Posted in Inspiration, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Diverse Books

I have 271 book recommendation posts on my blog–some of those include multiple books. When I started the blog ten years ago, there wasn’t such a big push for diversity as there is now. Recently, I was curious how many of my entries were about diverse books. Doing some research, I discovered 49 of the entries had books with diverse characters who were integral to the story. (That’s about 18 percent.) The books were not necessarily fully focused on diversity, but at least presented an important character who was nonwhite or other “abled.” (If you want to see what books are included, search my blog for diversity.) If I’d looked at the fantasy books, many of them would fit the diversity category too, as fantasy books often deal with characters who are different from the mainstream of their culture, but I don’t think those books are usually counted as diverse.
I didn’t set out to read “diverse” books specifically. Fortunately, I was raised to believe people are people despite skin color, cultural differences, etc., which means when I hear of a good book, or pick up a book, I’m not automatically offended because the main character is not like me on the outside. What I see as I read is that these characters are so like me on the inside. Which is why it is so important for “white” kids, “abled” kids, poor, middle class, and rich kids to read these books. They need to see we are more alike than we are different!
On the other hand, according to the 2015 Census, about 62% of Americans are white only, 17% are Hispanic or Latino only, 13% are black only, 6% are Asian only, 1% are Native American or Alaskan, and 2.5% are two or more races. (Note: Arabs are classified as “white” for censuses.) And these statistics don’t include “differently abled.” But even with these skewed figures, it’d be hoped that good books are written by/about 40% nonwhite “abled” people. Because people who fit these “other” categories deserve to see themselves represented in story too.
The reality is we’re not there yet. Look closely at the above infographic. You might find this source post from September 2016 of interest. And here’s an interesting post on CCBC on how books are counted.
What can I as a white writer do? Deliberately support those writers who write diverse books by blogging about those books, buying them, sharing about them, etc. And support diversity organizations. I just came across this list: 2016 LINKY (Diversity Children’s Books Reviews). It can be a source for me to find books. Plus, I can let people know about it through twitter, etc. And, of course there’s the We Need Diverse Books organization. This site has links to awards for specific types of diverse books. Again, it’s another source to find books that I can share. SCBWI has a page on their site that focuses on diversity, plus has two diversity grants. Several of these diversity sites want you to notify them if you know of books, awards, etc. not on their lists. That’s something any of us can do.
FYI, Multicultural Children’s Book Day is coming up on January 27th. You can download a free kindness kit here.

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Posted in Craft, Inspiration, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

What Do You Do When You’re Stuck?

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Stuck on your current WIP? Here are some things I do, plus exercises I’ve learned from other people.
If I’m not feeling my character for the current scene, I go back some pages and reread what I’ve already written to get the feel of his or her life.
I’m not an outliner, but I know my main character’s problem well and have an idea of how the problem might be solved. The stories don’t always end how I think they will–I believe that is true for outliners, too. In one work in progress…the kid thinks he is responsible for his mother’s death. At the end, he will realize he was not in control of whether she lived or died. He also will resolve (in his heart) the issue of having disappointed her the day she died. I don’t know exactly how it is all going to happen, but I keep putting him in situations where he has to face what he’s done, face his grief, his regrets.
Talk to your character. In a workshop at Oregon’s SCBWI conference in 2013, Agent Trish Lawrence (EMLA) shared about “nailing your teen in the corner” and finding out what’s going on under the surface. Ask questions on paper and record her answers. Ask “why” questions. Go to the dark places. Try to discover core truths and inner values.
Do research about your setting or your character’s hobby or interests, or problem. In a talk at the 2014 New York SCBWI Conference, author Elizabeth Wein said that uncovering details often provides inspiration. Read her guest post on Authority and Authenticity. Author/illustrator Judy Schachner shared something similar at the 2014 LA conference when she showed us how she uses a journal/scrapbook to paste in pictures and quotes and ideas for her picture book character. As an illustrator as well as a writer, she also draws sketches of her character and tries things out with him.
Go some place different (anywhere, e.g. a doctor’s office, a park, a store, a restaurant) and soak in the environs, then put your main character there and just start writing about him or her being there. Ask yourself, “What would he be thinking?” etc. Don’t worry about your plot, etc. Just see what comes out. Several of us got things that may go into WIPs out of this exercise from a talk by author Elizabeth C. Bunce at a Kansas SCBWI workshop.
Work on another project and let this one simmer until it is bubbling to come out of you… Since I usually have a number of projects I want to work on, this works well for me.
Keep showing up to write. “Good ideas come when we show up,” author Kate Messner said.* Kate has more writing tips on her blog.
Check for action in your story, especially if a middle grade novel. Editor Nancy Siscoe (Knopf) said, “Action is always better than inaction.”* She added that nothing is worse than characters who never do anything.
Be courageous. Keep trying new things. While speaking on courage to write great picture books, Editor Jeannette Larson* reminded us to “do things that might scare you” and to be flexible.
At the fall 2013 SCBWI Oregon retreat, Deb Lund challenged us to “Mine Your Memories“–especially those yucky ones! What hurt you? What scared you? What secrets did you have?
Sometimes writing the next scene just doesn’t seem possible. Write a later scene in the story and worry about how to connect them later.
Maybe you’re worried too much about length. Don’t worry about how long or short it is; just work on what happens next.
Ask yourself questions about your main character’s problem. What’s stopping him from reaching his goal? Or arriving at a solution? How can you make it worse before it gets better? How can you raise the stakes? Will she get what she wants? Once at a writer’s event, I heard someone say “push the main character off the cliff and see what she does.” 馃槈
What do YOU do when you are stuck?
*at the 2014 New York SCBWI Conference

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Posted in Inspiration, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Write Well When the Muse Is Sleeping

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sleeping lion
Not in the mood to write? No inspiration from the muse? Don’t just give up, write anyway!
I love this quote from Peter De Vries, ” I write when I’m inspired. I see to it I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” And look at this comment, “In order to have a real relationship with our creativity, we must take the time and care to cultivate it.” -Julia Cameron. That all means showing up! Or as Jane Yolen says, “BIC: butt in chair.”
That’s also the reasoning behind NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month). When a friend of mine completed this for the first time, she was so encouraged by reaching 25,000 words, then 50,000 words. She talked about writing “through.” Write through the rough spots; write knowing you are writing badly; keep going. She learned so much about her characters and how she wanted her story to play out. She also learned about herself.
Recently, another writing friend and I were discussing how writing creates writing. The more you sit (or stand) and write, the more motivated we get to write. We get excited as we see what our characters are doing. We get inspired by the completion of a scene, a well said paragraph, word count going up, etc.
For me, sometimes I make myself “get in the mood,” by rereading what I’ve written in the WIP novel. That might be the last three chapters or just a scene, but it helps me get into the flow again and remember what is at stake for my character.
I also find it helpful when I take a chapter to my critique group and they ask, “What happened here?”–referring to the between the scenes I wrote or when I glossed over something with a simple line. They awaken my muse in that moment.
The muse is like sunshine–it’s so easy to write then. But we all experience rainy seasons too–times when the muse can’t be found. This is where we find out if we are a real writer.
Julie A. Campbell also says, “The beauty hidden inside a tiny seed can never be discovered until it is planted, until the rains fall and the sun shines down upon it. The process takes time and patience…”
So how do YOU move forward if your muse is asleep?

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Posted in Inspiration, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

I’m a Work-in-Progress

My life has been crazy recently. We bought a new house, painted almost every room, did other repairs, packed, moved out of the rental and into the new house, cleaned the rental, and unpacked. (Not that we’re done!) A new house always requires some “editing.” That’s not in the right place; that doesn’t fit well. Sometimes it needs additions: a shelf here, some hooks there. Other items are removed. There are adjustments. It’s a Work-in-Progress with still more unpacking, fixing and painting to do.
My writing, of course, is affected by my life. When things get so busy, less writing gets done. Current projects get put on hold. Blogging definitely goes by the wayside. Unfortunately, I get out of the habit of writing. But not like many other habits–flossing my teeth–when things in my life quiet down, something in me starts bugging me: “Write. Write something. What about the work-in-progress? What’s that character going to do next? Write something for your blog. Recommend another good book. Write!” And I’m thankful for those nudges.
However, there are benefits to being away from my writing for a while. I get filled up with new experiences. Some experiences I’d rather not have, I’ll admit. My most recent one was a broken ankle requiring surgery. It’s too soon to know whether that will directly go into a book or story, but I have learned some things that will definitely affect my outlook and my life and, I’m sure at some point, my writing.
I’ve learned that handicapped access is not always so accessible. Have you ever thought there were “too many” handicapped parking spaces in a parking lot? I have. But not anymore. I haven’t been able to walk for 3 weeks now and have another 3 and a half before there’s a possibility to walk. I’ve been fortunate to have a knee walker to use, which is way better than crutches, but it is still exhausting. I have a temporary parking permit to use handicapped spots. I don’t go out much, but I’m finding handicapped spots aren’t always where they are needed. Or they are filled. And when we do go out and get a parking spot, those little wheels on the knee walker jar or stick at every bump and crack in the asphalt or pavement. Going up a ramp is work. Going down a ramp is scary. (What if I get going too fast and lose control and fall?!) My handicap will be over soon. But many people don’t get a “you’ll be free of it” time. I hope when I’m back on my two feet, I’ll be more empathetic.
I’ve been on the receiving end of stares. I’m old enough it doesn’t really bother me, but I know some people it would. Borrowing a mall wheelchair to do some Christmas shopping, my husband was pushing me through an area and a woman told her little kids, “Don’t stare.” If she hadn’t been whipping by so fast, I would have liked to explain to the kids why I was in a wheelchair. Not for me, but for them and their understanding. I hope she explained more later.
But here again is where writing comes in. I want my words to do more than entertain. I want them to be useful in some way. Maybe readers through my characters’ experiences will learn something new, or learn empathy, or be encouraged because others have had similar experiences. And I’ve just had more experiences to throw into my personal resource file.
So, all that said, I can’t complain about a crazy life. Well, I shouldn’t complain.
But didn’t I say I was a “Work-in-Progress?”

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Posted in Inspiration, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Inspiration from Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamilloThree years ago I got to hear Kate DiCamillo speak in Kansas City. Recently I came across my notes and thought I’d share them here.
At the beginning of her presentation, Kate said she had a speech that would take 18-20 minutes depending how nervous she was and then she始d let the audience of almost 500 ask questions. (400 more seats were set up with TV monitors in another room.) Kate began by reading part of a long list of why writers write from Margaret Atwood始s book Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. Then she went on to tell why she writes.
When Kate was 9 she was given a Humpty Dumpty magazine subscription. She thought the magazine smelled of paper, ink and possibilities. A story about a witch spoke to her so much that she wrote it out in her own handwriting. Kate liked it even better in her own handwriting.
She showed it to her mother. Her mother asked if she始d written the story. Kate said yes, since she始d written it out. Her mother showed the story to a neighbor, and Kate realized there始d been a misunderstanding. I want to say something; I need to say something, Kate thought. But she didn始t.
Her mother showed the story to Kate始s teacher who, impressed with it, showed it to the principal. Her mother told Kate始s father who lived in another state.
The snowball was growing.
Kate wanted what everyone believed to be true to be true. Her father traveled to see her because of the story. “I learned, story is power. If I wrote a story, I could become the center of the universe. If I wrote a story, I could make my longed for father come.”
Of course, Kate始s teacher read the story again. In Humpty Dumpty. Kate had to make the rounds and apologize for lying. Her brother told her she was more than a liar, she was a plagiarist.
But she never forgot how writing a story made her feel.
“Story,” Kate says, “is the most practical, accessible, frivolous and necessary of all the arts.” She believes we need story to survive! Story is the agonized cry of how we wished the world could be.
She remembers how after 9/11, writing stories seemed worthless. She was apologetic about what she did to a man sitting beside her on a flight. She told him that what she did, didn始t really matter. Later at baggage claim, the man came up and said, “Maybe stories do matter.”
Kate came to realize that “stories can save the listener and the teller, too.” She said, “We tell stories to keep ourselves alive.”
Don’t YOU forget the power of story.

Want to know more about Kate? Read this article and watch the video interview.
For up-to-date info on this award-winning author go to her website.

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