|By Photo by Nick Michael (Private collection) |
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
December. We look back and summarize our year on Christmas cards. Book review journals summarize a year of publishing in "best" lists.
School Library Journal has published three Best Books lists: Fiction, Non-fiction, and Picture Books. (From the fiction list, you can access the other two lists.)
These SLJ lists hover around twenty titles in each category. It's interesting to compare those lists with the shorter (more selective?) list from Horn Book.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
I love it when I'm on the other end of that deal, too. When I open a box and in it is exactly what I want at that moment.
But I'm lucky. Really lucky. I get that feeling of opening up a box and finding that exact special treat so many times every year. I get it every time I walk into my library.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Thursday, December 5, 2013
To follow up on Julie's post, I think writers have been adhering to the "common core" for centuries. Most writers are not just story tellers. They are teachers as well. It comes naturally to them to describe a scene, a sequence, a beginning and an end. Writers raise questions and answer them. They use history, science, anecdotes, folktales old and new, stones, ducks, rabbits and wizards to tell their stories. In every story there is something that relates to what constitutes an education for a child.
I was reminded of this today in a Wall Street Journal piece, "The Hunger Games" Is a Civic Lesson" by Robert Pondiscio, a former fifth grade teacher in New York's South Bronx. He explains that when parents decry the brutality in Suzanne Collins' novels, they overlook the excellent opportunity the author offers. Not only do the books keep "reluctant" readers turning the pages, but, Mr. Pondiscio says, "they also provide an opportunity to educate kids about the relationship between the individual and the state, personal rights and responsibilities, and the civic duties expected of citizens."
So, writers, worry not. Keep on writing, whether it is about Yetis, frogs, spoonbills, alligators or penguins, graveyards or vegetable gardens. You are all "writing to the core."
Sunday, November 24, 2013
“To align instruction…so that many more students than at present can meet the requirements of college and career readiness.”
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Nathan Bransford's contest to win a Kindle in honor of his new book How to Write a Novel is over, but he's published many of the "Favorite Writing Tips" he received as contest entries.
I quoted Lela, the winner, in my comment to J.A's post last Wednesday: "Write. Write poorly, but WRITE."
But there are other gems . . .
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
But do I still want to?
Friday, November 8, 2013
I do a lot of my writing when I'm inspired. An idea takes hold of me and I just can't stop writing.
This is a very fun kind of writing to do. My writing tends to just flow.
But I often don't dedicate nearly as much time to writing as I would like to do. Life keeps getting in the way.
Recently I was able to dedicate one evening a week just to writing. An evening to myself! When I could focus all my time on writing. It sounded like heaven. But...
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
I asked my husband at dinner, what's your favorite character in literature? After convincing him that Alfred Sloan ("My years at General Motors") was not what I was looking for, he came up with Faust. He said, "I like characters with whom I can identify."
Granted, I could understand Sloan (my husband is a linear businessman) and not so much Faust (my husband is not that consummate a businessman, selling his soul, etc., but at least he picked a character with hopes and faults; in this instance, faults too great to save his soul.
Creating a sympathetic main character or characters is the writer's biggest challenge. Somewhere between nice and nasty is a good beginning…you want your reader to like her, and yet if the heroine is too nice, your reader will figure that there is no point in reading further. Nothing of interest is going to happen. Too nasty, and the reader will also lose interest. Newspapers have more to offer.
The writer must create is a heroine who knows what she wants, but whose human weaknesses prevent her from achieving them…initially. As a reader we want to be one step ahead of the heroine. We want to see her mistakes, to say, "wait, that's not such a smart move" And we want to cheer her on when she finally makes the right choice. In the end, we want to identify completely with her, to fall in love a little with her even. And when the book ends, we want to find it hard to say goodbye.
Saturday, November 2, 2013
Monday, October 28, 2013
Received a contract last week for "Two Young Frogs: An Old Japanese Tale." (Post of 10/17) Those frogs will appear in Highlights someday. Perhaps mentioning map skills did help.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
2. What is your favorite part about blogging?
It forces me to think critically and more broadly about children’s writing; and it keeps me connected to a larger community in what can be a solitary task.
3. What is your biggest writing challenge?
Keeping my bottom in the chair. I am prone to distraction.
4. What writing book/conference/website would you tell other children’s writers to read/attend/visit?
5. What advice do you wish someone would have given you when you started writing?
Write badly, write worse, and keep going. Don't stop in the middle because you're worried about every word choice and sentence structure -- finish it. You can fix it later. (that's what revision is for). Great writers write awful stuff too.
6. What book (or books) do you wish you would have written?
Some Dogs Do by Jez Alborough (picture book); and probably Charlotte’s Web, for middle grade
7. What are you most proud of?
Besides my kids, hmmmm, ask me again after I publish my first book.
8. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? So many places… SouthAfrica (wildlife and wine); Petra, Jordan (city of stone); Israel (Holy Land)
9. Book you most love to re-read?
10. What question do you wish I would have asked you? Please answer it.
Something really easy, like... yes, I'd love another cup of tea!
1. Where is your favorite place to write?
3. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
4. What’s your favorite book(s)?
5. What’s in your TBR pile?
8. What is your biggest source of inspiration?
9. Why do you blog?
Monday, October 21, 2013
Thursday, October 17, 2013
I recently finished retelling an old Japanese folktale. It was critiqued (thanks!) and then submitted to a magazine. It's the story of two frogs, one from the west (Osaka), and one from the east (Kyoto), whose curiosity about new places inspires them to travel. One spring day, they meet on a mountain - one traveling east and one traveling west. Tired and hungry, they devise a plan to view their destinations from the mountain top; to anticipate the new sights at journey's end. But their plan goes wrong - each frog looks in the direction of home! So discovering no new sights, they abort all travel plans. Their curiosity gone, they hop home, never to travel again.
To me, the story is humorous and passes the "so what?" test, but in my submission letter I mentioned an added curriculum-related attraction.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
I am one of three contributors whose responses were merged into one ultimate YA definition:
Friday, October 11, 2013
Saturday, October 5, 2013
Tension produces anxiety, excitement and fear. It's in the book a kid reads with a flashlight after Mom has closed the door. It's in the book a kid hides in his lap and reads while the teacher drones on about long division and percentages. It's in the book that makes the reader care deeply about the protagonist, and what is going to happen to that person.
I think creating tension in my writing is the hardest thing to accomplish. It means I must eliminate sections of description, dialogue and juicy observation, all excellent examples, of course, of my really great writing. At first it is hard to see why my story is better without all these paragraphs, why sixty pages can be cut without anyone (but me) noticing. But it's true.
As I revise, I ask myself exactly what happens on each page. How does the chapter support the plot? Would anyone notice if it were...gone?
Sunday, September 29, 2013
On this perfect early fall day in our small town in western New Jersey, with the sun shining in a deep, autumn blue sky and the leaves starting to turn to oranges and yellows, the local fire company held its annual auction. It seems as if everything under the sun and then some are available for auction or purchase. Stacks of books pour out of the hall, clothes piled on clothes line the firehouse, sports equipment - skates, bats, balls, sleds, skis fill a shed, household items of all imaginations occupy a tent - pictures frames with photos of long gone great-grandparents, old Christmas ornaments that someone once lovingly hung on their tree, and decorations for holidays through out the year, pots and pans, flower vases and baskets, table linens-and the auction tent itself packed with furniture, antiques, picnic tables, bikes, boats, and beyond.
What an auction of ideas for writers - the remains of people's lives. Who used all this? What did this table hear or that chair see? Was it a happy home or did illness, sorrow, betrayal, history of war or economic problems trouble this house? Who looked at this photo and who gave it away?
Auction items are a treasure trove of inspiration for a writer - for plot, for characters, for setting.
As a writer we can say, well, "What if....the owner of these faded silk flowers touched them gently as she smiled at a birthday being remembered?" "What if ...the mother in the sepia toned photo cried as she read the letter from her son at war?" "What if ...friends and family cheered as the athlete with that bat slammed the winning home run?" "What if ...that piece of jewelry was accepted by a teenage girl who then tells the boyfriend that she is making other plans?"
I once heard Mary Higgins Clark, the mystery writer, give a talk where she said she began her first novel, and many subsequent books, by asking "What if...." when looking what might actually be a very ordinary scene or event and imagining something bigger and much more interesting and mysterious. She said she was in Singapore as a young air line stewardess and noticed an international looking group at the next restaurant table and haphazardly thought, "What if... they're not what they appear?" and she was off.
Auctions offer much trash and many treasures but all have a past and can fit in a story as a main character or a minor plot point. A writer only has to ask "What if... " and can be off on a unique new book. Where do you see treasures of inspiration and when have you said "What if...?"
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Friday, September 20, 2013
I should be cracking open the bubbly, eating dark chocolate truffles and propping my feet up, right?
Saturday, September 14, 2013
What makes us remember a character? Not what they're wearing, or the color of their hair, but "their quirks, their body language, their histories, their beliefs." How does a writer create vivid, memorable characters?
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Who doesn't love a good list? Certainly, Buzzfeed readers do. On any given day of the week, Buzzfeed offers lists of advice from Wizard Chic: 10 Ways to Look Like Less of a Muggle to the 25 Most Awkward Cat Sleeping Positions
Monday, September 9, 2013
Recently my son and I have been rereading the "My Father's Dragon" trilogy by Ruth Stiles Gannett. We read all three books several years ago and he loved them. As I was organizing my books in our new house, he spotted this old favorite and asked to read it again. I happily obliged.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
"In media res." I've written on this several times, but in reviewing my own writing, I see again where a leisurely pace has resulted in a less than satisfying manuscript. The slow development of plot and character is no longer possible.
I'm always reading several books at once, and just finished Edith Wharton's autobiography. That made me pick up one of her very early novels, The Custom of the Country. Slowly, oh so slowly, she sketches her character, Undine Spragg. Delicately, oh so delicately she paints the Gilded Age scenery. This is a bit boring, I think, and then, POW, she drops the first brick of the plot and I MUST keep reading. But I'm on page 127.
If Edith were writing today, her book would begin where the brick was dropped. Backstory, all 127 pages of it, would fill in the gaps, inserted only where the plot couldn't be slowed down.
I still find it immensely useful to read earlier works (I just finished reading Beatrix Potter books to the grandchildren) But whenever my writing strays toward that old fashion mode, I try to cut it off, albeit reluctantly. I know I can't go there any more.
Monday, September 2, 2013
Thursday, August 29, 2013
The soul would have no rainbow
if the eyes had no tears.
Last week when in Jackson Hole nestled by the beautiful Grand Tetons, I picked up a book of Native American proverbs. This wonderful quote with its wisdom and rhythm, is the title.
Paging through the book I came across this quotation, pertinent to us all, particularly as writers.
Words are the voice of the heart.
When I read this I thought of the focus of our writing for children and YA's and what part of heart do we want or need to convey to them. Then I thought of the anniversary this week of Dr. King's speech and remembered a book I read as a child of 8 to 11.
Marguarite De Angeli's THEE HANNAH still flashes through my memory, scene by scene. Hannah is a little Quaker girl in Philadelphia at the time of the Civil War. She isn't happy that she has to wear plain dresses and hats while her friend who is of another church gets to wear pretty, flowered dresses of different colors. One day she is walking home when a desperate African American woman with her child who are hiding behind a house, calls to her and asks for help. Hannah tells her parents and they help the poor fugitive to an underground railroad station. The fleeing woman tells Hannah she knew she could rely on Hannah to help her because she recognized her dress as a Quaker. Suddenly Hannah understands the symbolism and her family's courage and heart in living what they believe and helping others. What a great book for children to see other children's conflicts and see how their courage does make a difference.
What a great goal to strive for - bringing help and understanding for heart and soul through the books we write.
Saturday, August 24, 2013
- Elmore Leonard talked about his approach to Bob Greene (Wall Street Journal): "When I get into the writing, I have a pretty good idea of who the main characters will be. But I still don't know exactly how the story will work. And something happens to me in almost every book: A character that, in my mind, may have been fairly minor turns into a major character. I hear him talking, and I realize: This guy is interesting."
- Elmore Leonard always wrote a scene from a single character’s point of view, then often rewrote the same scene from another character’s POV to see if it was more effective.
- His use of dialogue is legendary.
- Though he started writing in the 1950’s, he ‘found his style’ after reading George V. Higgins’ classic 1970 crime novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle, with its prolific profane dialogue: “I read it and I changed my style somewhat…I started to use expletives where they belonged. I started to open my scenes with dialogue. Higgins set me free.”
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
As I sit here on this rainy morning pondering what words of wisdom I'm going to lay on you, my lovely Paper Wait readers, I realize no matter what I say, I will most likely fall spectacularly short. Confession: at the moment I'm feeling a bit empty, maybe even melancholy.
This past weekend, my son went off to college for the first time. And oh...so many feels.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Have you ever wondered why inspiration zaps your brain at certain times? Is it chance? Some scientists think not.
In a 2008 New Yorker article "The Eureka Hunt," Jonah Lehrer describes brain research that seems to explain the why of when insight and inspiration can strike.
"The insight process, as sketched by scientists Jung-Beeman and Kounis, is a delicate balancing act. At first, the brain lavishes the scarce resource of attention on a single problem. But once the brain is sufficiently focused, the cortex needs to relax in order to seek out the more remote association in the right hemisphere, which will provide the insight."
When is this most likely to happen?
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Sunday, August 4, 2013
I am reading Edith Wharton's autobiography, A Backward Glance. It is rich with information on her development as a writer. Most interesting is her commentary on her critic, Walter Berry, who essentially "taught" her to write. I quote much of what she says in its entirety, as it is invaluable for both writers and critics.
About Walter Berry, she writes: "No critic was ever severer, but none had more respect for the artist's liberty. He taught me never to be satisfied with my own work, but never to let my inward conviction as to the rightness of anything I had done be affected by outside opinion."
Stuck with the development of a novel, she asked his opinion. "He looked through what I had written, handed it back, and said simply: 'Don't worry about how you're to go on. Just write down everything you feel like telling.' The advice freed me once for all from the incubus of an artificially pre-designed plan, and sent me rushing ahead with my tale, letting each incident create the next, and keeping in sight only the novelist's essential sign-post; the inner significance of the "case" selected. Yet when the novel was done, I remember how meticulously he studied it from the point of view of language, marking down faulty syntax and false metaphors, smiling away over-emphasis and unnecessary repetitions, helping me patiently through the beginner's verbal perplexities, yet never laying hands on what he considered sacred: the soul of the novel, which is (or should be) the writer's own soul."
It is good to know that even one of America's greatest writers struggled to learn, and that the manuscripts she produced (according to a guide at The Mount, she wrote every morning in bed for four hours) all needed help from a sharp-eyed critic who respected what she was trying to say.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
However, while I was traveling through southern England last month and periodically writing, where did my second-most important character wind up? At another beach: Teignmouth, in the Devon region of England.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
Recently I was researching material for a book set in medieval England and delved into what kind of books were in use then. This prompted me to review the history of book making from the writings of the ancient world engraved on stone tablets, progressing to text inscribed on papyrus in Egypt at the time of the pharaohs and parchment in Greece and the
Middle East to paper in China. The invention of the movable type printing press by Gutenberg in the 1400"s expanded phenomenally the manufacture of books and the distribution of knowledge. And then on to ebooks and the Gutenberg Project which encourages ebooks distribution and expanding information, knowledge and story.
Back in medieval England, books or manuscripts were hand written on parchment and
used by scribes and scholars in goverment, the church and business, as well as by students in universities. We stand in awe of these historic volumes in museums and libraries and prize their history, language, script and illuminations. Hopefully some of the books we work on and produce in printed form or in the eworld will survive to be used and enjoyed in the future, and maybe even occasionally some one in the future will look at them with a little awe.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Monday, July 22, 2013
Over on the OneFour KidLit YouTube channel this month, we are highlighting places our characters would go on vacation. Since THE PROMISE OF AMAZING takes place in New Jersey, I didn't have to think too hard about where the teens in my book might venture on a sweltering summer day. I had such a blast creating this video that I thought I'd share it here as well!
Where would your characters go on vacation?
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
I always sneered at censorious parents till this summer when my daughter got a part in "The Laramie Project,” at camp. It's about that poor kid in Wyoming who was beaten to death for being gay. I didn't stop her, mind you, but I fretted about it to everyone who would listen.
Monday, July 15, 2013
Each year when we go to Maine, I take along a haiku for kids about sunset at the ocean. I've been fiddling with it for years - this metaphor about the setting sun as a basketball. Should the sinking sun be described as a slam dunk or a swish shot?
This year, you can help me decide.
Friday, July 12, 2013
As I zeroed in on the ending of the second major revision of my WIP, I came to a terrible realization. My ending sucked.
First reaction: Overwhelmed. How can I fix it? It's too much work. Maybe I should trash it and start something new. Maybe I should go find some chocolate.
Second reaction: Find the chocolate and think things through.
Third reaction: Okay, I think I've got a new ending, but holy shit! It's too much work. New ending requires new stuff sprinkled throughout. Maybe I should trash it and start something new. Maybe I should open up a bottle of wine.
Fourth reaction: Open up a bottle of wine and get to work.
Here's what I did.
Monday, July 8, 2013
Thursday, July 4, 2013
Happy 4th! Well, maybe. I just talked to my seven year old grandson who seemed a little vague on the details. A BOOK IS IN ORDER said I, and I googled GoodReads for suggestions.
Humm. There are some old standbys, Sam the Minuteman and George the Drummer Boy written with the idea that kids understand things better from a little person's viewpoint. There are lots of books on the subject written from animals' points of view: mice, dogs, bears. Mary Pope Osborn has written on the subject, Happy Birthday America, and a popular book appears to be Wow America by Neubucker. Commenters had good things to say about Jean Fritz's series on the Founding Fathers.
BUT, dear writers, my cursory survey on 4th of July literature indicates there is precious little out there for young readers. An understanding of the unique history of the United States is essential to coming generations. Let's get some new and interesting books on the market!
Monday, July 1, 2013
As a child, when my parents took us places, sightseeing was nonstop. We weren't those "It's Tuesday, it must be Belgium," type people--they didn't rush us through places--but the whole day we were expected to be somewhere, on the move. I thought all people traveled like this.
And then, in my mid-20s, I made British friends..and traveled with them. They took longer hikes "walks" than my parents...but they would also stop for tea. Often. They didn't have to "be somewhere" every moment, or every day. They knew how to take breaks. I was amazed. And ever since then, I have traveled half like my parents, half like my British friends.
So, what does this have to do with writing?
Friday, June 28, 2013
Happy Independence Day to the Paperwaiters and all our children's writers. I'm thinking of the incredible gifts that are ours as writers here on July Fourth when we celebrate liberty and freedom. As writers we celebrate freedom of speech especially, and thus to bring the best literature to children too.
We forget sometimes how we got here...and the Fourth helps to remind us
"Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..."
First Amendment- Bill of Rights
If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter."
"Where the press is free and everyman able to read, all is safe."
Happy Fourth and Happy Writing!
Monday, June 24, 2013
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Dearest Paper Waiters,