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What’s Write About…Books – 3 reasons why reading is what makes America great!

On this wonderful day we celebrate our country’s independence, I wanted to state on this awesome blog that I believe there are many ways to make America great again, and at the risk of sounding cliché, it comes down to the fact that children are the future. They just are. Scientifically undebatable, that nugget of truth. So, when it comes to strategies on making America great, I believe that our schools and teachers are key. I also believe that reading is neglected far too often. To get to the point on this Independence Day (so you can get back to the pastimes of our forefathers – eating hot dogs, boating on the lake, and sunburning , of course), I want to tell you three things books will do for you and your children that are pretty firework-worthy. Books challenge society. A friend of mine recently gave me a list of books that had been banned through the decades. Wow. It was like every classic you’ve ever heard of or read. And you know why? Mostly, it was because they contained information or subject matter that made society uncomfortable. Sometimes, we forget the true value of liberalism. No, it’s not the rhetoric of the far left. In a nutshell, the classic definition of liberalism allows the free flow of ideas so people can make better decisions. Fiction launches new ideas and new ways of thinking about old ideas. And sometimes, it pushes us to consider why we believe what we believe. Books give a real voice to those we prefer to overlook. I just love R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. We still are a society that struggles to understand people with mental or physical differences, instead of embracing that uniqueness. Hollywood doesn’t have many main characters that deal with physical deformity or mental challenges (I just saw the Accountant, and the main character did have autism, but he was also a stone cold killer). Books are not as mainstream as movies, and there’s so much more opportunity there to read (and publish) books about characters who challenge us to reconsider what is truly normal—and special—about people. Books facilitate conversations on difficult subjects. One thing I always encourage parents to do is read the same books their kids are reading. First of all, it sets an example, but even more importantly, it gives you a common jumping off point. I’ll never forget how Hannah E. Harrison’s My Friend Maggie helped me manage conversations... read more

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

Authentic Dialogue in Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

As mentioned in previous posts, the WWAT crew just finished Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. In our group post, I spoke about how impressed I was with Ms. Ruby’s use of dialogue. There are quite a few great articles out there about writing authentic dialogue and formatting it appropriately, so for the sake of this post, I’ll just summarize some things. As writers we have several tricks when it comes to how characters speak to one another. Dialogue tags: This is of course when you denote the speaker by saying: he said/she said. ie. “Dialogue tags do the job,” he said. Action or Descriptive tags: This method makes use of a character’s actions before or after what is said. This method can be very powerful, giving the reader the added benefit of expression and movement. ie. He scratched his chin and glared. “So you like action tags, huh?” Again, I won’t get into when to use each one. The important thing is this–as a reader, our primary interest is knowing who is doing the talking. I want to highlight how Ms. Ruby does this–and let you judge the result. In the beginning of the novel, we have a scene between Finn, the main character and the aptly named Rude boys–a band of bully brothers:    One of the Rude boys turned around. “Hey, look. It’s Moonface. Trying to sneak up on us again.” “Whatcha doing, Moonface?” “Mooning at the moon?” Mean as yellow jackets, dumb as dirt. He sighed, the sharp exhale like the hiss of the plants all around. “Who you laughing at?” And easy, too. “I’m not laughing.” “Yes, you are.” “Okay, I’m laughing.” “Not at us,” said one. “Not if you’re smart,” said another. “Haven’t you heard?” Finn said.  “I’m not so smart.” Remember how I said the most important thing when writing dialogue is noting who is speaking? Well,  so much for that. In this scene, there is one character we know, and a group we don’t. Her focus here is the interaction and not getting bogged down in nameless, unimportant characters. We still get the idea that Finn is outnumbered, and she uses an economy of words to do it. Here’s another–this time between two important characters, Finn and his best friend Miguel:    “I don’t have an act,” said Finn. “You know what Amber Hass told me?” Miguel said. “No, what?” “That you looked like that actor.” “Which actor?” “Who cares, dude! Amber Hass says you look like an actor, you... read more

When Nice Guys Finish First

Recently, my critique group read Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. Not only did I sit there thinking that Ruby has a special talent for writing things in such a gorgeous way, (and in a truly creative and visceral sense), but I also fell in love with her characters. In particular, I was really taken by Finn. He’s a good kid. A nice kid. And here’s a YA genre spoiler alert: There are not a lot of nice guys out there. Sure, there are sexy romantic types. But most of the heroes are tough or dangerous or tortured or stuck up or filled with sleazy thoughts. And since I myself met my significant other at the age of eighteen—a kind, nice (but still totally sexy) boy—a guy whom I would go on to marry two years later (and am now celebrating 15 years together!!!), I thought I’d like to give a shout out to some of my favorite “nice guys” in YA lit. The Fault in Our Stars – August is special. No doubt, he’s grown up quickly with his dire cancer battle, but the way he relates to Hazel has us all bawling our eyes out at the end of the novel. My Life Next Door – Jase Garrett comes from a big family. But that makes him sensitive, responsible, and totally adorable as he and Samantha fall in love. He’s the kind of boy you just can’t stand for her to hurt. Out of the Easy – Ruta Sepetys always dazzles me with her writing, and this book, which takes place in 1950s New Orleans, is no different. I love the not-so-bad-boy Jesse, who lets us have our motorcycle fantasy while proving he’s really a gentleman under all that sex appeal. So, who are your favorite nice guys? Any YA heroes making your heart beat faster these days by being hot and polite? Because I’m all ears.... 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

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