Saturday, February 25, 2006

Carnival of Children's Literature

Author Melissa Wiley hosted a Carnival of Children's Literature on her blog, Here in the Bonny Glen. Check it out for a wild array of voices on the subject.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Judging for the Golden Kite fiction award

Whew! I was on the panel for the SCBWI Golden Kite fiction award this year. The reading was astonishing and overwhelming and scary, and the discussions by e-mail and phone were intense but I am telling you that the abso-bloody-lutely hardest part was the sworn-to-secrecy bit. This morning Jamie Weiss of SCBWI tells me I can come out of the judges' closet.

The book we chose, from among 12 amazing finalists, was A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary Pearson.

Mary, congratulations! I read and reread your book, and I want you to know it made me cry! It is so difficult to create a young protagonist whose flaws and dilemmas come alive enough to make an adult reader's heart hurt.

The honor book we chose was Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles. A touching, funny book peopled with lovable eccentrics and a child protagonist who doesn't miss much.

The judging process was amazing. First of all the hundreds of books arriving in daily boxes over about four months. The UPS delivery woman and I would talk about them. "Any good ones in the last lot?" she'd say.

At one point I was reading 6 books a week, then 6 more the next week plus rereads from the previous and so on. I'd read standing in line at the grocery store, the post office, even at traffic lights. It was a transformative experience for me to be able to get such a wide-ranging survey of the books being written by SCBWI writers, and to delve deeply into the ones that I adored on first reading.

The final phone call with fellow judges Cara Haycak (author of Red Palms) and Jane Buchanan (author of Goodbye Charley and others) took nearly two hours. That was after a couple of weeks of trading e-mails arguing vehemently for this or that book. It was really difficult making that final choice. There were so many great books in the mix.

In the end I am very excited about our choice of Mary's delicate, beautiful book, and Deborah Wiles's whimsical, funny, honor book with its dead-on voice and quirky characters. And I am grateful to have been invited to be part of this process.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Three Places to Correct

I have been going to tai chi class for a little over two years. In the parlance of the Sifu I began with, that places me somewhere between being a "tourist" and becoming a student. This does not, however, stop the Si-hing who is now our instructor from putting us semi-inepts to work teaching the really green newbies who have just joined. So there I am zealously pointing out to someone things about her stance, her elbows, her breathing, her... And at this point the instructor very gently moves us into doing something else altogether. Later he says to me, "You might consider focusing on 3 things to correct, each time."

Moment of truth. I often have them in tai chi. I find many tai chi principles apply well to writing, because they seem to apply to life. I went home and tried this with my own work. I usually do that before trying this stuff out on others. I found it felt comfortable and more, it allowed me to make more changes in a work when I took them 3 at a time.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Reviewing books

I've been reviewing books for over ten years now, ever since I met Marilyn Courtot at a school book fair in Maryland. I was signing my then brand-new book (the one this blog's named for) and she was starting a newsletter about children's books, Children's Literature. Ever since then, Marilyn's been sending me a box of books every few months, and I have been reading and learning. Children's Literature has morphed into the CLCD, an online database subscribed to by libraries and institutions around the world.

If you're trying to write children's books, it helps to read lots of them. Newbery winner Linda Sue Park suggests it might be the single most important thing to do. The more you read, the more you begin to develop opinions of your own, learn to separate what you like from what you don't like. More, you learn to defend your opinions and cultivate your critical skills. All of which will stand you in good stead as you grow your own writing.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Two Process Schools?

Dualities are always seductive: left-right, black-white, up-down. Easy ways to classify the world. I, however, come from a place in which you can't classify anything quite so easily. People and places have many names, nothing stays the same, and even gray arrives in multiple shades of dewdrop, granite, and rainy sky. Here's an article on Advaita (non-dualism, monism, call it what you will) that offers a sampler, philosophically speaking. So I'm always a little suspicious of easy 1-2 categories.

Still there do seem to be two ways of looking at process: Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird school, where you slash your veins and bleed all over the paper, bringing your deepest griefs and longings to the page; and Jane Yolen's Take Joy approach, in which you write for (yes, what a concept!) the love of it.

I tend to think they're on a continuum, and the place you choose for yourself along that path is your truth. The rest is an illusion--the thing the Advaitins call "maya." The illusory part when you write is that prewriting, throat-clearing bit you do before, during, and sometimes even after you have found the story. It's your mind getting in the way, trying to edit and fix and refine prematurely. It results in things like tentative language, characters hemming and hawing and refusing to take action, or action that's so over-the-top it distracts from the truth of the work. More reason to keep your eye on the horizon. The preliminary draft steps are important, but when I'm writing those drafts I need to remind myself that I have farther to go.