Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Science Fiction YA Authors Panel Rocks!

Congratulations to Rosi Hollenbeck, my most faithful blog follower on the west coast and an amazing blogger. She won an autographed copy of Sundee's book, "The Other Half of My Heart." Check out her blog for writing resources, book reviews, and giveaways. 

Beth Revis, Amie Kaufman, & Megan Spooner
enjoying the spotlight at Park Road Books
One of the fun parts about writing a book for young adults is meeting authors. Recently Park Road Books, Charlotte's own indie bookstore, hosted Beth Revis (Across the Universe trilogy) Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner (These Broken Stars). They talked fast and furious about their books, advised new writers, and offered insight into collaborating on a book. Since I didn't bring my laptop, I took notes. Their paraphrased remarks are below: 

Little Known Fact About Beth:  Part of what inspired Across the Universe was an Agatha Christie book, Murder on The Orient Express.  She thought about how Christie's murder took place in the close environment of a train. Then she went on to think, "What if there was a murderer on board a spaceship?" 
Researching Your Book: There were was much laughter when all three authors shared some of the strange research they've done. Beth seemed to find a lot of information from Russian astronauts who apparently have tried more things than Americans--including surviving (for a very short time) in space without a spacesuit. 

Words of Wisdom from Megan: Look all around you for ideas. When you get one, chew on it for a while. Play, "what if?" Stories can get built out of small ideas. 

Question from Amie: All writers come back to certain questions or themes that fascinate them. What are the ones you inserted into your stories?
   Beth "Mine is finding your place in your world. What is home?"
   Megan "People from different worlds must work together to survive." 
On Collaboration: Megan and Amie played with their characters first. They e-mailed back and forth for at least a year imagining their adventures before they decided to write a book together. They each took one of the characters and wrote the chapter from that person's point of view. During the revision stage, they each worked on the entire book so that at some point, they no longer could identify who wrote what.

On a Character’s Motivation: Don't get your characters what they want. Or give it to them and then make sure the character hates what he or she received.

Advice to young writers: Read. Everything. Don't worry about publication. This is not a race. Beth added, "This is about creating art. When in doubt, make better art." Meg said, “Get used to showing other people your work as soon as possible.”

On Creating Imaginary Worlds: Make an encyclopedia and maps. Include as much information as possible. You'll be thankful later on that you did. Beth said that after Across the Universe was written, her editor asked for a map of the ship. She was forced to admit that one didn't exist.

On Creating Dialogue: Realistic dialogue should be a cross between what we think we sound like and what we really sound like.
Amie's Advice on writing Your First Chapter: Don't spend a month re-writing it. It will get changed a lot. Get it out and move on. 

How about you? What do you learn from other authors--either ones you meet in person or via their books or in cyberspace? I'd love to hear your tidbits too!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Other Half of My Heart: An Interview and a Giveaway!

In my last blog I reviewed Sundee Frazier's contemporary novel, The Other Half of My Heart. Now Sundee shares the story behind the story, and a chance to win a personally autographed copy.

Carol: I'm curious as to why you chose to write your book from Minni's point of view.

Sundee. I know this point of view best. As a biracial African-American with light skin, I have often been labeled “white” like Minni. I “get” what it feels like to blend in with and be accepted by whites, and yet have this deep, abiding sense of being psychically and emotionally connected with black people. Over the years I learned, like Minni, that I could align myself with my darker sisters, use my voice to speak the truth, and have a beautiful heart, no matter what my color. Telling the story from Minni’s point of view required less effort, in that it’s substantially my point of view, but also required more transparency and emotional vulnerability.

Carol: Did you consider telling the story from both girls POVs?

Sundee: Not while I was writing it. After the fact, I received feedback that some readers would have liked to hear Keira’s perspective.

Carol: I think you did an excellent job of showing your readers what Keira thought and felt through her words and actions. How did your own growing up years influence writing this book? Did any of your experiences make it into the book?

Sundee: I’m glad you asked this, because while Minni and I have similar racial experiences, Keira is certainly a part of me, too! I enjoyed performing as a kid, like Keira (although I can also be shy and performance-averse like Minni), and experienced my share of “achievement programs” as a teen. (See my website for pictures of me wearing ridiculous pageant gowns and outfits—or maybe don’t!) In terms of racism, as a young person I was only a direct target of racist comments a few times. I’ve never been followed in a store or asked not to handle goods, as Keira. I know that in our society’s messed-up paradigm of race, I’ve been afforded a certain protection by the lightness of my skin. But I also know that being African-American has sensitized me to racism and that’s why I write about it: because I know it’s real.

One of the experiences that informed her book was Sundee's
experiences in scholarship pageants.
Here she is as Miss Washington's Junior Miss First Runner-Up in 1985.

My black grandmother’s experience directly influenced Grandmother Johnson’s character, particularly the pain Grandmother Johnson carries related to skin color. My grandmother was essentially raised by her grandmother. (Her mother was a domestic worker who traveled with the white families she served.) This woman (my great-great-grandmother) was the daughter of a slave and a master, and had very light skin. My grandma told me about visiting the South with her grandmother, and how shocked she was when they had to go to the back of the bus. (In the Northwest, where she was born and raised, there wasn’t legal Jim Crow, although there was still plenty of prejudice and socially enforced segregation.) This anecdote inspired the story that Grandmother Johnson tells about her white-looking grandma taking her on a bus. I never experienced my grandmother as someone with internalized racism—to me, she was extremely proud of her ethnicity, and passed that along to me.

Carol: Can you share some of the backstory about writing this book, getting an agent, and getting a publisher?

Sundee: I am fortunate to be represented by the inimitable Regina Brooks of Serendipity Literary Agency. My final advisor in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program, Carolyn Coman, introduced me to Regina after I graduated and she has been a force on my behalf. When Regina sold my first novel, Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It, which also happened to be my MFA creative thesis, to Delacorte Press (Random House), she garnered a two-book contract, although I didn’t yet have a second book written! When it was time for the second book, I pitched an idea that I’d hatched and drafted during NaNoWriMo. My editor rejected that manuscript, but then told me about a news item she’d seen out of the UK about twins who’d been born to a multiracial couple: One looked black and the other white. She pondered aloud, “I wonder what their lives will be like when they’re 12.” Then she asked, “Do you think you could write a story about that?” Eager to please, I responded with, “Uh . . . sure!”

I always believed I was uniquely poised to write such a story, but I have to say, it was an extremely challenging process getting from beginning to end. I had the pressure of a contract for a book I hadn’t written, and subject matter that I cared about passionately and wanted to get just right.

Sundee's parents married one year after the Supreme Court
outlawed the remaining laws against inter-racial marriages.

I had over 600 pages of draft writing, just trying to find my way to the characters and the plotline. For the longest time Minni’s name was actually Serenity and her family lived in Seattle; Grandmother Johnson lived in Atlanta; there was a garbage collector named Lester, a friend they made in Atlanta with synesthesia, and a little fatherless boy named Marcus (none of whom appear in the final novel). The parents were on the verge of getting a divorce and the twins were always at each others’ throats! The breakthrough for me came when my agent asked whether I wanted to write a story about “sisters against each other” or “sisters against the world.” And that’s when I knew: the girls would be indefatigable and their common enemy would be Grandmother Johnson. It still took many drafts to get to the finished product, but that was the crystallizing moment for me.

Carol: It’s great hearing how your book evolved, Sundee. That gives me hope for my own WIP! It’s also interesting to discover how much your own life experience informed your writing; you were definitely in a unique position to write it.
Sundee is giving away a personally autographed copy of her book to one fortunate reader! Here is how you can win it:

1. Leave me a comment with your email address, if I don't have it. For every time you share this post on a social media site, I'll enter your name an additional time. Make sure you tell me what you did!
2. If you are a new follower to this blog, I'll enter your name another time.
3. Winner will be drawn on Friday, February 21--so enter soon!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Multi-Racial Read #18: The Other Half of My Heart

Minni's heart soared as the small plane's wheels lifted from the ground. She loved being up in the clouds with Keira, Mama and Daddy, the never-ending blue-gray ocean, and the rugged mountain peaks. Gliding, like a bird on the wind. 

Keira sank her nails into Minni's arm. It hurt, but Minni didn't pull away. It wasn't often that she got to be the brave one. 

I love it when an author's opening words draw me into a story; that was my experience when I began listening to Sundee Frazier's middle grade book, The Other Half of My Heart. 

Minni and Kiera are eleven-year-old "one-in-a-million twins." Their artist mother is black and their pilot father is white. As a  result, Minni's skin is "milky white" and Keira's is "cinnamon brown." Growing up in a small town in Washington state, the girls are used to the stares and questions they receive when their family is together. 

But their cocooned life changes when their black grandmother insists they both participate in the Black Pearls of America beauty pageant in North Carolina. While shopping for pageant dresses with their white grandmother, Kiera is treated like a second-class customer and told not to handle the dresses. Minni witnesses the clerk's rudeness, but doesn't come to her sister's defense. Later at the pageant, Minni is ostracized because of her skin color and for the first time experiences what it's like to be the one who is different than everyone else. The girls' close relationship is tested as each is pulled by new acquaintances and past loyalties.

Written from Minni's perspective, she longs to look more like her dark mother. One of my favorite lines is when Minni asks her mother "Am I just white? Or am I black too?" Her mother's answer includes this thoughtful response: "Your blackness is just hidden a little deeper--like a vein of gold running deep within the soil of your soul." (p. 7)

I also appreciated the multi-generational flavor which Frazier brings to this contemporary story. Despite their grandmother's generosity in bringing the girls to North Carolina, both girls find her stuffy, domineering, and critical. After the pageant is over, Minni gets up the nerve to ask her why she's always trying to change her sister's appearance so that she would look less dark (straightening Keira's hair, encouraging her not to allow her skin to darken in the sun). When her grandmother reveals her own painful childhood experiences of racial prejudice, Minni understands a part of her family's history that puts her grandmother's life into historical perspective.  

A fellow writer recommended Frazier's book to me because of my own WIP, Half-Truths which centers on the relationship between a light-skinned teen and her white cousin. My friend's recommendation was on the money: not only is The Other Half of My Heart (Delacorte Press, Random House, Inc. 2010) a well-written book for girls, it also provides thought-provoking insights into both girls' struggles with racial identity.

Come back next week when Sundee answers some questions about herself and her inspiration for this book. You will also have the chance to win a personally autographed copy of a book that you, or a young girl in your life, will love. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Objective Correlatives and a White Belt

Last fall I wrote several blog posts about the Plot & Structure class I took with the Center for Writing Excellence. You may remember the concept of objective correlatives which enables authors to "show, not tell."

I have fallen in love with the idea. 

In her lesson about objective correlatives, my instructor Bethany Nuckolls, wrote: 

"This is an object in the scene, which correlates with the narrative subtext, thus displacing the need for a narrator's explanation. Sometimes referred to as 'reading between the lines,' subtext is everything that is not being said or shown, but is nonetheless present such as a husband and wife sitting down to a silent dinner. Neither one says, 'I am angry at you,' but that anger can be felt nonetheless….Just as actors need props to hold on stage, scenes need objective correlatives for characters to channel their thoughts and emotions through."

Now as I read, I'm on the lookout for phrases and objects that might be objective correlatives; words which provide the reader with subtext about the scene. As Nuckolls concludes in this section, "Rarely does the author need to spell things out for the reader via explanation."

For your instruction (and mine!) here are some examples.

From Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman:

Blankman first describes Gretchen's brother as "a column of darkness." (p.8) This image foreshadows his character and the troubles he will bring in to Gretchen's life. 

Later, the reader sees Gretchen as she leaves her school, "As she walked down the narrow hallway, she wished life could be simple and straightforward. She wanted to be so many different puzzle pieces--Uncle Dolf's sunshine, the martyr's daughter, the serious student, the future physician." (p. 30)  Blankman shows how Gretchen is trying to figure out where and how she fits in by using the objective correlative of a puzzle piece. 

Here's an example from Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd. 
The protagonist, Juliet, is on board a ship traveling to a Pacific island hoping to determine if her father is a monster or a misunderstood genius. Shepherd writes, "I wasn't sure I was ready to learn what types of boundaries my father might have crossed out there in the dark, silent sea." (p. 61)  The play on the word "boundaries" hints at what Juliet is truly thinking. The "dark, silent sea" symbolizes the unknown. 

In Lisa Williams Kline's book, Summer of the Wolves, stepsisters Stephanie and Diana are having a hard time getting used to their new family. In a dramatic moment, they must climb a steep path in order to free the penned-up wolves. Although she is reluctant to help her ill-prepared sister, Diana succeeds in pulling her sister up the rock face. This is a turning point in their relationship; the scene echoes the struggles they have had to gain equal footing.  

Here is an example from my WIP, Half-Truths. After I wrote it I realized I'd successfully used several objective correlatives. In this scene Kate, who has just moved from  Cheraw, SC, is getting reacquainted with her Myers Park friends. 

"A funny look twisted Shirley’s face. She laughed nervously. 'Well, you have to admit, Kate, a Cheraw hoedown is a far cry from a Myers Park cotillion.'

Kate almost choked on her sandwich. She loved square dancing with her 4-H buddies, but she still dreamt of pink tulle dresses and open toe high heels. Did Shirley think she was just a yokel?"

So what do all these objective correlatives have to do with a white belt?

Here's how. A month ago I impulsively decided to enroll in a Tae Kwon Do class. It is fun, great exercise, and challenging to both body and mind. 

I found myself possessively proud of the white belt I received. As I thought about it, I realized that the belt is not only a symbol of my beginner's status. 

The subtext goes deeper. 

I turned 60 last December. I'd been dreading that birthday; fearing the approach of "older" age.  But tying that belt around my waist has proven to me that life is not over. I can and will do new things.

I have a book that I hope to finish this year.

I have travels and adventures I plan to take. 

And, now I have a white belt too. 

Watch out. You never know what objective correlative is just around the bend. 

My 2014 Objective Correlative

How about you? Found any interesting objective correlatives in a book you are reading? Written one you want to share? Or have one of your own you want to boast about?

Bring them on!


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