Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Do I know the beginning and ending of my stories when I start writing?

For my two co-authored Civil War novels, yes I did. Both books were based on actual people involved in the Civil War: Charley King in BROKEN DRUM and Nancy Hart in REBEL HART. I think of both those books as "connect-the-dot" pictures. The dots were the facts that we researched and could not change. The lines connecting the facts were the fictional elements we used to make our stories more interesting. It was those connecting lines that took unexpected twists and turns.

For my current novel-in-progress, I started with a setting and two characters, but no definite "beginning" in mind. The better I get to know my characters, the more my plot develops, and I have a pretty good idea of where the story will end. However, many of the scenes in between are still in question. Once the characters take over, they often surprise me, and I am amazed at how natural some decisions become. If I get stuck, I jump ahead to a scene I know will come and then go back later to work on the transitions or to change the sequence.

I hope my characters keep me guessing as much as I want them to keep my readers turning the pages.



I'll take it one by one:

The stories in Juan Bobo:Four Folktales from Puerto Rico went from morning to evening. So the book had to end with Juan Bobo going to bed.

Teresa grew out of her racism in In The Shade of the Níspero Tree. I knew her mother didn't. Still, unfortunately, I rewrote the ending with her mother changing her views. I regret it.

Biographies end with the death of their subjects--if they die. Even then I try to end my books with hope.

The Afterword of Poet and Politician from Puerto Rico: Don Luis Muñoz Marín begins with one of his quotes: "Gone to feed the roots of the gathering spring."

My biography about farmworker César Chávez was dictated to me (I prefer to think that he dictated it to me) so I just wrote it as told, including its ending.

I knew how to end my biography about muralist Diego Rivera. He was a storyteller so it had to end with a moral to his story.

My latest biography, Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court Justice, ended with her success!

I know how the novel I am writing now will end. Elisa won't become a nun!


Writing process

Do I know the ending of my stories when I begin to write?

Yes, usually I do. In both my YA novel Absolutely Positively Not, as well as the middle grade novel that I'm currently working on, not only did I know the ending early in the process, but I also knew the exact wording I wanted for the very last line. It's nice to have that goal to work towards, and it's nice to have a powerful ending line in mind, but I worry that having such a specific destination prevents me from letting the story wander into unexpected, and perhaps more interesting, territory.

Tonight, however, I don't know the ending to my real life story. I'm in the middle of a school residency and when I got home tonight, I lost my voice completely. Yikes! I hope lots of warm water with lemon and a long steamy shower tonight can restore my voice before I return to the school in the morning. An author visit where the author can't talk is not very interesting.


Collage artist, collage writer

“Do you know the beginning and end of your story when you start writing? What is your personal process?” This is our topic of discussion this round.

I’m usually focused on picture books, but now I’m enrolled in a middle grade/YA novel writing class at Stanford, so I’ll discuss my current writing efforts. In fact, I just submitted a chunk of my story for next week’s class workshop.

My general story arc is clear because I am drawing from my past. I’m a newbie, so memoir is a starting place for me. I may have to distance myself at some point, but for now it helps me to write the truth I know. My story is shaped in vignettes (snapshots or slice-of-life stories), a nontraditional narrative structure. This is not strictly linear storytelling, rather more of a collage or scrapbook approach. I try to link all these pieces into a story that holds together in a cohesive way and builds a plot. However, when I begin writing I do not know how each vignette will evolve. I am exploring an idea, theme, emotion, or mood. Each vignette is like a little packet where I try to create a connection between the beginning and the end. The delight of this process is in the discovery of patterns and meaning. I'm hooked on this surprise.

I debated whether to use vignettes or verse. Verse novels use another nontraditional narrative structure that has recently become quite popular in the MG/YA world. Both approaches combine poetry and prose. I experimented breaking my existing sentences, but the work didn’t quite feel like verse or poetry, just lots of short lines. Ultimately I decided I prefer a lyrical prose.

I’m in the early phases so I don’t know specifically how the story will end. Our Stanford instructor is focused on helping us to write strong beginnings so we can hope to get the attention of an editor when and if we submit samples.

A couple years ago I read some of my early vignettes to my writer’s group. One member suggested I read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Cisneros describes her motivation for writing in vignettes, “I wanted stories like poems, compact and lyrical and ending with reverberation.” This is my aim too.