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1. Classroom Connections: FISH IN A TREE by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

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age range: 10 and up
genre: contemporary middle grade
educator’s guide
author’s website

Filled with a delightful range of quirky characters and told with heart, the story also explores themes of family, friendship, and courage in its many forms. . . . It has something to offer for a wide-ranging audience. . . . Offering hope to those who struggle academically and demonstrating that a disability does not equal stupidity, this is as unique as its heroine.
— Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Mullaly Hunt again paints a nuanced portrayal of a sensitive, smart girl struggling with circumstances beyond her control. . . . Ally’s raw pain and depression are vividly rendered, while the diverse supporting cast feels fully developed. . . . Mr. Daniels is an inspirational educator whose warmth radiates off the page. Best of all, Mullaly Hunt eschews the unrealistic feel-good ending for one with hard work and small changes. Ally’s journey is heartwarming but refreshingly devoid of schmaltz.
— School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

Please tell us about your book.

Fish in a Tree is about sixth-grader, Ally Nickerson, who misbehaves in school to hide the fact that she struggles with reading and writing. Since her dad is in the military, she has moved from school to school; this has helped her keep her secret. Having moved so often, she has not had to opportunity to forge strong friendships as well – until she meets Kesiha and Albert. 

It is also very much a school story with eight different student personalities interacting with (sometimes crashing into) each other and their teacher Mr. Daniels.

What inspired you to write this story?

Well, my own life inspired the story. Although I’ve never been tested for dyslexia, I have been suspicious that I have at least a touch of it. I was in the lowest reading group in grades one through six. Mr. Daniels is based on my sixth grade teacher Mr. Christy. I realized about halfway through writing it that Fish in a Tree is a love letter to him and all teachers like him.

I have no doubt that Mr. Christy saved me. I came into sixth grade wondering what would be come of me and left sixth grade with a laser focus on becoming a teacher and helping kids like he helped me. He set a high expectations. Even as a child I knew this was a high compliment and I tried very hard to reach every bar he set for me. He completely changed my perception of myself in on year – a powerful transformation. The man was amazing.

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

This book required a lot of research, actually. I had the opportunity to speak with some people who have dyslexia and were not helped until they were older. Unfortunately, even with all the screening in the early grades, kids still slip through the cracks until sixth grade or higher. Being a teacher I know that it is a very difficult job. When a child is very bright, they can often compensate very well and mask their difficulties. Ally Nickerson is such a child. 

I also had to do a lot of research for Albert. He is a walking encyclopedia but that took hours of finding facts that were not only pertinent but interesting as well.

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

I think one of the special challenges associated with writing contemporary middle grade are authenticity. At least for me. It takes courage to be honest but middle grade readers respond very well to it – in fact readers of all ages do.

 So, as the writer we have to crawl into our own basement sometimes in order to get it on the page. Both of the books that I have written make me feel very vulnerable in this regard. They’re honest. And they are me. The vulnerability was difficult at first but now I see it as a gift and I’m grateful to be able to share those aspects of myself with readers.

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

The topics my book touches upon that make it a perfect fit for the classroom are family life, love of siblings, being different is a gift, bullying in the sense that we can’t control the bully’s behavior but we can control how we respond to it, a family struggling financially, and how learning disabilities are not necessarily disabilities – just a different way of learning.

The post Classroom Connections: FISH IN A TREE by Lynda Mullaly Hunt appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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2. Bullet Journaling My Way Through May

I few months ago I linked to Kate Messner’s post on bullet journaling. She’s such an on-the-ball author (Kate has seven books coming out this year, I believe), I knew any organizational system she uses would be worth looking into. I found her explanation and examples of bullet journaling really insightful.

I started my own low-key version after reading her post. While I don’t list day to day events (I still use my calendar for that), I’ve found it helpful to have one place to stick all my notes — work related or not. Here’s a glimpse at what I’ve got down for May.

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On the left I have notes about my son’s eighth-grade dance. Our church, which meets in my boys’ school, tries to give back throughout the year. One way we’re helping this time around is by decorating for the dance. It’s an 80s theme. Think Rubix cubes, fun movie posters, and Pac Man!

On the right is May at a glance. My current calendar is a weekly one, giving me plenty of space to write in daily tasks. But if I want to see the general flow of the month, I can’t. That’s why this overview is so handy.

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Here’s my checklist for May, which I know will grow as the days pass. It’s life, it’s work, it’s big stuff and small. I’m working again on a manuscript I affectionately call Jasper. Though it’s not due back to my editor until August 10, I want to be sure to get my rhythm down now. I’ll check off each day I work and record the amount of time I’ve spent (my own version of a sticker chart).

I’m also deep in the middle of my Laura Ingalls Wilder class. Well, I’m actually a bit behind. Thankfully participants can finish at their own pace.

Over in the Wetlands releases in July (!!), so it’s time to start thinking about some guest blog posts as well as add to my Louisiana mailing list (my plan is to send postcards to the schools and libraries in the ten coastal parishes).

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Then there’s that dance. The shelves in my office closet. A writing mentorship (I’m reading and responding to two picture book manuscripts a month for a local writing friend). A birthday sleepover. The end of school. An eighth-grade graduation. Other books I’d like to read. A piece of writing for SCBWI-NM’s Enchantment show. My calendar is great for the everyday, but I’m loving the bullet journal for fleshing it all out.

Anyone else out there bullet journaling?

 

 

The post Bullet Journaling My Way Through May appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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3. Definitions of Art

desert ridge sunset

Art is what happens when you dare to be who you really are, when what is most alive in you is offered as a gift to others. — Emily P. Freeman

Human, generous work, that might not work, that changes someone else for the better. — Seth Godin

If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art. — Arnold Schoenberg

The post Definitions of Art appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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4. Risk, Passion, Hope, Determination

boom

While on vacation in the summer 0f 2012, my family visited a small museum outside Denver. I decided I’d like to know more about the particular person the museum honored and perhaps write a picture book about him,* so the following January I dug in with research.

I drafted. I took the manuscript to my critique group. I revised. I sent it along to my agent, Tracey, who submitted it to various publishing houses.

That was about twenty months ago.

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Since March, I’ve been at it with the same manuscript, trying to see if I can make it shine. It was interesting to take the story back to my critique group a year and a half later. While they said it was better, they offered plenty of ways to make it even stronger.

I madly took notes while listening to their feedback:

  • Rush into the moment, not past it.
  • Base the story more on senses.
  • This needs to be about the character’s emotional response. Where is the strongest emotional moment in this piece? Currently every moment is treated equally.
  • Don’t slow the story down, zoom the focus closer.
  • Show the story through the character, don’t build it on top of him.

I’ve been working hard with these suggestions in mind.

boom3

I used to think once an author sold a couple of books, subsequent sales were a given. And surely established authors didn’t need to keep learning about craft. They’d arrived, right? But that’s not the way the writing life works. An author is always learning, improving, working. There are no promises the things we create will interest publishers, but we keep at it anyway.

 

 

*If you’ve read around here a while, you’ve probably figured out I get a bit cagey when it comes to manuscript specifics. I’d much rather keep things vague until I’m finished, or even better, until it’s sold.

The post Risk, Passion, Hope, Determination appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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5. Office Transformation

Some of you might remember the days I worked in a closet office, a tiny 3′ x 4′ space where I wrote May B. When we moved to New Mexico, I graduated into a full-sized office. Last week the office closet got a little makeover.

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Here’s how it all started — a jumbled mess.

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Closet insides now on the outside.

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Here are my wonderful new shelves from California Closets.

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There’s even a special nook for my fake sod brick (doesn’t every author who writes about pioneers have one in her closet?).

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Getting organized…

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I wrote some words in every single one of these books! Way too fun.

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I’m hoping this little fella sends his joy and inspiration over Jasper‘s way.

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And here it is! Isn’t it beautiful? I trust nothing will fall on my head the next time I pull back that shower curtain…

The post Office Transformation appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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6. Six Years of Working Hard and Believing

winter apples

As much as I love blogging, I’m not always sure other people are listening in. A few weeks ago I got an incredible email from blog reader Linda Jackson that reminded me what I do here does indeed connect with readers, sometimes in very big ways.

Hi Caroline,

Since that day I received an email from Amazon stating that May B. was a book of the month then saw your WOW Wednesday post on Adventures in Children’s Publishing, I have been totally inspired and motivated by your story. I don’t know if you know this, but I have a list of authors on my website under a tab titled Inspiration, and you are at the top of the list. What has inspired me most was your post Plow to the End of the RowAnd today I want to share with you that I have plowed to the end of the row, which is quite fitting seeing that the main character in the manuscript that finally landed me an agent actually has to work in a cotton field. 

After six years of working hard and believing, 200+ queries, 4 manuscripts (one of them rewritten multiple times, once from scratch), 4 R&R’s from agents, 7 pitch contest wins, I finally got “The Call” today.

So, that’s my story, and I wanted you to know how you influenced it…which is why I will ALWAYS BUY YOUR BOOKS! Interestingly, after reading your post on Working Hard and Believing, I remember thinking, Lord, please don’t let that happen to me. I could never survive 200 queries. When I read about Kathryn Stockett and her five years of querying, I said I could never do that. And when I read that Becca Fitzpatrick re-wrote the same manuscript for five years and even trashed it and rewrote it from scratch, I said I could never do that. have done ALL that and more. The manuscript that I queried forever and rewrote forever is still NOT the one that got an editor/agent’s attention. I had to write something new. We never know what we can survive until we have to survive it.

Thanks for being an inspiration,
Linda

***

I’ve been sitting on this email for weeks, waiting to hear where Linda’s book landed. Here’s the official news from Publisher’s Marketplace:

Mississippi-native Linda Jackson’s BECOMING ROSA, a coming-of-age tale set in Mississippi in 1955, about a young African-American girl who dreams of a life beyond the cotton fields, to Elizabeth Bewley at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s, at auction, in a two-book deal, for publication in Fall 2016, by Victoria Marini at Gelfman Schneider/ICM (World English).

Congratulations, Linda! Your story has thrilled me down to my toes and has inspired me to keep plowing. Now, readers, go out and congratulate the remarkable Linda Jackson.

The post Six Years of Working Hard and Believing appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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7. Iron Sharpens Iron

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Saying there is one true path to writing a polished work is folly. There are lots of paths and we create them as we walk. – Linda Urban

So grateful to have finally met Valerie Geary, a friend who has helped me find so many paths and walked with me along the way.

The post Iron Sharpens Iron appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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8. Writing Links

creeping clouds

Logrolling in Our Time, Or You Can’t Take Blurbs With You :: Jennifer Represents

Top Ten Things I’ve Learned From Kids About Writing a Book by Augusta Scattergood :: Nerdy Book Club

Grit and Magic :: Marion Dane Bauer

How to Get Readers into Your Story — And How to Keep Them There :: Live Write Thrive

The Enemy of Creativity… :: Seth Godin

Make Time to Write: 10 Tips for Daily Writing :: Writers Digest

The post Writing Links appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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9. Calling Forth

lilypad

If your daily life seems of no account, don’t blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its treasures. For the creative artist there is no impoverishment and no worthless place.

— Rainer Marie Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

The post Calling Forth appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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10. Classroom Connections: THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY by Augusta Scattergood

Augusta scattergood

age range: 8-12

setting: Florida, 1974

visit Augusta Scattergood’s website

The cast of lively characters, including spunky and tough Anabel who befriends Theo, come to life under author Scattergood’s talented hand. A heartwarming story of friendship, family, and finding one’s place in the world despite hardship and heartache.   – School Library Journal

Please tell us about your book.

THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY, my second middle-grade novel, was recently published by Scholastic Press. It’s the story of a boy named Theo who’s forced to move to a little town called Destiny, Florida, with an uncle he doesn’t really know. Theo’s a resourceful, talented boy. His uncle’s an unhappy Vietnam veteran who doesn’t know how to raise a kid. But there’s a bright ray of sunshine in their new life together— Miss Sister Grandersole, dancer, advisor, and owner of the Rest Easy Rooming House and Dance Studio, where they fortunately have landed.

What inspired you to write this story?

We had recently moved to Florida and I was feeling a little like Theo! Where am I? Why are all these lizards in my garden? Also, as a child, I had some remarkable dance and piano teachers. Not always remarkable in their ability to teach—though some were extremely talented!—but certainly interesting characters. Once I convinced my critique group and my early readers that “Sister” was not a retired nun wearing red tap shoes, Miss Sister Grandersole was the most fun character to write. I guess you could say I was inspired by memories and moving.

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

My new book doesn’t focus on one truly important historical event like Freedom Summer, the backbone for my first novel, GLORY BE. The aftermath of the Vietnam conflict plays into the story, and there were details from that time that I wanted to get right. I used veterans’ sites to read of others’ experiences coming back from Vietnam. And I consulted my friends who had served.

I also verified all the baseball facts, but that part was easy. I loved reading about Hank Aaron’s journey. Because of his career milestones, THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY is set in 1974. Sometimes that seemed so recent, I had trouble remembering that made it historical fiction!

The hardest part of writing for me is that first draft. I struggle. A lot. But I love the revision process. Generally, I try to break it down and not tackle too many things at once. I’ll revise first for plot and character arcs. Then I’ll get to the fun part, making the language and the dialog read in a way I hope enriches the story.

I could go on and on, but I don’t want to make new writers think it’s not fun to write a book. Even on the days that nothing seems to work, writing really is more than hard, gut-wrenching work. It’s often a joy.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

Make the story sing and make the plot move quickly! Of course, these are challenges all writing presents, no matter the genre.

When creating historical fiction, it’s tempting to dump all the important facts into readers’ laps. But the smallest details like skate keys and 45s (those are musical recordings, for those of you too young to remember!) and anti-war buttons on knapsacks really bring the time period alive.

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

Quite truthfully, the story behind THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY is timeless. A boy finds himself an outsider in a totally new place, meets someone who’s been there forever, makes a friend. Theo’s a kid who’s resilient, in the worst of situations. The post-Vietnam time period, the uncle who can’t quite get past his wartime experiences, families that were split apart by strong feelings during the Vietnam conflict should offer teachers an opportunity to discuss so many things. Perhaps even a few things not too often found in middle-grade novels.

But at heart, THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY is really about discovering family, not only the family you are born into, but the family of your heart. Those are the people who come into your life when you most need them.

The post Classroom Connections: THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY by Augusta Scattergood appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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11. Writing Links

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The Habits of Highly Effective Writers :: Chronicle

A Fan Letter to Readers :: Emu’s Debuts

It’s Okay to Write Terrible Stories by Julie Falatko :: The Nerdy Book Club

Picture Book Secrets :: Underdown

Familiarity Breeds Content :: Avi

On Writing :: Linda Urban

Writing Fast or Writing Slow: Which is Better? :: Kristi Holl

The post Writing Links appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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12. On Writing Historical Fiction

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My beat may lie in another time, but my approach is that of a reporter, trying for a scoop, looking for clues, connecting facts, digging under the surface. . . . History is full of gossip; it’s real people and emotion. — Jean Fritz

The post On Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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13. Straight From the Source: Janet Fox on Writing Historical Fiction

Janet Fox writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction for children of all ages. Her 2010 young adult debut novel, FAITHFUL, was an Amelia Bloomer List pick, and was followed in 2011 by a companion novel, FORGIVEN, a Junior Library Guild selection and WILLA Literary Award Finalist. Her newest YA novel, SIRENS launched in November 2012; the Kirkus reviewer said in part, “SIRENS is a celebration of girl power, sisterhood, and hope for the future.” Janet is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and a former high school English teacher. Janet and her family live in Bozeman, Montana, where they enjoy the mountain vistas.

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

Most of my stories begin with a scene, but it’s more like a dream sequence. I often have no idea what’s going on in the scene and who the characters are, but if it resonates at a deep level, has some meaning for me that I can’t – yet – put into words, then that becomes my mission: put this emotion into words. For example, the opening scene of SIRENS was also the first thing that came to me as I began thinking about the book, and that image of a wharf over the Hudson River at night was important but I had no idea why Jo was throwing medals into the water or why she was there, or even who she really was. Water, of course, became a motif, and Jo’s gesture was a metaphor for her to let go of the past.

As soon as I decide to go forward from my key scene, I focus on the character. I spend a lot of time thinking about my protagonist and my antagonist, although I do so very organically, because a great deal of what I learn comes through the drafting, since I’m a pantser. I write a lot of stuff that changes or goes away but that helps me discover who my character is and what she needs. My protagonist – her attitudes, behavior, dreams, desires – always drives my stories, not the other way around. When I write historical fiction it doesn’t change the fact that readers want stories that help them reach into their buried dreams, and they do that by identifying with the character.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

I use a number of sources, everything from primary on. I read novels written in the period because they tend to mimic the voice of their era, and contain details that I can use. I look for period costumes in pattern books and magazines of the times – which often reveal nice details like “hunting costumes” or the layers of undergarments. I do visit museums for visuals. And I try to find anything that will add nuance to the era I write about. In SIRENS, which is set in the 1920s, I wanted more than the usual flapper/gangster/Prohibition stuff, and while listening to the radio one night, I heard a discussion about the Spiritualism movement of the 1920s, and thought “that’s it.”

But my favorite resource, depending upon the era, is period newspapers. They are available on line, and I love perusing the society column and the ads, in particular. From those I can harvest a feeling for what people were dreaming about – what they wanted, aspired to acquire, and how much that might cost. And how the “society” behaved, which the lower classes might desire to emulate, or rebel against. Again, it comes down to individual desires and dreams.

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

I draft almost right away, because I start with that dream and character. I research as I go. That’s because I’m usually too impatient to start the story-telling to do research first! So I’ll write until I reach a point where I need to answer a question, like “what was the flu pandemic like?” or “what was happening in Chinatown then?” And then I’ll research, which is easy in this internet era. Other details – the sensory stuff that comes from place – I’ll either tap from memory and experience, or go to that place and soak it up. Or watch videos or comb through photographs, since I’m a very visual person.

I never spend much time researching in advance, because the story comes to me way before I know where and when to place it.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I do love history. It was my favorite subject in high school. I like the echoes and resonant desires, I like especially the somewhat mythic historic elements – things like Robin Hood, or the Roman conquest, or the western expansion in America. I like taking history and turning over the rocks to discover the personal and small within historical times. I love the idea of having a character hear a famous speech or witness an historical event, and then interpret it at the scale of an individual lifetime.

Has your research ever affected the overall thrust of your book? How so?

Always, but in unexpected fashion. In researching FAITHFUL, I learned that in the early 1900s there were still highway robberies taking place in Yellowstone Park, and tourists were relieved of their possessions, but thought this was highly romantic and exciting, so I worked that experience into the novel – and it became crucial to both FAITHFUL and FORGIVEN. In researching FORGIVEN I learned of the importing of young – very young – Chinese girls who were sold into terrible slavery in San Francisco, and this became my protagonist’s larger goal, to free some of these girls. So while I have my core emotion and my character’s desire up front, I often find historical details that will bolster the story in unexpected ways.

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Why is historical fiction important?

That old adage about being condemned to repeat the things we don’t learn the first time is true, and there are lots of historical moments I wouldn’t care to repeat. Historical fiction makes history more accessible, especially to young people. It personalizes history, and sheds a different spotlight on details, and can bring into focus comparisons between today’s events and historical events. Plus, well-written historical fiction is just plain fun to read.

 

 

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14. Small Does Not Mean Powerless & Other Lessons I Learnt As A Person & As a Writer This February

On Monday my Kitty reminded me small can be very deadly  I'm a flawed human being. No, no, no, don't laugh! I know that's not news. It's just....it's always interesting when I see myself through someone else's eyes. Sometimes it's scary because they see this glowing, fabulous person on a day when I'd swear I look like Gollum. Other days, I'm Sauron to them and have to remind myself that

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15. Free Online Laura Ingalls Wilder Course: Part 2

2015-02-16 10.57.51Author, teacher, and editor Pamela Smith Hill will begin the second part of Missouri State University’s Laura Ingalls Wilder course on April 6, 2015. The course runs for eight weeks and will cover the second half of Wilder’s Little House series, starting with By the Shores of Silver Lake as well as the second half of Hill’s Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life. Wilder’s recently released autobiography, Pioneer Girl, (edited by Hill) is recommended reading.

If you weren’t part of the 7,000 students who participated in the first course, no matter! Anyone can sign up. Click through to enroll.

 

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16. Navigating a Debut Year: Public Life

                           All Over But the Shoutin' Wildflowers from Winter: A Novel A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar Circle of Secrets A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke

I first ran this series five months after May B. hit the shelves. With Blue Birds releasing next week (!), it feels like the right time for me to revisit my Writer’s Manifesto — a list of things I’d like to focus on in my public, private, and writing life. 

This is not in any way meant to be preachy or condemning (please notice I’m directing all of this to myself). I have yet to figure everything out and am in many ways a pro at doing the exact opposite of what I know is best. Yet these are ideas I’ve circled back to again and again, things I know will ultimately benefit my career, my friendships, my writing and my life. I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

In my public life I will…
  • Be generous: In my interactions with others and in the way I conduct myself, I’d love to be known as generous. This doesn’t mean committing to every opportunity or request that comes. It means being warm, friendly, and supportive of the writing community and the publishers, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers who make it all happen.
  • Speak well of fellow writers: Whether I know them personally or not. Whether I like their work or not. These people are my people. This is enough of a reason to speak kindly or not at all.
  • Conduct myself in a becoming way: While I can’t control what others think of me (more on that below), I can choose to present myself in a way I’m proud of, whether that be in person or through social media. I am in no way perfect, believe me, but I strive not to embarrass myself, the children I write for, or the people who publish my writing.
In my public life I won’t…
  • Add to or perpetuate gossip: In just these few months as a debut, I’ve already heard things about fellow authors that have broken my heart. Whether shared maliciously, as some sort of cautionary tale, or just for fun, it’s been more than I need to know. I refuse to participate in keeping the stories going, and I will ask you not share whatever it is you’ve heard about others with me.
  • Disparage others’ books, genres, or talents but will find value in what they create: For much of my life, I’ve been a self-proclaimed book snob. Many writers talk of becoming more and more critical as readers the longer they write. For me, some sort of weird opposite has happened. Because I know first hand of the hard work the writing life demands, I’m learning to appreciate books, topics, and styles I would have ignored years ago. The books I don’t connect with aren’t really my concern: they weren’t written for me. There is an audience for them somewhere.

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17. Navigating a Debut Year: Private Life

cover profiles

I first ran this series five months after May B. hit the shelves. With Blue Birds releasing next week (!), it feels like the right time for me to revisit my Writer’s Manifesto — a list of things I’d like to focus on in my public, private, and writing life. 

This is not in any way meant to be preachy or condemning (please notice I’m directing all of this to myself). I have yet to figure everything out and am in many ways a pro at doing the exact opposite of what I know is best. Yet these are ideas I’ve circled back to again and again, things I know will ultimately benefit my career, my friendships, my writing and my life. I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

In my private life I will…
  • Err on the side of love: I got this beautiful quote from author Irene Latham, who first heard it from her mama. It’s a good way to think about the world in general and is especially important in our small community. Assume the best of others, their intentions, their actions. It will make you happier and kinder, too.
  • Let go of what I can’t control: This is pretty much everything from how my work is received by professional reviewers, bloggers, readers, and friends to sales, publicity, and marketing efforts outside my hands. I can do what I can, and that is all. It isn’t right or fair to try to own things that aren’t mine and never will be.
  • Be real with other authors in a safe, closed community: I’ve talked a lot about the Class of 2k12 and The Apocalypsies around here. Though both function as promotional groups for debut authors, they are first and foremost a place I can go for support. The debut year is full of new experiences only other debuts can truly appreciate and understand. Knowing I can go to these stellar people with anything has helped bolster and encourage me.
In my private life I won’t…
  • Hold my colleagues to unspoken expectations: This one is easy to do without even realizing it — trusting a colleague will read my book as I have read hers, assuming someone else will talk up my titles as I have for him, believing another should comment on my blog as much as I do on hers and on and on. Insisting others are beholden to me because of what I’ve done for them is a sure formula for heartache, especially when those friends have no idea of my expectations. Maybe they haven’t read my book yet but still plan to. Maybe they have, and out of an attempt to be courteous haven’t mentioned it because it wasn’t their thing. Maybe they’re not interested in it at all. Ultimately, it’s none of my business and becomes another opportunity to err on the side of love.
  • Compare or begrudge the successes, sales, or careers of others: About six months ago, there were a number of posts in the blogosphere about envy and contentment. There was tremendous response from readers confessing similar feelings. The drive to compare is such a gut-level thing it’s sometimes hard to avoid. Some people are able to use comparison as a sort of motivation for their own work. Not so with me. Comparison leads to frustration and feelings of inadequacy…or feelings of superiority, neither of which benefits me. My friends’ successes don’t somehow negatively reflect on my own efforts. There is room for all of us. Just because my career will unfold differently from someone else’s doesn’t make it wrong and doesn’t give me the right to be bitter with others’ success.

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18. Navigating a Debut Year: Writing Life

                  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers The Name of the Rose The Crimson Petal and the White Crossing to Safety Sophie's World

I first ran this series five months after May B. hit the shelves. With Blue Birds releasing next week (!), it feels like the right time for me to revisit my Writer’s Manifesto — a list of things I’d like to focus on in my public, private, and writing life. 

This is not in any way meant to be preachy or condemning (please notice I’m directing all of this to myself). I have yet to figure everything out and am in many ways a pro at doing the exact opposite of what I know is best. Yet these are ideas I’ve circled back to again and again, things I know will ultimately benefit my career, my friendships, my writing and my life. I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

In my writing life I will…
  • Write the stories that speak to me: I will continue to write what nourishes and interests me first and worry about the market second.
  • Seek guidance, support, and direction when needed: I will ask questions of my agent and editor when I’m unsure or need help. I will go to other writers in the same life phase or those older and wiser when I need assistance.

In my writing life I will not…
  • Lose my love for story, kids, or words: Once you’re published, art becomes commodity. It’s not right or wrong, it just is. I want my motivation and passion to remain firmly in the place it always has been. While there are no guarantees of success in writing this way, their is much joy, and this, in the end, is more important to me.
  • Compare one book against another: I choose not to be paralyzed by comparing my titles to previous books I’ve written. Each deserves to stand alone and has its own merit. The rest of the publishing world has the freedom to compare if they choose. For me to do so is unfair to new stories beginning to form.
  • Despair: If you know me well, you know panic is a part of my writing when I’m drafting something new. I fret that I don’t know how to write or have nothing new to say. But I can’t let that panic lead to despair. Reminding myself that things always start this way keeps things in perspective. Allowing myself to play with language and ideas is much more doable than telling myself I’m writing an entire book. Choosing to nurture rather than berate gives me permission to try.

It’s my hope that holding to what I’ve processed these last few months will keep me grounded, help me grasp the deep satisfaction writing brings, and hold at bay the things that only lead to disappointment.

What about you? What things do you want to uphold in your public, private, and writing lives?

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19. Releasing a Book Into the World

I come back to this quote often. It feels extra appropriate with Blue Birds launching tomorrow.

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Once a book is published, it no longer belongs to me. My creative task is done. The work now belongs to the creative mind of my readers. I had my turn to make of it what I could; now it is their turn. I have no more right to tell readers how they should respond to what I have written than they had to tell me how to write it. It’s a wonderful feeling when readers hear what I thought I was trying to say, but there is no law that they must. Frankly, it is even more thrilling for a reader to find something in my writing that I hadn’t until that moment known was there. But this happens because of who the reader is, not simply because of who I am or what I have done.

-Katherine Paterson, A Sense of Wonder: On Reading and Writing Books for Children

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20. Classroom Connections: THE ACTUAL AND TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER by Jessica Lawson

age range: 8-12

setting: 1860 Missouri; retelling of Tom Sawyer

curriculum guide

Jessica Lawson’s website

“The deliciously impetuous, devilishly clever, and uncommonly brave Becky Thatcher is now one of my all-time favorite heroines, and I’m desperate to follow her on more adventures. Captivating, exciting, and great barrels-full of fun, this is a book to adore.”
Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs

A delightfully clever debut.”
– Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Young readers will race through this adventure, while teachers and adults will delight in its gold mine of creative parallels.”
– BookPage

Please tell us about your book.

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is part origin story, part retelling of Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Written from the perspective of Becky Thatcher, it takes the setting and many characters from Twain’s beloved work and forms a new plot that puts Becky in the spotlight as she grapples with the after-effects of her brother’s death and has adventures in his honor. Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), who was actually a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi during the time of the novel (1860), makes several appearances and serves as a reminder that every writer’s stories and characters have an origin.

What inspired you to write this story?

I’ve always admired the wit and wisdom of Mark Twain. His books are among the most treasured of my personal collection. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer caught my eye while I was dusting my bookshelf one day, and I found myself thinking about how, as a much younger reader, I had wanted nothing more than to run around with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, making mischief and having adventures. As I thought about the other characters, I considered the fact that I’d never really connected with Becky Thatcher. Why was that? Upon reflection, I think it was because Becky, an iconic female character in her own right, didn’t get to embrace the same things/traits that the boys did. And although her actions and manner fit Twain’s image of the character perfectly, they didn’t really fit the girl I had been. So as an adult, I decided it could be fun to give Becky Thatcher an opportunity to embrace adventure and see what she did with it.

Could you share with readers a lesson learned while conducting research?

During my normal research process for historical fiction, one of favorite things to do is read old newspapers. Not only do I discover a sense of what sort of things were newsworthy, but I get a sense of language and culture. I also like to hunt down academic articles; for a recent Work-In-Progress, an internet search helped me find some article titles that sounded informative, intriguing, and pertinent to my setting/plot. I sent an email to the author, a professor at New York University’s Irish House, explaining who I was and that I was hoping to get access to a few of his articles that were only published in a (very large, very expensive) anthology. I was so thrilled when he responded, attaching the requested articles and wishing me luck with my project. The lesson I learned is that people, even ones that may seem intimidating in skill level/profession, are nearly always willing to help. So ask. 

With my Becky Thatcher book, my research was fairly limited, concentrating mostly on finding biographical information about Samuel Clemens’s life. I avoided close re-readings of Tom Sawyer until after I’d written several drafts to avoid any subconscious tendency to try to copy Twain’s voice. I wanted any similarities in tone to come out naturally and not be forced.

What are some special challenges associated with retellings?

I wrote something several months ago about the nature of retellings and how such a large variety of approaches exist, making it difficult to establish “rules.” But my personal guidelines for retellings always involve the following three things:

First, you should love the original work as written and have respect for the author. In my opinion, a retelling shouldn’t be undertaken in order to “fix” something that the original author did wrong, but rather to bring fresh attention and a new perspective to a well-loved tale.

There must be at least one large twist. But the twist should be a playful/thoughtful/deliberate one that has meaning within the original elements, not just a random item. Know why you’re changing a key element of the story and be confident in your reasoning.

Keep the heart of the original in mind and try your best to honor it. While my own retelling of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer alters personalities and changes plot elements, the themes of learning what it means to grow up and struggling with losing pieces of childhood are still there and are recognizable.

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

I think the inclusion of historical figure Samuel Clemens could promote interesting classroom discussions on who the “real” Mark Twain was as a younger man and how writers form their stories.

Themes touched upon in my book are things that students deal with each day in both home life and school situations (morality, friendship, telling truth and lies, labeling people, decision-making, consequences of choices) as well as a couple of more personal, sensitive themes (loss and grieving).

Simon & Schuster was kind enough to put together a curriculum guide for the book as a standalone and also as a companion to both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

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21. Writing Links

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Bullet Journaling (Children’s Author Version!) :: Kate Messner

Nine Things I Wish I’d Known About Publishing :: Alison Cherry

Protecting the Creative Self :: Mettie Ivie Harrison

The Privacy of Reading :: Avi

The Nitty Gritty on Authors, Signings, and Filthy Lucre :: Shannon Hale

Why You Should Do It For the Money (And Stop Feeling Guilty About It) :: Michael Hyatt

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22. Straight From the Source: Kathryn Fitzmaurice on Writing Historical Fiction

When Kathryn Fitzmaurice was thirteen years old, her mother sent her to New York City over the summer to visit her grandmother, who was a science fiction author. After seeing how her grandmother could make the characters in her books into whomever she wanted, Kathryn decided that she, too, wanted to become a writer someday. Years later, after teaching elementary school, she now writes full time and lives with her husband, two sons, and her dog, Holly, in Monarch Beach, California.

Kathryn is the author of The Year the Swallows Came Early (2009, HarperCollins), A Diamond in the Desert (2012, Viking), and Destiny, Rewritten (2013, HarperCollins). Visit her at www.kathrynfitzmaurice.com or at http://kathrynfitzmaurice.blogspot.com/   

How did you conduct your research for A Diamond in the Desert?

Kathryn:  Very carefully and with an amazing amount of note taking.  I conducted several interviews over the course of two years and read through four years of THE GILA NEWS COURIER, which was on microfiche.  I collected photographs and maps, printed several pages from the newspaper, and kept all of this in a file.  I made sure to find at least one other back-up source, which confirmed what I had learned, so that I had two primary sources.  In some cases, I was unable to do this, but for the most part, I did my best to confirm what I had learned.  This was so that when the copy editor asked a question, or was attempting to confirm a fact, I could easily send her what I had.

How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?

Kathryn:  I make sure ALL of my research is complete before I start writing.  This is because I want to understand everything that has happened in my story before writing the first word.  I need to know how the story will begin and how it will end.  I believe that by making a timeline in my office on the wall (with sticky notes) that this helps me to know where I am going.  Each day, I can write, using the timeline as a reference, and then the next day, I am able to pick up where I left off.  I also like to place photographs on my wall and maps of the area I am writing about.  All of these things help to keep me grounded in the time period I am writing about. 

What is your favorite thing about research?

Kathryn:  Finding something I had no idea had happened, and then deciding whether or not to include it in my manuscript. 

What kinds of sources do you use? 

Kathryn: Phone and in person interviews, newspaper articles from the Pacific Region National Archives Center in Laguna Niguel, online research, The Japanese American National Society in San Francisco, and California State University at Fullerton provided a collection of Japanese American interviews.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

Kathryn: Being able to give a copy of the finished book to the person whose life it was written for.  In my case, I was able to do this because the gentleman I interviewed is still alive.  This was such a thrill and to this day, nothing brings more joy than to see how happy Mr. Furukawa was when he first opened A Diamond in the Desert and saw that it was dedicated to him.

Why is historical fiction important?

Kathryn: Historical fiction novels are able to show young readers a part of our history they may not be aware of.  These stories are important because often times, readers are introduced through a medium that brings more understanding and therefore, perhaps, more compassion toward a situation or group of people. 

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23. Links for National Poetry Month

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Writing the Young Adult Verse Novel :: Axon Journal

Concerning Craft: Poetry as Practice, Poetry as Life :: Little Patuxent Review

The Art of Writing and Reading the Verse Novel :: The Children’s Book Review

Top Ten Poetry Videos for National Poetry Month :: Booksource Banter

30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month :: National Poetry Month

Young Readers and the Magic of the Verse Novel :: Clear Eyes Full Shelves

Field Notes: “This is Too Much!” Why Verse Novels Work for Reluctant Readers :: The Horn Book

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24. An Interview with Anna Ingwersen, author of THE MOON GARDEN

Anna Ingwersen is a native Texan who spent her crucial years in New Mexico (still miss those sunsets) and has now settled in Edinburgh where she writes, reads, mothers, and teaches yoga. Currently, she’s working on another historical fiction novel and a short story. Her last short story,” The Snowbird,” was published in Deep South magazine. Anna’s been writing stories for as long as she can remember, including a sequel to Gone with the Wind, co-authored by Caroline Starr Rose, at the age of ten.

Please tell us about your book.

The Moon Garden is historical fiction taking place against the backdrop of pre and post Civil Rights Texas. Both main characters live under different societal constraints, James, as a black man passing for white, and Elana, as a free spirited abstract artist. Their attraction is strengthened by their shared identities as outsiders. However, their love affair cannot protect them from circumstances beyond their control, forcing decisions that, thirty years later, may finally be redeemed.

It’s a love story, but also a story about identity, ethics, and how the daily decisions we make shape the course of our entire lives. I also explore how we are limited by the times we are living in and how we struggle to create authentic lives under these constraints.

I’d never heard of Texas’s Veterans’ Land Act Scandal before reading your book. What drew you to this subject?

The Texas Veterans Land Board Scandal provided additional historical backdrop for the story. It was the biggest scandal in state history, one in which state land promoters and politicians were involved in cheating veterans, many of whom were black, out of low interest state backed loans for land. I was drawn to this scandal because at the time I was working in state government and could see how easily people can forget their ethics and forget they work as civil servants. After reading about the scandal, it just seemed ripe for a juicy novel! It was unbelievable how high and deep it ran, how a prominent lawyer investigating the scandal was the victim of an attempted murder via a car bombing, and how the story broke because an intrepid reporter from a small town followed his instincts and went on to win a Pulitzer for his work.

The glimpses you give us of both Austin and Galveston feel intimate and familiar. Can you talk a little about the importance of setting and specifically why you’re drawn to write about Texas?

I’m a Texan and spent most of my life in Austin and near Galveston. I love these two places for different reasons, and both places are very dear to my heart. Both places are very evocative for me. I suppose I’m always a bit homesick, and writing about these places helps me to be there on those days I miss hearing a mourning dove cooing outside my door or a cheeky grackle giving me a disapproving look.

Also, as a writer, I feel setting is an essential character in a book. I want a reader to feel they are fully immersed in the story and setting allows that to happen. As a reader I also love books with a well-drawn setting. It takes me somewhere new, a little holiday without leaving home.

Moon Garden moves between the 1950s past and the 1980s present. What made this the best way to tell your story?

I liked the idea of a man who had lived an extraordinary life during difficult times, looking back on his life and trying to make sense of it all. America’s history is so short and I felt contrasting the 1980s and the 1950s illustrated that really well. Only thirty years span between Jim Crow and the 1980s. So much had changed, yet for many, what they had experienced in terms of social change, wasn’t ancient history, and still isn’t!

What are some challenges associated with telling a story from two different character’s perspectives? What are some advantages?

I felt like I really knew James and Elana, so for me, I had to write from both perpectives. Both suffer from different, yet powerful societal constraints, and I was passionate about exploring that. I think if your characters both have a story to tell, then do it, just make sure they both need to be there. For a while, I didn’t want to listen to Elana and then she came out and demanded to be heard. It evolved that way naturally and through valuable feedback, I was able to let her come through.

I think the advantages of writing from two perpectives are that you get to see two different takes on the same events, that you see reality can be extremely different for two people living in the same time. I’ve always been fascinated by the diversity of experiences we all have and how it shapes our actions and who we are.

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25. Straight From the Source: Shannon Hitchcock on Writing Historical Fiction

Shannon Hitchcock is a freelance writer specializing in stories for children. Her work has been published in Highlights for Children, Cricket, Ask, and other magazines. Her debut novel, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl, was published in 2013.

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

I usually start with a story idea. I then spend several months researching, dreaming, and taking notes before I begin writing.

How do you conduct your research?

I start with Google, and as I browse various websites, I make a list of questions. For example: what might my heroine have worn in the 1920’s? What was life like on a farm before automation? How do you drive a Model T? Once I have my questions, I search Amazon for books that might help answer them. I purchase lots of books from used booksellers so that I can mark them up and have them handy to refer back to.

You do have a specific system for collecting data?

I buy a new notebook at the start of every project and record all of my research notes in it.

What kinds of sources do you use?

A chat with a good reference librarian is invaluable to get started. Often they have the inside scoop on resources the average person doesn’t even know about. I also use magazine articles, books, websites, historical societies, Pinterest, and interviews.

How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?

About six months. I have to fill the well before there’s anything inside to come pouring out.

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

When I’ve read and taken notes on all of the material I’ve identified as useful, then I start to write. I usually have a good grasp of the material at that point, but often refer back to my notes to double check facts.

What is your favorite thing about research?

My favorite thing is stumbling upon some cool fact or anecdote that will enhance the plot.

What’s your least favorite thing about research?

Sometimes it feels like the research will never end so that the writing can begin. I get impatient with it.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

Becoming immersed in another place and time.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

Historical fiction is a harder sell. When my agent was shopping THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, lots of the feedback went like this, “My main concern is that this is straight historical fiction, which is a really tough sale in the marketplace these days.”

Why is historical fiction important?

Historical fiction makes history come alive. Readers can get lost in a story and learn lots of wonderful information in the process. It’s like Mary Poppins says, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!”

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