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One tip I learned from a fellow author was that a good story comes “full circle”. Your beginning should give a hint to the ending, your middle should contain page-turning connecting pieces, and your ending should point you back to the beginning.
The advantage I had in writing As Fast As Words Could Fly, is that it was from my dad’s life experiences, and the events were already there. One tool that helped me with the plot was LISTENING to the emotions as my dad retold his story. I listened to his fears, his sadness, his excitement, and his determination. By doing this, I was able to “hear” the conflict, the climax, and the resolution.
One major emotion that resonates from my main character, Mason, is confidence. I drew this emotion from a statement my dad made: “I kept telling myself, I can do this.” The challenging part was trying to choose which event to develop into a plot. My grandfather was a Civil Rights activist, so I knew my dad wrote letters for my grandfather, participated in a few sit-ins, desegregated the formerly all-white high school, learned to type, and entered the county typing tournament. Once I decided to use his typing as my focal point, the next step was to create a beginning that would lead up to his typing. This is when I decided to open the story with the idea of my dad composing hand-written letters for his father’s Civil Rights group. I threw in a little creative dialogue to explain the need for a sit-in, and then I decided to introduce the focal point of typing by having the group give him a typewriter to make the letter writing a little easier. To build my character’s determination about learning to type, I used a somewhat irrelevant event my dad shared: priming tobacco during the summer. However, I used this event to support my plot with the statement: “Although he was weary from his day’s work, he didn’t let that stop him from practicing his typing.” His summer of priming tobacco also gave me an opportunity to introduce two minor characters who would later add to the tension he faced when integrating the formerly all-white school.
The second step was to concentrate on a middle that would show some conflict with typing. This is when I used my dad’s experiences of being ignored by the typing teacher, landing a typing job in the school’s library and later being fired without warning, and reluctantly being selected to represent his school in the typing tournament.
Lastly, I created an ending to show the results of all the hard work he had dedicated to his typing, which includes a statement that points back to the beginning (full circle).
Although the majority of the events in As Fast As Words Could Fly are true, I had to carefully select and tweak various events to work well in each section, making sure that each event supported my plot.
I’m a huge fan of outlines and have a hard time starting even seemingly simple stories without one. An outline gives me and my characters a nice road map, but that’s not always enough. Once I had an outline for Finding the Music, it was really helpful to visualize the plot in terms of successive scenes rather than bullet points. I even sketched out an actual map to help me think about my main character Reyna’s decisions, development and movement in space and time.
Still, early drafts of the story meandered. There were too many characters and details that didn’t move the plot forward. When stories begin to drift like that, I go back to my journalism experience: Finding the Music needed a nut graph, a newspaper term for a paragraph that explains “in a nutshell” what the story is really about, why it matters. Finding the Music is about a lot of things, but for me, what it’s *really* about is community—the community Reyna’s abuelo helped build through this music and the community Reyna is part of (even though it’s sometimes noisier than she’d like). I think Reyna’s mamá captures that idea of community when she says, “These are the sounds of happy lives. The voices of our neighbors are like music.”
Once I found the heart of the story, it was a lot easier to sharpen up scenes and pull the plot back into focus.
Summer is already here! That means that the third annual NEW VISIONS AWARD is now open for submissions! Established by Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes middle grade and young adult books, the award is a fantastic chance for new authors of color to break into the world of publishing for young readers.
The New Visions Award writing contest is awarded for a middle grade or young adult manuscript, and is open to writers of color who are residents of the United States and who have not previously had a middle grade or young adult novel published. The winner will receive a $1,000 cash prize and a publication contract with LEE & LOW BOOKS.
Ink and Ashesby Valynne Maetani, the first New Visions Award winner, was named a Junior Library Guild Selection and received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews.
Last month we announced the six finalists for our 2015 New Visions Award. The Award recognizes a middle grade or young adult novel in the sci-fi, fantasy, or mystery genres by an unpublished author of color (our first New Visions Award winner, Ink and Ashes, will be released this June!).
As our award committee gets to know the finalists through their novels, we wanted to give our blog readers a chance to get to know these talented writers as well. We asked each finalist some questions. Here, authors Grace Rowe and Andrea Wang answer:
Grace Rowe, “Pure Descent”
Tell us about your main character in your novel.
Mi Sun Lee is a sixteen-year old Korean American girl who loves Skatewing and eating chocolate Heliotwixes. She grew up in the Crates, a community of extremely poor working class people, and was raised by her adoptive parents, Agnes and Poplar. Mi Sun is a tomboy at heart, and she has the normal self-doubts and insecurities of most teenage girls. She’s a hacker; she consults for the Dinenuts, an elite group of child hackers, who mostly wreak net havoc for fun. She’s pretty but that’s not important to her– she’s more focused on her main goal, which is to do whatever she can to help her parents get out of the Crates. One of her weaknesses is also her strength– she often doesn’t know how to hold back what she’s thinking, which can get her noticed, but can also get her in to trouble. She’s a terrible liar, a pretty ingenious escape artist, loves to eat real food (not synthetic), and hates wearing stilettos. Her dream was to become a professional Skatewing player, but since women aren’t allowed to play in the league, she just plays it online instead. Mi Sun has no interest in “Pure Descent,” in which she is one of the contestants, but as time goes by, she can’t help but be seduced by some of the perks that come with being considered “Pure.” She’s definitely not perfect– she falls for boys too easily, has issues with authority, and breaks the law because she knows how to do it without getting caught. Yet she has good motives and she’s brave and follows her instincts, which is why I think (and hope) we continue to follow her.
What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?
Fortunately, it’s rare that I have writer’s block. It’s not that I don’t have problems trying to figure out how a story should go, or how a story should end, it’s just that it’s my nature to tackle those problems with a whip so I don’t linger in the misery. This is the first novel I’ve written– I’m primarily a screenwriter. I had to discipline myself when I started this book, so I’d make myself write at least ten pages a day before I did anything else. (Besides eat breakfast!) Unlike with some screenplays that I’ve written, I didn’t have a real outline– I just started writing the voices and thoughts as they came to me. As I got farther in to the book, I forced myself to outline because I thought it was getting too long without a structure, and I know that’s what sometimes turns me off when I read a book. But I like the feeling of writing freely, not knowing what’s going to come next— just following your characters in their story. Their choices are what drives the plot– at least the subplots. The main idea always comes to me first, and as a filmmaker I can’t help but think of it as a movie.
Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this?
People are busy, so I can understand why they would be picky about the books they read. I’ve never consciously taken a break from writers based on their ethnicity or gender, but I can say that I’m probably more drawn to read books from female authors, especially when it comes to fiction. Most times that’s merely because they tend to have female protagonists, although obviously there are plenty of male authors who write about women and vice versa. Maybe it’s because so many of the great t.v. shows and movies I watch tend to have men as their main protagonists, I often crave stories with women as the main characters. I don’t think it’s bad, I think it’s just a preference.
What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript, and why?
I know it’s ubiquitous, but as far as similar genres, nothing’s moved me as much as The Hunger Games. I think what makes it stand out from all the other books I’ve read in this genre, is that I feel like I really know who Katniss is. The task of making a character truly believable is more difficult than it sounds. I think it’s true that the more specific you are, the more universal you are. The best writers always find the nuances of a character and they don’t coddle them. They let their characters get in to trouble. They let them make mistakes. Their characters aren’t generic.
Andrea Wang, “Eco-Agent Owen Chang”
Tell us a little about the main character in your novel.
Owen is a 12-year-old self-described animal geek. He’s also a covert eco-agent for ORCA, an environmental spy agency. He’s snarky, self-assured, and always trying to shake off his pesky little brother. When he’s not out investigating, Owen can be found watching nature shows or tending to the reptiles and amphibians in his mom’s lab (she’s a herpetologist). While being Chinese-American informs Owen’s experience, he doesn’t consider himself to be “other” based on his ethnicity. What he believes sets him apart is his job as an eco-agent and he’s both proud and fiercely protective of his secret identity.
What advice would you give your younger self about writing? I was always told that writing was not a viable career choice. I set writing aside to study science, which my parents deemed to be more practical. I don’t completely regret it because I love science too, but I wish that I’d had the guts to study both science and creative writing. Later, when I was working, I would occasionally write in my spare time but it never occurred to me to try and publish anything. It took the constant encouragement of my husband and a good friend who was also beginning her writing journey to persuade me to take writing seriously. So I’d tell my younger self that writing is a worthwhile pursuit and that it is possible to have a career in writing, but also not to angst over choosing a different path. Because writing will always be there when you’re ready to undertake it, and whatever experiences you’ve had in the meantime will just enrich your work.
What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?
I have a number of notebooks where I jot down ideas and notes on plots, characters, scenes, research, etc. I have one notebook for picture book ideas, and then separate notebooks for each novel. When I feel like I have enough material to work with, I sit down and develop an outline. I like to have a detailed chapter summary to guide me as I write. Having an outline is especially helpful for writing mysteries, so I can plan out where to introduce suspects, place clues, and insert red herrings. It also helps me move past writer’s block because I don’t feel like I have to write the scenes in order. I can look at the chapter summary and the ideas in the notebook, pick a scene that interests me at that moment, and start writing it. Hopefully, I can keep up the momentum and continue writing forward from there. I use Scrivener, so it’s easy to move the scenes around and stitch them together later. I also give myself deadlines or challenges so I have to sit down and produce something – the New Visions Award contest was one such deadline!
Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this? If someone feels like they need to “force” themselves to read more diverse books by taking such a break, that’s fine with me. I’m all for reading books that are outside your comfort zone or told from an unfamiliar perspective. The books that stay with me are often the ones that I find most disquieting. Personally, I would rather expand my reading horizons than restrict it. I’m trying to become a more mindful reader, as Sunili Govinnage encouraged in her article – to be more aware of the choices I’m making when selecting reading material. What’s wonderful about the current debate is that it’s calling attention to the work of talented, diverse, authors and there are now great lists of diverse books that we can all take to the bookstore or library.
What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript, and why? I love the mysteries by Blue Balliett, especially The Wright 3. The way that she’s able to meld art, architecture, math, and codes in a suspenseful mystery is amazing. Elise Broach’s Masterpiece and Shakespeare’s Secret are also my favorites for many of the same reasons. I grew up watching martial arts and James Bond movies and I read all of Ian Fleming’s Bond books in high school. The Young Bond series by Charlie Higson and the CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore take me back to those times. Before I began writing seriously, I was an environmental consultant. The books by Carl Hiaassen (Hoot, Flush, Scat) and the Swindle series by Gordon Korman really appeal to the scientist and nature lover in me. All of these books became my mentor texts for Eco-Agent Owen Chang: The Missing Murder.
This post is part of an ongoing series at The Open Book answering questions about book marketing and publicity.
In our last Marketing 101 post, I discussed what to do while waiting for your book to release. One of those recommendations was to refine your online presence. Today I’ll drill down into more detail on that point, focusing on the place where your online presence starts:
These days, it is absolutely essential for any published author or illustrator to maintain a personal website. I repeat: it is essential!Using your publisher’s website as your online home base is not a good solution for a couple reasons:
1) You may have many different publishers over the course of your career, and there won’t be one place where people can see all your books.
2) Publishers won’t have room for all the information you’ll want to include.
3) You need to be able to update your website as often as you need to, without going through a third party.
Some authors choose to create their own sites, while some choose to hire a company to design sites for them (I would advise against having a personal friend build your website unless they are able to teach you to manage and update it yourself). This blog post has some great suggestions for how to build a site yourself. Of the DIY options, WordPress is probably the most popular free option, while Squarespace is a good paid option that provides some additional functionalities like e-commerce. The most important thing to consider when choosing where/how to build your site is sustainability: will you be able to maintain and update the website easily on your own once it is built?
Websites can range from the very basic to the very complicated, but all author websites should include a few key pages:
Bio and author photo. Every website should have an “About” section where people can learn who you are, where you’re from, and what inspires you. Offer more than what people can glean from flap copy alone. Some authors choose to offer both a short bio and a longer bio. We recommend also offering a link to a hi-resolution author photo that people can download for use in event promotions, reviews, etc. If you’ve done any interviews, you should also post links to them here. Not only does this offer additional ways to learn more about you, but it’s a nice way of showing off some of the media coverage you’ve accrued.
Books. No author website is complete without an UPDATED list of all your books. At the bare minimum, you should include the title, cover, and a brief description of each book. For upcoming books, include a release date – and don’t forget to change the book to available once it is released. If you have space, you should also include some of the book’s positive reviews and any awards that the book has won. Finally, always include links for people to purchase the book directly: we recommend linking to Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Author’s Website.
Events and Appearances. What kinds of visits do you do? What ages do you work with? If you have an education background or any special skills that make you especially good as a presenter, include them here. You may also want to ask contacts from past school visits if they are willing to write testimonials that you can share here. You may even want to include a few photos or video from one of your visits. You don’t need to include honorarium information, but you do need to include a contact where people can learn more. If you don’t want to be your own contact, use a contact from one of your publishers for visit inquiries.
Social Media and Contact Information. Links to any social media channels you use should be front and center on your page, so people can find you easily. Only link to social media channels you keep updated—if you only posted on Twitter once, two years ago, it’s best not to direct people there until you begin using the platform regularly. Also include a way for people to reach you: this could be through a general email address, a direct email address, or even through snail mail sent to your publisher at your attention. You can choose to be as reachable as you want, as long as you offer some way for readers to get in touch.
Those are the four absolute must-haves for any author website. Beyond that, there are a few other elements that I’d recommend including if you are able:
Schedule/Upcoming Events. This is not a necessity, but some authors like to keep an updated list of the events they will be attending on their websites. It’s a great way to promote events you’ll be at and encourage fans to come out to support you, and it can also help generate additional event invitations. There’s one caveat: only add this page if you are going to keep it updated. There’s nothing worse than an author website that lists “Upcoming Events” that actually took place years ago.
Resources. Some authors create additional resources to go with their books, but even if you don’t create your own, it is likely that someone else will. Your website is a great place to compile these so readers can find them. You can link to these resources on your book page, or create a separate page for them. Either way, making these resources available through your website will help educators who want to use your books with students.
Email Collection. From the release of your first book (and even before that), you should work to build up your base of contacts. An easy way to do this is to create a place on your website to capture emails, where people can subscribe to receive updates on your work. Most website building platforms should have an easy way to do this. Building an email list can go a long way in helping you promote new titles when they are released.
Beyond these elements, the sky is the limit. Your website should reflect you, so feel free to include other pieces of information that you think readers would like. Whatever you do, your first priority should always be to keep your website UPDATED with your newest book information (even between books), so it doesn’t become obsolete.
Summer is almost there! That means that the sixteenth annual NEW VOICES AWARD is now open for submissions. Established in 2000, the New Voices Award was one of the first (and remains one of the only) writing contests specifically designed to help authors of color break into publishing, an industry in which they are still dramatically underrepresented.
Change requires more than just goodwill; it requires concrete action. The New Voices Award is a concrete step towards evening the playing field by seeking out talented new authors of color who might otherwise remain under the radar of mainstream publishing.
The contest is open to writers of color who are residents of the United States and who have not previously had a children’s picture book published.
The deadline for this award is September 30, 2015.
For more eligibility and submissions details, visit the New Voices Award page and read these FAQs. Spread the word to any authors you know who may be interested. Happy writing to you all and best of luck!
Prompts are all around us. When I do school visits, I refer to the place where our imaginations live as the “Cosmic Goo,” and urge them to wander outside looking and listening to the wonders that spark our imaginations to awake. Nature is a never-ending source of writing inspirations. Because I am a voracious reader, I glean phrases from the books I devour. Since the end of 2011, I have written a poem a day as the means to jump-start my prose writing. I use many of the phrases I’ve underlined in the books I own for my daily poetry prompt.
My favorite writing prompt is to write from the point of view of an animal. It’s a writing exercise I teach in my writing classes as well. I love this writing exercise not only because I’m an animal lover and Crazy Cat Lady (ha) but because it forces you to think from the point of view of someone who is definitely NOT YOU. You have to know and embody the nature and physicality of the animal character, and it forces you to look at story and emotion with a new perspective. It’s a great exercise for point of view writing, and it helps me when I do write another children’s book because I am very conscious of writing from a child’s perspective, which is so different from mine as an adult.
I don’t really write from prompts, but what I try to use as a guideline for all my writing is the use of sensory details: Seeing, Hearing, Feeling, Smelling and Tasting. It’s not always relevant to include all of these details, but it’s good to include at least 3 within a scene. If I feel that I can’t move forward in a story, I’ll “step inside” my character and try to figure out what “I” am seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling or tasting at that point. If my character is neutral, then it’s time to rewrite the scene.
I enjoy finding and thinking about interesting writing prompts, but I don’t have a favorite. I have to confess, when it comes to writing prompts, I usually don’t get past the “thinking about it” stage. However, I used to work for a daily newspaper, and I learned from that experience how valuable it can be to cultivate a habit of writing – in a structured way – every day. And I turn to newspapers, sometimes, when I’m stuck or need a place to start. Headlines can make for some pretty great prompts. Direct quotes are even better – like an overheard piece of conversation. Here’s one that helped me pull FINDING THE MUSIC into focus: “He wanted to rest in peace, but with music.”
It’s been one month since the 2014 edition of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) ended. Have you touched your NaNoWriMo manuscript in the past few weeks?
If you wrote a particularly long book, perhaps it’s time to make a 2015 New Year’s Resolution to edit your project. According to the First Second blog, “working on a book in creative solitude for that long of a period of time — even with an editor to bounce things off of — is really stressful for a lot of people, unless they enjoy being hermits.”
To gleam a little bit of advice for this endeavor, click here to watch an “Edit Your Novel!” webinar featuring NaNoWriMo executive director Grant Faulkner and author Rachael Herron. What do you think?
Author Elizabeth Gilbertsat for an interview with artist Luc Berthelette. During their conversation, Berthelette asked Gilbert (pictured, via) about her early beginnings, life lessons, happiness, writing memoirs, and creating fiction. He also requested that she share some tips for aspiring writers.
Gilbert answered by advising writers to not focus on their craft and to not depend on writing as their primary source of income. Do you agree with her opinion? Here’s an excerpt from her response:
“Of course this is the dream of dreams — to make a living by your art — but it is a rare thing, when that works out. Or sometimes it might work out for a few years, and then you run out of money. If financial success becomes the standard by which to determine if you are successful or not, you are likely setting yourself up to feel disappointed in yourself and your work. It’s not fair to your craft, to put this kind of pressure on it. Get a job on the side to pay the bills, and learn how to live an inexpensive, frugal life.”
Here’s more from Gaiman’s post: “Write the ideas down. If they are going to be stories, try and tell the stories you would like to read. Finish the things you start to write.”
Do you agree with Gaiman’s thoughts? If not, Gaiman describes an alternative process that involves scaling a mountain, catching a crow, collecting a golden berry, enduring a week of silence, and reciting Dr. Seuss’Fox in Socks in its entirety with a golden berry under your tongue. Which method would you prefer?
LEE & LOW BOOKS is proud to announce that Andrea J. Loney ofInglewood, California, is the winner of the company’s fifteenth annual New Voices Award. Her manuscript, Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee, is a picture book biography of James Van Der Zee, an African American photographer best known for his portraits of famous and little known New Yorkers during the Harlem Renaissance. From a young age, James Van Der Zee longed to share his vision of the world with others. When he discovered photography, this dream became a reality. Over many years, James worked hard to build his own business, where he specialized in highlighting the black middle class of Harlem, an aspect of American society rarely showcased at the time.Andrea J. Loney is a writer and software trainer for corporations and non-profits, where her students range from Korean War veterans to at-risk teens. Her mother is African American, and her father is Panamanian-Jamaican. Her family was one of very few black families in her New Jersey town, and this confluence of cultures has inspired her “to write about unusual characters finding or creating their own places in the world.” She will receive a prize of $1,000 and a publication contract.
LEE & LOW BOOKS is also proud to announce that Kara Stewart of Durham, North Carolina, has been chosen as an Honor winner for her manuscript Talent, about a young girl who goes to Sappony summer camp and is worried that she has nothing to perform at the camp talent show. With a passion for science and help from her friends, Alice Ruth finds her own strength and learns to be comfortable with who she is. A first time author and member of the Sappony tribe, Stewart is an Elementary School Literacy Coach and serves on the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education. She believes that it is vital for Native people to be reflected in an accurate, contemporary, and non-stereotypical way, and she wrote this story to honor her Sappony family, their resilience, and determination to keep their heritage alive. Stewart will receive a prize of $500.
Congratulations to Andrea J. Loney and Kara Stewart!
ABOUT THE AWARD: Established in 2000, the New Voices Award is an annual award given by LEE & LOW BOOKS to an unpublished author of color for a picture book manuscript. Past winners include It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Drawby Don Tate, winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award Honor, Birdby Zetta Elliott, an ALA Notable Book, and, most recently, Juna’s Jarby Jane Bahk, a Spring 2015 Junior Library Guild selection.
The award was established to combat the low numbers of authors of color in children’s book publishing and to help new authors break into the field. LEE & LOW BOOKS is committed to nurturing new authors. The company has introduced more than one hundred new authors and illustrators to the children’s book world and 68% of authors and illustrators published by LEE & LOW BOOKS are people of color. For more information, visit our New Voices Award page.
Authors of color who write for older readers are encouraged to learn about our New Visions Award for middle grade and young adult manuscripts as well.
2015 marks the fifth year that Tu Books has been an imprint of Lee & Low Books. One of our primary missions is to discover new writers of color as we publish diverse genre fiction for young readers—fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and other adventurous genres. As we say on our website,
At Tu Books, we don’t believe that the worlds within books should be any less rich or diverse than the world we live in. Our stories are inspired by many cultures from around the world, to reach the “you” in every reader.
Tu Books was created for a specific reason. The present and the future belong to everyone and to limit this reality is a fantasy. Adventure, excitement, and who gets the girl (or boy) are not limited to one race or species. The role of hero is up for grabs, and we mean to take our shot.
To support that mission, we established the New Visions Award in 2012 to discover and develop new writers—writers who have not yet found an agent, writers who have never been published before in the middle grade or young adult categories (even as self-published authors).
In 2013, we announced our first New Visions Award winner, Valynne Maetani (@valynnemaetani on Twitter), for her YA mystery manuscript. That manuscript, which is now titled Ink and Ashes, is being published this June! (Check with your local or online bookseller for pre-ordering options!)
Earlier this year, we opened again for New Visions submissions, and now we are so happy to announce the six finalists in our second New Visions Award. The finalists (in alphabetical order by title) are:
The Amaterasu Project by Axie Oh, Las Vegas, NV
• YA science fiction/action novel set in Korea about a former gangster who is recruited into the military over a secret prototype weapons project—which turns out to be a genetically modified girl
• @axieoh on Twitter
Eco-Agent Owen Chang: The Missing Murder by Andrea Wang, Sudbury, MA
• MG science fiction/spy novel about a 12-year-old eco-agent for an environmental agency, investigating the disappearance of crows
• @AndreaYWang on Twitter
Fallen Branches by Shilpa Kamat, Sebastopol, CA
• YA mystery about a biracial teen from a two-mother household in Northern California, attempting to reconcile her town’s historic and current cultural and racial tensions as she solves parallel mysteries with a new friend
On These Magic Shores by Yamile Saied Méndez, Alpine, UT
• MG magical realism about three sisters whose mother’s disappearance they must hide if they want to stay together
• @YamileSMendez on Twitter
Pure Descent by Grace Rowe, Los Angeles, CA
• YA science fiction exploring the future of race, about an adoptee who must deny her adoptive parents to win a racial “purity” contest
• @1gracerowe on Twitter
Seraphim by Rishonda Anthony, Richmond, VA
• YA paranormal about a teen who was once a child prodigy who had a psychotic breakdown at the age of 12, who sees angels and demons in the woods outside her college—and they might be real this time
• @rishonda_writes on Twitter
We’ll be reading the full manuscripts in the next couple of months, and deliberating on a winner to be announced in April. We can’t wait!
And if you missed this round of the New Visions Award, be sure to keep working on your manuscript for the next round. We’ll open for submissions in June 2015.
Over the weekend (Feb. 7), I taught a breakout session at the Annual Winter Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators here in New York, NY. We were discussing how to write for a diverse audience. My main focus was on helping the audience to remember that no matter what you’re writing, your audience will always be diverse. Too often, writers think that there’s a dichotomy–that there are “multicultural books” that are read by kids of color, and that “everyone else” (meaning, white kids) read “mainstream” (meaning, white) books.
This just isn’t the case. Readers tend to read widely, and kids of color are just like their white peers, reading the most popular books, the books assigned to them in schools, and whatever else they happen to come across that sounds interesting to them.
Below are the links and a few notes from the handout I gave to writers at the conference, with a few annotations to clarify what we were talking about. I hope it is a useful resource when you’re thinking of writing for a diverse audience (i.e., when you’re thinking of writing–period!). If you have any further ideas–or links where writers can go further in depth–please add them in the comments.
Seven Essentials You Need to Know about Writing for a Diverse Audience
Don’t feel “forced” to write diversity, but remember your readers are diverse
If your real-life world isn’t diverse, if you don’t know any people of color, if you don’t know how to write diverse characters without relying on stereotypes, you don’t have to feel pressured to do so.
And don’t feel like you need to come in and “save” anyone—come in from a position of equality and seeking equity.
However, your world is likely more diverse than you think.
Writing across POC cultures—what is the individual dynamic?
Expand your definition of “diversity.”
Diversity is not just about race, religion, class, etc. It is often about how many different identity markers come together to create a specific experience. Here’s a basic definition of intersectionality. Think about how it affects your characters.
the most important thing about a diverse book is the same thing as for all books. What matters most:
Age-appropriate content (though not shying away from edgy topics)
Contextual clues are better than exposition of culture.
Show, don’t tell!
Remember that your audience includes cultural insiders and outsiders. Balance enough information for outsiders with the possibility of boring insiders with too much basic everyday information.
School visits are a great way to reach diverse students.
At the beginning of your career, be willing to do school visits or Skype visits for a low honorarium, until you can build up your resume and network with more teachers.
Keep in mind that schools with a high percentage of diverse students are often the most underfunded. They may not have a budget for an honorarium, but may be able to purchase books for students to compensate.
Stacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers.
“I tell my students; I tell everybody this. When I begin a creative writing class I say, I know you’ve heard all your life, ‘Write what you know.’ Well I am here to tell you, You don’t know nothing. So do not write what you know. Think up something else. Write about a young Mexican woman working in a restaurant and can’t speak English. Or write about a famous mistress in Paris who’s down on her luck.”
This is our sixteenth NaNoWriMo Tip of the Day. To help GalleyCat readers take on the challenge of writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, we will be offering advice throughout the entire month.
(2) Treat fake people (a.k.a. your characters) as though they were real human beings.
(3) Mutter to yourself.
This is our seventeenth NaNoWriMo Tip of the Day. To help GalleyCat readers take on the challenge of writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, we will be offering advice throughout the entire month.
Writers are often advised to “show, not tell.” That’s why metaphors can be so very helpful.
The animated video above features a TED-Ed lesson called “The Art of The Metaphor.” When it comes to crafting a strong metaphor, keep in mind that “a metaphor isn’t true or untrue in any ordinary sense; metaphors are art, not science.”
This is our eighteenth NaNoWriMo Tip of the Day. To help GalleyCat readers take on the challenge of writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, we will be offering advice throughout the entire month.
Some writers feel that they must create the story that they themselves want to read. Does that mean you should disregard your potential audience?
In the video embedded above, The Fault in Our Stars novelist John Green advises that one should remember the reader’s perspective while writing. By putting yourself in the reader’s shoes, you will be able to figure out what are the most interesting parts about your story.
This is our nineteenth NaNoWriMo Tip of the Day. To help GalleyCat readers take on the challenge of writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, we will be offering advice throughout the entire month.
NaNoWriMo participants have less than 24 hours to complete their project. For our final tip, we’re sharing some of our favorite lessons from five established authors who contributed to The Guardian’s “Ten Rules For Writing Fiction” piece.
01. “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” — Elmore Leonard
02. “Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.” — Geoff Dyer
03. “Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.” — Margaret Atwood
04. “Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.” — A.L. Kennedy
05. “Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.” — Neil Gaiman
This is our twentieth NaNoWriMo Tip of the Day. To help GalleyCat readers take on the challenge of writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, we will be offering advice throughout the entire month.
Did you take on the National Novel Writing Month challenge? Whether or not you finished your 50,000-word manuscript, we suspect that some of you may be curious about the career path to becoming a successful author.
Earlier this year, journalists Joy Press and Carolyn Kellogg conducted an informal survey and collected more than 200 responses at the The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. This data, illustrations from artist Paul Duginski, and programming from graphic designer Jon Schleuss were used to create the “how to be a writer” digital board game.
Some of the steps that aspiring writers can take include starting a diary, going to the Yaddo writer’s retreat, revising, signing up for a writing class with James Franco, and winning a National Book Award. What do you think?
During the event, Oliver shared the three traits she feels that fiction writers must possess: (1) great self-awareness (2) radical empathy and (3) a deep interest in human beings. Do you agree with her?
Oliver also divulged that her book Panic was inspired by a Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale called “The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers.” Towards the end of the night, she revealed that she has a number of projects in-the-works: a young adult novel entitled Vanishing Girls, a middle grade series called The Curiosity House, and another young adult story featuring clones.
The act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education.
Expert care and training.
Enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training.
The integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.
The act or process of cultivating living material.
Here’s more from Merriam-Webster.com: “Culture is a big word at back-to-school time each year, but this year lookups extended beyond the academic calendar. The term conveys a kind of academic attention to systematic behavior and allows us to identify and isolate an idea, issue, or group: we speak of a ‘culture of transparency’ or ‘consumer culture.’ Culture can be either very broad (as in ‘celebrity culture’ or ‘winning culture’) or very specific (as in ‘test-prep culture’ or ‘marching band culture’).”
Author Emma Straub wrote an essay for Rookie on “How to Write About Real People.” Straub discusses her personal experiences with fictionalizing people she has known in her real life. Straub confesses to drawing inspiration from her brother and one of his past romantic relationships to create two characters in her latest novel, The Vacationers.
Straub (pictured, via) feels that all writers have the right to do this, but they should be aware that they can really hurt a person’s feelings by choosing to exercise this right. She also cautions that if a person recognizes themselves in a story that you write, you cannot compel them to feel at peace with your choice. Here’s an excerpt from Straub’s piece: (more…)
Earlier this month, Caldecott Medal-winning children’s books creator Brian Floca spoke at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During his presentation, he talked about the creative processes behind Locomotive, Ballet For Martha, and The Racecar Alphabet.
Floca (pictured, via) also shared several pieces of writing advice. We’ve collected three of Floca’s tips below—what do you think?
(1) Take the step of “writing what you know” a little further and “write what you want to know.”
(2) “Writing is all about re-writing.”
(3) “Research helps to guide the writing. Writing helps to guide the research.”
Have you ever invented new words? In a presentation delivered at TEDYouth 2014 (embedded above), lexicographer Erin McKean promotes the idea of adding words to the language when the existing ones prove to be inadequate.
In an interview with the TED blog, McKean explains that “asking why English needs more words is like asking why we need new novels or new fashions. On a purely practical level, we don’t. We could all read what’s already published and wear the same styles for the rest of our lives. But people like novelty and new words for new things satisfies that human urge.” Do you agree with her?