Sunday, October 2, 2011

Announcement:2012 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference

Due to some conflicts at Waterford School, the 2012 WIFYR Conference will be held June 18-22. We're going to have boot camp again, a 3-day illustration workshop, and some other great things. Stay tuned.

I Become Hamlet--To Stir or not to Stir

Thanks to my book club, who encourage me to step outside the reading I do to hone my craft. No apologies there; I really do love YA and MG fiction. But I've been reading some of the books I should have read long ago (fill examples) and re-reading some of my favorites (Emma, Scarlet Pimpernel, Jane Eyre, A Doll's House) and now Hamlet. If I'd kept those typed-on-pink paper essays (pink not because I loved the shade, although I do, but because my dad donated reams he didn't need,) I'm sure I had at least one on Hamlet's failure to act. With several of the books I've re-read since college, including the Ibsen play and Hamlet, I can't muster the same cheerleader cry to "Go, fight, kill!" that my idealistic zeal supplied.

I find myself too much like Hamlet in my life. Oink. Okay, totally inappropriate, but I couldn't resist.
So oink. Hamlet spends time badgering his mother, confusing his girlfriend, making long speeches no one can understand. I mean the ones Shakespeare intended to be that way, although reading the first authentic version I downloaded free on m Kindle made the entire play read like a different language. Hamlet is supposed to know what he has to do, but doesn't act until it's almost too late. Oink. Certainly too late for Ophelia. Double Oink. I never did like that part, although I'm sure it provides actors with a wonderful tragic part.

But does Hamlet really know that killing his uncle is the right thing to do? How often do we have that kind of single-focused clarity on what we should do in our lives?

Cluck. Excuse my adding more barnyard noises (I promise not to break out into e-i-e-i-o's) but I at times feel like the cliche chicken sans head. I know what I want to do. I want to write. However, it isn't as simple as taking a sword and avenging my enemy (although there's probably a recipient of a poison rejection letter somewhere that's fantasized about taking just a little return jab with his letter-opener.) At the moment I have a new book that I love. It's flowing, it has a direction, it has a plot that doesn't wander like Hamlet stumbing through the castle, pausing hither and anon to soliloquize. It's about, seriously, a boy and his lawnmower. But no, it's not about how he decides to start a profitable summer business, so don't yawn yet.

The problem is that I also have my Sonya book that I love, and thanks to Claudia Mill's workshop, I also finally have a way to realign the plot problems in the second half. I also have my dream book, that I also like, but that does  wander, confused, like Ophelia. That isn't even mention my poor, unfinished mermaid book with the brilliant title and unusual concept that I really liked and am determined to sometime finish, even if mermaids are out right now. (Ms. Twilight Saga Goddess, please reconsider writing one, please?"

Plus I went to another lecture by one of my heros, Kathy Headlee  Miner, who told more stories of youth in Africa that I'm feeling compelled to write about. I think these will end up as short stories, and I'm already hunting for my notes on those.


Then there's all the extra cooking I've been trying to do (see later blog post on food.) Ann Cannon says people follow her blog to see what she eats each day, not for her writing. Having read her columns, I know she's being modest, but since food is one of my crazy hen-pecking obsessions, I decided I might occasionally steal her idea. And let her know about it. Maybe she'll become one of the uh-three? people who can say they've read my blog.

Although Hamlet managed to kill Polonius with one sword thrust through a screen, a sword is still just one object, and a narrow one. If I could hone my focus to just the important things, do them first and get them done, maybe I could once again return to my collegiate disdain for Hamlet's indecisive quandry.

Oink, Cluck. My first decisive act is to realize 1:52 am is not my best time for  writing. More tomorrow.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Martine Leavitt Notes from WIFYR, Part 2: Theme

THEME: all words must have an intention, a direction, a goal. Your book needs to have heart—unifying idea, central goal. A writer has to organize a story around a core set of questions.

 Theme asks a question. There may be more than one answer, but it makes people think. Read Holes by Louis Sachar for the  message about Stanley carrying Zero up the hill (justice, paying debt to oppressed peoples.) Remember not to hit your reader over the head with a moral. Theme needs to be very subtle.

Theme grows out of the tension of asking the hard questions.  Theme levels:

  1.  Word choice through repetition and layering of images. Discover some telling moment (maybe in exploratory draft) and it becomes the theme. Theme can impact word choice. 
  2. Revealed at sentence level through careful use of thematic passages—where character or narration questions about impt things. Careful: lightest of hands, tiny touch will do.
  3.  Revealed in structure—characters and objects thematically. Surface story conceals some less-accessible meaning. Martine’s definition: deliberately use another work to illuminate the theme of the story. In her book Tom Finder, Martine uses the opera, The Magic Flute, to reveal her theme. I really recommend this book. It's one that makes the reader think, but it's theme in revealed by structure done with the light hand she recommends. 
  • As you edit your manuscript, look for the little moments that might reveal what the intention and goal is.
  • Why am I compelled to write this book? 
  • What am I asking of the world? 
Writing Prompt--Taken from Martine's workshop (remember she's an MFA professor,) here is your assignment: put your character in a scene that shows the his/her concrete object of desire and the announced strategy (how character is going to achieve concrete desire.) Remember there are lots of little desires along the way, but what is the overarching goal?