Sunday, January 23, 2022

Smack Dab in the Fires of Imagination by Dia Calhoun

Here in the dark Pacific Northwest winter, I long for color. January’s gemstone is the welcome fiery red of the garnet. For me, this winter hasn’t been a time of stillness and sleep. Living in a rural area, in the isolation of covid, and in the dark days of winter have turned my energy inward. Energy usually spent dealing with the outer world has to go somewhere. I’ve had a flare of creativity on the second draft of a book I’ve been working on--on-again-off-again--for the past two years. Think writing from the deep places. Think fiery red fissures in the earth. Think Persephone in the underworld. 

Garnet, from the Latin “granatus" means a grain or seed, which may relate to the pomegranate. The deep red of the garnet resonates with the heart, blood, and according to some sources, wounds and sacrifice. In older versions of the myth, Persephone chose the descent. I'm not sure I have, but I'm grateful to have been swept somehow down in the red heat of descent. I'm writing with more passion than I've felt in some time. And I'm writing fearlessly. 

Long may the creative flare last—or at least until I bring this book back up from the underworld with the daffodils of spring. Look for me then.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

All the Revisions

January marks a new time, a fresh start, new dreams for empty pages. 

I’ve been working on revisions for my agent the last five months. Back and forth we go. She is single most challenging of this particular piece of my work, and I appreciate what she’s sees in me and my work. This manuscript. It’s not my usual style. It was not meant to be a manuscript at all. It was a few pages of characters who kept me company during a brutal winter. 

It grew, though. And grew. And grew. My critique partners told me it was "...the best thing I'd ever written."

Somehow, those characters won out. They say "...write the book you love and want to see..." Because, yes. You will read this over and over and over and then some more. Indeed, I’ve spent more time on these than any other of my manuscripts. I see the potential and direction my agent is pushing me in. So despite a new year, it’s still evolving from the past. 

As writers, we all must shove aside the doubt and fear. We have to believe in ourselves and our work. 

I look forward to writing something new after this - after I’ve done my best work here. Writing keeps building. It keeps building me. 

I’ve got the foundation. I just don’t know where all the rooms go. 

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Patricia Gable on Writing & Publishing The Right Address


Welcome to The Right Address! It’s my new novel, set in the 1980’s, about two children who run away from a foster home. When Annie, the oldest, hears that she may be separated from her little brother, Willie, she knows this can’t happen. Their adventure begins! In the middle of the night, they trudge through the snow to a small town. They hide in an alley, not noticing a man watching them. How will they survive? How does this strange man help them? But most importantly, will they find their forever home?

 

In 2005, I entered a 24-hour short story contest. The contest began with a few sentences and the writers had to springboard from that. My entry earned honorable mention. I moved on, but the story always intrigued me. When my sister suggested that we take a novel writing class, I decided to resurrect that story.

 

Because I had only written short stories and non-fiction articles, this was an ambitious learning experience. I needed to add more details (I can still hear the instructor’s voice saying that.)

And POV…what’s that? I was determined to get through it. And now I love it, and am working on a sequel to this novel.

 

Booklocker is the company that published my book.  The hardest part was the paperwork:  deciding on the format, the key audience, the kind of cover, and so on. I worked with the cover designer, who did not have a vision of what was needed. So, I used photos from DreamTime.com to enhance the cover. There are no pictures inside the book.

 

Holding the book in my hands, when it was first delivered to me, made me cry with joy. And when the glow wore off, I found out that it was time to market the book! So, now I am absorbing all I can about marketing. I can’t rely on friends and family to buy up all the books! But networking certainly helps.

 

As I mentioned, I have already started on the next book in the series, The Right Choice. The main character, Christopher, struggles to fit into the same small town. When he helps Willie, who has an accident, will his opinion of the town change?

 

You can find The Right Address on Amazon, Barnes and Noble online, Books a Million, and other book sellers including Booklocker.

 

Patricia Gable

patriciag.net

 

 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Historical Fiction and the Living Past

 As you know, I write and talk a lot about  historical fiction, focusing on American history. (I also write  American historical fantasy, but that’s another discussion).  I’ve written before that history is more than dates. History is people, too. In the best of historical fiction, as with any story, a child becomes a hero who gains power over her situation, a theme that contemporary readers appreciate. For my  first post of the new year, I revisit my thoughts on the matter, and reinforce my belief that  all history is a story.

“Historical fiction helps young readers develop a feeling for a living past, illustrating the continuity of life,” says Karen Cushman, a  master writer of historical fiction. Historical fiction, “like all good history, demonstrates how history is made up of the decisions and actions of individuals and that the future will be made up of our decisions and actions.”

 But, historical fiction defies easy explanation. For some, historical fiction is first and foremost fiction, and therefore anything goes. Others condemn the blending of invention with well-known and accepted facts, and consider the genre a betrayal.

Nothing about history is obvious, and facts are often open to interpretation. Once upon a time, it was considered factual that the world was flat, that blood-letting was the proper way of treating disease, that women were emotionally and physically incapable of rational thought. In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but he didn’t discover America. In fact, some would say he was less an explorer and more of a conqueror. History tends to be written by those who survived it. As such, no history is without its bias. The meaning of history, just as it is for the novel, lays “not in the chain of events themselves, but on the historian’s [and writer’s] interpretation of it,” as Jill Paton Walsh once noted.

For these reasons, writing historical fiction can be very challenging. I explore my own process in researching and creating  a protagonist living during the Revolutionary War:

“In order to understand [the protagonist’s life] , I had to explore the larger contexts of her story: as the daughter of a royal military officer, living on the (then) frontier, during the time of a profoundly changing political and social upheaval that ultimately led the revolutionary war. Some facts, such as dates of specific events and troop movements (and so on), are fixed points in time. Much of what happened has been glossed over, reduced to dates in a textbook. Other facts have been ignored. But history is more than dates. History is people, too… Staying true to the times and the people, I did imagine discussions, often extrapolating from their own writings if I could find them. Also, I didn’t want to oversimplify the contradictions of a [the times]  that focused on independence for some, but not for others."

Writing historical fiction is an act of defiance, according to Elizabeth Partridge at the Horn Book:

“To write about ordinary people caught in times of huge, historic change, I inhabit an oddly transparent double-world: there is my ordinary, rather mundane life, and then there is the world of the book I am working on. I’m immersed in a time of conflict and bitterness, digging in and sorting out as best I can, to raise up the stronghearted who help make the world a little better. These days I’m working on lives as different as Frederick Law Olmsted and his tireless efforts in the nineteenth century to create open, free, public parks in our cites; and Hung Liu, a contemporary Chinese American artist whose paintings focus on society’s outcasts.

Setting word against word, I’m rubbing flint against stone, trying to set off sparks. I’m looking for readers I know are out there: kids with courageous hearts, who know things aren’t right. Kids who want to make things better, but don’t know how.”


Crystal King at Literary Hub introduces ten authors, focusing on why historical fiction is more important than ever:

“Famous essayist and diarist Anaïs Nin used to say, We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.’  Nowhere is that more true than in historical fiction, which allows readers to step inside the minds of those who have shaped the world we live in, and to imagine the all-too human side of history.”

Justin O’Donnell at Publishers Weekly makes an argument why historical fiction is here to stay:

“… history isn’t really about the past. It’s about human nature. We use the genre as a lens to see ourselves in a different age. To write on the human condition is to write with a reliance on history. Elements such as political consciousness, large-scale conflicts, revolutions, opposing factions, questions about government, economy, society, culture: all of these contribute to that theory…

“Kerney wrote that “history is all around us, a continuum on which the past, present, and the future interact constantly.” It is precisely this interaction—this conversation between past and present, and present and future—that is driving this “new” trend in literature. Historical fiction is not vanishing at all, but changing for the better.”

Ellen Klages, at Brightly: Raise Kids Who Love to Read, explores the many reasons why reading historical fiction is more important than ever:

“Good historical fiction opens a dialogue between the past and the present. The attitudes of the past, from the more enlightened perspective of a present-day reader, may seem wrong-headed, even ugly; many social norms were not questioned, not then. There are no warning labels on history. People smoked and didn’t know it was bad for them. Women and minorities were treated like second-class citizens and denied fundamental rights. Unfortunately, that same racism, sexism, abuse of power are all part of today’s headlines... I think it’s important for kids to be aware that the past was often less than savory, that they learn about what actually happened, not what some would like to pretend it was like."

David McCullough, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote, “We are raising a generation of young Americans who are by and large historically illiterate…We have to know who we were if we’re to know who we are and where we’re headed…If you don’t care about it –if you’ve inherited some great fortune, you don’t even know that it’s a great work of art and you’re not interested in it – you’re going to lose it…” 

 History is literature, McCullough says. And our history is full of amazing stories.

-- Bobbi Miller


Friday, January 14, 2022

Ambitious versus Practical in the teaching world by: Jennifer Mitchell

 As a teacher when a new year rolls around I feel like I always have great ambition to try new things, make a bigger difference, and obviously change the world with my students. :)  Over time I have learned that trying new things can be exciting and engaging for kids, but at times shiny and new isn’t always better.  One of the areas that in my opinion doesn’t have to have a new and ambitious approach is writing.  This year my students seemed to struggle with the whole idea of getting their thoughts on their paper, and I realized that going back to the basics, and getting them comfortable with writing, was what I needed to do.


At times I think writing is overwhelming for kids (it can be for adults too!), and we just expect them to know how to get started and make sense of their thoughts.  For me I seemed to have more success this year when I had my students start at the basics of writing complete sentences, move to paragraphs, and then multi-paragraph writing.  We accomplished some of that by having a daily writing journal.  We had a topic, created four boxes with ideas/ pictures, and then wrote the four ideas in sentence form learning how to create a paragraph.  Once we had that mastered we moved into specific areas of writing – examples are personal narrative, opinion, persuasive and report writing.  


I wanted to be ambitious and move at a faster pace with my students, and their writing, but being practical and slowing down and building on a solid foundation was the way to have more success.  I feel like with the daily practice and feedback, my students have gained confidence in their writing ability and are more willing to engage in the writing process.




Jennifer Mitchell-- teacher in the Kansas City area


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Out With the Old Ideas by Darlene Beck Jacobson

 It's small, made of wood, with two drawers. Functional, unassuming, and some might even say institutional.

But make no mistake. Inside those drawers are the hopes, dreams, and plans of a writer. 

                            Early drafts from pre-publication days.

                                Small press short story successes. 

                                File after file of failed manuscripts.

                            All saved with the thought that maybe they can be 

                                                        reworked

                                                        reimagined

                                                        reanimated

Into what exactly has never been clear or to the point. The point is they showed the efforts of putting pen to paper. Failures though they may be, they were a foundation this writer used to build success.

                                But maybe success can be found in other ways. 

                                        In a favorable review of our work

                             In a workshop to teach want-to-be-authors the craft

                       When someone's enthusiasm for our books get passed along. 


File by file, piece by piece, I am going through these relics. As I read each one, I appreciate the struggles, and earnest hopefulness of a writer who wants to share her stories with the world. 

                        Savoring the memories of how the stories were inspired

                                        smiling at a lovely turn-of-phrase

               recognizing a character with potential who might shine in another time and place 




Tucking these bits aside, out with the rest.
 

The result may not be a completely empty file cabinet, but it will definitely lay to rest the notion that everything needs to be saved. In case. 

The dead manuscript boat has sailed. But the hopes, dreams, and plans of a writer are still on shore, ready to board another boat.

                    casting into new waters, 

                    searching for new ideas,

            unanchored and unburdened by the old.


Won't you set sail with me? There's a whole new world to wonder and write about.

May all our voyages be ones of discovery.


Darlene Beck Jacobson has had more than a few laughs and groans reading some of her old, abandoned manuscripts. She is working on new projects from her home in NJ.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Out with the Colosseum; In with the Orbs

 by Jody Feldman

Rome, Italy 2015



For seven months running, the Colosseum greeted me every time I turned on my computer. Yes, it was a beautiful, wonderful, so-much-fun trip, but I set the picture on my home screen for an entirely different reason: to taunt me. "Get back to work, Jody! You have a book to write! A deadline to meet!" (Not coincidentally, Rome serves as the backdrop for my YA thriller coming this August.)  

Museum of Dream Space,
Los Angeles 2021
But now that NO WAY HOME has left my control, another picture is kicking my butt into the chair. This one. Also not coincidentally, orbs play an important role in my middle grade work-in-progress, a story that may have more potential than anything I've ever written. That should be enough to draw me back to my revision, but the pressure of crafting the sentences and scenes to match the vision is often intimidating. The truth is, my home screen pictures also work like cheerleaders to help power me through those times when I’m doubting my ability to put the right words in the right order.

So, new year, new picture, yes. New month, new picture, sometimes. In fact, I'm hoping that by the time you read my next Smack Dab post, the orb-filled MG will be out of my hands and into my agent's. 

After that...

Buffalo Bull, Grazing on the Prairie
by George Catlin

Jody Feldman, author of The Gollywhopper Games series is cautiously booking school visits (elementary, middle, high schools) for April and after. She can’t wait to get back and talk to readers in person! You can reach out in the comments or more directly at jody@jodyfeldman.com

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Cleaning House -- by Jane Kelley

It's revision time!

In the life of a writer, it's almost always revision time. For the rest of the world, the month of January is when we try to look back at the past -- and try to figure out what needs fixing so that we can progress to our beautiful futures.

The simplest way to do that is to shed some pounds, whether they're dust or clutter or actual flesh. Marie Kondo would have us discard anything that does not spark joy. 

Writers are often advised to "kill our darlings." That doesn't just mean cutting the really lovely description of a crow flapping its ragged wings. Sometimes, sadly, that means jettisoning the entire novel in which that sentence appears. 

Pounding away at a project that isn't going anywhere is frustrating. It also takes us away from working on a project that has a much greater chance of having a life. But I would advise us all to take care. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. 


Or, Das Kind mit dem Bade ausschütten, as Thomas Murner cautioned readers in his 1512 book titled Appeal to Fools.

The warning makes a little sense. In the days before indoor plumbing, after the whole family had scrubbed themselves clean in the same tub, the water was so dirty that it was hard to see the baby. 

The question I ask myself when I revise is:  was it a bad idea or just bad writing? (I also ask myself if I really want to be a writer. But I know the answer to that is really yes.)

So go ahead. Clean that closet. Kill those darlings. And remember the saying means check first. It doesn't mean don't throw out the dirty water. And it certainly doesn't mean don't take a bath. 

Jane Kelley is the author of the unpublishable novel with crows and many other middle grade novels, including The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya, in which many other birds did take flight.