This edition of “Around the Web” is focused on online sightings of our member authors doing one of the things they love best: talking with young readers about books and writing.
Check out this Rogues Gallery of OAVers in action! And if you’re interested in booking one of us for your next virtual or in-person event, head on over to our Author Profiles page to learn more and see which author might be a good fit for your group.
Spend time talking craft with a fellow writer or a hundred, and sooner or later the topic of creative flow will come up. It’s that sense of being completely immersed in what you’re writing. Deep in the throes of flow, I’m rendered spellbound by the process. (Charmed, I’m sure.) I feel one with the story — and maybe even the universe. Everything else falls away.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll posit that the gist of most writers’ feelings about that zone is . . .
NO FLOW: BAD! GET ME MORE FLOW!
It’s a heady drug. We want it. We gotta have it. And once we’ve blown our minds on it, we’re willing to chase after more of the same, even if that means we end up chasing our own tails.
For me, flow comes easily at times. It might last an hour or an afternoon. The stars align and my fingers fly over the keyboard. My spewed-forth words take shape and make sense. Or, just as likely, they don’t, but the text shows me enough clues about how to clean up my mess.
On a few occasions, I’ve written whole first manuscript drafts in flow, including the books pictured below (I wrote Pilgrims in America in one marathon sitting and Frenemies: Dealing with Friend Drama in three consecutive daily spurts). This happened again recently, when — up against a publisher’s deadline — I discovered a bit of faulty research that affected the content of the book I’d just completed. The manuscript had to be revised, and I spent one full day trying to spot-fix only certain parts of it. I wanted to preserve as much as I could. The next morning, though, it became obvious I couldn’t properly address the problem without a full rewrite. Ouch. But I soon saw my way forward, and I banged out a new “angry draft” with unusual speed and a serene ease, proving the line between love and hate is awfully thin. (Side note: The rewrite turned out better than the original, so I’ve since forgiven it.)
Now, please don’t misunderstand: I am not cruising through this writer’s life luxuriating in a blissful state of All Flow, All the Time. Au contraire, mes amis! I slog through my fair share of crummy writing days. I can get bogged down in the business and the busyness of writing as thoroughly as anyone. I can inexplicably feel uninspired while writing something I’m genuinely excited about. I can also do all the so-called right things to organize my approach or my day, yet still manage to stare at the screen for who-knows-how-long, struggling to even start or just picking a fight with a single random sentence.
The good news is that warring with and blankly staring at your text is normal. (Is TOO!) Plus, you don’t always need to feel creative flow to produce good writing. Some of my best works have been untouched by the flow phenomenon; and some writings that seemed fun and breezy and smart as they gushed onto the page have turned out to be objectively awful enough to be pronounced DOA.
The even better news?You can help creative flow find YOU. I say “help,” because much like you can’t pencil in finding love or happiness and expect real results, you can’t force flow. You can, however, make yourself emotionally available for it to wash over you while also taking concrete steps to further your chances that it will. The payoff is totally worth it. All you have to do to open yourself up to letting flow organically happen is . . .
Show up for your writing work, early and often. Write what you know, write to learn what you want to know, write what you don’t know but can imagine. Write a story, write a poem. Write a letter, write a journal entry, write a to-do list. Write something every day.
Do you work better with goals in mind? Great! Set a daily word-count or timed writing goal and honor it. Forgive yourself when you don’t hit your mark, and start fresh the next day. If you find that you’re consistently unable to meet your writing goals, experiment to identify more realistic ones.
(2) CULTIVATE THE PARTS OF YOUR WRITING LIFE THAT DON’T INVOLVE THE ACT OF WRITING.
Put yourself out there. Becoming part of the writing community helps you find supportive colleagues with whom to discuss this flow thing, as well as all the other writing things. Your people congregate at conferences, classes, and bookstore and other literary events. They belong to writers’ organizations, critique groups, and numerous online forums. You need them! They need you!
Read books and take classes on the craft of writing. Stay current on industry news and the market you write for.
And don’t forget to feed the rest of your inner artist. Ideas: Read widely, see a play, take in a concert, make your own music, enjoy time in nature, spend time with your friends, pursue your hobbies, play some games, support a cause, try something you’ve never done before, and make time to get away from it all (writing included) once in a while.
Proactive moves like these naturally boost knowledge, confidence, and inspiration — flow magnets, all.
(3) KEEP WRITING.
Rack. Up. Those. Words.
One thing I know for sure about all this: The more I write, the more I write. For me, the act of writing brings more new book and story ideas bubbling up to the surface than any other activity. It fuels my imagination, strengthens my facility with language and structure, and vastly increases my odds of, oh by the way, just slipping into that joyful state of absorption I crave.
Keep writing, and before you know it, you, too, will find yourself basking in the glow of that flow, and then doing everything in your power to get more.
Martha Brockenbrough’s novel, THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH, is up for an Audie Award in the YA category. These are awards given to the best audio recording. Susan Hanfield reads the book, and the audio version includes three songs Martha co-wrote with jazz singer Victoria Contreras.
And here’s the cover of her Sept. 5 release, a young adult biography of Alexander Hamilton.
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The first two books in Dori Hillestad Butler‘s new KING & KAYLA easy reader series launch on March 1. KING & KAYLA is the prequel her Edgar award winning BUDDY FILES series. Book 1, THE CASE OF THE MISSING DOG TREATS is a Junior Library Guild selection for March. Kirkus says, “Readers will connect with this charmingly misunderstood pup (along with his exasperated howls, excited tail wagging, and sheepish grins).”
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The revised digital version of David Patneaude’s EPITAPH ROAD is now available from Amazon. Kirkus says, “Will hook readers of TheHunger Games trilogy.”
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Laurie Ann Thompson was excited to receive the Advanced Reader Copies for her upcoming book, TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: IT’S ALIVE (co-authored with the fabulous Ammi-Joan Paquette). It’s equal parts thrilling and nerve-wracking to think that book buyers and reviewers across the country will soon be evaluating your book!
To top it off, she’s had several fantastic in-person school visits in the last month, which are always energizing and inspiring!
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For kids who love learning about natural disasters, Trudi Trueit had two new titles debut recently, DETECTING AVALANCHES and DETECTING VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS. Each book features simple text that explains how scientists use technology to predict these catastrophic events. The books include “How It Works” spreads, fun facts, sidebars, a disaster preparedness checklist and more! For readers ages 7 and up. Trudi is also OAV’s February Author of the Month, and she’s GIVING AWAY an advanced copy (ARC) of her upcoming fiction book, MY TOP SECRET DARES & DON’TS. Click HERE to enter the contest!
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Dori Jones Yang is delighted to reveal the cover for her new middle-grade novel, THE FORBIDDEN TEMPTATION OF BASEBALL. It’s a lively and nuanced story about two brothers sent to America by the Emperor of China in 1875, as part of a group of 120 boys who were to live with American families, learn English, study technology, and return home to modernize China. Readers will experience culture clash and some of the difficulties immigrant children have in adapting to life in the United States. For readers aged 10 to 14, the book will come out August 15, 2017, with SparkPress.
My mom was my champion. She believed in me long before I believed in myself. For a chubby, near-sighted, shy kid, her faith became my heartbeat. My mom gave me the precious gems of wisdom every child should possess: find your passion, follow your gut, never away give your power, persevere through hard times, pick yourself up when the world kicks you down. Plus, she was my best friend. I could tell her my secrets and know they would be safe.
Three years ago, when my mom died, my spirit turned gray. I tried telling myself all the things we say when a loved one dies: she wouldn’t want me to wallow, take comfort in the memories, grieve at my own pace. Still, I had trouble tapping into my creative core. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write, but I couldn’t figure out what to say. I was a jumble of emotions. Which ones should I pick? And how should I express them? Was there a right way? A way that would help me heal? One day, while looking at a picture of Mom and me I kept on my desk, I thought, ‘I feel like you took a piece of me when you left.’ And the answer came back, ‘Maybe so, but I also left a piece of myself behind.’
Me. I was, of course, that piece.
I knew I needed to write. Anything. Everything. Just write. So I did. I let my feelings of anger, sadness, frustration, and loss pour out onto the page, even if the things that came out made no sense, especially if they made no sense. I wrote short poems or jotted down memories of us; sometimes, the best I could do was scribble a sentence or two about how I was feeling that day. It took time but ever-so-slowly, the color came back into my soul. I am a firm believer that writing is cathartic. If you are willing to be honest and write about the messiness, it can save you.
Some of my work during that difficult time later became the seeds for a middle grade novel. I found myself writing a story about a 12-year-old girl named Kestrel (my mom loved birds) whose family travels to Canada after the death of her grandfather to help her grandmother save the family business. For many children, like Kestrel, the loss of a grandparent will be the first time they come face to face with death. Kestrel wants to be there for Grandma Lark (another bird) but isn’t sure how. Is there a right way? A way to help her grandmother heal? Or will she only make things worse? (Sound familiar?) The two begin a journey to find the answers together and, in the process, forge a powerful and lasting bond. MY TOP SECRET DARES AND DONT’S will be released next month from Aladdin MIX.
A few years before my mother passed, she told me she had her first inkling I would be a professional writer when I was seven years old. This surprised me, because we’d had many conversations about my career over the years. “You never said anything to me about it,” I said. “No,” she said. “It was your path to choose, your path to walk.” True enough. She had always supported me, but never steered me. She’d taught me to make my own choices then stepped back and let me do just that – another one of her gems.
Each day, as I sit down to write, I think how blessed I was to have a champion like her. We all need them in our lives. If I can be that for even one young writer than I will have fulfilled my artistic purpose. I think Mom would agree.
Trudi Trueit is an award-winning author of more than 100 fiction and nonfiction books for children. She enjoys giving online presentations and leading writing workshops for elementary through middle school students. Click HERE to find out how you can bring her into your classroom via Skype or Google Hangouts. To read more about Trudi and her books, visit her website at www.truditrueit.com.
Happy 2017, readers! It’s time for our first “Around the Web” post of the new year. We hope you enjoy this roundup of a few random OAV-member sightings online. You just never know WHAT cool tidbits you might find stored up there in the cyberspace attic.
Anyone wishing to keep up with Dori Jones Yang’s latest happenings can easily do so by subscribing to the “What’s New” RSS feed on her author site.
“The Calm Before the Storm,” a recent guest post by Deb Lund, offers inspiration for writers participating in this month’s Storystorm idea-generation event. Her advice also applies to just about any creative endeavor you may be pursuing, so don’t miss it!
Animal and story lovers will enjoy Patrick Jennings’s“Beasts,” a fun roundup of “Likely, though not necessarily confirmed, facts about the animal kingdom as relayed by a children’s fiction writer, a.k.a., a professional teller of stories to kids.”
Here, Dori Hillestad Butler reminisces about the special teacher who started her on the path to becoming the writer she is today. Her touching post will hit home with both adults and kids.
That’s it for this month’s collection efforts. To learn more about all of our wonderful author members — and to consider booking one of us to give a Skype or in-person talk for your classroom, library, or other event — be sure to check out the updated Online Author Visits Author Profiles page, where you’ll find each member’s bio, presentation terms, and contact information.
Every morning I open a drawer and take out my folded yellow and white bedspread. In a ritual process, I unfold the thirds across the foot of the bed, smoothing the fringe over the bottom. At the foot of the bed, I take sections in each hand and draw them toward the head of the bed. I slide my hands back along the fabric, feeling its rough, rich texture. Finally I step to one side of the bed and then the other, to complete the process.
This ritual brings me from the honored dream world of the unconscious night back into the topside, conscious world of the day. Even on dark winter mornings, the yellow and white flowers on the bedspread speak of sun. Day has come.
I keep my bedroom as a place of honor to the night time dream world (no e-mail, TV, texts, internet.). Treasure comes from dreams if you take the time to honor them, by watching, recording, and reflecting on the nightly installments. (Better than TV!) Many of us try to lead mindful lives. I recently heard author Murray Stein say that it is mindful to pay attention to your dreams. Yes.
Only when my bed is beautifully made, do I leave the bedroom and begin the day. I transition to consciousness and its gifts.
Every night, I fold my bedspread back up in the same ritual way and return it to its drawer. Like tucking the sun away for the night. I begin letting go of the daylight world in preparation for the night time, dream world.
This ritual began three years ago when I developed a severe dust mite allergy. All my bedding must be washed weekly in hot water. My woven cotton can’t tolerate that. So I wash it every month in expensive low temperature allergy detergent and tumble it on air fluff for hours to dry. I remove the bedspread at night to minimize my exposure to any dust. And so this beautiful, centering ritual developed out of need.
But isn’t that always the way? Rituals around life, death, marriage, birth, eating all developed because we had some deep need (initially probably all of these were instinctive needs). Ritual is a practice to keep what we value most front and center.
As a writer this ritual of making and unmaking my bed connects me to the larger creative world. It symbolizes the astounding cyclical rhythm of life. After the triumph of completing a first draft, a writer faces the agony of unmaking it through the process of revision. Making and unmaking, construction and destruction, this is the artist’s path. It can be hard to hold these opposite tensions. And we don’t get much help for this process from our culture.
For many of us, the old, established religions have become so codified into theological law, they have lost their numinosity. With their insistence that religious scripture is factual, they dismiss the more powerful truth of symbols and metaphors.
But we can create our own personal myth and find the meaning that resonates with us. This can happen when dreams of the unconscious night time world meet the light of the conscious, sunlit world. Something new, unexpected, and full of power is created. Something that only we can give. Something the world so deeply needs from us.
This diversity in kid lit is a tough subject and definitely requires walking a tightrope between stereotype and inclusion. I’ve written before about doing a few speaking gigs on diversity even though I’m a white, middle age male.
My book Kay Kay’s Alphabet Safari “drew” me in to the subject because there was no way I could tell a story based on a real school and orphanage in Kenya without using the brown paints in my watercolor set. In the Digger and Daisy early reader series, our heroes are dogs, but I have worked in some Spanish, a wheelchair and a girl wearing a hijab. Man, this sounds like I’ve got a diversity list I’m checking off, but We Need Diverse Books, right? I’m not sure of the perfect way to go about making that happen, but I would like to do my part.
I wrote a short post last June about my illustration process for a boy, a dragon and a red velvet cape. That illustration led me to a story about a boy named Mateo, his abuela Consuela, dog Alonzo, big sister Luciana and his mama´ and papa´. Mateo’s heroes include luchadores, the masked (and sometimes caped!) Mexican luche libre wrestlers. It’s a darned cute story about all the ways his red velvet cape will help him be powerful, popular and, most important, grown up. Pretty universal theme, right?
My agent, Anna Olswanger, is a smart cookie and told me she loved the story but that it was going to be a hard sell, being that I’m not of the culture I was portraying. I have to admit I was pretty pissed off and gathered a list of books written or illustrated by people not of the culture portrayed in the book. My Exhibit A was the Caldecott and Newbery award-winning book Last Stop On Market Street, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Our hero CJ and his nana are black. “Matt de la Peña isn’t black!” I huffed to Anna O. “No, but Christian Robinson is,” she replied and then went down the rest of the list I sent her, pointing out that at least one of the team was of the culture being portrayed.
So I wrote to my friend and brilliant author Samantha Vamos, asking her to read my story and to give me her honest take on the subject.
After softening me up by referring to my “adorable book,” she asked, “Do you think it really adds to the story by adding the Latino names and words? I think an editor might find the Latino names to be a distraction.” Okay, I guess I didn’t REALLY want her honest response. But then she wrote, “I find that if I am away from the manuscript long enough, I can let go – and often because getting it published is just far more important to me.” That struck a chord. I really want my story to be published and if naming my hero Mateo will prevent that, then I’ll change his name to Milo and he’ll have a plain old grandma, just like I did.
I revised and re-submitted my story about Milo, grandma, Buster the dog, big sister Maddie and Mom and Dad. But I kept the Spanish in the classroom posters and made the school bathroom gender-neutral. My agent and editor thanked me for the revision.
THEN I had the good fortune to be shuttling both Christian Robinson and Catia Chien to a hotel after an illustrator retreat where they totally rocked. How often would I have two luminaries of the kid lit world trapped in a car so I could interrogate them on white people telling stories of diversity? Their answers, as you can imagine, weren’t simple. Yes, they were tired of white people appropriating other cultures, but they also love good stories and illustrations, no matter who tells them, so long as they are told with authenticity and respect. And they admitted to having to walk the same tightrope I do; being respectful and doing the homework to make sure they are getting it right. And being disappointed when their attempts at inclusion meet resistance. They both spoke about avoiding being pigeon-holed as “diversity illustrators,” and drawing outside their own culture when they can.
They also stressed that what is really needed are diverse writers, illustrators and editors to make books in which kids of all cultures can see themselves. I’m totally on board with that, but I’m also into eating and making the mortgage enough to want to make those books myself! Sue me for being selfish.
Here’s the funny thing: just days after the election (you know, THAT election), I received an email from my editor saying that she was delighted to be recommending My Red Velvet Cape to her acquisition group and that she will be presenting BOTH versions. (I’m crossing my fingers and will let you know the outcome of that meeting.) I think the ugly campaign rhetoric about immigrants and minorities has put a renewed resolve into publishers to promote inclusion in their books.
Believe me, getting published is my main goal. That’s my dream and my career. But if I can help kids see themselves in all their colors and cultures, I will do it. And I’ll work to be as sensitive as I can, but I can’t promise I won’t overstep or offend somebody. Diversity is (and should be) a tough subject. I love both Mateo and Milo, but I really wanna draw Alonzo wearing a luchador mask.