Showing some love to Winn Dixie (the book dog, but the store’s good, too)

The book I wish I’d written

Just finished my annual reading of BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE (Newbery Honor Book, 2001, and DiCamillo’s first published book), the kind of book I always tell students I’m hoping to write one day, if I live that long! She won the Newbery Medal in 2004 for THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX. Googling Kate DiCamillo (in vain hopes she may offer workshops from time to time) led me to two things:

  1. She’s doing a bookshop reading/meet and greet in Saratoga Springs, NY on November 1st, and
  2. this site:

https://www.scholastic.com/content/dam/teachers/lesson-plans/migrated-featured-files/winndixie_story.pdf

wherein Kate DiCamillo allows us to see inside her process, draft by draft.

Her notes after each of the drafts show that her process is pretty much like any writer’s – one word at a time.

This first draft is how I do all first drafts; single-spaced, capital-free, light on the punctuation and full speed ahead.

She was lucky to find that India Opal’s voice was there from the very beginning. Maybe that’s why the book is so good.

At one point, she talks about putting her name and address on the first page, a sign that the manuscript is progressing, and she thinks she may actually have a story she’s going to try to get published. I do that, too, and I bet a lot of writers do. It’s almost like we don’t want to put our name on it until we think it may be worthy.

So much of writing is like walking down a dark hallway with your arms out in front of you. You bump into things.

Progress is hard to measure in any creative endeavor, I think. It’s often a matter of instinct, of feeling your way through what works and what doesn’t. The only thing I’ve found that works is to keep on working and not to expect that you’ll get it right the first time.

And here’s Kate speaking so eloquently for a couple of minutes about the importance of reading aloud.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SA8GkalW-lU

But enough of that – now I need to figure out how I can get to Saratoga Springs, NY on November 1st… Except that rather than being in a bookshop, it’s in a 500-seat venue. Do I really want to line up for that long just to say hi and get a book signed? Probably not. But I do have her latest book (BEVERLY: RIGHT HERE) on request at the Wolfville Library, although it’s not available yet.

I did a live TV interview about my new middle grade novel, SAY WHAT YOU MEAN, a few days ago.  The publisher, Nevermore Press, is donating $1 from each book sold until Thanksgiving to Feed Nova Scotia. Here’s the link, in case you’re interested: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2419569621662341

P.S. Did a Library reading yesterday, and the South Shore Public Libraries bought every kid there a copy of SAY WHAT YOU MEAN – love libraries! And I signed all 58 copies:)

Who’s your writing hero(s)? Have you ever met them?

The Peace of Wild Things (Wendell Berry)

With thanks to Kate DiCamillo who writes wonder-inspiring FB posts (as well as perfect books). I love a poem that I can understand:) Hope you all make time to get out and find peace in Nature every chance you get!

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 

– Wendell Berry

Originality – aka: thinking outside the box

These days, thanks to Google, it’s so easy to find a perfect quote to express whatever you happen to be thinking about, most times. Despite its time-wasting capabilities, I love Google!

I’ve read that American literary agents representing children’s writers receive up to 500 submissions – EVERY WEEK of the year. With that kind of competition, it doesn’t matter how great a writer you are, you simply must come up with an original story, or at least a highly original approach to an old story. I found lots of examples of uniqueness in the picture book section at the library yesterday – books that made me wish I could come up with such an idea. I’ve noticed that a lot of the best picture books these days are being produced by authors who are also illustrators; a few of the Caldecott Honor Books this year were also created by author/illustrators. If only I was artistic (she says for the thousandth time):)

Here are a few books I found that caused me to marvel at the author’s ability to create a very cool story around a seemingly simple idea/inspiration:

How to Heal a Broken Wing (Bob Graham)

A story about a boy, the only person in the crowd, who notices an injured pigeon and nurses it back to health – a perfect pairing of illustrations and (very brief) text.

How to Heal a Broken Wing

Where is Fred? (Edward Hardy, Ali Pye)

A clever caterpillar evades capture by a very persistent crow, with a satisfyingly perfect conclusion.

Fred

And Ol’ Mama Squirrel, wherein Mama protects her babies. “Mark my words,” she’d say. “There’s no shortage of creatures that would love to snack on a baby squirrel … but it won’t happen on MY watch!” In this book, the author/illustrator (David Ezra Stein) manages to create a fully-developed funny story – plot, characterization, setting and satisfying conclusion, with spare text supplemented by very expressive illustrations.

Squirrel

I LOVE picture books, and I’m constantly in awe of the brilliant, and original, ideas people come up with. There’s nothing like a trip to the library to get the creative juices stirring.

It’s always interesting to see which books are chosen as Newbery and Caldecott medalists/honor books each year – I was so happy to see that Flora & Ulysses, by my writing idol Kate DiCamillo, won the Newbery – her third Newbery recognition (Because of Winn Dixie (2001 Honor book); The Tale of Despereaux (2004 Medal)! She has such a marvellous imagination – I’ve read F&U twice already – it opens with a squirrel developing superpowers after being sucked into a vacuum cleaner (her inspiration came from her aging mother fretting about what she’d do with her vacuum upon her passing, at the same time as she had a sickly squirrel in her backyard). If you haven’t read it yet, please do – I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud!

Happy reading and writing (and illustrating).