Category Archives: craft~writing

LET ME COUNT THE LINES

The celebration of Sarvinder Naberhaus’ new gem of a board book continues! Have you ever wondered what unicycles, doughnut trucks, towns, and our solar system have in common? (C’mon, you have at least once, haven’t you?) I’ll let you in on the answer: LINES.

 

lines-9781481490740_hr

And illuminating profound connections between disparate things doesn’t require as high a word count as you may suppose. As authors, we may think more often than most people about the number of words we are writing – did I make my daily quota for NaNoWriMo? Has my picture book inadvertently expanded to chapter book? Is my YA novel so long that no agent could ever even lift the manuscript?

 

Female face behing pile of paper

 

The fewer words we choose to use, the bigger the challenge to create something of substance, a book a child will enjoy having read to them again and again (and a book adults are happy to pull off the shelf again and again). LINES offers the simplest of ideas, carefully crafted. Sarvinder uses sparse language and simple repetition to condense the shapes around us to their basic essentials. Then she expands the reader’s view to see those shapes filling out into every nook and corner of the world around us.

In less than twenty words.

 

pile-of-words

 

That’s right – she pretty much covers the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, from doughnut trucks to the solar system, with just a double-handful of nouns, verbs, and prepositions. The famously constrained Green Eggs and Ham uses a whopping fifty. Goodnight Moon and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! both have over a hundred. Just sayin’.

 

If you’re a writer like me who usually functions at maximum verbosity, you can’t help but be impressed with the skill of writers who can pare down to the essentials and create an engaging book for the youngest readers-to-be.

 

Now are you wondering not only how LINES links so many things but how it does it so succinctly? Only one way to find out – pick up a copy (I promise, it’s as light as a doughnut) at IndieBoundBarnes & NobleAmazon or your favorite bookseller and take a look at how Sarvinder and illustrator Melanie Beck made it happen!

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Filed under Board Books, Book Launch, craft~writing, Uncategorized

Revision—To Quit or To Quilt?

I’m going to give it to you straight.

Writing is challenging enough, but to revise a manuscript—to critically reconsider each element and rework it—takes next-level commitment. Everything matters, from the tiniest detail to a panoramic vision of the whole.

The word revise is of French origin and means, “to see again.” At some point in the creative process, your writing must be seen afresh, and no one can do that like you. You, after all, envisioned your idea and with the barest of materials—imagination, emotion, words—undertook to create something both beautiful and useful. Because of you, a unique manuscript came into the world, and at some point, you will strive to revise it. Your instincts about this prospect are correct, at least in part.

Correct:

-It will be demanding and will require a fresh outpouring of determination.

Incorrect:

-You can’t do it.

You can and moreover, you will. Why? Because you love and believe in your manuscript. Trust me, you wouldn’t have gotten this far if you didn’t. If you didn’t believe in your story and in your ability to tell it, then all the notebooks, colorful thumb drives, or even that pesky laptop would be mouldering in a drawer.

Like my single, sorry attempt at a quilt.

Sure, I bought the supplies. I had coordinating fabrics, the roll-y cutting blade thing, and the self-healing mat. I had templates, thread, and batting. I read the directions. I even had middling good intentions.

I barely got started. Turns out, my heart isn’t drawn to fabric and batting, and I can’t cut a triangle to save my life. I wasn’t committed and before long, I knew it. I put my quilt stuff in a drawer and moved on.

I deeply admire quilters. I’m dazzled by the skill and artistry required to make even a basic quilt. I appreciate quilting’s history, its regional and cultural variations, and its stitch-by stitch manifestation of mathematical understanding and applied color theory. Behold this gorgeous example:

Now that I’ve tried my hand at quilting, I esteem these creators and their profoundly beautiful, profoundly useful, something-from-nearly-nothing coverlets much more. Their commitment to each one is self-evident.

I admire writers too. Their next-level commitment to creating the profoundly beautiful and profoundly useful is self-evident. Which brings me back to revision.

I don’t care if your manuscript is a 15-word board book or a Game Of Thrones-esque monster, you’ve come this far and will persist. With the courage of your convictions, you’ll disassemble your writing as laboriously as you pieced it together. You’ll pull it apart at the seams, tease out the stitches, and cut where you must to shred what was whole into back bright scraps. You’ll re-see it. And then—here comes the magic—you’ll bring it back together. The final result will be soft and strong, colorful, useful, and durable. It will offer comfort and cheer, warmth and inspiration. Born of tireless work and loving patience, of an open mind and a more open heart, it will be a wonder.

And that’s the truth.

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A few picture books about quilting:

Patricia McKissack and Cozbi A. Cabrera’s STITCHIN’ and PULLIN’Stitchin and PullinGeorgia Guback’s LUKA’S QUILT.

Luka's Quilt

Ann Whitford Paul and Jeanette Winter’s EIGHT HANDS ROUND.

Quilt image credit: Soldier’s Quilt, Artist unidentified, Probably United States, Canada, or Great Britain, 1854–1890, Wool melton, 67 x 66 1/2 in. American Folk Art Museum


I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. It will be illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka.
I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Advice, craft~writing, Editing and Revising, Inspiration, Uncategorized, Writing

Loving Your Literary Litter

Here’s the truth of it: The manuscript you first write may not be the exact same manuscript that convinces an agent to represent you. The “I-got-an-agent” manuscript may not be precisely the same manuscript that the two of you sell to a publisher. The “I-got-a-book-deal” manuscript will likely not be the manuscript that eventually ends up as a book on a proper shelf in a proper bookstore.

These manuscripts will be similar. Oh, yes. They will be similar.  Many of the words will be the same. The narrative structure might even be the same. Of course, the living, beating heart of the story that gave it a chance in the first place will be the same. But as the manuscript evolves, what initially seemed like one beautiful and stalwart dog…

Golden

becomes more like a litter of puppies. Where-to-get-a-golden-retriever-puppy

I hereby give you permission to love them all. You may love the brand-new one, all sweetly damp with its eyes sealed shut. You may love the one that snores while it sleeps with its tummy full of milk. It might not be the liveliest, but it sure is cute! You may love the one that’s starting to show some personality, that scampers around and nips just a little too hard with its razor-sharp puppy teeth. You may and you should love them all.

But unless you’re going to be some kind of puppy hoarder—which doesn’t serve you or your plentiful puppies—

puppy attack

You get to keep only one. That’s right. One.

You’re not going to make this choice by yourself. Others will be involved. The potential puppy’s vet. The potential puppy’s trainer. They will look at all the puppies in the litter, tumbling about and tearing the place up, and they will help you decide on one.

Wait. We’re not talking about a *real* puppy. We’re talking about YOUR BOOK. The others involved will be your trusty agent and editor.

Secret Agent

But back to puppies.

Bit by bit, the right puppy will emerge. It will distinguish itself from its littermates. It will mature, develop manners, learn not to jump on guests. Its essential sense of self will be cultivated, its strengths enhanced. It will be groomed until it shines like a shiny, shiny show dog.

Groomed

(Dog geek alert: I’m pretty sure this is an English Toy Spaniel. The muzzle looks too pushed-in for a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Feel free to weigh in.)

It will be ready to strut its stuff in front of the whole world and make you proud. Griffon

And your puppy-love will deepen into true love.Jenna Marbles

Remember, none of this happens by accident. Without long walks, lots of attention, some sleepless nights, and consistent discipline, your book-puppy will never become all it’s meant to be.

And it’s meant to be nothing less than a champion.

Best In Show

I look back fondly at my many versions of BABYMOON. They still have all their puppyish charm for me. The earliest is spare yet lyrical. Later ones are more developed, with complete sentences and a more varied rhythm. The final, more nuanced version is quite different from its siblings, and yet it bears a strong resemblance to all of them. I guess you could say it’s the pick of the litter.

Enjoy the day.

Hayley

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I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My debut picture book, BABYMOON, is coming from Candlewick Press. Come hang out with me on Twitter @hayleybwrites, Facebook, or in the meadow: http://hayleybarrettwrites.wordpress.com

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Filed under Advice, Agents, Colleagues, craft~writing, Creativity, Discipline, Editing and Revising, Editor, Publishers and Editors, rhythms, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing and Life

When is it okay to call yourself a writer?

You hear authors say “I’ve been writing all my life” or “I’ve been writing since I was a little kid.” But for many of us I think the moment we actually label ourselves a “writer” can represent a significant step in this journey we’re on. This was true for me. In one of my early journals I wrote the following –

IMG_0152I couldn’t spell (thank the gods for spell check), but I obviously knew I wanted to write. I wrote all through high school, won a statewide poetry award, but then life got in the way. I wasn’t confident that I could make a living writing. I got interested in environmental issues and went a more scientific path. Even so the sneaky writing muse was watching out for me. I didn’t end up in a lab, I became a planner and project manager with significant responsibilities in, you guessed it, technical writing. But the writing I do for work is as far from creative writing as you can get while still using words.

For years I thought I couldn’t write creatively and do the technical work I was making my living at – then after a while (and I mean a decade or two) my thinking shifted. I give huge credit to my parents, they always remembered I was a writer when I forgot, and this helped me admit that since there were always four or five stories gamboling about in my head, I might as well write them down.

For a while it was my little secret. I didn’t tell family or friends. Then over time when people asked “what’s new” I would shyly admit that I was doing some writing on the side. It was well into my second full manuscript, that I realized two fundamental truths. First – if I called myself a writer, not only would others take me more seriously, but I would feel more grounded in the responsibility of putting butt in chair and getting the work done. Second, I’d been hesitant to call myself a writer because I didn’t have an agent and I wasn’t published, but in fact I was a writer. I was putting the words down, reading, honing my craft skills, and becoming active in this amazing world of other writers doing the same thing. So, if you are in that place between “doing some writing” and “being a writer” I urge you to take that leap. Honor your skills and the hard work you’re doing by calling yourself what you are. Print up business cards. Put it on your Face Book page. Then enjoy the journey.

P.S. if you want more in this vein, run don’t walk to pick up Elizabeth Gilbert’s book BIG MAGIC. Empowering – I promise.

DarceyHighResDarcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel will be published by Henry Holt/MacMillan in spring of 2017. KEY TO HEAVEN, an historic fiction, tells the story of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. With her critique group she runs the Better Books Workshop – an annual small deep craft conference held in Northern California. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her fabulous husband and perfect daughter, some fish, and the best dog in the world. By day she is an environmental planner and when time permits she paints and costumes for a 5-8 year old theater.

Find her on Facebook or Twitter @Darcey_r

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Filed under craft~writing, Creativity, Discipline, Dreams Come True, Happiness, rejection and success, Thankfulness, Writing, Writing and Life

Exchanging Doubt for Joy

Heart PicIt’s my turn to leave the nest. It’s cozy and safe and I don’t WANT to leave! But a new generation of debut authors remains, poised for greatness. They are talented and wonderful and the blog will be in capable hands.  I am filled with gratitude for the support and personal growth I’ve experienced during my time as a member of EMU’s Debuts.

This past year in particular has been a study in contrast for me, filled with extreme highs and lows. It was a dream come true seeing my book in print. But there were doubts, expectations, and worries too—issues that snowballed and eventually resulted in a diagnosis of severe depression. I mention this because I had anticipated only joy, and considered it a personal failure when the joy did not materialize exactly when and how I imagined it would.

Thanks to my incredibly supportive spouse, I finally stopped blaming myself and sought proper treatment. I am doing so much better now! And I realize that I waited way too long to ask for help.

So many of us fight a daily battle of doubt vs. joy.

I started playing the flute when I was ten years old. A few great teachers and a lot of practice helped me develop a skill that brought me happiness and made me feel like I was good at something. I played all the way through college and even started out as a performance major with the hopes of joining a professional orchestra someday.

Then doubt got in the way. There were lots of talented flute players. What were my chances of competing? It was too hard, I had to practice too much every day, I’d never make it into an orchestra and if I did I’d never make a living at it. I talked myself out of it, and destroyed the joy it used to bring.

I graduated with a generic music degree and a decision to turn my attention to children’s literature. I don’t regret the choice to write, but I do regret making that choice out of fear, and will always wonder “what if?”

Of course, the path to publishing is fraught with opportunities to doubt ourselves. Even after signing with my agent, even after my first publishing contract, there was still plenty of fear and doubt nipping at my ankles like a ferocious little dog. We learn to power through it, don’t we? We school ourselves to stay on the path, because perseverance is often the one trait that makes the difference in this industry.

But at what cost? All too often the joy gets trampled along the way.

1382268243_f3c1242184_bLast year we attended a performance by the Piano Guys. The cellist, Steven Sharp Nelson, is the absolute picture of joy when he plays. If you’ve never seen him, I urge you to look him up on YouTube. His tone is perfection, his technique jaw-dropping, but it’s his body language that captures my attention: eyes closed, face lifted to the heavens, a peaceful smile on his face. This man loves what he does. Can I say the same? Not always. But I’ve set a goal to experience that type of joy more often, because I do love to write and I believe it is a worthy pursuit.

I’ve resolved to write just for fun sometimes, for the sake of pure creative expression. Sometimes I’ll crank up a movie soundtrack to full volume while writing an action scene, or take my notebook outside to write in the park. Other times it’s a slog and I just have to make deadline, one impossible word after another. Life can’t be fun all the time.

And the doubt? Oh, it’s still there–corrosive, insidious. Yap, yap, yapping for attention. But there are steps I take to quiet it down: making my mental and physical health a priority; spending more time outside in the sunshine; seeking big-picture perspective while resisting the urge to draw comparisons to other people’s lives; and striving to be more compassionate toward myself and others.

In short: Go. Write. Chase the joy. Spread it around. Let it show on your face, and on the page. The world needs it. You deserve it.

We all do.

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ChristineHayesauthorpicChristine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released June 16, 2015 with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Find her on Twitter: @christinenhayes or at christinehayesbooks.com.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, craft~writing, Creativity, Farewell, Happiness, joy, Satisfaction, Thankfulness, Writing

A (Not Terribly Original) Writer’s Top 10

Top TenAs my launch date comes hurtling toward me, I’ve been trying to sum up ALL the FEELINGS, struggling to think of something new or meaningful to say. Here’s what I came up with instead, in honor of David Letterman’s recent retirement:

THE TOP 10 NOT TERRIBLY ORIGINAL THINGS I’VE LEARNED AS A SOON-TO-BE-PUBLISHED AUTHOR

10. Writing is difficult and emotionally draining and often takes way longer than it should. What do you mean my plot has to make sense?!?

9. Writing is EVERYTHING because you are creating living, breathing beings with the power of your brain and fingers. And those beings can actually change someone else’s life. That’s huge.

8. Social media is apparently a big deal. It makes my head feel like it’s going to explode, but I’ve been trying anyway because it’s a BIG DEAL. (Here I am on my web site, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and now Instagram. Arrrgggh.) But the writing should always, always come first.

7. There are long periods of time in which you just have to wait, graciously, and try to be productive while you’re waiting. Sometimes you will throw things or throw tantrums and hopefully you will keep it within the walls of your own home so that only your family will know for sure that you’ve totally lost it.

6. You will cry. You will be disappointed sometimes. Sometimes there will be wonderful surprises, like amazing friends who are supportive and who totally get you.

5. You will form this tough, thick core of inner strength and resolve that will surprise you and the people who know you. You’ll learn to take risks in your writing and in other areas of your life.

4. It never really gets easier. Just different.

3. You will stress out about a thousand separate things that do not matter. STOP IT! (Yeah, I know, I can’t stop either.)

2. When someone tells you they liked your book, your insides will glow and you will smile a lot. It’s a really, really good feeling.

1. Don’t try to be anybody else but you. There is greatness inside you, but it won’t look the same as someone else’s, because it’s not supposed to.

 

Oh! And if you happen to live somewhere in northern Utah (or if you’re a fan of driving long distances), I would LOVE to see you on June 16 , 7 pm at the Provo Library for the official MOTHMAN’S CURSE launch event, part of the Author Link series! Check it out here.

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ChristineHayesauthorpicChristine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out June 16, 2015 with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Find her on Twitter: @christinenhayes or at christinehayesbooks.com.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, craft~writing, Happiness, Launch, Promotion, Thankfulness

A Plea for Anger

This is one of those posts where I’ll wear both my professional hats–author, and psychologist. I want to talk about anger as a normal and even positive human emotion that deserves a spot in children’s literature.

Yes, anger. ANGER. The bad feeling! The demonized emotional state! That emotion people are told they shouldn’t feel, or that they should work to eradicate. In today’s world, we have come to a point of teaching people that if they experience anger, there might be something wrong with them (not the thing that made them angry). Worse, I see a not-so-subtle push to hint that everyone, even victims, can choose whether or not to feel anger.

As both a writer and a psychologist, my opinion about that is, UM, NO. <Oops. Did that sound angry?>Mad-Lady

Anger, like fear, happiness, and unhappiness, is a regular, healthy human emotion. Like hunger, excitement, and pain, anger is also a physical sensation with a specific purpose. A colleague of mine in the field of psychology has survived three harrowing battles with cancer (two his own, one his beloved wife), and he said once, of pain, “It’s so simple. Pain is the body’s way of saying Look! LOOK RIGHT HERE! Pay attention to this.” Pain is the body’s alert and cry for help and care.

Roland (1)Anger, likewise, is one of the mind’s attention-getters. Consider it your brain’s way of saying, “Hey! Look right here!” Think of anger as a spiritual alert that some essential aspect of you or what you value is being violated. Then find a healthy way to spend the physical energy anger generates, the purpose of which is to allow you to defend yourself or your world when that defense is needed. Yes, anger is very physical, and it needs to be spent, not stored, or it can lead to dis-ease, disease, or even violence.

And there’s the key. While anger often contributes to violence, anger does not equate with violence. Anger isn’t a choice, but usually, violence is. There are many other positive, healthy things to do with anger, like exercise, or write a fiery speech or even an entire book, make a video, paint it out, write a bill to become law, walk away from a toxic person or situation, protest injustice–the list of healthy ways to spend anger is pretty limitless. Put it to work. That’s why you have it, and why you feel it. Identify the violation, and address it productively. Anger doesn’t have to lead to harm to anyone or anything. In fact, anger can herald that historic moment when harm finally meets its match in our will, and ceases.

In the absence of violence, anger itself is not the problem. The violation that sparked it is the problem. Anger is a change agent. Sometimes it’s the situation/violator that needs to change, and sometimes it’s our own perceptions (ooooh, yes, we can ALL get angry over “nothing,” toothpaste in the sink, misperceptions–that list is endless, too).

As writers, especially children’s writers, I think we owe anger some serious attention. I hope we’ll let some of our characters FreakinTroubleget down-and-dirty, white-hot furious sometimes, and do something productive with that emotion. We all know that children need to see themselves on our pages–and kids get angry. Ticked. Pissed off. Cross-eyed, spitting, shouting MAD. Asking them to put the feeling away, to not express it, to become “long-suffering” in the face of obvious injustice and violations–it may just distance them from what we write. It could rob them of vicarious opportunities to practice healthy spending of that energy, evaluating what caused it, and putting their anger to good use to make needed changes in our world.

So, the short version is this:

Mad ≠ Bad!

Give anger a little respect!

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Susan Vaught

Susan Vaught

Susan Vaught is the author of many books for young adults, such as TRIGGER, BIG FAT MANIFESTO, and FREAKS LIKE US. Her debut novel for middle-grade readers, FOOTER DAVIS PROBABLY IS CRAZY, published by Simon & Schuster, hit the shelves in March, 2015. Please visit Susan at her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Character Development, craft~writing

The Art of Essential Living (and Writing)

My debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane was sold on April 3, 2014. On that same day, I got a phone call from our social worker, asking if we would be interested in changing the age range of the child we were willing to adopt. We had been in the process of adopting a child for 3 years, and were approved up to the age of 24 months. She asked if we were interested in, let’s say, changing the upward end of the range to 28 months.

Translation of that question: There is a child that the adoption committee wants to match you with. He is slightly older than the age range you requested. If you change your age range you will be matched with your son.

Answer to that question: Yes. And yes and yes and also yes.

growingPlant1My book sold on the same day I found out about our son. Two excruciatingly long processes in the soil, sun and rain, and they flowered on exactly the same day.

Explain that. (Seriously. I’m collecting reasons, magical and logical, for why these two journeys are so intertwined.)

Or I will explain it. Or I will try, at least. But bear with me? I want to finally write a little about my son, who just came to live with us in December. I’ve been protective of his journey, not wanting to expose him too much in too public a way, but there is a part of it that I want to explore now. Here. With you all. And I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with writing. Maybe. We’ll see.

Image 15

In Honduras.

My son was born in Honduras and lived his three years there before we adopted him. He lived in the same town, with the same family. His life with his foster mother was secure and full of love. This is evident. He is fully himself wherever, thus far, he has been – in his home town; in Tegucigalpa, the capitol city of Honduras; on Roatan Island; on my parents’ farm in very rural Vermont; and now, in my town in Vermont, in our little village, in our house. In all of these places, in all of these landscapes, he is…who he is. Do you know what I mean? He’s got a solid sense of self. And he is very comfortable residing there. No need to defend himself, no need to hide himself.

I believe he is like this for two reasons: First, he came into the world this way. He must have. And second, his foster mother nurtured this in him – through her love and gift of security – during those critical early developmental years in his life. (The respect and awe I feel for her, this woman who took in my son with open arms, raised him, and then let him go with those same open arms…that is for another post another day.)

Because he has this innate sense of centeredness, he is very curious about and very comfortable finding the ways that he fits into the landscape of our family. And here is where maybe he and writing overlap? Or are woven together?

My son’s first three years were full of the routines and rhythms of household chores. I’m learning this about him. He loves to do the laundry with me, for example, and learned the order of button pushing to start the washing machine by the second time we did it together. He loves to cook too. He sits on the counter, his short legs kicking the wooden drawer underneath him, and he dumps the flour, cracks the eggs, and pours the milk. Stir is one of his first English words. He watched my other 3 kids come home from school for about 3 days before he began taking their lunch boxes out of their backpacks and bringing them to me – because he realized that was what they did, day after day, right after they piled through the door and spilled into the house.

This kid watches routines. He feels rhythms. And then he acts. He finds the places where he can fit himself into the beat, into the music, into the pauses and patterns – and then he inserts himself. The earnestness with which he pursues this breaks my heart wide open. He is so transparent. He is so clearly identifying and claiming his place in the family, and in this new life. But – or maybe and – at the same time, he is so clearly tapping into something that is familiar to him at his core.

Image 1

Trampolining in winter in negative digit temps. Welcome to Vermont, kid.

Rhythms and routines. This is how you write a book too, isn’t it? On a meta-level: make a routine for your writing. On a micro-level: find and follow the rhythms of your characters’ voices and of the story. But it’s deeper than that. And I don’t know if I can describe what I am feeling adequately here. (Maybe someone can give me insight after reading this?) There is an essential quality to my son’s life right now…as in, he is practically all essence. There is an authenticity that buzzes through and around him that’s palpable. Maybe this is because he is, in a way, being re-born right now. And that newborn time is all about essence and core and what-you-see-is-what-you-got, right? Most kids keep this for a while, some for a long while, so I am, by no means, suggesting that my son is unique in this…but I do think that, among the myriad of other reasons I am so lucky to be mothering this kid, I am privileged to be a part of this kind of essentialness in such an intimate way.

Image 7

Yup, he’s drinking it all in…

This – this essentialness – is what we strive for in our writing, isn’t it? The transparency and truthfulness of the human spirit that breaks open the hearts (and minds) of our readers? That inspires them – in even the smallest ways – to live fully inside of themselves?

I don’t know. I think so anyway. What I do know is that my son humbles me every single day.

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Filed under Character Development, craft~writing, rhythms

In Praise of Imperfection

Next month our family will be moving across the country for a new job in a new state. That means putting the house up for sale and keeping it looking as perfect as possible for potential buyers.

This isn’t our first move, but I had forgotten how crazy-making it is to chase that level of perfection in a house with three kids and a dog. It means nagging everyone to pick up wet towels and renegade socks. It means constantly wiping smudges off the refrigerator and crumbs off the counter.

Not that I don’t do a fair amount of that anyway, but it’s reached obsessive levels, serving up a painful reminder: this isn’t how we live. It isn’t us. The house may look like a magazine (except for the secret dings and stains we’ve done a good job of hiding), but it’s a photo shoot, a moment in time, an expertly crafted illusion. It’s all-consuming, eating up our time, energy, and peace of mind.

There is no such thing as perfection. Not in life, not in writing. I know this.

We all know it.

But how do we put that knowledge into practice? How do we let go of the crazy in favor of the joy and peace that comes with accepting limitations?

I recently received galley copies of MOTHMAN’S CURSE, my debut novel, the dream I’ve been chasing for a decade or more. And all I could do was obsess over its flaws, both real and imagined.

When I caught myself doing it, I was horrified. My fear of imperfection was sucking the joy out of what should have been a milestone moment. Worse, I realized that unless I changed my outlook, my worries about “getting it wrong” would overshadow the entire journey, all the way up to the launch date and beyond.

Life is messy. Houses get cluttered. Words on the page don’t always sound as good as they did in our heads, even after a couple of rewrites (or ten or twenty). It’s okay, it really is. We learn and grow along the way. We get better. We teach each other. We take the risk, open our hearts, and send our words into the world.

With any luck, someone will think those words are pretty perfect just the way they are.

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ChristineHayesauthorpicChristine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out June 16, 2015 with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, ARCs, craft~writing

The Delivery System for An Emotional Hit

One of the nice things about a group like the Emus is that while we’re all talking shop here, a fellow Emu may say something that lodges in your brain and helps you think about your own writing. A while ago, Kevan talked about adding dimension to his Monster of the Day series by trying to make sure each monster conveyed some emotion or feeling. (For the whole lovely discussion, click here.)

This started me thinking about how picture books are a delivery system for an emotional hit. I had the opportunity to read Jules Feiffer’s Bark, George to an audience recently and I saw that principle in action. It was a group of preschoolers at a book festival but they had older brothers and sisters and parents in tow. Bark, George delivers a hit of Funny. As I read this book to them, I realized that it was working for all three groups. But they were laughing at different things.

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When you read Bark, George to preschoolers, they scream with laughter over the fact that the dog does not bark, he moos (or quacks or oinks or whatever.) I am not two, I do not remember being two, but I promise you, at two, this dog mooing thing is hilarious. Every single time it happens.

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The older siblings are laughing too but they’re laughing at the visual gags. They get that it is impossible to pull a full size pig out of a very small puppy. Yet it’s happening. And as the animals get bigger, the joke gets funnier. They are also laughing at the vet. They love the “Ewww” factor when the vet puts on his longest latex glove. That moment leaves them a little helpless with joy.

And, oh, the parents are laughing. They’re laughing at their kids’ reactions and the sight gags and the vet are amusing them too. But where are they laughing the hardest? At that poor mama dog and her expressions. They get it. They are the mama dog.

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I’ve long loved that book but reading it to that audience was like watching it be analyzed in real time—seeing exactly what worked for whom.

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One of the joys and challenges of picture books is the dual audience—child and adult. A book can survive if it only appeals to kids but the parents may succumb to the temptation to shove the book under the couch cushion rather than read it one more time. A book can (unfortunately) survive if it only appeals to adults. They own the wallets.

But the best books are the ones where both audiences are absolutely delighted. Then the shared experience of reading the book becomes as important as the book itself. Then a book has a chance to become beloved. And one way of making that happen is to make sure that both audiences are getting a custom-mixed emotional hit.

What are your favorite books that reach both audiences?

mylisa_email_2-2 Mylisa Larsen is the author of Instructions for Bedtime (Katherine Tegen Books) and If I Were A Kangaroo (Viking.) You can visit her online at mylisalarsen.com.

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Filed under craft~writing, Picture books