Thankful

This has been a crap year for me.

My marriage of 24 years ended painfully, as such things often do. The side effects caused by this, especially for my kids, have compounded and multiplied, and I don’t see an end to the trauma anytime soon.

I’ve had to dig deep to find more and more strength to keep going through some very dark days. Many times, it was my friends that helped me through.

I am terrible at asking for help or unloading my crap on others, so forcing myself to share what was going on with me was tremendously uncomfortable – almost painful.

I also have a tendency to go radio silent when things are at their worst.

I know I made the conscious (and again, extremely painful) effort to stay busy, to be social and to not stay home on my couch in the dark. I made the effort to answer the phone when friends called to check up on me, because they knew I was going through a tough time , and needed to talk (even though I really, really, REALLY didn’t want to talk to anyone), but I also know I wouldn’t have made it through without the support of my friends.

Even though things still suck monumentally right now, things won’t suck forever. I will get through this.

Because of them.

It’s the season of giving thanks, and to all of you who helped me make it this far, I love you and I am forever thankful.

Love Sun

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Book Review – CRAZY BRAVE by Joy Harjo

I came across an article celebrating a female poet from Oklahoma winning a great poetry honor. She was from Tulsa, and I had read some of her poetry in a collection of Oklahoma poets, so her name was familiar. I read on and learned this award was the Academy of American Poets highest honor, the Wallace Stevens Award, for proven mastery in the art of poetry. How exciting! I knew right then I had to read this book.

 

Crazy BraveCRAZY BRAVE by Joy Harjo

Published by: W.W. Norton &
Company

Release Date: July 9, 2012

Genres: Autobiography, Memoir, Poetry

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Plot Summary:

In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

The writing is nothing short of mystical. I connected with it as an artist right away, but in a way that was not easy to define. It all just made complete sense to me. Harjo was speaking my language. I was entranced by her story, and I weeped at the end when she found her way back to poetry.

I couldn’t stop crying. It may have had more to do with where I am in my life right now, but I was still very moved by her story.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning :

EAST

East is the direction of beginnings. It is sunrise. When beloved Sun rises, it is an entrance, a door to fresh knowledge. Breathe the light in. Call upon the assistance you need for the day. Give thanks.

East is how the plants, animals, and other beings orient themselves for beginnings, to open and blossom. The spirit of the day emerges from the sunrise point. East is also the direction of Oklahoma, where I was born, the direction of the Creek Nation.

____________________

Once I was so small I could barely see over the top of the back seat of the black Cadillac my father bought with his Indian oil money. He polished and tuned his car daily. I wanted to see everything.

This was around the time I acquired language, when something happened that changed my relationship to the spin of the world. It changed even the way I looked at the sun.

This suspended integer of time probably escaped ordinary notice in my parents’ universe, which informed most of my vision in the ordinary world. They were still omnipresent gods.

We were driving somewhere in Tulsa, the northern border of the Creek Nation. I don’t know where we were going or where we had been, but I know the sun was boiling the asphalt, the car windows were open for any breeze as I stood on tiptoes on the floorboard behind my father, a handsome god who smelled of Old Spice, whose slick black hair was always impeccably groomed, his clothes perfectly creased and ironed. The radio was on. Even then I loved the radio, jukeboxes, or any magic thing containing music.

I wonder what signaled this moment, a loop of time that on first glance could be any place in time. I became acutely aware of the line the jazz trumpeter was playing (a sound I later associated with Miles Davis). I didn’t know the words jazz or trumpet. I don’t know how to say it, with what sounds or words, but in that confluence of hot southern afternoon, in the breeze of aftershave and humidity, I followed that sound to the beginning, to the birth of sound. I was suspended in whirling stars. I grieved my parents’ failings, my own life, which I saw stretching the length of that rhapsody.

My rite of passage into the world of humanity occurred then, through jazz. The music was a startling bridge between familiar and strange lands. I heard stomp-dance shells, singing. I saw suits, satin, fine hats. I heard workers singing in the fields. It was a way to speak beyond the confines of ordinary language.

Not the typical beginning for an autobiography, and yet, it was the perfect voice for Harjo’s life story. In between the storytelling, I found a brutally honest examination of a life, with no excuses, and a deeper understanding of humanity. And above all, a way through, with bravery.

Needless to say, this book has found a special place in my heart, and I know it will touch yours as well.

 

Learn more about Joy Harjo here.

Follow Joy on Facebook here.

Subscribe to Joy’s YouTube Channel here.

 

Fan That Spark OK SCBWI Fall Retreat – The Recap Part II

 

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Day One of Our Fall Retreat for Oklahoma SCBWI last month had something for everyone, with specific tracks for novel, illustration, and picture book that allowed you to focus on your area of interest. Day Two found us in the capable hands of Linda Urban, children’s book author and mad genius when it comes to dissecting what makes a book work.

 

LindaUrbanLinda Urban – Linda writes picture books and middle grade novels from subjects as varied as an angry mouse expressing emotion (MOUSE WAS MAD), a red-headed boy searching for independence (LITTLE RED HENRY), a girl who dreams of playing pianos only to end up with a wheezy organ (A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT), and a girl who tries to fix a horrible mistake with a birthday wish (THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING). Urban’s characters are written with so much heart, yours will burst while reading about them.

The focus of her revision intensive for the day was on voice and point of view.   Of course, what is it that agents and editors always say they want in a story, and the one thing that everyone says is all but unteachable?

Voice!

Linda showed us how making the right choice with point of view can affect the voice of your story. Some POV choices bring readers in closer, while some give more distance and offer more flexibility.

Not all YA books have to be in 1st person, and not all Middle Grades have to be in 3rd person. Surprising, I know. Making a more thoughtful choice for your story is essential to giving it the greatest impact.

One specific example Linda gave to show how these two ideas work together is to consider if your character changes the way they express themselves in a moment of crisis. If so, how does POV shape this expression?

Interesting question, right?

Linda teaching us about voice and POV.
Linda at our Fall Retreat teaching us all the good stuff.

Linda also talked about using mentor texts – examples of good writing to be studied and imitated – to help you learn rhythm and sentence structure. You can tear apart these stories and study them; figure out how they work. (Another reason to be reading!)

Here are some great examples she used:

1st Person POV

clementine_book1CLEMENTINE by Sara Pennypacker

In this first book of the series, Clementine tries to help out her friend Margaret, but ends up in a lot of trouble for it. Things get worse each day of the week, until finally she’s worried that Margaret is right: Clementine’s parents might consider her “the hard one” in the family. They’re up to something mysterious…are they thinking they’d be better off if they only had her little vegetable-named brother…”the easy one”?

 

 

book thiefTHE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

 

 

vera with printzPLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S King 

Eighteen-year-old Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, or even the police. But will she emerge and clear his name? Does she even want to?

 

2nd Person POV

blink and cautionBLINK & CAUTION by Tim Wynne-Jones

Boy, did you get off on the wrong floor, Blink. All you wanted was to steal some breakfast for your empty belly, but instead you stumbled on a fake kidnapping and a cell phone dropped by an “abducted” CEO, giving you a link to his perfect blonde daughter. Now you’re on the run, but it’s OK as long as you are smart enough to stay in the game and keep Captain Panic locked in his hold.

Enter a girl named Caution. As in “Caution: Toxic.” As in “Caution: Watch Your Step.” She’s also on the run from a skeezy drug-dealer boyfriend and from a night- mare in her past that won’t let her go. When she spies Blink at the bus station, Caution can see he’s an easy mark. But there’s something about this naive, skinny street punk, whom she only wanted to rob, that tugs at her heart, a heart she thought deserved not to feel.

 

book-whenyoureachme_f2WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead

3rd Person POV

Mouse MotorcycleTHE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE by Beverly Cleary

In this imaginative adventure from Newbery Medal-winning author Beverly Cleary, a young mouse named Ralph is thrown into a world of excitement when a boy and his shiny toy motorcycle check into the Mountain View Inn.

When the ever-curious Ralph spots Keith’s red toy motorcycle, he vows to ride it. So when Keith leaves the bike unattended in his room one day, Ralph makes his move. But with all this freedom (and speed!) come a lot of obstacles. Whether dodging a rowdy terrier or keeping his nosy cousins away from his new wheels, Ralph has a lot going on! With a pal like Keith always looking out for him, there’s nothing this little mouse can’t handle.

 

KeeperKEEPER by Kathi Appelt

Keeper was born in the ocean, and she believes she is part mermaid. So as a ten-year-old she goes out looking for her mother—an unpredictable and uncommonly gorgeous woman who swam away when Keeper was three—and heads right for the ocean, right for the sandbar where mermaids are known to gather. But her boat is too small for the surf—and much too small for the storm that is brewing on the horizon.

 

harry-potter-and-the-philosophers-stoneThe Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

 

Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy. He lives with his Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and cousin Dudley, who are mean to him and make him sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. (Dudley, however, has two bedrooms, one to sleep in and one for all his toys and games.) Then Harry starts receiving mysterious letters and his life is changed forever. He is whisked away by a beetle-eyed giant of a man and enrolled at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The reason: Harry Potter is a wizard! The first book in the “Harry Potter” series makes the perfect introduction to the world of Hogwarts.

 

Omniscient POV

ManiacMagee500MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli

Jeffrey Lionel “Maniac” Magee might have lived a normal life if a freak accident hadn’t made him an orphan. After living with his unhappy and uptight aunt and uncle for eight years, he decides to run–and not just run away, but run. This is where the myth of Maniac Magee begins, as he changes the lives of a racially divided small town with his amazing and legendary feats.

 

bk_realboyTHE REAL BOY by Anne Ursu

On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy. The city is called Asteri, a perfect city that was saved by the magic woven into its walls from a devastating plague that swept through the world over a hundred years before. The forest is called the Barrow, a vast wood of ancient trees that encircles the city and feeds the earth with magic. And the boy is called Oscar, a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow. Oscar spends his days in a small room in the dark cellar of his master’s shop grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island generations ago. Oscar’s world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.

 

Feeling overwhelmed by all the choices? Here’s one final thing to consider:

“Part of deciding point-of-view is knowing the experience level of your readers.” – Linda Urban

I’ve barely brushed the surface of everything we learned. It was enlightening and educational, to say the least. If you get an opportunity to take in a workshop taught by Linda Urban, I highly recommend it.

Learn more about Linda by visiting her website: lindaurbanbooks.com

Follow Linda on Twitter @lindaurbanbooks.

 

 

 

Fan That Spark OK SCBWI Fall Retreat – The Recap Part I

 

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Our Fall Retreat for Oklahoma SCBWI last month had something for everyone, with specific tracks for novel, illustration, and picture book that allowed you to focus on your area of interest. The theme “Fan the Spark” encouraged all to turn those beginning creative sparks into fully developed stories.

I attended the Novel Track.

(I heard rave reviews from everyone I spoke with who attended both the Picture Book Track taught by Janee Trasler, and the Illustrator Track taught by Tim Jessell.)

The first speaker had a background in theatre arts and showed us how writers could learn from actors when developing their characters. She also stopped by this blog prior to the retreat to introduce herself. Click on this link to get a more detailed view into her background..

Ginny SainGinny Sain – with more than 20 years experience as a working director, choreographer, playwright, theatrical designer, performer , and theatre arts teacher, she has worked as an artist in residence teaching theatre arts workshops in Arkansas and Oklahoma schools as well as teaching and directing all classes, workshops, and productions for over 18 years with the very successful Stages Theatre for Youth program.

“Generality is the enemy of all art.” – Stanislavski

When creating your characters, you want to move from the general to the specific.

How?

By paying attention to the inner lives and motivations of your characters in every scene. And this should be done FOR EVERY CHARACTER.

When an actor prepares for a new role, they get to know their character intimately – what motivates them, how they move about in space, what they like and don’t like – they slip into their character’s skin to portray them in a believable manner. The actor inhabits every inch of that character’s psyche. And they do this before they even step foot onto the stage.

This can feel like a daunting task. Impossible even.

So how do they do it?

They break down the play into moments – or beats – and figure out what’s driving their character’s behavior from moment to moment. Beats are manageable chunks even smaller than scenes. Some obvious beats include when a character enters or exits a scene or when there’s a shift in conversation, or when new information has been revealed. Once the beats are identified, the actors then decide what the character’s objective, obstacle, and action is for each beat.

Objective – What your character wants. Each character has one main “superobjective” that spans the entire work and many smaller objectives that lead toward the “superobjective”. The path a character takes as they move through these smaller objectives is called the “through line”. Each character should have an objective for every beat they are on stage. The objective should be active and directed toward the other characters.  Objectives seek to change things.

Example: “I want to get away from him and leave this room.”

Obstacle – What is keeping your character from getting what they want. Obstacles can be internal or external. Or both. This struggle is what makes the story interesting.

Example: “I can’t leave because he locked the door.”

Action – What your character does to overcome his or her obstacle. There are usually three possible outcomes: the character will give up, overcome the obstacle, or plow through and ignore it. How they react to obstacles shows what characters are made of – reactions reveal a lot about character.

Example: “I jump out the window.”

Focusing on what each character wants as you write each moment – which may be completely opposite/opposing things – can make for much more interesting writing.

Learn more about Ginny by visiting her website: HeARTsong Creative Center.

 

The next speaker was no stranger to our OK SCBWI group or to the previous speaker (being her mother). She gave a talk about how to write emotion into your story without crossing the line into sentimentality.

AnnaMyersphotoCAnna Myers – This award-winning Oklahoma author has published 20 books to much critical acclaim. She has won the Oklahoma Book Award four times for SPY!ASSASSINGRAVEYARD GIRL, and RED DIRT JESSIE. She was also awarded their lifetime achievement, the Arrell Gibson Award, in 2012. She writes historical and contemporary fiction for young readers. She also had her first picture book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, published in 2014. Most importantly, she was our Oklahoma SCBWI Regional Advisor and fearless leader for 14 years.

Anna’s talk focused on helping us see the difference between emotion and schmaltz, the Yiddish word for sentimentality or literally, chicken fat.

“Novels aren’t real life. They need to be sharper.”

Emotion needs to be stronger.

Yet, this doesn’t mean readers want to see characters spill their guts out when grieving. Crying is too easy.

SCHMALTZ! Cut it!

It’s the struggle that’s most interesting. Readers want to see how characters deal with problems – this is where the emotional connection lies.

So, what can you do to show this?

Think of an action to show the emotion.

Anna gave the example of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. This was a devastating time for the entire country. And yet, the most moving image wasn’t of a widow grieving, it was of his young son saluting his casket.

Photo credit: Stan Stearns/UPI
Photo credit: Stan Stearns/UPI

 

This would not have been as touching if he’d been crying. This is utterly heart-breaking. We feel the loss so much stronger. (While researching, I also learned that this picture was taken on John Jr.’s birthday. Seriously. Where’s the kleenex?)

Of course, tears do have their place, but don’t rely on them, or any other bodily expression, as a crutch for showing your character’s emotion. Focus more on that action that expresses their sorrow.

Learn more about Anna by visiting her website: www.annamyers.info

 

The next speaker lead us through a visualization exercise to help us overcome blocks in our creative process.

Pati Hailey PicPati Hailey – Over her career, Pati has written state legislation, online training for large corporations, lesson plans for teachers, and literature for children and adults. She is a frequent speaker at conferences and schools. Pati’s articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines, including Cricket and Hopscotch. Her contribution to this series, TE ATA: Oklahoma Cultural Treasure, is her first published children’s book.

I always find these visualization exercises helpful and I always learn something surprising about my manuscript or my character. Pati walks us through a simple relaxation before taking us through the visualization exercise. During the visualization, we are to focus on a part of our manuscript that is giving us trouble and look at it from a different perspective, paying attention to surroundings in more detail, and thinking about our characters in different ways, even asking them specific questions.

These visualizations allow your brain to relax enough to use your subconscious and solve story problems. You can try these on your own, too. While writing, think about getting up every 30 minutes or so to give your subconscious time to work on any story problems you might have.

Follow Pati on Twitter @PatiHailey

Follow Pati on Facebook here.

 

After lunch, we had a First Pages Critique Panel

 

 

The wise Panel Members: Anna Myers, Tammi Sauer, and Sonia Gensler share their insights.
The wise Panel Members Anna Myers, Tammi Sauer, and Sonia Gensler share their insights. (Photo credit: Regina Garvie)

 

a Speaker Autograph Party

Autograph Party 1
Some of our fantastic speakers signing their books. (Photo credit: Regina Garvie)

 

and then dinner…

We took over the Rock Café in Stroud. (Photo credit: THE Jerry Bennet)
Many of our group took over the Rock Café in Stroud. (Photo credit: THE Jerry Bennet.)

 

…before the final event of the day.

The Inspirational Keynote from LINDA URBAN! YAY!!!

LindaUrbanLinda Urban – Linda writes picture books and middle grade novels from subjects as varied as an angry mouse expressing emotion (MOUSE WAS MAD), a red-headed boy searching for independence (LITTLE RED HENRY), a girl who dreams of playing pianos only to end up with a wheezy organ (A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT), and a girl who tries to fix a horrible mistake with a birthday wish (THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING). Urban’s characters are written with so much heart, yours will burst while reading about them.

Linda encouraged us to be open to inspiration and new ideas throughout the weekend.

She told us the story about when she first felt that spark, that joy from writing. She put her heart on the page and loved that feeling. Then one day the good feeling stopped. A boy called her writing weird, and said she was weird. She felt horrible and stopped writing for a long time.

When she came back to writing, it was a slow, painful process. Once she let herself find that spark again, that feeling of joy, she needed to define the “spine” of her work. “Why do I do it?”

For her, she wants to write about small things that matter to kids in a big way.

“All I need to be successful is to be true to my spine.”

What is YOUR spine?

Inspiration in spades!

Learn more about Linda by visiting her website: lindaurbanbooks.com

 

Stay tuned for The Recap PART II to read all about what Linda Urban had to teach us during the revision intensive on Day Two!