Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Learning a New Genre

During my summer break from the "One Potato...Ten" blog, my writing has focused on something new for me--screenwriting--and I love it! I'm drawing near the end of an enrichment semester in Film Adaptation/Screenwriting through the Spalding University MFA program. My faculty mentor is screenwriter/ playwright Charlie Schulman, and I have to say I've learned more in this semester than any other. I started from scratch (no experience whatsoever), and I feel as if I now have a decent first draft of a film adaptation of my middle grade novel, ROAD TO TATER Hill. I still have time for another revision before the semester is up. I have a feeling I'll be doing a lot of slashing.

Here are a few tips I learned:
1. Think visually.
2. Avoid description and introspection.
3. Dialogue is secondary.
4. Show, don't tell.
5. Less is better.
6. Keep a metronome beating in my head as I write.
7. Be open to adding some new scenes that help tell the story more visually.
8. Be open to removing some scenes from the book that won't work in a film.

I did find some time for reading and started with some screenplays, three by Horton Foote: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL, and TENDER MERCIES.

Books I highly recommend are:

LEAVING GEE'S BEND by Irene Latham

THE GARDENER by our own Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen

EYES ON THE GOAL by our own John Coy

FAITHFUL by Janet Fox

COMFORT by Joyce Moyer Hostetter



What I did (and read) this summer

For the fourth summer in a row I was able to spend a week at fellow spud Lauren Stringer's guest house in the small town of Grand Marais, Minnesota, where I enjoyed my own private writing retreat. Though I spent some long hours working on the revisions to a middle grade novel, I also found time to hike in the north woods and relax along the rocky shore of Lake Superior. Waking up each morning to the cry of seagulls made me feel like I was someplace very exotic.

The summer did not slip by without me discovering some good books. Here are my favorite reads from the past three months:

THE LAST SUMMER OF THE DEATH WARRIORS by Francisco X. Stork. In this expertly written young adult novel, the unexpected friendship between two teenage boys (one dying of brain cancer, the other determined to kill the man he believes murdered his sister) causes each to rethink the direction of his own life. Stork's MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD was my favorite book of last year, and his follow-up novel did not disappoint me.

WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON by Grace Lin. This is the type of folk tale book I would have loved when I was ten years old. I loved it at age 49 as well.

THE CARD TURNER by Louis Sachar. Aimed at a slightly older audience than his book HOLES, this is the tale of a teenager unwillingly recruited to "read" the cards for his crotchety blind uncle. I never dreamed that I'd find bridge so suspenseful. Several surprising turns kept me riveted.

THE LIGHTNING THIEF by Rick Riordian. I've heard kids talking up this book at elementary schools, so I thought I'd see what all the hype was about. Very enjoyable and plenty of clever Greek myth references. I'm not sure I'm ready to commit to reading the entire series, though.

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett. Set in the south during the 1960's, this book depicts the relationship between black maids and their white employers. An interesting look into a world very different than my own.

I'm looking forward to reading other people's lists, and adding some new titles to my fall roster of "books to read."


the pleasure of shared books

A book invites us into another world. Here are some worlds I traveled to this summer with family and friends.

My daughter and I LOVED The Glass Castle a memoir by Jeannette Walls, so we eagerly opened her second book, Half Broke Horses, where Walls highlights the life of her grandmother and mother. Though interesting, it didn't sparkle like her first title.

My husband devoured Borrowed Time, a mystery by Robert Goddard. I then did the same. I will be hunting down more Goddard mysteries—great characters, and very suspenseful.

A friend gave me The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. This was my favorite read of the summer. I love the intertwining of two distinct stories and voices. The writing is eloquent. This book makes me savor life.

Another friend passed along Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. I did NOT particularly care for this one. Fortunately, my friend felt the same way.

I'm in the middle of Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. My husband raved about this one, as he has about other titles by this author. Subtle.

In each case, the opportunity to discuss, praise or critique the book, heightened the pleasure of reading.

In addition, I read nonfiction—research for projects in development. Mainly this summer, I was immersed in creating art, burning the candle at both ends, skipping the vacation my husband and daughter enjoyed to meet my due date. Two weeks before that date, I was told the book was being postponed a list. I have not even looked at the art since. Labor Day is behind me now, so it's time to put my anger and disappointment behind me, and finish it up so I can move forward on other projects.

As Diane noted in an earlier post, she attended my family program at the Norton Simon Museum. It was wonderful to make the acquaintance of another spud. Here is a candid picture of the two of us.


And we're back...

Summer is over. My oldest graduated from high school, my youngest is already into Week #2 of her junior year of high school, and, to punctuate the fact that autumn is upon us, the first high school football game was last Friday. (We won 46-6.)

Sadly, I was not productive over the summer. I'm awaiting revision notes on one novel, but I did write a synopsis of what I hope will be the next one. A big highlight of the summer was when Good Morning America featured The Gardener on the segment "Best Summer Books for Kids." One thing I did a lot of this summer was read. I read a lot of YA, but I also read a lot of grown-up books. Some of my favorites were:

Sena Jeter Naslund is the director of the brief residency MFA program at Spalding University, where I got my MFA. If you haven't read her previous novels, like Ahab's Wife or Four Spirits, you are missing out. This is her latest and it was amazing.

Bartholomew Fortuno is the thinnest man in the world, on display at a museum of living oddities in New York City in the early 1900's. Do I really need to tell you more?

Birthmarked, Fever Crumb, and I Am Number Four are all recent YA novels. They all kept me riveted.

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith is a YA forthcoming in November from Feiwel and Friends. I begged them for an ARC a few months ago. Glad I did, because this book rocked. It's as close to Stephen King writing for teens as it gets.

The Passage. What can I say that you haven't already heard? I know this book is everywhere but the hype is true. I loved this book and can't wait to read the follow-ups.

These are really just a few of the books I read, because I think I read close to 30 novels this summer. And my hands-down favorite? Drum roll please.................

The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise takes place at the Tower of London, and is the story of one of the Beefeaters who works and lives there. I fell in love with this book. There were parts where I laughed out loud, and I wept at the end. Loved loved loved this book.

So what did you read this summer?