Category Archives: Art & Craft

Naming

My favorite biblical story is where Adam and Eve get to name everything. I always imagined them sitting on a log side by side. Sun shinning, nice breeze and,  “Lion,” says Adam pointing to a fluffy white ball with a puff tail.  “No, silly,” says Eve, shaking her head, pointing elsewhere. “That is a lion. Look at the teeth, the mane, the eyes.” And so it would go, day after day until they almost ran out of words…LOL, nobody runs out of words.

Almost every child has a naming story. For me the doctors were sure I would be a boy born mid to late January. Well, I must have been very comfy, because I didn’t come out until February 2 and at that I was born at around 11:40 PM, noticeably the last time I was truly a ‘night’ person. With the boy thing, my parents picked a name: material grandfather and paternal uncle. Oops!  My mom suggested the name of her favorite cousin. Turns out my dad was not enamored of said cousin. Compromise time. Part of the name but not all. [as was the custom then and turns out the perfect saint for me–Teresa of Avila! another blog posting for that one] with a very Irish nickname. At home I was rarely called by my baptized name–well, unless I was in extreme trouble–and yes–I did hear it often enough. But I considered my ‘nickname‘ my real name. Ah, sly parents trying to trick the middle child!

What made me think of this? An article in the WSJ: DO WE LOOK LIKE OUR NAMES?  The consensus is that people come to look like their names. Ha! I don’t think people LOOK like their names. I couldn’t pick a Joe from a Ralph, or a Mary from a Susan. But I do think most grow up, and in that process of growing, they perceive how others say, write, add adjective and adverb to that name! The author of this study talks about naming her daughter Lilac,  “and already, she says, people are cooing that Lilac is blossoming into a beautiful flower and smells just as sweet.”  Poor child!

My name…nickname…was very different. [From 1880 to 2015, the Social Security Administration has recorded 23 babies born with that name in United States. The name was first given to 5 or more babies in the year 1967. The highest recorded use of the name was in 1969 with a total of 7 babies.] It is/was consistently misspelled, miss-pronounced, made fun of–yes the bullying part [except by the nuns who were uncanny in singling me out–was it the name? or the child?], one of the reasons why I don’t use it except with family and close friends. And here’s the deal: I don’t think we look like our names, but I do think we PERCEIVE ourselves as our name. Add to that birth order and you have a combination, for me, that could keep a panoply of mental health professionals busy for a lifetime. Ha!

So. Naming. For a story it is like from the inside out–the idea comes with a name–the story and the character who will have both the active and emotional fortitude to take the story to the conclusion. It has taken me a while to figure this out. I’m slow :). Not prone to a lot of internal examination, so this journey to understand where the names of my characters comes from has required more time than I wish. But! And here is the cool part. When I look up the names I am mostly right on in my choice. Damn! This could have saved me a lot of time in my revision!

Next time!

 

Processing

So. Four days out from the end of the 18th Annual 2017 SCBWI Winter Conference. I always feel like we are on timers and we have to get to this, move onto the next, then the next. And by the end on Sunday. Whew!

Time to process. I love the keynotes. They are all inspirational in their own way. Each leaves behind a nugget. A tidbit to get me through the writing process. No, not going to share. I’m sure each person who listens hears their own nugget.

The panel on picture books is always fascinating to me. I listen and am still star struck at what they are able to imagine to create a book of 32 pages that has so few words and yet conveys a whole story, emotion, life. A picture book is a wondrous thing.

This year my two picks for Saturday breakouts brought more to my toolbox than I could have imagined. I go to these all the time. I listen. I take notes. I wonder two things: if this is an editor/agent that I could submit to and in the end, I usually say no. And, I pay attention to their presentation skills and if this is someone we could bring to our regional conference. Both were a yes on both–a first.

The first editor used the Newberry Award Committee criteria as a prism through which to view middle grade. The first thing I liked was the discussion about middle grade. The editor stated that middle grade encompassed everything from Captain Underpants to Brown Girl Dreaming. Interesting. Do you know the Newberry Criteria?  If not, and you are writing middle grade, then look it up. Here’s the short version: Interpretation of the theme or concept, Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization, Development of a plot, Delineation of characters, Delineation of a setting, Appropriateness of style.  I am huge on show and tell, so the editor illustrated each point with a book and why, including short readings, which is cool.

The second editor was unexpected. I had not realized this editor’s involvement in nonfiction. I had always thought in terms of fiction, which is why we hosted the editor at one of our conferences in Carolinas.  I think when I checked that box I was more interested in title than I was in presenter. What did I get? The knowns: nonfiction is powerful, shows how to think, works for curious children and has a reverence for the facts. This house publishes commercial quality nonfiction.  And mentioned was Capstone, Lerner, Rosen, Scholastic, National Geographic. The house like series, not unlike the success of the Magic School Bus, though not from this house. I think the thing that was most exciting about this presentation was that the editor delved into what would be almost Pop Culture nonfiction. And that versus the nonfiction I grew up with, there is now a push to have nonfiction reflect the 21st century.

The Sunday panel on The Current Landscape for Children’s Books was more interesting than I thought it would be. One participant claimed that the ‘role of the gatekeeper’ is outdated. Now there is  independent publishing,  self-publishing, as well as publishing that comes from blogs, serialized graphic novels that form a platform for and a entry into traditional publishing.  Also mentioned was that a large number, 55%, of young adult novels are now considered crossovers. Sheeze, I have been immersed in children’s literature for so long, I’m not sure I even see that, but there you go. 55%!

Some new terms I learned in the publishing business. Editors/Agents are looking for empathy builders. They worry about marginalized readers. And, they use sensitivity readers to ensure that the books they publish that are of a diverse nature are accurate and appropriate.

One very positive note. Ken Geist, VP Publisher [Orchard Books, Scholastic Press Picture Books, Cartwheel Books, Readers, Branches and Little Shepherd] stated that there is no doubt the picture book market is better than it has ever been!

On the publishing side, there was also the note that the NYTimes has changed it list. And because I have not focused on that, I’m not sure I get the change. But one VP/Publisher was very concerned. So need to investigate.

So. Good stuff. Time to review my own submission. Push the ideas that I have into a manuscript format. And of course, time to submit the manuscripts that have been so very vetted and are ready.

Processing is a constant. I think I like that.

Write!

That’s what this whole blog is about. Write! String words together, make them constructive, make them sensical, make them more than a thought, give them attitude, admit they are me; they are my thinking.

We are at the end of January. I’ve written. I’ve read. I’ve revised. I’ve submitted. I’ve followed. I’ve commented, on politics, on free speech, on the economy, on policy issues, and probably more if I was to break it down. The importance is that I write. I write every day. Maybe not here, maybe not on my stories, but I do write. I seek to explain, entertain, inform, and defend.

I find this past eighteen months instructive in understanding the imperative that Memory Is Tyrannical. Oh. Yeah!  Let me amend for the current century: [ apologies to Rosenstock-Hussey] Raw facts are  tyrannical. They can be bullying. Why? Because there is no time!  In today’s world of instant blogging, posting, tweeting and messaging there is no time beyond the blur of information, no time to verify facts.

So,for the sake of my blood pressure and for my sanity,  I’m back in time. From this perspective the past looks quiet. Calm. Unassuming. There is the meme going around Facebook I’m glad I grew up before social media. Most of which claim the giddy feeling because they grew up in the 70s or 80s. Ha! No, before that, back when there were only two, maybe three channels on the TV and they the pictures were black and white. Back when we were informed via newspapers via teletype. When phone calls across the US were a big deal, never mind from continent to continent. Not quite the covered wagon, pony express, not quite.

It’s 1954. The Congo. The more educated black part of the population is beginning to understand that it is not enough to ‘act’ white, or more, correctly, Belgian. It is not enough to be educated the way the Belgian government allows. Now is the rise of the evolue, the most prominent is Patrice Lumumba.

It is 1954. The United Nations. Dag Hammarskjöld is the second Secretary General. He is considered a technocrat, an administrator. He takes over a demoralized organization, traumatized by the ‘red scare’, the McCarthyism in the US, the clash of communism versus capitalism.

The turmoil, politically and culturally,  in Congo, over a hundred plus years,  is a story of personal gain oppressing a native people, of national interests obscuring sovereignty, and of  the willingness of world to allow it all to happen.

 

Winter

Winter, the season, officially started at 5:44 AM on Wednesday, December 21, 2016.

For me winter starts when it snows. then you can get a cosy fire going, enjoy the fascination of wood burning, and do nothing for hours whiling your time away feeling like a closet arsonist. And, it is a time to find your flannels, long-sleeved tees, and be appropriately dressed to never leave the house.

So, winter is perfect for writing, minus the whiling hours of staring. For me, it was the perfect time to edit. I don’t like to edit. It’s a thing. I don’t re-read books. I don’t memorize whole sentences/paragraphs, let alone phrases. Unless they are part of the vernacular, then no, they are not part of my lexicon. The whiling thing, however, feels so wasted and this year I printed off both my middle grade novels that are mostly done, but we all know, a novel is never really done, and I sat with pen and highlighter in hand to check all the spacing, spelling, paragraphs, consistencies, and chapters so that I could follow through on my 2017 #oneword resolution. Choose.

You know a submission is ready when you can’t think of another thing to do to it, when everyone who’s read it, beta readers, critique partners; all say, send, done. So, okay.

The snow that God gave is beginning to go away. It’s cool, but not cold. Winter is not over, but that feeling of quiet and alone time, of do not disturb time, of me time is now swiftly exiting stage right. This is a new time. #submittime #choosetime. Find the names, follow the rules. PRESS SEND!

PS. that sweet little voice is E, ‘no, thank you’ is the translation 🙂

 

Needing Better Reasons

This is not something I normally do, but this past weekend, I watched all of Longmire on Netflix. I had been a fan of the show and with the Netflix pick up I went  back and watched from the pilot through to season five for two reasons: one, I wanted to make sure I had all my plot threads and character growth issues firmly in hand, and two, I was watching off the regular channels and there was no possibility of watching any political news–a decided plus. Yes, sigh. A win win.

So here’s the basic story: Longmire is a throw-back to the hard-bitten outside, well-educated inside, taciturn and nonjudgmental sheriff cowboy of myth.  Yes, myth because I was raised in the west. I have always been uneasy with this character because the west is hard and unforgiving. But to the series….

The series starts a year after the murder of Longmire’s wife who was dying of cancer. There is a lot of misdirection in the beginning about who actually murdered the murderer of Martha Longmire. While the show centers on Walt Longmire, there are ongoing side threads–Vic Morretti and her husband, Branch Connolly and his dad, Jacob Nighthorse and his casino and there is Henry and his native american spirituality to name just a few.

I liked the ongoing mysteries-although, damn, a lot of people are murdered in a small county in Wyoming–but that is the nature of a series, so…. And, in truth, the scenery is amazing. As I watched the series unfold, I was okay with the handling of Longmire’s supposed guilt in the death of the murderer and the fact that the suspicion rocked back and forth between Walt and Henry. Detective Failes was a red-herring leading us to another clue and so was [is] Jacob Nighthorse. I think.

A lot of the initial storyline centers on the death of Martha and the fact that only Walt and Henry know. And therein is my problem. I don’t think I have ever understood the idea of not telling someone something because it will protect them, but it seems to be a standard theme, especially on television. I think protecting is the absolute worse reason to lie or not tell. Lie because you can’t deal with the truth. Lie because you are ashamed of the truth. Lie because you don’t really know. But to tell yourself that you are lying to protect someone else, I’m going with just plain stupid. So when Walt doesn’t tell Cady about the murder to protect her I’m asking from what exactly is he protecting her?  And, really, how very banal of the writers! What a cheap trick. It reminds me of Avatar, the movie. James Cameron? Seriously, the guy spends seven years developing the technology and the story line is almost not there…unobtanium? That’s the metal that is on this far off planet? Ah, but I digress….

And, on the flip side, I don’t really get the idea of someone being totally indignant because they were protected. Someone loved them. Don’t we all want to be protected, kept from harm, why are we not grateful that we are saved from the bad stuff?

So there is the insipid reason for lying and then, there is a new thing for me, character growth. This has been coming slowly, very,  as I’ve been writing. It’s strange that I say that because that’s not what I think expected as a kid. My hero character was one who solved the mystery. Or went on  an adventure. I didn’t expect the character to be a better person or a changed person and I don’t really remember if they did or they didn’t–that wasn’t the point. The point was the plot.

So,  between the on-going stoic behavior, the lying issue and the lack of change, and while I liked Walt in the beginning of the series, by the end of season five I was getting very tired of how we saw Robert Taylor’s square jawed face in some kind of agony. Add to that,  I find I have little sympathy for a character who makes his own misery. And it seems we get a lot of that in television. Is that the only kind of drama writers can come up with? Seriously?

So, now we are done with season five. Walt has decided, finally, that he wants to resolve all his issues and just move on. He’s let go of Martha’s ashes, he’s in a new-sort of- relationship. Cady is doing her own thing and he recognizes he’s spun out of control and he needs to get balance. He wants to put the lawsuit behind him. So, what do the writers do? They give us the supposed reason for the lawsuit from Barlow Connolly’s estate–that Barlow wants to turn Walt’s spread into a premier golf course. Yep, that’s right…oh, the indignity.

The only problem is, at no time that I can find in the first five seasons, do we get any clue as to the reasons for Barlow’s loathing of Walt, nowhere. Which leaves me, with all of this emoting, asking do I really care enough to stay around and find out.