Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Gayle Brandeis: Guest Blogger, author of Delta Girls

Today, I'm pleased to welcome Gayle Brandeis as a guest blogger. Gayle has a new novel, Delta Girls, out today from Ballantine. Gayle and I met in graduate school, and we have gone on to become one another's early readers. Those of you who write know what an essential, and special, relationship this is. Both Gayle and I have novels out this summer that we helped one another with, and we wanted to not only share our work with you, but share some of our relationship with you. I wish all of you writers such a gift. Without further delay, please welcome Gayle!

My novel Delta Girls marks a period of real flux in my life. In the two and a half years between the time I started writing the novel and the time it was released, I found myself with a different agent, a different editor (a series of three editors total for the book) and, most surprisingly, a different husband. It’s amazing to me how much can happen within a short span of time. In a recent four month period alone, I gave birth, lost my mom to suicide, bought and started renovating a house and lost my mother in law to a sudden heart attack. One constant through all of this intense, life-altering change has been my amazing friend and first reader, Laraine Herring.

I met Laraine when we were getting our MFAs in Creative Writing at Antioch University. I was immediately wowed by Laraine’s deep talent, her honesty and wisdom and absolute commitment to writing and its power to change the world. After graduation, we started sharing our writing on a monthly basis; this has been such a touchstone for me, such a gift. Laraine and I get each other’s work in a way that is so beautiful to me, so rare; sometimes it almost feels as if we’re the same person—we both love writing about writing and the body, and we approach language and voice in a similar way, so reading her work almost feels like reading my own, but with more clarity (and it teaches me to see my own work more clearly, as well). After taking some time off due to life chaos, we are reviving our work sharing this month, and I am so excited to have the gift of her eyes on my work again (and the gift of her incredible writing in my eyes.)

Laraine helped me find my way into Delta Girls (originally titled Pears.) I was a bit gun shy when I started writing the book; my editor at Ballantine had just rejected my novel, My Life with the Lincolns, which I had thought would fulfill my contract there, and I was given a year to write a new novel. (It’s helpful to remember that sometimes good things come from rejection—My Life with the Lincolns ended up getting published as a novel for young readers by Henry Holt, plus I probably wouldn’t have written Delta Girls otherwise, and now they’ve both found their way into the world around the same time. I love that both Laraine and I each have two new books out this year.) Because I was still stinging from the rejection and scared that whatever I wrote next would get rejected, too, I could only write in fits and starts. The first draft of Delta Girls was composed of chapters that were only a page or two each, almost like little prose poems, all I found I was able to write at the moment.

The book (which was inspired by a combination of dreams, breaking news and a friend’s stories about growing up on a pear farm) explores two alternating, but eventually intersecting, story lines—we follow Izzy, an itinerant farm worker, and her 9 year old daughter, who land at an organic pear farm in the Sacramento Delta, and Karen, an Olympics-hopeful pairs figure skater as she gets increasingly involved with her new bad boy skating partner. The back and forth rhythm was pretty extreme at first, one or two pages with Izzy, then one or two pages with Karen, and so forth. Laraine helped me see how this format could cause the reader whiplash, and didn’t give the reader a chance to sink deeply enough into either character’s story—just as she was starting to care about one of the characters, the focus shifted. Thanks to her notes, I was able to consolidate some of these micro chapters into longer blocks of narrative and create a better flow for the reader. Laraine also helped me see where some of my characters were a bit two dimensional, a bit cartoonish. I couldn’t stop smiling when I shared a new draft after I had worked hard to flesh the characters out and she wrote something like “Yay! They’re all a people now!” There were a few sentences that I particularly enjoyed writing, metaphors that surprised me as they came out of my fingers, and I was thrilled when Laraine made special note of them. The book is so much stronger and richer than it would have been without her touch. My whole life is so much stronger and richer for having her in it. I tend to be a fairly solitary person, but the writing life can still be a bit isolating; what an expansive, affirming experience it is to share the path with someone who both knows the terrain and is eager to explore uncharted ground. Laraine keeps me humble, keeps me honest, and makes me braver than I ever would have been on my own.
Gayle is giving away a signed copy of Delta Blues. Please tell us about your favorite (or least favorite) rejection story in the comment section of this blog. Please make sure there's a way for me to contact you to get your information to Gayle for your book. We'll select a winner at random.

For more free books, click over to Gayle's blog for my guest post on our relationship and writing my novel. I'm giving away a free, signed copy of my novel, Ghost Swamp Blues, through her site. Simply post in the comment section at Gayle's blog what haunts you. A winner will be chosen at random.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Guest Blogs, Give aways, and Gardening

This weekend we cleared out the garden in the front and back of the house of the plants who didn't survive our unusually cold and wet winter. I bought lots of lavender, some delphiniums, some sage, and a lot of annuals and on Saturday evening after the sun dropped behind the trees, we planted and watered and waited. It was hard to pull up the plants that died. I kept wanting them to come back. Maybe next week they'll bloom, I would think. Maybe just one more day and they'll be OK. After all, the ones that are blooming now looked pretty darn dead a few weeks ago. But it was time. As we were working in the garden, I thought about how much gardening is like writing, especially longer works like novels. You never really know what's going to work. You just plant. You wait. You water. You nurture. You prune away what isn't taking. You leave yourself open for surprises (this spring, my yard was filled unexpectedly with daffodils and tulips that no one I know planted). You trust that things are working underneath the soil that you cannot see. And so you watch and show up and let go. You re-remember that you can't determine how it's all going to work. And when things bloom, every time, you bow your head and say, "thank you."

On to new and exciting things:

I guest blogged today over on Lisa Romeo's website about the creation of Ghost Swamp Blues. Go check it out, and check out the rest of her blog as well. Lisa's forte is creative non-fiction and she offers a wealth of information on her blog. There's an opportunity for you to comment on her blog to be entered to win a free, autographed copy of Ghost Swamp Blues. All you have to do is post a comment on her blog by June 19. I'll also be stopping by her blog from time to time in the next few weeks to answer any questions you might have about the book.

To that end, if you find you have any questions about any of my books, about craft, about publishing, etc, please leave those questions in the comments of the blog or you can e-mail me. I'll be using this blog once a month to answer some of your questions. I might even do a vlog, depending on what the question is.

I'm also thrilled to announce the launch of my updated and redesigned website. Please check it out. Huge thanks to my friends at The Concentrium for their talent, time and generosity of spirit.

And finally, last week, I learned the basics of the FLIP camera and made some very amateur vlogs on some of the concepts in The Writing Warrior. Shambhala had asked me to demonstrate some of the exercises, and I did my best (all alone in a room with a camera that doesn't move and has limited editing functions). I'll get a little better, but probably not much. The intention is to help clarify some of the concepts I talk about in the book. I will also use the vlog to talk about some craft components and also answer some of your questions. Check it out on my YouTube channel. Feel free to subscribe!

I look forward to reading your questions!