The Revision Cave: All In

As a middle school educator I taught the writing process as a series of steps that separated “revision” from “editing.” Revision, I told my students had to do with answering the big questions that a reader had about your work. It was the writer’s chance to go deeper, be more specific, cut what didn’t work, be clear. Editing on the other hand was about the conventions: spelling, grammar, etc. (By the way if you teach writing I highly recommend Kate Messner’s, REAL REVISION)

At some point in the journey of my writing career, someone at some conference or workshop or lecture pointed out the obvious that the word revision is re-vision or “to see again in a new way.” I took on this definition as my mantra and thus, each revision has turned into a massive undertaking where I basically re-write a manuscript.

It doesn’t start that way. It usually starts with finding a better beginning. Beginnings are hard and many writers talk about a necessary writing to the end in order to fine tune a beginning again (and again). Of course, my fine tuning sets off a ripple effect throughout the entire manuscript. When faced with a section of manuscript that doesn’t work, I pinpoint the problem, I brainstorm solutions then I try it. (“Try it”–is another good piece of advice that can be an entrance to a revision blackhole.) How about a whole new character, Anna? And what if you add an epistolary element? What if, what if, what if…?

I’m pleased to say that I’ve been making steady progress in the revision cave for the last two weeks! My word count each day has hovered around 1000 as I reorder, rewrite, and rediscover the story I am trying to tell. I am going deeper, being more specific, cutting what didn’t work, being clear. Here are a few other things that I’m working on that you might notice in your work:

Where Does the Scene End:
I often end a scene where it will make a good chapter ending–one that doesn’t let the arc of that scene come to resolution, one that keeps the reader a little on their toes. This is a good thing unless, I haven’t given the reader everything they need. When I haven’t, I seem to start the next scene with a quick summation of what the reader missed. Sometimes this info is crucial to the emotional arc of the character. It should have happened “in-scene.” I am looking for these places in the work and rewriting to show the emotions instead.

Tension Makes Me Tense:
I am a pantser by nature but recent workshops with David Macinnis Gill and re-readings of Vogler’s,THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, and McKee’s, STORY have reminded me that plotting and outlining helps. I struggle to make the tension rise throughout a story and sometimes fall into and episodic (good fodder for another post) form of story telling. In this revision, I’ve listed the steps of the hero’s journey and jotted down the scenes that will happen at each of these crucial points. This organizing tool has been incredibly helpful. I’ve also written out what I see as my MC’s controlling belief (an idea I gleaned from Kathi Appelt and Franny Billingsley ) and I’ve added to that a question that describes her emotional arc. I make sure that each scene addresses in someway my MC’s belief and question (and desire but that’s also another post). This forces me to stay on track in the plotting.
Controlling belief: My mother left because she thought I was ugly and useless.
Question: Am I worthy of people’s love?

I guess these are similar but it has helped me.

Who Hates You Baby:
As students we learned the different types of conflict: man v. man, man v. self, man v. society, man v. nature, man v. machine. (Man! We’ll assume that is short for human.)
I was convinced that my book was MC v. self but part of the lack of tension in my manuscript came from the lack of a clear antagonist. I struggled with this idea, but in this revision I’ve chosen to clarify the antagonist and amp up the adversarial nature of their relationship.

I’ll be back in the revision cave come Monday but for now… out of the cave and into the mountains!

Copyright: fredlyfish4 / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: fredlyfish4 / 123RF Stock Photo

Summer Reading Rocks!

I’ve tried all summer to pull away from the lure of the screen: lap top, desk top, and iPhone. Instead, I spent July teaching horseback riding, taking kids on creek hikes, picking berries, singing and more as a camp counselor at Eagle’s Nest Camp (a camp that I went to as a child and counseled at during my 20’s). June and August were dedicated to my client MaineShare as I helped them coordinate the MaineShare Fair an event that will take place next week (September 9th) in Portland, Maine.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time out on the Androscoggin River rowing and coaching others. Eagles, herons and leaping fish were a gift as I glided over some amazingly smooth water. I slipped my middle grade work in progress into sunny summer slivers of time thinking deeply and working on a revision that amplifies desire, conflict and tension.

Even with all this incredible activity I made time to read. I embraced audio books with the amazing FREE audio book summer reading program at SYNC. These books filled the time on the long drive from Maine to North Carolina and back. And without Facebook, I had plenty of time to sink into a book at night. At the beginning of the year, I’d challenged myself to read 26 books thinking that one every other week would be great, but I’ve already exceeded that goal. Now I’ve increased that goal to 40 (but really I’m hoping for 52).

I have a number of adult and poetry books on my list for fall but I’m super excited about Melanie Crowder’s next (her 3rd) novel A Nearer Moon that launches next week, and Meg Wiviott’s debut novel Paper Hearts that launches TODAY!

      

Congrats to Meg and Melanie!

Now on with my summer reading list! (Books are listed in the order I read them starting in June.)

MONSTER, Walter Dean Myers (audio book). This is an amazing full cast presentation with an extra from the author explaining his research process and his interviews with numerous incarcerated young men. Highly recommended.

BUDDHA BOY, Kathe Koja (audio book). Bullying and acceptance.

MATERIAL GIRLS, Elaine Dimopoulos (eGalley from Net Galley). More on this in a later post. Highly recommended.

CIRCUS MIRANDUS, Cassie Beasley. Gentle, loving, and magical to its core, this book is the one you want to read aloud to your students this school year. It will draw your too-big-for-read-aloud-books back to your embrace. (Evidence: my 6 foot 2 inch high school sophomore beside me nightly.) Highly recommended.

THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE: THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND, Dan Santat. Caldecott winner 2015.

EL DEAFO, Cece Bell. Newbery Honor. I was especially interested in this because my major was ASL in college. I wanted to see how Bell handled the Deaf community. The book is about the main character’s struggles to fit in with her Hearing family and mainstream life even though her mother is eager to have her learn ASL. By the end of the book, her interest is piqued and I got the feeling that had the book gone on the girl may have explored the Deaf Community more. There is an excellent author’s note about the spectrum of culture and language in the Deaf Community. Highly recommended.

BROWN GIRL DREAMING, Jacqueline Woodson. What can I say about this memoir in verse that hasn’t already been said? The book won the National Book Award Winner, Coretta Scott King Award, Newbery Honor, an NAACP Image Award, and is featured on many many lists. Highly recommended.

CROWS & CARDS, Joseph Helgerson (audio book). A fun recording that harkens back to pre-Civil War days, river boat scoundrels, and Mark Twain language and humor.

THE CROSSOVER, Alexander Kwame. Newbery Winner 2015.

THE SKIN I’M IN, Sharon Flake. I picked this middle grade up at a library book sale and so glad I did. First pubbed in 1998, if you loved JUMPED by Rita Williams-Garcia you’ll be engaged by Maleeka’s struggle to love herself. Highly Recommended.

STORY OF A GIRL, Sara Zarr. A quiet YA novel that digs deeply into self acceptance, family and forgiveness.

#ireadYA Week Booklists, Badges and More!

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Click here to get your own badge (lots of pretty colors!) for all your social media #ireadYA love!

As a writer, I read widely: poetry, adult, children’s, nonfiction, memoir and despite the opinion of Slate’s, Ruth Graham (2014), I am not embarrassed to read (or write) YA. I often find the plotting more streamlined, the description more economical, the character development and their desire line more transparent and intense, the endings not happy but hopeful, and none of that is easy to do. I promise (she said glancing at the stack of revision notes beside her.) In fact, I recently read a review of an adult book that said, “if you can stick it out until chapter 13, things really get moving.” I’m still going to read that adult book because I’m interested in the topic and the writing but really? Chapter 13?

Here are some of my most recent favorite YA reads from my Goodreads list.
Audacity, Melanie Crowder
Fly on the Wall, E. Lockhart
How It Went Down, Kekla Magoon
I’ll Give You The Sun, Jandy Nelson
Out of the Easy, Ruta Sepetys
and I’m currently reading This Song Will Save Your Life, Leila Sales.

Here’s a great list from Book Riot that you might want to take a look at:
30 Diverse YA Titles To Get on Your Radar 

And the Spring 2015 Kids’ Indie Next List

Whatever you read, enjoy it.

This beautiful image used with permission, can be purchased from Abbie Smith on her Etsy Site: AbbieImagine. Click the image to see her many Typography Posters.

2014 BOOKLIST ROUNDUP

This time of year I get a lot of requests for great gift suggestions for children’s and Young Adult books. The thing is, this year has been incredibly busy. My reading has included more nonfiction, personal, and adult titles (read: self-help) and my reviewing ground to a sad halt around Valentine’s Day of 2014. However, there is no need to despair. Below please find a round up of some of the best lists for children’s book in the #kidlitosphere and beyond! (If you have a favorite list that I don’t mention here, please note it in the comments.)

#weneeddiversebooks: Find a plethora of postings about books with diverse characters from characters of color, to those facing disabilities, to characters who are questioning or identify as part of the GLBTQ community.

The Brown Bookshelf: is always my go-to website when I’m looking for books with characters of color. Thanks to Don Tate and others for keeping this blog current and relevant!

Pragmatic Mom: Mia Wenjen is another amazing blogger with incredible multicultural lists. Don’t miss her list for children’s books that feature Asian Americans. She also has nonfiction, biography, and age specific lists.

Sporty Girl Books: Well of course I’m going to mention my group blog. This year, we are soliciting best sporty girl books of the year so add your own suggestions in the comments of yesterday’s post. We always have tabs on the blog menu for books that are age specific.

At Brain Pickings: Maria Popova has gathered a Best Children’s Books of 2014 that focuses on “Intelligent and imaginative tales of love, loneliness, loyalty, loss, friendship, and everything in between.” She has a very extensive post that shows interior illustrations and thoughtful commentary.

The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature: Gave us a long list, a short list, and a fabulous and lovely winner, Jacqueline Woodson for BROWN GIRL DREAMING. Take a look.

Stuff for the Teen Age: The New York Public Library has lists upon lists for teen readers and if you don’t trust the lions in Manhattan, who can you trust?

Bank Street College of Education: Also in New York, this well-known and trusted program posts a link to their BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR PDF. They also sort the books by age.

The New York Time’s Best Illustrated Books: Also and again from New York…read: maybe I should move to Brooklyn… School Library Journal is reblogging this list on their own site.

Buy Books for Black Friday: Ingrid Sundberg has a great post at INGRID’S NOTES that features a number of my good friends and fellow alumni from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Fabulously written books. Enough said.

The ALSC List: The Association of Library Services to Children division of the American Library Association creates a list of Notable Titles each year. Award winners are in this list as well. Don’t miss the YALSA (young adult) titles or the Graphic Novels appropriate for teens either. Just be aware that these are chosen at the 2014 Midwinter (January) conference so they focus on books pubbed in 2013.

Whadya think? Enough? I’d love to see more graphic novel lists. If you have or love a “best of children’s and YA books of 2014” let me know.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day January 27th

This post is reblogged from Pragmatic Mom. You can follow the author, Mia Wenjen on Twitter @pragmaticmom, on Pintrest, or on Facebook.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day

January 27, 2014

Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

 Children’s reading and play advocates Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom have teamed up to create an ambitious (and much needed) national event.  On January 27th, Jump into a Book and Pragmatic Mom will be presenting the first ever Multicultural Children’s Book Day as a way of celebrating diversity in children’s books.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

Meet your hosts and co-creators of Multicultural Children’s Book Day.

Valarie Budayr

Valarie Budayr of Jump Into a Book is a best-selling children’s author of The Fox Diaries: The Year the Foxes Came to our Garden and The Ultimate Guide To Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. She is passionate about making kid’s books come alive and is proud to be a play and reading advocate. Valarie’s mission is to inspire children,families, and communities, to experience and create our world together while having fun.

MiaMedium

Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom is a Harvard grad with a love  of children’s books (picture books through YA) and sneaking in teachable moments in art, science, math, foreign language and language arts. Mia is passionate about getting kids excited about reading and helping parents ensure that their child is successful at school.

Here are some ways you can help us celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day

  • Have children bring in their favorite multicultural book to school on this day and share it with the class.
  • Have a special Multicultural Children’s Book Day book read aloud time.
  • Create a Multicultural Children’s Book Day display around the classroom or library.
  • Read Around the Continents and Countries. Great resources list at JumpIntoaBook.com and PragmaticMom.com
  • Visit The Multicultural Children’s Book Day page at Jump Into a Book.
  • Visit our Multicultural Books for Kids Pinterest Board for more reading ideas.
  • Do a craft or activity presented on Jump Into a Book or Pragmatic Mom which relates to the many cultures in our world.

Great deals on quality used books for kids!

The Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, Maine is having their annual book sale on Saturday, November 16 from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm in the Morrell Meeting Room. All  items are on sale for $1 or less. ONE DOLLAR! You just can’t beat that but to sweeten the deal, if you come, you’ll get to say hello to local author/illustrator Charlotte Agell who will be on hand from 10-noon to sketch children’s portraits. My kids (now teens) still love the portraits she did when they were small. Hope to see you there!

The lovely Charlotte Agell. Her YA, picture books, and chapter book images are below.

We Shall Overcome: With the help of great books and movies that help us remember history

Last night I saw Lee Daniel’s The Butler and it was a privilege.

The story takes on a sweeping scope of civil rights history from the point of view of Cecil Gaines, a White House butler, from his cotton field origins in 1926 to the present day. You can see the timeline here. The film is an amazing juxtaposition of Cecil’s life and the life of his son Louis. Louis, leaves for college and joins the Freedom Riders. He sits at the all white counters of Woolworths.

Teachers interested in this time period should look at Andrea Davis Pinkney’s, SIT IN.

Louis’s activism lands him in prison with Dr. King, and leads him to the Black Panthers.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail is available in book form and on the internet.
Do not miss Rita Williams-Garcia’s, ONE CRAZY SUMMER.

The whole time, his father is serving white presidents and their guests, excelling at a profession that requires him to be invisible. The fabulous editing of this film allows the viewer to see the “subversive, not subservient” (a line from Dr. King in the movie) contribution of the butler on the path to equality. While many in the African-American movie have been concerned about the constant characterization of Blacks as maids and butlers, I found the back and forth between Cecil and his son balancing.

Kadir Nelson’s fabulous illustrations are always awe inspiring.

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The timing of the film release, so close to the 50th Anniversary of The March on Washington, could not have been accidental, and while I wish that my 12 and 14 year olds had been in the theater with me (They wanted to see Percy Jackson Sea of Monsters and came out hating it. “Nothing like the book.”) I’m even more pleased to see that THE WATSON’S GO TO BIRMINGHAM has been made into a Hallmark movie to air on September 20th.


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Mr. Sharp and Mr. Schu have an amazing post and giveaway at Watch. Connect. Read. about the movie. They post a link to teacher resources and a great collection of video interviews with Christopher Paul Curtis, the cast, and other folks involved in the making of the movie. I hope you’ll check it out. The most moving moment in the trailer is this quote from Bryce Clyde Jenkins, the young actor who plays Kenny Watson.

“The thing that I like most about this story is that it’s a real historical event. This allows people to get a perspective of what people went through so people like me could be where they are now. It’s a really life changing lesson. It makes you feel grateful for what you have.”

Go see Lee Daniel’s The Butler. Then, on Friday, September 20th is a Friday make a date with your children, or have a house party and invite the neighborhood to see and discuss The Watson’s Go to Birmingham. You won’t be sorry.