Blog

Blog Topic:
November 2016

... A Method 
to the Madness

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Blog Topic: 
October 2016

Is my childhood reflected in my writing? 

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Blog Topic:

September 2016


Dear Writer's Block

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Dear Writer's Block


























Dear Writer's Block


















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Blog Topic: 

August 2016


Our favorite books when we were kids

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Favorite Childhood Books:

















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Blog Topic:

July 2016


How I found my main character

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How I found my main character


















How I found my main character


























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Blog Topic:

July 2016


Why do I write?

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Why do I write?

































Why do I write?


























Paulette


A Method to the Madness  …of writing.


What begins as pause, pen in hand, fingertips on a keyboard, expands into a pool of once unrelated images, letters, feelings, thoughts, at first still and unconnected, soon moving in a direction—expressed in words on a page or screen.


Characters are born, take shape, show need, interact, travel, unsure, toward a goal that seems beyond a fog that slowly clears as paragraphs, pages take shape. A protagonist emerges, as real as family or friends.


Research deepens the connection, providing substance, grounding for plot development, characters, setting, timing. An outline takes shape forming the story’s arc.


Reading, observations, reflection on experiences helps mold the action, emotions, images. A theme emerges giving the narrative depth.


A first draft is rough, but whole. Input from writing friends reveals where words on the page do not translate what was imagined. Revisions polish, clarify images, actions, emotions, dialogue, the narrative flow. A story is molded.


What began as muse, without order, in a hidden space, can now be shared.


This how my middle grade, Night Eyes, and young adult, SpunOut, began. Now I need to follow tried and true methods to bring them to others. Somehow the madness seems easier.

Joan


"Were you just giving a speech in the bathroom?" My husband's question makes me laugh. I was testing out dialogue for my current book-in-progress and I was barely aware that I was doing it aloud. So goes my madness!


Each book, for me, begins with a place that I choose to write about. Or rather, the place seems to choose me because it triggers inspiration for a backstory mystery.


Backstories require research so I read books and online sources, visit museums and historical places and talk to locals. I make timelines of events, develop character descriptions and create fictional family trees.


Then there's the main story, an adventure that will solve the mystery. My ideas often take me in unexpected directions, researching diseases, knife wounds, women archaeologists or loons.


When revision starts, I check inconsistencies, grammar, punctuation and the above-mentioned dialogue. I read aloud, go through a series of critiques and absorb feedback from beta readers, writers and editors.


Despite all of this, glitches often arise where you least expect them and you hope that either you or someone else will catch them before publishing.


It's a lot of work but I love it. Maybe a little madness helps?

Paulette:

A Pandora’s Box question. I may need therapy when I finish. I doubt that I realize yet how much my childhood affects my writing. 

What I can tell is that my good fortune that part of my every day life of being loved and cared for, the comfort and restriction of structure, order; the expectation of obedience to authority, the thrill of quiet activity, the fear of unknowns, the thrill of uncovering, learning something once thought unreachable or just discovered, the need to challenge limits, the degrees of sadness in loss and sense of separation, the isolation that envelopes it, the excitement of birthdays, holidays, accomplishment, the attraction and excitement of experiencing “new,” the feel and sound of music, noise, floating, wet, cold, hot, soft, rough, sweat, pain, fear, thrill, acceptance, betrayal, hope and wonder are in vivid images from my childhood. I believe that the best of all childhood senses is wonder. 

I hope I express feelings, as I experienced them in childhood, in all my writing.

Joan


My three-book, main character, Ellen, inhabits a world very different from my own childhood. Due to her father's career, she moves a lot and has many international experiences. Though my father traveled for his job, the rest of the family didn't travel with him. My childhood was spent largely on one island in New York. However, Ellen is perhaps, a reflection of the dreams I had as a child — to see other places.


Growing up with a large extended family has definitely influenced the way I develop characters. For example, I've noticed that all of my stories have influential older persons who are important to the young characters. This is, perhaps, because I grew up close to three grandparents and felt very loved. The whole first year of my life, while my dad was in the service, was spent with my mom at Nana's. After that, we bought a house across the street from her. Pop-pop and Grandma lived on the next block and Sunday dinner at their house was a tradition.


Growing up with five siblings and having lots of playtime with cousins and neighbors exposed me to all kinds of temperaments, interests and abilities. I think that helps me when I'm trying to create believable and varied characters.


I also think that it was an advantage that my developmental years were pretty much technology-free. A lot of my activities were fueled by imagination, something a writer needs a lot of.

Finally, I credit the discipline of my early schooling with giving me the tools to write complete sentences, have decent grammar and punctuation and the persistence to work hard at improving my craft every day.

Paulette:


Dear Writer’s Block, it’s not poor you, it’s me.
When thoughts begin, I feel I need some tea.
Then as I sip, I know a snack would be
a way to calm my nerves and settle me.
I think of bills I need to pay by three,
before the mailman leaves more bills for me.
I clean my glasses well so I can see 
each word I write; you would agree.
I stare at my blank page. Please hear my plea
to you to help me search and find the key,
my inner muse that hides below debris
that I cannot remove; I fear I’ll flee 
before my magic muse reveals to me…
this must be my idiosyncrasy.
I may need to risk hyperbole,
remain a literary wannabe.

Joan:

Dear Writers' Block, it's not you, it's me,

Actually it is you and you're a mixed bag. I never wanted this relationship but
periodically you seem to barge into my life and annoy me. Just so you know, anytime you show up I will do my best to get you to move on, but I WILL NOT stress. Experience has taught me that you are usually a problem only for the novel in progress. When you show up, I now think of it as a signal to step away from that story. I get outside more and hike or paddle or dig in the soil because fresh air and exercise help me to think, notice details and make lists of ideas. I also read more books written by other people and turn my writing focus onto new projects like short stories, poetry or a subsequent novel. In other words, you never block everything, you only divert me and that's a good
thing. After you're gone, I feel recharged and you actually leave me with a new
perspective and the ability to write a better novel.

Linda:


Writer's Block, I'd like to introduce you to my argumentative husband.  


It's amazing.  As I explain to my husband why my story cannot and will not take place on Mars, the direction the story needs to go becomes clear to me.  I don't understand my husband's obsession with Mars, but that's okay.  He doesn't understand my need to stay here on earth, so we're even.  As he explains to me how magic would work in his world, I find that the answers to how magic works in Salem become suddenly clear.


Paulette:


Being read to was not something that happened in my family. I remember two picture books at home—hand-me-downs from older cousins. Pantaloon, my favorite, a “Golden Book” by KathrynJackson, is still in print.


Pantaloon was a French poodle who loved sweets and wanted to work in a bakery. The baker wouldn't hire a dog, afraid his hard work would end up as doggie dinner. But the baker falls over Pantaloon’s bicycle and cannot come to work. Pantaloon delivers all the delicious-looking pastries, fighting his urge to eat every one, and the baker is grateful and hires Pantaloon.


I loved paging through the illustrations before I was able to read, the story, even more, when I could read.

When old enough to walk to a real library, my favorite became A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Francie Nolan had her books, her fire escape and the tree that survived in the city lot outside her bedroom window. I lived in a tenement in Providence’s West End, next door to a city playground. Francie convinced me that if she could believe in a future unlike her childhood, I could too. This book was real life, unlike the Bobbsey Twins or Leave It to Beaver on TV.

Joan:


My earliest memories of stories are nursery rhymes. I don't specifically remember having a book of them in the house but I do remember hearing them from my Mom and my Nana over and over again in singsong fashion. We often recited them together and I loved memorizing them at a young age.


The book that I remember most from when I could read by myself was the classic "Heidi" by Johanna Spyri. I was impressed that Heidi had respect for her elderly grandfather and the disabled Clara and that she valued good people over riches. It also highlighted a love of the outdoors and made me want to see the Alps — perhaps my first bite by the travel bug!


Another favorite book was "The Black Opal" by Dorothy Maywood Bird. This story of an intrepid college girl sleuth was the first mystery I read. It began a lifelong fascination and is perhaps why I write mystery books for teens today.

Linda:


I was a book worm.  My mother used to take my brothers and me to the library every week.  I would check out eight books and read at least one book a day.  In elementary school I read Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames.  


As reading for school became more intense my habit of reading for pleasure faded.  I reignited that fire when I started to read every night to my boys.  I joke that my taste in books hasn't evolved that much.  I'm still reading primarily Young Adult series like Suzanne Collin's Hunger Games and Rick Riordin's Percy Jackson.

Paulette:


My Main Characters draw from my experiences. They appear and refuse to leave my consciousness until I place their facets and challenges on the page as they reveal their stories, for a poem, picture book, my middle grade, Night Eyes for Butterflies, or young adult novel, Spun Out.

Lola the Lobster was born when I bought a Gund stuffed lobster toy in Manchester by the Sea for my baby grand-daughter. I wanted to snuggle, dance, sing to sleep and play with her so far away in Florida.

Christopher is nine, has severe vision loss, sees no color and wants to catch a butterfly—Christopher was a patient of mine I followed for vision rehabilitation care, who, at five, said he loves butterflies.

Cassandra’s closing spin to practice her dance for the senior prom competition ends with her dizzy, confused. She spills to the floor, gets a pounding headache she can’t undo in time for the prom or even graduation. She wants herself back and fears she’ll lose her scholarship to BU, hope to major in poetry and promise to her dad who died last year. Cassandra was born when debilitating multi-symptom migraine struck the daughter of a friend of mine after I had experienced it in my fifties.

Joan:


As a teacher of middle and high school students, I felt that I had a pretty good understanding of the issues teens face and I wanted a teen character. As a female, I felt that I could best explain the feelings of a girl. 

Growing up in a generation that had gender-specific expectations, I wanted the opposite —a strong, smart and capable girl who follows her interests unhindered by gender bias. I also wanted her to be a positive role model for showing girls that they can be assertive, active, curious, adventurous and still feminine. 


My main character for three books, Ellen Theodora Madigan, loves science and nature, is energetic and fit, solves mysteries and gets crushes on boys. Finally, I wanted her name to honor my two grandmothers who were each strong in different ways. Ellen is for my Nana who was left to raise six children alone and Madigan is for my Grandma who emigrated from Ireland at the age of sixteen on her own.

Linda:


Reading to my children about yet another orphan (Oliver Twist, The Kane Chronicles, Tom Sawyer, Frodo from Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter), I was getting annoyed about the lack of adult characters. In an ideal world kids lives SHOULD include trustworthy adults.


Of course no one wants to read about a someone in an ideal world - that would be boring. But really, do kids tell their parents everything? Mine don't.  


Katy is an ordinary person with an extraordinary gift who learns to rely on herself. I have become more confident in her ability to solve her own problems but Dad is always hovering in the background, a safety net as Katy walks the high-wire of Middle School.


My mother sees many parallels between Katy, the main character in Salem U, and me. I contend I am not a witch, but mother knows best. If she says I am, then I’m a witch.

Paulette:

As a child, I knew my mother wanted the house to herself and my sisters and me out of her way. But in school and with homework, I could sit, read and write as much as I wanted. The first time I was in a real library, the Gilbert Stuart Memorial Library, I dreamed I would read every book on its shelves. 

I was (privately) furious when my high school chemistry teacher kept my term paper. My mother admitted years later, that this teacher wouldn’t return the paper because she felt that it was the best she had ever received—small consolation. I represented my school in a national writing contest—I didn’t win. And when the chair of my college’s English Department requested I major in English, I insisted on Biology, eager for a science career.  

As an optometrist in academic settings, writing was an integral part of my work for lectures, research and scientific papers. I wrote poems for special occasions, but didn’t focus on creative writing until on extended medical leave when in my fifties. I had difficulty concentrating, but kept a log and wrote poems and stories that came to mind. One was inspired by a young patient of mine, born legally blind, but at the age of five, told me he liked butterflies. A story using this theme developed into a Middle Grade novel. Meanwhile, my writing took me to memories, feelings and thoughts I would not otherwise have known were inside me. Can I not write? no.

Joan:


I've always loved to read and I think love of writing comes from that. I've always loved words too and I thank my dad and his wonderful vocabulary for that. I even remember entering a jingle contest for M&Ms when I was quite young. My first job as a public library page during high school was amongst books and it was also in high school, as a senior, that I received some writing awards.


A few years living abroad motivated me to write fiction set in a place that I thought was magical. I had an idea for a book but, back in the States with young children, a teaching career and evening graduate school, it was hard to find the time.


When my husband's job moved us abroad again I was temporarily jobless. It was the perfect time to finish a first draft. Feedback from a friend gave it faint praise and I realized that I had a lot to learn. I put it on the back burner and spent most of my six years there teaching, writing notes about my travel experiences, reading about the area and getting another book idea about a city with a sinister history.


I never gave up on the first book but I didn't start the second draft until I was back in the States teaching and had finished another graduate program. That was when my query letters started accumulating rejection letters. Rather than deter me, they spurred me to improve.


I keep following that inner voice that says, "Tell this story" and I try to incorporate the things editors and fellow writers teach me so that my stories will say something worth reading.

Linda:

I write because I have a story to tell.  

I didn't dream of being an author when I grew up, I didn't scribble prose in the margins of my notebooks. I feel like the least likely person to suddenly decide to write a novel.  And yet I now have a 60,000 word story ready to launch.

One of my closest friends participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) several years in a row and I cheered her on, impressed that anyone could write 50,000 words of anything in only a month. I loved reading her work in the subsequent months, marveling at how a story that started out so well could be honed and refined to be even better than many of the books I read off the bestseller lists. It was an honor to be included in the process.

After a couple of years of encouragement, I decided to try NaNoWriMo with an idea that had been bouncing around in my head. I eeked out 52,000 words (I got the NaNoWriMo certificate and everything). Now what?

I thought it would be enough to tell a whole story from beginning to end. Instead I felt I hadn’t done those characters justice. That’s when I found Children’s Writers By the Sea. The support and encouragement of CWBS has helped me hone and refine my story, develop my characters to a final product I am proud to say is mine.