30 March 2006

Whining about the novel.

I’ve been thumping my head on my Leavetaking novel. I’ve been working on it but it. Does. Not. Want. To. Go. Anywhere. The first chapter looks halfway decent, but that’s because I’ve been working on it since last fall. And now I’m on the second chapter, trying to pull it together. Usually I start marking up the text like crazy and revise the novel that way. So this slow pace frustrates me.

Perhaps this is just how I have to work on it. Each book demands a different approach, and for some reason I just don’t feel like I can move forward until I have these chapters laid out. Gotta get the characters’ motivations right. Gotta know what they want. But this means trashing entire scenes, and that in turn means work, and I don’t like work.

Another thing about this novel that bothers me is its lack of coherence. I’m asking myself, what the heck is the center, the heart, of this damned novel?

But today when I was subbing I saw a copy of Writing the Natural Way (I think that’s the title) in the teacher’s room and flipped through it.

The author talks a lot about how to draw clusters as a brainstorming device and as a way to find out new things about what you’re writing. And he was talking about quiet visualization as a way to find a complex image that would be at the heart of the story. And when you discovered the image, or whatever makes it cohere, then you experience a sort of shift in the mind, and you’re like, okay, yes, there it is.

So. That made me think that maybe I should start clustering and find out what the heck I think is contained in the novel thus far. Use some quiet meditation instead of banging my head against the keyboard the way I usually do. Though headbanging is an important part of the process.

Geez, another mile-long post. Oh well, it’s my blog and I’ll pontificate if I want to.

(That didn’t quite scan …. )

Trends in children's publishing for 2005.

Check out this article about what happened in children's lit last year:


Good stuff!

29 March 2006

Out of the blue, at 2:30 a.m. ...

BRC: Why didn't Captain Picard have Samuel Clemens sign some books?
Me (half-asleep): What on earth are you talking about?
BRC: That Star Trek episode where Picard went back in time and met Samuel Clemens. He should have had Clemens sign his books.
Me (sleepily): He didn't do it because that would have violated the Prime Directive.
BRC: But he would have made a sh!!load of money!
Me: Just go to sleep, dear.

Look out whitey! Black power's gon' get your mama!

Just read this little news story, where this middle school has "unofficially" banned a seven-year old girl from performing her poems in their district again. The poem she wrote and recited said (and this is a quote from the story):


"Black lands taken from your hands, by vampires with no remorse," the aspiring actress and poet wrote. "They took the gold, the wisdom and all the storytellers. They took the black women, with the black man weak. Made to watch as they changed the paradigm of our village.

"Yeah white nationalism is what put you in bondage. Pirates and vampires like Columbus, Morgan and Darwin."


I don't know, sounds to me like she's got a point, though she's blaming the wrong folks. It just astonished me that they couldn't take it. The music teacher that invited her said that he thought the poem was "too aggressive for what the middle-school kids are ready to handle."

Listen, a lot of these kids go home every night and play "Doom" or "Grand Theft Auto" and watch the TV shows and R-rated movies their parents watch. I think the kids are perfectly capable of dealing with a few comments about the black situation.

It's the parents that just don't get it. There's still plenty of racism today. Plenty of people looking to knock down other people for stupid reasons. This kid's talking about it, and they want her to shut up. They don't want dialogue. The school sent a recorded message to the homes of the students apologizing for the young poet's words. That's creepy.

The music teacher did say that some of the teachers want the girl to come back and talk about her poem with their students, which is cool. I hope she can do that.

It's amazing the power that words have over people. Those same parents that are freaking out about the poem probably don't freak out about TV or movies or violent video games. Yet poems make them cut and run.

I hope I made some sense today. I seem to have sinusitis again, or an ear infection. Whatever it is, my head's all full of cotton. I'll see the doc here in a couple hours, though, so that'll be nice.

Oh, the title to my post? That's the title of Julius Lester's book. He said he had to fight to keep Dial from changing the title. I really like him, he seems like a super guy and also he's a hell of a scholar.

28 March 2006

Intro redux!

Okay, I told you I'd give you more of an intro last night, so here goes.

As is so painfully apparent, I write novels and short stories for for mid-grade readers and young adults. Mid-grade readers tend to run from fifth grade up to high school, and then young adults run from high school to college, though I write some stories that are set at college, too.

I seem to be getting along on the writing front: I've had my YA novel, The Symphonians, requested at FSG -- that's Farrar, Straus and Giroux, for those of you playing at home. When Symphonians was requested, I sent it on up to the editor, *then* I got to looking at it and realizing that the novel sucked, so I requested that she send the damn thing back and to sit tight, but not too tight. That was last March. I revised the absolute heck out of it, sent it to everybody in sight for critiques, and tore out the novel-within-a-novel and completely redid that. Finally in December I couldn't stand working on it anymore and sent it back to FSG.

The Symphonians is about Kathy Bachmann, this really shy high school girl who falls in love with Noel, the boy with all the verbs, but runs screaming away from it. She's writing a novel about the Symphonians, the wonderfullest musicians you'll ever meet, and they're trying to save one of their own from her abusive husband. Kathy finds that there's been abuse in her past, too. But when she gets into an abusive relationship of her own with Carter (he threatens to kill himself if she leaves him), she finally escapes through the help of her Symphonians and Noel, the true love she finally gets the courage to speak up about. whew!

While I was whaling away on Symphonians, I got another request for a MS, this time from Henry Holt for my short-story collection Angel in the Silence. This is a collection of short stories for YA and college readers about loneliness and abuse. One of the stories, "Angel in the Whirlwind," won second place in the Smartwriters.com contest. All kinds of good stuff.

So I'm keeping my fingers crossed on those.

Then I have two midgrade novels, one of which I'm working on now. They're about raccoons.

That cleared the room in a hurry!

They're both high fantasy novels about a raccoon tribe that lives in a Missouri forest. The kicker is, I had Leavetaking, the first novel, finished. So I wrote the second novel, Silverlady Descends, and ran all of it through my critique group. They gave tons of suggestions that I waded through, and it came out looking nice. And I thought, okay, now they're ready to go!

But then I looked at Leavetaking, the first novel, and I thought, OMG, this story sucks. I mean, I think that a lot, but it turns out to be true. So now I'm going back and totally revising the first one. I did this totally bas-ackwards.

I kept going over and over the first couple of chapters in the book, because they just were not working. I'd write one version, it would suck, I would write another version, it would suck but not as bad, etc. But finally I think I have what I'm looking for. Did the same for the second chapter -- it's at the stage where it's still sucky but it's getting better.

I don't usually devote so much time for the early chapters, but this time I'm trying to set up the trajectory of the characters for the rest of the novel. That way I have a good idea of where they're going and where they're going to end up. And also, I've had Leavetaking since 1995, so a lot of it is also busting it out of the "already written" mold and re-seeing it. It's like those raccoons and their situations were frozen in concrete. So that made me a little crazy but now I'm getting better.

See, what did I tell you about those mile-long posts?

Ain't that the truth.

BRC (reading campaign ad): "George W. Bush, moving America forward" ... off a cliff.

Kind of wish the rest of the nation had figured that out.

27 March 2006

Pullman and quick intro

Here's a link to an excellent article about the boss, Philip Pullman.


I had planned to start this blog with an introduction, but it's after 11 p.m. and I need to sleep and I didn't want to mess around with, well, anything right now.

I'm Melinda. This blog's going to be about writing children's literature, mainly, because that's what I'm obsessed with. But I'll also have random comments about my family (my husband and a kid) and gardening (because I'm a jaded ex-horticulturalist who writes articles for gardening magazines) and books (I'm reading the Iliad right now, but I've started reading it too fast and I'll have to go back and read some chapters over).

My posts might run long because when I let my fingers do the talking, they tend to blab. But I'll do my damndest to keep it interesting.

More tomorrow, or the next day, sometime soon anyway. Anyhoo, welcome aboard.