There’s a transition between babyhood and childhood where you find yourself with a two-foot-tall hurricane crashing around in your living room, sending everything flying. This is where I am right now in life, and this is much of the reason my blog has fallen silent. Plenty of experience, but no time for solitary reflection, so necessary to poetry and blogs. I haven’t wandered lonely as a cloud in a very long while. Here are a few hurried updates before the kid wakes up from his nap and we head off for a reading.
* My chapter book series for Topps is now visible in various places on the web. Writing a series vs. stand-alone books and writing for younger readers was a real learning experience, but I discovered I like both and I can’t wait to see these books in their final form, with great illustrations by Eric Wight and collectible cards in each book.
* My robot book is waiting in the wings for my attention, and I’m excited to get back to it. I’ve discovered that robots are suddenly a minor trend in middle grade, with lots of new or forthcoming books involving robots, even robots made by kids. I insist upon verisimilitude in all my books– I won’t just have the robots do anything because I say so; I need to believe they could be made by bright children with the tools and materials at their disposable. I hope that makes my robot book stand out.
* I learned a lot about middle grade fiction by teaching it. It made me think through what makes children’s novels memorable or important to me, and more planful about what I’m doing as I write. I learned a lot from my students, too — they brought a lot of creativity and savvy to our class discussions. I’m flattered that such a talented group felt they could learn from me, and hope they did.
* I’ve been reading more picture books because of Byron. I toyed with the idea of writing them, but realized after trying and failing that this is really an alien genre for me. I don’t know why picture books are lumped in casually with books for older kids. Thinking I could write picture books as a branch off of middle grade is like a professional baseball player thinking he can take up golf at the same level. Yes, they both involve swinging at little white balls with sticks, but they have nothing else in common. What I’ve learned about a well-done picture book — Phyllis Root has become our favorite PB author, and I love one I saw Stephen Shaskan read yesterday, A Dog is a Dog — is that they are less about the “story” and more about the reading experience between the reader and the listener. They seem to have more to do with theater or music than the kinds of books I’ve studied and written. They’re meant to be a performance. The book is a script. I have zero ideas for that kind of thing. When I’ve tried picture books I find myself trying to write a novel in a few hundred words. But I admire Root and Shaskan and other picture book authors for their vision for how a book will bring a parent and a child together in this great experience of reading a book aloud.
* I’ve been listening to Game of Thrones on my daily drive. It’s been fun, and I think there are good writerly takeaways from George R.R. Martin. Every character wants something, like some conventional wisdom dictates. A sense of injustice courses through the book, motivating the reader to keep turning the pages, hoping justice will come to those believably bad characters who deserve comeuppance (perhaps it never will). I think this sense of justice drives a lot of children’s books, too. Children like to see stories affirm the basic values of fairness and see evil-doers get what’s coming to them. Yet, I’ve never really had a “bad guy,” in a book, as my characters face other challenges. Perhaps one day I shall.
* Perhaps the most important realization this hurricane season is that I can’t write in the evenings, and shouldn’t. I need to enjoy my little hurricane while I can. I’ve become a morning writer, up around five and putting in a hundred words or so before I go to work. Maybe that’s why coffee is a major plot element in one of my chapter books.