Monday, September 1, 2014

Digging for Clay and a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Linda Phillips, for winning Words with Wings on last week's blog. As some of you know, Linda is a close writing buddy but I can assure you--there was no hanky panky in her winning this book. As far as I can tell, does not keep track of previous winners!
Let's start with a multiple choice question. How would you complete this comparison:

Pottery is to clay as books are to _______. 

a) words
b) drafts
c) paragraphs
d) all of the above

In ancient times, the hard work of digging up clay to make pottery was often considered slave labor. Potters throughout the centuries, and even today, still dig to find the perfect clay. It is messy, hard work.

Men Digging Clay for Pottery Making, Pamunkey Reservation, King William County, Virginia
Over the last few years, I haven't been a slave--but digging out the clay of my story, inspecting it, throwing some out, and digging deeper for more--has definitely been labor.

Years ago when I first dreamed up Half-Truths, I knew it would be about a white girl and a light-skinned black girl in Charlotte in 1960 who discovered they were second cousins. But, I didn't know much else. 

I spent months researching the time period and the place and found many interesting, historic facts. All of which I wanted to include. 

For example, I was thrilled when I found this article about the National Guard Engineers who left for Korea from Charlotte in 1950. I spent a lot of time digging around for information about Kate's father and how he could have been an engineer in Korea, where he went to school and how the family ended up in Charlotte. 

It took me a long time to figure out that Kate's story didn't start with her father leaving for the Korean conflict--even though that was the inciting event that brings her to Myers Park where she meets Lillie. Clay got discarded. Draft #1 was written totally from Kate's POV and completed in December, 2010.

At the SCBWI-Carolinas conference in 2011 I met Mary Cate Castellani who recommended writing the book from both Kate and Lillie's perspectives. New clay had to be dug for the second draft

Once again, I got interested (some might say side-tracked) into interesting historic details. Wanting to show the inequality of the Jim Crow era and hearing that every good novel should have a romance and a death, I decided Lillie's brother would die as a result of a racial incident and unequal treatment at the "Coloreds Only" hospital, Good Samaritan.

I had placed a scene when the girls discover a piece of china belonging to both families at the end of the book. 

At a plot workshop last fall, Rebecca Petruck, my writing coach, pointed out that the beautifully researched and tearfully written scenes about Lillie's brother's death were tangential to the story. And the china teacup scene belonged in the middle of the book where it would provoke a crisis between the girls. I needed to focus more on Kate and Lillie's story. 

I needed to dig more clay.

Five-time New York Times bestselling author Wally Lamb referred to this stage in a recent Writer's Digest interview. He was asked, "At what point do you usually know your ending?" and answered,

"Usually, just before the ending. And I'm talking about first draft. Of course, after you get the whole lump of clay, then you being to shape it and mold it and cut away stuff and everything. But, first draft--what happens is that I find characters that I both love and worry about. And then I have to keep writing to see if they're going to be OK or not. And there's no guarantee in my process that they are going to be OK. So that's my motivation. It's certainly more motivation than finishing a book so that I can get a royalty check. (Writer's Digest, "Wally Lam: The Weight of Words" by Suzy Spencer. March/April 2014)

Lamb uses his clay-making time to find out who his characters are and what trouble they're going to get into. Some authors call this a discovery draft. A time of finding out what their story is. 

Since last October when I took a plot workshop with Rebecca, I wrote just to get the story out. For example, I didn't obsess over the type of material in the dress Kate wears to the charity ball. I realized there was a good chance the scene would be cut or changed.  The third draft was full of questions, comments, and phrases highlighted in yellow. 

Here is a sample of two paragraphs from Chapter 19 from Kate's POV:

She gives a funny laugh. “What can you do? You’ve got everything you want/the world at your fingertips. You got grandparents who are so rich that all you got to do is point to a picture of a dress in a catalog and they’ll have it ordered by the next day. (HOW TO SAY THAT WHAT SHE WANTS ARE THE OPPORTUNITIES/POSSIBLITIES THAT L. HAS.)
I pull my hand back as if a hornet just stung me. It must have shown on my face because she says, “I shouldn’t have said that, Miss Anna Katherine. I’m sorry. I guess there’s something about this place,” she waves her hand to take in the gardens and pathways[describe better], “that just makes me feel like I can say whatever I want to say. It just feels…” her voice trails off.

When I sent the draft to Rebecca a month ago, it was rough but it was done. Linda Phillips and other writer friends told me to celebrate the completion of this draft. Everyone said I'd reached a milestone. But I wasn't ready to celebrate. Not until I received Rebecca's affirmation, "Yes, now I think you have the clay," was I ready to celebrate. 

I have five pages of notes to work through, serious thinking about deepening my characters and Kate's plot line to strengthen--but I'm thrilled. My hands are itching to get dirty-I can't wait to prod, tweak, sculpt, and shape it.
I once heard to put each draft of your book into a notebook.
It makes it feel real! 
I'm celebrating this stage in my novel's journey by giving away a copy of James Scott Bell's top-selling book, Plot and Structure Leave me a comment with your answer to my opening question or your experience with "clay-digging" and I'll enter your name to win: 

Leave me a comment by 7PM on September 5 with your name and contact information. If you post this on social media or become a new follower of my blog, I'll enter your name twice!


Monday, August 25, 2014

Words With Wings - Audio Book Giveaway!

Congratulations to Sheri Levy who won an autographed copy of Lisa Kline's book, Eleanor Hill from last week's giveaway.  For those of you who didn't win last week, here's another chance!

I've been a fan of Nikki Grimes' poetry ever since reading Bronx Masquerade; I love how she juxtaposes words and images. This is her second book I've read and once again, I enjoyed it a great deal. In this award-winning novel in verse, Grimes has written a tight story that will speak to readers, writers, and daydreamers of all ages.

Gabby is like her father - a dreamer who sees worlds inside everyday words. When she says a word such as sand, carousel, or roller coaster she immediately flies away from her school work or chores. 

After her parents split up, Gabby misses her father's comfort and empathy. Her mother decides they have to move across town and Gabby misses her neighborhood, best friend, and school:
Missing My Old School, 

My Old Life, My Old Family

Some days
sad is a word
I can't swallow.
It swells inside my throat
until it's stuck.
I hurry home from school
and beat Mom there.
The second she arrives, 
I crawl onto her lap
like when I was little.
She holds me, quiet,
and strokes my hair.
I stay there
til the sadness shrinks and I can breathe again. (p.33)

Daydreams are more than an escape from problems -- it's Gabby's way of thinking, breathing, and living. Here are a few of my favorite poems:

First Day

I duck down into the seat of my new class.
To these kids,
I’m not Gabby yet.
I’m just Shy Girl
Who Lives 
Inside Her Head.
No one even knocks 
on the door for a visit.
They don’t know
it’s beautiful 
in here. (p. 9)
Words with Wings

Some words 
sit still on the page
holding a story steady.
Those words 
never get me into trouble.
But other words have wings 
that wake my daydreams.
They fly in,
silent as sunrise,
tickle my imagination,
and carry my thoughts away.
I can’t help 
but buckle up 
for the ride! (p.11)


Dad is a dreamer
And mom is a maker.
I’ve been thinking,
I can be both. (p.27)


Say "sled"
And my nose is cold and shiny
As the blades if the red racer I haul
To the top of the hill.
Then it’s down
Down I go

careening through 
a lop-sided snow fort,
Waking the morning 
with laughter
steering straight 
into the sun.  (p.28)

Say "waterfall"
and the dreary winter rain
outside my classroom window
turns to liquid thunder,
pounding into a clear pool
miles below
and I can’t wait
to dive in.  (p. 30)
Gabby loves the places her daydreams take her--but her mother and teachers don't.
Stuck in Dreamland

Maybe something 
is wrong with me.
all this fancy dancing 
in my mind.
Where I see red and purple 
and bursts of blue,
everybody else sees 
black and white.
Am I wrong?
Are they right?
Too bad 
I can’t ask Dad. (p.38)

After hearing too many times that she needs to quit daydreaming, she resolves to stop. 
I quit

I pack my daydreams
kick them to a dark corner.
No more word journeys for me,
seeing what others don’t see. (p. 39)

When her new teacher confiscates one of her written daydreams, Gabby doesn't get into trouble as she expects. Instead, he proposes a solution that gives credence to all students' dreams and validates Gabby's aspirations.   
Courtesy of Recorded Books, I am giving away this audio CD to one fortunate blog reader. Middle grade students in both the traditional classroom or homeschool will enjoy this book-and so will you!

Leave me a comment by 7PM on August 29th, along with your email address if you are new to this blog. If you want an extra chance to win, share this on your social media of choice and let me know which you do.