Posts Tagged voice

Interview & DEMYSTIFYING VOICE Course Giveaway with Darcy Pattison

I’d like to welcome Darcy Pattison to the Mixed-Up Files! I’ve heard author friends rave about Darcy’s workshops for years and am thrilled to interview her.

Thank you so much for giving one lucky winner access to your online course: DEMYSTIFYING VOICE. Can you share a few voice tips with everyone?

I started seriously studying voice when an editor told a friend that her story was good, but the voice just wasn’t quite right. And, the editor said, you can’t teach voice. It’s either there, or it’s not.

Well, that was a challenge. Game on!

Turns out, that editor was wrong. You can teach voice.

As writers, we have three things available to us. In any piece of writing, there are words, sentences and passages (or longer sections of the work). By focusing on each in turn, you can learn a lot about controlling voice.

For example, words can be long or short, smooth or abrupt. They carry both a dictionary meaning (denotation) and emotional meaning (connotations). Words have different origins, which bring shades of meaning. The sound of a word is important in many contexts, so I encourage the study of phonics.

Words alone can and do bring meaning and joy to writing. They help create voice.

To emphasize the importance of words, I often ask students to write a piece following these rules:

  • You can only use one syllable words.
  • No sentence can be longer than 10 words.

 

You might think that would be an easy reader with very little emotional content. But it can be powerful and poetic if you let it.

 

Wow! I love that exercise. Thanks for sharing—it’s a fantastic tool for authors and students.

What takes a book from good to I-must-read-it great?

People read to connect, to find out how others think and live. Besides a great voice, a great novel has to provide an insight into the common humanity. We can laugh or cry through a novel and yet still not feel connected. Great writers give us relatable characters who tug at our heartstrings. My new book, The Falconer, sinks you into the character of an orphaned young woman who must leave her home to find a new life. Her only companion is a magnificent gyrfalcon that she’s trained to hunt for her. The challenge was to give her an emotional life that would connect with today’s readers. She battles against a negative mother and hopes to make a difference for the Heartland’s future. Readers empathize with her struggles for identity and meaning.

 

I’ve heard raves about your Shrunken Manuscript technique. What makes it so successful?

When I teach, I have two goals: to clarify information so it becomes actionable and to make things visual. We are people of the word. And yet, a novel is so long that we can’t keep in mind everything over the course of 50,000+ words. We need an easy visual way to SEE the structure of a novel.

The Shrunken Manuscript asks you to shrink your story to about 30 pages by making everything single spaced, removing chapter breaks, and reducing the font to 8 pt or less. Then, you decide on your 5-6 strongest chapters. On the Shrunken Manuscript, use colorful markers to put a big X on those chapters. Lay out the 30 pages on the floor in three rows of ten pages. Suddenly, you can SEE the story’s structure.

Here are some things you might see:

  • The opening is flat. The first strong chapter doesn’t occur for a long time.
  • You have a sagging middle. The strong chapters are close to the beginning or the end, with nothing in the middle.
  • You didn’t write an ending. The last few chapters have no strong chapters.

In fact, there are many more things you can SEE about your novel’s structure with the Shrunken Manuscript technique. I did a webinar for Highlights Foundation on the Shrunken Manuscript and you can see it free on Youtube.

 

What a unique way to view the strengths and weaknesses of an entire novel. Thank you for sharing your Shrunken Manuscript technique—and your Highlights Foundation video.

 

How do you create a rich, believable fantasy world?

World building is a detailed, messy project. In my new book, The Falconer, it began with a deep dive into falconry. The largest falcon, the gyrfalcon, lives in the north country (think Canada). I was enthralled with the noble bird and decided to include it, which meant my setting needed to start in the north. Britt, the main character, is the granddaughter of Winchal Eldras, the main character of The Wayfinder, the first Heartland book. I had to go into the back story and figure out how Win wound up in the north country and why he stayed there. I also had to extend my mental map of the Heartland itself. This time, I drew a map (which made it into the book) and set about populating the world.

One writing exercise I do with kids uses maps. The key is to name everything you put on the map. Is there a river? What’s its name? For me, naming generates images and ideas about the setting.

For individual scenes, sensory details are crucial to bringing a story to life. Things that you see, hear, smell, taste and touch (temperature & texture) create a fabric that’s believable and enticing for the reader. Choosing the right details to quickly evoke a mood is a skill to cultivate.

Worldbuilding in this case started with the needs of the story and character. But then everything had to tie together seamlessly to create a milieu in which the story would shine. The setting should enrich and uphold the story, but not come forward and take over.

 

How has publishing changed through the years and what do you think might be coming in the future?

I’ve been traditionally published with Harcourt, Harpercollins and Penguin, but I’m now happily self-published with my company, Mims House. This is only possible because of print-on-demand (POD) technologies and ebooks. Technology has put publishing within reach technically and financially for any writer who chooses. It’s an alternate path for a passionate author with creative business ideas. The explosive growth of audiobooks will be another frontier for enterprising storytellers.

As mobile-first users and voice-activated technologies take over in the next decade, it’s easy to predict that ebooks will dominate adult fiction and nonfiction. It’s harder to predict what will happen with children’s books. Many parents and kids still prefer print books. But apps like EPIC! point the way toward a wider acceptance of digital stories for kids. EPIC! has removed the barriers of cumbersome log-ins, added a gaming element and presents books in a smooth and easy experience. They’ve solved the technical and user-experience side of children’s digital books. It’s going to be interesting to see if digital books for kids spreads and how fast it will spread. Personally, I think it will always be a mixed experience for kids with some print books and some digital.

 

My favorite way to read is a physical book—but digital books can be helpful, especially when traveling. And if you ever have an unexpected wait, there’s always something wonderful to read.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share, Darcy?

I’m more excited about storytelling than ever before. The channels for finding and connecting with readers has exploded because of technology. The next wave of technology will be artificial intelligence, mobile-first and voice-activated solutions. But humans will always need story that connects them to the world and to other humans. Our job is to adapt to the changing environment and yet keep our priorities straight. We connect people with themselves through well-told and emotionally moving stories. Storytellers—from the bards of old to the digitally adept today—will never be outdated.

 

Thank you for stopping by the Mixed-Up Files and sharing so many helpful writing tips—and how you believe that emotionally moving stories and storytellers will never be outdated. It’s also wonderful to know that voice can be taught!

 

Darcy has generously donated her online course: DEMYSTIFYING VOICE to one lucky winner. Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.

Editors buy novels with a distinctive voice. It’s the single most important thing they are looking for. That means you need to understand voice and be able to control the voice of your writing. In this 30-minute lecture with PowerPoint, Darcy breaks voice into practical craft issues. Lots of examples make the concepts concrete rather than fuzzy. You’ll have solid ideas on where to start working on your own voice and will be a step closer to telling a powerful story.

 

The winner will be posted on August 1. Good luck, everyone!

Storyteller, writing teacher, Queen of Revisions, and founder of Mims House, Darcy Pattison has been published in ten languages. Her books, published with Harcourt, Philomel/Penguin, Harpercollins, Arbordale, and Mims House have received recognition for excellence with starred reviews in Kirkus, BCCB and PW. Four nonfiction nature books have been honored as National Science Teachers Association Outstanding Science Trade books: Desert Baths (2013), Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma (2015), Nefertiti the Spidernaut (2017), Clang! Ernst Chladni’s Sound Experiments (2019).

The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman (Harcourt) received an Irma Simonton Black and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature Honor Book award and has been published in a Houghton Mifflin textbook.  The Nantucket Sea Monster: A Fake News Story is a Junior Library Guild selection and a 2018 National Council of Teacher’s of English Notable Children’s Book in Language Arts. Pollen: Darwin’s 130 Year Prediction is a 2019 Junior Library Guild selection. Darcy is the 2007 recipient of the Arkansas Governor’s Arts Award for Individual Artist for her work in children’s literature.

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Find out more about Darcy on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and you can browse her online video courses here.

Editor Spotlight: Hannah Allaman, Disney-Hyperion

What do we mean by Middle Grade?

Hi Hannah, thanks for joining us to talk about your editorial work at Disney-Hyperion. To jump right in: My friends and I have an ongoing debate about what makes a book middle grade. It gets complicated when MG books in the US sell as adult in the UK, or books written as adult get slotted as MG (I know two debuts this year that fit that bill), or when very well received MG books don’t really read as typical MG. I think of novels like Wolf Hollow, which breaks the MG “rules” when the grown-up narrator appears to be telling a story about her distant 12-year-old self. Or a book like Quicksand Pond, where a good bit of the story is narrated from the perspective of a very old woman. So what makes middle grade middle grade?

To me, middle grade is all about that coming of age moment where you’re discovering your own autonomy and independence in complicated ways—those moments when you start taking ownership, making new friendships and exploring new interests, even discovering that your loved ones are flawed and that life isn’t always fair.

Positioning a book a certain way and for a certain audience can be rather subjective, but when I think about my overall list of middle grade titles, I tend to think about hope and humor. Even if it’s not a “funny” book, I think there’s often a sense of levity or lightness in the middle grade space that balances out darker themes kids may be interested in exploring, as well as an ultimate note of hope to buoy the story for younger audiences.

One of my middle grade titles, THE BONE SPARROW by Zana Fraillon, is a novel that sits on the cusp of middle grade and adult because of the heartbreaking topics it explores, but its central thread of hope and friendship feels just right for a middle grade audience.

And related to this, what ever happened to that hot “tween” category we used to hear about? There’s been a lot of convo on social media about the need for “younger YA” that might ride close to the line of “upper MG.” What’s your take on that nebulous readership? Are their needs being addressed?

I’m always, always looking for titles that reach those hinge readers who are moving between categories, because I do think there are gaps where we have greater likelihood of losing readers. We’re publishing more and more into that upper middle grade space with characters who are 13-14, but I think there’s still so much room for younger middle grade that captures readers transitioning out of chapter books (particularly stories with an emphasis on play and imagination), as well as in that younger YA space (especially stories that focus on friendship in those late middle school/early high school years). Those in-between audiences can be hard to capture, but I’m always on the hunt for stories that fill those gaps and meet readers’ needs at all stages.

Hannah’s Middle Grade Wish List

Every genre has trends. Are there any trends now that excite you? Are there any possible trends in MG that you dearly wish will soon have their moment?

I’m really hoping middle grade horror has its moment! There are some incredible new horror selections on shelves—I just finished THE DARKDEEP, by Allie Condie and Brendan Reichs, and I just got my hands on the audiobook of SMALL SPACES, by Katherine Arden. I grew up on a steady diet of R.L. Stine and would love for that type of accessible horror to make a comeback. For me, I think it’s all about that nailing that creepy commercial hook while still delivering a story that’s super voice-driven. I would love to find a horror story that uses a childhood game as a device, like truth or dare—so chilling and creepy and fun!

I also think witches are having a major moment—anyone who knows me knows I’m obsessed with witches. I like to say that I’m acquiring my own literary coven. But I honestly think they’re cropping up in so many different iterations, from seriously dark to sweet and bubbly. I’m absolutely looking for a charming, whimsical witchy chapter book or young middle grade novel!

I adore this recent crop of voicey, character-driven contemporary middle grade novels with a focus on sports—I loved ROLLER GIRL, by Victoria Jamieson, THE CROSSOVER, by Kwame Alexander, and SO DONE, by Paula Chase, and I can’t wait to get my hands on NIKKI ON THE LINE, by Barbara Carroll Roberts. (Give me a MG cheerleading book that engages with the sport on a similar level as E.K. Johnston’s YA novel, EXIT PURSUED BY A BEAR!) Also on the contemporary MG side, I think aspirational, high concept music stories are having a moment. From country to K-pop, stories about kids breaking into the music industry seem to be—oh no, I’m going to do it, I’m going to make a pun—hitting all the right notes.

Hook + Voice = Love

What’s the biggest factor that decides you to give a thumbs up on a book. Is it voice? Concept? What do you consider “fixable” and what isn’t?

I look for that perfect marriage of voice and concept—I want a big, fresh, stand-out hook to reel me in, but it’s really the strong voice and complex family relationships and friendships at the heart of a story that make me want to champion it. Sense of place is also something that can tip the scales of a story for me—I adore immersive, specific settings that become their own character (like in THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET, by Karina Yan Glaser). And particularly in middle grade, I want stakes, both emotional and larger-scale, that take the reader seriously.

To me, if a story has an unforgettable voice, anything else is potentially fixable. That doesn’t always mean that it’s ready for our acquisitions process; in fact, most of my R&R requests come from stories with exceptional voices/prose that need structural and pacing work. As an editor, I can help develop and shape so much about a story, but it’s gotta have that intangible, special, authentic voice at its heart.

How intensive is the editorial work you do with authors? Would you sign a book that was a long way away from being “ready to go”?

My authors will tell you I’ve been known to write some ridiculously long editorial letters. J Once I’ve acquired a project, I love taking a deep dive into developmental edits; I usually send an initial 10-15 page letter, followed by a shorter round focusing on pacing and any final character development notes, and then line edits. My style is super conversational, though, and I love the collaborative nature of revisions; I often come up with a lot of specific ideas to get our conversations going, but to me it’s all about finding the solutions that feel right for the story together.

Our acquisitions process is pretty rigorous; both the editorial team and the larger acquisitions group, including sales, marketing, and publicity, have to be excited about a project in order to move forward with it. (This is great in the long run, because our titles have a built in fan base when we bring them to our launch and sales conferences!) Because of that process, though, it’s hard for me to sign up something that’s a long way from being ready.

That said, I’m a huge fan of R&Rs—I have two that I ended up acquiring and are now on my upcoming 2020 slate! Especially because I’m a young editor who’s still building my list, I’m always looking for those exciting seeds of potential that I can help shape, and it’s thrilling to find an author who’s a skilled reviser and eager to partner with me on our shared vision for the manuscript.

What’s the toughest thing you have to do as an editor?

Honestly, R&Rs that ultimately don’t work out are heartbreaking for everyone, including me. It’s tough to fall in love with something that still needs more time to bake before it’s ready, so to speak, or just isn’t right for my overall list, even though I see its potential. But I cheer for them extra-loud when they do find their perfect homes!

Hannah’s 2019+ Middle Grade List

Can you introduce some of the MG titles you’re publishing this year, including my terrific 2019 debut mate Shauna Barnes Holyoak? What drew you to these titles?

I have such an amazing group of MG titles this year! Here are my highlights (but be warned, I could talk about these books for ages):

The Secrets of Topsea series, by Kir Fox and M. Shelley Coats: In January, we published the second book in the Secrets of Topsea series (THE EXTREMELY HIGH TIDE!), which follows a zany group of fifth graders in a fictional, topsy-turvy coastal town. These books are SO weird (think Wayside School meets the Nightvale podcast) and so full of heart, and I adore their original formats, including narrative/character-driven chapters, newspaper articles, journal entries, and more.

The Click’d series, by Tamara Ireland Stone: We also published the second book in the Click’d series (SWAP’D) in February. Crushes and coding—what more could you want in a MG novel?! Most of all, I love the complex, authentic friendships at the heart of these stories. And the covers, illustrated by Jameela Wahlgren, are seriously the CUTEST.

KAZU JONES AND THE DENVER DOGNAPPERS, by Shauna Holyoak: Okay, you already know this MG mystery stole my heart! Not only are there tons of cute pups (I cannot get enough of Genki and his doggy nests!), but there’s also an amazing mother-daughter relationship, seriously high stakes that had me on the edge of my seat, and an incredible ensemble cast of fifth graders who have all the spunk and persistence of the Scooby Gang.

MIDNIGHT ON STRANGE STREET, by K. E. Ormsbee: I’m cheating a little bit, because this one comes out January 2020, but I love it so much that I have to talk about it. J Imagine if all the kids in STRANGER THINGS had Eleven’s powers—that’s MIDNIGHT ON STRANGE STREET. I love the way the author uses these strange new powers to encapsulate both the extraordinary and extraordinarily tough aspects of being a middle schooler. Also, the kids are on a glowboarding team, which is the coolest sport that doesn’t (yet) exist—think sci-fi roller derby!

How long have you been tap dancing and what got you into it? I just met another MG editor who’s a tap dancer, and one of the characters in my WIP is too. Is something in the air?

Ooh, I hope so! I’ve been tap dancing since I was two. My mom put me in a combination class in hopes that I’d become a ballerina, but it didn’t take. I did competition tap in elementary/middle school and was obsessed with being on stage. One of my favorite tap solos was “I’m Getting Good at Being Bad” from the 102 Dalmatians soundtrack (the one with Glenn Close). My mom made my costume, which was held together with black & white sequins and hot glue.

I mostly stopped tapping in high school but picked it back up in college, in that way you sort of rediscover things you did as a kid that were actually really cool when you’re in college. I ended up taking classes with Margaret Morrison (including tap history courses, which were the absolute coolest for a tap nerd like me) and joining an on-campus tap group. Now I still occasionally take classes at the American Tap Dance Foundation!

All of which is to say, I’m desperate to find a book with a character who tap dances! (Honestly, dance of any kind, but bring on the tap!) We actually published an adorable tap picture book by Tim Federle called TOMMY CAN’T STOP! in 2015, which I highly recommend, but I’m hungry for a MG tap novel.

Many thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Hannah! Best of luck to you and all your middle grade books this year!

Follow Hannah on Twitter @hallaman13,  and look for her on Manuscript Wish List @ManuscriptWList and Manuscriptwishlist.com.

Queen of Comedy: An Interview with Hillary Homzie

I’m excited to interview one of our very own Mixed-Up Files authors who recently had two book releases in her middle-grade series about the irrepressible Ellie May—Hillary Homzie. So let’s get started…

Hi, Hillary, so happy to have this chance to have you with us today. First of all, I always enjoy your books, and I especially love the humor in the Ellie May books. The illustrations by Jeffrey Ebbeler definitely add to the fun.

Can you tell us a little about the chapter books?

Absolutely! The books feature Ellie May who—whenever she tries to do something great—things tend to get a little mixed up. However, the exuberant second grader never gives up. In Ellie May on Presidents’ Day, she would give anything to be flag leader during the Pledge of Allegiance. After all, she has a really loud voice, knows how to stand super straight, and knows cools facts about the presidents. In Ellie May on April Fools’ Day, she wants more than anything to be funnier than Mo, the class clown. Right away, she begins practicing her practical jokes—with ants and all. The question becomes—will she take her mission too far?

Many teachers and librarians look for holiday stories. It’s not hard to find books for the major holidays, but you’ve picked two unusual ones. How did you choose those holidays and why?

I’ve always been fascinated with presidential history. It’s probably because I grew up in Virginia, birthplace to eight presidents and four of the first five. Presidents’ Day seemed like a great start for the series. Then my editor at Charlesbridge asked me to pick another holiday that would follow Presidents’ Day. She actually suggested April Fools’ Day, since she knew I had a background in performing sketch comedy and love all things comedic!

Can you tell us what inspired you to write these stories?

Honestly, my favorite year in school was second grade, and I had just to write about it. A friend of mine once told me—Hillary do you want to write for kids or be a kid? I’m not sure of that answer, lol!

Your books always seem to include humor. Can you give some tips for writing humorous stories?

  • Have your protagonists unaware of their own missteps. In other words, consider making him or her an innocent or a fish out of water. 2) Keep things tight. 3) Try to create an audience for your protagonist’s humiliation as it increases the stakes. I actually have a comedy writing guide, and anyone interested can just contact me by going to my website.

What do you hope readers will take away from the books?

I hope that readers will see the power of perseverance, and most of all have fun. I’m convinced when the youngest readers associate books with joy, they will turn into life- long readers.

As a former librarian and teacher, I definitely agree with that! Humor really hooks kids, especially reluctant readers.

Did you base your character on anyone you know?

Ellie May is based a little bit on the spirit and enthusiasm of my middle son. As a primary school student, he was always so eager but sometimes didn’t know how to direct his energies. Inadvertently and enthusiastically, he took some missteps in the classroom. Luckily, my son had some great teachers to help him to channel all of his energy.

Ellie May has a great voice. How do you capture a character’s voice and make it distinct?

Ah, that’s such a great question. I find that if I’m in a more relaxed state and let the character talk and react versus me trying very hard to be this impressive writer—something just works. For me, it boils down to trusting myself and just, well, listening.

I like how Ellie May grows and changes. How did you decide what problems she’d face and how they would affect her?

I actually never decided, at least with my rational mind. Ellie May sprang into being and then so did the kids in her classroom. The situations in the books were based on the characters’ personalities and how each one might react to a common classroom assignment.

Did you love to read as a child? If so, can you tell us some favorite books?

Oh, yes, I was an avid reader! As a second grader, my favorite books were A Secret Garden, Little Women, The Witch’s Buttons, Seven True Dolphin Stories, and anything by Beverly Cleary.

You’ve listed some of my favorites as well.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Probably in second grade when my teacher Mrs. McCrone wrote on my story—Hillary, you are a writer!

Aww… It’s awesome when a teacher’s encouragement leads to a future career. You never know what your influence might be when you compliment a child.

Did you have any childhood dreams for what you’d be when you grew up? If so, did they come true?

I wanted to write books and become a children’s author—and it looks like it happened! I feel so grateful.

Have you had any careers besides writing?

Lots! I’ve been a journalist, a sketch comedian, publicist and, in addition to writing books, I teach media writing at Sonoma State University during the academic year and children’s writing in the summer graduate program at Hollins University.

That must keep you busy, and it allows you to encourage a new generation of writers. I know you’re a great teacher!

What is your favorite part of being a writer?

My favorite part of being a writer is when I’m swept up in the start on a new project as well as visiting schools.

What are you working on now?

A couple of picture books, an upper middle-grade fantasy, and more chapter books.

Can you tell us a bit about some of your other books?

I’ve written a half dozen books for tween girls. Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin) was recently selected by the Association of Jewish Libraries for the Love Your Neighbor List. The list was created in response to the Pittsburgh tragedy and attempt to create a bridge of understanding into the lives of Jewish kids. I feel really strongly that if more children had access to books about kids from diverse cultures there would be fewer hate crimes. One of my recent light-hearted middle-grade books Pumpkin Spice Secrets seems to be a favorite among reluctant readers and was featured this fall on the front cover of Scholastic Tab—which was a true thrill!

Very cool about both features! And it’s so true that reading can help you understand others who have different customs, cultures, and personalities. I read a study that showed voracious readers are much more likely to be empathetic to others. I suspect it’s because they learn to put themselves in others’ places and see the world in a different light. It’s great when authors not only share their storytelling but also their lives and culture.

To find out more about Hillary and her other books, you can visit her website.