What’s Write about Punk?

Social media keeps me connected with the authors of the books I fall in love with. They continue to inspire, influence, and remind me why I need to keep on my writing journey. The annual Hay Festival had its 30th birthday recently. A Facebook page for the event posted a video of Neil Gaiman and he then reposted it. Gaiman attended the festival and was asked what influenced him most. He said: “It was 1976/1977, I was 15 going on 16. And it was punk. And the idea that in order to do something—you just did it. There was a chart in some fanzine. I remember that it said here’s a chord, here’s another, here’s another—now write a song. And that simplicity…the idea that you didn’t need big complicated things. If you wanted to do something—you did it. You can learn on the job. As an idea has built my life, changed my life, and shaped my life. And I’ve done so many things that I am manifestly unqualified for that I would never have dared to do, if punk hadn’t entered my life back in 1976/1977.” I was born about 7 years after this, but I knew what he was saying. Punk influenced me in its own way. My dad loved Lou Reed and would play Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane over and over on his electric guitar. Mostly, so that I could bang on an upside-down garbage pail and try to keep the rhythm. Both the simplicity of the chords (I played guitar) and the need to learn on the job, both hit home. I love learning. That’s why I love teaching and especially writing. If I have an interest in anything, I can explore it. Recently, I wanted to know something about robots, which meant I needed to know something about computer programming. Both of which I have no experience in. But through research, I found myself playing around with basic programming on Scratch. I was able to share the experience with my daughter. Who after finishing with the coding went off excited and inspired. She ended up drawing one of the projects we worked on and messing around with the piano after. It became obvious trying something new inspired creativity. On March 14th this year, Kate Dicamillo posted about her and her editor’s relationship. She said, “Sometimes, when people ask me about the writer/editor relationship, I explain it by saying that writing a novel is like... read more

The Magic of Imagery

Our critique group read Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap. It is a young adult novel with magical realism. Ruby’s voice is fantastic. She adds touches of magic to her descriptions. This is what immersed me in the real and created believability. Often, I’d forget the world was imagined.   How did she do it?  She emphasized the charm in the setting, the plot, its characters. She used the comparative devices of personification and metaphors to enchant the mundane. Throughout Bone Gap, the corn whispered, yapped, and twitched its green fingers. The scarecrows weren’t intended to scare off the crows, but to intimidate the misbehaving corn. The river sucked at legs, lifted and pulled a person forward. The honeybees whirled and the queen bee’s movements were determined. The characters in love even acted like bees: “The twitch of her nerves was like the beating of a billion tiny wings, as if messages passed from his breath and his hands through her skin and back again, the way bees stroke one another’s antennae, feeding on another by touch.” She showed the character’s worries with a black horse, a night mare. She brought to life love with the horse as well. It carried the young lovers through the woods and leapt at the edge of a mountain: “…they were falling over the cliff, until they felt the wind catch them, carry them in its soft, dark hands as if the horse and two riders were nothing but a feather that wended its way down the mountainside.” There are many successful writers that use the magic of imagery. What are some of your favorite children’s literature voices? How do their voices utilize imagery? “But if I’m it, the last of my kind, the last page of human history, like hell I’m going to let the story end this way…Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity. And if this is humanity’s last war, then I am the battlefield.” —Rick Yancey, The 5th Wave “Because Margo knows the secret of leaving, the secret I have only just now learned; leaving feels good and pure only when you leave something important, something that mattered to you. Pulling life out by the roots. But you can’t do that until your life has grown roots.” —John Green, Paper Towns “The words were on their way, and when they arrived, she would hold them in her hands like clouds, and she would ring them out like... read more

A Monster Calls: Fairytale or Truth

A Monster Calls cover was a little misleading. It wasn’t the typical fantasy or horror I had expected to read. Instead, it was an unexpected fairytale, that was also not a fairytale. An original for its time, I wanted to explore its elements of folklore. Many say that fairytales use groups of three. Three objects, events, characters. I attended an SCBWI conference in Birmingham this past fall. Bruce Coville, the keynote speaker, said that wasn’t exactly true.  He claimed there was groups of four: three things and a twist. Like three bears and goldilocks or three pigs and a wolf. In A Monster Calls, the monster comes to Connor. He promises to tell 3 stories and then Connor must tell his own. In true fairytale fashion, there are lessons to each of the Monster Yew’s stories. The values of action over thoughts are highlighted. But they are also atypical. Usually in fairy tales there are clear good and evil characters. In the monster’s stories, there is an evil witch worth saving and a prince that is both a murder and a savior (witches/royalty/monsters/mentors are all motifs of fairy tales). I appreciated the contradictions in the Monster’s stories’ characters. It made it feel less far, far away and more here and now. It felt true.  Even the actual characters not within the fables, like the main character and his grandma contradicted themselves. In typical folklore, human truths are revealed. These truths are consistent throughout time. We all wish to end our own pain and isolation. We punish ourselves for the painful truths we know and also the comforting lies we tell. Humans are complicated, not all good, not all bad. So, it isn’t who the character is on the inside that determines the bad or the good. It is their actions. Other human truths include that time is ticking away and that we must face ourselves to heal. Recurring patterns (another element of fairy tales) such as clocks and yew tree’s healing properties reiterate these truths. A Monster Calls was set in the past with supernatural elements. Special beginning words symbolized that it has happened before and it will happen again: “The monster showed up at midnight. As they do.” There was even a happily ever after ending (I won’t ruin). It was uncommon, yet it was full of hope and love. Inspired by folklore, A Monster Calls is an original tale that puts a spin on the plot structure,... read more

The Newbery Medal

  In the same month I read the 2017 Newbery Medal recipient: The Girl Who Drank the Moon along with the 2013 Newbery Medal winner: The One and Only Ivan. And I couldn’t wait to share these great books.   Newbery Medal winners are considered the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. That means that kids have to actually enjoy these books and they do. I was a fourth grader who fell in love with Katherine Patterson’s The Bridge to Terabithia.  I believe young readers enjoy them because the powerful messages these books have are not preached. The authors tend to present difficult issues, but never talk down (The Bridge to Terabithia deals with death). Readers are allowed to think their own big questions as they escape into the words of the pages. Katherine Applegate captures her readers’ imaginations with Ivan’s unique gorilla voice.  She shows differences in the way he thinks and how humans think. His thoughts come at their own pace. She uses appropriate descriptions and verse to allow the reader to imagine a gorilla’s world view. This allows kids a chance to think about the way they look at animals and reflect inward. It gives them experience in a world unfamiliar to them. As for The Girl Who Drank the Moon, readers are drawn in by the magic, the promise of story, and a dragon that fits inside a pocket. Barnhill said she wrote the story for herself and didn’t expect many to like it because she thought it was a bit weird. Instead, she found that kids related deeply to the themes. The idea that even when we are genuine and true, sometimes we still make mistakes. And the notions of rumors and getting the wrong idea about a person are issues kids deal with. The seeds of wonder are planted on the back covers in simple phrases. “I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. It’s not as easy as it looks…” And, “There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. Moonlight, however. That is a different story. Moonlight is magic. Ask anyone you like.” But the stories themselves are not simple and are filled with thought-provoking insight. Both novels are quite different, yet both include similar themes of sorrow, hope, humor, and friendship. I have fallen for many Newberry Medals and honors. Kelly Barnhill’s is definitely my newest favorite. If I hadn’t read it, I would’ve said The Graveyard Book.... read more

The Unusual Situation

As writers, we are often told to begin at the critical moment and to begin with action. I know from my own experience that this can be confusing. I’ve started right in the middle of a magnificent (my thoughts alone) car chase or fight scene. Readers weren’t introduced to the characters so they couldn’t relate and no one was hooked by the action. An unusual situation helps the writer start at the right time, in action, while introducing an appealing character.   Recently, I read 10 Ways to Hook Your Reader (And Reel Them in for Good) by Ann Garvin The first three on her list included beginning at a pivotal moment, an unusual situation, and adding an intriguing character. I had just read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and I thought to myself, that is a great example of an unusual situation.  That unusual situation sparked my curiosity and as I read, I met the main character. Now that situation was not the main inciting event. In fact, it was rather mundane, yet unfamiliar. Still, it was a great way to introduce the main character.   Jacob’s construction of a 1/10,000-scale replica of the Empire State Building from boxes of adult diapers was the unusual situation. Jacob purposely used the wrong brand to be displayed and wasted lots of time. Then he gets a phone call about his grandfather being in trouble.  So, what do readers learn about the character in this scene? We learned that he is actually a spoiled brat trying to get fired. But, he also cares deeply for his grandfather and is willing to drop everything to go to him, unlike his other family members. He’s not everyone’s favorite guy, but Jacob is definitely intriguing.       In Andrew Smith’s Winger, the unusual situation is the main character having his head dipped in a toilet. I’m pretty sure, Smith gets empathy right away with this. No one deserves that, do they? I read to find out. As the MC’s head is in the toilet, we learn that he works hard to try not to have this happen, he’s hopeful, has a sense of humor, and is also kind of weak. The reason he is scrawny happens to be the fact that he is a fourteen-year-old in a junior class. He’s really smart. Interesting. Holly Black’s Doll Bones opens with Zach playing dolls with his friends Poppy and Alice. They’re not... read more

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