Can you believe we're wrapping up our FIFTH week?! Me neither.
I hope many of you are starting to feel writerly, and some of you are wrapped up in that exciting phase of seeing that you can actually make a story come alive before your very eyes. I hope there are hooky beginnings and vomit drafts appearing, and for some of you, maybe you are in the thick of revision.
I hope it is fun to share here, and that you take something from it -- at a minimum, the sense that writing can be a community sport where you can get input and advice from others who want you to succeed.
Speaking of which, I have another Algonquin Young Readers ** co-hort with me this week,
the fabulous Amy Herrick whose first middle grade novel, The Time Fetch (SLJ starred review, ages 10+) comes out from AYR on August 27th.
Amy says of Time Fetch: "The original notion for this story came from my suspicion that there isn't as much time as there used to be. I wondered if it was possible that something had gotten into our world and was stealing the stuff. Out of this arose a winter solstice fantasy/science fiction story about four young people who accidentally let loose just such a dangerous and insatiable power."
Please look for Time Fetch in August and add it to your classroom shelves and library!
Amy is also an educator, a mom, and the author of two novels for adults: At the Sign of the Naked Waiter and The Happiness Code.
So, without further ado (except a reminder to read the FRIDAY FEEDBACK RULES if you haven't been here before), I give you Amy and a chance to give and get feedback!
|Amy, taking a writing break with her pal.|
Dear Writers! What kind of madness is this? To invent characters. To make up stories for them. To get them down on paper in such a way that they tempt a reader to come in and sit down. And then to keep the reader sitting by the fire, listening until the very last word. What hubris! What chutzpah!
Yet here we are, oh brave and intrepid ones. It is Friday. We will stick out our necks. We will dare to try our hands at this heroic and necessary thing, for where would the world be without the story tellers?
I notice that the Friday conversation often turns to the brain freezing problem of how, exactly, to find your way from the beginning to the end of your story. Best to start out with a map, a plan? Best to just close your eyes and plunge ahead without turning around till you’ve got a draft? Best to go moseying along, erasing and adventuring and discovering as you go? Do not imagine that I know the answer. But I do love Geoff Herbach’s advice to try writing into your tale a ways, and then begin a more serious outlining attempt. Sensible and workable advice, I think. I’m going to try to remember it, but here’s a description of how it usually goes for me:
I begin with the intent to stay moving and not to stop. An idea or a character has come to me. I believe I sense the shape of the whole story stretching away into the distance. I leap up on my high horse. I urge us forward, a nudge with the knees, a little flick of the whip. Go my trusty steed. Do you see it? There’s something glimmering up ahead between the trees. Hurry, hurry before we lose it. And off we gallop for a few paragraphs or so, and then abruptly we slow down to a trot and shortly thereafter, we stop, not simply because there’s the usual: the unmarked fork in the road and then the mist that descends and causes us to lose our way and then the strange old woman who appears suddenly from out of the mist and wants to sell us a hatful of dried beans, but also because there’s a whole maddening swarm of questions buzzing around our heads:
What tense shall the story be told in? From whose point of view? Shall the narrator’s voice stand close or distant?
In any case, I end up slow as rust, as mud, as a snail on crutches. And much of it is misery. Some of it is rapture.
But I see I am veering off the track, as always, and the rapture is another question, a discussion for another day. Let me present the “problem” I am struggling with at the moment.
I recently finished The Time Fetch, which is about four middle graders (Feenix, Danton, Brigit and Dweebo) who discover that a power has accidentally gotten loose in our world and is feeding upon our time. They must attempt to stop the time foragers before the entire space-time continuum unravels. The story, told mostly in “close” third person, switches around, chapter by chapter, from one character to another. (When I started it, I had only one main character, but the book took things into its own hands, as it tends to do!) I found it a fearful challenge—trying to make each of the characters truly themselves, to make each voice distinct and someone the reader is eager to hear from again.
Now I have begun what appears to be a sequel to this tale (a summer solstice story—working title The Cemetery Dog)) and find myself fixated on questions of point of view and the position of the authorial voice in relation to the character’s voice. I feel something nudging me to play a bit with what I did in The Time Fetch and have begun Danton’s first chapter (which is the second chapter of this new book) in such a way that he becomes a type of “unreliable” narrator. He is telling a story to his younger brother, a third grader, who is sick in bed. Danton claims his story is fiction, and certainly, it is pretty implausible. But I am trying “suggest,” as he tells the story, that we are all on shifting ground, that some part of what he is telling his brother is not invention. Or that something else is going on that he is not revealing. Some of my motive is to create an interesting tension, an ambiguity that the reader will want to understand. Some of my motive is more mechanical. I also want to set up a device that I can use to throw light on what is happening to the other characters in the “outer” story.
So here it goes. Let me know any thoughts you have, if you think this is working or not. Too subtle? Too preposterous? And, are you curious to find out what is really going on?
And then, of course, I am eager to see what you will share of your own work!
“I’m gonna tell you a story.”
His little brother looked up at him curiously. “What kind of story? You mean like a made-up story?”
Danton hesitated. “Yes. A made-up story. A dog story.”
Jay loved dogs. “Go ahead, then.”
“Well, a long time ago there were four friends and they lived near here and, before this story begins, something impossible had happened to them.” Here, a gust of wind spattered the rain angrily against the window. Danton unfolded himself from the bed and went over looked out into the darkness.
“What? What’s out there?”
“Nothing,” Danton said. He came back and sat down on the bed.
Jay coughed and shook his head. “Well, okay then. What kind of impossible thing happened to these people?”
“I can’t say. I’m not allowed to talk about that. But the thing was that after this impossible thing happened they discovered they were under a…well, a curse, I guess. The curse was that they were being driven crazy by an itch they couldn’t scratch.”
“Oh, I hate that,” Jay said. “Where was the itch?”
“No, no, no. It wasn’t that kind of itch. Maybe it was more like a thirst. A craving. Like when you really, really want a chocolate milkshake. Only it wasn’t a milkshake they wanted.”
“OK. What was it that they really, really a wanted?”
“They wanted to go back to the place where the impossible thing had happened to them. They wanted to go into Prospect Park.”
“Prospect Park?! Our Prospect Park?!”
“I don’t understand. Why didn’t they just walk into the park, if that’s what they wanted to do so bad?”
“Well, they tried, of course. But that was the thing. Every time they got near one of the park entrances something always seemed to stop them. Once it started to hail—these big killer chunks of ice, shaped like macaroons. Once a tree just uprooted itself and fell down right across the sidewalk in front of them and almost made them into paninis. Then, last week they were just going in the Ninth Street entrance---“
Danton looked startled. “Oh, well…that was just a figure of speech.”
In the dim illumination of his Star Wars nightlight, Jay examined his older brother suspiciously. “Well, OK. So what happened at the Ninth Street entrance and where’s the dog come into it?”
- Amy (& gae!)