Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mystery Woman of Wednesday: A Contest

Mystery Woman was born in 1802 in what is now the United States. Like many women of her era, she did not go to school. Instead, she learned about healing and herbal medicines from her mother and local natives. She married in 1820. She continued her work as healer, and also started to farm -- raising cattle and vegetables while raising her seven children.

Her husband drank, and did little to support their growing family. Eventually, he became physically abusive, and in 1836, she finally left him. When he tried to force her back, she sought a protective order to stay free.

Mystery Woman was left to support her seven children on her own. She sold meat and vegetables, and continued to see the value in property ownership. In about 1844, she bought a 4400 acre parcel for $300. By law, she was still married, and her husband could claim everything. Women had little or no property rights in her day. She obtained a legal separation to protect her holdings. She continued to grow her business and raise her family.

Then, in 1852, the United States government challenged her ownership of her land -- as they did with all early land holders in this state. Mystery Woman fought back. Her case made its way to the Supreme Court. Eventually, the high court ruled in her favor. Mystery Woman is now recognized as a true pioneer -- a savvy business woman -- a woman who wasn't afraid to fight for what was rightfully hers.

122 years after her death, her house still stands -- barely -- and it is still a lightning rod for dispute. The wood-framed, rammed-earth and adobe structure sits in an affluent neighborhood, and is one of the oldest homes in this state. Despite being designated a State Historical Landmark in 1954, the place is a shambles -- open to the elements for ten years, a victim of neglect and the forces of nature.

Local preservationists are fighting to save the structure from demolition. In 2008, a county judge ruled against the city, which is seeking to raze it. The appeals court overturned that decision, paving the way for its destruction.

If you know our Mystery Woman, submit your answer to by midnight Wednesday, April 6. Winner will be chosen from all correct answers received by this date, and will receive a book from the America's Notable Women series. (Authors who have participated in this series are not eligible.). We'll reveal the Mystery Woman's identity and announce the winner on Thursday, April 7.

Do see a list of eligible candidates, you can check out the list of Notable Women for each state at Apprentice Shop Books . Good luck!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mentor Monday: Where Are You?

For every career, there's a career path. When I started teaching, I really hadn't thought much about the path itself. I only knew I wanted to teach. Fresh out of college, I was armed with lots of theory, but had little in the way of actual practice (student teaching just gives you a glimpse into what's truly involved).

Once in the trenches, I realized just how little I knew about this path I'd chosen. Over the years, I learned (oh, how I learned!). Teaching is so much more than working with kids -- you have to deal with administration,  parents, politics, budgets, etc. If only it were just about teaching!

Same is true with a children's writing career. You may think you know how to write for kids (I mean, how hard can it be?!?!?!), but when you get right down to it, you discover you really know squat. 

It's important to recognize where you are on the path -- and to also recognize the waymarkers -- the signs that you're advancing . . . or not.

Over the course of the next several weeks (during my turn at blogging), we'll look at the different stages of a writing career. Today, it's the Novice category.

You know you're a Novice when:
  • You read picture books or middle grade novels or young adult novels and think writing for kids is a snap.
  • You have stories you want to tell, but haven't put them in writing yet.
  • Or, you have put them in writing, but haven't paid attention to things like voice or word count. Or perhaps you've told a story exactly as it happened.
  • In fact, you aren't even aware that you're supposed to be aware of the above.
  • You've started to read some how-to books like The Complete Idiot's Guide to Children's Publishing by Harold Underdown or Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.
  • If you aspire to write picture books, you write them in the style of picture books from your childhood.
  • You may enter your work in writing contests.
  • You perhaps believe you have to find your own illustrator if you are a picture book writer.
  • You may also think you have to pay someone to publish you (no lie,The Write Sisters have heard this many, many times). Seriously, publishers pay you! 
  • You think you're going to get rich writing for kids (ah, don't quit your day job just yet . . .)
  • You believe that any children's publishing house will take any of the children's genres.
  • In fact, you aren't aware there are different children's genres. You think writing for children is all about picture books (it just isn't so!)
  • You read your stories to family members and kids (your own, your friends', your child's classmates), and you believe them when they say it's great. It may be, but chances are good, they're responding to you.
  • You've started a rejection file, and don't realize this is a good thing (it means you're submitting!).
If you aspire to be a children's writer, these are just a few of the things you may experience at the novice level. We've all been there! The Write Sisters have each been writing for kids for twenty+ years. Among the seven of us, we have over 100 published books. We couldn't say that twenty years ago.

Every once in a while, we do a retrospective, individually and collectively. It's fun to see how much we've learned, how much more we've published, and how much fun we've had doing it.

You can, too!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Poetry Friday--At Long Last, Spring!

Finally, what everyone in New England has been not-so-patiently waiting for--Spring! She arrived on Sunday evening, the little imp, not being able to wait until the next day.

Let's celebrate with one of New England's own, Emily Dickinson:

It's all I have to bring today--
This, and my heart beside--
This, and my heart, and all the fields--
And all the meadows wide--
Be sure you count--should I forget
Some one the sum could tell--
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

Stop by A Year of Reading where you'll find this week's Poetry Friday Round-Up.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Women of Wednesday--You're How Old?

Tomorrow will be 114th anniversary of the birth of dancer, and founder of the American Ballet Theatre, Lucia Chase. Or is it the 104th? Was she born in 1897 or 1907? Hmmm...some discrepancy in my sources. I wonder why? The International Dictionary of Ballet lists her year of birth as 1907; could it have printed the date wrong?

I found a profile of Chase, "Angel of the Ballet," from an August 1, 1948 newspaper supplement called The American Weekly. In it Chase's age is mentioned more than once as 47, and the writer implies that her birth occurred in 1901 when he tells us, "Seven-year-old Lucia Chase approached her father that day in 1908." Could the reporter, Jack Stone, have gotten it wrong?

Here's a little hint from a book by her son, Alex C. Ewing (Alex is referring to the year 1980 here):
She never admitted her age (in fact, she went to considerable lengths to conceal it), but claimed she acted this way for professional reasons: if everyone knew her true age, they might begin to question whether she was still capable of directing a major ballet company.

Yet there was probably a more fundamental explanation: like a great many people, Lucia was afraid of growing old. "Old" and "Lucia" were a contradiction in terms.
Her son sets the record straight, her year of birth was 1897.

I wrote a profile of Lucia Chase for one of the "America's Notable Women" series books. In doing several women for the series I've found that there are times when the hardest fact to uncover is the exact year of birth!

In some cases the birth records no longer, or never did, exist. In other cases there are errors in the resources. And, in yet others, the answer is plain and simple vanity!

So, we writers do the best we can, but we can't always be certain, that's why you may find a "c" in front of a date on a woman's timeline. "C" is for circa meaning "around." For some women there is a way "around" the truth!

Here's another anecdote Ewing shared in his book: In 1983, his mother had a massive stroke and she was rushed to the hospital
At one point along the way, an attendant in the ambulance, anxious to find out how badly off she was, asked a few basic questions. What was her name? What day of the week was it? Lucia mumbled some answers that were barely intelligible until he asked her age.

Quick as a flash, Lucia spoke up: "Who wants to know?"

"The doctor."

"Well, then the doctor can ask me," she snapped, and shut her eyes.
[By the way, in the photo on the book cover, Chase is 63 and still dancing!]


Monday, March 21, 2011

Mentor Monday--It Ain't All Picture Books

If you're new to children's writing and someone asks, "What do you write?" You probably say, "Picture books."

I hate to wake you to reality, but do you know how difficult it is to write a picture book and then try to sell it in today's economy?

What other writing for children have you done? You ask, "Other writing?" Yes. Besides picture books there's
beginning readers
early chapter books
chapter books
young adult books
commercially licensed, character books
nonfiction books (in picture book, beginning reader, chapter book, etc. formats)
books for the school and library market (usually written and sold in sets)
web content
interactive/video game story lines
instructional materials
testing materials
activity and puzzle books
joke and riddle books
travel guides
religious books
promotional materials for children groups and organizations
pamphlets such as those you pick up at the doctor's office that teach kids about healthy eating
I guess I should stop here.

There's so much more to explore in the field of writing for children. You may have to work in multiple genres before you can even get your big toe in the door.

Don't pin all your hopes on selling a picture book. Get busy writing, get some credits, and then, one day when you least expect it, the economic crisis will pass and there will be brighter days ahead for children's picture book writers.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Poetry Friday - The Wind and the Moon

George MacDonald

Born - December 10, 1824, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Died - September 18, 1905, Surrey, England

Doesn't he look like a poet? Like a guy who would write fairy tales for kids? If he carried a bit more weight, he could be Santa Claus.

In case you're wondering, he was the man who inspired C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Madeline L'Engle, and Elizabeth Yates, just to mention a few. He mentored Lewis Carroll and influenced Mark Twain. He knew practically every literary figure of his time, and he was the man they all looked up to. To read some of his work, click here, to read about him, click his name at the top of the page.

The Wind and the Moon
by George MacDonald

Said the Wind to the Moon, "I will blow you out;
You stare
In the air
Like a ghost in a chair,
Always looking what I am about —
I hate to be watched; I'll blow you out."

The Wind blew hard, and out went the Moon.
So, deep
On a heap
Of clouds to sleep,
Down lay the Wind, and slumbered soon,
Muttering low, "I've done for that Moon."

He turned in his bed; she was there again!
On high
In the sky,
With her one ghost eye,
The Moon shone white and alive and plain.
Said the Wind, "I will blow you out again."

The Wind blew hard, and the Moon grew dim.
"With my sledge,
And my wedge,
I have knocked off her edge!
If only I blow right fierce and grim,
The creature will soon be dimmer than dim."

He blew and he blew, and she thinned to a thread.
"One puff
More's enough
To blow her to snuff!
One good puff more where the last was bred,
And glimmer, glimmer, glum will go the thread."

He blew a great blast, and the thread was gone.
In the air
Was a moonbeam bare;
Far off and harmless the shy stars shone
Sure and certain the Moon was gone!

The Wind he took to his revels once more;
On down,
In town,
Like a merry—mad clown,
He leaped and halloed with whistle and roar —
"What's that?" The glimmering thread once more!

He flew in a rage — he danced and blew;
But in vain
Was the pain
Of his bursting brain;
For still the broader the Moon—scrap grew,
The broader he swelled his big cheeks and blew.

Slowly she grew — till she filled the night,
And shone
On her throne
In the sky alone,
A matchless, wonderful silvery light,
Radiant and lovely, the queen of the night.

Said the Wind: "What a marvel of power am I!
With my breath,
Good faith!
I blew her to death —
First blew her away right out of the sky —
Then blew her in; what strength have I!

But the Moon she knew nothing about the affair;
For high
In the sky,
With her one white eye,
Motionless, miles above the air,
She had never heard the great Wind blare.

Blow on over to A Wrung Sponge where Jazmon throws a bit of light on this week's Poetry Friday.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Women of Wednesday - Annie Edson Taylor

Picture it. Niagara Falls, October 24, 1901.

The Niagara sparkles with sunlight and the trees, ablaze in red and gold, line the bank. The air is crisp, and the breeze coming off the river is cool and damp. In the distance, the falls roar as the river plunges 174 feet to the river below. A small group of people stand at the edge of the river by a small rowboat just south of Goat Island. One of them is an elderly woman. Her name is Annie Edson Taylor and today is her birthday. Today, October 24, 1901, she has just turned sixty-three years old, and for her birthday she has come to the falls.

But Annie isn't like most sightseers. Annie is here to do more than look. As her friends climb into the boat, Annie waits for them to roll a barrel from the boat into the water, and that is where Annie climbs - into the barrel - with her lucky heart-shaped pillow clasped to her breast. Her friends screw down the lid and, with a bicycle pump, they push compressed air into a hole in the barrel. When they finish, they stuff a cork into it and shove the barrel - and Annie - off into the river to let it take her where it will.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

What in the world would make a person do this? What would make them do it at sixty-three?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Annie was born in 1938 in Auburn, New York. Her father owned a flour mill, and when he died, he left his family - eight children and his wife - enough to live comfortably. Annie grew up and went off to teacher's college and met her husband, David Taylor. They married and had a son who died while still a baby. David went off to fight in the Civil War, and it wasn't long before Annie learned she had become a widow. But David did not leave her as well off as her father had left her mother. Annie had to find a job.

Annie moved from here, to there, and everywhere, trying to earn a living. She went to Bay City, Michigan and opened her own dance studio. She taught music in Sault Ste. Marie. As the years rolled by, she ventured as far as Texas and then decided to go even further to Mexico. She convinced a friend to go with her, certain they would find work across the border.

They didn't.

Annie ended up back in Bay City, and all her traveling says to me is that she wasn't a quitter, and she had an adventurous spirit. But it also says that while she knew she had to earn a living, she wanted to make it in the quickest, easiest way possible. Annie, in my opinion, was never going to end up working a 9-5 job for forty years.

As she started getting on in age, she began to wonder about her retirement. Eventually, she wouldn't be able to work. All her jobs had provided her with enough to live on, but they hadn't provided the means to support her in her old age. What was she going to do?

Well, of course, the answer was obvious.

Annie would go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. She would be the first person to ever do it. She would gain fame and notoriety and her future would be assured. She went about having a barrel made.

Annie's barrel was made especially for her. It was made of oak and iron and was padded inside with a mattress. But Annie was no fool. She wasn't about to attempt the stunt without trying it out first. She stuffed a cat into the barrel and pushed him over the falls. Both the barrel and the cat survived. That was all Annie needed to know. She was on her way.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So there she is, stuffed in her barrel, huddled in the dark with her lucky heart-shaped pillow clutched to her breast, inhaling breath after breath of compressed air as the barrel drifts slowly downstream. You might imagine her thinking about whether or not she'll come out of that barrel alive. You might imagine her thinking about what a fool-stupid thing she had done. I imagine her thinking of all the money she is going to make at speaking engagements.

And so, the barrel drifts and the minutes pass, and who knows what Annie is really thinking. And now she hears the roar of the falls and she knows the drop is coming. She prepares herself for the plunge, and still, the barrel drifts. She waits, and she drifts, and she waits, and she drifts, and she wonders when the heck it will happ . . . .

And down she goes, the barrel toppling over and over as it slides and skitters and ricochets off the surging foam. It hits the river hard and Annie's head smashes against the barrel before she's slammed down, and then the rushing falls hit the barrel and shoot it out into the middle of the river like a pea through a straw while Annie is banged and bumped and banged some more until the barrel finally settles down and drifts . . . and drifts . . . and the rescuers arrive and pull the barrel to the bank.

They pry off the lid and look inside, and there's Annie, more shook up than she's ever been. They help her out of the barrel and discover she is totally unharmed except for a small gash on her head. Later, when she's had time to recover from the event, they ask her what is was like, what did she feel, was it as thrilling as she thought it would be? And Annie replies --

"If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat . . . . I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Annie did earn a bit of money from speaking engagements, but it was never as much as she imagined it might be. She spent the rest of her life living as she had always lived once becoming a widow - looking for a way to make a fast buck. She had lots of ideas, like writing a book, or perhaps she'd go over the falls a second time. What she actually did was to pose with tourists in souvenir pictures, and when that dried up, she became a clairvoyent.

So, was she really a daredevil, or just a woman looking for an easy retirement? And was the ride over the falls as bad as she said, or was she just trying to scare others off, so she could be the only one who had ever done it? Whatever her reasons, she was the first to do it. And she not only did it, she survived it, which can't be said of many others who tried.

But then, of course, they didn't go over with her lucky heart-shaped pillow.

To read about some of the others who went over the falls, successfully and unsuccessfully, click here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mentor Monday - The Big Reveal

Revelation is that moment in the story when the light bulb goes on in your MC’s head and she goes, ‘Aha!’ and suddenly, she knows what to do, the world makes sense, and she can finally fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Her life changes.

It’s also the moment in the story when your MC is hit with horrible news and he goes, ‘Oh, no!’ and suddenly, everything has gone awry, his world is crumbling around him, and he can’t make sense of any of it. His life changes.

All novels, whether for teens, middle-graders, or adults, have at least one revelation, and many have more than one. The biggest revelations usually come at the climax of the story.

The first moment of revelation in Harry Potter is when he’s huddled in the dark in that broken down shack on a lone island far out at sea, and Hagrid bursts in, hands Harry his letter, and says “You’re a wizard, Harry.” This is an “Aha!’ moment. Suddenly, the light comes on for Harry. Now he understands why all those strange things happen to him. They make sense now. And his life changes. He goes off to Hogwarts and learns how to be a wizard. It’s the first in a long list of revelations.

In Bridge to Terabithia, a much quieter book, there are few revelations, but the big one comes at the climax. This one is an “Oh, no!’ moment. Jess is told that his best friend Leslie has died while he was away on a day trip with his art teacher. Leslie was the person who had shown him there was more to the world than his little town, that he could make his dream of being an artist come true, that things didn’t have to be what they were and that life could change. He’s devastated by the news, and it changes him.

What makes these moments of revelation work is the build-up and the reaction. In Harry Potter, Rowling doesn’t allow Harry to simply get his letter and learn the news. It still would have been a revelation if she had, but it would have been a small moment. She made it a big moment by slowly building up to the reveal. She prevented Harry from getting his letter. She allowed Hogwarts to send him hundreds and hundreds of letters, and she let Mr. Dursley keep each and every one of them from Harry, for pages and pages. By the time we find him stuck out on that island, he, and the reader, are dying to know what is in that letter.

Bridge to Terabithia is one of those novels where the reveal is the climax, and the entire novel is the build-up. Everything that happens in this story is happening to make Leslie’s death the ultimate moment. It’s the turning point for Jess, and even his family who barely knew Leslie. As of this moment, their lives will never be the same again. Paterson could have shown us a nice friendship between two kids, but if that’s all it was, Leslie’s death would have been just another death, a sad moment, but not as powerful as it was. Paterson made it big by giving their friendship depth. She built it up over the course of the story, showing us their innermost secrets, and why and how they connected and grew closer. We knew them as well as we know our family members, and that’s what losing Leslie felt like.

Reaction also plays a part in how big a reveal will be. If Harry had replied, “Gee, that’s nice.” and had sat down to eat his birthday cake or had gone back to sleep, the moment would have crumbled and meant nothing. But Harry was amazed and astonished, and because he was, the reader is, too.

The same is true in Terabithia. Jess could have cried and been sad at Leslie’s death, and Paterson could have moved on to the next scene. It would have been a sad moment, but that’s all it would have been - a sad moment - because the reader would have moved on, too. What Paterson did was to let the moment linger. She gave Jess two whole chapters to react to Leslie’s death, and another one to accept it. And because he felt it so long and so deeply, the reader feels it that way, too. It affects us as much as it affects Jess.

So, what are the secrets your MC has to learn? What revelations lie hidden away in your WIP, just waiting to unfold? And how will your characters react to them? Only you can decide that. But whatever you decide, make your revelations as big as they need to be. Create that OMG! moment.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Poetry Friday: Rain Poems by Basho

Two rain poems by Matsuo Basho; with prayers for the people of Japan today.

First winter rain--
even the monkey
seems to want a raincoat.

Spring rain
leaking through the roof
dripping from the wasps' nest. 

Poetry Friday is being hosted this week at Liz In Ink.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Women of Wednesday: Graciela Olivárez, Chicana Crusader

Today is the birthday of Graciela Olivárez, an Arizona native. Daughter of a Mexican-American mother and a Spanish father, she grew up in the mining country of Arizona during the Depression and developed a passion for the needs of the underprivileged.

Graciela dropped out of school after her junior year in high school when her family moved to Phoenix. She found a secretarial job in real estate before landing at radio station KIFN. There she worked her way up from secretary to radio host and eventually program director. Her position in the community gave her a voice she could raise against injustice, and raise it she did, not always with the support of her employers. In 1962 she was invited to work for the Choate Foundation which was establishing programs in Arizona to reduce juvenile delinquency. By 1966 Olivárez was director of the Arizona Economic Opportunity Office.

In 1967 Graciela was invited to attend Notre Dame Law School by Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, president of the College, who had met Olivárez in his role as a member of the Civil Rights Commission. Remember that this was a woman who had never received a high school diploma. In 1970 she became the first woman ever to graduate from the Notre Dame Law School. Later she would be the first woman on the board of directors of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, and a professor at the University of New Mexico Law School.

Olivárez’ hard work and accomplishments caught the attention of national figures from both sides of the political aisle. President Johnson appointed her to the National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity. President Nixon made her the Vice-chair of the President’s Commission on Population and the American Future. And President Carter made her head of the Community Services Administration, the federal government’s anti-poverty agency. She was the highest-ranking woman in his administration.

Graciela was one of the charter members of the National Organization for Women at its founding in 1966. She fell out of favor with that group when she dissented from the group’s adoption of a plank favoring legalized abortion. Graciela believed abortion would ultimately hurt women’s rights by excusing men from responsibility for children they might father. She also feared it would become a tool for reducing the population among minorities, pointing out the term “unwanted” as applied to unborn children carried a strong echo of the way society often looked at members of minorities:  "Mexican-American (Chicano) farm laborers were 'wanted' when they could be exploited by agri-business. Chicanos who fight for their constitutional rights are 'unwanted' people."

Graciela continued to work in campaigns against poverty and discrimination and was Director of the State Office of Planning for the State of New Mexico when President Carter tapped her for the top job at the Community Services Administration.

The CSA was rolled into the Department of Health and Human Services in 1981. Graciela returned to the world of broadcasting, founding a television company. She continued to work as a consultant and to crusade against poverty in America. In an article published in 1984, she wrote words that sound very current more than a quarter-century later: “To solve the nation’s growing numbers of poor, we need (1) rational analysis and practical programs, (2) the cooperation of both the public and private sectors and (3) sincere concern for the future of all Americans, Short-sighted ideological and political posturing, coupled with simplistic approaches, won’t do.”

Olivárez, who had received a leadership award from the American Cancer Society for her work in the 1960s, died of cancer in 1987. Her friends called her "Amazing Grace."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mentor Monday: Voice, part 2

In part one of this look at Voice, we talked about the voices of your characters. Another voice in any work of either fiction or non-fiction is the voice of the narrator.

In a first-person account, obviously, the voice of the narrator is the voice of one of the characters. But even in that case, there will be variations in the voice, as the character reports his own dialogue with assorted other characters, and as the narrator reflects on the events of the story, or addresses the reader directly. All these variations must be consistent with the underlying voice of the character, while reflecting the kinds of changes that we all make in response to different situations. This distinction is even greater when the narrator is telling the story from a perspective beyond the end of the story, whether that be a week later, or as an old woman recalling her childhood.
Great examples of the first-person narrative voice range from Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones through Kate DiCamillo’s Opal in Because of Winn Dixie to Twain’s Huck Finn and Salinger’s Holden Caulfield. First person narratives are very popular in children’s and YA fiction right now. They give you the advantage of immediacy, and help the reader to identify with the character. Of course they are also limiting in all sorts of ways – not only can the narrator not tell the reader things the protagonist doesn’t know, but their observations and reflections are inherently suspect as they can hardly be objective observers of the events of the story. And there is a danger that the narrative voice may tend to be considerably older than the voice of the character in dialogue. This is one reason authors sometimes make the narrator an adult reflecting on the events of his or her childhood. It’s a tricky approach but effective if done well. It should not be just a way to excuse not shaping the narrative voice to fit the story.

Even with a third person narrator, Emily Lockhart suggested at Kindling Words, it can be interesting to have the narrative voice evocative of the voice of the character: so in a book about a teenager, the third-person narrator might have a tone and vocabulary appropriate to a teen, while one about a first-grader even the narrator would have a younger voice. It is more common to have a third person narrator, whether omniscient or not, whose voice is more detached from the story. Even so, that narrator is a voice, a voice which can be breathlessly gullible, or cynical and sardonic, or moralizing, or amused. You as the author may choose to have the narrator play a role in the story, not as a character but as a commentator, like the chorus in an ancient Greek drama, or like the storytelling narrator in Kate DiCamillo’s Tale of Despereaux. Or you may choose to work on making your narrator’s voice disappear, so that the reader is scarcely aware of it.

The third person narrator was long the favorite for children’s fiction and there are some wonderful examples to study. Again, it’s fun to compare books by the same author to try and figure out how the narrative voice changes depending on the subject matter and tone as well as the age of the reader/listener. Compare, for example, the narrator in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women with the narrator of the same author’s Rose in Bloom. In the first the narrator is omnipresent but mostly silent, in the latter the narrator keeps up a running commentary on the events of the story, even occasionally addressing the reader directly. More recent authors whose work provides for similar comparisons include Tomi DiPaola, Ezra Jack Keats, Irene Hector Smalls and Maurice Sendak.

Narrative voice is also a consideration for non-fiction work. A non-fiction narrator may be very detached, even clinical in presenting material, or may be completely and emotionally involved with the information being explained. A sardonic or skeptical narrator can serve to cast doubt upon the facts, while a narrator who is clearly passionate about the subject may cause one reader to get caught up in the excitement while another may immediately question the reliability of the information. Children and teens hate to be talked down to, so it’s important that a non-fiction narrator not be condescending. And of course you don’t want your material to be pedantic or boring!

The exercise suggested for helping to develop different character voices can be of use here as well. Try re-writing the same scene (if fiction) or section (if non-fiction) in deliberately different narrative voices. Try printing out a page or two of narration, with all the action and dialogue lines trimmed away. Who talks like this?? Think about different narrative voices in film - Burl Ives, Jimmy Durante, Sterling Holloway - and how their voices literally shaped the stories they told. 

   Imagine the narrative bits of your piece being read by, say, Eddie Albert (who was the voice of the narrator in the video of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax). Now imagine it being read by Morgan Freeman. Or Sylvia Pujoli. How do those voices change the material? Can you capture some of that essence in your text?

Develop a character sketch for the narrator of your work-in-progress – how old is she? What does she think about this subject? Give your narrator a paragraph or two to talk about himself (not in the final work, obviously), and see what he sounds like. Do you like him? Is he appropriate to your material and your reader? If not, fire him and go looking for someone who is. You don’t want your piece to be undermined by your narrator!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Poetry Friday: The Kama Sutra of Kindness: Position Number 3

It's easy to love
through a cold spring
when the poles
of the willows
turn green
pollen falls like
a yellow curtain
and the scent of
Paper Whites
the air

but to love for a lifetime
takes talent

you have to mix yourself
with the strange
beauty of someone
wake each morning
for 72,000
mornings in
a row so
breathed and
bound and
that you can hardly
sort out
your arms

you have to
find forgiveness
in everything
even ink stains
and broken

you have to be willing to move through
the way the long
grasses move
in a field
when you careen
blindly toward
the other

there's never going to be anything
straight or predictable
about your path
except the
and the springing

you just go on walking for years
hand in hand
waist deep in the weeds
bent slightly forward
like two question
and all the while it

my dear
it burns beautifully above
and goes on
like a relentless

                -- Mary Mackey

Ben is hosting Poetry Friday today over at The Small Nouns. Check it out (and some of the big nouns, too!)