Sunday, December 23, 2012

Happiest of Holidays

I'm going on a short hiatus while we move into our new home (yay!) in Bozeman, Montana, and I squeeze in time to finish pages on a middle grade novel. I'll be back the first week in January with a final revision post and some new things to bring to everyone.

So, the happiest of holidays and warmest wishes of this blessed season to you all. Just for fun, here's a look at our new living room only a couple of weeks ago - now it's filled with boxes. Presents under the "tree!"

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Purely Personal: On Taking a Stand

I love writing for children. I’ve often thought that it’s because I’m reliving something from my childhood. But I also see that it’s because children ask the most direct questions, some of which I cannot answer. I’m trying to answer them for the children who read my books and for the child inside me.

So my question, right now, in the wake of Sandy Hook, is: why?

Why are we here? Why do innocent children die? Why do we suffer? Why does discourse lose civility, and why can we not find common ground?

I write for children hoping to find an answer to these questions.

I’m deeply proud to be a member of the kidlit community that asks and seeks to answer these questions. This is a passionately committed community that strives to protect children, to engage children, to help children find answers to the fundamental questions, and especially to the central question: why?

I don’t have answers, but I do have thoughts. And one of these thoughts is that if I can’t answer the questions, I can do something.

I can take a stand.

There is no more time in our society to look away. Too many children suffer. We can no longer look away from child exploitation. We can no longer look away from child slavery and forced child marriage. We can no longer look away from the violence promulgated by the entertainment industry aimed at children. We can no longer look away from the ease of access to weapons that kill the most innocent with impunity.

I can no longer look away.

I am taking a public stand against access to assault weapons.

I believe there is no earthly or God-given reason that a semi-automatic weapon capable of killing scores of people – of killing twenty innocent children – even when wielded by an inexperienced shooter should be available to any person, at any time.

I’m taking a stand in favor of gun control.

I’m also taking a stand in favor of hope.

This is the time of year when we all look to the most generous of human ideas: that birth is a gift and yet that our life may require sacrifice, self-denial, and loss. Human generosity – that the gift of life does require sometimes overwhelming sacrifice – gives me hope.

A teacher who barricades a door and loses her life in the bargain has sacrificed everything for her children, and this gives me deep grief, but also hope. A first responder who carries the unimaginable burden of doing a job well in the face of personal horror gives me hope. A nation that takes stock and may be awakening to a new reality gives me hope.

Why are we here? What is the meaning of life?

More importantly, why are you here? What kind of stand can you take – can we take – that will make a difference to the children today and the children of the future?

This is an important question, and I’m asking myself this question every hour. And I’m taking a stand. I’m standing up for the children. 

I hope you'll stand with me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Jingle Bell Hop! Blog Hop Post

I was tapped by my friend Jan Godown Annino to participate in a blog hop. In case you don’t know Jan’s work, she’s the author of an acclaimed picture book biography, SHE SANG PROMISE, illustrated by Lisa Desimini. It would be a wonderful addition to any library.

I’m answering here the questions that she passed along to me. And I thought I’d talk about one of my WIPs. I usually keep this stuff to myself until the very end, so as not to jinx anything. Fingers crossed!

What is the working title of your book?


Where did the idea come from for the book?

I had a dream that I was suspended in a place between life and death, and when I woke up, I knew I had to write about how that felt. This novel is a bit dark and dreamlike.

What genre is your book?

Middle grade fantasy.

What is the synopsis of the novel?

Jake, a boy who is trying to deal with a school bully, causes an accident that renders his sister Eliza unconscious and near death. Jake is told that if he sells his soul he can rescue her from the Netherworld, the place between life and death. He agrees; but his mission is not as simple as it would seem. By entering the Netherworld Jake sets in motion other and bigger events. Jake and Eliza and the Netherworld guardian Mab must find a way to save Eliza, Jake’s soul, and the Netherworld itself.

How long did it take to write the first draft?

I’ve got a very rough first draft that took me about four months to write. But most of that draft will disappear...I started the novel as a workshop piece at Vermont College of Fine Arts and it grew.

What other books are comparable to this book?

Middle grade fantasy is booming and rich at the moment - something that excites me greatly. I’m reading THE PECULIAR by Stefan Bachmann, and just finished GOBLIN SECRETS by William Alexander, and I think they both have things in common with THE NETHERWORLD. And I love Lauren Oliver’s fantasies – especially LIESL AND PO.

I’ve tagged my friends and fabulous authors Bethany Hegedus and Joy Preble, so please check their blogs in the next couple of weeks for their blog hop posts!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Revision, Part 2

Last week I talked about a few of the more global approaches that I take while revising a manuscript in progress; this week I’ll try and finish up with the following:

  • how I use checklists
  • my favorite workbooks
  • dedicated passes

As I move into the middle to later stages of revision, I like to use checklists to remind me to pay attention to my own personal quirks – the tics I’ve developed as a writer that weaken my writing. Because my first drafts are so organic, I tend to be lazy at times – I’m paying more attention to getting stuff down on paper than I am on the smaller issues. So this mid-revision process is truly important.

Here’s a personal checklist that I developed a long time ago:
  • Find all the "ly" words (i.e., adverbs) by using the Word "find" feature and eliminating most - if not all.
  • Search for "it is/was" and "there is/was". It's almost always stronger to use different phrasing. (Or, by example... “Phrases are almost always stronger when they don’t begin with ‘it's’.”)
  • Search for places where my character "felt," "saw," "looked," etc. When I'm really inside my character, those soft verbs aren't necessary. Much better to show the event or action without the distancing verbs.
  • Search for sentence "flow." In particular, I look sentence by sentence for stronger first and last words. First and last are the most important words in the sentence.
  • Search for passive voice and other indicators of "telling" (like, helping verbs, "to be" verbs).
  • Try to make sure there's tension on every page. 
  • Remove dialogue tags wherever possible. Even "said" can get in the way when only two people are talking.
  • Make sure gesture substitutes for internal thoughts wherever possible.
  • Look for those things that popped up in my subconscious and may be amplified - recurring metaphors or images.
  • my own workbook in the company of the "greats"
  • Watch for unintentional repetition of certain words and phrases. 

I have several workbooks that are particular favorites, and at some stage of revision I’ll work through some or all of the exercises within:

As you can see, I’ve made up my own workbook that includes my checklists and some others I’ve collected at conferences and workshops. In that workbook is a list of the things I look for in my dedicated passes.

At some point near the end of the revision process, I’ll do a dedicated pass for things like:
  • smooth and interesting transitions between chapters
  • magnification of character traits
  • items of metaphoric significance or resonant setting details or thematic elements that can be amplified

These dedicated passes allow me to focus on just one thing at a time. Sometimes, in a more complicated story, I may have to do a dedicated pass for small items like eye or hair color, or prop details.

What this all means is that I often do 15 or 20 or more revisions for each work. Sometimes things change radically from revision to revision; sometimes I'm changing just one thing, albeit important (to me, at least.) The later revisions usually take only a short amount of time - maybe only a day each. But this process works for me.

Next week I’ll be participating in a blog hop – but the following week I’ll talk about the most important aspect of revision: inspiration.