A SATURDAY EVENING POST Family & Writing…

In the cool of this Saturday evening, the sun now diminished to hues of gold and red, I share a few profound thoughts about how my family feels about me being a writer.

All right. Maybe not so profound, but at least honest.

I’ll interview my ten-year-old son first.

Here we go. The following will be his actual responses to my questions.

Me: Son, what do you think about your mom being a writer?

Him: Um, I think it’s weird cuz I hate writing.

Me: Really? Why do you hate writing?

Him: I like Star Wars.

Me: What does that have to do with writing?

Him: The original Star Wars was a book. That was worth writing. But write this part down Mom, okay? Are you writing this?

Me: Yes.

Him: Star Wars books aren’t as accurate as the movies.

Me: All right. Thanks for answering my questions. I’ll go ask your dad.

(Now, standing in front of my hubby in the kitchen.)

Dear, how do you feel about me being a writer?

Him: Proud.

Me: That’s it? Anything else?

Him: Happy? I don’t know. What do you want me to say?

Me: This is not helpful. Never mind.

Him: No really, I love you’re a writer.

Me: (Smiles endearingly.)

END OF INTERVIEWS.

How about you? How does your family feel about your writing?

WHAT NEXT? …

Along with the rest of you, I’m looking ahead at the new year wondering what’s next?

At this point, my middle grade novel has been cut into tiny pieces and in the process of being restitched with the thread of a new plotline. Happily, I have an editor working with me, Donna Cook. She’s guiding me through these rough patches and I’m hoping, really hoping that this time things will be different.

Three agents have been kind enough to wait and see the new revisions, once they’re done, and I’m ready to get to work!

What’s next for you? Anything exciting in the making?

I guess, half the fun is in the mystery of the waiting. And that’s one thing I’ve had lots of practice doing — waiting.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM RICHARD PECK…

Ah, Richard Peck!

He has won numerous awards including the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in young adult literature. My favorite book, A YEAR DOWN YONDER, was named the Newbery Honor Book, a National Book Award finalist, an ALA Notable Book, and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults.

Whew! No wonder I love that book so much.

I have gleamed a treasure of writing insights from this novel, but what stands out the most is how Mr. Peck uses humor in the telling of his stories.

And A YEAR DOWN YONDER is drop-down hilariously funny. That teaches me to write with sincerity, to write without getting caught up in the words instead of the content, at least for the first draft and first few rewrites.

He writes from his heart and it comes off genuine. That’s what I hope to do. By doing this it makes me (the reader) feel like I know his characters personally. That’s a connection that is priceless.

I saw an interview with Richard Peck and Lin Oliver from an SCBWI Master Class, and he readily confessed that the most difficult chapter he writes is the first. In fact, he says that most times he just throws the first chapter out all together.

I wondered if I was brave enough to make such a bold move, and after much hesitation – I finally did it. That was the best thing I could do for my story.

So thank you, Mr. Richard Peck. And say hi to Grandma Dowdel for me!

WHAT I LEARNED FROM SHARON CREECH…

I have a confession to make. And it’s probably no surprise that as a children’s book writer I am enamored with Newbery Award winning authors. Not only do I read their books, I study them, I write little notes in the margins, I pour over them, I breathe them — hoping their beautiful prose will wash over me and make me the kind of writer I dream to become.

And so, for the next week, I will compose a series about five Newbery Medal authors — Sharon Creech, Richard Peck, Kate Di Camillo, Kevin Henkes and Rebecca Stead. I’ll share what I’ve learned from each of them, how they’ve helped me to grow, and what spectacular insights I’ve drawn from studying their individual styles.

I’ll begin with Sharon Creech. She’s a prolific author who won the Newbery Medal for her heartwarming tale, WALK TWO MOONS. She is also the recipient of the Newbery Honor Book THE WANDERER.

I just finished reading her new book, THE BOY ON THE PORCH, and right away I noted that just as she does in WALK TWO MOONS, her first chapters start with a strong narrative voice and then they are immediately followed by compelling dialogue that draws the reader into an artfully crafted story.

Also, she always interjects vivid descriptions of the main character’s surroundings, what they see, hear, smell and feel. As the main character takes it all in, she includes not only what that character feels but their personal opinions about what they are experiencing in that particular scene. By doing this she takes us (the ready and willing reader) by the hand and by then we are reading eagerly, wanting to know what happens next.

But she doesn’t stop there. Sharon Creech creates friction from the beginning, and lots of it, little obstacles that get in the way of what the main character wants. And then she really has us (willing readers) when she uses layers of deep heart-tugging insights about the main character’s plight, reeling us in to know even more about the main character.

And all the while, Ms. Creech is describing scenes and creating memorable dialogue between fun and interesting people, and we keep reading, we keep wanting more.

I have learned these wonderful techniques from Sharon Creech, and I try to implement her award winning style in my own writing, but as with any craft it takes practice — lots and lots of it, too.

Thank you Sharon Creech. Huzza, huzza! 

 

SCHOOL CARNIVAL …

Everyday the sky tells me a different story. When I left my house this morning, and drove my little son to school, I looked at the wide cloud-streaked sky.

And as tiny bits of sunlight attempted to escape through thick bands of white, I suddenly felt a twinge of hope for the day.

And we all need hope, especially now, in the world we live in.

I hoped that my son would learn something new this day.
I hoped like everyone else that we could work hard and earn our keep this day.
I hoped for lots of things for this day.

And then as the clouds shifted, I hoped for a sunshiny day for our school carnival since our local PTO is raising money to help fund teacher’s classroom supplies and equipment.

They’ll be an auction and if anyone happens to be in the area you can bid on two autographed copies of my picture book, A Princess Smiled. Part of the bid includes my donating 100 books to your favorite local charity, like the Ronald Mc Donald House or St Luke’s children’s hospital.

Plus, they’ll be many other goods and services to bid on to help our local elementary school teachers.

So I’m hoping the sun will keep shining and that I’ll see you there.

BETWEEN THE PAGES …

Most days, sunshiny days, rainy ones, cold or hot, and all the days in between, I’ve been pounding away on this keyboard. And I’m happy to say that after all of this time, after all of these long, long, long days, it has been worth it. Every second.

Why?

Do I finally have agent representation? Has some editor discovered my manuscript in a slush pile the size of Mount Everest?

The answer is simply: No.

Though, here is why it has been worth it.

I’ve just read over my entire manuscript and although it’s not perfect in the technical sense of the word, it’s perfect to me. It has a soul. It sings. And I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. I love my characters, they reflect who I am, or who I want to become, or some melancholy aspect, a shadow, of who I was at one time long ago.

So, if anyone were to ask where to find me – I’m there – between the pages. That’s where my true soul can be found, exactly where a writer’s soul should be.

WRITER’S BLOCK …

Sometimes the best thing to do for writer’s block is to freewrite. Just scribble random words and phrases, stray thoughts and whatever else comes to mind.

I learned that from my English 101 professor. It helps.

During especially stubborn moments of writer’s block, another helpful tidbit is reading. But not just anything. I read the dictionary. I know! It’s kind of silly, but it works.

Well, gotta go and read the A’s in the dictionary. Things are getting anomalous around here.

THE CHAIN GANG…

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In 1930 Walt Disney produced an animated short, THE CHAIN GANG, where Mickey Mouse escapes from prison.

Lately, up to my ears in revisions, I’ve been feeling like I’m working on the chain gang. Pounding out words with no end in sight.

Although, just like Mickey, even if I were to escape the prison of these endless words – I’d probably go right back – because, just as Mickey says at the end of the animated short: “There’s no place like home.”

So, once in a while I may complain about the dreary, seemingly endless days of revision, but really – this is exactly where I want to be.

Watch Disney’s THE CHAIN GANG by pressing this link. Enjoy!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHv7rJyC8iE

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