Thursday, July 28, 2011

Flowing Like a River

Looking out across the flowing and majestic Hudson River from the vantage point of Revolutionary War site Fort Montgomery by Bear Mountain the other day, I began to envision the people who lived and fought here coming alive again in new books for children. Books for children from PBs through early readers, chapter books, to YA, focus on American historical events and the participants. The stories are exciting for the reader as story as well as demonstrating how each small part played in an historical event is essential to the entire event being successful, whether the MC is the general or a young girl who rides her horse through the night to warn local patriots of danger. Children learn that each person's part is important to the whole. The Hudson Valley has many individual stories as does New Jersey, (the Crossroads of the Revolution), New York, Philadelphia,(where there are numerous stories of children who aided the cause), and of course New England and southern states such as Virginia.

To visit Fort Montgomery on a beautiful sun filled day or Lexington and Concord or the sea coast of Connecticut in the pleasure of a summer afternoon may not give the effect of patriots struggling through a bitter cold winter or wet spring, but it does start the ideas and research in motion to begin another book.

Often our summer travels are closer to home such as to the local produce farm or the city park and spawn great story plots. Visiting the Hudson Valley may not be terribly exotic but it was productive. Some of our writers have had fascinating trips. Judy of this blog gets first prize for gathering research for her novel while gazing out on the rolling hills of Tuscany and Gale gets second for writing while looking out over the sea from the coast of Maine. Another member is visiting a lovely harbor in Ireland and perhaps there is a story waiting there. But where we writers are there will be new ideas flowing with memorable characters in different settings with unique stories.

What book/plot ideas have you discovered during your summer travels?

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Words Soaring Overhead

Sometimes I am so entrenched in mothering-mode, I forget that I’m a writer.

At yet another flag-rugby practice, my daughter chatted happily to a teammate. The coach called out familiar instructions: “Stay in your lane. Move forward. Pass backwards!” At six feet plus, he towered above the children and his words soared over their heads.

I sympathized with the coach. Fifteen five-year-olds moved in thirty directions as he tried to line them up. Why couldn’t they listen?

As a mother, I was mildly bored and glad that I was not in charge. The children were not my problem. Then I remembered: my motherly boredom translated to a writing opportunity. I watched the scene from my child’s perspective.

My daughter pointed at a newly acquired, glittery turtle tattoo on her arm. A teammate reached out to touch it. The teammate told a joke while jumping in place, making my daughter’s smile wide enough to display the gap of her missing bottom teeth.

“Line up!” her coach shouted to everyone. “Stay in your lane!”

Her new friend wasn’t talking to everyone. He was talking to her.

She was listening. My daughter followed her bouncing friend, turning her back toward the coach. Her giggle made me want to hear her friend’s commentary.

Of course children listen – to what’s important to them. What was more important than a new friend? Certainly not lanes.

My grown-up brain forgets, focusing on important things like instilling approved behavior. As a mother, I often lose my objectivity. As an author, I can’t do that.

It is I who must listen, to instill an authentic voice and a child’s perspective in my work. If I stay tuned in to what’s important, maybe readers will stay tuned in to my writing. Maybe even my children will listen to me…

Do you ever tune out? How do you stay tuned in to the world of children?

(p.s. Though it required the coach’s hand on her shoulder, she did eventually line up, and zig-zagged after the ball. Lanes are hard to learn!)

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

So...Have You Seen IT Yet?

If you don't know what IT I'm talking about maybe you've been blasted into space for the past ten years, but somehow The Boy Who Lived has probably made his presence known through the whole universe anyhow. I'm talking about Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows...part 2...otherwise known as THE END. I just got in from seeing it. Yep, a couple of days after the opening. While I was really excited about it, and quite frankly exasperated by the ending of part one last November (I have to wait until WHEN?!) I didn't run to the theater at midnight on opening day. I wanted to wait. To savor the anticipation a little longer.

Well, and after all, since I read JK Rowling's amazing books I KNEW how it all turned out. But would it live up to my own imagination? In the words of a fellow movie goer...

"It was so #$*@ing good!"

I kid you not. I didn't quite exclaim that out loud, but I thought it. As good as my imagination? Hmm...jury's still out.

I'm a fan of BOTH the books and the movies and completely get why some storylines would need to be cut out. The Potter books are so chock full of incredible details and various plot threads that there would be no way they could fit into a 2 1/2 hour movie. I often wonder though, if I would have enjoyed the movies as much as I did without having first read the books?

My favorite character/plot line/arc - whatever you want to call it - was Severus Snape's. (And yes,I think Alan Rickman helped that a bit too.) I always had the sense, even in the first book, there was more to him than a hateful Potions Master. And his big reveal in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows did not fail to disappoint. Simply brilliant. In all honesty I would have been really upset if it was somehow left out of the last movie. Spoiler alert: It's not! But did it live up to the flashback in my imagination? Nope. This was one detail I wondered if I would have completely understood if I hadn't read the books. Not that it's glossed over in the movie, but the whole of Snape's relationship/friendship with Lily (Evans) Potter is done in a fairly quick flashback - cut up in such a way it was a little hard to comprehend, even for someone who read the book.

The least they could have done was get a little red-haired girl with, um...Harry's eye color to play young Lily!! (in the books HP's eyes are green, in the movie Daniel Radcliffe has blue eyes, young Lily Evans in the movie has eyes...huh? But in all the books/movies they play up the fact that Harry has his mother's eyes...hello, CASTING?) Since Lily's eyes are almost a character unto their own in the books, I felt like this was something they completely missed. Minor, I now...but as a fan of that part of the story, well it ticked me off.


It was so $#%&ing good!

How about you? Have you seen it? What did you think? Good adaptation? Or not worth your popcorn money?

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Reading Faster to Find Out!

The new novel by Geraldine Brooks, CALEB'S CROSSING, is set primarily on Martha’s Vineyard and in Cambridge, MA., during the 17th century.

Bethia Mayfield, the protagonist, is an intelligent, thoughtful, restless spirit. She and a native Indian boy defy society’s norms by secretly becoming close friends.

The first portion of the book takes place in 1660. When Bethia’s mother dies in childbirth, she must raise the infant, Solace, in addition to the usual household chores. But she escapes the household drudgery occasionally to enjoy the beauty of the island she loves with its “briny air, its ever changing light . . . the clean and glassy breakers breaking on the sands, the clay cliffs flaring russet and purple each sunset.”

The second section of the book begins in 1661, only one year later, but the reader is immediately dismayed at the change in Bethia’s life. What happened? Where is her sister Solace? Her father?

She’s living in Cambridge, with the “flat fens and dung-strewn pastures” surrounding an “unlovely town” with houses “pressed tight together on narrow lots that have formed a barrier to the drainage of the land behind, so that in foul weather all turns swamp and mire.”
“Since the townsfolk do not trouble where they tip their slops, the air reeks, and everywhere the middens rise, rotting in steaming piles of clutter and muck. The creek is brackish . . . since the town uses it as a drain.”

In this detestable atmosphere, Bethia’s now both cook and housekeeper to Master Corlett’s boy students. I read faster and faster to find out why. I had to wait thirty-two pages to find out about her sister Solace. And forty-four pages to find out what happened to her father and why she's now an indentured servant.

Geraldine Brooks played with my curiosity, but I kept reading. Does the author risk losing readers by withholding information too long? When does this trick work? When does it fail?

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I Swear, It's Funny

In my June 17th post, Why the ___ Didn’t I Write That Book First?, about Adam Mansbach’s bestseller, Go the F___ to Sleep, I ended with the question, What kind of spinoffs would you guess are in the works?

Flipping through last week’s The New Yorker, I came across a hysterical cartoon by Barry Blitt that answered the same question. Did anyone else see it? If you have a subscription but missed the cartoon, it’s on page 40 of the July 4, 2011, issue. It’s also archived on the website.

Since I don’t have permission to reprint it, here’s the gist of it: The cartoon, titled “Not Suitable for Kids Books,” features mock book covers with titles like, “You’ll Never _________ Amount to Anything, Just Like Me,” What part of ___ ______ __________ _____ ______ don’t you understand?” and my favorite, “Why the _____can’t you be more like your brother?”

Check it out. It’s a guaranteed giggle, which seems a good idea on this maddeningly hot day. (It’s 90-something in New Jersey.) Cheers.

p.s. This just in. Someone tweeted the cartoon. Google "twitpic more books in the go the fuck to sleep series" and you'll find the link. The Anthony Weiner joke is a side-splitter.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

It's a Matter of Trust

Recently, I began reading a mystery by one of my favorite "grown-up" mystery writers. The opening pages began with a chase scene.

I do not like chase scenes. I especially do not like them at the start of a book when I don't know the characters or their situation. Usually, these types of scenes at the beginning of a novel make me put a book down.

But this time I did not put my book down. I paid careful attention and waited for the story to make sense. Soon it did. Within a few pages it took off and it was quickly up to my favorite author's usual high standards.

This whole experience made me think about how much of writing is about trust.

Every time we write a book or a story, we must gain the trust of our readers. If an author has written many successful books, readers may give that author a bit more of a chance. Trust has already been established, just by the author's name. But, for the rest of us, every chapter, every scene, every word we write is critical to establishing that trust.

This made me think about First Page sessions and why that first page is so very, very critical How can I gain the trust of a reader with my very first words so that reader totally and completely enters the world I am trying to create?

Yes. It's all a matter of trust. Hopefully my stories are up to the challenge!

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth!

Despite political and economic challenges, one American institution still remains a source of hope: The American educational system. It needs improvement. It is not fairly distributed. Some students work much harder and longer than others to obtain a college degree. But higher education remains available to all.

A recent incident underlined this. In researching an ancestor, Thomas Wickham, who arrived in America from England around 1640 and made his way to Wethersfield, CT, I found that an incredible amount of research has been already been done on him, some of it as early as 1852 and some centuries earlier. Why?

He was a Puritan wool merchant. His wife ran a school for girls. They raised seven children. Neither Thomas Wickham nor his descendants were particularly important. None signed the Declaration of Independence. None ever held high office or discovered anything.

In trying to find an answer, I found many researchers had tried to link him to the family of William of Wykeham, born in 1324, 300 years before Thomas. Wykeham, a powerful man, was Bishop of Winchester, twice Lord Chancellor of England, as well as founder of New College at Oxford. 19th century American wanted the link for the novelty. But 15th century and 16th Englishmen wanted a blood link for the political and social clout it carried. Why? Because then, college matriculation required a pedigree.

I'm not sure I or anyone will ever prove a link to the more famous Wykehams, even given the newly digitized information available. Most likely, Thomas Wickham, like so many others, left England because he had no claims to a title, and therefore no opportunities in England. He came to America where slowly, higher education became a possibility for all. No pedigree necessary. Happy Fourth!

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Viva Research!

Sometimes research is the best part of the process. Especially if it takes you to Italy.

I'm writing this post from a gorgeous agriturismo about 30 kilometers south of Florence. It's the same path my MC travels in my WIP. While I could have written the scenes without actually traveling here, I'm certain those scenes will have greater authenticity because of this trip.

I walked the path my MC walks. I visited the train station my character uses. I took lots of pictures.

And, oh, I drank lots of wine. In fact, I may go open another bottle right now.

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