Thursday, June 28, 2012

"And Then What Happened, Mommy?"

"What happens next?" It's all about the story.

Last week I was visiting one of my favorite independent book stores, the Tattered Cover, in Denver, and was browsing in the PB department. A little three year old girl sat, swinging her sandaled feet back and forth, listening to her Mom read to her. The Mom read, "and then ..." and paused. "And then what happened, Mommy?" asked the little girl. "Then what happened?"

There it was - the magic of story. The little girl was mesmerized with the suspense of the story in the PB - What was happening to the characters? What was coming next?

In the MG and YA department next store a brother and sister picked through the novels, sat in the comfortable easy chairs and delved into the stores. Story was alive there between the covers at the Tattered Cover.

How important it is for us children's writers to work at writing excellent stories, that entertain and educate, that build sympathetic characters, apt settings and intriguing plots. And to make the magic happen for children so that they continue to read, whether it's paper bound books in a fascinating booky book store like the Tattered Cover, or electronic ones on their iPad or Kindle.

It's all about the story and what happens next!

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Manly Writing Rooms

When I came across this article about writing rooms of famous men in the Art of Manliness, I couldn’t resist a peek.

The article includes movie-worthy libraries and studies of authors as famous as Rudyard Kipling, William F. Buckley, Norman Mailer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a few other notable names.  Roald Dahl’s space is such a welcome surprise, I have to share it with you. You can even explore his hut here, through the Roald Dahl museum.
I envy book-walled studies-cum-libraries, finding them soothing and intriguing.  Such a collection of classic novels, well-bound references, historical essays and philosophical tomes must confer greatness to a writer in their midst.  Right?

I can't help comparing my own space to these (or to the beautiful layouts in the Pottery Barn catalogue for that matter).  My shelves are not picturesque. My desk is less so, with works-in-progress competing for desk space with bills, magazines, school forms, etc.  

Roald Dahl’s unique space is an inspiration, and a reminder that less can be more. Rows and rows of books – not necessary. Sparse solitude worked wonders for him.  I wouldn't call it 'manly', but then again, his hut certainly isn’t feminine, not that it matters. 

Mostly, his space was well-defined, and well-used. He was so focused on his work that he often kept the curtain closed.  No distractions.  Oh that my space was so conducive to productivity.  Of all those wonderful writing rooms,  I aspire to his. 

Which room do you aspire to? What about your office -- how do you see your writing space?

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Summer (Reading?!)

Way back when, in my small, private elementary school we did not have a summer reading list. There were no projects to complete. No packets of worksheets so our minds wouldn't turn to mush. The last day we cleaned our desks, received our report cards and didn't have to think about school until after Labor Day.

Now as a parent I greet the summer with a mix of relief (Yay! We can sleep in!) and worry (Okay, now what?) and the statistics of "summer learning loss" that are tossed around as early as a month before school gets out. I particularly enjoy the commercial for a learning center that shows words literally pouring out of a child's ear as he climbs out of the pool. The parent in me gets completely freaked with this information but there's this other part of me that's like...

Oh. Please. Come. On.

Whatever happened to summer just being summer? Family vacation? Time to goof off? Time to swim, make a sand castle, hunt for treasure, sleep in a tent, capture lightning bugs, run just because it feels good or eat ice pops that turn your tongue purple?

Not that I'm against summer reading - I don't like being the ENFORCER.  And while I never had a summer reading list, I usually read during the summer. Mind you, I wasn't reading Newbery winners - more like Forever by Judy Blume or the Flowers in the Attic series by V.C. Andrews. Books that I enjoyed - does it matter if I wasn't analyzing them? Answering essay questions? Thinking about deeper themes and meaning? I read, for the sake of - gasp - reading and I'd really like to raise children who read because they love it as well.

I do think summer reading is important, but so is goofing off. Make anything a requirement and it suddenly becomes a drag. A sure fire way to make any reluctant or rebellious would be reader push away from the table.

So Paper Waiters, what do you think? Is it more important to read from a classic reading list and work on a project than to read for enjoyment? Or can the two co-exist peacefully, especially in the summer?

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sentences That Breathe

In "My Life's Sentences" a brilliant article about writing, (New York Times, 3/18/12) Jhumpa Lahiri claims: "They (sentences) remain the test, whether or not to read something. The most compelling narrative, expressed in sentences with which I have no chemical reaction, or an adverse one, leaves me cold." So what sort of sentence keeps the reader hooked?

"Certain sentences breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil. The first sentence of a book is a handshake, perhaps an embrace. Style and personality are irrelevant. They can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates ... Sentences are the bricks as well as the mortar, the motor as well as the fuel. They are the cells, the individual stitches. Their nature is at once solitary and social. Sentences establish tone, and set the pace."

How does Jhumpa Lahiri create the sentences in her fiction? "After an initial phase of sitting patiently, not so patiently, . . . they begin arriving fully formed. . . I hear sentences as I'm staring out the window, or chopping vegetables. They are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, handed to me in no particular order."

Later, they are "sorted, picked over, organized, changed. Most will be dispensed with. All the revision I do - and this process begins immediately, accompanying the gestation - occurs at the sentence level. It is by fussing with sentences that a character becomes clear to me, that a plot unfolds. . . As a book or story nears completion, I grow acutely, obsessively conscious of each sentence in the text. Each sentence is "confronted, inspected, turned inside out."

Does her writing process seem unusual? Or do you also work this way?

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Personality of the Narrator

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about narrative voice. Not which person to use, but which personage. The narrator's personality is such a make-or-break element of a novel from the very beginning. A really strong narrator grabs you from the first line. For example, Scott Westerfeld’s dystopia Uglies begins with this image: “The sky was the color of cat vomit.” Original. A bit graphic. Also highly descriptive—at least to any cat owner! But also angry. Maladjusted. What a way to see a sunset! Right away we see that the narrator is no Sugar Plum Fairy; it's not going to lead us into the Land of the Sweets.

Westerfeld's heroine Tally Youngblood is bold, frank, original; restlessly counting down the days till her 16th birthday and the total makeover that will turn her into a flawless, bubble-headed “Pretty.” With this first line Westerfeld sets up a tension with the scenario he’s set up for Tally; we know a girl that who sees sunsets as cat vomit won’t find it easy to conform. He sets up a tension between his scenario of seeming perfection and his view of that world. (In this case the narrator is third person, but very close to Tally's point of view most of the time.)

Choosing the narrative voice is one way of choosing what kind of writer you want to be. How do you choose your narrative voice? Do you think about it consciously? Or does it just flow out of you?

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Friday, June 8, 2012

Enjoying Publication!

Last month I wrote about the mammoth to do list I was attempting to accomplish in the two weeks prior to the publication of my picture book, "Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?"

At times, accomplishing all the tasks on the list seemed impossible. But now, several weeks after my book is available for purchase, I can give you the update and...

I did it! Nearly every task I listed is done

The book trailer is now complete. (And I think it looks pretty awesome!) You can check it out here:

And the online Truck Stop Book Launch party was a truckload of fun! (I haven't taken it down yet, so if you haven't gotten a chance to visit yet, please do! Truck Stop Book Launch

And school visits have been so much fun! Especially the one to the elementary school I attended as a child. (My fourth grade teacher brought my fourth grade picture to show to her current second graders. Thanks Mrs. Moskowitz!)

And the Touch-a-Truck day that the Junior League of Seattle planned was so much fun! I got to sign copies of DIGGERS (alongside Seattle's awesome Mockingbird Books) for lots of books for lots of enthusiastic truck fans!

So that's the update! I'm so glad that last month's craziness is gone!

Although it's still pretty hectic around here.

(Two more school visits next week!
Yay! This is fun!)

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Monday, June 4, 2012

Dark and Stormy Doesn't Do It

"Tt was a dark and stormy night." This opening line in Bulwer Lytton's "The Last Days of Pompeii," is considered a literary joke. For years the sentence has been used as an example of how not to open a novel. Today one must start in the middle of the action. Hook the reader, expecially the younger reader. No more scene painting. Description is to be used like salt or vinegar. Sparingly. I'm not so sure I agree with this. Wouldn't a good opening paragraph with time, place, weather, scenery, be beneficial to the reader? Guess not. Like a TV viewer surfing channels for an eyecatching flick, the young reader wants the first line to pull him in. "Lights, camera, action" works best. So I've been examining my manuscript for the eyecatcher. Apparently it is not a teenage farm girl in front of a hot stove. Guess I have to trot out the dead body a little earlier.

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Camping In

I'm camping in this June. Okay, maybe I'll spend some time on my deck with my laptop, but I'm camping in with Camp Nanowrimo. Yes, for those of you who always yearned to write a novel in a month, but couldn't imagine speed writing in November, you can now attend Camp Nanowrimo in June or August!

Camp Nanowrimo works perfectly for me. I had already decided to buckle down and finish my revision in June. Now I have friends and emails cheering me on to reach that finish line.

So excuse me if this post is short -- I have a lot of work to do. And who knows, if all goes well, maybe I'll go to camp in August, too!

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