Our Species Needs Diverse Stories


diversityinya.tumblr.com

That's a great community and a great blog.

I sincerely believe that our species needs stories. I think we need to confront new paths, voices, settings, emotions, identities, possibilities, and thus new types of stories which can transform and transport our hearts. We need diversity for reflection and growth. Right?

And now for TWO random music videos...


(explicit lyrics below)



"Beta" Readers

I began a total re-write of my novel just over a month ago. I switched from 3rd-person to 1st-person. This involved a comprehensive reworking of the plot, scenes, and characters. Weeeee!

Now I'm in the exciting/scary process of sharing two chapters with selected middle-school students. I've emphasized that it's not school work. It's a draft. They should write any questions or comments  in the margins as they read. I've picked both girls and boys. I've picked reluctant readers and bookish types.

The first thing I discovered is that they needed some type of general "blurb" about the text before they started. I also needed to insist this was entirely voluntary and that I needed complete honesty. There's now serendipity with additional kids asking to read.

I've had very rewarding feedback so far.  This is what it's all about...

My biggest concern remains the first ten pages (too heavy/thick).  I am also concerned about reading levels and complexity for low-endurance readers. Even as somebody who has spent a bit of time in the classroom, I still find myself having to rethink vocabulary and scene-craft to maximize comprehension. After all, for me, the "literary" dimension should be the emotional & thematic thrill-ride, not the requirement of a dictionary.

And here's a completely unrelated music video:


Meeting Authors/Signings, March 2013

Books of Wonder's fantastic MEGA-SUPER-MONSTER YA NO FOOLING FESTIVAL featured something like 45 authors.  Is there any other store in the USA that's this supportive of YA?  <3

I wish I had met them all.  It's exciting to meet authors and to get books personalized.

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

If you've read my post re: Neil Gaiman in Feb, then you'll understand the chuckle I had returning to the same place to get this book signed by David Levithan:

Every Day by David Levithan


Books: The Human Connection

At a recent dinner party, I heard a compelling argument in the Ebook vs RealBook debates:  real books can connect humans (on subways).  People actually start conversations with strangers regarding books.  Covers add a layer of human play and interest to the fray of urban life.  And yesterday, this truth showed itself during my hours at Books of Wonder.

Neil Gaiman reading & book signing! 

Illustrator/Author duo of Chu's Day
The lines began.  The most considerate way to have used my waiting time?  Figuring out precisely what to say in 15 seconds about being inspired as teacher/writer, capped with a profound witticism.

Yes, I didn't do that.

Instead, I bought a copy of every day by David Levithan.

I read 35 pages as I shuffled in line.  The novel caused four spontaneous discussions with strangers.  Four.  Not only did this say volumes about this particular book/author, it reminded me (a Nook user) of the power of books to connect people.  And of the gravity of authors within an expanding universe.

A compelling YA novel (that stirs conversations with strangers)
Meanwhile, Neil Gaiman has very passionate fans.  The store was packed.  One older gent dressed up as Destiny from Sandman.  A toddler was dressed up as Chu (from Chu's Day).  Most fans had their picture taken with Neil (with several fan in tears of joy).  I suspect the lines continued late into the evening.  Neil himself seems a particularly down-to-earth guy, which made the spectacle rather warming for such a cold, rainy day in NYC.

Me?  My back & legs cramped, but I was enjoying my new book.  

The woman in front of me handed Neil and Adam Rex bottles of fine juice, which lifted spirits.  Then as I approached, the owner of Books of Wonder, Peter Glassman, initiated a conversation about the non-Neil book I was carrying: "That's a great book!"   So, I'm 10% blaming him for having nothing of import to offer Neil Gaiman when I stepped up.  I had no fine juice.  No personalized witticisms.

Only heavy admiration...

Sometimes words just suck.

As I watched him scribble "believe" in my book, I chuckled.  Someday I will buy him a fine beer, I promised myself.  Yes.  Authors matter.  Dead-tree-book-devices matter.

Whether they sleep inside dead trees, digital data, or our frayed neurons - stories, like the gods, need our warm blood & breath to live.  I think what matters most is whether they guide us to improve ourselves.  To be more human.

(this is not a YA text)
My rambling reflection is passive, cliche, & indulgent - yet embodied.  Sometimes words just suck...  :-)

2013: new year, new stories (YA & Scifi)



Lists and lists of upcoming books.  Check out The Atlantic's Winter 2013 YA list.  See the Goodreads Lists of 2013, including a scifi/fantasy list and YA novels.  There's also TeenReads coming soon list and the TeenLitRocks Upcoming Books list.

Anyways, I'm particularly curious about the Marie Lu series, along with these other YA/Scifi novels.

Prodigy by Marie Lu

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Control by Lydia Kang

SIDEBAR:

Fantasy book about a girl = call it YA/Fantasy?
Fantasy book about a boy = call it SciFi?

Maybe it's just me?  :-)

Now for some random dance/music (Les Twins)


In fairness, those b-gals dish up quite a performance in the full video!

Brooklyn Book Festival & Young Humans


The Brooklyn Book Festival is a 1 day event filled with 5 days of content.  Endless tents and happenings scattered around downtown Brooklyn.  From the BK Law School to the magnificent St. Ann's, you had to hustle for seats at the 180 panel discussions available throughout the day.  

These four books are going onto my Nook!

R.J. Palacio's Wonder.



Andrew Zolli's Resilience.



Isabel Wilkerson's Warmth of Other Suns.



And Karen Thompson Walker's Age of Miracles.



Does the YA genre provide a unique dynamic in terms of moral reflection?

This came up during a session.

Youth seem to internalize a society's moral yardsticks and then hold it directly against reality.  For me, the matter becomes whether YA authors are writing to the raw dreams/frustrations of young audiences - or whether we're only writing from the tempered sentiments of adult reflection.  Are we writing about youth or for youth?  YA is a genre.  It's also a market.  However, I never want to forget that it's primarily an audience that thirsts for stories.  Stories that resonate.  And maybe YA is primarily about stories that go straight to the raw roots of our conflicts, our dreams, and our human fears?

Perhaps we should rename Young Adult?  Let's call it Young Human.

Now for something completely random.


Back Story: Put a Finger in the Dessert


I've enjoyed reading Steven King's On Writing.  I am fond of the way he captures the notion of stories being undiscovered relics.  Writers develop the habits to spot stories while also developing a toolbox to chisel them out.  I love this quote.
"Probably J.K. Rowling is the current champ when it comes to back story."   Page 225.
Back story.  I'm wrestling with different approaches to the pacing of back story revelation.  There is a peculiar pleasure in stimulating questions, but this seems to be a major "genre distinction" for Young Adult books.  YA often involves first person narration with snark and double-edged affect, right?  Most of the extremely popular YA books hand over heaps of back story up front, right?  There are unique elements to the market and genre.

I'm not sure of all the distinctions, but it's different.

I think adult readers are lenient and patient across most genres.  If adult readers see indicators of quality writing in the early stages of a book, then a small appetizer becomes a delight.  Adult readers enjoy the mouthwatering steps.  They want to savor each moment, each course, and to appreciate the pauses.  Right?

Younger readers want to dip a finger straight into the dessert.  First.

Can you blame them?  Do you remember being 15?

This story involves a zombie apocalypse?  Fine.

Is there a dash of non-corny humor and a course of romantic tension?  Action?  Promise?  Before I care about the female lead's road to power-enabling self-discovery in this Dystopian world, let me taste these sweet expectations - thank you very much.  PROMISE!

I've obviously taken this darling food analogy too far.  This had something to do with back story...

Tickling Brains, Turning Pages (books)

Stargirl
Dangerous Days
Hunger Games. The Hobbit.
Percy Jackson. Stargirl.
Harry Potter. Terabithia.
Outsiders. Daniel X.
Twilight. Catcher in the Rye.
Pretty Little Liars. Ender's Game.
The Giver.  Speak.  The Skin I'm In.

What do these titles have in common?  

Power?  Love?  Tragedy?  Recognition?  Voice?  Brains tickled?  Pages turned?

Why do middle-grade readers love Fudge, Judy Moody, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid sooooo much?

I've seen students (in the South Bronx) trying to read while walking down stairs.  While that is obviously a safety concern, I am thrilled to see that motivation!  As read-alouds or as independent reading, these stories tickle their brains.

What's not to love?

Are You There, God?
Writing for the adolescent species may seem completely daunting, but let's not kid ourselves.  Or perhaps I should say, let's kid ourselves a bit more?

Remember being a kid?  We could grin at a friend and start crafting fun out of anything.  If you call math drills "math kung fu" and pull out a timer, then you might find the kids doing math with a smile.  The Joy Factor.

Let's play.  Tickle brains.  Get dramatic.

Kids love power, right?.  All kinds of power.  Adolescents like power, too, but they also seem to like stories that are dipped in tragicomedy and end with some brand of heroic recognition.

Let's humor them!

Can I develop unique stories that are a joy to read?

Esperanza Rising (book)

Some stories can remind us that oral storytelling came before the written traditions.

I love this book.

Esperanza Rising makes for a perfect guided or shared reading text.  There are rich themes and ample opportunities for discussion.
A man with a small goat on his lap grinned at Esperanza, revealing no teeth.  Three barefoot children, two boys and a girl, crowded near their mother.  Their legs were chalky with dust, their clothes were in tatters, and their hair was grimy.  An old, frail beggar woman pushed by them to the back of the car, clutching a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Her hand was outstretched for Alms.
Esperanza had never been so close to so many peasants before.  When she went to school, all of her friends were like her.  When she went to town, she was escorted and hurried around any beggars.  And the peasants always kept their distance.  That was simply the way it was.  She couldn't help but wonder if they would steal her things.
"Mama," said Esperanza, stopping in the doorway. "We cannot travel in this car. It... it is not clean.  And the people do not look trustworthy."   (p.66-67)
What makes some stories so lyrical & enjoyable when properly read aloud?  

In that passage, there's mood-laced exposition with its rhythm and concrete descriptions.  No teeth. Barefoot children.  Dust.  Tatters.  Grimy.  Beggar.  Our imaginations are filled with just enough theme-rich detail to induce a reaction.  The author, Pam Munoz Ryan, then reveals some more back-story about the main character and her worldview (which is likely to also induce a reaction from readers).  Then the strong beat comes at us as Esperanza gracelessly and regrettably conveys a class judgement in front of everybody.

  1. Setting as setup (details with thematic clues, but without saturating "working memory")
  2. -->  Revelations that tug at reader emotions
  3. ---->  A powerful beat that exposes her worldview to conflict with family/friends

I've seen 5th graders completely enthralled by this book.  They fought over copies.  They sat motionless when given a chance to listen to the audiobook with the lights low.  They drifted to this distant time and truly cared about the characters.

In terms of revelation and exposition, I've put this book on my "short shelf" of model texts.

What are the other devices and structures that authors use to manage exposition and back-story without losing the "flow" of narration?  What other books weave in exposition so masterfully that it naturally reads aloud?

Why a blog? (reflection)

My students are my deepest inspiration for writing.

When I shifted from school system bureaucracy into the K-12 classroom, I created some personal narratives to model the writing process with my 6th graders.  The hook sank right into my bones.

For over three years now, the writing bug has woken me up early in the morning.

In this process, I've come to see myself as a writer-for-life.  As a professional challenge, it makes sense to share inspirations, reflections, and perhaps some reviews-of-sorts.  It's an exciting moment.

I'm currently revising a YA novel that's set in a near-future NYC.  My goal is to craft a book that youth will not be able to put down.  I want them to fight over copies.  I want them to pull out the book to read when they could (or should) be doing other things.  That's the dream.  This blog cannot be separated from this writing process - the joys, the hope, the strains, the moments of complete bafflement.

So, I just picked up Story Engineering by Larry Brooks as well as the Gotham Writers' Workshop text on fiction.  As impossible as it seems, I also hope to take a week to step back and reflect.  I'll probably dump quite a lot of posts and media during this time.  :)