Tag Archives: writing

Memories-Part 1

When I realized my MUF post fell on Veterans Day, I immediately thought I’d create a short blurb about the history of the day and provide a related booklist. Then two things happened. The first thing was that I sifted through MUF’s old posts. Jennifer Swanson beat me to my Veterans Day idea by three years. The second thing that happened was I thought about my grandpa.

1943 US Marine-WWII VeteranMy Grandpa Jagger served in the United States Marines during WWII. He drove a tank and was injured on a battered and bloody beach during the invasion of Saipan in 1944, earning a Purple Heart. Over 60 years later, I sat beside his chair, rested my hand in his, and listened as he shared about his military service.

Up until that day, I hadn’t allowed myself to consider that my grandfather held memories I would lose when he was gone. The only memories that wouldn’t fade would be those held by others. In that moment, I realized I wanted more than my memories of him; I wanted his memories, too. But those memories would soon be grains of sand swept to sea by the tides of time.

Unless I allowed myself to slow down and engage. To listen. To be present.

So that’s what I did.

Today, Veterans Day is the tide that carries those memories back to me, and I find myself reflecting on how my need to engage in the present also applies to my efforts as a writer.

In my fiction, it’s easy to get caught up and swept away in the “reality” of my own creation. However, even a fictional world and characters and events must feel real. They must ring true. To achieve that, I can’t allow myself to get lost in my own mind and musings. I need to pull memories and details and emotions from the very real world around me. I must be a participant in the world and an observer. A giver of truths and a collector. A sharer of memories and a gatherer.

I must take the time to slow down and engage. To listen. To be present.

That’s what I learned from my grandpa.

I hope you come back on Monday to read Part 2 of this post—a booklist of middle-grade novels in which memories (shared, stored, hidden, and lost) play key roles. In the meantime, take this Veterans Day to remember and honor the millions of men and women who have served and continue to serve our nation. And take a moment for memories, too.

To share them.

To build them.

To be present.


T. P. Jagger The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original, free readers’ theater scripts for middle-grade teachers. He also has even more readers’ theater scripts available at Readers’ Theater Fast and Funny Fluency. For T. P.’s 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course, check him out on Curious.com.

Subtext in MG

(For study purposes and maybe a potential future post, I am putting together a list of middle grade books that excel in the use of subtext. Please feel free to add any titles in the comments section that you feel belong on this list. Thanks!) 

We recently had a #MGLitChat on the topic of subtext. I signed up to co-host and was scared to death of this chat. My concern was embedded in the fact I felt I didn’t know enough about subtext and figured I needed to do a lot of research to be able to hold my own. Lo and behold, I harkened back to my own middle school days and didn’t study. Fortunately, I was able to play the comic relief to the intellect of my co-host for the night, Lee Gjertsen Malone. When the chat was over, not only did I feel a whole heckuva lot smarter, but I had a whole new appreciation for subtext, especially in middle-grade literature.

What exactly is subtext? The important part that is not there is what subtext is. The stuff which exists in space between what we perceive and is there without being told or shown it is there. I came across a cool quote from Ernest Hemingway about subtext:

“If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of the movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. The writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”

With the iceberg image painted firmly in our reader and writer mind, we get a solid idea of what subtext is. The words we read in a story are the part floating above the water. The tips of the story icebergs act as the guideposts, while the space in between the guideposts, Hemingway’s 7/8ths, becomes the meaning and character and flavor existing below the surface which makes for a richer narrative. Subtext gives us stories that are more than they appear to be on the surface. Subtext gives us satisfying stories with more of everything.

The four basic types of subtext.

  • Privilege – The reader has information the characters don’t.
  • Revelation – Reveals a certain truth over time.
  • Promise – The story goes the way a story supposed to go and the way the reader expects it to go.
  • Question – As a story advances, the reader begins to ask questions about where the story is going.

K.M. Weiland did a recent Helping Writers Become Authors post and podcast about subtext. It is an excellent resource to assist the writer or the reader through the literary dark forest that is subtext. She presents five steps to work subtext into your writing.  

(1) Story subtext arises from the space between to known, fixed points. The writer builds a framework of dots and lets the reader connect the dots as they read. When the reader connects all the dots, a rich and full story picture emerges. The writer should tell the reader what they need to know, not tell them everything single thing. That’s not very entertaining.

(2) Story subtext must exist below the surface and (3) remain existing under the surface. The writer needs to know the whole iceberg in order to design the tip that paints the picture of the whole iceberg in the reader’s mind with telling every single detail.

(4) Story subtext is created by the dichotomy between the interior and exterior behavior. Once something rises to the exterior, it can no longer be considered subtext. In practice, it’s simply, as K.M Weiland says,  “avoid presenting characters and situations for exactly what they are”.

(5) Subtext exists in the silent spaces. Use your character’s silence to leave out things in order to make sure they don’t tell each other every single thing.

Maybe the most important thing we can do when working on the skill of subtext is to trust the reader. The reader will be able to put together the shape and scope of the submerged story information iceberg. The reader will be able to connect the dots and then put these connections together to reveal the story picture to themselves. Even a middle-grade reader is deserving of this trust and can rock at the art of subtext, as long as the subtext relates to the reader while remaining appropriate for the characters and the story.

Experiment with subtext in your writing. Learn how to spot it being used in your reading. Most of all, learn to trust your reader to connect the dots you place and see the pictures you intended them to see.

That is reading and writing magic.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=730855

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=730855

Nonfiction Books with Diverse Characters–An Interview with Author Annette Bay Pimentel & Giveaway!

Children’s books with diverse characters are in high demand these days. They should be. Every child who reads likes to identify with the character in the book, which means that they need to represent every race, creed, color, and ethnic background. Authors are responding to this need by writing about some AMAZING people who have made great contributions to our world.

2016-head-shot

 

I’m happy to have one of those author with me here today. Annette Pimentel writes picture book- biographies for young middle grade readers. She loves to discover people in the corners of history and then find their stories. She writes nonfiction picture books in Moscow, Idaho.

 

Her book is Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans and Helped Cook up the National Park Service by Charlesbridge Publishing

61fo8vzmuyl-_sx385_bo1204203200_

 

 

The true story of a Chinese American mountain man who fed thirty people for ten days in the wilderness–and helped inspire the creation of the National Park Service.

When millionaire Stephen Mather began his quest to create a national park service in 1915, he invited a group of influential men—writers, tycoons, members of Congress, and even a movie star—to go camping in the Sierras. Tie Sing was hired to cook. Throughout the trip, Tie Sing fed not just the campers’ bodies, but also their minds, reminding them to remember and protect the mountains.

Reviews:

Overall, this pencil and watercolor illustrated and eloquently written account of a Chinese American will satisfy every taste. For any library wishing to enhance its diversity and inclusion collection.
– School Library Journal

A frontier adventure that spotlights one of the many significant roles ethnic Chinese played in American history.
Kirkus Reviews

Paragraphs of straightforward text are more advanced than typical picture books, but the soft, expressive watercolor illustrations, some of which are based on historical photos, are a pleasing accompaniment. Ideal for the classroom, particularly this year, when the NPS celebrates its centennial.
– Booklist

 

 

Annette, thanks for joining me today on the blog. I have a few questions for our readers about your writing process and books.

 

Why narrative nonfiction biographies?

Fictional novels describe how people could be. Nonfiction biographies describe how people really are. I love the shiver of excitement I feel when I read what remarkable real people really did.

How do you choose your subjects for your books?
When I discover something new and immediately want to tell someone about it, I know that I have a promising topic. I’m especially interested in stories that surprise me and suggest that the way I’ve been thinking about the world is askew.

What led you to Tie Sing’s story?
I stumbled on photos of the Mather Mountain Party of 1915 while I was researching something else. I was startled to see in the photos an Asian man posing next to famous government officials and tycoons. I had always assumed that national parks, like other American institutions, were created by powerful white men. The photos suggested I only knew part of the story.

You do not have a Chinese heritage, so how did you make sure to include Tie Sing’s true voice and experiences?
I wish Tie Sing had kept a diary, but he didn’t. To be sure the secondhand descriptions of him were in historical context, I researched race relations in 1915. I also relied on experts like the book’s artist, Rich Lo, who, like Tie Sing, grew up bilingual in Chinese and English. The book’s expert reviewer was Park Ranger Yenyen Chan, who brought to the project deep professional knowledge as well as broad personal knowledge of Chinese American culture.

Can you talk about how important it is to ensure that diverse characters are given a true representation?
It’s important that every character in a piece of nonfiction is represented truly! But it’s extra tricky to accurately represent characters, like Tie Sing, who didn’t leave much documentary trace and who come from a culture different from that of the people who wrote about them. Despite the difficulties—maybe because of the difficulties–those people deserve to have their stories told! Without their stories we are left with an inaccurate picture of our shared history.

You have another book in development which features a Puerto Rican character’s life. Why do you think diverse books like these are important?

Children are in many ways marginalized in our society. I think that every child feels, at times, like an outsider. Stories about unexpected people doing remarkable things reassure and encourage kids that their own lives matter. And, of course, books about women and ethnic and cultural minorities give all of us a more nuanced and true picture of our history.

Tell us a little about how you do your research. How much time do you spend? What type of sources do you look for?
I spend hours and weeks and months on research. I interview my subjects or people who knew them when I can, but usually I rely on archival research—letters, papers, photos, etc. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to find an autobiography. I love the US Census for the quirky information it gives me about my subject. And of course I use academic articles to provide historical context and to answer specific questions that arise as I research.

Why is back matter useful for readers?
Back matter extends my conversation with the reader and allows my book to speak to multiple audiences. Some readers only want the story in the main text. That’s find. But others want more, and back matter provides it. Back matter feels to me like a cozy dialogue, where I as a writer, get to share the fascinating details that didn’t belong in the story.

Anything that you are working on that you would care to share? Other books that we can look for from you soon?
In 2018 Nancy Paulsen Books will publish Girl Running, the story of an amazing female marathoner and in 2019 they will publish Ann Brooks Goes West (with her piano) the story of a feisty pioneer. I also have another book in the works that I’m very excited about, but I have to wait to talk about it.

Can you think of a few other diverse nonfiction books that would be good for young middle grade readers?
I loved Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford for its lyrical language and its sensitive handling of the theme of slavery

61mefqp4fwl-_sx387_bo1204203200_

 

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood for its story of creativity beating back against poverty

6142sav8e-l-_sx258_bo1204203200_

 

and Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game by John Coy for the most inspiring basketball story I’d never heard.

61evoisyzil-_sy417_bo1204203200_

For more great nonfiction picture books for young middle grade readers, including diverse titles, check out Annette’s blog at  annettebaypimentel.com

Annette has graciously offered a giveaway of her new book. To win a signed copy, please leave your name in the comments below.

******Jennifer Swanson is the author of over 25 nonfiction books for kids. Mostly about Science, Technology, and Engineering, because… well, STEM ROCKS!  www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com