Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thank you, Charlotte Zolotow

Charlotte Zolotow was the author of Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present and Do You Know What I'll Do? and William's Doll. And scores of other children's books. She was a children's editor at Harper & Row when I submitted my first manuscript there.

This was back in the early Pleistocene Epoch. In those days, there were no blogs telling you how to write queries and how to get an agent. There were, in fact, no blogs at all. There was only The Writer's Market, in which editors were mentioned by name, often alongside their real, actual phone numbers. (I know because I called one of them, and she answered. I couldn't figure out what to say to such an august personage, so I murmured something and hung up.)

I had written a short story called "The Day Forsythia Went To School." It was about a girl named Emily and her goat, Forsythia. It was, though I say it as shouldn't, pretty funny. I typed it up on a manual typewriter and made photocopies, laying the pages down one-by-one on the glass pane of a library Xerox machine roughly the size of a small kitchen. I prepared a SASE (it was so embarrassing asking for double postage at the post office) and sent it off to an editor whose name I recognized: Charlotte Zolotow at Harper & Row.

I mentioned in the cover letter that I was sixteen. In those gentle times, this wasn't regarded as a pitiful plea for special treatment. It was regarded as a perfectly reasonable request for special treatment. I imagine that most editors back then took care to write kind, encouraging rejections to young writers. Actually, I imagine that many still do that today.

Charlotte Zolotow did more than that. She took me seriously. She asked to see the rest of my novel.

Not having been prepared for such an eventuality, I hadn't actually written the rest of the novel.

So I took a few months and did that. In retrospect, I have to say the thing was not a novel. It was a type of children's book that was at that very moment becoming extinct: a series of humorous but only slightly-related episodes.

The manuscript came back months later, rejected, but covered with initialed notes from Ms. Zolotow and other Harper & Row staff. One of these notes said "Change to 3rd person, a la Charlotte's Web?" It was my impression at the time that this had been jotted by Ursula Nordstrom, the editor of that spider-based classic.

The rejection letter was long and detailed. It told me just what I needed to work on, and encouraged me to keep writing. I'm very glad that a couple years ago I had the chance to get in touch with Ms. Zolotow through her daughter and thank her, and tell her I had.

Charlotte Zolotow died today. I'm crying as I type this. I'm grateful that Charlotte Zolotow took the time to encourage young writers.

Let us go and do likewise.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My NaNoWriMo Tale-- DO try this at home!

As hopefully a bit of encouragement to those typing away madly this month, I submit my NaNoWriMo success story.

I drafted Jinx during NaNoWriMo of 2009. Before that, I spent several months drawing pictures of the characters and the Urwald. I was exploring rather than planning. I'm not one of those who plans out every scene before writing. I like to let the story tell itself.

I had also made a couple attempts to write what I thought was going to be the opening scene. In this scene, the wizard Simon was supposed to strangle Jinx. But Simon wouldn't do it. He refused. That was important. It's always helpful when characters get all up in your face and tell you who they really are. Pay attention.

Anyway, November 2009. A friend in an online writing chat coaxed me into participating. I didn't sign up for NaNoWriMo on the site... I just did it. 2,000 words a day, more or less, with a couple days off here and there.

Typety type type type. What else can I say?

After every 10,000 words, I went out to lunch at the Mongolian barbecue. I have very fond memories of the chef, who did not know he was providing my NaNoWriMo reward, as we lacked a common language.

November 30th, 2009: done! The finished product was not a finished product. Whole scenes were missing, with italicized notes saying what needed to happen in them. Extraneous scenes were all over the place. There were places where the text read What are you trying to do here? Never mind, just say something. Write something. Write anything. Keep writing.

It also lacked, and I feel this is important, a plot.

But it had 50,000 words. I gave a small nod of satisfaction and set it aside for a few weeks. I looked at it again and recoiled in horror. I rewrote. I rewrote again. I showed it to a few people. And rewrote again.

It was seventeen months after NaNoWriMo that Jinx was ready to go out on submission. By that time, nearly all the scenes from the original NaNoWriMo draft were gone. The 50k words had become 75k, on the long side for middle grade. The manuscript was acquired by HarperCollins.

This could happen with that thing you're working on. Why not?

As you can tell from this tale, writing is 94.4444% revision. But without drafting, you have nothing to revise.

So get out there and draft! Write something. Write anything. Keep writing.

Chana Masala

This is one of my favorite winter recipes... quick and easy to make, and one of the few Indian dishes I've found that will come out tasting right using ingredients available at yr avg American supermarket. With rice and a salad, it serves two to four people.

1 T olive oil
1 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 15.5 oz (439 g) can organic* chickpeas-- do not drain
2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp cinnamon
pepper to taste
a pinch of salt (optional)
juice of 1/2 lime

(To be served over basmati rice, with chutney and chopped purple onion as garnishes.)

Put the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Saute the onions until translucent. Add garlic, lower the heat, and saute one minute. Add the tomato sauce.

(You'll want the heat to be low enough, before you add the tomato sauce, that you don't get little orange splatters of tomato sauce all over your nice clean stove.)

Stir. Add the spices and salt. Add the chickpeas, including the liquid from the can. Add the lime juice.

Cook, uncovered, until liquid thickens to a sauce. (About 15-20 minutes.)

*because they don't contain disodium EDTA