Behind the Scenes with Bossy Fish: Interview with Editor Melissa Manlove

As an author, it’s always magical for me to see a finished picture book after months and months of back and forth emails with my editor over everything from text revisions to illustration sketches. SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH, editor Melissa Manlove was instrumental in making this latest Sea Monster adventure a book that teachers, kids, and families will all appreciate, so I asked her if she’d take a little time out from editing to visit my blog today and talk about the process behind the picture book.

Hi, Melissa!  First of all, thanks for stopping by to talk about Sea Monster. As you (and a lot of my blog readers) know, this is Ernest the Sea Monster’s second adventure. Signing up a sequel or companion book must be a big decision for an editor. What made you feel like Ernest the Sea Monster should have another story?

Sea Monster’s First Day went out in strong numbers–that’s always part of it. Publishers are also always on the lookout for characters that can build a line of books, and we have a soft spot for Ernest’s brand of silly sweetness.

As an editor, how do you approach a new manuscript that arrives in your in-box? Obviously, because we worked together on SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY, Ernest was no stranger to you, but I’m curious what your process looks like from the moment that file arrives. Do you start thinking about suggestions right away or read through a few times and let the thoughts marinate for a while?

It varies from book to book. Usually I need some time to think/process, if only to be sure I’m in touch with what the book’s heart is and what feedback is going to help the book become the truest version of itself.

One of things I most appreciate about your editing is the way you prompt changes by asking thoughtful questions. Here are a couple highlights from the first feedback I received from you on BOSSY FISH:

Could there be more fishy humor in the first half of the manuscript? Sea Monster’s first day was wall-to-wall fish jokes–something funny on each spread– as well as having a heart. Your humor is just right, too–accessible to these young kids, and still tickling to the parent-aged, readers-aloud-type people like me and you.

Could there be a little more set-up at the beginning? I worry you’re assuming your reader knows Ernest already from the previous book, but many people will discover this Sea Monster book first and then backtrack to First Day. We need a sense at the start of the story of who Ernest is and that he is the main character.

Could there be a touch more in the way of character arc? Ernest is not as hard-hit by these developments as he was in First Day; I’d like to see more clearly how and why he is emotionally invested in finding this resolution. A bit more of a black moment? However (!) I love that you didn’t go the clichéd route of making Ernest an immediate target for the bully. How can we keep that and still develop just a bit more of a crisis for Ernest?

So often, your feedback comes in the form of questions. Why do you feel like that’s the best way to prompt revision? (I have my own feelings on this as an author, but I’m curious about your thoughts from an editor’s perspective!)

I think that questions are among the editor’s most powerful tools–the use of questions emphasizes that the editor is open to discussion and disagreement. The questions I ask most often in the process of feedback are ‘Does that make sense?’ and ‘What do you think?’ because I am trying to help the writer achieve THEIR vision and reach THEIR audience. I want to make sure the author knows I don’t come to the editing process in a dictatorial frame of mind–I am here to assist in creation, but I am not one of the creators of the book. When an author communicates to me that I have really helped them to make their book into the book they wanted it to be–that’s when I am happiest in my job and proudest of my work.

What advice would you give others who want to help a writer to grow? I’m thinking of both teachers and writers in critique groups. What are your best tips for helping an author of any age to reconsider and improve his or her work?

Critique is useless when it is vague. I want to pinch people in critique groups when I hear ‘this is so cute’. Critique is also useless if it is entirely positive OR entirely negative. Neither kind will help a writer move forward and improve their work. Critique should always begin with specific, positive feedback. This is important for several reasons. I’m attaching the sheet I wrote for our interns about giving editorial feedback:

How to write an editorial letter

1. Start with the best. Identify the strengths of the book, the things to which the book’s audience will most connect. All of them. Be specific.

            a. Because these qualities will be your pole star as you guide the book through the publishing process. Books change as they are developed. Having iterated to yourself at the beginning what the point and value of the book is will help you ask yourself whether each change along the way serves the true nature of the book.

            b. Because when you iterate those things to the author, you gain the author’s trust. Authors are absolutely right to distrust anyone who does not see why the book is valuable, yet who wants to suggest changes. And authors are facing the difficult and sometimes painful process of revision. The admiration and excitement of a knowledgeable stranger—you—gives them fortitude and faith in the face of that process.

            c. Because if you don’t iterate those things to the author, the author might change them during revision. Never assume the author sees the brilliance of their book, no matter how obvious it is to you. This is no criticism of authors—it is their job to see the trees. It is our job to see the forest.

2. Remind the author to argue with you. Remind the author that you want to hear her point of view, and to help her make this the book she wants it to be. This also builds trust, because it communicates that the author is in this process with a respectful partner—not with a general who will command or with a surgeon who will cut. Neither war nor medicine is a creative process. And this openness to disagreement builds trust because it communicates that you are not in this to make it the book you want it to be, but simply the best book it can be. There is no ownership in editing.

3. Ask questions. Editorial confidence opens pathways and facilitates decision-making, but editorial inflexibility is the enemy of creativity.

4. Point out problems, and explain specifically why you believe they are problems. But suggest solutions as questions. A suggested solution can help the author to understand better how you perceive the problem. But remember that the best solutions usually come from the author. Specifically communicate that if the author has different ideas for how to approach each issue, they are very welcome.

5. Think of each book as a thing of its own, with a soul and identity apart from any of the people involved in it. What does the book want to be?

6. Be grateful. We are each of us absurdly lucky to be working in this field.

I love this so much – thanks for sharing it, Melissa!  One last question…  Readers may not realize this, but editing a picture book involves working with so many people — the author, the illustrator, the design team… Could you talk a little about how you balance that as an editor and how your role helps the process along?

In terms of communication, the editor is the center of a wheel of people–the author is one spoke of the wheel. The illustrator, the designer, the production manager, the publisher, the managing editorial team (copyeditor, proofreader, factchecker), the publicist and marketing manager are all other spokes. Except for communication between the designer and artist, which is often direct, the editor receives, filters, and shares communication between all of these people. What we call the ‘make team’ are the people who have the most impact on the book itself–author, artist, editor, designer, production manager. But all the others have important roles to play, too, and we could not effectively make books without their contributions.

All the same, Melissa, I’m happy to have you at the spoke of our wheel. Thanks for this interview, and more than that, thanks for all of your work on SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH!

Rose O’Neill: The Girl Who Loved to Draw by Linda Brewster

 I’m happy to have been involved in the KidLit Cares auction for Superstorm Sandy relief for so many reasons. First, of course, is the money we raised for the Red Cross relief effort. But beyond that, my own contribution – the school and library planning and publicity packages – have led me to discover some really amazing titles that I might otherwise have missed.

One of them is ROSE O’NEILL: THE GIRL WHO LOVED TO DRAW by Linda Brewster.

It’s a gem of an artist biography but a tough one to peg when it comes to readers’ ages. It’s the kind of title you might pick up at an art museum bookshop as an adult, reading to gain an appreciation for the history of the artist behind the work. But it’s also just the kind of book that young artists and readers will love, since it really focuses on the girl who grew into America’s first woman cartoonist.  And it’s a title that school librarians and teachers in grades 4-8 should know about, too, especially with the invitation to explore more creative nonfiction under the Common Core Standards. This book would be a great model for kids working on their own biographies of famous artists or musicians, or really any public figures.

This is Rose’s story, and it begins when she is small – a child about to start out on a covered wagon journey across the country to live in a sod house.  Rose’s journey with her parents and siblings includes long days in a Conestoga wagon. It includes financial troubles and evictions, happiness and heartbreak, but most of all, it includes art and love. No matter how tough things were for Rose’s family, her parents managed to surround her with books, take her to the theater occasionally, and support her talents in both theater and art.

Rose grew up to be not only a gifted illustrator, inspired by her life stories and the baby brothers and sisters she helped to raise, but also an advocate for women. She was a part of the suffrage movement, using her popular Kewpie characters to help spread the message. And this book does an amazing job of telling and showing Rose’s story.  There are great, vivid examples of her drawings here that lend themselves to conversations about the connections between an artist’s history and her work. Kids will be excited to study the illustrations and make those connections to the biographical text.

As part of the planning and publicity package, I took a look at how this title might help to meet the Common Core Standards. Here are a couple of the reflection/writing questions that’s part of the new study guide:

While Rose O’Neill may be best known for her Kewpies, her artistic talents span a wider range of styles. Her “Sweet Monsters” drawings drew controversy when she shared them. View some of these and read about them here:

http://www.stateoftheozarks.net/Cultural/Craftsmanship/Painting/RoseONeill/SweetMonsters.ht

 Does it surprise you that this work was done by the cartoonist you read about in THE GIRL WHO LOVED TO DRAW? Why or why not?

Read Rose’s poem “The New Baby” on page 13. How does this poem written by Rose herself compare to Linda Brewster’s narrative account of the birth of Rose’s little sister?  How are the two accounts similar? How are they different?

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.9 Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.

To read more about this great illustrated biography, check out Linda Brewster’s website: www.lindabrewster.com. 

This book is with a smaller press, so it’s one that lots of teachers and librarians might have missed, so I’m giving away a copy today to help spread the word. To enter the drawing, just leave a comment that includes your email, and I’ll drop you a note to get your address if you win (U.S. entries only, please!)

Teachers Write Wrap-Up – Sharing a Secret

I’m a little weepy today… I know you all need to get back to your classrooms and libraries if you’re not already there, but it’s tough to say goodbye after such an amazing six weeks of writing and sharing together. The good news is that your Teachers Write buddies are never far away, though. Our Facebook community lives on through the school year, and we’ll be back with another online workshop next summer!  A HUGE thank you to Jennifer, Gae, and Jo for making these six weeks so great.

If you’ll be at NCTE in Boston in November, you can meet up with Gae, Jennifer, Jo, and me in person (and participant Brian Wyzlic, too!) Please make plans to attend our session on Sunday morning.  “Teachers Write!: How Teachers Writing Now Can Build Student Writers of the Future” is officially session L-32 and it’s being held at the Sheraton, Beacon E from 8:30-9:45 on Sunday, November 24th. Also…if you know you can be there and might want to help us out with a special secret project, please let me know.

I know that I won’t get to meet many of you in person any time soon, but if you’d like personalized, signed copies of any of my books, The Bookstore Plus, a great indie in Lake Placid, NY, is hosting my WAKE UP MISSING launch on September 21st. If you give them a call at 518-523-2950, they’ll happily take your order over the phone and send your books (free for orders over $50) after I sign them in September. They carry all of my books, including my new picture book, SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH, and you can also pre-order my fall science thriller WAKE UP MISSING. (If you do order personalized books for yourself, please let them know you’re part of Teachers Write and I’ll write a special inscription! I’m also happy to sign holiday gifts or books to your classroom.)

And now the secret I promised… Teachers Write is going to be a book! The folks at Stenhouse who published REAL REVISION: AUTHORS’ STRATEGIES TO SHARE WITH STUDENT WRITERS have been after me to work on a new book, and I told them that I’d really love to write something that celebrates what we’ve been doing at Teachers Write these past two summers…something that empowers educators to facilitate this kind of supportive writing community in their own districts. So that’s what we’re doing! I’ll be looking for a little help from some of you.  I’d love to include some of your writing from the past two summers as well as some quotes about how being part of a writing community has impacted your teaching. I won’t be able to include quotes from everyone – I wish I could – but I’d love a sampling. If  you’re game to help out with that, there’s a place in the final survey where you can let me know.

If you enjoyed Teachers Write this summer, please remember to show your support for all of our organizers and guest authors by ordering books for yourself or your classrooms or libraries. Want to do more? If you read one of our organizer or guest author books and love it, please consider nominating it for your state children’s choice award list. My writer-friend Lisa Schroeder has a creative blog post called “Supporting Authors When Your Heart Is Bigger Than Your Wallet” with even more great ideas.

And finally – please share your feedback from this summer by taking our survey here.  It’s just ten questions, asking you to reflect on what worked for you and what you’d suggest for next year, among other things. If you have a few minutes to complete it, it will be a great help. Many thanks for that – and for the gift of your words this summer. Have a great school year, and we’ll see you in June!

xoxo~Kate

katewriting

P.S. You are all so talented. Please keep writing and never forget what Jo told everyone yesterday… That thing you are writing is awesome!

Teachers Write 8/15/13 Thursday Quick-Write & Reflections

I can’t believe the summer’s flown by so quickly! How could we already be at the end of six weeks of writing together?? I hope that this is really just the beginning, though. I hope that you’ve met some friends — some like-minded teachers who want to be brave and write and show their students that writing matters — and I hope so much that you’ll all keep writing.  What you’ve shared here this summer has been beautiful and full of talent. It’s been funny sometimes, and sometimes sad. But always, it’s been brave. Thank you so much for beign part of this community.

Now…you didn’t think you’d get away without one last writing prompt, did you?  Take a few minutes to reflect on the experience of participating in Teachers Write this summer. If you’d like, you can use the following three sentence beginnings to get started thinking about how you felt when you first got here, how you feel now, and what you hope for tomorrow.

Back in June…

Now, after six weeks of Teachers Write…

When the new school year starts, I hope…

As always, I’d love it if you’d share some of these thoughts in the comments. And please stop by tomorrow for one last get-together. We’ll be sharing a pretty cool secret as well as a link to the post-Teachers-Write survey that will help me to plan for next summer.

Teachers Write 8/14/13 Q and A Wednesday

Good morning!  It’s hard to believe, but today is our last Q and A Wednesday of Teachers Write 2013. Our official guest authors are no strangers – Margo Sorenson and Erin Dealey have promised to come by to answer questions – and I’m sure we’ll have plenty of other folks coming by as well.

Got any last questions you’d like to ask our team of volunteer authors?  Fire away!

Teachers & librarians – Feel free to ask your questions in the comments.  It’s fine to ask a general question or to direct one directly to a specific guest author. Our published author guests have volunteered to drop in and respond when they can.

Guest authors – Even if today isn’t a day you specifically signed up to help out, feel free to answer any questions you’d like to talk about.  Just reply directly to the comment.

Teachers Write 8/13/13 Tuesday Quick-Write with Erin Dealey

Guest author Erin Dealey wasn’t quite finished talking about VOICE in yesterday’s mini-lesson. Today, she joins us with a visual Quick-Write to follow up!

Here’s another exercise in Voice.

Choose one of the doors pictured below…

 

Imagine the world behind this door. Who is talking? Shhh…..tiptoe closer and put your ear to the surface. Take yourself to this place and eavesdrop–and write it down…

I can’t wait to read what you’ve HEARD!

Happy Writing!

And as always, feel free to share a few lines of what you wrote (what you heard behind that door!) in the comments today!

Teachers Write 8/12/13 Mini-Lesson Monday with Erin Dealey

It’s time for your Thursday Quick-Write with guest author Erin Dealey. Erin writes board books, picture books, mg, YA–and raps.  : ) Her picture book, DECK THE WALLS (Sleeping Bear Press), a kid’s-eye view of holiday dinners, will release Sept. 21st. Erin is an English/ theater teacher, Area 3 Writing Project presenter (UCDavis), and heads the theater department at Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp each summer. Former co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI CA North/Central, Erin has presented at conferences, reading association PDIs, and LOVES school visits.  Today, she joins us to talk about…

Voice

Good Morning! Since it’s almost Back-to-School for all, I thought it would be a good time to share a lesson I have used in my classes–at many grade levels–so you can take it back with you. (Warning–it’s a bit longer than a “Mini” lesson–but it has truly resonated with my students.)

If you’ve been doing the quick-writes (and posting them) and/or keeping a Writer’s Notebook, as Kate suggested in June, chances are your own voice has evolved this summer.  In fact, take a look at your first entries  & posts and compare them to recent ones. (Go ahead–I’ll wait. Just don’t forget to come back…)

Notice any differences between your earlier entries and now? (Other than the luxurious feeling that summer stretched endlessly before you.) When I participated in my first Writer’s Project summer seminar, I remember making sure my writing was grammatically correct. After all, I taught English, right? The result was a textbook tone that had me zoning off by the end of the opening paragraph, a stark contrast to the plays and skits I’d written for my drama students.

Which brings us to voice.

I’ve heard many editors say voice is what hooks the reader. Even non-fiction needs an engaging voice. Some editors say you can teach form and plot, but you can’t teach voice. I disagree. The breakthrough for me came when I realized a big part of teaching theater is voice. Voice comes from learning who you are, and not being afraid to share that honesty with others. As you’ve grown more comfortable with your writing this summer, your own voice has emerged or grown stronger. However–as you’ve also experienced this summer, this sharing takes courage, even in this supportive community of TeachersWrite!

“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
—Allen Ginsberg

If your students are like mine, voice takes tremendous courage. It emerges first in journals and quick-writes, and I always make a point to comment when a student’s voice shows up on the page. Like this acrostic I got from Darin A. , one of my seniors who bristled at any assignment from an authority figure…

Darin

Ain’t

Really

Into

No

Acrostics.

The day I used it as an excellent example of voice, Darin’s writing took off. Voice freed him to see writing and words as power–not just a means to complete his assignment.

But it’s scary. Even for adults.

When my writing pal, debut author Scott Blagden wrote the first drafts of his YA novel, DEAR LIFE YOU SUCK, he was afraid publishers would reject it because of the profanity used by his main character, Cricket, so Blagden tried to make his character’s voice softer.

“I toned down a lot of the language, the swear words,” Scott explains; “I toned down some of the jokes and this and that, and then I read the whole book and I had lost the character. I had lost the voice.”

Voice and vocabulary, sentence structure & pace (long sentences or short choppy ones &/or fragments) grow from your character–or the character of your narrator.

One way to release student voices is by warming up with a stream-of-consciousness format I call  Clearing out the Cobwebs. (The following is what I tell my students. Try it!)

Clearing the Cobwebs.
When I say “Go”,
write 3 words
per line (stream
of consciousness—not
laundry or grocery list…)
until your are
told to stop. 
(usually 3-5 minutes)
If your mind
is blank, start
with I don’t
know what to
write, or a
line from your
favorite song.  If
you get stuck
on a word,
DON’T STOP WRITING
Write your last
word word word
over and over
until something clicks.
Don’t think—WRITE !
 

The cool thing about this Cobweb pre-write exercise is that students think it’s so ridiculous, they let go of trying to write, and their authentic voice emerges.

Another way to approach voice is to refer to it as eavesdropping.  Creating the voice of a character is easier if you think of it like acting in the theater:  Being someone else for a while. If you ask my students, they’ll probably tell you my Best Rule Ever is:  Stop thinking–and listen.

In DEAR LIFE, Blagden learned to listen, by “getting into character,” along the same lines as actors do. “When I would sit down at the computer,” he says, “I would get into character, and  start writing in his voice. I wasn’t just writing about the character, I was [the] character.”

The voice of my latest picture book, DECK THE WALLS, came easily since I originally wrote it for my high school theater students to perform at a holiday assembly, and I could hear their voices.

Read the first 2 pages of any of the following books aloud and LISTEN to each voice. {Some of the books are on your summer Suggested Reading list. If you don’t have copies of these yet, you can find their first pages on Amazon –after which I bet you’ll want to read the whole book!}

Note that it’s not just the tone of the reader that distinguishes each voice. Patterns, pace, word choice, pet phrases, and content/topics make each voice different.  Each first page is like meeting a different person. What makes each voice stand out?

First person:

The Adventures of  Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (Remember when we used to call “voice” = “writing in the vernacular” ?)

Locomotion, Jacqueline Woodson http://www.jacquelinewoodson.com/

The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate http://theoneandonlyivan.com/

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: the Lightening Thief , Rick Riordan http://www.rickriordan.com/home.aspx

Geronimo Stilton, The Curse of the Cheese Pyramid  http://geronimostilton.com/portal/US/en/home/

Pickle, Kim Baker  http://www.kimberlycbaker.com/KCB/Home.html

Pull of Gravity, Gae Polisner  http://gaepolisner.com/html/ya.html

Dear Life You Suck, Scott Blagden http://scottblagden.com/

How does the tone of the YA’s differ from the middle grades novels above? What tips you off to the age of the protagonist/narrator?

Third person:

Hide and Seek, Kate Messner,  https://www.katemessner.com/hide-and-seek/  How does the narrator set the tone? How does the grandmother’s voice (especially pg. 2) differ from the narrator?

Capture the Flag,  Kate Messner https://www.katemessner.com/capture-the-flag/

“It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”
—Jack Kerouac

Now, do some eavesdropping of your own….

This lesson actually evolved when my husband asked why I have such a collection of “rusty, dusty” antiques. Now I use these treasures as writing prompts. : )

VOICES

In advance: select an object –anything will do–an antique, a child’s toy, family memento, etc.

Variation for your classroom: If you’re introducing a book or even a history unit to your class, gather some objects that might represent that story or era. I once used a few river rocks (the Acropolis) and my husband’s “Greek” sandals to intro a mythology unit.

What I tell my students: Each object, like a seashell which whispers of the ocean’s roar, has a unique story to tell.  All you have to do is eavesdrop, and write it down.

The stories have been left on the object by all who have come in contact with it:  The person who made it, the one who sold it, the one who purchased it, or trades for it, or received it as a gift;  the person who tossed it in the attic,  and the one who found it again… All of these people have left their stories for you to find.

No two individuals will hear the same story, because the object knows which one you want to hear.

DON’T  THINK !!! (Students love this rule.)  LISTEN !!!!!

(And write down what you hear…)

I can’t wait to read what you’ve HEARD!

Note from Kate: Me too! So please share a sample of today’s writing in the comments if you’d like.

 

Teachers Write 8/9/13 Friday Bonus Post with Ammi-Joan Paquette

Every once in a while, I promised we’d have a surprise guest, and today is one of those days. Ammi-Joan Paquette is here to talk about one of my favorite genres, science fiction! 

Writing Science Fiction: It’s All About the Research

By A. J. Paquette

 I am known for reading widely in all kinds of genres, but one that I always come back to—and consistently find a vast enjoyment in—is science fiction. However, I have recently come to learn in an entirely new way that there is a huge difference between reading science fiction and writing it.

On some level of course this is obvious; and it’s also true of any book, any genre. But I think in my case, when I began writing my YA science fiction novel PARADOX, I didn’t fully realize just how science intensive it would end up being. The story seed began in my mind with the main character, Ana, who awoke confined in a small room without any memories or knowledge of who or where she was. As the plot came together and the backstory unfolded, I quickly determined that the small space was the inside of a rocket; that Ana was on a far-off, habitable planet; and that she had an unknown mission to accomplish and a limited time to do so.

All well and good. The story begins, and the plot grows out from there. All stories tend to do this, and I’m certainly no stranger to the accompanying research process. My first novel, NOWHERE GIRL, was set in Thailand, a country I’ve visited several times but for which I still had to do vast amounts of research into details such as motorcycle taxis, boat rides along the chao phraya river, best travel routes from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, and much more.

But when I began delving into PARADOX, I found that there were new levels of research needed. Despite my having needed to brush up on many aspects of everyday life in modern Thailand, when writing NOWHERE GIRL I had a certain foundation to draw from: I had been to Thailand. I had a basic sense of the culture and country. On the planet Paradox, however, I had never set foot. I haven’t traveled by rocket ship. I have never analyzed contagious diseases or personally watched someone near me die a cripplingly horrible death.

Confession time: At first, I looked for shortcuts. I’m used to writing first, researching second. I return to my first drafts armed with facts and figures and proceed to layer in details, shifting the plot around any factual roadblocks that require the story to move in a different direction. (In NOWHERE GIRL, the downtown Bangkok street where Luchi first met up with a friend turned out to be in the red light district! Oops. But thankfully, easy to change once spotted.) With PARADOX, as my editor gently pointed out to me, I needed to do my research first. I needed to know all there was to know about planet rotation in a binary solar system. I had to chart out the symptoms of how my disease works, how it is spread, and how it might be cured. And this kind of research—at least for this particular writer—did not come easy.

I spent hours online. I pored over books from as many libraries as I could access. I looked up experts and phoned them. I was lucky enough to have several family members and friends with specialties in the areas my book required, and I shamelessly begged their expertise, which they were all happy to share. Armed with this information, I wrote scientific memos. I composed newspaper articles. I drew diagrams of how the suns would rise and set across the planet Paradox.

It wasn’t always fun. I distinctly remember telling a friend that if I ever decided to write another science fiction book in the future, to please punch me in the face. But looking at it now in hindsight, there is something immensely satisfying about sinking so deeply into a project, about being constrained by the boundaries of science—even if it’s science-future, with a healthy dose of possibility tossed in for good measure.

It’s important that I add a caveat here: Despite my best efforts at research and fact-finding, I am not by any stretch of the imagination a scientist. And while I did have several scientist friends pore over the various elements and backdrops, and while my goal and hope was to get it as scientifically accurate (within its futuristic sphere) as possible, I’m fully aware of my own limitations in that area.

As writers, all we can do is our best in any area; whether I succeeded in my goal is up to my readers. At best, my hope is that I’ve crafted a world that is rich in detail and scientific potential. At best, I hope I’ve created memorable characters in a story that will draw in young readers and maybe excite their own scientific curiosity. At worst… well, if nothing else, I hope I’ve written a rip-roaring good story, so that readers will be too busy flipping the pages to notice any of the writerly lacks that must exist within any story.

In the end, all we can do is write the best book we can, then step back and let the readers take over.

Teachers Write 8/8/13 Thursday Quick-Write – A Double Dose!

Good morning! It’s time for your Thursday Quick-Write, and we have a double dose for you today.

First… here’s guest author Margo Sorenson! With her latest middle grade/tween novel TIME OF HONOR (MuseItUp Publishing) featuring a prep school debater catapulted into the middle ages to prevent a murder, Margo Sorenson continues to draw on her life’s experiences to write her twenty-eight books for young readers.  A Minnesota Book Award Finalist in YA Fiction and Milken National Educator Award recipient, Margo can be found at www.margosorenson.com, on Twitter as @ipapaverison, and on http://pinterest.com/margosorenson/  Her prompt for us today might generate some spooky stories…

You come into a room and on the desk is a single slip of paper. It reads:  “Somebody knows.”

What is the room – a classroom – a jail cell – a hotel room in Vegas – the office in the dairy farm – a tween’s bedroom —  or? What kind of paper is it written on?  Is it handwritten or typed?  Is there blood on it?  Greasy popcorn stains?  Why are you worried?  Or, why are you giggling?  If you’re working on a WIP, how does this question figure in to what you’re writing?  What character knows something the others don’t?  What does one character wish other characters knew?  Have fun and don’t stop writing – let those fingers fly – it’s Quick Write!

Quick-Write option #2 comes from guest author Nancy Castaldo, who loves books and science. Her writing honors include an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, a Smithsonian Notable Book For Children, a NSTA Recommended title and a Junior Library Guild Selection. In addition to these accolades, Nancy was honored to be the recipient of the 2007 New York State Outdoor Education Association’s Art and Literature Award for her body of work.

 

I just finished spending the week with a group of 5-7-year-olds. I led them on a weeklong imaginary Mediterranean cruise to Italy, Turkey and Greece. We discovered new foods, words and mostly, lots of art. It was wonderful to watch them after lunch on the playground pretending to sail into Venice to eat pizza and gelato.

I find the summer is a perfect time to dream about these types of new adventures, whether it be a cruise to a faraway land or exploring a nearby town.  Vacation dreams can tell you a lot about a person.  Are they daring?  Adventurous?  Meditative?  

For today’s prompt, write about the place your main character would most want to visit and why. What are they looking for there? What do they want to see? Is it some place exotic or right around the corner?

You might want to incorporate their travels into your writing, or it might just give you more insight into their character.

Got ideas to share! Fire away in the comments!

Teachers Write 8/7/13 It’s Q and A Wednesday!

Good morning, team! I’m traveling again this week & won’t be around to comment until late, but we have some great guest authors for Q and A Wednesday today, including Joanne Levy, Danette Haworth, and Erin Dealey!

Got a question you’d like to ask one of these friendly writers?

Teachers & librarians – Feel free to ask your questions in the comments.  It’s fine to ask a general question or to direct one directly to a specific guest author. Our published author guests have volunteered to drop in and respond when they can.

Guest authors – Even if today isn’t a day you specifically signed up to help out, feel free to answer any questions you’d like to talk about.  Just reply directly to the comment.