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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.”

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Entries in scbwi (30)

Tuesday
Feb252014

So you’ve attended an SCBWI conference: Now what?

One of the wonderful, talented new friends I met this weekend asked me this question on Twitter. (Hello, @JenipherLyn!)

What a great question. I’ve just returned home from what is probably my 20th major SCBWI event, if you add up the national and regional conferences and retreats I've attended over the past decade.

One thing I’ve learned: The day you get home from one of these huge things, don’t expect much out of yourself. If you’re fundamentally introverted, as I am, you’ll need a bit of time alone with your thoughts and your coffee cup before you’re feeling quite right again.

Once you’ve recovered from this particular conference, it’s time to seal in those connections you’ve made.

First, make a note of all of the people you met and spoke to. If you feel comfortable doing so, friend these folks on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. It’s especially true when these people are writers and artists.

Over the years, you’ll get to know them better and look forward to seeing them at future conferences. And you’ll feel palpable excitement when they sign with agents, publish books, go on tour, and win awards. Or even if they don’t and continue to work on their craft, celebrate life milestones, and generally make the most of their time on this planet.

For me, this stuff is important. We’re so often alone with our work that the pleasure of company from like-minded and like-hearted people is a source of joy and support. Many of my closest friendships have begun this way.

Second, take some time to thank the people who put this conference on. Lin Oliver, Steve Mooser, Sara Rutenberg, Kim Turrisi, Sally Crock, Kayla Heinen, Sarah Baker, Chelsea Confalone, and the rest of the staff at the international office would love to hear about your favorite moments. The work they do has changed so many lives, and no one will celebrate your successes with more enthusiasm.

If you had the good fortune to receive a critique from an editor or agent, it’s also nice to thank them for their efforts on your behalf. The point isn’t to sell a book or get a contract. It’s to show your appreciation for their time and expertise, and to begin building a relationship that will enrich your life with inspiration even if you never end up working with that person.

Finally, persist. If you keep learning and keep honing your craft, you will find an agent and sell a book. It might take a really long time, but if you truly enjoy the work and the company, then it’s time well spent. Over time, you'll learn that there won’t be one moment that changes everything for you, but rather, a series of moments in which you have learned what you need to learn to move forward. Have enough of those, and you will publish a book.

As great as it can be in those rare conferences when you have a stunning professional breakthrough, it’s probably more common to come home and feel a touch of despair in addition to all that inspiration you soaked up. Part of this despair might be exhaustion wearing an ugly mask. Travel, crowds, a flood of information—all of these things can take their toll.

But part might be knowing just how much work there is ahead of you.

If that’s the case, be kind to yourself. That great distance between you and wherever you want to be is something you cover in small steps. Don’t look at the mountain, just the ground in front of you. You might stumble. You might get lost. But these setbacks happen to all of us. Get up. Brush yourself off. Start climbing again.

Don’t give up on yourself and your dream, even if it feels really difficult at times. This work is hard for everyone. If it’s hard for you, too, chances are you’re doing it right.

And now, I am going to be revising my next novel, THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH, which Arthur A. Levine Books will publish next year, something I owe largely to a conference just like this one. It will be Arthur's and my third book together in as many years; I hope for similar successes for all of you.

 

Wednesday
Feb192014

Thanks, Lin Oliver

We are making a Lin Oliver sandwich.

When I was a sophomore in college, I wrote an article for the school paper about massage. Always the schemer, I'd worked out a plan by which I would receive five free massages and write about them for the entertainment section, which I edited.

My lede in this utterly shameless enterprise referred to Dante's DIVINE COMEDY, speficially, the opening lines of the INFERNO. In the poem, the character finds himself at the halfway point of his life, wandering in a gloomy wood. And there I was! Halfway through my college journey! On a wooden massage table! In a gloomy room!

...

As with many things, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

It's funny the way good writing never leaves us, which is a very good reason to write children's books. If it's true that the books we read and love become part of us, it's even more that way with the things we read when we are young.

Probably not coincidentally, my novel DEVINE INTERVENTION has more than a few references to Dante, from the title to the structure of hell itself. And then there's that bit about lost souls being redeemed by love. Dante had his Beatrice, but because she'd already been well used by Lemony Snicket, I created Jerome.

All of this, of course, is a very long way of saying thanks to the one and only Lin Oliver, who co-founded the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, without which I would not be a published children's author.

I saw Lin last night at University Bookstore in Seattle. She and Henry Winkler, the co-author of the HANK ZIPZER series, were in town to launch a prequel for younger readers.

From where I sit, midway in my own life's journey, I can't overstate the importance of Lin or these books in my life. When my beloved daughter Lucy was in second grade, struggling in all sorts of ways in school, we'd planned a road trip. Getting away on weekends was hugely important then, because there was no getting away from a mountain of sadness during the week.

I stopped by the library for an audio book and found a couple of the Hank Zipzer ones. The kids laughed themselves silly listening to Henry Winkler read about an iguana that had wandered into a pair of boxer shorts. And they listened to the story again and again. It was only afterward that Lucy mentioned how much she identified with the narrator, a boy who struggled to read.

At first, I thought she was just monologuing from the book. Lucy can memorize almost anything she's heard instantly, and she's a really good actress. Also, I was in denial that the thing that gave me the greatest security in the world--reading and writing--was something my daughter struggled to do. After all, she was reading in kindergarten, and even though it took us a huge effort over many years to make that happen, she'd done it. (Or so I thought. She was faking much of it, making great contextual guesses.)

Still, by the end of the school year, I was ready to have her tested. Given how much time she spent with books, reading them was far more difficult than it should have been. Writing was nearly impossible for her even though she was a really bright kid.

The whole prospect terrified me. My entire sense of security in the world came from my ability to read and write. To know my daughter couldn't rely on that felt like sending her out in the world not only without armor, but without skin. For someone like me, already prone to anxiety, every day felt like a potential disaster.

Two years passed this way. School still wasn't working for her, so we had her tested again, because we figured the more we knew about how her brain worked, the more we could help her learn.

I'm not going into all of the details here, but let's just say things were hard enough for us that I took both kids out of school. I also pulled up stakes on my freelancing career. We even left Seattle for months at a time.

Anything was better than keeping my daughter in a place that wasn't right for her academically or socially, to say the least. (I learned later that it's common for kids with dyslexia to be mocked and excluded by their peers. I have no words for the rage this gives me on behalf of Lucy and other kids like her, but on the positive side, I feel a special kinship for parents of kids with any sort of disability. For many of these kids, school is the heart of darkness they enter every day. They're as brave as f*ck for hanging in there, and their families deserve love and support.)

This whole painful and necessary process started because of a book that made my daughter laugh herself silly--and then made her think. That is the magic and power of books. We see ourselves in them and we know we are not alone. We also learn we have choices. We can change directions and create a better life.

Even so, it's scary when you do something like this, entirely reinvent your life when there is no clear path going forward and no guarantees things will turn out OK. It's also incredibly tough to be both a teacher and a mom, especially when you have no experience working with a handful of complex learning challenges.

But in the many nights I lay awake during this time, I kept thinking about Hank Zipzer and Henry Winkler, who also is dyslexic and despite this, managed to go to Yale, become Fonzie, be a producer and director, and co-author with Lin of two dozen novels. So even if my own daughter wasn't going to be able to walk the same path I did, there would be a way for her to have a happy, productive, and successful life.

Henry and Lin and their books helped guide us toward a new destination.

And, after a rough year in the trenches with me and her sister, we found a new school for Lucy, one that specializes in teaching kids with dyslexia and language-related learning disabilities.

As with all good stories, the ending of this one touched back on the beginning. Lucy interviewed for this school over Skype when we were in Los Angeles for an SCBWI conference run by none other than Lin Oliver. The school offered Lucy admission on the spot and I felt a two-ton weight I hadn't even remembered I was carrying fly off my heart.

Even though middle school traditionally stinks, my girl is incredibly happy there. She dashes out the door in the morning on the way to school, and she's learned so much about how to learn that she feels ready to go to our neighborhood high school, even without a guarantee of support. At least for now, things are OK. Better than OK.

And they're that way for me, too. Giving up the freelancing that had sustained me from the time Lucy was an infant made room for me to do other writing. Thanks to Lin and Steve and Sara and Kim and all the other good people at the SCBWI, I've sold five books for young readers.

Three are out: DEVINE INTERVENTION, FINDING BIGFOOT, and THE DINOSAUR TOOTH FAIRY. Two more are coming: THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH, and LOVE, SANTA.

And I have more in the works.

And so, at what is probably the midpoint of my own life, I find myself in a wood that isn't gloomy at all. It's as sunny as these places can be, full of meandering and wonder and beauty and fellow travelers. Thank you, Lin, for lighting the way.

Saturday
Nov162013

Elizabeth Wein, Part II: An #NY14SCBWI Interview

Here's the second installment in my interview with Elizabeth Wein, the author of several historical novels, most recently CODE NAME VERITY and ROSE UNDER FIRE.

Elizabeth is one of the keynote speakers at the SCBWI conference in New York in February.You can sign up here if you haven't. It's likely to sell out and we'd hate for you to miss the fun, insight, and inspiration.

In this round, Elizabeth talks about her research practices and what it's like to be an American author living in Scotland.

What are some of your favorite challenges when it comes to researching your historical novels? Do you have favorite tips and tricks to share? 

“Favorite challenges”—isn’t that an oxymoron?!

I think probably the most frustrating challenges to resolve, and the most rewarding when you find the solution, are little history-specific details. For Rose Under Fire, one of the themes was the V1 flying bomb, an unmanned aircraft used by the Germans against Allied cities in the final year of World War II.  Essentially these bombs were the first guided missiles. I did a lot of online research (there is a ton of technical information regarding military history available online; I found a downloadable version of the original 400 page manual for the V2 rocket, in German).

I read books about the design history and social history of the V1. I got a firsthand account of what it was like to have to live in terror of them from my father-in-law, who had been a teen in southern England at the time; I even found an audio recording of a V1 falling. I learned a lot about this bomb from many different angles, but I needed to know some very specific details that weren’t making it into the historical overviews: which companies manufactured the fuses for V1s? How was the fuse installed?

My character Rose was going to be forced to make fuse parts as a slave laborer later in the book; I wanted her to see the manufacturer’s name on a captured fuse while she was still safe, to help her make a human connection with a very inhuman object. I also wanted to know exactly what parts were made in the munitions factory where Rose would eventually be forced to work.  I wanted specific connections.

Eventually, after persistent hours of trawling books and the internet, I came across a passage buried in a Ravensbrück survivor account that exactly described the work the author was made to do in the very factory where Rose would be working. Then, I got in touch with Steve Venus, probably the world expert on World War II bomb fuses, and got his advice on the correct fuse type as well as information about the prisoners who had been forced to work in Nazi munitions factories.

The challenge, and the frustration, is in the hours spent searching for information which will only be used in a few lines in the novel.  It’s information I could easily gloss over. I don’t have to mention the fuse manufacturer when I describe the fuse, or describe the specific piecework Rose is doing when she sits down at her bench under the harsh factory lights. Maybe the time I spent chasing down these minor, irrelevant facts could be better spent in crafting the novel, or even in keeping my house clean.

But the joy of stumbling across that perfect description I’m hunting for, and the reward in communicating with the man who worked as a consultant for the Danger UXB television series, are so worth it. So the challenge of getting the details right is its own reward—not just for the satisfaction of bringing high-falutin’ literary artistry to the book, but also for the personal connections it often brings me.

Tips and tricks:

  • Don’t limit yourself to English language sources! The foreign language versions of Wikipedia and Google containdifferent information from the English versions. If you are researching any non-English-speaking country or historical figure, look up your search term in the language of its origin. Google Translate works well enough these days that it can give you a reasonable idea of what you’re reading even if you don’t know the language. Pierre Paoli, a Frenchman working for the Gestapo who was my basis for Etienne Thibaut in Code Name Verity, has his own entry in the French version of Wikipedia but not in the English version. Often you will find foreign language websites that give you information you can’t get in English; I found biographical information about all the Polish women experimented on at Ravensbrück by searching Polish genealogical records. Also, don’t forget that you can sometimes order books that are unavailable in our own country from mail order sources in foreign countries.
  • Don’t be afraid to contact experts. They are usually extremely willing to help. People enjoy sharing their expertise and enthusiasms. Offer to thank them in your acknowledgments, and send them a copy of the published book. I’ve found that people don’t often expect this courtesy, and are very grateful for the recognition.
  • Try to find original sources.  Read books and newspapers and watch movies published during your time period: they are fantastic sources for period detail and language. Go to museums and look at stuff—tools, clothes, toys, furniture (in the case of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, airplanes!)—anything from your time period that will help you get a sense of what it was like to really live with and use these things. When I was writing my novels set in ancient Ethiopia, I got access to the British Museum’s collection of sixth century Ethiopian coins. Immerse yourself in your time period. 
  •  Persist!

            

What's it like being an American writer in Scotland? 

COLD.

I guess that’s not really a function of being American; we’re all cold. The average summer temperature is 62 F or 17 C (I keep telling people that if anything ever drives me out of Scotland, it will be the weather.)

I have lived in Scotland for fourteen years, which is longer than I’ve ever lived in one place in my entire life. So I feel pretty much at home here. I love where we live, right at the end of the motorway system, in the foothills of the Highlands. A land of wild beauty is at our back door – we can see snow on the mountains from our window from September to May. There are a wealth of literary festivals to attend, and local councils and the Scottish Book Trust are wonderfully supportive of local talent. Sheila Averbuch and Louise Kelly have been pulling together a Southeast Scotland network for the SCBWI British Isles region (http://networkedblogs.com/R7sgJ), which is good news for writerly camaraderie. And I honored to be part of the somewhat seasonal Wayside Writers’ Circle(http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/the-wayside-writers-circle.html), spearheaded by the laudable and inspirational Jane Yolen.

I like the perspective that being an alien gives me. Many of my characters are transplanted from their homeland. And Scotland is a good place to live.

Can you tell us what's next? Or would you have to imprison us?

I’m working on a book set in Ethiopia in 1935, with a couple of young pilots in it. So I guess you could say I’m combining my interests!

It’s not a secret, but my answer is vague because I’ve found it hard work to write and I tend not to talk about stuff I’m working on until I feel confident about it.

More:

For more about Elizabeth, check out her home page. Be sure to click on her blog. There are some really great entries.