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1. Want to write a great voice? Listen.

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

On Sunday night, Meryl Streep won her third Academy Award for IRON WOMAN.  I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie, but Streep is amazing as Margaret Thatcher.  It’s not only the makeup and hair that makes Streep look like the former prime minister, it’s the voice.  Streep nails it.  Just like she did with her roles of Julia Child, and Sophie, and Baroness Karen vo Blixen-Finecke. All are amazing performances. In fact, Streep is known as the actress than can do any accent like it’s her own.  How does she do it? And what does that mean for a writer creating voice in a character?

Once, during an interview right after the Golden Globes, Streep said she tries to really understand inside how the person speaks, then she goes to ethic neighborhoods and hangs out in cafes “to corroborate” what she’s thinking. Her process is pretty simple. She listens. People speak with a cadence, a pacing, a certain way of phrasing words, and Streep is a master at hearing that rhythm.

We’ve all heard how a voice comes to a writer and whispers in his or her ear.  For the rest of us, we can learn something from Streep’s technique. Listen. Find people who have similarities to the characters you’re writing, and corroborate if the voice in your head sounds like the voice on the page. Listen for voices in the coffee shop, in the grocery store, or in the mall. For most of us, one day in a middle school or high school would probably be an audible experience worth writing about!

Think about how your character’s voice should sound from the inside.  The slang.  The syntax.  The inside jokes.  Listen for the breaths, and the beats, and the pauses.  Listen for what’s said and isn’t said.  Listen.

Continue listening with your eyes.  Read John Green and Nancy Werlin and Franny Billingsley and Laura Halse Anderson.  Let yourself be influenced by great writers you admire. Pay attention to how they put voice on the page.  You don’t need to note every noun and comma, but notice the flow of the language.  The sound on the page.

I love the line from Michael Chabon’s The Wonder Boys, “Above all, a quirky human voice to hang a story on.”  Listen for that quirky human voice everywhere.  To write a really great voice, listen.  Just listen.

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2. Got Voice? Augusta Scattergood Does!

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

I first met Augusta Scattergood in 2005 at the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Conference.  I was nervous and wide-eyed seeing all the editors and agents who attend this day long event held each year in October.  Augusta was a kind face in a big crowd, and we started talking books and writing over breakfast.  It’s a friendship that’s lasted through all the ups and downs of writing and publishing. First off, Augusta is whip smart and reads with the critical eye of someone who loves children’s books and knows the literature as a former librarian. Plus, she writes with a voice that is funny and warm and real. And you have to admit, Augusta has the perfect name for a children’s author!  Augusta’s first novel for young readers, Glory Be, is just out from Scholastic Press, so I’ve invited Augusta to the Tollbooth today as I spend the week talking about voice.  The narrator of Augusta’s book rings with a true Southern voice, so let’s see how she did it!

Richard Peck says there’s a whiff of Carson McCullers in Glory Be.  I’m a huge McCullers fan and wondered if she was the inspiration or muse for Glory’s voice?

I’ve always heard character voices in my head! I was a librarian. I read aloud to kids, helped with classroom book discussions, book-talked all the new books. But when I left my school to write full time, the voice I heard was from my own childhood in Mississippi. While I’m honored by Richard Peck’s comparison and appreciate having even a whiff of McCullers in my writing, unlike Glory, I cannot tell a white lie. She was not really my muse.

For your readers who might not know about author endorsements, also knows as book blurbs, at least in my first experience the publisher, or perhaps your agent, asks authors to write the kind, generous words for the back of the book jacket. I was completely blown away when I read mine for the first time. Richard Peck, Barbara O’Connor, Kathryn Erskine. These esteemed authors actually read my book and took the time to write these amazing words. Wow was all I could think.

You say in the author’s notes that the story is fiction, but it seemed so authentic to my own Southern childhood.  Are there parts of the book that echo your own childhood?

There are so many things from my own childhood. I have a younger sister, and she’d say I’m a lot like Jesslyn. Bossy and controlling.

I was in the Pep Squad and actually had a college roommate who twirled a fire baton. I was envious, but alas it was beyond my skills.

Truly embarrassing confession: Many of the things about Elvis are straight from my life. I was a huge fan. This Christmas my niece gave me a small plaster-of-Paris Elvis bust that’s now in the Junk Poker box I show to kids in schools. (The statue replaces the large one my mother tossed out when I left for college.)

The food, the heat, the swimming pool noises and smells—all came straight from my Mississippi summers. Even some of the names. “Brother Joe” was my goo

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3. Eat Dessert First!!!!

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.


This was possibly the best advice I ever received.

Eat dessert first.

In other words: write the scenes you want to write. Then go back and write the other scenes. (The ones you don’t want to write.)

For me, these are usually the scenes with high dramatic tension or a lot of action. When I was writing BEYOND LUCKY, I loved working on the soccer scenes as well as the scene where Ari finds the card. I liked writing the humorous scenes, too. Now that I am working on something new, I find myself doing the same thing. I’m writing scenes where my main character confronts conflict and tension. I have a theme. A point. A destination. So now I’m putting my character in a situation, and I’m letting the characters talk. Writing is (almost) fun for me this way. If I had to write linearly, I’m not sure I could get to the point of worrying about all the other stuff: flow, sequence, critical information…..

So today, let’s eat dessert first. Then I challenge you: write the scene you WANT to write…the one that you can’t wait to get to.

Most Inspiring Molten Chocolate Cake

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (splurge for the good kind)
2 sticks unsalted butter
4 large eggs PLUS 4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 T flour

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter your ramekins. (There’s never enough chocolate or butter in your life…like there aren’t enough great scenes.)

combine butter and chocolate. Melt together in a double boiler over barely simmering water. Stir and remove from heat.

Beat eggs and yolks. Add sugar. Beat until doubled in volume. Beat in chocolate mix, then flour. Divide batter into ramekins (I use six for this recipe) and cook 11 to 14 minutes. The sides should be set. The middle should be soft.

TO SERVE:

Although you will be tempted to eat this the second it comes out, give yourself enough time to create either a nice raspberry sauce…some whipped cream, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

It’s not bad cold the next day.

Now WRITE THAT SCENE!!!!!!

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4. 100 page soup

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.


Yesterday, I wrote very briefly about my personal correlation: cooking and writing. For me, they go together. I get into “creation” mode and we eat better.

(Unfortunately writing and cleaning seem to have the opposite relationship.)

Cooking special dishes is also how I celebrate writing milestones.

When I’ve gotten through a tough section of a story, I tend to make something chocolate.

When I’ve finished a draft, I usually crave brisket.

My favorite milestone is getting to page 100. Why? Well, it always amazes me when I realize that I’ve written 100 pages. When I’ve gotten that far, I know I have a story…not just an interesting character. I can’t help being amazed that once again, the creative process has actually worked!!!!

So to celebrate page 100, I treat myself to Thai Seafood Soup. I like it because it’s spicy and full of citrus. (I began developing this recipe when I first moved to Hanover, NH. I love YAMA, but I really miss good Thai food.) If you have loved ones sensitive to spicy food, cut back on the peppers…or watch steam rise from their scalps. When my kids were small, and esp before I had any success at all, I wanted to include them in the process, in these milestones. This is a commitment (living the writing life) that we have all made…and I never forget that.

ENJOY!

Sarah’s super spicy Thai Seafood Soup

Seasoning Mix: (Taken from Paul Prudhomme’s Fiery Foods That I love):

1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp ground ancho chili
3/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp white pepper

Mix these seasonings together.

The rest:

2T unsalted butter
2 cups fresh white mushrooms
1 stalk lemongrass, sliced thinly
2tsp fresh garlic
2tsp fresh serrano chilis
4 T (or more) lemon juice
2T (or more) fresh lime juice
3 T fish sauce (a combo of prepared fish sauce, sugar, lemon juice and pepper…let it sit an hour.)
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 pound shrimp
1/2 pound scallops
1/2 pound salmon, skin removed
1 pound calamari, cut into rings (I like tentacles, too.)
silver noodles, prepared

For the end:
cilantro
chopped zuchini, red pepper, onion. peas bean sprouts

What to do:

melt butter in a saucepan. Add mushrooms, lemongrass, serranos and seasoning mix. When that begins to stick (about 2 min on high heat), add juice and fish sauce. Cook five minutes until thick. Then add stock. Bring to boil. Add fish and cilantro. Again, bring to boil. When fish is cooked, add vegees. Add extra lemon and lime to taste. Ladle into individual bowls with silver noodles, cilantro garnish, and some bean sprouts. Make sure you have a BIG pitcher of water.

Hints:

I halve the cayenne. For my husband. Because he is the one who has made it possible for me to stay home and write…..

Happy eating…and don’t forget to celebrate the milestones with your loved ones!!!

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5. Cooking and writing

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

When I am drafting a new manuscript, I do a lot of cooking.

Actually, when I’m revising I cook even more.

When I’m cooking, I’m creating. I’m thinking. I’m playing music. All these things let my subconscious ramble (and gives me enough space to think about something besides politics!!) When I cook, I think. I smell. I imagine details. My family thinks I’ve done something with my day!

(Let’s face it…sometimes we need some product while we’re in the process!)

If you aren’t sold yet, eating well also serves my creative process. I also write a lot better and faster when I take care of myself!

When I’m writing, I NEVER diet.

So this week, I’m going to share some of my favorite recipes that help me write. An appetizer. A main course. A salad. and a special celebration dessert.

Here’s your appetizer:

Sarah’s AMAZIN’ humus!!!

2 cups canned chick peas, drained
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (This is the SECRET ingredient!!)
1 tsp cumin
1/3 cup tahini
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, plus lemon zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
parsley for garnish

Basically, put all this stuff in a food processor, season to taste, and eat. For years, my friends invite me to pot luck dinners JUST so I can bring the humus. It’s REALLY good with pita. Or tabouli. Or next to a piece of grilled tomato.

It’s also the kind of snack that can sit right next to the computer as I’m writing.

Bon Appetit, and happy writing!

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6. Kill Your Darlings, but Keep Their Shadows

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

Sometimes I feel like I’m wielding a machete or a flamethrower when I’m revising a book. Pages burn into ashes. Sentences blow away like the seeds of a dandelion clock.

There are times we must remove our Darlings. (“Remove”: a sterile word for “cut” and “kill,” which implies blood is involved.)

We may remove a word.

A sentence.

A scene.

A desire.

A motive.

A character.

Or another element of the story.

The revision may be substantial, and it is like we are pulling the warp threads out of a plot or sending the keystone from a character arc tumbling to the ground.

The art of writing involves knowing what needs to stay and what needs to be removed.

A positive spin: We are deleting cutting rescuing our Darlings from a place they don’t belong as we find the best way to tell our story.

What happens to the words we delete?

Scenes we eliminate?

Characters we yank from the pages?

Our Darlings may go on to another life as we tuck them away in our mental “use later” file or into a “cut from book” file in the computer. We can save an awesome turn of phrase to use at another time later. We can borrow and steal elements from a deleted scene for another story. Not a word we write is wasted.

When I remove words/ sentences/scenes/characters from a story, what else happens?

Example One: In my novel, River, I cut a significant secondary character. She wasn’t pulling her weight. (Truth be told, she didn’t want to be in the book.)

When I revised, elements of her character that were critical to moving the plot forward shifted to two other secondary characters.

Example Two: [These opening sentences are taken from one of my picture books that I wrote while at VCFA while in the picture book semester. This book was a finalist in the 2010 SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant competition.]

1. “We climb our mountains from the inside, up and up we climb.” (First draft—when I was desperately trying to get words on the page so I could make my VCFA packet deadline.)

2. “Today we will conquer a new peak, the highest peak in the mountain range.” (2nd draft.)

3. “Today we are explorers. We cross the bridge toward the mountains wild . . .”  (Final draft, after numerous revisions.)

Only two significant words remain in the final draft: “we” and “mountains.” The concept of going “inside” shifts to a spread later in the manuscript. The word “explorers” in the final version captures the idea I wanted to express in the earlier versions.

Ghosts and Shadows

The essence of what is cut removed often floats around and squeezes into other sentences or parts of the book. At times, deleting and writing more words acts as a palimpsest: not all that was removed is fully erased. Vestiges remain.

Even when we kill our Darlings, they live on as ghosts and shadows. Aspects of what we removed remain in the pages. In essence,

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7. The Loving Heart

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

Hello, Boothers!

I just read Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now—a party I know I am late to, but one I am so glad to have joined.  I loved this book like I haven’t loved a book in a long time, by which I mean I was entirely immersed in the world of the book, entirely invested in its characters, and entirely in love with the author’s writing.  And, most importantly, in awe of the book’s loving heart.

And, indeed, in doing a mental rummage of books-I-love, books I adore so much I’d sleep with them tucked under my pillow, I realized that, for me, this loving heart is almost always the thing that sets apart a book I love and ache for and think about over and over again from the books I love or admire in a regular sort of way.  Alison McGhee’s Rainlight, for example, a novel told from the points of view of multiple characters who are dealing with the death of a man each of them loved, is a book so full of sadness and depth it could only have been written because McGhee was willing to love her way into the heart of each character and make their feelings come alive in ours.

Similarly, Jane Gardam’s A Long Way from Verona—her whole oeuvre, actually—is deepened by the same intense compassion and understanding of her characters.  We feel the anguish and lovesickness and grief of teenaged Jessica Vye as deeply as she feels it, simply because Gardam must have been willing to love her, too, all the way from the inside out.

What’s to be learned from this?  A lot, it turns out.  For me, it’s been the key to what is the hardest part of writing for me—coming up with a plot.     And the only way that works for me to figure out what can actually happen in a book in is to try to live up to the example of writers like McGhee and Gardam and Schmidt by working very hard to have a loving heart that understands my characters and feels what they feel, loving them wholly from the inside.  Because how they feel drives what they do, and what they do is what turns into a plot.   So, loving hearts ahoy!  And thank you, Gary Schmidt, for such a gorgeous example.

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8. The Loving Heart

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

Hello, Boothers!

I just read Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now—a party I know I am late to, but one I am so glad to have joined.  I loved this book like I haven’t loved a book in a long time, by which I mean I was entirely immersed in the world of the book, entirely invested in its characters, and entirely in love with the author’s writing.  And, most importantly, in awe of the book’s loving heart.

And, indeed, in doing a mental rummage of books-I-love, books I adore so much I’d sleep with them tucked under my pillow, I realized that, for me, this loving heart is almost always the thing that sets apart a book I love and ache for and think about over and over again from the books I love or admire in a regular sort of way.  Alison McGhee’s Rainlight, for example, a novel told from the points of view of multiple characters who are dealing with the death of a man each of them loved, is a book so full of sadness and depth it could only have been written because McGhee was willing to love her way into the heart of each character and make their feelings come alive in ours.

Similarly, Jane Gardam’s A Long Way from Verona—her whole oeuvre, actually—is deepened by the same intense compassion and understanding of her characters.  We feel the anguish and lovesickness and grief of teenaged Jessica Vye as deeply as she feels it, simply because Gardam must have been willing to love her, too, all the way from the inside out.

What’s to be learned from this?  A lot, it turns out.  For me, it’s been the key to what is the hardest part of writing for me—coming up with a plot.     And the only way that works for me to figure out what can actually happen in a book in is to try to live up to the example of writers like McGhee and Gardam and Schmidt by working very hard to have a loving heart that understands my characters and feels what they feel, loving them wholly from the inside.  Because how they feel drives what they do, and what they do is what turns into a plot.   So, loving hearts ahoy!  And thank you, Gary Schmidt, for such a gorgeous example.

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9. Greetings From The SCBWI Conference!

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

Tollbooth friend Tim Martin joins us again this weekend to report on the recent SCBWI conference in New York–

The SCBWI winter conference in New York: thoughts from one tuckered out, dog-tired (but still-smiling) attendee.

The SCBWI winter conference came and went like an invigorating whirlwind of ideas, insights and connections. As usual, there were scores of diverse industry folks (including, this winter, people working in digital storytelling and marketing), and an inviting collection of breakout sessions of which we attendees could sample three. This seemed, at first, restrictive, but I think it pressed us to be specific and focused on our areas of passion and interest.

So, here are my picks of a few key moments, and the things that stayed with me as I jetted from the conference on my way home to Los Angeles:

Connections. SCBWI, along with all its regional and international tentacles, and associated writing groups, bloggers, and specialty discussion groups, has always been the nerve center for accessible networking between writers. The Society primarily functions as a community, and the twice-yearly conferences act as testament to this collective spirit. To that end, this winter get-together encouraged attendees to get to know their regional advisors, consider a submission to an editor, get involved in panel discussions, ask that burning question, and, of course, make that accidental connection over bagels and lox cream cheese. You know, the one that may just nudge a writer’s fortune in some unexpected direction.

Breakout sessions. A good assortment of topics were covered, from “Non- Fiction” (Ken Wright of Writer’s House) to “Diversity and Multiculturalism” (Stacy Whitman of Tu Books) to “Narrative Fiction” (Alvina Ling of Little Brown). For an attendee, it’s always hard to select from the list, and I found it worthwhile to check in on friends who had chosen alternative sessions, so as to get a gist of more themes, and more conference content. Many sessions were craft oriented (revision, dialogue, pacing and exposition), and some had an illustrative component. It was also interesting to see less conventional session topic selections, such as “Ebooks and Apps”.

The breakout sessions I chose were generally broad in scope, and tended to be genre related. Sarah Davies from The Greenhouse Literacy Agency took us through the subject of “thrillers” in an action-packed, spine-tingling, lightening-speed hour. She’s an inspiring speaker: passionate, articulate, and informative. She blended solid crafty talking points with the commerciality demanded from many agents such as herself.

In the second session, Arianne Lewin from G.P. Putnam put a spin on the topic of “fantasy” by focusing in on the first two pages of some well-known recent bestsellers. How did the authors manage to convey the fantasy world without too much exposition? What part did dialogue and action play?

In my final session, Tara Weikum of Harper Collins led us through the first sentences of evocative YA books, and gave her suggestions to what makes this early impression a key to each novel

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10. Self Marketing Part II: Discussion and Activity Guides

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

As we continue our discussion about self-marketing, I want to talk a bit (well, more than a bit) about discussion, activity, and teaching guides. Should you have one? And how can a guide help you market your book? To give us a bit of insight, I welcome to the Tollbooth today Debbie Gonzales. Debbie is the author of eight “transitional” readers for New Zealand publisher, Giltedge. A Montessori teacher, former school administrator, and curriculum consultant specializing in academic standards annotation, Debbie now devotes her time to various freelance projects as well as serving the Austin SCBWI community as Regional Advisor. She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

First, Debbie, welcome to the Tollbooth! Can you tell us a little about the business you run creating discussion and teachers’ guides for authors?

You’re familiar with the adage “Write what you know,” right? Well, that’s what I’m doing. I pull from my years and years of teaching and curriculum development experience and pour it all into these cross-curricular book guides. I make guides like the ones I wish I would’ve had when teaching. Science, math, crafts, creative writing, analysis, games – you name it, I put it in. They’re becoming so popular; I’m having a hard time keeping up with the demand. That’s a good problem, right?

When did you decide to start cross-curricular book guides?

I got started making these when a friend and YA author was told by a librarian that she needed a book guide made to compliment her latest book, one that met the Texas educational standards. She and I got to chatting about it and I told her I’d be glad to make one for her. Soon after, her book found its way to be listed by the International Reading Association. (I’m not saying that my guide got her on the list, but it sure didn’t hurt anything.) The rest is history.

What types of guides do you create?

Picture books, chapter, middle grade and YA, you name it. I’ll do it. I create three basic types of guides for any and all genres. One is an Activity Guide, which is packed with lots of manipulative learning games applicable to all areas of the curriculum. I just finished a really cool Research Activity Guide for two non-fiction books about dogs and horses that were such fun to make! The guide features activities focusing on anatomy, map skills, research skills, poetry writing and a bunch of other things.

Another type of guide is the basic Discussion Guide. This one works quite well for YA novels. I document quotes that, I think, resonate with meaning, and then imagine kids thumbing through the pages to find the selected phrases, reading them aloud over and over again. I like to not only create questions that are inspired by the text, but those that cause the reader to consider their own emotional response to the story.

Lastly, I make longer, more in-depth guides that are a combination activities and discussion that typically end with a special art project or a Reader’s Theatre script. These guides are designed to provide discussion and activities that will span over a 6 week period of time – a teacher’s gold mine!

A collection of guides I’ve created are posted on my

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11. Self-Marketing Part I: Blogging 101

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

Ask most published authors how much their publishing house did to market their books and they’ll probably say, “Not much.” And it’s true: Unless you’ve established that you will make your publishing house bazillions of dollars, or they’re willing to bet that you will (first-time authors with huge advances, anyone?), you’ll probably get a standard marketing plan. Though this standard plan varies greatly from house to house, I think it’s fair to generalize and say it boils down to “Not much.”

So, what can we as authors do? Market ourselves! First, let’s talk author blogs. I’m no expert in this arena, but I have in the booth today YA author and blogger, Nova Ren Suma, to lend me hand.

Nova is the author of Imaginary Girls (2011) and Dani Noir (2009), which is being reissued as Fade Out for the YA shelves in June 2012. Her next YA novel is 17 & Gone, due out from Dutton/Penguin in 2013. She can be found at novaren.com, on her blog distraction99.com, or on Twitter as @novaren, distracting herself endlessly.

Nova, your blog has such a cool name! Care to share your inspiration?

I started my blog distraction no. 99 in 2005, before I wrote YA fiction, and before I published any novels. I named the blog for the fact that I was so easily distracted, figuring the blog would be one more distraction I didn’t need (and, imagine, this was before Twitter)!

How long have you had your blog, and what was your impetus for starting it?

At the time I started blogging, I was a recent MFA graduate struggling to publish literary fiction for adults, and I used the blog as an outlet for myself and as a way to connect with other writers. I most often blogged about writing itself—the process, the low points and the high points—and sometime during those years my identity as an unknown, struggling writer shifted. The blog has been witness to me discovering YA, becoming a ghostwriter, publishing my first book under my own name, finding my first literary agent after I thought I’d never have one, publishing my first YA novel, and then promoting my books.

Promotion, you say? Can you tell us a bit more about how you use distraction no 99 for promoting yourself and the work of other writers?

It’s when promotion came into the mix that my interest in the blog and its focus shifted again. I would much rather do anything else—even a sink full of dishes—than be actively promoting myself. We all know how dirty that can feel. So when promotion started ruining blogging for me, I decided to reinvent distraction no. 99 into something else. Now I continue to talk about my writing process (as much as I can talk about, since so much now needs to be kept under wraps), and I talk about things like writers’ colonies and integral publishing moments, but what I most like

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12. All The World (all of Vermont College, for sure) LOVES Marla Frazee!

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

This winter Vermont College of Fine Arts is lucky to have Marla Frazee joining us as a Writer of Distinction. She’s an author and illustrator of spirited and structurally exacting picture books, and her work includes The Boss Baby, A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, and the Clementine series for which she did the illustrations. Marla brought to the college her thoughts and experiences in an informal talk where she demonstrated the elaborate and often miraculous way an author and illustrator can work together, dog bites and all. I interviewed her about the commonalities and collaborations between writers and illustrators during the gaps we both had between lectures, workshops and lunch (+ breakfast, dinner, snacks, wine pit …)

Firstly, I asked how she was enjoying her spell at VCFA:

Marla had heard about the college for so many years and loved being here during this frenetic residency. Living within a whole lot of writers was, of course, a little unfamiliar, but she delighted in hearing writers talk about their stuff: their work, their craft and their world.

In what ways does illustration lend itself to collaboration?

Marla believes an illustrator’s job is primarily to interpret and serve the writer’s text. But it can also go further. Marla is a lover of music, and has had some interdisciplinary collaboration with her illustrative work. For example, she collaborated on a presentation with a singer-songwriter friend on her Woody Guthrie book New Baby Train, reading the book aloud whilst songs were played beforehand.

What’s her process when illustrating and writing her own projects?

Ideas generally come to her as a “need”: she doesn’t sit around forcing them to pop out. Usually, an idea comes to her as a visual cue: sometimes as a character (as with Boot and Shoe, and The Boss Baby); as a concept (Walk On); or as a visual experience (Roller Coaster). A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever drew its life from an experience of sorts: it was a “thank you” note to good friends. However they begin, her stories evolve in much the same way: a lengthy process of outlining, storyboarding, revising and editing.

When a picture book is being devised, how does the illustrator/writer partnership generally work?

After the illustrator receives the writer’s text, it is initially worked on fairly separately from the writer’s involvement. The illustrator breaks the text down visually, interpreting it with illustrations that speak both with, and alongside, the text. Various formats and page spreads are tried, and all of this is brought back to the editor. At this stage, the editor will sometimes share the illustrator’s thinking and progress with the writer, and occasionally the writer is often inspired to make changes based on how the illustrations are interacting with the words. Here, the collaboration primarily plays out as being between the writer’s words and the emerging book’s pictures.

What are the commonalities between illustrators and writers?

Marla suggested the revision and editorial process is often very similar. However she is also aware of differences between the two. For one thing, the writer’s work is often pre-contract, whilst an illustrator’s work is post-cont

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13. Vermont College of Fine Arts Writers in Residence – Q&A with Libba Bray

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

One of the wonderful things about residency is meeting the Writers in Residence.  A few days ago, Peter talked about visiting author/illustrator Marla Frazee. Today, I will bring you highlights from a Q&A that I did with Libba Bray last week in which she talks about writing process, humor, and the well-plated NECI food.

What are some of the challenges you face when you write?

The hardest thing for me is to accept that my process is my process. Because my process is chaos. I look at someone like Holly Black, who is such a genius… She’s like the matter to my anti-matter. And I look at that and think, “Why can I not be more like Holly?” But the answer is, because I’m not Holly. This is how I write. This is how I do things.

What do you do to try to accept your process?

The number one thing that I do, and you guys are building it here, is having a community of writers that you can turn to when you’re at that point when you cannot see your way clear. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat with dear friends like, Gayle Foreman or Barry Lyga or Robin Wasserman or Jo Knowles and said, “Let me just talk this out.  Help me talk myself off the ledge.”* In the process of talking it through, you discover a lot more than you think that you will.

I know that people have a lot of questions about humor. We’ve had a few lectures this residency about it. In your work you have a natural tendency towards humor, how did you find your voice?

I grew up in a very funny family. Humor was so integral to who we were. If you made someone laugh, then that was a good thing. They were a tough audience. I remember reading, Woody Allen, Tom Robbins and Douglas Adams, and of course Monty Python was huge. I really enjoyed Absurdist humor and satire.

Whatever story you are writing, dictates how humor is used.  So, in the Victorian Trilogy, it’s Victorian and it has a British sensibility, so the humor is, if you excuse the pun, corseted.  It has to serve the story. It was really fun for me to write Bovine and Beauty Queens, which is like putting on my favorite pair of jeans.  That’s more in line with how I tend to see the world on a daily basis. I tend to be over the top.

In recent semesters we’ve been discussing the writer’s responsibility when writing about someone else’s culture. How did you approach this when writing Beauty Queens?

I interviewed people, such as a friend who is African American and had gone through the pageant system.  I called her up and we had a nice long conversation about everything from the pageant system and racism to African-American hair care.

Ultimately, it comes down to, as always, doing your due diligence of finding out who your characters are, finding the heart and the humanity. Be an observe

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14. And then they were there…

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

Those post-dystopians, the VCFA Class of January 2013, has announced their name.

THE DYSTROPIANS!

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15. The Heroine’s Romantic Journey

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

When the editor told me she wanted me to rewrite the novel and ramp up the romance, I quailed. “We love romance,” she wrote, “The drama, the uncertainty.”

Uncertainty. She’d really caught the shaky essence of new love, but I didn’t have a clue how to capture it. I know how to write action and adventure, how to keep the obstacles coming until the hero fights the final battle. But romantic uncertainty? How would I even plot that beyond Boy Meets Girl, etc.? Wasn’t it just a lot of angst and neurotic, teary, self-talk?

When in doubt, I read. And several YA romances later, I realized that romance is just the Hero’s Journey from inside the heart.

The hero/protagonist lives in her Ordinary World untouched by love, when one day, bam! She meets The Guy. She doesn’t expect to meet anyone, and she’s attracted to him, but this feeling is like entering a new world.

It’s her Call to Adventure, but she’s not sure about taking it, because she’s so surprised and he isn’t what she expected. She’s thrown off balance, because she thinks she knows the person she wants, but now she’s met someone who’s completely different.

So she pulls back and Refuses the Call. But he keeps talking to her and she’s tempted to let herself feel something. So she Crosses the Threshold into vulnerability and love.

It is a time of Tests, Allies and Enemies.

She doesn’t trust how she feels and she doesn’t know if he feels the way she does. There are circumstances and personal histories, exes and rivals she doesn’t know about. She’s afraid he might be involved with someone else, and she wants to protect herself, because she doesn’t want to be humiliated and can’t bear being hurt.

But at the same time, she senses he may understand her in a way that no one else has ever done before. And she lets herself fantasize about what things could be like, because love is Arthur’s sword, the Holy Grail, the kingdom’s crown.

She’s lost in this new land, trying hard to navigate, and looking for clues in every gesture, how close he leans in to her, if he pulls away. Her girlfriends weigh in on everything he does, and like courtiers to the heir apparent, not all of them have her best interests in mind.

Then a moment appears when something is definitely happening and she can sense it. The relationship is about to change and she’s ready to take a chance and lay her heart completely bare. LIke a deep symbolic Cave, she approaches, knowing the danger of getting her heart broken. She’s ready to kiss him, even if he doesn’t kiss her.

But when that kiss doesn’t come, because something incredibly horrible comes between them, she pulls back. Love has turned into an Ordeal.

She doesn’t want to get hurt like the last time. She can’t count on this other person, what he’ll do or won’t do. She’s not even sure that he’s the person she thought he was.

Fight or flight. She has to choose.

And when she does choose love, when she fights for it, she Seizes the Sword and claims his love. She is magically transformed and forever changed. She understands love in ways she never did before.

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16. The Ghosts of Writing Past

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

Hello, Tollboothers!

I am sorry this post is coming up so late in the week! Blame life! Blame the holidays! Oh, heck, don’t do that. Blame me for not having my act together enough to balance both those things. I really do apologize.

So I recently turned in my final (let’s hope! I think it’s my final. It’s supposed to be the final. Let’s hope Other People thinks it’s my final) draft of my YA novel. And as I was biffing and banging through the ten billion mistakes in the manuscript, I realized that the book itself was full of ghosts. And that I was going to have to perform a series of Exorcisms.

Now, I was pleased about this, because I enjoy wearing black voluminous garments and also chanting menacingly. And while I would also have liked one of those incense-flinging thuribles and maybe also some kind of bell to wave, sadly, all that really proved useful were a pencil and my fingers, for typing.
I’m sure you all know what I mean by ghosts. Ghosts are parts of the book that are holdovers from drafts past. And some of those ghosts are friendly, some are disruptive, and some just hover disturbingly about. I had all those kinds of ghosts in my book. And a person has to be merciless in getting rid of the ones that mess things up.

Friendly ghosts are wonderful. For me, a friendly ghost is one left by a murdered scene (killed like a darling! Scalpeled right out!)—that is, a scene that used to be in the book and played out in its entirety but has become, in this later draft, just a shorthand referenced memory between two characters, a reference that now (hopefully) adds an impression of depth to their relationship without a reader having to have been there herself to witness that growth.
But too many ghosts in my ms were the disruptive kind, like the time I forgot I changed where a character lived and then had everybody showing up where his house used to be. WHOOPS! Or the time I cut out a character but then up he popped in that one part I forgot he was in and startled everyone considerably.
The disruptive are fairly easy to fix, though, if dull. The ghosts that really irritate me are the ones that do the hovering, grinning ingratiatingly, trying to hide behind the furniture, yet unwilling to Go to the Light. By this I mean the ghosts of changes in pacing, timing or sequence, things that, in this draft, happen at different times of day than they used to, so that now the reader is left with the upsetting impression that the characters eat breakfast and then go straight to bed for the night, or the characters seem to talk psychically about thing they haven’t….done yet. These are hard because by the time a writer is at her a billionth draft of a thing, it’s hard to see a single word in the book for what it is, much less all the small logistical problems. Because the ghosts of all the drafts are crowded in our heads, too, and so every word in the book is so familiar you can read it before your eyes do.

This is why we need friends who are brainy. Friends who are willing to reread your first thirty pages twice in two days (hey, Jessica Leader! You look pretty today!) and can help you see where you thumped a note twice and skipped three more. You need an exorcising sidekick, someone whose thurible you can borrow and who doesn’t mind holding the spellbook open for you to do your menacing chanting properly. Just make sure the black robe you provide for her is very flattering.

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17. Kids to kids.

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

I found a really interesting web site today for teachers called novelinks.org whose aim is to put out “instructional routines and ideas for teaching the novel.”  I wanted to see what they did differently than the typical educators’ guide, so I looked at their resource list for Deborah Wiles’s book EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS.  Novelinks offers a full spectrum of materials, from a concept analysis to readability guide, but what struck me as a bit startling was that EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS was tagged at a seventh grade reading level. All of my fifth grade students read it in fourth grade, and frankly while I love this book a lot, the book seems a little young in terms of how much it might interest a seventh grade reader. I checked Scholastic’s Book Wizard, and it shows the book’s level at mid-year forth grade reading.  Comfort, the narrator of the story, is ten years old, so a fourth grader reading EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS makes much more of sense.  A seventh grader?  Not so much.

Kids want to read books that look age appropriate, even if they are reading far below grade level. Many of the students in my class who are struggling readers clamor to read the whole Percy Jackson series. The books are entertaining and easy reading, and you won’t look dumb if you are reading one of them. Every book in the series is hefty (from 300-400 pages), with cool covers.  They are fantasy stories with lots of action.  Not babyish at all.

Peer influence is huge for middle school readers, and I see it all the time in class.  Kids tell other kids about the good books they’re reading.  They share copies from home and the library.  They love being the “first” to discover a book that their peers will want to read. But the books they recommend to one another are books that are shoo-ins:  Funny, interesting, mysterious, quirky.  And from what I see, kids really do want to read about kids their own ages (or older…that’s even better almost).

I don’t see kids recommending literary novels to each other.  It’s a generalization, but literary novels don’t seem to interest the kids I teach.  They don’t pick them up to read on their own in reading workshop.  I book talk, do read alouds, and show book trailers (when I can) of the literary novels I love, but for the fifth grade kids in my class, those novels are the books teachers teach.

What’s the take away from this week?  For me it means killing a lot of darlings in my writing and getting to the story.  It means honing characters that are readable because they are really interesting, even for struggling readers.  And it means writing with vocabulary and sentence structure and chapter lengths that appeal to kids.  I need to stop trying to be so literary. (Which I think I do because I want to show adults that children’s writers are good writers too…but that’s another story).

I need to focus on telling a good tale for kids.  It’s simple, but those 5th graders can be pretty demanding.

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18. Action…and promise

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

So why do kids love books like the Percy Jackson series or Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven books?  Maybe the answer is in the reading level.  In the last few years, best practice for teaching reading has incorporated something called the reading workshop.  Instead of reading one book (usually selected by the teacher) as a whole class, students can read whatever interests them.  For my class of sixty-one students, I have about forty different books being read on any given day.

The Percy Jackson books and Fablehaven series are written for students reading at a late fourth grade to beginning fifth grade level.  The books have relatively easy vocabulary and are structured for the upper elementary reader.  Characters are not quite as complex and story lines not quite as complicated as some other books for middle school readers.  That doesn’t mean the stories are wildly fun and entertaining!

Many of the Newbery books offer up more difficult reading.  The latest Newbery winner, Moon Over Manifest is geared to a mid-year fifth grade reading level.  To give you a perspective, Newbery winners When You Reach Me and The Graveyard Book are geared to late-year fifth grade readers. While Moon Over Manifest is a dear story and one I liked very much, it’s hard for my students to care about Abilene until they have read the first fifty pages or so.  Few of them have been able to stick with the book that long. It moves too slow. And that’s a common theme I hear with Newbery books.  My students think of them, generally, as the books that teachers want them to read, not books they want to read.  Why is that?

For one, action. When I read the opening of Fablehaven, things are already moving.  Here are the first two chapters of the book:

Kendra stared out the side window of the SUV, watching foliage blur past.  When the flurry of motion became too much, she looked up ahead and fixed her gaze on a particular tree, following it as it slowly approached, streaked past, and then gradually receded behind her.

Was life like that? You could look ahead to the future or back to the past, but the present moved too quickly to absorb. Maybe sometimes. Not today. Today they were driving along an endless two-lane highway through the forested hills of Connecticut.

Kendra is going somewhere. Everything is a blur.  Life is moving fast.  The children in my class totally get this idea.  It’s their reality.  I know what you are probably thinking…The Graveyard Book is totally action at the beginning of the story.  But my students don’t like it.  It’s weird they say. Maybe it reminds them of the news, but they don’t want to read it.  It ends up in the return bin a lot.

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19. How to grab a 5th grade reader…

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

Last summer at Chautauqua I gave a lecture on middle school readers.  The presentation was based on research and interviews of middle school students, so it had some solid information, but it didn’t have the benefit of my experience this fall.  Since late August, I’ve been teaching reading and writing full time to a class of sixty-one fifth graders here in Nashville.  So, this week I thought it might be helpful to share my insights into fifth grade readers, the books they love, and how to write for that particular audience.

Let’s begin with the history of ten and eleven year-olds. As they were born, Y2K changed how we thought about history, and September 11 changed the world into a dangerous place. As these children were learning to read, a little company called FACEBOOK was starting up, and the word google became a verb. Download, digital, wireless and virtual became our new vocabulary. Blogs, wikis, social networks, and Twitter became our new communities. And did I mention? We’ve got an app for that. You fill in what “that” might be.

As these kids moved into elementary school, TV became reality, videogame profits soared beyond box office revenue, and Harry Potter took his place in the canon of children’s literature. We went to war twice. We witnessed a near collapse of the US financial market. We elected an African American as 44th President of the United States.

Today’s middle school readers are tech savvy and news weary, living in the golden age of knowledge, with the steepest growth of information in history, doubling in size every 12-18 months.

Any wonder why these kids crave action and adventure in the books they read? To them, life is much bigger than their schoolyards or neighborhoods. They witness the world in action everywhere, and they want to be part of it.

When students asked me to help them find a good book, it’s not the Newbery award winners they want. (Even The Graveyard Book finds its way quickly into the classroom return bin quickly. The exception to this is Louis Sacher’s Holes.  Most students devour Holes.)  Fantasy, mystery, adventure or funny books are the stories these children love. A few read historical fiction.  Very few want nonfiction (unless its science related). Children want escape. Ask any of the readers in my classroom, and they’ve read Percy Jackson. Rick Riordan’s stories are plot driven adventures that are easy to read—mostly written at 4th grade reading levels.  It’s a winning combination.

So what does all this mean to a writer?  I think it means getting really good at the plot driven novel.  Be willing to take readers on a wild ride.  Pushing the boundaries on possibility. Telling a really good story. Sounds like everything you know already, but the assignment is to do that with a character that’s immediately engaging. And could you make it funny while you are at it?

Next time, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular books in my class—the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull.  I’ll do an analysis of the first book in the series and share with you the

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20. Kimberley Griffiths Little on Story Idea, Setting, Characters and Book Trailers

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

Kimberley Griffiths Little joins us in the Tollbooth today. She is the author of many middle grade novels, including the recently released Circle of Secrets.

She wrote Circle of Secrets in a breathtaking pace of approximately 6 weeks (2 1/2 weeks for the draft and 4 weeks more for the revision) so she could make her “Armegeddon Book Deadline.”

Sarah: How do you approach writing when you first get an idea for a story?

Kimberley: When I first get the initial inklings of an “Idea”, it just attacks me. For instance I’m sitting at my desk travelling the many wonders of the inter-webs when *SMACK*! An “Idea” for a new project hits me right in the face and plum near knocks me off my chair. After I recover (and get an ice pack for my resulting black eye), I find my “Notebook” or a piece of paper and start writing down my Idea. Now because I have a life, (and kids and a husband and a house to clean and cats… :/ ) I usually just write down the Idea and then let it simmer on the back burner of my brain stove while I go about my daily activities. When I get my next “Idea” (I managed to dodge this idea from hitting me in the face but it did clip my shoulder), I go and I write it in that same notebook and let it simmer for a while. My next idea (which gut punched me) I write it down and I just continue to do this until I think I have it all down (which usually results in me needing to get a massage to work out all the inevitable kinks).

Note: these head-smacking Ideas are all for the same Big New Fancy-Schmancy Novel, but I will get hit with little pieces of the characters, the twists and turns of the plot as well as the climax or the emotional core of the story over a period of many weeks or months.

Once I have a Notebook – or my head – filled up with Ideas, I transfer all these notes onto 3×5 cards which I then lay out on a table of the floor and rearrange in various orders. Once I’m ready to write, I dive in and start fattening the Ideas with words to make them all nice and fluffy (like sheep) and I put it all in a Word document called a Manuscript.

Sarah: You talked about your 3×5 card plotting method a few months ago on your blog. You used this method for most of your books, including The Healing Spell.
(Kimberley’s detailed explanations–and great photos–can be found at her blog post about her 3×5 card plotting method.)

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21. How To Achieve Perfect Balance

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

Perfect balance is important to a tightrope walker. Without it he’d plunge to his death. Do writers need perfect balance too?

I’m a Libran so my zodiac symbol is the scales. I’m not entirely clear if that means I should be good at achieving perfect balance and harmony, or if those things are just  important to me, or if it’s a bunch of hooey.

I do know this–like all of you I’m exceptionally busy with lots of conflicting priorities tugging at me. And like most writers I’m always looking for ways to live a rewarding writing life along with a family and business/marketing life.

For years I’ve sought the holy grail of perfect balance. I’ve dreamed of mornings when I wake up ready to leap out of bed, slip into freshly pressed and color coordinated outfit, kiss my darling children goodbye as they skip off to school, dance into my office where I catch up on a few emails (while avoiding the internet time-suck entirely), dash off a chapter or two, chat with my publicist or editor, pin down details on a smashing bookstore signing, whip up something scrumptious yet nutritious for dinner, dress for a night out at a museum or play or something cultural… okay you more than get the idea.

It doesn’t take a life coach to know this isn’t realistic. If I’m honest with myself I admit it doesn’t even sound like fun. “Having everything” all at once isn’t just outside a normal person’s grasp. It’s manic.

Over time I’ve come up with five tips for achieving…  not perfect balance but something that more or less works for me.

1 Forget perfect.

What does “perfect” mean, anyway? I don’t have a clue. I’ve banished the word from my vocabulary. It may sound simplistic but deleting perfect gives me an instant “peace of mind” boost. Maybe it’s evidence that I’m some kind of slacker, but  consciously deciding to push perfectionism aside makes sense to me. Of course I have to be vigilant to keep the quest for perfect at bay, but lower anxiety and greater happiness are worth the effort.

2 Keep your eyes open.

Justice is blind (I had jury duty last week so cut me some slack and bear with me a minute.) Because she’s supposed to be impartial, Lady Justice is almost always portrayed wearing a blindfold as she weighs right and wrong.

Blindfolds may be fine for legal decisions but they’re all wrong for balancing writing with the rest of your life. Take that blindfold off! Look! As Sarah Aronson says write with intention. More than that, live with intention. Make active rather than passive decisions. Some things are outside our control (yea that serenity prayer does make a point) but just as you are the master of the story you write you should be the master of your fate.

I believe active living is a matter of perspective more than anything else. When I feel like I’m consistently acting rather than reacting I’m happier. I seem to have mor

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22. A tough talk for today: What to say to your kids about Joe Paterno.

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

When I was young, I used to admire a great running back. I had a poster of him on my wall.

His name was OJ.

Whether or not you’re a sports fan, you know all about the terrible tragedy that happened at Penn State. I come from Pennsylvania, from Paterno country. Although I was not a fan (always the outsider), I admired Paterno’s reputation for winning and integrity. Over the last few days, I’ve read many accounts of his greatness.

I know a lot of Penn State fans want to defend their coach, their idol, their role model. I know how important football is. It was to me as a kid…and still is today…although, lately, it’s really just entertainment.

What is it about sports heroes? Why do we want to make them role models, too? I think it was Dave Israel who wrote about how we quickly forget that the ability to do great things on the field does not mean that same person can or even wants to do great things in the world. And frankly, they don’t ask for that responsibility. We give it to them. Because they can dunk. Or hit a ball. Or run 100 yards faster than anyone else. Or throw a ball.

Why are we so surprised when they fail us? What do we tell our kids when our heroes, our supermen, let us down?

So now we have Joe Paterno and his staff in State College. Honestly, the whole thing makes me want to scream. How could these men not go to the police? How could they think that covering up Sandusky’s crimes was the right way to go? It’s mind boggling.

Obviously, the first thing we MUST do as a society is support the victims. What happened in State College is a tragedy. It was preventable. It makes me sick that even as of last week, Sandusky was working out on campus.
Paterno’s statement is not adequate. He said, With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.” You need the benefit of hindsight to know that calling the police was appropriate? This is garbage. Let’s be clear: this was a cover up of a crime.

He was protecting his job. His reputation. His University. He was going for a record to make him the king of college coaches. For all those reasons, he did the wrong thing.

Why?

How?

Football is a big business. In Tuesday’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd likens the Penn State football program to the Catholic Church. She writes, Like the Roman Catholic Church, Penn State is an arrogant institution hiding behind its mystique. And sports, as my former fellow sports columnist at The Washington Star, David Israel (yep, that’s the guy) says, is “an insular world that protects its own, and operates outside of societal norms as long as victories and cash continue to flow bountifully.”

So…again….what do we say to our kids? What do we say when their heroes turn out to be flawed people?

Well, we can turn off the TV’s. You can stop cheering until these leagues clean up their acts and punish guys definitively for breaking the law. Or we can avoid the conversation altogether. For young children, that might be the best choice. Save the discussion for later. Although in our world of media information, that doesn’t seem possible.

We can turn to books. Coming from a writer, this might seem a bit self serving, but this is practically the main purpose of books for kids. Good books can help kids through many new emotions and struggles. I’m not the first writer to create a book centered on heroism, including a sports hero. There are great books with moral fortitude that include sports by writers like Rich Wallace, Mike Lupica, Linda Sue Park, Dan Gutman, and John Ritter. There are also a lot of great books about children in trouble, and children who are abused. Instead of fearing those books, we should b

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23. You Give Me The Creeps!

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

Happy Halloween!

This week in the Tollbooth we’re talking about what scares us.

As a middle-grade writer I try to remember what it felt like to be nine or ten years old and translate that to the page. I find it pretty easy to remember things that made me sad or mad or even really happy, but at first I thought scared was tougher.

I’m a grown up now. Hard to scare.

Then I remembered… when I was in the third grade I thought this was the scariest book in the world.

What was so scary? Mannequins. Being lost. The dark.

To tell the truth I’m still afraid of dark places and the unknown in general. And yes mannequins do still scare me. A lot. I’m lost so often I’ve sort of gotten over that… plus now I have a GPS.

But remembering the universal elements– things that scare all of us, but more specifically what scares me– and translating it to a middle-grade level dose seems to work for me.

What scared you when you were a kid… and does it still scare you now?

~tami lewis brown

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24. How to Love a Writer: The End

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman explains that we all have different ways that we like to receive and give love. It’s important to know what kind of love language your writer responds to and love them appropriately.

We’ve already talked about:

1. Words of Affirmation – Tell them they are awesome.

2. Quality Time – Give them time to write. Take time to hang out with them and/or their books.

3. Gifts – Yeah. Gifts.

So now we are on to the final two ways to love a writer:

1. Acts of Service

2. Physical Touch

Acts of Service

If your writer would like for you to  rub her shoulders while she ponders the emotional arc in her picture book classic THE MICROWAVE LOVES YOU, then please do that.

If your writer would like you to wash dishes while she tightens up the language in ALL-IN-ONE-ORANGE OXY: THE STORY OF A WOMAN AND HER CLEANER, please do so.

If your writer wants you to rob a bank while he finishes the masterpiece TELEPHONES AND THE MEN WHO EAT THEM, you might want to think about it.

Some people like you to do things for them. They NEED you to do things for them in order for them to feel loved. Please, just make sure whatever your writer wants is legal and does not physical harm you, your writer, or your microwave.

Physical Touch

This one sounds sooooo naughty, doesn’t it? Oh, yes… Yes, it does…

But it isn’t.

Are you disappointed?

Would you admit it if you were disappointed?

Anyway, some people communicate via touch. These are the hand holders, the cheek kissers, the huggers. A lot of writers are like this. I swear, writers are always hugging other writers. At every conference I’ve ever gone to, I’ve thought, “Holy canoli, these writer people are huggy. Will any of them hug me? Oh gosh… What if they don’t? What if they treat me like I’m an insurance executive? What if I stand here for 30 seconds and nobody tries to hug me?”

Then someone will hug me and I will stop hyperventilating. Usually it is someone I don’t actually know, and somehow this isn’t creepy. I should probably go think about that.

Okay. Back on topic….

Touching and hugging and kissing (as long as the writer knows you and is okay with that) is how some writers feel loved.

I think that if you touch and hug and kiss their book, they will also feel loved.

I am going to go kiss Rick Riordan’s SON OF NEPTUNE and see if he responds. :)

Thank you all for putting up with me this week. My life’s been a bit of hell lately (I know! I know! TMI!) and I just couldn’t post anything serious about crafts. Thank you for bearing with me. Feel free to comment. Those are WORDS OF AFFIRMATION and make me feel loved. Unless, your comment is evil…. Yeah….

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25. Love a Writer Post

Originally published at Through the Tollbooth. Please leave any comments there.

Today we continue with our  attempt to help you understand how to love your writer.

We began with telling you that WORDS OF AFFIRMATION are always a good way to love your writer. But many writers have different love languages, and your writer may  not respond well to WORDS OF AFFIRMATION. It may not be their primary love language.  The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman explains that we all have different ways that we like to receive and give love. It’s important to know what kind of love language your writer responds to and love them appropriately.

So here are two more options if the WORDS OF AFFIRMATION aren’t working for you.

OPTION #2 – QUALITY TIME

For some writers, they feel loved if you spend quality time with them. That means this:

1. You read their books.

2. When you read their books you don’t multi-task unless it’s riding on the stationary bike at the gym or something, because writers appreciate good quads.

3. When you read their books, you focus on their books.

How can you do this?

1. Spend a weekend with their book.

2. Make a lunch date with their book.

3. Take the book walking. Go on a vacation. Take it on a nice long car ride. But um… don’t read it while you are driving. Cars are not stationary bikes.

4. Relax together.

Love Option #3 – Receiving Gifts

Some writers don’t feel loved unless you give them things. For some writers this might be um…. awards from committees of librarians or bloggers. For some writers this might be a blog post focused on them. For some, the gift might be a really hot review or a nice blurb from someone awesome.

Do not be afraid to show your love for your author by giving her a good five-star review on some website somewhere.

A gift inspired by a writer’s book is always awesome. My second book was called LOVE AND OTHER USES FOR DUCT TAPE and I got some totally cool hand-made duct tape flowers. I felt super loved. I still have them in my kitchen. And sometimes when I am sad, I look at them. See? Totally works.

*Chapman, Gary. The 5 love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 1992.

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