Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kimberley Griffiths Little: setting, characters and book trailers

Kimberley Griffiths Little is the author of five middle-grade novels. The Healing Spell was a Bank Street College Best Books (2011) and won the 2010 Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel. Her most recent book is Circle of Secrets.  Kimberley once had 6 weeks to write and revise and submit a novel to her editor.

[Sarah] How do you approach writing when you first get an idea for a story?
[Kimberley] When I first get the initial inklings of an “Idea”, it just attacks me. For instance I’m sitting at my desk travelling the many wonders of the inter-webs when *SMACK*! An “Idea” for a new project hits me right in the face and plum near knocks me off my chair. After I recover (and get an ice pack for my resulting black eye), I find my “Notebook” or a piece of paper and start writing down my Idea. Now because I have a life, (and kids and a husband and a house to clean and cats… :/ ) I usually just write down the Idea and then let it simmer on the back burner of my brain stove while I go about my daily activities. When I get my next “Idea” (I managed to dodge this idea from hitting me in the face but it did clip my shoulder), I go and I write it in that same notebook and let it simmer for a while. My next idea (which gut punched me) I write it down and I just continue to do this until I think I have it all down (which usually results in me needing to get a massage to work out all the inevitable kinks).

Note: these head-smacking Ideas are all for the same Big New Fancy-Schmancy Novel, but I will get hit with little pieces of the characters, the twists and turns of the plot as well as the climax or the emotional core of the story over a period of many weeks or months.

Once I have a Notebook – or my head – filled up with Ideas, I transfer all these notes onto 3x5 cards which I then lay out on a table of the floor and rearrange in various orders. Once I’m ready to write, I dive in and start fattening the Ideas with words to make them all nice and fluffy (like sheep) and I put it all in a Word document called a Manuscript.

[Sarah] How do you find your characters? As you revise, what do you do to deepen your characters?
[Kimberley] Well, my characters often find me. They just walk up to me when I’m doing any of my daily activities and introduce themselves. They give me a big ole hug and greet me like I am an old friend who has just been gone for a little while. Then they move in. They come in with all their stuff and a couple of suitcases and they make themselves at home. They eat my food in the middle of the night, they watch my TV during all hours of the day, and they take my cars and go travelling all over my neighborhood and they even sleep in my Bed!  My Bed!!! 

Then when they realize that I’m going insane watching them wreck my house and life, they come over to me and pour out their hearts and souls and tell me all their darkest desires and secrets and deepest dreams—all while sitting at the table drinking a nice cup of cocoa and me writing furiously in my notebook. Then they thank me for the “Wonderful Visit” and they go back to their own little world where they live their lives through my writings.

[Sarah]  The setting permeates through your writing. You recently discussed “deepening character with setting” on Cynsations. What craft techniques, besides description, do you use when writing and revising to make the setting a character?

[Kimberley] Me and my setting have a “date” so it can try to woo me.  I get dressed up nice and fancy and go to pick up my setting in my car and we go out to dinner. Then the whole evening is filled with my Setting talking to me about its great characteristics and then it butters me up with telling me just how I could write about it and make us both shine in the spotlight. Then it whisks me away to show me all of its wonderful sights and history and hidden nooks and crannies, and it makes me fall for it over and over again. When I get home, I’m still hungry for more so I spend weeks and months reading everything I can get my hands on about my setting, jotting down all of its lovely secrets and small and wonderful aspects in my Notebook. Or you might say that I do a big research trip, fall madly in love with the setting and just write passionately about it. Either way it works ;-)

[Sarah]  You have some great book trailers. What steps did you take to make your last book trailer?

[Kimberley] First I write a Script. Once the book is written, I write the script—or try to—about a year in advance of publication. It gets rewritten a bunch and I say it out loud to get the words and phrasing and timing right. Then I let it sit in my computer file because I got distracted by this chocolate covered Peep that just kept calling my name and teasing me all over the house.

About nine months pass and I remember that I have a book that is about to be published and I need to make a book trailer for it—because I ADORE book trailers, I really do. SO I rush to my computer and find my file that I emailed to my fantastically talented friends who makes Book Trailers for a living (Nua Music, although they mostly write music and do amazing Sound Design). Then I start screaming and hollering and otherwise just freaking my head off because I need a book trailer done soon and all I have is a script and some pictures or video that I managed to take during past research trips to the area—and how am I going to make The Best Book Trailer of the Year out of just that??!!
*commence hysterical crying*

Finally, I pick myself up off the bed (where I had dramatically thrown myself to cry), call my friend and tell her what’s up. And she takes over! Cindy-Rae gets all the items I’ve collected for the trailer and she and her son start working, writing music, taking more pictures and finding a wonderful family from the bayou to do all the voice-over’s and pose for more pictures and they manage to make all of the Trailer an Over-all Delicious Delight. I’m asked for my opinions quite often and we are up to the middle of many late nights but after many questions and debates we finally arrive at something Marvelous! And Tah Dah!
 Circle of Secrets book trailer

[Sarah]  Which authors have inspired you?

[Kimberley] This is such a brain-freeze question! I love so many authors and many new authors and debut authors inspire me to work harder. The very first writer’s conference I ever went to was a small affair in Santa Fe, New Mexico eons and eons ago and at that point I had never met another writer before in my life, let alone a published author, let alone some of my favorite authors. I was so overwhelmed after the two-day conference was over that I went home and cried for a week. It was such an emotional time and confirmed to me that this was what I wanted to do with my life (I’d been writing since I was a kid) and I felt like I had found my *tribe*. The authors who spoke that weekend were Richard Peck, Lois Duncan, Steven Kellog, and Rosemary Wells. And they didn’t’ just *speak* from afar. Since the group was less than one hundred people there was a lot of one-on-one time with them. We had meals with them and Rosemary Wells was critiquing everyone’s stuff for free and letting us sit in the “living room” and ask questions and she talked and talked and talked. It was simply marvelous. 

[Sarah] What are your writing snacks?

[Kimberley] A local delicacy known to heighten the senses and Stimulate the Writing Capabilities of any who will answer its Siren Call: Chocolate. Or some homemade chocolate chip cookies. Lots of Homemade cookies.

Thanks, Kimberley, for a great interview! Be sure to check out her blog. You may also want to read her process and be inspired by her 3x5-card-plotting-method.

Celebrating Picture Book Month

I wanted to join in the fun and also celebrate picture books this month.
November is picture book month, and readers, librarians, and writers are celebrating all over the internet. Check out the great picture book month website and read the daily blogs posts written by "picture book champions."

One of the things I love about picture books is they are such a delight to share and read aloud. Picture books are for all ages, infants to adults. My parents read books to me when I was young, and I read to my kids. I even occasionally read picture books to my teenagers; some books beg to be shared. (We couldn't stop laughing when I read Ned Mouse Breaks Away, by Tim Wynne-Jones, to them.)

I've even read picture books a few times to my kids in college, over Skype--this was when I discovered a few incredible picture books during my MFA program that I wished we had read when they were young. (Bark, George! by Jules Feiffer and May I Bring a Friend? by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers.)

We wore out favorite picture books with our frequent readings. I taped pages back into (and sometimes bought a second copy) of many books, including Jamberry, by Bruce Degen; Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson; and Freight Train, by Donald Crews. I taped covers back on. I accidentally taped the cover back onto the spine of The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear, by Audrey and Don Wood, so the cover was upside down and at the back. It didn't matter--we read it again and again, until pages fell out second and third times.

Some picture books can be read in a few minutes, while story picture books, such as Big Bad Bruce, by Bill Peet (which I've read at least 50 times out loud, as it was one son's favorite for a year) take almost thirty minutes. Yes, I had to tape this book back together too.

Some of my most vivid, emotional reading experiences came while reading picture books. The Arrival, by Shaun Tan, perfectly captured my experience (bewilderment, fear, amazement, adjustment) of moving to a foreign land where I couldn't understand anything or read a word.

I found spending a semester studying picture books at Vermont College of Fine Arts  helped me with my novel writing. I discovered new favorites as I read hundreds of picture books--books ranging from The Tragical Death of an Apple Pie--an ABC book from 1840 and Struwwelpeter--a groundbreaking Germany picture book (1845), to the classics, metafiction, and as many Caldecott Award and honor books that I could find.

Each year, I buy picture books for myself, my family, and friends. I love discovering newly written picture books. Recent ones I read and love include Big Bouffant, by Kate HosfordBig Red Lollipop, By Rukhsana Khan; Out of the Way! Out of the Way! by Uma Krishnaswami; and Do! by Gita Wolf.
I'm looking forward to reading If All the Animals Came Inside, by Eric Pinder as soon as it is published next spring.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which means it's time to pull out my favorite seasonal picture book, Thanksgiving at the Tappletons', by Eileen Spinelli and illustrations by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, and read it again.

Here's a wonderful video from with great quotes about the importance of having picture books in our lives:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Amsterdam -- Photo Tour, plus SCBWI Netherlands Conference

Last Friday, I took the high speed train from Frankfurt to Amsterdam to attend an SCBWI conference where I taught a writing masterclass on Saturday morning. Mina Witteman, the regional advisor, organized a stellar conference. Check out the post conference write-up at the SCBWI Netherlands website.
I dashed out during a break and bought several packages of delicious stroopwafels from a grocery store to bring home. (They are what my kids wanted me to buy for them.)

It was my first time to visit Amstersdam and I took a ton of pictures.  Here is a brief photo tour.

A canal, with a view of boats, bikes, and townhouses.
This photo is taken from a bridge.

Construction project on a canal.


A bike and a door.
This type of bike, with a carrier in front, is common.

Wall mural--mosaic tile combined with bas-relief painted figures.

Modern wall mural

 Entrance to a mall. 
Note the old archway entrance with statues on top.

Dam Square and a mime. 
About six mimes were performing the day I walked through this square.

Lamp post--detail of metalwork. 
The city lamps use gas to make the light, so they give a cool glow. 
(The actual light bulb isn't in this photo, but I am most fascinated by the details here.)

A canal at night. I like this photo, because it shows the intersection of one canal into the canal that runs to the left and right of this photo.

All photos copyrighted by Sarah Blake Johnson