Friday, July 8th 2016 • Mom
It’s been two weeks since my mom passed away suddenly, and I’ve struggled with how to address this loss on here. I wrote this speech for my mom’s funeral, and it says what I can say at the moment. Nothing can ever capture just how much she means to me, but this will have to do for now.
A few weeks ago, my mom was able to set up her brand new VCR and DVD combo player. I feel it’s important here to emphasize that it was a brand new VCR player that she went out and purchased. We all made fun of her for this and were shocked to hear that such a thing existed, but Mom was determined to watch her old VHS tapes. Once she set it up, with Corey’s help, she would watch tape after tape of the family, often howling with laughter. I know this because she would give me recaps over the phone. I was planning to watch them with her when I returned from my honeymoon, but unfortunately, I had to watch them without her.
Watching them, though, I see the unmistakable evidence of a truly incredible human being. My mom filmed everything. She filmed day-to-day errands, ball games, birthday parties, trips to Disneyland, holidays—and she narrated it. She’d say, “Here we are in Waikiki. This is our hotel room, and here’s the rain.” Just in case you couldn’t tell that it was raining. I’d make fun of her for it, except, most recently, I was filming the rain outside my Hawaii hotel room and did the same thing. My husband came out to me and said, “That is the most Cindy Bane thing you’ve ever done.”
I’m glad that, even without knowing it, I do those things like my mom did. It tells me that she’s still here, driving me forward. I only had 27 years with my mom, but they were full years. She was always thinking of me, always concerned about those closest to her. She’d pick up a top she thought that I’d like at Target. She’d buy specific cookies for “her” crows—the ones that visited her patio daily. She’d send birthday cards to anyone she’d ever met. She was the most generous, loving person in the world who always put her own needs at the very end of her To-Do List.
Ah, her To-Do Lists. My mom would swarm the dollar section at Target to buy cheery pads of paper that she would fill with things to check off in her perfect penmanship. She was making one the night she died: Groceries, phone store, Sprouts: plums, and conference call 10 AM. I’ve been working over the past week to check those off for her. I know she’d hate to leave any loose ends. So far, I just need to get the plums.
My mom was my hero. She had zero filter and didn’t care what anyone else thought of her. She’d sing out of key, dance like a fool, and keep to her various routines no matter what anyone thought of her. She’d often end conversations with me because she was “babysitting her cats outside,” and apparently the feline need was greater than my own. She had specific ways she needed to travel, certain roads she swore were faster that she’d insist on taking. I’m glad that, in my twenties, I stopped fighting her on these. I just went that way because it made my mom happy. She deserved her own road.
She deserved to go her own way and she often went down that road traveling 80-90 miles per hour, without a seatbelt, with absolutely zero fear of death. She was cavalier and would tell me often that “everyone dies, Veronica” and that “something is going to kill me, so why not live a little in the meantime?” I guess she did as she always did: lived by her own code, her own rules, smiling and laughing every step of the way.
My mom took care of me. Before she drove us to the airport, she picked us up trail mix and dried apricots—snacks for the long plane ride to Hawaii. I didn’t get to eat much of it on the plane ride, but when I received the news of her passing, I was devastated and couldn’t leave the hotel room. I didn’t want to go out, couldn’t move, and yet, she’d already seen to that. I ate trail mix and apricots, taken care of once again by my mom.
We celebrated my birthday together before I left, the last time I’ll ever get to hear her sing me a happy birthday. I’ve got it on video—recorded by her somewhat shaky hand, punctuated by her asking if the iPhone is actually working. I can hear her laughing through the whole thing. I have the birthday card she gave me, the one I skipped through to get to her signature, the one she asked me, “Did you actually read it?” I’ve reread it at least 50 times since she passed. It tells me to go out and live a life with courage and grace based on what she’s taught me. I know she read those words when she chose the card, and I know that’s what I plan to do from now on. Live with courage and grace, just as my mom always did.
I love you, Mommy. I’ll still call you every day, though you’ll be a little quieter than you were before. Thank you for everything. You will always be my best friend.
Yesterday, I was signing at the LA Times Festival of Books at the SCBWI booth. It was my second year participating and one of many, many book events that I have participated in. I was surrounded on either side by several different authors, each of whom had come prepared with a variety of decorations, swag, and book displays. One played music related to her book while another brought battery-operated lights and an astronaut helmet. Another showed up with five books and looked around at the various displays and told me that she thought she’d thought of everything but felt woefully unprepared. She asked me what had proved successful for my signings in the past, and it made me think. What were the questions that I had before my first signing, and what had worked for me?
For example, how many books do you bring? How do you get people to buy your book? How do you sell books without turning people off? How do you promote signings? How can you make the most of your book signing?
Luckily, the advice I have for book signings boils down to five essential strategies.
Please note that most of these strategies are geared to a signing at an event, panel, etc. where you are competing for attention. For your own personal signing, these will still be helpful, but realize you won’t necessarily have to seek the spotlight in the same way.
1. Bring something for people to admire, to take home, and to keep them thinking about your book.
These three things are all you need to pull a passerby’s attention to you AND they’ll fit on a small table if you’re sharing with other authors. For the “something for people to admire,” think about that astronaut’s helmet that the author next to me had. Her book was about a young child in space, and it drew kids to her picture book immediately. Once they were in front of her, she could talk about the book and hook them on the content. For me, I love the cover art of Mara and Miyuki, so my “something to admire” was simply my books propped up on small display easels. (Continue Reading…)
Wednesday, February 3rd 2016 • Advice
Writers face a seemingly insurmountable number of roadblocks on their way to publication. Whether you’re at the plotting, writing, revising, or querying stage, these are the top five roadblocks that you will face and how can you can knock them down.
Roadblock #1: How do I choose the right story to write? I’ve got so many ideas! I can’t write 70,000+ words and then realize it was the wrong story.
I totally understand this very real struggle. The idea of spending months or years on a story that could end up shelved is excruciating. And yet, that is our pursuit. New (and experienced!) writers start out without knowing whether their idea will be marketable, and that is a reality that writers must accept.
However, there is a way to choose the story that you should NOT write. Do not write a story idea because it’s trending or because you saw an agent or editor tweeting about a manuscript that they want. By the time you finish that novel, the trend will be over and the agent and editor will have found their winning manuscript. Instead, write the story that you feel most passionately about that you can keep chipping away day after day at it. Plot out your novel with a strong outline (if outlines are you’re thing) and follow it through to the end.
Choosing between two tales? Write the first chapter and sketch out a story arc for both stories. Then, grab some critique partners and have them review the two. Ask them which one grabs them and makes them want to read more. If you agree with them, write that story. If you strongly disagree and want to prove them wrong, then write the story that’s really burning inside you.
Roadblock #2: How do I find the time to finish writing my story?
Sunday, November 1st 2015 • Advice, Writing
Tomorrow, National Novel Writing Month will descend on us all and Twitter will explode with posts, word counts, and increasing cries of panic as the month progresses. Thousands will rise to the call to write a novel in the month by rushing to their computers and notebooks. Success stories will be pointed to as models. Message boards will be flooded with pleas to read scenes or identify the source of writer’s block (which doesn’t really exist).
It’s a time for creativity to flourish and some of the world’s future bestsellers will be written this month. You’ve probably already signed up for the NaNoWriMo e-mails and are ready to start. But before you do, please consider the following before you begin that new novel.
1. You are joining a community, not barreling into one.
The writing community is, by and large, a welcoming one. Many writers are eager to cheer each other on and offer guidance. Many forums exist to provide feedback on titles, scenes, and more. Feel free to join these communities, but please remember that it is a two-way street. Don’t show up asking for critiques and then disappear. Comment on writing blog posts, send encouraging messages to the #amwriting tag on Twitter, and offer your feedback when you have something to say. The more you participate, the more likely you are to learn something that you can apply to your own projects.
2. Being an author is a job, not a hobby.
I’ve seen it said by agents, authors, and editors that nothing irks them more than to hear someone say that they’ll write that novel “when they get around to it.” Authors pay rent with their books. They put in hours to plan and write the book in the same way that others clock in to work. Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t write a book if you don’t see writing as a career. Writers come from all different paths and walks of life. However, I am saying that you should respect the fact that writing a book is a job unto itself and should be treated like one. Don’t expect this to be easy. It won’t be.
3. No one will respect your writing time unless you do.
Friends, family members, and co-workers will not take kindly to the “I need to write” excuse, or at least not right away. You need to communicate that what you’re undertaking is valuable and that you won’t break your writing time for dinner dates, errands, or anything else. You may need to go clock in at a coffee shop for this message to be clear, especially if you have roommates.
4. Consider an outline or some form of planning first.
Some people like to develop the plot as they go, but I am not one of those people. Having an outline helps me stay focused and speeds my writing along. Consider using the first few days of NaNoWriMo to write out an outline (even a brief sketch) so that the rest of the month will go smoother. Even answering a few questions about what your character wants and what stands in his or her way will go a long way to developing your story.
5. It’s okay if you don’t finish the entire novel.
Aim as high as you want. 40,000 words or 60,000 words. Maybe even 80,000 words. Set goals, do the math for how many words you need to write in a day, and be ambitious. But if December 1 rolls around and you don’t have a completed book, don’t fret. Just keep writing. Remember that setting up a routine takes time, and half a book is easier to finish than no book at all.
6. Don’t query your novel in December or January.
This is the most important point on this list. Agents are inundated with queries in December because writers have just finished up NaNoWriMo books. They’re expecting the books (and the writers who wrote them) to be unpolished. They’re expecting writers who completed minimal research on their guidelines and are new to the game. So, wait. Better yet, put the finished book in a drawer for all of December. Come to it with fresh eyes on January 1 and edit the hell out of it. Then, give the book to beta readers and let them tear it apart. Edit again in February. Then, maybe, if you’re ready, send out a few queries in March. See if you get some bites. Edit again. Repeat until you find success.
In short: use NaNoWriMo to make the best book you can. Set goals and guidelines. Be respectful of the writing community. And above all, write the damn book.