Monthly Archives: March 2014

Tweenland

So, I’m in that place I call Tweenland, and I’m not talking about that genre of children’s literature that is broadly written for kids in their “tweens.” Nope, rather I’m in that place between projects, somewhere on the other side of Donesville but not quite near enough to Drafthaven.

Drafthaven is the realm where all of my inadequacies rise to the surface. My friend and fellow author, Jeanette Ingold, once told me that every time she starts a new novel, she feels as though she has to learn all over again how to write one. This, from a woman who has written several highly-acclaimed novels, a craftswoman of the highest sort. It’s hard for me to imagine that Jeanette, with all her acumen, has to relearn anything. But Jeanette is also canny, and she wouldn’t say that just to provide comfort.

No, I think what she meant for me to see was that each and every story has its own sensibility and its own requirements, not only of the research and the prose style and all those other things, but it also has its own requirements of the author herself.

The Underneath, for example required me to to figure out how to finish, to see a project all the way through to the end. Keeper required me to be honest about the difference between anger and heartbreak, and to choose the latter over the former. True Blue Scouts needed for me to remember joy, joy in the writing, joy in the story, joy all around. When I think of each of those books, I can see that I had to learn about all of those things, and more, in the process of bringing each book to the page.

But Tweenland is so cozy. I like it here. It’s a great place to be lazy and catch up on reading and watch sitcoms and stare. Staring is good. But it’s also like that place in Pinnochio where its all fun all the time . . . that is, until it’s not fun. Eventually, it gets boring. I’ve got to get out of here!

But I keep getting stuck by the question: what is it that I need to learn in order to start the book I want to write? It’s hard because until I actually put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, there is no way of knowing. I’m caught in my own circular argument. Like Jeanette said, I’ll have to learn how to write this new book, and I’ll have to do it as I go. And it might make me feel really, really dumb, and I might not make it all the way to the end, and what if I get stuck, and what if it doesn’t make sense and what if nobody likes it and then nobody likes me? Ack!

Tweenland is better!
There’s chocolate.
Sudoku puzzles.
Cats who don’t care whether I ever write another word or not!
Double ack!

What I do know, for certain, is that the project that is waiting for me has something to teach me, and that until I begin I won’t know what that is. In fact, I may not know until after I’m finished. That is highly likely. What I also know, but hate to admit, is that staying in Tweenland is a trap. If I get too comfortable here, I’m likely to stay forever. And then what? Will the world be lesser without one more Kathi Appelt book? Of course not. But will I be lesser?

Again, I don’t know. And that’s one of the wonders of creating a story—encountering all of the “I don’t knows,” maybe especially the one that is meant only for the author herself.

Drafthaven calls, with all its crazy sinkholes and roadblocks. I need to go there. Yep. It’s time to put my boat in the water and leave Tweenland, at least for the time being. And what do you know? There’s a boat right there for you too. Grab a paddle. I’ll meet you on the other side. I bet Jeanette will be there too.

              

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Dear People,

Remember letters? Epistles? In my entirely forgotten youth, people wrote them to each other. They used pencil or pen (fountain pens! Inkblots! Ruined items!) and  paper. Later they used typewriters. Sometimes, thinking they were being ever so cool, they wrote to their camp friends on birchbark or on toilet paper. My friend Howie always signed his missives with a drawing of a banjo, just like Pete Seeger. My father signed his with a round, smiling face (Oh, my father’s letters are another story entirely).  People wrote back. Mailboxes contained personal mail.

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If you read my letter about the Beatles concert, you might be able to intuit what some of my own letters were like. Long, rambling, sometimes hilarious, sometimes not, and always filled with typos. Or worse: written in indecipherable longhand. People:  to correct a typo one had to use something called Wite-Out (why no ‘h’?), or even little slips of paper. Carbons? Uncorrectable.  It was time-consuming. Typewriters were not even electric! Fingers hurt! I kid you not.

No more, no more.

So I wish I had written an epistolary novel way back then. One with ephemera included.  When done well, I adore reading them. Don’t they  seem the perfect vehicle for self-obsessed adolescents? Different from first-person, even when there’s only one writer. Why? Off the top of my head: they can create an illusion of being less polished, less “I’m telling you a story now,” less shaped—all by design, of course. When the letters are lively and have a unique voice, they’re unbeatable.

Some examples I’ve read:

84, Charing Cross Road—one of the very best. Feeling Sorry for Celia. Dracula. Griffin and Sabine. The Jolly Postman. Letters From A Desperate Dog. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Daddy–Long-Legs. Flowers for Algernon. The Guernsey Literary etc. Sorcery and Cecelia. Letters from Rifka. The Company You Keep (emails). Love, Stargirl. The Color Purple. Dear Mr. Henshaw. Frankenstein. Anne of Windy Poplars.Thank you, Miss Doover. Letters From Father Christmas. And lots I’m not thinking of.

These novels still need a narrative arc and a reason for existing. Why are these characters writing to each other? Or why is one character writing to everyone else? Is the form still possible, or are emails and text message novels all we can hope for now? Oh, pooey. What’s the reason any contemporary two people would be writing long letters? That could even set a plot in motion. Historical fiction. Time travel.  Or a newly-discovered cache. And etc.

Do you have a favorite? Have you tried one yourself? How might you structure one for today’s readers?

Next time, maybe: something from my father’s letters, if I can find them.

Love from Leda

PS: I’d love to hear from you!

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From a Joint Discussion, Belonging to Everyone: Diversity in Children’s and YA Literature

Here’s a post I wrote on my newly migrated WordPress version of Writing With a Broken Tusk. It came from the recent discussions on CCBC-NET in which several VCFA alums played an active part.

Uma Krishnaswami

Thank you to CCBC-Net for hosting a month-long discussion on diversity. It was heated at times; it touched nerves. It also gave us the chance to discuss two amazing new titles by Native American writers: If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth, and How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle.  

In the end, CCBC member Sarah Hamburg brought it all together by developing a list of personal and professional actions in the cause of diversity on the bookshelf. Asked if the list could be forwarded broadly, Sarah said: “It comes from a joint discussion. It belongs to everyone.” That seems a good way to send this list on its way. Here it is, reposted by permission of Sarah Hamburg and with thanks to CCBC-Net. 

  • Many of the ideas focused on personal activism: actively buying books representing a diverse range of voices; committing to…

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