Guest Post & Giveaway: Cory Putnam Oakes on The Ten Commandments of the Productive and Sane Writer

By Cory Putnam Oakes
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

As much as we would like to commit our entire lives to writing, most of us live in the real world. We can’t afford to spend our time at Walden Pond or in a permanent, never-ending, writer’s retreat.

We fit in writing amongst our day jobs, our kids, our other commitments, and our daily lives.

This past year, I was blessed with a large amount of writing work. I was doing revisions and copy edits for Dinosaur Boy (2015), writing Dinosaur Boy Saves Mars (2016)(both Sourcebooks), and working on another project with my agent.

It was a crazy year, especially when you throw my two small kiddos into the mix.

I’m not saying that I managed to juggle everything perfectly. In fact, there were days and weeks there when I failed utterly. But I learned from the experience. And I ended up making ten promises to myself – commandments, if you will, for my future self – in the hopes that they will help me to stay sane and still produce work that I am proud of:

Cory Putnam Oakes

1. I will respect my writing time and hold it as sacred. It’s valuable and it’s worth defending and anybody who thinks otherwise just doesn’t get it and isn’t worthy of my attention.

2. I will recognize that despite my best efforts, there are days when writing Just. Isn’t. Happening. I will honor those days, and spend my time doing the Necessary Non-Writing Things, such as “Naming That Character in Chapter 4” or “Researching Chapter 9.”

3. I will recognize that there are days when even Necessary Non-Writing Things are too much. And on those days, I will reorganize my closet. Or bake things. Or binge watch “The Bachelor.” Or do whatever else I need to do in order to regroup and recharge. I will take care of myself and I will not apologize for it.

4. I will hit my deadlines. Each and every time. Because I am a professional and that’s what professionals do.

5. I will plan for chaos. If I know it will take me ten days to do something, I will budget twelve. Because Things happen.

And the most likely time for Things to happen is right before a deadline. It’s like a main law of the universe.

6. I will be supportive of my fellow writers. I will root for them, laugh with them, cry with them, and commiserate with them. Because they are my people and they do the same for me.

Discussion & Activity Guide

7. I will not compare myself to other authors, my books to anybody else’s books, or my career to anybody else’s career. My journey is my own and I will respect it as such.

8. I will read. At least two books in my genre every month.

9. I will not sacrifice, in the name of “time management,” the thing that makes all the other things in my life possible. (We all have something, without which, the whole dang opry falls apart. For me, it’s my time spent on the treadmill. Whenever I have sacrificed this, in the name of “not having enough time” I have bitterly regretted it. I will make time for the things that matter.)

10. I will respect my own creative process and not pay undo attention to lists like this (which are, after all, written by other people about what works for them). I will do what works for me and it will be awesome.

If anyone has any further commandments to add to this list, I’m all ears! Who says we have to stop at ten, anyway? That’s like totally already been done.

Cynsational Notes

Cory is a former lawyer, a former Californian, and a current Mexican food enthusiast. When she’s not writing, Cory enjoys running, cooking, and hanging out with her husband and their two kiddos.

Cynsational Giveaway

A Junior Library Guild selection

Enter to win a signed, personalized (upon specification) copy of Dinosaur Boy by Cory Putnam Oakes (Sourcebooks, 2015) and furry prehistoric friend. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

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New Voices: Kirsten Lopresti on Bright Coin Moon

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kirsten Lopresti
is the first-time author of Bright Coin Moon (Sky Pony Press, 2014)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

Seventeen-year-old Lindsey Allen is an A-student who has her heart set on becoming an astronomer. But first she must break away from her mother, an eccentric failed beauty queen who has set up a phony psychic reading shop in their Oregon garage.

Lindsey is biding time until she graduates high school, reading tarot cards for the neighbors in her mother’s shop and recording the phases of the moon in her Moon Sign notebook. Her life changes when her mother, Debbie, decides they should move to California to become Hollywood psychics to the stars. 

As they pull out of the driveway, Lindsey looks up at the silver morning moon. It’s a bright coin moon, which means only one thing: what you leave behind today will rise up tomorrow.

When mother and daughter arrive in Los Angeles with new identities, they move into a leaky, run-down building and spend their nights stalking restaurants and movie premieres to catch that one celebrity they hope will be their ticket. 

When it seems they will never make it in LA, Lindsey is assigned a new mentor through her school. Joan is a lonely, wealthy widow who can’t get past the death of her husband, Saul. Debbie is convinced they’ve hit the jackpot, and plans for a future séance commence.

As Lindsey grows closer to Joan, guilt over the scam consumes her, and she must make the ultimate decision. But can she really betray her mother?

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I prefer to write in the morning. If I have to, I can write at almost any time, provided I have enough caffeine, but it’s harder for me to get started and I’m much more likely to get distracted by other things. I think it’s true that you can train yourself to work best at certain times. I’m used to writing in the morning now, but when my daughters were babies, I used to write in the afternoon while they napped, and that worked well, too.

I have a small office in my home where I generally write. I’m always changing it around, so it’s been several colors, the latest of which is a dull, medium blue. I have two large bookshelves inside it, a reclining chair, and an old craftsman style desk that I bought off someone on Craigslist, after he told me it brought him good luck.

I also have one of those see-through bird feeders on the window. I like to stare at it when I’m stuck or procrastinating and see who shows up. There’s a woodpecker that frequents the feeder, and a bunch of bright yellow finches.

Once in a while, a squirrel will dive bomb it from the roof, and that’s always amusing to see.

Sometimes, if it’s a nice day, I’ll take my laptop outside and sit out on the screened porch. We have a bunch of big, old trees in the back yard, so it’s cool and shaded even in the summer.

We also have a pet rabbit who lives out there. He’ll hop around my feet while I work or jump up on the chair beside me to see what I’m doing. At one point, he hopped into my novel. One of the characters in Bright Coin Moon, a rich widow named Joan, also owns a rabbit.

Could you tell us about your writing community-your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve always had a good amount of support for my writing. My husband was very helpful the entire time I was writing Bright Coin Moon, and my parents always encouraged me to pursue my interests growing up.

I’ve also been a member of a writing group for several years. The group is made up of some of my fellow graduates of the George Mason University MFA program, and we meet pretty much every month.

We exchange work, and we attend events together, and we celebrate each other’s successes by going out for drinks or dinner. There are four of us who have been with the group since the start, and others who have moved in and out.

In the beginning, we were pretty formal. We made a schedule, and when your date came up, you had to come up with something to turn in, but as time went on, we loosened up. If someone has something to share, that person can certainly bring it in, but if not, the meeting will still go on. We’ll talk about books we’ve read or whatever trouble we’re facing with our manuscripts, or just about writing in general. If there is an event like Fall for the Book, which is a week-long festival put on by our Alma Mater, we will revolve around that for awhile, e-mailing each other and meeting up here and there on campus for various events.

I’ve found that the group is invaluable. Not just for feedback, but also to chat with about writing. Other writers just get you in a way that other people don’t. If you tell a normal, sane person you are down one day because several magazines rejected a story you wrote, the sane person might say, “You know, my cousin might know someone who can get you an office job.”

But another writer will say, “I’m going through that right now, too,” or she’ll tell you to try a new ending or something like that. Of course, I’m lucky that I still live fairly close to the school I attended, so I have this opportunity to stay in touch that I might not have had.

If you are looking for a critique group and are a YA or children’s writer, I highly recommend joining SCBWI. They have local chapters with events where you can meet other writers, and there are always sign-up sheets going around at meetings to help you find a group.