Teachers Write! 7/4 – Q and A Wednesday

Happy Independence Day to our Teachers Write campers in the United States!

Before you start asking questions today, I want to say a HUGE thanks to everyone who ordered signed copies of CAPTURE THE FLAG and my other books from my signing at The Bookstore Plus on Monday. It was SO much fun to sign so many books to familiar names – almost as great as having you all there.

A couple more book-notes before we get rolling today…

 Joanne Levy’s debut novel SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE came out this week! I loved this book (and I love Joanne, who despite having never met me, jumped in and offered to help with Teachers Write organization. “I am an organizational goddess,” she told me on Twitter. “How can I help?”  See? How do you not love someone like that? She ended up pulling together our TeachersWrite Twitter list.)   Anyway, organizational skills aside, she is also a warm, funny, wonderful writer, and you should check out her new book here.

Second, my picture book OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW is a finalist for the Cardozo Award for Children’s Literature, along with four other great books. I’d love it if you’d visit the award website and vote for your favorite, whether it’s my book or one of the others. Here’s the link for that…  On to the Q and A now…

Feel free to sit this one out if you’re busy eating hamburgers and twirling around with sparklers today, but if you have questions, we’re still keeping Q and A Wednesday open, and guest authors Jody Feldman, Hélène Boudreau, Jean Reidy, David Lubar, Laura Wynkoop, and Danette Haworth have volunteered to come by to answer questions. Please visit their websites and check out their books. And be patient with them today, okay? It may be later on when they get to answer questions. I’m sure they have picnics to attend, too!

Teachers & librarians – Feel free to ask your questions in the comments.  Published author guests have volunteered to drop in and respond when they can. And I’ll be around today, too – I hear it’s going to be a rainy Fourth in our part of the world.

This entry was posted in TeachersWrite. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

73 Comments

  1. Patrick
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 3:28 am | Permalink

    I love Over and Under the Snow… thanks for all you do!

  2. Posted July 4, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    My question this week is about pop culture and brands. To what degree can characters, shows, brand names be mentioned without having to go get some sort of permission? Could characters discuss Pirates of the Caribbean or pull on a Darth Vader mask? Could a character quote something from a movie at an appropriate time?

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Hi everyone!

      I wanted to introduce myself because I am one of several authors answering questions today. I’m Hélène Boudreau, author of the REAL MERMAIDS tween series (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), the RED DUNE ADVENTURES chapter book series (Nimbus Publishing) and the upcoming picture book I DARE YOU NOT TO YAWN (Candlewick 2013) among others.

      Looking forward to your questions!

      Hélène

      http://www.heleneboudreau.com/

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      You can mention characters, brands, TV shows, movies, and song titles as part of popular culture. And it’s fine for a character to quote a single line from a movie if that character is a fan. (One of my kids in CAPTURE THE FLAG is a Dumbledore devotee and quotes him regularly) And this is totally something you can include now and let an editor address later on if it’s an issue. The concern is more with dating your book than anything else (i.e. Do you want your character to be obsessed with, say, Lady Gaga, when she might well fade from popularity in a few years? It can date the book. A great example of this is YA novels from just a few years ago whose characters talk about their MySpace pages. Ouch.) What some authors do to get around this is invent their own “popular” bands or websites or TV shows. Erin Dionne comes to mind here – in her MODELS DON’T EAT CHOCOLATE COOKIES, the MC is obsessed with a singer named Theodore Christmas, if I’m remembering his name correctly. He’s not real – but it’s totally clear from the text that he’s the Justin Bieber of that character’s world, and he has a total advantage over the real Justin Bieber – because he’s imaginary, he doesn’t run the risk of being totally uncool in five years. 🙂

      The one area where you REALLY want to be careful is song lyrics, which are notoriously tough to get permissions for and also expensive. Quoting anything more than a song title sets my editors off, and they almost always recommend I remove the lyrics quote, rather than hunting down & paying for permissions. I’ve always taken that advice, though I did decide to seek permission to quote Rita Dove’s poem “Geometry” in EYE OF THE STORM because it tied into the theme of connections between art and science so beautifully. Thankfully, Rita Dove herself held the rights to that poem and was absolutely gracious about allowing its use. But it can be much stickier than that, especially with songs. Hope this helps!

      • Posted July 4, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        This is an area I have LOTS of questions about, so all the responses here have been super helpful. My novel has mentions of book titles and song titles, but my characters haven’t directly quoted from either thus far, and I think I’ll keep it that way. ‘Cuz I’m cheap. And poor–I’m a teacher, you know. Facebook has been mentioned, but I think it’s probably safe to leave in. You think?

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      You can certainly mention a product or discuss a movie. (Though this brings up another issue — not all products are eternal. It’s safe to have your character drink a Coke. Readers a decade from now might not know what you mean by a Red Bull if it fades from the market.) Quoting from movies, books, songs, and poems can get complicated. (Especially songs and poems.) In any discussion of this sort, people will throw around “fair use,” but this guideline really only applies to educational and scholarly uses of text. It has nothing to do with fiction. (Disclaimer — I’m not a lawyer.) I believe it’s fine to mention the title of a song or a poem. (Please see the previous parenthetical statement for an important disclaimer.)

      Several times, I’ve asked my editor to clear things with the legal department. If you sell your book, you have that option.

      • Gae Polisner
        Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        I want to jump in too – David is correct about people thinking fair use applies to limited usage — but that is ONLY eduucational… and if you use more than one line — or even one iconic line — you need permissions. For The Pull of Gravity, I was surprised to learn AFTER the book sold that *I* was the one liable to get the clearances/licenses for the material I used both from Star Wars and Of Mice and Men. I thought if you sold a book to a major publisher they would. *neon Naive sign flashes over head* Surprisingly, Lucas Films was easy to work with and didn’t make me pay, but Penguin who still owns the rights to OM&M were real sticklers for the somewhat minimal material I used from OM&M and make me jump through some pretty big hoops, and I paid for the licenses (*neon sign flashes again*). My pub did jump in and help me when I was having a hard time — and I’m a lawyer — but I shudder to think what would have happened if I didnt get the permissions. Silly me thought because I wrote a pretty, “school/library” friendly book, they’d be happy to have the usage. Anyway, this is to say that you need to be careful and decide what you need and what you really don’t. After that, I SWORE i’d never use real stuff again in my fiction, but of course in my ms that just sold to Algonquin, I quote a few things from Frog & Toad. Glutton for punishment, apparently. HAPPY 4th to all celebrating! xox – gae

        p.s. Kate, I voted!!! Good luck! 🙂

        • Gae Polisner
          Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

          p.s. Perhaps if you are Stephen King (or David Lubar or Kate Messner = a more established author), your publisher will get them for you/pay for them… but for a first timer they’re taking a risk on? Not so much. 😀

          • Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

            I can assure you that Kate Messner is not part of the publisher-pays camp. I was totally responsible for getting rights to “Geometry” and would have needed to pick up any fees myself.

            • Gae Polisner
              Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

              lol, Kate. Good to know that I can plan on picking those up for this book too, then. 🙂

              <3

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      I’m going to pile on and reinforce the song lyrics issue. I wanted to use just 12 words from The Sound of Music’s Do-Re-Mi, so I contacted the rites holder for permission. I can’t remember exact numbers, but those 12 words would have cost me many hundreds of dollars for the first, maybe, 5000 copies published then several hundred dollars each time they printed, I believe 500 or 1000 more. Needless to say, I wrote around it.

      That said, there are songs in the public domain that you can use freely. I am considering using some lyrics from My Darling Clementine, but before I commit, you can bet I’ll be double-checking.

      As for M&Ms and Frisbees and other brand names, just make sure you are not casting them in a negative light. Companies don’t take kindly to that.

      It’s also dangerous to them when you use their brand names as generics. Aspirin, yo-yo, and zipper used to be brand names. Kleenex, Scotch Tape and Band-Aid brands always worry they will lose their trademark protection.

      • Gae Polisner
        Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        lol, Jody, I wrote my post without reaching yours yet. Just more confirmation to Proceed with Caution. :\

      • Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        It’s amazing what things are not in the public domain. There’s an episode of Sports Night where one of the anchors gets in trouble for singing Happy Birthday to You on the air, not realizing it is not in the public domain. Someone else got in trouble for a parody using The Hokey Pokey. (While satire is protected, in this case, if I remember correctly, the person wasn’t making fun of the song, but using the song to make fun of something else.) I think that the things we grew up with all feel like they belong to everyone.

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Hey Sarah! What a great question! And I’ve been fascinated reading all the terrific advice here.

      I run into this issue — in ways great and small — in my novels all the time. I even get a little nervous that “e-mail” will someday be a thing of the past.

      It sounds like you have a lot of great legal advice on the issue. But here’s my take on the “if” and “when” side of your question.

      If I’m trying to establish a significant setting, especially a place or time frame for my story, then I try to use real titles and quotes. Those details give the setting depth and truth.

      But in most of my contemporary novels, if the setting is more “anytime/anywhere” USA, then I make up songs titles, TV shows, lyrics, brand names. And it’s actually very, very fun. It’s an opportunity to show humor, if you’re a humor writer or write poetry if you’re a poet or lyrics if you’re a song writer. In any case, it’s one more way to stretch those creativity muscles.

      … anyway that’s my two cents on your million dollar question.

      I hope it was helpful!
      Happy 4th!!
      Jean

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Thank you everyone for the feedback and responses!

  3. Posted July 4, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Kate is correct on all points. I had a short quote from Cat Steven’s song “Wide World” in one of my novels and was encouraged by my editor to change it so I made up a song instead. I’ve used iconic brand names like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups when it was relevant to the scene. Otherwise, I think it’s a good idea to keep things general or make up brand names to keep from ‘dating’ your story.

  4. Gae Polisner
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    by the way, the whole dating your story thing is such an interesting question/struggle. As a writer of contemporary realistic fiction, it would feel weird to me to make up a fake “facebook” or “wikipedia” — as a reader it would pop me out of the story. But the MySpace conundrum raises a good question. I don’t have answers… except that half the battle is knowing its an issue for deep consideration.

    I know in The Pull of Gravity, when I wrote the book, the kids kept “flipping their cell phones open.” By the time it was in copy edits, fewer kids had phones that flippped open vs. iPhones that don’t have covers. So I made the edit. Interesting, interesting topic of discussion. Important food for thought. 😀

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Definitely an interesting topic, Gae. After one of my books that mentioned video tapes started to feel dated just a year or two after release, I tried to avoid mentioning anything specific about media delivery in my fiction. These days, I go with things like, “We watched a movie.” Who knows whether we’ll be streaming, downloading, or mind-melding our entertainment in the future. On the other hand, we still talk about dialing the phone. (Or maybe that’s fading away, too.) Hilarious (and scary) side note. Someone told me that books set in the 1960s are considered historical fiction. That’s not history — that’s my childhood.

      • Gae Polisner
        Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        thanks, David. You now owe me $140 for a therapy session. #I’machildofthe60stoo

        CRA-zy!!! 🙂

        (and lol to mind-melding… *cries*)

        • Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

          How about I buy you a drink when our paths cross, and we call it even?

          • Gae Polisner
            Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

            my favorite deal of the year!!!!

            🙂

            • Gae Polisner
              Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

              wait, scratch that. I just got a book deal with Algonquin.

              my second favorite deal of the year!!! 😉

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      FWIW, Facebook figures prominently in my most recent book. So…it’s a risk I’m willing to take in certain circumstances. Social media is so topical in middle/ high school right now (its pitfalls and benefits) and really related to my storyline in an integral way so I made the decision to include it. I think certain books have a ‘shelf life’ by design and in this particular case I really don’t think my light-hearted tween series about an aquaphobic mermaid is they type of story destined to be a ‘classic’ so I was really more focused with keeping things current and relevant for this generation of readers. I guess it depends on the type of book you’re writing.

      So at the risk of contradicting myself even more, I guess I’ll leave things with “It depends.”. 😉

  5. Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I’m just heading out to go sign stock out of town, but just came by here to have a quick look and saw your lovely note, Kate – THANK YOU. You are lovely and I’m so glad you and your daughter enjoyed my book.
    And p.s. I sure don’t feel like an organizational goddess this week!

  6. Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    How many projects do you work on at once? I am working on my now-back-to MG book, but want to start an idea on a picture book. Do you manage two or more projects?

    • Gae Polisner
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Kimberly,

      I think lots of us are working on more than one project at once, though by once, you might spend a chunk of time on something (say, now my revisions on my current sold ms, then when I hand those in — or when they’re ready — move back to revisions on an older raw ms, unless my new ms calls to me, in which case work on that for a bit). So I dont think we have three different manuscripts open on our screen at once. But in the course of a year we may be playing around with several different projects in chunks of time? Does that help?

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Over this past winter/spring I had four contracted projects, which I worked on concurrently; a chapter book, a picture book, and two novels. It was a bit of a juggling act but the voices for each project were quite different so that helped. I usually try to have one main project and one ‘distraction’ project but shiny new ideas are often hard to resist! LOL

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      Hey Kimberly!
      I actually have 4 picture books and a middle grade novel going right now. Plus, I have multiple manuscripts “resting” that I’ll need to get back to – someday.

      The really nice thing about having multiple project going is that when inspiration is running low on one, I’ll move to another. If I need a little time and space away from a project, if it needs room to breathe and if I need a fresh perspective on it, I work on another for a while. I think having several projects going tends to keep all projects fresh and fun.

      So if that picture book is calling you, by all means, open up that document and get it going. Don’t wait because your enthusiasm might fizzle. And when the PB stalls or it needs to rest, return to your MG. You’ll be reading it with a fresh pair of eyes.

      Happy 4th!
      Jean

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Hi Kimberley!

      I used to juggle all sorts of projects, but now I concentrate on one at a time. I’ve found that if I get deeply involved in a novel, I’m always thinking about it. And that leads to different realizations about character and plot. When I juggled, it was a great way to avoid the problems I had with said character and plot. Too hard? Switch!

      That said, I’ve recently found some fun in toying with a long-drawered picture book. That for me, however, is wordplay, not unlike other word puzzles I’d do to kill time or while I’m watching TV. If I get serious on one, though, I will put it in the Exclusive file.

      As with most writing advice, you’ll find so many different approaches. None of them are right; none wrong. It all boils down to what works for you.

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      Hi Kimberley,

      Sorry I’m late to the party! It’s been a busy morning, but I’m glad to be here reading all these great questions and responses.

      I always seem to have multiple projects going on. Right now, I have a middle grade poetry anthology out on submission, a picture book that’s ready for submission, and I’m revising two other picture books so I can submit them by the end of July. I also have five other picture books in various stages of drafting.

      What I’ve recently started doing is setting up a chart with goals and dates that allows me to focus on one picture book at a time (i.e., finish revising “So and So” by July 31, finish drafting “That Other One” by August 30…). I’m finding that I’m a lot more organized when I have specific time frames to devote to particular projects. Of course, I still get ideas or bits of inspirations from time to time and jot those down for other projects, but I am trying to stay focused on one primary project at a time.

      As an aside, I do have a MG novel in which I’ve finished all of the pre-writing (outline, character arcs, etc.), but that’s a long term project that I’m hoping to draft once I’ve published a few picture books.

      Best of luck with your manuscripts! And Happy 4th!

      Laura 🙂

  7. Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Maybe a weird question, but here goes . . .
    Is historical fiction/sort of biography (and no, it won’t be set in the historical 60s, which would be my childhood too, but way further back in history) too much to tackle on a first try at writing a novel? This is something I feel I am destined to write at some point, but maybe not for a first go at it? Should I be working on something else first?

    • Gae Polisner
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Mardie,

      my gut is to answer that whatever is calling to you is the thing that you should be working on. Also, dont forget that, for many of us, our first books don’t end up being our first (published) books. Most of our first manuscripts are “learning experiences.” Or if not ‘most’ at least some of our first books. I know, mine was. = more of a reason to work on what you want. 😀

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      Hi Mardie!

      I spoke with my agent about a similar question a while ago. She almost always advises to go where the muse is taking you. But she also cautioned that historical fiction must be done really, really well. So whatever you decide, be prepared to dig into in-depth research and months, if not years of work. If you’re up to that challenge and you’re enthralled with the history, go for it.

      Happy 4th!
      Jean

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      Mardie, I’d echo Gae and Jean to follow your heart, and Gae’s point that you never know where the first book will lead. I started writing for children after feeling the same sort of call you hear, and my novel Becoming Little Women was published following two others, about six years later. For me, and maybe for you (only you know!) researching is pretty connected to writing, and points out characterization, plot elements, and imagery that other writers create more from their own heads. (BTW, that was so not a weird question!)

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      Hi Mardie,

      That’s not a weird question at all! 🙂

      I’d like to echo what the others said–if you feel destined to write it, go for it! One of the first picture books I ever drafted was a historical fiction that takes place in Korea during the Korean war. I spent a year studying Korean culture and geography, as well as the specifics of the war. It was a lot of work (especially for a picture book! ;)), but it was a story I really felt compelled to tell. That said, because it was one of my earliest manuscripts, I had to go back and revise it many, many times as I learned and grew as a writer. But now it’s my favorite (and strongest) manuscript. I just need to submit it!!!

      Good luck!
      Laura 🙂

      • Posted July 4, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

        Thank you so much Gae, Jean, Jeanine, and Laura for your good advice. I’m feeling very lucky right now to have had the chance to ask you all for your thoughts.

  8. Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I have two questions today (one is for fun and the second is more because I am curious):
    1. What is your favorite memory of writing your first published book (other than it getting published)?
    2. If you had access to your intended audience, did you share the manuscript with that audience?

    Thank you for this opportunity!:)
    Happy 4th of July to all celebrating!

    • Gae Polisner
      Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Andy, I’m about to run to a yoga class, so just answering the second one: absolutely! If you can get a teen or two to read your YA and give you feedback, or a tween to read your MG or a few kids to read your picture book, they definitely give you some great feedback right from the “horse’s mouth!” Indeed!

      • Gae Polisner
        Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        on this note… here’s a quick favorite story… I had my son’s friend read an early, early version of The Pull of Gravity. He read it in one day (which was exciting… he wasnt the kind of kid to want to read over other things necessarily, though he was also grounded that day ;)) and when he finished it, he told me it was his “seventh favorite book ever.” It made me laugh. I’m not sure he had read more than seven books. But he probably had. 😉

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Andy — when I was writing my first kids’ books, my daughter was in elementary school. I gave the mss. to her and several of her smart friends with the instructions to mark anything they stumbled over, and write any other comments they felt like writing. (I paid them $5, which was good money for a 5th grader back then.) I got some good feedback, but it’s a tricky process because kids are reluctant to criticize adults.

      I haven’t sought feedback recently, except for one fairly complex book (it’s about math) that I asked a teacher I know to share with his class. He sent me all their comments. One student made a great catch, spotting an error.

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Hi Andy!

      I remember taking TOO PURPLEY! to my writing group with all kinds of variations on the theme. And we had a great time playing around with characters (they were porcupines for a while) and setting (birthday party? first day of school?) and narrative. I really wondered if I had to beef up the text. Would 47 words really sell? And finally, we all agreed that it read best and had its best potential in its original spare form. And we were right!

      For your second question, my answer is “no” — at least for my picture books. Picture books are too dependent on illustrations. I sometimes run my premise by other adults with kids in a kind of “would your kid love this book?” sort of way. But even a premise can be hard to fully imagine without art.

      For my middle grade novel, if I had the perfect beta readers handy, and if they were willing, I’d love to have them read it with three colored markers in hand. One to highlight sections they didn’t understand. One to highlight sections during which they were bored. And one — pink probably – to highlight sections they loved.

      Happy 4th!
      Jean

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Hi Andy!
      1. That I actually had enough words to write a novel. I didn’t think I was capable of writing anything much longer than picture books. How was I supposed to know how the sun slanted into the living room or why the MC didn’t like pizza or had a fixation over dominoes? How could I keep it interesting for 50k words? How does a person actually go about merging plot and character and setting and pacing it all in good fashion? Those types of thing. But I didn’t give myself enough credit, I guess.

      2. My daughter reads everything I’m serious about. I think I may have raised her to be critical and honest when it comes to evaluating my work. Also, for my first book, I had a friend convince me to let her son read it years before it was published. His raves were the reason I pulled the book out of mothballs and decided to submit again. One of my favorite stories: Just before he went to college, his parents made him purge his room of anything expendable. (Other factors at play here as well; they weren’t that mean.) He got rid of a number of trophies, but insisted on keeping the copy of my manuscript. He even took it 2800 miles to college with him.

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Andy, I’m not sure if this is a *fond* memory of my first published book but it is definitely a memorable one. At the end of February 2008, I got my first ever book contract to publish a middle grade novel. They wanted to sneak it in that fall since they had a last minute opening *if* I could manage a major revision by the end of March.

      First thing that happened; my 4 year-old daughter got chicken pox. Once she finally recovered (after over 2 wks) and was back in part time kindergarten, my 6 year-old came down with chicken pox. Once SHE recovered a week and a half later, it was time for our week-long March Break. Four days later, they were home again for Easter Break. Over the 30 day deadline, I think I had about 4 or 5 days when both girls were at school at the same time and somehow (after many, many late nights!) I was able to finish the revision in time.

      It was a squeaker! LOL

  9. Posted July 4, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Aside from the questions I had regarding the use of brands, etc that Sarah W. posed, I’m also wondering about writing dialogue. I know this, like most writerly things, will likely differ from writer to writer, but what I want to know is this: Do you focus on the dialogue as you’re writing the initial draft, or is it something that you come back to in later revisions? I’m finding as I write, sometimes the conversations flow quite naturally and other times, they’re rather akward–almost painful to write (and read). Also, how long of a stretch do you dare to go without any dialogue?

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Hi Micki! What a great question.

      Dialogue and interior monologue sections are often the first things that come to me as I’m starting a novel. They play in my head as I muse on the story. Then I’ll have notebooks full of both when I finally open my initial Word doc.

      But yes, there are times when the characters go silent. But I just keep writing the other stuff – narrative, description, setting – until the characters start talking again or until I have to make them talk. Until such time, I’ll include placeholders in my manuscript. So if I have a chapter that’s a little light on dialogue but I can’t get the characters talking, I’ll bookmark the spot where I think dialogue makes sense and go back to it later.

      How do I get my characters talking? I really like directed freewriting. I essentially interview a character and journal answers in that character’s own voice. I’ll ask him/her “What do you think about this?” or “What do you think about that?” referencing plot points or other characters in the story. Before you know it, my characters are whispering, gossiping, scolding, confiding, confessing — talking again — and the dialogue is flowing more naturally.

      Hope that helps!
      Happy 4th!
      Jean

      • Posted July 4, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

        Hello Jean!

        The idea of interviewing characters in directed freewriting is an excellent idea! Thanks!

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      Yes. Yes, to everything, Micki. Even if it’s not a yes-no answer. But seriously …

      For me, it all varies from project to project or even from minute to minute.
      When I’m writing a first draft, I just write. Let me back up a second. I don’t start writing until I can hear the characters’ voices carrying on a conversation. When I hear a snippet of dialogue, I know I’m ready, and the potential for writing decent dialogue the first time is dramatically higher.

      Anyway, when I’m writing dialogue in that cruddy first draft, I write without censoring. It’s more important for me to get the gist of what the characters need to discuss rather than the exact words. Sometimes, it just comes out right for a stretch. In the next paragraph, though, it might stink. A few minutes later, I might be so stuck that I’ll type something like INSERT BANTER HERE ABOUT HIM BEING CLUMSY.

      Then when I’ve finished the first draft, I take most of the dialogue apart, probably deleting at least a third that’s redundant or boring or is a device to awkwardly impart info or otherwise doesn’t move the story or define a character. I happen to write a lot of dialogue, a lot, in first drafts. And then I tinker with what remains.

      It helps to read all dialogue aloud. It helps even more to record it then listen the next day to hear it with fresh ears. You’ll hear when it’s stilted or long, or even too short, incomplete. And when that little niggling voice in your gut tells you something’s not quite right, listen to it. See if you can find a different way for your characters to say things.

      As to how long a stretch without? It all depends. Not a good answer, I know. Some books fly by without much dialogue. Some drag without an exchange every few pages. I often write about characters who are solving things on their own. And I’ve resorted to creating a dog for my MC to talk to on occasion; also have him talk to himself.

      It’s also a visual thing. If you find yourself with a string of long paragraphs — lots of gray without much what space — see what you might be able to do to break up what looks long and boring to kids.

      I’d go on, but need to run out for a bit. Dialogue … the never-ending conversation.

      • Posted July 4, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

        Hi Jody!
        I really like the idea of recording the dialogue and listening to it later. I’m a firm believer in reading what I write outloud–I do this with everything I write (even comments on a blog :))–and it makes such a difference in the overall product. Your thoughts on the matter are very helpful. Thank you!

  10. Nanette
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    How do you know if you should classify your novel as young adult or just plain adult? Is this something the author needs to worry about or will someone else make the final decision?

    To me it has the making of a young adult fantasy novel. It’s too straight forward (I think) to qualify as an epic fantasy. I could “spice it up” more but I don’t think that makes it an adult novel. I read Tamora Pierce’s books and while the details are skipped, there are definitely “adult situations” in abundance.

    Other than opinions of friends, I’m not sure how you go about classifying things.

    Nanette

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

      Hi Nanette!

      I agree that spicing up a YA in an effort to make it for adults won’t work. You need to tell the story the way it needs to be told, and tacking stuff on, just because, rarely works.

      There continue to be a number of titles that hover the YA/adult line and the reason they fell to one side rather than the other — pretty much because the author submitted it to the children’s arm of the publisher rather than the adult or vice versa. (Which basically answers the question of letting the publisher decide. If it’s an adult book and you submit to a kids’ editor, you could wind up with a rejection simply by sending it to the wrong person.)

      Like Laura said, there are certain coming-of-age issues that mark most YA books. YA books most often have teen protagonists. YA books, no matter how sad or tragic, tend to end with a degree of hope.

  11. Posted July 4, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t kept up with all the Wed. Q & A posts so I hope I’m not asking something that’s been answered. My question is how do those of you who are writer/teacher/parents schedule your time so that you don’t feel like you are shortchanging any one of your roles? When I’m fully immersed in writing, I feel guilty that I’m not doing something for my home or family. When I have free time and don’t use it to write, I tell myself if I were really a writer, I’d be writing every change I got. How do you compartmentalize your time/energy/thoughts so that your are fully presnet for all of the roles that make up your life? I look forward to your thoughts and suggestions.

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

      Hi Linda,

      That really is the million dollar question! 😉 I’ve had this conversation with so many writer friends, and it seems like we all face that same nasty feeling–guilt. When we’re writing, we feel guilty that we’re neglecting our children (after all, they’re only little for so long!). And when we’re with our kids or doing chores around the house, we really want to be writing! Then we feel guilty because we’re neglecting our craft, and we don’t feel like real writers. It’s like we’re always stuck between a rock and a hard place. So what do we do?

      I think the most important thing is to evaluate your priorities. I went to a great break-out session with Laurie Halse Anderson at last year’s SCBWI Summer Conference. It was called “Finding Lost Time and Reclaiming Creativity.” She asked us to write down the five most time consuming things we’d done in the last week. Then she asked us to write down the five most important things in our lives. If the lists didn’t match up, then we had some work to do. 😉 It’s so easy to get sucked into Facebook, the Internet, TV, etc. but you have to stop and think, “Is this really what I want to be doing with my time?” I stopped watching TV in 2008 because I didn’t have time for it in my life. I now have one show that I watch sometimes with my husband, but I do that while I’m washing dishes or folding laundry. I don’t just sit and watch TV. I’m also learning that it’s okay to say no when people ask you to volunteer for things (sports, church, school, PTA, etc.). Laurie Halse Anderson said that it took her a long time to learn to say no, and she literally had to put post-it notes on all the phones around the house that said, “Thank you so much for the invitation, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to say no.” By making more time for your writing, you’re honoring yourself as a writer.

      When it comes to your children/family, it’s tough. Yes, you need to make them a priority, and you need to meet their needs. But you also have to lovingly communicate that you need time for you too. It’s okay to set up play dates for your kids at a friend’s house so that you can finish that first draft. It’s okay for them to watch a movie every now and then while you work on those revisions. I do write sometimes in the afternoon when my children are home, but I mostly write at night after they’ve gone to bed. My husband works late three nights a week, so I write from about 9 or 10pm until midnight. It can be challenging on school nights, but writing is really important to me, and I want my kids to know that I’m doing something that I love. When they see me working to follow my dreams, I think it teaches them to follow their dreams.

      I hope this helps, and I look forward to reading other writers’ thoughts on this matter!

      Laura 🙂

      • Posted July 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

        Thank you, Laura. Your words are very helpful. I don’t watch much TV, but I have to admit that I read too many author blogs. Maybe I’m looking for answers to figure this whole thing out.
        One of the most helpful things you said is that you write at night. I like to write at night too. I’m usually pretty exhauted after a long school day, but writing at night is the only uninterrupted time I have. I do feel fortunate that I have more time this summer than I’ve ever had. But, I need to stop filling my days with other “stuff” to do. I’m going to try making the two lists that you mentioned. Your ideas are wonderful. I can’t wait to see what others suggest.
        Thank you so much!
        Linda

        • Posted July 4, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

          When I was teaching (up until this year) my only writing time was after my kids went to bed, from about 9 to 11 or 12. It’s not a lot of hours, but those hours add up.

          And were you around for our very first Teachers Write post? It was about making time to write. 🙂

          http://www.katemessner.com/teachers-write-46-mini-lesson-monday-making-time/

          • Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

            Thanks, Kate. I think I may have missed that post, but I’ll go back and check it out!

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      Hey Linda! What a great question and I’m anxious to hear how other authors answer.

      The truth from me is that I NEVER felt I had it under control. Probably not the answer you wanted to hear, right? But life does get in the way of writing. And until recently, when my youngest left for college, I struggled to compartmentalize. I did do a lot of writing in coffee shops between lacrosse games and swim meets. But sometimes, I simply had to tell my family, “I need a big block of time,” and they would respect that.

      One of the things that really helped was my weekly face-to-face writers group. I HAD to be prepared for that. And my family respected that time I needed to prepare and attend. But this all took time to evolve. Gradually, as folks and family saw me taking my writing seriously, they took it seriously too.

      Good luck and Happy 4th!
      Jean

      • Posted July 4, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        Hi Jean,
        A critique group could be helpful. I’ve tried an online version and one face-to-face, but all the critiquing became overwhelming and took away my writing time. We’re moving out of state in two months so maybe I’ll try again with a new group then.
        Thanks for your help.
        Linda

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      That’s such a tough one, Linda. And you’ve received some great answers. I just wanted to second the fact that you’re not alone. When my kids were younger, summers and other extended school breaks were especially hard for me. I’d feel guilty I was neglecting my writing. I’d feel guilty I was neglecting my kids … until I gave myself permission to take vacation breaks with them. That didn’t mean I’d stop writing-related activities. I’d still brainstorm. I’d still jot down notes. (I kept a small pad of paper and pen with me wherever I went — parks, pools, Chuck E. Cheese — everywhere.) My kids and I spent one summer trying to write a novel together.

      With the guilt gone, I found I was more productive than I imagined. And when I did have blocks of time to myself, I was all primed to go. With that built-up writing energy, I got so much accomplished in such a short time. And I was happier.

      Good luck!

      • Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        Thank you, Judy! It helps to know I’m not the only one struggling with this issue.

  12. Mary Meihaus
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    I am really learning a lot reading these comments. Thank you!

  13. Posted July 4, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Hi Nanette,

    To me, I think the biggest distinction between adult and YA literature is the age of your protagonist. YA books are generally about teens and marketed to teens. There are often coming-of-age issues (independence, maturity, relationships, sexuality, etc.), and the parents tend to be either absent or a point of contention for the teen protagonist. I know you mentioned Tamora Pierce’s books; have you read a lot of YA to see what makes it feel distinct from adult fiction?

    Laura 🙂

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      Oops! Sorry, Nanette! I posted your reply in the wrong box. I hope you’re able to find it down here! 😉

      • Nanette
        Posted July 4, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

        I found it… thanks.

        I have read a lot of YA in the past. Only just recently have I read it from a writer’s perspective. In the past I read things that my kids put in front of me and said “read”. Fortunately our tastes are similar.

        My son (then maybe 13?) once read one of my books and said it was really good, but had more “adult situations”. I hadn’t thought that the Dresden Files were that “adult”… I guess it’s a matter of perspective.

        Nanette

        • Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

          I haven’t read The Dresden Files, but I’ve heard a lot about them. The MC is a wizard private eye, right? From what I’ve heard, they have a pretty dark/adult tone. And sure, YA books can have a dark tone (i.e., The Hunger Games), but what makes them appeal more to teens (in my opinion) is having a MC their own age. Just my two cents! 🙂

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      I read lots of strong YA for my book recommendation blog (& because I love them), and I read adult novels (like quirky mysteries & historical) to give myself a breather from the ‘angst’ factor.

      One adult novel I read last summer (Emory’s Gift) flopped for me, but could have been an extraordinary YA novel, if the author’s editor had guided him that direction. As it is, the narrator is a messed-up adult who’s reminiscing about a pivotal event of his early teen years. The whiny adult voice is grating; the recently bereaved boy who meets a grizzly who’s inhabited by the spirit of a dead soldier is riveting and believable. If that encounter had become a YA book, it would have had the best boy-appeal ever!

      Yes, some ‘grown-up’ books can do well with flashbacks to characters’ teen days and childhood, but if the book is mainly set in young-adult years, I’d want it to be a real YA.

  14. Mary
    Posted July 4, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    First, many thanks to all the authors offering information, opinions and support. What a wonderful resource you are!

    Now on to the questions. First, a confession. I’m no artist. I once went to a rather expensive painting class and was politely told by the instructor that she would help me- only to have her repaint almost the entire canvas. So, question 1- since I’m no artist, can I still submit ms for picture books?

    #2. I write poetry for children. In fact, I write a poem for and about every student in my class every year. I’m planning to gather some of the strongest into a ms for submission. Is this the best route or should I submit to mags and other venues first?

    My apologies if these questions have been discussed. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to join this wordy community. M

    • Posted July 4, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

      I can answer Question #1 – you absolutely don’t need to be an artist to submit picture books. I don’t illustrate any of my own books – I submit a simple, printed manuscript (with no illustration notes at all – just the text) to the publisher, who then chooses and hires an illustrator.

      I’m not sure about your second question – Does anyone who has more experience with poetry have a suggestion?

      • Posted July 5, 2012 at 2:42 am | Permalink

        Hi Mary,

        Kate answered #1, so I’ll give you my thoughts on #2.

        First of all (and I hate to be the bearer of bad news), poetry is the HARDEST thing to sell in the current market. My critique group and I published a middle grade anthology in 2010, and we were really lucky to get that contract. We’ve since written a second anthology, but our editor turned it down because “it’s just a hard time for poetry right now.” Library budgets have been slashed across the country, and publishers are being extra cautious in this area.

        That said, poetry IS being published, but it has to be truly exceptional. Collections by a single poet need to have a really strong “hook” (i.e., baseball poems, or bee poems…), and unless you’re writing free verse, your rhythm and rhyme need to be flawless. Do you have a poetry critique group? If not, I’d strongly recommend joining one before submitting any poetry.

        You mentioned writing poems for and about each student. Would the students be identifiable in the poems, or would the poems gently allude to them? (If it’s the former, you might need to get their parents’ consent before submitting work based on their children.) Also, would you have a unifying theme or “hook” for this manuscript? If so, then great–you’ve got a viable collection! If not, then you’re probably better off subbing individual poems to the magazine market. Do you have a recent copy of the CWIM (Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market)? The index lists all of the book and magazine publishers that accept poetry, and it’s a must-have for any children’s poet.

        Best of luck with your projects!

        Laura 🙂

        • Mary
          Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

          Laura-
          Thank you for your comments. It is always good to have a broader perspective of the current market. I suspected publishers were hesitant about poetry due to the limited new choices in bookstores and on Amazon.

          Your point about parent permission is well taken. Fortunately, though my students inspire the poems, they aren’t readily identifiable.

          I truly appreciate your comments and suggestions.

      • Mary
        Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        Thank you. I’m glad to know I can create images with words and not inflict my visuals on the readers.

    • Posted July 5, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      Mary, I agree with Laura: poetry is a tough market, but it can get placed. If you haven’t already, you might want to look at Keesha’s House by Helen Frost and the recent books by James Howe — good poetry that tells stories of different people often in school. It may give you ideas for weaving the poems together into a narrative, a really wonderful form.

      • Mary
        Posted July 5, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for the suggestions! These are great idea generators. Your suggestions ( all of the authors) are helping me think about what the hook might be and will help me look at my work differently.

        I’m thinking Won-Ton A Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw and Dogku by Andrew Clements are closer to my target age and audience, but Keesha’s House and
        Addie on the Inside are excellent food for writing.

        You have helped immeasurably. Many, many thanks!

  • Find Kate Online