opening scene, grunged up with graffiti, grit and flashing gates. It's all very 2010, but the Bard's message is still there.

Crossing family means certain death.

I'm not going to review the play because there are those who do that for a living, and I have to admit it's hard to dislike anything in the venerable CST (the gasp-inducing views of the Chicago harbor from the second and third floors are worth the ticket price).  I will opine that Ariel Shafir as the ill-fated Mercutio, fills the theatre with charisma whenever he’s on stage.  He walked -- no -- ran away, with the production.

Sorry Romeo. For me, it's Mercutio forever.

Ariel Sharif fights to his death in Romeo and Juliet.

Mercutio is a hottie, but the stars of this story are the gel-haired boys, Romeo’s posse, young men who play with swords, dressed in tight leather pants and dark-washed jeans.  Who taunt and tease and flirt. They are boys on the doorstep of adulthood. These are the children who must die at the hand of their parents’ foolish conflicts.

But the crux begins with two families, Romeo's Montagues and Juliet's Capulets, strife-ridden with heirloom problems and absentee parents. Like many of today's YA novels . . . with a few less thou's and sirrah's, of course. . . Romeo and Juliet plots family against family, child against parent.

And some of those parents are gone or missing.

Who knew? Shakespeare was one of us--writing absentee parents into his YA plots. Romeo and Juliet uses the Missing Mom trope as metaphor: she's physically present, but emotionally and supportively absent from her children and family. Shakespeare supported the trend: dysfunctional familial relationships make for good plot, and as agent Mr. Bransford said, "It's inevitably going to be a rare book that features a happy, stable child with happy, stable parents."

Absent, missing, or disinterested parents?  A new trend in Young Adult Fiction or nothing new.  Parents have been AWOL since Lady Capulet tossed over her parent card to Juliet's nurse. And, to quote Chicago reviewer Chris Jones, "If you can't believe in Romeo and Juliet, what's left to love?"  What indeed?