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jon scieszka–spell it right…j-o-n

So then I went to see Jon Scieszka. If you’ve ever seen Jon Scieszka, you know he’s as funny as he looks, or…

Yes, one of Pete’s many famous pals.

Jon talked about his family, mostly. Be sure to read Knuckleheads: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing Up Scieszka.

It explains everything about what makes him tick. He’s the second of SIX BOYS. No girls. If you look at their pictures, they all look about the same age.

Holy cow.

Jon answered some questions at the end, of course. First his favorite books he’s written, and favorite book he’s read:

His favorite story from the Guys Read Books–THE ONE THE GUY’S EDITOR COULDN’T BEAR TO READ:

What he’s working on now. Something with Kate DiCamillo!

Of course he’s on tour promoting his latest SPACEHEADZ book.

The Spaceheadz books teach the kids to interact on the intrawebs, and there’s a nifty-frito website where readers can write their own stuff, read a blog, upload pictures. Major Fluffy even has a lame app.

If you ever have a chance to see Jon, geez. Don’t pass it up.

And bring your kids.

opening your story–where to start your novel

Alrighty then. You need a whiz-bang a-number-one first sentence that draws your reader in. Makes him/her sit up and and say, “Thank you sir, may I have another?”

That’s a given.

But where, exactly, in the story, do you start?

HINT: Not at the very beginning.

Little Red Riding Hood does not start with the first time Little Red takes a basket to her grandmother, or the first time The Wolf eats a kid.

Harry Potter doesn’t start with Voldemort killing Harry’s parents.

Catcher in the Rye doesn’t start with Holden Caulfield’s arrival at Pencey Prep.

Your reader does not want to wade through all the backstory to get to the interesting bits. That’s your job.

Begin your novel on the day that is different.

Look at the point in the story these kidlitters chose to start:

In the Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith: The day Jonah and Simon leave their home to meet up with their brother and father.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Reaping Day

Escaping the Tiger by Laura Manivong: The night Vonlai and his family cross the Mekong River to escape Laos.

Plunge your readers into the thick of it, and don’t explain everything.

Give them a reason to turn the page.

i get mooned by pink granny panties

It’s great to know people in high places.

Michelle L. Brown is a writer you’re going to be hearing about, soon and often. Not only is she a great writer, but she’s smart and generous. She lives in the Kansas SCBWI region, but in the Wichita area. When you don’t live near the hub of an SCBWI region, it’s easy to get left out, but Michelle reaches out through social media to stay in the loop.

When this year’s Newbery winner, WHO IS FROM WICHITA, KANSAS, had a book signing in her hometown, Michelle picked up a few extra signed copies and ran a Twitter contest.

I won!

Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties that will be explained at the end of this blog post, we pick up the action mid-video:

Then I had to excise some material….

Yes, I said it. Addled.

But Michelle clearly is not addled. Visit her blog here and keep an eye on her. Things are going to happen.

btw**

Clare Vanderpool will be signing books at Reading Reptile this Monday, April 4th at 7PM. Don’t hesitate. Just come. Newbery.

mark teague: writer, illustrator, knows where the bathroom is

Another day, another author signing at the Reading Reptile. The beautiful, amazing, children’s bookstore.

Did I mention I live two blocks away?

Why yes, I DO live a charmed life.

This time, the author in question is also an illustrator. Mark Teague! Scholastic has sent him on a junket! Yes, they still do that for the chosen few. Mark has a new book, LaRue Across America: Postcards From the Vacation.

This time, the book signing was held at 5PM, and the crowd was mostly kids and their moms. It made for a different kind of signing than I’m used to. If you’re going to be a picture book author, you’ve gotta tolerate low-level chaos.

Mark related a real-life scenario that helped inspire his new book:

And the kids (and adults) enjoyed recognizing it in the finished product:

And of course we all LOVE to watch an artist create. Do you find that when artists are drawing or painting, they usually have to stop talking?

Listen to these questions. Mostly, Mark tells the kids the same things he’d tell adults.

If you couldn’t hear that last part, Mark said illustrator Don Wood told him artists usually draw characters that look like themselves. And he said it while Mark was drawing a picture of Ike the dog!

Having an audience of mostly rugrats didn’t faze Mark:

In fact, I don’t think there’s much that fazes Mark:

Because he’s kind of a Renaissance guy. He writes. He illustrates. He’s written a middle grade, too. He’s broken a lot of rules:

And what makes him smile? Yup. Same thing that makes every writer smile.

Ye Gods, Freckles McYoungest is going to murderlize me. Let the record show she is SEVENTEEN.

And the Mark Teague book she is emotionally attached to?

 

‘Nuff said.

fortune cookies book launch party

I know you’re beginning to think we don’t do anything around here but launch books.

YOU MIGHT BE RIGHT.

Case in point: Fortune Cookies, by A Bitterman (Pete Cowdin), Illustrated by Chris Raschka.

How many authors do you know run the register at their own book party?

So I run into Judy Hyde, Fearless Leader of Wednesday Morning Critique Group who I would Follow Anywhere–which you can see I do right here–and Anola Pickett. Who has a book coming out soon.

Chris Raschka, as I’m sure you know, is a Caldecott winner. He and Pete gave an illustrated reading of Fortune Cookies. Here’s a little taste:

Then it was time to sign books. So we lined up uncooperatively with Laura Manivong and drove Mrs. Bitterman (Debbie) insane.

FINALLY it was my turn, and I got the true scoop on how illustrator and author got together.

What was interesting about this book bash was the participants. Most book launches are attended by a small circle of writers, but Pete’s crowd was overwhelmingly composed of Reading Reptile customers.

EVERYTHING’S different when Pete Cowdin’s involved.

phoning it in

There has been talk (OH I KEEP MY EAR TO THE GROUND, MY PRETTIES)

that cell phones and iPods and laptops are suspiciously absent from kidlit. Why? Well, because there are a lot of stories that would have ended with one phone call to the ol’  ‘rents.

Duh.

Which goes back to kids aren’t nearly as self-reliant as they used to be, BUT I DIGRESS. (RANT AVOIDED)

I confess to acknowledging the existence of cell phones in only a limited fashion in my last manuscript. But by jimminiminny, I am going to step up to the challenge of making my characters normal cell-phone-toting-teens in this WIP, WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY writing a whiz-bang knock-down story AND ALSO keeping all the plates spinning.

It’s going to be tricky. There are only so many ways you can let your characters NOT get help from the cell phone before it becomes peculiar. I suppose this opens up the possibilities of…they summon backup, but will it get there in time? Maybe they get reinforcements, but it’s not enough. Or, perhaps they get help, but actually, IT ISN’T REALLY HELP AT ALL! MWAHAHAHAHA!

Oh, sorry. Did I laugh that out loud?

master writer #6–barbara stuber, crossing the tracks

It’s been some time since I’ve posted a Master Writer blog entry. (See previous entries.) I’m pretty picky about my list of kidlit book authors who’ve mastered some aspect of their writing in a particularly stupendous way.

I think you’ll be impressed with Barbara Stuber’s Crossing the Tracks:

A literary Young Adult novel in the finest and most engrossing sense, Crossing the Tracks is the story of Iris Baldwin, a 15-year-old-girl who lost her mother at a young age, and her father’s attention as well. When Iris’ father hires her out–without consulting Iris–to a rural doctor and his invalid mother, she has to use her grit and heart to find her way home.

BARBARA STUBER’S SUPER POWER

She recreates her novel’s historic period with immediacy, as now time, not the past.

Crossing the Tracks is set in the mid-1920s, but you’re not going to find tired references to mobsters, flappers and bathtub gin. Barbara Stuber has done incredible research and uses multiple techniques to put us smack-dab in Iris’ life.

1. Barbara PLACES PERIOD PRODUCT NAMES throughout her novel:

“After a sprinkle of Pompeian Beauty Powder, I step into my favorite cotton dress that’s white with yellow flowers and lacy sleeves.”

Pompeian Beauty Powder was a real toiletry that ladies used during the time period Crossing the Tracks takes place. Barb shows us the lack of deodorants and antiperspirants at the time, but also finds a powder name that complements the art deco goddess wallpaper in Iris’ room. Every choice the author makes builds atmosphere.

 

2. Barbara’s WORD CHOICES ARE CONSISTENT WITH THE PERIOD OF TIME SHE IS WRITING ABOUT.

“…my hat and pocketbook thump on the floor.”

“…she fusses, giving her cane a snappy hurry up tap.”

“…Poorly isn’t all she’s going to feel when Cecil finds out…”

While the highlighted words are still in the dictionary today, they are contemporary to the 1920s. (There’s a reason your Grandma uses them.) The trick is to insert just the right amount of dated and/or unfamiliar words. Too much, and you risk producing a parody. Too little, and your characters might as well be living next door to you today.

3. Iris Baldwin grows into a brave young lady–yet she is a creature of THE SENSIBILITIES OF THE TIME. It’s reasonable for her to find the strength to–get to the place where she ends up. (I will not spoil this book for you. It’s too good!) But women were not as open about their bodily functions then as they are now:

“Outside our shoe store window I used to watch ladies, some of them mothers of girls in my class, go into Lowen’s Pharmacy and come out with a bulky sack–their ‘silent purchase’. The store had a system–you put money in a box and took a package of Kotex pads off the counter without saying anything to anybody.”

Nothing screams “fraud” louder than putting millennial ideology in your main character’s head. It’s a disservice to people of the past, who were hamstrung by the mores of the day.

Barbara Stuber’s Crossing the Tracks is on the Kirkus 2010 Best for Teens List and the short list for the ALA’s William Morris Award. It’s an emotionally true story, packed with stunning detail that puts us inside every scene.

And so I declare Barbara Stuber Master of Recreating Her Novel’s Historic Period With Immediacy: As Now Time, Not The Past.

crossing the tracks–barb stuber’s launch party

Barbara Stuber’s book, Crossing the Tracks launched in June. So pretend I’m not two and a half months behind in my blogging and come along with me for a run-down.

She had a fabu party at the Faultless Starch Company Headquarters,

replete with food, her trailer playing on a big-screen TV

and snippets of her novel scattered about in calligraphied centerpieces.

Barb gave a gracious speech, full of inspiration and gratitude:

I brought Freckles of course, star of Barb’s bookmarks:

And we had the requisite nuts in attendance…Sheila Berenson, Ann Ingalls, Laura Manivong, Elizabeth Bunce, Sarah Clark, Judy Hyde…

…and a whole lot more people who my Flip didn’t get to. I was too busy having fun.

I am a lousy chronicler, but a really good book launch party-goer-toer.

Go buy this book, dammit. If you need convincing, come back Monday for a review.

master writer # 5-david almond, the savage

The Savage is a YA novel by David Almond, author of Skellig. It’s the fifth, and latest in my series of kidlit books in which the author demonstrates an incredible mastery of one aspect of the writer’s craft.

Blue Baker’s father has died. To cope with his grief, he writes a story about a savage who lives in the woods. But fiction and fact somehow overlap, and the savage becomes much more than words and pictures on a page.

DAVID ALMOND’S SUPERPOWER

To make the subconscious, physical.

1. Kids can understand the most complex concepts, if you MAKE YOUR IDEAS VISUAL. David Almond has Blue express his subconscious feelings about his father’s death through a story he writes. The unnamed, wild savage in his notebook tells us everything we need to know about Blue’s journey of pain, about his love for his mother and little sister, about who he is as a person.

Here, Blue’s character, the savage, writes about a bully who’s been bothering Blue:

“Why was the kid puffin smoke like he was burnin inside? What was the point of that? So the savage new the kid was stupid. He wanted the kid to come closer, so he cud kill him and chuck him down the pit shaft.”

Later, the savage describes Blue, himself:

“…and the savage seen the boy’s eyes and he seen he wasn’t a evil kid like the last one that had been up here.”

Here, the savage talks about Blue’s little sister:

“He opend Jesses door in silens. He stud over her, then he reached down and rested his hand on Jess’s brow, and there was tears in his eyes.”

2. It’s not enough to have this phantasm come to life just for your main character.* THE EXPERIENCE MUST BE VERIFIED BY OUTSIDE CHARACTERS. This way, the story grows from a personal dream or fantasy into a universal myth.

“Jess was crying. Mam brought Jess into my room. ..We cuddled her and tried to soother her, but she was sobbing hard. ‘Daddy,’ she gulped. ‘Want Daddy.’….So I showed Jess the pictures of the savage and I made a funny savage face and I did a funny savage grunt and Jess giggled through her tears…We all sat close together again, and Jess slowly went to sleep….’You’re a brave and clever boy,’ she {Mam} said. She winked. ‘And you’re a savage, too.’ “

3. As much fun as the savage is, the moment has to come when Blue owns his savage side, and THE SUBCONSCIOUS AND THE CONSCIOUS PARTS OF THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST REUNITE. If they don’t we have a permanently wounded character.

“We stood there, two lads together, and we peered one more time into each other’s eyes, then suddenly I was on the outside, at the ruined chapel, and I couldn’t see the way back in again. But the chicken feathers were in my hair and the savage was in my heart and my dad was in my soul.”

Please read The Savage by David Almond. You can do it in less than an hour. It is fabulously illustrated by Dave McKean. It is visceral, gut-wrenchingly true, and dense with love–all leaking from Blue’s subconscious. For that reason, I present DAVID ALMOND, Master of Making the Subconscious Physical.



*Mr. Snuffleuppagus, in his initial incarnation on Sesame Street, was only visible to Big Bird. Everytime Big Bird would try to prove his existence to someone else on Sesame Street, Mr. Snuffleuppagus would disappear. It was pretty funny. But this running joke ended up driving little kids insane with frustration. Moral of the story? KIDS DON’T WANT THEIR HEADS MESSED WITH. They’re still learning the rules of reality.

master writer #4–jay asher, 13 reasons why

13 Reasons Why, the debut YA novel by Jay Asher is the fourth in our series of kidlit books in which the author demonstrates an incredible mastery of a specific aspect of the writer’s craft.

Clay Jensen finds a strange package on his porch. Inside, there are cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his dead classmate. He will spend an evening crisscrossing town, listening to the tapes to find out the 13 reasons why Hannah committed suicide. Clay is one of those reasons.

JAY ASHER’S SUPERPOWER

Each character is completely differentiated, a difficult task with so many teen characters.

1. Throughout 13 Reasons Why, Hannah tells her story to Clay through the tapes–intimately, in his ear. Jay Asher has found a seamless way to mesh their two points of view. This way, A TENSION DEVELOPS BETWEEN THE REVELATION AND RECEPTION OF THE CHARACTERS’ SECRETS.

For instance, we find out about a girl “…known for being a good listener, and sympathetic…” who agrees to come over and help Hannah when she’s being terrorized by a Peeping Tom.

“She smiled and raised an eyebrow. ‘Do you think he’ll come back?’…This girl’s got a twisted side that very few of you know about.”

“To catch our Peeping Tom, we knew we needed to keep the talking quiet. We needed to hear that first…Click… Her mouth dropped open. Her eyes, I’ve never seen them that happy….”

” ‘You know what I could use?’ she asked. ‘A nice, deep, back massage.’ “

“She pulled open the drawer, looked inside, and covered her mouth. What? There was nothing in my drawer worthy of a reaction like that. There was nothing in my whole room worthy of that. ‘I didn’t know you were into this.’ she said, nice and loud. ‘We should use it…together.’ “

“So who was this mystery girl? Should I tell?”

Well, you and Clay are going to have to flip the cassette over to find out if Hannah does tell. Oh, and in the scene, Jay also gives us a mountain of information about the Peeping Tom. And Hannah. And Clay, of course.

2. Jay reveals his characters almost entirely through VIGNETTES. We get to see the characters in action and draw our own conclusions. Sometimes our conclusions agree with Hannah’s and/or Clay’s, but sometimes, they don’t.

“I just sat there, in the booth where Marcus left me, staring into an empty milkshake glass…”

“When up walked Zach. I pretended not to notice him. NOT because I had anything against him, but because my heart and my trust were in the process of collapsing…”

“He offered to buy me another milkshake, but I gave no response…”

“…Zach left a few bucks on the table and returned to his friends.”

“…and before I left, I listened in on you and your friends. They were teasing you for not getting that date you assured them was in the bag.”

“…you took the teasing.”

” {but}…you chose to get back at me in the most childish of ways.”

3. Jay Asher’s characters are fully rounded because they aren’t stale stereotypes gleaned from previous fiction. They seem to have been kidnapped straight from his neighborhood high school, because they BEHAVE LIKE REAL PEOPLE, NOT IN WAYS CONVENIENT FOR A PLOT OR LESSON TO BE LEARNED.

Up until this point in my Master Writers Series, I have chosen examples that weren’t exactly spoilers for the novels being discussed. But in this instance, I feel the best example has to be this spoiler. If you haven’t read 13 Reasons Why, I beg you to read it before you go on to my third point. Fair warning. Here we go. No turning back.

Throughout the novel, Hannah fights her undeserved slutty reputation. Things come to a breaking point after a terrible night:

“…someone called my name…a head poked up. And whose head would that be? Bryce Walker’s.”

{Clay} “God, no. This can only end one way. If anyone can shovel more shit onto Hannah’s life, it’s Bryce.”

“{and}…Miss Courtney Crimsen…She’s the one who left me stranded with no one to talk to. And there I was, at her house, where she had nowhere to hide.”

{Clay} “That’s not why you did it Hannah…You knew it was the worst choice possible…You wanted your world to collapse…”

“…I was right not to trust them…but I was done. I was through fighting…”

“Bryce, you had to see my jaw clench. You had to see my tears…then, just like that, I let go…My legs fell apart. I knew exactly what I was doing. Not once had I given into the reputation you’d all set for me. Not once…Until Bryce…I let my reputation catch up with me–I let my reputation become me–with you.”

Boy. The easy author choice would have been an out-an-out violent rape. Good-girl Hannah kills herself because nobody would have believed her. Bad boy Bryce. Eh. We knew he was no good. Tragedy. *Yawn*.

Honest to Murgatroyd, I think this is the most heartbreaking, dead-on, brilliant scene in the whole book. If you think Hannah was asking for it, or could have gotten away, I submit that you’re missing the point.

She has been trying to get away from the reputation the student body has pegged her with for the entire book.

She can’t.

Hannah has been disappointed, degraded, embarrassed, debased, time and again. She was through fighting–she had fought it so long and so hard, obsessed over her reputation, she became what she feared most.

She made a choice. Or did she? Bryce certainly didn’t overpower her. But did the actions of the other students over the school year  “brainwash” her?

Layer upon layer. Each character sharp, distinctly individual.

13 Reasons Why is an important contribution to teen literature. There’s very little action, mostly character study, but oh! how fascinating! For that reason I give you Jay Asher, the Teen Character Master.

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