Sweetening the Pot

So that free book giveaway contest I just mentioned? I let author Julie Anne Peters know I was planning to do that and, kind and generous person that she is, she offered to autograph the book as well! So now it’s a free SIGNED book giveaway.

To win an autographed copy of her latest novel, By the Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead, simply comment on any post from this week (March 1-March 5). I’ll draw a name out of a hat for the winner.

By the Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead is a young adult novel that is a beautifully written, powerful story about suicide and bullying. Julie Anne Peters isn’t one to shy away from controversial topics or difficult material, and she certainly doesn’t do that here. This is a book I think people should be talking about this year, and I highly recommend it.

Creative Spaces Interview Series and a Free Book Giveaway!

Years ago, I attended a conference where Christopher Paul Curtis spoke. I remember him saying he spent every Saturday morning writing at his local library (I believe in the children’s section) working on what would become The Watsons Go to Birmingham. He left me with a mental image of this big man huddled over a small table at the library, scribbling away on a pad of paper. Most Harry Potter fans have heard the story of J.K. Rowling beginning to write the series in a London cafe with her baby napping in a stroller next to her. I once read that Philip Pullman used to work in a writing shed in his garden where he wrote every morning until he’d met his daily quota.

Not Philip Pullman’s Writing Shed

I love these sorts of tidbits, the small window they offer for imagining how a beloved book or characters came into existence. I see Christopher Paul Curtis drafting a scene while a toddler has a tantrum in the nearby picture book section. J.K. Rowling is brainstorming the rules to quidditch while a barista grinds coffee beans and an espresso machine hisses steam. The squish of dewey grass under Philip Pullman’s feet as he crosses the lawn to his writing shed, notebooks tucked under one arm. I also like the insight they give into each individual’s process and routine of writing.

I love to learn about where and how illustrators work as well. For a while I subscribed to Home Companion magazine and they regularly featured a variety of artists in their studio or workspace. Children’s book illustrators Eric Carle, Etienne Delessert, and Tony DiTerlizzi were featured in different issues, and it was fascinating to get a little insight into how they spent their working hours. I loved studying those photos, seeing what they surrounded themselves with, how they organized their supplies (or didn’t), learning that Eric Carle kept his handpainted tissue paper sorted by color in flat drawers, or seeing that Etienne Delessert works in an attic studio with tall angled walls framed in wooden beams, or reading this insight to Tony DiTerlizzi’s process: “My work is more than just creating cool characters–it’s about the world they live in, the tools and artifacts. What’s the architecture look like? What does this character’s bicycle look like? Some of the detail makes its way into the book and some of it doesn’t, but if you truly understand the character’s world, it makes your job much more enjoyable.”

As a creative person, I find it inspiring and often informative to learn about others’ creative process and what they surround themselves with while they work. My interest in these things is what gave me the idea for a column in Kite Tales, the Rocky Mountain chapter of SCBWI newsletter I previously worked on. That column was one of my favorite things from the newsletter and I miss working on it, which brings me to the fun project I mentioned yesterday.

This week I’m starting an interview series with writers and illustrators about their creative work spaces and how they work. Kind of like a virtual Take Your Child to Work day (for children of all ages and no guardianship required). In the next four days we’ll be hearing how young adult writers Julie Anne Peters and Amy Kathleen Ryan and illustrators Danlyn Iantorno and Roberta Collier-Morales spend their working hours. They’re sharing photos and a little insight into their creative process. To kick off the series, I’m posting an interview every day this week starting tomorrow and–just to spice things up a little more–I’m also giving away a brand new copy of Julie Anne Peters latest novel By the Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead. To participate in the giveaway, all you have to do is comment on any post from this week and your name will be entered in a raffle. The cut off time for entering the giveaway will be Sunday at noon, mountain standard time, and I’ll announce the winner sometime soon thereafter.

Great cover, even better book

I plan to continue this interview series throughout the year by posting one new interview each week on Mondays. (If you are an author or illustrator interested in participating, please contact me at the email listed in my sidebar. I’d love to feature people from all genres of children’s literature.)

I’m looking forward to getting a peek at the creative process of various writers and illustrators, and I hope you will be too!

What to do with Your Inner Critic(s)

Since I last posted I’ve been working on something fun that will be taking place in this spot starting next week. If you’re interested in creative people and hearing more about how they work, especially children’s book writers and illustrators, make sure to check back here on Monday.

I’ve also been chipping away at my revisions. I have to say, one of the biggest challenges in writing for me is stifling that inner critic. Critics plural, really. I imagine them all up there in my brain, squished together on a couch (a large couch, there are a lot of them) watching my creative process like it’s their own personal reality show. Chomping chips and spraying crumbs all over the place as they talk, wet rings from their beverage glasses marking up the furniture. Jumping all over each other’s words to point things out:

“How many times do you think she’ll rewrite that sentence?”
“She’s going with that version? The way she had the sentence two versions ago was way better.”
“Pass the chips, Stan.”
“The screen’s not magic, honey. Staring at it like that doesn’t make the words appear.”
“Could this scene be any more boring? Where’s the tension?”
“Stop hogging the dip, Hilde. And don’t think we didn’t notice that double dip.”
“For pete’s sake! What does the character want? Cheesecake, world peace, give me something here.”
“Maybe the character wants boring dialogue. That’s what they’re getting anyway.”

Like that. They’re a fun bunch, aren’t they? So what do you do with these inner critics. I’ll tell you up front, I don’t have an ironclad solution here. But I’ve gathered this much:

The worst thing to do is let them win. You always have to come back to the writing. You can’t walk away forever. If it matters to you, you have to come back to the writing.

You can try to fight them. Sometimes I argue back. Or I imagine gagging them with a bandana and duct tape and locking them in a mental closet so their chatter becomes more like a mumbling hum of bees. But it can be mentally draining to fight these critics, and eventually they work themselves free and resume their spots on the couch.

You could set up a nice bar and try to appease them with booze. But that road can easily lead to a louder and unruly environment, with the critics coming to blows over your excessive use of adverbs. And it’s pretty much inevitable that someone in the mix will end up being an emotional, crying drunk and someone else will be retching in the toilet. By the time they all pass out you’ll be too exhausted and the stench will be too unbearable to get any writing done.

The thing is, as annoying as they are, there is some benefit to having these critics around. Sometimes they offer something worth listening to. Maybe the dialogue could be sharper or maybe that scene is lacking tension. Maybe you do need to knock it off with the adverbs already. I don’t think the answer is to plow forward stubbornly, ignoring everything they have to say, anymore than it’s to run away.

The key for me has been to learn to work with them. What I know about these inner critics:

1) They want me to succeed. Deep down at least. Because they know if I do, they can claim a part of that. The criticism is their know-it-all way of trying to point me down the path they think will work best.
2) You can never please them all. You will never write something that every single one is excited about or interested in. (Especially Stan and Hilde. Those two never agree on anything.)

So I continue to chip away and try my best to tune out my mental characters and tune in my novel characters. Occasionally I have to shout at them to pipe down, or they bait me into an argument. I might stuff them in a closet so I can finally get some peace and quiet. Often times it’s in the peace and quiet that their words resonate most. The relevant ones rise to the top and I might even get excited as I see their point and understand how I can improve a scene. And crazily enough, if the peace and quiet lingers too long, I might even start to miss their constant chatter and bickering. Ring marks, crumbs, and all.

A Couple Cool Kid Lit Things

1. If you’re interested in children’s literature and not already following New York Public Librarian Elizabeth Bird’s Top 100 Children’s Novels countdown, I highly recommend you head on over there and check it out. She recently conducted a poll with her readers of their top 10 middle grade books of all time (I submitted mine–prioritizing ten was no easy feat and I immediately changed my mind after I clicked send. But oh well.) This week she’s begun revealing the results, #100-91 were revealed on Monday, and then she dropped to doing five a day bringing us down to #76 today. So far the list looks to be shaping up to be a great overview of chapter books spanning titles published as far back as the 1930s and as current as one of this year’s Newbery Honor winners, a mix of both silly and serious stories, fantastical and realistic. But this isn’t your average “here’s the title and author and maybe a link to where you can buy it, now go on your merry way” countdown list. Oh no. What makes this countdown really excellent (if you’re interested in this sort of thing) is all the historical tidbits and odd trivia Elizabeth Bird has offered up about each title, along with a description and personal reflections from those who recommend the book. If you would get a kick out of learning that The Graveyard Book has inspired a perfume collection, finding out the connection between Doctor Who and The Children of Green Knowe, or seeing the range of cover art for each title, then this countdown is the place for you.

2. Do you ever wonder what goes on behind closed doors as the committees decide the winners of the ALA awards? So do I. And I don’t have any answers for you. But! One of my listservs recently directed me to this letter from the chair of the 2009 Caldecott committee to the incoming 2011 committee. It illuminates some of the hard work and preparation that goes into that final discussion. I can only imagine the heated debates that follow.

When You Reach Me I’ll Be Nursing a Migraine

I had plans for a glorious, productive weekend which came to a screeching halt Saturday afternoon when I got hit by a doozy of a migraine that eventually found me spending my Saturday night in Urgent Care rather than at home reclining with my husband and watching 500 Days of Summer as originally planned. Today I nursed a residual migraine, still woozy from the combination of ceaseless vomiting and morphine the night before. The upside of all this is that today it was snowing, the gray soft light a very welcome thing to someone with a migraine hangover. I spent the entire morning reading in bed as snow fell outside my window. I read When You Reach Me in its entirety which lived up to all the acclaim, surpassed it really. As soon as I had heard someone say they didn’t want to describe too much of the plot for fear of giving anything away, I stopped reading reviews and descriptions of this book. (But had still read enough to know one aspect that I wish I hadn’t known in advance. It’s a book I would have liked to have gone into without any expectations whatsoever.) But it was a marvelous read, and I never would have given myself permission to spend all morning lounging in bed on an ordinary day. It’s funny how good things can come from awful situations.