Uncovering the Past

I wanted to take a moment to explain the photo at the top of this blog. It’s a scene in the 1940s of kids going skating. I’m sure you’ve never gone skating looking as sharp as these teenagers. But that was a different time which is why I love it so much.

It showcases an era of which many are not familiar. Maybe your idea of ‘colored’ people during that time was limited to cotton fields or other menial work that took place down south. This photo was taken in Chicago at the Savoy Ballroom in 1941. These kids look middle class and well-groomed. It’s just another example of how a lack of knowledge and our own misconceptions can prevent us from really knowing our history.

Through my writing, I intend to create stories around such situations in history in order to bring to the fore the lives of kids just like these and others as I discover them for myself. Stay tuned!

Paying Dues

It’s been several years since I started this blog (and others) and today I have decided to consolidate and upgrade based on my current experience. I’ve paid my dues.

Now don’t take this the wrong way, I still have lots to learn in the traditional pub game, but I can say that I’ve also paid some dues. I started out thinking I knew it all; that since I had a journalism background this kid writing thing would be easy. NOT. I had to read books on writing, sit in on writing courses, join writing groups and do a lot of listening.

I teamed up with crit partners and we shared what we learned. I watched other writers’ journeys and took copious notes. I shaped and reshaped my approach. I even changed genres until I found the one in which I felt most comfortable expressing myself.

I say all this to say that now I finally feel I am getting there. Not there yet, but getting there. I am an author.

So I am changing the subtitle of this blog to reflect my writing focus as well as to move further into my craft while sharing what I continue to learn with you.

All that said, I am gearing my writing toward YA historical with a focus on untold stories from a black as well as white perspective. Being biracial, I am also an #ownvoices writer and intend to explore more avenues that will allow me to bring out the unique experiences of my heritage.

I hope you will enjoy the posts which will include craft, websites, updates and rantings as usual.

Thanks for sticking and staying; there is a lot more to come!

Just a Moment of Your Time…

I’m sure all of us have visited websites or been on the phone with customer service when, after the experience (or call) has ended, you are asked for ‘just a moment of your time’ to take a brief survey.  I got to thinking about this and how it might work in the writing world; specifically, how it could be used when querying.

For example, let’s say you send your query by email (I guess snail mail could work too) and in addition to your sample chapters you include a request to take a brief survey ‘about your experience.’ It might go something like this:

“In appreciation for considering this query, I would like to offer you a $10 Starbucks gift card. Simply answer the following 3-question survey (or two or one depending on what you want to know). Then provide the three questions and space for a response. This can even be done via Survey Monkey (that is, if folks are not afraid to click the link).

You could ask:

  1. What do you think would have made your experience better?
  2. Did the sample chapter begin in the right place? Explain.
  3. If you actually liked the concept, how were you expecting it to develop?
    Note: This question addresses those who have a preconceived idea that your pitch brought to mind, but your chapters did not deliver.

You’d have to be sure to provide open-ended questions in order to avoid the dreaded ‘yes/no’ responses. Of course, you’d also have to figure out a way to send it automagically after you are rejected. LOL. Still working on that part.

So, what do you think? Could we writers get away with this? Probably not, but it would sure help refocus those who consistently receive the ‘loved the concept, didn’t connect with the writing’ response.  Or the ‘didn’t like the execution,’ response. Or the more common, ‘it wasn’t for me,’ response.

I know, I know. It’s a numbers game in a lot of cases, and some say it’s timing. But whatever it is (maybe even your writing ability or understanding of your genre), a survey does sound nice. And who doesn’t want a $10 Starbucks card?

 

 

Does Anyone Mentor PoC Writers?

As a kidlit author of color I read and hear a lot about diversity and I agree there needs to be more in kidlit. Some of it is that authors of color have given up trying to get in to traditional publishing opting to self publish; I know some who have started their own publishing companies. The efforts I’ve seen for PoC authors has been admirable but what many of us really need is mentoring. We need to know what we may not be doing right, what could make our writing stronger while not diluting the strong messages we want to convey. I know that issue books can turn some agents/editors off but unfortunately those stories define us as much as the non-issue aspects of our lives. Now I am not advocating special treatment but rather a chance to get a foothold in the industry. Not all of us are going to come with that polished manuscript agents covet but we could if we had help. Yes we can read, we can attend conferences, and join online groups but often we are in the minority there and that in itself can be disheartening. Maybe you’d say we should create our own groups but separating ourselves is self defeating if we are to level the playing field. So I ask, where are the mentors for PoC writers? We sure could use some help.

Voice is Everything

So today I want to talk about voice. We hear it so much as authors. Voice. The book ‘just has to have it’, the agents say. But you might ask, ‘what is it exactly? Don’t all characters have a voice, after all, they are talking?’ True, but just having a character talk is not voice. It’s what the character demonstrates his or her self to be. Let me explain.

When you sit down to lunch or drinks with your friends and you all start talking, you know that no matter the subject each of you will reveal their voice in the conversation. One friend may shy away from certain topics and you can tell by the way she participates, what she says or does not say. Another friend always has a definite opinion and she expresses it in a defiant way. And yet another makes light of just about everything. Study your friends and then translate that to your character. That is voice.

How do you do this? Examine each of your characters and ask yourself. ‘Who is Johnny? How does he feel about certain things?’ Then give Johnny the mannerisms, words and attitude he needs to pull it off. You need to make Johnny real, like your friends. And he needs to maintain that ‘voice’ throughout the book.

Readers need to be able to get together in book clubs and say ‘Johnny just hates xyz,’ or ‘Johnny is just a joker, he never takes anything seriously.’

How will they know this? VOICE!

Feeling the Void Not Just Filling it

We writers love to wax poetic about the industry and our place in it and in this post I am no exception. Today I feel compelled to discuss the recent surge of writers who are chasing the agent’s dream rather than their own. What I mean is, some writers are so anxious to get published that they troll the agent sites such as #mswl and #tenqueries to find out the agent’s wish so they can in turn grant it. Before I continue let me preface this by saying I too peruse those two hashtags but not for the same reason. I find it interesting and sometimes amazing to read what agents want; it’s entertaining too depending on the agent who writes the tweet. But for me, that’s where it ends. I believe that if there is a void in a certain type of book, as is surmised by these posts, then the author should not simply fill that void, they should be writing because they ‘feel’ the void.

Let me elaborate.

I write what I feel, those subjects that mean something to me. Situations in which I have often had personal experience, or know someone who has had that particular experience. Granted I make things up to complement the information because that is what the license of fiction allows. As a reader I also find that the book that ‘feels’ rather than fills, can be discerned in the text — it is clear that the author gets what they are trying to convey.

So I guess all I am saying is stop trying to follow a trend, copy a best seller, or satiate an agent. Just write what’s inside you and make us feel it too.

What I’m learning about my book

One of the things I am both excited about and frustrated by is the process of revelation. My new book examines a more serious subject than my first and as it is progressing I am seeing how all the elements fit together in a different way. First of all I decided to write this book in first person. I am finding that it is requiring me to dig deeper to show how the characters around my MC react to and interact with him. I am also working harder to prevent what I keep hearing happens so often in first person: boredom. I can see how that would take place since you must remain in one person’s head. That is why I have been working on ensuring his personality is strong and apparent in all he says and does. That has required that I really know him well — his personal agenda, his deep seated desires, his weak points. It has been very interesting developing him and I learn more each time I sit down to write.

The difficult part has been not overdoing his reactions to the external forces coming at him while at the same time showing his feelings in a human way.

I am also struggling with revealing the background info; I wanted to allow other characters to bring out. Writing in first person really limits this and I am having to find creative ways to bring it out without stating it as exposition. This is teaching me a lot of about my writing and making more aware of different techniques.

Since this book is so close to my heart I am determined to take my time and get it done well. I have about five chapters left to complete the first draft and am forcing myself not to go back and rewrite early chapters. But I am re-examining them to ensure they fit together and I am telling the story I want to tell. I am an outliner so I do have a direction; a shell so to speak that is guiding me. But I have enough flexibility to adjust as I go and allow for a lot of creativity.

All in all, the writing advice I have read and heard over the last few years from books and authors and agents and critique groups is all coming together now. It’s a great feeling to know you are working on something that has personal meaning and I hope that once it’s complete it will have meaning to my readers as well.

Why I love my rejection letter

Yes I said it. I love my rejection letter. Not just because it is my first rejection letter for my first MG novel, but because I actually RECEIVED a letter. Some authors agonize over never hearing from the object of their desire. Others hear only words that spurn their affections. But I. I not only received a letter, I also received a few kind words. That, my friends, makes it all worthwhile.

Let me say that I am not a sadist. I don’t want to be turned away like some uninvited guest. I want to join the party just like everyone else. The thing is, this letter gave me hope that one day I might get in. Maybe with some extra effort and a little more ingenuity. With tenacity and thick skin. With determination and hope. Yes I can —  join the ranks of the traditionally published.

Aside from the kind words, my rejection letter showed me that it’s not easy — and even though everyone says that, we all think we are that ‘one in a million’ author; of course, whether our work merits that distinction is in the eye of the receiver. My rejection letter showed me that someone is out there watching and possibly waiting. That somewhere, I will find my heart’s desire (maybe she’s pounding away at the keyboard from her high-rise in Manhattan, or he’s working feverishly out of a modest rental in LA) but wherever he or she is, our paths will meet and we will join forces to open up new horizons for the middle-schoolers of the world!

Maybe, the next time.

Driving Test Answers

For those of you who actually care, here are the answers to our mini-drivers test, according to the Georgia Department of Driver Services:

1) If a school bus is stopped in front of you on a 2-lane highway, with a solid yellow line is it legal to pass?

Answer: Passing is prohibited on two-lane roads in areas marked by a solid yellow line on the right of the center line, or a “Do Not Pass” sign, or double yellow lines.

2) what if it’s a city bus?

Answer: Passing is prohibited on two-lane roads in areas marked by a solid yellow line on the right of the center line, or a “Do Not Pass” sign, or double yellow lines.

3) If the light up ahead is flashing yellow should you stop?

Answer: A flashing yellow light means you must slow down and exercise caution before proceeding through the intersection (translation: don’t stop! Only those with a flashing red light must stop and treat it like a stop sign).

4) Can you turn right on red if the light is showing a red arrow?

Answer: No

5) What if there’s just a sign that says No Turn On Red?

Answer: Unless a sign posted at that intersection prohibits doing so, it is permissible to make a “right turn on red” at an intersection controlled by a traffic control light.

6) If you come to a 4-way stop sign at the exact same time as another driver, who can legally go first?

Answer: If two vehicles reach the intersection at approximately the same time, yield to any vehicles on your right.

 

Regarding school buses, this is also important to keep in mind: Once the flashing lights have turned red and the stop signs have extended from the side of the bus, it is unlawful for any vehicle to pass the stopped school bus while it is loading or unloading passengers. On a highway divided by a median, cars traveling on the opposite side from the stopped school bus are not required to stop.

I hope this little exercise will help all of you who are transportationally-challenged. See you on the road!

Could You Pass A Driving Test?

Is it just me or are drivers less and less aware of the rules of the road? I commute 60 miles a day and I can’t believe some of the idiotic behaviors I witness on the road. So I’m going to give you a little test to see how much YOU know about driving.

1) If a school bus is stopped in front of you on a 2-lane highway, with a solid yellow line is it legal to pass?

2) what if it’s a city bus?

3) If the light up ahead is flashing yellow should you stop?

4) Can you turn right on red if the light is showing a red arrow?

5) What if there’s just a sign that says No Turn On Red?

6) If you come to a 4-way stop sign at the exact same time as another driver, who can legally go first?

These questions were evidently not a requirement for drivers within a 50 mile radius of Atlanta because daily they make the wrong choice, wreaking havoc on our roads, not to mention my nerves.
So let’s see how ya do. I will post the answers in my next post and I truly hope you pass (for the sake of good drivers everywhere).