Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Kindness of My Characters

I have often described my characters as my imaginary friends.  While I am creating them, they gradually become more and more real to me.  I know I've really hit my stride in a manuscript when my characters feel as real to me as an imaginary friend feels to a four-year-old.  At this point, my writing time takes on a life of its own in the sense that it becomes my time to spend with my new friends, and it is the creative mystery of writing fiction that these new friends take me by the hand and lead me deep into the story I am writing.

I am so thankful for the way in which this has happened for me with the stories I have written, and I feel as if it is the kindness of my characters that allows me to tell their stories.  It doesn't mean that there aren't times when my characters are not so forthcoming, and I have to struggle through a scene or a chapter or maybe even several chapters.  But I know that if I am consistent in my writing time and show up when I am supposed to, my characters eventually come around and lead me through the rough patches, getting me back on track again.

Because the time I spend with my characters is so real to me, when I finish a draft or finally send my manuscript off to my editor, I actually miss these characters, who have become my real friends, and a little bit of "story loneliness" sets in for me.  The silver lining, at this point, is knowing that eventually, when my story becomes a book and my characters head out into the world, these "people" who have been so kind to me and allowed me to tell their story will now be real to all those who read my book.  For me, that's the power of the kindness of my characters.  
Happy Reading,
Nancy J. Cavanaugh  

Monday, March 19, 2018

Acts of Writerly Kindness: How I Met My Critique Partners

When I first started writing a novel, it was a like a secret, clandestine affair. I wrote in the late hours of the night with the curtains closed and the door shut. I wrote notes to myself during the day and hid them in my pocket. I told no one.

 I didn’t want to fail.

I thought if I kept it all to myself, and didn’t share, I wouldn’t have to tell anyone until I was wildly successful. That way if I completely bombed at novel-writing, no one would ever have to know I tried and crashed miserably. Turns out, affairs with your book are lonely. And also, possibly the hardest way to write a book. Make friends!

Writer and author friends have proven to be the very best ones I’ve made in my life. Once I finished that first novel, I approached a kind author I’d met through my days at the newspaper office. I wished I’d done it sooner. She was excited to hear from a fellow aspiring author, and she remembered those days of low self-esteem and doubt that all those words you’re scribbling will ever go anywhere. We became friends. Good friends, and now she’s one of my best and most trusted critique partners.

I wrote more manuscripts. Better manuscripts. After securing my first literary agent, she sweetly encouraged me to sign up for Twitter and start *gasp* talking about my novel writing. I huffed, I dug my heels in, I didn’t want to. I didn’t feel like I had enough credentials to be on Twitter and talk about my writing among the professionals. But I signed up…and found so many other people just like me. Writers, writing to write. Writers, seeking publication. Writers, seeking self-publishing. Writers, in poetry and songs and short stories and bloggers. Readers! Librarians! Bookstore owners! I’d found my world. I made friends through online conversation and through other clients of my agent.

One, a successful short story writer and traditionally-published young adult author, I now consider my best and most trusted friend. We’ve never met in person, but we chat every day and exchange our writing constantly. The source of her kindness, support and inspiration has often pulled me through the I-hate-this-novel-it’s-crap-total-crap-mentality that inevitably comes. Through entering writing contests and events like Pitch Wars, I met even more writers. One mentor was considerate enough to love my entry so much, he worked on it in his own spare time, giving me feedback on how to strengthen it for the submission process. How amazing! We are now critique partners, too. He’s unlike my middle grade and young adult – a writer in adult fantasy adventure with a sharp writing style and amazingly creative ideas.

I enjoy that we can all share our different genres and see them through different eyes.

 Being able to cheer others in their work has brought an entirely new dimension to my life as a writer – one I never knew how much I’d miss if I didn’t have it. So get out there, writers and readers. Don’t keep the lights off, there’s so much waiting for you out there beyond the shelves at home.

 Happy reading!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Fan Mail, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

One of the best parts of my writerly life is receiving fan mail. I don't know an author who wouldn't agree! All those terrible first drafts, the hours of agonizing over the perfect sentences, the nine-page letter from your editor with suggestions of what you need to "fix," and the not-so-hot review -- all those fade into the background when you get a letter from a young reader that simply says: I loved your book!

Here are a few snippets from some of my all-time favorite fan letters:

"I read your book when I had been in a reading slump for a long time and your book sparked my love of reading again."

"Your book is my favorite book I have read in my entire life. I am 13 years old and I have read a lot of books."

"Please, please, please make a sequel. I know at my school, at least 20 people would read it."

"You were able to change me as a person with your writing."

"Write on. I can't wait to read more. When will your next book be out?"

Despite going to events and conferences, school visits and coffee shops, so much of writing is solitary. It's just your fingers and your brain getting those words on the page. It's hard, and there are many challenging days the fingers and the brain just aren't working. There are good days too, when that perfect sentence materializes on the page. And there are great days when I open up my email and see a subject line like this: "From Your Biggest Fan."

Thank you readers, for taking the time to send us writers some love. We appreciate it from the bottom of our hearts!

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Ethan Marcus Stands Up (Aladdin Books 2017), The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books 2014), and Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books 2011). Catch up with her at micheleweberhurwitz.com

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


by Chris Tebbetts

Hi all! I'm going off topic this month, as part of my participation in the #Kidlitwomen initiative some of you may already know about. A Facebook page by the same name (Kidlitwomen) is using March, Women's History Month, as a launch for their initiative, focusing on solutions to issues of gender inequity within the Kidlit industry. If you'd like to join in, know more, and/or want to read other postings related to this subject from the many industry professionals participating, head over to Kidlitwomen on Facebook and check it out. 


As I’ve been thinking about what I can contribute to the conversation on gender equity in the Kidlit industry as a male ally, I keep circling back to the work I did as a marriage equality activist some years ago. Between 1995 and 2009, I was as involved as I’ve ever been on a single issue, working at the grassroots, state, and (to a small degree) national level, including a stint as the Chair of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force. And while I’m not suggesting that same sex marriage and gender equity in the workplace are direct equivalents, I do see some parallels, in their mutual focus on creating equality, and also, perhaps, in some of what we found to be constructive on the marriage front. In the name of brevity, I’ll stick to three examples.

In the run up to marriage equality in this country, the stories people came forward to tell from their own lives—for example, about being denied hospital visitation with a sick spouse; the complication of second parent adoption in some areas; and yes, the psychic toll of being seen as unequal in the eyes of the law—were at the core of our eventual success. Likewise, the #metoo movement has been immeasurably amplified by women who have been brave enough to share their own stories. 

Within the #Kidlitwomen community, where we have a particular appreciation for the power of story, many of you have already drawn clear and compelling lines between the relative abstraction of the issues at hand and the places where those issues play out in very human terms. If my own experience is any indication, I’d say keep it up! In the end, it can be the most important tool we have when it comes to changing minds, changing hearts, and ultimately, changing the industry. 

Honestly, I’m a bit hesitant to name this one, in this context. While I can relate to the inescapability of identity-based issues—I live every day as a gay man in a homophobic world—I also live under the cover of my own white maleness, which is where the analogy to living as a woman in a sexist world, or living as a person of color in a  racist world falls short. So with that caveat in mind, I do believe that it can be constructive to individually cut ourselves a break when the 24/7 of living with—and fighting against—inequality grows particularly heavy. 

I saw Roxane Gay speak at the Antioch Writers Workshop a few years ago, and during her Q&A, there was a question from a young African American woman about confronting (and sometimes not confronting) racism from behind the cash register where she worked. To my surprise, Gay’s response began with something to the effect of, Listen, you’ve got to make a living. Cut yourself a break. As she went on, it came clear that her advice wasn’t about pretending these infractions don’t exist, but it was an invitation to look at what we’re each doing in the aggregate, and at what  we do accomplish alongside what we don’t, especially in the face of the very natural fatigue that comes from any ongoing fight for equality. If nothing else, it’s a strategy for the long run, allowing ourselves to recharge, and to show up again, and again, and again, when and where we can.

A big part of my optimism during the marriage equality movement came from what I experienced as the one-way door of public opinion on that issue. Along the way, I heard about some countless number of people changing their minds, from being against marriage equality to being in favor of it. By contrast, I never heard a single story about anyone going in the other direction—from supporting equality to standing against it. That’s not to say that it never happened, but at a statistical level, it was insignificant, at best. 

And again, I’m not suggesting a direct parallel here to the issues on the #Kidlitwomen radar. The current political climate can certainly be counted as a backslide for women’s issues in this country, in more ways than one. For that matter, progress in areas of social justice rarely come without some kind of reinvigorated resistance from the opposing side. I lived in Vermont for years without witnessing any of the homophobic rhetoric that became (temporarily) commonplace during the marriage debate. So yes, it’s never a straight line toward the future. But with all of that said, I remain optimistic about the idea that bringing truth to light; sharing stories from the trenches; and, in the aggregate, creating a national dialogue—one that plays out around dinner tables, in the workplace, online, and at the policy level—can only help accelerate the kinds of changes we’re all hoping to see. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Got Teacher Guides? Let's Share Them. by Darlene Beck Jacobson

 In keeping with our theme of kindness and supporting one another as children's book authors, I am posting this month about a new series on my personal blog.

 http://www.darlenebeckjacobson.wordpress.com  I am starting a feature for teachers looking for good books to use as part of the curriculum. If you have books with curriculum guides, teacher activity sheets and the like, I would love to feature you in a future post.  Send me your information in an email and we can set up a post date. You provide me a short description of how the book/s can be used in classes, target age group, and links to the teacher materials. I'd like to feature EVERYONE...all of us have so many wonderful titles that get overlooked and this is one way to make them more visible.  Here is a link the Curriculum Guide and other teacher materials for my MG Historical WHEELS OF CHANGE:  http://www.darlenebeckjacobson.com/teachers.htm

Supporting each other is one of the best ways I know to spread kindness in the Kid Lit Community.  This blog does that everyday. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Remembering Generosity

by Jody Feldman

It didn’t matter that I paid for it or that she, as author/instructor, had taken on the responsibility of teaching us how to write for kids. Every week, for 8 weeks, she showed up in the basement classroom, her husband/co-author in tow. He would be carrying a mountain of books that she would use to illustrate a point. He would take a seat in the back; and yet, he was a presence, too. As for her, she commanded the room with such assurance that you might have mistaken it for a certain haughtiness, but it wasn’t. This was, perhaps, the clearest depiction of confidence I may have ever seen.

Was she truly that self-assured? She had published only a few books at the time, but that didn’t matter either. What did is that she strengthened my writing forever. The course started with the very basics—margins, fonts, type size—then morphed into opening paragraphs, point of view, dialogue, precise word choice, and more.

No matter how tiring my day had been, her energy kept me sharp. I can still hear her reading sections of her books to underscore a point. Or explaining why she made certain choices in her stories. Or showing us how Jerry Pinkney took her words and brought them to life with his illustrations. Or Rachel Isadora. It was important that her illustrator received as much credit as she did.

She could have gone home each of those nights, only to forget us until the next session, but she expected us—probably two dozen of us—to turn in assignments that she would carefully and thoughtfully critique for every person every week.

For me, outside class, the rejections were coming, snail mail, in waves. But it was her care and encouragement that made me know this dream of being an author would happen. I’m not certain I would have persisted without her.

Several years back, I had an all-too-brief opportunity to thank Pat McKissack for the impact she had on my writing career. I’m just sorry I never got the chance to sit down and tell her everything I’ve written above. But maybe, trying to pay it forward myself, I’ve found a way.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

KINDNESS by Jane Kelley

Let's face it--writing is a lonely business. So I'm really grateful for any chance to connect with other writers.

For the past nine years, I've been a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. This international organization offers support and advice--and plenty of opportunities for writers and illustrators to join in workshops, critique groups, and conferences.
The Wisconsin Chapter of SCBWI asked me to mentor a pre-published writer. I chose Maria Parrott-Ryan because I admired her project, her professionalism, and her talent. I read her middle-grade novel and gave her feedback. We've met a few times for wide-ranging discussions. Some might think that I'm being kind to her. But guess what? She's being MUCH kinder to me!

Maria listens to me. As any parent knows, it's really gratifying when someone is willing to learn from your experience. After I tell Maria about the things I wish I had done differently in my career, she might take my advice. (Unlike my actual daughter who, while not exactly an eye-roller, can still be a little condescending just because she texts with both thumbs and I slowly use one finger.)

Maria is enthusiastic. I'm not jaded about writing, but I'm grateful to be reminded of what a miracle it is to be able to create characters and worlds. Maria is like someone who has just fallen in love. Compared to her, I'm an old married woman. That steady stability enables me to do my work. BUT  it's important to appreciate the gift of what we do. To see the world of writing and publishing with fresh eyes. To feel that heart-ponding excitement at the process of sending our books out into the world where people will read them.

Maria read my books--and talked intelligently about them to me. That is really kind. I have family members who haven't read anything I've written--although I guess it's possible that they're being kind by not complaining about what they read.

So thank you, Maria, for all you are doing for me.

Oh--she also bought me lunch!

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Kindness of Writers by Deborah Lytton: March Theme

This post is written with thanks to all of the writers that have shown me kindnesses over the years. From the first writer who read my manuscript and graciously offered to send it to her agent to the countless writer friends who have posted blog interviews and Q&As when I was promoting books (and even when I wasn't), the writers who have given me such good advice about social media and school visits, the writers who have welcomed me at book events, and the writers who have read rewrites and partials and shared thoughts and ideas with me, I am so grateful to you.

I have found children's literature writers to be the most supportive and welcoming group of professionals I have ever worked with. My fellow writers encourage each other with snaps of published books on the shelves of their local indie bookstore and like and comment on social media posts about recent successes. They can always be counted on for a supportive phone call or email when a manuscript doesn't sell and they regularly buy each other's books. Writers urge one another to continue writing despite rejections or lackluster sales. The kindness that writers show to one another is a gift that we can all give to one another. It makes us more than individuals pursuing common careers, it makes us a community. Today, let's all reach out to one writer friend who needs a little kindness. If you have ideas for other things we can do to help one another, please share them! Happy writing:)