Tags: nonfiction

Pushing Beyond What We Think We Can Do

by Amber Keyser
Published on: September 12, 2015
Comments: No Comments

Writing–at least Scriva-style writing–is NOT about playing it safe. We push each other to go deeper, to cross boundaries, and to trust in the story to carry its own weight. Pushing beyond is about offering encouragement and being a kind listener, but its also about thinking of the reader and what he or she may need.

As I worked on THE V-WORD, an anthology of essays about first time sexual experiences, the Scrivas and I had many conversations about what readers needed from the collection–good experiences and bad ones, unplanned and planned, and even stories of waiting to have sex.

The Scrivas supported me as I worked with contributors to meet those needs. As the editor of THE V-WORD, I was frequently in the position of having to push the writers to go deeper, to reveal more, to find the right words.

It was hard for me and even harder for them. Contributor Karen Jensen says this about the process:

If I’m being honest, this was one of the most difficult things I have ever written. On this blog I have shared about my history of sexual abuse, I have shared about my economic woes, and I have even shared about my struggles with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. But writing about having sex for the first time was hands down the hardest writing I have ever done. It’s so personal. Sex is something that is still so taboo to talk about…

Read the rest of her blog post here.

But I think all of us would agree that pushing beyond was worth it. We grew as people and writers. The book is far better because of it. And it is what readers (at least some readers) will need. Look for THE V-WORD on February 2, 2016. It is full of brave writers and honest writing.

 

The V-Word Cover

A Tense Surprise

by Elizabeth Rusch
Published on: May 20, 2014
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In an earlier post about how I sometimes do multiple simultaneous drafts of the same manuscript, I mentioned how a critiquer had suggested trying to rewrite my picture book biography of piano inventor Bartolomeo Cristofori in present tense. PRESENT TENSE? A biography from 1700s, late Renaissance Italy, in PRESENT TENSE? Sounds crazy. I balked, as did the rest of my fellow critiquers.

But I have a little rule for myself to at least give most suggestions, even the ones I don’t agree with, a try. Especially if its something I can do easily or test out with a small section. So I did it. I rewrote the whole thing in present tense.

I didn’t really look at the manuscript again until reading the two versions aloud at a critique group meeting. Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, the present tense version of the story came to life. It jumped off the page. It sang. I knew it as I read it and the comments were unanimous: “I didn’t think the present tense would work, but I love it.”

So there you have it. Two lessons for me from this experience: Even if you don’t agree with a suggestion, consider giving it a try. And play around with tense. You never what how it could transform your manuscript.

Elizabeth Rusch

www.elizabethrusch.com

 

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

Let the Lady Scream: Showing vs. Telling PART II

by Amber Keyser
Published on: January 14, 2014
Categories: Craft
Comments: 3 Comments

Guest blogger Mary Cronk Farrell continues our occasional series on “Showing vs. Telling,” the eternal bugaboo of the writer.  (Read PART I here).  Take it away, Mary!

 

This is from my biography of Fannie Sellins, a labor organizer. It’s a longer picture book for older readers.  It’s actually non-fiction, which presents a different challenge than fiction, in that you must comb the facts for the details to bring your scenes to life.

 

Telling

Fannie Sellins went on a national tour speaking about the garment worker’s strike and asking for donations. Everywhere she went, she saw people working long hours for low pay in unsafe conditions. Her message was always the same—If we stick together, we can make change.

 

Showing

"A little spinner in the Mollohan Mills, Newberry, S.C. " Photo by Lewis Hine, 1910

“A little spinner in the Mollohan Mills, Newberry, S.C. ” Photo by Lewis Hine, 1910

Fannie Sellins traveled from city to city by train. She saw girls in Chicago button factories cut their fingers on the jagged shells used to make buttons. There was no medicine to treat infection. Girls in New England cotton mills got hurt or even died when their hair or arms accidently caught in powerful weaving looms.

“Help us fight,” Fannie told coal miners in Illinois.  “We women go into factories among dangerous machinery and many of us get horribly injured or killed. Many of your brothers die in the mines.”

The miners stomped and shouted agreement. Some wiped tears from their eyes.

In Iowa, union carpenters listened to Fannie. “If we stick together, we can win,” she said. People jumped to their feet, clapping and whooping.

“Pass the hat,” someone hollered and it went hand to hand. Coins jingled and bills rustled. Fannie collected one thousand dollars to help striking garment workers feed their families.

Wherever she went, working people interrupted her speeches with cheering.

“You need new pants?” Fannie asked. “Don’t buy from Marx & Haas. Buy union label.”

People did. Orders for pants went down so much, Marx & Haas had to close one factory. With the money Fannie raised, strikers held out for two years until Marx & Haas agreed to re-hire union workers and raise wages.

 

Thanks, Mary!  Great example!

Sensory details are particularly important in bringing nonfiction to life.  Notice that Mary wasn’t there when the union carpenters passed the hat, but she knows that coins jingle and bills rustle when you throw them together.  Those sounds really put us in the scene.

Don’t forget to pre-order Mary’s newest book:

PURE GRIT: A STORY OF RESILIENCE & SURVIVAL


American forces on Corregidor Island surrendered under a hot sun at noon, May 4, 1942.
After five months of brutal combat nursing, 68 American women became Japanese prisoners of war.

The women had arrived in the Philippines unprepared for war and expecting a tropical play land. Rising to the occasion, they were driven to the limits of endurance nursing wounded and dying American soldiers. Now the woman faced the horrors of prison camp–disease, starvation, and humiliation by their guards.

With ingenuity and dedication to duty, the U.S. Army and Navy women set up a hospital for other prisoners, nursing as long as they had the strength to rise from their pallets. For three years behind barbed wire the women would turn suffering into humor, hope and the will to survive. Their pure grit testifies to the resilience of the human mind, body and spirit.

 

ABOUT MARY

She’s an award-winning author of children’s and YA books and former journalist with a passion for stories about people facing great adversity with courage. Her books have been named Notable Social Studies Book for Young People, SPUR Award for Best Juvenile Fiction about the American West, Bank Street College List of Best Children’s Books, and NY Public Library Best Books for Teens. Her journalistic work has received numerous awards for excellence from the Society of Professional Journalists and two Emmy nominations.  Find her at her website and on Twitter.

 

 
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