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IMAGINE WRITE PUBLISH

January 2017 • Volume 130 Number 1

FEATURES

14 Read like a writer Learn the art of “X-ray reading.” BY ROY PETER CLARK

20 We Need Diverse Books

26 Tough crowd How to wow book clubs for young readers.

Half of U.S. children under age 5 are non-white. But only 10 percent of children’s books in the last two decades featured multicultural characters. This nonprofit organization is determined to even the playing field.

BY MELISSA HART

BY MELISSA HART

24 Rising star

30 Girl (and boy) power

Pierce Brown has a smashhit sci-fi trilogy and two television series, a film adaptation, and another book trilogy in the works – but has never given up on his principles along the way.

Shannon Hale creates fun plots and strong characters for all ages and genders. Yet her books are often labeled as “for girls only” – and she’s fighting hard to change that.

BY JEFF AYERS

BY ELIANA OSBORN

28 Open minds Learn how to interview subjects like a psychologist. BY JACQUELINE SHEEHAN


DEPARTMENTS

8 BREAKTHROUGH Seasonal thinking How writing cyclically saved a writer’s creativity. BY VICTORIA FRY

ESSENTIALS 10 WRITING Playing god

20

IN EVERY ISSUE 4

From the Editor

5

Take Note Nic Stone, tips for outline-haters, and more.

42 Markets

Tips on handling the omniscient point of view in fiction.

47 Classified advertising

BY JACK SMITH

48 How I Write Adam Silvera: “I’ve found everything I’ve written to be very therapeutic and to have helped me find answers to questions I didn’t know to ask myself.”

AT WORK 12 WRITER Home in Working from home means working in a place of constant distractions, imposed by both ourselves and others. Here’s how to block them out. BY PAT OLSEN

ACTION 34 CLASS Next gen The Highlights Foundation doesn’t just run a kids’ magazine: It also hosts more than 40 workshops for writers. BY JEFF TAMARKIN

28

SUCCESS 36 FREELANCE Double agent Making the transition from editor to freelance writer results in crucial insight on how both parties operate. BY WILL KITSON

INSIDER 38 CONFERENCE Elementary This small-town workshop leads to big lessons in children’s literature. BY MELISSA HART

SPOTLIGHT 40 LITERARY Make some noise

Cover: Robert Adrian Hillman/Shutterstock

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This literary magazine for young girls aims to empower and inspire.

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BY MELISSA HART writermag.com • The Writer | 3


FROM THE EDITOR

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ho would you be if you hadn’t read as a child? This is the question I asked myself throughout this issue. I expected to find some small personal truths: I wouldn’t still know the NATO phonetic alphabet by heart because of a beloved childhood book about a family at sea. I wouldn’t have fancied myself an amateur detective, sleuthing in the spirit of the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Encyclopedia Brown. I wouldn’t have the urge to hide in the restrooms at closing time when I visit the Met (thanks very kindly, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). But the more I considered the question, the more lost I felt. Who would I be without these books? Less empathetic, certainly; less kind, possibly; an even poorer grammarian, surely. I wouldn’t be an editor. I wouldn’t even be a writer, I don’t think: Writing has seemed as natural an occupation ever since I could hold up a pencil. But without the stories of others, how would I know to write my own? I believe every story leaves some small impact on the reader. Perhaps it’s as small as a turn of phrase you unconsciously file away, a new word you hadn’t heard before. But something, some thread of it sneaks its way into your cranial blueprint and fiddles with the math a bit. You may look the same, act the same, seem the same, but some microscopic part of your makeup is different. And the more you read, the more nuggets you file away; the more gold in your stores, the richer your writing will be. Not every writer is a reader at childhood, of course. Many scribes come to the page much later in life. But imagine how early we could jump-start the process if we start in childhood: We could plant tiny seeds of empathy with every story kids consume. One seed does not a garden make, but a whole library can grow a world. Yet for all its importance, the modern world of children’s literature is not a perfect playground. There are grave flaws we must acknowledge and fight against, and an essential one is showcased in Melissa Hart’s story on We Need Diverse Books (page 20). We are a rapidly growing, endlessly diverse nation, yet the current publishing output is devastatingly monochromatic. Every child deserves to read books that represent their own stories. Every child will only be made stronger, more compassionate, by reading stories told from a place outside her own identity. It’s a win-win all around, but it’s not a passive revolution: If we want to level the playing field, we must all take up a shovel. So! Readers! Let’s make this our challenge: When you scour bookstore shelves for birthday gifts, when you scout out holiday or shower presents, when you recommend books for your children or those of your friends, look for new voices. Seek out stories from marginalized spaces. Look for the fresh and the new and the now. These stories are out there, I promise you; we may have to look harder, order them from our booksellers or ask for them at our libraries, but they are out there, and we must find them. Because a single seed does not a garden make. But a whole library… Keep writing, Nicki Porter Senior Editor

4 | The Writer • January 2017

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Senior Editor Nicki Porter Contributing Editor Melissa Hart Copy Editor Toni Fitzgerald Art Director Carolyn V. Marsden Graphic Designer Jaron Cote EDITORIAL BOARD James Applewhite, Andre Becker, T. Alan Broughton, Eve Bunting, Mary Higgins Clark, Roy Peter Clark, Lewis Burke Frumkes, James Cross Giblin, Gail Godwin, Eileen Goudge, Rachel Hadas, Shelby Hearon, John Jakes, John Koethe, Lois Lowry, Peter Meinke, Katherine Paterson, Elizabeth Peters, Arthur Plotnik MADAVOR MEDIA, LLC EXECUTIVE Chairman & Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey C. Wolk Chief Operating Officer Susan Fitzgerald OPERATIONS VP, Business Operations Courtney Carter Director, Custom Content Lee Mergner Director, Integrated Production Justin Vuono Digital Media Manager Michelle de Leon Digital Inventory Specialist Vanessa Gonsalves Custom Content Specialist Nate Silva Human Resources Generalist Katherine Walsh Controller Peggy Maguire Accounting Amanda Joyce, Tina McDermott Administrative Assistant Jennifer Hanrahan AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT VP, Audience Development Heidi Strong Director, Audience Development Jason Pomerantz Audience Development Manager Rebecca Artz Technical Product Manager Michael Ma Senior Digital Designer Mike Decker Circulation Marketing Manager Justin Patrick Senior Audience Development Associate Nora Frew Audience Development Analyst Cathy Pearson Audience Development Coordinators Briana Balboni, Tou Zong Her SALES & MARKETING VP, Creative Division Bob Dortch Media Solutions Director Alexandra Piccirilli Phone 617-279-0213 Email apiccirilli@madavor.com Client Services Associate, Print Jessica Krogman Client Services Associate, Digital Cassandra Pettit Newsstand Distribution National Publisher Services SELLING THE WRITER MAGAZINE OR PRODUCTS IN YOUR STORE Phone (617) 706-9078 Fax (617) 536-0102 Email Catherine Pearson cpearson@madavor.com EDITORIAL EMAIL tweditorial@madavor.com CUSTOMER SERVICE/SUBSCRIPTIONS US: 877-252-8139 CAN/INT: 903-636-1120 ADDRESS The Writer Madavor Media, LLC 25 Braintree Hill Office Park, Suite 404 Braintree, MA 02184 Please include your name, mailing and e-mail addresses, and telephone number with any correspondence. The Writer is not responsible for returning unsolicited manuscripts. SUBSCRIPTIONS: 1 Year (12 Issues) US $32.95, Canada $42.95, Foreign: $44.95 The Writer (ISSN 0043-9517) is published monthly by Madavor Media, LLC, 25 Braintree Hill Office Park, Suite 404 Braintree, MA 02184. Periodicals postage paid at Boston, MA and at additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Please send changes of address to The Writer, P.O. Box 4300, Big Sandy, TX 75755-4300. Subscribers allow 4-6 weeks for change of address to become effective Subscriptions ordered are non-cancelable and nonrefundable unless otherwise promoted. Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings and photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no responsibility can be assumed for unsolicited materials. All rights in letters sent to The Writer will be treated as unconditionally assigned for publication and copyright purposes and as subject to unrestricted right to edit and to comment editorially. Requests for permission to reprint should be sent to the Permissions and Reprints Department. The title The Writer is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Contents copyright © 2017 by Madavor Media, LLC. All rights reserved. Nothing can be reprinted in whole or in part without permission from the publisher. Printed in the U.S.A.


couldn't be a writer without hope. I think I became a ¾“Iwriter because I'm pretty optimistic.” —Jacqueline Woodson

COMPILED BY NICKI PORTER

OWN UP Should an author ever write a character outside their identity? BY NIC STONE

pogonici/Shutterstock

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y first novel was a flop. Intentions were good: I’d never seen a girl like me in a YA paranormal, starcrossed romance like the ones I loved to read, so I wrote one. (Well, she was half-black, but still.) Unfortunately, that particular trend was on its way out the door, so despite the non-whiteness of my main character – which I thought made the story stand out – no editors were interested. Fine. On to the next thing: a contemporary YA novel about a black girl with bipolar disorder. I don’t have bipolar disorder myself, but I studied psychology as an undergrad, and I’ve always been bothered by mental illness stigma – especially in the black community. So I researched and then I wrote a thing. My agent submitted the finished product to editors, and though a handful showed some interest, none would bite. As it turns out, that’s a very good thing. There’s been a lot of hullabaloo recently about who’s allowed to tell what stories. The conversation about the lack of diversity in kidlit has reached a fever pitch (Shout out to weneeddiversebooks.org. You da real MVP!). But as more authors attempt to write “diverse” characters – including racial/ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA, gender diverse, people with disabilities, and those who are neurodivergent like my girl with bipolar disorder – questions of ownership and opportunity have come into play. Enter #ownvoices, a hashtag created by YA author Corinne Duyvis. Originally used to promote existing diverse books by diverse authors, #ownvoices has expanded into a movement aimed at increasing the number of diverse authors on publishing rosters. And this is valid. Think about it: If the majority of published books about girls were written by men, women would (justifiably) be ready to burn the world down. How would it look if most “diverse” books were written by authors who are white, straight, cisgendered, non-disabled, and neurotypical? (Spoiler alert: Not good.) Authors might literally “own” the books we write, but we don’t always “own” the experiences on which those books are based. At a time when phrases like “institutional racism,” “privilege,” and “cultural appropriation” are on the tips of so many tongues, people from marginalized groups have become fiercely protective of the way they’re portrayed in various forms of media, books included. Say, for instance, a person of color feels misrepresented in a book by a white

author. Thanks to the internet, said author can be taken to task in a very public way nowadays. Many take issue with this. It’s FICTION, they say. It’s not REAL! We should have creative license to write whatever we please! But isn’t it true that fiction is only successful if a reader is able to “suspend disbelief?” Even when every facet of a story is imaginary, there must be an element of believability. As such, fiction informs. Especially when it comes to narratives rooted in reality. Fiction can be a vehicle to empathy…but if a marginalized individual’s existence on the page doesn’t reflect the existence of people like them actually moving through the world, that empathy will be flawed. Hence the need for authenticity. And what of “diverse” children looking for themselves – and consequently, what the world thinks of them – in what they read? Growing up, the only black people I saw in books were slaves, stupid, or both. Could I be a detective like Encyclopedia Brown or a secret agent like Harriet the Spy? Or would I only ever be viewed as an inferior? Representation matters. And who better to write an writermag.com • The Writer | 5


authentic diverse character than a person living that particular diverse experience? #Ownvoices makes perfect sense. But what does that mean on a larger scale? Should people “stay in their lanes”? Write only what they know? I personally don’t think so. Matter of fact: As a person who prefers to write characters who differ from me, it’d be pretty hypocritical of me to admonish others who want to write beyond the confines of their own experiences. But – and this is a big but – I do think there’s a right and wrong way to go about it. The first thing to be considered is motive. While I can’t tell you the “right” motive for writing outside your experience, I can list a couple I think are…iffy. First: “Helping (insert marginalized group) be more visible.” This might seem like an honorable intention, but it’s faulty in a number of ways. For one, it presupposes “holes” in the market that don’t actually exist. #Ownvoices stories are out there in every genre. The best way to help with visibility is to find them, buy them, read them, and promote them to others. Additionally, this motive tends to backfire as most of the authors who think they’re “helping” seem to have it in mind that they’ll garner applause/appreciation for their efforts. Just to be clear: There is no Good-Try trophy for writing diversely. If people are unhappy with the way they’ve been presented, they will make a fuss about it – as is their right. To be frank, white/straight/cisgendered/non-disabled/neurotypical people aren’t doing us diverse authors any favors by occupying spaces on publishing lists that we’re fully capable of filling ourselves. Write what you want, but don’t expect unconditional acceptance of what you’ve written, let alone gratitude or a pat on the back. Another iffy motive: chasing a perceived trend. “Well, ‘diverse’ stories are selling right now…” isn’t the best reason for writing one. As of late, this particular motive has led to disappointment because some agents and editors won’t even consider a work with a marginalized protagonist if the author isn’t #ownvoices. “Well that’s censorship and it’s not fair!” has been the rallying cry of those who feel slighted. But white/straight/cisgendered/non-disabled/neurotypical people have been paid for telling their stories for as long as paying-people-to-tell-stories has been a thing. Shouldn’t #ownvoices creators be afforded the same opportunity? “Okay, Nic,” you might be thinking. “You’ve made some good points. But this character is still presenting as (insert diverse characteristic you don’t possess)! Do I ignore that?” No. But do your homework. We live in a time where it no longer flies to “imagine” yourself in another person’s shoes without first asking them how the shoes fit their feet. My debut features a 17-year-old African American male who gets racially profiled by a police officer and begins a journal of letters to the deceased 6 | The Writer • January 2017

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a means of processing his experiences moving through the world as a young Black man. While it is #ownvoices with regard to race, it’s Other with regard to gender. So, I had some work to do (and it wasn’t always fun, let me tell ya). If you want to write a diverse character, do some research beforehand. Set up interviews and ask questions – most marginalized people are more than willing to talk if you’re willing to listen. Read works by people of the type of diversity you’re seeking to write. If you can, hang out in the spaces people of that particular marginalization inhabit. Learn as much as you can, and then after the project is drafted, submit it to people – known as “sensitivity readers” – who share your character’s diversity. Not only do these readers check for things like harmful stereotypes and turns of phrase that might be misinterpreted, they can also offer little nuggets that make the character – and the character’s journey – more authentic (yay for good rep!). Listen to these readers. Take their comments and critiques to heart. Pay them in some way. After all, you stand to profit from a story rooted in experiences that belong to them. Do this when writing diverse protagonists as well as supporting cast members (who are just as important). Let’s be honest: If you take issue with the Other you’re writing wanting a say in how you write them, you probably shouldn’t be writing them at all. Lastly, once all is said and done, put on your big kid undies and brace for impact. No matter how thorough you’ve been or how great a job your sensitivity reader(s) says you’ve done, someone will take issue with what you’ve written, often solely because you, person-who-has-not-lived-the-experience-ofyour-character, had the audacity to write it. Be OK with this. If you’re allowed to write whatever you want, others are allowed to say what they want about it. Which brings me back to my girl diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I recently handed that manuscript to a couple of sensitivity-readers – something I didn’t do before it went on submission (gasp!). They really ripped the manuscript a new one. The representation was good in a few places, but the number of unchecked stereotypes on the page was shameful. Thing is, this character won’t let me go. I can’t not tell her story. So with the assistance of these incredible readers, I’m fixing it. Slowly, humbly, and often painfully, but fixing it nonetheless. It’s the least I can do, don’t you think? Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one. Her debut YA novel, Dear Martin, is out Oct. 17, 2017 from Crown Books for Young People, and you can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @getnicced or on her website: nicstone.info.


my books can help children become readers, then I feel ¾ “If I have accomplished something important.” —Roald Dahl

C A R E E R C H O P S How can I better my chances of publishing a picture book?

Hate to outline? “Date-line” instead. BY BARBARA J. PETOSKEY

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ave you ever noticed how work can expand to fill the time allowed for it? Rambling plots can do the same. If your short story or novel is wandering aimlessly (or, worse, going nowhere) but you hate to outline, try this trick. Instead of locking yourself into a rigid structure like those Romannumerals that intimidated you in school, develop your fictional flow using a calendar. Because even if you don’t know yet exactly how your characters will get to the conclusion, you can define when events occur, depending on what you’re writing: a summer romance, a coming-of-age tale, a multi-generational saga, or an action-packed thriller with the bomb’s timer counting down. The first entry of your calendar will be the inciting incident. The last entry will be the resolution. In between, space out the major plot points – setbacks, successes, fresh complications – as your characters strive to overcome their obstacles and reach their goal(s). No fancy details are required, just brief placeholders: buy lottery ticket, lose job, break code. Next, do the same for any subplots. Try working backward, if that helps, from desired effects to suitable causes. Ah, now the pressure is off: You’re not trying to push forward into the unknown. You’re merely playing

the “what if ” game within loosely defined boundaries. This visual representation can also highlight flaws in the story arc. If an issue is resolved the next morning, was the problem feeble or the solution too simplistic? If a climax is months away, do you periodically throw enough fresh fuel onto the narrative fire to keep it blazing? Add or rearrange events to fill bare spots as needed. Consider stretching the entire time frame to allow for enrichment or compressing it to heighten the tension. Organizing in temporal terms can also help you anchor your story in real time. Do weather, holidays, or season changes play a role? Watch for timing errors, too, like full moons only three weeks apart or a 10-month pregnancy. Record your “calendar” using whatever medium suits you best: a computer table, handwritten grid, or even a traditional print calendar. You now have a datebook filled with a series of “appointments” – appropriately spaced narrative dots for you to connect, with plenty of room in between for flourishes of inspiration. And not a Roman numeral in sight. —Barbara J. Petoskey’s work has been collected in books including The Best Contemporary Women’s Humor, The Bride of Funny-side, and This Sporting Life, and appeared in periodicals such as Cat Fancy, Bostonia, and The Bloomsbury Review.

The picture book marketplace is arguably the most competitive in publishing, and certainly a tough one to break into as a debut author, but it’s not impossible. Just ask Brendan Wenzel, whose debut, They All Saw a Cat, went to eight-way auction last year before Chronicle landed the world rights with a two-book, six-figure deal. How did he do it? For one, by distilling an elegant, simple premise into a few repetitive phrases that carry a big message. The best picture books trace the core of an idea that can open up discussions between parents and children. They also play with language, using rhythm, rhyme, and repetition so that there’s an impulse to read the book again as soon as the last page is reached. Wenzel is also an illustrator, landing him in that rarefied space with author/illustrator legends like Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, and Chris Riddell. Granted, you don’t have to draw your own pictures, but your writing should follow some basic rules. Write illustratively. Picture books are the only genre where the writer is potentially second to the illustrator, who often picks the story they want to recreate visually. Don’t include illustrator notes in brackets or in the margins; just fire up your writing with vivid imagery so there is a wealth of story from which to draw. Your final word count should be under 1000 words, much of which may repeat itself. What’s important is the idea, which should be as simple and polished as a river stone. —Dionne McCulloch, U.S. managing editor, Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. cornerstonesUS.com

writermag.com • The Writer | 7


BREAKTHROUGH BY VICTORIA FRY

Seasonal thinking How writing cyclically saved a writer’s creativity.

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’m thinking of giving up writing.” indulged these thoughts, the less power they possessed and It was a revelation I never saw coming – but after the more clarity I gained. When had I stopped writing for months of struggling to feel any joy for writing, there the love of it? Somewhere along the way, I’d lost sight of the it was. I was seriously considering a life without some- joy, getting mired instead in pools of anxiety about revithing I used to love more than almost anything in the world. sions, literary agents, and publishing houses. Saying it out loud was a relief. A life without writing I knew now that if I wanted to stick with writing for the sounded like freedom. No more stressing long haul, I had to rekindle the spark. out over why I hadn’t finished my novel. Without it, any kind of quantifiable sucNo more ignoring loves like knitting and I was journeying cess in writing wasn’t worth having. board games because they took time away This revelation lit the way forward, and from writing. No more reading with half a through a creative I moved onward without judgment or mind tuned in to the how and why of the expectations. There were periods when I cycle, divided book’s structure. wrote constantly and periods when I Yet even as I reveled in the thought of brainstormed, read, or followed other creroughly into what I could do with the time and energy ative pursuits instead. I reclaimed from writing, I knew I had to I soon realized this journey was no lonsegments that give writing one last try. I wanted to ger aimless. Perhaps it never was. Instead, reclaim my life, my creativity, my energy, reminded me of I was journeying through a creative cycle, and I couldn’t do that if I was always wondivided roughly into segments that the seasons. dering, “what if?” reminded me of the seasons, each with its One last try. own quality and purpose. I released the pressure valve on this During a creative winter, I battened venture by setting no goals and making no plans. If I felt like down the hatches, pushed other hobbies off my radar writing, I would write. Otherwise, I would read, knit, work, screen, hunkered down, and got thousands of words on and live my life. No strings, no pressure, and no objectives. the page. Choosing aimlessness is often a recipe for disaster. In retAfter pushing myself so hard, I needed a chance to rospect, it was exactly what I needed at the time, though my recover. I wrote if I felt like it and did writing exercises relainner monologue told a different story. tively consistently. I embraced the rejuvenative nature of You’re being lazy. You shouldn’t just be dabbling, you spring, filling my free time with yoga, healthy meals, and should be writing a thousand words a day. piles of books. These thoughts stung like a wasp in the grass. But I disWhen my mind no longer felt like a limp rag, I shifted covered something wondrous as time went on: The less I into a playful summer season, toying with writing prompts

8 | The Writer • January 2017

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and new ideas, noodling around with old stories and new settings. Finally, I pounced into a pile of autumn leaves and started gathering nuts for the chilly winter ahead, shifting my focus to getting through necessary research, outlining, and organization. The longer my writing flowed through creative seasons, the greater the sense of ease I felt. Writing was no longer about “should;” it was about tuning in to my needs and trusting my intuition enough to fill those needs without question. I started setting goals again, but this time they flowed naturally from what I was building, rather than some arbitrary idea of what I should be doing. There were seasons within seasons, too, like a set of nesting dolls. In the midst of winter, if I set aside a

weekend for writing, I didn’t smash the panic button if I got three hours in and started feeling antsy. Instead, I stepped away to brew and savor a cup of tea (spring), respond to a writing prompt or toy with my characters (summer), step back to the page and outline where I want to go next with the scene (fall), and roll right back into winter again. It’s been a couple of years now since I first embraced the idea of writing seasonally. It took time, and it still takes work (as anything worthwhile does), but I’ve fallen in love with writing again, and this time it’s for keeps. Burnout remains a stranger, and living the life of a writer fills me with hope and freedom and joy, not dread and loneliness. When my creative winter rolls around, I tuck into those

writing marathons and my productivity soars. I no longer dread the lulls, because I know they’re part of the process. It’s not just about running the race, it’s about taking time to stretch sore muscles, develop new routines, and learn new techniques. Creative seasons allow for all of that and so much more. These days, I no longer entertain the concept of abandoning my writing. Writing seasonally combines the freedom and joy I felt when writing as a kid with the habits and routines I’ve developed in my adult years. It’s the best of all worlds, and it’s mine for the taking. Victoria Fry is a freelance writer and writing coach. She has written for The Writer, GenTwenty, and numerous online publications.

writermag.com • The Writer | 9


WRITING ESSENTIALS BY JACK SMITH

Playing god Tips on handling the omniscient point of view in fiction.

Benefits of omniscience

Clearly it’s beneficial in some works of fiction to get into more than one character’s consciousness. Some stories may call for different perspectives played out both dramatically and internally from 10 | The Writer • January 2017

two or more characters. But the omniscient point of view allows you – or I should say, your author’s persona – more godlike knowledge than this. In fact, the options are seemingly endless. You may exert your omniscience to describe your characters from the outside: the clothes they’re wearing, the look on their faces, the way others tend to see them, the way others have always seen them, and, speculatively, the way others will probably always see them –

this is truly godlike knowing. Indeed, you can do this for your protagonist with the “limited omniscient” POV, but this is more omniscience than most writers wish to exert. Most of the time, they want to avoid the all-seeing, allknowing authorial view and stick to what the character is seeing and experiencing. There are exceptions, of course, such as when the narrator maintains a good distance from the protagonist and calls the character “our hero,” or her

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riting good fiction calls for creating both a strong protagonist and a solid plot. If you ignore either of these, your story can be fatally flawed. But there’s an aspect related to character that you must also pay close attention to – point of view. POV has to do with vantage point, or narrative perspective: whose eyes the story is seen from. Some characters have more at stake than others, more potential for conflict and change. You should gravitate toward these characters to serve as the “lens” for your stories. A second aspect of POV has to do with choice of person: First and second person lend intimacy, while third person establishes distance. When working in third person, many writers today choose the “third-person limited” point of view, which narrows in on one particular character’s mind. If you adopt the “third-person omniscient” POV, however, you have access to more than one character’s mind (perhaps several), and you have carte blanche to reveal anything and everything about anyone in the story or novel. Some notable omniscient examples from the past include Candide, The Scarlet Letter, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and The Grapes of Wrath. What are the benefits as well as the risks of godlike knowing with the omniscient POV?


“our heroine” with playful irony. This demonstrates an external perspective, but the omniscient POV allows much more than this. You may find it useful, for instance, to describe what several of the local townsfolk are busily engaged in – they’re gathering stones for a stoning in Shirley Jackson’s classic story “The Lottery.” You might, like Richard Bausch, in his opening pages of Thanksgiving Night, paint a sweeping portrait of an urban area (Point Royal, Virginia, in this case), creating a cinematic establishing shot before moving into character and story. You might even give the history of a particular place, which might not be feasible to filter through the consciousness of any of your characters because none of your characters knows this history, but you, the allpowerful author, do – and can provide it for the reader. You might, like a 19thcentury writer, choose to step back from your characters and philosophize about the nature of people and the world. There’s certainly a magic in this kind of omniscience, with the world of your story fully accessible to you as allknowing author, the god-creator reigning over it. Risks of omniscience

Surely there are risks in exerting very much authorial presence in a story or novel. You risk putting off readers who

view this narrative presence as intrusion, the meddling of an unwanted author into the world of the characters. Too much authorial involvement can kill the dramatic power of the work. When the story starts sounding like the author’s story, not the characters’, you’ve gone too far. Be careful, then, to exercise judgment on how much you engage in authorial commentary. Award-winning author Anthony Varallo points out that you don’t want the “reader sensing too much of the writer’s hand in the story,” which, he says, “can risk breaking the ‘spell’ of the story.” With the omniscient POV, Varallo recommends finding “the lightest possible touch. I would only use it if I felt I had no other way to tell the story.” And Midge Raymond, author of My Last Continent, adds, “Omniscience has its rewards but also requires such a fine balance that it can be a challenge to get just right.” The multiple third-person POV

Frankly, authorial presence is mostly a thing of the past. The godlike narrator is gone, supplanted by individual characters who have limited knowledge of the world they inhabit. An alternative to omniscient authorial presence is the effaced author. This author may allow access to a number of different characters but make no commentary on them and exclude any material that

isn’t filtered through a given character’s consciousness. This effacedauthor approach has become a typical set-up in today’s third-person POV fiction. Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of 30 novels, including the famous Pay It Forward, doesn’t go for the omniscient. She states, “I very often narrate a novel from two points of view. More often than not, in fact. But I do it chapter by chapter, labeling each new chapter with the character name and clearly establishing POV in the first sentence. This gives me all the benefits of being able to tell the story from more than one point of view, but I think it’s easier and more comfortable for the reader.” A wrap on the omniscient POV

• The third-person omniscient POV allows much more authorial range and commentary than third-person limited. • Use the omniscient POV only when it seems indispensable to character creation and storytelling. Make sure it doesn’t damage the dramatic power of the work. • Always consider an effaced narrator instead of authorial commentary. Jack Smith is author of numerous articles, reviews, and interviews, three novels, and a book on writing, entitled Write and Revise for Publication.

Balcones

Fiction and Poetry Prizes

Recognizing Outstanding Books $1,500 for a book of fiction and one of poetry published during 2016. Reading fees: $30 for fiction, $25 for poetry. Nominations accepted September 1, 2016-January 31, 2017. For submission guidelines: go.austincc.edu/fiction and go.austincc.edu/poetry. For fiction contact Joe O’Connell at (512) 584-5045 or joconne@austincc.edu. For poetry contact John Herndon at (512) 828-9368 or jherndon@austincc.edu.

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WRITER AT WORK BY PAT OLSEN

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hen my husband walks in the door from a bike ride eager to talk, I look up from my computer screen and make eye contact. I’m trying to be polite, but truthfully, my brain is focused on what I was writing. Even so, when he finishes talking and I turn back to the screen, my train of thought has left the station. Like many of us, prolific essayist and author Phillip Lopate has also had a family member sidetrack him while he was writing. When she was young, his daughter would regularly enter his home office, Lopate says. “She had a hard time understanding that I was actually working. I would spin her around in my ergonomic chair and play with her a bit before shooing her away,” he recalls. Hope Edelman, author of the groundbreaking Motherless Daughters, had two young daughters wanting her attention for a few years. “If my daughters saw me working at the kitchen table in the evening, they’d just start talking to me as if I weren’t engaged in something else,” she remembers. At the time, Edelman was usually working on short pieces and simply told her daughters she’d be able to

12 | The Writer • January 2017

talk in a few minutes. “Once everyone understood that, things began to go more smoothly,” she notes. Interruptions and distractions are the bane of writers who work at home. There are few things worse than being in the zone and hearing a shutter banging, a cricket chirping, a phone ringing, a fly buzzing near your ear…and so forth. Waiting for a delivery or repair person can also be a distraction, and so can aches and pains. And that’s not to mention how writers self-sabotage when they feel compelled to check email or Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or a favorite news site. How can writers reduce or manage these challenges and maintain their focus? If an adult, such as a spouse, interrupts you frequently, feigning politeness like I do serves no purpose. I lose my mental placeholder and haven’t digested what my husband says anyway. If you’ve been doing this, bite the bullet and explain there are times you really need to concentrate. Perhaps agree that you’ll stick a Post-it® on your laptop to serve as Do Not Disturb sign when you need to focus intensely.

JrCasas/Shutterstock

Working from home means working in a place of constant distractions, imposed by both ourselves and others. Here’s how to block them out.


For other distractions, a number of writers find that a white noise machine in the background helps. In addition, in a New York Times article on the science of concentration, science writer Winifred Gallagher (author of Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life) offers a frequently cited method: Do your most important task early in the day for the best focus. Productivity specialist Peggy Duncan (of PersonalProductivityExpert.com) suggests that you will yourself not to be distracted; just slog through and complete a first draft. “Remove your glasses if you wear them so you can’t see what you type,” she advises (and she’s serious). Duncan also suggests that writers be realistic about their most productive writing hours. As opposed to Gallagher, she holds that for some writers, morning may not be the best time to write. You may need to stick to the household schedule when you write at home, working around responsibilities. It may help your focus to find blocks of time to write, she notes. Gallagher says coffee helps, too, according to research. As the grandson of A Wrinkle in Time author Madeleine L’Engle, Edward Jones, a meditation and yoga teacher studying to be a psychoanalyst, knows something about writers’ lifestyles. “The distractions you’re in charge of are relatively easy to adjust,” he says. “Turn off the phone and set up

software that blocks you from using social media for a proscribed amount of time,” he suggests. Remember: you’re making a choice when you place your cell phone near you to answer texts, for example. You’re adding to your challenges. While it’s not an instant fix, meditation is often recommended as a tool to improve focus. A sitting meditation practice has the practical benefit of teaching – or imparting – impulse control, Jones explains. (The technique entails finding a comfortable, stable seat, and sitting traditionally crosslegged, which you can do pretty much anywhere.) He likes the Tibetan Buddhist technique Shamatha, which “invites us to confront our impulses and more skillfully decide how to respond,” he says. “Further,” Jones continues, “when we sit still and observe the movement of our breath, it doesn’t take long for the mind to seek something, anything, more entertaining. This could be a temptation as obvious as checking our email or as subtle as scratching our nose. When these impulses arise, the technique asks us to acknowledge the urge to leave what we are doing, to label it ‘thinking,’ and then return our attention to the movement of breath.” That’s how we begin to strengthen our ability to keep the mind in one place.  “It’s natural for the mind to wander,

and reverie and free association can be potent instruments of the creative process. So it may be an interesting balancing act for a writer to harness this restless quality of the mind without allowing it to derail productivity,” Jones notes. In a follow-up blog post to the New York Times article, Gallagher also endorses meditation: “The easiest way to train your focus up a notch is a daily attentional workout, most of which are based on single-pointed meditation [rather than examining all details of what you’re focusing on]. Research shows that people who adopt such a practice improve their ability to concentrate in daily life.” Or try giving into the distraction and taking a break, like Lopate. Today he has a cat that plops near his keyboard or walks across it, and he stops and pets her before rearranging her on his desk. One of my writer friends takes his dog into the yard for a few minutes of play. As for me, I need to take my own advice about the Post-it® idea and tell my husband if he sees it on my laptop, to hold onto highlights of his bike ride. I’ll listen as soon as I can. Pat Olsen is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Sunday Business section. Her work has also appeared in Hemispheres, Diversity Woman, USA WEEKEND, and Family Business, among others.

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READ LIKE A WRITER “X-RAY READING” WITH ROY PETER CLARK

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ow do you learn to read like a writer? One way, argues Roy Peter Clark, is through “The Art of X-Ray Reading,” which happens to be the title of his new book. He describes X-ray reading as a form of close reading that looks beneath the surface of the text for the sources of writing power. Think of it as a form of reverse engineering used to discover the writing strategies invisible to the average reader. The subtitle of Clark’s book is “How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing.” To test his theory, Clark volunteered to X-ray a selection of remarkable sentences submitted by the readers of The Writer magazine. These submissions turned out to be different in several ways, from length to tone to content. But all were “showstoppers,” the kind of sentence that makes a reading writer pause and appreciate.


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“Each time the man yelled and cracked his whip, there was a rippling of wood and leather and iron as the chains fastened to the house snapped tight and each successive pair of oxen strained into the weight of the house and the building ground forward an inch or two, its windows rattling, its frame vibrating, and then the man with the whip yelled, Take yeere rest dogs, and the sixteen animals stopped pulling all at once, as if they were a circus act.” —From Tinkers by Paul Harding. Submitted by Constance G. Bullard.

Roy Peter Clark: Constance Hale wrote a good book about verbs. She could have harvested this sentence as evidence. Underline the verbs in the active voice: yelled, cracked, snapped, strained, ground, stopped. A tremendous amount of energy is harnessed in a single sentence, but the author makes it work. Notice also the startling variations in camera angles. If this scene were a movie, we’d have a moderate close-up on the man, still closer as we focused on wood, leather, and chains. The camera would pull back to see rows of oxen straining. Switch now to the bottom of the house grinding across the ground. Pull back to see the whole house and the effects of the action. Back to the man. Then to the 16 animals at rest. All in a single sentence. I love writing that moves.

2 “Back in 1965, on a day so hot that God Almighty should have been writhing with sickto-the-stomach guilt over driving His children out of the cool green of Eden, my daddy walked into our general store, held a revolver to his head, told my mama that he couldn’t take any more and that because of her harsh way and his many sins he was going to blow his brains out.” —From Before Women Had Wings by Connie May Fowler. Submitted by Gale Massey.

RPC: But he has not blown his brains out yet; he just tells his wife he is going to. We see here a pattern so familiar that we must recognize it as an indispensable tool of writers: Save the most dramatic element until the end of a sentence or a paragraph. The period is a stop sign. A period followed by the white space of a paragraph’s end acts as a stoplight. Any word or phrase that sits before the period or white space will receive special attention. Before we get to that threat, a lot of interesting choices are being made: the tension between the heat of the day and the coolness of Eden; the cruelty of the God the Father against the violence of daddy; all the consequences of the loss of innocence. I admire a writer who can evoke an archetype such as the Edenic myth without making a symbol sound like a cymbal.

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“But then they danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’” —From On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Submitted by Michael Slagle.

RPC: A couple of years ago, in an art shop near Atlanta, I bought a stylized image of Jack Kerouac with a typewriter in the background and the phrase, in yellow, “burn, burn, burn like fabulous roman candles exploding.” We can see that quote as an excerpt from a longer sentence from On the Road. Kerouac wrote furiously on rolls of copy paper that furled and unfurled as they hit the floor. Truman Capote argued that that was typing, not writing. If you write as if on speed on rolls of paper, your sentences are more likely to run long in what might seem like an undisciplined flood of language. But there is art here. Consider the neologism “dingledodies,” coined by Kerouac to describe the weirdos who crash and burn. Here is repetition for rhythm and not redundancy: first “the mad ones” and then the triple “burn.” All that energy rumbling toward an ejaculation of fireworks and a collective sigh of orgasmic appreciation: Awww!


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“In your heart, in your bones, no matter how silly you know it is, you feel that everything has been leading to this, all the secret arrows were pointing here, the universe and time itself crafted this long ago, and you are just now realizing it, you are just now arriving at the place you were always meant to be.” —From Every Day by David Levithan. Submitted by Karen Hubbard.

RPC: This sentence seems almost miraculous to me: seven clauses in 60 words. The language is simple. The only concrete words are “heart,” “bones,” and “arrows,” fleeting metaphors, nothing we can actually see. It gains altitude, rather than particularity, with words such as “everything,” “pointing here,” “the universe and time,” “now realizing,” “now arriving,” “meant to be.” Let’s offer praise to the humble comma. It helps organize the sentence into eight sections, each one of which we can understand before invited to move on to the next.

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“But then, in the earliest hours of that morning in November, a Sunday morning, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal Holcomb noises – on the keening hysteria of coyotes, the dry scrape of scuttling tumbleweed, the racing, receding wail of locomotive whistles.” —From In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Submitted by Keith Sharon.

RPC: I draw two simple lessons from this sentence. 1) The importance of capturing sounds, not just visuals, in setting a scene. I can hear the keening of coyotes, the onomatopoetic scrape and scuttling of tumbleweed, and the alliterative wail of train whistles. 2) Three is the largest number in literature. When an author gives you three examples of something, as Capote does here, he is telling you all he knows, and wants you to know.

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“He was quick and ready in the things of life, but only in the things and not in their meanings.” —From “To Build a Fire” by Jack London. Submitted by Glenda Rynn.

RPC: Jack London precedes Hemingway as an author and anticipates him. He uses simple, common words to reveal something about human experience. Part of the pleasure of X-ray reading – that is, reading like a writer – are the surprising discoveries inside a sentence. Just by looking at the sentence, you see the comma divides it in half. Count the words. Go ahead. Ten before the comma, ten after. That kind of balance forces you to hold two ideas in your brain (or your two hands) at once. That conjunction “but” serves as the fulcrum of the seesaw. On one end sits “things of life,” on the other “their meanings.”

16 | The Writer • January 2017

“By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and prosperous, and Bilbo Baggins was standing at his door after breakfast smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that reached nearly down to his woolly toes (neatly brushed) – Gandalf came by.” —From The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. Submitted by Dean Crawford.

RPC: A great sentence by a great author that illustrates a narrative technique in both film and fiction. Robert McKee refers to it as the “inciting incident,” that moment in time when a normal day is transformed by a bolt from the blue. The phrase “curious chance” hints at something unusual to come, but the front end of the sentence is dominated by the normal pleasures of the Shire – if normal can apply to an imagined creature called a hobbit. Check out the diction of peace and harmony: morning, quiet, green, numerous, prosperous, breakfast. The name Bilbo Baggins has an alliterative lilt to it. The long wooden pipe and wooly toes characterize Bilbo as a member of a particular tribe. All of that serves as prologue. Life will change forever with the uttering of the three last words: “Gandalf came by.” Apply it to your real world: It was a beautiful morning and I had just finished my Cheerios, enjoying my first smoke of the day, when this tall, ancient wizard stopped by to see me.


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“I am haunted by waters.”

—From “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean. Submitted by Giancarlo Ghedini and Lyman Barry. 

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“On a sunny day in a sunny humor I could sometimes think of death as mere gossip, the ugly rumor behind that locked door over there.” —From The Duke of Deception: Memories of My Father by Geoffrey Wolff.

RPC: Ah, a shorty! Five words, seven syllables, almost like the middle line of a haiku. A great writing lesson hides in this sentence. It concerns the unappreciated power of the passive voice. Writers say they much prefer the active, where the subject performs the action of the verb. We could convert Maclean’s sentence to the active, but it would give us: “Waters haunt me.” The economy of those three words cannot account for what is lost. The subject “I” gets emphasis by being first. That subject is not an agent or a player, is not active syntactically or in real life. He is the receiver of a powerful verb “is haunted.” The passive requires a “by” phrase to indicate the doer; here it allows the author to place the emphatic word last “waters.” The word “haunted” inhabits the sentence, like a ghost in the House of Usher. Here almost all the dictionary meanings apply: to inhabit, visit, like a ghost; to frequent; to obsess; to pervade.

10 “I was born in the back room of a shadowy house, and grew up amidst ancient furniture, books in Latin, and human mummies, but none of those things made me melancholy, because I came into the world with a breath of the jungle in my memory.” —From Eva Luna by Isabel Allende. Submitted by Ann Davenport.

RPC: This is a good sentence to compare with the next one by Poe. Both contain images of stifling melancholy. Poe’s words describe the darkness of the natural world. Allende emphasizes the contents of a “shadowy house,” which include old, old things: ancient furniture, books in Latin (a dead language), and human mummies. (By the way, she uses three examples, a standard choice if you are trying to encompass the whole.) The narrator is saying, in effect, that I came to life in the midst of almost dead things. All of those cobwebs are dusted away by a single phrase, “a breath of jungle.” The jungle is both the antidote to and the opposite of everything in that house that is decaying into dust.

Submitted by Sue Anne Linde.

RPC: I am a word person, not a numbers person, but, sometimes, to figure out a sentence, I begin by counting the words. I count 26 words. (I will leave counting the letters and syllables for another day.) This reveals that the phrase “of death” is smack dab in the middle: words 13 and 14. In most cases, writers use the middle to hide things, preferring the beginning and ending as points of emphasis. Here the key phrase serves as a hinge, distinguishing the carefree language that precedes it (sunny, sunny, humor) with the darkness that follows (gossip, ugly, rumor, behind, locked door).

11

“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.” —From “Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe. Submitted by Angela Deschesne.

RPC: This sentence suggests the importance of the word “diction,” the collective effect of a series of individual word choices. It does not surprise us that Poe does not use the word “cherub” here, or “dandelion,” or “razzmatazz.” This is a Gothic vision of mood and place and, in a single sentence, he lines up his word troops to convey it: dull, dark, soundless, autumn, clouds, hung, oppressively, low, alone, dreary, shades, melancholy. Poe had “summer” at his disposal; “autumn” fit the mood. This is what I call a journey sentence: a long sentence that reflects the experience of a traveling narrator. The sentence, like the rider, reaches the destination at the end: the House of Usher.

writermag.com • The Writer | 17


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“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” —From The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.

13

“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure.”  —From Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. Submitted by Katy Yocom.

Submitted by Jeffrey Morris.

RPC: J.D. Salinger sacrifices his own language and mature insights (sort of) to turn his narration over to a prep-school student, Holden Caulfield, who came to represent the alienation of the postWorld War II generation. This is a carefully constructed text, but it doesn’t sound that way. It sounds like someone talking. How do you do that? You use the second person (“you”), contractions (“you’ll”; “don’t”), slang (“lousy”), intensifiers (“really”), verbal punctuation (“and all”), and mild profanity (“crap”). The cumulative effect is informal and conversational. Salinger had a great ear for the spoken word and captures the idioms of his time in phrases such as “how my parents were occupied” and “if you want to know the truth.” A double-edged razor hides in both phrases. The first one could mean “what my parents did for a living,” but “occupied” carries with it some negative connotations, as in the word preoccupied. The second phrase, about truth, is used mostly as filler in conversation, yet the key word, truth, comes at the end, raising the question of whether Holden is a reliable narrator of his own life story. My favorite phrase here is “and all that David Copperfield kind of crap.” Note the alliteration, the repetition of hard “c” sounds. Perhaps Holden sees himself as a Dickensian character, like David Copperfield, who experiences an endless series of traumatic events in his young life. Or perhaps the reclusive author is sending a secret signal: just as David Copperfield is considered Dickens’s most autobiographical novel, Catcher contains, we now know, many parallels to the young life of J.D. Salinger.

18 | The Writer • January 2017

RPC: This is a beautiful sentence that we might punctuate differently in the 21st century. I’d be tempted to replace that semicolon with a colon. The semicolon signals a half-separation, what I call a “swinging gate.” The colon is more of an announcer: I’m about to tell you something significant: Ta da! The alliteration and sibilance of “subtleness of the sea” suggests the rhythm and sound of the sea itself. What follows is a study in contrast, scary words bumping into lovely words. In the first bump, “dreaded creatures” meets “glide under water.” In the second, “treacherously hidden” leads to “tints of azure.” The best word in the sentence, “azure,” comes at the end.

14

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” —From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Submitted by Denise C. Buschmann.

RPC: Who could not admire a sentence with such a clear demarcation of beginning, middle, and end? Thank you, commas. Only a single word – neighbor – has more than one syllable. Austen gives us 19 words that add up to 67 letters, an astonishing efficiency of fewer than four letters per word. But this math is invisible to the meaning. She begins by asking what at first seems like a metaphysical question: “For what do we live?” The social commentary that follows brings us crashing to earth in a phrase and carries us home with a delicious sense of revenge, a kind of sophisticated punch line.


15

“The functional disenchantment, the sweet habit of each other had begun to put lines around her mouth, lines that looked like quotation marks – as if everything she said had already been said before.” —From “Agnes of Iowa” by Lorrie Moore. Submitted by Karen Gray.

RPC: This sentence made me laugh, with its use of a form of punctuation as a simile to describe the character lines of a human face. There is a lovely movement of language and thought here, beginning with a great abstraction (“functional disenchantment”), drawing evidence from those facial lines, describing them through the simile of quotation marks, and then extending that figure into an analogy that signals physical and emotional exhaustion. That sound you don’t hear is me applauding.

16 “The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.” —From The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Submitted by Rhonda Franz.

RPC: Like other much-honored authors – Cormac McCarthy comes to mind – Tartt is happy to leave anticipated punctuation waiting in the wings. To avoid the run-on, I would tuck a comma after “melting.” But snow in the mountains has a kind of run-on or run-off effect that would turn my comma into a boulder. I loved the clause “Bunny had been dead” just because that name and that mortal condition don’t feel right together, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A final reward comes with “the gravity of our situation.” Gravity connects with snow falling off the mountain. It’s a synonym for seriousness, and even has “grave” in it.

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“He knew that when he kissed this girl and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God.” —From The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Submitted by Stephen Turner.

RPC: X-raying this sentence is like pinning a Monarch butterfly to a corkboard. I want to appreciate it without destroying its mystery and beauty. There are lots of phrases that are embedded in others, which add to the sentence’s complexity. I see four verbs at work: knew, kissed, wed, and romp. A man kisses the girl of his dreams and inhales her breath. But that breath is “perishable,” a word that portends his and her mortality, a word that we use for stuff we buy at a grocery story. He has a vision, but it is “unutterable,” which denotes “unspeakable” in both the sense that he cannot form it into words, but also that it is so terrible, it cannot be spoken. Gatsby’s mind “romps” like the “mind of God,” a surprising and thrilling juxtaposition. When things become real, rather than imagined, they lose their luster. Roy Peter Clark is senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, one of the most prestigious schools for journalists in the world. He has taught writing at every level – to schoolchildren and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors – for almost 40 years. A writer who teaches and a teacher who writes, he has authored or edited 18 books on writing and journalism, including Writing Tools, How to Write Short, Help! for Writers, and The Glamour of Grammar. He still plays keyboard in a rock band. He lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.

writermag.com • The Writer | 19


WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS Half of U.S. children under age 5 are non-white. But only 10 percent of children’s books in the last two decades featured multicultural characters. The math doesn’t add up. And one nonprofit organization is determined to even the playing field.

BY MELISSA HART


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Malinda Lo discussed the all-white male panel of children’s authors during the 2014 New York City fan convention BookCon. Others involved in the publishing industry began to join the conversation. The online discussion resulted in a formal three-day event where concerned writers and readers networked and discussed how best to go about diversifying children’s literature. Baker points out that the conversation has been going on for decades; for example, 2014 National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson petitioned for diverse literature when she began publishing in the 1990s. “Action needs to accompany the conversation,” Baker says. “We need to engage people in and out of the industry to recognize that more needs to be done.”

Reflecting the diversity of readers In her 1990 article “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” black professor Rudine Sims Bishop writes, “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.” Though 2014 census data found that over half of U.S. children under 5 were non-white, only 10 percent of children’s books in the past two decades have offered multicultural content…and much of that is penned by white authors speculat-

ing on the challenges experienced by people of another race or culture. Over the past three years, WNDB has established fellowships and awards for underrepresented writers. The organization offers grants and mentorships and book lists. Members appear on panels and round-table discussions and social media chats – all in an effort to ensure that diverse authors get their stories out into the world and into the hands of young readers. Editorial consultant Marcela Landres spent years as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster before launching her own business. She found that most people working in book publishing were middle- to upper-class white women and men who hired younger versions of themselves for entry-level positions – problematic, she notes, on many levels. “They, not people of color, determine what’s an authentic story by a person of color and what’s not an authentic story,” she explains, adding that most literary agents are also white. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a Latina editor,” she says, “it’s that we still live in a segregated society.” Landres believes the solution to segregation in book publishing lies in outreach to children. “If I was queen of the world,” she says, “I’d reach down into the middle grades and start a mentoring program for children of color so they could see themselves growing up to be members of the literary community, as readers, writers, and/or publishing professionals.” She’d also create paid internships for high school and college students of color at publishing companies, with literary journals, at nonprofits and libraries, and at other literary

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ennifer Baker grew up watching actor LeVar Burton as the host of the children’s television program Reading Rainbow. “That’s how I heard of the book Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters,” the panel organizer for We k e r a rB Need Diverse Books fe says, describing the award-winning African tale written and illustrated by black author John Steptoe. “It was the most powerful thing,” she adds. “You had a black man introducing literature to kids who really enjoyed it, and it was fun and funny. We have fewer of those kinds of shows now. Social media [has] become such a big part of educating people.” Educating people – online, in classrooms, in publishing houses – is a key component of the nonprofit organization We Need Diverse Books (WNDB). Approaching its third year, the organization has a website and blog, numerous social media feeds, school outreach programs, and its own wildly popular hashtag (#weneeddiversebooks). The nonprofit grew out of authors’ frustrations with the lack of diversity in publishing, along with their concern that students who don’t see themselves represented in books will lose interest in both literature and literacy. Its mission statement emphasizes the recognition of all diverse experiences, including “LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.” On Twitter, Ellen Oh and


In 2015, Publishers Weekly released the results of an annual survey that found 89 percent of people who work in publishing describe themselves as white/Caucasian. One percent described themselves as African-American. Volunteers at We Need Diverse Books point out that internships at publishing houses and literary agencies, critical to those wanting to work in the business, aren’t always financially accessible, especially in cities with a formidable cost of living. They offer grants to support interns from diverse backgrounds who want to work in children’s publishing. The awards, $2,500 each, supplement

a

Turning interns into editors

paid positions at participating businesses like Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Donald Maass Literary Agency and Serendipity Literary Agency. Scholastic Books editorial assistant Maya Marlette always knew she wanted to be an editor. As an English major at Wellesley College, she followed industry news, including the We Need Diverse Books movement on social media. Both the Twitter and Tumblr pages for WNDB publiya Ma cized the internship rlet te grant. “Professors, people at Scholastic, friends…it seemed like everyone knew about this grant and wanted to make sure I knew about it, too,” she says. “At one point I went from being like ‘yeah, I applied!’ to ‘yeah…I won that!’” Marlette spent most of her days as an intern last summer reading submissions from the slush pile and learning the ins and outs of publishing from co-workers. “It really helped me get a feel for how the submission process works and how much effort goes into turning a manuscript into a book,” she says. She believes it’s important to validate all sorts of stories. “If I’m online and I see a list of books where every author and every character is a white person, I know something is up,” she says. “I think one of the very best things WNDB has done for me was give me access to the vocabulary I needed to talk about these things. Just scrolling through their Twitter feed is like being told, ‘No, you’re not the only one who sees this is a problem, and you’re not the only one working to make things better.’” M

organizations. “By the time they graduate college,” she says, “they’d have a solid resume full of publishing internships and connections.” Baker agrees that high school students especially need to realize that if they love reading and writing, they can work as writers, publishers, editors, publicists, and librarians. “If you like coding,” she says, “e-books are so huge. If you’re a graphic designer or illustrator, you can work in publishing, too. We need to let students know this sooner, rather than later.” To that end, WNDB brings authors to classrooms, either in person or via Skype, and gives each child a copy of the author’s book. The classroom program offers students an interaction with marginalized writers that they may not otherwise have been able to meet, Baker explains. “If you can identify them as eager readers, if you have young black boys and they meet author Jason Reynolds (All American Boys; As Brave as You) and he’s making a living as a writer, they’ll see that it’s doable.”

Assistance for emerging authors Each year, WNDB awards $2,000 to five winners of the Walter Grant. Named for Walter Dean Myers, the beloved black author who spent his life advocating for diversity in children’s books, the grant assists unpublished illustrators and authors working toward a career in children’s literature. One of the award recipients, A.C. Thomas, ended up with a six-figure deal for The Hate U Give, a young adult novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Shveta Thakrar, a long-time diversity activist who describes herself as “a writer of South Asian-flavored fantasy,” found out about the grant through WNDB’s Twitter feed and newsletter. The award allowed her to take a break from freelancing and focus on finishing the second draft of her novel in progress. “On a personal note,” she says, “it was a fantastic boost to my writerly self-esteem. It’s only been in the past year and a half that my career really started to blossom, so getting official acknowledgment that my voice as a brown writer and woman is both needed and wanted – well, that was and remains amazing.” As a Walter Grant winner, she attracted the attention of industry professionals – an interest she says she wouldn’t necessarily have received otherwise. “I’ve been told in the past that writing about brown people automatically makes my work niche, and I can’t really expect anyone to care about it,” she explains. The formation of WNDB challenges that attitude. “WNDB is


doing a lot to shift public consciousness on an impressive scale,” Thakrar says. “And no wonder – it’s made up of people who are all marginalized in some aspect or another (or many), people who want a better, more equitable world for everyone.” Still, she notes, perception and representation of marginalized groups remains a problematic issue, one she believes no single organization or group of people can solve. “We decidedly still have a long way to go,” she says.

Appropriation issues Author Jessica Mehta, a member of the Cherokee Nation, doesn’t believe her artistic writing is any more valuable or important than someone else’s solely because she’s Native American. “However,” she points out, “I think it’s paramount that as many different experiences are explored in quality writing as possible – the key word being quality.” To that end, she offers free writing services to Native American students and Pacific Northwest nonprofits serving Native communities – a demographic, she says, that doesn’t always have the same financial and educational resources as its white counterpart. In 2013, she established the Jessica Tyner Scholarship Fund for Native Americans pursuing an advanced degree in a field related to writing. “I established it because I know first-hand just how challenging college and grad school can be, especially for Native American, first-generation, and/or students pursuing a writing degree,” she explains. “I hope the scholarship gives a little extra financial padding to Native American writers, but more importantly reassures them that they’re not alone. There are

people who support their art and want them to succeed.” Applicants must write an essay describing their involvement with the Native American community; however, the organization that oversees the scholarship won’t allow Mehta to restrict it to one specific demographic. In the past year, several applicants haven’t been Native American at all. “They took one course in Native American studies in college,” she says. “It took a lot of nerve for them to apply for the scholarship.” Appropriation of other races and cultures is a serious issue in literature, says WNDB’s Baker. “It can present a problem when – for instance – a white, straight, non-disabled writer writes about a disabled, Mexican character,” she explains. “No one’s telling you not to write, but understand that when it’s your voice that’s heard, you become an authority on someone else’s culture.” Last year, she wrote a much-discussed blog post on what she identified as stereotypical dialect and characters in e.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s When We Was Fierce – a YA novel that the publisher ended up delaying for release because of concerns such as hers. “It’s easy to appropriate,” Baker says. “People haven’t been called out on it; they’ve been praised for it. But we’re seeing backlash, and it continues to separate us.”

Building compassionate community All staff members at We Need Diverse Books volunteer their time to help emerging and established children’s authors get their voices out into the world. Volunteer opportunities abound, and those with financial resources can click the donate button on the website’s homepage. “A hundred dollars can

go toward a grant. It can help send someone to a classroom, help to pay an intern,” Baker says. “And buy the books. Buy marginalized writers writing about marginalized characters/lives.” Not sure where to find them? WNDB’s website offers a wealth of book lists under its “resources” tab. And LeVar Burton’s Reading Rainbow is now an educational app that gives children unlimited access to diverse books and allows them to earn rewards for reading. Scholastic editorial assistant Marlette is thrilled that WNDB – the name and the hashtag and the organization itself – has become a landing place for people who champion diversity in children’s books. “It creates a community of people,” she explains. “The people of WNDB are so much more powerful and effective at creating change than a scattered group of individuals.” She’s particularly impressed with the organization’s focus on creating literature that will empower all children. “I don’t believe that success is a zero-sum game, where if some kids find success that means there will be less for others,” she says. “By supporting every child, and giving every child more opportunities to be successful, the world will be filled with more compassionate, capable people. It gives me a lot of hope at work and in my life that things are changing, and one day publishing will truly represent the kids who read the books.” Find out more about We Need Diverse Books at weneeddiversebooks.org. Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of the middle-grade novel Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016). She’s an editor and consultant for Creator & Collector Services. Web: melissahart.com.


RISING STAR

It took Pierce Brown six novels and countless queries before he broke through with his smash-hit Red Rising trilogy. Now he has two television series, a film adaptation, and another sci-fi trilogy in the works – and has never given up on his principles along the way.

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ierce Brown’s debut novel, Red Rising, a huge best-seller, was compared to The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and Game of Thrones; the book was chosen as one of the best books of 2014 by several publications, including Entertainment Weekly. The following two novels in the trilogy increased both Brown’s accolades and popularity. The novel tells the story of 16-year-old Darrow, a miner on the planet Mars. His life radically changes when his young wife is killed and a group bent on revolution recruits him. This blend of science fiction, thriller, and fantasy also explores topics such as justice, vengeance, and life inside a caste system. The world Brown creates is both complex and compelling. Prior to the success of Red Rising, Brown had attempted several novels; even this one initially met resistance from both agents and publishers. Almost everyone interested in the novel wanted Brown to make substantial changes to the book. Yet Brown stuck to his belief in the pace and writing, and the book was ultimately published the way he wanted it. In our interview, Brown discusses his struggle to get published and the enormous success he’s experienced since Red Rising’s debut.

What prompted you to start writing?

It always feels inevitable in the end. But I suppose it was when one of my friends passed away my senior year of high school. He was one of the special lights you meet in this life. A real larger-than-life human. That forced me 24 | The Writer • January 2017

inward. I spent more time alone, away from technology, feeling things – which is quite the opposite of how the modern world wants you to behave. After burying myself in books like Dan Simmons’ Hyperion and The Once and Future King, I started finding my own means of self-expression. I was 18 at the time, and it was like my emotions and imagination, which had been dripping out from a tight-piped faucet ever since I entered the ordeal that is high school, suddenly burst the pipes apart and came out in a torrent. Putting stories on page was the most freeing thing I’d ever encountered.   Is it true you spent time in Seattle writing above your parents’ garage? I’m fortunate to have saints for parents. They might not always have understood me, but they always supported me – even when I wanted to be a zoologist and packed my room full of snapping turtles and Brazilian tree frogs. They let me live with them after I graduated college and couldn’t yet support myself. The house was nestled inside a little pine woods and was a half-mile from the Puget Sound. It was a gorgeous place. I wrote seven books above the garage. Six before Red Rising came gushing out. But it was a proper nerd cave – Buffy posters on the walls, Lord of the Rings maps lying on the floor.   What was your publishing journey? I wrote six books between [age] 18 and 22. There was some interest from agencies, but no one signed me. My

Joan Allen; theromb/Shutterstock

BY JEFF AYERS


little monster-baby of science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. Has your growing popularity with each book been invigorating or terrifying?

style was still a bit over-grand, impossible to market, or derivative. Sometimes all three. Then I wrote Red Rising. There was more interest, but most of the agents wanted me to change the tone, alter the story, and make it simpler and less harsh. I balked at that. Then I got a call from Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates. She was a new agent, and [the manuscript] had actually been on the desk of an agent who had passed on many of my earlier stories. Hannah wanted me to be her first client. I accepted immediately. We edited Red Rising before taking it to editors [at various publishers]. At this time, I’d moved down to Los Angeles and was living on an air mattress at one of my old professor’s houses as I tried to break into the entertainment industry. I was giving tours of the NBC studios as an NBC Page – peacock tie and all (my friends still sometimes call me Kenneth the Page). We received some offers for Red Rising, but they again wanted to substantially alter the story to be “faster,” “more accessible,” etc. We passed on those, which was a hard choice. Then, miraculously, Del Rey, an imprint I’ve read religiously since I was 8, offered a preempt three-book deal. I was giving a tour of the lot when I got the call from Hannah telling me what their money offer was. I almost fainted. It was far and away better than anything I could have hoped for. I told my tour group and suddenly was mobbed with hugs by Iowans and two families of Japanese tourists. I got $19 in tips. It was a damn good day. What sparked the idea for Red Rising?  Did you envision this as the start of a trilogy?

Adversity sparked Red Rising. I lived in eight states before I graduated high school. That’s a lot of social cliques to break into. I started at public schools, and then went to some of the stodgiest private schools this side of Dead Poet’s Society. Much of the adversity there came from the teachers. This moving made my life diverse, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but it was hard. Harder for my sister even than for me. I wanted to capture that feeling of social anxiety and oppression, and combine [it] with the Greek play Antigone and Dumas’ perfect work, The Count of Monte Cristo. It was always a trilogy in my mind.   Are your books science fiction, fantasy, or both?  Does genre matter? Genre matters if you’re a reader trying to find a new book. For me, it doesn’t matter. I consider Red Rising a

Entirely invigorating. It makes the world of Red Rising all the more real to me. It suspends that niggling doubt in the back of my mind that this is all made up. The more fans Red Rising has, the better equipped I am to write it. What has it been like to grow from fan to peer?

Contemporary, maybe, but I idolize my favorite authors to such an extent that I’ll hesitate to call myself peer long after I’ve grown gray hair and am long in the tooth. How have you used social media platforms to reach out to your fans?

Social media is a good way of giving readers vested interest in my life and career, while Kickstarter can really help expand the world for the readers by making art and maps available to them.   Do you have plans to dabble in the world of graphic novels and film? I’m actually doing a bit more than dabbling in both. I currently have two television shows in development, as well as participating in adapting Red Rising to film by penning the screenplay adaptation for Universal with Marc Forster set to direct. In the world of graphic novels, I have a prequel to Red Rising underway with Dynamite Comics called The Sons of Ares. It will focus on the rise of the freedom fighter known as Ares and his foundation of a clandestine army to fight Gold rule.   You signed a deal for three more books.  Is this a follow up trilogy or another universe entirely? Iron Gold, which is the name of the new trilogy, is an extension of Red Rising. It takes place 10 years after the events of Morning Star and explores what happens after you break an empire.   What has been the most surprising to you on this journey? Seeing a stranger reading my book on a train, plane, or in a coffee shop will never not be strange. Also, when you meet people who are huge fans of the series but don’t mention a thing about it because they’re afraid I’ll be put off – [it’s] amazing to know that figments of my imagination are rattling around the brains of human beings and I’d never know about it unless their friend outted them. Jeff Ayers is a freelance reviewer for the Associated Press, Library Journal, and Booklist. He is the author of several works of fiction and nonfiction, and lives in the Pacific Northwest. writermag.com • The Writer | 25


How to wow book clubs for young readers. BY MELISSA HART

don’t go anywhere these days without my bag of magnifying glasses, tweezers, and foil-wrapped owl pellets. The pellets, coughed up by owls after a meal and packed with tiny bones from their prey, represent the pièce de résistance of my presentation to book clubs for young readers. After a comic slideshow about the most fascinating attributes of raptors, and a short reading from my 2016 middle-grade novel Avenging the Owl, readers scramble for a seat at the pellet dissection table and dig in. Authors speaking to young readers compete with soccer practice, Snapchat, and the thrills of “Pokémon Go.” Savvy writers know that it’s not enough to sit students in a circle to discuss their novel or nonfiction work; kids need images and videos, memorable props, and activities that get them up on their feet and moving (or, perhaps, singing). Teen author Aija Mayrock’s The Survival Guide to Bullying includes spoken word. When she visits book clubs, she performs “roems,” which are rap poems that evoke the fear and confusion of being bullied, or bullying someone else. “Kids love it when I perform the pieces for them,” Mayrock says. “I talk about my story, how I wrote the book and got it published, which is very inspiring to them because I’m only a few years older than them. I also do Q&A sessions as well as book signings. I think the most memorable part, though, is performing the rap. They go crazy for it and start rapping along!” Mayrock’s appearance at book clubs meshes with her anti-bullying activism – a message that 26 | The Writer • January 2017

Young readers eagerly dissect owl pellets after hearing a short reading of Avenging the Owl.

resonates with crowds of young readers. “In September, I did a book club event in West Virginia,” she says. “There were a few hundred kids who were participating after having read my book. The kids were eager with so many questions, ideas, and thoughts. They spoke their mind and exchanged ideas. It was so memorable because many of the kids had been bullied and were so open about sharing their stories and thoughts on my book.” Psychologist Dr. Frank J. Sileo also invites book club participants to share their anecdotes and observations. He combines readings from his children’s books with activities designed to foster safe explorations of readers’ emotions and coping strategies. The author of several picture books, including Sally Sore Loser, Sileo interacts constantly with his young readers during his presentations, asking them if they’ve ever known a


TIPS FOR AUTHORS PRESENTING AT BOOK CLUBS FOR CHILDREN/ YOUNG ADULTS Contact your local library, bookstores, and schools to identify books clubs for young readers. Approach them with a postcard or onesheet that provides a brief synopsis of your book, a short author bio, and a description of your presentation. Make sure to include photos from past events, plus your contact information and website.

sore loser and pointing out the correlation between ungracious losing and bullying behaviors. Sileo presents a PowerPoint slideshow to explain the process of writing and publishing a book, and shows how sketches become illustrations on his pages. Each student who participates in the book club leaves with a pencil that says “Don’t be a Sally Sore Loser” and an enhanced sense of how to use specific calming techniques in the face of any loss, whether related to sports, performing arts, or test scores. Sileo preps the parents of participants beforehand and invites them to sit in if a child has particular difficulty with paying attention, but seldom has to contend with restless readers because of his presentation style and the colorful images in his picture books. He emphasizes the importance of speaking to children in an animated, engaging manner. “Tone and inflection are so important,” he says. “You have to be an actor, play out your book and make it come alive for them. Keep it short, sweet, and structured for success.” Lin Oliver, middle-grade author and executive director of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, travels with a real-life actor – Henry Winkler, co-author of Penguin’s

Hank Zipzer series. Together, they do a dynamic, kid-friendly presentation with plenty of visuals on screen. “I am constantly amazed at how perceptive young readers are, how much they identify with the characters in books, and how passionate they are about the books they love,” she says. “Middle-grade kids are putting the world together piece by piece, processing new information and beginning to establish their identity. A book club is a high-minded and safe place for that kind of exploration.” And sometimes, a book club is pure fun. Occasionally, organizers have their own ideas of what an event should look like, and all the author has to do is show up and enjoy an hour of thrilling celebrity. One evening, a club host made dinner from the recipes in my YA memoir, Gringa, and compiled a playlist of music referenced in the book as well. I simply sat at the head of the table and enjoyed a wonderful meal and answered questions from readers…no owl pellets required. Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of the middle-grade novel Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016). She’s an editor and consultant for Creator & Collector Services. Web: melissahart.com.

Prepare the book club beforehand. Let them know what it is you’d like to talk about, and ask what they’d like you to address during a preset length of time—say a half hour to 45 minutes. Be open to host suggestions, and tailor your presentation to the specific needs of the club’s readers. Ask how you can best reach hearing- and visionimpaired members as well. Bring visuals. Young audiences respond to humorous PowerPoint presentations and interesting props, and they appreciate a bookmark or other small souvenir that reminds them of you and your visit. I provide my readers with small bags so that they can take home the bones from their owl pellet. Come up with a hands-on activity directly related to the book. This can be an art or science project, a dance, an easy snack, a short creative writing assignment, even an off-the-cuff rap performance.

writermag.com • The Writer | 27


OPEN MINDS Learn how to interview subjects like a psychologist. ° By Jacqueline Sheehan

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28 | The Writer • January 2017

while you ask questions. If you send questions for them to answer online, you will also miss a good part of their personality. Bloggers and reviewers often send me questions to answer via email and I’m glad to help them out, but they only get my most polished answers, nothing spontaneous or personal. In my psychology practice, I needed to interview people to understand their emotional and cognitive foundation, to hear what had gone wrong and seek possible pathways back to wholeness. This is a lot of information in a relatively short period of time. Along the way, I learned some techniques that helped my research interviews as well.

Eight steps to interview like a psychologist

1

People generally love to talk about their work and their lives but are rarely asked and less frequently listened to. Let them know that you truly want to understand and learn from their expertise. People often ask me how I found people who were willing to be interviewed. The answer is simple; I contacted people and asked. Studs Terkel, author of Working, was the all-time master of interviewing people for radio and print. He drew things out of people they didn’t know they had in them by simply being himself and putting people at ease. “I asked questions, and then I listened,” he said. It is surprising how often we fail to listen.

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ne of the key elements in writing fiction is providing strong motivation for a character’s actions. Unless we understand the psychological foundation of the characters, their actions – and, ultimately, the plot – will lack authenticity. I depend on research and interviews to enhance the richness of my fictional characters. While writers depend heavily on the internet for research, there are times when interviewing people in person will yield the richest understanding and provide the most depth to your writing. In my quest to learn about my characters, I have ridden along with police officers during an eight-hour shift and interviewed former wrestlers, a captain of a fire department, foster care advocates, animal control officers, and bread bakers, just to name a few. Without a face-to-face with them, I would not have discovered some of the nuances that made my characters believable. My preference (although not always possible) is an in-person interview. While some people will only be available by phone or email, I have found that if I dig deep enough, I can always find a local person with the expertise that I am seeking – and the effort is well worth it. One of the downsides to phone interviews is that you won’t have their full attention in our age of multitasking. They may be emptying the dishwasher while they put you on speakerphone or cruising Facebook


2

Listening is a learned skill, especially demonstrating that you are listening. The occasional head nod or interested “uh-huh” keeps you connected to the interviewee. Let the person know that you are making a hearty effort to understand, even if you are recording. Example: Clarify their important comments by saying, “I want to be sure I understand. When you were on a high school wrestling team, looking at your opponent’s initial foot placement was critical.” It is important to clarify because a.) we may not understand people the first time around, b.) it gives them a chance to confirm or expand upon their initial answer, and c.) it lets them know how well you are listening. (And this was also important because I truly knew nothing about high school wrestling.)

3

You are not the expert. The person you are interviewing is the expert. Be humble and respectful. If you are genuinely interested in them, you may be rewarded with an expanded interview. I interviewed several animal control officers for my book Lost & Found, until I met Carol Hepburn, of Amherst, Massachusetts. She invited me to spend several days with her while she assessed the personalities of dogs and matched them with owners.

4

Ask questions that can’t be answered by “yes” or “no.” You’re not a lawyer. Example: If you are writing a mystery about a man who drowned at a public beach, you might want to interview a lifeguard. Rather than asking, “Have you ever had to rescue a drowning swimmer?” start by asking, “Tell me what it’s like to guard a beach filled with swimmers.” Follow the lead of the interviewee. Don’t assume you know what they’re going to say. Their answers will surprise you.

5

Ask: What led them to their particular career or situation? Our characters are motivated by certain life events followed by particular choices. Example: When I interviewed a detective sergeant in South Portland, Maine, I asked him what motivated his decision to go into law enforcement. I was surprised when he said that his core belief was that children and the elderly deserved special care and protection. His answer helped me flesh out a character for my novel The Tiger in the House. Since my heart went pitter-patter when he said this, it also gave me insight into why Delia, my main character, would fall in love with a guy like him. Who wouldn’t?

6

It is OK to go deeper. Ask them what it feels like to be stuck on the ocean during a storm, pilot a plane, bake sourdough baguettes, or sell heroin. You will not be able to predict their responses. Example: When I interviewed a baker about how she felt baking bread, I was surprised and delighted by her response. She told me that she could hear yeast rising and it sounded like the exclamations of sexual orgasm. In a million years, I could never have predicted that.

7

People may be overwhelmed by the opportunity to reflect on their lives. They may be surprised by the strength of their emotion, usually by their tears. Don’t panic. The most respectful thing that you can do is to witness their strong emotion and say, “Talking about X brings up a strong reaction…” If they realize that you’re not afraid of their emotions, they may share even more closely guarded information. One of the most generous interviews I was ever granted occurred when I poke with a former police officer who had become addicted to opioids and lost his decorated career. His powerful

emotions and concern for his children guided my creation of a wellloved character who became addicted to painkillers.

8

Ask helpful open-ended questions: What was their dream when they were growing up? What about at age 21? What is the best or worst thing about their situation? If they had a magic wand, what would they change about their job, family, or life-changing event?

Ethical issues When you ask permission to speak with people, acknowledge that they have special information that you lack. They are doing a huge favor for you. I often bring them a small gift of locally crafted chocolates (no one has ever refused chocolates). If the interview is extensive, I will mention them in the acknowledgment section of my book. Author Colum McCann goes one step further; he offers to make a donation to a charity of their choice. If they disclose information that they suddenly regret sharing, give them time to think about it. They may have told you sensitive issues about a child, an ex-spouse, or even issues that have legal ramifications for them. You can work with them to ensure anonymity, but you are ultimately obliged to honor their wishes if they decide that the information cannot be shared. The best fictional characters are those who surprise us with their responses, who are more than they appear on the surface. Seek out people to interview who resemble your characters, and you will be richly rewarded by the results. Follow the advice of Studs Terkel: Ask questions – and then listen. Jacqueline Sheehan, Ph.D., psychologist, is the author of five novels. Her newest novel, The Tiger in the House, will be published in March 2017. writermag.com • The Writer | 29


ts and es fun plo t a e r c le Ha es and Shannon for all ag s r e t c a r en ha s are oft strong c k o o b r e . Yet h nd she’s genders only” – a ls ir g r o s “f t. labeled a ange tha h c o t d r ha fighting

BY E L IA N A O S

BORN

30 | The Writer • January 2017


Shebeko/Shutterstock; Jenn Florence

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hannon Hale’s first book arrived in 2003, with more than 20 additional titles following in a dozen years. Hale is active on Twitter, keeps an updated blog on Tumblr, and is branching out into graphic novels. She’s got a full plate (including four children and a husband/sometimes co-author). But that doesn’t stand in the way of Hale actively speaking out on issues she feels passionate about. In February 2015, Hale started a conversation about how schools can sometimes perpetuate gender stereotypes when she wrote about a recent school visit. Only the middle school girls were given permission to leave class and come hear her speak. From her blog: “I talk about books and writing, reading, rejections and moving through them, how to come up with story ideas. But because I’m a woman, because some of my books have pictures of girls on the cover, because some of my books have ‘princess’ in the title, I’m stamped as ‘for girls only.’ However, the male writers who have boys on their covers speak to the entire school.” Here Hale discusses the many genres she writes in, as well as the pressing issues about access and equality in publishing today. She has four books coming out in 2017.

INTERVIEW:

When do kids start choosing “girl books” or “boy books?”

It starts from the day they’re born. Everything is gendercoded for babies, from pacifiers to socks. Small children generally won’t consider stories about the opposite gender or off-gender toys (cars, play kitchens, etc.) as offlimits unless told so. And they are told so: by parents, teachers, siblings, and friends, constantly and in many ways. I meet homeschooled teenage boys who have never considered that they should be ashamed of reading about girls, so I know school is a big part of the conditioning. I’ve noticed that the year that a lot of boys tend to double-down on “nothing girlie for me!” is third grade. There is no one kind of book that boys will like. Boys are diverse; they have different interests, different needs at different stages. Our job in publishing is to keep creating many different kinds of books and then getting out of the way so that readers can pick their own. I’ve met hundreds of boys who have loved my books, though many are ashamed to admit it because we’ve done such

a good job of shaming them for being interested in any story that happens to star a girl. Why are so many books marketed in gender-specific ways? Pink covers, for example?

In the 1980s, deregulation opened up markets for merchandisers. Suddenly, everything was pink and blue, from baby clothes to toys. It was a way to get parents to buy everything twice. Already have a tricycle your daughter outgrew? Too bad, you gotta buy a new one anyway for your new son ‘cause the old one is pink! Gendered toys and books often sell really well. It’s an easy gift purchase. But as more parents become aware of the damage gendered books cause, more publishers are changing the way they jacket and market books. Marketing and covers have had a lot to do with creating genders for books. If the book is by a woman, the cover tends to have certain elements that make it look like “THIS IS FOR GIRLS, KEEP AWAY BOYS.” Author Maureen Johnson has talked about this, and her cover flip challenge was eyeopening for a lot of people. writermag.com • The Writer | 31


It’s interesting that as a society we perceive anything that looks “feminine” as being fluff, shallow, less important than anything that looks “masculine.” I think it’s worth questioning that instinct in ourselves. Why does a cover featuring a girl’s face, or a sundress, or a flower seem less literary, of less value and for a narrower audience than a boy’s face or no image at all, instead just focusing on large title font?

female character. If, for example, you’ve ever assumed that books about black teens are only for other black teens and not your mostly white student body, I’d ask you to question that. I’d ask you to think about books as both mirrors and doors, and allow all kids access to both. Celebrate stories of all kinds.

How do parents/librarians/teachers subtly or overtly keep reading gendered?

Reading a book with a main character who reflects you is such an amazing experience, especially for a kid who never felt represented in a book before. Books should be mirrors! But they should also be doors. Reading is one of the most profound ways to gain real empathy for people who are different from us. If we’re only giving kids stories about people like them, we’re missing a huge opportunity to help them gain empathy, to understand and care about others. If boys don’t grow up learning empathy for 50 percent of the

So many ways. I’ve heard these particular phrases many times: “I would buy your books for my kids/grandkids, but I only have boys.” “Hey, [insert boy’s name here], choose something else. That book is for girls.” “My son read your book – and he actually liked it!” “I bet you’ll like this book even though it’s about a girl.” “Girls, you’re in for a real treat.

What are the biggest problems with only reading books with protagonists like ourselves?

AS A SOCIETY WE PERCEIVE ANYTHING THAT LOOKS “FEMININE” AS BEING FLUFF, SHALLOW, LESS IMPORTANT THAN ANYTHING THAT LOOKS “MASCULINE.” You’re going to love Shannon Hale’s books and hearing her speak! Boys, I expect you to behave anyway.” “Why don’t you write about boys so you can sell more books?” If you’re offering three books to a boy, for example, let one of them be about a girl, written by a woman, with no caveats. That will let him know you don’t think there’s anything shameful in empathizing with a 32 | The Writer • January 2017

human race, how successful can we expect them to be in life? S.E. Hinton was my childhood first example of an author using initials to hide her gender and get more readers. Do tween boys really care about who writes their books?

I honestly don’t know if tween boys care about the gender of the author. I know a lot of adults do, and they are

the gatekeepers: the parents and grandparents who buy for the boys, the teachers, librarians, and booksellers who recommend the books. It’s still very common for women authors to disguise their gender with initials. I can tell you that the people who show up to my book signings and the signings of women writers I know are overwhelmingly female, while my men author friends get as many male as female readers. This is the great divide. It’s not that only male readers can read male authors. It’s that men’s stories are “universal” and anyone can read them, where women’s stories are niche and supposedly only of interest or worth to female readers. This is changing, but in my 15 years’ experience in this industry, the change is still microscopic. I’ve read a number of books written by women with a male narrator. That seems much more common than the opposite. Can men write realistically from a female perspective?

The most recent data I’ve seen is from 2010. Among children’s writers, men write 80% male protagonists, 20% female, which is the same as they did in 1950. Women write 60% female protagonists, 40% male, which is a huge change from the 80% male protagonists they wrote in 1950. So while we’re now close to 50:50 male to female protagonists in children’s literature, it is overwhelmingly women writers to write the girls. Girls and women in our society grow up learning to see from both the male and female POVs. We can’t help it. Most of the literature we study in school is written by men about men. Most of the TV and movies we watch are written by men about men. We learn to understand both perspectives, and so it’s easier for women to write from both perspectives. Men, on the other hand, have to make an effort to understand the female perspective. I know men writers who in real life are close to many interesting, diverse girls and women,


READING WRITERS WHO ARE DIFFERENT FROM US ISN’T AN OPTION. IT’S A NECESSITY. and yet their female characters are all based on flat stereotypes. In order to be better writers of female characters, men need to read widely and diversely. This is true of race as well. People of color grow up having to understand the white perspective as well as their own. They are going to have an easier time writing characters from both experiences. White writers have to work harder and read more broadly in order to accurately portray characters of color. For adults who worry about girls being interested in princesses, what would you say? Is there a place for fantasy even when you want to build strong young women?

Fantasy is the most basic and longestlived genre. Shakespeare wrote fantasy. Gilgamesh was fantasy. The stories so important that they were passed down from mothers to daughters for millennia without being written down were fantasy. The advantage of fantasy is that a reader can insert themselves and their own issues into the story. I wrote a book about a girl who can control fire. I’ve had so many letters from people telling me how it helped them with their own problems since the fire was clearly a metaphor for drug addiction. Or divorce. Or sin. Or depression. Or mental illness. Or adoption, etc. If I’d written a book directly about drug addiction, that’s the only thing that book would be about. I worry that the rush to dismiss

anything to do with princesses is tied a bit too closely to dismissing girls in general. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a princess. Historically, princesses are fascinating people with a great deal of consequence. There is a subset of stories about princesses which has them as helpless people waiting a lot and sleeping a lot and powerless to do anything without a man to help. That’s the kind of story we wanted to subvert with The Princess In Black. How has the response been to The Princess In Black?

Phenomenal! As a parent, I observed a gaping hole between early readers (Go Dog Go!) and chapter books (Magic Tree House). We need more transitional chapter books with tons of illustrations, large font, engaging stories, not too long. Five-to-eightyear-olds crave them. So we were thrilled to find a publisher who caught our vision for this series and ran with it. It’s a story about a monster-fighting ninja hero, and I never met a boy who didn’t love it, but because of the word “princess,” so many still only give the books to girls.  What trends are you excited about in MG and YA publishing?

Graphic novels! These books reach readers no other books can. They’re

opening the doors of verbal literacy for visual learners and helping strong verbal readers become visually literate. I LOVE them. While I don’t think it’s just a trend, it’s very exciting to see writers of color, writers with disabilities, writers from many different marginalized groups get published and marketed and find an audience. There are so many worthwhile stories yet to be told. How can writers be a positive force for understanding those outside our own experience?

It’s in any writer’s best interest (if not moral duty) to not only develop our craft so that we can find the best words to tell a story, but to educate ourselves and try to see outside our own little tunnel. Reading writers who are different from us isn’t an option. It’s a necessity. We writers are often introverts, but getting to know real people outside our own little sphere is also huge. And then when we write, we try to tell the truth of the world. How we see and understand the world will always bleed through the words. The most important thing we can do is listen. Educate ourselves. Live in the world. And support authors from marginalized groups. A white man writing from the POV of a black woman, for example, tends to get publicity for a wide audience and accolades for being “brave.” But a black woman writer writing about black characters is considered niche, only of interest to black readers. We should check our bookshelves. Are we reading books not just about but by people of color? By people with disabilities? People with experiences different from our own?  Eliana Osborn is a busy freelance writer focusing on education and family issues for national publications. She is hoping meditation really is going to solve everything. writermag.com • The Writer | 33


CLASS ACTION BY JEFF TAMARKIN

Next gen

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ince Highlights for Children’s inception in 1946, millions of American school kids have received early exposure to reading from the magazine (perhaps you remember Goofus and Gallant or the Timbertoes). Many of those young readers have grown up to become authors and illustrators of children’s books themselves, and some have found an invaluable resource in the workshops conducted by the parent organization behind the magazine, the Highlights Foundation. Established in 1985, the Highlights Foundation – headquartered in Pennsylvania’s scenic Pocono Mountains – today offers more than 40 workshops annually, covering a vast range of topics. They take place on the property once owned by the founders of the Highlights empire, where writers stay in one of 21 cabins or an eight-room lodge. Attendees have access to the extensive grounds, which include woods with hiking trails, a farmhouse, and a spacious barnturned-conference center – plenty of room to work quietly or brainstorm with other writers. The foundation’s 2017 schedule includes workshops on everything from fiction and graphic novel writing to picture book illustration, science writing, and horror stories. The Highlights workshops are geared solely toward those involved in the creation of books for children and young adults. “The overarching goal of the foundation is to improve the quality of children’s literature by helping authors and illustrators,” says Alison Green Myers, program coordinator and social media coordinator for the Highlights Foundation. “For the most part, that means helping them in their craft.” Toward that end, Myers says, the foundation holds workshops year-round (albeit mostly in the warmer months). 34 | The Writer • January 2017

Some of the workshops are oriented toward novices just breaking into the field while others aim at those with publishing experience. In some instances, a workshop may appeal to a broader audience. “We host everything from workshops on very early picture books – board books and concept books – all the way through young adult fiction,” she says. “For the 2017 calendar we’re looking at about 45 workshops. They range from eight to 24 students; they’re all relatively intimate. In some of the workshops, the faculty ratio is 3-1 if the workshop is focused on mentorship, where we want you to meet one-onone with your mentor every day the entire time you’re at the workshop. We have anything from a three-day workshop to a seven-day workshop. This past weekend, we had an artistin-residency program with [writers] Jerry and Eileen Spinelli,” she adds, “and in that group of 16 people, half of them were widely published. Maybe one or two had a debut book out. Then the rest were pre-published but still very serious about the craft of writing.” One of the major attractions of the Highlights Foundation’s workshops is the setting as well as the opportunity to meet and share the experience and challenges of the craft with others working within the same field. “We try to balance our schedule,” Myers says, noting that at times, groups with diverse interests may find themselves mingling. “Sometimes there are two workshops on campus at the same time, and people can all play nice and mix it up. Our horror writers can go kill people in one room, and the board book people can talk about toddler development together. Then they eat dinner together,” Myers says. “People come from everywhere, and hopefully we have a little something for everyone.”

Chief Crow Daria/Shutterstock

The Highlights Foundation doesn’t just run a kids’ magazine: It also hosts more than 40 workshops for children’s and young adult writers.


Farizan’s prose is frank, funny and bittersweet. The New York Times Book Review

you’re expected to focus on. That’s very different for a lot of people, especially people just starting out in the field. Someone else is going to feed you with good food, and feed you with great information about the industry and about the craft, and clean up after you, and all you need to do is concentrate on your writing. So part of it is that experience, that freedom to be a writer. You walk away ignited. That’s exciting and inspiring.” For information on workshops, including the 2017 schedule, visit highlightsfoundation.org. Scholarship and grant programs are available. Jeff Tamarkin is a freelance writer/editor. He lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with his wife, novelist Caroline Leavitt.

Bring Your Writing to the World MFA in Creative Writing at Lesley University Fiction

Nonfiction

Poetry

Writing for Stage and Screen Writing for Young People Ranked #4 in the Top 10 low-residency MFA programs by Poets & Writers

Visit lesley.edu/the-writer to learn about our generous scholarships for gifted writers.

Sara Farizan’s journey as a published author began with the MFA in Creative Writing, which she credits for helping bring her young adult novel to life. Sara Farizan ’10 Author of If You Could Be Mine, winner of two Publishing Triangle awards and the young adult Lambda Literary Award.

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who has worked as a classroom teacher and literacy coach and is a regional adviser for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) as well as a fellow of the National Writing Project. Part of Myers’ job is to recruit instructors for the workshops. “I go to a lot of events, and I might see an author presenting and say, ‘I need that person for the Highlights Foundation,’” she says. “Some of the faculty have been supporters of the foundation for years and years. Other folks have come to us as a student and then come back as faculty.” In fact, Myers herself first experienced the Highlights workshops 10 years ago as a student. “For a lot of us, the dream of writing for children is just that, a dream,” she says. “Then you come to this place where it’s all that

For many who attend, the bucolic setting itself provides inspiration. “One thing we really like to focus on is that retreat feel. It all takes place at the home of our founders,” says Myers, who is married to Garry Myers IV, a descendant of the couple who founded Highlights for Children, Garry Cleveland Myers and Caroline Clark Myers. “We’re all close, and the faculty we bring in gets that. They get that you’re not on a stage somewhere separated from the people that you’re speaking to. You’re sitting together at meals, sitting next to the fireplace, you’re up late into the night reading over books together.” Some come as individuals, others as part of a writing group. One literary agent brought several of her clients. “It’s the experience,” adds Myers,

writermag.com • The Writer | 35


FREELANCE SUCCESS BY WILL KITSON

Double agent Making the transition from editor to freelance writer results in crucial insight on how both parties operate.

Getting started in freelance

Looking back at making the transition from editor to freelance writer, I realize just how woefully unprepared I was. Like many who make this leap, I was attracted to the freedom and diversity that come with working for oneself. But I had no idea what type of writer I would be, which type of publications I would target, and, perhaps most important of all, how to construct a decent pitch. So, like any naïve novice, I jumped in headfirst and blind. I fired off pitches left, right, and center. My article ideas were about anything that vaguely interested me, and I sent them off to any publication that I thought might be vaguely interested. Needless to say, I didn’t receive many responses. In fact, it was radio silence. It wasn’t until I received my first curt reply that I had my first lightbulb moment. The idea was an article commemorating the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia. I sketched out a brief outline of what I thought it would look like and sent it off to a 36 | The Writer • January 2017

features editor of one of the biggest newspapers in the UK. His response: “dear will this idea doesn’t interest me and even if it did i’d get one of my staff writers to do it” That was it. A laconic scythe to my ego. I was embarrassed and annoyed. (I mean, he hadn’t even bothered to dignify my pitch with a grammatically coherent response.) However, once I’d simmered down, I realized that, for all his lack of courtesy and finesse, the editor was absolutely right. Major publications pay the writers on their books hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in salaries, and there was me expecting them to outsource an article that, frankly, anyone with a library card could have written. If I were to succeed as a freelancer, I would have to find my niche areas – subjects that only I (or few people, at least) could write about. This doesn’t just include first-person, experience-based accounts; it’s also those topics that you know inside-out. And the more esoteric these are, the better. In short, you want to pitch ideas that an editor can rarely hand out to another writer. Personally, I chose to avoid areas like sport and literature, as I felt they were convoluted markets. Instead, I drew on my experience of living in France for four years and speaking the language. I drafted up a list of article ideas based on the Anglo-French connection: culture, expat life, juxtapositions, etc. I then found sections of publications or entire magazines dedicated to the subject (thanks to a couple of hours on Google) and got pitching again. My response rate immediately went up exponentially. But I still had a far bigger lesson to learn. Research is king

During my time as an editor, I had mixed feelings toward unsolicited

Nick Kinney/Shutterstock

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ccasionally, while staring into the abyss of a rejection email, I imagine writers and editors to be two opposing entities: sworn enemies, constantly battling to wipe the other out; age-old foes; the dark and the light, etc. And, of course, it is the editors who are intrinsically evil, dismissing writers’ intelligent, well-thought-out pitches with a maniacal laugh like some sort of literary Simon Cowell. But then I come to my senses and remember that, in a previous life, before jumping into the murky ocean of freelancing, I was, in fact, an editor too. I recall the irksome sense of frustration that I felt every time I received a poor pitch; the struggle to fit constructive and kind responses into a busy schedule. You see, editors are people too. And my experience on both sides of this spectrum has allowed me to amass a few tips on how to go about delivering a killer pitch, and plenty of caveats to avoid at all costs.


pitches. They can be a great source of quality, unexpected content, but more often than not they’re an unwelcome distraction in an otherwise busy schedule. Most editors’ inboxes are constantly overflowing, so a writer’s job should be to offer something that is immediately appealing and difficult to say no to. Even if a pitch has potential, many editors are unwilling to sift through them looking for a diamond in the rough. In my naiveté, I’d failed to transfer my editorial experience to freelancing. That’s not to say that the ideas were all bad, but the pitches were. A bad pitch is essentially a bundle of unfocused ideas. A good pitch is a succinct, razor-sharp proposal that leaves no stone unturned. And the key to a good pitch is research. As an editor, there’s nothing worse than reading a pitch from someone who clearly has no or little idea what your publication is about. When I began asking myself what my inner-editor would have looked for in a pitch, I started doing research before sending every email. Lots of research. Not only did I devour as much of the target publication’s content as I could find, I started researching for my own article as if I were about to write it. I would find sources, potential interviewees, and anecdotes around the subject. These didn’t necessarily make it into the pitch, but all these details created a robust proposal. Also, from becoming an expert in the target publication, I was able to suggest which section my article might fit into, reference similar articles the publication had previously published, and offer a possible word count. These all add up to an impressive, eyecatching pitch. Of course, research is time-consuming. I suddenly

went from being able to throw out half-a-dozen pitches a day to laboring for hours over just one. However, the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and I began not only receiving plenty of responses but started to get plenty of paid gigs too.

A good pitch is a succinct, razor-sharp proposal that leaves no stone unturned. Every editor is different

After finding a few niche areas and understanding the importance of research, my conversion ratios were at an all-time high. However, there was room for improvement. I decided to get in contact with a few editor friends of mine to see if I was still missing a trick or two. I gleaned one final answer: every editor is different. Some of the editors said they prefer longer, one-page pitches, others said shorter one or two paragraph proposals; some preferred an informal tone, others liked a casual approach; some liked to be hassled, for others not replying means they’re not interested. In short, as much as editors may sometimes seem inhumanly callous at times, they are all humanly unique and different, and it’s impossible to know exactly what each one is after. That said, they agreed on a few commonalities: first of all, be sure to be polite, spell-check, and get the editor’s name right (you’d be amazed at how often this doesn’t happen!); second, if there is a submission guidelines page, read it and read it thoroughly, otherwise your pitch is sure to go no further than the trash folder.

These days, my pitches are consistently between 250 and 400 words. They are formal in tone and, if I don’t receive a response, I follow up around three weeks after the initial email. Of course, pitching is not an exact science. My style may not appeal to every editor; however, I always know that I’ve put in enough legwork to give myself the best possible chance. The bottom line from all of this is to be professional in your correspondence with editors. Otherwise, you’re making them feel disrespected and doing yourself a disservice. Regardless of their personal preferences, they will appreciate all the time and hard work you’ve put in. Target publications that definitely align with your subject matter, make sure your pitch is crystal clear on what the article is about, and write in a way you’re comfortable with. By following these guidelines, you’re not guaranteed to have your article accepted or even receive a response. Editors are, like any of us, not infallible; emails can slip by them, and they won’t always have the time or energy to get back to you. However, by putting in the extra effort, you’re raising your chances significantly. Being a freelance writer is great, but it’s a tough industry and most editors know this. I regularly have to remind myself that being an editor can be hard going, too; it’s an often stressful and time-consuming job. However, when it’s all said and done, editors and writers are not so different after all – they’re both looking to publish top-quality content. So next time you’re writing out a pitch, make sure to convey to the editor that your values are aligned with theirs, and they’ll find it much harder to turn down your proposal. Will Kitson is a London-based writer and editor. He specializes in writing about French culture and travel, and is a regular contributor to France-Amérique and Travel Mag. writermag.com • The Writer | 37


CONFERENCE INSIDER BY MELISSA HART

Elementary This small-town workshop leads to big lessons in children’s literature.

What you’ll learn

Lectures, individual consultations, and blocks of designated writing time fill each day of the workshop. Instructors may talk about such subjects as how to craft the critical first page of a manuscript to attract editorial attention or how to write nonfiction for young readers. 38 | The Writer • January 2017

Past presenters have discussed topics specific to picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult novels in classes designed to address the needs of both emerging and established writers. (A university semester credit option is available for graduate professional development

Tom Roche/Shutterstock; Vitpho/Shutterstock

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n an Oregon coastal town so tiny that it doesn’t always make it onto maps, big things are happening for children’s literature. The annual Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writers Workshop takes place each summer in Oceanside, 90 miles from Portland, where writers gather with instructors around a wood-burning fireplace to learn the ins and outs of writing for young people. “This is an intensive workshop for those who are not only passionate about children’s book writing, but who dream of publishing their own children’s books,” explains workshop director David Greenberg on the event’s website. “Getting attendees published is the end goal.”


CONFERENCE: Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writers Workshop. DATES: July 10-14. COST: $869. LOCATION: Oceanside, Oregon. CONTACT: Conference coordinator David Greenberg, authilus@teleport.com, occbww.com.

participants; see the workshop website for details.) Previous workshops include “Soup to Nuts: Serving up a Tasty Picture Book,” “Writing for Kids’ Magazines (Rocking the Pediatrician’s Waiting Room),” and “The Character Arc: The Hidden Ingredient of a Satisfying Story.” In 2016, a guest literary agent talked about the writer/agent relationship, and one of the event’s guest editors lectured on “Behind the Scenes: What Happens When Your Project is Out on Submission?” Featured presenters

Presenters at the 2017 conference include middle grade science fiction author Jenn Reese, picture book author Marsha Diane Arnold, and Margriet Ruurs, who writes both fiction and nonfiction for school-age children. Agent Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis will attend, as well as editors Sylvie Frank of Simon & Schuster and Brett Wright of Bloomsbury Publishers. Testimonials from past participants express surprised gratitude for the one-on-one attention they receive from faculty members who make themselves available informally for an hour each morning to talk with writers and remain open to questions and consults the entire five days. Several years ago, participant Eric Hoffman met agent Rachel Orr, who sold his manuscript, A Dark, Dark Cave, to Viking.

During the 2016 workshop, agent Susan Cohen of Writers House accepted several participants as clients. “Over the years, a number of our students have gotten published,” Greenberg says, “quite often from contacts they made with editors or agents at our workshop.” Advice for first-timers

Attendees can take advantage of the 7:1 instructor-participant ratio in a variety of ways. Before the workshop, they’re invited to submit a full picture book manuscript or up to five pages of a longer work, which all instructors read before classes begin. Participants may also register for hour-long manuscript consults with some instructors and can sign up for a partial postworkshop manuscript critique from one of the guest editors or agents. “Many first-time attendees are a bit nervous about how well they’ll do in a class with others, some of whom they fear are far more advanced,” Greenberg says. “They should know that our class is enormously supportive, caring, and respectful. We make a point of seeing where a student is at and where they wish to go, and tailoring our oneon-one consults to him or her. Lectures are designed so both earlier and more advanced students can extract useful information.” More informally, the five-day workshop offers opportunities to socialize in a relaxed and beautiful setting. “Last summer, we had our annual potluck dinner with the addition of our first Oregon wine-beer-cider tasting,” Greenberg says. “We also had a grand gourmet party at my home on the mountain overlooking the ocean. As always, it was joyous fun!” Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of the middle-grade novel Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016) and an editor/consultant at Creator & Collector Services. Web: melissahart.com. writermag.com • The Writer | 39


LITERARY SPOTLIGHT BY MELISSA HART

INSIDE LITERARY MAGAZINES

Make some noise This literary magazine for young girls aims to empower and inspire.

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irl scientists, inventors, comedians, magicians, artists, and writers between the ages of 5 and 10 have a new place in which to publish their creative projects. Kazoo, launched in the summer of 2016, encourages readers to post pictures of their work on the magazine’s Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as on its regular “Share” page in each issue. “We call it ‘a magazine for girls not afraid to make some noise,’” says Editor-in-Chief Erin Bried, who has two young daughters and a 20-year history as an editor for magazines including Self and Glamour. “I thought it was important to claim space for girls. They’re so underrepresented in so many areas of our popular culture.” The debut issue of Kazoo, funded by a Kickstarter campaign, sold out immediately. Bried added eight more pages of content to the fall 2016 issue. The entire magazine is adfree; it’s also devoid of pictures of girls so readers aren’t tempted to compare themselves with magazine models. “I have such high expectations for myself and my very small team,” Bried says. “We’re getting such positive response from our readers. I want to do right by each and every one.”

Tone, editorial content

The tone of Kazoo is creative, witty, and empowering. Along with art projects and recipes, mazes and science experiments, readers will find stories about highly successful women. “Every story in Kazoo is developed or inspired by a top woman in her field—a chef or artist or scientist or athlete,” says Bried. “Our aim is to reinforce in girls what they already know about themselves. They can be loud, they can be strong and smart and silly and athletic and fast and anything they want to be. What we want is to find a place where girls can be completely true to themselves.” The inaugural issue includes a short story from children’s author Doreen Cronin, a story on the Perseid meteor shower from Fulbright Scholar and Guggenheim Fellow Dr. Meenakshi Wadhwa, and a recipe from James Beard Awardnominated chef Fany Gerson. Regular features in the quarterly magazine include short stories, comics, interviews, jokes, search-and-finds, secret codes, and drawing tutorials, such as one by graphic novelist and MacArthur Fellow Alison Bechdel titled “How to Draw a Cat” (summer 2016). 40 | The Writer • January 2017

Contributors

Kazoo is thematic; the theme of the fall 2016 issue is “interconnectedness.” Bried is particularly excited about a story on pinhole photography, featuring tips from renowned photographer Catherine Opie. “She gives advice on how to be a great photographer, how to think about photography and inspiration,” Bried says. “Readers get to build their own pinhole camera out of a juice box.” The fall 2016 issue also includes illustrator Annika de Korte’s maze, which highlights the work of Jane Goodall. The maze is one of Bried’s favorite pages because it features a woman of historical importance getting to her destination. “This maze looks at Jane and her major discoveries, and how she’s sought to make a difference from the very early


age of 26 with no scientific training and just her notebook,” Bried says. “It just blows my mind how bold and brave she was.” Other contributors include Chef Melba Wilson, physicist Whitney Ingram, and National Book Award winner Polly Horvath, who wrote a story about going to visit her grandmother in the temperate rainforest of British Columbia on a quest to find a Kermode “spirit” bear. Advice for potential contributors

Bried would love to hear from top women in the field interested in contributing to Kazoo. “I’ve gotten emails from an Egyptologist, a volcanologist, an engineer at NASA,” she says. “I’m so humbled by the faith that all of these amazing women have put in me and in

the magazine.” Young readers are welcome to send in their artwork and creative writing to Kazoo as well. Bried particularly appreciates the fan mail she receives from readers, regardless of their age. One of her most treasured letters comes from a 15-year old girl who explained that she’d been bullied throughout elementary school. “She wrote to tell me how much she would have loved Kazoo as a child, how it would have helped her through those difficult years,” Bried says. “It was really moving to read.” Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of the middle-grade novel Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016) and an editor/consultant at Creator & Collector Services. Web: melissahart.com.

“Kazoo is a new kind of quarterly print magazine for girls, ages 5 to 10 – one that inspires them to be strong, smart, fierce and, above all, true to themselves.” QUARTERLY, $50. Genres: Nonfiction articles and interviews, short fiction, activities, recipes, jokes, artwork. Submission format: USPS. Contact: Editor-in-Chief Erin Bried, Kazoo Media LLC, PO Box 150274, Brooklyn, NY, 11215. erin@kazoomagazine.com. kazoomagazine.com.

GET HOOKED READ US ON THE NOOK

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MARKETS COMPILED BY NICKI PORTER

What’s in a fellowship? Sad but true: Money often stands in the way of a writer finishing the next best-seller. And it shouldn’t. There are many opportunities, including awards and grants, to get extra cash in order to quit your third job and devote more time to writing. Another option, a fellowship, is a bit more unique and intense. Here are some fellowship fast facts: What is it? A fellowship is a short-term opportunity to develop a work-in-progress while being provided a financial stipend and, typically, a workspace. How long? Depending on the program, fellowships can last for a few weeks, a semester or an entire year. How much? Relative to the duration of the fellowship, a stipend can be delivered monthly or in full. While living the high life may not be an option, meeting all of your daily living expenses should not be a problem. Where can I find one? Many educational institutions offer fellowships, including colleges and universities, libraries, and writing workshops. Some literary journals and national writing associations also provide opportunities. Check local organizations as well as ones far from home. What’s the catch? Though you should read the terms and conditions of each fellowship carefully, in general the biggest commitment you are asked in return will be to teach a class or do a reading. Otherwise, fellowships are about digging in and concentrating on your work. The grants, fellowships and awards here are a sampling of what the industry has to offer. For a complete listing, visit writermag.com.

Information in this section is provided to The Writer by the individual markets and events; for more information, contact those entities directly. Subscribers to The Writer have online access to information on publishers, publications, conferences, contests and agents. Go to writermag.com and click on Writing Resources.

F = Fiction N = Nonfiction P = Poetry C = Children’s Y = Young adult O = Other

F N P O American Antiquarian Society Fellowships for Creative and Performing Artists and Writers Provides fellowships for writers and jour42 | The Writer • January 2017

nalists producing imaginative works dealing with pre-20th-century American history. Fellowship projects include historical novels, poetry, plays, screenplays, magazine or newspaper articles, and nonfiction works of history designed for general audiences. Deadline: See website. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $1,850 stipend and a four-week residence at the society, located in Worcester, Massachusetts. Contact: American Antiquarian Society, 185 Salisbury St., Worcester, MA 01609. 508-755-5221. library@americanantiquarian.org americanantiquarian.org/artistfellowship. htm

F N P The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards Recognizes works that contribute to an understanding of racism and an appreciation of diversity. Submit five copies of a book published in the previous year. Selfpublished books and e-books are not accepted. Deadline: Dec. 31. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $10,000 awarded to both the fiction and nonfiction categories. Contact: Karen R. Long, c/o AnisfieldWolf Book Awards, The Cleveland Foundation, 1422 Euclid Ave., Suite 1300, Cleveland, OH 44115. 216-685-2018. submit@anisfield-wolf.org anisfield-wolf.org F N P O Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Provides grants to women in the arts whose work in progress focuses on women. Submit maximum of 20 pages of a writing or mixed genre sample by online submission manager. See website for full guidelines. Deadline: Nonfiction and poetry Jan. 1-31, 2017; fiction and mixed genre Jan. 1-31, 2018. Entry fee: $25. Prizes: $500-$1,500. Contact: Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Inc., P.O. Box 717, Bearsville, NY 12409. demingfund@gmail.com demingfund.org F Bard Fiction Prize Awarded to an American citizen age 39 or younger at the time of application. Applicant must have at least one published book and a project in progress. Deadline: June 15. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $30,000 and appointment as writer in residence at Bard College for one semester. Contact: Bard Fiction Prize, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504. 845-758-7087.  bfp@bard.edu bard.edu/bfp F Cabell First Novelist Award Recognizes a rising talent who has published a first novel within the previous 12 months in the U.S. Self-published novels and books only available in e-formats are


not eligible. Submit three copies of the book by regular mail. Deadline: Jan. 14 for books published July through December of previous year, Sept. 14 for books published January through June of current year. Prizes: $5,000 and travel to Virginia Commonwealth University for a reading and reception. Contact: VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, Dept. of English, 900 Park Ave., Hibbs Hall, Room 306, P.O. Box 842005, Richmond, VA 23284. 804-828-0593. firstnovelist@gmail.com novelist.library.vcu.edu F Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize Open to any U.S. writer in English with at least three books of fiction published. Seeks “fiction considered by America’s largest publishers too challenging, innovative or heterodox for the commercial milieu.” Submissions may include a collection of short stories, one or more novellas or a novel of any length. Works that have previously appeared in magazines or in anthologies may be included. Translations and previously published or self-published novels and collections are not eligible. Electronic submissions only. Deadline: See website. Entry fee: $25. Prizes: $15,000 and publication by FC2. Contact: University of Alabama Press, P.O. Box 870380, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487. 773-702-7000. fc2.org F Crook’s Corner Book Prize Open to authors whose first novel was published in the previous 18 months. Book must be set predominantly in the American South. Self-published books accepted if they have an ISBN number. Books available only as e-books are not eligible. Deadline: June 15. Entry fee: $35. Prizes: $1,000 and a free glass of wine every day from Crook’s Corner bar. Contact: Crook’s Corner Book Prize, 313 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514. info@crookscornerbookprize.com crookscornerbookprize.com

P Dartmouth Poet-in-Residence Award Open to poets who have published at least one full-length collection of poetry. Seeks poets who are at an artistic and personal crossroads. Deadline: Check website. Entry fee: $28. Prizes: $2,000 and a two-month residency at The Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire. Contact: The Frost Place, P.O. Box 74, Franconia, NH, 03580. 603-823-5510. frost@frostplace.org frostplace.org F Drue Heinz Literature Prize Open to writers who have published a novel, a book-length collection of fiction or a minimum of three short stories or novellas in commercial magazines or literary journals with national distribution. Self-published and digital-only publications not considered. Submit unpublished manuscript of short stories or novellas. Deadline: June 30. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Contact: Drue Heinz Literature Prize, University of Pittsburgh Press, 7500 Thomas Blvd., Pittsburgh, PA 15260. info@upress.pitt.edu upress.pitt.edu N Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers Provides funding for a writing project that “combines an engaging individual voice, literary sensibility, imagination and intellectual rigor to bring new perspectives and deeper meaning to the body of desert literature.” Encourages emerging, mid-career and established literary nonfiction writers to apply. Deadline: Jan. 15. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $3,000. Contact: Ellen Meloy Fund. Email from website. ellenmeloy.com F N P Emerging Voices Fellowship Provides new writers with tools to launch professional writing career. Deadline: See website. Entry fee: None. Prizes: Sevenmonth fellowship, a series of master classes, public readings and a $1,000 stipend. Contact: PEN Center USA, P.O. Box 6037, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. 323-

424-4939. pen@penusa.org penusa.org/programs/emerging-voices F N P O The Hodder Fellowship Seeks writers who demonstrate “much more than ordinary intellectual and literary gifts.” Fellows are selected more “for promise than for performance.” Deadline: See website. Entry fee: None. Prizes: Recipients receive $79,000 stipend each and a yearlong residency at Princeton to pursue an independent project. Contact: Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University, 185 Nassau St., Princeton, NJ 08544. Ysabel Gonzalez, 609-258-6926. lca-fellowships@princeton.edu arts.princeton.edu/fellowships F James Jones First Novel Fellowship Awarded annually to an American author of a first-novel-in-progress. Submit via regular mail or online submission form. Submit a two-page (maximum) outline of the entire novel and the first 50 pages. Deadline: March 15. Entry fee: $30. Add $3 for online submissions. Prizes: $10,000 first place, $1,000 for two runners up. Contact: James Jones First Novel Fellowship, c/o MA/MFA in Creative Writing, Wilkes University, 84 W. South St., Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766. jamesjonesfirstnovel@wilkes.edu wilkes.edu P James Laughlin Award Offered to poets in support of a second book of poetry. Only manuscripts already under contract with publishers are eligible. Deadline: May 16. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $5,000 cash prize, weeklong residency at The Betsy Hotel in Miami Beach and distribution of book to Academy of American Poets members. Contact: James Laughlin Award, The Academy of American Poets, 75 Maiden Ln., Suite 901, New York, NY 10038. 212-274-0343, ext. 13. awards@poets.org poets.org

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MARKETS F Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize Awarded annually to a woman who is a U.S. citizen and who has published a book-length work of prose fiction (novel, short stories or experimental writing) in the previous year. “Particularly interested in calling attention to the work of a promising but less established writer.” No self-published books. Publisher must submit entries. Deadline: Feb. 1. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $7,500. Contact: University of Rochester, Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies, 538 Lattimore Hall, RC Box 270434, Rochester, NY 14627. rochester.edu/college/wst/kafka_prize F N P O Kenyon Review Literary Fellowship Awards two-year, post-graduate residential fellowships at Kenyon College. Recipients will undertake a significant writing project, teach one semester-long class per year, assist with The Keyon Review and attend Kenyon College cultural events. Applicants must have an MFA or Ph.D. and professional teaching experience in creative writing and/or literature at the undergraduate level. Deadline: See website. Prizes: $33,800 yearly stipend plus health benefits. Contact: Tory Weber, The Kenyon Review, Finn House, Gambier, OH 43022. 740-427-5391. fellowships@kenyonreview.org kenyonreview.org/programs/fellowship F N P O Leeway Foundation Transformation Award Awards women and trans artists in the Delaware Valley region who write for social change. Deadline: May 15. Entry fee: None. Prizes: Up to $2,500. Contact: Leeway Foundation, 1315 Walnut St., Suite 832, Philadelphia, PA 19107. 215545-4078. info@leeway.org leeway.org P Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize Recognizes the most outstanding book of poetry published in the U.S. in the previous year. Self-published books not eligible. Submitted by publisher. Deadline: 44 | The Writer • January 2017

See website. Entry fee: $75. Prizes: $25,000. Contact: The Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, The Academy of American Poets, 75 Maiden Ln., Suite 901, New York, NY 10038. 212-274-0343, ext. 13. awards@poets.org poets.org

line: See website. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $12,000 for fellowship, $1,000 for finalists. Contact: Massachusetts Cultural Council, 10 St. James Ave., 3rd Floor, Boston, MA 02116. 617-858-2700. massculturalcouncil.org

N P New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship Awarded to writers living and working in the state of New York. Writers may be at any stages of their professional career. Genre rotates every year. Deadline: See website. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $7,000. Contact: New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), 20 Jay St., 7th Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201. fellowships@nyfa.org nyfa.org

F N P C Y O McKnight Artist Fellowships for Writers Provides Minnesota residents with an opportunity to work on their writing for a concentrated period of time. One award in children’s literature alternates annually between writers for children under the age of 8 and writers for older readers. Four fellowships alternate annually between writers of poetry and writers of creative prose. Applicants must have published a book in their genre or published at least five pieces of original work in no fewer than three literary journals. Deadline: See website. Entry fee: None. Prizes: 5 fellowships of $25,000. Contact: The Loft Literary Center, Open Book Building, Suite 200, 1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55415. 612215-2575. loft@loft.org loft.org

F NYC Emerging Writers Fellowship Open to residents of one of the five boroughs of New York City. Applicants must be in the early stages of their careers and have not published a novel or short story collection. Deadline: See website. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $5,000, access to The Center’s Writers Studio, opportunities for readings and mentorship. Contact: The Center for Fiction, 17 E. 47th St., New York, NY 10017. 212-755-6710. info@centerforfiction.org centerforfiction.org F The Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence  Annually awarded to an emerging African-American author for a book of fiction published during the previous year. Deadline: See website. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $10,000 cash. Contact: Ernest J. Gaines Award, c/o Baton Rouge Area Foundation, 100 North St., Suite 900, Baton Rouge, LA 70802. Email from website. ernestjgainesaward.org

O Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship Awards fellowships based on writers’ artistic quality and creative ability. Open to legal residents of Massachusetts. Dead-

F N P National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship Provides grants in prose (fiction and creative nonfiction) and poetry to published writers. Enables recipients to set aside time for writing, research, travel and general career advancement. Fellowships in prose and poetry available in alternating years. Deadline: See website. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $25,000. Contact: Literature Fellowships, National Endowment for the Arts, 400 7th St., SW, Washington, DC 20506. 202-682-5034. litfellowships@arts.gov arts.gov C Y The Paterson Prize For Books For Young People Awards books published in 2016 that represent Pre-K-grade 3, grades 4-6 and grades 7-12. Deadline: Feb. 1. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $500 in each category. Contact: Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Executive Director, The Poetry Center, Passaic County Community College, One Col-


lege Blvd., Paterson, NJ 07505. pccc.edu/poetry F N P Y O PEN Center Annual Literary Awards Accepts work produced or published in 2016 by writers living west of the Mississippi River. Categories judged for fiction, creative nonfiction, research nonfiction, poetry, young adult literature, graphic literature, translation, drama, journalism, screenplay and teleplay. Deadline: Dec. 31. Entry fee: $35. Prizes: $1,000 and a one-year PEN Center USA membership. Contact: PEN Center USA Literary Awards, PO Box 6037, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. awards@penusa.org penusa.org F PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction Awarded to a first novel or collection of short stories published in that calendar year. Self-published books or e-books are not eligible. Deadline: Dec. 31. Entry fee: $50. Prizes: $20,000, a fellowship at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming and a residency at the University of Idaho’s MFA Program in Creative Writing. Contact: PEN New England, The PEN/ Hemingway Award, MIT, 14N-221A, 77 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139. 617-324-1729. pen-newengland@mit.edu pen-ne.org N Richard J. Margolis Award Awards a new nonfiction journalist or essayist whose work “combines warmth, humor, wisdom and concern with social justice.” Submit at least two articles, published or unpublished, maximum 30 pages. Deadline: Check website. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $5,000 stipend and month-long residency at the Blue Mountain Center, a writers’ and artists’ colony in the Adirondacks. Contact: Richard J. Margolis Award of Blue Mountain Center, c/o Margolis & Bloom, 535 Boylston St., 8th floor, Boston, MA 02116. award@margolis.com award.margolis.com

F N P Philip Roth Residence in Creative Writing Open to fiction and nonfiction writers working on a first or second book. Awarded to poets on alternate years. Deadline: Feb. 1. Entry fee: None. Prizes: Four months residency at Bucknell University’s “Poets’ Cottage” and a stipend of $5,000. Contact: Stadler Center for Poetry, Bucknell Hall, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA 17837. 570577-1853. stadlercenter@bucknell.edu bucknell.edu/stadlercenter F N O Steinbeck Fellowship in Creative Writing Offers emerging writers of any age and background a fellowship to finish a significant writing project. Open to writers of literary scholarship, fiction, drama, education, science and the media. Residency in the San José area during the academic year (Sept. 1 – May 20) is expected. Deadline: Jan. 2. Application fee: None. Prizes: $10,000 stipend. Contact: Steinbeck Fellows Program, Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, San José State University, Room 590, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, San José, CA 95192. 408-808-2067. mhccfss@gmail.com sjsu.edu/steinbeck/fellows F N P O Sustainable Arts Foundation Writing Award Awarded to individual writers with families. Applicant must have at least one child under the age of 18. Preference given to residents of the San Francisco Bay Area. Awarded biannually to fiction, nonfiction, poetry and play writers. Deadline: See website. Application fee: $15. Prizes: Awards of $6,000 and $2,000 typically offered to multiple applicants in each round. Contact: Sustainable Arts Foundation, 1032 Irving St. #609, San Francisco, CA 94122. Email from website. sustainableartsfoundation.org/awards

F N Top of the Mountain Book Award Send first 25 pages of a full-length fiction or creative nonfiction manuscript, plus a one-page synopsis by email. Contest is open to both published and unpublished authors. Submission must be a previously unpublished work. Winner will be announced at the Northern Colorado Writer’s Conference in May. Deadline: Feb. 1. Entry fee: $25 Prizes: $1,000. Contact: Northern Colorado Writers, 2451 S. Timberline Rd., Fort Collins, CO 80525. 970-556-0908. TOM@northerncoloradowriters.com northerncoloradowriters.com P Walt Whitman Award Given to a poet who has not published a book-length collection of poems. Submit 48-100 pages of poems. Online submissions only. Deadline: See website. Entry fee: $35. Prizes: $5,000, publication by Graywolf Press and an all-expenses-paid six-week residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in the Umbrian region of Italy. Contact: Academy of American Poets, 75 Maiden Ln., Suite 901, New York, NY 10038. Patricia Guzman, Programs Coordinator. 212-274-0343, ext. 13. awards@poets.org poets.org/academy-american-poets/ prizes F N William Saroyan International Prize for Writing Two prizes awarded biennially for newly published fiction and nonfiction books. Encourages original, innovative work from new or emerging writers. Book must have been published during 20162017. Self-published and electronic books are also eligible. Submit by regular mail. Deadline: Jan. 29. Entry fee: $50 Prizes: $5,000 Contact: Administrator of The Saroyan Prize Committee, Stanford University Libraries, 557 Escondido Mall, Stanford, CA 94305. Sonia Lee. 650-7369538. sonialee@stanford.edu library.stanford.edu/saroyan

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» YOUNG WRITERS Writing contests are a great way to keep writing and hone your craft. And the earlier a writer starts, the better. Here is a roundup of 10 writing contests for young people. Share it with your favorite child writer. F = Fiction N = Nonfiction P = Poetry D = Drama S = Screenplay

P F THE CLAREMONT REVIEW ANNUAL WRITING CONTEST Enter up to three poems, three 500-word stories or one 5,000-word (max) story. Submit via regular mail. Ages: 13-19 years old. Deadline: See website. Entry fee: $20 CAD ($25 CAD for poetry and fiction combination); $20 USD for entries outside Canada. Prizes: In each category: 1st prize: $1000 CAD; 2nd prize: $600 CAD; 3rd prize: $400 CAD and publication. All entrants receive a 1-year subscription to The Claremont Review and will have their works considered for publication. Contact: Annual Writing Contest, The Claremont Review, Suite 101, 1581-H Hillside Ave., Victoria, B.C. V8T 2C1, Canada. Email through website. theclaremontreview.ca F N P D S DAVIDSON FELLOWS AWARDS Submit a 60- to 75-page portfolio containing three of the following genres: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama/screenplay. Ages: 18 or younger as of Oct. 1, 2017. Deadline: Early 2017. Check website. Entry fee: None. Prizes: $10,000, $25,000 or $50,000 scholarship. Contact: Davidson Institute for Talent Development, 9665 Gateway Drive, Suite B, Reno, NV 89521. 775-852-3483 ext. 435. davidsonfellows@davidsongifted.org davidsongifted.org/fellows F FOR TEENS BY TEENS AWARD This prize goes to the best student-created story, which will be featured in the “for teens, by teens” section of the Story Share library. Ages: 18 or younger. Deadline: December 31. Entry fee: See website. Prizes: $500. Contact: Story Shares, 2450 17th Ave #225, Santa Cruz, CA 95062.

46 | The Writer • January 2017

info@storyshares.org storyshares.org/our-contest D S INTERNATIONAL THESPIAN FESTIVAL Submit an original play on any subject that runs under 30 minutes. No collaborative works, adaptations or musicals. Ages: High school. Deadline: January 15, 2017. Prizes: Up to four plays will be chosen for play development workshops during the festival, culminating in a reading in front of an audience with talkback. Contact: EdTA, 2343 Auburn Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45219. 513-421-3900. Email through website. schooltheatre.org/thespianfestival2017/home P MANNINGHAM TRUST STUDENT POETRY CONTEST States may submit 10 top poems in each division; individual students may also enter. Ages: Grades 6-12. Deadline: Check website. Entry fee: None. Prizes: 1st place: $75, 2nd place: $50, 3rd place: $40, 4th place: $35, 5th place: $30; 5 honorable mentions: $10 each. All winning poems will be published in the Manningham Trust Poetry Student Award Anthology. Contact: Send state collections to: Budd Mahan, 7059 Spring Valley Road, Dallas, TX 75254. 972-788-4944. buddmahan@att.net Send individual student entries to: Steve Concert, 49 Kitchen Ave., Harveys Lake, PA 18618. nfsps.com/student_awards.htm N P THE NORMAN MAILER STUDENT AND TEACHER WRITING AWARDS Open to high school and college students. Submit creative nonfiction or poetry up to 15 pages, depending on age group. Ages: High school and college. Deadline: Check website. Prizes: $2,500 or $5,000, depending on category. Contact: National Council of Teachers of English, 1111 W. Kenyon Road, Urbana, IL 61801. 877-369-6283. nmw@ncte.org ncte.org/awards/nmwa F N P D SCHOLASTIC ART & WRITING AWARDS Presented by the Alliance for Young Artists

& Writers. Submit in 11 writing categories: critical essay, dramatic script, flash fiction, humor, journalism, novel writing, personal essay/memoir, poetry, science fiction and fantasy, short story and writing portfolio (seniors only). Ages: Grades 7-12. Deadline: Dependent upon region. Check website. Entry fee: $5-$20, which can be waived under certain terms. Prizes: Scholarships and prizes up to $10,000. Contact: Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, 557 Broadway, New York, NY 10012. info@artandwriting.org. artandwriting.org/the-awards F N P S SKIPPING STONES YOUTH HONOR AWARDS Recognizes works that promote multicultural, international and nature awareness. Prose under 1,000 words; poems under 30 lines. Non-English and bilingual writings welcome. Ages: 7-17 years old. Deadline: See website. Entry fee: $5, which can be waived under certain terms. Prizes: 10 winners will receive a certificate, a subscription to Skipping Stones and five nature and/ or multicultural books. Contact: Skipping Stones Magazine, P.O. Box 3939, Eugene, OR 97403. 541-342-4956. Info@skippingstones.org skippingstones.org/youthhonor-02.htm D S YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS, INC. Founded by Stephen Sondheim, hosts under 21 and all-ages play contests. Ages: All ages. Deadline: See website. Entry fee: None. Prizes: Varies. Contact: Young Playwrights Inc., P.O. Box 5134, New York, NY 10185. info@youngplaywrights.org youngplaywrights.org/for-writers F N P S YOUNGARTS PROGRAM Applications accepted in creative nonfiction, novel writing, play or scriptwriting, poetry, short story and spoken word. Ages: 15-18 years old. Deadline: Check website. Entry fee: $35, which can be waived under certain terms. Prizes: Cash up to $10,000. Contact: National YoungArts Foundation, 2100 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL 33137. 1-888970-2787. Email through website. youngarts.org


Classifieds READERS should use caution when entering into any legal contract with a literary service offering agentingtype assistance; publishers who charge, rather than pay, an author for publication; publishers who require a purchase before publication and contests that charge high entrance fees. The Writer also recommends requesting a list of references and submission guidelines before submitting a manuscript. If you have any concerns regarding the advertiser’s commitment or claims, please contact the advertiser and make certain all questions are answered to your satisfaction. ADVERTISERS We do not accept ads from agents or businesses that charge a reading or marketing fee; Subsidy Publishers: Copy of contract. In order to effectively handle questions from our readers regarding the products and services of our advertisers, the staff of The Writer asks that you provide us with some supplemental information, especially for first time advertisers. Examples include—Contests: Fee requirements, prizes and if purchase is necessary to qualify; Correspondence Schools: Copy of student’s contract, copy of critiqued assignment, documentation if course is accredited; Editing Services: Resumes showing qualifications of service providers, a sample critique, general cost of services; Literary Services: General cost of services, resume of service providers, verification that at least 50% of business income is from commission on sales. For our private records, please provide us with a street address and contact telephone number. The Writer reserves the right to reject or cancel any advertising which at its discretion is deemed objectionable, misleading or not in the best interest of the reader. Send Your Ad To: The Writer, Sales Account Manager 25 Braintree Hill Office Park, Suite 404 Braintree, MA 02184 or call (617) 279-0213 E-mail: apiccirilli@madavor.com Major credit cards accepted.

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writermag.com • The Writer | 47


HOW I WRITE BY ALLISON FUTTERMAN

Adam Silvera

T

Success as an author

I’m still adjusting to it and the additional pressure it created. I got some criticism in reviews that I’ve used to improve my craft. I’m grateful for the feedback. The majority of readers wrote thoughtful reviews, and I liked seeing what they identified as weaknesses. I agreed with them and hopefully improved on my writing. Choosing alternating timelines

This ties back to feedback about my debut novel. People were relieved to have had the humor from the narrator. With History, there is no humor in someone grieving the loss of the love 48 | The Writer • January 2017

books never change too drastically. It can be rough writing about OCD and sexuality, two things I’ve struggled with over the years, but I’ve found everything I’ve written to be very therapeutic and to have helped me find answers to questions I didn’t know to ask myself. Genre

of his life. The timeline created a balance between the heavy stuff and some relief for readers.

I always want to have some sort of hook. My third book was actually the second one I wrote, and it’s speculative – and I thought History also had to be. I tried [making it speculative] but nothing felt true, so I had Griffin speak to Theo throughout the novel. It makes it pop a little more.

Compelling characters

I don’t ever see any character as 100 percent good or 100 percent evil. When I was writing History, it was hard to detach from antagonizing feelings toward Jackson, because he’s a good person. As humans, we’re all flawed, and I treat my characters like that. Everything I’ve written has come from an honest place based on some event. It’s helped that I’ve had interesting people to base my characters on.

I think everything is personal in [a] first draft. Afterwards I have to detach. I learned that in the first book, where it was 100 percent me and I knew I had to take a step back. It was easier for History because it was inspired by certain things, but different. I could tap into the loneliness. The situations were different, but the emotional resonance is there, even if it’s not exactly how it played out in real life.

Handling serious themes in YA

Break up the routine

I always write as honestly as possible. If something goes too far, I have my team to call it out and we have a discussion. It’s important to be authentic to the characters while also making sure certain themes don’t drive too many younger readers away. So far, my editor has made sure the hearts of my

I’m traveling a lot, so I write erratically. I always have a pocket notebook on me. It feels different from a laptop, and I think it’s good to step away from how you normally do things.

Getting personal

Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Margot Wood

he YA world has been taken by storm by Adam Silvera. His first book, the speculative novel More Happy Than Not, was a huge hit with both readers and reviewers. Fans eagerly awaiting his next book will not be disappointed. With the release this month of History Is All You Left Me, Silvera tackles serious subject matters, including love, obsessive-compulsive disorder, sexuality, and death. The poignant narrative follows Griffin, a young man with OCD, as he grieves the death of his first love, Theo – while at the same time navigating a complex relationship with Theo’s last boyfriend, Jackson. By using an alternating timeline (switching between present and “history”), Silvera cleverly provides a way to keep the somber and sad elements from overpowering the reader, while still creating an emotional connection. Although History Is All You Left Me is his first foray into contemporary fiction, Silvera will return to speculative fiction this fall with the release of his third novel, They Both Die At The End.


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extra You can't find this in print.

EXCERPT: HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME BY ADAM SILVERA

TODAY THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 24TH, 2016 Now would be a good time to retreat to our zombie-apocalypse bunker, because the end of the world is here: I’m on my way to your house to pick up the person who stole you from me. I don’t hate Jackson, Theo. But I don’t have to be his friend. The only reason I was even friendly when I met him was because I couldn’t be an asshole. I couldn’t ever look like I was against him or wanted to sabotage your relationship. When we had our eventual reunion, you would be able to see how my love for you trumped my own happiness. But now—as vulnerable or pathetic as this sounds—Jackson is someone I’m turning to. I’m not strong enough to suffer alone. It’s snowing a little and freezing, and the cold air bites at my exposed neck, ears, and my hands when I pull out my phone to text Jackson: I’m two songs away. I delete the text and in its place send, I’m like six minutes away. Jackson wouldn’t have understood the first text; I’d only send that to you. I’m not confusing him for you, but I’m walking the usual route to reach your block. In the time it’s taking me to fight against the wind, to pass the supermarket with bikes chained to parking meters, the car rental place, the bagel spot that is stingy with their jelly, and the pet shop with the lights currently off, I’ve heard “Love Minus Zero/ No Limit” by Bob Dylan twice. You knew how to measure my distance in songs. Jackson doesn’t. This block is legit memory lane for me, and the sudden force of it is almost too much. The spot in the street by the post office where you almost got hit by the car, leading to your broken promise of never dying; your neighbor’s stoop where we sat and cried after breaking up, wiping our tears with sleeves and each other’s hands; the front step leading

into your lobby that you always forgot about, stubbing your toe at least twice; the sidewalk where we played Frisbee, waiting for the mailman to bring your letter of acceptance; the many times we got locked out, but most especially that week after we discovered sex and couldn’t get into your empty apartment; how after you moved to California I would sometimes find my lovesick self standing in front of the intercom, wishing I could press 2B and summon you down here into my arms. I’m not going upstairs. I’d never make it out of there. I can’t even get myself to go into the lobby. I text Jackson: I’m downstairs. And cold. Within a couple of minutes, Jackson comes rushing toward the front door, pulling a coat on top of a lighter jacket. Maybe that jacket is one he uses for those supernatural rainy days in California, days where he pulls over on the highway for life-changing boys like you. That wasn’t called for. Condom-over-mouth: I know the drill, Theo. “Hey,” I say, throwing a what’s-up nod. Jackson is a foot away, already shivering, and I almost lean in for a half-hug situation but pull back. “Hey.” Jackson zippers his coat and tugs a hat down over his head, some hair sticking out from the sides. “Sorry, I couldn’t find my other glove upstairs.” He slides one glove on and sticks his bare hand inside his coat pocket. I would’ve drop-kicked you if you returned to New York with this can’t-soldier-through-the-cold attitude. “Where are we off to?” he asks. “Not sure,” I say. “Follow me.” For a while I take in nothing but cars honking, the slosh of melting snow, the occasional passersby on their phones. I glance to my right, and Jackson has fallen behind, side by side with my shadow cast from a building’s


beaming sensor lights. He spins, walking backward to dodge the wind. I switch from my straightforward left to his backward left. But then he flips around and I swap back to my original spot while he holds his scarf in front of his face. I’m sure I dizzied you with that dance, Theo, but Jackson has no idea what the hell is happening. We turn a corner where we’re protected a little better from the heavier winds. “How was dinner?” I ask him. I figure hearing it from him won’t be even a tenth as painful as hearing it from Ellen or Russell or, worse, Denise. “Not great,” Jackson says. “They didn’t want to sit at the table. We set up base in the living room and ordered some Chinese food. Denise put on the Disney channel, but I don’t think she was watching. I offered to bake some cornbread or brownies, but no one was really interested.” “Denise didn’t want to help bake?” “No,” he says. It’s even worse than I thought. Jackson stops in front of a shuttered deli, jumpstarts again, getting a little ahead of me as if he has any clue where we should go. I speed-walk and catch up, which, given the same length of our long legs, is a bit of a race, but I win; it’s nice winning against him. “I shouldn’t have been there tonight,” he says. “I don’t belong.” No, he doesn’t. He’s that blue W-shaped piece of the Celestial Sky puzzle you and I fought over, the one I kept trying to fit into the wrong spot despite your insistence. In the puzzle that is your house, Jackson doesn’t have a space carved out for him. “I feel really guilty that Theo spent his last Thanksgiving with me.” He should feel guilty. If you had known that was going to be your last Thanksgiving, I know you would’ve come home, even if it meant carting Jackson with you like luggage full of shiny new video games—ones you’d play for a while before your interest eventually faded because you missed the classics. You and I have always been good about letting things go, especially things that are out of our control. I could probably throw some memories his way to prove this, but I’m hoarding them. I remind myself that just because someone is forgiving, it doesn’t make asking for forgiveness easy. Remember that, Theo. “Nothing you can do about it now,” I say after a minute. I brace myself against another assault of cold air, the snow in my face. I hide my hands in my sleeves, folding my arms across my chest to keep my coat close. I stop walking when Jackson falls out of vision. He tucks his gloved fist in his pocket and holds his bare hand open in front of him. It seems backward at first, but I remember doing this as a kid. This must be Jackson’s first real snowfall, and he smiles

when he catches some. He closes his hand, crushing the snowflakes; wipes it on his jeans afterward; and steps toward me. “Can I tell you a Theo story?” Jackson asks. He’s speaking with the urgency of someone who’s been locked up inside his home all day, dying for human interaction, an urgency I understand. Part of me wants to say yes, the other part is screaming, Hell no. “I don’t want this to be weird, Griffin,” Jackson says. “We should be able to talk about Theo. If that’s insane and impossible, we can part ways tonight and never see each other again. I’m sure that’s what everyone is betting will happen anyway.” He sounds sort of sad when he says it. He’s also one hundred percent right. “But I think we can be better than that.” It’s true. I know it is. It’s why I’m out here in the freezing cold on Thanksgiving night. You would want us to keep your memory alive. I didn’t think there was a chance in hell that this person—the person who asked you to stop being friends with me—would suggest a relationship of our own. I don’t know if I can stand hearing about your happiness with him, but maybe it’ll help me understand you better. Maybe it’ll help me add pieces to the puzzle of your life. Time for a test run. “What’s your Theo story?” Jackson crouches, picking up snow and forging a snowball— maybe his first, I don’t know, since there’s been snow on the ground since before your funeral—and he throws it at the wall. “Theo freaked out after I told him I’d never touched snow before. It’s kind of a lie because there’s a photo of me as a kid making a snow angel by the Brooklyn Bridge, but I don’t actually remember any of that. Theo was hoping it would snow when we came for his birthday, just so he could see me . . .” He stops himself. “So he could witness your first snow,” I say. I get it. It’s like when you finally introduced me to the original Star Wars trilogy one weekend. Watching Jedi battles was fun, and imagining myself wielding a dual lightsaber was badass, too, but my favorite moment by far was the smile on your face after pressing play on your laptop. You turned to me like I was supposed to have already formed a glowing opinion, when all I’d seen were big yellow words info-dumping me. Here’s where it gets tricky. Jackson’s story hurts, but only because I’ve experienced that same happiness before. “Follow me,” I say. I know where we’re going now. I lead him toward Lincoln Center. I have my own story to share. When I had you here, walking this walk with me, we held hands like no one would ever think there was anything off about it. We straggled to enjoy as much time away from parental supervision as possible, even when our socks were wet and our toes were cold. With Jackson, I hurry. Soon we’re at the entrance, walking across the wide,


brightly lit steps. The elegant plaza and columns and grand banners promoting the latest ballet always reminded me of a setting I’d find in a fantasy novel—I told you that the first time we came here as a couple. I gravitate toward the Revson Fountain. I’d always called it the “big fountain” before you came along with your specifics. The flowing jets of water, glowing in the darkness, don’t bring me the same warmth they used to. “I’m going to go ahead and guess you and Theo came here and made wishes,” Jackson says. For that brief moment I forgot Jackson was here. I’m about to break down and cry in front of him. I shiver, not from cold, and step away. He’s not someone I want a hug from. “Yeah, we made wishes. And the whole thing is kind of bullshit.” I flip off the fountain. “Look, there are so many coins in here. People actually thought their spare change could buy them stuff, like actual riches or something else. We’re all suckers.” Jackson stares at the water. “I always thought it was more religion than fantasy,” he says. “Ignore everyone throwing in money for more money. Everyone else is praying. Throwing a coin into a fountain is a little less disappointing than praying in some church. You go straight to the Big Man’s house, you expect results.” I turn to him. “Question: How the hell can you believe in God? After Theo?” Jackson shrugs. “I don’t spend my Sundays at church, but I’ve always taken to the idea of bigger plans. I had big plans with Theo—now I don’t. There’s got to be something to take away from this. I refuse to believe he died pointlessly.” “Theo didn’t die so you could personally learn some big lesson on life.” I can feel my face getting hot. Jackson comes closer to me, and I take a step back because I’m shaking harder and he should be nervous about being left alone with me. “That’s not what I’m saying, Griffin. That would be a complete waste. I know that; you know that. I’m just not going to give God the silent treatment because I’m pissed off Theo is dead. Theo believed in God.” “I don’t need you to tell me what Theo believed in,” I snap. I’m sorry, Theo. I should apologize to him, not just to you. “Sorry, I’m . . . I’m in a bad place and . . .” I don’t understand why he would be talking to God for comfort when he could be talking to you. “I should have known this, but being back here without Theo sucks.” “Yeah. It’s one of the reasons I’m not excited to go back home.” Jackson turns back to the fountain. “I know it’s taboo to share, but what would you wish for?” “I know you’re more interested in what Theo would wish for,” I say. “That would require resurrection,” Jackson says. “I guess it’s not that taboo to share,” I say. Some of my wishes would also require a resurrection to come true. I tell Jackson some of the things I wished for, like your

mom’s good health when she had that breast cancer scare. How I wanted you so badly to have a scholarship so your parents would have more money in their pockets to fly you back and forth to New York whenever you missed home. I don’t tell Jackson about some of the other wishes I made, like on this past New Year’s Eve, where I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe because I was wishing you would call at midnight and tell me you missed me and loved me and would come back to me and be mine again someday soon. “That was really nice of you,” Jackson says. “Selfless.” “I only ever wanted the best for him,” I say. I’m not sure I believe I was the best fit for you, Theo, but I do think I was better than Jackson. Jackson digs around his coat pocket, pulls out a handful of change, closes his eyes, mouths something, and tosses all the coins into the fountain. I’m not asking him what he wished for. He steps side to side, his shoes sloshing, rubbing his arms. “It’s cold,” he says. I can barely survive another minute of this myself. I’m ready to call it a night, but I don’t have much to look forward to alone in my room. “It’s also late. If you want, you can come back to my place for a bit to talk.” “You don’t have to do that,” Jackson says. “Maybe there’s a coffee shop open?” “My dad is awake, and he’ll feel a lot more comfortable going to sleep if I’m home,” I say. “But if you think it’s weird, it’s okay.” “No, I want to keep talking. Let’s go. Should we take a cab, though? I’m not sure I can survive a walk.” I’d give your West Coast boy shit for not toughing it out, but a ride sounds nice. We head uptown along the curb, heading in the direction of my building as we wait for an empty cab in the dead of night. One finally pulls over beside us after a bit. Jackson jumps in first, warming up behind the driver—on what will be my left side if I get in. I consider settling into the right side, just angling my body so I’m facing him, but I’m already clawing at my numb palm, so I race around the other side and open the door. “Stealing your seat,” I tell him. He shifts to the right and I get inside. If he’s confused or troubled, he doesn’t show it. How much did you tell him about me, Theo? Does he know about my OCD? He closes the door on his side as I do mine. I give the driver my address and we’re there in eight minutes. I pay in cash and we get out, running into my building. It was 2011 when you came over to my house for the first time. Your parents were spending the day with Denise at her classmate’s birthday party. They didn’t want you home alone. Your parents called mine, and I got really excited when my dad told me you were coming over for a few hours, because we were on summer break and it was harder to hang. You brought over a puzzle of a medieval castle while we watched X-Men DVDs. As we put it together we made our own plans to see each other again soon—assuming my parents were cool with me running wild with you, of


course—and I could feel how much you missed me too, and it was cool, even if we never said it. But bringing Jackson home is something completely different. The outside of my building looks sort of fancy, but as we go inside, I can’t help but notice things I never paid attention to before: the lack of a doorman; chipped paint on the dark-blue railings; the smudges of fingerprints on the elevator buttons, no one employed by the superintendent to wipe them clean daily; the yellowed stain on the hallway carpet. I’m hoping Jackson doesn’t see them. It’s stupid because I know I go to a private school and get healthy monthly allowances, but I hate that Jackson will compare the awesomeness of your building to mine and feel sure that you were always above someone like me. We reach my door. Jackson leans against the wall. I unlock the door and peek in, finding my dad asleep with my mom on the couch, the TV still on. It’ll be hard to have a conversation with Jackson in the living room with them there. We tiptoe inside and head straight to my bedroom, and Jackson closes the door behind us. “I swear my parents have their own room,” I say. “My mom just likes sleeping on the couch from time to time.” Jackson doesn’t reply. He takes in my room, starting with the framed photos of you on my bed. Outside, stories of you with him can prick and stab me. But here in my room, where memories of you are leaping off the bed and shelves and walls and desk, we’re on my turf. I can use our history as a weapon if I want to. Except I don’t. I’m not going to take your death out on him, especially not with you watching. I can’t watch him. Jackson moves over to my bed, hovering over the photos before finally picking up the one of you smiling at me from the bench. “What was the occasion?” he asks quietly. “My parents’ anniversary, couple Aprils ago,” I say. “They’ve been together since they were seventeen, I think. I don’t know, my dad claims sixteen and my mom says seventeen, but I think they’re counting different anniversaries, if you get what I’m saying.” I shouldn’t look at that photo with Jackson here because I might crack, but I miss seeing your smile outside my memory, so I join him. “That was a chill afternoon.” “Your parents have a good marriage?” “Yeah, they’re great. I get confused sometimes when I walk into a room and find them talking and laughing. I figured they would’ve said everything that’s to be said by now, you know? Nope. They never shut the hell up, and I love it.” Only then do I realize he’s asking because of his own parents. Jackson sits down on my desk chair, shrugging in his big coat. He glances up at me, clearly bummed out, then looks back at the wedding anniversary photo. “I’m not even going to pretend you haven’t had the same dreams as me. I know

you loved Theo like that, too.” Love. I love you; this isn’t a past-tense love. He doesn’t wait for me to say anything before he goes on. “But people don’t take me seriously, like I’m not allowed to be destroyed over Theo and love because I’m not even old enough to legally drink. My dad actually had the balls to tell me I have the rest of my life to fall in love again.” “Sounds like you need to skip some weekend visits when you’re back home.” Jackson sneers. “He won’t notice or care. He works for the airline, so it’ll free up his weekend to either stay in another city and meet women at bars or—sorry, I’ll shut up.” Not entirely sure what he’s apologizing for, but he’s always saying sorry for something, right? Now he’s staring at me. “Do you feel defeated, too? It reminds me of this race I was in where I was in the lead and fell and busted my knee, and everything I was running toward was done.” I hope this isn’t his sly way of telling me he thinks he was winning you over. If there was ever a time for him to be apologizing over something, it’s now. “I was running the same race, Jackson. And you weren’t in the lead.” “I wasn’t talking about you, I swear. I just never counted myself worthy enough to score a dude like Theo. That’s what I meant about being in the lead,” Jackson says. I avoid his eyes. “Sorry.” “I get it. You and Theo grew up together and were each other’s firsts for pretty much everything. But you do get that I loved him, too, right? And he loved me, even though I sometimes had trouble believing it because of you. I don’t know why it matters so much to me, but I wish you wouldn’t write off what he and I had, especially since every couple has to start somewhere. You just beat me to the punch.” I think I’m supposed to say something here. But I can’t. “You’re pissed, aren’t you? Look, talk to me. Whenever Theo and I were disagreeing about something, we always talked it out immediately. If we let it build up, it would turn into something far worse than it had to be. Please talk to me, Griffin,” Jackson says. Shutting up and shutting down have always been what I do best during confrontation. You called me out on that. Still, I’m trying much harder than usual not to say something unforgivable. It’s your forgiveness I’m gunning for here. Keeping my mouth shut about my problems with you is something I planned on being better at when we got together, especially after you told me how talking through stuff was working for you and Jackson. It’s not that I didn’t want to resolve any issues; I just didn’t want to do it in the heat of the moment, when there was a chance I’d say something undercooked and hurtful. But you threw some blows Jackson’s way, too. In the early months of your relationship, you turned to me whenever you two were fighting. Jackson didn’t like how close we were, how you never let him cut me out of your life. Since I couldn’t say anything bad about Jackson, I was


forced to tell you to give it time, that everything would iron itself out. And every time you called me back, I hoped it was to tell me how you and Jackson broke up, how it wasn’t ultimately about the fights but because of how much you still love and miss me. But without fail, the calls always went the route of, “We worked it out, just like you said. Thanks for hearing me out, Griff.” I sit down on my bed. I have no idea what to say now. Jackson stands, zipping up his jacket. “I’m going to go.” He walks toward my bedroom door. “I’m sorry I bothered you with all this.” He stops and shoots me this disappointed look, not too different from the one I’d find on your face when I was camping out in my silent zone. “I’m sorry I tried, Griffin. I really thought you would get it.” Whether I like it or not, I have to speak up. Jackson also has history with you. I’m sure you both had inside jokes, favorite spots, pictures that will sting me but might be worth seeing to see your face again, stories that may introduce me to who you were out in California. There’s a side of you I never saw. Jackson not only knew that side, he loved you for it. “Don’t go,” I say. “You’re right. We love the same guy, and it’s weird, and he would want us to talk anyway, even about the stuff I don’t want to hear or the things I’d rather keep to myself.” I get up from my bed and go to my closet. I pull out the air mattress, the one my parents bought for the rare occasions they allowed you to sleep over after we started dating—not that we used it. “You should stay. It’s gross outside. Maybe we can have a do-over tomorrow morning.” He hesitates. “You sure?” I unroll the air mattress on the opposite side of my room, away from my bed. “Yeah, it’s cool.” I pull my phone charger out of the outlet, throwing it onto my bed, and plug in the air pump. It’s noisy and might wake up my parents, but there’s no way around that. It’s a quarter to one, and I’m ready to pass out after I get to listen to your voice mail. “Thanks, Griffin,” he says quietly. “No problem. I can get you something to wear.” Out of habit I reach for your drawer and pull it open. I freeze for a second, taking in your four T-shirts, two pairs of pajamas, gym shorts— even though you hate the gym—socks, a Monopoly onesie you brought over as a joke, and a hoodie. I’m never dressing Jackson in your clothes. I close your drawer and open one of mine, tossing out a long-sleeved shirt I’ve outgrown and pajamas onto the air mattress. “Do you want some water?” “If you don’t mind, thanks.” I leave my room, pee, brush my teeth, tiptoe around the kitchen while getting two glasses of water, and return to find Jackson in my clothes. I hand him his glass. I’m still thrown off by his presence—this guy I’ve wanted nothing to do with—by how he is actually spending the night in a room where I did everything with you from sleeping to sex, playing video games to putting together puzzles, fighting and

trading weird kisses, bad karaoke and slow dancing to no music—this place of being ourselves and being each other’s, and so much in between and everything else. I grab him a comforter from the closet, a pillow from my bed. It’s all stuff only I used, not what you used; those stay with me. I’m left with three pillows, so I toss him a second without explaining why. “I’m passing out,” I say, switching off the light. Jackson is hit with a slant of moonlight. “Bathroom is to the left of my room if you need it.” “Thanks,” Jackson whispers, like I’m already sleeping. “Good night.” I roll into bed, still in my jeans and your hoodie, and turn my back on him. I hug your pillow to my chest and rest my face where you used to rest yours. My phone is dying, but I connect my headphones and press play on your voice mail, over and over. In the middle of the fourth listening, Jackson calls me. “Griffin? Sorry, Griffin, you awake?” “Yeah?” I stare at the wall. “Thanks for giving me a shot. I see now why Theo never shut up about you.” I don’t respond. But I put the phone down. I press my face deeper into the pillow, squeezing my eyes shut, and I do my damn best to fall asleep, but my ear tugging and need to cry keep me awake. You kept me alive when we were apart. I promise I’ll always do the same for you. JACKSON’S CRYING WAKES ME up. He’s trying to suppress it, but it keeps slipping out. He sounds a lot like me the past few days, how I’d give in to the grief but make sure I wasn’t loud enough to draw attention from those who think words will make me feel better. I can’t turn around because if the bed creaks, he’ll know I’m awake. I don’t know how to comfort this outsider. Jackson, like me, loves you. Also like me, he is stuck in this universe without you. I know what you’d say: there are limitless alternate universes. Is there one where you’ve decided to watch over Jackson from the afterlife? No, that’s wrong. Even Jackson said you were always talking about me. I refuse to believe I’m living in a universe where you’re not even with me in death. I refuse to believe that you’re hurting for him right now as he cries, tilting your telescope a little bit to the left to find me wide awake, not doing anything to comfort him. You must think I’m the worst human ever, and I swear I’m not. I’ve made some mistakes, sure, and if you’ve already caught on, I’m sorry, but I can’t reverse time and undo them. You’ll have to forgive me. That’s assuming you’re in this universe, that you’re watching, Theo. Excerpt courtesy of Soho Teen. Learn more about History Is All You Left Me at sohopress.com/books/history-is-all-you-left-me.



The Writer – January 2017