Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Links for year-end "best" book lists

Many review sites publish year-end lists which bring books I might not have noticed to my attention. Since I live overseas and can't browse in a bookstore, I rely on word of mouth and lists like these for the books that I buy. (Books make great gifts for birthdays and holidays.)
There are so many books on these lists I want to read!

New York Times 2010 Best Illustrated Children's Books list
This list includes Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan--a great story with wonderful illustrations.

Kirkus: their complete best list.
Here is Kirkus' Fantasy and Science Fiction list. Kathi Appelt's Keeper, a memorable read, is on this list.
And here is a useful link to about 15 other categories, including picture books, graphic novels, historical, animals etc.

School Library Journal's 2010 Best Fiction and Best Picture Books. Keeper is again on this list, as well as Rita William Garcia's One Crazy Summer, both books which I enjoyed.

Also, Publisher's Weekly Best Children's Books 2010.

Fuse #8 at School Library Journal shares her favorite 100 books of the year. I've read several books on her list, including the stunning Palace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams.

It is the time of year to snuggle up with a book, ideally in front of a roaring fireplace (which I don't have in my apartment, but I can imagine it), while the snow falls outside.

Frankfurt Holiday photos

I took all of these photos during the past few days in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

This is part of a window display in the Galleria on the Zeil. All the stuffed animals are moving: the bears sledding, the ducks pulling the sled, and more bears and other animals circling on the ski lift in the back left.
(The Galleria is a great department store with a wonderful bakery, a large chocolate section, a bookstore, and more.)



Downtown Frankfurt. The Römer, Frankfurt's city hall for 600 years, is behind the towering Christmas tree. The tree stands in a large square where part of the Christmas market stands.


I took this next photo in Grüneberg Park.



This is a trail I often walk on here in Frankfurt.



A cafe, open summers, in Grüneberg Park. I like the two snowmen, one standing, one fallen.



I wish the cafe was open in the winter. It would be a great place to grab a cup of hot chocolate and watch the snow fall.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Revision Process Thoughts

Recently, I have been thinking about how I approach revisions for novels and picture books. Each book is different, so each book will have different needs. Though I use some different techniques for picture books than other stories, in most ways my revision process is the same for each book.
While revising, I continually work through these three steps:
1) Sensing or detecting that either something is "off" or that something more is needed.
2) Determining what is needed in each sentence, scene, character arc, plot so #1 will be resolved.
3) Choosing the best techniques to achieve this change, while remembering the needs of the story and characters.
Revision Stages
I find that my revisions pass through several fluid stages. Always, while writing and revising I sense and feel the story. I listen to my instincts and listen to my characters.
>Early revisions (After I’ve written my exploratory draft)
This is where I ask: Who are my characters? What it this story really about? What do my characters really want?
>Mid-early revisions
This is where I experiment and figure out the best way to tell the story, including point of view, tense, and where the story truly begins. I also continue to go deeper into characters during these revisions.
>Mid-later revisions
This is where I craft the story. I examine character arcs; re-examine and adjust plot; add layers to the story; cut and add characters, scenes, chapters. I still make substantial changes at this time.
>Late revisions
This is where I fine tune everything from sentences to chapters to characters.
I might revisit an earlier revision stage after letting a manuscript sit (one of the best things for a book) or after discovering something critical that I need to alter. For example, a little over a year ago, when in some middle-early revisions with River, my YA adventure/suspense novel, I sensed/discovered what was off, chose to change the premise, which meant I deleted everything I had and rewrote a new draft, which brought me again to early revisions.
I have many approaches (essentially revision strategies and techniques) that I use as I revise which help me explore my stories. Also, I find ways to defamiliarize the story, so it feels fresh and new as I work on it.
My revision process requires a lot of rewriting and involves both analytical approaches, instinct, and struggling to find the emotional core of the story.
I wonder how much my revision process will change over time. I will likely find my process evolves as I gain experience and adjust my revision approach for each book.

Monday, October 25, 2010

VCFA Lecture

I'll give my 45 minute long graduate lecture at the January residency of Vermont College of Fine Arts. The lectures, given by faculty and graduating students, are always super high quality. So much of what I've learned during my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, I've learned by attending the lectures.

I turn in my lecture description next week. Here it is.

“WHO AM I?”

CHARACTER ROLES AND IDENTITY

Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle!” exclaims Alice in Wonderland. How does the writer answer the vital question of “Who am I?” when developing characters? I’ll explore how writers can use both internal and external aspects of identity on the page and in the story. I’ll also discuss roles, not stereotypical or archetypical roles, but the everyday, down to earth, nitty-gritty multiplicity of roles and look at how we use roles to influence action and plot when we craft story.


Titles discussed will include Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, Hanging on to Max by Margaret Bechard, Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling, and of course, Alice in Wonderland.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Frankfurt Book Fair 2010

The Frankfurt Book Fair was again wonderful. It wasn't as overwhelming this year as it was last year. (Here is the link to my photos and blog from last year.)

Emily Smith Pearce came to Frankfurt and we spent the day at the fair. She graduated from Vermont College several years ago.
Here is a photo of Emily in the Boyd's Mill booth (it was in the German children's section) with her recently released early reader, Slowpoke, which is on the lower shelf near her hand. She writes about her impressions of the fair at her blog.


I took a lot of photos at the Bologna Book Fair earlier this year, but had been so amazed by the Korean books that I forgot to use my camera, so here is a shelf of Korean books. I would love to be able to buy several of these--preferably in English so I could read the stories. The photo does not do these covers or books justice.


At the Bologna Book Fair, I fell in love with A Big Dream, a book published by Kalandraka, who publishes books for the Spanish speaking world. I made arrangements beforehand with an editor to buy a copy in English so I now have my own copy. Yes, I wanted the book that bad! This is such a delightful book!


I look forward to the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2011!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Link to great essay by Gita Wolf

"The Politics of Voice" by Gita Wolf, publisher of Tara Books, who just spoke at an international IBBY conference, is an important essay. She talks about the importance of giving child readers "variety of perspectives" and "acknowledging a multiplicity of experience" and giving a voice to those who are normally not heard. Her vision of publishing gives both India and the world stunning picture books, as well as celebrates the wide range of experiences and cultures in the world.



Tara Books looks to traditional artists to illustrate some of their wonderful books, such as Do! (the Bologna Ragazzi New Horizons winner), The Night Life of Trees, and I Like Cats! I'm excited to see Tara Book's booth next week at the Frankfurt Book Fair and hope to catch up with Gita. The books she publishes are both works of art and literature.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Banned Book Week

September 25-Oct 2 is Banned Book Week, a week to celebrate our freedom to read and the first amendment.

This freedom is critical. CRITICAL!
Readers need to have freedom to choose to read or not read books.
If we start allowing book banning, it will spread and soon every book will be banned, because someone, somewhere, will find something they don't like about a book.

I agree that parents should be allowed to help their children choose their books, and even opt out of their child reading a specific book. There might be good reasons: if a child has a problem or is getting professional help with something a book might be a trigger that could cause additional problems. But that same book can be exactly what other readers need.

Every reader has a favorite book which has been banned. A few popular and commonly read books: Harry Potter, Bridge to Terabithia, Charlotte's Web, Huckleberry Finn, Fahrenheit 451.

Some links:

ALA on Banned Books Week. This also has a list of banned books.

A map of where banned books and challenges happened from 2007-2010. Kudos to the states who had no bans or challenges: New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Delaware, and Vermont!

Laurie Halse Anderson's book, Speak was recently challenged. (Rape is not pornography.) Her book is a life changing book for so many readers. This book is not a graphic book. Though it is an uncomfortable topic for many, it is a safe book and a place for readers to go for empathy or healing.

Kate Messner, author and teacher, shares her talk which she gives to parents each year about book selection.

Angela Cerrito began a Banned Book Club. It is for adults and she writes, "the main goal of The Banned Book Club is to connect books with teen readers with the consent of their parents!" This is a reading club that I can see spreading throughout communities in the US.

I'm planning on reading a banned book this week.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Castle Hunting and photos

For months I have wanted to "find" this castle:



The castle ruin in Konigstein.

I have seen this castle in the distance, on a hill, when driving from my kids' orthodontist to their school. Last Saturday we went "castle hunting" and wandered until we found it. We did not know what it was called or even for sure what town it was until we got there. What a great ruin. I found the fine detailed herringbone pattern in one outer wall intriguing and wondered why the workers took the effort, as I've never seen that before.
It is fun to imagine the castle and its inhabitants hundreds of years ago.

-----

Not a castle, but there are castle-like passageways (both in construction and feel) underneath the waterfall in the center of this photo.



I saw the waterfall and red autumn colors reflecting in a small lake and I thought it would made a great photo.

I took this photo in Palmengarten, a private botanical garden, near where I live. Map here. Sometimes I take my Mac and sit at a table overlooking this view and write. It has many large tropicariums (large greenhouse type buildings with plants) in addition to the large grounds with numerous gardens.

My stories are influenced by places I've lived or visited. I "feel" the place, or a combination or places, (or my memory of the place) when I'm writing and it imbues a type of emotional sensibility into the setting.

Banned Book Week starts soon. I'll post about it with some links, as soon as I've turned my writing in to my VCFA advisor.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

News and Link Medley

Maha Addasi's newest picture book, Time to Pray, was released a couple days ago. It is a dual language book (English and Arabic) which shares a story of a grandmother teaching her granddaughter to pray when she comes to visit. Some might consider this a book about culture, others a book about the Muslim religion, and though it is both, it is also a book about the love and relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter. This is a book that readers of any faith will enjoy.
Maha recently graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts and we were in workshops together. I'm looking forward to more of her stories.

Metafiction for Children by Phillip Nel, on In Media Res, posted a very short film (4 minutes) which shares some metafiction in children's literature. Metafiction is one of my favorite genres in children's books. One picture book example of metafiction is Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Fusion: The Synergy of Images and Words (and Part 2), posted by Steve McCurry on his blog, shares a wonderful collection of photographs of readers in all sorts of settings. Wow!

Daniel Powers is a guest on Uma Krishnaswami's blog this week, and he shares his insights into the picture book. Powers talks about the Physicality of the Picture book , the interplay of text and images and page turns and the gutter, the Physical Relationship Between Text and Image, and the Conceptual Relationship Between Text and Image. Great information!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Revising: Learning from Lewis Carroll

I am fascinated by how different writers revise.

Lewis Carroll wrote two versions of a book. He wrote (by hand) and illustrated Alice's Adventures Under Ground in 1862. (The link takes you to the book at Gutenberg.org.)
This book was expanded, revised, and published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (illustrations by John Tenniel) in 1866. (The second link takes you to an 1866 copy of Alice which can be downloaded in most formats or read online at Internet Archive.org.)

The first chapter of the Under Ground book is almost identical to the beginning of the Wonderland book. Carroll only changes a couple words, such as "nosegay" into "fan."

There is a noticeable word change in the middle:
The ostrich changes to a flamingo!

Illustration by Lewis Carroll
I wonder why Carroll made this choice when he revised.
What is the difference between playing croquet with an ostrich or a flamingo?
Did he make this change because of the size of the bird?
The color of the bird?
Maybe flamingos are more docile.

Large scale revision is shown in the final chapters of the book. Three pages in the Under Ground book expand into two chapters in the Wonderland book!

When I write an initial story, I write an "exploratory draft." This is where I discover plot and characters; it is later when I revise, that I flesh out the scenes and find the best way to tell the story. This type of loose exploratory draft is what I see in those 3 pages of Under Ground.
It was a delight to discover (without access to all of Carroll's notes) how Alice Adventure's Under Ground was revised into Alice Adventure's in Wonderland. It is worth the time to read the conclusion of both versions and think about Lewis Carroll's revision choices.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Vermont College of Fine Arts Residency and summer travels

College Hall

A few brief highlights from my Vermont College of Fine Arts residency:
I was in a small group workshop which allowed time for other writing craft activities in addition to the normal VCFA workshop/laboratory.
I attended many incredible lectures, which covered a wide range of writing craft issues.
Visiting authors Gregory Maguire and Holly Black came to campus for Fantasy Day.

My next advisor is Martine Leavitt! She writes both fantasy (Keturah and Lord Death, a National Book award finalist) and contemporary young adult novels. She was one of my workshop leaders during my first residency at VCFA and I am excited to work with her again.

This coming semester is my final semester: during the next five months I'll complete my creative thesis and prepare a lecture which I'll give at January residency.

I am now back in Germany, after spending my summer traveling, visiting friends and family. Luckily, I was in Oregon when the wild blackberries were ripe and I enjoyed eating warmed by the sun, juicy, drop in your hand, ripe blackberries. It has been years since I've enjoyed fresh NW blackberries. I checked on my walk yesterday and the German blackberries are just starting to turn black, so I'll be hunting for a good blackberry patch here in Frankfurt.
Here are two photos from my travels: a waterfall in the forest in the Cascade Mountains and sea lions with the Newport bridge in the background at the Oregon Coast.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Book Launch--Kimberley Griffiths Little

I'm in the Unites States right now and was able to attend Kimberley Griffiths Little's book launch for her recently released novel, The Healing Spell. This was the first book launch I've attended, so it was fun for me. Kimberley spoke about the book, explained the research she did, read a few pages, and answered questions. She also shared wonderful pictures that she took of the area where her book is set: Louisiana Cajun country.

Here is Kimberley signing a book, after her presentation.


We were able to chat for a few minutes both before and after. Though I've known Kimberley for a few years, this is only the second time we've been able to meet in person. One of the fun things about traveling is meeting my writing friends.

Here is the official book trailer for The Healing Spell.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

News and Link Medley

Check out this great, must-read article: The Elephant in the Room by Elizabeth Bluemle. She discusses the need for diversity in books. She gives tons of great links and includes wonderful illustrations, which I have already revisited.
Diversity in children's books is a critical topic of conversation. I believe as a greater variety of books become available (diverse books with illustrations and characters which include all cultures and ALL children) we will create more readers and will increase peace, tolerance and understanding.

Hunger Mountain, the literary journal of Vermont College of Fine Arts, has their newest edition available online. Here is the Young Adult and Children's Literature Issue. There is a wide range of articles as well as fiction and poetry to read.

My semester recently finished and I already miss working with my advisor, Kathi Appelt. This has been an incredible and unforgettable semester. I look forward to seeing her in July when I am at the residency on campus in Montpelier, Vermont.

The World Cup is going on. I see lot of flags flying, mostly on cars. Most cars fly German flags, but many fly two flags--one German and one from the driver's country. (It is more fun if rooting for two or three teams.) My kids have been watching some of the games at school, (during class?) and since their school has kids from all over the world (and from almost all of the countries in the Cup) there is lots of patriotism which exhibits itself with face painting and wearing shirts with their respective countries' flag colors in school. I found it interesting that the World Cup theme song is sung in two languages: Spanish and English.

Vermont College of Fine Arts
will have some great visiting authors on campus this summer for residency. Readings by the faculty, visiting authors and graduating students are open to the public. The schedule will be announced before the start of residency in July, and should be available on their website. This is a great opportunity for anyone who is in the Vermont region.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Out of the Way! Out of the Way! by Uma Krishnaswami

Uma Krishnaswami, my friend and one of the faculty (and my previous advisor) at Vermont College of Fine Arts, recently published a new picture book, Out of the Way! Out of the Way! (The illustrator is Uma Krishnaswamy, the artist--their names have one letter different in English; I want to see more books from her.)

I can't express how excited I am about this book. It is incredible.
Also cool-- it is available in many awesome languages.

From Uma's blog: "Chaos and cheerful disorder abound in OUT OF THE WAY! OUT OF THE WAY! as a boy, a tree, and a road all grow together."

A delightful, multi-continent blog tour for this book is the happening thing. I'm looking forward to the interviews, videos, and more. The schedule of the blog tour is at Tulika Books blog.
Uma will also post links on her blog, Writing with a Broken Tusk, each day.

Out of the Way! Out of the Way! is available from Tulika Books for $6.50.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I'm giving a Writing Workshop

I'm giving a half day writing workshop this coming Saturday (June 12th) in Heidelberg for SCBWI Germany.

"Rhythms of the Picture Book" is an intensive, hands on opportunity for writers and illustrators to learn the fundamentals of crafting picture books in a small workshop environment. (Maximum twelve participants.)

I'll cover the essential elements of picture books, typical and atypical narrative structures, page turns, plus writing and revising techniques including dummies and storyboards. The title of the workshop refers to the variety of contrapuntal rhythms which are found in the unique form of the picture book. The half day workshop, which is limited to twelve people, will be jam-packed with information, discussions, and exercises.

I'm looking forward to Saturday. It will be fun to discuss picture books with other writers in Heidelberg, a beautiful city.

Please contact me if you want more information.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pop Up and Movable Books

The Smithsonian Library opens an exhibit at the National Museum of American History on June 14th. Fold, Pull, Pop and Turn will feature books--many of them picture books. This exhibit includes examples from some of the best paper engineers, including historical favorites such as Lothar Meggendorfer and many contemporary designers. The exhibit will be open until Fall 2011.

A brilliant blog shares the exhibit for those who can't visit in person. Be sure to click on the link and check it out. Their October blog has a nice slideshow of many of the books.

Another resource: University of North Texas has a wonderful online website: Pop up and Movable Books: a tour through their history. If you draw your mouse over the pictures, you will see the movement that occurs on the page if you were to pull the tab.

Books with movable parts have been around for centuries. They are designed for adults as well as children, for instruction as well as for enjoyment.
Movable book are also published in other parts of the world.

Tulika Books in India recently published Home, a stand up book with opening panels. Their website explains that this book adapts one traditional storytelling method. More about this book can be found here (an explanatory review) and here on Uma Krishnaswami's blog where she gives information about the Storyteller's box and embeds a fascinating video.

Another Indian publisher, Tara Books, makes a scroll-book, Tsunami. This book uses Patua art, and is printed by hand. The description says that this is the "first time a Patua scroll has been rendered into the form of a book." This video from Tara books demonstrates this book.

All the photos of movable books make me want to hold them and play with each page. I just pulled my copy of Nur Für Brave Kinder by Meggendorfur from my bookshelf and again enjoyed the tabs that transform each picture.

I hope I can find a way in the next year to get to Washington DC to see the Smithsonian's new exhibit.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Syntax (word order) or how to get surprises in a foreign country

Occasionally when I’m speaking in a foreign language, I don’t say what I thought I said.

Yesterday some of my family visited the castle and old city in Bad Homburg.
Here are a couple photos I took:


We stopped for a snack at a small café just a few meters down the hill from the castle.
I thought I asked for chocolate ice cream. But because I reversed the position of two words I got ice cold chocolate milk, with vanilla ice cream scoops inside it, and whipped cream on top. I was surprised when they brought it out to my table. Eis Schokolade is excellent, so it was a good mistake to make.


Syntax, or where words are placed in a sentence, is critical. It not only changes meaning, but can create voice, atmosphere, and tone. It can also mean that you get an eis schokolade instead of ice cream in a cup.

Monday, May 17, 2010

News and Link Medley (and link to free e-book)

If you go here, (Children's Book Council Website) you can download a wonderful essay, part of an e-book project, written by Katherine Paterson (National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.) It is free until May 24th.

Blogs:
Kathi Appelt has started blogging! Check it out. Her first post introduces us to her cats and her writing studio.

Recently published books to look for:

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan
Sisters and sibling rivalry, birthday parties, cultural understanding. The real story behind the story (the actual story and the writing of it) can be found here.
Guess which character is Rukhsana.



I love picture books. I'm glad I bought this picture book!
(I usually buy novels--as my my teens enjoy reading them.)

Keeper by Kathi Appelt
What an awesome cover.

I look forward to reading this, as soon as I get my copy. She is my advisor this semester (of course I'm biased). I'll get her to sign my book when I see her this summer.



Thief Eyes by Janni Lee Simner

Fantasy, Iceland, sagas and Norse myths all combine in one book.
An incredible book. Janni creates real characters, and page turning plots. Plus, I could see the locations in my head when I was reading--she accurately describes real places in Iceland.




Palace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams

An attic, 3 girls, a journal--great middle grade novel, both contemporary and historical. I love the voice and the way the main character comes up with such fun and unique names for colors.






Shadow by Jenny Moss

Fantasy. This book was like chocolate; it was like curling up with my favorite comfort food. What a delight. I love this genre of fantasy.






Panthan's Crucible by Meredith Wood

Paranormal (admittedly not my favorite genre), but this is a story I enjoyed. A lot. Great characters and plot. Those who love fantasy and paranormal will love this book. A sequel is in the works. Hurray!!!




Faithful by Janet Fox

I've not read this book yet, but it is on my list for the next time I order books. This is historical fiction, set in Yellowstone Park.





Is it better when I include the covers?

Multilingual Publishing and translation

Uma Krishnaswami on her blog shared the following link from Tulika Books about multilingual publishing. (I look forward to Uma's upcoming posts about translation.)

"Multilingual Publishing - Walking the Tightrope" is a great slide show which discusses language, culture, translation and the importance of multilingual publishing in children's books.
I was so impressed with this slide show, that I wanted to share it.


I love reading translated books (or the books in the original language) that are published all over the world. I love browsing through the Frankfurt and Bologna Book Fairs and dreaming about buying and reading so many incredible books that are not available in English or in the US. A picture book or novel lets me explore and access a culture in wonderful ways. The only way I can have that experience in an even closer manner, is to live within that culture.

I believe it is essential to expand our reading to include books from other cultures and books that are written in other languages and to also share these books with children. We need greater cultural understanding and respect and peace and one way readers can gain shared experiences is within story, and in the pages of books.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Castles--Exploring Mosel River Valley

I wanted to share a few photos of a recent day trip I took with my family. Some day, I think, perhaps I'll write a story set in a castle.

Thurant Castle. (13th century) This one has a 3 bedroom vacation apartment available, next to the tower on the right. I'd love to stay in this castle for a few days.

Some small plants and flowers grew on the top of the tower. This photo also shows some nice details of the stonework.


These stones now decorating the garden are the same that were used in catapults.


Ehrenburg. (1120) This fortress is just a few miles away from the one above.


Look at the details around this door. The carving in the stone is spectacular. It made me wonder what the castle looked like 300 years ago, when it was still in pristine condition.


Detail of the stone work on the upper tower.

I've been in a few places where there were paintings on the walls and ceilings that were 500-800 years old, that also had tile floors that were at least that old. I imagine that the nicer rooms in these castles were also decorated in a similar manner.

We visited several other castles on the same day we visited these two. But one was undergoing renovations and photos were not allowed inside. One was ruins. And the other, though very old, wasn't nearly as impressive.

What I look for when I go through a castle is unexpected details.
That is also what makes writing and reading fun--the unexpected details of plot, characters and setting.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

MFA Thesis

I turned in my thesis this month. Hurray! It is nice to have this big project completed.

The title of my thesis is "Character Identity: Role Development in Crafting Narrative."
In my thesis I examine how roles help a writer create multi-dimensional characters and strengthen plot. I plan to use my thesis as the basis for my graduating student lecture which I'll give next January on campus.

We have two theses in my MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts: a critical thesis and a creative thesis.

Next semester is my creative thesis. My creative thesis will be the young adult thriller that I've been working on for a couple semesters. (I've also written picture books, short stories, and nonfiction in my MFA program as I've learned all I could about writing for children.) I am currently revising it using feedback from my advisor, Kathi Appelt.

I love the way Vermont College works and the intense mentoring I get from great teachers.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Warriors in the Crossfire


It is a privilege to host Nancy Bo Flood on her blog tour. She is an award winning author of Navajo Year, Walk Through Many Seasons, and Sand to Stone, the Life Cycle of Sandstone. Nancy is a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her newest book, Warriors in the Crossfire is a wonderful historical novel which allows the reader to enter a story about another culture and time.
(All photos courtesy of Nancy Bo Flood.)

Kathi Appelt said, "Nancy Bo Flood's novel casts a bright light on one of the forgotten shadows of World War II, the near total devastation of Saipan and the native people who lived there. Joseph's story forces us to pay attention, to see war itself as an event that affects more than the opposing forces and illuminates its darkest corners.
I'll be telling everyone I know about it . . .”

I asked Nancy several questions related to writing about a different culture. She also shares a couple photos of her favorite places on Saipan.

Q: Warriors in the Crossfire is a great example of how a writer can accurately portray a foreign culture. What resources did you use to insure accuracy as you show the culture on Saipan?

A: Research begins with books and libraries but it is more than reading. You need to experience the culture. Listen, observe, feel the pace and rhythm of the culture…taste their foods, and when appropriate, ask questions.

We lived on Saipan for many years. I swam with the turtles – and the sharks. I paddled out across the reef, got scared to death as sharks circled our kayak. I slipped out of my kayak in the deep sea beyond the reef and was terrified. That’s what Kento felt and it was no fun. Having the shadow of a shark slide over you is terrifying. It was also part of my research, though not one I had planned.

I sat with people on the beach, watched the waves as we talked, watched people catch octopus and bite off their sharp beaks and share the fresh delicacy. We sat, shared food and shared stories. They told me about surviving the war, about their brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers who did not survive. They told me about the terrible thirst, the confusion, the smells – the horrid stink of war.

I helped Filipe and Joe Ruak with the dance group, which often mean driving around in a bumpy old jeep or pick-up truck and picking up dancers from school sports. I watched as young boys put down their cell phones and i-pods and transformed from contemporary to traditional as they picked up their warrior sticks and began to chant, faster and faster, hitting their sticks, twirling and leaping, with the skill, strength and dexterity of a fine athlete. I hiked with kids up the rugged volcanic slopes, bloodied my knees, walked into sticky spider webs, and paused to watch a kingfisher snatch a gecko and swallow it whole. That was research too.

I spent hours in the archives of the Saipan library, read books written about their island, their people, their culture. I watched archived footage of the invasion, talked with veterans, both Japanese and American. I learned every time I helped at the Senior Citizen Center. I spent time sitting with women as they cooked, watched children, or studied for a chemistry test. We spent even more hours at the archives and museums on Guam and the Bishop Museum in Hawaii. The old manuscripts of the Germans and Spanish were very helpful.

Read it, live it, ask it. Then listen, listen, listen. Keep collecting images, sounds, smells, ideas, information.

Q: At the end of the book in the historical note you include both a quote from a memorial at the Suicide Cliffs: “May we live together in peace” and one of your poems, titled, “To See, Peace.” Your story deals with two cultures which are at odds with each other during a time of war and occupation: the island natives and the Japanese. Did writing about two foreign cultures create additional challenges with either your research or writing?

A: As a college student I had lived and studied in Japan, first becoming somewhat fluent in the language. I am an admirer of Japanese art, visual and literary. On Saipan I enjoyed a renewal of hearing the Japanese language for many of my students were Japanese as well as local Chamorro and Carolinian. I tried to show in Warriors that there are no good guys or bad guys, but people doing what they need to do, or are ordered to do, to survive. I tried to show the contrast in cultural values that became a threat to the boys’ friendship. In our multicultural world we live with a plethora of cultural values and it is our challenge to respect and to learn from differences, not hang on to what we know and understand.

Q: Saipan is a place that many readers will not have heard of before reading your book. The setting is vivid and specific with details including descriptions of many landscapes, in particular the lagoon, the caves and the cliffs. How long did you live in Saipan? Which settings in the book have you visited? Were any of the places in the book favorite places of yours to visit?

A: Our family first traveled to Saipan to work for one year but stayed for ten. I loved the ocean. We swam and kayaked and scuba-dove in the lagoon, we climbed the cliffs and looked for “war stuff.” Evidence of the War is everywhere -- rusting tanks, canteens, sake bottles. We explored dark and smelly caves. I guess we experienced everything we could, even the sharks.

My favorites?? A small island in the lagoon, Managaha Island - the kind of island kids imagine - tiny, surrounded by beach, full of coconut palms. And also full of old bunkers and a very large destroyed Japanese gun. This island is special to the Carolinian people as the traditional burial site of their first great chief. When canoes from those islands visit Saipan, they stop on Managaha first to pay respect.

Another favorite was Forbidden Island, a place…forbidden to the faint of heart….a hard to find place on the rugged coast where a small hidden cave gave us a secret view of the ocean.


Q: The story includes a scene where characters are forced to dance for the Japanese, which brings up the importance of showing respect for cultural traditions. What aspects of the culture in this story are still alive and can be seen today?

A: Most of the cultural traditions described still exist. The families living on Satawal (one of the outer islands of Yap) and Polowat (one of the outer islands of Chuuk) are the close relatives of those living on Saipan today. Frequent traditional canoe voyages bring clan members the 500+ miles from these islands to Saipan and back. Stick dance, language, clothes, clan traditions, foods -- all are still similar to what you read in the story. The Carolinian cultures, both Rafalawasch ( “inside the reef”, those from the main islands of Yap) and Rapaganoor (from the outer islands, literally “beyond the reef”) are still intact and thriving. While those living on Saipan appear more “Westernized”, they are still very proud of their culture.

Q: A fun question. Food shows up at various times in the story: coconuts, breadfruit, bananas, boiled rice inside banana leaves, crab, octopus and more. I miss food from each country I’ve lived in. What food do you miss from Saipan?

Mangoes! Sweet, ripe mangoes. We would bring an armful of mangoes to the beach, peel and eat. Nothing like sitting in the sand, listening to the surf, licking my lips and then diving head first into a wave.

Finger bananas or we called them juicy-lucy bananas. They are the size of fat fingers and taste s like a tangy mix of peach and tangerine.

Soft young coconut. What is that? We think of coconut as dry and flaky but the hard white meat is only one stage in the maturing of the meat inside a coconut. In a green coconut the layer of “meat” is soft white “jelly” that is sweet and slimey. This is a good food for young infants. In a mature old coconut this meat has dried up and look like an “egg.” This egg is the seed and food for a new coconut to grow. It is also a delicious treat, something like a salad.

Q: Why did you write this story?

A: Sarah, this question has continued to haunt me. A tough question, it has been an important one for me to think, think, think about.

First there is the joy of discovery. Yes, like a kid finding a special rock, I want to share my delight. Writing my earlier book, Sand to Stone, was an expression of this delight. Look world, rocks are amazing! I have learned so much from rocks.

Perhaps the deeper reason I write, especially why I wrote this book, is the sorrow and sadness I saw. From loss. From war. Often those who are in the middle of loss have also lost “their voice of protest.”

My own loss began when I was a child. My younger sister died when I was seven. I lost my family to grief for a long time, but then we returned. How does a person return from sorrow to healing and hope?

When I arrived on Saipan I saw this beautiful island and I also saw the tanks rusting in the lagoon. As part of my work there, I assisted in developing resources for families whose children had disabilities. One cause was from the continued contamination of chemicals left over from the war. Our war. We did not even clean up our mess.

War destroys. Many stories tell of the heroism and courage, and yes, the compassion and kindness, that soldiers and citizens show during times of war. But war destroys – it takes families, childhoods, communities and even futures. I did not describe the fire-bombing or the flame-throwing, the caves where school girls hid, were afraid to come out, and were burned. I did not describe the mothers who hung themselves in despair because all their children had died.

I also wanted to express how people continue to survive, continue to forgive and to heal, to rebuild. What I think I learned was that for the soul to survive loss, the traditions of family, community and all that is part of culture – food, art, weaving, dance, singing, and a connection with our past, our ancestors - is essential. In this story, Joseph survives war because of what his father has given him. One gift was the gift of dance, and through dance a connection to his history.

We learn through story. With accuracy and respect, sensitivity and compassion, I hope to share stories that open windows and hearts. I love that quote that is inscribed on a memorial at Saipan’s Suicide Cliff: “Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” Books can light that candle.

Other stops on Nancy's blog tour include interviews with the editor, publisher, cover designer, and a Saipan stick dancer, in addition to more interviews with Nancy Bo Flood.

I’ll add the direct links each day when they are posted.

March 25 Julie Larios in The Drift Record posts a wonderful interview and discussion about the poetry in the book.

April 11 Debbie Gonzales posts a review on Simple Saturday

April 12 Diane White who interviews Stephen Roxburgh, publisher and founder of Namelos.

April 13 Diane White also posts a wonderful interview with Joseph Ruak, about Saipan and the Talabwogh Men Stick dances.

April 14 This interview on Explorations

April 15 Jacket Knack and their interview with the cover designer, Helen Robinson.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A few photos and link to my guest blog post on Jacket Knack


A sign of spring--a swan sitting on a nest. I took this photo when I was traveling last week.

I was a guest blogger a few days ago on Jacket Knack. My post includes some of my favorite covers that I saw at the Bologna Children's Book Fair. If you want to read my post click here.

The photos I posted on the guest blogs showed the fair and books and authors. I also took other photos. Here is one photo which shows the typical architecture in downtown Bologna.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Guest Blogging from Bologna Book Fair

I'm guest blogging this week, from Bologna.
I'll be posting every day, Monday through Friday, in Through the Tollbooth, so come visit me there.

Here are the links to each post:

Bologna Book Fair--a rights fair for children's books. (Monday)

SCBWI Bologna Symposium, a conference for writers and illustrators held the day before the fair. (Tuesday)

Bologna Book Fair--International Book Awards and Dueling Illustrators. (Wednesday)

Bologna Book Fair--Halls, events and book sightings. (Thursday)

Bologna Book Fair--Illustrators, International Youth Library and book sightings. (Friday)

I had a wonderful time. Hope you enjoy my posts.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Books that accurately depict the culture

I recently read two incredible books that stunned me with how well they capture the culture of the characters on the page.

The two books I read are Blessing's Bead by Debby Dahl Edwardson and Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan. (Khan blogs at Khanversations.)

Blessing's Bead is set in Alaska in the Inupiaq culture and Wanting Mor is set in Afghanistan. Both liberally sprinkle foreign words in the text, but the reader will never be confused. Both books let me experience culture and life I am unfamiliar with.


Writers often talk about setting. Culture includes setting and characters and action. It is vitally important to get the culture correct, as readers will believe that details inside fictional stories are fact.


In both of these books, each author is very familiar with the culture depicted and has lived either within the culture or has much of the same cultural background. Both authors asked those who live inside the culture they depict to read their stories so everything would be accurate. (Mentioned on their acknowledgment pages.)

I strongly recommend both of these books. They are extremely well crafted, and tell good stories about realistic characters.

I have lived in six very different cultures, ranging from Brazil to Finland to China. Because of my experiences I appreciate books that accurately deal with a variety of cultures, books that allow readers to travel somewhere they can't go in real life.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

News and Link Medley

First off, my interview with Gita Wolf, publisher of Tara Books, is up on Cynsations, Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog. Tara Books is an incredible publishing company in India. I love their books, which happily are available worldwide. I'll get to meet Gita Wolf at the Bologna Book Fair later this month!

Fuse #8, the way cool, awesome NYC librarian, ran another book poll. She blogs on School Library Journal. Librarians, readers, and writers sent her their top 10 and she compiled the choices. She is sharing them on her blog, plus she adds interesting background information and lots of cover photos. She is at #35 to #31 in her countdown. Scroll down to links to the other posts of top 100 books. I've already found a few books I somehow missed reading that I plan to add to my reading pile.
What will the top 10 be?

Her top 100 picture books poll from 2009 can be found here.

Blogs--
A delightful, award winning author's new blog: Khanversations by Rukhsana Khan, a daily blog. Drop by and say "hi."

New books to look for, mostly released this month:

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. (I got this one for my birthday this month. That made me happy.)

Feeding the Sheep, a great picture book by Leda Schubert. (Sheep, wool, great story and great illustrations.)

Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson (I heard Varian read from this at VCFA. He's a wonderful writer. He is on a blog tour this week. Here is a link to one of the stops at Gwenda Bond's blog and a link to another great blog tour interview at newport2newport on livejournal))


The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (I'm hearing so many good things about this book.)

Benno and the Night of Broken Glass, a picture book by Meg Wiviott. (Benno is a cat. This book deals with the holocaust, through the cat's eyes.)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Frankenstein Castle-- Thoughts on Character and Setting

When I wander, or flaneur-- the more accurate word I learned from Julie Larios (a poet and advisor at Vermont College), I sometimes think about setting and characters; how they are interrelated in story.
A character placed in another setting often means a very different story.
A good writing exercise (as well as an interesting way to get to know your character better) is to place the character in a different setting and write a scene.

Recently I visited Frankenstein Castle ruins which are near Darmstadt, Germany. The castle was built in the 1200's. Additions were added over the centuries; the towers are more recent than the walls and main structure. The castle is now in ruins, but the very small castle chapel (says 1556 in a stone on the outside) is still in good shape. The stunning floor tiles appeared to be from an earlier time period.

Many will connect this castle with Mary Shelley and her Gothic novel, Frankenstein. The castle is not actually connected with Shelley or the story. But the story was in the back of my mind when we wandered. It was a cold, foggy day--perfect atmosphere for visiting ruins.

Here are a few photos:


I wonder what the castle looked like 500 year ago.
It is fun to imagine.

The floor in the chapel

(If you happen to be in Germany for several weeks around Halloween, you could visit Burg Frankenstein for entertainment. (Sorry, the link is in German.) There is a restaurant on the premises, outside the castle walls.)

Place or setting can help build our stories. Setting can mold our characters. In some books setting is a character, such as in my WIP (work in progress). This novel, which is set in Brazil, could not take place in a different place.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Blank Page

You know, some days it is hard to face a Blank Page.

Writing is lots of things.

Most of all I think Writing is Courage.

With some Play and Hard Work mixed in.

Five Practices which Feed my Creative Writing

Write. Write and write and write. And write some more. Write on days when writing flows. Write on days when writing is hard and words are elusive.
Remember. Both types of days are good writing days.

Read. I read books both of the type I write and the type I don’t. I keep an annotated bibliography for my MFA program, where I note a few craft techniques that I admire in each book. I plan to continue this after I graduate because it helps me read more deeply.

Learn from other writers. Classes, critique groups, discussion boards, a mentor. Right now I'm in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Help other writers. This is a win-win practice. When we help other writers that means there will be more good books in the world. Plus, I find that when I help other writers, such as when I critique their stories, I learn--and in the process I become a better writer.

Critical analysis. This is less scary than it sounds. It doesn’t need to be as formal as a paper or the essays I wrote for my MFA. It can be as simple as a question of how to best write some aspect of our story. Then we can look at how other writers tackle writing craft. I'm doing more critical analysis than normal as I write my thesis this semester.

As I look at this list I realize that all of these practices are part of what I do in my MFA program. The synergy of writing, reading, mentoring, being mentored and thinking critically help as I write my stories.

As I write this I realize there are other things I do. Walks. Hikes. Nature. Sunshine. I often go on a walk when I feel stuck. Seeing things, going new places, visiting museums, wandering around, meeting people, hanging out with friends and family and other writers. All feeds my writing.

Living life fully, in addition to the practices I mention above--is the best thing for my creative work.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Writing Influences

Recently my thoughts have wandered to the many writers who have influenced my writing. Many writers, more than I can list, have helped my writing grow and expanded my horizons of how and what I write.

As I was thinking about who has influenced my writing, I wondered who influenced these writers. After all, those who influenced them, also exert an influence on me.

I asked three writers (who influence me and my writing) about who influences their writing. Here are their responses.
I loved hearing what they had to say and hope you do too.

Uma Krishnaswami writes picture books (such as Monsoon) and middle grade novels (Naming Maya). She has a wonderful blog.
"I read Rumer Godden's novel, The River, when I was about 13. Before that, it had never once occurred to me that it was possible to write a story in English and set it in India. I'd never read anything like it. Harriet in the novel was nothing like me, but in some odd way I could recognize the spaces she inhabited. Beyond a doubt, Rumer Godden was the writer who gave me permission to write.

"I grew up reading Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dickens, Hardy, George Eliot, P.G. Wodehouse. What a motley combination! Reading and rereading every book we had in the house. I think I was learning about the shape of story. Later on I read Indian novelist and short story writer R.K. Narayan, whose marvelous fictional town of Malgudi had a specific kind of resonance that I'm still trying to work out, and Ruskin Bond whose loving depiction of India's hill country is nothing short of inspirational.

"Throw Salman Rushdie into that mix--not his adult novels, but Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which is about as perfect a fantastic fable as I can think of. I'm delighted to hear that there is now going to be a sequel. Rushdie's essays have greatly informed how I think about my refusal to choose, my sense that one shouldn't have to make cultural choices in writing, but instead let all one's influences combine, even when the combinations seem odd ones."
Margaret Bechard writes middle grade and young adult fiction. (Her books include Hanging onto Max.)
“I think I would say, first of all, and kind of obviously, I've been influenced by every book and every story I've read. Or had read to me. We had a set of "classic" children's books when I was little . . . and my mom read those out loud to me when I was like five or six. So Black Beauty. Alice in Wonderland. Heidi. And then I read a lot myself. Good stuff: the Narnia books, Winnie the Pooh, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island, Alice in Wonderland . . . But a lot of not so great stuff, too: Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and Enid Blyton's Adventure books--I loved those books--and all the Black Stallion books. And then of course all the stuff you read as you get older and become an English major.

"Another influence for me has been my critique group. I joined when I was just starting out. I hadn't published anything. I'd barely ever finished anything. But meeting with this group of wonderful writers--Susan Fletcher, Ellen Howard, David Gifaldi, Carmer Bernier Grand, Eric Kimmel, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, to name just a few of them--having them comment on my writing and listening to their stories, made me a better writer. They kept me honest. They gave me something to aspire to. They kept me writing.

"And I have to say that I really think another big influence has been my kids. Partly because they gave me story ideas--as Katharine Patterson says, they gave me something to write about. But also because I think in some ways I wrote for them. I wanted to capture a bit of them on the page, maybe? Before they grew up and slipped away? But also, I had their voices in the back of my head. I was trying to write something they might want to read.”
Rose Green writes young adult fantasy novels.
“I'd say that Madeleine L'Engle is a huge influence because interesting stuff happens to relatable characters, and at the same time, there's meat that means something. And, she wrote back to me when I was in 9th grade and had to write to someone who did what I wanted to do when I grew up. Just a few lines on the back of a brochure, but it meant a lot. Also, JK Rowling, even though I was an adult when her first book came out. She is the genius of all plot! And in a general sense, I'm very much influenced by the many mysteries I read as a kid. (Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden, and moving up to the adult Dorothy Sayers.) Not great literature (with the exception of Sayers, whose writing I love for many reasons), but they gave me a sense of structure. I find that my mind always wants to put a mystery in whatever I write, as well as dropping in magic somehow.”