Monday, April 30, 2012

Zero Time to Write

After giving birth to my daughter, I wondered how I would ever manage to find a block of time for myself each day to write again.

It wasn't easy. But I eventually made it happen, even if it meant initially spending just half an hour at the laptop every night after everyone had gone to sleep. The half hour later grew to an hour, and so forth.

I tip my hat to all you parents out there who effectively manage your time so you can pursue your writing dreams. For what can be more challenging than fitting writing into your schedule when you have a little one at home?

Let me answer that: TWO little ones!

I'm super excited about having another baby. But at the same time, I know I will go through an initial period where I will have ZERO time to write or blog, much less do anything else for myself.     

But reading your blogs inspire me. I am in awe of those who can raise a family, maybe even hold down a job on top of that, all while pursuing their creative passions.  

When I begin wondering how I will scrape together the time to pick up on my writing again, I will be thinking of all of you out there who managed to pull it off. 
 
...Oh my, is it really the last day of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge? I just wanted to say that it has been a truly AWESOME experience connecting with all of you. I get warm and fuzzy thinking of how many of you have continuously returned to my blog this month to read my posts and share your comments. A handful of chocolate mints to you all!   

My baby's due date is in about a couple of weeks, and there is more I need to do to prepare for the big day (or night) and the whirlwind of  new parenting duties coming after that. Therefore, I must take a break from blogging for hopefully just a couple of months, starting from now. I might still leave comments on some blogs before the baby arrives, but once he's here, it's going to be pretty crazy for awhile.

I hope to reconnect with you all when I return.  

Image from  stock.xchng

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Yo-Yo Writing

You've probably heard of yo-yo dieting, an unhealthy habit of dieting to lose weight, letting the weight return, and then dieting some more. Has anyone ever been prone to yo-yo writing? This term I made up refers to periods of time where you pump out pages and pages of writing and then you take a long break, and then you get back to your laptop, struggle for awhile to get back into the scheme of things, then you pump out a few more pages until you take your next extended break.

Before I became serious about my writing, I had a tendency to yo-yo write. I'd dig deeply into a story for weeks and then take a break for a couple of weeks, maybe even a couple of months. My breaks had nothing to do with writer's block or family obligations, both of which are legitimate reasons for taking a break. It was just that I'd easily let other things take priority to my goal of being a published author. 

Somewhere along the line, I realized yo-yo writing is for those who approach writing as a hobby without genuine motivation to get published. I knew if I wanted to be a published author, I needed to push myself harder. Finishing a novel and publishing a book- neither of those things happen by accident. So I pushed myself and that's how I finished my first novel. 

Honestly, I don't know if this book will get published, but at least now, I know what goes into writing a book. It takes dedication, time management, determination, and lots of butt-in-chair nights. I wouldn't have come this far if I hadn't quit my yo-yo writing habits. 

What do you do to keep yourself from yo-yo writing?

Friday, April 27, 2012

XOXO You Know You Love Me

I like to escape with Gossip Girl for the ultra-melodramatic storylines, the outlandish I-would-so-never-wear-that-even-if-it's-couture fashion, and the highbrow society events. The characters are fun to watch too, with the most intriguing character being Gossip Girl herself. Gossip Girl is the pen name for the original host of this blog publicizing the private lives of Manhattan's young and spoiled. She often signs off on her posts with  "You know you love me, XOXO Gossip Girl."

The pen name of Gossip Girl allows the writer to be anonymous. That is one reason why some writers assume pen names. Published authors who want to write in a genre outside of what they're known for sometimes also use pen names. Another reason why writers assume pen names is because they want to distinguish between their identity in one profession and another- for example, they don't want their reputation as a phlebotomist  to mix with their reputation as a writer of YA vampire lit.  

While I like my name, I haven't ruled out the possibility of using a pen name someday, especially since I am interested in writing in a variety of genres for both children and adults. 

Do you prefer pen names or real names? Do share.

XOXO,
C at Read is the New Black

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Worldbuilding Resources

Michael Whelan's cover art for THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES by Ray Bradbury

Awhile ago, I tried to scratch out the beginning of a story taking place in an alternate world. Fleshing out the setting proved to be rather challenging once I got started. The more I wrote, the more I realized I really needed to know my world better before I continued on. So I went online and found lots of cool resources out there for writers like myself in worldbuilding mode:

Patricia C. Wrede wrote a bunch of thought-provoking Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions on the web site for Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.  Writers are invited to reflect on topics, such as what kind of limits are there to magic, what kind of characters face discrimination, and what the rites of passage are.

Stephanie Cottrell Bryant wrote Fantasy Worldbuilder Guide: 30 Days of Worldbuilding so writers can break up their world building into 30 lessons with topics such as creating a language, an educational system, and history. These lessons come with exercises and resources  on worldbuilding.

Annalee Newitz wrote The Rules of Quick and Dirty Worldbuilding, an easy-to-breeze-through article on io9 with some general suggestions on how one can get started on worldbuilding.

Nathan Bransford wrote a post on his blog titled "What Makes a Great Setting" where he offers tips on how to build a setting for readers beyond how an environment looks physically.

National Novel Writing Month's web site  has a forum called World Building & Fantasy Writing Resources & Links where posters share their resources for worldbuilding. Lots of good stuff here. Link updated 2/12/13

YA writer Kaitlin Ward reminds us on a YA Highway post titled "First Drafts and World Building" not to get so boggled down by all the teeny tiny details of worldbuilding that we neglect our WIP.

Feel free to offer any other tips or resources on worldbuilding.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Showing an Authentic Villain

V for Villains...While readers often get a feel for the hero's moral compass from details shared about their upbringing and their relationships with others, I've read many books where I don't get any insight to why a villain behaves the way they do. Sometimes a villain who is evil simply for the sake of being evil can come across as a flat character. Here are my tips for creating an authentic villain as opposed to a cookie-cutter bad guy. 

Show the villain's back story.  I find it useful to know the tyrannical, sadistic king had once been forced to kill his beloved pet dog  to prove his masculinity to his own father. Or that the snooty gold digger millionaire's wife had grown up poor and is embarrassed to be associated with her past. While knowing a villain's tragic back story doesn't necessarily make me more sympathetic towards them, especially if they had done something truly heinous, it helps me understand their character motivation more.

Show the villain's perspective. When you read a book, you get a certain perspective, usually that of the hero. Can you imagine the entire HARRY POTTER series being told from Voldemort's perspective, or THE HUNGER GAMES series narrated by President Snow? A glimpse into how the villain thinks will help readers understand their choices. Why do they find the hero to be such a menace?  Why do they think their villainous deeds will accomplish more than the noble approach? Why does the villain believe s/he is the real hero?

Show the villain when no one is watching. Villains reveal their insecurities when they believe no one is looking. The tyrannical, sadistic king can't sleep unless he has a night light on and a gun under his pillow, in spite of the soldiers standing guard outside his chambers. The gold digger millionaire's wife can't bear to look at herself in the mirror after washing off her makeup. These little details help confirm that villains, like anyone, have vulnerabilities they wish to keep hidden. 

Do you have other tips for creating authentic villains?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Unusual Ideas

Don't be afraid to share unusual ideas in your writing.In publishing, there's no such thing as an idea that's too unusual.

Many years ago, I attended a writers event where an industry professional shared there was an odd, growing interest in books on paranormal romance- stories about everyday people hooking up with paranormal creatures. Some audience members responded  with skepticism. Paranormal romance? Who would read this sort of thing? You must be kidding.

Now that we've seen the big-time success of several paranormal romances, some of the people who had scoffed at the idea of there being such a genre  might wish they hadn't passed their judgment so prematurely.

Just because someone, even a fellow writer, doesn't get something you're doing, it doesn't mean that the publishing industry won't either. Don't let those who dismiss your ideas as being too weird or "out there" keep you from letting your story spill out.   

Have you ever been hindered or discouraged by how others have reacted or might react to an unusual idea you have for a story?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Winners of My One Hundred Follower Giveaway

First, thanks to all of you who have commented on my post for my One Hundred Follower Giveaway.  I appreciate the interest of everyone who had requested a book.

Congratulations to the winners:

Grigory wins THE LIGHTNING THIEF by Rick Riordan 
 
Laurie Dennison wins I FEEL BETTER WITH A FROG IN MY THROAT: HISTORY'S STRANGEST CURES by Carlyn Beccia

SC wins CHILDREN'S WRITER'S WORD BOOK by Alijandra Mogilner & Tayopa Mogilne 

I will be contacting the winners through email. Thanks again for playing, and I hope to host another giveaway sometime in the near future. 

Therapy Writing

I've heard more than one person say that writing has been therapeutical to help  them process difficult experiences.

Most people have experiences where they look back on with a sense of dread, but they've also become somewhat apathetic to it, as in it was what it was and I've moved on. That's how I feel about  some icky stuff I've been through in a different lifetime. It has even occurred to me that some of these challenging experiences can actually make for some good stories. So I've considered writing some of this stuff down, tweaking the details to remove distinguishable features of people, places, and specific incidents, acknowledging the emotional experience as opposed to the actual experience, and then molding my story into something that's reader-friendly, perhaps even a book.

Unfortunately, "therapy writing" hasn't always been successful for me. To put myself in the shoes of the old me means reliving certain experiences and becoming reacquainted with certain toxic personalities and when I do this, the apathy I'd once felt towards the past might be slowly replaced by the angst, rage, and sadness I'd felt back then. So I'd tell myself I'll feel much better when I'm done with all this. After all, you always hear about how good writing comes from the heart, and maybe some short-lived discomfort is all I need to endure to produce a quality piece of writing.  But weeks or even months into a project, I find the self-indulgent pleasure that used to come with my writing is replaced by a feeling of helplessness, as if I'd jumped out of a time machine and found myself back there again. And this helplessness follows me around even when I'm not writing.

And then I realize I have to stop. I jump back into the time machine and very slowly weave my way back to the present. Like I'd waken up from a bad dream, I have to  keep reminding myself that I'm here now- I'm not back there anymore.

But sometimes, I feel miffed at myself for stopping.

Has therapy writing ever worked for you? Do you ever experience back-there-again flashbacks and negative emotions while you write? How do you deal with this?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts

S is for Susan Cain...Last month, I wrote a post associating "quiet" behavior with positive writer characteristics. (And by no means was I suggesting that extroverts aren't good writers- I believe both introverts and extroverts can make excellent writers.) Anyway, many writers commented on this particular post and it was eye-opening to know how many of us have received negative and unfair feedback for being "quiet." Let me go on to say that I consider myself both an extrovert and an introvert. I can be vocal and outgoing, and I can also be mellow and reserved. My persona often depends on my mood and where I am, who I'm with. I have many friends who are extroverts, and I also have friends who are introverts. But while I find that extrovert qualities are often praised, I find that introvert qualities are often frowned upon. And that really annoys me.

Shortly after publishing my post, I found a video segment on CNN featuring Susan Cain, author of QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN'T STOP TALKING. In the 19 minute-long video, Susan gives a talk to a crowded auditorium about the power that  introverts yield.

Susan shares a childhood experience about attending a summer camp where rowdiness was encouraged. When she went off to read by herself, a counselor chastised her for not showing "camp spirit" and tried persuading her to be more outgoing. Such was one of many experiences Susan has had where the world showed her that extroversion is valued more than introversion.

Susan also reveals how psychology studies have shown that the most creative people also come with a "streak of introversion."  She names Theodor Seuss Geisel, also known as Dr. Suess, as an example of someone extremely creative who was actually such an introvert he didn't like to meet his fans because he was afraid children would expect him to be "a jolly Santa Claus" though he was actually more "reserved." 

There is a lot of juicy stuff shared in Susan's talk that would interest both introverts and extroverts. Check it out here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Revenge: Does It Have a Place in Children's Literature?

R is for Revenge...There are plenty of books  with feel-good revenge themes for adult readers. We marvel at Edmond Dantes' stamina in THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO when he makes trouble for those who had him wrongfully imprisoned. Many years ago, when I watched the movie version of WAITING TO EXHALE in the theater, a chorus of "You go girl!" sounded around me as Bernadine sets fire to her cheating husband's fancy clothes and car. In MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, even Hercule Poirot sympathizes with the murderers who took their revenge on the evil Ratchett.

I wonder if feel-good revenge is a concept intended only for adults to enjoy. Although there are definitely stories about revenge involving adolescents in young adult lit, I see stories about revenge in picture books or middle grade novels less frequently. When a young character is mistreated or maligned in  most children's books, the subtle message of taking the high road or using your wit to outsmart the villain often overrides the notion of "playing dirty" to even the score. Even when a revenge seeker makes an appearance in children's literature, they are often adults or non-humans.  In HOLES, Madame Zeroni,  stinging from a broken promise, places a curse on the protagonist's ancestor. In SHREK! (the picture book, NOT the movie) Shrek fights the aggression he encounters from others with even more aggression.

Many young characters, especially in contemporary fiction, encounter hindrances or backlash for seeking revenge. In RAMONA THE BRAVE, Ramona gets in trouble for destroying her classmate Susan's owl after Susan wins praise by copying Ramona's owl. In DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, Greg is ready to fight his former friend Rowley for taking sole credit for their comic when a group of older kids come by to harass them both.  In THE SHADOW CLUB, members initially take revenge on rivals by playing silly pranks, but as the dirty deeds become more vindictive, the perpetrators eventually have to face their guilty consciences.  Attempts at revenge  don't often play out well for young characters.

...But there are exceptions.  In MATILDA, Matilda plays all sorts of tricks on the adults who cut her down, from putting crazy glue on her father's hat to using telekinesis  to intimidate the headmistress at her school. And she gets away with all this consequence and guilt-free.

Can you think of more exceptions in children's books where revenge is considered acceptable behavior, for example, in fairytales? How about books where revenge is a no-no? Should there be boundaries on how revenge  is presented in children's books, young adult books, or adult fiction? Do you like stories where revenge is part of the plot?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Questions About Childhood

The letter for today's Blogging from A to Z challenge is Q. Q is for Questions...Over a year ago, before I even started this blog, I attended a children's book writing workshop author Elissa Haden Guest hosted at The Reading Bug, a kidlit-themed bookstore here in the Bay Area. Elissa writes the IRIS AND WALTER early reader picture books and she was super nice to talk to.

To get participants to reflect on their childhood, Elissa read aloud a bunch of questions and gave us some time to jot down notes after each one. I remember thinking after the workshop, it would be nice if I had a blog so I could share the notes I took.  Now over a year later,  I do have a blog and I will share some of Elissa's questions here:

When you were a child...
1. What were you afraid of?
2. What strange notions did you have? (Elissa shares that her niece thought little people walked and lived on her body.)
3. How did you feel feel turning off the lights?
4. Did anyone in your family ever betray your trust or spill the beans on you?
5. What did your parents not know about you as a child?
6. What did your parents call you when they were being affectionate?
7. What did they say when they were angry? What were physical details of your parents when they were angry, when you knew something scary was coming?
8. Do you remember any embarrassing experiences?
9. Did you have a friend your parents hated? Who was it?
10. Did you have a secret crush on anyone? Who was it?
11. Did you want to grow up quickly? What was it that grown-ups did that was enticing to you?
12. Which teacher did you really love?
13. Which teacher made your life miserable?
14. Do you remember physical details about friends' houses?
15. Did you ever want to be called a different name? If so, what was it?
16. Look through your responses to the questions. What can you add more detail to?

Feel free to answer any of the questions here.  Can you offer any more questions to get writers to think about their childhood?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

One Hundred Follower Giveaway!

I'm going to interrupt my flow in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge to announce I hit 100 followers! This is jumping-on-my-mattress AWESOME! As a way to show my gratitude to all my readers for their support, I'm hosting a one hundred follower giveaway!  

I am giving away 3 super fabulous books to 3 lucky winners:

1. THE LIGHTNING THIEF by Rick Riordan (Middle Grade-Fiction)
2. I FEEL BETTER WITH A FROG IN MY THROAT: HISTORY'S STRANGEST CURES by Carlyn Beccia (Picture Book/Early Reader- Non-fiction)
3. CHILDREN'S WRITER'S WORD BOOK by Alijandra Mogilner & Tayopa Mogilner (Reference)


To enter, this is all you need to do:
1. Follow this blog publicly through Google FriendConnect, if you haven't already. 
2. Comment on this post and let me know which of the three books you'd like and why.

The deadline to enter this contest will be at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Sunday, April 22. Three winners will be randomly selected. Winners may not get the book they'd asked for, but I hope they can still be happy with what they end up with. 

Please check back next Monday to see if you've won! If I don't hear from a winner within two days after the announcement of their win, I will choose another winner.

National Poetry Month: Shel Silverstein

P is the letter of the day for the Blogging A to Z Challenge. So it makes sense to announce that April is National Poetry Month. What better way to celebrate verse and lyrical bliss than to spotlight one of my favorite kidlit poets- the late Shel Silverstein, author and illustrator of poetry collections such as WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS and A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC. Shel Silverstein's humor used to poke me into chuckles, the kind you'd get while slurping juice, and then you're laughing so hard that you choke and your drink shoots out your nose. (Hey, that could be the subject for a poem right there!)

Here's an animated  Youtube clip of Shel Silverstein reading one of his poems, "Ickle Me, Pickle, Me, Tickle Me too"  from WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS.



 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Obsessions

Once I did a writing exercise where I was required to list my obsessions, whether they were things that I passionately loved or loathed. If I remember correctly, being aware of my obsessions was supposed to help guide my writing and make me more aware of recurring concepts and stuff in my stories. I can't find what I'd written in that old exercise, so I'm composing a new list of things I'm obsessed with.

What I passionately love: sunsets, wine and chocolate, good food, art, traveling, the company of loved ones, unsung heroes, super powers or extraordinary talents, delayed gratification, underdogs, random acts of kindness, karma, open-mindedness, and perceptiveness. 

What I passionately loathe: post-nasal drip, waiting in long lines, being around negativity, bigotry, bullying, arrogance, people who dish it out but can't take it back, people who can be easily bought, abuse of authority, poor manners, being misunderstood, dishonesty, and injustice. 

What are some of your obsessions? Tell me what you passionately love and loathe.

Image from  stock.xchng

Monday, April 16, 2012

Non-Fiction Reads

I get the sense many of my readers write and read primarily fiction.  Although I write fiction and read mostly fiction, I read non-fiction books occasionally too.  Some of the non-fiction I read is outside the kidlit arena.

Excluding books about writing and cookbooks, here are three of my recent non-fiction reads:

DEAR BULLY: 70 AUTHORS TELL THEIR STORIES edited by Megan Kelley Hall (Young Adult- HarperTeen) Kidlit authors share their experiences with bullying growing up. 








BOSSYPANTS by Tina Fey (Adult-Little, Brown & Company) With her usual comedic flair, Tina writes about her childhood, her theater days, and her entry into the entertainment industry.   








BAD GIRLS: 26 WRITERS MISBEHAVE edited by Ellen Sussman (Adult- W. W. Norton & Company) Adult writers share the naughty deeds they've committed when they were younger.








I just noticed my recent non-fiction reads all comprise of narratives from writers!

Do you read non-fiction? What are some non-fiction books you've read?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Music for Your WIP

When I was a kid, I used to follow a TV drama revolving around the murder of a local teen in its first season. Does anyone remember Twin Peaks? If I had to channel music for one of my recent WIPs, it would be the theme song for Twin Peaks. In my story, a recent high school grad is murdered. Though the "Who Killed Laura Palmer?" mystery and my WIP are two completely different stories, there is plenty of bizarre activity going on in both tales.
 
What music would go with your WIP?

To recognize the good ol' days when TV shows had theme songs, I leave you with this:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Learning with Kidlit: A New Sibling or New Baby

I'm expecting a baby.  I'm officially announcing here that I'm in my third trimester right now and my due date is next month. (And I'm super hoping the baby doesn't come too early because I want to finish up the Blogging A to Z  Challenge!!) 

Learning with Kidlit is an occasional feature I write to share books I've read covering certain topics. This month, I'm sharing some kidlit books about having a new baby in the house. I've been reading up on children's books about new babies, while sharing a few of the titles below with my daughter:


BRAND-NEW BABY BLUES by Kathi Appelt, Illust. by Kelly Murphy (Picture book- HarperCollins) In this rhyming book, a girl is jealous of the attention her new baby brother is receiving.





 

 

IRIS AND WALTER AND BABY ROSE by Elissa Haden Guest, Illust. by Christine Davenier (Early reader- Harcourt) Iris is annoyed with her new sister's fussiness.






 


PRIME BABY by Gene Luen Yang (Graphic novel for Middle Grade-First Second) A boy's new baby sister is connected to the alien world.


THE BOSS BABY by Marla Frazee (Picture book-Beach Lane) The new CEO of the  household throws tantrums when he doesn't get attention.






 
THE BERENSTAIN BEARS' NEW BABY by Stan & Jan Berenstain (Picture Book-Random House) Published in 1974, this book is about Small Bear moving on from his baby bed to a bigger bed, right at the same time his little sister joins the family. (Jan Berenstain, who passed away recently, will be greatly missed.)   




Any other expectant parents out there?  Any other kidlit recommendations on this topic?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

My Kryptonite

When Superman was around kryptonite, his superpowers would take a nosedive. I believe most writers and artists have to deal with "kryptonite" at some time. Our kryptonite would be something that would lead us to a moment of weakness and interfere with our ability to work to our fullest and most uninhibited potential. When a writer or artist becomes inhibited and discouraged, the source of the kryptonite must be located. 

My kryptonite often leads to this thread of destructive thinking: What if all this work I do is for nothing? Sometimes when my family is in bed and the whole world seems to be asleep and I'm still up at my laptop writing past 2 a.m., I would wonder if I'm  just wasting my time. Once I start thinking this, my gung-ho writer's spunk goes on break.

But like the times Superman had overcome the weakening effects of the kryptonite, I also have come to remedy my ego-sinking thought patterns by reminding myself what I know to be true: Most published writers started out the same way as me. Unaware of what their future held, they would plow away into the wee hours of the early morning and simply hope for the best.

So I would send the krytonite down the garbage disposal and keep on writing.

Writers and artists, what is the source of your krytonite? Is it something internal, such as a way of thinking? Or does your kryptonite come from external sources, such as other people? Tell me how you handle your kryptonite.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Joke About Writers

Here's something funny I found on the Internet-

From Writersdigest.com:

(Writer's Digest, 1952) 

There might be a hint of truth in what this cartoon depicts, you think?

 Do you know any other jokes for writers? 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Author Interview with Ammi-Joan Paquette

Today's letter for the Blogging A to Z Challenge is the letter I, so I bring to you an interview with Ammi-Joan Paquette, a literary agent and author who writes picture books as well as middle grade and young adult novels. I've read Joan's THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING FAIRIES (Tanglewood Press), a fun picture book detailing the world of fairies. I also read NOWHERE GIRL (Walker/Bloomsbury), a middle-grade adventure novel about a 13-year old girl who leaves the Thai prison she was born and raised in to search for her  dead mother's family in America. Joan took time out of her  busy writing schedule and agent job with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency to answer my questions.

 



I read somewhere you came up with the idea for THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING FAIRIES while you were out walking with your daughters. Did you and your daughters ever come across a fairy on one of your walks?               Unfortunately, we never did meet any fairies in our tracking adventures—but it wasn’t for lack of searching! As a point of interest, the early drafts of this story stayed true to my daughters’ and my real-life experience: the fairy trackers come to the end of their walk not having actually seen the fairies, who have been lurking just out of sight (though visible to the readers). But after counsel from my very wise editor, I changed the text to what you see in the final version, with the face-to-face encounter at the end giving the story just the right joyful endcap. Those fairies are elusive, but not entirely unreasonable, when the conditions are right!

How did you come up with the idea for NOWHERE GIRL? The idea of a girl, born to an American mother, being raised in a Thai prison is such a grabbing premise for the beginning of a story.  
The inspiration came from reading an article about a young boy who had been raised in a Thai prison, along with his incarcerated mother. I could not stop thinking about this boy, wondering what his life would be like, how he would adapt to the outside world when the time came to reenter it, and what circumstances would bring a mother to this point where keeping her child behind bars was a better choice than the alternative. The character I created in NOWHERE GIRL differs from the original subject—Luchi is female, in her early teens, and born to an American mother. Those elements helped open the story up for me and turn it into something I could really explore and connect with, and hopefully bring to life for readers. 

What makes a story multicultural?
I think that a multicultural story pushes us to think outside the borders of the white American experience that colors so much of today’s fiction. There is no one single culture, background, or upbringing in the world today—we are a glorious mishmash—and I love that the market is opening up more and more to stories which reflect this. It has not been uncommon in past times for manuscripts to be rejected because they were not set in or focused on the US . Recognizing that we live in a big world and there are countless experiences for the sharing is what constitutes multicultural literature for me.


How do you manage your time between your kidlit writing career and agent duties for Erin Murphy Literary Agency? Both occupations operate very much on an ebb-and-flow basis—and luckily, so far everything has gone very smoothly to accommodate both careers. When I am swamped with agent work, my writing necessarily takes a back seat, and when I have a writing deadline, I will ease it up into the foreground a bit more. I do, however, very much view agenting as my primary job. Writing tends to get its back-scratching time mostly on weekends, time off, and occasional high-productivity forays to my local Starbucks.

What were your favorite kidlit books growing up?
Let’s see! I was a big fan of the Anne of Green Gables series; Tamora Pierce; Madeleine L’Engle; Betsy and Tacy; the Little House books. That’s what I can think of off the top of my head!

Any upcoming projects you’d like to mention? 
My newest book, which is just out this spring, is THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING MERMAIDS. Following the familiar ground covered by the first fairy-tracking adventure, this book has the same type of gorgeous art-and-photography illustrations (this time by the uber-talented Marie LeTourneau). While the first book explored a more basic outdoor landscape, MERMAIDS takes young readers on a walk along the seashore, investigating the various natural elements to be found there, and hoping for that ever-important sprinkle of magic. It’s a terrific book for spring and summer!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Heathers: A Mean Girl Stereotype

In Heathers, the '80s movie classic, the cool girls wear jackets with shoulder pads and the reigning queen bee wears a bright red scrunchie to show her royal status. Goodness. The movie's pivotal moment comes when Veronica, the protagonist and underdog of the clique, poisons one of the beautiful but nasty Heathers and kills her.

In movies, books, and TV, the mean girls, bullies, and frenemies are often the ones with the socially desirable traits- they are pretty, thin, rich, well-dressed, have clear skin, and/or can be athletic and smart without being nerdy. Of course, there are girls out there with these qualities who can be very nasty. In fact, I find  that most mean girls in middle grade and young adult novels usually come from this group. But less frequently in kidlit do I find a girl associated with qualities from this group cast as the victim of bullying even though, from my own observations and experiences, I find that girls with desirable qualities can be just as susceptible to being picked on as those with undesirable qualities. I doubt a mean girl would openly admit she is bullying another girl for being pretty or smart or for receiving a desired boy's attention. Instead, the mean girl would declare another reason to explain why their target deserves ridicule (e.g. "You look like a slut" or "I hate your voice") while masking the real intent behind the resentment.

There are people who don't fit the stereotype of the classic mean girl, and they can be just as awful. At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I want to point out that mean girls, bullies, and frenemies can also be average-looking, bigger, less privileged, plainly dressed, have bad skin, and/or be unathletic and nerdy. Yet I find this group depicted less frequently as bullies in books. In fact, girls with traits from this group are often depicted as the ones who get bullied,  the ones we're supposed to feel sorry for.  While I can see how someone with less desirable characteristics could get picked on, and I agree that isn't right, I've also witnessed situations going through school and even college where girls with these very qualities have been the bullies.

Let's just say that I don't believe the derogatory term "skinny bitch" was invented by a skinny girl.

Qualities from both lists can intermingle. You can have a pretty girl from a less privileged background.  Or you can have a rich girl struggling with her weight. Both girls, if you toss them into a book, can be bullies, the bullied, or even both. That's right- sometimes people who have been bullied might later look for opportunities to be the bully, so drop them into a new environment where they can reinvent themselves, like a new social circle, a new semester, a new school, or college, and you might find them reenacting the bullying they'd experienced, except this time they get to play the aggressor.

The mean girl isn't always the "it" girl and her target isn't always the "not it" girl.

However, when I read about mean girl bullying in kidlit, it's very frequently the same cliche where the pretty popular princess living in the nice neighborhood picks on the average-looking outcast from the other side of the tracks. 

Sometimes that is the case, but real life isn't always as simple as that. Sometimes it could be the other way around. 

What are your thoughts about mean girls?