Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The whimsical world of author and poet Toby Speed

Many of you are friends with Toby Speed on FaceBook or maybe you follow her wonderful blog, "The Writer's Armchair" the way I do, but if you don't, you'll want to do that as soon as you've read through her post below. You'll feel right at home over there, because your favorite tea, a nice armchair and lots of good conversation are waiting  http://tobyspeed.blogspot.com 

Toby Speed and I have been friends since before her youngest daughter, who is all grown up now, started school. Her three daughters are all wonderful treasures, too. We share a lot of great memories of sitting on the porch of Toby's rented bungalow on summer nights talking about books, writing, and silly things that made us giggle until late in the night with the sounds of frogs and geese, crickets and cicadas in the background at Bunnell's Pond here in PA. Nice memories, Toby! 

A few weeks ago, Toby posted an article on her blog about wrapping up the final scene in her work in progress and saying good-bye to a character who has become like a member of the family. Without further ado, here is what Toby (with Kashi her cat in the photo below) had to say about that moment of separation:

 Goodbye to Emma

After more than a decade of work, I'm writing the last big scene in my novel, Death Over Easy. The last first draft is almost done.

In 1997 I picked out Emma's car, which later changed. Sometime around the turn of the century I came up with a few characters who were in a book club together. I wrote fifty weak pages and dropped the story. Most of the characters didn't survive. The book club didn't even survive. My first first draft was like the Wicked Witch of the West―no substance, only style.

From that mess I rescued Emma, who was called Carly then, and LaRue Fusticola, who was always LaRue. I wrote a few scenes with them and with some new characters who had more personality than the old bunch. Then three pilots, who were Emma's uncles, walked into the dining room, and I took a hiatus from the novel to learn to fly.

Inez, office manager at Able Editing
Somewhere around 2005 or 2006 I tried again, getting farther with this first draft than I had before. It still didn't gel. I had a clear beginning, which I rewrote a gazillion times to make "perfect," and a clear ending, which I thought I'd never reach. And nothing in the middle. But I had Inez Lipschitz and Pete Zahn and Pearl and Egon and Ronk and the Lizard and a whole bunch of others who were wriggling around impatiently, waiting to get on stage.

Still, it took me until this year, 2010, to write it in earnest. I started from the beginning and revised what I had, which was about 50 pages. As I worked my way into the story, I realized that much of it had to be changed, or at least that other scenes had to be introduced within those pages. I wrote them. I started this blog in March and declared to the world that I was writing my novel. It was too late to go back. It was time to push on. I lost some sleep for a couple days, but I started writing, and I felt better.

Little by little I got into the flow, and the scenes went faster and faster. After a month, I found that I was already warmed up when I started the day's work, so I didn't have to stoke the fires and get the steam going and the wheels turning. The train was already chugging along. Another month, and I had to make a running start and leap onto that train. Another month or two, and I was no longer getting off the train at all. I was on it night and day.

I was literally living with Emma and all of them, looking into their refrigerators, their closets, seeing what they kept in the glove compartments of their cars. They talked constantly, nudging me with ideas, trying to upstage one another, intruding on my carefully planned plot path. They all had back stories, some really amazing, and touching, and very real. I worried about them.

I especially worried about Emma as I got toward the end of the last first draft. Life was getting much more dangerous for her. She was taking chances I'd never take in a million years. And I always knew what kind of trouble was around the corner. Sometimes I joked about her to my friends―"Better her than me"―but when it got down to the wire, I was truly anxious. I had to keep telling myself it was fiction. Not only was it fiction, but it was my fiction.

And now I'm on the penultimate scene. The scene just before the wrap-up. I started this scene before I went to Kidlit Con, and then I didn't get back to it. Partly it was because I got sick, and partly because life happened. But a good part of the difficulty of getting back to it is that I know that this is goodbye.

Most of the characters have finished their scenes in the book. They still whisper to me, but they know they can't come back onstage. And when I finish what's left of the story, and I write those words, "The End," the door will close. They will all go away.

Emma will go away.

I'm dreading that goodbye. It's going to be a very sad day."

Thanks, Toby, for sharing the poignancy of saying goodbye to characters we love. Sometimes that happens when we're reading a book, too. There's a sort of ache that begins in the region of the heart and we start to read slower and slower. Oh, we know that we can read the book again, but it's never quite the same as the first time, is it?  We love comments, and we'd love to hear about your reading and writing experiences. For example, when I finished writing Hattie On Her Way and mailed it off to my editor at Candlewick Press, I came home, lay down on the couch and moped. I missed Hattie, the whimsical Horace, Buzzard Rose the cook and Hattie's grandmother.  When I was ten I read the Wind in the Willows and I felt the very same way when I came to the last page and closed the book. I didn't want it to be over, and that's one reason why I'm a writer. I want to live inside the story.  So please share your thoughts with us or just say, "Write on!" 

Learn more about Toby here: www.tobyspeed.com

Sadly, Toby's wonderful books are out-of-print, but Toby has a limited number that she's willing to part with and personalize for you as a perfect gift for a favorite child! To purchase your copies, contact her by e-mail to learn about the one-time special offer for this blog post: toby(at)tobyspeed(dot)com  Read about a couple of her books below and go to her web-site to learn about more of her exceptional books: www.tobyspeed.com

TWO COOL COWS review from Publishers Weekly: Those wanting to know why the cow jumped over the moon will find some tweakingly twisted answers in this nonsensical story. "Two cool, too cool" cows from the Huckabuck farm are looking for fresh grass, and they jump to the moon to find it. The moon is cool, too-with cows aplenty beating bongo drums and doing the bunny hop. But the two cool cows are wearing new "black button-back boots" belonging to the four Huckabuck kids, who call them home for milking time. The kids are pleased: Kate plays the fiddle, little Doug laughs and Daisy runs off with Spoon. Speed (Hattie Baked a Wedding Cake) gleefully and rhythmically subverts the nursery classic. And Root. . . plays along zestily, coloring the Huckabuck farm with quiet, pastel tints and the moon with rich, jazzy tones-some of which "return" with the cows. A rewarding romp. Ages 4-8.   TWO COOL COWS was an ABA Pick of the List and won an IRA-CBC Children’s Choice Award.

BRAVE POTATOES (From Kirkus Reviews) Speed and Root (Two Cool Cows, 1995) pit a platoon of feisty prize spuds against grimacing chef Hackemup in this gleeful culinary contretemps. Once the sun sets over the county fair's Bud and Bean Arena, the potatoes open their eyes and rumble out to sample the wild carnival ride called The Zip--until Hackemup, chef at the Chowder Lounge, snatches them up, singing delightedly of Idaho and Juliet . . . Romeo and Julienne. . . .Any way you slice it, this tuberous triumph will have readers rolling in the aisles. (Picture book. 7-9) 
BRAVE POTATOES was on The New York Times and Publishers Weekly Children's Bestseller Lists and was named a Blue Ribbon Winner for 2000 by the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. The book was featured on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon and Daniel Pinkwater.

We'd really love to hear from you! Please take a moment now to leave a comment about Toby's post. I'm off to order her books before it's too late!

As a thank you for being such dear friends throughout the year, I'll be back the end of the month for the Season of Giving with lots of presents as giveaways.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Who is the Lucky Winner of MARBURY LENS?

Happy Book Birthday to The Marbury Lens. The book is officially released in bookstores today. Join the celebration here: http://www.ghostmedicine.com

Before I announce the Lucky Winner of The Marbury Lens, you'll want to find out a little bit about what's coming. We're going from the realm of scary to the whimsical mind of a friend who will share an inside view of the writer's life and what it's like to complete a novel that's been in the works for years. Her words resonated deeply with me, and I wanted to share them with all of you writers, readers, teachers, librarians, friends. Keep an eye on your blog readers. She'll be here on November 16th.

So how do I pick a winner, exactly? I number all the comments with my own excluded, although I wouldn't mind winning every so often, and go to random.org, punch in the number range and see what number comes up. It takes the pressure off when you really really want everyone to win! The winning number was seven (7)!
That's **KEVIN**   Kevin, please e-mail me: claragillowclark (at) gmail (dot)com with your full name and address. The autographed ARC will be on its way shortly thereafter. As everyone knows, if I don't hear from Kevin within one week, a new winner will be picked. 

Please take a moment to congratulate Andrew Smith and the book birthday of The Marbury Lens! Thank you!