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I've moved into indie publishing lately, where it is entirely my choice which books I release into the world. So, I've been thinking about branding.
One thing it has taken me a while to realize is that just because you don't write the most popular thing and you get some bad reviews because of it, doesn't mean you need to change anything.
My second novel, Between the Sea and Sky (Bloomsbury, 2001), is my favorite of my published books. Its review average on Amazon and Goodreads was never great, which initially made me feel like there was no place in the world for what I most love to write.
However, as the years have gone by, I've gotten many fan letters for that book from both kids and adult women who tell me it's one of their favorite books and they've read it many times. It took me all those years for the fan mail to trickle in before it finally dawned on me that it is the most beloved of all my books, as far as I can tell.
My brand is: cozy romantic fantasy about a couple in healthy relationship with lots of details about food, clothes, and domestic life, and bits of humor. The fantasy backdrop is more in the "courtly politics" vein rather than physical action, although there is a little of that.
The characters are always somewhat on the fringe of society, your lovable outcasts and weirdos, and if I've done my job, you keep reading because you find the characters delightful and you want to know what happens to them and see them find a place in the world.
Betsy the Cat
They are the kind of books you might read when you're sick or having a bad day; where the characters are friends, the world is home, and you can trust that your heart won't get ripped out of your chest.
A lot of readers like having their heart ripped out of their chest. They give me reviews that say they wanted more action, more magic, more highs and lows. It's always tempting to listen to the bad reviews instead of the good.
And sometimes I love reading stuff that is epic, sweeping, dark. But when I try to write it feels like when I wear my disco dress with the fluttery sleeves. I love that dress but it just isn't me the way my plain 1960s navy blue librarian dress is.
Other people might even like the disco dress better, but it doesn't matter, I still would be happier living in the librarian dress.
As a reader, too, the cozy reads are the ones that fall apart on my shelf, because I pick them up again and again. So I realize now that it is more important to keep writing books that are the most me, and retain those readers who appreciate them too, than it is to try and chase the next big fantasy bestseller.
with pencil, pen or quill, from a picture, if you will, on a napkin, in the dark, at the ocean, on a walk, at a desk, from my dreams, at a keyboard, near a stream: the Muse attacks and I succumb, writing words one by one.
It may start anywhere, anytime without invitation. A spark leaps across one brain cell to another and I must write. I must capture the word/phrase/sentence on paper or in a text file so I can hold it hostage before this elusive gift evaporates.
During school visits, I tell my student audiences; this idea-generating stage of writing comes from something I refer to as the Cosmic Goo, a Nether-World place where ideas wait to be used.
Cosmic Goo (it's a technical term)
Once an idea has introduced itself, I enter the pre-writing phase, where I begin to translate images into slightly more tangible things, words. I want to see, touch, taste them; more importantly, I want to hear them.
I read all my work aloud, from rough draft to finished products, particularly important for picture book or poems. By doing this, I can test their word rhythms. I want to pair every idea with its perfect word mate; doubly important if the draft insists upon being rhymed.
Rhymed or in prose, rhythm is key. If I can't hear the intrinsic word melodies that rhythm produces then neither will my readers.
A stop in word rhythm will slow or stop the reader's flow, and potentially keep them from reading more.
For revising and editing most of my manuscripts, I proceed in two ways: I work a piece to the ground or I abandon it...for a night, a week, a year, or even completely. Separation has definite advantages.
Often, I will go to sleep ruminating on an irksome line, paragraph or scene and awake with its solution, or at least with the way to proceed. In contrast, a longer incubation period allows me to discover that not all pieces deserve to survive. I have learned to use the delete key.
Grandchildren (at a younger age) featured with blessings.
However, if a piece does deserve serious revision, then it deserves the best I can provide.
Good revision is much like good parenting: it starts from your heart.
You invest time in the improvement of your words or art; you encourage and nudge them to shine to become their best; last, you send them on their way and step back.
Will the words and illustrations you love ring true in the Big World?
Will your hard work pay off?
Like adult kids on their own, books mutate from your plans. A few make the New York Times Best Sellers List. Many speak to the hearts of librarians and teachers.
If you are lucky, truly lucky, your book will touch the one child it needed to help, the one who will fall asleep with your work tucked in her or his arms.
That's the beauty and importance of writing and illustrating books for children.
“I write. I teach. I color in or outside the lines. I spoil kids and grandkids....
"Poetry gives voice to our silent songs."
Author/illustrator/storyteller/recovering-teacher/poet, Linda Boyden has written six and illustrated five picture books:
This week I've caught myself for two minutes here, five minutes there, reading a scene from my manuscript in progress.
Not to edit it. Not because I'm nervous about what my new editor will say (that won't kick in for another couple of weeks).
Not because I don't have other things to do. I'm busy teaching and writing speeches.
This week I'm reaching for my work in progress because it comforts me. It's tangible proof that I'm working steadily to the best of my ability to offer something positive to this world, to its future.
I feel a need for tangible proof right now. I'm holding myself accountable and weighing my efforts.
Of late, several writers and illustrators have thoughtfully spoken with me about navigating the dialogue around the current U.S. presidential election.
Here are my thoughts:
First, engage in nurturing self-care. As creative people, we must be courageous and empathetic. That makes us vulnerable. As a creative community, we must take emotional and mental health seriously.
Especially for diverse writers--more so for those who're also women, the landscape is precarious and allies too often undependable.
So, again, please take care of yourself and each other.
That said, no, you don't have to surrender your freedom of political speech for your career. If you believe that your democracy is at stake, your community is at stake, know that publishing as an industry is not going to punish you for saying so.
As for the gatekeepers and the general public, yes, it's possible that you may not sell a copy or, for that matter, two hundred copies of your book, if you speak out. It's possible you may not be invited to a particular event or win a particular award because a given individual disagrees with you.
In a traditional partisan contest, with its typical rhetoric, it may be worth weighing whether to raise your voice or let your books do the talking, especially in cases where those particular books could save kids' lives.
But, my friends, I seriously doubt any of that's in play this time.
You know, in case you were worried about the position of a mint company on gender.
We are neck deep in the surreal.
So, don't be too hard on yourself if you're triggered or baffled or or disheartened or outraged. Everyone I talk to keeps apologizing for having feelings. Of course you have feelings!
My suggestion: Participate in a way that preserves, reflects and/or affirms your creative life. If what's best for you is to be quiet and go vote, okay. That's fine. If you want to engage on Twitter and then go vote, that's an option, too. But regardless, focus on your own work.
Continue to craft great books for children and teenagers. Maybe not this minute or this week, if you're not up to it. But when you're ready.
This is the world we're giving to future generations, and those of you who create (produce, champion and connect) literature for young readers are among my heroes. Hang in there.
Indigenous People's Day YA Collection from Lee & Low. Peek: "This Young Adult collection highlights indigenous cultures and the issues they face. These paperback and hardcover books for both on-grade level and struggling readers are sure to engage and offer a range of complexity to meet all students' needs."
What if there was a way to build in opportunities to reflect, in writing, about my teaching right in the place where the lesson plans reside? And what if that place could also offer daily inspiration and opportunities to set positive intentions for the week ahead?
The ability to improve the health of another person or to save their life requires great skill, knowledge, and dedication. The impact that this work has goes above and beyond your average career, extending to the families and friends of patients. We were interested to discover what motivates the people who play a vital role in the health and quality of life of hundreds of people every year.
Has the wisdom of time and life positively affected my ability to write flawed characters? Or is it the other way around?
I muse about this during an early summer morning’s coffee and writing time.
In much younger days, a painful flaw in a friend’s makeup would end the friendship. I could not tolerate – or truthfully, did not know how to negotiate the waters of – imperfection.
I don’t mean to imply that some relationships, whether romantic or friendship, never change beyond repair, or don’t have some Shakespearean-level fatal flaws. Some people come and go in our lives, as we come and go in theirs.
In retrospect, I believe flaws frightened me. You can guess at the multiple reasons, but there it was: a problem, a serious bump, a major difference in opinion or belief used to pose a threat to the relationship itself. I did not have the courage to stay for discussion, argument, confrontation. I did not believe in my own value in such a confrontation.
I did not know the inherent beauty of flaws.
I could spend time regretting the relationships that I left behind – the ones, that is, that could have benefited from conversation that pushed each of us to accommodate the other’s differences and flaws. But instead I devoted effort to accepting my own and others’ flaws, and developing the capacity to, more times than not, gently nudge myself past the historically embedded impulse to head the other direction. In life, I’ve learned that flaws, disappointments, failures are part of the tapestry.
Appreciating, although not always loving, has made for a better life story.
So as a writer, you’d think that I’d “get” the need to make my characters imperfect, create their flaws with a more complete understanding that this is part of what makes them human, engaging, and even universal.
But it’s always a struggle. I want to idealize them. In first drafts, or even in the daydreams that happen before the first drafts, deeper imperfections, the roiling internal conflicts that make us human, are absent.
I steer myself deliberately into the “deep” later on. And more often than not, it will take repeated efforts to comb away my idealizing vision of a girl, her family, her friends, until they all become flawed.
Not fatally, but naturally. Like most of us.
Decades ago, when I read and fell in love with so many magnificent middle grade novels, I participated in an online “chat” (no visuals in those days, just typed questions and responses) with Katherine Paterson. As a new-ish writer for children, I typed in a question:
How did you create a character with so many flaws that we still fall in love with by the end of the first page?
Ms. Paterson’s answer was simply stated, but profound. The typed words appeared on my screen:
Because I love her.
I knew how important these words were, and also knew that it might take me years of practice to fully understand.
In fact, as I’ve worked on multiple revisions of my middle grade novel in verse, it has seemed that I created the love by creating flaws. As I made everything and everyone less perfect, I grew fonder and fonder of them, and of the story.
We know the flaws of being human make for better characters, and a deeper story. They also probably make for a better life.
Drawing from her skills and experience as a clinical social worker and consultant/educator, Carol also writes extensively about the psychological and emotional aspects of the writing journey, and the essential skills for creating and maintaining emotional resilience. Her column, “The Flourishing Writer,” is archived in the Illinois SCBWI Prairie Wind.
Carol lives with her husband in Chicagoland and treasures her family, friends, and work at an extraordinary early childhood center.
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It's been four years since my first children's book came out. One thing I've learned since then: to pay more attention to the people and things around me.
EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE can be a source of wonder and inspiration: a snippet of conversation, a secret smile, even someone's shoes. Ask yourself questions about the people and things you see around you, invent reasons why people look or act the way they do, what happened to them, why they chose to wear that particular piece of clothing today.
A photo posted by Debbie Ridpath Ohi (@inkygirl) on Dec 6, 2015 at 6:32am PST
Now that I illustrate as well as write, I also try to pay more attention to physical details when I observe the world around me: what people REALLY look like, for instance, to help me add authentic or unusual details next time I draw a young girl or stay-at-home parent or businessman or older person or person of colour, etc.. My goal: to increase the breadth and depth of my internal visual library, the one I access when I'm doing a sketch without a physical reference right in front of me.
A photo posted by Debbie Ridpath Ohi (@inkygirl) on Dec 17, 2015 at 8:03am PST
And this doesn't just apply to observing people. I've always preferred drawing characters much more than backgrounds. I used to hate drawing backgrounds, which is why I rarely drew them in my comics early on. Now I'm trying to get better at it and lo and behold, I find the more I practice, the more comfortable I become. Go figure, eh? I've been drawing a lot of TREES lately. I draw big trees, little trees, scary trees, alien trees, saplings etc. Experimenting with different ways of drawing foliage as well. NO, I don't have any book projects where I have to draw trees right now....but I know I will someday, so why not get better at something I don't enjoy doing? And it's working. I'll post more on this topic in the future.
So go forth and pay attention, all! Your creative inner lives will be enriched as a result, I promise.
She received an M.F.A. from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee and now lives in Indiana where she writes books for readers of all ages.
We all reach a point when writing doesn’t feel very fun. Maybe because we’ve read too many rejection letters. Or maybe because we’ve revised so much we can’t recognize our story. Or maybe because we’re under a deadline and the pressure to finish takes away all the enjoyment.
But remember why we started doing this? It wasn’t because we wanted to get rich quick. (Ha!) Or because it was the only job we could do. Or because anyone was making us write. It was because it was fun.
The art of creating story was fun. We became writers because we like telling stories—we like making up details, researching history and narrating events. All of that was fun.
Six years ago, I got serious about becoming a writer and applied to an MFA program. When I got a call from the admissions office saying, “Hey – we’re doing this intensive picture book semester and we have room for one more student. Would you like to try it?”
I thought, That could be fun. And I soon found myself immersed.
Six months of reading almost nothing but picture books. Dozens of picture books. Hundreds of picture books. Rhyming ones, silly ones, concept books, fairy tales. Biographies, bedtime stories, wordless books and—poetry.
The thing about sitting down at the library and reading through a knee-high stack of poetry books is that after reading a dozen, two dozen, I started to see really fast what makes a certain one good. I really liked the ones that were centered around a theme, with varied types of poetry and bonus little nonfiction facts sprinkled on top.
I should try to do that, I thought. Being enrolled in a class that expected me to produce many picture book drafts in a short period of time didn’t let me dwell on whether it was a good idea or not. It just demanded that I try it out. That I play with it.
And I did. It was fun to research shark breeds and learn about sharks I’d never heard of before. (Hello, cookie-cutter shark!)
I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching sharks swim and thinking about their rhythm and shape and how that would feed into a poem. It was fun to learn new stuff. And it was really fun to try my hand at writing all different types of poems.
To challenge myself to make sure the next one didn’t rhyme or the next one was a concrete poem or the next one was a haiku. Not all of the experimenting worked. But every bit of it was fun.
As writers we need to remember what drew us to this field to begin with and do whatever we can to find the fun again. Here are 4 quick ways you can find the fun in writing this week:
Be a spy. Go outside and find an animal or a plant and just sit and watch it for 10 minutes, writing down whatever comes to mind. See if you can take that and shape it into a poem when the time is up.
Play a game. Find a Mad Libs. Caption a funny photo.
Have fun with first lines. Opening sentences can be really fun to make up. Write a list of ten of them and then send the list out to your critique group. Let them vote on one that you’ll turn into a short story.
Write something that is completely out of your comfort zone. If you normally write YA contemporary, try writing a scene of a middle grade historical novel. Write the end of a story. Write in second person. Do something new and fresh that shakes it up a little in your routine.
It’s worth it to take a break from the WIP and play a little. Remembering what’s fun about writing will improve your energy level on your current project.
But that’s not why you should do it. You should do it because it’s fun.
My grandmother used to tell me that I was dizzy-dolly-daydream. She said it quite a lot and I began to wonder if this was a good thing, so I finally asked her what it meant.
She said that me being in my own funny little world was a bit frustrating for her; however, she thought that that dreamers were important. The important bit made me feel ten feet tall but with little idea of what she was on about since most of my mental meanderings were to do with going to Sweety Land where I could eat everything in sight or jumping into a puddle which took me to the seaside or rescuing a sad donkey/mouse/rabbit from certain doom.
A real donkey being rescued! Don't worry - he was fine and happy
Then Granny being the pragmatic woman she was, added, 'But you do need to do something with your dreams, dear.' Thanks, Granny.
Only in our dreams are we free. The rest of the time we need wages. Terry Pratchett
We can range free in our daydreams, slip the surly bonds of earth and all that, though we are strangely constrained by some inner logic in our night-dreams and nightmares. Whatever they are - daydreams, night-dreams, nightmares - maybe the stuff that dreams are made of can make a story ... and turn the insubstantial into substance. You must have had dreams you remember? I have had dreams in which I'm falling off a tall building, only to land on a squashy car (I've had this at least three times) and the embarrassing dream in which I find myself swimming in a public pool with no costume on (please do not analyse). I have also had dreams which rehearse an important event and woken with a sense of security about what's to come (quite useful but uncontrollable).
It was all a dream ...
I have also dreamed of the dead. I have done this twice. In my dreams I talked to those lost ones, forgetting that they were dead until waking when the memory of loss returned with the most crushing sadness. So my dreams are rubbish for plotting but they have on occasion been wonderful for feeling.
And then, in dreaming, The clouds methought would open and show riches Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked I cried to dream again. Caliban, The Tempest, Shakespeare
Back to Granny. When I was about eight I had an incredible experience. I so loved being with Granny at her house and I would frequently dream about being there. One night, I dreamed about my bedroom in that house - the perfumey scent, the sunshine on the bed, the creaking wardrobe door. I woke up and for a glorious few seconds Iwasthere - in that bed, in my granny's house and my happiness was like sunshine. It lasted no time and I woke up again, confused and with a terrible weight of disappointment and a fierce yearning to be back there. Sometimes, I think that this it is what being a ghost might feel like - a tremendous yearning to get back to life. I haven't knowingly used this experience in my work but I recognise it in other stories.
Don't let her in, you fool
Like Cathy's ghost in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch: instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand. The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, "Let me in—let me in!"
Set on the wild and windy moors, Bronte’s Victorian classic has lots of dream-like qualities. There are several occasions when characters are guided by their dreams. The character Lockwood has an unsettling dream about a brawl at an endless church sermon while staying at Wuthering Heights, while Catherine accepts a marriage proposal from Edgar after connecting a dream about going to heaven with their union.
‘I have dreamt in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they have gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind. And this is one: I’m going to tell it – but take care not to smile at any part of it.’ the Housekeeper
There are those books which deal directly with dreams like one of my favourites, 'Marianne Dreams' by Catherine Storr.
Ill and bored with having to stay in bed, Marianne picks up a pencil and starts doodling - a house, a garden, a boy at the window. That night she has an extraordinary dream whereby she is transported into her own picture, and as she explores further she soon realises she is not alone. The boy at the window is called Mark, and his every movement is guarded by the menacing stone watchers that surround the solitary house. This story is creepy, disturbing and I realised that it echoed one of my own childhood nightmares where a witch lived in the house next door and I had to devise lots of ways to escape her attentions.
Soooooo atmospheric and dreamlike in quality
How about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. There is a door at the end of a silent corridor. And it's haunting Harry Potter's dreams. Why else would he be waking in the middle of the night, screaming in terror?
As with Agamemnon’s dreams, courtesy of Zeus (I've waited a long time to reveal that nugget of knowledge), Harry is also led astray by subconscious thoughts implanted by a villain.
I love a spooky door
And, as if you ever needed an affirmation of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore’s wisdom, he also has something to say about dreams:
I cannot write about dreams without referring to Alice in Wonderlandby the peerlessLewis Carroll
Lewis Carroll really took full advantage of the limitless possibilities of writing within a dream setting. The 19th century author used Alice’s ability to get lost in the dream state and make connections and observations in her real life – much like we all actually do when dreaming.
‘Yes, that’s it! Said the Hatter with a sigh, it’s always tea time.’
Then there's, Mary Shelley's, Frankenstein
With a head full of an evening’s talk of reanimation and galvanism, Mary Godwin did not sleep well: “My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie?.I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out?” She realized she had found her “ghost story.” “What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.” Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
In June of 2003, suburban Arizona mother Stephenie Meyer woke up from an intense dream in which two young lovers were lying together in a meadow, discussing why their love could never work. On her website, Meyers says, “One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately.”
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
His horror classic also sprang into existence because of its writer’s graphic nightmares. In this case, a “fine bogey tale” tormenting him as he slept grew into one of the most famous and genuinely scary English-language novels ever penned — most especially considering its all-too-human antagonist and protagonist.
"In the small hours of the morning," says Mrs Stevenson, "I was awakened by cries of horror from Louis. Thinking he had a nightmare, I woke him. He said angrily, 'Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.' I had awakened him at the first transformation scene ..."
Stuart Little by E.B. White:
One of the most memorable and beloved characters from children’s literature entered into E.B. White’s subconscious in the 1920s, though he didn’t transition from notes to novel until over two decades later. From there, the tiny boy with the face and fur of a mouse became a classic.
They say you can't wait around for inspiration to strike before you start writing or creating, but one of my big problems is trying to get away from inspiration. Maybe it's living in Albuquerque, or I read too much, or have too many creative friends, but sometimes it's all I can do to not have any new ideas. A while back I wrote a post listing my main literary influences and inspirations. The list still holds true today and I enjoyed going over it before writing today. Making a list of your own in your art journal could include:
Blogs you enjoy reading.
Heroic historical figures.
Friends and family.
Besides listing your primary movers-and-shakers, you might like to explore questions about how you work with inspiration, for instance, when you're feeling down and defeated, how do you bring yourself back up? What kinds of activities or happenings actually un-inspire you? How can you detach yourself from their toxicity? Tip of the Day: I'm a big fan of altars, especially the small, unassuming sort you make at home without really trying, such as a windowsill where you keep, say, a collection of stones and shells from a favorite beach, or a shelf filled with childhood memorabilia. Even the way you set up your art and journaling supplies can be considered a kind of altar to your creativity. In that spirit, why not set aside a few art journal pages to create a visual altar, a place where you can visit whenever the well seems a bit dry. Design and color it in a way that makes you want to return again and again for further inspiration! Add a Comment
Rejection, reviews, competition, disappointment, deadlines, and doubt. There is no shortage of adversity in the writing life, making the ability to bounce back one of the greatest skills a writer can foster. And it can be fostered.
Because resilience is not a genetic or personality trait, but a process which can be learned and practiced. Overcoming the challenges that exist in our writing lives often feels difficult because it is difficult.
But not impossible.
And if you don’t believe me—Jennifer Mann—perhaps you’d believe another Jennifer?
“There are those writing days where I feel more alive than I can almost handle. And then there are the days of all out despair where I worry I’ll never have success again. If I have patience with myself, I get that exhilarating feeling all over again, and it keeps me going.”
“A big part of surviving in this business is managing my own negative emotions. That means I protect my mind and my heart fiercely. I do whatever I need to do to stay in a healthy place, because I've realized that I'm no good to anyone when I've let a bad review or my own natural writing insecurities get the better of me.”
“Not only do real-life experiences and relationships inform and inspire your art, these will be there for you on days when the writing world is difficult or frustrating or just plain hurts your feelings.”
“We can’t get better or grow if there is no reason to. Obstacles, like critique, rejection, time constraints, tech failures, family obligations, power outages, chocolate shortages, give us a reason to change how we do things, and every time we do something differently, we grow.”
“I remind myself that it is just a book. Sure, authors can impact, and maybe even save, lives when their stories reach the right person at the right time, but possibly not as many lives as, say, heart surgeons or the inventors of airbags... and I sometimes need the reminder to just get over myself and put things in perspective!”
My kids thought it was weird when they found out I was on Pinterest. But I've found it to be an invaluable tool as an author. I have boards with lesson plans that have book tie-ins. Boards about my books. Boards with book trailers. Boards with kid activities that deal with dragons, monsters and cows. And then some miscellaneous boards on other things I like.
But the board I'm lately getting the most use out of contains a variety of images that give me insight, inspiration, and ideas for the current middle grade fantasy I'm working on. If I'm trying to figure out how to describe aspects of a rainforest, I look on my board or search for other rainforest pins. If I need insight into clothes, armor and even hats worn in ancient China, I look on my board or look for more pins to add. If I need help with wildlife or plants, I turn to my board. If I need to refresh certain ideas or get new ones, my board helps me. If it's not on my board, I find other pins that might help. And when I need new inspiration, it's always waiting there for me on my board.
I also think it might be fun for others to look at my board, to just wonder and imagine what in the world this book I'm working on is going to be about. If you're curious, check it out.
I’m thrilled to introduce author Shannon Parker as our special guest today. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and Shannon is here totalk about her upcoming YA debut, The Girl Who Fell, about a high school senior who is swept off her feet—and into an intense and volatile relationship—by the new boy in school.
Shannon M Parker shares the inspiration for The Girl Who Fell.
It is such a small word. Three tiny letters. A conjunction. Nothing you particularly focus on when reading or chatting.
Until it balances something ugly, justifies something hard.
When a girl tells you she knows it’s wrong the way her boyfriend treats her, but she loves him—that is when you notice this word. I did.
In my work with struggling teens, I have heard this justifying ‘but’ pass the lips of the fourteen-year-old-girl who is staying with the boy who beat the twins from inside her belly because the boy has promised her forever. Her eyes light when she tells me about the engagement ring that will come. How they’ll be married. How his father will give them the trailer at the back of the property. She tells me this and I wonder if she notices how her hands can’t help but rub back-and-forth over the band of her stomach, flat now.
Her boy didn’t mean it.
He loves her.
He will never hurt her again.
I know the college-bound student. Smart and driven. I see her long-sleeved shirts in summer, the way she hasn’t met my eyes since she met her boy. She whispers this ‘but’—she whispers now—when she tells me she’s not leaving her rural town for college. She remembers being the girl who wanted to get out, get away. But she stays behind for the boy who is attracted to her light—the bright beacon of possibilities I see fading into shadows.
Her boy loves her so much.
He can’t let her go.
So he keeps her too close.
I’ve listened to the ‘but’ on the phone when the girl who was one credit away from completing her alternative high school credential calls again to say she won’t make it in.
Her boy can’t give her a ride.
He didn’t finish school so she doesn’t need to either.
He doesn’t need her having options.
These girls were never stupid or weak. They were in love and they could not see past that love. They could not see the worth that bubbled in them like a geyser waiting to jettison into the world. My debut is not their story. It is a work of fiction, though my inspiration for the book grew out of my time with these girls and so many others. Listening to their stories made one rise in me. And I hope my debut helps end a culture of blaming the girl—writing her off as damaged—just because she falls for the boy who wants to control her.
The Girl Who Fell is about a strong, powerful, beautiful girl who falls in love. Falls deeply. Physically. Mentally. Falls so hard that the line between Before Love and After Love starts to blur. Her priorities change. Her focus shifts. And why wouldn’t it? Who doesn’t want to feel love and feel loved?
The Girl Who Fell has swooning (and much of it).
There is love.
There is kindness and tenderness and trust.
Until there isn’t.
I want to thank Shannon for being our guest and sharing her inspiration for The Girl Who Fell! By way of introduction to our readers, here’s Shannon’s bio:
SHANNON PARKER lives on the Atlantic coast in a house full of boys. She’s traveled to over three dozen countries and has a few dozen more to go. She works in education and can usually be found rescuing dogs, chickens, old houses and wooden boats. Shannon has a weakness for chocolate chip cookies and ridiculous laughter—ideally, at the same time. The Girl Who Fell is her first novel.
If you’re like me, this post raises questions in your mind. Fortunately, Shannon is here for a Q&A:
Julie: I loved The Girl Who Fell! Knowing what moved you to tell Zephyr’s story made it even more compelling, but it also made me curious! First, when did you realize you wanted to write? Did you always plan to write novels, or did your work with at-risk youth create that desire in you?
Shannon: Thank you so much for having me here, Julie! I’m thrilled that you loved The Girl Who Fell! I’ve been writing most of my life, for work and pleasure. I started writing novels about six years ago, mostly quiet middle grade novels that were honestly pretty boring. I really found my literary voice when I set out to write Zephyr’s story.
Julie: It must have been exciting when Zephyr’s story started to come together. Did you know right away that this story was “the one?” Could you tell as you wrote that this book was different from your earlier attempts? When did you first realize this was the book that would be your debut?
Shannon: Setting Zephyr’s story to paper was exhilarating and petrifying all at once. I wasn’t sure the story would sell. In fact, even after I sold the book I was totally prepared for Simon & Schuster to call and say, “Um…, yeah. We meant to send that contract to SHARON M. Parker.” Ha! Kidding, but not. My debut is edgier than anything I’d written previously, which made the entire writing experience different. But if felt authentic and that’s what kept me going. All along I was acutely aware that IF the manuscript ever sold, it would need to find a home with an editor that was willing to take risks. I’m forever grateful The Girl Who Fell found that editor in Nicole Ellul.
Julie: Thanks for that honest answer! I can’t help but also wonder what thoughts you had about reactions. I know Zephyr wasn’t inspired by any one girl, but did you ever imagine some of the girls you’ve worked with reading the book, and did you worry how they might react? Did thoughts about reactions from anyone else—family and friends, for instance–ever threaten your process?
Shannon: Oh, sure! I’m pretty much crippled with worry about my book. I was worried when my mom read it–no joke! It’s edgy. The main character experiences her sexual awakening and I’ve always feared the backlash for acknowledging a teenage girl’s sexuality on the page. I wanted Zephyr to own her sexuality and her experimentation and I knew that would cross a line for many people. This never hindered my writing process, though because the sexuality—the total intoxication of first love—had to read authentically. The reader has to believe that a strong, driven young woman could fall prey to a manipulator. So, it’s intense.
The greatest shock has come from feedback from early adult readers. Almost every woman who has read my book has told me about their story, their daughter’s story, their best friend’s story. All hauntingly similar to Zephyr’s story. So many women have lived a similar story. Survived it. The sheer numbers of woman who can relate has been a real eye-opener.
I want to thank Shannon for being our guest! Here’s more about The Girl Who Fell, which releases from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse on March 1, 2016.
Zephyr is focused. Focused on leading her team to the field hockey state championship and leaving her small town for her dream school, Boston College.
But love has a way of changing things.
Enter the new boy in school: the hockey team’s starting goaltender, Alec. He’s cute, charming, and most important, Alec doesn’t judge Zephyr. He understands her fears and insecurities—he even shares them. Soon, their relationship becomes something bigger than Zephyr, something she can’t control, something she doesn’t want to control.
Zephyr swears it must be love. Because love is powerful, and overwhelming, and…terrifying?
But love shouldn’t make you abandon your dreams, or push your friends away. And love shouldn’t make you feel guilty—or worse, ashamed.
So when Zephyr finally begins to see Alec for who he really is, she knows it’s time to take back control of her life.
If she waits any longer, it may be too late.
Doesn’t that sound amazing? I was lucky enough to read an ARC of The Girl Who Fell, and I can tell you that it is a powerful read.
And now I want to invite our readers into the conversation. What are your thoughts on books that deal with difficult issues? Do you have any questions or comments for Shannon? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
Recently at the New Yorker, tetchy old fogey and lousyformer film critic David Denby has published a lament about how few teens are reading books these days. He has one great overheard line—a student saying “Books smell like old people”; and he builds in a few caveats (“It’s very likely that teen-agers, attached to screens of one sort or another, read more words than they ever have in the past”); but mostly he is describing a decline of western civilization via smartphone. “If teachers can make books important to kids … those kids may turn off the screens,” he wraps up, making clear his real issue here: a favored primacy of one form of technology (ink on paper) over another (e-ink or pixels on screens).
Here’s the thing: He’s casting a transitional period … [more]
Years ago, a friend told me that getting published was the easy part. It was staying published that was difficult.
I laughed a little. I died inside.
I was still trying to get published the first time, let alone a second or third time, and I wasn’t having a whole lot of success.
But perseverance won, and eventually I did get published. And because I was one of those annoying overachievers, I’d already written first drafts of the second and third books in my trilogy by the time I turned in my first book, which meant that I had some free time.
I wrote another — unrelated — book, revised it a bit, shared it with a few critique partners and my agent, and when I had another stretch of free time, I went back to it to make the manuscript shine.
But something was wrong. There were huge parts of the book that I loved, but I knew it had problems, and I wasn’t sure how to fix them. I knew the book wasn’t strong enough to give to my publisher, so I put it aside to wait for a spark of brilliance to tell me how to fix it.
That book is still waiting. I had to move on. So I finished writing my first series (again), and I wrote another new book. I gave it to critique partners. I gave it to my agent. I revised the snot out of it. And I thought it was ready, so I gave it to my publisher. They said they didn’t think this was the very best followup to my first series.
I started thinking about that thing my friend had said years before. I started wondering if maybe she was right. I’d been published! People liked my book! But I’d put one new book aside because I knew it wasn’t ready, and I’d had to put the other new book aside because my career wasn’t ready.
But because I had no desire to starve to death and a very strong desire to keep my career in motion, I wrote yet another new thing (while finishing working on my first trilogy). All the necessary people liked it and approved it, and that book became my second series. (For those wondering if that pattern continued, it did not. There were no books between that one and what will be my third series.)
I’m sharing all this because I think a lot of writers believe that once you’re published, you can hand in new books and a couple of years later, they appear on shelves. Not true! New books must go through the same rigorous acquisitions process as the first one, but this time with sales records of your previous books as a key factor in what the publisher decides to do.
I know a lot of authors who’ve written new things after they’ve been published, and for one reason another, had to trunk them. Maybe they knew from the start it wasn’t ready. Maybe their agent said it wasn’t ready. Maybe their publisher said it wasn’t ready.
And you know, there’s no shame in that. Trunked manuscripts — no matter what stage of your career they were written — are still useful creatures. There are no wasted words in writing, even if those words never make it to the bookshelves. All that experiences goes into the next new thing, which will be even stronger than the last ones.
We all have trunked manuscripts. Lots come before getting published the first time, but they happen after, too. For a lot of writers.
And it’s totally okay. Just keep writing. Keep looking forward. (And hopefully one day, you can resurrect the trunked manuscripts you particularly love. That is my plan!)
Do you remember when you first fell in love with stories?
When I was a young boy—before I fell in love with reading,
before I sat in front of the TV for hours watching movies—I loved sitting in
the kitchen on Sunday mornings listening to my grandfather tell stories about
his life growing up in a tiny village on the outskirts of Warsaw.
It wasn’t just his stories that drew me into the