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On writing, reading, and waiting
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1. Classroom Connections: SKIES LIKE THESE by Tess Hilmo

age range: 7-12
setting: Wyoming
Tess Hilmo’s website

“Drawing on rich Western lore and creating characters as gritty as the earth itself, Hilmo paints a picture of a town where everyone is connected . . . A heartening, comforting story with enough tension to keep readers hooked.” – Kirkus Reviews

“A robust cast of well-developed characters and a delightful, swiftly moving plot will leave readers wishing for Jade to extend her stay in Wyoming.” – School Library Journal

Please tell us about your book.

Skies Like These is a fun, friendship-filled novel with a cowboy twist! It’s intended for the middle grade audience (ages 7-12).

What inspired you to write this story?

My husband and I celebrated our 40th birthday (which are just a couple of weeks apart) by taking our friends on a bus ride up the canyon by our home for a chuck wagon dinner party. At that party, a fun story about Butch Cassidy was told and I sat there under a breathtaking star filled sky thinking, “Wouldn’t it be fun to write a modern-day twist on a Butch Cassidy story?” And I did! Skies Like These was inspired by that fun night with friends – by the Western skies I am privileged to live under – and by the crazy tales of heroes gone by and heroes longing to be. I also think of it as a nod to The Great Brain series I loved so much growing up. It’s full of hijinx and outrageous fun!

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

Wyoming is a beautiful state, and I got to visit the original Butch Cassidy hide outs and follow his outlaw trail. What fun! One interesting thing I learned is that Butch Cassidy is considered the Robin Hood of the West. His fight was against the big cattle barons and rail road companies that were squeezing the life out of local ranchers. He often supported the less fortunate and he was a man of his word. There is one story where he was in camp and a member of his Wild Bunch gang brought in a stolen horse. When Butch learned the horse was stolen from a young boy in town, Butch made his co-cowboy take the horse back and apologize. He then made him walk many miles back to their hideout on foot as a punishment. He wasn’t just an outlaw cowboy, he was a NICE outlaw cowboy with a cause!

What are some special challenges associated with writing SKIES LIKE THESE?

The challenge for this novel was to write about a historical figure in a modern-day setting….to blend the two worlds of long ago and today and make it feel fresh, fun and interesting.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

There are so many! Here are a few great discussion topics:

1. What makes us who we are? Is it our heritage – where we come from and who our family is? Or is it what we do with each day we are given?

2. Roy says a line in the book, “I know you’re hurting and you have a choice. You can cowboy up and climb this tree or you can just lay there and bleed.” What are determining moments in our lives? How can we overcome our hurts and fears and show courage?

3. Is it better to take a risk or avoid all risks? How do we determine which risks are okay and which are too much? Have you ever felt like Jade and thought the perfect summer would be stretching out on the couch and watching old TV re-runs all day?

4. What would be your perfect summer vacation?

The post Classroom Connections: SKIES LIKE THESE by Tess Hilmo appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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2. For Those Who Work Behind the Scenes

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Today I’m feeling grateful for the people in my life who make the books happen. My agent, who believes in me and is the enthusiastic, in-the-know one who shows my work to others, the one who looks out for me and cheers me on.

My editors, who push me to find my best work, whose faith in my writing I can borrow when I’m not believing it myself.

The copyeditors, art directors, book designers, publicists, book sales reps, and marketing department who add their expertise and love.

I’ve got one small role in the process. If what I write is worth reading, its because of the hard work everyone else puts in behind the scenes.

The post For Those Who Work Behind the Scenes appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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3. On Writing

Old Town roadrunner

And . . . what if the worst happens? What if you are never published? The market seems to grow more difficult and more idiosyncratic every year. Even so, you will have been doing, all along, the work that feeds your soul, that makes you a larger, more generous person, and, more concretely, is guaranteed to keep improving your writing.

If publication eludes you forever, you will still have created a gift for yourself and for those who care about you.

— Marion Dane Bauer

Read the rest at Marion’s blog, from the post called A Letter From a Reader.

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4. Books to Celebrate Emily Dickinson

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Today is Emily Dickinson’s 184th birthday. Enjoy this list of books celebrating America’s greatest poet!

Picture Books:
Emily — Michael Bedard
My Uncle Emily — Jane Yolen
Emily and Carlo — Marty Rhodes Figley
The Mouse of Amherst — Elizabeth Spires
Emily Dickinson’s Letters to the World — Jeanette Winter
Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson — Frances Schoonmaker Bolin

Coming soon…
On Wings of Words: A Story of Emily Dickinson — Jennifer Berne

Middle Grade:
Hope is a Ferris Wheel — Robin Herrera
Miss Emily — Burleigh Muten
Another Day as Emily — Eileen Spinelli

Young Adult:
Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia — Jenny Torrez Sanchez
Nobody’s Secret — Michaela MacColl
Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things — Kathryn Burak

 

 

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5. Today I Will: Facing Discouragement Head On

Great achievement goes through, not around, discouragement. Is there a roadblock in my way, keeping me from something I want to achieve? Am I discouraged? I understand now that discouragement often precedes achievement. Instead of retreating from the roadblock or seeking a way around it, I will boldly punch a hole through it and continue toward my goal. 
— Jerry Spinelli (Today I Will: A Year of Quotes, Notes, and Promises to Myself)

The post Today I Will: Facing Discouragement Head On appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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6. Creativity and Routine: DAILY RITUALS

Daily Rituals

Ludwig van Beethoven poured water over his hands while humming scales. Jonathan Edwards pinned bits of paper to his clothing to remember ideas while horseback riding. Anthony Trollope paid a groom five extra pounds a year to bring him coffee each morning at 5:30.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work is a collection of dozens of vignettes about “writers, composers, painters, choreographers, playwrights, sculptors, filmmakers, poets, philosophers and scientists on how they create.” I found it impossible to put down. Just when I thought I discovered a pattern to these artists’ daily practices (early morning work and no day job, for example) new structures began to emerge (the night-time only artist and those who held other occupations).

As someone who has sometimes struggled to find a rhythm to my writing, I found this glimpse into others’ lives both inspiring and familiar. While there were differences in each daily ritual, some habits were repeated in most creative processes*:

structure
solitude
simplicity
exercise

Structure allowed Trollope to “tutor his mind” and write for three hours before going to work at the Post Office. Gustave Flaubert believed being “regular and orderly in your life [allows you to be] violent and original in your work.” In other words, when the structure is established, you are freed to focus on what counts.

Solitude and simplicity seem to function hand in hand. Time alone, free of distraction is necessary to create. This means a narrowing or stripping away of extraneous things gives a creative the space to work. Some artists deliberately would forgo social commitments or would choose a hermit-like existence. Others would make room for community but keep those hours separate from the work. “What you need to do is clear all distraction,” Anne Rice says. “That’s the bottom line.”

I was surprised how many artists engaged in daily exercise — calisthenics, swimming, and the like — long, long before this was considered the ideal. Walking long distances was by far the exercise of choice, serving as both a break from the work and sometimes a new way to view it. Those walks I take with the dog when I’m feeling stuck? I’m in good company.

This book has inspired me to think again about how I might best keep my days simple and distraction free. In the midst of my daily solitude it has made me feel a part of something bigger than myself. I’m carrying the creative torch like those before me and those who will come after — important work indeed!

Does ritual play into your creative process?

 

*I’m focusing on the positive here. Many artists relied on various vices to (supposedly) bring out their best work. A few, like George Sand, felt “the work of the imagination is exciting enough…Whether you are secluded in your study or performing on the planks of a stage, you must be in total possession of yourself.”

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7. Writing Advice from Author Valerie Geary

Jump into a scene late and get out early. Cut out anything that sounds like an introduction or summary ending. Explain as little as possible and let the scene speak for itself. Readers are smart; let them fill in some of the blanks.

Raise the stakes. Make it hard for your character to get what they want. Take away the things they love. Let them lose. Let them fight. Just never make it easy. In every stage of the process, I’m always asking myself, What else could happen? What if she made this choice instead of that one? Where would that lead? I’m rarely satisified with the first answer that comes to mind.

I am a huge Gillian Flynn fan. Also, Tana French and Kate Atkinson. All of these writers get my heart pounding and my brain churning. I love the way they balance plot with character with language. All three do really interesting things with their writing that satisfies me as a reader and inspires me as a writer.

Read more here.
Val’s interview at the Huffington Post.
Library Journal includes CROOKED RIVER in its Trio of Thrillers: Adult Books 4 Teens.

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8. Why We Read

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Reading is sometimes thought of as a form of escapism, and it’s a common turn of phrase to speak of getting lost in a book. But a book can also be where one finds oneself; and when a reader is grasped and held by a book, reading does not feel like an escape from life so much as it feels like an urgent, crucial dimension of life itself.
— Rebecca Mead, My Life in Middlemarch

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9. Writing Links

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Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling :: Ragan’s PR Daily

The Love for Children :: Avi

Ten Tips for a Perfect Author Visit :: Nerdy Book Club

On Getting to Work :: Dani Shapiro

Put Your Best Work Out There: Avoid These 25 Newbie Writer Mistakes :: Jody Hedlund

Querying 101 :: Ingrid’s Notes

The post Writing Links appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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10. Classroom Connections: SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS, by Jeannie Mobley


age range: 10-14 years
setting: Colorado, 1917
Jeannie Mobley’s website

study guide

Pearl’s lively narration reveals her transformation from an old-fashioned, romantic girl into a spirited, courageous champion. Mobley uses the legend of Silverheels to effectively “raise questions about the traditional roles of women and their sources of strength,” as she writes in her author’s note, against the backdrop of wartime Colorado. An engrossing, plausible story of several unlikely feminist heroines with a touch of romance and intrigue. — Kirkus Reviews

Please tell us about your book.

Searching for Silverheels is the story of a romantically minded 13 year old, Pearl, who works in her family’s café in the small mountain town of Como, Colorado in 1917, just after the United States has entered the First World War.  She loves the local legend of Silverheels, a dance hall girl of the gold rush era, who saved a town from smallpox. However, Josie, a cynical old women’s suffragist, scoffs at Pearl for telling the story to the tourists, arguing that Silverheels was more likely a crook after the miner’s gold than a hero. They enter into a bet, each trying to prove their version of the legend, but in the mean time, accusations of sedition and anti-patriotism arise in the town, threatening both Pearl’s family and Josie. Pearl is forced to decide what she really believes in and to act, even if it costs her.

What inspired you to write this story?

I have known the legend of Silverheels for as long as I can remember, being a Colorado native that spent a great deal of time in the mountains in the area where Silverheels lived, and where there is, to this day, a mountain named after her. I hadn’t thought about the legend for a long time, but when I heard it again I realized there are some odd inconsistencies in it that made me think that Silverheels had the perfect set up for a scam–tend the dying miners, seduce them with her legendary beauty, and then take their gold.  As a kid, I had loved the legend for its romantic, tragic beauty, and having this new vision of it as a more cynical adult, I thought, what an interesting story it would be to debate the story from the two sides.

I also realized what a good set up for exploring the roles of women in traditional society, and all the ways that women are called to be strong. So, I chose to set it during World War I so I could bring in the suffrage movement as well as all the things women did on the home front to keep the country going during the war.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

I did very little book research before I started writing this story. Since I’ve known the legend of Silverheels and the area where the story took place since childhood, I tried to draw on deep childhood memories to shape the character of Pearl and her experiences and feelings about her mountain home. While Pearl’s story is entirely fictitious, her feelings and personality are  drawn very much on who I was as a kid.  So, I did a small amount of research about the home front in various wars, and settled on World War I, mostly because the National Women’s party, one arm of the  suffrage movement, came to blows with the authorities over criticizing the president during war time.

I researched details as I wrote, stopping when I needed to fill in a detail–like when the first Liberty Bonds were issued, what they cost and how the program worked, or what the train schedule was like in Como, a railroad hub of the era, or how long it might have taken by train to get from one location to another.  Sometimes those details would draw me into an hour of research, sometimes I’d have to work on research for a day or more. And there were a few times I found things out and had to back up and rewrite things I had gotten wrong. That is a definite problem with my system of research-as-I-go, but I don’t know what I need to research until I get there.

Always, when I am writing a piece of historical fiction, I am “researching” in my time away from the writing desk, too. I watch TV programs or read novels set in that era or written in that era, I listen to period music, and I daydream, to get my mind steeped in the deeper feeling of the time period.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

Of course, there is always the challenge of getting the historical era right and finding the balance of including enough historical detail to get a sense of the era without overdoing it. I think it is also important to hit the right balance of making it feel familiar and also exotic.  Historical fiction appeals to readers for its ability to help us escape into a different world, but at the same time, I think historical fiction has a romantic appeal too. There is something warm about the “good old days,” even if they weren’t all that good in reality. I think many readers like the comfortable warmth of stories set in the late 19th/early 20th century. The sense of family and of home that linger in the memories of adults who read the Little House books as kids, for example. 

So for me, I try to evoke some of those same feelings in my work, while still being true to all the things that made the “good old days” not so good. Because there was a lot of hard work and discrimination and sexism in those days, and there was a struggle to survive. I try to keep all of that present in my work.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

My book looks at traditional roles of women, the home front during war, and the suffrage movement, all topics of interest in American History. We are now in the hundredth anniversary of World War I, which began in Europe in the summer of 1914, and continued until 1918. For the United States, the centennial of our involvement in the war doesn’t begin until 2017, but there is a new focus on that war right now, and this book fits into that topic very neatly.

I also think that historical fiction can fit in nicely with the focus of the Common Core on increased attention to informational texts, which include things like non-fiction and primary sources.  One of the intriguing things about historical fiction is it creates a personal interest in history, because it gets the reader emotionally involved with people in the past. And once that emotional involvement is there, it is much more interesting to do the background research (for example, people who never study history often love researching an ancestor). 

So, I think historical fiction can be a wonderful gateway into those informational texts, as readers of the novel say, “Did that really happen?” or “Did people really do that back then?” Those questions can be used as starting points for digging in deeper and finding out the truth. For example, in my book, suffragists are arrested at the White House in July of 1917, which triggers a protest rally on the steps of the State Capitol in Denver. Readers might then ask, did that really happen, and they can turn to the history books or old newspapers to find out. Toward that end, I do include various links to research resources in my teachers guides and on my website.

The post Classroom Connections: SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS, by Jeannie Mobley appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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11. Are You A Blogger? Let’s Talk about BLUE BIRDS!

One of the most exciting things about being an author is connecting with readers. It’s incredible to me to realize there are people out there waiting for my next book. And it’s especially dear to know some of you come here regularly to listen in on the things I have to say.

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As you probably know, the best way to launch a book into the world is to send it out with lots of love. What’s the best sort of love a reader can offer? Word of mouth, hands down. Word of mouth comes in the form of casual conversations, recommendations, blog posts, and reviews on sites like Amazon or Goodreads. It’s simply one reader talking to another.

Want to have a hand in a word of mouth campaign? I have ten advance reader copies of BLUE BIRDS to give away. I’d love if you’d consider writing a blog post to run the second week of January about one of the following things:

  • Friendship: how your friend(s) have influenced you, the role childhood friendships have played in your life, or any other friendship-related idea
  • Pivotal Moments: An instance when you experienced a world completely different from anything you’d ever known before, a time you stepped outside your own culture, or any other life-changing idea
  • Review: an honest look at what you think of BLUE BIRDS (Just because you read here doesn’t mean you have to like it! Every opinion is a valid one.)

To participate, leave a comment below. While I’ll only have ARCs for the first ten commenters, if you’d still like to participate, I have a lovely little thank you I’ll send along to all who choose to blog.

Thanks, friends! I’ll be in touch with more specific details soon.

The post Are You A Blogger? Let’s Talk about BLUE BIRDS! appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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12. A Conversation with Sarah MacKenzie of the Read Aloud Revival Podcast

I’m so excited to share with you a recent conversation I had with Sarah MacKenzie of the Read Aloud Revival Podcast. We talked poetry, how I stumbled into writing verse novels, and what three books I would take to a desert island.

Swing by and have a listen!

The post A Conversation with Sarah MacKenzie of the Read Aloud Revival Podcast appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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13. Caroline Starr Rose: Making Sense of My Name

It felt like time to pull this post out again, as I’ve gotten questions of late. Here’s the inside scoop.

Because it seems to come up often during school visits and while chatting online (there’s even been some confusion at Random House), I thought I’d explain my name today, specifically the Starr business.

Starr is my middle name. It’s not my maiden name. It’s not hyphenated. Just my plain ol’ middle name. I know my email address doesn’t help make things clear (I don’t use my last name, just my first and middle). I was named for my grandmother, Gene Starr, and my mother, Polly Starr. As I don’t have any daughters, my boys have graciously named the dog Boudreaux Starr.

When I was a middle schooler, Starr felt like a curse. I was always asked if my parents were hippies and if I had sisters named Moonbeam and Sunshine at home. Now I like it. A lot. It flows so nicely with Caroline and Rose.

So now you know!

Anyone else with a unique name?

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14. A Podcast with Brilliant Business Moms

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It was so, so lovely to talk a few weeks ago with Sarah and Beth Anne of Brilliant Business Moms. They sought me out after reading this guest post at Modern Mrs. Darcy. Here are a few of the things you can expect in the podcast:

01:15 – Roald Dahl, the Oregon Trail, and My Journey
04:24 – The Most Honest Thing I’ve Ever Written
07:48 – What about Mr. Chapman?
09:59 – The Apprentice Stage
13:34 – Maniacal Optimism
16:54 – Why a Traditional Publisher?
19:29 – How to Get Published
22:50 – Finding an Agent
24:59 – Advice for Apprentice Authors
29:31 – Does a Web Presence Matter?
31:02 – A Day in the Life
34:34 – How Much Does an Author Make?
38:56 – Resources for Aspiring Authors
44:30 – What My Boys Think About Having an Author for a Mom

The podcast is live! Click through to have a listen.

 

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15. Wisdom from EVERYTHING ON A WAFFLE

Everything on a Waffle

“Some people see the whole world and don’t know anything.”

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16. On Writing

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Some days I fear writing dreadfully, but I do it anyway. I’ve discovered that sometimes writing badly can eventually lead to something better. Not writing at all leads to nothing.
— Anna Quindlen

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17. Author Kimberley Griffiths Little on Magical Realism

I love that term, Magical Realism. Magical Realism added to a story brings to mind all sorts of delicious and unusual story twists, whether delightful, creepy, or just plain enchanting in a unique and unexpected way. Unexpected being the key term here.

In today’s climate of publishing, especially the children’s and young adult realm where vampires, werewolves, fairies and mermaids have been the staple for a decade now, a reader might say that any book with a supernatural twist falls under the category of “magical realism”. You might even put ghosts into that category, as well as super-powers, or creatures raised from the dead; zombies, the undead, etc.

I beg to differ. Magical Realism was coined several decades ago, but began to be more widely used in the 1990s to describe a certain type of book that hadn’t been published very much before. Up until that point, bookstores and libraries were filled with well-defined categories such as, “Contemporary” “Mystery”, “Romance”, “Western”, “Science-Fiction”, etc.

Definition of “Magical Realism”:

A story where the author creates a very normal, regular world, populated with ordinary, regular people (no Vampires or Centaurs, Klingons or Doctor Octopus) but adding a touch—mind you, just a touch—of something surreal, fantastic or bizarre that turns the story upside down while staying very much grounded in our normal, regular world setting. Magical Realism is added as an element, NOT in huge doses—but often that one magical realism element turns an otherwise regular story into something entirely different because it affects the characters and the plot in such a unique way. That one element brings an edge or slant that doesn’t line up quite right with the real world. Instead of looking at the story straight on, it makes the reader look at things in a whole different light—where the story bats its eyelashes and looks askance, perhaps almost coy—which can also help the reader understand the truths of the story in an entirely different way. This is not your average contemporary Young Adult novel or Middle-Grade story.

I love me some edgy, contemporary stories and read them a lot. I also read, and have read, widely in the paranormal and supernatural or dystopian genres. But those are not stories using Magical Realism in the Classic sense. Often readers, including teachers and librarians get Magical Realism and the Fantasy genre mixed up.

A Case Study:

I had a librarian classify my 2013 novel, When the Butterflies Came as Fantasy. But I’m sorry to say, she’s mistaken. My novel takes place in the very real world of a small town in Louisiana about a girl who has grown up on an old plantation (family home since before the Civil War). She’s got ordinary family and friends with quirks and foibles and problems. Her grandmother is a research scientist on another very real world location, an island in Micronesia. My MC is dealing with her grandmother’s recent and unexpected death, her mother’s depression, her bratty, annoying blue-haired older sister, and a touch of OCD she deals with in an effort to bring some sort of order into an otherwise disconcerting life. One aspect of the story that is not *quite* real (or is it?) concerns the unusual species of butterflies Tara Doucet’s grandmother is researching. These beautiful butterflies appear to possess extraordinary characteristics—maybe even magical. But the cultures of both Louisiana and Micronesia as well as the story’s characters are very much grounded in reality.

Here’s another great link defining Magical Realism.

Adult Magical Realism:

Reaching into the depths of my often fuzzy mind, I would have to say that the very first book I read that contained magical realism was Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, a novel that celebrated its 21th birthday this last September and is still selling well in hardcover as well as paperback, audio, and Kindle. Esquivel mischievously appropriates the techniques of magical realism to make her heroine of the story, Tita’s, contact with food sensual, emotional, and often explosive. Love, food, and magical recipes in a kitchen where the other characters’ emotions and fate are determined by the emotions of the cook. If Tita’s sad while cooking, then everybody who eats her food is melancholy and weeping. If Tita is happy while preparing a wedding feast, then her dinner guests are joyful. The magical realism element in a novel that is otherwise the story about the generations of a family on a hacienda in Mexico brings out a fresh way of looking at life and relationships. And it’s done brilliantly.

A few years later, we got the scrumptious novel, Chocolat by Joanne Harris, performing similar dreamlike plot twists through a chocolate confectioner who works her magic on an unsuspecting French village and their trials and loves and relationships.

Hmm, all this food talk is making me hungry. (*Takes break to pop a few chocolate truffles*).

What About Time Travel?

I personally believe that time travel books could fall into a sub-genre of magical realism. You may agree to disagree, but time travel books are grounded completely in an ordinary and historical world with historically based events, but then turn the story upside down by throwing their characters into a vastly different time period from their own where they must often cope with explosive events and try to get back home in one piece.

Last Example: Such is my book, The Last Snake Runner where a contemporary teenage boy of the Snake Clan ends up in 1599 in the middle of a war—trying to stay alive while fighting next to his ancestors during a 3-day battle and meeting a girl that he can’t bear to leave—while at the same time knowing he can’t remain in 1599 but has to get back to the future somehow. The events of The Last Snake Runner are based on actual events in a very real place and time period, but the time travel as well as the visions my main character has could be called Magical Realism.

My novel, The Healing Spell (Scholastic, 2010) is grounded in the very real but often spooky world of the Louisiana bayous with its murky waters and hidden alligators. The story is about a family in crisis and where almost everyone is hiding a secret. A Cajun folk healer, or a traiteur, gives Livie, the main character, a nine-knotted healing string that will help wake her mamma from a life-threatening coma. The traiteur sends Livie on a journey to forgive and heal her relationship with her mother—even though Mamma is unaware in a coma in the living room. Guilt and secrets and sisters underpin this story about family and forgiveness—but the ending has a bit of magical realism built in. How else could a nine-knotted healing string strung with tokens and memories of Mamma be otherwise? (Can a tiny mustard seed of faith really move mountains? That is Magical Realism at its grandest!)

Other Magical Realism titles:

NINTH WARD by Jewell Parker Rhodes
TANGLE OF KNOTS by Lisa Graff
NIGHTINGALE’S NEST by Nikki Loftin
A SNICKER OF MAGIC by Natalie Lloyd
BIGGER THAN A BREADBOX by Laurel Snyder
BREADCRUMBS by Ann Ursu
PRACTICAL MAGIC by Alice Hoffman (Adult novel)
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Adult novel)

*****

Kimberley Griffiths Little is the award-winning author of middle-grade books with Scholastic, The Healing Spell (Whitney Award winner), Circle of Secrets, When the Butterflies Came, and the newly released The Time of the Fireflies (July, 2014). The first book in her Young Adult trilogy, FORBIDDEN, debuted yesterday with Harpercollins. Kimberley once survived a night in a haunted castle tower room in Scotland, makes way too many cookies when she’s revising, and the best book trailers in the universe – for reals! Check them out on Youtube and/or her website: www.kimberleygriffithslittle.com

Kimberley’s Links:

WEBSITE:  kimberleygriffithslittle.com
BLOG:  KimberlyGriffithsLittle.blogspot.com
TWITTER:  @KimberleyGLittl
FACEBOOK:  Kimberly Griffiths Little
GOODREADS:  Kimberley_Griffiths_Little
YOUTUBE:  KimberleyLittle1
Amazon List of Books

 

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18. What Darcy Says About Starting Novels

In 2009 I attended Darcy Pattison’s Novel Revision Retreat through SCBWI’s Louisiana chapter and have returned to her revision workbook, NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS, again and again.

Remembering Darcy’s work had helped me in the past, I decided to read her latest, START YOUR NOVEL, before National Novel Writing Month last year. At just under 100 pages, this quick read offered enough structure and direction to help me think through ideas and get me going on my first draft.

Darcy opens her book by stating everything a first chapter must accomplish:

  • grab the reader’s attention
  • ground the reader in the setting
  • intrigue the reader with a character
  • give the reader a puzzle to solve
  • set the pace

The first chapter sets the stage for the rest of the book. The first sentence builds on the first page, which builds on the first chapter. And to grab an editor’s attention, all three must shine.

In order to produce that strong first chapter, an author must lay some groundwork. Darcy suggests taking a story idea and brainstorming possible scenes. To decide what kind of story structure might work best, she points readers to the “29 Plot Templates”. Here readers will find brief overviews of standard story structures: the quest, the escape, the underdog, to name a few. “Each plot pattern…require[s] a different set of scenes, emotions, and motivations.” The approach an author takes will affect how possible scenes play out.

Darcy then discusses protagonists with one key element in mind: the character’s pain. “What is the character most afraid of; what could make the character hurt the most? Of course, you must make your character face this very thing.” With the protagonist’s pain pinpointed (and the things she must face to bring about change), the beginnings of the character’s arc emerges.

Adding these three elements together — scene ideas + plot pattern + character arc — equips an author to begin a first draft.

Because I hadn’t yet committed hours and hours to writing at this point, there was plenty of freedom to play with my ideas: adding scenes, deleting them, changing a character’s motivation or the type of story I wanted to tell. As someone who’s written a few books and many more “trunk manuscripts,” I appreciated this experimental phase. It’s something I need to do more of before my drafting begins.

I consider myself a “plotster” (or “planster”, as Darcy would say) — someone who doesn’t fully plot a story but also doesn’t fly by the seat of her pants. Darcy says her approach might feel overly rigid to pantsters or too loosey-goosey to plotters. For me, her system felt like the perfect fit.

“The function of a first draft is to find your story. The function of the next few drafts is to find the best way to tell that story.”

To that end, Darcy spends much of her book showing authors how to experiment with different approaches, such as the type of sentence structures an author can use to start a book. Darcy identifies twelve types of opening sentences, gives examples of each, and then tries each type for her own novel-in-progress. In studying her opening from different angles, she shows readers what might best work for their own book.

The one thing I can count on when starting a new manuscript is the feeling I’ve never written a book before. Each of my stories has to find its own way. As I planned and then drafted during NaNoWriMo, START YOUR NOVEL was an invaluable guide.

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19. Troubles

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The trouble with writing says the historian who lives next door to me, is that no matter how many times you do it, you start out every time with the sick sense that you don’t know what you’re doing.

The trouble with writing says a novelist friend, is that it never gets any easier. If anything, it gets harder. And if it starts to get easier, you’re probably slacking off or repeating yourself.

The Millions :: The Trouble with Writing

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20. Writing Links

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Debut Year Reflections, Tips for New Authors :: YA Highway

Novel Revision Charts: 2 Tools for Smart Re-Thinking of Your Story :: Darcy Pattison

Life Doesn’t Permit…and Other Wise Words On Making Time to Write :: Kate Messner

The Crushing Weight of Expectations :: Writer Unboxed

Redefining Expectations in Order to Stay Sane :: Read Write Thrive

The Hectic Life of a Multi-Published Author :: Jody Hedlund

 

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21. Classroom Connections: THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY by Tracy Holczer

age range: middle grade (10 and up)
genre: contemporary fiction
study guide
Tracy Holczer’s website

“A lovely and captivating debut . . . Holczer writes with depth, heart, and a poetic lilt . . . nuanced characters engage from beginning to end.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Holczer expertly crafts the characters and dialogue to create a story readers will identify with, and thoroughly enjoy… More than simply a book about grief and the death of a parent, Grace’s story is about the search for identity. An essential purchase for middle-grade collections.” —School Library Journal, starred review

Please tell us about your book.

The Secret Hum of a Daisy is a story about love and loss and what it means to be a family. It takes place after the sudden death of twelve-year-old Grace’s mother. Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she’s never met in a small town she’s never heard of. A town Mama left years before—with Grace in her belly and a bus ticket in her pocket—and never looked back. It doesn’t take long before Grace desperately wants to leave, too.

Until she finds the first crane.

A mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on, takes Grace on a journey to find home. And it might just be closer than she thinks.

What inspired you to write this story?

I read a blog post recently where it talked about artists being “fundamentally inconsolable.”

This knocked my socks off for about two days while I thought about the reasons I sit in my chair to write. While “fundamentally inconsolable” isn’t the way I would talk about my life—I’m rather happy, actually—I do find that in my artist’s heart, this is very true. I feel compelled to write about themes of love and loss and belonging. These are deep rooted and wind in and out of my earliest memories, so when I sat down to write about Grace, it seemed natural to draw upon these themes that have special meaning to me.

Could you share with readers your writing process?

While I’m writing, my brain resembles something of a Jackson Pollack painting. Actually, even when I’m not writing, my brain tends to look like that. Ha! So, mostly, the writing process consists of me trying to figure out the order of things. As an instinctual writer, outlines don’t particularly work for me, but with my second book, I’m finding Blake Snyder’s beat sheet to be very helpful.

My books always start with a character and a situation. Family comes next and how that character interacts with the world. Once I see whatever it is that particular character yearns for, in their most secret heart, then the story begins to unfold. So the first few months of a book has me chasing down dead end roads and backtracking, and chasing down more dead end roads. It’s a little crazy making, but it’s what I’ve got. I am completely lacking a left brain, it seems.

What are some special challenges associated with writing contemporary middle grade?

Plot is so very tough for me to wrap my mind around. Especially in a contemporary story where the character isn’t questing for anything on the outside, like winning a competition or landing the lead in the school play. I mean, how to you write about yearning for a ten and up audience and keep them engaged? So, what I do is read writers who have mastered this. Kate DiCamillo. Linda Urban. Sharon Creech. Then I pray that things rub off.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

There is poetry from Robert Frost and from the main character, brief clips from different poems that felt very true to the themes of the story. I liked the idea of using clips since they can be easier to grasp and might encourage young writers to start small, as Grace does. The poetry also lends itself to the bigger idea that great sadness is always healed little by little, clip by clip.

The book touches on Sadako Sasaki and her thousand paper cranes, how we all have to find our own ways to heal. Magical thinking is part of that and children are so very good at it.

It would also tie in well with abstract art.

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22. On Writing


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What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks “the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.” And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, “Okay. Okay. I’ll come.”
— Maya Angelou

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23. Writing A Life

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Thinking, thinking after the LMM journals and the Laura Ingalls Wilder class* just what it means to capture a life on the page.

  • Is it ever really possible to get distance and perspective?
  • Are memoir and autobiography ever fully “true”?
  • How much can a writer truly reveal in public or even private writings?
  • Are these things fully known to the author herself?
  • How much do emotion and distance color things?
  • In the shaping of a life story, should a reader “listen in” on what is omitted?
  • Where is the moment autobiography shifts to autobiographical fiction?
  • What does it matter in the end?

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I keep circling back to the ideas infallibility and omniscience — two things no one has, but two things that would be needed to fully recored a “true” life. I don’t write memoir or autobiography so I am no expert, but I can’t help thinking what a challenge both formats would be. Memoir allows for more artistic license, (focusing on portions of a life rather than a whole life, for example, or in arranging events for thematic purposes), but both genres are expected to speak truth.

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Perhaps the windows autobiography and memoir afford us are enough to catch a glimpse of a true life. Perhaps journals, though they don’t tell the whole story, remove the public filter enough for a reader to know the author intimately. Maybe fictionalized accounts like the Little House books can give readers as strong a sense of a life as non-fiction.

Thinking, thinking, thinking.

 

* Laura Ingalls Wilder herself used fictionalized accounts of her childhood to get at greater truths. She said about her book, BY THE SHORES OF SILVER LAKE “All I have told is true, but it’s not the whole truth.”

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24. Historical Fiction Writing Links

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Our Story: American History Stories and Activities You Can Do Together (1801-1861) :: Smithsonian’s History Explorer (this ties in nicely with May B.!)

Research Matters :: Avi

Five How-Two Tips for Writing Historical Fiction :: Live, Write, Thrive

Crafting Historical Fiction :: Caroline Starr Rose

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25. Straight From the Source: J. Anderson Coats on Writing Historical Fiction

J. Anderson Coats is the author of historical fiction for young adults that routinely includes too much violence, name-calling and petty vandalism perpetrated by badly-behaved young people.  Her first YA novel, THE WICKED AND THE JUST, was one of Kirkus’s Best Teen Books of 2012, a 2013 YALSA Best for Young Adults (BFYA) winner, and a School Library Journal Best Books of 2012 selection.  It also won the 2013 Scandiuzzi Children’s Book award (the Washington State Book Award for teens).

How long do you typically research before beginning to draft? At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

The answer is, maddeningly, it depends.

With W/J, I had an advantage when it came to research. I was the kind of unbalanced teenager that had research interests, so I was deep in the DA section of the library* by the time I was thirteen. So most of the background content I had going in. If I ever were to write about lumberjacks or samurai or galley slaves, I’d have to do a lot more research up front. But as long as I’m in the medieval or early-modern British Isles, I’m off to the races.

Basically I write along until I encounter a detail I either 1) don’t know or 2) am not sure of. Then I make an educated guess and put the affected content in [brackets] and look it all up at the end (or when I’m stuck and need to justify taking a break, whichever comes first).

What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?

One of the most significant challenges for W/J was a scarcity of pre-rebellion primary source material concerning Edwardian planted towns, since a lot of the records kept by English authorities in Caernarvon were lost in the rebellion itself. The rebels were aiming for the tax records, but everything else went up too. (There’s a lot of stuff on the castles and the minutiae their construction, but not on the towns themselves, although since W/J came out, this book was published.)

I had to approach the problem creatively, researching other towns founded by Edward I in other places, general medieval urban culture, and the North Wales planted towns in later ages when the records are better. When you’re a writer of historical fiction, you’re part garbage collector, part treasure hunter, part psychologist and part microfilm wrestler.

Why is historical fiction important?

I’m not sure how it’s important in a cosmic sense, but here’s why it’s important to me.

There are budding teenage history geeks out there, and I want to be on the front lines of handing them books that let them know they’re correct that history is in fact awesome. And that they’re not alone in thinking so.

There are kids who don’t think much of history because all they’ve ever had to judge it by is “social studies.” I want to hand them real stories about real people who feel familiar, who have the capacity to be cruel and kind and stupid and thoughtful and loving and vindictive just like we all do.

There are kids who might like history if it was more real. Or maybe it’s not so much that I want kids to like history, but to understand that it’s not as foreign or irrelevant as they think. I can’t unindoctrinate them, but I can hand them a story that doesn’t pull any punches, that presents the past in all its corrupt, seamy glory, and let them decide for themselves.

How do you conduct your research?

I research iteratively, and I love to compile.

Mostly I use books and articles (it’s rare I find a good online resource), and I record all my research notes on the back sides of sheets of recycle paper I scavenge out of the bin. I write the title of the research book I’m working with at the top and number the sheets as I need to. Each book gets its own set of note-pages.

I go through books chapter by chapter and jot down individual pieces of evidence followed by its page number. For articles, I underline and annotate in the margins. If there are images, maps, charts or graphs, they get scanned/copied and the bibliographic information logged at the top.

After I work on a topic for a while, I’m able to compile my evidence into charts and tables or timelines for quick reference. I’m a big fan of spreadsheets, and I’m especially fond of my spreadsheet o’ swears. It cross-references rude, vulgar, and otherwise unsavory terms; when each one came into the language, its context, terms that are similar and/or related, and how it changed over time.

F’r instance, if I need someone to insult someone else’s parentage, I just need to look up a term I know was used and I’ll get all the rest, plus some idea whether it’s appropriate for the era. My other spreadsheets work this way too, but this is the one I use the most.

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

Medieval people were really pretty raunchy. A lot of people in the modern era have this impression that medieval people were straight-laced and humorless, either because their lives were hard or because religion played a central role in their world. This really isn’t true. They had a deep and abiding love of poop and fart jokes, and they adored what we would call slapstick humor. If people were getting hurt, they thought it was hilarious. Medieval people were also fans of wordplay, especially the double-entendre. They could make dirty puns like you wouldn’t believe.

* History. Particularly medieval history. Particularly medieval Welsh history.

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