Monday, December 31, 2012

Writer’s Resolutions

As the New Year begins, will you be making resolutions? Most of us will. Perhaps this will be the year you’ll keep up with your filing, or take that walk every morning, or quit chewing your nails.

What you should not do is resolve to get published. “Getting published” involves far too many things beyond your control. Far better to resolve to submit two manuscripts. Or write two pages a day (not ten). Or send a query letter every week.

“I will finish my novel” is within your control. “I will sell my novel” is not.

Make your resolutions realistic and manageable, and you’re far more likely to keep them. And, in the end, to get published.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Poetry Friday--Poetry Swap

The great poetry blogger, Tabatha Yeatts, set up a poetry swap last summer. I was a participant and jumped at the chance to partake in a special holiday exchange this December. My swap partner was Mary Lee Hahn. Last week, Mary Lee wrote about the solstice poem she sent to me. Here's the poem I sent to Mary Lee.

© Diane Mayr, all rights reserved. Painting courtesy Kunsthalle Bremen

Mary Lee wrote that she used a prompt supplied by Tabatha. I didn't use the prompt, rather, I was inspired by the French painter, Eva Gonzales, and her painting "Morning Awakening." The woman in the painting looks so cozy and warm and I imagined her thinking, "Ah, no work today!"

The final 2012 Poetry Friday Round-Up is being hosted at Carol's Corner. See you there!


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Women of Wednesday: On the Coming Year

Sometimes, other people just say it better.  Muriel L. Dubois

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day.”     Edith Lovejoy Pierce

“Make New Year's goals. Dig within, and discover what you would like to have happen in your life this year. This helps you do your part. It is an affirmation that you're interested in fully living life in the year to come. 

Goals give us direction. They put a powerful force into play on a universal, conscious, and subconscious level. Goals give our life direction.

What would you like to have happen in your life this year? What would you like to do, to accomplish? What good would you like to attract into your life? What particular areas of growth would you like to have happen to you? What blocks, or character defects, would you like to have removed?

What would you like to attain? Little things and big things? Where would you like to go? What would you like to have happen in friendship and love? What would you like to have happen in your family life?

What problems would you like to see solved? What decisions would you like to make? What would you like to happen in your career?

Write it down. Take a piece of paper, a few hours of your time, and write it all down - as an affirmation of you, your life, and your ability to choose. Then let it go. 

The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.” 
 Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go: Hazelden Meditation Series

Monday, December 24, 2012

Mentor Monday: We Wish You a Merry…

Fourth of July, Labor Day, Columbus Day

I know, I know.  Why am I thinking of July, September, and October during Christmas week?  Many of us are cooking, wrapping, preparing for guests, etc. As one old TV show robot used to say: “This does not compute.”

The sounds, smells, and traditions of the holiday season tend to inspire writers for children. We imagine stories about dreidels, candles, sleighs, elves, snow, and magic. What we should be doing, however, is thinking about the beach.

There are fewer magazines for children but the ones that exist are already planning their summer and fall issues. The holiday issue was put to bed long before you started shopping for gifts.

Even if you are thinking about a holiday-related book, you must plan to complete it way ahead of the time that holiday rolls around again.  A picture book illustrator needs weeks and months to work with your manuscript and the designer needs time, too.  It’s already too late to submit that December picture book idea you have (and haven’t quite written yet) in time to see it on store shelves next year.

Many new writers think that picking a topic for a particular upcoming event will almost guarantee a sale.  It might, but only if you plan ahead.  Any articles written about last Friday’s Mayan calendar “predictions” for example, were most likely finished months and months ago.

So here’s my holiday wish for you: May your 2013 writing be infused with planning, prophecy, and production. 

In the meantime, have a cookie while you’re thinking.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Poetry Friday--Winter Solstice

Today marks the winter solstice--the longest night of the year. From this point on it's a long, slow ascent to summer. We long for the light of the sun, but we have to make due with artificial light. Fortunately, this time of year is also marked by St. Lucy's Day, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa--all holidays celebrating light--both literally and metaphorically.

And so, for this Poetry Friday, we look to colored lights, candles, lamps (diyas or menorrahs), and bonfires.

© Diane Mayr, all rights reserved.

Join the winter solstice celebration taking place right now at My Juicy Little Universe.

Happy Holidays to everyone!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Women of Wednesday - Carolyn Keene

If you’ve ever read a Nancy Drew novel, then you probably know who Carolyn Keene was.
But then again, you may not. (Those who upset easily should read no further.) Because Carolyn Keene was not real. In fact, Carolyn was many people. Or, they were her. And two of them were men. It’s a fascinating story told by Melanie Rehak in her book, Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her.

Now, this may be Women of Wednesday, but we have to give credit where credit is due, and it was a man who came up with Nancy Drew.  His name was Edward Stratemeyer.

Stratemeyer was born in 1862, the son of German immigrants.  He began writing as a child and, by the time he was 15, he was printing his stories on a toy printing press and selling them for a penny.  It was the start of a long and prolific career.  He wrote continuously and under many names.  By the time he was in his 30’s, he not only fell into children’s series fiction, he became the king of it.  He created one series after another - the Rover Boys, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, and a whole lot more you probably never heard of - and wrote all of them himself until, finally, it became too much.  He needed help.

Genius that he was, he didn’t sell away his rights to Grosset and Dunlap, the publisher of many of his series.  Instead of allowing them to hire other writers to help write all those series, Stratemeyer hired them himself.  He plotted all his stories and passed them on to his writers, who then wrote a story based on his outline, which he would edit afterwards.  In 1925, he had 24 series running at the same time and sold over 5 million books.  By the time he was 40, he was a millionaire heading his own publishing company, the Stratemeyer Syndicate.

In 1929, he created Nancy Drew.  He had several other girls’ series running, but they were more reflective of girls of that time.  Nancy would be different.  She would be smart, adventurous, daring and fun, and would be called Stella Strong.  He sold the idea to Grosset and Dunlap, who preferred one of his other suggested names - Nan Drew - and they stretched it to Nancy.  Stratemeyer gave his newest creation to a writer he had hired three years earlier to write another series.  Her name was Mildred Augustine.

Mildred Augustine was born in rural Iowa in 1905.  She played baseball, ice skated, and became a champion diver at the University of Iowa.  She loved books, but there were none at home, so she often borrowed them from her male friends.  Many of the books she read were the series books created by Edward Stratemeyer.

As she grew, she began writing and submitting her own stories to children’s magazines which were just finding their place on the American landscape.  She published her first story just before her 14th birthday and made her first sale at 16, with a story about a girl named Midget, for which she earned $3.50. 

After high school, she went to the University of Iowa, where she studied Journalism and excelled at sports, particularly swimming and diving, and while she didn’t fall into the role of a typical woman of her times, she was not caught up in the suffrage movement either.  “I was just born wanting to be myself,” she said.  She graduated in only three years, in 1925, and went to work at the Clinton Herald in Iowa.

Mildred had continued writing and publishing all through college, and the year after she graduated, she replied to an ad in the newspaper placed by Edward Stratemeyer.  She was hired to write for his Ruth Fielding series.  When he came up with Nancy Drew in 1929, he knew he wanted her to write it.  Mildred became the first Carolyn Keene.

Strayemeyer gave her the outlines for the first three books in October, and she had four weeks to write each one.  She would receive $125 per book and sign away all her rights.  And there was one other stipulation—she could mention she worked for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, but she could never tell anyone what series she was writing for, or that she was Carolyn Keene.

Mildred got to work.  It was she who gave Nancy her titian hair and all those qualities so many girls loved.  Mildred modeled Nancy after other girls she had known, giving her qualities she admired in herself and others.  She made Nancy bright and adventurous, kind and curious, strong and resourceful.  She churned out the books, and in the spring of 1930, the first three were presented to America.

From the start, they sold like hotcakes.  Girls fell in love with Nancy Drew, and not even the Depression dampened sales.  Both Mildred and Nancy were a success, and Grossett and Dunlap knew they had a winner in Nancy.  Then twelve days after the launch, Edward Stratemeyer died.

Everyone panicked.  Grosset and Dunlap just knew it would be the end of Nancy Drew and all those other moneymaking series of Stratemeyer’s, and the writers knew they would all lose their jobs.  After all, Stratemeyer had run the Syndicate by himself and had no sons to carry on.  There were just those two daughters, Harriet—wife of a stockbroker and mother of four small children—and Edna—a sickly spinster.  The Stratemeyer Syndicate, and everyone attached to it, were doomed.

And this is where I will leave you, because the story is much too big for a blog, and all I would be doing is repeating what you could read in Melanie Rehak’s book.  If you’re a Nancy Drew fan, you’ll love Girl Sleuth, and even if you’re not, it’s well worth the read.  The book has it all – romance, jealousy, paranoia, two court cases, duplicity, a corporate buyout, deals gone bad, several strong and amazing women and, of course, Nancy Drew, who manages to outlast everyone.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Endless Ideas, Brought To You By The Internet

For more than a year now, people have been predicting the world will end this Friday.  I was curious as to why, so I googled ‘end of the world.’  What I learned was that the Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012, which some people assume, means the world will end.  I’m betting the calendar ends on this date because a bored cleric gave up all that tedious calculating for something more interesting to do.
Another reason for the end is that the planet Nibiru is making its several thousand-year orbit past the Earth and will collide with us on that date.  Although, if it orbits the Earth every few thousand years, wouldn’t it have collided with us already?  And then there are the Annunaki, the aliens who created us, who will be returning to take us all away.  If the end comes, my money’s on them. 
But what does any of this have to do with writing?

Well, assuming we all wake up on Saturday morning, you now have several ideas you can turn into plots.  You can write an end of the world story, you can write about a character’s last days on Earth as we all wait for an oncoming planet to collide with us.  You can write a story about aliens coming to take us away.  You can write a story about what happens to a believer when he wakes up Saturday morning and realizes everything he’s believed in was a lie. 

The internet has ensured that you will never be without an idea again.  If you are the least bit curious, you can come up with dozens of ideas a day.  Do you write Historical Fiction?  Did you know we almost went to war with Canada because of a pig?  That other countries have gone to war over what was portrayed on a postage stamp?  That the Boston Massacre occurred because some people hanging out on the corner made comments about a passerby’s wig?
How did I learn about these things?  I googled pig war, stamp war, wig war, and several other wars.  In fact, if you google any noun followed by the word war, you’ll probably get several hits that will generate ideas, and with a little imagination (you are a writer, after all) you can turn many of them into story plots.

Interested in more contemporary stuff?  You have access to thousands of newspapers worldwide.  Surely, something going on in the world will be fodder for a story idea.  Adventure - a child surviving a tropical storm, an earthquake, or tsunami.  Sports - a teen in a foreign country competing in the Olympics.  Romance – make your characters age appropriate and stick them in any scenario – living in a foreign country while competing in the Olympics, just as an earthquake hits. 

Maybe the paranormal is your cup of tea.  Google ghosts, haunted houses, ghost ships, voodoo dolls, ESP, telekinesis.  The generalized articles will lead to others that are more specific.  Read those that most appeal to you.  At least one is bound to generate some ideas.

All these things will work for you no matter what genre you write.  You can also read random Wikipedia articles, watch You Tube videos, read online magazines, seek out the weird and obscure.  There are billions of idea starters out there.  Grab a few, add your own unique twist to them, and start writing.

Well, maybe wait until Saturday.  Just in case.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mentor Monday: Creative nonfiction/Biography of historical figures

Following up on Muriel’s wonderful look at creative nonfiction last week, I want to highlight an ongoing discussion over on the Nonfiction for Kids email list and on Donna Bowman Bratton’s blog

Donna's observation is that there are lots and lots of first–person POV books of historical figures that are categorized as biography by the Library of Congress and so generally shelved as biography in school and children’s libraries. This goes directly to that argument about invented dialogue, so common in the biographies of our childhoods but taboo today. It also harkens back to the controversy over the Dear America series and other books of historical fiction that were packaged and presented so effectively that many elementary school teachers believed they were primary source material. This 1999 article from the San Francisco Chronicle notes both the books’ success and the controversy.

(Note that in the 2010 relaunch of the Dear America series Scholastic has put the author’s names on the front covers of the books, addressing one of the features of the original series that contributed to the confusion over the nature of the books.)

In the course of the discussion (thus far) on the listserv, one person has stated that as part of the Common Core Curriculum standards, students are being taught to identify both factual information in a fictional work and fictionalized material within nonfiction. This may be true but so far I have not found it explicitly called out in the standards as a skill to be mastered. (The Common Core standards are available here.) 

The outstanding nonfiction writers over at I.N.K.  have discussed this question more than once: scroll down the subject list or use the search feature to follow some of their passionate conversations.

It seems this is becoming a perennial topic, one not likely to be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction any time soon. Teacher and parents are hunting for books kids will find interesting as well as educational. Writers and publishers are trying to find ways to present important and fascinating information in packages people will buy. Librarians are often stuck trying to figure out how books should be categorized.

As writers we may find ourselves of multiple minds about this issue. Some are passionate defenders of the “never, ever make anything up” position. Others fear that important topics and people may never be brought into children’s educations if the “never, ever” standard is applied, and that the need for written language from the subject is unintentionally discriminatory against people who for reasons of culture or standing were non-literate, perpetuating the white/western/male imbalance that we have worked so hard to overcome. Historical fiction is an option for the writer, but does it serve to reset the balance?

Writers must of course be aware of and conform to the standards and guidelines of individual publishers, as well: even a writer who thinks invented dialogue ought to be acceptable will eliminate it from her work if the publisher disagrees, if she wants to be published. And publishers must be attuned to the changing winds of the marketplace as well as true to their own standards. The editorial decisions of a behemoth like Scholastic can shape the market for years to come. So can those of political- appointees to state boards of education. Adult publishing often operates according to different standards, further muddying the waters. What lies ahead in the fog? Only time will tell.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Poetry Friday: Wilderness

Spotted a bald eagle on my way into town. It was being harrassed by crows. We don't see too many eagles here in my little slice of New Hampshire, although they are known to winter nearby -- along the Merrimack River.

Today, I spent a lot of time looking for an eagle poem that wasn't too, um, over-the-top (at least for my 20th century tastes). Ode to the Eagle. Craggy cliffs. Flowery magnificence. All so centuries ago!

I like what I found in this poem by Carl Sandburg. Eagle gets a mention, and so do a wholelotta other animals. It is so much fun to hear him read it. Please please please, click here to listen at the Poetry Foundation website. This is good for you! It certainly made my day . . .


There is a wolf in me . . . fangs pointed for tearing gashes . . . a red tongue for raw meat . . . and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.    

There is a fox in me . . . a silver-gray fox . . . I sniff and guess . . . I pick things out of the wind and air . . . I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers . . . I circle and loop and double-cross.

There is a hog in me . . . a snout and a belly . . . a machinery for eating and grunting . . . a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun—I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fish in me . . . I know I came from salt-blue water-gates . . . I scurried with shoals of herring . . . I blew waterspouts with porpoises . . . before land was . . . before the water went down . . . before Noah . . . before the first chapter of Genesis.

There is a baboon in me . . . clambering-clawed . . . dog-faced . . . yawping a galoot’s hunger . . . hairy under the armpits . . . here are the hawk-eyed hankering men . . . here are the blonde and blue-eyed women . . . here they hide curled asleep waiting . . . ready to snarl and kill . . . ready to sing and give milk . . . waiting—I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.

There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird . . . and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want . . . and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes—And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness.

O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.
Photo by me . . . JB.
Robyn Hood Black is graciously hosting over at her place.
Wilderness is from The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg (Harcourt Brace Iovanovich Inc., 1970)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Mentor Monday: Creative Non-Fiction

Norm Sims, of the journalism department at Umass-Amherst is credited with defining the four principles of creative nonfiction (also called literary journalism): immersion, accuracy, symbolism, and voice. Both Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and John Berendt (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) confess to using one other technique in their creative non-fiction: taking the liberty to rearrange the timing of true events to create a smoother story. Capote did not admit to this until long after his novel was published. Berendt sees nothing wrong with moving events around to improve the flow of a story - provided the reader is told this was done.

This is not a technique a writer for children can use without long and serious thought. My opinion is that if a story is not working in its real sequence it would be better (and less confusing) to give the child reader a fictional account based on true events. Is it possible, then, to use creative non-fiction successfully when writing for children? Other writers show us how it can be done.

Esther Forbes has the distinction of winning both the Pulitzer Prize (Paul Revere and the World He Lived In) and the Newbery Award (Johnny Tremain) within a year's time. The Revere book was written some 20 years before Capote's In Cold Blood and while it is a biography, the book reads as pleasantly and easily as a romance novel chosen for an afternoon at the beach. Forbes accomplishes this without altering the facts or rearranging the order of events. Instead, she uses them to accomplish the four principles outlined by Norman Sims.

Forbes has so obviously immersed herself into 18th century Boston that she can't help but bring her reader along. She has studied maps, diaries, letters, portraits, newspapers and every other imaginable kind of primary source. I picture Forbes so full of mental images and information that Revere and his cohorts no longer feel like subjects of research but rather part of her own memories. (I often think she needed to write the fictional Johnny Tremain in order to use up all that information floating around in her head!) . We, her readers, feel a part of pre-Revolutionary War Boston because Forbes so thoroughly put herself there first.

Forbes uses a second technique, accuracy, not merely to tell us about Revere, his town and the times, but to show us Boston and her people:

             "In 1770 North Square was but a block inland from the wharves, tides and bustle of the waterfront. Instead of being a 'square' it is literally a long, narrow triangle. . .On the apex of the triangle stood venerable 'Old North Meeting.' This was the 'church of the Mathers.' . . .Hannah Mather walks about her square. . . She meets Benjamin Burt, the silversmith . . .And across the street, almost next to the house the Reveres have just bought, she looks at Francis Shaw, 'a respectable tailor whose family were large. . .'" (pp. 164 -165)

Forbes does not let the need for accurate detail deter her from using metaphor, irony and even humor in her writing. When describing the British Army in the spring of 1775, she says:

          "Armies have always tended to be inert in winter and to move in spring. And now it was April. No one could expect the sluggish scarlet dragon not to wake from hibernation in its Boston den, uncoil and meander a little through the spring-drenched countryside." (p. 232)

Of the first battles of the Revolution, Forbes says: "When only eight men have been killed, each one is a tragedy, and ten wounded men are heroes - although ten thousand may be primarily a sanitation problem." (p. 258)

Forbes' voice is joyful, witty. She likes Paul Revere, the people he knows, and the period she is describing. Here is Forbes recounting John Hancock's departure from Boston just before the British rally. Hancock is not alone, for his Aunt Lydia is determined that he not forget about Dolly Quincy, the girl she has chosen as his perfect match:

          "Aunt Lydia. . .always kept a protuberant eye on John's love life. . .She was going to make this match if it killed her - as it seems to have done. John Hancock was harassed enough with his public life without Aunt Lydia bringing out Miss Dolly to torment him in private, but there they both were." (p.237)

And later, describing Paul Revere's ride:

          ". . . that he rode the Larkin horse with more care than he does on sugar boxes, American Legion posters, copper advertisements and all known pictures and statues is proved by the excellent condition the animal was in five hours later.
          "So away, down the moonlit road, goes Paul Rever and the Larkin horse, galloping into history, art, editorials, folklore, poetry; the beat of those hooves never to be forgotten." (p.247)

Forbes skillfully turns fact into symbolism, as well. The every day details of the events leading to Concord and Lexington represent the larger relationship between mother country and colony. As refugees flee from Boston and the occupying British forces, carts are inspected by the Redcoats. Women and children are allowed to leave but may not take food with them.

          "She tried to keep her children quiet during the inspection of their cart by the sentry at the gate and gave each child a piece of gingerbread. The sentry - a truly horrifying British ogre - took it all away from them. He said, 'gingerbread was too good for rebels,' and ate it himself." (p. 274)

The scene could represent any number of larger transgressions by the British Government upon the colonies. Colonials considered themselves equal to the British subjects in England. They were not treated that way. The actions of one soldier, one "British ogre" are symbolic of the actions of an entire government upon its subjects.

The writer of creative non-fiction for children can follow Esther Forbes's lead. One can immerse oneself in a subject by thorough research and use the details of that research not merely as exposition, but to develop a unique voice - even while maintaining complete accuracy.

We can compare Jean Fritz's treatment of the same genre and the same topic in her book, And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? She manages, in 64 pages, to successfully accomplish the same four goals: immersion, accuracy, voice and symbolism.

There is no bibliography attached to Paul Revere but as I compare it to Forbes' work, Fritz's research is obvious. She describes Boston Harbor differently than Esther Forbes:

          "Ships were constantly coming and going, unloading everything from turtles to chandeliers. Street vendors were constantly crying their wares - everything from fever pills to hair oil to oysters. From time to time there were traveling acrobats, performing monkey, parades, firework displays and fistfights." (p.7)

This example is not just a watered-down version of someone else's Pulitzer Prize winner. Fritz has done her homework, too.

Fritz's sentences are not always short, but they read as if they were. She, too, uses humor in her style and the combination gives children an enjoyable way to read what could be a very dry story. On Paul Revere's military contribution to the end of the French and Indian Wars Fritz says:

           "Paul spent the summer sitting around, cleaning his rifle and polishing his sword. And swatting flies. There were thousands of flies at Lake George that summer. But there were no French or Indians." (p. 12)

Fritz uses repetitive phrasing to bring her young readers symbolically into the quick changes happening during pre-Revolutionary Boston. Revere is shown running or galloping, "hat clapped to his head, his coattails flying." That phrase most likely has no primary source as its basis, yet, it is thoroughly accurate even in its creativity.

Try the same experiment. Contrast/compare the writings of two authors on the same subject. Look for Sims’ four principals in your samples. Doing so may help you tell a better story.