Tuesday, February 16, 2016

GUEST POST: "Beginnings" by Virginia Zimmerman

Every part of writing is hard in its way. 

At the end of a project, saving the document and sending it to critique partners or an agent or editor is an act of bravery. In the middle, when characters don’t behave as we expect them to or plot holes yawn open like uncrossable chasms, writing can feel impossible. 

And beginnings… the blinking cursor on a blank page is an invitation and a promise, but also a threat – what if we’re not able to fill the space with story?

I am at the beginning of a new project. Sort of. 

The truth is projects don’t have firm beginnings. They evolve, slowly, imperceptibly. When did humans begin? It’s not an easy question to answer. When did books begin? With paintings on cave walls? With papyrus? With the printing press? 

When I visit schools to talk to kids about my novel The Rosemary Spell, someone always asks how long it took me to write the book, and I never know what to say. Did the book begin when I first had the sprout of an idea that grew into a theme or a story arc? Did it begin when I finally shaped the plot and the characters that are in the actual published book? 

The truth lies somewhere in between, but I can’t say where, because I don’t think I ever even knew I was there, at the beginning of something that would become a published novel.

So, I should say that I am ready to begin the writing part of a project that’s been germinating for some time. The cursor blinks. The page waits. But how do I start?

When in doubt, I turn to my writing notebook. This is a leather-bound notebook in which I brainstorm and free write. I take notes. I do writing exercises. And I do all of this by hand. 

The exercise of writing slowly, pen to paper, allows my thoughts to take shape. I will use my notebook to pick my way through my ideas until I find a place that feels solid. Once I’m there, I’ll start typing. It probably won’t be the actual beginning of the book. It will be a scene or a conversation. 

It will be a start.

Once there are words on the screen, it will be easier to move forward, bit by bit, into the middle, where I’ll stay for a long time. Eventually, I’ll click save and send, and then I’ll discover that while I wasn’t looking, the next project began, so I’ll sit down with my notebook and watch my handwriting unspool on the page. 

I’ll begin again.

Virginia Zimmerman grew up in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., though she was named for a great aunt, not for her state. When she was young, she enjoyed writing and talking to friends about books, so she decided to grow up into a person who could do those things all the time. She was an English major at Carleton College, and she went to graduate school in English at the University of Virginia. All together, she enjoyed twenty years of formal education, much of it focused on reading. 

When she finished school, she wasn't done reading, writing and talking to friends about books, so she became an English professor at Bucknell University. This means--and she still pinches herself to make sure this is real--she gets to read and write and talk about books for a living. Most of the classes she teaches are about British literature from the nineteenth century or children's fiction. She loves both.

Virginia also loves Catalunya, a beautiful region in the northeast corner of Spain. Her husband, Jordi, is part of a large and wonderful Catalan family, and, for twenty years, Virginia has been traveling with him to visit Barcelona and lots of picturesque villages in the mountains, the countryside and on the Mediterranean Sea. The family has become her own, and Catalunya has become her second home.

Virginia's first home is a two-hundred-year-old house in a small town on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, where she gets to read and write and talk about books with dear friends, inspiring students and beloved family. She lives with her husband, three children and little white dog.

Part mystery, part literary puzzle, part life-and-death quest, and chillingly magical, this novel has plenty of suspense for adventure fans and is a treat for readers who love books, words, and clues. Best friends Rosie and Adam find an old book with blank pages that fill with handwriting before their eyes. Something about this magical book has the power to make people vanish, even from memory. The power lies in a poem—a spell. When Adam's older sister, Shelby, disappears, they struggle to retain their memories of her as they race against time to bring her back from the void, risking their own lives in the process.

"Rosie makes a sweet but stubborn protagonist, and she approaches the disappearance of her friend with a sense of pragmatism that balances the more magical elements of the story, making this a compelling blend of mystery and fantasy." 
"The incorporation of Shakespearean references and poetry gives the story a more mature feel and balances the youthful earnestness of Rosie and Adam. The mystery and magic are subtle, but the little clues that pop up keep the story tense." 
School Library Journal 
* "Plays and lore of Shakespeare trickle through this expertly plotted novel, which will leaving lovers of—and newcomers to—the Bard wanting more." 
Publishers Weekly, starred review 
"Zimmerman provides a wonderful blend of literary puzzles, adventure, and musings over memory and identity." 
"[Zimmerman] deftly weaves the difficulty of loss into a tale of triumph, Rosemary's strength of character keeping her buoyed through the emotional tumult she must navigate to save her friend...A spellbinding story about friendship and the power of prose." 
“Avid middle-grade readers, Shakespeare buffs and poets will revel in Zimmerman's earnest and engaging exploration of memory and memory loss, loss in general, growing up, evolving friendships, and the joy and power of words.” 

Shelf Awareness

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