Writers Must Have the Courage to Take a Stance

On the heels of Kate Messner’s post regarding a scheduled school visit which was cancelled at the last minute because one of the book’s themes is the impact drug addiction has on families, I wanted to share another article which touches upon what I believe is our great responsibility as writers. To quote: “If you want to create art, you need to make judgments about human behavior and take a side. To passively disengage for fear of reprisal is cowardly. Making a judgment, taking a stand and then acting against an injustice or acting to support excellence is the stuff of the everyman hero. And yes, not saying anything, not “judging” the horrible or honorable behavior of other people is acting too. You must choose a position in this world on innumerable moral questions and stand by your judgments. If you are an aspiring artist and you wish to avoid ‘judgments,’ you’ll find that you have nothing to say.” And to be clear, this responsibility falls not only on the shoulders of those of us who write but on anyone who has the courage and the ability to wield their words in the name of what is right. Karla Valenti writes books about and for children. She also offers professional manuscript critique and editing services. You can find her on Facebook and on...

How Do You Know If You Are a Good Writer?

Janet Reid has a great post today that answers this very question. People who write well in novels also write well in the comment section. And in Facebook posts. And Tweet streams. And they write good queries. They may struggle like hell; they may fuss over commas and whether to invest in a font app that includes an interrobang (yes you should if only so I can get that query!) but they know how to string sentences together in a way that leaves me thinking “there’s a writer.” It may not be a book I want to read, but the writing is good. Her advice: read anything that holds your attention and figure out why it holds your attention. write as much as you can about anything that you want. Write comments, blog posts, book reviews, letters to your grandmother. Just write something and apply what you learned from 1. review what you’ve written. Go back and look at some of your old work. Did you think it was great when you first wrote it? Do you see how it can be improved? Apply what you learned from 1 and 2. rinse and repeat until you write your very last word. Karla Valenti writes books about and for children. She also offers professional manuscript critique and editing services. You can find her on Facebook and on...

450 Rejections and Still Dreaming

Sometimes we forget the long path our heroes and heroines took to get to where they are. But they have struggled and worked hard to earn their place in our hearts. This is a good reminder: Kate DiCamillo received 450 rejections before she was published! I sent stories out for six years before anything happened. And when I go and I talk to kids, I go, imagine if I had given up at like the — the rejection letter, you know, 200. I wouldn’t be here. So if there is any message that I can give in that respect, it’s, you know, persistence and not giving up on your dream. Just imagine if she had given up after 250 or 300 or 449! Do not let go of that...

No… this REALLY is a subjective indsutry

I stumbled upon this excellent reminder of how subjective the writing world really is: A Tale of Two Critiques. Check out the whole article, you’ll feel so much better afterwards. I promise. The take away: The kidlit world is a very subjective business. Personal preferences and interests matter a whole lot more than we’d like them to. Which is to say, your book may be amazing but not every book is for every person. You just need to find ONE person (agent or editor) who falls deeply in love with your book. A rejection from someone says nothing about your overall work (unless it says something about your overall work) other than it didn’t sweep the agent or editor of their feet. But that’s ok, because how many people do we genuinely sweep of their feet? One person’s opinion will differ wildly from another. Read the feedback with care and try to understand where the feedback is coming from. Then ask yourself if that’s a place you want to be. Sometimes, an agent or editor (or CP partner) may simply be trying to get you to write the story they want to read. But maybe that’s not the story you want to write. Learn to spot genuine and helpful feedback that makes your story better and don’t worry about the rest. Seek out feedback and ideally from people who write (or edit) better than you. But also know when not to take it personally. Some people just don’t like chocolate and they’re going to pass on my amazing salted-caramel chocolate cake. It’s nothing personal.  ...

On the Importance of Writing Scary Things

This is a beautiful post from Brainpickings on The Importance of Being Scared and what that means in children’s literature. To sum up: we cannot shelter children from frightening topics nor should we. As Wislawa Szymborska says [emphasis is mine]: Children like being frightened by fairy tales. They have an inborn need to experience powerful emotions […] Hans Christian Andersen had the courage to write stories with unhappy endings. He didn’t believe that you should try to be good because it pays (as today’s moral tales insistently advertise, though it doesn’t necessarily turn out that way in real life), but because evil stems from intellectual and emotional stuntedness and is the one form of poverty that should be shunned. And that sums it up brilliantly. We cannot allow ourselves (or our children) to become intellectually and emotionally stunted by avoiding certain topics simply because they are frightening. We see this so often in kidlit where, under the guise of sheltering them, children are not allowed to explore themes that are (unfortunately) very relevant to them at a very young age (e.g. drugs, sex, abuse, guns, suicide, etc). Creating literature for children that addresses these topics with empathy, respect and sensitivity gives children a safe haven in which to explore these issues. It also gives them a language and vocabulary they can use to properly express their emotions and thoughts on these troubling issues. Perhaps most importantly, however, it enables them to become educated and education is the best form of empowerment in the face of most any challenge. Neil Gaiman puts it another, equally compelling, way: If you are protected from dark things, then you have no protection of, knowledge of,...

How to Develop your Character’s Voice

This is a great article from Fiction University that talks about how to use descriptions to enhance your storytelling. It’s written for novels but I think the principles apply quite well to developing voice in PBs. To sum up the three most helpful points (with some additional notes of my own): (1) determine who is looking: a Navy SEAL will look at things a lot differently than a frightened six year-old. Take the knowledge and attitude of your protagonist into account when you decide what they see. Think about how they would describe something, not how you would (note: what this really means is that we need to keep in mind that the narrator and the MC are not necessarily the same person. In PBs, we are often the narrator but the MC is the one living the story. When we develop voice, we need to make sure we are describing things as told from the MC’s POV – how they would see it, not how we see it for them). (2) determine why they are looking: sometimes you scan a room, sometimes you’re looking for something in particular, and sometimes you’re watching to escape with your life. Your reasons for looking impact what you see and how you feel about it. If your protagonist has no feelings at all about something, why is it in the scene? While not every detail has to matter at this level, using details to bring out an emotion or thought from your protagonist helps make the setting more memorable. It won’t just be details. (note: in PBs especially we need to be careful about...