Is it Kid’s Lit? A new discussion for WWAT…

My colleagues and I talk a lot about kid lit. I mean, yeah, it’s what we do. We talk about genre, what fits and what doesn’t, what breaks the rules and what doesn’t, and how many times a day we think to ourselves, what are the real ages of the respective readers for their respective genres? Well, one thing I love is classics. Okay, so most writers/readers have a classic that inspires them. My favorite classic authors of kid lit include C.S. Lewis, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Jules Verne. Hmmm, Jules Verne. I recently read an eye-opening biography about the famous writer by William Butcher. In it, I discovered Jules Verne had worked for years to become a playwright, specializing in double-entendre and the scandalous. He eventually became a family man (although he most likely kept some other “interests” in Paris) and had a very difficult time connecting with and managing his (only) son. But it is after his marriage and journey into fatherhood that his science fiction writing came to the limelight. Actually, that’s not quite right. According to Butcher, it wasn’t so much science as travel that obsessed the middle-aged Jules Verne. Enter such works as Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in Eighty Days, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. My favorite is Phileas Fogg’s journey around the world (it’s the only one with a highly romantic finish), but many high school reading lists have the 130,000 word story of Captain Nemo’s underwater voyage. What I have come to learn, from reading Butcher’s biography, as well as a rereading of all the aforementioned Verne classics, are these things… Verne sometimes had to bow to the whims of his publisher. Jules Hetzel was a brutal businessman, and Verne suffered for not demanding better contracts. However, according to sources including Butcher, Verne made changes he disagreed with (including changing Nemo from a Polish man out to get revenge against the Russians to a man with an ambiguous ethnic identity, all so Hetzel wouldn’t lose the lucrative Russian market). Verne wrote an amazing letter to Hetzel that reminds me of things I’ve written defending my writing choices. At the end of the day though, a good writer remembers…publishers can only exist if they make money. That doesn’t mean you don’t write true to yourself, characters, and story, but you keep your mind open. Verne did, and even though Hetzel was much too interfering, it’s still... read more

What’s Write about Storytelling

“Whenever I’m asked what advice I have for young writers, I always say that the first thing is to read, and to read a lot. The second thing is to write. And the third thing which I think is absolutely vital, is to tell stories and listen closely to the stories you’re being told.” -John Green I love folklore, legends, and fairytales. Growing up in Connecticut with so much history, there were many tales. To this day, whenever we are stationed somewhere new, I insist my husband take me on the haunted/history tour because those always have the best stories. I believe this love has stemmed from one of the best story tellers I know, my father (I have a few in my family). We would tease that we heard the story already, but we’d still eagerly listen to him retell his favorites, and we begged him to share them with our friends. Why do we as humans tell stories? I went to the Great Courses: The Art of Storytelling: From Parents to Professionals. It was instructed by Professor Hannah B. Harvey. For her, storytelling is a powerful gift. She says, “A story well told can make us laugh, weep, swell with pride, or rise with indignation.” Whereas a poorly told story can be boring or an uncomfortable experience. Harvey explains storytelling isn’t just for entertainment, but it is a fundamental human experience. It grounds humans with “purpose, identity, and gives us continuity between the past and present.” Our stories are “a container for our deepest longings, hopes, and fears.” They’re our way of questioning life, self-reflection, and they reveal human truths as opposed to facts. Facts tell us what actually happened, truths reveal what the events meant to people. So as writers, why should we tell stories out loud? Why should we force ourselves to make eye contact with an audience instead of our computer screens? As writers we need to learn how to cater our stories to the audience in which we intend it for (I assume at least part of John Green’s point above). It’s good to learn how to tell a story properly. Why did your audience laugh or cry? Why did your story flop? Writers need to have answers to those questions. Professor Harvey mentioned the fundamental human experience and we need to make sure that experience comes across the page as well. In a Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (2011, YA), Conor’s Mom... read more

Debut Author Interview – Ryan Dalton

Today we’re happy to host  an interview with Ryan Dalton about his debut YA release The Year of Lightning.  WWAT: Most of our readers are aspiring authors. Please tell us a little about how you became interested in writing. Dalton: I’ve been a book geek pretty much since I could read. Once I picked up a book, I basically never put it down. That love stuck with me early and has always been there. Then, between about eight and ten years old, I started to realize that the books I loved were written by actual everyday people, and it wasn’t long before I decided I was going to be one of them. From that point on, I always said that I would publish books someday. WWAT: One of the hardest parts of editing is getting that first chapter just right. In The Year of Lightning, you did an excellent job of introducing your two main characters first and then adding the suspense that’s needed to keep us hooked. Did you make many changes from your initial draft to get this first chapter? Dalton: I’m glad you liked it! My original first chapter was very different from the finished novel. It was a completely different scene with different characters, and my plan was to introduce the twins in chapter two. That original first chapter worked for about half of my beta readers, but the other half didn’t respond to it at all, so I knew it needed to change. Then I got some advice from a fellow writer that helped me realize what needed to change, and the first chapter became what you see. It works much better than what I had originally planned. WWAT: You create a unique small town setting in the first few chapters, seen through the eyes of your MCs at their new home and school. Is the town based on anything from your own life? Dalton: I spent my early years in a small town, so that kind of setting felt natural to write. The town in the story is fictional, but I did include a few common small-town elements. Each one has its own little identity and culture, so it was fun to build one from the ground up and see it become a character of its own. WWAT: The title you chose for your book definitely reflects your story. Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about your inspiration for the supernatural aspects of your story? Dalton: I like creepy books, but I’m not generally a fan of ghost or horror stories. Those do tend to intersect, so... read more

Excuses, Excuses – Five Tips for Zapping Stagnation

As a writer who works with first-time novelists, I hear it all the time. Well, I hear multiple versions of it: “I haven’t had time to write, because life has been really busy.” “I’ve got a best-selling idea for a novel, but I’m too tired to work on it.” “I want to write, but I’ve been having a hard time getting over the loss of Guppy, my goldfish.” People! Please. Let me tell you a secret. Anyone can come up with a reason not to write. Okay, so that’s not really a secret, but I swear the excuses sometimes make me want to slap my head and say, “This isn’t easy, folks!” News flash: Most writers don’t skip off to some mountain retreat to work on their novels. Nope. Most of us have lives to live, and books don’t write themselves. If only. But I get it. I do. Life is crazy complicated, and sometimes finding a moment of peace and sitting your butt in front of the computer feels like the last possible thing you want to do. Then, even when you’re finally at the computer, distractions abound. So here, quick and simple, are the tips I share with writers both new and experienced to keep their novels out of the “incomplete” pile: Make a schedule. Some writers eschew schedules as creativity killers. I disagree. I give myself an achievable word-count goal every week. However, my family members (and multiple paid writing gigs) come first, so if that means I have to get up at 5:30 one morning—or earlier—to reach my word-count goal, I do it. Don’t wait on divine inspiration. Inspiration or not, you can’t work with something you don’t have. Some days I really get carried away with what I’m writing; on others, I feel like my brain got lost in a big black hole. No matter. Write something. Put it down. You can always fix it later. Watch out for time suckers. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools are the new-age author’s best friend. But you know what? Don’t make the mistake of spending all your time online talking about writing and not doing it. Why? Because you’re likely to get stuck watching videos of cats doing hilarious things, and while that’s certainly good for a laugh, I’m afraid it doesn’t do much for reaching the final chapter of your novel. Don’t always be a panster. I find when I develop a good-hearted but... read more