A 125-Page Mind

Most people don’t have a clear idea where they’re going or how many pages they’ll need when writing a story. Not Betsy Byars. She has the perfect brain for MG fiction, the 125 page mind.

“Asked whether she ever thought about writing books for adults, Byars simply replied: ‘I became aware over the years of writing, that I had a 125 page mind … With 125 pages, I knew what I was doing, what I needed to do, where the climax should be, etc.'”

Not all the rest of us are that fortunate!

Still – I’m on p. 248 of the current work in progress, so I know we’re going to see the end here sometime soon. Meanwhile, I think I will call this website officially finished! Thanks to all of those who assisted.

Advice

Most of us have learned to disagree strenuously with the phrase “write what you know.”

Maybe the new advice is “know something before you write.”

After all, aren’t the best books the ones which have details of other worlds than we know? Worlds where we are percussionists, unwillingly follow the renaissance fair every summer with our parents, live on the outskirts of a reservation in Minnesota, or run away from home to find our fathers in Ireland — those are worlds we don’t inhabit, and stories which catch at our imaginations. Why should we want to linger in worlds as common and as familiar as our last names?
Breathe in the world.
Breathe IN the world.
BREATHE in the world.

“I have been known to tell my writing students: If you are going to stand on the shoulders of giants (as we all do), read what they have read, not just what they have written. Take a course in bird identification, on the proper way to set in a sleeve, how to roast an ox, how to weed a garden. Read a book on shoing horses or stand by someone doing it. Smell the air. Name the clouds. Learn how to read the stars. Taste a clementine with your eyes closed. Go through your house eyes shut and touch as many surfaces as you can. See what grows in the cracks of a city street. Dive into the ocean. Ski down a mountain. Sit on a rock and watch without moving all that moves about you. Breathe in the world.”

Jane Yolen, Journal 12.24.08

Lazy Sunday?

I wish I could show you the stack of paper I’ve been wrestling with for the past nine and a half hours. I never realized how much a book over three hundred pages (356, really) could weigh — how the drifts of white pages could get out of order so easily, how the wicked edges could either rip or give me paper cuts — but I can’t whine anymore, it’s done, done, done. Final proofreading of the loose pages of my manuscript is FINISHED.

I now need cake and a massage, not necessarily in that order.
Sadly, I would have to make the cake first. Sigh.

Hope someone is having a lazy Sunday for me!

Books Worth Knowing

A friendly note from a cool person at Flux let me know that A LA CARTE is being featured at the Illinois Library Association’s Reading Conference. Along with my book are some other tomes of awesome, including Marla Frazee’s well received A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever (here’s a Just One More Book podcast from last year), Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, Rapunzel’s Revenge, by Shannon Hale, and Siobahn Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery, and Paula Yoo’s Good Enough.

I’m in fantastically good company. Thanks Illinois librarians!

Keeping the Love

Once again, the blogosphere has provided a sort of writer’s echo chamber ~ a place to throw out ideas and have them reverberate back changed and clarified and strengthened.

Viewing the serious state of things in the world can often cause artists to question their purpose and their place in the state of things, and it seems that more than just a few of us are wondering how to keep going. Via Writing & Ruminating, a really excellent piece by Jennifer Lynn Barnes on how to recapture the joy of writing.

“Now, however, I’ve discovered many other terrifying possibilities that writers have to make their peace with, too. Like what if you write a book and you sell it and then the chain stores don’t pick it up and readers can’t find it and the sales are disappointing and every time you try to sell another book, editors pull up those numbers and it’s a giant brand on your forehead, and you end up being worse-off than you would be if you’d never published a book at all? Or what if the book does really well, but all of the people who liked your previous books absolutely HATE this one and feel personally let down by you and it ruins your previous books for them because they just hate this one that much? What if (and this is, I swear, something every single published writer I know has thought at one point or another) the books you’ve done so far are just a fluke and you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security in thinking that maybe you don’t suck, but you really do, and soon you will be revealed as an impostor, full of suckiness?


Jennifer Barnes follows these ponderings on suckiness with fourteen concrete ways to keep your head, and keep your love of writing alive. Though she writes from the point of view of someone who has achieved mucho success with Golden and her Squad novels (and you may want to haul off and belt her with a fish you think she’s bemoaning her success — she’s not, so hold off on the piscatorial punishments), there’s plenty here for the unpublished writer as well. More encouraging suggestions follow in the comments.

This is a fabulous piece to read and reread and then push off into a strong sprint into your writing week.

Cheers, and thanks, Kelly and Jennifer.

But What’s A Boy Sound Like?

In actual BOOK news, On the Guardian Book blog, UK children’s author Anthony McGowan talks about toilet humor encouraging kids to read. Middle graders are a tough audience — and the gross factor matches well with his book, HELLBENT. Not sure if this one is slated for a U.S. release any time soon. (And how much do you want to bet they’d have to change the name?) One thing I do have to say is that I’m glad McGowan doesn’t say he encourages BOYS to read by using toilet humor. He said, “KIDS.” As in, girls too.

Liz takes a moment to wish that those people who whine about “there are no good boy books anymore,” and “whatever happened to strong female protagonists” could have a booklist exchange. I’m in full agreement that I don’t believe in “Boy Books” and “Girl Books.” There are certainly some things which have more appeal to guys or girls, but it’s a slippery slope trying to divide books by gender.

Brian F., in the comments brings up another good question for writers constantly wondering if their characters sound genuine. When a female is writing a male character and asks the question, “Does this sound like a boy,” what’s the right answer? “What,” pray tell, Brian F. wants to know, “does a boy sound like?”

That question echoed into my brain and brought me to something else: dominant culture assumption in novels, or how to make a character “sound black.” Anyone want to touch that with a ten foot pole?

No?

I’ve just spent a lot of time in the past week doing what my editor calls “polishing,” which is making sure a character’s country-flavored drawl and Southern colloquialisms are absolutely readable to the average person. Even as a minority, I had no one to ask if my character sounded appropriately ethnic or not — yet there’s always the niggling suspicion that maybe my version isn’t the “right” one.

Is the characterization that I did enough? Despite the fact that I didn’t mention coffee, mocha, chocolate, cinnamon or anything else edible in reference to her, do you think readers will understand that she has an African American ancestry?

Perhaps the only thing that can be said on the “boy” or the “black” issue is this: no one’s got the final word on anyone else’s perception. No one is the authority. Girl, boy, black, blue, go with what you know, do your best to depict things as you hear and see them, and you should be fine.

Really.

There will always be someone who disagrees, who thinks you didn’t do enough, who wants to point out you didn’t do it “right.” Like so many other things in the writing life, one just has to take that in stride.


New poverty estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey indicate that about 13 percent of people nationwide were living in poverty in 2005. However, estimates from the American Community Survey (or ACS, a nationwide annual survey of households conducted by the Census Bureau) show that poverty rates in 2005 varied widely around the country, from less than 8 percent in New Hampshire to 21 percent in Mississippi. The ACS estimates also show that seven states had statistically significant increases in their child poverty rates between 2004 and 2005.

And now for a word from Colleen:

If you don’t read about kids in your economic strata who make it, who study great subjects, or build great things, or create great art, then you don’t think you can either. If you don’t see success for those from “your world” reflected on tv or in movies or in books then you will come to believe that certain – or maybe all – levels of success are not possible for you.

You will never be rich enough to be anything.

Can it be said any more clearly that all young adults need to see themselves reflected in the literature they read? Though I am personally hesitant about titles which glorify violence and no copy-editing urban lit arguably reflects a socio-economic group that should also be represented. Definitely something to consider. Go, read Chasing Ray, and put in your two cent’s worth.

But What's A Boy Sound Like?

In actual BOOK news, On the Guardian Book blog, UK children’s author Anthony McGowan talks about toilet humor encouraging kids to read. Middle graders are a tough audience — and the gross factor matches well with his book, HELLBENT. Not sure if this one is slated for a U.S. release any time soon. (And how much do you want to bet they’d have to change the name?) One thing I do have to say is that I’m glad McGowan doesn’t say he encourages BOYS to read by using toilet humor. He said, “KIDS.” As in, girls too.

Liz takes a moment to wish that those people who whine about “there are no good boy books anymore,” and “whatever happened to strong female protagonists” could have a booklist exchange. I’m in full agreement that I don’t believe in “Boy Books” and “Girl Books.” There are certainly some things which have more appeal to guys or girls, but it’s a slippery slope trying to divide books by gender.

Brian F., in the comments brings up another good question for writers constantly wondering if their characters sound genuine. When a female is writing a male character and asks the question, “Does this sound like a boy,” what’s the right answer? “What,” pray tell, Brian F. wants to know, “does a boy sound like?”

That question echoed into my brain and brought me to something else: dominant culture assumption in novels, or how to make a character “sound black.” Anyone want to touch that with a ten foot pole?

No?

I’ve just spent a lot of time in the past week doing what my editor calls “polishing,” which is making sure a character’s country-flavored drawl and Southern colloquialisms are absolutely readable to the average person. Even as a minority, I had no one to ask if my character sounded appropriately ethnic or not — yet there’s always the niggling suspicion that maybe my version isn’t the “right” one.

Is the characterization that I did enough? Despite the fact that I didn’t mention coffee, mocha, chocolate, cinnamon or anything else edible in reference to her, do you think readers will understand that she has an African American ancestry?

Perhaps the only thing that can be said on the “boy” or the “black” issue is this: no one’s got the final word on anyone else’s perception. No one is the authority. Girl, boy, black, blue, go with what you know, do your best to depict things as you hear and see them, and you should be fine.

Really.

There will always be someone who disagrees, who thinks you didn’t do enough, who wants to point out you didn’t do it “right.” Like so many other things in the writing life, one just has to take that in stride.


New poverty estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey indicate that about 13 percent of people nationwide were living in poverty in 2005. However, estimates from the American Community Survey (or ACS, a nationwide annual survey of households conducted by the Census Bureau) show that poverty rates in 2005 varied widely around the country, from less than 8 percent in New Hampshire to 21 percent in Mississippi. The ACS estimates also show that seven states had statistically significant increases in their child poverty rates between 2004 and 2005.

And now for a word from Colleen:

If you don’t read about kids in your economic strata who make it, who study great subjects, or build great things, or create great art, then you don’t think you can either. If you don’t see success for those from “your world” reflected on tv or in movies or in books then you will come to believe that certain – or maybe all – levels of success are not possible for you.

You will never be rich enough to be anything.

Can it be said any more clearly that all young adults need to see themselves reflected in the literature they read? Though I am personally hesitant about titles which glorify violence and no copy-editing urban lit arguably reflects a socio-economic group that should also be represented. Definitely something to consider. Go, read Chasing Ray, and put in your two cent’s worth.

But What’s A Boy Sound Like?

In actual BOOK news, On the Guardian Book blog, UK children’s author Anthony McGowan talks about toilet humor encouraging kids to read. Middle graders are a tough audience — and the gross factor matches well with his book, HELLBENT. Not sure if this one is slated for a U.S. release any time soon. (And how much do you want to bet they’d have to change the name?) One thing I do have to say is that I’m glad McGowan doesn’t say he encourages BOYS to read by using toilet humor. He said, “KIDS.” As in, girls too.

Liz takes a moment to wish that those people who whine about “there are no good boy books anymore,” and “whatever happened to strong female protagonists” could have a booklist exchange. I’m in full agreement that I don’t believe in “Boy Books” and “Girl Books.” There are certainly some things which have more appeal to guys or girls, but it’s a slippery slope trying to divide books by gender.

Brian F., in the comments brings up another good question for writers constantly wondering if their characters sound genuine. When a female is writing a male character and asks the question, “Does this sound like a boy,” what’s the right answer? “What,” pray tell, Brian F. wants to know, “does a boy sound like?”

That question echoed into my brain and brought me to something else: dominant culture assumption in novels, or how to make a character “sound black.” Anyone want to touch that with a ten foot pole?

No?

I’ve just spent a lot of time in the past week doing what my editor calls “polishing,” which is making sure a character’s country-flavored drawl and Southern colloquialisms are absolutely readable to the average person. Even as a minority, I had no one to ask if my character sounded appropriately ethnic or not — yet there’s always the niggling suspicion that maybe my version isn’t the “right” one.

Is the characterization that I did enough? Despite the fact that I didn’t mention coffee, mocha, chocolate, cinnamon or anything else edible in reference to her, do you think readers will understand that she has an African American ancestry?

Perhaps the only thing that can be said on the “boy” or the “black” issue is this: no one’s got the final word on anyone else’s perception. No one is the authority. Girl, boy, black, blue, go with what you know, do your best to depict things as you hear and see them, and you should be fine.

Really.

There will always be someone who disagrees, who thinks you didn’t do enough, who wants to point out you didn’t do it “right.” Like so many other things in the writing life, one just has to take that in stride.


New poverty estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey indicate that about 13 percent of people nationwide were living in poverty in 2005. However, estimates from the American Community Survey (or ACS, a nationwide annual survey of households conducted by the Census Bureau) show that poverty rates in 2005 varied widely around the country, from less than 8 percent in New Hampshire to 21 percent in Mississippi. The ACS estimates also show that seven states had statistically significant increases in their child poverty rates between 2004 and 2005.

And now for a word from Colleen:

If you don’t read about kids in your economic strata who make it, who study great subjects, or build great things, or create great art, then you don’t think you can either. If you don’t see success for those from “your world” reflected on tv or in movies or in books then you will come to believe that certain – or maybe all – levels of success are not possible for you.

You will never be rich enough to be anything.

Can it be said any more clearly that all young adults need to see themselves reflected in the literature they read? Though I am personally hesitant about titles which glorify violence and no copy-editing urban lit arguably reflects a socio-economic group that should also be represented. Definitely something to consider. Go, read Chasing Ray, and put in your two cent’s worth.

Book Birthing Day


Opened up my email this morning, and the first thing I saw was a celebratory note from Jama at Alphabet Soup, whose soup of the day made me smile. An e-card full of anagrams — crazy ones, I wish you could see them — came from Little Willow. (And I agree, LW — Ultrasonic Tango could quite possibly be the coolest anagram of ‘congratulations’ ever!) Finally, I received notes from all the Poetry, who know what it means to have worked really hard, be neurotic about what you’ve come up with, but throw it out there anyway.

Yep, my first major published work, A LA CARTE, begins to be uncrated from cardboard to land on bookstore shelves, and my sincere thanks to everyone who has been so encouraging and supportive. You guys are amazing. Kirkus Reviews said, Davis’s debut offering is as delightful and fulfilling as the handwritten recipes-in-progress included at the end of each chapter. More importantly, my Mom said, “Oh, hon, that’s really cute.”

Really, it’s almost exactly what Kirkus said.


PS — Jackie, now I’ll *never* forget your birthday. Have a happy, you teapot loving, crossword doing, crazy person, you!