Tuesday, September 30, 2014

PLANTING STORIES by Tracy Holczer

Today is my deadline. And since I am writing this in the past, I sincerely hope I've made it. And since this past version of me has been wearing the same pair of pajamas for...I can't remember how many days, has been pretty much existing on coffee and hard boiled eggs, and has scared all the members of my family into thinking I have indeed fallen into my brain and won't be able to find my way out, I will keep this brief.

And not really about September memories, but memories in general.

Because as a writer, I've found that memories, the good ones anyway, the ones I've told at dinner tables and to my children, are what have made me a story-teller, such as it is. In a large Italian family, all they did, at every gathering and holiday, was tell memory-stories. Embellished, most likely, but fun and meaningful. I learned, from a great many storytellers, how to pick the juiciest and plumpest memories, the ones with a beginning, middle, and most important, punch-line of an ending. We ate them up with the pasta and laughed so hard I choked. On several occasions. Those stories brought me out of my shell and made me feel like I belonged and took root in some deep place inside me.

People ask where my stories come from. I suppose the simple answer is the place where they were planted.



Friday, September 26, 2014

September Theme: Begin Again by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Last week, I pulled out the workings of a novel that I'd started on years ago, as in about 14 years ago. I found the very first draft of the very first chapter, with characters I didn't remember, and a setting that had seemed ideal that day I'd been sitting in the Hungarian Pastry shop, trying to feel cosmopolitan despite Linzer torte powdered sugar falling down the front of my shirt.

Then I dug around a little more and found the later drafts, heavy packets of paper that made me feel guilty (so much paper!) but also went about 200 pages into a story that still tugged at my soul. I found all of the clippings that I'd saved during research: newspaper articles about seals that had wandered into New York City waters, musings on what would actually happen if one fell into a black hole (nothing good), Yoruba folktales, analyses of C.S. Lewis and fairy tales, my photographs from a tour of a secret subway tunnel in the heart of downtown Brooklyn, and more from a sort-of secret swimming pool in the bowels of Columbia University -- one of the oldest indoor pools in the country, featuring a bronze lion's head that once worked as a fountain, spouting water onto the swimmers below. And chapters upon chapters reuniting me with a beloved, difficult, wonderful protagonist and her adventures above and below ground.

I had put it all away a long time ago, having gotten to that point where I could see neither the forest or the trees and needed to step away, for a long while, so that I didn't give up. Because I couldn't give it up. I was stuck, frustrated sick with that on-the-tip-of-my-tongue feeling of a book that dangled just out of reach. But I couldn't let go of it for good, but I had to let go for a while...before it got really, really bad.

Last week, I looked through those dusty, overstuffed accordion files and they breathed -- still living with the magic of story.

It's time to start again.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

SEPTEMBER, I'VE JUST ABOUT HAD ENOUGH (HOLLY SCHINDLER)

2014 has been one of those non-stop years.  I released my first MG.  And my third YA.  So far, I've also written two and a half new books, and am in the midst of doing global rewrites on an MG.  I've done three blog tours and written articles to help spread word of my latest books and hosted about eleventy billion Skypes.  I've done Google+ book chats and engaged in near-daily direct contact with librarians and booksellers.  All of which I've loved.  But I'll confess, it's been an utter roller coaster.  Especially with FERAL, the YA that released last month.

...Have I learned more this year than I ever thought I would?  Yes.  Has 2014 been enlightening in a thousand different ways?  Yes.  Do I know more about myself as a writer than I did this time last year?  God, yes.  But the ups and downs of the past year are starting to exhaust me. 

Usually, September does feel like a fresh start, a new beginning.  Not this year.  Right now, I sort of have the same feeling I used to in May, when the school year was starting to come to a close.  That road weary feeling.

But I know myself well enough to also know that part of this feeling stems from the fact that I'm in the midst of finishing up.  I'm finishing up the last of my blog tours, finishing up a rewrite.  When I get this rewrite done, I'll take a deep breath, and I'll look toward the next project in line: a project I've wanted to get out into the world for a decade.  And I'll get a second wind.  And that September new-beginning feel will finally hit me.

Because it will be--it'll be a brand-new beginning.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Smack-Dab-in-the-Classroom by Dia Calhoun: The Excitement of New Beginnings

I remember how excited I was every September as the new school year dawned. There was the fun of back-to-school shopping with my mother. In those days, this meat a trip to downtown Seattle, not to a mall. It meant lunch out. It meant doing a fashion show for my dad that evening.

And of course September meant a new classroom and a new teacher. I always felt a sense of potential and possibility as I walked to school on the first day. I feel some of that same excitement now when I read the beginning of a new book.

For a fun reading exercise, have students choose three different book beginnings, a paragraph or page, that made them feel excited to read the book. Have them discuss why they found those beginnings compelling.

Then, for a writing exercise, have them write the beginning of their own story in three different ways. Share those with the rest of the class, and have the other students choose which beginning makes them want to continue reading and why.

And have fun.


Monday, September 22, 2014

September Reading by Laurie Calkhoven

There are good and bad things about posting on Smack Dab toward the end of the month. On the positive side, I get to read what everybody else has written about a particular topic and often that awakens an idea for me. On the negative, sometimes I feel as if I have nothing new to add.

I felt that way this month. My September memories are much like those of the other writers on this blog. I, too, delighted in shopping trips, new school supplies, and the idea of a clean slate. I entered every September with optimism and joy. As much as it wasn’t cool to admit it back then, I enjoyed school. Summers were often boring, especially by the end of August.

I thought I had nothing to add, and then I remembered books. Wasn’t it exciting to get all those new books at the beginning of the school year? I can still remember the inky smell of them. And making book covers out of brown paper grocery bags.

But even better, there were the school book clubs. In the beginning of the school year, when the teachers were full of energy and willing to do extra, they passed out those book club flyers and sent them home with us. Those flyers were filled with affordable books, and I almost always got to buy something. Of course I wanted ALL of them, but I could choose one or two.

It was through the book clubs that I discovered Mary Norton’s The Borrowers series, and Marilyn Sachs—my favorite author in fifth and sixth grade—and too many others whose titles and authors elude me. But I can remember the day the book club box would arrive, and the teacher would pass out our books. I can remember the shiny, paperback covers, and the promise of getting lost in the story as soon as I got home from school. I’m sure that happened periodically throughout the school year, but I will always associate that particular joy with September.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

ADVICE I GIVE MY STUDENTS EACH SEPTEMBER: ADVICE I GIVE MYSELF


Begin anywhere.  John Cage


The major difficulty a writer must face has nothing to do with language; it is finding or making the circumstances that make writing possible.  The first project for a writer is that of constructing a writing life.   David Huddle 

Be worthy of your vocation, which is, after all is said and done, truly a career of danger and daring. George Garrett 

One writes out of one thing only--one's own experience.  Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give.  This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.   James Baldwin


You’re the first audience to your work and the most important audience.  Gloria Naylor


To the great artist, anything whatever is possible.  John Gardner

What do I need in order to release my imagination?  Toni Morrison


Fiction is forever fiction; but readers want to believe, if only for a few hours, that their lives and worlds have expanded.  They want to respond as if fiction were real.  Jewell Parker Rhodes


The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art.  Junot Diaz




       

KAMI KINARD ON CREATIVITY

Today, we're joined by Kami Kinard, author of THE BOY PROBLEM and THE BOY PROJECT.  Kami's touching on a subject near and dear to my own heart: creativity and children.


Creativity! It’s one of the best words in the English language. It’s powerful, imaginative, and a whole lot of fun. If we can empower our children to think creatively, we’ve done them a great service. This is true not only because they will experience the joy that goes hand in hand with creating, but also because empowering children to think creatively will help them in all types of fields. In fact, creativity was selected in an IBM Global CEO study as the “most crucial factor for future success.”

I feel so lucky that my mother valued creativity, and I know that became an author largely because I was encouraged to create. We had a walk-in closet sized room in our house that my mother called “the sewing room.” The room housed her sewing machine and scraps of fabric, but also all kinds of other things like old magazines, container lids, glitter, glue, and broken bits of random objects. This was before there was a Michaels or Hobby Lobby in every city.  

The craft supplies my mother kept for creative projects were mostly things that couldn’t really be used for anything else.  These bits and pieces came in handy. Every time I complained about being bored, my mother would say, “Go make me something.” And I did.

I learned to look at the scraps before me and ask myself, “What if?”  What if I try to do it this way? What if I add this to that? What if I start over and approach this differently? I remember creating a doll that boasted a walnut head and had elbows and knees constructed from the bendy parts of straws. I remember making a duck with Gingko leaf feet whose body was made out of clean, fluffy, white, sculpted toilet paper! I remember creating my own magazine copy for the pictures my mother cut from her magazines and kept in a box.

Today, as an author, I am still asking myself, “What if?” What if my main character does this instead of that? What if I add another character to this scene? Even what if I start over and approach this a different way?

When trying to channel creativity, ask yourself the question “What if?” Then think about possible answers. You’ll soon find you have multiple choices!  Pick the answer you like best and you’ve aced the test! For me, that test is a completed manuscript.

My mother helped me develop a creative mind, and the best way I can repay her is to do the same for my children. In a time where we hear that America’s CQ (Creative Quotient) scores are on the decline, and that testing is pushing creativity out of the classroom, it is crucial that we step in and make sure our children are encouraged to think creatively.  

There are so many ways to do this! In addition to the years I spent in the classroom, I have worked to inspire creativity in children through coaching Odyssey of the Mind, sponsoring a Creativity Club, and working as one of my state’s Teaching Artists. Through these experiences I discovered that no matter what the creative endeavor, there is one simple secret to teaching children to successfully embrace creativity.

You must put tools into their hands.

That’s it! My mother didn’t just throw me into an empty room and tell me to make something. She gave me the tools. The scraps I found in the sewing room were the keys to unlocking my imagination.  At Odyssey of the Mind meetings students don’t create something out of nothing. They are given objects such as paper plates and handful of rubber bands and invited to create something. In other words, they are given tools.

Whether I am teaching poetry, art, or creative thinking, I always supply my students with tools. These tools can be words, objects, or sometimes even a set of simple rules that students must follow during the creative process. For example, a student may be asked to write five lines with a repeated word in the last two lines. Rules like this don’t box students in; they give them something to hold onto as they begin their creative climb!

Student work: Found object fish
Encourage the children in your lives to embrace creativity.  Give them tools and cheer their successes! In doing so, you will unleash creativity’s power!

Kami's daughter's sand art

Kami Kinard values creativity to the extent that in both of her novels THE BOY PROJECT (Scholastic 2012) and THE BOY PROBLEM (Scholastic 2014) the main characters are creative, and their creative thinking helps solve their conflicts. An award-winning teacher, she is the co-founder of Kidlit-Summer School www.nerdychickswrite.com. Find out more about her by visiting her website www.kamikinard.com.

Kami is teaching an online class, Crafting the Kidlit Novel, with fellow author Rebecca Petruck starting October 6. The class will cover the elements of solid novel writing from hook, to pitch, to plot structure, to market discussion. Students will have opportunity for individual feedback from both instructors. (They should count on being asked, “What if?”!) A free critique is being offered to those who register before September 20. Kami would like to extend this offer through September 25 for readers of this post. Send her an email KamiKinard(at)gmail(dot)com with critique in the subject line if you are interested. Click here for a more detailed description of the course: goo.gl/RAFXg9








 



  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Avoiding the Back-to-School Cliche (September theme) by Claudia Mills

Like so many of my fellow Smack-Dabians who have posted thus far this month, I love the start of a new school year, the promise of a clean slate, those heaps and heaps of glorious brand-new school supplies. Because I specialize in writing school stories, I'm always tempted to begin a book with a first-day-of-school scene. Opening chapters are supposed to contain an "inciting incident," a game-changing event that sets in process all that is to come in the rest of the story. What is more of an inciting incident in the life of a child than the beginning of a new school year?

Then I saw "starting a book with a first-day-of-school scene" included on one of those recently circulating lists of middle-school fiction cliches. I had a pang when I saw it. For not only have I been tempted to launch a story in this way, I have published a number of books that do precisely that. It's so awful to be called out for predictability! It's so cringe-worthy to be a cliche!

So in defense of myself, let me suggest ways that we can write about the first day of school that make this standard opening at least a little bit more fresh and new.

1.  Consider why the first day of school is a special challenge for your character. It's not enough to be a new kid in a new school. But maybe your character has always been homeschooled and so is entering the regimented world of public schooling for the first time. Maybe he has a disability - a disfiguring appearance, a cognitive or affective limitation. Or maybe this first day of school is just a defining moment for her at this time in her life story.The heroine of my Dinah for President had been a force to be reckoned with in elementary school (Dynamite Dinah) and now finds herself pitifully anonymous in middle school. The title character of my Lizzie at Last overhears some peers making fun of her during a back-to-school shopping trip and yearns to reinvent herself in seventh grade. The protagonist of my After Fifth Grade, the World gets the meanest teacher in the school and is bound and determined to use her own abundant energy to reform her (with mixed results).

2. Consider introducing some distinctive features to your school that will give your story that ring of the real. Is the school overcrowded, spilling out into portables? Does it share space with another, rival school? Does it have unusual architecture, or an unusual curricular focus? A quirky principal, comical mascot, unique way of displaying school spirit, laughable motto?

3. Don't just take us through the character's opening day, class by class, in a dutiful way. Let each teacher come alive with (briefly given) distinctive mannerisms, unreasonable rules, noteworthy outfits, squirm-inducing get-to-know-you activities -- all of these intersecting with your character's distinctive challenge in a way fruitful for your larger story and character arc.

4. Assignment for the reader: how many different ways can you think of to do something fun with that hugest of all first-day of middle-school challenges - the combination lock? So far I've done two combination lock scenes that I can remember. After finally getting her locker open, Dinah collects her books and slams the locker shut in triumph - only to find that she's caught her skirt in the door. And Cooper in One Square Inch finds himself called a "combination lock genius" and instant sixth grade celebrity for his lock-opening prowess.

Maybe, even after all of this effort, the first-day-of-school scene will remain a cliche. If so, then all I can say is that there are good reasons why some things become writing cliches: it's because they speak so deeply to something so important in the human experience, in this case, in the experience of children who some distant day may be writing their own blog posts on what the first day of school once meant to them.





Tuesday, September 16, 2014

“Middleview” Interview with Debut Author Heidi Schulz


Posted by Tamera Wissinger

Today, Heidi Schulz is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview. Heidi’s debut middle grade novel HOOK’S REVENGE, Disney•Hyperion, releases today: 09/16/2014! Congratulations, Heidi!

Here is a bit about Heidi:

Heidi Schulz is a writer, reader, and giraffe suspicioner. She lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband, co-captaining a crew made of their teen daughter, a terrible little dog, and five irascible chickens. Her debut novel for middle grade readers, HOOK’S REVENGE, will be published by Disney•Hyperion on September 16, 2014. A sequel, HOOK’S REVENGE: THE PIRATE CODE, will follow in fall 2015. Bloomsbury Kids will publish her picture book debut, GIRAFFES RUIN EVERYTHING, in 2016.

Here’s a description of HOOK’S REVENGE:

Twelve-year-old Jocelyn dreams of becoming every bit as daring as her infamous father, Captain James Hook. Her grandfather, on the other hand, intends to see her starched and pressed into a fine society lady. When she’s sent to Miss Eliza Crumb-Biddlecomb’s Finishing School for Young Ladies, Jocelyn’s hopes of following in her father’s fearsome footsteps are lost in a heap of dance lessons, white gloves, and way too much pink.

So when Jocelyn receives a letter from her father challenging her to avenge his untimely demise at the jaws of the Neverland crocodile, she doesn’t hesitate-here at last is the adventure she has been waiting for. But Jocelyn finds that being a pirate is a bit more difficult than she’d bargained for. As if attempting to defeat the Neverland’s most fearsome beast isn’t enough to deal with, she’s tasked with captaining a crew of woefully untrained pirates, outwitting cannibals wild for English cuisine, and rescuing her best friend from a certain pack of lost children, not to mention that pesky Peter Pan who keeps barging in uninvited.

The crocodile’s clock is always ticking in Heidi Schulz’s debut novel, a story told by an irascible narrator who is both dazzlingly witty and sharp as a sword. Will Jocelyn find the courage to beat the incessant monster before time runs out?

Here are the links to Heidi online:  Website | Twitter  | Facebook  | Goodreads

Now it’s time to hear from our guest:

Smack Dab Middleview with HOOK’S REVENGE author Heidi Schulz
1. In a nutshell, what does your main character, Jocelyn, want?

At first, more than anything Jocelyn wants adventure. But when adventure arrives on her doorstep with the charge to go to the Neverland and avenge her father at the jaws of the fierce crocodile that caused his death, it may be more than she bargained for.

Later she wants to fulfill her father’s last request and prove that she is capable, even if she is young and a girl. Only, she worries: What if she can’t?

2. What is in her way?

Her guardian grandfather, her prim headmistress, and even society itself all conspire to keep her from her piratical dreams and attempt to force her to become a lady.

Once she finally breaks out of that prescribed role, so many things threaten to keep her from her goal of avenging Captain Hook, but the biggest of these is her own self-doubt.

3. Did you know right away that this was your story, or did you discover it as you wrote? How did the story evolve?

From the start, I knew Jocelyn’s mission and I knew how I wanted the book to end. I also knew I wanted her finishing school training to come in handy some way. Plot details came about as I wrote my first draft, but the heart and soul of the story—who Jocelyn is, her friendship with Roger, and the emotional resolution—came about with revision.

I am a big fan of revision. Every round shapes and refines a bit more.

4. Was Hook’s Revenge always for middle grade readers or not? If so, why did you choose middle grade? If not, what had to change for it to be considered a middle grade novel?

When I first started writing this book, I didn’t even know what middle-grade was. I didn’t know a lot of things about the business of writing, but I had a story to tell, so I did. I learned the rest as I went along.

In my earliest draft, Jocelyn was nine (still middle grade aged, though on the younger end of the spectrum). As I revised, she got quite a bit older. In the finished book she turns thirteen.

5. What is the best part of writing for middle grade readers?

Middle grade readers are often beginning to question the world and their place in it. It is such a time for change and growth, but at the same time, there is still a sense of wonder. It’s an age when it might still be possible to find Narnia in your wardrobe or receive your acceptance letter to Hogwarts. I love that.

I also feel that for many children, this age range may present a last chance for them to become lifelong readers. If I can inspire a love of reading in just a single child, I will be happier than if I were to win the lottery.


Thanks for joining us at Smack Dab in the Middle Blog, Heidi. Again, congratulations on today’s release of HOOK’S REVENGE! 

Monday, September 15, 2014

September Memories by Danette Vigilante

As a kid of the 70’s, one of the biggest and best highlights of my Septembers were the premieres of new television shows. Back then my days were simple: homework, play outside until mom called me home for dinner (“DA-nette, DA-nette” echoing throughout the entire neighborhood), bath time, and then television until it was time to go to sleep (after going to ‘sleep’ I read beneath my covers way past my bed time).


There was something comforting about how our living room glowed by the blue light of the television set. Even today the theme songs of Mash, The Odd Couple, What’s Happening, Welcome Back Kotter and many others make me feel warm and cozy! 

"Because of Sinclair" - September Theme (Blank Slate) by Bob Krech

Having been a teacher for many years I can relate to earlier posts about how September is that time of clean slates for both students and teachers. Those thoughts brought me right back to my second year of teaching.

I was teaching third grade for the first time in a school that was new to me. I received my room key and my class list and made my way to the second floor of a great old school building. It was a 1930's classic with hardwood floors, high ceilings, and huge windows. My list had 24 boys and girls. One of the veteran teachers on the floor poked her head in. "Do you have your list? Let me take a look."

I handed her the list and she began ticking off the names "Marie. She's sweet. David. Oh, he's nice. He's quiet, but very smart. Tania. She's a bit of a hand full." On and on till she stopped in the middle of the list. "Oh. You have Sinclair. He's just bad. Don't turn your back on that one. He hit a teacher last year!" She shook her head and went on.

As we set up our rooms that day I met another teacher who asked to see my list. I asked her about Sinclair. She was hesitant. "He has a twin brother, Otis. Otis is the nice one. But Sinclair was in a lot of trouble last year." Her mouth turned down. "Then again his father died."

That night I planned my first day. Though I was still a new teacher I knew the beginning would be important. Especially for Sinclair.

Sinclair showed up the first day pimp rolling into the room. Head shaven. Collar of his jacket up. He found his name on a desk and threw himself down in the chair. He stared at the floor. No hello. Not even a glance at me.

I was going to try something I had read about, thought about, but in only my second year, had never yet tried. I asked everyone to come up and take a seat on the carpet. "Okay. Three things I want to do to start us off. One - let's get to know each other." To do that we played a fun memory game that allowed us all to learn each others' names. Sinclair mumbled his name and did not really participate except to smirk to another boy. When I asked him a direct question he just shrugged and looked down.

After the name game, I said, "Two. I have a question for you. Why are we here?" This simple question lead to a great discussion about what their expectations were and what mine were. They were very engaged and visibly surprised. I don't think anyone had ever asked them the question before, but it helped us clarify what the real goals of our year would be and what our beliefs about school were. Sinclair studied his sneakers the whole time, picking at the frayed laces. He never once looked up. When I asked if he wanted to add anything, he shrugged to the floor.

And finally, I made the speech I probably wouldn't have, except for Sinclair. I lowered my voice. "Three. I want you all to know something. Everyone here this year starts with a clean slate."

I said the next words slowly and with emphasis, "I-do-not-care what-you-did-last-year." Sinclair finally looked up. I met his eyes. They actually, visibly widened. I continued locked in, "I don't care if it was great or terrible. I don't care if you got all A's or all F's. It doesn't matter to me what you did on the playground, or in the classroom, or even at home. It means nothing to me."

I paused again. I drew an empty rectangle on the board and wrote under it, "Clean Slate." I turned back to the group. "Your year with me starts today. Right now. This is when we begin." I stopped. "There is no limit to how good we can make this year."

Believe it or not, as hokey as that all sounds, Sinclair really heard those words. He apparently needed to hear those words. I was just lucky I sensed it.

Sinclair turned out to be a fun, intelligent, loyal, trustworthy child. He had his incidents on the playground and could get stubborn and angry, but he always kept it together. He seized his second chance. His blank slate.

Because of Sinclair, every September for the rest of my teaching career, I drew that empty rectangle on the board and talked very deliberately about the clean slate.








Sunday, September 14, 2014

“Middleview” Interview with Debut Author Edith Cohn

Posted by Tamera Wissinger

Today, Edith Cohn is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview. Edith’s debut middle grade novel SPIRIT’S KEY, FSG/Macmillan released on 09/09/2014! Congratulations, Edith!

Here is a bit about Edith:

Photo by:
Rita Crayon Huang
Edith Cohn was born and raised in North Carolina where she grew up exploring the unique beaches of the Outer Banks. She currently lives in the coyote-filled hills of Los Angeles with her husband and fur-daughter Leia. All of these things provided inspiration for her debut middle grade novel, SPIRIT’S KEY, a mystery about a girl and her ghost dog coming soon from FSG/Macmillan.

Here’s a description of SPIRIT’S KEY:

By now, twelve-year-old Spirit Holden should have inherited the family gift: the ability to see the future. But when she holds a house key in her hand like her dad does to read its owner’s destiny, she can’t see anything. Maybe it’s because she can’t get over the loss of her beloved dog, Sky, who died mysteriously. Sky was Spirit’s loyal companion, one of the wild dogs that the local islanders believe possess dangerous spirits. As more dogs start dying and people become sick, too, almost everyone is convinced that these dogs and their spirits are to blame—except for Spirit. Then Sky’s ghost appears, and Spirit is shaken. But his help may be the key to unlocking her new power and finding the cause of the mysterious illness before it’s too late.

Here are the links to Edith online: Website, Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook

Now it’s time to hear from our guest:

Smack Dab Middleview with SPIRIT’S KEY author Edith Cohn
1. In a nutshell, what does Spirit want?
Spirit wants to be with her dog Sky--running up and down the sand dunes or swimming in the ocean together.




2. What is in her way? 
Death.




3. Did you know right away that this was your story, or did you discover it as you wrote? How did the story evolve? 
I knew I wanted to write a story about a kid and a ghost dog. But at first I thought the main character would be a boy and that he'd live in a city with his dog who'd be hit by a car. And I had what I thought was a separate book idea about a girl and a dead body washed ashore on the beach. It was only when I realized that the body was a dog that the two stories came together to become the mystery of twelve-year-old Spirit, a psychic girl, and the ghost of her pet dog, Sky.




4. Was SPIRIT'S KEY always for middle grade readers or not? If so, why did you choose middle grade? If not, what had to change for it to be considered a middle grade novel? 

Yes. I always knew this was a middle grade novel. My previous (unpublished) novels were all young adult, but I knew this idea was best suited for middle graders. The only problem was that I was terrified to try to write it. All my favorite books were middle grade and I felt the bar was higher than I could reach. Books like The Giver, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Secret Garden, The Mixes Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Lord of the Flies--holy cow middle grade books are amazing, you know? So I held on to the idea for a year and a half before I figured out how to start writing it. I had to tell myself no one would see it. I whispered to my laptop that it would be our little secret.
5. What is the best part of writing for middle grade readers? 
So far the best part is getting to read lots of middle grade novels and call it "work" or "research." And I look forward to connecting with kids directly again. I used to teach 7th grade, but it's been awhile since I've been in a classroom. It'll be nice to do school visits, to teach writing and talk about books.

Thanks for joining us at Smack Dab in the Middle Blog, Edith. Again, congratulations on the release of SPIRIT’S KEY!

Friday, September 12, 2014

September Memories

There was always a ritual for Back to School. My sister and I looked forward to it at the end of August.  By now, summer had worn thin; we were bored and anxious to get back to school to see our friends. And, we wanted new clothes to start the school year.
 Every September 2nd, Mom, my sister and I headed to the local shopping center - there were no indoor malls near us - for our Back-To-School outfits.  We always got three new dresses. (In those days, girls didn't wear pants to school.)  Why three?  One for each day of the first week of school - Wednesday, Thursday, Friday of Labor Day week.  It was an all day adventure, making the most of a taxi ride since neither of my parents drove or had a car.

We'd try on dozens of dresses as Mom waited patiently, until we settled on just the right ones.  Then it was on to shoe shopping, again trying on endless pairs until the perfect shoes were found.  Once we had them, we'd get new socks and underwear to go with it all.  Depending on the fashion of the time, we'd also get hairbands, barrettes, or bows  to enhance our new "dos".  We'd get haircuts or perms, to match the whims of style.    
Then it was on to school supplies.  Brand new notebooks, loose leaf binders, pencils, pens, rulers, crayons and construction paper.  I took almost as much care selecting these mundane items.  To me, the sight and smell of fresh paper and newly sharpened pencils was anything but mundane.  It meant a new beginning, a fresh start to try something different.

We'd be exhausted after the long day of shopping.  We'd pick up an order of Chicken Chop Suey from the Chinese restaurant before getting the cab back home.

Laying everything out on the bed when we got home filled me with pride and satisfaction.  With new outfits - lovingly chosen - and fresh supplies stacked and ready, I could conquer the world.  At least the K-8 world!

Do today's kids get that same feeling about back to school shopping?  Dressing up in your best clothes, the pride of having your own "gear" and feeling a sense of anticipation?  I still get "goose-bumpy" when I see those Back-To-School displays.  With my own children grown and out on their own, I've had to channel my enthusiasm in a positive direction. So, every year, I load up on notebooks, pencils and all the goodies. Only now, I fill up two backpacks and donate them to OPERATION BACKPACK to give other children a chance to feel that special feeling.  Everyone should have the thrill of a "fresh start" and a new beginning. 

Happy September.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

September Theme Post from Jody Feldman

Thoughts and Things from Then


Still vivid in my memory, there are balsa-wood airplanes and Sunday quarters and fall-apart brisket and fried chicken and lemon meringue pies and other trademarks of my grandparents. These are the things stories are made of. Bus excursions to mid-week movies, waffles from scratch, leather factory smells, hands calloused by the strings that used to bind newspapers into tight rolls.

We all have so many personal details burnt into our memories, but the times they come alive for us is when we can also recall the facial expressions, the tone of voice, the emotions behind them. And only then can we begin to make our readers feel what we did once upon a time.
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How can one write a blog post on "Remembering" -- on September 11 -- without a heartfelt mention of those who lost friends and family and to those who showed unparalleled bravery and compassion. I can't even imagine your difficult memories. I wish you millions of beautiful ones to stand to their side or

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


September Theme: KNOTHOLE REFLECTIONS
By Marcia Thornton Jones

I like what Kentucky author Jim Shields says in his book of poetry, KNOTHOLE REFLECTIONS ON LIFE’S PARADE. “Perhaps life can best be described as simply a series of snapshots strung together with time. The old adage ‘Watching a parade through a knothole in the fence’ seems so appropriate to describe our ability to observe and reflect upon the unfolding experiences of our lives in contiguous, single frames.”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but my personal ‘snapshots’ backlit with intense emotion are always the most vivid, and using them as springboards for writing helps me emotionally connect to character and story. If I don’t have a personal memory that fits my story, I find that peeking through the knothole at my parade of memories until I find one with the same emotion one of my characters is experiencing enables me to write scenes with more authenticity and immediacy. And, in some small way, using those memories makes them more meaningful—as if the experience was necessary for a bigger purpose that I just wasn’t ready to understand at the time.

Why not give it a try? The next time you find your scene a bit awkward and stilted, peek through the knothole at your own personal parade of memories. Find one with the same emotional heft and describe—not the actual memory—but what it felt like. Then find emotional connection to your story by transferring your freewriting to one of your characters.

Reflections
By Jim Shields

Commotion in the kitchen
And the slamming of a door,
Noisy footsteps down the hallway
Precious sounds I hear no more.

Those countless interruptions
Interfering with my day,
Memories in books and boxes…
All grown up and gone away.

(Quote, poem text, and photographs printed with permission of the author.)