Tags: middle grade

The Emotional Stages of Revision

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: October 20, 2015
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As I’m revising my middle grade novel, I feel distracted. I feel alone. I feel like no one has ever felt this lousy and distracted and unproductive while revising a novel ever before in the history of literature.

So what do I do? I google my problem. I type in “revising a novel sucks.” I think I want to tell someone (the google search box?) how much it sucks. And I think maybe someone has blogged about it and I can read it so I won’t feel so alone. (Also, this googling mean I’m not working on revising my novel for the moment, which is good cause REVISING SUCKS.)

Anyway, I found this: The Ten Emotional Stages of Revising a Novel, by Farrah Penn on Bustle.com.

I have been in all of these stages! Resentment. Second guessing. Fear. Distraction. Maybe not always in this order but I have BEEN IN ALL OF THEM!

And I’ve come out on the other side before. So maybe I will again.

And maybe if you’re stuck in one of these stages, you will too.

Feel free to tell me all about. Turns out we are not alone…

Elizabeth Rusch

How to Deal with a Huge Pile of Comments

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: August 20, 2015
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Have you ever felt buried under a pile of manuscripts comments? My two critique groups generously agreed to read my whole middle-grade novel April Fool. So I had 10 copies printed and mailed them off.

All 10 members read them, poured their hearts, souls and intellects into reading and commenting. And now I face this:

Pile of April Fool manuscripts

(Wow, it looks so much more intimidating on my desk…believe me, its a huge pile.)

When I met with the two groups, the members gave me oral comments and I took notes furiously. But I don’t want to miss anything they may have written in addition, so I have to go through this huge pile. Did I mention that it is huge.?Or at least feels huge…

So how do I take a pile of marked up manuscripts and turn it into a plan? I start by pulling the first manuscript off the pile. I begin to read the comments. In Word I start two files: One is a list of notes on comments that I know I want to address. These comments and suggestions resonate with me, and I have a hunch that by making these suggested changes the manuscript will not only be better but will also be closer to what I want the book to be. The second Word doc is a list of notes on suggestions that I think are interesting but that I’m not sure I want do.

The first list becomes my master TO DO list for revision. The second list I will consider again after I have finished those revisions. After working with the manuscript on the first set of notes, I usually have a better idea of whether these suggestions will take me in the direction I want to go.

There is one more step to this manuscript mountain climbing process. The height of the pile is partially my own fault. Instead of printing the manuscripts double-sided to save paper, I print single-sided. That way I can flip through a manuscript, taking out all the pages that have no comments or that have comments or edits that I don’t want to do. This leaves me with a much smaller pile of the pages that have important comments or line edits that I want to input. Ahh, a smaller mountain.

This reviewing and sorting and weeding process helps me both ponder comments at my own pace and sets me up with a clear list of revisions I know I want to make.

And when I’m done with all these revisions and I’m ready to print out my new improved manuscript, I’ll have lots of recycled paper to print it on 🙂

Happy revising.

Elizabeth Rusch

A Lot to Read

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: June 20, 2015
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There have been times in the history of the Viva Scrivas when only one or two people were submitting work to be read most months. We wrung our hands about what to do about it, how everyone should be able to get something out of the meeting even if they didn’t submit, how to keep the group vital while reading only one or two people’s work.

Pile of PapersThe pendulum has swung recently. Everyone is super productive and super eager to get feedback on mostly long work. In our last meeting, we had 60 pages of an alternate history YA, 92 pages (single spaced) of a YA with documentary film making teen, 100 pages of a YA coming of age novel, and the last hunk of a YA novel set in Brazil.

The next month we’ll be tackling a whole MG novel (150 pages) and two chunks (50-100 pages) of two of the YA novels.

That’s a fair amount of reading.

So how do we do it?

First of all, when things seem to be heating up, when it seems like a lot of people want to share big chunks, we sketch out a schedule for submissions. That way we know what is coming when and can set aside reading time. It also helps prevent meetings with nothing to read and others with too much to read.

Also, we have a guideline (sometimes followed, sometimes not) that if you are submitting a large chunk (50 pages or more) you must submit a month, rather than just a week, before. Also as a courtesy, we offer print outs for longer chunks, especially full novels.

How do I personally manage all that reading? For one thing, I really look forward to it. I am excited to read my fellow-writers work, whether its pages I’ve never seen or a revision where I can see a work getting better and better.

I also print out all the submissions as the come in and put them on a table in my livingroom with a pen nearby, so I can curl up on the couch with the pages in the evening, away from my desk.

I try to get everything read a few days before the meeting so I have some time to let my thoughts percolate. I will often add a few notes last notes a few days after reading something or at the meeting itself.

Mostly I welcome a lot of reading from the Viva Scrivas. It means the group and the individual writers are on a roll. It means I have lots of great reading ahead. And finally, it means that I will likely learn a lot as I read and as we gather to share our thoughts on all this wonderful work. As ScrivaAmber once said: We learn as much by reading and commenting as we do by getting comments on our work.

Elizabeth Rusch

 

REVISING SCENES

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: April 20, 2015
Comments: 1 Comment

While revising my middle-grade novel April Fool, I have found Donald Maass’ THE FIRE IN FICTION to be enormously helpful. The whole book is terrific, but I’ve been focused on Chapter 3: Scenes that Can’t Be Cut. I have heard many times that a character should want something in every scene and that something should change for the character in every scene, but I haven’t always been sure about how to accomplish that. Using exercises Maass offers at the end of this chapter, I have created a scene worksheet that I have found helpful. Pick a scene, answer the following questions, and then revise the scene with your answers in mind.  I hope you find it as powerful as I do! The questions from my worksheet, adapted from The Fire of Fiction, follow below:

The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great

WHAT DOES YOUR CHARACTER WANT IN SCENE?

3 HINTS THAT HE/SHE MIGHT GET IT:

3 HINTS THAT HE/SHE WON’T:

NEW STRONG FIRST LINE:

NEW STRONG LAST LINE:

WHAT IS THE TURNING POINT, WHEN THINGS CHANGE?

HOW DOES THE CHARACTER SEE HIMSELF/HERSELF BEFORE TURNING POINT?

AFTER?

THREE SENSORY DETAILS DURING THE TURNING POINT:

FIVE SETTING DETAILS:

I hope you find this exercise as powerful as I do!

Elizabeth Rusch

Gas and Brakes

How long does it take you to write a book? How fast do you work? I get asked these questions a lot, especially the first one by school-aged kids.  The answer is that it varies – dramatically.

My fastest book was a school library title on tennis (draft in a month, final in a few months) because that was how long the publisher gave me.  Next fastest was The Planet Hunter: The Story behind What Happened to Pluto which went from proposal to final approved manuscript ready to be illustrated in a handful of months. (My editor and I wanted to get that book out as fast as possible to explain the fascinating story behind why Pluto was no longer considered a planet.)

Typically, my books take much longer. I am working on a book now called Mario and the Hole in the Sky that will be published by Charlesbridge in 2016. I started working on it in 2007. That’s nine years for a picture book.  My graphic novel Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek which comes out this year (YAY!) began as a middle grade novel in 2006. That’s eight years. My book The Mighty Mars Rovers took a similar amount of time. I’m working on picture book now that I literally started a decade ago.

The reasons for these long periods of time can vary. Many times, I am writing multiple, completely different drafts of the same book – and that takes a long time. (Thank you Scrivas, for reading version after version after version!) Other times I get discouraged after submitting something that doesn’t sell and I put it aside for a while.

In fact, it would be misleading to suggest that I was working on all these projects all the time in those years. What is much more typical is that there are times in the life of project when I put on the gas and other times I put on the brakes.

A current project in development on the inventor of the piano is a good example. When I got the idea in 2010, I start researching furiously (gas). I worked on it off and on through summer of 2012 (little pumps of gas), when I took a research trip to Florence, Italy (gas, gas, gas). When I got back, I did some writing and thinking (gas). Then I got stuck and I got busy with some other deadlines (SCREEECH! Brakes).

I have to be careful because brakes are easier to sustain than gas (things at rest like to stay at rest.) I didn’t touch this project for almost a year. And that really bothered me because I really loved the idea. So I started to put on the gas – writing, rewriting, problem-solving, polishing. I heard that an editor I wanted to share it with would be going on maternity leave. So I put on the gas big time, getting the book ready to submit.

Alas, she turned it down.

I was disappointed but also a little relieved. I just felt like I need a little more time with the project – to do a few more drafts and try to get it just right. So instead of submitting it elsewhere, I put on the brakes. But only gently. I want to slow down but not stop.

In driving you’re not supposed to put your foot on the gas and brakes at the same time. But for writing, I’m going to try it. I need the gas to keep momentum. But I need the brakes, too, to give me time to get it right.

Elizabeth Rusch

YA Goes to the Oscars

by Michelle McCann
Published on: May 7, 2012
Comments: 2 Comments

While watching the Oscars a few months back, I noticed something strange: a large number of nominations were for movies based on children’s books, particularly young adult novels. I counted and it was a whopping 21 nominations this year: 1 for Tin Tin, 3 for Harry Potter, 6 for War Horse, and 11 for Hugo.

And then there is the staggering success of The Hunger Games movie. Best-ever opening weekend. Already surpassed grosses for all the Twilight movies combined. I went to my very first midnight opening and was amazed to see hundreds of grown people standing in line for 5 hours. For a movie. On a school night!

What is going on? Why are these movies suddenly so popular, with adults as well as kids? I think it is the same reasons YA novels are so popular right now, with adults as well as kids:

Today’s YA novels are incredibly well-written AND incredibly fun to read.

Soon after the Oscars I came across a great piece in the New York Times that eloquently expressed my feelings about why YA is sweeping the nation (and the Oscars). Lev Grossman, book critic for Time Magazine, wrote an op ed that’s title says it all: “Nothing’s Wrong with Strong Plot and Characters.” In the article he admits to being in a YA-only book group (another trend I’m noticing these days) and lays out some ways that today’s YA novels are different from adult literary fiction:

  1. YA novels tend toward strong voices and clear, clean prose. Adult literary fiction, by contrast, can be more focused on style: dense, descriptive prose, full of carefully observed detail, which calls attention to its own genius rather than urging the reader forward.
  2. YA novels focus on storytelling. Much of adult literary fiction, on the other hand, explores ways to break down storytelling, fragment it and make it non-linear. This kind of reading demands a lot of work from the reader.
  3. YA novels are rarely boring. They are written to grab your attention and hold it.

These are the same reasons I believe so many people, young and old, are flocking to see YA movies these days. The stories are great. The characters are great. The themes are meaningful. And they are not boring to watch.

Grossman ends his piece with a sentiment that pretty much sums up why I love reading YA so much (and by extension, going to YA movies as well):

“I’m not as young as I once was. At my age, I don’t have time to be bored.”

And for those of you who, like me, love seeing your favorite YA books up on the big screen, you are in luck. The floodgates are open and just about every YA hit I can think of is “in production.” Here’s a short list of what I found on IMDB:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Sept. 2012 (starring Logan Lerman from Percy Jackson, and Emma Watson from Harry Potter)

Uglies, Nov. 2012

Incarceron, 2013 (starring Taylor Lautner from Twilight)

The Giver, 2013 (starring Jeff Bridges)

Ender’s Game, 2013 (starring Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and Abigail Breslin)

Forest of Hands and Teeth, 2013

Maze Runner, 2013

Divergent, 2015

The Fault in Our Stars (TBA)

Interview with Michaela MacColl, author of PROMISE THE NIGHT

by Amber Keyser
Published on: January 20, 2012
Categories: Other Topics
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I am thrilled to welcome Michaela MacColl to VivaScriva!  Her book PROMISE THE NIGHT tells the story of young Beryl Markham, who grew up to be a record-breaking aviatrix, an adventurer, a nonconformist, and a writer.  

Read an excerpt here.

Below you’ll find the conversation we shared about her lovely book.

***

The VivaScriva.com blog focuses on critique and the writing process so let’s start there.  Do you have a critique group?  What role did critique play in PROMISE THE NIGHT?

I have a lovely critique group. We’ve met weekly for six or seven years now. Most of us are published, but we didn’t start out that way. I have to admit that my group saved the world from a very bad biography of Beryl Markham.

When I first decided to write about her, I found that the only kids’ biographies were very dated. Aha! I thought. (And I can’t believe I even said this) How hard can it be to write a biography? Apparently it is really hard. I couldn’t get away from the fictionalized story I wanted to tell. Finally my group metaphorically shook me and said “Just write a novel!” They were right and so supportive.

When I’m writing nonfiction, I find that the book falls into place when I discover the right format for the story.  In PROMISE THE NIGHT, you alternate eleven-year-old Beryl’s narrative with grown-up Beryl’s flight across the Atlantic.  How did you decide on this structure?

One of my greatest challenges was how to write a story about Beryl the child, when Beryl the adult is the one who did something famous (she was the first to cross the Atlantic East to West solo).  At first I wrote the flight as an epilogue, but it felt too tacked on. I had to find a way to show how Beryl’s adventures as a child enabled her to break flying records as an adult. It was complicated because I wanted to relate each adult vignette to a childhood chapter – but after many outlines and a ridiculous number of post-its, I came up with a structure that worked.

I loved Beryl Markham’s own book WEST WITH THE NIGHT.  How did her writing influence yours?

On the one hand, it’s a gift to have her own words in front of me. I learned so much about her personality from the way she described her childhood. On the other hand, it’s pretty daunting since the memoir is so good.  Ultimately, I tried to channel her spare prose into mine. I ruthlessly trimmed (and then my editor got started) until I told the story in as few words as possible. Beryl wouldn’t have wasted words, neither should I!

Of course this was such a departure from my first book, Prisoners in the Palace about Princess Victoria. There the language is ornate, layered and thick.

You had to deal with some tough (and very adult) topics—male circumcision, the Captain’s relationship with Emma, his concerns over Beryl’s interactions with Kibii and Mehru.  Some might have said it couldn’t be done in a middle grade novel, yet you pulled it off.  Can you tell us how you found your way in this area?

I’m pretty squeamish, so I didn’t want to make people squirm. I’m also the parent of two teenage daughters and it’s important to me that kids can read my books without feeling too uncomfortable. Ultimately the answer to dealing with these issues was to plant my narration firmly in Beryl’s point of view. She’s not shocked so why should the reader be?

Beryl Markham chafed against the rigid social and gender roles of her time.  How do you think she would have responded to the opportunity and freedoms girls have today?

I’ve wondered about that. Thoroughbred racing and flying were inherently exciting and a natural destination for a risk-seeker no matter how inappropriate they were for a girl to do. But I think if she were alive today, she would be taking even greater risks. Ultimately though, Beryl didn’t think of herself as a girl breaking gender barriers, she was just doing what she wanted to do.  The first page in Promise the Night is a quotation from Beryl where she says she wants to fly the Atlantic not as a society girl but as pilot. No gender specified. 

I’ve always been fascinated by the heros of the Golden Age of Exploration like Beryl Markham, Ernest Shackleton and Edmund Hillary.  What do you think drove them to take such risks in their quests to be first?

They say that thoroughbred stallions are bred to win.  They run fast to achieve dominance over their peers (so to speak). I think the explorers and the pioneers are all trying to win the acclaim of the other explorers and pioneers. But there is also a financial consideration. The person who breaks the record is the one who gets the sponsorship deals, the speaking engagements, even the movie gig.

Are there any new frontiers for girls today? 

The first thing that comes to mind is President of the United States… And if that’s the last frontier, then girls are doing well!

True confessions—my daughter is named Beryl and my son is Shackleton.  Do you think I’m crazy?

Yes!  (I had to talk my husband out of naming our first daughter Cassandra. Can you imagine a more ill-omened name?)

What is the most interesting thing that you learned about Beryl Markham but couldn’t include in the book—and why couldn’t you?

Beryl’s childhood is full of instances when she challenges the societal norms and does purely as she likes.  When she continued to do this as an adult, the stakes get higher. The most fascinating thing I found out about Beryl involved her love life. She married Lord Markham in her late 20’s, but at the same time, she also had a very public affair with the Duke of Gloucester (the brother of the Prince of Wales) when he visited Africa on safari. Her husband got fed up and threatened to name the Duke in the divorce. Needless to say Buckingham Palace had a strong opinion about this; Markham was told in no uncertain terms to involve the Duke.  He replied that he wasn’t going to support her. So until the day she died, Beryl received a pension from Buckingham Palace.  It’s a great story, right? So inappropriate for middle grade!

PROMISE THE NIGHT focuses on a narrow window of Beryl Markham’s extraordinary life.  Were you ready to let go?

I wouldn’t mind going back and writing about her life as a racehorse trainer. I grew up on the Black Stallion novels and I would love to write about racing. Otherwise, on to the next novel!

 

 

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