Sunday, October 13, 2013

Writers' Remote

Don't you wish SCBWI would issue all its members with a "writers remote controller"?

No, seriously. It could be awesome.

We'd have tons more time to write if we could pause our real-life obligations like cooking dinner and grading the fifty-three science notebooks currently sitting in a bag next to me us.

We could also fast forward the more unpleasant aspects of being an aspiring writer (like fighting with synopses and endlessly debating whether the time is right to send query letters that don't mention a mutual adoration of wombats to one's dream agent.) Oooo! And we could even fast forward to when we get rejection letters, then rewind and fix things (either in the query or the partial) prior to sending them out. It would be like an endless supply of do-overs! 

I'm liking this.

Get on it, SCBWI. (Please.)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Boys Without Names (Spoilers Ahead)

Every year my fifth graders study two novels in addition to expository texts and short stories from an anthology. They study Tuck Everlasting in January and Carolyn Reeder's Shades of Gray. (And yes, we do get raised eyebrows and sometimes confused e-mails from parents when we announce this, which is why I've started referring to it as "the-children's-post-Civil-War-novel-Shades-of-Gray-by-children's-author-Carolyn-Reeder.")

This year my awesome principal gave my team permission to add a third novel study. Instead of just picking a novel for the entire grade to read, we decided we want to offer choice literature circles to introduce our Heritage unit. The school where I teach is incredibly diverse. We have students whose parents are from six out of seven continents and something like forty different countries, so we wanted to offer novels that reflect some of the different cultures and backgrounds of students at our school.

Before the end of last school year, we decided on A Single Shard and When My Name Was Keoko (both by Linda Sue Park), Esparanza Rising (Pam Munoz Ryan), Dragonwings (Lawrence Yip), The Storyteller's Beads (Kurtz), The Breadwinner (Ellis), and Number the Stars (Lowry).

Then over the summer, I read Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth. Right away, I knew I had to add it to our list.

The story begins with Gopal's family secretly escaping moneylenders in their rural village by moving to Mumbai to live with Gopal's uncle. Things don't quite go as planned, and after falling for another boy's trick, Gopal ends up locked in a sweatshop making beaded frames from dawn to dusk.

It's hard to place my finger on exactly why I love this story so much, but I think it comes down to Gopal's purity of heart, and how he doesn't lose that even when his situation deteriorates. Even in the face of horrible conditions, he remains others-focused, which is a characteristic many of us here in the U.S. could stand to develop further. Additionally, Sheth creates a clear picture of Indian culture in modern Mumbai through Gopal's eyes, which makes it perfect for our novel study.

I'm really excited about these literature circles. My team and I hope to add more choices each year as we come across them. If anyone knows of additional middle grade novels (realistic fiction) you'd recommend--especially those set in South America and Africa--I'd love to hear about them!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Good News, Bad News

I'll start with the positive. I interacted on Twitter every day this week. I also managed to set aside at least a half an hour to write every day this week. Most days it was at least an hour. So I wrote...and deleted...and wrote some more...and deleted some more.

...and I'm starting to identify with Sisyphus.

Obviously, it did not go well. But it went, so that's something, right?

The problem is I'm stuck on chapter 18 of Cracked revisions. Not plot-wise because that's pretty set. No matter what I did, the writing itself just came out so forced and clunky. Since my friendly neighborhood pharmacy was fresh out of magic potions that make one's writing not suck, I just kept trying. It did not get better. Eventually, I switched to a different story and worked on it for awhile before returning to Cracked. That didn't help either.

So now I'm staring with some trepidation at "chapter 18." I just rewrote the entire first paragraph again, but it's really the middle of the chapter where the writing goes kaput. (Please excuse the interruption because I suddenly wondered where we got the word "kaput" and feel compelled to look up its etymology immediately.)

Okay, I'm back. It's German. I should've guessed that.

Maybe the problem is my attention span...

Anyway, stuck on chapter 18. I'm going to give it one more try before I just move on to chapter 19. I can always come back to it later. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Stats & Goals Update (It's about time.)

Stats for the Day

Chapters Revised: Technically 1, but I revised a few of the same sections more than once, so it feels like more.

Conferences Attended: 1
Number of Times Chris Crutcher made me LOL: Yeah...I lost count

Goals Update

Wow, I kind of suck at this goals thing. I set first quarter goals for 2013 back in December of 2012. I didn't completely forget about (most of) my goals, but I never blogged an update in March. Or at all since December.

So here's the update:

Goal 1. Get halfway though major revisions of my MG fantasy novel currently titled Reflection.

I met this goal, though I can't remember whether or not I met it by March. It's September, but since I'm currently on chapter 18 of 28 chapters, I'm giving myself credit--or maybe half-credit.

2. Find a snappier title for Reflection.

Goal accomplished pretty soon after I made it. I'm going with Cracked for now.

3. Polish the first two or three revised chapters by February, in time to submit for critique at my SCBWI region's March conference.

The polishing was done by February, but I wasn't able to go to the March conference because I was on a plane to Puerto Rico that day. I know. I felt bad for me too.

4. Write a daggone synopsis to submit along with the first two or three chapters, again in time to submit for the March conference.

Goal sort of accomplished. I put together a two paragraph synopsis for a query letter. I'm almost happy with it. I haven't started revising the longer synopsis, though. Maybe 2/11 credit for this one. (It's kind of like Who's Line. The points make no sense because they don't really matter.)

5. Write a rough draft of a query letter and post it to the Blueboards for critique.

I only wrote and posted the synopsis from goal four. I'll pick a random fraction's worth of credit to give myself later. Maybe.

6. Update the blog more regularly--at least once every two weeks.

I think I have to give myself negative points for this one.

New Goals for the Last Quarter of 2013

1. Finish revising Cracked

2. Write a complete query letter

3. Spend at least 20 minutes three times a week interacting in the writing world on Twitter

4. Update this blog at least every other week. Really this time.