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26. Why We Read

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[D]on’t ever apologize to an author for buying something in paperback, or taking it out from a library (that’s what they’re there for. Use your library). Don’t apologize to this author for buying books second hand, or getting them from bookcrossing or borrowing a friend’s copy. What’s important to me is that people read the books and enjoy them, and that, at some point in there, the book was bought by someone. And that people who like things, tell other people. The most important thing is that people read…
—Neil Gaiman

The post Why We Read appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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27. Straight From the Source: Dianne K. Salerni on Writing Historical Fiction

DIANNE K. SALERNI, a former fifth grade teacher, is the author of young adult historical novels, We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks) and The Caged Graves (Clarion/HMH), and the middle-grade fantasy series, The Eighth Day (HarperCollins). In her spare time, Dianne is prone to hanging around creepy cemeteries and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

The premise of the story comes first, and that usually dictates the time period. When I decided to write about the Fox sisters, their séance fraud, and Maggie Fox’s romance with Elisha Kane, I had to follow the timeline of their true story. When I decided to write about the caged graves in Catawissa, Pennsylvania, I could have changed the time period, but I thought it was better to work with the actual dates of death on the headstones. When I began working on a project that involved Nikola Tesla, I obviously had to work within the span of his life.

Having determined the time period of each story, my first step is to research the subject (ie: biographies of Maggie Fox, Elisha Kane, Nikola Tesla), the setting (ie: the history of Catawissa), and when possible, read other books set within the same time period.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

I do a lot of my research online and depend on historical society websites, historic photographs, census information, and even online copies of old magazines, such as Godey’s Ladies Book. Who scans all this information and puts it online, I don’t know, but I owe them a debt of gratitude!

I also purchase books when appropriate, especially biographies and books on local history. If a historical character in my story has written a book (such as Elisha Kane’s Arctic Explorations) I may read that. I also have a few reference books on hand in my house, such as a giant dictionary of slang (which helps me date slang accurately for historical use) or The Writer’s Guide to Every Day Life in the 1800s.

On occasion, I’ll visit a location related to my book or a scene in the book, such as a cemetery, a town, a coal mine, or in one case, a pyramid in Mexico! (Did you know traveling for book research is tax deductible?!)

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

I begin writing when the opening of the story reveals itself to me and I have enough plot ideas to move forward from there. Although I usually sketch out a basic outline for a plot before beginning the story, I rarely stick to it. For me, the true story develops along the way, and it’s often not exactly what I planned it to be.

I will continue to research as things come up during the writing. (ie: What town was accessible to the main character’s home by train in a single day? Were cupcakes invented by the 1860s? How did someone acquire decorative plants in the days before florists and nurseries?)

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I love learning about the details of life and marveling at what people could do then that we can’t do now. Yes, that may be the opposite of what one expects – Can’t we do more now? – but the people of the past had many more skills than we do. We are specialized and rely on our technology. We need to know less, because we can always look something up or find somebody else who knows what we need. (People don’t even bother to memorize phone numbers anymore!)

I also love portraying people in historical time periods as very much the same as people today. For example, when one of my characters, Verity, becomes engaged to a young man she knows only through letters, it’s a lot like today’s online dating. When she finally meets him, she’s expecting insta-love, and when that doesn’t happen, it’s a disappointment to her.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

If I had a penny for every time an editor passed on a manuscript, saying, “Historical fiction is a hard sell” … well, I’d have a lot of pennies.

I wish so many readers (especially YA readers) didn’t automatically write off historical fiction. History is a setting like any other – contemporary, dystopian, fantasy, or science fiction. Where and when the action takes place helps shapes the story, of course, but why historical settings would be considered less appealing than others puzzles me!

Because life isn’t always clear cut, the motives behind our actions don’t always make sense. But stories need to follow a logical path. What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?

This definitely came up a number of times when I was writing the story of the Fox sisters. They did what the historical record says they did, and I had to work with that. I had to provide the motivation behind their actions, even when those actions didn’t make sense. I believed the girls were frauds, but I had to work with witness accounts of their eerily accurate séances. Elisha Kane disappointed Maggie Fox repeatedly, but she always took him back. Why?

In the end, I had to remember that people in the past were not very different than people today. Witnesses lie. Girls believe their lovers will change, that this time, things will be different. When faced with a conundrum in history, I almost always found that human faults and frailties provided the solution for me. Because people aren’t logical or perfect.

Why is historical fiction important?

For exactly the reasons I stated above! People in the past were the same as people today. It’s important for us to understand that there’s nothing new under the sun – even if we think there is! Online dating and long-distance romance? Not new. Boyfriends who won’t commit and businesses that defraud the customers? Not new.

We need historical fiction in order to be less self-centered, to remind ourselves that people who came before us led lives as rich and interesting as our own – as will the people who come after us.

The post Straight From the Source: Dianne K. Salerni on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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28. Reset Expectations

birdsinatreeReset expectations instead of raising them. Hard to do if you’re a public company, but probably worth considering if you’re a human intent on making your art.

— from Seth Godin’s blog post, the paradox of rising expectations

The post Reset Expectations appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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29. Classroom Connections: UNDER A PAINTED SKY by Stacey Lee

age range: 12 and up
setting: Missouri en route to California, 1849
Stacey Lee’s website

High drama, tension, romantic longings, and touches of humor will entice historical fiction fans, and will be a perfect tie-in to social studies curriculum.
— School Library Journal

Please tell us about your book.

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush.

Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

An unforgettable story of friendship and sacrifice—perfect for fans of Code Name Verity.

What inspired you to write this story?

I’d always wondered what life in America was like when my ancestors arrived to California in the late 19th century. When I researched the history of Chinese in America, I learned that the bulk of the Chinese came during the western expansion and California Gold Rush. I don’t speak Chinese myself, so I knew my heroine needed to have a full command of the English language. The story grew from there.

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

I’m not a historian, so for me, every book begins with a trip to the library. There are plenty of online resources as well, but I seem to learn better when reading a hard copy. Also, I find the Children’s section of the library to be invaluable for subjects I know nothing about. Children’s books and videos break down the material into easy to understand chunks, not to mention, they’re much more entertaining than the adult stuff.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

One challenge is understanding the geography of the area as it existed during a particular period in time. Cities can change a lot over a few years, and while I certainly believe in taking liberties, I like to know when I’m doing it. I’m starting quite a collection of antique maps and reproductions!

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

The Oregon Trail and western expansion, slavery, Chinese American history, and the California Gold Rush, and last but not least, cowboys.

 

The post Classroom Connections: UNDER A PAINTED SKY by Stacey Lee appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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30. Writing Links

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Le Mot Juste :: Avi

Reading the Archetypes: Another Look at Levels :: Nerdy Book Club

An Epic Post about the Submission Process, from an Agent’s POV :: Jennifer Represents…

The Craft of Writing: Selling on Proposal, AKA the Dreaded Synopsis by Gretchen McNeil :: Adventures in YA Publishing

Voices of Self-Sabotage :: Writer’s First Aid

Why Writers Are Often Blind to Their Own Faults :: Jody Hedlund

A new middle-grade blog focusing on historical fiction — Mad about MG History

The post Writing Links appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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31. The Gift of Friendship

Today is the last day you can receive this beautiful print if you pre-order Blue Birds. Details below.

girls and pearls

My husband’s first pastorate out of seminary was in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington DC. He was a youth pastor and I was a teacher, and we were still pretty new to town. One Sunday a young couple visited our church. I casually chatted with them — a British fellow with the name Steve Martin (isn’t that fun?) and his lovely American wife, Jamie. And in those few moments I had one of those weird experiences I’d only had once before: I knew immediately that Jamie and I would become very good friends.

It was a strange feeling with no real basis, other than an underlining conviction we had clicked in a meaningful way. Almost fifteen years have passed since that Sunday. We’ve lived apart for eleven of them. But the fledgling friendship that started that day has been one of my life’s dearest gifts.

One spring Jamie came to visit us in Michigan. As the two of us wandered through an antique shop, she handed me a worn school primer she’d found on a shelf. Maybe it will be helpful for that new book idea you have, she said. It ended up being key. On the day May B. came into the world, Jamie wrote something that to this day makes me cry.

As I struggled with writing Blue Birds, Jamie was the one to tell me good work is often hard work. Each time I’d email about how difficult it all was, she’d remind me the writing was hard because it was important.

This time last year I was deep in the midst of second-round edits and desperate to connect with Alis and Kimi in a meaningful way. So I started wearing a strand of pearls. Everyday. With sweats and dressy clothes and everything in between. Unless I was sleeping or exercising, the pearls were there. My Blue Birds girls share a pearl necklace (you can see Alis wearing it on the cover). Wearing pearls was a constant reminder of their friendship, a way to meet them beyond my writing sessions, to carry them with me to the grocery store, while walking the dog, into life’s small, quiet moments.

It was during this time I found this treasure in my mailbox. A gift from Jamie (who knew nothing about the pearls). And that’s when I knew with certainty exactly who this book was for.

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If we’re lucky, we find friends in this world who love us as we are and bring out our best selves. I hope that’s what I’ve captured in Alis and Kimi’s relationship. It’s what Jamie Martin has given me.

BB PDF pic for blog postsThis post is part of a week-long celebration in honor of  Blue Birds. I’m giving away a downloadable PDF of this beautiful Blue Birds quote (created by Annie Barnett of Be Small Studios) for anyone who pre-orders the book from January 12-19. Simply click through to order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, IndieBound, or Powell’s, then email a copy of your receipt to caroline@carolinestarrrose.com by Monday, January 19.

Join the Celebration!

An Interview with Caroline Starr Rose, author of Blue Birds :: From the Mixed Up Files…

What I’m Reading: Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose :: Views from a Window Seat

Blue Birds :: Augusta Scattergood

Blue Birds Interview with Caroline Starr Rose :: Reflections on the Teche

Book Review: Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose :: Book Covers

 

 

 

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32. The Childhood Friendships Behind BLUE BIRDS

Books grow from a lot of places. Blue Birds is firmly rooted in two of my childhood friendships.

with Serg

In 1980 I moved back to the US from Saudi Arabia at the ripe old age of six. I didn’t understand America, this place with “deer crossing signs” (weren’t those pictures of goats?) and weird playground slang. While living on the other side of the world, what had once been familiar was now strange. That’s when I met Sergio, my boy-next-door, playmate, classmate, sometimes sworn enemy, and stand-in sibling. Our friendship gave us a place to be ourselves, to grow into our fuller selves. It was a safe place for me to navigate my new surroundings and learn about my new home.

CSR and ACI

A few years later, I met Anna. We traded books, dreamed big dreams, were hugely creative and beyond silly. Anna moved away in fifth grade, and our mothers let us call each other twice a year — on our birthdays and Christmas. The rest of the time we wrote letters, hers filling up a blue suitcase I kept in my closet, mine filling up a red toolbox in hers. Since 1985, we’ve seen each other only five times. I still count Anna as one of my dearest friends.

How have your childhood friends influenced you? 

BB PDF pic for blog postsThis post is part of a week-long celebration in honor of  Blue Birds. I’m giving away a downloadable PDF of this beautiful Blue Birds quote (created by Annie Barnett of Be Small Studios) for anyone who pre-orders the book from January 12-19. Simply click through to order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, IndieBound, or Powell’s, then email a copy of your receipt to caroline@carolinestarrrose.com by Monday, January 19.

Join the celebration!

Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose :: Kid Book List

Good Friends and Good Books: Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose :: Victoria Easter Wilson

Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose :: The Readers and Writers Paradise

Bravery in a Foreign Land: Celebrating Caroline Starr Rose’s Blue Birds :: Amy Rogers Hays

Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose :: Well Read Sleepy Head

Blue Birds, by Caroline Starr Rose, and an Unlikely Friendship :: Our House in the Middle of Our Street

 

 


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33. A Pinch of Daring

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It wasn’t easy deciding what lines from Blue Birds would work as a visual taste of the book. When I flipped through it with Annie’s art in mind, I was sure I would settle on words about friendship. That’s the heart of the story, after all. But it was these words instead that I returned to again and again:

How ordinary life is
without a bit of fancy,
without a pinch of daring
to fill our days.

The funny thing is, I can’t say I wholly agree with my character Alis. Here’s a twelve-year-old girl with an adventurous side who is surrounded by newness at every turn. An ordinary life would be dull in comparison. But my forty-one year old self isn’t so convinced there is an ordinary life. I’m pretty sure every life is extra-ordinary.

Here’s where I do track with her. Those bit of fancy/pinch of daring moments are the glimmers that can make us feel most alive. They can be small, unassuming things or enormous, life-changing events. They are those times we feel most content, most joyous, most brave.

As I was driving home from my run last Thursday morning, I caught Malcolm Gladwell on NPR’s TED Radio Hour. I might be botching exactly what he said, but it went something like this:

You’re never most alive as when your world is turned upside down.

That’s what fiction is all about, those life-turned-asunder moments. They propel characters toward the change that has to happen for a story to exist. For those of us who live outside the world of books (you know, as living, breathing human beings), those upside down moments aren’t always pleasant. While I love the idea of a new year and all the fresh potential it brings, I’m also firmly aware of the equal possibility for sorrow and disappointment. And you know something? That’s scary. Life in its glorious ordinariness sometimes takes a measure of bravery.

I only just realized that Alis’s words kind of echo one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite characters, Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Perhaps I subconsciously meant for it to be that way:

Let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere — be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.

 In the wonder and joy and even the sorrow, here’s to your own bits and pinches of the extraordinary. 

BB PDF pic for blog postsThis post is part of a week-long celebration in honor of  Blue Birds. I’m giving away a downloadable PDF of this beautiful Blue Birds quote (created by Annie Barnett of Be Small Studios) for anyone who pre-orders the book from January 12-19. Simply click through to order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, IndieBound, or Powell’s, then email a copy of your receipt to caroline@carolinestarrrose.com by Monday, January 19.

Join the Celebration!

Childhood, Best Friends, and Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose :: Kimberley Griffiths Little

Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose :: Melissa Sarno

MG Book Review — Blue Birds :: Akossiwa Ketoglo

A Celebration of Caroline Starr Rose’s Blue Birds: We Were the Fortunate Strangers :: Valerie Stein

Celebrating Blue Birds with an Interview with Caroline Starr Rose :: Faith Hough

Roanoke Lost Colony Imagined in Blue Birds :: Pragmatic Mom

 

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34. Celebrating BLUE BIRDS: A Week-Long Giveaway

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Blue Birds makes its way into the world two months from now. I am beyond excited to introduce you to my girls, Alis and Kimi, and hope they will come to mean to you what they do me.

During the next week over a dozen bloggers will celebrate Blue Birds. Some will post about friendship or cross-cultural experiences. Others will run interviews with me or will share a Blue Birds review. I’ll include all links on the blog, so that you might read along.

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As part of the celebration, I’m giving away a downloadable PDF of this beautiful Blue Birds quote (created by Annie Barnett of Be Small Studios) for anyone who pre-orders the book. If you’d like to participate, here’s all you need to do:

I will send out the PDF on Tuesday, January 20. This is yours to use as you choose. My copy is going on my bookshelf, and I’ve also had notecards made. I do ask that you not give away the PDF itself. This is an honor system sort of thing, and I’d like it to remain as a gift for those who pre-order. But feel free to print as many copies as you’d like. Imagine what a lovely gift the book and quote might be together!

Before getting published, I had no idea how much power pre-sales can have. Early numbers help a publisher decide how many books to print (what’s known as a print run), influence bookstores whether or not to carry a book, and can indicate how successful a book will be overall.

I would be honored if you spread the word about Blue Birds. Thank you, friends, for your support. A book needs readers, and I am so grateful for readers like you.

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35. Lucky Duck

You might have noticed the pretty new cover over in the sidebar.

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Last fall I was asked to write a few poems on spec for a new poetry anthology Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong had in the works. Last month I found out one had been accepted, a poem called “December Solstice.”

Sylvia and Janet are the superstars behind the Poetry Friday Anthology series, books that have been adopted by hundreds of school districts across the country. The series “helps teachers and librarians teach poetry easily while meeting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and the Texas TEKS for English Language Arts (ELA)/Poetry and Science & Technology.”

This anthology, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, releases in April, also known as National Poetry Month. For more information, click through!

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36. Wisdom from A GATHERING OF DAYS

a gathering of days

Once I would have wished for that: never to grow old. But now I know that to stay young always is also not to change. And that is what life’s all about — changes going on every minute, and you never know when something begins where it’s going to take you.

So one thing I want to say about life is don’t be scared and don’t hang back, and most of all, don’t waste it.

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37. A Year of Re-Reading

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I used to think re-reading books was a waste of time. With so many to choose from, what was the point of picking up books I’d spent time with before? This changed when I began collecting titles for my future classroom. Pulling books off my childhood shelves and searching through used bookstores, I realized I wanted to know these stories again, not just in memory.

Since then, re-reading has been a key part of my reading life, this last year especially. While I read dozens and dozens of new-to-me books, I re-read over a dozen, too. Here’s my list of last year’s re-reads, along with the number of times I’ve picked up each book (as far as I can remember, that is):

  1. Murder on the Links – Agatha Christie (2)
  2. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle (2)
  3. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie (2)
  4. The Book of Three – Lloyd Alexander (3)
  5. Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain (3)
  6. Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell (3)
  7. We Were Liars – E. Lockhart (2)
  8. Emily Climbs – L.M. Montgomery (3)
  9. Emily’s Quest – L.M. Montgomery (3)
  10. Little House in the Big Woods – Laura Ingalls Wilder (4)
  11. Farmer Boy – Laura Ingalls Wilder (4)
  12. Little House on the Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder (4)
  13. On the Banks of Plum Creek – Laura Ingalls Wilder (5)
  14. Crooked River – Valerie Geary (3.3)
  15. A Gathering of Days – Joan W. Blos (2)

There were read alouds with my eleven-year-old (1, 3), giving a book a second chance (2), revisiting an old favorite on its fiftieth anniversary (4), reacquainting myself with a character who serves as a model for a future book (5), sentimental re-reads (6, 8, and 9), the start-right-back-at-the-beginning-immediately-to-figure-things-out read (7), re-reading for a free on-line course (part two is coming in the spring!) (10-14), a celebratory read of a critique partner’s finished book (14), and a Christmas Day perusal of a Newbery I discovered when I first started teaching (thanks to my sister for sending along my own copy!) (15)

It is impossible to finish a book unchanged. But re-visiting a book gives me a chance to growly doubly. Not only do I experience the progression of the story and its characters, I re-meet my younger self and examine all the ways I’ve also changed. My preferences in literary styles, my observations as a writer, my insights on the book’s themes, my memories of past readings — all of these enrich the reading. Even when a book doesn’t measure up to my memories, the second read doesn’t diminish the first love.

Are you a re-reader? What books have you picked up again and again?

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38. Straight From the Source: Debra McArthur on Writing Historical Fiction

Debra McArthur grew up in Springfield, Missouri, where her high school experience included church activities, choir, drum and bugle corps, and the kind of drama and angst that make a person really glad to grow up.  She earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. 

These days, Debra lives with her husband in Kansas City, Missouri. She teaches college along the bluffs of the Missouri River, and she is still collecting nouns that describe her: student, teacher, wife, mother, reader, writer, Irish dancer, marathon runner. Debra is the author of the novel A Voice for Kanzas. She also writes literary biographies and historical non-fiction.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

I really like to use actual information from the era—primary sources such as newspapers and personal journals. Those kinds of sources give me more than factual data; they give me personal viewpoints and the speech patterns of people of the era, as well as their attitudes about the events that were happening.

I also like to use sources that lead me closer to the life of my characters, and those are often not print sources. In A Voice for Kanzas, my character’s father runs a general store in Lawrence, Kansas in 1855. I loved exploring the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City. The items there were salvaged from the wreck of a boat that sank in 1856 that carried merchandise for general stores in the Territory. It not only helped me see what kinds of items they would have in their store, but also what kinds of household items were in daily use by the settlers.

For my current work-in-progress, the main character becomes the blacksmith’s apprentice in Lawrence in 1856. I went to a local historical park and did workshops with the blacksmith there to find out more about the craft, and to find out what parts of my body would hurt after pumping the bellows for a few hours! And the side benefit was some nifty new fireplace tools I made.

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

I’ve studied Kansas Territorial history for over many years, so I knew the era and the factual background of it pretty well before I decided to write a fictional story set there. But I can’t begin a story until I know my character. Once that character begins to whisper in my ear and tell me his or her story, I can begin. That’s when I know the character’s own voice and what he or she wants. The details will develop once I begin, but I have to hear the voice first.

When I’ve begun to draft the story, the research continues. I not only have to continue researching historical events, but also looking up specific details like weather, politics, clothing details, and more. In my current book, the character spends some time in church, and I needed to know what hymns might have been sung there.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

I have to be careful not to let my 21st-century thinking interfere with my 19th century characters. Sometimes it’s hard because people of that era would not think in the same ways we do. Our modern-day ideas about gender roles and racial attitudes are very different. And some things I find in my historical research are certainly not “politically correct” in terms of words we would use now. It’s sometimes hard to be historically accurate and still be “appropriate” for young readers of today.

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

The Emigrant Aid Society settlers who founded the town of Lawrence were mostly Easterners who came to the Territory with lofty ideals about their role in making Kansas a free state. They were unprepared for the resistance of the Missourians who had a vested interest in making Kansas a slave state. During the first election, thousands of Missouri “border ruffians” came across the border and threatened the settlers with guns and knives in order to prevent them from voting. After this event, the Lawrence settlers wrote to their sponsors in Boston, asking for guns with which to defend themselves. Because all shipments by land and by river were watched by the ruffians, the rifles were sent in boxes marked “books” or even “bibles.” I had fun writing that into the plot of A Voice for Kanzas.

Because life isn’t always clear cut, the motives behind our actions don’t always make sense. But stories need to follow a logical path. What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?

It’s sometimes hard to know the truth of some historical events, because newspaper accounts of the day varied according to the political viewpoints of the varied individuals and newspapers of the time, especially in regards to their stance on the slavery issue. In my current book, the historical events include a murder and also conflicts between the citizens of Lawrence and the local sheriff. It isn’t always easy to determine the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” since both sides believed they were being unfairly characterized. I have to take the point of view of my main character and tell it through his eyes, so it may not be THE truth, but it is HIS truth.

Why is historical fiction important?

I never liked history much as a school subject because so much of the emphasis was on memorization of dates, names, battles, and such. Although it was factual, it never felt real. Historical fiction is like a time machine. It can take a reader to that time and place and let her live there for a while. I want my readers to love my stories and my characters, but also get a better understanding of the events and the emotions behind them. I want them to close the book and feel like they need to wipe the grit off their teeth because they’ve been walking the dusty Kansas roads along with my characters.

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39. Writing Contests and Grants: Why You Should Enter

This post is an oldie but goodie worth re-running. In case you’re wondering, I continue to apply for grants and fellowships — three in the last eighteen months, to be exact.

in the mail

My high-tech list of submissions (contests included) before signing with my agent. Something kind of fun — #71 on the white page? A portion of that book will publish in an anthology in 2016. And Stacey Barney just happens to be my beloved editor of BLUE BIRDS as well as my next novel, coming in 2016.

I’ve entered/applied for roughly a dozen writing contests/grants over the years. One I finished first. One I got an honorable mention. The others I didn’t place at all. Still, every contest was worth experiencing for a number of reasons:

1. Working with a deadline: Those of us who haven’t yet sold a manuscript write without any sort of formal deadline. This works well for some, not so well for others. By signing up for a contest, you have committed to finishing and submitting your writing by a certain time, great practice for future deadlines once your work is sold.

2. Reviewing your writing: Whether applying for a grant or entering a contest, you’ll need to carefully study your work, looking for ways to strengthen it but also examining why your writing deserves to win (early pracitice on determining why your title would be successful in the marketplace). Filling out an application and following the contest’s guidelines will bolster your ability to write a strong, concise query.

3. Getting read: Some contests/grants offer feedback for those who place. It is so beneficial to see what others outside of your writing community have to say about your work. Authors, editors, and agents often judge these contests, putting your work front and center. Sometimes for me, just knowing someone I admire has read my work is enough. I entered Hunger Mountain’s Katherine Paterson Award so that she might read my writing. I got no feedback. I didn’t place, but the gracious, two-time Newbery winner read my words! I’m satisfied.

4. Publishing opportunities: Winning contests/grants means a portion of your work is often published, allowing for other readers, agents, and editors to learn of your writing. In winning first place for a novel excerpt at the Jambalaya Writers’ Conference, my work will be featured in an anthology put out by Nicholls University. At the same conference, I happened to be critiqued by a poetry professor from Southeastern Louisiana University. He asked for a few poems from my free-verse novel to publish in Louisiana Literature magazine, which he edits. These publications don’t have wide circulation, but my work is out there. People are reading it.

5. Beefing up your query: Winning a contest is great query fodder. I think a large part of my agent requests these last few months have come from winning this small, local contest and the publication that has come about as a result.

Those of you who are members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators need to take advantage of their grant programs, if you haven’t already. There are a half-dozen or so to choose from. You may enter one per calendar year. In the three I’ve entered, there have been only 200-400 other entrants. Think about it. There are thousands of member in this organization, but only a handful applying for grants. Your work will be read by industry professionals. You might even get some money out of the experience. What have you got to lose?

Have you entered contests or applied for grants? Any you could recommend? What has your expereince been?

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40. Writing Links

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How Best-Selling Writers Sabotage Themselves (and How to Learn from Their Mistakes) :: Live Write Thrive

What it Really Takes :: Writer Unboxed

What does logic have to do with it? :: Avi

9 Reasons Your Reader is Bored :: Ingrid’s Notes

Encouraging Writers Who Don’t Know If They Should Keep Going :: Jody Hedlund

Your Best Promotional Tool :: Writer’s First Aid

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41. 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?

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42. 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.

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43. 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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44. 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 cafĂ© 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.

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45. 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

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46. 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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47. 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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48. 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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49. 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)

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50. 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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