Friday, December 26, 2014

Guest Post: E. Kristin Anderson on Teens Need Verse

By E. Kristin Anderson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Young people love poetry.

At least they love writing it. When I ask teens whether they read much poetry, though, the answer is usually no.

I think I know why. Outside of my bona fide freaky obsession with Emily Dickinson from the age of six, this was pretty much my exposure to poetry outside of Shel Silverstein:

  1. That time I found a super old and moldy copy of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and read it cover to cover in 24 hours. (I’m totes still scared of the Jabberwocky.)
  2. Memorizing a Robert Frost poem in fourth grade, which I suspect is about average for anyone who grew up in New England in the 80s or 90s.
  3. Shakespeare in high school.
  4. More Shakespeare.
  5. Transcendentalism.
  6. Intravenous Shakespeare injections.

Are you seeing a pattern here? It’s something along the lines of “dead white guys” and “extra dead white guys.”

But I had a teacher by the name of Mrs. Graves.

Teenage Sonnet
Cynthia Graves taught us sonnets and Shakespeare, sure. But she had us write our own sonnets, instead of just memorizing Bill. And then she gave us Louise Glück.

Louise Glück changed everything for me. I realized that I could write a poem that didn’t rhyme. Or that spoke to me, with honesty. That poems didn’t have to be about love or tragedy (though they could be). That sometimes you could just enjoy a poem, and not have to think what it “means.” And maybe it wasn’t just Louise Glück that changed everything.

(Pause for a shout-out to my girl Louise, for winning a National Book Award in November!)

It was Cynthia Graves.

But not everyone gets to be in Mrs. Graves’ class. And, survey says, poetry in the classroom hasn’t changed a whole lot since I was in school. I’m guessing there’s a little less Robert Frost here in Texas and hopefully a lot more Naomi Shihab Nye. And while there aren’t many poetry collections published for the YA market, that doesn’t mean we can’t share grown-up poetry with teens. Frost was hardly writing YA!

Sure, I’m still obsessed with Emily Dickinson as an adult. I appreciate Shakespeare. But I also love reading literary magazines and discovering new voices. I love writing found poetry using YA novels and fashion magazines. I love writing poems about UFOs and jackalopes.

I love when a fellow writer gives me a prompt and I have to create something under whacky constraints. It’s wild! It’s joyful! It’s making stuff! It’s telling stories!

I want kids to know this love, to find that poetry is more than iambic pentameter and some crusty dude with a quill. I want kids to see that they can read Gwendolyn Brooks! Tracy K. Smith! Austin Kleon! Francesca Lia Block! Tomaž Šalamun! Joseph Bruchac! Christine Heppermann! Ada Límon!

There are so many contemporary poets writing brilliant work – do we really all have to read the same guys, over and over, for generations?

I want to see grown-ups making magazines like Cicada and The New Yorker and Bat City Review (this is U.T. Austin’s lit mag – insert your local college’s lit mag here) available in their classroom libraries. In their bathrooms. On their teens’ nightstands. On their own nightstands.

Teens will read poetry, I swear. Just give them a little more A little more variety to choose from. Let them enjoy the work, without always having to find the exact meaning. (Sometimes, I don’t even know everything about my poems’ meanings until a reader asks me a specific question!) Give them poets who look like them, who live like them, who speak to them. Who write poems that are weird, honest, awkward, fantastical.

You wouldn’t believe how many kids are purportedly “stealing” my poetry books from their parents because they’re full of ghosts and lake monsters. Or how teens love hearing about making new poetry out of old texts.

Young people are attracted to writing poetry for a reason. I’d love to see a generation that loves reading it, too.

Cynsational Notes

E. Kristin Anderson is a Pushcart-nominated poet and author who grew up in Westbrook, Maine and is a graduate of Connecticut College.

She has a fancy diploma that says “B.A. in Classics,” which makes her sound smart but has not helped her get any jobs in Ancient Rome.

Once upon a time she worked for the lovely folks at The New Yorker magazine, but she soon packed her bags and moved to Texas.

Currently living in Austin, Texas, Kristin is an online editor at Hunger Mountain and a contributing editor at Found Poetry Review. Kristin is the co-editor of the Dear Teen Me anthology (Zest Books, 2012), based on the website of the same name.
As a poet she has been published in many magazines including Post Road, the Cimarron Review, [PANK], Asimov’s Science Fiction, and Cicada and she has work forthcoming in Contemporary Verse 2 and NonBinary Review.

Kristin is the author of two chapbooks of poetry: "A Guide for the Practical Abductee" (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014) and "A Jab of Deep Urgency" (Finishing Line Press, 2014).

She hand-wrote her first trunk book at sixteen. It was about the band Hanson and may or may not still be in a notebook in her parents’ garage.

She blogs at EKristinAnderson.com and is currently working on a full-length collection of erasure poems from women’s and teen magazines.

Kristin's recent reading at The Book Spot in Round Rock, Texas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Guest Post: Darlene Beck Jacobson on Wheels of Change

Original White House Invitation Emily Received in Wheels of Change.
By Darlene Beck Jacobson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The idea for Wheels of Change (Creston, 2014) came about through the discovery of two things while researching my family tree.

One was the fact that my paternal great-grandfather was a carriage maker in Washington D.C. in the late 1800s through the early 1900s.

The second was an invitation my grandmother received to a reception hosted by then President Theodore Roosevelt. Further research at the National Archives confirmed that she attended the reception and met Roosevelt.

Putting the two together became my premise: What if the livelihood of a carriage maker is threatened by progress of the modern world? To what lengths would a determined daughter, who adores her Papa’s way of life, go to save the business? Would she indeed go all the way to the president?

I wrote the first draft of Wheels of Change as a picture book.

When an editor commented that the voice, ideas and concepts were better suited to middle grade, I panicked. How could I possibly find a novel length story from twelve hundred words?

After I calmed down and cleared my head, ideas began to form and scenes rose from the fog. As I fleshed out the story, I did more research to make sure things were accurate to time and place. And, I discovered that adding some of the social and historical events of the era added depth to the plot in ways I hadn’t originally conceived.

Emily Soper
It was absolutely essential to get the details accurate. Just because it was fiction didn’t mean I could do what you liked in terms of historical references. It had to be grounded in the reality of the time period. I wanted readers to trust the storytelling. They couldn’t do that if I was too lazy to find out if a 1908 nickel had a buffalo or picture of Washington on it.

I visited a buggy museum to get a feel for life in a carriage barn. I took a virtual tour of the White House and viewed film clips of Theodore Roosevelt and his family. I read numerous books about the turn of the Twentieth Century and life in Washington D.C. I perused cookbooks, newspapers, the Sears Catalog, and old maps to get a sense of daily life.

I found a wonderful on-line site called Streets of Washington that details businesses and buildings that existed way back when. I contacted Sagamore Hill, The Smithsonian, The Henry Ford Museum, and The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. for answers to specific questions.

Through it all, I was constantly amazed by how helpful people were. Whenever I had a question, historical experts were eager to share their knowledge.

My grandmother was a musician who played piano and organ in the silent movie houses of the time before she married and raised her sons. She kept scrapbooks of their accomplishments as well as mementos of special events in her own life. If she hadn’t saved that wonderful invitation, Wheels of Change might not have come about. For her efforts, I am truly grateful.

Cynsational Notes

From the promotional copy:

Racial intolerance, social change, sweeping progress.

It is a turbulent time growing up in 1908. For twelve year old Emily Soper, life in Papa’s carriage barn is magic. Emily is more at home hearing the symphony of the blacksmith’s hammer, than trying to conform to the proper expectations of females.

Many prominent people own Papa’s carriages. He receives an order to make one for President Theodore Roosevelt.

Papa’s livelihood becomes threatened by racist neighbors, and horsepower of a different sort.

Emily is determined to save Papa’s business even if she has to go all the way to the President.

Monday, December 22, 2014

New Voice: Nicole Maggi on Winter Falls (Twin Willows Trilogy)

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Nicole Maggi is the first-time author of Winter Falls (Twin Willows Trilogy) (Medallion Press, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Sixteen-year-old Alessia Jacobs is dying to get out of her small town of Twin Willows, Maine. 

Things start looking up when a new family comes to town—but when she falls for Jonah, their mysterious son, her life turns upside down.

Weird visions of transforming into an otherworldly falcon are just the beginning. Soon she learns she's part of the Benandanti, an ancient cult of warriors with the unique power to separate their souls from their bodies and take on the forms of magnificent animals.

Alessia never would've suspected it, but her boring town is the site of an epic struggle between the Benandanti and the Malandanti to control powerful magic in the surrounding forest.

As Alessia is drawn into the Benandanti's mission, her relationship with Jonah intensifies. When her two worlds collide, Alessia’s forced to weigh choices a sixteen-year-old should never have to make.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2014, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Way back in the fall of 1999, I got an image in my head of a woman walking through snow. I followed her around for quite some time, and after a few months I realized I had a book, and that I wanted to finish it and try to get it published.

That book took me six years to finish. It was an epic historical novel, a female Huck Finn, five hundred pages long and full of my blood, sweat and tears.

 In 2005, I submitted it to an agent that I'd met through a conference. She called me three days later to offer me representation. She was my dream agent, so of course I jumped on the offer.

Wow, I thought. If getting an agent is this easy (she was the only one I queried), selling the book will be a breeze. Right? Wrong.

That book crossed the desk of probably every publisher in New York and was rejected by all of them. After several months on submission, my agent gently suggested we should pull it and I should write something else.

I was devastated. I had pinned all my hopes on this book.

Reeling from the rejection, I picked up a copy of The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (2002) and embarked on Julia Cameron's 12-week recovery program for ailing creatives.

At the end of it, I was stronger and ready to write something new. That something was another historical, this time set in 1830s Nantucket.

Then in 2007, my agent and I were at the Historical Novel Society Conference and every editor we pitched it to said the same thing, that American historical fiction is a tough sell. My agent and I had a heart-to-heart, during which she said, "You're so ready to be published. Why give yourself another hurtle? Write about Europe."

So I went back to the drawing board and starting trawling Wikipedia for ideas. One day I was on the sight for European witch hunts and saw a little footnote about something called the Benandanti. I clicked on it and as I read the page, my heart started to pound. This was it. My next idea.

So I started writing a YA set in 16th century Italy, about a girl who is a Benandante, a warrior who can separate her soul from her body and transform into a magnificent falcon. Then, several months into writing it, I got stuck. I had the whole thing plotted out, I knew exactly where I needed to go, and yet every time I sat down to write I just stared and stared at the blank page.

One night, after many weeks of this torture, I was having a conversation with my husband about it and I blurted out, "Maybe it doesn't need to be set in the 16th century!"

Well.

A favorite writing spot -- Romancing the Bean in Burbank, CA.
For someone who identified themselves as a historical novelist, who was a member of The Historical Novel Society and had attended their conferences, who loved history and all things old and ancient, this was a radical idea. But I decided I had nothing to lose.

So I started writing the book set in the here and now. Four months later, I had a complete draft. I wrote the whole thing without a road map, and had a lot of revision to do on the back end.

After about a year, I sent the manuscript to my agent. It took her a long time to get back to me. So long, in fact, that I was already counting on her telling me she hated it and making up lists of new agents to query. But she finally responded, had some minor notes which I implemented, and in the spring of 2010 we sent it out to five publishers.

Two days later, we had a bite. A big bite.

A Big Five publisher was interested. I was actually at a funeral and when I got back to the house there were phone calls and emails waiting for me. I got on the phone with my agent. The publisher wanted a huge amount of edits, major changes, and they wanted me to do a new synopsis and first three chapters on spec. I did it. Six weeks later, I had a three-book deal.

And then things got really crazy.

Writers are readers!
For the next year, I was kept in an endless loop of revisions. I turned in three drafts. Then my editor left. I was assigned to a new editor. For six months she told me everything was fine, that she would get me notes "soon" (notes I never got), that all was well.

Until November 11, 2011, when she called my agent and cancelled my three-book contract.

I got that call at eight o'clock in the morning. I was feeding my one-year-old daughter. She got fussy and I had to hang up with my agent to deal with her. I called my husband, who was on his way to work, to turn around and come home.

When he walked through the door, I collapsed into his arms and cried for several minutes. Then I straightened, told him to take our daughter to daycare, and did the only thing I knew how to do at that moment. I went to yoga.

In class that morning, I thought, if I can hold this crazy ridiculous pose, I can survive this.

My agent put the book back out on submission. Meanwhile, I curled into myself, grieving the dream that had been shattered. Rejection after rejection rolled in, all saying the same thing: they loved the book, but the market for shapeshifting paranormal YA had changed and they weren't doing it anymore. In the 18 months that the Big Five had kept me under contract, the genre had fallen out of style (which was the real reason, I believe, for the cancellation).

Then one night, I pulled the old copy of The Artist's Way off my shelf. Once again, I embarked on that 12-week journey to heal. I had lost complete faith in myself and the Universe, and I needed to restore so I could write again. Several weeks in, I had a new idea for a book. I signed up for Laura Baker's Fearless Writer course and started to plot the book out. As I began to get really excited about this new idea, I got the Call from Irene. We'd resold the book to Medallion Press.

The offer from Medallion was much smaller, but I didn't care. It wasn't lost on me that the book sold only after I started to get excited about another idea. I had to put that positive energy out into the world in order to receive any back. And Medallion, though a small press, has treated me a million times better than the Big Five did along every step of the way.

While my agent hammered out the details of the deal, she sent me an email. It was now June 2012, and the earliest available slot for publication on Medallion's schedule was December 2014.

I'll never forget where I was when I got that email. I was in a movie theatre with a dear friend, waiting for the lights to go down, and I checked my phone. I read the email to my friend and we burst out laughing. We laughed and laughed and laughed. I'd been waiting to be published since 1999; what was two more years? It was so ridiculous that there was nothing to do but laugh.

After that, I realized what a gift those two years were. I had a contracted book, but I didn't have to do anything with it for a long time. That allowed me the time to go back to that other book I'd started writing and focus on it without distractions. That book was a joy to write. Through The Artist's Way, my faith in myself as a writer had been restored, and I wrote that book just for the pure love of writing. I finished it relatively quickly and we sold it two months later in a two-book deal to SourceBooks Fire. That book, The Forgetting, will be released on February 3rd, 2015.

On the same day that SourceBooks sent my agent the deal memo, Medallion sent over contracts for the second and third books in my trilogy (we'd only sold them the first book in the initial deal). In less than two years, I went from having a cancelled contract to having five contracted books.

I know that this is not the end of a long road; rather, it is the beginning of another long and twisting road. I'm sure there will be many bumps and hurtles and, hopefully, celebrations along the way. The thing I've learned is that no matter what happens, I can survive it. At the end of the day, it's the writing that matters, and no one can take that away from me.

As a paranormal writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time paranormal reader? Did a particular book or books inspire you?

Favorite Read
I've been reading paranormal and fantasy ever since I can remember. When I was in middle school, I pulled The Song of the Lioness books by Tamora Pierce (Random House) off the library shelf and reread them over and over. In fact, I don't think any other kid at my school ever got to read them because I had them checked out so often.

 Finally, my stepmother took pity on me and actually called the publisher (they were out of print at the time) and got me a full set of first-edition hardcovers. Those books sit on a shelf in my office reserved for Very Special Books.

I also loved all the magicky Lois Duncan books like Down A Dark Hall and A Gift of Magic (both from Little, Brown), and the Jane Yolen Pit Dragon Chronicles (Harcourt). In later years, I loved historical fiction (still do!) and so when I started writing, I naturally gravitated toward historical fiction. But when I realized that Winter Falls needed to be contemporary, and I started writing in a paranormal YA voice, it was like coming home. "Of course," I thought. "This is your voice!"

I remember attending a panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books a few years ago where one of the authors said that he had started writing his book and realized some ways in that what he wanted in the book were monsters. He was writing literary fiction, so he tried to make the monsters metaphorical and imaginary. Then he realized, "No. I want real monsters."

Favorite Read
Favorite Read
That's kind of how I am. I like my books with a side of weird. I love that quote, "Why by normal when you can be paranormal?"

I love magic and ghosts and the mystical. I think maybe it's because I believe this world is full of magic and mystery that no matter how much logic we apply, we just can't explain.

Winter Falls is based on the real 16th century cult of the Benandanti. They were investigated for over 100 years by the Roman Inquisition and all the transcripts from those trials still exist. It is so cool, reading the testimony of these people who claim - who believe with all their heart - that they could separate their souls from their bodies and that their souls took on the forms of animals.

And you know what? I believe they could, too. Every myth has its root in truth.

I'm working on a book right now that is a straight thriller, no paranormal. It's actually kind of hard for me. But don't worry - I'm sure I'll manage to sneak something weird into it.

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