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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: The Writing Life, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Taking A Long-Term View Of Your Writing Career

Today I was emailing back and forth with someone and they laughed a bit, commenting that I seem to be "taking a long-term view on things," meaning my writing career. At first I was startled because it was so natural for me to consider the fate of my work once I'm dead. I wasn't being morbid. It's just that for me, when we talk about the rights that we authors grant publishers, my mind

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2. Writing Links

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

The Love for Children :: Avi

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

On Getting to Work :: Dani Shapiro

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

Querying 101 :: Ingrid’s Notes

The post Writing Links appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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


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

study guide

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

Please tell us about your book.

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

What inspired you to write this story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4. Sometimes Being A Writer Involves A Million Little Tasks That Add Up To Something Great

A flattering view my food garden this week It's been a productive couple of days. I submitted a children's story I wrote to a mainstream publisher. I really really hope they like it. I'm making the distinction (in italics) because I also submitted 6 children's stories written by someone else to an indie publisher. I hope admitting to forwarding someone else's manuscript is not going to come

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

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

Swing by and have a listen!

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

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6. On Editorial Guidelines, Implementation Plans, Spreadsheets & The Craft Of Writing For Children

One of the toughest things I've tried to articulate to my non-writer friends about the writing process is the craft required to ensure that a children's story meets editorial guidelines. Or maybe they just don't get it because it doesn't sound very creative.. it sounds like a trade... maybe like laying the story out brick by brick, or panelbeating what's already there? LOL! I think the "

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7. Keep On Writing

I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this month. It’s a mad-sprint to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month, and we just reached the half-way mark. This means we’re wading through the murky middle of our novels when it feels like nothing is happening and it’s hard to keep our momentum.

If you’re like me and you need a little internet inspiration, I’m happy to provide these pep-talks of writing wisdom:

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start-writing

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Keep calm and write on

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Why are you still here?

I thought all that was pretty clear.

Get to your keyboard, and remember…

being-a-good-writer

Happy writing everyone.


10 Comments on Keep On Writing, last added: 11/18/2014
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8. Christmas wish list

Christmas holidays are all about catching up with friends and family, and catching up on all the books that I haven’t had a chance to read during the year. I’m not a fan of reading on the beach – too sunny, too many kids to watch, too many friends to chat with. But once I […]

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9. Do One Main Task Each Day

That has been my mantra for the past couple of days. On Tuesday I focussed on writing a children's story (early reader). It's finished and I sent it to a writer friend to read through and comment. She likes it. Yesterday was the day of completing a concept proposal for a possible funder for a project. We've already met and they suggested the proposal, so I had some guidance on what their Key

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10. Back to the Classroom -- NOT about school visits



It was 2011. I was a full-time teacher with one novel published and prize-winning, and another due the following year. I had just signed up for an Arvon YA course with Celia Rees and Linda Newbery, and I was so excited that I shared the information with an acquaintance who was an aspiring writer. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I wouldn’t like that, being told what to do. I would never go to something like that.’ She remains unpublished. (And by the way, the course was amazing, and many of us are still friends, with several now published or well on the way.)
all will be revealed...

This isn’t a contribution to the Can Writing be Taught debate: it’s my experience as both learner and teacher that talent can’t be influenced by a teacher or mentor or contact with others, but that many elements of craft and language-awareness can.

I love learning. I was a swot at school and I worked and played hard at university (four degrees at two universities). When writing became a big part of my life, it was natural to me to seek out places where I could learn about that too.

Back in 2001, I signed up for a course called Novel Writing at the local FE college. I had, then, a very rough unfinished first draft of an unpublishable novel, whose progress was erratic because back in those days I used to write ‘when I felt like it’ or ‘when I was inspired’. (Shrieks of silent mirth.) The very first thing the tutor gave us was an exercise in the correct use of the semi-colon. I had a PhD in English and to be honest, I was a bit offended. Surely, I thought, people on a novel writing course don’t need basic punctuation lessons? (OK, more shrieks of silent mirth: I was young and naïve.)

Despite the bad beginning, the course was useful, if for no other reason than that it gave me an incentive to make weekly progress, and introduced me to the importance of giving and receiving feedback. Now, when I meet and mentor aspiring writers I always encourage them to seek out something similar, and I often feel annoyed at their (not infrequent) reluctance. Don’t they know how lucky they are, I fume, to have access to so many courses? I give them Arvon brochures and tell them honestly how my first Arvon course taught me more about writing than a subsequent M.A. in Creative Writing.

Recently I was interviewed as part of an initiative of the NI Arts Council to identify areas of need for arts professionals, and the main thing I could think of was the need for professional development for published writers. There are plenty of courses and mentoring opportunities for aspiring and emerging writers, but anything beyond that tends to be generated by writers themselves, often informally. Of course there must be writers who feel they don’t need professional development, and good luck to them, but I’m sure there are many like me, with a few successful books under our books but no idea how things will work out in the future, who would love to be able to keep on learning. After all, professional ballet dancers take daily classes; athletes train. Yes, of course I learn on my own. Every book I read – and write –  teaches me something. But there is something magical about being in a class, with a wise guide, and other learners to share experiences with.

Books are wonderful, but sometimes you need people. I’m teaching myself the guitar: I’ve always sung but this is my first attempt at learning to accompany myself. I have a reasonable ear, so I wince and try again when it sounds horrible, and I have made progress. After six weeks, when I could play a song all the way through at normal speed without embarrassing gaps while I fumbled for the next chord, I let my stepfather (a brilliant guitarist) hear me. My chord changes were grand, he assured me – but my strumming was wrong. I had been so focussed on the more difficult thing that I hadn’t realised how badly I was doing something equally important. If he hadn’t shown me, I would never have known – even with a lifetime of watching other people play. Even with a good Teach Yourself Guitar book. Sometimes you need people.
sometimes you need people 

That’s why I was so thrilled when, last week, Arvon announced a course especially for its own tutors. I signed up immediately and, given that it’s in January, I’m just praying not to be snowed in, so that I can go and be a student again.


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11. A Podcast with Brilliant Business Moms

caroline-starr-rose-author-on-getting-published-cover-podcast

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

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

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

 

The post A Podcast with Brilliant Business Moms appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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12. Connecting To The World

For the past three years, I've been using this old Nokia 3500 to keep in touch with my family and a handful of friends. Assuming I remembered to charge it and was carrying it at the time of the call.    I know, I know. It's a disgrace for a former telecoms journo to be using this old clunker, right? Thing is, it really suited me. I could make and receive calls and texts. And most days, I

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13. Why You Should Write All Those Stories Cluttering Your Head

For years I've written some stories just so the noise the characters made would stop. I didn't have a potential market for them. I even planned to self-publish some of them. So, the other day when an indie publisher got in touch with me about some work I might end up doing for them, my first thought was, "do I even have the time to look at the work?" I'm still trying to establish a new rhythm

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14. 8 Terrible Titles

Choosing-a-Book-TitleI’ve been tagged by Sweet Sixteen debut writer Shannon M. Parkerauthor of the forthcoming novel CRUSHING, to find 8 Terrible Titles within my manuscripts. The irony is that I have about 300 bad titles that I brainstormed for ALL WE LEFT BEHINDbefore my editor and I came up with one that stuck (and I’ll admit, my editor named my book!). Horrible titles are in my blood. So this challenge is right up my alley!

Challenge rules: Scroll through my manuscript and stop at a random spot. Wherever my cursor lands…That’s my title. There’s no hunting through my pages for the perfect phrases. This challenge is to see how truly awkward my title could be.

Here are my #8TerribleTitles from my YA Contemporary novel ALL WE LEFT BEHIND:

1. This  Should Be Our Best Year

2. She Riles Me Up

3. Dripping Sticky Gold Onto Wax Paper

4. How Blind We Must Be

5. Swinging Against My Elbow

6. Far Less Important Than a Soccer Ball

7. Skin Through Soaked Cotton

8. Blinking From Orange to Ash

There they are, in all their terribleness. Wahooo! I tag Melanie Fishbane and Mackenzi Lee for this challenge. Happy title-creating ladies!


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15. On Writing

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

The post On Writing appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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16. The Ideal Writing Moment

I found it today. Location: my home office, at my desk. Time of day: after 8pm, when supper was done. The device: my laptop In the background: Blitzen Trapper, playing Furr, followed by The Lumineers (the whole album). On my desk:  a big mug of cold coffee, a notebook and pen, a buge mess of  files, receipts, a glass, two more mugs (empty), a hard copy of a draft manuscript, sleeping pills,

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17. The Case for Morning Writing

morning-windowI know everyone isn’t a morning person. I wasn’t always a morning writer. I used to be a mid-day writer, believing I was like a flower that fully bloomed when the sun was high in the sky. But in the last few years I’ve changed my tune. I’ve started to brave the dark cold morning hours away from my cozy bed. It isn’t easy. Who wants to give up those precious hours and minutes of sleep before the day begins? But I gave it a shot, and I’ve discovered I’m a lot more productive as a result.

I know morning writing won’t work for everyone. But I want to share a few of the ideas that influenced me to give it a try. Finding a process that works for you is essential to being a successful writer. For me, morning writing has become a staple of my process. It affects both my productivity and the quality of my work. Who knows, maybe it will work for you too.

Three reasons to consider writing in the morning:

1) It Helps You Find “The Zone”

One of the most inspirational reasons I started writing in the morning comes from Robert Olen Butler’s craft book From Where You Dream. Butler argues that to write you must enter a dream-space away from your intellectual thinking brain. This dream-space is a “zone” that lets you tap into the unconscious, which is where true creation comes from. Writing from the unconscious allows “a work of art to become an organic thing, where every detail organically resonates with every other detail.”

Realms Of Human MindTapping into this space is not an easy thing to do. Butler suggests writing in the morning because it helps you to find “a way to clear your sensibility of abstract uses of language,” which is important for helping you get into the zone. The problem, according to Butler, “is that we naturally use language in so many non-sensual ways all through the day. It’s helpful, then, to buffer those hours in which you necessarily use language in those analytical ways from the hours in which you dive into your unconscious and seek language in quite another way. One obvious way to do that is to put your night’s sleep in between. You go to your writing space straight from another dream state and go to language before you’ve had a chance for all those other uses of language to intrude on you. So after you wake up, don’t read the newspaper, don’t watch CNN; if you have to pee don’t pick up the back issue of The New Yorker in the basket nearby. You go to your fiction without letting any conceptual language into your head.”

Of course, there are different philosophies on writing. I was pretty skeptical of Butler’s “unconscious dreaming” concept. But I’d never tried it before. I’d intellectually talked myself out of its benefits before giving it a whirl. I’m a convert now. My writing has new depth because I write in the morning and I’m able to tap into that dream-zone.

For more information on this writing process, I highly suggest reading Butler’s craft book From Where You Dream. 

2) It Creates a Sense of Accomplishment

making-bedAdmiral McRaven’s gave a commencement address to the University of Texas earlier this year in which he said, “if you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” That may sound odd, but consider his outlook: “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”

Morning writing works in the same way as making your bed in the morning. Many of us say writing is a priority in our lives and yet we struggle to find time for it. If you start off your day by writing, then this important priority has been accomplished first. Now you can meet the rest of your day without guilt because you’ve already accomplished your writing goals.

3) Don’t Check Your Email

Email_Bad-resized-600Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Work Week suggests you never check your email before noon. He makes a strong case, pointing out the importance of making room for the tasks you need to get done before you open your email and see what the rest of the world wants from you. Sid Savara adds to the conversation with his 7 reasons you shouldn’t check email in the morning. Both authors point out that checking your email first thing in the morning makes your day about someone else’s to-do list, not yours. Write first! Resist the temptation to check your email and put your priorities first.

Anyone else out there a morning writer like me? Have you found it beneficial? Please share in the comments!


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18. What Darcy Says About Starting Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post What Darcy Says About Starting Novels appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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

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

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

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

Please tell us about your book.

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

Until she finds the first crane.

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

What inspired you to write this story?

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

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

Could you share with readers your writing process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It would also tie in well with abstract art.

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20. On Writing


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

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21. NaNoWriMo Prep

TypewriterAre you participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year? It starts this Saturday (November 1st) and is a mad dash to write 50,000 words of a novel in one short month! I participated for the first time last year and loved it. It’s true, I was a big snob about NaNoWriMo before I tried it, but now I’m a complete convert.

If you’re taking the plunge and trying NaNoWriMo this year, I have a few quick suggestions that I learned from my experience last year. Hopefully these will help you stay on track and reach your 50,000 word goal.

1) Make an Outline

Make a list of scenes you want to write for your novel. This doesn’t need to be fully formed outline. All you need is a list of events or moments that you think might be a part of the book. The fun thing about NaNoWriMo is that you’re writing so fast that everything you try counts toward your 50,000 word! Even if you cut it later, you can try it now and it’s productive. You can pick a scene to write each day and see where it takes you. If it doesn’t go anywhere, try another scene on your list. You’d be surprised to see how many scenes will snowball into whole sequences, chapters, and eventually full novels! An outline gives you a place to start each day, and a new scene to jump to if the one your working on isn’t going anywhere.

2) Create Scene Cards

After you make your outline, create scene cards for each of your scenes. These cards outline the major action and emotional change of the scene. This will help you to make sure you have a plan and direction when you write. This way you won’t sit down and stare at a blank page. When I re-read my novel after NaNoWriMo, one of the big things I learned was that scenes I had a plan for were worth keeping. Scenes I didn’t use a scene card for often got cut. Read more about scene cards and see examples here: Scene Cards Blog Post.

3) Don’t Edit

I know it seems counter intuitive to not edit. Part of writing is choosing the right phrase and sentence to communicate your ideas. But when the end goal is word count, editing is your worst enemy. NaNoWriMo is about getting your ideas on the page and moving forward. It isn’t about writing a masterpiece in the first pass. That’s what revision is for. Who cares if you’ve added adverbs everywhere. Who cares if you spend half a page describing a character’s hair style. This draft is about creating the raw material that you can shape and mold later. It’s easier to revise a novel once you have that raw material to work with, rather than trying to come up with a brilliant and perfectly crafted page out of nothing. Yes, your NaNoWriMo novel isn’t going to be spun gold. That’s not the point. The point is to get material on the page that you can revise with.

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4) Write the Fun Scenes First

We often think we have to write in linear order. We also think we have to finish scenes. I give you permission leave scenes half-finished and to write out of order! Write the scenes you’re most excited to write first. Those scenes are going to have the most energy and excitement behind them. They’re going to create inertia that gets you excited to get up and write again tomorrow. If a scene isn’t going well, don’t finish it. Leave yourself a big note that says: finish this scene later and move on. Don’t worry about it right now. There are going to big plot holes, sure, but you can fix them in revision. Focus on what is fun and keeps you excited to keep writing this project. That’s the trick to writing faster than you should. Have fun and forget all the rules you’ve made for yourself in the past. Create, enjoy, and fall in love with your story.

5) Write in the Morning

Not everyone is a morning writer. I understand that. But personally, I’ve have found that writing in the morning during NaNoWriMo keeps me motivated. It allows me to get through my 1600 words a day early on. This also means any additional words I write that day are a bonus and help get me closer to 50,000 words faster! If you get behind in NaNoWriMo it can be discouraging. So don’t wait. Write first thing and make it a habit. One of the great side effects of this exercise is the way it motivates you to work on your project every day.

Looking for more tips to help with National Novel Writing Month? Try these:


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22. Writing A Life

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

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

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

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

Thinking, thinking, thinking.

 

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

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23. Getting Used To The New Normal

In the past couple of years, I've fallen in love with Mondays because no matter how wrong things may go in any given week, Monday will come around again and psychologically, it means a new opportunity to try again. It's like having a reset button, but you get to keep the benefits of the last go-round. Mostly. I didn't sleep well at all on Thursday and Friday nights and spent a lot of Saturday

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24. Historical Fiction Writing Links

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

Research Matters :: Avi

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

Crafting Historical Fiction :: Caroline Starr Rose

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

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

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

The answer is, maddeningly, it depends.

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

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

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

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

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

Why is historical fiction important?

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

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

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

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

How do you conduct your research?

I research iteratively, and I love to compile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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