Wednesday, August 6, 2014

IWSG: Notes from 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference

It's IWSG day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about their writerly insecurities....I'd just attended the 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference, from Friday, August 1st to Monday, August 4. I stayed an extra day for the optional Monday intensives. It was fun to be back at the Hyatt Regency, Los Angeles and to see familiar faces while forming new connections with others- writers and illustrators. This is my second year attending this conference, attended by kidlit folk from all over the country and all over the world.

I enjoyed the long weekend. Reflecting back on the conference is a bit like waking up from a sweet and unusual dream. Explaining unusual: I don't get to dream many dreams where I can document my activities with note taking and photos. I have my work cut out for me, and I hope my high from the conference would take me through those late-night writing jams when I'm feeling uncertain and insecure.

A few quotes from the speakers at the conference:
Megan McDonald quotes someone: "Many children's books are the working out of some childhood splinter." She adds: "Find your splinter."

"There's no such thing as writer's block. It's just that you're editing too early." - Stephen Chbosky

"Do not let anyone discourage you. If they do, get angry, not depressed." - Judy Blume (yes, it's THE Judy Blume!)

Have you gone to any conferences lately? 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

If I were Dear Abby...

Recently, I came across a Dear Abby column titled: "Friend Has Hard Time Finding a Few Kind Words for Bad Book." To summarize the dilemma, the advice seeker's friend's husband self-published a book and he asked the advice seeker to write a positive review of his book on Amazon. Problem is, the advice seeker thought the book was terribly written. Dear Abby advised the advice seeker to find something nice to say on Amazon, nonetheless. I've enjoyed reading Dear Abby very much through the years. And I have something to add on to her response this time...

All writers, especially new writers, should be open to opportunities for developing their craft. It would be unfortunate if this author would continue to spend years of his life passionately laboring over more books after this one, and believing all of his books demonstrate "perfection" ...while those around him fear that their honesty would hurt him. Wouldn't this mirror the story about the emperor without clothes? Sometimes honesty can be a gift when it’s packaged with VERY EXTREME tact and sensitivity and consideration to the other person's feelings.  (Being aware of some of the yucky stuff out there online, I want to emphasize that honesty and mean-spirited comments are two completely different things, and should NOT be regarded as synonyms.)  

If I were Dear Abby, I would advise the advice seeker to honor her comfort zone. That is, if she is okay with leaving a positive review for this author, then she should do so. And vice versa. It should also be noted that it is possible to write a positive review about a book while weaving in a little teeny weeny bit of constructive criticism. Regardless of whether or not the advice seeker writes the review, she could also consider how she might help the author grow as a writer. For example, she doesn't have to be a literary critic to gently suggest that the author find a critique partner, someone who is not his spouse.

What would your advice to the advice seeker be?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

IWSG: Time Capsule Reflections

It's a little after 10 PM on the first Wednesday of July...so it's still Wednesday!...And it's still IWSG day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about their writerly insecurities and other stuff. This month, I'm not sharing an insecurity, but about something else that has been making me quietly thoughtful. 

In my neighborhood, there is a library that will be having its grand opening later this summer. People have been invited to submit to a time capsule that will be stored away in the library's tower. Among the items requested are family histories and photos. The time capsule will be opened in 50 years. 

I contributed to the time capsule on behalf of my family. The family history I wrote was fairly short, less than one page. But this is more than just a family history. It is a love letter from myself to my children, and possible grandchildren, to be unveiled half a century into the future. Although my husband and I tell our children we love them enough, maybe they'd need to hear it again in 50 years.

If I read the "love letter" to my toddler children now, they wouldn't get it. But perhaps 50 years down the road, if my children are around to see the time capsule open, I can only hope my words might offer them some comfort and validation, wherever they might be in their lives at that time. 

What would you put in a time capsule to be opened 50 years from now?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

IWSG: Post Election Thoughts

It's IWSG day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about their writerly insecurities and other stuff. Today, it's the "other stuff" I'll be sharing about...

Some primary elections around the country took place yesterday. Before sending out my ballot last week, I spent a good chunk of time studying up on candidates and issues. Last night, as the precincts were reporting their votes, I was pleased that voters shared my sentiments in some areas. But voters didn't share my perspective in all areas.

Sometimes the feeling that people don't see what I see or know what I know can be frustrating. 

That's another reason why I write. I want to show people what I see. I want to show them what I know. It's my way of "campaigning" for myself and the things I believe in, even if only a limited number of people will have access to the messages on my "campaign flyers."

Did you vote yesterday? How did it go for you?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Author Interview with Jessica Spotswood

Witches have always interested me as a reader and writer. So I was giddy to discover Jessica Spotswood’s The Cahill Witch Chronicles, a trilogy showing an alternate history of the New England witches. The main protagonist, Cate, is a bold but reluctant witch who struggles with a number of things, including the menacing Brotherhood, an organization that prosecutes witches. After reading Jessica Spotswood’s BORN WICKED, the first book in the trilogy, I quickly read STAR CURSED, the sequel. I look forward to landing my hands on SISTERS’ FATE, the final book, which is coming out in August.

Today, I bring to you Jessica Spotswood.




How did you decide to write an alternate history of the New England witches?
I wanted to explore a world where clever, strong, powerful girls weren’t valued – were in fact feared – by the men in power. And while that was true in the 1890s (is still true today, I think, alas!) I wanted to make things even more difficult for my characters. I wanted to create a situation where, while the men definitely abuse their power, they also have a legitimate reason to fear these women. In the Cahill Witch Chronicles, magic can only be inherited and practiced by women, and in the past, the witches took horrible advantage of their ability to erase the memories of their enemies. It creates a situation where neither the witches nor the ruling Brotherhood are entirely good or bad, and the Brothers’ restrictions have created a powder keg situation where the witches are secretly gathering and ready to rebel!

Your books show rich world building. What things do you consider when you construct a world?
Thank you! I think it depends on the world. Since my New England is an alternate history version where witches settled the New World, fleeing persecution, and then were overthrown by a group of patriarchal priests called the Brotherhood, I thought a lot about how that history would trickle down. I explored the legal system a bit but focused mostly on culture – music, books, fashion, home decor, the rules governing conduct between men and women.

How did you construct the use of magic in your stories? How did you decide on the language of the spells? (e.g. "evanesco" to make something disappear, or "dedisco" to make one forget) 
For my spells, I totally took a lesson from J.K. Rowling and used Latin! I took five years of Latin in high school. Evanesco means to vanish or disappear, and dedisco means to forget or unlearn! As for constructing magic, I decided there would be different kinds of magic, with varying levels of difficulty. In the world of the trilogy, illusions are easiest to create, followed by animation spells, followed by healing, followed by compulsion. Most witches can do illusions and animations; fewer are gifted at healing; and it’s very rare to be able to do compulsion.

In BORN WICKED, there’s also a running theme of girls needing to make the "right" choices (e.g. the intention ceremony). How do you feel about female characters making the "wrong" choices?
I think it’s really important to allow characters to make mistakes, regardless of gender. Female characters are often judged more harshly  – called any number of slurs that would never be applied to boys who made the exact same choices. But I think that’s all the more reason to write about flawed female characters. Seeing characters in fiction who make mistakes – or even choices that aren’t mistakes but can be easily judged by readers - can hopefully start great dialogues and help us all learn to be more empathetic.

In STAR CURSED, there's a theme of imprisonment- there is physical and emotional imprisonment. Tell me more about Cate’s imprisonment. What elements, in your opinion, go into a story about imprisonment? 
I think Cate experiences both – she doesn’t want to be in New London, away from Maura and Tess and Finn and her garden, and she also feels very alone, literally cursed, by her magic and the prophecy. She doesn’t want to be a witch, and making peace with it is one step forward and two steps back, because even as she learns that she can do a lot of good with her healing, she fears that magic will cost her true love and one of her sisters’ lives. I think one difficult element for me was walking the line between making her believably, understandably despondent at being put in this situation without making her unlikably whiny. I don’t feel like characters need to be likable all the time, but we do ask readers to spend a lot of time in our protagonist’s head, so it’s a tricky balance. Cate’s also not one to take action rashly; she thinks things through a billion times first; so you could also say she’s stuck in her own head sometimes. Not as dreadful as being imprisoned in Harwood, but still frustrating for her as she struggles to figure out what the right thing to do is. 

Tell me about your favorite books/authors when you were growing up.
Some of my favorites were LITTLE WOMEN, the EMILY OF NEW MOON and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES series (Rilla in STAR CURSED is named after RILLA OF INGLESIDE), WUTHERING HEIGHTS, JANE EYRE, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and EMMA. My absolute favorite was GONE WITH THE WIND, though. I read a ton of historical romance!

What upcoming projects would you like to share about?
Actually, I just announced a new book deal! I’m going to be editing PETTICOATS & PISTOLS, a YA anthology of short stories that explore clever, strong, resourceful American girls throughout history. All the stories are written by female authors. Some will be realistic historical and some will be historical fantasy. I’ll be contributing a story, and so will Elizabeth Wein, Robin LaFevers, Andrea Cremer, Beth Revis, Marie Lu, Marissa Meyer, Saundra Mitchell, Jillian Anderson Coats, Katherine Longshore, Lindsay Smith, Robin Talley, and Caroline Richmond. I’m so excited to work with these amazing authors! It will hopefully come out in Spring 2016.

Thanks for having me!

Thanks for letting me interview you!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

IWSG: #WeNeedDiverseBooks

It's IWSG day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about their writerly insecurities and other stuff. I'm a few hours late with my post today, but hey, it's still Wednesday! 

My family and I moved to a new place on Monday. So it's been craaazy in my household these past few days. I had been planning to take a short break from social media but something came up last week on Twitter that caught my attention. Some authors put together the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign to address their concerns about the need for more diversity in literature. 

People supporting the #WeNeedDiverseBooks were asked to "put their money where their mouth is" last weekend and post pictures of diverse books they bought. Things get shuffled around when you move, but I still managed to uncover some, if not all, books I own that feature some element of diversity, big or small. (If you know me, and you don't see your diverse book in this image, it's probably because I haven't unpacked it yet.;)) I bought most of the books below; a couple of items were gifts/prizes. Featured in the photo below is SUMMONING THE PHOENIX (Lee & Low), a picture book about Chinese instruments that I bought at the end of April when I attended author Emily Jiang and illustrator April Chu's bookstore presentation. 


I can be a picky reader, and I mostly base my reading selections and book purchases on whatever sparks my interest and the suggestion of a reading experience I'm looking for. So while I like seeing diversity in books, this doesn't mean it's a given that I'll buy or read any book just because it's supposed to feature diversity. And while I support #WeNeedDiverseBooks, I am also interested in books that feature other stuff as well. 

For example, one book I have been waiting for to hit the shelves is Dianne Salerni's THE EIGHTH DAY. Dianne mentioned in a recent blog post that her book was coming out around this time. Today, I visited my local Barnes & Noble and I spotted Dianne's book sitting comfortably on a shelf, surrounded by Neil Gaiman and Angelina Jolie. This was the book purchase I made today. 


What was your most recent book purchase?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

On Breaking Bad's Series Finale and Loose Ends Endings

I hope you enjoyed Easter weekend. And no, I'm not doing the Blogging from A to Z Challenge this year. But for those of you who are doing it, I hope you're having fun. 

Last month, I finished watching the entire five seasons of the Breaking Bad series. Great show, really excellent writing. Once I got started on the last eight episodes of Season 5, there was no turning back.  The talented writers of the show tied many loose ends together in the series finale.  At the same time, there were some loose ends that weren't tied up, and these open endings were left up to viewer interpretation or musing. I don't believe loose ends always need to be tied up. But there were some loose ends in Breaking Bad that kept me thinking after I finished the show. And that's what I want to talk about today.
  
Readers, before you continue, I just want to warn you THERE WILL BE SPOILERS AHEAD. If you don't want to know what happens during the fifth and last season of Breaking Bad and the season finale, you can stop reading HERE.




...Okay, so here I go...





...again...SPOILERS AHEAD...




...So one of the things that popped out at me while watching the series is that it's not a good place for a child to be associated, even indirectly and/or unintentionally, with the meth producing and drug dealing underworld of Breaking Bad. As a kidlit writer, I'm invested in experiences of children, and so after watching the series finale, I was left wondering what happened to the surviving children on the show. 

What happened to that peek-a-boo kid Jesse rescued from that house in season 2? For a minute, I thought that peek-a-boo kid was the same kid that Todd killed in Season 5 by the train tracks, and that when the kid waved to the men after the train passed, it was because he recognized Jesse. But I was wrong, and the peek-a-boo kid is still out there somewhere. As is Brock, now without his mother Andrea, who was killed by the neo-Nazis in another grim moment of the series.  And what happens to Lydia's daughter, Kiira, who might've fulfilled Lydia's worst nightmare by finding her dead in their home? What happens to Mike's granddaughter, Kaylee, who only knows that her doting grandfather disappeared without a trace? What will Walter Jr. do with all that money the Schwartzes hand over when he turns 18? How will Holly handle the stigma of who her father was while growing up? 

And what happens to Jesse? He might be a man but I found him as vulnerable and impressionable as a child for most of the series. I can only hope that during the time he was incarcerated by the neo-Nazis, he thought hard about what he would do if he found freedom again, and now that he's out, he would stick to his escape plan....even though his taped confession is in the neo-Nazi's possession, which law enforcement is sure to find after they recover Walter's body at the hideout.

In addition to thinking about these loose ends after seeing the Breaking Bad finale, my kidlit writing brain also explored how a story about Grown-ups Behaving Really Badly would play out if it was told from the perspective of the children in the story, if each chapter bounced from character to character in a risky third-person omniscient narrative. While the children might not be able to fully explain or understand what's going on, the reader can absorb the clues offered by the green and honest voices of children, and put the pieces of the puzzle together. 

What did you think of the series finale of Breaking Bad, if you've seen it? Were there any loose ends you wanted to see get tied up?

Do you consider the third-person omniscient narrative a less desirable approach to storytelling over the first-person or third-person narrative?

Image from: http://breakingbad.wikia.com