Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Feedback: A True Story from Avi . . . and Character-Building.



So, as many of you know, I had a BIG birthday this week.

And what better birthday week present than to have an author participate here on my blog whose work I not only admire, but also read aloud to my own boys when they were younger!

Talk about the perks of becoming a published writer...

When Avi offered to guest host a Friday Feedback, I thought (omg! omg!) what to ask him to talk about?!?! I scrolled through his blog -- which is rich with wonderful writing information, by the way) and came across a version of this post he shares below here on Character Building. It so resonated with me, that I asked if we could head in that direction.
This was weeks ago, and, so, I was particularly excited when, last Friday, the issue came up in the comments about a character describing himself by looking in the mirror.

Like starting a story with the weather or a character waking up from a dream, it is, of course, a "common-wisdom-says" no-no to have a character describe him or her self using this technique. As I wrote in the comments, however, I have mixed feelings about this hard rule against (and most hard and fast rules for or against anything). I do believe there are times when a character -- especially a teen girl -- will look at her image in the mirror and react to what she (or she) sees, and that this action, and its reveal (the character's subjective perspective on what she sees), is right and organic for the story.

From The Summer of Letting Go.
My editor left it in, so I assume she was okay with it too.

It did get me thinking again about how hard it is to describe a character well, to figure out the right amount of description and make it occur organically.

When it comes to a character's physical description:

  • How much is good and needed? 

  • How much should a writer leave to the reader to fill in? And, 

  • Even if you don't describe your character to a great degree in your story, do you, the writer, need to know what he or she looks like in detail, in order for that character to feel authentic and come alive on the page?


Here to talk more about this is the author of more amazing books than I can count, including in no particular order, the Newbery, and other award, winning winning Crispin: The Cross of Lead, Poppy, Nothing But the Truth, and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, as well as the forthcoming Catch You Later, Traitor, March 2015 from Algonquin Young Readers. You'll learn more about the story below in his post!

As always, I hope you will pick up the book when it comes out and share it with your students in your classroom!

So, without further ado, here's Avi.


Here is a true story.
Of all my books, Bright Shadow, took the longest to write—fourteen years.  


Of course, I did not work on it continually all those years, but picked up, put it down, until, finally, it was done.  I was rather obsessed with it, a medieval fantasy, about a girl who is given—without her knowing it—five wishes.  In the text, there is very little physical description of the girl. 
A few months prior to the publication of the book, I dropped into my editor’s office. “So glad you came by. We just got the art for the cover of Bright Shadow.”  He held it up. I looked at itMy instantaneous thought was, That’s not her nose.
I am not aware that I ever thought of her nose before—nor did that nose have any consequence for the story-- but unconsciously, I must have pictured her because, the artist had not depicted her nose as I had imagined it. 
Did I say anything to my editor? No.  I felt silly. But I do believe that knowing—albeit unconsciously—what my character looked like, helped me write that book.
I thought about this because my next book, Catch You Later, Traitor, will be published early next year. It is, as they say, in production.  The story is told by Pete, in the first person. Just recently, I received this note from my editor’s assistant:
“One more thing: Our art director has asked me for a physical description of Pete, to give to the jacket illustrator. I’m looking through the manuscript and not finding anything too specific. Would you mind letting me know how you picture Pete?”
In other words, though this book has been in my head—and on paper--for something like eight years, actively working on it for four years, only then was I required to think (consciously) what my lead character looks like.
I quickly wrote back (note: the story is set in 1951):
“He’s 12 years old, just about to go into his growth spurt. (His best friend, Kat, the girl in the story, is taller than he is.) But at the moment, his is youthful looking, not particularly adolescent. Rather innocent, in fact, though on the edge of growing older. Stands tall. Wants to be tall. No slouch. Wishes his voice was lower. I’d bet his hands seem a little big, likewise feet, but not his ears. Nose, blunt, round.  Round cheeks. His eyes are dark and that is the most intense aspect about him. He looks at things, people. Curious. He will be tall, (taller than his father) and on the slim side, long faced. He would like to look like a lean, hard faced movie detective…but won’t, ever. Black hair. Curly. Not particularly neat in dress or hair. Wears Converse sneakers. Lumpy vest sweaters his grandmother knits. Collared shirts. No t-shirts to school. Might have a denim Eisenhower jacket. There is nothing athletic about him—but he enjoys playing sports, punch ball, dodge ball, stoop ball—city sports. He’s a reader, but does not wear eyeglasses. There are not many laughs in the book, but I bet he has a good grin, and he likes jokes. When he is worried, it is obvious.”
 
Voila! The beautiful cover for Catch You Later, Traitor,
coming March 2015 from Algonquin YR.
My point is this: knowing your character outside your book will help you write about him—or her—inside the book.  

So, given that it's Friday Feedback, let's think and post about character today: Either a literal moment of character description that you're working with or trying to get right, or a section where you're hoping your outside knowledge of your character's physicality will help you get the inside passage right. See, as you read Avi's excerpt, if you can feel how his knowing his character physically helped him to develop the character's personality.

And, please remember the RULES: What works first, what doesn't if something doesn't, and keep it short, please. NO MORE than 5 paragraphs if short, or 3 paras. if they are long. 

My huge thanks to Avi for being here. 

Now, the first few paragraphs from Catch You Later, Traitor. Enjoy!



Catch You Later, Traitor

CHAPTER 1

The way I see it, I stopped being a kid on April 12, 1951.
That afternoon we were playing our regular afternoon recess punch ball game out in the schoolyard. I was about to smack the ball when Big Toby, who always played catcher, muttered, “Hey, Pete, that true about your parents?”
I looked over my shoulder. “What?”
“Is what Donavan said about your parents true?”
I stared at him as if he had walked off a flying saucer. Why would Mr. Donavan--our seventh grade teacher--say anything about my parents? And how come I hadn’t heard?
“Come on, Collison,” Hank Sibley yelled at me. He was near second base, which was someone’s sweater. “Stop gabbing. Recess almost up.”
He blew a huge bubble with his gum that popped as I punched a shot inside third.
Kat, the only girl playing, raced home.
Our schoolyard was cement, which meant if you slid home, you’d peel off your skin. So no sliding allowed. Anyway, Kat stomped on her geography text—our home plate--and yelled “Dodgers win!” well before the ball was thrown home.
Grinning, I stood on first base--my English reader. Next moment the school bell clanged. Recess over, we grabbed our stuff and headed back to class.
“Kicky hit,” Kat said to me.
Kat’s real name was Katherine Boyer. Some people considered her a tomboy. I couldn’t have cared less. She and I had been sitting next to each other ever since fourth grade. In fact, we did most things together—school, homework, movies, radio and TV. Her mother once said we were back and forth between apartments so much, it was hard to know who lived where. Kat was like the other half of my brain.
“Thanks,” I said, but Big Toby’s question—“that true about your parents?”—kept bouncing ‘round my head like a steel marble in a lit-up pinball machine.

We poured into Brooklyn’s Public School Number 10. The old brick building had no music room, no art room, no library, and no gym. All the same, it stank like a locker room. 
________________________  

- gae & Avi

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Feedback: Pushing Your Idea to New Heights


With Huntley Fitzpatrick at
Eight Cousins Books
where we googley-eyed a lot of covers.
 
Hey all! I had an amazing time at Eight Cousins Books on the Cape, and Bunch of Grapes on Martha's Vineyard last weekend, and somehow a whole 'nother week has gone by. . .

This week, I finally finished my rewrite/overhaul of my manuscript. Now, I've started reading through it trying to figure out if it's good or if it's total crap.

As I've said before, yes, the chasm of not-knowing is that wide. We get too close to the point where only time, and a few sets of more objective eyes, will start to tell.

As I was finishing up the revision this week, I got this great post from this week's guest author/feedbacker, Nova Ren Suma. Honestly, it took my breath away a bit, and made me want to go back in, and try to push my writing more, once again. A thousand sighs when that happens, but, man, do I learn a lot from other authors.

Lovely and pensive Nova Ren.
So, if you don't know Nova Ren Suma for some reason, you should. She is the author of the YA novels Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone. We're not only literary agency "sisters" both with Dystal & Goderich, but we're publishing house sisters now, too: her new novel, TheWalls Around Us, comes out March 2015 from Algonquin YR. Already, I'm hearing some pretty awesome buzz around it. So please add her earlier books, and especially WALLS to your must-read lists! 

So, here you go, you lucky ducks. Here's Nova:

Last week you got some great advice here on Friday Feedback on beginnings, and now I’m here to trip you up and ask, So you have an awesome first few pages… Great! But what comes next?

Some of us (not naming names… though her initials are NRS) have been known to spend weeks, even months, polishing up that novel opening, getting it just so and just right, only to discover that we’ve lost momentum and aren’t exactly sure where our story should go next. This is often the moment when it feels so easy to give up… To set the novel aside… To see what’s on TV or who’s saying what on Twitter…

But wait.

Maybe what you need to do is push your idea to new heights—and by that I mean, sometimes the most excitement moments of writing come when you get creative and do something shocking. When you raise the stakes.

Here’s an example: 

When I was writing the very first exploratory draft of my novel Imaginary Girls, all I knew at first was that it would start with two sisters at a party at a reservoir in the middle of the night. I had a lot of dramatic happenings I knew would threaten their close relationship, but there wasn’t any BIG, WORTHY moment coming at them head-on that would shake things up.

I was writing a scene in which the older sister, Ruby, dared the young sister, Chloe, to swim across the reservoir in the night.

I lost myself when Chloe was swimming. There was backstory I wanted to insert. There was scene description I got carried away with writing. There were memories. There were pieces to Chloe’s character that I wanted to subtly introduce. There was a lot, and for quite a while she was treading water while I wrote my way through them.

Then it occurred to me: Wouldn’t this scene be way more interesting if something active HAPPENED, like, right now?

But what?

Something mysterious.

Something shocking.

Something that would turn this scene—and this story—on its head.

That’s how, on a whim, I decided to have Chloe swim into a dead body.

Everything changed about the story from that moment, through this sudden experiment. It opened new doors. It gave new possibilities. It offered mystery. And it gave me the chance to really raise the stakes and make some exciting, promising story choices.

So here’s my advice to you when you find yourself treading water in your story, not sure where to go next:

  • ·       Make something active happen to throw your character off-course
  • ·       Raise the stakes of your story
  • ·      Give yourself the opportunity to make interesting choices
  • ·       Surprise your character and surprise your readers…
  • ·       And you may just surprise yourself


If you want to see what happened with that dead body in the water, you can go read the first chapter of ImaginaryGirls, which was published in 2011. But if you want to see me working through that very same problem in a brand-new piece of fiction, because it's Friday Feedback, now you have your chance.

Here’s an excerpt from a project I’m working on in which I decided to raise the stakes in a scene—possibly with a fantastical twist—and then see where that might take me.

So what do you think? Don’t forget the rules: What works? What doesn't, if something doesn't? And… imagining this comes some ways into the story, would this keep you reading? 

(And, when you're posting your excerpts please remember NO MORE THAN 5 paragraphs if they're short, no more than 3 paragraphs if they're long!)

   
I hand over my set of keys, and it’s when my cousin Misha is walking away, descending the rows of bleachers, that I discover this thought inside me. It’s a bad, unbuttoned thought. I want something to keep her from getting to the car.
I guess I simply want Misha to stumble on the bleachers and drop my keys so I can take them back, maybe fall in the dirt and mess up her cheer uniform. That’s not what happens.
It’s a coincidence, I decide, that the wind comes right then. But is it?
A wild, whipping howl grows in force and slams straight into the bleachers, jolting the entire structure. The weather reports had given an all-clear before the game, but they must’ve gotten it wrong. A storm must have been coming, because it’s roaring all around us now. It’s directly overhead.
There’s a burst of rain, gushing down on us and then leaving us dry as quickly as it came, but that’s nothing. It’s the continued battering of wind. The wind that overtakes the field behind the high school, threatening to raise the bleachers from the ground and transport them with us clinging into Lake Erie.
The wind swirls, and I swear it seems to be centering itself around my cousin in her dark red cheer skirt. It’s like an animal, the way it comes for her. Like it wants to devour her.
I watch as she’s taken, lifted from the bleachers into the swirling sky.
She’s forced up from the bottom as if her teammates have her feet, but there are no teammates to spot her and there’s nothing under her feet. She climbs into the air, held by nothing, her arms out grabbing nothing, the nothing flapping and slapping at her clothes, trouncing her hair.
The bleachers are far below her now, the flashing 0 of the home team’s score at level with her bright blond head. She writhes in the wind, and then straightens. She’s suspended, her body frozen, her eyes on me.
I find myself moving toward her, my arms reaching up and out for her, but my fingers can only graze the toe of one white sneaker. Then they can’t even latch on to that, because she’s lifted beyond the reach of my fingers, into the rattling, shuddering roar at the heart of the windstorm.
I’ve never seen anything like this before. Or wait—have I?
I have. 
_____

Nova and I will both be here around 11 EST this morning, and not before, so please don't worry if we're not here until then.
And, as for the ARC drawing last week for Amy's A Matter of Heart, I forgot (see, finishing manuscript), so I promise, I'll go back and do it this week (and announce it midweek!).  Happy writing!

- Nova & gae

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday Feedback: Fresh Beginnings

Just a bunch o' writers putting it out there... 

... and, HERE WE GO! Summer 2014 of Teachers Write Friday Feedback is on!

*everybody breathe*

Good! Are we ready?


If you haven't read THE RULES, STOP HERE!

=====================================================
=====================================================
(Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200).

Please read the RULES and abide by them! There are a LOT of you (Yay!!) and I don't yet know how many of you are going to BE BRAVE and participate here (hopefully many!), so there could be a lot of excerpts. Please keep them brief so we can get to them all!

As a reminder, I am travelling today en route to EIGHT COUSINS BOOKS in Falmouth MA (please stop by after 3 pm if you are nearby -- or tell nearby friends -- and say hi!). I will also be at BUNCH OF GRAPES in Martha's Vineyard on Saturday! (same -- same!), so you may hear from me very little before late night tonight, but you are in incredibly capable hands with my dear and talented writer friend Amy Fellner Dominy, author of OyMG, AUDITION & SUBTRACTION and the forthcoming YA, A MATTER OF HEART (Delacorte 2015) (Double yay!!!!)

Speaking of which, here's an awesome little book surprise for you all: This is the first I'm ever doing of one of these. I get to do Amy's A MATTER OF HEART COVER REVEAL!!!!


(Hey! If you did not click on that video, go back and do so. We need full atmospheric sound effects here!)


Ah, isn't it lovely?!?! Congrats, Amy!!!
In further celebration, Amy has agreed to give away a signed ARC to one of today's participating TW FF campers, so I will do a random drawing next week and let you know at the beginning of next week's post! We're awesome, I know!

my lovely friend, Amy. 
Okay, without any more of my rambling, here's Amy to talk about

Fresh BEGINNINGS:

I’m thrilled to help kick off the beginning of Friday Feedback with a discussion of—what else—beginnings!  

If you’re just beginning a story, you know it’s both exciting and terrifying.  You can’t wait to bring your idea to life…but where do you start? And how? 


There are so many elements to introduce at the start of a story:

•Characters

•Setting

•Your voice and style

•Mood and atmosphere

All of these elements are vital to hooking a reader, but I’m going to suggest there’s something even more important to introduce on your very first page. Something that will make your beginning stand out:

A problem.

At its most basic level, stories are about people with problems.  As readers we’re hooked when we start wondering, “What’s will happen?  What will they do?  How will this turn out?”

Study the opening paragraphs of your favorite books and see if you don’t discover a problem.  For instance, in the first Harry Potter, by the end of page one we know the Dursley’s have a dark secret and it’s their greatest fear that it will be uncovered.  In The Hunger Games, we know by the end of the first paragraph that fear is working through the family.  That “This is the day of the reaping.”

To write a great beginning, start with a great problem.

This isn’t always easy.  OK, so it’s never easy.  But here’s something to try that usually works for me: 

Start your book at a moment of change

This is sometimes called The Inciting Incident.  Think of it this way:  Your character’s life is chugging along as usual and then something happens to change everything.  A problem is introduced.  Or maybe an opportunity?  There’s a death.  A visit.  A tornado.  An accident. A murder. A trip.  A new job.  Someone new moves to town.  Something is uncovered…discovered. 
 
Whatever it is that happens, life can not go on as it did before.  That’s the moment of change.  And it can be a heck of a great place to start your story.

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.” The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan
“Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.  We’re moving today. I’m so scared, God.”    Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret by Judy Blume

What is that moment in your story? 

Write it down. 

If you can’t write it down, if you’re not sure what it is or if there really isn’t one, then you may not have enough conflict in your book.  Give your character a problem—the bigger the better—and show us why now. What’s just happened?  What’s just changed? 

If you’ve got it written down, then ask yourself this:

Can I start my book when everything changes?  If not, how close can I come? 

Of course, there will be exceptions.  Maybe you have a character that is so unique, you first have to introduce us to that person and their daily life.  That’s okay.  You’ll hook us with voice and character, like Sherman Alexie did for me in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which begins with the line: “I was born with water on the brain.” (Which is actually a problem.)

If you’re writing fantasy, paranormal or sci fi, you probably have to set up the world and the type of people who live in it.  Even so, you can hint at the problem through the details you show. 

For example, in The Program by Suzanne Young (a world where teen suicide is epidemic), the first paragraph is just a description of a girl sitting in her school classroom.  But, the windows are sealed shut—in case anyone gets the urge to jump.  Immediately, I know that something is wrong in this world and I’m hooked.

What is the detail in your story that will keep us reading? Can you sneak it in to the first page…the first paragraphs?

With all of that said, the best way to know if an opening grabs a reader, is to go to the source and ask. And since it's Friday Feedback, that's exactly what we'll do today. Below is the beginning of A MATTER OF HEART. I invite you to be brave and post your beginning in the comments. 

And, remember the rules: What works? What doesn't, if something doesn't? And mostly, since it's a beginning, does it hook you? 



I can’t breathe.

There’s no time.  

All around the pool, coaches yell and pace along the edge of the pool as if that’ll make us swim faster.  Parents shout out names I can’t hear.  In the water, it’s a different kind of sound.  The whoosh and thrum of the surface  breaking over my cap.  The churn of arms and the fizz of an exhale.  The chant of pull, pull that I repeat in time with the Bmm Bmm of my heart. 

Mostly, I just hear the scream of my burning lungs.

I don’t listen.

In the last leg of a hundred free, there’s no time for breathing.  Not if you want to win.

Pull, pull


Twenty-five yards left.  That’s it.  Almost in reach.  Everything I want is almost within reach.  

_________


- Amy & gae






Thursday, July 3, 2014

Friday Feedback: Introductions and THE RULES

photo credit: Rick Kopstein

Hey all you lovely Teachers Write! campers,

I'm so (effing) excited to see some of my "old" regulars back and meet some new shiny lovelies here at TW! and Friday Feedback.

We won't officially start until NEXT Friday (so don't be sneaking any excerpts in the comments for me to read, but DO say hi and/or introduce yourself so I start getting a handle on the names**). But, I did want to take a luxurious moment to introduce myself properly to any newbies, and explain THE RULES of Friday Feedback fully here, so I don't take up any space on next week's post, since next week I'll only be "half" here (I'll explain below), and besides guest author, Amy Fellner Dominy, has a ton of amazing stuff to say to you about BEGINNINGS (stuff that helped ME -- a seasoned "pro" *coughs* -- this week when I was reading her draft post and getting it ready for posting) so I don't want to bog her post down.

Seriously, you guys, you are SO crazy lucky to have the advice of the amazing guest authors Kate and I somehow get to help us out every summer! If you haven't seen Kate's lineup for any reason, read HERE. I'll share mine at the way bottom below. For sure, all of them are way smarter on this stuff than "seat-of-my-pants" old me which is why I love doing this so much. I learn something new every week!

So, first, who I am (if you know all this already, just scroll down to the RULES): Well, you can read all about me HERE, but what you really can't read there is that I didn't start writing (again) until my mid-thirties, so I'm an "It's never too late," story.

I'm also a "life-is-full-of-rejection" and "perseverance-is-the-key-to-success" story as you will now see.

I wrote a ton as a kid and a teen, and even into college, but then went to law school where, I'm fond of saying, I had the creativity sucked right out of me. I got married, practiced law, had kids, and then, in my early to mid thirties really missed the creative side of me. Of course, with two babies at home and part time work, I had little time to write. I'd go down to my basement where my computer was between 10 pm and 3 am, when my colicky, night owl babies might actually be asleep. I wrote furiously, not knowing where I was going with it, or whether I even had a book in me. It took me about 5 years to finish my first manuscript, a piece of women's fiction that, after two years of solid rejection, finally got me agented ("Has anyone ever told you that your writing reminds them of Nicole Krauss?"). With great hope and talk of six-figure deals, that manuscript ("mss" often) got submitted to -- and rejected by -- well over 30 publishers! (I still have to breathe through when I type that).

During that time, I wrote a second piece of women's fiction. My then-agent and even a second agent loved that mss even better, so now we were really on our way!

Except that that mss also amassed an endless slew of amazingly complimentary rejections: "gorgeous writing," "compelling story," always followed by a big, bold, neon-glowing "but. . . "

It's an extraordinary and surreal feeling to have that
first box of author's copies arrive. . .
Then, about 8 years from the date I started writing again, I wrote THE PULL OF GRAVITY, and less than a year later, I sold it to the extraordinary Frances Foster. And the rest they say is history.

(The rest, I say, is an ongoing battle of writing, breathing, hoping, rewriting, and not knowing. But it's all good, I promise you.)

Anyway, I tell you that story. . . well, you know why I tell you that story. The writing biz is a tough one. Writing a good story is hard. It's full of work, tedium, rewrites, rejection, self-doubt and exhilaration. It's that last one that keeps us going.

It never gets old seeing your
work on the shelves of a bookstore
This March, my second novel, THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO, came out.

If you took a minute to click on that link, you'll see it took you to a pretty lovely review in the Sunday Children's Book Review section of the (effing) New York Times! Like I said, exhilaration. 

I hope many of you here will buy, borrow or steal it (okay, fine, not steal it) and read it, and find some moment of lovely connection. If your TBR is too huge and you have any summer road trip plans, it's also out in audiobook and the narrator, Tara Sands, does a tremendous job.

Okay, enough about me, onto Friday Feedback and the RULES:

Every week, as part of the FF post, my guest author or I will prepare a writing-related blog post and at the end, we will share a BRIEF excerpt from one of our Works in Progress ("WIP" often) that will hopefully illustrate a bit of what we are talking about. Because the excerpt we share will be from a WIP, we, too, will often be filled with the self-doubt and fear of sharing that many of you will come here toting in your first days. Read that again.

Why do we subject ourselves to this?


One of the slides from my part of our NCTE 13 presentation!

I have a saying: Brave is as brave does. So, we, the "published authors" open ourselves up to the same constructive feedback we hope to give you, because we need it and because, ultimately, it's the eyes of objective readers that help us to see the gems and, sometimes, the flaws we need to see. Otherwise, so much of the work we do is in solitude, in a vacuum, and we plod along not knowing.

To be clear, this FF system is not a perfect one. It is very hard to assess a piece of story out of context, from just a brief sample. And so all feedback here must be taken with a grain of salt. On the other hand, over the years, we've found it helpful and often exhilarating, so on and on we go.

So, back to the RULES: At the end of the blog post, we'll post a brief excerpt and ask you for three specific pieces of feedback in the comments:

1. What works for you? 

2. What doesn't if anything, and why?

3. If it's a beginning, does it hook you? If it's not, does it compel you to keep reading?

Now, read that again. Notice the order. If you are a teacher I beg of you, never grade or assess a student's writing without telling them first something that works, what they've done right, before you correct them or offer constructive criticism (which in any writer's mind, especially a kid writer, is akin to telling them what they've done wrong). Hopefully over the course of this summer you'll see how much more open we all are to constructive criticism when we're given some honest praise first.

Once you have done that, you're invited to post your own BRIEF excerpt in the comments and we -- my guest authors and I, and even other Friday Feedbackers -- will offer you the same information in the comments.

By BRIEF, I mean brief. Regardless of how short or long our shared excerpts are, please limit yours to between THREE (3) and FIVE (5) PARAGRAPHS, NO MORE, five if they're short, three if they are long (if it's a ton of dialogue, then we will adjust this rule accordingly). This is for our protection and yours. Ours because there can be up to 30 or more excerpts shared in a given day, and that's a whole lot of reading and feedbacking for my guest authors and me, and yours because I don't want there to be enough up there that, if someone "lifted" your words from my blog, you'd feel a significant piece of your story was plagiarized or stolen. It's the Wild West internets, after all.

Once in while I will do one of my patented SUPER SPEED FLASH EDITS on your excerpt if it lends itself to it, in which I will quickly eliminate unnecessary words that might bog the piece or pace down, change tenses, or combine sentences, etc. Small fixes that don't ever mess with your voice or your words, but illustrate a concept that may help your writing to pop and shine even more. If you don't want me to do a SSFE for any reason, speak up or forever hold your peace.

Oh, and last but not least, even though it is called Friday Feedback, you are welcome to post an excerpt through SATURDAY, and at least *I* (I can't guarantee my guest author) will give you feedback through the weekend. Please do NOT post past Saturday night, as any stragglers beyond that will likely lack comment as I will already be preparing the post for the next week.

And that's that. I will relink to these rules every week. Please read them, internalize them, and try to abide. We have a lot of fun on my blog, but the first goal is always to encourage, and never to tear down.

Me, super excited, un huh.

I'm truly super excited about this summer! As I mentioned, I'll only half be here next Friday (it seems to never fail that I am travelling during the first week, alas), as I will be en route to, and at, Eight Cousins Bookstore in Falmouth, MA. I will try to read posts as car internet service permits and will likely stop by late that evening after all my bookstuff is done. Providing I have service where I'm staying on Martha's Vineyard, for my Bunch of Grapes signing the next day. If you are near either of those venues, PLEASE come by and say hi, and let me know you are from Teachers Write!

Regardless of me, you will be in extraordinary hands with Amy Fellner Dominy, I promise you. Plus, we may have a little bookish surprise. . . so put your brave caps on, and get your beginnings ready to share!

And, now, last but not least, after Amy, here's the rest of my amazing Friday Feedback lineup (please click on the links, order their book(s) and/or request them in from your local library): Nova Ren Suma (7/18); Avi (7/25!!! I know!!! Pinch ME on that one too . . . ); Charlotte Bennardo (8/1); and William Ritter (8/8). Each of these amazing and generous authors is donating his/her time to me. Please share their titles and, when you love a book, be sure to spread the word and/or put up a review. ;)

xox gae

** if you post using an online name that doesn't identify you, please include your real first name in the comments when you post. It's very hard to hold on to a weird, fake online name when I'm trying to make a true connection with a writer.




Sunday, June 8, 2014

In loving memory of my extraordinary editor, Frances Foster

Last night, the world lost an extraordinary editor and human being, the loving and beautiful Frances Foster.

I was only lucky enough to work with Frances on one book, THE PULL OF GRAVITY (though as Frances and I discussed, I am equally and incredibly lucky to be in the hands of my new editor, Elise Howard). But, Frances was the first person, after years of rejection, to take one of my manuscripts on and champion it, and believe in me. We had a few lunches, many phone calls, and, I like to think, an immediate and extraordinary connection. I will never forget getting out of the elevator in the flatiron building on my first visit to discuss my new book deal, to find her greeting me in the hall.


Frances teased that I won the award for her authors who most clearly labeled
their manuscript versions submitted, this one "The Last Best Version."

To me, Frances was the epitome of warmth, wisdom, humility and grace. I can hear her voice on my answering machine, the way she said my name, and from that, whether she was calling with good news, or to comfort me about some silly snag with the book.



This note came after she asked if I might take a stab at writing jacket copy
for THE PULL OF GRAVITY. 


I will always strive to write stories that might make Frances proud of me. I'm sad, in our many in-person moments to not have taken a single "selfie" with Frances - she always seemed too regal and important to bother with such a trifle. Lord, I miss having that trifle now.


The tribute I wrote for Frances when she was honored by the Eric Carle Museum shortly before her stroke.

Frances has suffered greatly in the past 18 months. I hope she is at well-earned peace. A bunch of her authors lit candles for her Saturday night, all around the country, and she went peacefully, I think, guided surely by that light. 

Seems fitting since she guided us by such sure light.

With love to, and kinship with, her friends, family, and extraordinary authors. In that regard, I still marvel at the company I keep.

gae

Friday, June 6, 2014

The book dropped and I dropped the balls...


Remember me?

Yeah, me either. . . it's been a busy few weeks. . . I may have dropped a ball. All the balls. Whatever.

I was still juggling pretty well after the whirlwind two days of NYC Teen Author Festival,

Reading at Book Revue
and my own private book launch at Book Revue, Huntington,


and a bunch of local appearances including a few schools and libraries, and one of my patented 90-second YA author panel read events at the Dolphin Bookshop . . .

and the Fox Cities Book Festival in Wisconsin. . .

and the flu I came home with (dear god, let's not even talk about that flu. . .) followed by more local book stuff, (school visits, Skype visits, book clubs). . .

But then, there was an intense, amazing week in Indiana with Reading for Life (I must write a whole blog post about that because it was one of the most rewarding weeks of my life, but until I find the time, you can watch a little NEWS PIECE about the program and my visit HERE, if you want.

With the extraordinary founder of Reading for Life, Alesha Seroczynski at the Kroc Center,
South Bend, talking about how books can save kids lives...
I spent one day at The Crossing (an incredible alternative school for kids who have either been expelled, or otherwise couldn't cut it at their mainstream high school and are now thriving in this program) . . .

and another day in the Juvenile Justice Center with five different groups all reading The Pull of Gravity. . .

then an evening at the Kroc Center, pictured above...

I had my own end cap at the
Mishwaka B&N!

With Amy and Heather from Reading for Life!

There was also a writers workshop somewhere in there and an evening at Barnes & Noble in Mishawaka, IN.





Even typing this now, I don't know how I did it all!

Super double money bonus: spending time with Sherry Gick and
Kathy Burnette, librarians extraordinaire!
But I did.

I did!

And after all that, as long as I was there, there was also a pretty amazing school visit to NorthWood High School in Nappanee, IN, with the awesome Kelly Vorhis and her students






... a day I will not soon forget.


And, the icing -- and, oh, how I love icing -- was THIS amazing review of THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO in the Sunday Children's Book Review Section of the New York Times.



and this pretty cool piece in Mashable!


Anyway, things are finally settling back down, though my summer is pretty chock-full of Skype visits and appearances, including in person at Eight Cousins in Falmouth, MA (7/11) (we WILL googly-eye all the books!), Bunch of Grapes in Martha's Vineyard (7/12), and Nicola's Books (in the works for 8/19!) in Ann Arbor, MI.

I'm trying (desperately) to finish a rewrite of a manuscript, and answer the call of the open water swim season which is in full and glorious force.

And, of course, our next uber-fantabulous summer of Teachers Write! starts July 7th!

If you are a teacher and don't know what it is, click that link. If you think you might like to participate, please join our facebook page, and look for tweets with the hashtag #teacherswrite!

So that's all. If you're looking for me, I'm over here scooping up balls.

If you haven't read THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO yet, I hope you'll add it to your summer reading list. I've been getting some wonderful feedback from readers and critics, and if you have a road trip in your future, I highly recommend the audiobook, and so does Audiofile Magazine!

Oh, and one more thing, if you have a book club of 5 or more people using THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO as its summer selection, I will be happy to Skype in for free! You can contact me via my email: g.polisner@gmail.com

So there you have it. Happy end of school year! Happy almost summer!

See you back here soon.

xox gae

Monday, April 21, 2014

Good on Paper, Reading for Life, and Catching Up

one fraction of the photos we took to get one good one...

People don't believe me, or think I'm being humble or something, when I try to explain that I'm just a mediocre, often-lazy, average human, wasting tons of precious time, who simply knows how to make herself look good on screen or on paper.

But, it's the truth, yo. I'm no fool. I know how to make myself look good "on paper." I know how to market myself, to sound busy and productive, and certainly how to take four thousand photos to get one good one (and then retouch that one several times to hide all the shadows and folds).

In the spirit of disclosure, now you know.

Really what I do daily, is long to be better and do more. To eat less and healthier, to get more exercise, and, mostly, to waste far less time. Life is short and I am getting rapidly older. I want to add more to this world.

And yet I often find myself distracted. Lazy. Not making the most of each day.

Not even really knowing how.

So when a chance to participate in an organization called Reading for Life basically fell into my lap, I jumped on it. I mean, how hard is it to jump at what's placed there? All I had to do was pop on my computer for a Skype visit and hang out with some kids who had read my book. Sure, maybe those kids have somewhat troubled pasts, when I have led a mostly-charmed life. So maybe I felt a twinge of nerves about how they might relate to me and my mostly unedgy, tween-safe THE PULL OF GRAVITY.

But, what was the worst that could happen? They'd be bored and jaded and hate me, and we'd spend a few awkward moments on Skype.

Of course, that's not what happened at all. Instead, we spent an amazing 45 minutes or so on Skype, and I hung up feeling lucky and more charmed for having the opportunity to use my book and newly-cultivated writer's life, to make a connection with some really-deserving kids.

A mutual affection society was born and I started doing what I could to spread the word of Reading for Life.

Fast forward to this May, when I will head out to South Bend, to spend some real, quality, one-on-one time with these kids, as well as with Alesha Seroczynski, the amazing founder and director of this organization, IN PERSON.

RFL, making ME look good on paper...

Although I'm not the best traveler (read, adult-onset fear of flying) I am SO looking forward to this visit, including a 5/20 appearance at the B&N University Park Mall at Mishiwaska, which I'm hoping may be full of some of the wonderful Nerdy Book Club peeps from that pocket of the US, and an all-day visit to North High School in Napanee, IN with Kelly Vorhis and her "kids," all in all another whirlwind visit to that beautiful section of the US.

Because, yeah, I just got back from there. A whirlwind two days at the Fox Cities Book Festival, in Appleton, Wisconsin, where between Friday and Saturday, I visited THREE high schools and two libraries, Appleton Public Library, and the Kimberly - Little Chute Library.

During my second visit, this one with the Writers Group at Appleton East
(after Appleton North, and before Appleton West)
All of that followed my book release party for The Summer of Letting Go at Book Revue Huntington (you can find photos at that link, if you wish), a 90-second Read Event at the Dolphin Bookshop with some of my favorite old and new MG & YA peeps, some sundry Skype and quick in-person visits, a few guest blog posts (Dear Teen Me, and Nerdy Book Club in particular) and, alas, a week of the dreaded flu upon return from my trip to Wisconsin.

Hopefully, I'm on the mend, and back at it all, and you're all caught up (to the extent that you wanted to be). I have LOTS of writing (and revising!) to do, my older son already finishing up his first year of college (?!?!), my youngest one driving with his permit, and getting ready for summer including another one full of Maccabi basketball, this time with "games" in Detroit. Plus, there's a visit to the wonderful Eight Cousins Bookstore in July.

With all that said, I've got a calendar full of appearances and events hopefully updated and fully-corrected HERE (see sidebar to the right), and maybe another super-secret, fabulous announcement here soon.

Maybe, maybe not. ;) Stay tuned.

xox gae