Monday, September 29, 2014

Fiction Writing: Creation vs Evolution

Fiction Writing: Creation vs Evolution

By Robert Polk

Do you use the word creation to describe your writing? Although creation means “bringing something into existence”, and that’s kind of what writers do, I’m still uncomfortable calling my writings “creations”. I often wonder how many other writers feel they are merely conduits for ideas waiting for proper expression. If you’re like me, your writing ability continues to evolve, as do your stories – and yet there’s still plenty of room in our brains for creative flow and evolution of craft. (There is in mine, anyway.)

Even when I’m working on new projects (whether MG or otherwise) I’m reluctant to claim full credit for “creating” anything completely original.

The word “discovery” fits my idea of writing. Because for me, it’s all about character discovery, or it’s about discovering the plot that works or discovering the circumstances particular to the development of each scene. At any rate, in my writing process, I go searching for the character, or plot or world or circumstance. I seek them out, listening, observing, and trying to really hear or feel them.

Maybe in some sense we did “create” our characters and the circumstances in which our characters find themselves. But even then, I stumble at fully believing that I caused a character’s existence, rather than finding her or him.

The point is, for me, I’m doing what works. And what works for me is listening to people, watching and really hearing the characters and considering if they are right for this book, or chapter, or scene, or whatever.

No, I can’t use the word creation – not when referring to my characters. They are already there, somewhere, waiting for me to discover them and to really hear their messages. But I will help them evolve, as I put them through a series of ‘what if’s. The poor suckers may suffer an embarrassing situation or deal with a tragedy of some kind which may show an interesting side of them.

When my characters display these previously hidden facets of themselves, I can’t help but wonder what else is yet to be learned about (and from) them. I plod on, nudging, tweaking, prodding them to see what they’ll do and say. How can that process not be more discovery than anything else?

Although the argument of Creation vs Evolution can be polarizing, I think there’s a little of both going on – at least in my writing.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

A MG Pitch Wars learning experience - 2 things I've realized AGAIN

If you're reading this, you probably know all about Pitch Wars and what a  fantabulous of an experience it is for the mentees. But let me tell you something. As a mentor, I'm learning more about my writing and MG in general than I ever thought was capable. Who would have thought, that Pitch Wars is helping me, just as much as it is probably helping my experience.

When I chose my mentee, I based it solely on writing I know I would be able to help to the best of my ability. Primarily, it was writing I could connect with, and writing I knew could be developed to a point where agents would want to snatch it up and show it off to the world. A month into edits, and I'm finally ready to send her the editorial letter and my notes that I took as much time as possible with. I wanted to treat her book as if it were my own. In a way, I felt like I adopted it. And for those of you reading this, get ready world, because Andrea Pelleschi is going to take you by storm with her creative MG brilliance! (follow her on twitter btw if you haven't already - @AndreaPelleschi)

Ultimately Pitch Wars got me thinking about my own writing, and how it's been in an never ending state of evolution since I first wrote words on a page. So what exactly did I learn?'s like going back to my roots, and I'm boldly going where no writer has gone before. BACK TO SQUARE ONE.

Strap in - it's going to be a bumpy ride.

First of all, after looking at all the entries into the competition, there is a definite key to originality. I've been in development of two new manuscripts right now, and one I'm absolutely shelving after fully realizing that while I love the story, the originality just isn't there. It's one thing to think of a unique concept, but it's another where you just taking a concept already done over and over and over again and just putting a twist to it.

A twist can only go so far. Of course, we'll all borrow from other works, but we need to make it our priority to separate ourselves from them as far as possible. That was one issue I did see with the entrants. It's one thing to compare yourself to a work, but it's another when I feel like I'm reading something I just read a few months ago with different character names and macguffins.

So take a look at your MS. Is it REALLY that different from the rest out there? If not, get back in there and "make it so" - see what I did there?


Another thing I learned? Do NOT forget your voice. You can have the greatest concept in the world, and your writing technique can be stellar, but without that voice, a MG novel is just going to fall flat. I turned down a few entrants just because their voice wasn't their yet. Voice is something that takes a LONG time to work on. I'm talking months upon months. And it isn't a very natural thing to develop. It sort of just hits you one day.

Hell, even with the MS I'm working on now, the voice needs a lot of work. I'm trying to develop it from CN which is on submission. I feel like it would be awkward if I use the same voice in one book as I did another. The characters are very different, and the voices NEED to be different as well.

Take your time, let that voice flow from you, and be natural. The only advice I can offer is to just try writing without thinking. You might find your voice coming out. Edit afterwards. Don't worry about what's on the page. Just write the first thing that comes to your mind.

Finding your voice's seriously as hard as this...

These may seem like two very self explanatory things, but I'm telling you it gets lost in the creative process. We get so self absorbed with our own stories that we sometimes forget the important key things in developing a story that would connect with readers. And isn't that what it's all about? Forming that connection? 

I don't know about you, but I'm back to the drawing board. I will put my MS on the back burner for awhile, and create something new yet again. Need to focus on those important bits...are you with me!???!?!?!?! Of course you now let's play with some cats.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Michaela MacColl, Author of Rory's Promise

Today we are very excited to have Michaela MacColl author of Rory's Promise guest blogging for Middle Grade Minded!

Thank you for having me at Middle Grade Minded! Rosemary and I appreciate your hosting of the Rory’s Promise blog tour.

Rory’s Promise is the first book I’ve written deliberately for Middle Grade. (My second novel, Promise the Night (Chronicle, 2011) ended up being marketed as middle grade but I didn’t know that was what I was doing!) But Rory is the first book in our Hidden Histories series designed for middle grade about odd, frankly baffling but still true incidents in American history.

Rory’s Promise is about a particular orphan train that brought 40 Irish kids under the age of 6 to the remote territory of Arizona.  The Sisters of Charity in New York City had placed thousands of children in homes specially chosen for them by local priests around the country. But they’d never ventured as far as Arizona and they were completely unprepared. 

From 1853-1929 over a quarter million children were transported from East Coast cities to the rural Midwest.  Many of the kids were Irish orphans.  Most of the trains were run by the Christian Aid Societ y who would bring the kids into town and let families choose whomever they wished.  Many children ended up as indentured servants although many were also formally or informally adopted. The Sisters of Charity hated this process; they wanted these children to become part of Catholic families.  They sent out children that were too young to work on the farms and they only sent them to Catholic families.

Clifton Arizona was a mining town. The run-off from the copper mines kept women from bearing children – the rate of miscarriages for white families was ¼ and twice that for Mexican families. The women in this town were desperate for children. When the orphan train rolls in the white women assume the children are available for the taking. They are shocked and dismayed to learn that not only are the children already allocated they are destined for Mexican families.  The local priest was from France and didn’t understand the social and economic chasm that existed between the Mexican mine workers and the white supervisors. 

The white families are so appalled that they kidnap/rescue the first batch of 20 kids that are delivered to the Mexican families.  Only after several violent outbreaks (during which the priest is run out of town and the nuns are threatened), did the nuns negotiate a deal to return to NYC with half the children, leaving the kidnapped/rescued kids behind. The nuns went to court, assuming that as the legal guardians of the children that their case was iron-clad. They did not reckon with the local prejudice against Mexicans. The court decided that the children had been saved from a fate worse than death – because everyone knows that Mexicans could not raise white children.

Baffling right?  In Rory’s Promise we want to show how all the parties in this crazy situation were absolutely convinced that they were morally justified. From a modern perspective, this can be difficult. So we’ve created a character who wades into this story with her own unique opinions and a moral center of her own. Meet Rory Fitzpatrick.

Orphan Rory Fitzpatric is determined to stay with her little sister Violet, by any means necessary.  When Violet is sent West, Rory stows away on the train. When all hell breaks loose in Arizona, only Rory has the freedom of movement (since she’s not even supposed to be there) and the clearsightedness to convince the Sisters to cut their losses and retreat. In the meantime, Rory has to decide what kind of life she wants and what does family really mean.

I hope you enjoy Rory’s Promise – you can enter below to win a copy!  For more information check out the trailer or my website at

Twelve-year-old orphan Rory Fitzpatrick lives with her younger sister Violet at New York City's Foundling Hospital in the early 1900s. But when Rory discovers that Violet will be sent to the Arizona Territory to be adopted, her world is shattered. Although too old to be adopted herself, Rory--brave and smart--is determined to stay with her sister, even if it means hiding out on a train traveling west. When Rory and Violet arrive in Arizona, everything that could go wrong does go wrong. Will Rory give up? This uplifting novel about the power of faith and the true meaning of family launches the Hidden Histories series, spotlighting little-known tales from America's past, and the children behind those stories. Includes authors' note and further resources.


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Michaela attended Vassar College and Yale University earning degrees in multi-disciplinary history. Unfortunately, it took her 20 years before she realized she was learning how to write historical fiction. Her favorite stories are the ones she finds about the childhood experiences of famous people. She has written about a teenaged Queen Victoria (Prisoners in the Palace, Chronicle 2010) and Beryl Markham’s childhood (Promise the Night, Chronicle 2011). She is writing a literary mystery series for teens featuring so far a young Emily Dickinson in Nobody’s Secret (2013) and the Bronte sisters in Always Emily (2014).  She has recently begun a new series with Boyd’s Mill/Highlights called Hidden Histories about odd events in America’s past. The first entry in the series is Rory’s Promise and will be published in September 2014. She frequently visits high schools and has taught at the Graduate Institute in Bethel, CT.   She lives in Westport CT with her husband, two teenaged daughters and three extremely large cats.

Visit the other blog tour sites:
Friday, 9/19 - Kirby Larson blog (GUEST BLOG POST/GIVEAWAY)

Mon 9/22 - Middle Grade Mafioso (BOOK REVIEW/GIVEAWAY)

Tue 9/23 - Mother/Daughter Book Club (BOOK REVIEW/GIVEAWAY)

Wed 9/24 - Middle Grade Minded (GUEST BLOG POST/GIVEAWAY)

Thu 9/25 - KidLit Frenzy (BOOK REVIEW/GIVEAWAY)

Fri 9/26 - Unleashing Readers (BOOK REVIEW/GIVEAWAY)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Why I Write Midde Grade - by Tom Mulroy

The thing is, I don’t really identify myself as a Middle Grade writer.

That I write Middle Grade doesn’t have a lot to do with my childhood, which is now so distant that recalling details about it is almost like remembering a story told from a third-person perspective. I know I was a voracious reader when I was young, from ‘The Hardy Boys’ to ‘Encyclopedia Brown’ to the huge hardcover collection of Greek myths in the school library, to the entire ‘Wrinkle in Time’ series eleven times over. But my childhood reading habits came and went in waves with widely discrepant amplitudes, and once I crossed the threshold into junior high I hit a dead end. My nonreaderness (take note, Internet -- I may have just coined and minted a new word right there) became so acute that I absolutely refused to read the minimum number of books required for completing the fill-in-the-blanks book reports I’d been assigned for one English class. But I was too much of a little teacher-pleasing toady to blow them off completely, so instead I invented a collection of fake novels, and finished all of my reports by creating the authors, titles, characters, plots, and settings I needed. After all, I figured, there were so many books in the world there was just no way my English teacher could have possibly known them all. I got away with it somehow too, either because my teacher didn’t put a lot of careful thought into grading or because he respected my audacity enough to let me off the hook.

If I’d been paying attention to anything other than my self-absorbed, sub-suburban, early-teenage angst, it might have occurred to me that taking any one of those ideas and writing the actual story to go with it could have been pretty cool to try. Writing finally caught up with me in high school, when I wrote stories about characters all remarkably similar to me and the people in my life as I tried to figure out my place in everything, all of which would now likely be categorized as YA. The stories evolved in college as I still wrote to figure things out, branching into what would now be NA.

So how does it happen that as a full-fledged grown-up I’m writing stories about kids? Pretty simple -- that’s who I teach. They’re the people I spend so much of my time with, and they greatly influence the perspectives through which I view the world. Each day I witness them doing and being everything from goofy to sublime to sublimely goofy. The constant discovery and surprise and innocence they carry with them, and how their emerging personalities are revealed along the way, is all too fascinating and rich with possibility to NOT explore.

I also see those kids as readers, and I know the power Middle Grade books can have. I’ve witnessed collections of ‘Goosebumps’ books held together with industrial-strength rubber bands and hauled around like prized literary bricks. Sorting through pre-ordered copies of ‘Wimpy Kid’ books on release day has become a November tradition for me. I’ve been involved in a decade-long grudge match with another teacher about the ending of ‘The Giver,’ and each year we’ll claim the students who agree with us like game pieces from a chessboard. In my years as a teacher, I’ve encountered Middle Grade books that have knocked me over with their beauty and humor and resonance. As a writer, that’s what I’m reaching for -- the books that pull kids in and keep them engaged, then have them thinking and dreaming long after The End.

I don’t exactly think of myself as a Middle Grade writer. Instead, I’m a writer who happens to live in a Middle Grade world.

And now that I’ve gotten my feet wet as a contributor here, it’s giveaway time! All the originals on the MG Minded team had giveaways with their introductory posts, so who am I to break tradition? I’m offering a critique of your query letter and the first three chapters of your manuscript -- middle grade or not, for whatever you may decide my opinion is worth. I’m no publishing expert but I am a teacher, so I have a wee bit of experience in telling people what’s good about their writing and suggesting things they could try differently. (See how positively I just framed that?)

But hold on, because it gets even better. My incredible agent, the one and only Carrie Howland, has generously offered to match my critique! You could actually walk away from this with a set of author notes and a set of agent notes, and trust me on this: Her notes are so incisively dead-on it’s almost a little spooky. If you’re interested, go ahead and click on that raffle thing below to enter, which Jamie assures me is going to work, and we’ll see what happens from there!

I know magic! It'll work ;) ~Jamie
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Friday, September 19, 2014

Hard-to-take critiques

Every new contest brings a lot of emotions. Some good, some not so good. Too many hopefuls are riddled with strong feelings of disappointment and heartache. Even worse are the ones that allow sticky feelings like anger to take over. 

What we do is so personal, so it’s very hard not take rejection personally.

Because no one likes to hear that they’re not on the right track, especially when the feedback we get was something we so didn’t expect.

First reaction: Denial.
“No, that’s not true. They just don’t get it. They’re WRONG!”

Yeah, maybe that’s true. They could be wrong. But you should never assume they’re wrong. There is always something important to learn from another person’s perspective. Even if it just means being prepared for more of the same perspective later.

Second reaction: Anger
"How could they say that? They’re just jealous fools! I hate them"

Sure, there are the occasional times where a critique isn’t fair. You hit a sore spot with a reviewer. They were in a REALLY bad mood when they read your work. They really like making people angry.
Or… maybe you’re just not thinking clearly. Maybe your own emotions are too high to really get it right now.

Third Reaction: Bargaining
“No, no! They just didn’t read it right. See this makes sense because I said this. If you knew this about my character you wouldn’t ever have thought that!”

Okay, now you’re just making excuses. It’s your job to make sure they are getting it. If they aren’t, there may be something you can do to fix that.

Fourth Reaction: Depression
"I suck. I’m horrible. I’m never going to get anywhere!"

No. You just have more to learn. There is ALWAYS more to learn.

All the above reactions are normal and natural, but they’re not rational. Sometimes the truth in those comments don’t sink in at first.

What you should do: Stop!

Do not react, at least not publicly. Let the words settle. ESPECIALLY when it comes from an agent or editor. DO NOT respond right away if you’re feeling any strong emotions.

Sometimes what you think is an acceptable response can come off way different when you’re upset. So just give yourself time to cope and accept it. Let yourself freak out, become angry, sad, whatever it is, on your own. THEN respond (or don’t, depending).
You are completely welcome to disagree with the feedback you received—so long as that is a rational response, after you’ve taken some time to understand what the review is really saying.

You might be able to guess the next step on the list of reactions of hard-to-take critiques. 

Reaction Five: Acceptance
Ding! Ding! Ding!

Acceptance can come in a lot of different forms. It doesn't just mean "Yes! They're totally right!" It could also mean, "Okay, I see why they said that. I just don't agree." or even, "I see what they're saying but I'm not sure I agree yet. Maybe I should get another opinion."

The point is taking a good long look at the feedback both to understand what the reader is really saying and to decide if it is really something you want to use. Not all critiques are correct. A lot of them are simply opinion. But so long as you are look the at feedback in a rational way, you are totally good to go.

This is where we all want to be. Rationally prepared to take on the critique and make ourselves better. Now it’s time to learn something!