MWPA Workshop A Success!

Since my last post there have been a lot of changes in my personal life. Changes that I’m not going to go into here. Suffice it to say they have taken up a lot of my brain and heart space and so blogging has been low on the priority list.

What came in high on the priority list this week was my workshop preparation for the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. That presentation, “Desire in the Middle Grade and Young Adult Novel,” went very well (if I do say so myself). I was honored to spend the day with seven aspiring writers who braved five hours with me at the Patten Free Library in Bath, ME. Together we explored model texts including Julie Berry’s; All The Truth That’s In Me, Linda Urban’s, A Crooked Kind of Perfect; Ingrid Law’s, Savvy; and Alan Cumyn’s, Tilt.

We asked questions, challenged ideas, reviewed manuscripts, wrote, revised, and even meditated. The day was a success!

Now I’m looking forward to my next presentation. May 2nd, I’ll be at the NESCBWI Annual Spring Conference presenting a workshop called, “Active Mind, Active Body.” We’ll be exploring the connection between physical activity and creativity, developing physical and creative goals, and crafting plans to achieve our goals. Finally, we’ll be doing some gentle physical activity (stretching, dance, yoga) to jump start fun writing activities. Register today!

If you were in my workshop today, share your learning, a new epiphany, or something that went well in the comments below.

If you are coming to NESCBWI New England introduce yourself in the comments and get your own badge here.

MWPA Desire Workshop Gets New Date & Time

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Dear Friends,

My Maine Writer’s and Publishers Workshop, Desire in Middle Grade and young Adult Novels, has a new date and time. Instead of two three hour sessions we are compacting it into a single five hour session on March first at the Patten Free Library in Bath, Maine. Click the picture or text link above for more information and registration. I can promise you a kick-ass lecture with examples from wonderful books, and one on one attention. If you know a someone in or around Maine who might be interested, please send them the link to this blogpost. Retweets and Facebook postings are encouraged!

Happy Writing,

Anna

What does your character want?

You’ve heard it from critique partners, agents, and editors: “What does your character want?” The adult world is full of desire but what about the world of children and young adults? 

Children and Teens often want passionately. Some are passionate because they are untouched by failure and disappointment; others are passionate because people who are supposed to love and protect them from failure and disappointment– have let them down. 

I’m going to be leading a two part workshop for Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance where we will discuss the importance of a clear desire line in fiction for young readers. This workshop takes place over two Saturdays: February 1 and March 1. We’ll use ancillary writing activities to discover our character’s deepest desires, and explore the differences between positive and negative desires. We’ll have a guided critique of each other’s first chapters and look for ways to make desire more opaque. Before the second session, you’ll get to revise your first chapter then we’ll process what we’ve learned and I’ll share my own revision process and techniques. Take a look at the full workshop description

By the end of our 6 hours together I hope to persuade you that one of the most important things you can do for your story is to clearly define your character’s desire in the first few chapters of your MG or YA novel. Depending on the audience, it is even better if that desire is clearly stated or hinted at in the very first chapter.

When the reader can clearly access the character’s desire:

  • The reader roots for that character from the onset.
  • The reader sympathizes with the character. (Even in the case of an unsympathetic character, the reader will connect with the act of longing.)
  • It is this longing that keeps the reader reading.

If this kind of inquiry into the craft of writing for children and young adults interests you, sign up!

More about me:

Anna J. Boll, author/illustrator and educator, earned an MFA and Picture Book Certificate at Vermont College of Fine Arts and a MSEd at the University of Southern Maine. A winner of the 2013 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award, she is represented by Alexandra Penfold. Her poetry is published in Highlights High Five, Babybug, and Ladybug magazines.

Brotherhood Give-away for teachers!

Teacher friends! I received the following email from author A.B. Westrick and I hope you’ll pass on the offer to other teachers before the copies are gone. I reviewed the book a few weeks ago but because I’m on my phone I can’t link to it. Maybe someone could add the review link in the. comments. Enjoy the long weekend.

My publisher is giving away 20 copies of BROTHERHOOD to educators who agree to use the book to kick off a writing exercise about bullying. Here’s the post about it: http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/bullies-bad-writing-and-baby-steps-by-a-b-westrick/

So far ten teachers from all over the country have responded, and I have ten more to give away…

In Defense of a Liberal Arts Degree

This morning, LinkedIn sent me its “Top News for Anna” aggregation. The topics they tend to send me range from education, to jobs, to publishing. I clicked on the following– Why a BA is Now a Ticket to A Job in a Coffee Shop. The article includes quick research, a few graphs, and some spotty assumptions, but I found the reader comments most interesting.

Readers of the Daily Beast are well-spoken, and they don’t hold back. Comments tend to break down in favor of or against the opinions expressed in the original article– then there are the tangential arguments. The tangent that piqued my interest this morning was STEM education vs. Liberal Arts training.

STEM folks generally argue that the degreed students working as baristas have an English, sociology, or some other humanities-based degree. If they had only spent their loans on getting an engineering or some other tech-based degree they’d have a job. These commenters opine that the reason we hire so many international workers is because well-trained American’s are hard or impossible to find.

I do not doubt the truth of these arguments, but 1) there are many reasons for the underemployment mess we are in and 2) there is value in the liberal arts degree.

I teach adult students English. My classes help them improve their skills so that they can place out of remedial college courses that cost money but do not give them college credits. They each have different dreams and paths. Some hope to leave menial or physically taxing work as they age. Some need a college degree to move up in their current work. Many are middle-aged women whose husbands had affairs, abused them, or decided they were done with marriage. They are looking for gainful employment that will keep them above the poverty line. My students often see college as a path to specific work because these days– that is how college is marketed.

I teach my students how important it is, in an age of text communication, to be able to read and write. I teach them how to read critically, how to question, how to make connections, how to cite their resources. I teach them to discern the thesis of a paper, to engage a reader, to support an argument. I teach them that words matter, that everyone brings something important to a discussion, that the opinion you’ve held forever can and will be challenged. This is the value of education for education sake.

Because of ongoing and high unemployment rates, employers have a pool of applicants that is both deep and wide. They sort and discard resumes for narrow criteria. No masters degree? Out. The wrong BA? Out. Not enough experience? Out. Too much experience? Out. They have no reason to give a chance to someone who doesn’t meet their narrow view of “highly qualified.” I say to them– beware.

The world of work is swiftly changing. The technical degree we need desperately today may be obsolete tomorrow. A liberal arts degree graduates critical and creative thinkers. These workers– no, these humans are life long learners who deftly transfer their knowledge from one field and apply it to another. Hire them to sit with your STEM trained employees, and there is no limit to what can be created. We only succeed as a society when we nurture and value everyone’s gifts and knowledge.

New Teacher/Reader Guide Service AND GIVEAWAY!

You’ve seen them before, the questions that show up at the back of a great novel and give you more insight into the author, the subject, or the craft of the book. The extension activities that teachers use to help plan lessons or meet COMMON CORE standards. Who writes these guides? I do, and I’d love it if you’d spread the word.

First, take a look at the new “Teacher & Reader Guides” page on Creative Chaos.

Next, click on the link below to enter the giveaway. Help me spread the word by commenting below, following me on twitter, tweeting about the giveaway, and following my blog. Each activity increases your chances of winning a free ($500 value) “Silver” level guide for your book. The prize is transferable to a writer/illustrator friend if you haven’t written or illustrated a book recently.

New England is expecting a big storm this weekend. Plenty of time to enter the raffle!

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Four score and seven years ago… Memorization in School

Son #1 has to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for Social Studies class.

He doesn’t want to. Actually, he’s already memorized paragraphs one and two, it is three that is the doozy.

“Why do I have to memorize this?” he says. “I could understand if I had to explain the meaning of the speech or write an essay on it’s effects on the Civil War. Why memorization?”

I can understand his concern and applaud his assignment suggestions which encourage critical thinking.

I’ll admit that as a teacher I’ve asked children to memorize poetry, or the preamble to the US Constitution. I’m a big fan of Poetry Outloud and part of my motivation (for mandatory student memorization) comes from a romantic notion planted by the Dead Poet’s Society movie (that’s a link to video BTW). I imagine my students theatrically presenting literary moments in history. But there is more. As they memorize, I hope that they internalize the rhythms of the language and the meaning of the piece. It’s true, that in these situations, I spend quite a bit of time dissecting what ever needed to be memorized.

What do you think? Memorization yes or no? Is there something you had to memorize in Middle School that you still know?

Five on Friday

1.This morning I braved our first frost and went on a bike ride. I came back with numb toes and fingers, but it was just beautiful. Perhaps it's time to move my bike riding inside. I'm amazed by the people who commute by bike all winter long.
2. My kids have a four day weekend. Today is a teacher furlough day, and while I'm happy to have my children home, I'm unhappy that our teachers are loosing pay.
3. With kiddos around there will be cleaning. Beware all you piles of dog fur in the corners! Stand back pile of laundry! We will defeat you.
4. I had a few wonderful writing days this week with high word counts, and dramatic scenes. I can really feel the forward movement of the manuscript (profluence, thank you Sarah Aronson). Very exciting to be climbing out of the muddy middle.
5. Monday, October 10th is my 18th Wedding Anniversary.