MRBP #1: When you sense something is wrong

And this article, folks, is the most-read article of all on this blog. This was first published in April of 2014. Thanks for taking this journey back through my Most Read Blog Posts. I’ve had a good summer of writing … books you’ll be able to read soon! 

Trust your intuitionYou are working on a project and you have a nagging sense that the book is not going well. You work on your text, and you change, this, that, and the other thing. Small stuff, really. Been there. Done that. The negative nagging persists. If you are a reader—and I do not know how you can be writer without being a reader—your intuition tells you that something is still wrong.

I vote for trusting your intuition. If you sense something is wrong, I am betting something is wrong, missing, not written. Still, you do not know what to do. This is why society has priests, psychologists, partners, spouses, best friends, book-writing groups, and editors. You can determine your own order of importance—for insight into your work.

Because here comes the hard part. Sometimes you need to make a BIG change. As in life, so it is in writing: big changes are hard to make. What kind of changes? A fundamental shift in plot, character, ending, beginning, middle …. Something BIG is needed. Believe me, such changes—as in life—are very hard to do. Been there. Tried to do it.

Years ago, I was teaching a writing class and a student wrote something truly banal. I said to this writer, “Is this anything like life? Anything like your life?”

“No,” the writer whispered.

I said, “Why not make it like life as you have truly experienced it?”

There were tears in this writer’s eyes. “Because no one ever gave me permission.”

Permission granted.

The next thing this writer offered me was terrific.

Stay tuned. New articles will begin again on September 6th.

Favorite Quotes #11

Educated“An educated person is someone who knows what they don’t know.

—not sure where this comes from

MRBP #2: Dust jacket flap

This was first published in March of 2015. On our countdown of Most Read Blog Posts, it’s number 2, in which we look at something every hardcover book has: the jacket flap.

flapcopy

the jacket flap for my book Catch You Later, Traitor

There is an aspect of book writing and publishing that folks don’t talk about much, but is actually quite important: what is called flap copy. Flap copy is the brief description of the book that appears on the inside flap of the book cover. There is also the bio. And there is copy on the back of the book.

Consider how people select a book to read. The title. The cover. Very important. And very often they read that flap copy to see what the book is about, (subject matter) the kind of book it is (science fiction, mystery, romance, etc.) and perhaps the style (funny, sentimental, scary) and so forth. It is key in helping the reader decided if they are going to read (buy? borrow?) that book.

Who writes that copy? Generally speaking it is the editor who writes it. Sometimes someone from the marketing department does. Often, but not always, that draft is shared with the writer. Do I like it? Do I think it gets the book right? Do I approve? Want to change it?

Remember, one has only a few words in a small space.

There have been times I have had very little to say or suggest. There have been times I have rewritten that flap copy entirely. Today I received flap copy for my collection of short stories, The Most Important Thing, which will be published (Candlewick) in 2016.

It was fine, but there were ways I thought it could be smoother, a bit more engaging. So I worked on it, sent it in. The editor felt it was improved. It’s another example of the collaborative nature of publishing but a facet rarely mentioned. But, oh, how important!

But it’s always worth making a flap.

Favorite Quotes #10

Paula Fox

Paula Fox (Victoria Will, AP)

“The writer’s job is to imagine the truth.

—Paula Fox

Learn more about her.

MRBP #3: What it takes

This was first published in December of 2013. On our countdown of Most Read Blog Posts, it’s number 3, in which we look at the idea of reading for pleasure.

I Heart ReWriting

One of the hardest things about writing is learning to like what you are writing. Why should this be? I suspect it’s because you came to writing because you loved to read, loved good writing. So you know what good writing is. The process of writing, however, means that when you write, your writing is not, at first, going to be good. And you know it.

Nobody, nobody, writes anything well the first time. If anyone tells you otherwise, don’t believe it. As I often tell students, if you write something, and you think it’s good, you are in trouble. Write something and know it’s not very good, and you are on your way. This means that it is perfectly understandable that when you sit down to work, there’s an internal groan, a reluctance to engage. Why? Because you sense your work is no good. And you are right! It is only by pushing forward, with discipline, diligence, and yes, courage, that you can begin to shape your work into something you can respect, and eventually like.

My good friend and fine writer, Betty Miles, once confessed that it took her some six months working on a book before she felt like a writer. Learning to be patient with yourself—and your work—is obligatory for writers.

Favorite Quotes #9

The Weavers“It takes a heap of manure to make a flower grow.

—Lee Hays

(On this album cover, Lee Hays is on the right.)

Learn more about him.

MRBP #4: Making the case

This was first published in March of 2013. On our countdown of Most Read Blog Posts, it’s number 4, in which we look at the idea of reading for pleasure.

ph_reading_teen_600pxThe other day I was visiting a high school class. When I was taking questions, a ninth grader asked me how I go about putting symbolism and hidden meanings in my books. When I replied that I do not put hidden meanings and symbolism in my books, the boy’s response was, “But my teacher is always pointing out that stuff in the books we read, including yours.”

There are many things one can teach about a book: its context, language, style, construction, its historical moment, and so forth. The list is long, and productive. But to teach as if a text is written in code—a code only a teacher can decipher—is to tell students that they cannot understand what is being read. It makes readers feel dumb. It tells them they cannot understand literature. Most importantly, if one teaches literature in such a fashion, it robs a student of the joy of reading on his or her own terms and experience.

“You really don’t put symbols and hidden meanings in your books?” the boy asked incredulously.

“Nope,” I said. “I just want you to have the pleasure of reading them.”

“Wow,” he said, as other students nodded. “I wish you would tell that to my teacher.”

As it turned out, unbeknown to me, there was a literature teacher in the classroom. When the kids left, she introduced herself.

I said, “I hope you weren’t offended by my remarks.”

“Oh no,” she assured me, “I suppose one could make a case for reading for pleasure.”

I hope I did.

Favorite Quotes #8

Dashiell HammettThe problem with putting two and two together is that sometimes you get four, and sometimes you get twenty-two.

—Dashiell Hammett

Learn more about him.

MRBP #5: That must be fun

This was first published in August  of 2014. On our countdown of Most Read Blog Posts, it’s number 5. In which we look at the idea of “fun” in connection with writing children’s books.

The other day I was having my annual eye checkup. Lisa, the young technical assistant was going over my basic data sheet.

LISA:  It says here you are a writer. What do you write?

AVI: Novels for kids.

“That must be fun,” she says and moves on to my medical history.

“That must be fun” is the most common response folks articulate upon learning what I do for a living. I suspect it conveys a whole range of inferences, such as: since your writing is about kids, the work cannot be hard; that books for young people are about lightweight subjects; that writing for young people means your life is like a young person’s life, which is to say, without much responsibility, ergo fun. This happens, I suspect because what is embedded in adult memory about their reading when young—if they did read—are books which they recall as frivolous.

At an early stage of my existence, the preeminent shared reading experience among us young, would-be writers was The Catcher in the Rye. Moving along a time line, it became A Wrinkle in Time, then The Bridge to Terabithia. No doubt, other writers can reference other titles that caught and held their emotional intellect enough to make them say, “I want to do that.”

Books

In short, the book which provides the greatest impact is the one full of complex ideas, characters, and emotions, a book which articulates and echoes the complex ideas, characters, and emotions of the young reader. There is nothing wrong about books that are fun. More power to them. I do believe, however, it is the hard book that opens the mind and keeps it open.

Favorite Quotes #7

Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson, painting by Joshua Reynolds

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

—Samuel Johnson

Learn more about him.