Category Archives: random poop

MGM: When a Middle Grade Series Becomes a Young Adult Series (plus writing exercise)

(For those who want to skip straight to the writing exercise, it’s at the bottom of the post)

We saw it happen with the Harry Potter series. In book one, Harry is 11 years old. That’s 6th grade. I remember the first book carried a lot of humour. It was  whimsical. Little Harry is more interested in magical candy than snogging a girl.

But by the time we get to the end, it’s a dark bloodfest with some serious snogging. This makes complete sense to me. What matters to a 6th grader is much different than what matters to a 12th grader. If you recall what it’s like going through high school, there were probably some dark and scary times. I know I experienced a lot of emotional turmoil.

For those kids who read along as the series was published, this was a very personal journey. Harry grew as his fans grew and they all lost their innocence together. What a magical experience that must have been for them.

But now all the books are out in the world. On Amazon, Harry Potter is listed in the description as “for ages 9 and up” for ALL the books in the series. Really? If you were taking the 7th book as a stand alone, would you give it to your 9-year-old?

(as a side note, this is an interesting description because rarely are books listed for “X and up.” They are usually very specific about age groups for children’s books)

When I was at the SCBWI Conference last summer I asked an editor at a large publisher about this phenomenon. If one is writing a middle grade series, “is it all right” or “what happens if” the characters grow older and suddenly they’ve stopped playing hide-and-seek and are now into young adult shenanigans. (Okay, so I didn’t use the word “shenanigans”)

All she said was, “Yeah, that happens.” She didn’t say it was wrong to do, but she did imply that it was a bit of an issue for publishers.

The reason I asked her is because I’m coming up against the same issue with my own series. Originally I was going to follow my young protagonist up until the point when she became a mother herself. I have since changed my mind and decided to only have her age a few years. However, something I find harder to address is that the story is getting darker as I go deeper into it and I’m already afraid I have isolated my youngest fans.

Are there any other series where this holds true? Where it starts as a MG read but creeps into the YA category as the series continues and the MC ages?

I only read the first 2 books of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but I started to wonder if Kinney had written a book for every year of school and the summers in between, wouldn’t that mean the MC was 15 at the end of the story? Does this ever become an issue?

For a list of more Middle Grade Mondayers, CLICK HERE

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TODAY’s WRITING WORKOUT

Inspired by this idea of “what matters” to your protagonist. . .

Set your timer for 5 minutes. Start at the top of the page with the following startline: The most precious person in my protagonist’s life is…

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7 more minutes. Start with the following line: My protagonist hurts/disappoints this person when . . .

(if that startline doesn’t work for you, try My protagonist can’t bring herself to tell this person that . . .)

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7-10 more minutes. Start with the following line: My protagonist redeems him/herself when . . . (or My protagonist reveals the truth when . . .)

Read your exercises, make notes, highlight what makes sense.

 

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Filed under Middle Grade Mondays, random poop, writing exercises

Weekend Workout: Make Your Characters Messy

One of my pet peeves as a reader (and movie goer) is characters that are too perfect. Who can relate to that? Humans are not perfect. We are messy. We carry a lot of baggage, have fears and secrets, do the right things for the wrong reason, the wrong things for the right reason. We sabotage ourselves, hurt the ones we love, and agonize over decisions.

It doesn’t matter whether our characters are 16 year old vampires, robots, or train conductors (or all three). Whether you’re writing steampunk, a contemporary romance, or a future fantasy it’s your characters who bring the work to life. When we care about the characters, when we sympathize with their bad decisions, we care about the story.

Good people can do “bad” things. And it’s when our good* hero does something wrong due to fear or ignorance that brings about their own undeserved misfortune that we empathize most of all. This leaves the opportunity for our heroes to redeem themselves, which is ultimately satisfying.

(*what I mean is “striving toward goodness” – that we see the good in them, even as they behave badly, or even as they don’t see the good in themselves)

In the Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, the protagonist Tally struggles with doing the right thing under tremendous pressure, educated in a society controlled by propaganda, and ends up betraying everyone she cares about through her own actions. It makes me angry with her, but I still sympathize, and am moved later when she redeems herself through a great sacrifice. Ultimately, a satisfying emotional roller coaster ride for the reader.

On a subtler note, but just as emotionally satisfying, one of the most heart-breaking scenes in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (the only movie I’ve ever liked better than the book, both written by Peter Hedges) is when Gilbert hits his younger, mentally disabled, brother. Throughout the whole story, Gilbert is constantly striving to be good and to support his dysfunctional family. He has a lot of pressure, for a teenager, to take care of them all. All the while we’re rooting for him to somehow escape the mess. He loves his brother, has taken care of him over the years, and threatens anyone who even jokes about doing him harm. But the tension builds up so beautifully in this story until Gilbert acts in a way he never thought himself capable, so that when he strikes his brother we actually feel sorry for Gilbert!

And btw, it doesn’t matter if you’re writing comedy or drama. Comedy is generally one undeserved misfortune after another!

YOUR WORKOUT:

Timed writing exercises, goodie! Set your timer for 7-10 minutes. Using any (or all) of the start lines below, allow yourself to develop your character’s messy bits through your writing. Just write as fast as you can. Don’t worry about complete sentences, run-on sentences, or proper grammar. (You know the drill! No stopping, no judging, no editing, no crossing out!)

My protagonist’s deepest fear is . . .

My protagonist’s fatal flaw is . . .

My protagonist’s fatal flaw stems from . . .

My protagonist doesn’t want his friends to know . . .

My protagonist feels guilty when . . .

My protagonist causes his/her own undeserved misfortune when . . .

In order to redeem himself/herself, my protagonist must . . .

Have a great weekend!

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Filed under behind the scenes, random poop, weekend workout, writing exercises

Mid-Week Mourning Poem (for Victor Gato)

I haven’t posted in so long I think the three people who actually read my posts have probably given up on me. I guess I’ll have to make some new friends.

If you are new here, hi, hello. I generally leave a weekend writing exercise at the end of the week and post a new piece of writing at the beginning of the week, but today I’m bringing you a mid-week exercise and a poem.

One of the reasons I haven’t blogged in a while is because my cat was very sick and it became clear several days ago that he wasn’t going to make it. It was that delicate time when one has to decide in the cat’s best interests rather than one’s own. It was time to let him go.

I find the periods of my life when I am in mourning to be inspiring creatively. In particular for poetry and song. Emotional pain might not feel “good” – but it’s powerful stuff. I’ve learned to just be in it.

This week the workout is to write a “3-Stage Mourning Poem.” By “stage” I basically mean stanza. With each stanza, you need to “switch direction” but keep them related.

If you aren’t mourning a person or a pet right now, mourn anything. A plant, a favourite pair of shoes, your youth, your favourite restaurant, your ignorance, your idealism . . . whatever, just pick something to mourn.

Most importantly: bring in TANGIBLES. Familiar things we can see, hear, touch, etc. We so often feel pain when we see objects or hear songs that remind us of our loved ones. Show us those objects, weave them into the poem. If you start to get abstract, bring it back down.

And BTW, It doesn’t have to be a serious poem. (or piece of prose for you prose peeps out there)

In Mourning Cats

I know many cats in heaven.
All grandparents, a dad, cousin-in-law, acquaintance,
and at least three friends.
I may know two mice, if mice go to heaven
but my thought is mice
get an automatic rebound
back to the material world maybe
in the form of squirrels

They say cats have nine lives and I believe it.
Once you get to be a cat in heaven
you get to choose your next life.
That’s why cats always act like they own the place
because they do and when they commune with the mother ship
we are the butt of their jokes
how we suffer
how we break our hearts
how they just walk off in the middle of the night
without so much as au revoir

merci

We get close to the void
and write poems about getting close to the void.
Death makes us narrative.
We need to tell it straight
so family members can slip into the words
weave through remnants of troubled dreams
the stories weighing us
like magnetic ghosts

Victor Gato (1995 - 2011)

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Filed under aw... poop, poetry, random poop, weekend workout, writing exercises

Weekend Workout: Got my 50 First Lines – Time for Paragraphs!

Last Weekend I gave you the workout of coming up with 50 first lines. That was it, just the first lines. As fast as you can, without thinking about them too much.

If your intention was to write poetry, they could have emerged as first lines to poem. If your intention was a short story, they would have leaned in that direction. That’s the beauty of it!

When I wrote mine, I was thinking of prose. I wanted to write short stories as an exercise, because I’m still tentative in that department. Since college I think I’ve written less than a dozen short stories.

Next thing to do is to pick 10 or more first lines and write the first PARAGRAPH of each. If you’re writing flash fiction, you might just go ahead and write the whole thing. 500 words or less would lend itself to that. Go for it.

I was aiming for something longer, so I opted to write 10 first paragraphs from 10 first lines. This was, in fact, a bit scary to me, which is so odd. I write tons of prose in the form of novels, but for some reason short stories intimidate me. Go figure.

Here are 10 of my favourite first lines from the previous exercise:

It was the colour of vomit… probably because it was vomit.

The clown nose was the last straw.

The idea was half-baked – – but then again, she liked things a little raw.

The horse was her neighbour’s and they were both studs.

Green, blue, red . . . what mattered the colour of his blood when his heart was a broken hinge?

It was a perfect morning for picking mushrooms.

I was taking a short cut through the cemetery when I spotted it. Him. It.

If he had told her about his origami-folding autistic idiot-savant brother in the first place, they wouldn’t be in this jam.

“I think it can be reattached,” he said.

It wasn’t the first time she had been arrested for bar-fighting, and the other time wasn’t her fault either.

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Filed under 50 First Lines, flash fiction, random poop, weekend workout, writing exercises

I’m Baaaaaaaack! Highlights from Book Tour

Wow, it’s been over a month since I’ve blogged! I shall do the blogger walk of shame (it’s a kind of meandering skulk)…

My intention was to “live blog” my book tour as it went along. Guess what? I discovered that I suck at live-blogging. Plus, who knew that a book tour could be so crazy-hectic? (Okay, the last week of the tour wasn’t crazy or hectic, but that California sunshine was awfully distracting)

For those of you not following along on Brigitta’s FaceBook page (because really, what else do you have to do?), I’ve included a few highlights below.

I participated in 26 events over the course of 27 days. The book tour was really about the release of the accidental novel (Brigitta of the White Forest) but I included a few poetry gigs along the way. Couldn’t help myself. Poetry, she just keeps sneaking back into my life.

On my tour I visited seven elementary schools (putting on 5 assemblies, 2 workshops, and 2 classroom visits). My first assembly was at Pierpont Elementary in Ventura, CA.

Pierpont Thunderbugs

Here I am getting the kids all amped up doing a Thunderbug Symphony. (thunderbugs are large bright flying bugs with drum-beat producing bums. no wonder kids love ’em)


I love teaching my Imaginary Worlds workshops, which are all about how to create imaginary worlds from scratch as a jumping off point for endless story telling. I teach them to both adults and children

Here I am at San Rafael Elementary school in Pasadena working with a select group of inspired students.

Alyson Beecher, the principal, took the photos and blogged about the workshop.

Another wonderful workshop (for adults and kids) was the Faerie Felting workshop that I co-facilitated with Borbala Arvai – a brilliant felting artist. (see her BoriDolls site).  I read from Brigitta and introduced the class to the different kinds of elemental faeries and then Borbala wove (er, felted) her magic and taught us all how to make our own felted faeries. Ta Da! My very first felted faerie. Thanks, Borbala!

It’s difficult to say which was my favourite event, they were all so unique. But I have to say that poet, Art Predator, and wine-blogger Gwendolyn Alley and I had a great time creating a workshop that started out on the beach and ended with wine-tasting activities at the gorgeous Old Creek Ranch Winery. What’s not to like!

Danika, Joan, and Beverly (the chicken) write poetry at the Channel Islands Visitor Center (photo by Gwendoly Alley)

It was also Take Your Chicken to Work Week, so we complied by bringing one along wherever we went.

There were so many other fabulous stops on the tour I can’t possibly include them all.

There were book store readings, workshops at the Ojai Word Fest, the book fair at OWF, book launch parties, a poetry slam (I took 2nd place – Gwendolyn Alley came in 1st), and numerous visits with family and friends. I even snuck in a trip to Disneyland.

Kids (and adults hiding behind them!) colour in Destiny Markings on their faerie wings at Time Tested Books in Sacramento

Thank you to everyone who loaned me a couch or bed to surf on or bought me a fish taco or margarita!

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Filed under behind the scenes, Book Tour, Brigitta of the White Forest, Imaginary Worlds, novel adventures, random poop

Weekend Workout: Making the Daily Matter

This isn’t my regular kind of weekend workout. This one is about getting refocused for the New Year. (now that you’ve let go of all the junk that was holding you back)

I’ve been thinking about why I have been “dragging myself” into this new year. Part of it seems to be a feeling of having lost my way. I find myself asking questions like, “Am I on purpose? Am I following my bliss? Where did all the passion go?”

Eleven years ago I moved to Eastern Europe and traveled around for the better part of a year. It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I was full of every kind of emotion, vulnerable and open, writing massive amounts of poetry and doing a lot of, dare I say it, “soul-searching.” Everything was about experiencing the here and now, living one adventure to the next each day, even if that just meant taking a tram to a new neighborhood store. And even though there were periods of utter loneliness, I was totally alive in that loneliness.

I can’t remember the last time I felt like that and sometimes it’s like I’m just going through the motions to get to some abstract reward at a later date. I decided I wanted to remember how to live in the moment and to have those moments support my purpose, which in turn nurtures my higher self.

But do I have to physically leave the country in order to be alive and passionate about what’s in front of me in the here and now? Even though, while I was wandering about Eastern Europe, I didn’t know what I wanted to do next in my life, I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be, doing exactly what I needed to be doing. I knew that it was serving some sort of higher purpose and that whatever was next for me would appear at the right and perfect time.

I think most of us would like to know that in all things we do we are serving our more “actualized” self. But that’s such an abstract idea. How do we serve our actualized self on a daily basis? Isn’t most of life about the mundane?

I wanted something physical I could look at every day to remind me of how I can do this. With each action, I can serve this higher self. Inspired by this idea, I ended up drawing this:

This demonstrates to me how I can view the small or “mundane” things I do on a daily basis as “serving.” Serving others, serving a higher purpose, serving a life worth lived. And by “serving,” my creative self is inspired and expressed (because serving, to me, is an act of love, and acts of love are necessarily creative).

Then, I started filling in each level of the pyramid. That’s when things got exciting.

Things to do on a daily basis: self-talk, read, write, communicate to my loved ones, play, rest, organize, appreciate, etc.

Things I do to serve: teach so that I inspire, write so that I connect, perform so that I open others to express, etc.

How this manifests creatively:  expressing myself through my stories with a true, radiant, and fearless heart, open wide to the joy it brings, connected to the divine

What would it mean to sit in my actualized self: balance, peace, joy, unity, connection

I actually have an image to put at the top, something I drew from a divination deck. I was going to post it here, but this is my personal image. I want you to find your own.

For a BLANK pyramid click: Actualized Self BLANK

I highly recommend this as an exercise this weekend. Using words and images, demonstrate how on a daily basis you can serve your higher purpose. What does this LOOK like to you? What do you see yourself doing? Your second and third tiers may be something other than what I’ve decided, but keep the bottom tier as the daily self, because I think that’s where we have to start, and the top as the actualized self.

Enjoy the process! Guaranteed to put a smile on your face or your money back.

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Filed under inspirational poop, random poop, serious play, truth and beauty, weekend workout

Gwendolyn Alley’s Middle of the Night Poems

I know I’m not the only one who has been urging Gwendolyn Alley to publish a collection of her poems. And now she has done it, created a moving story, over years of participating in the 3:15 Experiment, with this collection of poems from the middle of the night for her mother and young son.

I met Gwendolyn at the Taos Poetry Circus in 2000. At that time, The 3:15 Experiment had been running for 7 years and had been growing each year. The Taos Poetry Circus became and annual trek for both of us, and she became part of the cycle of experimenters.

Gwendolyn’s unflagging enthusiasm and dedication drew us closer together and she became one of our core “cognizanti” – co-editing the between sleeps 3:15 anthology and hosting a 3:15 Fiesta in Ventura in 2006. She was a natural addition to our core group, as she has a knack for bringing people together, artists in particular, for a common and higher purpose.

Gwendolyn has done so much for poetry and poets: organizing events, editing the work of writers, encouraging and mentoring writers. It’s about time we celebrate her work.

This collection is available now in limited run chapbook form from en theos press. A printed book will also be available later in the year.

For poets, for mothers, for those who marvel at our connectedness.

READ MORE about Gwendolyn and the “Middle of the Night” launch.

From “Middle of the Night Poems from Daughter to Mother :: Mother to Son”

August 1, 2003

it’s 315 time again
i go to lie on my side to write
but the baby is there
i can’t lie on the baby
it’s like lying on a watermelon
large and hard

the baby sleeps right now
no movement–i’m awkward
trying to find a way
to comfortably write i’m strained
as constrained as the baby at 29 weeks
we are alike today in that way
both trying to get comfortable
to get some sleep
the baby can see light
a red glow seeps through my belly
can hear sound but probably not
the crickets outside or
daddy making his going to sleep sigh
hmm mmm mmmm he says

the notebook too is pregnant
uncomfortable it doesn’t
want to open to bend back
to receive anymore
it too is slightly bent
out of shape its spirals
damaged well traveled but
empty of much writing

as i slide down scoot down
slip down off my pillows
losing my great grip on my place
the angle of the pen
the lightness of the ink
indicates betrays its discomfort
the pen is pregnant too
pregnant with poems with desire
to be a useful tool
yet more than a tool of transmission
a tool of transformation
i too am that tool
one of transmission of transformation
the baby in my belly
the pen in my hand

Also known as The Art Predator: you can visit Gwen’s very active blog at: artpredator.wordpress.com

For writing advice, personal or business, visit her at The Write Alley: thewritealley.com

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Filed under on my bookshelf, poetry, random poop, The 3:15 Experiment, truth and beauty