Sunday, December 30, 2012
Never “write down” for children or teen readers. One of the major rules for authors, right? Recently I was reminded of just how sophisticated those young readers are.
I coordinate the Reflections creative arts competition at my daughter’s elementary school. Yes, I’ll admit it – I volunteered to coordinate a PTA program. (I hear you snickering, Kurt and Collette! And Heather Smith Meloche graciously accepted my request for her to serve as one of the judges.) This year’s theme was The Magic of a Moment, and the 5th grade teachers required all of their students to enter. Their assignment was to write a poem, essay, or short story, and one teacher even brought in a local poet, Alise Alousi, from InsideOut Literary Arts Project in Detroit to lead a workshop for the kids. (A huge thanks to Kristine Uyeda, writer-in-residence for InsideOut, and local author/teacher Barbara Rebbeck for also serving as judges!)
Alise began by sharing a poem with the class. The students readily identified various elements - similes, personification, alliteration. Later, when the students wrote their own poems, their teacher wouldn’t allow them to turn in their first draft, or their second, or third; she challenged them to dig deeper, to find fresh, unique images, to revise again and again. The kids set their poems aside, returned to them days later, rewrote, and after 3 weeks of this process, they turned in their final work.
As the coordinator, I had the privilege of reading their writing before it got sent to the judges.
“The breeze as cautious as a fawn”
“Fireworks decorated the sky like Christmas ornaments”
“It was like hitting dust”
The students wrote about common, special moments – a new puppy, a new sibling, a soccer goal, a dance recital – but they also wrote about art, fear, nature, life, death, our universe, and the feeling of being merely “a freckle” on the vast landscape of our world. The wisdom of ten-year-olds.
If you’re a teacher or a parent, you have plenty of opportunities to spend time with children and teens, but if not, I encourage you to make that one of your New Year’s goals. I guarantee you’ll be impressed by their deep thinking, and they’ll inspire you to write fuller and truer. In case you missed it, here’s a humorous essay from the NY Times Book Review from an author comparing her two writing groups – the one for adults and the one for 7-year-olds.
I wish you a 2013 filled with love, peace, and opportunities. And since this is a blog celebrating books and writing, let’s kick off the new year with a giveaway.
Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans. In this gripping exploration of a futuristic afterlife, a teen discovers that death is just the beginning.
I’ve followed the Presenting Lenore blog for the past year and was delighted to receive an ARC of her debut YA novel, Level 2, from publisher Simon and Schuster. Even more encouraging was this review by one of my favorite authors, Mary E. Pearson: “Absolutely gripping. My heart pounded on nearly every page. You won't be able to put it down.”
Indeed, Lenore’s novel is getting great reviews praising her world-building and multi-layered plot. The first few chapters present question after question that will keep you guessing and turning the pages.
Level 2 will be released in mid-January, but you can read it now by entering this giveaway. Leave a comment with your name and email. We'd also love to know about other 2013 debuts you’re looking forward to reading. Please comment by Friday, January 11th. This giveaway is for US and Canadian mailing addresses.
* YA Fusion has 294 followers! I'm not sure why round numbers have so much appeal, but we'd love to get to 300. If you're a new follower, please let us know in your comment and I'll give you an extra entry for the giveaway.
* We’ve been so busy that we neglected our What’s News section for many months. It’s updated now, so please take a look and celebrate our good news.
* On Tuesday, I’m sharing a super simple, quick writing tip over at Literary Rambles. Please stop by to help me wish Casey and Natalie a Happy New Year.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Hi friends. The YA Fusion team is on vacation this week, spending time with family and friends. I'm almost ready to host Christmas Eve, except for making the squash and spinach lasagna - it's a lengthy labor of love! This is my Christmas tree with some of the original red lights from my childhood - I love how it makes our living room glow with warmth.
We'll be back next week to kick off the new year with an ARC giveaway. Wishing you a peaceful and joyous holiday season. Cheers!
Sunday, December 16, 2012
When I was a kid, we had a big cardboard box full of Christmas decorations. Once a year—usually the day we put up the tree—we’d dig the box out from under the suitcases in the hall closet, flip open the lid, and listen to Dad cuss as he untangling the strings of lights. Ah... Christmas.Beside the well-damned lights, we had stockings for our post-war split-level with no fireplace, and tons of salt-dough ornaments. Plus... a couple books. The book I remember best was a heavy-duty paperback version of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas—not the Rankin Bass with the talking mice and broken clock—I’m talking pure Clement Clarke Moore. It was shaped like a chimney—probably 24” tall x 10” wide—with Santa’s jolly head sticking out the top. I read that book over and over during the three or so weeks before our homemade foil star came down and we buried the box away, not to be seen until summer vacation when we needed the suitcases.
I mention all this because I’ve been thinking about holidays and books lately (to say nothing of summer vacation). With the many winter solstice holidays coming, I was going to be timely and post a list of YA holiday books. But a quick check the internet says it’s been done by folks with far better reading habits than I. So, I decided to talk about how holidays can help an author tell a story.Holiday World Building
If I say, “Santa’s Workshop,” you likely get a vision that’s similar to mine—gallons of blood and a chipper/shredder full of... wait, that’s Valentines. Back to Santa. We both know his workshop is at the top of the globe. What’s more, if we’re talking Santa, we’ve agreed that there is a Santa. Interesting that we can make that leap easier that we can deal with melting polar ice caps.
Even if the book isn’t about the actual holiday story, the holiday can add to the setting. A contemporary story can have decorated department store windows. A space station 100 years in the future can have a faux-holly wreath. Come to think of it, a wreath might be the one thing the Sci-Fi author doesn’t have to describe.
Holidays come with a cast of well-established characters. You’ve heard of the Easter Bunny; you know about that Santa guy. The author doesn’t have to tell you who they are, even if they’re doing an alt-version. If I say, “Bad Santa,” you know the character just as well as “Good Santa.”
The author may have to establish the year of the story, but the time of year is pretty well set for a holiday. Halloween is the evening of October the 31st. Thanksgiving in the USA is the fourth Thursday in November. A Valentines Dance is in mid-February.
Since I just mentioned Valentines, let’s not ignore the emotional punch associated with holidays. An author need only mention the date to get some hearts racing. Of course, the author can go deeper by having their characters experience the holiday in a relatable way.
Apart from helping with the story, holidays have a broader impact. Clearly the holiday books of my childhood were bought, sold, and saved because of the holiday. They were read every year because of the holiday. And while that might pigeonhole a classic holiday book, I think readers are open to holiday settings any time of the year.I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts—and getting back to my original idea, what are your favorite YA holiday books? Mine happens to be the one I’m writing right now. Well, that and Terry Prachett’s Hogfather, and a friend’s that isn’t quite done yet, so I can’t tell you about it, but it rocks.
May you have the best of whatever holiday you like. I’m off to untangle the friggin’ lights.
Saturday, December 8, 2012
My sister is an artist.
Some of my earliest memories are of her drawing or of people talking about her drawing.
Each word used to describe her and each word is absolutely true. Me on the other hand…I can’t draw a stick figure.
For years, I used to watch my sister about pull her hair out over her work. “It’s not good enough,” she’d say or “It’s not done.”
I would sit back on the couch of our small living room and see nothing but spectacular brilliance. How could she not see the absolute beauty she created when it was right there staring her in the face?
I never got it…until I took my fascination with storytelling and decided to pursue a publishing career.
Last week, I finished revisions for a story and I felt a little stir crazy as I closed out the document. Doubt nagged and chewed at my confidence. My mind raced through all the possible other things I could have done with the storyline, characterization, or plot.
My trusted beta readers and critique partners all told me that it was ready…that they loved the story, but when I would reopen the document, all I saw were things I could have done differently or possibly better.
Let me throw this onto the table: I feel this way with every story I finish and each time I type “The End” I understand my sister.
My book was like her painting; it’s my work of art. While others can appreciate its beauty for what it is, as the artist, I see where I could improve.
And when I made the connection, when I realized I wasn’t appreciating the beauty in front of me, I took a step back and a deep breath.
I love my story. I love my characters and the plot and everything about it. Writers are artists. We use words instead of a paintbrush. I think it’s good that we are always pushing ourselves to be better, but remember to take a step back and congratulate yourself for your accomplishments.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Grief is the response to a loss. The loss could be felt for the death of a loved one, friendship, a business loss, or some other thing considered dear.
If you’re a writer you’ve probably experienced this feeling at some point—probably more than once—over rejection. And you’re allowed to; after all, you’ve poured everything you had, your heart and soul, into a project that you’ve been growing for months, maybe years, only to send it out into the world and get rejected.
Your foundation is shaken, your dream shattered (at least temporarily), your confidence and hope fade like a pair of worn-out jeans.
Everyone in the business encourages you, tells you the best way to handle it is to start on your next project (actually to start it the second you go out on submission). Which is excellent advice; as long as you’ve moved on, or are at least allowing yourself to move through the grieving process…
Step one: Shock and disbelief after hearing the news of the loss.
I had some early interest by a few publishers, one in particular where a senior editor at one of the big houses loved my manuscript and asked for second reads. Unfortunately, she didn’t get 100% agreement from the acquisitions team so she had to pass. To be that close only to end up being passed on was pretty devastating and took some time to settle in.
Step two: Denial-refusal or ability to accept the reality of the situation.
I had to wrap my brain around the fact that I had spent countless hours slaving over something that may never see the light of day. I refused to accept that it was the end of the road for my book—until the rest of the rejection letters trickled in. (I plan on revising eventually and still believe there’s hope: )
Step three: Bargaining is what most people do when hearing of the loss, wishing to reverse the damage.
If I could only make some changes, if the editors would just take a chance on me, I’d do whatever it takes to make it right. Please God, I’ll be a better person; I’ll volunteer to run for office in the PTA, coordinate the can drive, and even offer to be the official Box Top for Education counter and checker of expiration dates. I’ll take part in a fundraiser for a disease I’ve never heard of and unicycle cross-country with a bike club (even though I have no unicycling experience whatsoever). I’ll help search for nearly extinct beetles in the Mohave desert (after I take a look at a map and figure out where the Mohave desert is), if you’ll just let my dream come true.
Step four: Guilt usually overlaps bargaining, blaming oneself.
I felt overwhelming guilt for taking away so much time from friends, family, and especially my children to chase a dream. I have a feeling that no matter the outcome I will always have some guilt.
Step five: Anger expressed outwardly; usually when the grieving process starts to manifest.
I was mostly angry with myself; my writing wasn’t good enough, I didn’t know enough, I didn’t write fast enough. But don’t think the green-eyed monster didn’t rear it’s ugly a head a few times when my writer friends and I would discuss published books that we deemed “pure crap”: )
Step six: Depression—occurs frequently throughout the grieving process.
It’s a hard thing to admit, especially from someone who likes to consider herself a glass-half-full-kinda girl, but depression hit me hard at times, making it difficult for me to continue my next project. Since my WIP was a series idea, it held an emotional connection to my rejected submission. After much struggling, I eventually set it aside and started something brand new. This was a tough choice since I’d actually spent a considerable amount of time plotting, outlining, and had written nearly half of a novel. I don’t regret the decision though, and plan to get back to it eventually.
Stage seven: Acceptance and Hope—realization that things cannot be reversed.
The realization that things are working out just as they are meant to, and that I have no control over timing, is a huge step. I’m not saying I don’t backslide on occasion, but at the end of the day, I have two options when considering the pursuit of my writing career A) dig in and try harder or B) quit.
How many of us have had to pick up our pages, revise them for the bazillionth time, or set them aside and start something fresh altogether? The alternative is letting our characters die, letting our dreams die; and wouldn’t that just give us a whole new loss to grieve??
P.S. Option B was never an option: )