Tag Archives: Craft

Book Resources for The Nian Monster

Xingling, the main character in THE NIAN MONSTER, is a resourceful girl. When confronted by a ravenous monster, she keeps her wits about her in order to fend Nian off. She’s not afraid to ask for help, either. Over the past year, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get THE NIAN MONSTER into the hands of readers. I heard over and over how everybody loves freebies. So in addition to swag like bookmarks and magnets, I decided to offer additional book-related resources. And, like Xingling, I reached out and asked for help from my community — the wonderful kidlit community.

Here are a few of the resources that were created for my book:

A Teacher’s Guide: Arguably, not every picture book needs a teacher’s guide, especially if it’s fiction. But I felt that there were enough cultural and geographical aspects to my book that a teacher, librarian, or parent might appreciate a guide with more information about Chinese New Year, curriculum-related activities, and discussion questions. I discovered that teacher’s guides can vary in length and cost. Being a debut author, I opted to hire Anna Chan Rekate, a debut teacher’s guide writer, but also a very experienced elementary school teacher. Anna did an amazing job — she even included a personal recipe for sesame noodles! You can download a copy of the teacher’s guide here.

A Book-Related Craft: I confess, I LOVE crafts. My basement is filled with boxes of craft materials and random objects that I save just in case I might need them for a craft. I did a lot of crafts with my sons when they were younger and I knew it would be great to have an activity for after my story time events. Kids love things that they can make themselves and bring home, plus it connects them to the story in a different, more tactile way. The incredibly creative Kirsten Cappy of Curious City (try saying that 3x fast!) developed an origami bookmark craft and illustrator Alina Chau drew the Nian Monster so that it looks like Nian is “eating” the corner of your page! Download the template here and make a Nian bookmark with your kids (or for yourself)! Kirsten and her intern Sophia even made an instructional video, which you can watch below or on YouTube.

nian-monster-finished-origami

The Nian Monster bookmark will chomp on your page!

 

An Event Kit: I knew I needed to reach teachers and librarians, but I was at a loss about how to do so. Again, Kirsten Cappy came to my rescue. She has access to an extensive network of educators. Kirsten recommended creating an event kit so that educators could make story time with THE NIAN MONSTER an interactive experience. The event kit includes instructions and a template for creating a giant Nian mask. An adult can pretend to be Nian or the kids can “feed” Nian fish, noodles, and sticky rice cake just like in the book (fake fish are used — no live fish will be harmed during story time). The event kit is available at Curious City.

Here's me channeling my inner Nian Monster!

Here’s me channeling my inner Nian Monster!

Whether your book has yet to be sold or is headed for publication, it’s not too early to think about what kinds of resources you want to offer your readers. I added an Author’s Note to THE NIAN MONSTER when it was still in manuscript form, explaining the symbolism of the Chinese New Year foods in the story. If there’s an aspect of your story that you think readers would like to know more about, you might consider adding a short Author’s Note as well. And if you decide against it, there are plenty of opportunities to develop and offer educational resources after publication.

Good luck and thank you for celebrating my book launch week with me! Don’t forget to leave a comment on this post (or any EMUs Debuts post this week) to be entered into a giveaway of THE NIAN MONSTER.


andrea-wang-author-photo-2016

Andrea Wang’s debut picture book, The Nian Monster (Albert Whitman & Co., December 2016), is a Chinese New Year folktale retelling set in modern-day Shanghai. She has also written seven nonfiction books for the educational market and is working on a middle grade novel. Andrea is a former environmental consultant and now writes full-time. She recently moved from the Boston area to Denver, where she lives with her husband, two sons, and a dog that will do anything for food. That pretty much describes her family, too.

You can find Andrea online at http://www.andreaywang.com, on Twitter under @AndreaYWang, and on Instagram as @andreawhywang.

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The Emotional Response

I’ve been trying to find my way through an early draft of a new piece and have been reminded why going deep into character is so difficult, and so necessary.

The third lecture of my first day at Vermont College of Fine Arts was given by Louise Hawes. She described what she called a novel’s “desire line” – the engine that drives the story, the longing for something. The desire line exactly balances the story arc in reverse, because readers want the protagonist’s desire to be satisfied at the end of the story.

Asking “what” your character wants is the first important question any writer should ask. Asking “why” they want it is one way to get to their deepest desire.Children Playing

Louise gave us all an exercise: she asked us to dig deep and speak to the kid we were at an age when we were most vulnerable. Speak to the child inside, and find her desire. Then she gave us ten minutes to write a letter to that child asking why she wanted what she did, and what it meant, and reassuring that child that she was not alone.

At first, you could have heard a pin drop in the room, a full room – I’m guessing a hundred people. Then sniffs. Then some of us (yes, I’ll confess, I was one) were openly weeping. Why? Because we were tapping the core of our own oldest dreams and desires. We were acknowledging longing and loss.

This acknowledgment for our characters (and, as we write, for ourselves) is painful but essential.

If we know our character’s deepest desires, at a time when he or she was at their most vulnerable, we tap into universal longings. And by bringing universal longings to life on the page, our readers can connect.

Effectively, we tell readers, I hear you. I get you. You are not alone.

That’s why I write. I want to express the universal longings and desires that bind us together as human, as vulnerable, as unique and yet as all the same. Boy, it’s hard.

But it’s also so important.

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How to Build Character(s)

Memorable characters, like my husband’s aunt pictured here, demand your attention. How will their story unfold?

We all have goals, things we want to work on to become better writers and hopefully better people as well. Lately, for me, a key writing goal has been to build authentic, well-developed characters.  I struggle with this. Possibly because I’m an introvert who invests way too much effort trying not to ruffle feathers or let too much emotion or opinion come spilling out in the presence of anyone other than my spouse (lucky guy). I’d hate to give people the impression that I am not as emotionally stable as I might appear.

I also worry that pouring too much of a character’s inner workings onto the page will feel contrived or manipulative, that her struggles will be perceived as insincere, unearned.  Obviously I have to get past this. A fictional person on a page will never become the sympathetic, living, breathing hero of the story if readers have no clear view of her heart and mind.

birdbybirdI turned to Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD for wisdom. It takes time for us to know our characters, she says. We should ask ourselves “what happens in their faces and to their posture when they are thinking, or bored, or afraid. …Why should we care about them anyway?” Further on she writes, “Squint at these characters in your mind, and then start to paint them for us.” She explains that they should have flaws, but they should also be likeable, or at least interesting–and they become interesting if they possess clarity of vision in surviving the struggles they face.

And my favorite paragraph: “A writer paradoxically seeks the truth and tells lies every step of the way. It’s a lie if you make something up. But you make it up in the name of truth, and then you give your heart to expressing it clearly. You make up your characters, partly from experience, partly out of the thin air of the subconscious, and you need to feel committed to telling the exact truth about them, even though you are making them up.”

So I’ve been trying the method acting approach: using my own life experiences and feelings to inform my characters. Yes, they suffer through situations and events that I will never face, but the emotions and motivations they feel, those universal human truths, are the same. The process is a basic free association exercise. I sit down with pen and paper and choose a scene to work on. I decide what emotions my main character would be feeling in that scenario and just start writing, no editing allowed. The results are liberating. Even though much of the writing will need heavy revision or may even be scrapped altogether, the emotional truth that spills out is new for me, and holds real promise. I think. I hope. Time will tell.

How do you bring your characters to life? Tell us what works for you!

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May Arboretum 027Christine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, THE MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out spring 2015 with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

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Need some writing inspiration? Turn on the radio.

A glimpse into my iPod.I’ve long had a pet theory.

Picture books and pop songs are pretty similar things.

Sure, the format is different. You process one through your eyes and the other through your ears.

But, they both have the same goal.

To convey a story or emotion using a very limited number of words in a very specific format in a way that is catchy enough that people will want to read or listen to it again and again and again.

They both also suffer from the same misconception.

That good ones are easy to write.

Anyone can scan the shelves of a bookstore or surf their car’s radio settings and then declare, “There’s nothing good out there. I could write something better than this drivel.”

But anyone who’s ever tried putting pen to paper or fingers to guitar strings to actually come up with something that works knows writing something as memorable as Hanson’s “MMMBop” or Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” is way harder than it seems. So is coming up with picture book classics like Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day or Margaret Wise Brown’s The Runaway Bunny. It’s easy, as Joshua McCune pointed out in his last blog post, to get lost in the weeds.

How do you get unstuck?

You have to ask yourself …

What’s going to get into someone’s head and stay there, so that years later, some words or notes will flip a switch and make the whole thing comes flooding back?

I recently saw some comments from the the band Hot Chelle Rae about songwriting that I think really apply to picture book writing too. Hot Chelle Rae is a newer band — and, yes, I do have three of its songs on my iPod — but I admired one of its singles from the first time I heard it.

“Tonight, Tonight” has well-written lyrics (which include a rhyming reference to actor Zach Galifianakis) and a very catchy hook of a refrain. (“La, la, la. Whatever. La, la, la. It doesn’t matter. La, la, la. Oh well …”) Check it out here. You know you want to.

Here’s what lead singer Ryan “RK” Follese, who’s the son of Nashville songwriters Keith and Adrienne Follese, says.

“My dad told me early on that writing hit songs is just like your batting average,” Follese says. “He reminded me that Barry Bonds hits 70 homeruns a year, but he doesn’t hit a homerun every time — it’s maybe one out of ten. So if you want to write hit songs, you’re going to have to write 50 songs for your first record, which is what we did. We threw out loads of songs.”

Every picture book writer I know has the same story. Lots of attempts. Lots of times they thought they might have gotten it right only to find out it still wasn’t there. Lots of setting manuscripts aside or abandoning them altogether as they learned more, got better and became better judges of their own work.

The hard part can be knowing when to throw something away.

But Follese says it’s easy.

All the members of Hot Chelle Rae write, and the band also works with other non-band-member songwriters. As Follese notes, “We have a rule: The best song wins.”

That’s a good rule for picture book writers to follow as well. It’s easy to get caught up in something you have an emotional attachment to, when what you really should be asking yourself is, “Of all my works in progress, which is really the strongest?” And, “What can I write next that will be even better?”

I find that I sometimes listen to pop songs for picture book writing inspiration. Not in subject matter, but in structure. How did they handle that rhyme scheme? What makes that refrain so memorable? And I know some authors come up with playlists for the book they’re currently writing featuring music that supports their characters, mood or theme.

As I said, the link between pop songs and picture books is a pet theory of mine.

But, I did think there was one glaring exception.

Despite these similarities, I thought you’d never see a picture book where the author inserted him or herself blatantly into the book.

It happens all the time in pop songs whether it’s Usher chanting his name rhythmically in the background of “Scream,” Nicki Minaj telling everyone exactly who she is in “Super Bass” or all the references to Chaka Khan in “I Feel for You.”

“Ha,” I used to laugh. “It’s not like you’d ever see me insert a paragraph of text in my next manuscript that simply says ‘Pat Miller. Pat Miller. Pat Miller.’ It just wouldn’t work. Besides, I’m not famous like Usher, Nicki and Chaka. Who would even care?”

But then I saw Chloe and the Lion (Hyperion Books, 2012) by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex, and my theory was shot to smithereens. (If you don’t have the book handy, this video gives you an idea of what’s going on.)

So, I was wrong.

But, that’s OK. I guess I can just quote Taylor Swift’s recent Top 40 hit and say, “Never say never …”

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