The Death Defying Life of a Writer

There I was tap-tap-taping away at my computer and my character started to have a heart attack. Right at the tip of my fingers.

“Wait. Stop,” I said to the computer screen. “You can’t have a heart attack. You’re supposed to wait for your high school crush to show up. You can’t die.”

How did this happen?

I scanned back up the screen. My character had just recognized that he wanted his crush. He felt it. He knew it. With every fiber of his being. It seized him.

But a heart attack?

Well he’s 70. It could happen. But a heart attack would twist the story away from where I wanted it to go. So I rewrote the scene and I brought him back from the brink of death so he could wait for his crush to show up.

Now I just have to check with a doctor to see if it’s believable.

Ahh, the life of a writer….

Eavesdropping on Teens

The teens in our carpool are reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Teen 1: We have to annonate 32 pages of Fahrenheit 451 tonight. Groan.

Teen 2: Yeah. But I’m really liking the book.

Teen 1: Me, too.

Teen 2: There are so many story lines. I can’t believe that it’s all going to come together.

Teen 1: All books have different story lines.

Teen 2: I know but these are really different. It makes me feel smart when they all come together. Like somehow I’ve been the one weaving them together.

Teen 1: The writer weaves them together.

Teen 2: Yeah I know but it feels like I’m the one doing it.

Writers take note. Let your readers enter in and connect the dots. It makes them feel smarter.

Hey cool…

I follow several blogs each week. They are like reading the newspaper. Better, though because I can skip the murders and politics and go straight to the kidlitosphere.

One I like very much is Nathan Bransford. It is a great mix of of writerly talk as well as big picture thinking about the publishing industry. On Friday his blog post is called This Week in Publishing. It is a wrap up of all newsworthy events in publishing from blogs to ipads to Harry Potter. At the end of the blog, Nathan always tips his hat to someone who made an especially funny or insightful comment during the week.

This week it was me.

Comment! Of! The! Week! goes to Lindsey, who put a great image together with the concept of J.K. Rowling, clutch writer:

Here’s my image of Rowling’s final clutch touchdown: My daughter and I are standing in the parking lot of BookPeople in Austin, Texas. It is the midnight release of the seventh book. Thousands of people up and waiting. The Austin Symphony is playing Hedwig’s Theme. Bookstore employees and fans are dressed as HP characters. All manner of games, mazes and foods related to the world of HP are tucked into different areas of the parking lot. My daughter looks around at some of the fans and says, “They’re so old.” (She was ten, ‘they’ were 20-somethings.) And that’s when I got Rowling’s amazing play: She reached generations of readers with this story. She created a world and we all entered in. Parents, grandparents, children, teens…we all know what a muggle is.
What a run, what a marathon.

Cool, huh?

Thanks, Nathan. It’s a pleasure to add a comment to your fine blog.

More Yoga wisdom as it relates to writing…

At one of my first yoga sessions, the teacher said, “A yoga practice has a very specific pathway. The first step is Unconscious Incompetence. Next comes Conscious Incompetence. The third step is Conscious Competence. Finally, after much work, you reach Unconscious Competence.

I love how simple, yet completely descriptive this pathway is of any journey we take.

1. Unconscious Incompetence
2. Conscious Incompetence
3. Conscious Competence
4. Unconscious Competence

Think about it.

You are a horse.
I have led you to water.
I will not make you drink.

On the Reading Table: Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley by Stephanie Greene

My friend, Carmen Oliver just posted an interview with Stephanie Greene so I decided to chime in over here because I recently finished reading Stephanie’s Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley.

Fellow VCFA alum, SCBWI Regional Advisor and friend Debbie Gonzales says Stephanie’s book is a model for perfect structure. I don’t disagree. From the very first page, we know what Sophie Hartley wants for her 10th birthday: a baby gorilla. The remaining 127 pages take us on Sophie’s journey of getting or not getting that baby. It is clear, precise and funny.

What I especially love about this book is how Stephanie uses family and friends as setting. While Sophie shines at the center of this book, the world that is her family and friends is deftly drawn in around her. AND not for one minute does it overwhelm her. Mom doesn’t become too Mommy. The friends never feel like devices. Everyone has a personality but the reader never loses Sophie.

How does Greene do it? She would probably say hard work and lots of drafts, but here’s what I noticed: I had the sense that at every moment, she knew where the family was and what they were doing, even if they weren’t in a scene. Like a master composer, Greene added little melodies of each character so that if they were in a scene, they were pitch perfect and not dominant.

Setting for middle grade novels is tricky because the 8-12 year old’s landscape is fairly limited. Often their family and home is their setting. So the writer must find ways to make family life compelling without overwhelming the main character. Happy Birthday, Sophie Hartley is an excellent example of a writer doing it well.

Read it for structure. Read it for setting. Read it for fun.