In the spring the very kind local school librarian agreed to organize a group of beta readers for my current work-in-progress. (First tip: volunteer at your local public library or school library to build relationships with librarians and keep your finger on the pulse of your reader.) My story is a middle grade novel-in-verse that features a largely female cast with some typical coming-of-age issues. For that reason I requested to have girls only for my beta readers. Two girls from each grade 4-6 were asked to read my story and meet with me and the librarian to discuss it. (Bonus: the librarian was going to read it too!)
The set up:
How it worked:
These girls are real girls with real lives which include school work, sports, family, and here I am asking them to read something else on top of it all. It took time. We met three times during their lunch periods and discussed the story as far as they had read.
This was absolutely wonderful to sit and talk with readers about a story I wrote! And they didn’t hold back. There was no feelings of intimidation on their part to talk to the author. I loved that.
If they didn’t understand something, they were forthcoming. If they didn’t like a character, an energized conversation ensued. It was interesting that a character that I thought was lovable in his own way, the beta readers were angry with. Not all characters need to be likeable. It’s actually good if characters have both likeable qualities and pitfall in their personalities.
I quickly found out which parts didn’t work and the parts that made them keep turning the pages. Settings that were unclear. Phrases that were confusing. The insight I received was beyond worth. It was incredibly rewarding when they “got it.” The things I hoped the reader would pick up on, the set-ups, subtext, duplicity, the pay-outs.
I love my critique group and wouldn’t change them, but there’s something special about having beta readers. No better litmus test than honest readers who hold no stake in the story. Can’t wait ’til I have another story to do this again!
It would be interesting to have beta readers from the schools I once upon a time taught at read this. How would kids with different world views and experiences take to this story? I guess I will find out when this WIP gets published!
Thank the readers and especially the librarian in a generous way. They gave up their time and provided feedback that clarified, sharpened, and deepened the story.
Bonus: I loved listening to the banter between the girls. Perhaps they are inspiring some future characters!
BIG CHANGES in small steps. Like the man who bargained from a red paper clip to a house. From big debt to big savings. Shedding 20, 50, 100 pounds. Finishing that novel. Defending your dissertation. Buying a home. Traveling the world. Changing the world. It happens in small consistent faithful steps.
In honor of the first Snow Day of the winter . . .
Snow and ice they say
Will soon be on their way.
Adults grump and gruff
Burdened by the white stuff.
Children watch the skies
With thoughts of sleds that fly
Down the hill,
But better still,
“Snow Day” the anchor cries.
On September 12, 2001 I stood before before my class of confused and scared third graders and lied. You are safe here. No one wants to hurt school children. Columbine was two years past. Sandy Hook was yet to come. Little children get hurt everyday at school. I may not have a voice with the power to change the world. But I can help change someone's world. When our president redirects the dialogue and politicians point their finger, cast your pebble. When a kid is bullied or neglected don't turn a blind eye, cast your pebble. When you pray and get inspired into action, cast your pebble. Cast your pebble into the waters where you stand. Make a ripple. We change the world by changing someone's world. Cast your pebble. In memory of Gayle Dubowski. On the tenth anniversary of her death, alongside four classmates at NIU, 17 more lives were taken and countless changed forever. We now live in a world where most people know someone effected by school shootings and violence. We must do better.
Brown pleading eyes
I can hear her thoughts,
Just give me the sign!
I won’t let you down.
I pick up my pen.
She lays by my feet
waiting for the inevitable writer’s block.
She knows I’ll need her then.
This is the face of satisfaction:
But it’s really like this:
258 free verse poems roughed
it’s an ugly baby right now
but it’s complete!
And it doesn’t take long to feel like this:
Reading Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
while revising older stories
and researching people and places to submit to.
Marinating on the two ideas
I’m contemplating for my next projects
the research I need to complete
to round out the rough draft
before going through the
MANIA OF REVISION!
OOH! Now I can get that haircut I told myself had to wait until rough was done.
Rough is done!
I have a confession to make.
I broke the cardinal rule of writing a rough draft.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I had to do it.
I read my entire MS.
I know, I know.
Full steam ahead.
No looking back.
But I had to do it.
I haven’t written in a week.
Yes, I gasped too.
So, you see,
I had to read it.
I’d lost the flow,
was loosing my MC,
ran out of steam,
while my daughter was sick.
So, you see,
I had to read it.
And I’m glad I did.
It was pretty good,
I’m on the right track.
And I’ve found the fuel
to keep writing.
You write about what you already know, right? But, you also write about things you want learn more about. Admittedly, after researching this topic I may be more confused than when I started. Let me see if I can work it out!
The easy part: Historical Fiction
Goodreads has a list of 653 of the Best Children’s Historical Fiction.
The hiccup: (and something I learned in my research!)
In order for a story to be historical fiction, it must be historical to the author. If I were writing a novel set in London 2013 about a girl who desperately wanted to become a nanny for the future king, it would be contemporary fiction right? In twenty years it would still be contemporary fiction from a different time. So the argument then is books like those written by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Laura Ingalls Wilder would not be historical fiction because at the time they were written they were contemporary fiction.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree?
Onto documentary novel – the waters get a little more muddy for me here.
I have seen three different definitions for documentary novel.
1. True event + real people told in a narrative format. (plot, dialogue, characterization)
until . . .
2. A historical fiction novel that includes articles of history within the pages. These may include quotes, advertisements, and the like.
3. A historical fiction novel in which the format appears like non-fiction articles.
What kind are you writing? Historical fiction or documentary novel? How do you know?
With my key in my pants pocket, I head out the door for my last writing time at Highlights. My favorite spot to write is the porch at the lodge, tucked in a blanket, music on, bees buzzing and butterflies lighting on the hyssop. Key folds over my pocket, maybe I should take it out. No, it’ll be fine. I’m just sitting here and it’s not bothering me.
This place is truly magical. The Highlights Foundations goes above and beyond to make accommodations best suited to allow writers to create. I never even had to clear my plate. All my energy was free to pour into writing and thinking about writing.
I pare down too fat poems and realize the essence of others to get that double duty quality. Finish strong I always tell my kids. Finish strong I did. Couldn’t be prouder of what I’ve done these few days.
I leave my music on and my writing area set up so I could capture it for my inevitable fuzzy memory. Try this angle and that angle and walk out into the overgrowth to get it all. But my shuttle is coming in forty minutes and I still have a couple things to do.
I pack up my bag, except my music. I leave in on so I can walk with it. I never do this, but it feels right to do this today. I return the furniture I moved and the blanket I borrowed. Reach for my key. My key. I know I thought about taking it out. Did I? Or did I once again ignore that still quiet voice in my head that suggested I take it out but my louder, knows-best voice say, “It’s fine”?
I’m sure I listened to that louder voice. Again.
I’d bet my key is somewhere out there. In the overgrowth.
I’m a prayerful person. Not quite a prayer warrior, but I hope to graduate to that. I recently read to ask God to be a part of every task before you begin, regardless of how small so that He may guide me through it. I’m slowly putting this into practice when I remember (usually when I find myself in a predicament) and this was a great time to practice it. I prayed while I searched. I realized I ignored the voice that tried to help me earlier more than once and promised I’ll work on doing better.
Time is ticking and I still have a couple things to do and my key remains camouflaged. Darn ticking clock, a really great thing in a story, but not so great now, in real life. I need to find this green key chain somewhere amongst the green and growing.
I pray again. I’m sure someone can let me in, but I really didn’t want to make more work for these already hardworking people who care deeply for writers and stories. Once more through the overgrowth where I had seen a gopher just a couple days ago. Not sure I could tolerate the surprise of an unexpected assistant right now.
I see the green diamond that is a deeper green than the rest of the green and growing!
A prayer of thanks as I head back to gather my things.
With one foot on the porch my IPad starts a new song. THE song. The song that I have dubbed theme song for my main character of the story I’ve been trying to unbury throughout the week. New Life is the name of the song by Jennifer Thomas. New life is what I have in the protective care of my God. The tears came. He’s been with me all week, every step, whether I’ve asked Him or not. But it’s good to ask. Not because He needs it, but because I do.
My daughter was at volleyball camp and I had a rare afternoon alone with my son. I offered to go for a bike ride with him and get some ice cream. He turned that down. Granted, it was raining a little. Instead, he said he would like to draw comics together. Did he see my eye roll? Did he hear my internal guffaw. “I’m not a good drawer,” I told him. Hello, where did my facility with the English language go? I wasn’t even going to consider the word artist. So drawer it was.
To which he showed me
Thank you, Jedi Academy and your evil creator, Jeffrey Brown. Ok, maybe not evil. Maybe spot on. I want to encourage my kid to draw, right? But he wasn’t supposed to turn it around on me. My self-imposed limitations have been a well-stitched-in part of my fabric for a while. But I’m a mom and I can’t let my negative self-talk become his. Right? With my head in a defeated droop I follow him to the table where he is quick to the draw with a sheet of paper.
I grab a pen. Yep, no eraser option. He’s all smiles and I’m all question marks.
He sees me staring at this blank paper and encourages me to start.
“I don’t know what to draw.”
“Draw a fluffy creature who wants to make a friend.”
Oh, how it comes so easy to his imagination.
“I don’t know how to draw fluffy creatures.” Dang, a negative self-talk escaped when I wasn’t looking.
HE encourages ME.
I’m a doodler.
Abstract, I call it. Nothing with bodies. Floating heads are okay in my world. But a comic strip with characters and three squares to get to a punchline? That’s a lot of pressure. AND my kid’s watching. He went after the comics that are more like Marvel and I went toward my background with comics, the funnies in the paper.
He’s tearing through his paper. Rounding out his first comic while I marinate, after explaining what marinate means.
I see he’s not going to let me off the hook so I draw a line for the first box. He plays peek-a-boo with my paper while I get some ink on it. And he keeps cheering me on.
So, by the time he finishes his sheet, I have the first box done and not sure how to give it a punch line. He’s OK with that. I tell him I need to marinate on it some more, but I promise to finish it. He’s OK with that too.
Here’s to my son who wouldn’t accept any of my excuses. The next Peter Brown? video game designer? architect? oh the possibilities!
(Did you notice, ALL FOUR?, I couldn’t even think through one! AND the back of the paper is filled with Olafs.)
And, here’s to not giving up. To turning off the inner editor that is screaming at everything I should’ve done differently. And to total vulnerability with those who are suffering to push past their comfort zones too.
Sound the alarm!
Sound the alarm!
There’s a rumbly monster outside!
It’s getting nearer.
It’s getting closer.
It’s coming for us!
It’s passing us!
We’ve got it running for cover!
You better keep going you yellow-bellied giantly rumbler!
Our alarm has worked!
We have protected our people!
Now we can return to sleep.
or maybe a good bone would be better.
Yes! I could go for a good gnaw.
That monster got me all worked up.
This bone will get me all worked down.
Just gnaw, gnaw, gnaw
now grind, grind, grind.
Now the other side.
gnaw, gnaw, gnaw
grind, grind, grind
OOH! Sue’s eyes are open.
but she’s not blinking.
she’s just staring
I better make sure
She’s not moving.
I think I’ll go sniff her.
Her eyes are following me!
I bet she’s proud
of the way
the rumbly monster away.
Now she’ll give me
the best good morning scratch
Phillip Larrea, a poet from California, is credited with creating the poetic form called Tricube. It is deceptively simple. Three stanzas. Three lines per stanza. Three syllables per line.
Time to play!
time to write
Towel* wrapped bod
wet foot prints.
Dash through house
kids not shocked
“It’s just mom.”
drip down too.
*Okay, towel is technically two syllables, but not when you say it the normal way, right?