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About Devine Intervention

"Frequently hysterical ... devastatingly honest writing that surprises with its occasional beauty and hits home with the keenness of its insight." 

—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

 

"So much fun... an insightful story about seizing life for all it’s worth while you have the chance."

—Publishers Weekly


"It is a pleasure to read a writer who so delights in language, and who writes so captivatingly in a teen voice with such imaginative description."

— Los Angeles Times

“This is a love story. Not a romantic love story, but a story of the development of a deep caring relationship with another being. Humorous and sad at times, it brings us to ask ourselves what we think about heaven and how we get there. Believable and fast-paced, it keeps us reading to the end.”

Library Media Connection

 

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Photo by Emerald England.

Friday
Jun132014

Newbery winner Linda Sue Park on writing: #LA14SCBWI interview

Linda Sue Park, photographed by Sonya SonesLinda Sue Park is one of the most beloved authors writing for children today. Her many awards include a Newbery for 2002's A SINGLE SHARD, which I saw performed on stage in Seattle, where it was every bit as powerful as on the page. Her recent title A LONG WALK TO WATER was a New York Times bestseller.

In addition to being a top-notch writer and storyteller, Linda Sue is also a fantastic speaker and teacher. I took one of her intensives a few years ago at a summer conference, and the revision I did based on her advice became my first published novel.

She'll give a keynote this summer in Los Angeles on how we can make every word in our manuscript count. I can't wait to hear what she has to say.

If you haven't signed up yet, and you're thinking about it, the earlybird discount ends June 15. You can register here.

On the fence? I get it. These conferences are a big commitment in every way. But they're worth it. I also came up with the idea for THE DINOSAUR TOOTH FAIRY after my first Los Angeles conference. At another LA conference, I heard my agent speak for the first time (and thought then how much I would like working with her). And, as I mentioned earlier, Linda Sue showed me exactly what I needed to learn to sell my first novel. In all, six years after my first national conference, I have five children's books either on the shelves or under contract. I know that would not have happened had I not taken that leap of faith.

Linda Sue was kind enough to answer a few questions. Here's hoping you find some useful information and inspiration to tide you over until August. 

What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever received?

I’ve read and received all kinds of wonderful *inspirational* advice, but by far the most important tip was PRACTICAL. From the great Katherine Paterson: When working on a novel, write two pages per day. Every day. That’s it. Idiot simple. I actually begin my daily writing session by editing the two pages from the day before (sometimes throwing away the whole dang thing), but I don’t get up until I’ve written two new ones. They don’t have to be good. They just have to be done. Because I’m going to start my next session by editing them, right? I’ve written all of my novels that way—two pages at a time—and if I hadn’t read Paterson’s advice way back when I first started out, I’m convinced I never would have finished even one of them.

How do you know when your writing is working?

When I feel excited to get to work every day. I’m not saying it’s ice cream and balloons every time I sit down to write, but if I don’t have an overall feeling of eagerness to get at the story, I know something isn’t working.

What sort of research do you do before a project, and when do you stop with that part and start writing?

I try to do the lion’s share of the research before I start writing. Of course, there are always holes I have to fill in along the way (hopefully small ones…). But I think of research as revving up my engine. It helps create excitement for the project (see above). I let the story itself guide me regarding the question of when to start writing. I reach a point where I feel I have a good handle on the topic, and I know this by the fact that my use of post-its slows considerably. (I stick post-its in place while I’m reading, then transfer that info later to typed notes.) At the same time, my eagerness to start writing grows until I can’t rein it in any longer. Reaching that stage has varied for every book I’ve written. Sometimes a couple of months, sometimes years!

Linda Sue Park online 
on Twitter: @LindaSuePark 

 

 

Tuesday
May202014

The award-winning Cynthia Kadohata: #LA14SCBWI interview

There are lots of reasons to attend a national SCBWI conference. Among the best, though, is the chance to hear wisdom and inspiration from today's finest authors.

This August, we'll hear a keynote from Cynthia Kadohata, a National Book Award winner for The Thing About Luck, and a Newbery Medalist for Kira-Kira. The author of eight books for young readers, Cynthia was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Curious about diversity in children's literature, Cynthia's best writing advice, and her favorite kind of taco? Read on!

Conference registration is open and conferences tend to sell out, so if you'd like to give your career a boost, sign up soon.

There's been a lot of discussion lately about diversity in literature. What are you trying to bring the world with the stories you write? 

Apparently books by authors of color represented about 7 percent of all children’s books published in 2013.  That makes my heart sink. That said, I don’t have a particular agenda when I write a book. I pick something I feel passionate about and I write it.  My book Half a World Away, which comes out September 2014, has a white protagonist. 

I want the stories I write to feel universal to readers whatever race is the main character. My mother once told me, “The more specific, the more universal.” I really agree with that and think if you write something as specifically as you can, the result will almost magically be universal. 

For instance, my father’s life of hard labor inspired both Kira-Kira and The Thing About Luck.  I wrote specifically about the hard work by a Japanese-American family in those books, but I hoped hard work by blue-collar employees is something relatable to all races.  But I never, ever think about these things when I’m writing.

The emotional scenes in your book are so clearly drawn and resonant. In The Thing About Luck, for example, the grandmother's illness is so potent you can feel it progress. How do you prepare to write scenes like that? And how do you make them powerful and restrained at the same time? 

As I write, I have to feel the way the character must feel.  It can be almost a self-hypnosis kind of thing where I focus really hard on each scene until I can “catch” the feelings of a character. 

Sometimes I can rely on my personal experiences, but other times I need to do research, and research is a big part of my process.  

With Kira-Kira, I wrote a draft and put it in an envelope for my editor. Then something happened that devastated me and shook me to my core on the same day as I put the manuscript into an envelope. My boyfriend suggested I write down everything I was feeling.  So I did, and later I put it verbatim into the manuscript, which I ended up sending to my editor after I’d worked on it further for a month.  If there’s no personal experience involved, then once I’ve done the research, I have to catch the character’s feeling and write it down as quickly as possible before I lose it. There’s urgency involved, because I don’t have much time before I lose it—I feel like it’s a matter of a few hours, sometimes less.  This probably sounds wacky … Anyway, that’s part of what I’m going to speak about at the conference.

What's the best piece of writing advice you ever got? What's your favorite writing advice to give? 

The best advice I ever came across and the same advice I would give is “Make a mess, then clean it up.”  That’s how I always write.  For my first draft, I just rush through it in a month or so, and then I edit it over and over and over. Then my editor edits it over and over and over. So the “cleaning up” part takes much longer than the “make a mess” part.

Cleaning up can take two years. I absolutely cannot try to perfect each sentence in a first draft. It would take so long, and I don’t think what I wrote during the cleaning up phase would be very good. The rush of emotions I get in that first month of writing a book wouldn’t come to me if I tried to perfect each sentence.  That’s probably a personal matter—some writers might feel differently.

Another way of interpreting “Make a mess, then clean it up” is that when you’re plotting, you can put the character into a mess, and then you clean up his/her mess.

Three tacos at a time, eh? What are your favorite kinds? 

I only like beef ones!  I’ve tried fish or chicken tacos a million different times, and I’ve never liked them.  But beef ones—I LOVE them!

 

More about Cynthia:

Her website

A National Book Award interview

School Library Journal interview

Thursday
May152014

The Problem with Godzilla (Warning: Contains Spoilers)

The original. It's still good!

I'm in the midst of doing one last big revision of THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH, which comes out next year from Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books. Among other things, this means I have metaphors on my mind—and it's no doubt why I am not a thunder-lizard size fan of the new "Godzilla" movie.

There's a lot to like about it, especially great performances from Juliette Binoche and Bryan Cranston, neither of whom are on screen as much as I would like.

If you haven't seen the movie yet and don't want me to wreck it for you, stop reading now. (And have fun at the the theater, because movies are awesome.)

But if you're a writer and want to find out why this story didn't satisfy as much as it might have, pull up a chair.

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The original "Godzilla," in case you've never seen it, is a Japanese movie released in 1954. On its surface, it's about a dinosaur-like thing that ravages the country. Metaphorically, it's a story about nuclear destruction. In the end, they don't beat the monster. He just walks away (to return later).

With nuclear weapons and nuclear power in general, we really did create a monster that is impossible, or nearly so, to kill. The movie works on both levels, which is a hard thing to pull off. A metaphor can't get in the way of the story. It has to make it resonate more deeply; otherwise, it's like putting a pinwheel on a top hat.

This latest version, which thankfully is better than the 1998 monstrosity starring Matthew Broderick, brings back Godzilla and modern-day giant moths. It's a good idea, to be sure, and the effects were great.

But this time, instead of working as a Cold War metaphor with the giant moths and lizard reaching a stand-off, the struggle between the two ends with a deux ex machina, which means "god from the machine" and refers to a story that ends when a divine force fixes things.

This is a total spoiler, but in the end, Godzilla kills the monsters because he wants to "restore balance" to a planet despoiled by nuclear power. So the moral of this environmental tale: Just get out of the way, humans. Mother Nature—the god in Godzilla—will take care of you.

Never mind that there's no such thing as an animal that exists to "restore balance." Sure, some serve that function, but that's a byproduct of evolution, not their intentional gift to the rest of the world. Living things are motivated to stay alive long enough to reproduce, and they'll generally do what it takes for that to happen.

I might have bought the magical balance monster if the story had contained a metaphor with meaning.

But the metaphor of this movie is reckless. Unlike the original, which said something profound, this movie says something stupid and dangerous.

The environmental story of the generation is the pending disaster of climate change caused by human activity—a fact supported by 97 percent of the scientific community, no matter how badly the mainsteam media has failed to communicate this, no matter how much the propaganda artists at Fox News would like to deny this.

According to the metaphor of the movie, the giant moths of global warming are the result of past excesses. But we don't need to worry about them. Nope! It'll be OK if we just do nothing! In Godzilla we trust!

This is what only the most uninformed and short-sighted politicians would have you believe: that climate changes are part of the natural cycle and that the planet will regulate itself as it always has. It's not true, even if it is a more comfortable story than the alternative.

I don't know if the filmmakers thought about this one bit as they made their movie. I suspect they didn't, and wouldn't want to be part of a propaganda machine. Nonetheless, this is how I interpreted the movie, and one reason it disappointed me on an artistic level.

My second disappointment with it was that it felt in many places like a piece of entertainment plotted according to the Blake Snyder "Save the Cat" school of screenwriting. If you haven't read this book, it outlines a storytelling method that responds to audience expectations about character, plot, and pacing. It's a really useful starting point, and a great way to understand what is happening on screen and why it affects us. This is what all stories want to do: entertain us by creating an emotional experience.

But it's not a really great way to write a story if your underlying metaphor isn't sound, and your characters are more pawns than fully realized humans.

Godzilla suffered a lot from this. At times, I coul dfeel the checklist of details contrived to manipulate my emotions: the death of a mother, the separation of a father and his child. Some of these moments worked—a scene where the Bryan Cranston character sees a gift his son had made for him 15 years earlier. This is a testament to his skill as an actor, at the least.

But other manufactured emotional moments. One such example: the one where the hero saves a child on a train. We didn't know the kid, we didn't get to know him, nor did we get any deep satisfaction of seeing him reunited with his parents, because the camera panned away before the hero interacted with them.

This is what can happen when you plot a story based on key moments instead of on the harder-to-predict, harder-to-craft moments that come from having really well-developed characters. In my experience, you can really only create these moments well when you know your characters deeply, and when you have put them into such emotionally harrowing situations that their response feels both like a surprise and an inevitability. Of course the good guy is going to save a child on a train. A great movie will make this feel a whole lot more special, especially if the good guy sacrifices something meaningful in the process. They tried here—in fact, the good guy gives up a toy soldier from his own childhood, ostensibly something he would have given to his own son. But if you were struggling to live, would you really care about a toy soldier? Probably not. It feels more like a manipulation than an authentic emotional moment.

For me, the writer's lesson in all of this is that it's hard to write a high-concept story with genuine emotional and metaphoric reasonance. For some people, this doesn't matter. A big enough lizard, loud enough explosions, and charismatic actors are enough.

"Godzilla" is getting great reviews so far, which means the movie is working for its intended audience. Being good, though, doesn't mean people will still be thinking of your story 60 years after it first comes out.

I don't think there are many writers out there who don't, at least in their dreams, hope of creating something that still means a lot to people decades later. You might not hit great with your work. You might only hit good. But no one's ever going to create anything truly great by relying on anyone else's formula, or by building a story from the outside in.

It's a fine place to start, but where you finish has to come from someplace deeper, someplace you can only find in yourself. It comes from the deep, like Godzilla. And it's hard work bringing it to the surface, but it's worth it every time.