Latest Content over at Hunger Mountain Young Adults and Chilren's

Today my Hawaiian vacation comes to an end but the work over at Hunger Mountain never ceases. This week we bring you some powerhouse pieces. Content just officially went live and our first feature by Ellen Levine has already wracked up 30 comments so far.

Here is info from my Welcome From the Editor letter.

This week The Varying Shade of Shadows adds two more features. The first, When, Along with her Characters, an Author Gets In Trouble by Ellen Levine, whose career is varied with award-winning nonfiction and fiction alike, describes running into a wall of silence with her latest book, In Trouble.

The second, The Monster in Us All, by Dr. Ilsa J. Bick is a precursor to Hunger Mountain’s In Defense of YA, which will feature a round up of voices from teen readers, authors, publishers, and parents discussing their reactions to the Wall Street Journal pieces by Megan Cox Gurdon, asking is “Darkness Too Visible?”  We chose to spotlight Ilsa J. Bick’s thoughtful but cutting response  now as she not only disagrees with Megan Cox Gurdon—she also agrees, with certain points, that is. As always, please feel free to weigh in in the comments section of each piece.

For What My Last Book Taught Me, Monika Schröder advises us to Learn to Drive in the Dark as she takes a trip back to discover what her latest novel, My Brother’s Shadow, taught her as a writer.

Lastly, as all the world is a stage, we offer Jest A Minute, which pokes fun at all the dark/light publishing hullabaloo, with a list of Ten Classics Revamped to Capitalize on the Dark  YA Trend (created by none other than moi) and a second list–of Ten New Titles to Please All by author and humorist K. A. Holt.  Read, respond, enjoy!

And for all content, peruse the entire issue, with more pieces yet to come!

Last week The Varying Shade of Shadows invited you into
This Writer’s Life: The Politics of Story by Neesha Meminger author of Shine, Coconut Moon and Jazz in Love. Neesha explored and argued, with great clarity, how writing fiction is and always will be a political act. In our Industry Insider we hosted a Q & A with Anita Silvey, author, children’s literature scholar and the creator of the popular Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac.  We also added to our growing list of new fiction with Quarry, a short story by Kevin Waltman that captured the delight and danger in a trip to a forbidden place.

Don’t miss earlier content: a timely FlipSide, The Light and the Dark of It, highlighting Jennifer Ziegler’s
Let There Be Light and Clare Dunkle’s On the Dark Side. Both authors had their pieces well in the works before the June 4th Wall Street Journal article by Meghan Cox Gurdon asked the question: Is Darkness Too Visible?.  Also be sure to check out new fiction: Stone Field, a re-imagining of Wuthering Heights, by Christy Lenzi;  Starcatcher, a unique fantasy by Penny Blublaugh author of Blood & FlowersMonsters, a surprising and raw read by Jennifer Hubbard;  The Proposal, fiction by Lindsey Lane that dives deep into the hiddenness of our human natures and our desires to be both safe and loved. You can also read earlier features: an exploration of self and sisterhood by Janet Gurtler in Embracing Shadows;  also  In the Half-Light, an essay detailing the shadowy subconscious that aided Hunger Mountain Sneak Peek author Joe Lunievicz in creating his debut novel, Open Wounds (WestSide Books, 2011); the wickedly smart investigation into the use of elision by Janet Fox in The Shadowy Landscape of Dreams Where Reader and Writer Meet. Our Industry Insider Column offers an interview with Elena Mechlin and Joan Slattery in New Faces at Pippin Properties. Be sure to check out the instructive Toolbox piece, Where the Teens Are: 5 Ways to Freshen Up YA Fiction’s Favorite Places from Deborah Halverson, author of the newly released, Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, and the In Response essay to the Passion for the Picture Book special feature by the outstanding author Liz Garton Scanlon.

So, please stop back often.  Read, respond, share your thoughts, delight in the darkness and luxuriate in the light. They both offer respite and reward. Go ahead, see for yourselves.

Bethany Hegedus, Editor

Please note: submissions are still open for The Art & Insanity of Creativity issue for fall 2011, and we welcome submissions through our
Submissions Manager.  Look for 2012 themes to be announced this fall.

Last Day to Enter the Katherine Paterson Prize

Breaking news! (And once home from Maui--I will return to my regular three day a week blog format.) Today is the last day to enter Hunger Mountain's Katherine Paterson Prize for Children's & YA fiction.

What is the Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children’s Writing?

An annual prize for writing for children. A chance for your writing for children to be read by Hunger Mountain editors and guest judges!

What will the winner receive?

One overall first place winner receives $1,000 and publication!
Three runners-up receive $100 each.  We choose one runner-up from the YA (young adult) entries, one from the Middle Grade entries, and one from the Picture Book or Writing for Young Children entries.

Who can enter the contest?

Anyone! Everyone!

Who is this year’s judge?

Kimberly Willis Holt
The 2011 judge is Kimberly Willis Holt, author of the Piper Reed series, My Louisiana Sky, Mister and Me, Dancing in Cadillac Light, Keeper of the Night, Waiting for Gregory, Part of Me, and Skinny Brown Dog; winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for When Zachary Beaver Came to Town; and winner of the 2011 YALSA BEST FICTION for Young Adults for The Water Seeker.

When is the deadline?

The postmark deadline is June 30th

Where is last year’s winning entry?

Right here! Read “Steve” by Jaramy Conners, chosen by Holly Black.
Or read runner-up in Young Adult fiction, S.E. Sinkhorn’s
Chasing Shadows;  runner-up in Middle Grade Fiction Marcia Popp’s The Ugliest Dog in the World; and runner-up in picture book/writing for Young Children Jane Kohuth’s Something at the Hill
You might also read the 2009 winner,
“Crazy Cat” by Liz Cook, chosen by Katherine Paterson or “Tornado” by Susan Hill Long and “No Mistake” by Tricia Springstubb, two runners-up from 2009.

For information on how to send your submission and entry fee online, please go HERE. 

Good luck!

New Content LIVE at Hunger Mountain, Varying Shade of Shadows Issue

It's that time content to read and digest over at Hunger Mountain! Check it out!

Welcome from the Editor (June 27, 2011)

by Bethany Hegedus

This week The Varying Shade of Shadows invites you into
This Writer’s Life: The Politics of Story by Neesha Meminger author of Shine, Coconut Moon and Jazz in Love. Neesha explores and argues, with great clarity, how writing fiction is and always will be a political act.

In our Industry Insider we host a Q & A with Anita Silvey, author, children’s literature scholar and the creator of the popular Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac. We are thrilled to host Anita; it is a special treat to have her with us.

Lastly, we add to our growing list of new fiction with
Quarry, a short story by Kevin Waltman that captures the delight and danger in a trip to a forbidden place.

Falling Into a Funk


This week along with brave souls Bayles & Orland, authors of Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, we are going to fall into a funk. Don’t worry. I promise—funks are part of the process.

If you’re like most artists we know, you’re probably accustomed to watching your work unfold smoothly enough for long stretches of time, until one day—for no immediately apparent reason—it doesn’t. Hitting that unexpected rift is commonplace to the point of cliché, yet artists commonly treat each recurring instance as somber evidence of their own personal failure.  Nominees for Leading Role in a Continuing Artists’ Funk are: (1) you’ve entirely run out of new ideas forever, or (2) you’ve been following a worthless deadend path the whole time. And the winner is: (fortunately) neither. One of the best kept secrets of artmaking is that new ideas come into play far less frequently than practical ideas—ideas that can be reused for a thousand variations, supplying the whole framework for a whole body of work rather than a single piece.  (55-56)
Hmmmm? Doesn’t this go against everything we thought about what art is—and who we have to be to make it?  Original? Daring? Brilliant? Nope—it doesn’t. The passage above reminds me of Julia Cameron’s—The Vein of Gold—it’s not about being practical really—it’s about tapping into what we care about most. What calls to us, informs us, makes us who we are—we can use in a variety of ways. Think about what we read, view, and listen to as consumers. I do like things outside of my favorite genres—but I definitely have my favorites. Singer/songwriters from James Taylor to Tracy Chapman to the Indigo Girls. Books—family oriented middle grades—from Winn Dixie to Keeper to Harriet the Spy. Television—Law and Order to the Chicago Code to NYPD Blue. 
Whether it is a singer I love; a book I love, or a TV show I am addicted to the forats and these artists are all different but they resonate with a similar energy. For me, words matter. Families matter. Injustice and corruption matter. Put it all together and what you get is what I write about—families, justice, and words. It could be a blog post, an essay, a novel, a picture book, or even a poem. It could be a book set in the past as Between Us Baxters is, a novel set here today—as Truth with a Capital T  is—or it could be a picture book about the relationship between a boy and his world leader grandfather, ala Grandfather Gandhi (forthcoming--Antheneum).  Is it practical to write from this vein of gold? Perhaps. But more importantly it is simply what matters to me most.

Beginner’s Luck? Not For This Schmuck


Another Monday with our friends, Art and Fear. At least I hope they are getting to be our friends—our good friends—since they are always with us. Too bad David Bayles and Ted Orland are not, but we do have their gem of a book to keep us company and buoy our spirits. 
In Chapter V, Finding Our Work, Bayles and Orland go into depth on how our work is always honest. Brutally honest, if we look close enough.

Look at your work and it tells you how it is when you hold back or when you embrace. When you are lazy, your art is lazy; when you holds back, it holds back; when you hesitate, it stands there staring, hands in its pockets. But when you commit, it comes on like blazes. 

Bayles and Orland go on to talk about a visual artist friend who took up dance. She threw herself into her new passion, taking classes, dancing with abandon. Soon, she was asked to join a dance troupe. The thought of performing and dancing for others—and not just herself—had her dancing fall apart. Where she danced with abandon before now she was stilted and over thought each movement. She stopped—frustrated and depressed. But after a few weeks of withdrawal she is back at it. Finding her way in dance—balancing her passion with the expectations of others. 

At the Writers’ League of Texas where I used to work, a writer came in one day. She had questions about publishing and which class would benefit her the most. She said, “I have beginner’s luck. What I write first comes out the best, and when I revise things fall apart.” I listened and while I believe in the abandon of beginners luck—I told her her best work would come from a combination of abandon and critical thinking. I mentioned my own version of the above. Balancing our inner critic and the external critic makes work we begin to takes seriously amp up in importance. Our words can get as stiff and over thought as a dancer’s moves. Then we have to work to stay limber—we have to work to remind ourselves not to hesitate; to be brave. We have to make choices and commit—no holds barred. We then see these choices through to the end and then we can make new choices if need be. To be brilliant we can’t be timid. We must be bold. We must let ourselves fail and flail, because, you know, many novels are began on a whim but they aren’t completed, sold, or published on a whim. We can tap into the “beginner’s mind” but it is not necessary to stay there to succeed—that makes the hard work of art feel like a game of chance—and art isn’t about chance. It may feel like Russian roulette with the variety of critical opinions that pop up when we put our work out there—but the creating, the deep down soul searching a work requires daily is a muscle we build—and muscles grow over time and use. They don’t atrophy.

Hunger Mountain: Varying Shade of Shadows--FlipSide and More


This week The Varying Shade of Shadows introduces a timely FlipSide, The Light and the Dark of It, highlighting Jennifer Ziegler’s
Let There Be Light and Clare Dunkle’s On the Dark Side. Both authors had their pieces well in the works before the June 4th Wall Street Journal article by Meghan Cox Gurdon asked the question: Is Darkness Too Visible?

While Ziegler and Dunkle do not comment directly on the WSJ article, their essays touch on what draws an author to the lighter side or the darker side–one influenced by Jane Austen, one by Emily Brontë, and each writing true to the way she views the world. That does not mean to say that Hunger Mountain isn’t interested in adding our voice to the conversation sparked by Gurdon’s article. Look for In Defense of YA a report and round-up of authors, teens, librarians, and booksellers who have something to say In Defense of YA coming to Hunger Mountain in early August.

We also welcome two new fiction pieces. Stone Field by Christy Lenzi draws some darker material from Wuthering Heights but contains a uniquely Western setting all its own. Starcatcher, a unique fantasy adds to the canon of works by Penny Blublaugh author of Blood & Flowers.

Art & Fear: Acceptance and Approval


Those wise men, David Bayles and Ted Orland, authors of Art& Fear are at it again. This time with words of wisdom on acceptance vs approval.

“The difference between acceptance and approval is subtle, but distinct. Acceptance means having your work counted as the real thing; approval means having your work liked.”

They go on to add:

The Art of Connection
…”Courting approval, even that of peers, puts a dangerous amount of work in the hands of the audience. Worse yet, the audience is seldom in a position to grant (or withhold) approval on the one issue that really counts—namely, whether or not you’re making progress in your work. They’re in a good position to comment on how they’re moved (or challenged or entertained) by the finished product, but have little knowledge or interest in your process.  Audience comes later. The only pure connection is between you and your work.”  (page 47, Art & Fear)

There can be a connection between author and audience—an important one—but the connection to one’s work, where one is that day, in the present moment and the only thing really an artist can count on. But as much as I believe in doing the work and being in the process first and foremost, the desire to be accepted and approved isn’t a condition merely of an artist—it is a human condition. Wrestling with any and all of my humanness, is what I think, and hope, makes me a decent writer. Of course, I can’t let the desire for approval get out of hand, and more than anyone else's approval what fiction writing and the study of craft has taught me is to seek my own approval—not just in my writing choices but in all my decisions.

YA and the WSJ

Ah, so much has been written in the last week since the June 4th Wall Street Journal article by Meghan Cox Gurdon asked the question: Is Darkness Too Visible? There has been the outcry on twitter  and the creation of #yasaves thanks to author Maureen Johnson. There have been the blog posts of Laurie Halse Anderson, Struck Between Rage and Compassion:

“Books don’t turn kids into murderers, or rapists, or alcoholics. (Not even the Bible, which features all of these acts.) Books open hearts and minds, and help teenagers make sense of a dark and confusing world. YA literature saves lives. Every. Single. Day.”

Read Roger, the Horn Book Editor who advised: 

"If you're a teen who is running your reading choices by your parents, grow up. If you're a parent who feels compelled to approve your child's reading, shut up. The books and the kids are all right."

and Barry Lyga's triumphant declaration:
          "I refuse to justify my art." 

There have been the parodies, the funniest by Sarah Ockler in her post All This Darkness! What to Buy the Grown Up Reader? (A Parody):

“I recently stood slack-jawed in the adult fiction section of my local big box book store, having decided that supporting my community while getting personalized recommendations by professionals who generally adore books and make it their business to know exactly what sorts of things a reader will love was just not on my to-do list this year, feeling stupefied and helpless.” responded with their own online article: Has Young Adult Fiction Become Too Dark?  in which the Mary Elizabeth Williams who spoke for many parents born and raised as readers in the 1970’s and 80’s:

“I grew up on Judy Blume too. I also loved V. C. Andrews. Believe me when I say that the latter's books, with their themes of brutal family abuse and incestuous rape, are trashy as hell -- and there was not a girl around for 3,000 miles who could keep her hands off them. And let me further assure you, an entire generation of women managed to devour the "Flowers in the Attic" series without having sex with their brothers.”

There have been YA history lessons, there has been debate—mostly heated—some of it respectful, some of it not. (My own local listserve posted comments to one another of varying opinions and despite the passion of both sides we were able to keep it civil.) As Editor of the Young Adult & Children’s section of Hunger Mountain, my new Assistant Editor, E. Kristin Anderson and I got started on a Hunger Mountain Round-Up of voices In Defense of YA. Within twenty minutes or so of putting out the call to YA authors and readers had a list of twenty plus authors who were willing contributors to the Hunger Mountain article which will be published in early August. 

Why is Hunger Mountain chiming in so late when this is the week to let our voices be heard? Because the story is still going on. Meghan Cox Gurdon, with the WSJ, says she has more to say and though we may not want to hear it, we do want to report on it. To consider it. 

And, then there was yesterday’s WSJ Speakeasy post by Sherman Alexie, author of The True Diary of the Part Time Indian, that was attacked in the WSJ “editorial” along with several other books. Alexie’s response Why The Best Books Are Written in Blood which brought new relevance to the conversation—just when we thought no more on the issue could be said.

“And there are millions of teens who read because they are sad and lonely and enraged. They read because they live in an often-terrible world. They read because they believe, despite the callow protestations of certain adults, that books-especially the dark and dangerous ones-will save them.
As a child, I read because books–violent and not, blasphemous and not, terrifying and not–were the most loving and trustworthy things in my life…And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.”

Alexie’s response brought my teen self to the surface. I am writing an older YA—one where there is darkness and violence, mental illness, suicide, blood but no gore. There are lots of questions and no easy answers, which is exactly how I felt as a teen. 

I remember going into the school library before school and at lunch periods—sometimes with a book—other times with only my pen and paper. I wrote poems—thousands of bad poems. I remember writing with one thought: “One day, I will be heard.” The girl I was had a voice and the woman I am today has the strength to let that voice be heard. She also has the strength to listen to the conversations that swirl around her. No one had to tell me that the world was dark. I didn’t read that in a book or see it for myself on TV. I saw it in my everyday life. But I did learn about hope from stories. I learned about it in fiction—I learned about it in sharing our mutual brokenness. I learn about light each time I read a book where “darkness is visible,” and each time I encourage myself to write so that “one day, I will be heard.” 

I’ve come to the conclusion, that if YA is too dark, it is because our world is too dark. It is also because no one is looking at the light that is there. The hope, courage, and truth that comes from writing and reading books that have us bleed. Though we may live in the dark when we write and read a little bit of light always finds us. Always.  

Maybe that is why long before this brouhaha started, over at Hunger Mountain, the theme of May through Sept. issue was dubbed The Varying Shade of Shadows. I wrote in the original Welcome Letter to the issue: "We writers love dichotomy—for it is in the exploring of seeming polar opposites that we find the “good stuff”—the betwixt, between-ness of our natures." So with all this talk of darkness, what we are really doing is exposing the light. And I for one, thank Meghan Cox Gurdon for that.

Inside the Writer's Studio wth Sarah Sullivan


Today for Inside the Writer’s Studio we celebrate an ode to an American Musical tradition—fiddling—by West Virginia author Sarah Sullivan.Passing the Music Down, written by Sarah and illustrated by Barry Root is a thing of beauty. I was lucky enough to hear Sarah read from the then manuscript when she was a visiting alumna at a VCFA Special Day. And, I was lucky enough to secure Sarah as a contributor to Hunger Mountain. Her essay, Walking the Songlines, depicts how much care, effort, and skill it takes to be at the top of picture book form (as Sarah is). Sarah is the author of Root Beer and Banana, Dear Baby: Letters from Your Big Brother, and Once Upon a Baby Brother. She is a graduate of VCFA (we were in the same graduating class!) and she speaks to adults and children across the country.

A bit about the Passing the Music Down from the publisher (Candlewick Press)
A warmhearted ode to an American musical tradition and to generational ties, told in lyrical free verse with atmospheric illustrations

A young boy travels to the hills of Appalachia to meet the old-time fiddle player whose music he has admired, and so sparks a friendship that will forge a bond between generations. The boy develops under the man’s care and instruction, just as seedlings grow with spring rain and summer sun. From playing on the front porch to performing at folk festivals, the two carry on the tradition of passing the music down. This touching, lyrical story, inspired by the lives of renowned fiddlers Melvin Wine and Jake Krack, includes an author’s note and suggested resources for learning about the musicians and the music they love.
Thanks Sarah for being with us! I am such a fan of the way you use language, create story, and share your process.

Is there a story behind the story that you wish to share? (Ie: the ah-ha or lightning moment where the story inspiration struck)

Passing the Music Down is inspired by the lives of two real people, an old-time fiddle player named Melvin Wine and his student, Jake Krack.  Melvin won multiple awards, including the NEA's National Heritage Fellowship, the U.S.'s highest award for traditional musicians and artists.  Jake was a young fiddle student in Indiana when he first heard recordings of Melvin's music.  His teacher told him he ought to go to a festival called Clifftop in West Virginia so he could hear the old-time fiddle players, people like Melvin Wine and  Lester McCumber, because their music had been passed down by oral tradition and, when they died, their music would die with them.  So, Jake did just that.  At Clifftop, he met Melvin Wine.  They became friends and Jake's family ended up moving to West Virginia so that Jake could study with Melvin and Lester McCumber and a younger man named Bobby Taylor.  For years I heard Melvin and Jake play at the Vandalia Gathering in Charleston and at other festivals and fairs, including once, an appearance at my local independent bookstore, Taylor Books.  When I read an article in the New York Times about Jake being formally apprenticed to old-time musicians, I realized it was not just me who had a fascination with this story.  There was indeed something universal about it and I wanted to capture that in a picture book.  It seemed like a story that needed to be told, particularly after 9/11 when many of us were wondering about the future and what endures.

How do you stay inspired to face the dreaded blank page? Is it something you dread? Look forward to? Share a bit about your writing process.

I try to trick myself by pretending I'm writing a letter and relating a story to a friend.  If I can do that, the negative inner voice goes silent, at least for a few minutes.  Friends are forgiving.  They don't demand perfect prose.  They just want to hear from you.  

I dread writing the first draft of a brand new scene that is only a concept in my head.  What helps is to find one line which belongs in that scene.  It can be a line of dialogue or of narration.  That doesn't matter.  What IS important is that, it feel like the line "fits."
I love, love, LOVE editing and revising!

How important is community in keeping you inspired? What authors are a part of your virtual and/or hometown community? How do they keep you inspired?

Community is so important to lifting flagging spirits during the long slog that revising a manuscript can be.  My writing community is almost entirely virtual.  That's a large part of the reason I went to Vermont College.  The writing friends I made there are my writing community today.  A certain writer named Bethany Hegedus has been a daily inspiration, especially during our first years after completing the program.  We had "virtual" coffee chats each workday morning and they were really important to me!  (Thanks, Bethany!)  (Awww—thanks Sarah! I miss our virtual morning cups of coffee.)

And a dear friend and fellow writer, Leda Schubert, who is now a faculty member at Vermont College provided invaluable support, encouragement and critical input during the writing of Passing the Music Down.  In fact, I don't know that I would even have had the courage to send that manuscript to my now-editor if not for Leda's enthusiasm about it.  Ironically, it turns out that Leda – who plays fiddle music herself, had not only heard of Melvin Wine. She had actually taken a class from him at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, West Virginia.  When I read my manuscript out loud to a small group of fellow writers at a retreat in Vermont, we shared one of those small world moments when she told me about studying fiddle tunes at Augusta.  Leda continues to provide that kind of encouragement and critical  support.  I'm quite sure I would never have made it this far without friends like Leda and Bethany and so many others, including my whole class at Vermont College, the "Wild Things – Class of Winter 2005" and newer writing friends, like Fran Slayton who lives in Charlottesville and visits West Virginia from time to time.  They are all very dear to me.

Is there a favorite quote you turn to when the rejection blues get to you?

"It's all copy."  Nora Ephron attributes this quote to her mother, the screenwriter Phoebe Ephron.  It means, if something bad happens, don't get upset about it.  Think about how to use it in a story.
If you get rear-ended at a stoplight, it's all copy. If you get chigger bites in embarrassing places during a hike in the woods, it's all copy.
That quote has helped me through a lot of aggravating moments!

Name a writer whose work and/or career you admire. And why do you admire them?

There are so many, but one of my favorites is Eudora Welty.  Her work is so drenched in place, not only Mississippi, but there's a section from One Writer's Beginnings where she writes about her grandparents' farm in West Virginia, not far from where I live.  You can almost smell the iron in the water being drawn up from the well in that piece.  

I also love the way she writes with such compassion and charity about very flawed human beings.  Take the narrator of Why I Live at the P.O.,  for example, a young woman consumed by resentment of her sister.  And yet as readers, we feel sympathy for her.  On top of that, the whole time we're experiencing those conflicting feelings, Welty is making us laugh.  How does she do that?

How important is voice in your work? How does voice come to you?

Voice, on those rare occasions when I find it, is the opiate that keeps me hooked on writing. It's magic when some character's voice begins channeling through my thoughts.  If only I could figure out how to summon voice at will.  But, alas, it doesn't seem to happen that way.  Voice has mysterious origins that are perhaps best left unquestioned.  I don't want to do anything that would make the magic go away.

How does “place” come through in your writing? How important is place in this current novel/picture book?

A sense of place is absolutely critical to Passing the Music Down.  Ironically, or perhaps logically, I don't know, if I feel like if I've achieved the proper sense of place in that book, it makes the story feel universal.  I think it's because putting characters in their proper setting make a story feel authentic.  It's part of the challenge of making a story true.  If a writer can make something true enough, it will be universal.  And stories can only be true if they are set in the proper place. 

Writers love books; we love reading. What book do you turn to over and over again to study craft and why do you love it?

There are so many.  The Great GatsbyBecause of Winn-Dixie.  Walk Two Moons.  Goodbye My Brother –short story by John Cheever.  To Kill A Mockingbird.  

What these books have in common is voice.  And there is a bit of poetry in the voices of each of these books.  I think the intimacy a writer achieves with his or her reader in a strong voice is a large part of what makes a book compelling to me.  It's what draws me back to the book over and over again.  Read the first page of The Great Gatsby.  Are you not drawn in immediately?  And the poetry of it!  I want music in the words and Gatsby has that in spades.   

Inspired by the Actor’s Studio, what sound do you love? What sound do you hate?
Love – the birdsong of a Bob White
Hate – Leaf blowers

In ode to Maebelle, the main character in my new book Truth with a Capital T, who keeps a book of little known facts about just about everything, please share a wacky piece of trivia that has stuck with you or please share a little known fact about YOU.

Sophia Tolstoy, (aka Mrs. Leo Tolstoy) hand-copied the manuscript of War and Peace from beginning to end 7 times. 

Would you do that for the significant other in your life or, would you ask him or her to do that for you?

Oh, Maebelle would love that little known fact and she may just ask Isaac to transcribe her notebook 7 times from beginning to end right after learning it. Isaac though wouldn’t go for 7 but I bet he’d type it up once for her.

Sarah, thank you for being with us. Congrats on Passing the Music Down and keeping the history of fiddle music alive and kicking!

Art and Fear: The Voices of Others

Today, we’re going to talk about The Others. Nope, not those people from Lost who walked around at first in regular looking clothes and then wore burlap bags—or about the feeling of “otherness” we writers sometimes (oftentimes) feel. But about—others—expectations outside of ourselves. Expectations, desires, and even our own projections as seen from the outside in. 

In Art & Fear, our text for the last month and for all of June as well, David Bayles and Ted Orland write:

The problems arise when we confuse others’ priorities as our own.  We carry real and imagined critics with us constantly—a veritable babble of voices, some remembered, some prophesized, and each eager to comment on what we do. ..As an artist you are expected to make each successive piece uniquely new and different—yet reassuringly familiar alongside your earlier work. You’re expected to make art that’s intimately (perhaps even painfully) personal—yet alluringly and easily grasped by an audience that has never known you personally.

When the work goes well, we keep such inner distractions at bay, but in times of uncertainty or need, we begin listening. We abdicate artistic decision-making to others when we fear that the work itself will not bring us the understanding, acceptance, and approval we seek.
(Chapter IV, page 37-38)

Hmmm…many of us, those that are published or agented have an “official” Other. We have an editor, an agent, or both. Or many. We publish with more than one house, our editors move to other houses or leave publishing, agent/author relationships may end and new business relationships begin. It can be—if we let it—be to our artistic detriment. So how then do we keep the worries about Others out of our work, when as Bayles and Orland stated THE WORK isn’t going well?

To be honest, I am not sure.  I have the voices of Others—well, the imagined voices of Others in my head, because those in my artistic life are thankfully supportive. One esteemed Other said to me recently, “Write the book you most want to write. The one you are afraid of writing.” And also encouraged me to “use your gifts of voice and dialogue” in doing so.  I was given a task but the direction and the outcome are all up to me, so why do I feel so afraid?  I could say, because this time it matters, this is a make or break point in my career, that I want to be more widely read, touch more lives, etc. But I have had similar fears at all stages of my writing career—if I get this first book—publishing the next will be easier. If I make this list, I am all set. Basically, it is all baloney. And my baloney has a first name—f-e-a-r, fear.

So I keep learning. I have learned not to negotiate with fear but to let it just sit with me while I work. I don’t pour it a cup of tea, nor do I berate it for being there—I simply try to welcome it and when I let it take a seat at my table—somehow, thankfully, the invitation has some of the fear—the most strangling kind—evaporate. And the fear that is left—the water in the boiling pan—helps me churn my work into something I care about.