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