Saturday, April 30, 2011

Meeting Arthur A. Levine

Last night I had the opportunity to hear Arthur A. Levine speak. Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Press, works with new and established authors and illustrators in America and seeks to bring the best of the world's literature to the U.S.

As an editor, publisher, and now author, he has incredible insight into the writing world. And what stories he shared. And words of wisdom for writers and readers alike. He's been around the business, breathed the business, and lived the business. He read his own picture book Monday is One Day, aloud and told the personal story behind its writing.

From Aruthur's furtive meetings in England with Harry Potter's English editor, to locking Harry Potter manuscripts in his household safe, to his love for illustrated picture books, to the writing of his own very personal picture book, Arthur delighted his intimate audience at Wild Rumpus Bookstore in Minneapolis.

One thing he said, perhaps more than any other, inspired my writer's heart, "There's a book for every moment of your life." Yes, there certainly is. And now I will get back to writing one that will someday nestle into a certain moment of yours.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Writer's Muck

As one new to the writing craft, there is much that makes me feel like my writing boots are mired in muddy muck. And it might seem easy to step out of my writing boots onto less murky shores, remove my (now) muddy socks, and walk away barefoot and free. But as writers know, that's really not easy. Not at all.

Even though the writing process is work, literally built one word at a time, when writing lives inside who you are, walking away isn't an option. Characters whisper to you. Settings beckon to be created. Plots align themselves within you.

But when my current work in progress, now seventeen chapters in, told me it began in the wrong place, that instead it begins *here* (chapter 7), discouragement settled heavily into my heart. Immediately, I wanted to change and revise and fix. But that means the rest of the story doesn't get told for a long, long time.

Two writer friends told me to keep writing and think about the rest later. One @mention on Twitter from Noelle Pierce came to mind also. She told me this a few weeks ago (when I said I don't even know if I write well): Get the story out...writing "well" comes in edits.

I'm sticking it out in my writing boots, even though they're mired in muddy muck right now. Word by word my story will be built. And then I'll journey down Revising Road with helpful writerly friends who will bolster me in writing well. I'm certain Revising Road will look like this. Don't tell me if it doesn't.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg

Once I learned of the bloggers promoting artful pieces of middle grade literature on Mondays, the masterpiece beckoned me, and I'm honored to join Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM).

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg was written by Rodman Philbrick, published in 2009, and received a Newbery Honor in 2010. My kids and I read it aloud, as we do many books, and we were engulfed in Philbrick's lively style, humor, and historical backdrop.

The premise: The Civil War rages as Homer's older brother is unlawfully sold into the Union Army by their no-good, scallywag uncle and guardian. In a desperate move, twelve-year-old Homer escapes his uncle and hunts for his brother.

What keeps readers reading: With wit and sincerity, Rodman Philbrick rolls Civil War soldiers, thieves, Underground Railroad conductors, and spies into a rollicking adventure. He reveals the horrendous reality of war as Homer is swept into the Battle at Gettysburg but does so in a way that keeps readers of any age or gender laughing along the journey.

Other MMGMers:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why Write?

All the years I was in school, I loathed history classes. All of them. World history. U.S. History. Ancient history. Chinese history. South American history. It didn't matter. I despised them all.

While studying Ancient Rome in middle school, my teacher told us about Mt. Vesuvius erupting and covering Pompeii with lava and ash. People buried into time. He described how the city literally disappeared until it was discovered, accidentally, over a thousand years later. And then he went on telling dates, facts, and battles of Roman history.

But I tuned out. My brain was buried in Pompeii. I was creating a story - there in my head - about a twelve-year-old girl living in the shadows of Mt. Vesuvius. But I had to free myself of the story or I'd fail the class.

Several years ago, I began reading middle grade historical fiction aloud to my kids. Ancient Egypt in The Golden Goblet. Prohibition in Black Duck. Biblical times in The Bronze Bow. The Great Depression in Esperanza Rising. Turn of the century America in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.

I finally got it. Light beamed from the heavens. Sun poured through the forest's branches. History was a story. It wasn't a chronological time line stretching from then until now. It wasn't facts written into my notebook. And it wasn't a series of battles that changed society. For me, history became real when it became a story.

Reading middle grade historical novels changed my life. It grew a love of history and erupted my writing life. What is your writing muse? Your "I need to write" moment? Your "why I write" story?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Your First Novel

As an aspiring middle grade fiction author, midway through renovating my first novel (and I say renovating because it's not revising; it's major overhaul), I'm curious how many writers queried their first novels. In one regard, I can't imagine not querying it simply because of all the time, effort, sweat, and soul poured into it. In another regard, I know first attempts at anything can be horrendous, or even worse.

Since my current WIP is a renovation, maybe I already wrote that first frightful novel, and the reno is now my second. Just for interest sake, no, I did not query that first version. I knew it was dreadful, and shockingly so the more I read it. But its premise seems strong, so I didn't trash it altogether. I kept the foundation - the premise, three characters, and certain historical references.

So today this novel and nouveau writer is seeking advice. Did you query your first work? If so, why? If not, why not? If not yet, will you one day? I fully realize every writer has a varied path. What you do, what others do, and what I end up doing may be disparate. But hearing other writer's stories helps me digest my new surroundings.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Pre-Writing Journey

How do you start a book? Do you begin with sentences and paragraphs and let the book creatively flow and grow? Do you pre-write with basic ideas about characters, setting, and plot? Do you outline the plot flow of the entire novel before writing anything? As a novice writer, hearing others tell "how I write" stories is fascinating. And needed. And compelling.

When I teach students about writing, I tell them pre-writing in some form is necessary in the writing process. So, writers, take me on your pre-writing journey. What does it look like? How detailed do you go? How do you know when it's time to write? Tell me your before-I-write-the-story story.

(Leave your stories in the comment section of this blog. Any information provided will be shared with whomever else reads this blog. Anything you share may be used in a future writing class I teach. Your name will be withheld. Understand that your process may inspire other writers. Author of this blog is not responsible for anything. All written in parentheses should be read in monotone and very quickly as if it concluded a drug commercial).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New Writer

About a year ago I started writing my first book. I worked on it for six weeks. Then, it was done. And I revised. And revised. And revised. Then it sat on my google docs for six months. Untouched. Last week I emailed it to a friend. And before she even finished reading it, I knew it was absolutely horrible, although she didn't tell me so. First drafts always are. First drafts of first books especially.

So I started thinking about my desire to write books and how I could turn that desire into a never-ending supply of dark chocolate from which I would never gain weight (in cliche form - a dream come true). And I had no idea how to do that. So I joined Twitter. That was also last week. And I got barraged with information. Now, I'm attempting to sort through it all.

As I sorted through information, one thing I learned is I need my writing evaluated by other writers. So I joined an online writing group. Also last week. And started reading other writer's work, commenting on their pieces, and sharing some of mine. And learned that writing is a solitary activity that can't be done alone.

And then I thought I should blog about writing. Writing is a process, there's lots to share along the way. But what do I, a fairly new writer, have to share? Especially to writers much more seasoned and professional than myself? And the answer is - a fresh perspective. Excitement about my new-and-not-a-dollar-made job. Refreshment for the many-dollars-made-pro who needs a cold glass of water for that dried up throat.

And to the new writer? What can I offer them? Friendship in the fellowship of writing. Information they may not know. Like you don't need a Mac in order to be a writer. You don't even need Microsoft Word. I have a two-year-old Dell laptop and write on google docs for free.

And the last thing I can tell all writers, new or pro, is - never start a sentence with and. Isn't that what we were always told? Well, that and, never write in short choppy sentences - except when it seems fitting.