Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Happy summer to my teacher and librarian friends!

This is the time of year when I get a lot of kids' letters. I know the end of the year is hectic, so I'm amazed at the teachers who have time to help students with this project, bundle a stack of letters up and get them to the post office.

A few of them are priceless.  
Like these from a school in Minnesota:
(Sorry about the boring parts, reader. But glad you appreciated my use of HOGWASH.)

(True confessions: I used to like being sneaky, too!)

Also this: 
"I like the book because Glory is like my friend. She is a good friend. Like me."
 Be still my heart...

Another take on the book: "I liked it because it has exciting dialogue. Glory and Jesslyn were always fighting and talking."

(Note to self- write lots of exciting dialog.)

Some send photos. How can an author resist an entire third grade reading her book, holding it high!

I'm still waiting for one class's letters, but they emailed and wanted to know about my dogs. So I sent photos of our most recent sweet pup-- ole Barley, and my two grand-dogs, Ellie and Rocky the Rock Star.

Thank you, teachers and librarians everywhere, for reading to your students, for sharing your love of books, for instilling a lifetime of curiosity and reading for pleasure. I hope you all have time to read exactly what you love- all summer long!


 Ellis is the newest addition to our family. 

Sweet Barley. We miss him a lot!

Rocky giving me the evil eye for not reading faster. My To Be Read stack is very high.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Naming Names!

I think long and hard about a character's name. I've even changed a name or two when it wasn't working and suddenly the true nature of that character emerged.

In MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG, I had fun naming the characters. Maybe more fun than with any of the folks who peopled my first two books.

Azalea, for example. A line from something- who knows what at this point- stuck in my brain from way back. A baby named Azalea by her daddy when he saw the pink flowers from her mama's hospital window. Azalea it was! From the beginning.

How about Sergeant Steele for a policeman? That came to me when I remembered my high school classmate, Donna Steele. But I have NO idea how the name Miss Jane Partridge appeared, attached to a goody-goody social worker. Not my friend Joan Partridge. Not my sister Jane. Just a name that had the right ring to it. 

I have a huge collection of saved names. If I created a zillion more characters, I could never use them all. 

Maybe it's a southern thing? I adore this piece by Julia Reed (who grew up down the road a piece from me in the Mississippi Delta) in GARDEN AND GUN magazine, about choosing names.

Here's an excerpt:

It didn’t end up mattering much because both boys were almost always referred to as Brother or Bubba, and to this day no one in my immediate family or its orbit has ever called me anything but Sister. Which leads us to another Southern phenomenon. There’s Tennessee Williams’s Sister Woman, of course, and a character in a Lee Smith short story is named Uncle Baby Brother.  

When I first started writing THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY, I called my tap-dancing, fun-loving character "Miss Sister" just plain Sister. She was a tribute to two much-loved dance teachers in our town, Sister Cockersole and Ruth Hart. At a first-pages critique session early on, a young editor remarked that she liked the story, but she didn't understand why a former nun would be wearing red tap shoes...

Since I knew actual people who added the "Miss" in front of names all the time, changing her to Miss Sister was easy.

If you're still reading, here are the previous posts I've written about character names:
This, with a link to Dorian Cirrone's excellent post

And this, with lots of naming names links

(my rejected names notebook)

How do you decide what to name a character? Have you ever (mistakenly perhaps?) named a villain for someone you actually know? What are some of your favorite book characters' names?

Monday, May 7, 2018

Monday Reading

It's about a month till the Orlando-- Disney World!-- SCBWI weekend.

(If you hurry, you can still register with the early bird special price. CLICK HERE FOR the LINK.)

I'm signing up for Erin Entrada Kelly's Saturday workshop. All day to write. Yay.
Now that I've read two of her books, I'm beyond excited!

Check out all the stickie notes in my library copy of  

I tried to read this book like a writer. I wanted to learn some of the tricks, some of the tips, some of the fabulous ways Erin tells her stories.

But had I reviewed it as a reader, as a librarian, as someone recommending books to young readers, I couldn't have done better than this SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL starred review:
"VERDICT Heartfelt and hopeful, this novel will encourage young readers to offer their hand in friendship to kids who, just like them, might be struggling."

Both of the books I read by Erin are truly heartfelt. BUT, they're also funny as everything. One of my writing goals is to be funnier. It's not so easy to write humor and also create a story that tugs at kids' hearts. 

A few observations:
I adore the Rabbit Hole thoughts at the beginning of Charlotte's chapters. Rabbit Hole because that's what happens when you start researching one thing and end up elsewhere.
We've all been there, but did anybody else see it as a way to develop a character? 
And they're not just random. They're connected, they have flow, they sometimes lead to very funny observations. 

The way she writes about how two friends pull apart- ingenious! At one point, Charlotte hides in the library and eavesdrops on her former friend who's now gone over to the other side, the popular kids. But does Erin write long boring passages of exposition to let the reader know what Charlotte's feeling? Nope.
How about this:
"Charlotte wanted to sweep all the stupid nonfiction books off the shelf and scream."  (p. 141) 

And then Charlotte goes on to muse about her rock collection. Yes, introspection. Yes, often longer than one of those writing rules that say a young reader won't  sit still for this. Ha. In Erin's hands, the passages are beautifully written and, again, often funny.

Funny, nervous, filled with guilt. All the emotions, in a lovable narrator.
I just love that about Charlotte. 

The book is a lesson in crafting perfect characters and their arcs.

Ben is so wonderfully flawed. And does he really know it? Perhaps my favorite line of his-
"Ben carried his shirt to the boys' bathroom knowing the medium would be too big. But it's not often that you're given a choice of what you want to be, and Ben decided he didn't want to be small." (p. 152)

This might be the most perfectly-written book about friendship I've read in a very long time. 

Here's my copy of HELLO, UNIVERSE. I bought it after it won the Newbery and have now read it a couple of times. 
True confessions, if a book is mine and I don't plan to send it elsewhere, I write in it. Don't judge! Hey, I love finding notes in books. 
(Aside: One of the coolest recent things to happen in the book world is the various journeys teachers send new ARCs on, sharing and leaving notes in them, then returning them to the author. We love reading your notes!)

By now, everybody in the universe has probably read HELLO, UNIVERSE. So I'll just say that if you haven't, what are you waiting for?  

Your turn. What are you reading on this lovely Monday in May?