I Look At Books Differently

I look at books differently
now that I’m a writer.
Where once they were a price tag,
a number of hours at a job
before I could buy one,
I now see
days,
months,
years
of love and labor.
So many more hours than can ever be repaid.
No book is only worth the price tag on the cover.
I see something
Invaluable.

I look at books differently
now that I’m a writer.
Where once I saw a masterpiece,
art that sprang from the artist
whole,
brilliant,
and unique.
I now see multiple drafts,
scrapped sub plots,
characters added and erased.
I often read a book and wonder,
“How did you look
in first draft form?
What changed in you along the way?”
I see
metamorphosis.

I look at books differently
now that I’m a writer.
Where once I saw a story
existing in it’s own plane,
it’s own time.
As real as real can be.
I now open the cover of a book
and feel like I’m flipping through the contents
of the authors mind.
The connecting of synapses in the words,
gray matter on the pages.
Brain power,
creativity,
and a spark of something indefinable.
I see
life.

I look at books differently
now that I’m a writer.
Where once I saw a single artist,
author,
creator.
I now see all the hands that helped to shape a story.
The critique partners, beta readers,
agents and editors.
I see the revision notes, given lovingly,
and the nights of self doubt they created.
I see so many people believing
in another person’s dream,
in their make-believe,
even when the author didn’t,
couldn’t.
I see
a village.

I look at books differently
now that I’m a writer.
Where once I saw a story,
diversion,
escape.
Now I see a world view
and a hope of something better.
I see the author
examining every thought,
every theme.
I see the vulnerable parts of them
that sneak into the scenes.
The questions
they must ask themselves a million times
given to the characters they create.
And in the end,
I see the author
find themselves,
find their answer.
I see
truth.

I look at books differently
now that I’m a writer.

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Amanda And Cindy’s Pitch Wars Wish List!!

Hello Pitch Wars Hopefuls!!

If you are looking for our special letter, you’ll need to go here.

For the most awesome of you (i.e. the MG crowd) we want to tell you a bit about us, why you should sub to us, and what we’re looking for!

First, introductions!

Cindy: I’ve always been a compulsive reader (when I was out of line as a kid I’d lose reading privileges for a day!), and that love of words and stories spilled over pretty early into a writing obsession. I’ve written five novels, the last of which got me my amazing agent! I’ve learned a lot along the way, including how to revise like a boss and how to keep trying even when success isn’t forthcoming—the part of the writing journey that’s tougher than anything else, at least for me.
I’m a Southern girl who now lives in Portland, OR, but who will always miss hot nights and fireflies and accents like warm honey. I usually get my word counts in during the evenings, after my irrepressible three-year-old is in bed. My writing interests tend to span the gamut, but in fiction my first love is YA or MG magical realism.

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In addition to writing, some things I love are: super-dark chocolate, cooking, spending time outside, nearly every BBC period drama or mystery series I’ve ever seen, all things ocean- or beach-related, the South, hugs, herbal tea, and red toenail polish. I have secret, unattainable pipe dreams of subsistence farming, through-hiking the Appalachian trail (sidenote: if you don’t pronounce it app-a-LATCH-un, you’re doing it wrong), or living on a sailboat. I was diagnosed at six months old with the genetic disease cystic fibrosis, and would love to see a story that deals with chronic illness in a sensitive and realistic way!

Amanda: I’ve always loved to read…children’s books. They outnumber adult books in my house 3:1. And that is not just because I have kids (though they make a great excuse to feed my obsession.) I have not, however, always loved to write. Actually, for most of my life I would have told you that I hate writing, except for the occasional, angsty teen poetry. I never saw storytelling as my thing. But then everything changed in one night a little over four years ago when I couldn’t fall asleep and here we are! Because I never considered myself a writer, I’ve always approached it with the understanding that I’m not very good at it and have so much to learn and need lots of practice. This attitude has served me well.

I’m a Wyoming girl living in California. I homeschool my three kids using the Waldorf philosophy (and if you know anything about that, you realize that makes me a bit of a hippie). I teach educational enrichment classes, play the piano, garden year round, knit/crochet, and also have this not-so-secret dream of subsistence farming. What the heck, Cindy? Come live with me and let’s get this started! I may have promised my kids chickens when we buy our own house.

Things I geek out over: GoT, Battlestar Galactica, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Jane Austen, The Beatles, Disneyland, Yosemite, Yellowstone, physical chemistry.

The two of us met when we were both mentees last year, and after Pitch Wars ended we became CPs. We’ve since signed with the same agent in addition to being Pitch Wars co-mentors, so yeah, we’re basically bonded for life now.giphy (1)

Our favorite genres are MG contemporary, Magical Realism, and historical. Within those genres we are particularly looking for stories usually labeled, quiet, character driven, heartfelt, and literary. The comedic and quirky is not really in our wheelhouse. That’s not to say that we don’t want a book that has quirky or comedic elements (we love those!), but that shouldn’t feel like the main focus or strength of the story. We want FLORA AND ULYSSES, not DIARY OF A WIMPY KID. We are particularly looking for stories the revolve around big, hard, real-world problems. If somebody has ever said, “Wow, isn’t that a little heavy for MG?” We want it. If somebody has ever said, “This is really sad.” We want it. We want to feel something. We want to bawl our eyes out. We want to see beautiful, powerful prose (or poetry). We want books that exemplify the quote “When a subject is too hard for adults, I write it for children.” We want books that tackle tough subjects in a hopeful and life-affirming way. We want big philosophical ideas handled with the grace, wisdom and innocence of this age group.

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We’re accepting SFF as well, but tend to be pickier about those genres. We love books that use a fantasy framework to tackle big, real-life issues. We love books that draw on mythology in interesting and classic ways. We love books that use their fantastic settings uniquely, to draw back the curtain on things in our own world. We’re less likely, however, to be the right mentors for adventure fantasy—think CIRCUS MIRANDUS or WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON rather than FABLEHAVEN or PERCY JACKSON.

Other things we’d be excited to see:

::Diversity, especially of ability, neurology, class, and religion
::Characters influenced by faith but not in a faith-based story
::Homeschooling!
::Unique structures and formats
::Bittersweet endings
::Anything involving the ocean
::Strong, vibrant settings
::Science incorporated in a beautiful, meaningful way! (THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. or THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH.)

Our strengths (aka Why You Should Choose Us):
::Setting as character
::Beautiful prose (Cindy does a mean line edit)
::Emotional resonance (Amanda is really good at big picture threads)
::Imagery/symbolism
::Character arc
::Deep POV

Ever since Pitch Wars last year we’ve been CPing for each other, and had a front-row seat to see each other’s strong points! Here’s what we have to say about each other:Cindy: Amanda is terrific at honing in on which areas of a story’s plot could be made bigger, more vibrant, and carried through better—and she’s also a fantastic cheerleader and knows just how to make you feel great about your writing! (Plus, she’s a beautifully supportive and generous friend.)

Amanda: Cindy is my favorite person I got out of Pitch Wars. She is an excellent cheerleader. Craft wise, she helps me hone my words to be more poetic and has a good eye for what I think of as “micropacing.” Noticing those moments in your writing where you need to pause, slow down for a few sentences, and stretch out the moment.

Together, we think we are a great team help a manuscript on a big picture scale as well as sentence level to get the biggest emotional bang for your buck without becoming saccharine or sentimental.

If any of these could be a comp title…grabby hands!
Anything by Kate Dicamillo, Sharon Draper, Lynda Mulally Hunt, or Sharon Creech
THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH
PAPER WISHES
A SNICKER OF MAGIC
COUNTING BY 7’S
LOVE, AUBREY
DEAR MR. HENSHAW
MISSING MAY
SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL
THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE
WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON
HOUR OF THE BEES
GOSSAMER (Lois Lowry)

But most of all… we can’t wait to meet you!
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Gray Areas in Middle Grade

 

The wonderful thing about middle grade literature is that it’s really the beginning of opening up this idea of moral gray areas to children. It’s really the first time they get to experience that realization that good people can do bad things and bad people can do good things and maybe people are much more complex than the labels of ‘good’ or ‘bad.’

gray area

Before now they’ve had fairy tales and picture books. Beautiful literature, but most of the time the line between good and evil is very stark, very black and white. The witch is always bad, the princess always good. there is very little gray area.

So as middle grade authors, this is a very heavy responsibility. One we should take great pride and consideration in. Here are some things to consider when writing in the gray areas for middle grade.

  1. Middle Grade novels can live and die with the gatekeepers. Parents, teachers, librarians. For the most part, they are sensitive, understanding people. but they still are trying to protect their children from some of the harder realities of the world. So while your MG book can deal with really hard topics (there are MG books about abuse, drug use, racial divides, mental illness, lgbt issues, etc.) if you would ever describe your MG book as “gritty” it’s probably not going to fly.
  2. Fantasy and adventure books have a lot more leeway. The villains in these books don’t have to be quite so redeemed or shown to have a good side. The protagonists can do illegal and “terrible” things if the circumstances call for it and the cause is good and right. Think of Percy Jackson, they definitely killed some monsters, trespassed, stole stuff, etc. But even in MG fantasy/adventure, the death toll stays very limited, the MC hardly ever gets their hands dirty if another person dies. Think of the first few Harry Potter books. Nobody dies in the first year, a bunch of people are frozen and Harry kills a deadly basilisk and ghost Tom Riddle in the second. It takes until the fourth book to actually have a real person die. And its not at Harry’s hand. After that the body count starts going up, but books 5,6, and 7 while they are filed under MG, have a lot in common with YA, so I wouldn’t judge what’s okay in your MG book by the later Harry Potters, but the earlier ones.
  3. Doing illegal things is a lot tougher sell in contemporary. They have to be relatively minor things. Trespassing, spying, maybe getting the better of a police force that has wrongly put you under house arrest (Okay, okay, I read Gordan Korman a few months ago. Can you tell?) But generally, if people in your MG contemporary do really bad things, there has to be an understanding that, somehow, there will be consequences for their actions. Often the protagonist will still get in trouble, even just a little bit, for doing something wrong even if their intentions were good. The thing is, the children reading these books are still just barely out of fairytales with black and white, good and evil. So while characters can exist in this morally gray area in MG contemp, I think there’s still this definite expectation that there will still be consequences. Maybe the antagonist won’t have as big of consequences as we feel someone deserves, but something. Or, if not consequences, then a moment of reconciliation or redemption, where we come to understand that the antagonist has a good reason for acting how they do or they do something to right their past wrongs.
  4. Especially in contemporary, there really shouldn’t be “bad guys.” You can have an antagonist (you NEED an antagonist) but they should be someone that your reader can understand or pity in some way. they can not be ALL bad. They can not be TRULY EVIL. They must have a good side. They must have good reasons or motivations. Or at least understandable ones.
  5. The most important thing for morally gray areas in MG is that good always wins. Even if the ending is not the happy one everyone hoped for, there is still hope. Life is expected to get better, or at least, the MC will be able to weather the storm and be okay. I think this is the kicker above all else. You can get away with a lot in your MG story if you end on hope. If good wins. And in MG, good always wins. Always. Remember, we’re not that far away from fairy tales. We are exploring moral gray areas, but we still want to present a good world to our readers. A world where kindness exists and hope always lingers.

We have a wonderful responsibility writing for this age group. Let’s not do it lightly. Let’s not write fluff. Let us write complex, morally gray, hopeful and beautiful stories. 🙂