Saturday, May 23, 2015

Smack Dab in the Classroom by Dia Calhoun

Because it's almost summer, I can't bear to write about using middle grade books in the classroom. One of my greatest joys as a kid was reading outside.

Our family camping trips looked like this: my father, mother, my brother, sister, and I gatherd around the campfire by American River in the Cascades, reading. Yes, READING. Not fishing, not hiking, not swimming. READING. We would occasionally look up at the towering trees, the rushing water.

Yes, we did play--and eat! At night I would take the flashlight in my sleeping bag and continue reading the pile of library books I'd brought.

May every kid this summer, find the joy of reading outside the classroom.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Permission to Say No by Laurie Calkhoven

I’m a full-time writer, but like 95% of writers out there, I don’t make a living from my books. I write a lot of what I call “other people’s books.”  Some have my name on them. Some don’t. Some are fiction (contemporary, historical, fantasy, mystery). Some are nonfiction. I’ve learned something from most of the projects I’ve worked on and believe they’ve improved my craft in some way.

But the most valuable project I ever had was also the worst. I had written a mystery in a long-running middle grade series that both the publisher and the author of record were happy with, and I was asked to write another. I submitted an outline. It was approved. I wrote the book and sent it off.

Then the trouble started. I’m not sure what set the author-of-record off, but he sent a scathing letter, ripping apart plot elements he had approved in the outline and attacking my intelligence, my "paltry" vocabulary (I had used the word “stolen” in TWO chapter titles), and even my indentations (I had neglected to indent one paragraph, making me an inconsistent indenter). The letter was insulting and disrespectful and unfair.

As frustrating as that was, I am a professional and so I rewrote the book. The editor recognized the unfairness of it all and did the right thing by increasing my fee. The book was finally approved and I was finished, I thought, forever, with that horrible man and his series. And then I got an offer to write two more!?!

I needed the money. The recession had just hit and the income from these two books would have seen me through a good chunk of time. But I gave myself permission to say no. And it felt wonderful.  From then on, I’ve been clear about working with people who show me basic respect, appreciate my creative contribution, and pay me what I’m worth.

Giving myself that permission to say no was the best thing I’ve ever done as a writer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Permission to ask for what you're worth (May theme) Kristin Levine

I had two fabulous school visits this month, both at schools that were K-12.  One was at a beautiful private school in New York City.  A student played Mozart on the piano as everyone walked into the assembly room!!  Apparently, that's a tradition there... all I know if that I've never seen students come into for a book talk so quietly and calmly.

Central Park

Another visit was at a wonderful public school in Florida.  All the students had written and published their own books.  I had a great time talking with them about my books, and reading what they had themselves written.
Love the Florida School mascot!!

These visits got me thinking about giving yourself permission to ask for what you're worth.  It's funny, you'd never ask your doctor to come over to your house and diagnose everyone in your family "just for fun," but I suspect that pretty much every one of us writers has been asked to do a book event for free.
And sometimes that's okay.  Sometimes, if you're just starting out or it's nearby or for a friend, that's what you want to do. 
But it's also okay to ask someone to pay you for your time.  Last fall the private school in NYC wanted me to come sign books at their book fair.  They were willing to pay for my train fare, but that still meant I would lose an entire day of writing and have to figure out childcare for my two kids.  So, figuring they would probably say no, I asked them to pay me an honorarium.
They said yes.
And then asked me back in May. 
Clearly, I hadn't offended anyone.  And I needed the money!  But I'm still amazed at how hard it can be to say, "I'd love to come, but I'll going to need payment for my time."  However, when the Florida school came calling, I spoke up again.  And you know what?  They said "yes" too.
It's a great job we have as writers.  It's an honor to be able to talk to young people and inspire young readers and writers.  But still, like doctors and lawyers, our time is worth something.  And it's okay to speak that truth aloud.
Kayaking while in Florida

Monday, May 18, 2015

Permission to Write . . . About Them (May theme) by Claudia Mills

The hardest "Mother, May I?" question I wrestle with as an author is not asking mother, father, sister, husband, children if I may write at all, but whether and how I am allowed to write about them.

I write realistic fiction. I draw on my own childhood memories. I draw on my parenting experiences. How could I get those details that ring so true, those "you just can't make this stuff up?" moments, if I didn't borrow lavishly from real life? But in writing about my own real life, I inevitably write about the real lives of those whose lives are inextricably intertwined with mine. I can't write about me without writing about them. And don't they have some legitimate claim not to have their fears, foibles, and failures shared with readers? But if I don't write about the darker side of being human, how am I going to produce books anybody is going to want to read?

These are questions I struggle with every single writing day.

I don't have easy answers here, in case you were hoping to get some at last. But here are two guidelines I give myself.

I do disguise real life heavily; I almost never write anything "exactly the way it happened," if this were even possible. I do this not only for the sake of the human beings who provide my inspiration for a given scene, but to bring out the scene's narrative possibilities more fully: to make the story better and funnier than real life - and definitely with a more satisfying ending. I'm wary of any author who defends the improbable features of her story by protesting, "But that's how it really did happen."

I do try to be kind toward all my characters. I try to see "where they are coming from," to write about them in a way that is both "microscopically truthful," to quote Brenda Ueland, and as wise and charitable as I can be. I really do believe that if God were to write a book about any of us - and authors do assume a godlike stance toward their characters - we would end up as sympathetic and "relatable" characters, seen through God's loving eyes.

Luckily for me, I haven't been tempted to write a memoir yet, where I'd have to run afoul of my first guideline. I'm trying hard to honor the second one - though I just violated it in a current work-in-progress, giving such an unflattering portrait of my protagonist's father (actually, NOT based on anyone I know) that my editor rightly sent it back for a total re-do. And guess what the book is about? It's about a seventh grade writer who is wrestling with the question of whether and to what degree she can write about - and seek publication for - a story about her own family.

Maybe when twelve-year-old Autumn Granger figures this out in Write This Down, I'll know the answers, too.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Not Permissible (May Theme - Sarah Dooley)

Too often, I give myself permission to stop writing -- or sometimes to skip it entirely.

“I should work on my class instead.” “The sink is full of dishes.” “I’m just not feeling it. Everything I write will be worthless anyway.”  “It’s been a hard day and I deserve a break.” 

I wonder how it would affect my productivity if I consistently treated writing like I do my other responsibilities? After all, when I drag myself out of bed on Monday morning for work, I don’t feel like getting started, either. It’s Monday. The sink is still full of dishes and I still deserve a break. When I clock in at nine, I’m dragging my feet. But by ten, I am in the swing of things, making quick decisions, and saying to myself, “Oh, yeah – now I remember why I love my job!”

I love my job as a writer, too. I deserve to give myself time to do it well. I hereby give myself permission to leave the sink full. To get off the couch. To write a few bad paragraphs – or pages – or chapters, if that’s what it takes. To stick with it until I hit my stride. To write until it hits me – and it always does -- “Oh, yeah! I love being a writer!”

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Saving Myself from the Flames by Danette Vigilante

Retreat! Retreat! Retreat!

That’s what my author brain screams when I've had too much worry (are my book babies okay out there in the world?), emotional digging (building believable characters), and yardstick measuring (who am I kidding, I don’t measure up to all those wonderful authors). 

So I do. I retreat into my comfy shell and rest (well, not really rest. I do laundry. Lots of it.). Retreating is necessary in my world and I've grown to accept it.

It doesn't take long for me to venture back out of my shell and when I do, I’m more than ready to jump in and get going again.

I give myself permission both for retreat, and re-entry because after all, nobody knows what’s best for me better than I do. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Permission (May Theme) by Bob Krech

Most of the time I've thought about permission and writing in light of how I've sometimes given myself permission to write about certain things, take chances, and perhaps fail. There have been people along the way in my writing life who have given me permission to do this as well. Like my parents. And my teachers. And my wife and kids. I've also had editors who have given me permission to go forward with a new idea or a change in a manuscript when they didn't completely see where it might be going or if it was indeed a good idea.

Today I am giving myself permission to put writing on hold for the next three days as I go down to North Carolina to see my daughter graduate from Guilford College, celebrate with her friends, family, and relatives, and then orchestrate the dreaded packing up of the apartment. The next stop for her is New York City and an internship at a small publisher and book packager. My little baby girl living and working in NYC?!

Yes.  I gave her my permission. Ha!