When I first set out to write the story
of a very ordinary boy who discovers he was destined to be extraordinary, I had
a clear image of how the story would flow. The trouble was that I had no idea
what I didn’t know about writing. Each draft evolved over time as I attended
conferences and worked with my critique group. I felt as if each chapter was a
canvas where I started off with finger paints and, over time, ended up with a
fine water color brush.
At that point, I was able to find a home
for my story at a small press, BookFish Books. Then I realized my fine water
color brush was only a crayon and I was still wearing an old dress shirt
backward as a smock. There was more work to do.
Of course, these descriptions of the
process were totally in my head, a place where the voices tease me with words
of wisdom like “you are a great writer” and “you stink!” I was able to silence
those voices and dive back into the story another time with fresh eyes and great
notes from my editor. It was then I decided my villain needed a slight change.
The bad guy in the story, Lord Cormac,
rules over the realm of Ashling with an iron fist, and in that iron fist is a
fireball ready to be catapulted at anybody who crosses him. At first pass,
Cormac was really bad. Everything he said, every reaction was BAD! When I
re-read his scenes, I saw a flat character and decided he needed to be more.
The new Cormac came with one spark and I
decided to have fun with it (but not take it overboard). I put myself in the
head of a guy who has everybody fearing him, following him. His character
tilted a little on the side and the humor spilled out. I wanted to be just
subtle enough that it wouldn’t take away from this bad-guyness (is that a
word?). I added dashes of spoiled child behind the fierceness and contempt for
those who serve him. This all leads to confusion among his henchmen and fear
that they are about to meet the business end of a fireball.
In the first book, we have only scratched
the surface of the supporting characters and there is much to be revealed. The
details about these characters are sometimes enlightening to motivation and
sometimes a twist you didn’t see coming. I look forward to sharing more about
Sam and the people of Ashling in the sequel to Extraordinary Sam & the
A. Springer grew up on a farm in Maryland where his imagination knew no
limits. As a husband and father, he reconnected with his creativity
while telling bedtime stories to his two young boys. One such story
evolved into his debut book, Extraordinary Sam & the Adventurers’
Guild (March 2015, Bookfish Books LLC.), which tells the tale of an
ordinary boy who finds a hatbox and discovers a world of adventure and
Kevin is a self-proclaimed dreamer and a kid at
heart. When he’s not writing or reading, he is coaching soccer or
helping with homework. He lives outside of Atlanta with his wife, two
extraordinary boys, and dogs. He is a member of SCBWI and a co-founder
of the Middle Grade Mafia blog (middlegrademafia.com)
Somewhere on the dreaded I-95 in Maryland on the way home to New Jersey Sunday night, my wife and I were listening to a classic rock station and the Who's "Who Are You?" came on the radio. After the beginning with the jangling guitars and repeated choruses of "Who are you?", there comes the first two lines of the story.
"I woke up in a Soho doorway. A policeman knew my name."
For some reason I had my writing hat on I thought, "Yes!" That's all you have to say. What brilliant writing!
If I were writing that scene I'm sure my first draft would have been something like, "He was drunk. He smelled like piss and soot. His raincoat was soiled and crumbled beneath him. He lay half asleep in the doorway of a Soho row house. A policeman poked him with his nightstick. "C'mon, John. Be a good lad. Time to move along."
And I could go on on and on and it would be okay. But those two lines do it so much better. Think what that one line says about a guy waking up in a doorway, "A policeman knew my name."
I know it's a song and we typically think of songs as a different animal than narrative writing, but that's the kind of writing I aspire to in anything I write.
I heard the same sort of brilliance at an Al Stewart concert last month when he sang his incredible "Roads to Moscow."
In this song, a young soldier in WWII manages to get through four years of war and devastation. Finally the war is ending and he is going home on the train with all his fellow soldiers when...
"And now they ask me of the the time that I was caught behind their lines and taken prisoner
'They only held me for a day, a lucky break,' I say;
He sings this quickly. You can feel the rush of the soldier's excitement, the words spilling out and then the next line:
"They turn and listen closer"
"They turn and listen closer."
Don't you feel your neck hairs stick up and the words, "uh, oh," form in your reader brain? What a great and simple way to show (not tell about) the suspicion and paranoia of his superiors. Really? They only held you for a day? Some lucky break allowed you to be set free? You wouldn't be a spy now would you? I wonder what you told them?
I wanted to stuff the words right back in the young soldier's mouth. I'm sure he did too because the the next lines are as follows:
"I'll never know, I'll never know why I was taken from
the line and all the others
To board a special train and journey deep into the heart
of holy Russia
And it's cold and damp in the transit camp, and the air
is still and sullen
And the pale sun of October whispers the snow will soon
And I wonder when I'll be home again and the morning
And the evening sighs, and the steely Russian skies go on
I hope I can write stories or even just sentences as succinct and telling. I think sometimes it pays to listen to great music and read those lyrics and consider how we can work like that in our own genres.
When I was young, my siblings and I used to have a chant:
“Rain! Rain! Go away! And don’t come back.” It was a childish subversion of the
traditional, “Come again another day,” and it helped us cope with our plans
being derailed by the weather.
Rain! Glorious Rain!
Sunset after the rain.
Now that I’m older I tend to roll with the tide – enjoying
the sunny days and spending time outside whenever I have the chance. On those
days I fill my lungs with fresh air and my brain with fresh images and
experiences. And on those rainy days instead of wishing the downpour would
disappear, I welcome it as a gentle encouragement to nurture my writing. The
storm invites me to stay indoors, make a bowl of popcorn, dip into those images
and experiences, and strengthen that story.
Isabel Wixon is weird. Not only
does she see dead things, but her list of friends consist of a talkative
ventriloquist’s dummy and the gentlemanly spider that lives in her hair. Real
friends? Too hard. Inventing friends is much easier.
Inventing the Boatman—a terrible
monster that lures kids into a strange sleeping sickness and never lets them
go—probably wasn’t one of her better ideas though.
Kat Hawthorne tends to lurk (somewhat menacingly) in the darker corners
of the literary world. In addition to a smattering of published poetry, Kat’s
short fiction has appeared in such literary magazines as Underneath the Juniper Tree, Thrills Kills and Chaos, Infernal Ink,
Dark Edifice, Shadows Express, Fiction
and Verse, and The Rain, Party, &
Disaster Society. Her literary novelette, The Oddity, was published by MuseIt Up Publishing on July 11th,
2014. In partnership with Enter Skies Entertainment, Kat wrote the narrative
portion of Fearless Fantasy, an
online role-playing game published by tinyBuild Games and hosted by Steam. As
well as being a nerd of the highest order, Kat is a graduate of Ryerson University’s
copy, substantive, and stylistic editing programs and is an acquisitions, line,
and copy editor at BookFish Books LLC.
Please visit www.katmhawthorne.com for more information about Kat’s
writing, or www.movetothewrite.com to learn about her
A character has been living inside my head, making its presence known, on and off, for many years. I know it's a picture book character, not middle grade, because it speaks to me in a younger, more innocent voice. It nudges me, cajoles me, even irritates me. It wants, begs me to tell its story.
I've tried several times over the years to write that story. Verse. Prose. With dialogue. Without.
Each attempt ended up abandoned. Going nowhere. So many false starts that disappointed me and my character.
So I pushed it aside and let it be.
Lately, this character has been demanding attention again. This time, its story has come through loud and clear. Except for one thing.
There are few, if any, words to the characters story. Only vivid pictures in great detail. Beginning, middle, end. Conflict, resolution. Just like any good story.
The only way to tell this character's story in a way that makes sense, is to tell it without words.
How does a writer...a user of words...do such a thing? I'm not an illustrator and my stick drawings would not do justice to this characters tale.
Dare I attempt to "write" a wordless story?
The character is insistent, relentless, and speaks in a voice that is loud and clear.
Some of you — okay, maybe many of you — already know about the rain that made The Gollywhopper Games grow from a stand-alone book, to a series.
It was simply the readers.
There were a lot of them; a lot more than I could ever dream of. And so to celebrate the launch, in just 10 days, of #3, The Gollywhopper Games: Friend or Foe, I’m giving away 3 copies. Enter below.
Do me a favor? Find any opportunity to keep reading and to keep kids reading books from the entire kidlit community. Thanks!