Processing

Few things make Writer Me more nervous than being asked about my “process”. So much of how I make a book remains mysterious to me that process is too kind a word. My lurching, my fumbling, stumbling, grabbing and grasping–that I could talk about all night. Not that anyone would want to listen.

processor

Periodically, I take myself in hand and try to say, with some semblance of articulateness, how I do what I do. Now seems a good time, since next year is an unusual one for me: I’ve got two new books, in genres that differ yet overlap. Moonpenny Island, a novel, is pure middle grade (ages 8-12), but Cody and the Fountain of Happiness is what is called a chapter book (ages 7-10). I’ve been thinking about what I was doing in each book–what’s the same and what’s distinct.

Right off the bat: they were equally challenging to write. I’d say the same about picture books, YA, and adult fiction, all of which I’ve done. For me, writing is just hard hard hard, which means slow slow slow.

The challenges were different, though. Both have subplots, but Moonpenny has more, and twining them all together, not to mention bringing them to a conclusion that wasn’t a series of bullet points, took serious wrangling. Cody’s subplots stuck closer to home–the main story–and were easier to call in at the end. Cody has fewer characters, and the setting stays more in the background. In Moonpenny, as you might guess from the title, sense of place is strong and crucial.

Not to say, by any means, that writing more simply is simpler. My middle grade novels are usually forty-to-sixty-thousand words, where the Cody book (it is–yay! first in a series) is about fifteen thousand. At a quarter of the words, the demands of a chapter book are daunting. Sentences are shorter, which makes choosing the perfect details (and cutting all the others) even more essential.  I spent forever finding Cody’s voice. As a younger child, her vocabulary is smaller, but her feelings, her thoughts and her questions, are just as big as a tween’s. In Moonpenny, my main character, Flor, gets to venture into thinking and speculation too abstract for Cody, but Cody gets to wears her heart on her sleeve in a way that Flor feels too old and self-conscious for. The different, crazy delights these two girls gave me as I wrote them!

There is also the matter of joy. In chapter books, it’s a sure thing. Characters will have problems, they’ll grow and change, but there’s never any doubt that all will come right in the end. There’s only so much angst their worlds will bear. In middle grade, things can–and recently this seems more and more the case–take a darker tone. The world can give middle grade characters more of a battering. Joy may no longer be guaranteed, but hope must be, always.

I loved writing both (I know I said it was hard hard hard–but amnesia has already set in). At times I’d get confused, and give Cody a middle grade problem, or rein in the lushness of Flor’s voice. But mostly, happily, the books informed each other. Writing them in tandem was like getting to know two sisters, one a little older and more serious, the other younger and funnier, each of them bossy and eager in her own way. Each has her own evolving view of the world, and her own urgent, important story to tell. I like to think that older middle grade readers might enjoy kicking back with Cody, and younger one might go up on tiptoe to meet Flor.

Some other “chapter books” I think work for younger middle grade readers are listed here. Please add your own suggestions!

Clementine books by Sara Pennypacker

Alvin Ho books by Lenore Look

Anything by Dick King-Smith

Marvin Redpost books by Louis Sachar

Humphrey books by Betty G. Birney

*****

Tricia’s other middle grade novels include What Happened on Fox Street and Mo Wren, Lost and Found,  both published by HarperCollins.

Why I never hit 50K but still sign up for NaNoWriMo

For years I poo-pooed the idea of National Novel Writing Month. As many times as I hear the advice of “write a crummy first draft; revise later,” I know that a sentence or a scene can haunt me through the night and demand to be rewritten the next morning. The first time I took on the NaNo challenge, I completely sabotaged myself, writing fewer words in a month than I usually do in a week. The next year I signed up again, falling just 43,292 words short of the 50k NaNo goal.

Despite my pathetic word counts, I’ve turned into one of the biggest NaNoWriMo fans because of what I observed last year. The library where I work hosted several NaNo write-ins in 2013, marking off a portion of the library for “novelists at work.” Twenty to thirty writers came each week, writing with focus and determination – and speed. Short chats with other writers were about process and progress; no time wasted on talking about agents or editors or query letters or anything about the business end of writing. These people were writing to enjoy the process; writing toward a goal. After November ended, I asked a few Wrimos what their plans were for revision and submission. Some talked about keeping the file closed for a few months, and then hitting the rewrite. A couple considered the project finished. But not “finished” as in ready to be published; finished as in: I did what I wanted to do for this creative exercise.

I came away from last November greatly admiring these writers, the ones who are totally committed to a challenge and the process. THAT was the kind of writer I used to be (albeit with tens of thousands of words less each month) – a writer who challenges herself every day. THAT’S the kind of writer I want to be again.

So, yeah, I signed up for NaNoWriMo this year. And I can’t wait.

There is no shortage of blog posts out there offering tips to make it through NaNoWriMo. I’m resisting the urge to read absolutely everything and sticking with some solid resources on the NaNo site itself, including 6 tips to finish your first draft. Take a look at more NaNo prep resources on their blog. And consider this bit of advice from a four-time Wrimo pro: Make sure advance prep includes cleaning hour house and clearing your calendar.

Food and Friendship: An Interview with Veera Hiranandani

imageWe mostly talk middle-grade here at From the Mixed-Up Files, but I’m also happy when I can give some attention to the little sibling of MG books, the chapter book.

Today I have the honor of visiting with author Veera Hiranandani. We discuss food, friends, and her new Phoebe. G. Green chapter book series published by Grosset and Dunlap/PSS! (an imprint of Penguin Random House).

MUF: Welcome Veera! First of all, tell us a little bit about the first book in your new Phoebe G. Green series, LUNCH WILL NEVER BE THE SAME.

VH: I’ve always been passionate about food and have tried to share that with my kids. I also know a lot of kids who are imagereally into food and I didn’t see many books for kids celebrating that. I have seen a bunch of “picky eater” stories out there, so I wanted to create something for the kids who really love exploring food and also something to inspire the kids who are more reluctant. I had a funny, adventurous character in mind who sometimes gets herself in trouble, but ultimately learns to not only accept what makes her unique, but the differences around her. The book is as much about how Phoebe negotiates her friendships as it is about her love for food. 

MUF: I love that this book is about food. Why did you decide to use food to bring together Phoebe and the new girl, Camille?

VH: Well, I’ve always admired how the French eat and how they teach their children to eat. I wish we’d do more of that in America and banish all the children’s menus! I’d rather restaurants just offer half-portions off their regular menu. If kids see over and over that they are only supposed to choose from hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and mac and cheese, they get the message that they’re only supposed to like those things. So it felt right to have Phoebe enter into a friendship with a child from France. That idea seemed rich with possibilities, both food and friendship related.

MUF: Yes it is, and I love how your book is full of new types of food for most American kids. Did you do a lot of taste testing yourself for research for this book?

VH: I’m always taste testing something for better or worse. Sometimes I reference dishes that we’ve enjoyed as a family and sometimes I did research on more traditional French dishes that I mention in the book (including using my editor, Eve Adler, who grew up in France as a resource). I don’t include very specific recipes in the book because I wanted it to be more about inspiration than the actual recipes. There are many amazing chefs out there who can fill in that information if someone wants to make Beef Bourguignon, Julia Child is probably a better resource than I am for that recipe!

MUF: I think it’s perfect that you introduce your readers to new foods through Phoebe.  What advice can you give kids about trying new foods on their own?

VH: That it’s a life-long adventure. Also, sometimes if you don’t like something the first time, it’s good to give it a few more tries. Camille tells Phoebe in one of the books, “My mom says you taste something the first time to get to know it and then taste it again to become friends with it.”

MUF: Speaking of friends, I love that this book is also about friendship. Phoebe is navigating her old friendship with Sage while making a new friend as well. Do you have any advice for readers who are dealing with the same kinds of changes in their own friendships?

VH: Along with good food, friendship is one of our greatest pleasures in life. But friendship can be a little more complicated than a good meal. Phoebe suddenly finds herself with two close friends and has to figure out how that’s going to work for her. She usually comes to the realization that accepting her friends’ differences, being kind, and being honest is the best way to go. But she doesn’t always take the shortest route getting there. Being accepting, kind, and honest still applies in grown-up friendships too!

MUF: Before you go, can you share a little about the next book in the series, FARM FRESH FUN?

imageVH: I’ve found that one of the best ways to get kids to try something new is having them pick it right out of a garden or cook it themselves. It really empowers them. My kids have gobbled up vegetables they normally don’t love when they’ve picked it out of the ground. They also will eat anything they cook, even something they haven’t wanted to eat when I’ve cooked it alone. It’s so important for kids to connect with food that way. In FARM FRESH FUN, I wanted to have Phoebe experience the thrill of collecting eggs, picking her own spinach, making her own goat cheese, and creating a true farm-to-table lunch. But a day out with Phoebe is always unpredictable and her enthusiasm usually gets the best of her, as it does at the farm, especially when her best buddy, Sage, is involved. 

MUF: Thank you, Veera, for sharing your books (and your love of food) with us!

Readers, Veera’s publisher is offering to give away the first two books in the Phoebe G. Green series to one lucky reader.  Please leave a comment below to be considered.  Only US residents are eligible. Thanks!

And Happy Eating, everyone!

Elissa Cruz eats food.  And she has friends, too.  She is the ARA for SCBWI Utah/Southern Idaho region and cohost of #MGlitchat on Twitter.  She  is happily married to her husband of 19 years, and together they live with their five children.  The husband and children eat a lot food, too, and usually invite their friends along on the adventure. Life is good.