Saturday, June 30, 2012

Teenaged Intercambio -- An "Each One Teach One" Adventure in the D.R.

At the request of various readers who have emailed me, we're taking one more week of a break from author and publishing professional interviews this week on writermorphosis for a specific purpose. Many of you have asked me for a few photos of the teen-related project I spent the last 10 days working on here in the Dominican Republic. So, we'll take one more week of brief time-out from interviews for a few photos today.  Next week we'll start again with more tips and tales from authors and publishing professionals, so stand by for that!

Here's the scoop on my 10 day teenaged adventure over the past week and a half in the D.R.

As a YA writer I love hanging out with teens today.  YA writers can be good examples and mentors for teen readers. Many authors meet teens through their books and then spend time with teen groups outside of the books' pages -- building mentoring friendships with teens, helping them learn about themselves and the world.  It's a different kind of "each on teach one" experience.  It's us, the authors -- teaching the next generation of teens, our readers, about life, based on the things we've already learned from our own experiences.

So from June 15th-24th this month I had the opportunity to welcome 6 teen girls from the U.S. into my home, to sleep on my floor here where I'm currently living, (temporarily,) in the Dominican Republic.  We joined 6 Dominican teen girls from one of the local low-income barrios, and together formed a leadership team that put on a week-long kids camp for 100 very enthusiastic Dominican and Haitian children in the impoverished barrio (aka neighborhood) of Pancho Mateo.  It was great for me to see the Dominican and American teens working together on planning and implementing fun and educational activities for the kids, learning each others' languages, telling each other their stories (because everyone has a story, you know,) and ending their week in a giant group hug of teens from two countries now saying "farewall, I love you, we'll keep in touch on facebook!"

Here are a few photos of the week. (And for those readers who still haven't had a chance to read all of the prior great Writermorphosis "Each One Teach One -- Author Interviews" noted in last week's post, I'd still encourage you to go back and read them before the new author advice and interviews are posted beginning next week.  You don't want to miss any little gem of wisdom that's been shared!  And we've had some really great interviews with fabulous and experienced authors!)  :)

Here are photos of the teen girls from Raleigh, NC, the teen Girls from Pancho Mateo, and the kids (ages1-12) of Pancho Mateo who now love them:

Here we are playing Duck Duck Goose, Simon Says, learning about hand-washing and tooth-brushing, singing songs, and hearing stories in the local church building (with no lights or working fans) that we borrowed for the camp.

Co-leader Amy in "The Hair Salon" getting "beautified." : )

American teen Ariana and Dominican teen Loreiny teach hand-washing before snack-time.

Dominican Teen Nina giving 1:1 attention during story and singing time.

A very brief moment of order - expectantly awaiting story time.

Pancho Mateo Preschooler Nadine expertly colors her picture about tooth brushing,
 outside, at the town basketall court.

American teen Ariana and Pancho Mateo middle schooler Bladimir talk about school and sports, and bullies, and life as an 11 year old in his barrio of Pancho Mateo.

Jumping rope, playing with puppies, soccer, basketball, tag, piggy back rides, and coloring with "crayolas" outside at the Pancho Mateo basketball court every day after story time and snack.

Learning to share the crayons so everyone could have lots of different colors. :)
Most of the crayons went home in children's pockets every day -- a wonderful souvenier to take home to mama.  We had to go buy more crayons throughout the week due to an ever increasing numbers of children and an ever decreasing number of crayons!

The two-country teen planning team met daily to plan kids' activities, make and exchange friendship bracelets, share their life stories, sing/make music together, and go to the beach together - a well-desearved beach day after a week of hot and dusty hugging and loving-on 100 small children!

Teens from 2 countries bonding in Pancho Mateo.

Group Hug!
Keep in touch!

Thanks to all who were interested in this teen intercabio (interchange) experience and who asked to see photos. : ) It's an amazing thing in the world when teens from two different groups can come together, build friendships, and work toghether for the good of their communities and their world.

If you are a friend of teens, (as most YA authors are) I'd encourage you to consider doing something similar in your own community. 
It's a great opportunity for YA authors to hang out and build leadership skills among "YA people." : )

See you all back here next week for more Author and Publishing Professional tips and experiences.

- Janelle

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Huge Thanks -- And More to Come!

This week we don't have a new Author interview in the Each One Teach One Series because I'm hosting a team of teens from the U.S. on a humanitarian work team here in the Dominican Republic. They're doing games and activities with children in the barrio of Pancho Mateo here on the North Coast of the Country.  I'll be back at the keyboard here next week with more author interviews beginning again next Saturday.  But in the meantime, if you've missed any of the recent interviews I'd encourage you to go back and check them out! We've had some great ones!

Huge Thanks to the fabulous children's and YA authors who have been interviewed for the Each One Teach One series so far:

Kami Kinard: Middle Grade Fiction
Kathleen Reilly: Nonfiction and Fiction Middle Grade
Alan Gratz: YA/MG
Joyce Moyer Hostetter: Historical Fiction - YA/MG
David Greenberg: PBs and Middle Grades
John Bemis: MG/YA Steampunk Fiction
Stephen Messer: Middle Grade Fiction
and last week's wonderful guest: Picture Book Author Kelly Starling Lyons

See you next week as we continue learning from each other. - Janelle

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Each One Teach One" Interview: Picture Book Author Kelly Starling Lyons

This week’s “Each One Teach One” Interview is our first Picture Book author in the series, Kelly Starling Lyons.   Kelly is a blogger on the “Brown Bookshelf” a wonderful blog that showcases children’s books for and about African American children.  Her first picture book “One Million Men and Me,”  based on images she saw as a journalist at the Million Man March on Washington in 1995, tells the story through the eyes of a little girl accompanying her father on the march.  The book was met with rave reviews and shined the spotlight on an important day in recent U.S. history.  Kelly’s other picture books all highlight interesting aspects of African American heritage or history.  Her 4th book, “Tea Cakes For Tosh,”  will debut December 6, 2012 from publisher G.P. Putnam and Sons. She has great book trailers on youtube for her book "Ellen's Broom" and "One Million Men and Me" which are good examples for writers wanting to make trailers for their picture books.

Welcome Kelly! 

Please tell us who the author was who helped you when you were just starting out in the profession of writing for children?

When I first became serious about children’s book writing, I reached out to award-winning author Eleanora E. Tate to ask for advice. To my delight, she met me at Richard B. Harrison Library in Raleigh. She asked me if I had read any of the Coretta Scott King Award-winning books. No. Newbery titles. No. Had I studied books in the genre I wanted to write in? Not really. As we talked, I realized how much I had to learn.

She gave me lists of award-winning titles so I could brush up on what was out there and what had been recognized. I was so grateful that an accomplished author took the time to pass along gems of wisdom. After leaving our meeting, one of the first books I read was her classic, Just An Overnight Guest. What a treasure. Her advice helped me not just become a better writer, but ignited in me a passion for multicultural children’s books that continues to this day.

What a wonderful story about Eleanora Tate reaching out to a new writer.  Reading award-winning book and reading in the genre you want to write in are definitely great suggestions for all of us as we hone our own writing skills!

How would you say her advice about that has helped you?

Studying what’s already out there not only teaches you what kinds of books sell and win awards, but it also helps you develop as a writer. You begin to read not just for the pleasure of the story, but to analyze elements like plot, character, structure, voice. I recognized the type of writing that spoke to me. That helped me develop my style. One Million Men and Me was the first picture book story I wrote that really felt like me. I used repetition and imagery to tell the tale of a girl attending a historic march with her dad.

That repetition in the voice of One Million Men and Me is one of the things I’ve found most compelling about that book, Kelly! Developing your own “style” that people recognize in all of your books is a great tool in the writer’s toolbox!

Are there other stories you’d like to tell that highlight how other authors have helped move you along on your writing career?

Yes. My next book is Tea Cakes for Tosh (G.P. Putnam’s Sons). It’s illustrated by E.B. Lewis and debuts December 6. It’s a story that was inspired by my relationship with my grandma. Here’s a summary:

Tosh loves his grandma Honey and her delicious golden tea cakes. When she tells the story of how the cookies became part of their family, he feels like he’s flying back in time. But then one day, Honey starts forgetting things, even an ingredient for the tea cakes. Inspired by his love for his grandma and respect for his family’s heritage, Tosh finds a way to give Honey and himself a special gift that keeps the memory alive.

Tea Cakes for Tosh is another book that has grown through the help of others.

Years ago, I sent an early version to Children’s Book Press. Editor Ina Cumpiano called me to say she liked the story, but my plot line – teasing – was a bit overdone. She asked me to consider raising the stakes for the character and pointed me to Chachaji’s Cup by Uma Krishnaswami  for inspiration. Not only did I read and love that book, but later I was blessed to take a picture book writing class with Uma. The story kept growing through feedback I received at the Highlights Writers Workshop, a master class with Carole Boston Weatherford and comments from writing friends. I was thrilled when the book was acquired. Now, it’s almost here. I feel so blessed.

It really is amazing, Kelly, how we all learn from each other in the writing profession.  Thanks for sharing that!  So now that you’re publishing your 4th book, and speaking at writing events yourself, what are specific ways that you reach out to help new authors “one on one”?

When an aspiring author reaches out to me or someone mentions a dream of writing a children’s book, I think back to all of the people who helped me along the way. I do my best to pay it forward.  I tell them about SCBWI. I recommend they pick up Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market. I suggest they take a writing class and start making that dream reality. I pass along tips and links to resources. So many people looked out for me. It’s my duty and honor to give back.

So, now for a couple of fun questions: J

I know you worked as a journalist before moving into the field of children’s writing.  How old were you when you first started writing and will you tell us about a few of your early projects?

I’ve dreamed of being a writer for a long time. I wrote my first poem in third grade. It was about the beauty of the color black. I tried to sell my first essay in high school. Back then, I read Writer’s Digest as much as I read Right On! I sold my first article in college. Children’s writing called to me in my late 20s. One of the first stories I wrote, Isaiah’s Cake, didn’t land a deal, but it did get some kind comments from Eileen Heyes, another writer who paid it forward by helping me, and editors at Lee & Low. That encouraged me to keep going.

Wow Kelly!  Congratulations for getting that initial sale so early on,  in college. It seems you started shooting for the publishing life earlier in life than many other authors and you clearly had a vision for making writing your career from childhood.    That’s great!

I want to ask one final fun question.  Since you got the “writing bug” so early in life I suspect you were inspired toward that dream by some of the books you read as a child. So, who was your favorite author when you were a kid? And what other authors inspire you today?

My favorite author as a child was Madeleine L’Engle. I fell for A Wrinkle in Time. I can’t wait to share those books with my fantasy-loving little girl. As an adult, my favorite picture book authors are Jacqueline Woodson and Eve Bunting. I love how they tackle big subjects, ones that seem almost too much to broach in a picture book, and break them down brilliantly to child level. Their use of lyricism and character development is masterful. I read their books again and again.

Thanks Kelly!  You’ve highlighted a number of great authors in this interview, and I hope that we’ll all run off to read not only your great books, but also many of theirs as well! 

Thanks for sharing your story and wisdom! It’s been great to have you.

See you all next week for our next “Each One Teach One” interview, Saturday morning!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Each One Teach One" Interview: YA/MG Author Alan Gratz

This week’s “Each on Teach One” Interviewee is YA/MG author Alan Gratz of Western NC.  Alan is the author of 4 award-winning YA books and his most recent book, FANTASY BASEBALL, is a middle grade.   Alan is one of those great authors who is able to bond with middle graders one minute and put on his professional hat to teach brilliant workshops on plotting and other aspects of the craft to other authors the next.  His book SOMETHING ROTTEN was an ALA 2008 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and a YALSA 2010 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults: Twists on the Tale Book.  His second book in that series SOMETHING WICKED was labeled one of the Best Children’s Books of 2008.  His YA novel THE BROOKLYN NINE was nominated for so many awards that there’s not enough space to name them all here, but it was chosen as one of Booklist's 2009 Top Ten Sports Books for Youth, Booklist's 2009 Top Ten Historical Books for Youth, and was a 2009 Junior Library Guild Selection.  His YA novel SAMURAI SHORTSTOP also won so many awards that we can’t name them here. : )  So, when Alan writes a book, he writes a good one.  He’ll share plotting advice for all of us a little farther down in this interview.

But first, Alan, please tell us who was the more experienced author, teacher, or publishing professional who helped you learn more about the craft when you were just starting out?
The teacher who had the most profound effect on me and my writing has to be Jon Manchip White, who taught creative writing when I was at the University of Tennessee. Professor White became a sort of personal mentor to me as I worked on a novel-length “thesis” as a part of a specialized undergraduate degree. He was a published author with TV, non-fiction, and novel credits to his name, and his work ran the gamut from historical fiction to contemporary thrillers to paranormal mysteries. He was the first example I had of a real working writer. I hovered around him like a gnat, and he demonstrated far more patience and grace with me than my unpolished writing deserved. Professor White's career has been an inspiration to me.
It sounds like Prof. Manchip White really inspired you, Alan! It really is always helpful to see a working professional writer and learn what the writing life is really like when you’re first starting out.  I remember one of the first times I met you was at the SCBWI Spring Writer’s Retreat in Chapel Hill NC several years ago, and I remember being inspired by your work ethic, as you were at your computer late at night after others had gone to bed, and during all the breaks when other people were outside in the sunshine – you were pumping out that next novel.  Yet you still had time to help those of us who were newer to the profession when we asked you questions about plot and structure.  That inspired me! So, thanks for that!
Can you give a specific example related to one of your published or agented works where the knowledge you learned from Professor Manchip White helped you?
I learned a lot from Professor White, but the one thing he told me that's had the biggest impact on my writing came as a comment on one of the many short stories I turned in to him. He wrote, “Alan, you write well, but you lack discipline.” I was 19 years old when I got that note from Professor White, and my head was full of visions of bestselling novels and blockbuster screenplays. All I heard at the time was, “Alan, you write well.” I totally ignored the last half of his note, which of course was the most important part. It took me fifteen years after graduating from UT to finally understand what he'd been telling me. In college, I never edited. I never wrote second drafts. I never outlined my stories or knew where I was going. I never did research. I never prepared myself to be creative. That was a lesson Professor White tried to teach me, but I was too young and inexperienced to hear it then. It was only when I got serious about writing for publication—and pay!—that I finally started treating writing like a craft and not a talent.
Brilliantly stated! What an important lesson for all of us!

So Alan, I think I’ve already answered this question for you (above, accidentally) : ) but tell us, as your writing career has progressed how have you been intentional about staying connected with newer authors to help them along?
As a published author, I've remained active in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, where I meet a lot of people who are exactly where I was twelve years ago. Back then I was attending regional conferences, meeting editors, taking writing workshops—all things I still do now, but of course then it was as an author trying to write my first sellable book. I don't always have the opportunity to teach at SCWBI events, but do try to make myself available to anyone and everyone with questions about the craft or business of writing. I certainly don't know everything, but I'm always happy to tell anyone who'll listen what I've learned—often the hard way!
I have seen you do that many times, Alan, and I know that so many new authors have really appreciated it!
So, how have writing conferences, your critique group, SCBWI Schmoozes, or other chances to network and discuss the craft with other writers helped you in your career as a writer?  Is there one particular experience you’ve had that you’d like to highlight?
I've long been jealous of the way the adult science fiction and fantasy community comes together for various writing retreats and workshops. Clarion, Viable Paradise, Blue Heaven, Rio Hondo, Sycamore Hill—the list goes on and on. The workshops range from a weekend to six weeks, and allow the participants to focus full-time on craft. There wasn't something comparable for kidlit, at least not something I was aware of, so I set one up myself. This past April, eight other published children's book writers and I got together at a cabin in Bat Cave, North Carolina for a week of group critiques, craft discussion, and hot tubbing. It was terrific! The children's book community is already a friendly, tight-knit one, but getting nine Southeastern kidlit writers together to compare notes and talk shop was a real highlight of my year—and we're already talking about doing it again in 2013. I came away with so much great advice, inspiration, and enthusiasm for my current book!

That sounds like a wonderful experience, Alan.  What a great way to get work done on your own writing while also bonding and learning from other writers!

So, with all that writing and brainstorming around the hot tub,  what soon to be released publication do you have coming up?
I have a young adult Star Trek novel coming out in June, 2012—Starfleet Academy: The Assassination Game. I'm super-excited about it. I've been a Trek fan for a long time, and I was thrilled when I learned they were doing a young adult series based on the recent reboot with the re-imagined Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Bones, and the rest. Due to the aggressive scheduling of licensed work like this, I had very little time to write it too—just about two months of actual plotting and writing time! It was a deadline I was happy to take on, and I had a lot of fun writing for characters I've loved for a long time. Right now the pub date is set for June 26.

Congratulations, Alan!  Wow, that really was a quickly written book! We look forward to reading it!
Now, tell us. What one book that someone else wrote do you wish you had written, and why?

Oh. I think I might say Howl's Moving Castle for this one. That book has such terrific humor, and it's a really amazing riff on some of the cliches of fantasy. It chuckles at the tropes of fantasy novels while reveling in them. And I wish I'd invented Howl, Calcifer, and Sophie.

That IS a great choice, Alan.  I’m sure that author Diana Wynne Jones would be honored that you loved her book.

Before we get to the plot suggestions, here’s one more fun question.  It seems that many children’s writers actually began writing when they were children.  Is this true of you as well?
 Yes. When I was in second grade, I wrote, illustrated, and distributed a newspaper to my street—creatively called “The Blue Spring Lane News.” I typed it up on my grandfather's old typewriter we had out in the garage, and my mom, a teacher, mimeographed it for me at school. In fifth grade, I wrote my first book. There was a bestselling humor book out at the time called Real Men Don't Eat Quiche, so I wrote a book called Real Kids Don't Eat Spinach, wherein I listed all the things cool kids should and shouldn't do. It was pretty obvious from the start that I was going to end up a writer, I think. :-)

That’s great!  I love your childhood twist on the adult book. You were clearly already understanding niche marketing, even during childhood! J

Ok.  Now for some great advice in less than 100 words, please:  When I first met you, you gave me some great pointers on plotting a novel.  Can you summarize here some of the things you keep in mind when planning out and outlining the plot for a new novel before you begin writing it?
100 words or less! Whoo.  In short, I'm a big believer in three act structure. The first act, roughly 25% of your book, is the Decision to Act. By the 1/4 mark, your character has been presented with a problem and makes the conscious decision to set out to achieve that goal--think Dorothy resolving to travel down the yellow brick road to see the Wizard and get home. The second act, the biggest chunk of your book, the middle 50%, is the Action. This is your character doing what he/she set out to do. Dorothy travels along the yellow brick road, making friends and enemies and having adventures. At the end of Act Two comes another turning point--she gets to the Wizard, but he demands she kill the Wicked Witch before he'll grant her wish. Act Three, the last 25% of your story, is the Consequences of the Action. Because Dorothy has gone to the Wizard, he has sent her on a new quest. Because Luke Skywalker saves the princess in Act Two of Star Wars, he sets off on the new work of Act Three: blow up the Death Star. The main character deals with the consequences of the decisions he or she has made all along the way. I also like the "tent pole" smack dab in the middle of the story to prop up the long second act, a place where the main character undergoes a metaphorical death and rebirth. In Star Wars, for example, this is the trash compactor scene. In Fantasy Baseball, I drop my main character off a building and kill him. (He gets better.)

I think that was more than 100 words, but I'm not going to go back and count. :-) I have a LOT more to say about plot. I talk about plot at a lot at conferences, and will be teaching this structure (in much greater detail) July 21, 2012 at a writers’ conference in Greenville, South Carolina. You can find more info about the conference at Maybe some of your readers can come out and see me!

That sounds great, Alan!  Having attended one of your presentations on Plot at the SCBWI Carolinas Fall conference, I’d definitely recommend your plot presentations to anyone! Everyone can also follow Alan at his Blog or on twitter: @AlanGratz

Thanks so much for being here with us today and sharing great stories, a photo of your great beanie hat, and some wonderful tips on plot!

Next week’s “Each One Teach One Author” will be picture book author and “The Brown Bookshelf” blogger, the delightful Kelly Starling Lyons.  See you then!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Book Give-Away Winner!

Thanks to all of you who made a comment about Becky Levine's book "The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide," on either my blog or Joyce Moyer Hostetter's blog this week, thus entering your name in the drawing for this great book give-away.


                                  PEGGY REIFF MILLER!

Congratulations Peggy! (And what a beautiful website you have!)
Huge thanks to everyone who entered!  Also big thanks to Joyce
Moyer Hostetter for initiating this fabulous book give-away, and to Becky Levine
for letting us share a copy of her very helpful book!
We'll have to do more give-aways here in the future!

Coming up next:

This week's "Each One Teach One" interview will feature YA/MG authorAlan Gratz
and will be posted by Saturday morning (as usual) here on writermorphosis

It's packed with great tips and some extremely "authorly" photos
of Alan! : ) See you Saturday.

- Janelle

Friday, June 1, 2012

Each One Teach One Interview: YA/MG Historical Fiction Author Joyce Moyer Hostetter

This week’s Award-Winning Author in our Interview Series is YA Historical Fiction Author Joyce Moyer Hostetter.  Joyce is an active and well-loved member of the SCBWI.  I once heard her speak at a conference, about writing historical fiction, and I was so inspired that I immediately wanted to go off to try to write some myself!  Joyce reminds us that each of us have fodder for historical fiction tales in our own lives from our growing up years, in our parent’s scrapbooks and our grandparent’s diaries.  There’s fodder everywhere in our homes, communities and states for great teen stories of historical fiction. But historical fiction is not like fantasy, my friends.  It takes a lot more real-life research.  You have to truly understand what happened during the historical time you’re writing about, and how that would have affected your character’s lives.  
Joyce is an excellent example about how to bring together an enormous amount of research, literature reviews,  and interviews with people who lived during a situation or era. She makes her fiction truly ring true to the way life would have been in the times and places she writes about.  Joyce has published four teen historical fiction books, and has another one currently on the way.  Check out her great book trailers for her award-winning books HEALING WATER (talk about a great hook!), BLUE and COMFORT.

So Joyce, when you were new to the world of writing what other author helped you move forward in the right direction, and what did he or she teach you?

Becky Levine, author of THE WRITING AND CRITIQUE GROUP SURVIVAL GUIDE contacted me after reading my book, HEALING WATER.  She liked it so well that she wanted to swap critiques with me.  Wow!  That puffed me up just a little. So I sent her my work-in-progress and boy, is she ever gifted at analyzing characters!  If I had to think of one quick gem she gave me it would be summed up in two words she never actually used. ATTITUDE CHECK!   Her comments continually brought me back to the question of what my characters were thinking, feeling, and how those “attitudes” influenced their behavior. 
Becky may have missed her calling. It’s quite possible she’d make a really good therapist!

ATTITUDE CHECK!  Great point Joyce and Becky!  How many times have we heard from editors and readers that cardboard characters who have no emotional depth are boring and no one wants to buy books about them.  It does seem so important to ask ourselves `how does what’s happening to our characters make them feel and think, and how does how they feel and think affect their behavior?’  

I’m going to go write “attitude check” on the post it board in my writing space right now! 

Here's a photo of Becky Levine!
Also, I love the topic of Becky Levine’s book on critique groups!  (Lucky for all of you readers out there, Joyce and I are giving away a copy of Becky’s great book The WRITING AND CRITIQUE GROUP SURVIVAL GUIDE (a book I think every writer can use – it teaches you how to analyze characters, scenes and dialogue.) We'll give the book to one person picked from a hat from the list of names of all those who make a “comment” on this blog post and including "help, I need the survival guide!" before Wednesday night June 6th  You can enter twice by also making a comment on the most recent post on Joyce’s blog too!  The winner will be announced on both blogs next Thursday June 7th, 2012, and Joyce will contact the winner to get the book to you. J (So everybody out there in my critique group, hee hee, I sure hope you’ll enter this contest so we can try to win that book, lol! We want it, my friends! But this is a wide open contest. So, good luck to all who make comments on either or both blogs!)

So getting back to the interview, Joyce, can you give an example related to one of your published or agented works where you used Becky’s wisdom of focusing on your character’s “Attitudes,” thoughts and feelings to improve your book?

Yes! Just to be clear, I don’t have a contract for this book yet; although I’m sitting on my phone as we speak!  But anyway, my current book has two story lines – one is contemporary (Kelsey’s story) and the other historical (Grampy’s).  It began in my head as a historical novel so I tried much too hard not to let Kelsey’s story line take over. The result was that Kelsey was one-dimensional and not so likeable.  Becky kept giving me her gentle version of “ATTITUDE CHECK!”  Always asking what Kelsey was feeling and what her actions were based on.  

She also pointed out that Kelsey, who was seventeen, wasn’t acting her age! Sometimes we do need a therapist to help figure out why our characters are floundering. Becky was one of several critics who helped me to see that Kelsey is actually fourteen and that she needed a compelling story line of her own!

That’s a great example, Joyce!  So tell us, what is it that you love the most about being a writer?

I love when readers feel that my stories validate their real life experiences.  BLUE  and COMFORT are about polio and so many readers tell me that the books opened up communication with family members about their otherwise undisclosed polio stories. 

That definitely is amazing when people say “you know that’s so much like how I feel sometimes” about the emotional responses of one of our charaters.  Wow – what a huge compliment that is to any writer, that you’ve created a character that is so true to life that she or he becomes a mirror  through which our readers can see themselves.  That opens up opportunities for them to talk about their own lives. It doesn’t get much better than that!
And now that you’re an experienced author, how are you reaching out to new authors to help them along on this journey?

Like many writers, I’ve critiqued a lot of works-in-progress.   I remember how little I knew in the beginning so I try to save new writers from the pitfalls of submitting prematurely and making amateurish mistakes. I recommend them to SCBWI and encourage them to seek feedback from honest readers and critique partners. I’ve occasionally recommended a writer to an editor.
And of course, I promote books by other authors on my blog and link them on social media sites.  All these things are important because the publishing world is so tough to break into.  We’re a community and we have to be each other’s neighborhood watch.  Virtual block parties are essential too!  Everyone benefits when we share unselfishly and wish each other well.

I love that idea of a “neighborhood” of writers, being the neighborhood watch and having block parties together, Joyce. That’s definitely how I see the author/illustrator community too – we really are a community, looking out for each other; helping each other progress; cheering each other on…

So, of course in that community we’d never want to encourage jealousy, but just for fun let me ask, what is one book you wish you had written but someone else beat you to it? And why do you love it?

Hmmm – maybe THEN by Morris Gleitzman.  I’m so impressed with his ability to use humor to make a dreadful story more bearable.  Which is not to say he doesn’t take your heart and break it.  Because he surely does.

Wow! Humor and heartbreak together.  Sounds like something I’m going to have to go read!
Ok, one more helpful question.  What special piece of advice would you like to give to new writers – or maybe even those of us who are a little further along on the path?

I think my favorite writing tip is to write what you feel today.  If you’re mad, write an angry character.  If it’s Christmas, write a holiday scene.  If you’re sweating make your character sweat.  You can’t do this all the time because eventually you have to piece all these scenes together.  And, of course, you might actually be the sort of person who will split wide open if you don’t write in chronological order.  But I find this is a useful tool for days when real life emotions threaten to suck the writing energy out of me.

I love that advice, Joyce!  My one character is headed toward her Christmas break from school right now, but it sure would be easier for me to write a scene about a hot June day with the fan blowing on me and being totally grossed out by a wayward cockroach skittering across my front porch, lol.  Ah, you’re right. If we can grab our own emotions and experiences when possible and throw them into our stories those scenes can be some of the strongest ones we write!
So, now off we all go to write scenes in which our character's emotions come through clearly, and our own emotions and experiences strengthen the text!
Also, everybody, remember to comment here and at Joyce's blog for 2 chances to win Becky's wonderful critiquing book!
Next week our fabulous (and slightly goofy in a brilliant MG way) author interviewee will be MG/YA author Alan Gratz. Come prepared to learn more about plot - among other thngs! See you then!