Thursday, October 15, 2009

Day FOUR of Five

I met Arabella Grayson at a writers' conference and was drawn to her at once. In addition to being a beautiful woman, she sat in the lecture alert and ready, those lively eyes truly sparkling with the anticipation of learning something new. It was no surprise to learn that she had a very unusual "hobby"...a passion, truly, and one that she has developed into what will soon be a book. Arabella has amassed what is possibly the world's most comprehensive collection of African American paper dolls, one of them going back to 1863. I've asked her to visit the blog today and post more about her collection. She'll check in during the day and again tomorrow, so please ask questions!

(Arabella has posted a fascinating response, so be sure to scroll to the bottom of today's post and click on comments!)

I'm often asked about writers and their processes, so I decided to put out two questions and see what kind of responses I received. Here are their responses. If you have questions for them, click on "comments" at the end of this post and I'll try to get responses before my time's up on Friday night.

Question One: With one (or more) of your books, how much time passed between writing that first sentence and submitting a final manuscript to the publisher?

Sandra Gulland: Finding that first sentence is what takes a long time! The original Mistress of the Sun was a short story, written in 1992. I started the novel version the following year, but put it aside after signing a contract for a trilogy. I picked it up again in 2000, when the last of the trilogy was published. Mistress of the Sun was published in 2008, a genesis of 16 years.
Christine O'Hagan: My novel took 2 years to write. My memoir a little less than 2 years.
Amanda Eyre Ward: About 3-4 years of cozy, wonderful, nerve-wracking, despondent, thrilling, slow and lightning-fast typing. (Which adds up to approximately 4681 cups of coffee and 1429 glasses of evening Chardonnay, 54 margaritas, 1856 pages written but never used, 13-23 characters completely developed but yanked from the novel when they don't belong, 754 nights of reading others' brilliant books, and 530 mornings where I wake up at 3am and scribble for a while, convinced that I know something more and better about my novel.)
Beverly Donofrio: For my first memoir, seven years; my second, two and a half.
Eileen Goudge: Takes me about 9 to 10 months, with three drafts.
Liza Nelson: 10 years from first sentence to submitting to agent. Two months from agent to publisher. It was my first fiction book written. Also, it has taken me another ten years to complete my second (and no publisher yet).
Carrie Kabak: Cover the Butter: 4 months; Deviled Egg: 4 years and still going

Question Two: When your book was published as "first novel/book"...was it the first you had written...or the first published? And if you're willing to share this, how many books did you write before you were published?

Sandra Gulland: I stole the title of [my] first one, The Last Great Dance on Earth, to use as the title of the last novel in my Josephine B. Trilogy. I imagined that the characters in the original Last Great Dance were hopping mad about it, too. Plus, I ballooned a chapter of the second unpublished novel into the Trilogy. So you see: nothing is wasted!
Caroline Leavitt: I never intended to be a novelist. I wanted to be a short story writer. A short story, Meeting Rozzy Halfway, that I had entered into Redbook's Young Writers Contest, won first prize (to my astonishment--it was a bleak story of mental illness in 1960s Boston suburbia) and immediately it got me an agent—and a book deal. I had no idea how to write a novel, or how the short story could grow to a novel, but my agent helped me map out an outline so I wouldn't feel like hurling myself out the window!
Christine O'Hagan: My first novel/book was the very first I had ever written. Up until that time, I wrote newspaper and magazine articles.
Amanda Eyre Ward: I wish! I wrote a whole long novel called Between A River and A Sea—a mother disappears during Hurricane Bob on Martha's Vineyard. The book is hundreds of pages of beautiful sentences strung together with absolutely no plot or resolution. Then I wrote four versions of Sleep Toward Heaven, which was rejected by every big house in New York, and finally published by MacAdam/Cage in San Francisco. Close Your Eyes will be published by Random House in 2011.
Eileen Goudge: I published a number of teen novels before I wrote Garden of Lies, my first adult hardcover, 34 in all—I was one of the original Sweet Valley High stable of writers. My very first novel, though, was published by a now defunct press, for the princely sum of $1,500, under a pseudonym which will never be revealed. Needless to say, it was flawed.

So all of you writers who think you can't write because it's taking forever, don't despair! And those of you who have never written, but are burning with a story that must be told, please tell it!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Victoria. Thank you for inviting me to your blog, and for being so supportive and accessible. In answer to your three questions about one of my favorite topics:

    How I began collecting . . .
    I never intended to collect paper dolls, ever. I received my first Black paper doll from a friend, enclosed in a birthday card, around 1995. I’d not recalled seeing one before. That adorable little Caribbean paper doll birthday gift piqued my curiosity, and one day while in a book store in Berkeley I looked in the childrens section for other Black paper dolls. I found Addy. Published in 1994, she is depicted as an enslaved girl, albeit one who escapes. As I stood in the store trying to reconcile the illustrator’s image – a smiling little girl in a bright pink frock with her caged pet bird and a kerchief brimming with goodies – with the story line. Addy looked like she might be on her way to a church picnic or faire. Wanting to know more, I began reading the accompanying literature, which stated the first African American paper doll was published in 1863. Not knowing the identity of that doll and whether or not she was based on a real or fictional character lead me to to my current preoccupation – a full-blown collector of Black paper dolls. I discovered a thriving community of collectors, artists, dealers and enthusiasts. I visited dolls shows, secondhand and antique stores, did exhaustive Internet searches, talked with dealers, and attended the paper doll convention in 2003, researching the topic and buying and being gifted paper dolls along the way.

    A bit of paper doll history . . .
    Paper dolls as playthings date to the mid-1700s. Printed and drawn on handmade paper, a commodity the average wage earner could ill afford, paper dolls were a pastime for upper class European women. It wasn’t until 1812 that the first paper dolls were printed in the United States. The first known massed produced African American paper doll published in this country is Topsy, a fictional character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Published in 1863, she also happens to be the earliest paper doll in my collection. However, I discovered what I believe is an earlier paper doll based on a person of African descent in a doll catalog. The swarthy man with curly locks was published in 1811 in England. His image can be viewed on my website. I'm still trying to determine the identity of the character.

    With the advent of paper mills, paper dolls began being mass produced in large quantities. The 1920s through 1950s are considered the golden years of paper dolls, when millions of them were produced annually in womens and childrens magazines, newspapers, box sets, inexpensive books, and greeting cards, and as advertising premiums. Many of these paper dolls were based on movie stars of the times. However, African Americans were generally depicted in gross caricature and mocking stereotype as mammies, sambos, and pickaninnies and other subservient characterizations from the 1860s through the 1950s. With the sustained campaign for civil and social rights, landmark Supreme Court legislation, and the Black pride movement, more realistic and varied images of African American began appearing in popular culture and a variety of media, including paper dolls. Paper dolls reflect and reinforce societal trends and attitudes, and document fashion, graphic and printing trends.

    My book. . .
    It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been researching the topic for more than a decade now. After I wrote my first article about the topic, I decided that I had enough original material to write a book. Since I wrote the first draft five years ago, it’s been a work-in-progress. I am making final revisions now before sending it off to the editor. The long awaited Precious Playthings: An Illustrated History of Black Paper Dolls, The First Two Hundred Years is based on my collection and chronicles the fascinating and little known history of Black paper dolls not only in the United States, but in Europe, South America and Africa. It’s truly been a labor of love.