Friday, February 1, 2013

The Clock is Ticking


                      Props as Prompts & Chekhov, Part 2

 If Act One has a gun on the mantel, it had better be fired by Act Three.
 Or some such.
~ ~ ~ 
    Anton Chekhov's comment is one of the tenets of the dramatic & literary arts. Google it & you'll get examples & interpretations from here to The Cherry Orchard. What he means is that a well-chosen, deliberately placed prop is one of the writer's best tools & is not to be wasted. 

    It serves as a sudden tap on the shoulder, a snap of the finger to the reader. It can foreshadow, develop characterization, build tension, deflect (or enhance) suspicion. It's your job as creative manipulator, to use them judiciously so a properly placed item-of-interest signals the reader without setting off sirens. (Using them as red herrings is another blog altogether.)

Think ~~
 Winnie the Pooh's elusive honey 
   Miss Havisham's wedding cake
   Scarlett O'Hara's draperies
  James Bond's Aston Martin

 In Part 1 I referred to Augusta Scattergood's use of Junk Poker in GLORY BE.  For Gusty's middle grade readers, that shoe box and the childhood treasures Glory & her sister Jesslyn collected & used for the game come to represent growing pains & the bittersweet angst in coming of age.

 I've just finished NO WAY TO KILL A LADY, Nancy Martin's latest cozy in her Blackbird Sisters mystery series. A neighbor trottings into a scene in her four-in-hand & exchanging  pleasantries with Nora Blackbird raises only a ping, but for good or for evil, we know we're going to see that carriage & its driver again. 

 As for my shenanigans as author~~

     In the opening chapter of THE CHICK PALACE, my protagonist Johanna, stewing about her role as materfamilias, winds the family mantel clock tended by three generations of women. There's a wing key and discussion of winding against the pressure of the tightening spring. 
So of course there's convoluted family issues & a daughter. 
Yes indeed, that clock gets wound in Act One 
& it's deliberately wound & ticking in Act Three.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Props as Prompts, Plus Chekhov. Part 1

In which I revisit some favorite artistic types 
to illustrate my points

✻      Picture books   ❇    

I loved them then.
I love them now.

I'm still capable of wonder. 
And still capable of being manipulated 
by the illustrator leading the way, guiding the reader. 
MORE by I. C. Springman               illustrated by Brian Lies

For example, Brian Lies created this
from his collection of these. 
☟                      ☟
I'll bet there's a connection behind every Lego, 
token, button, jacknife, fork, pacifier, measuring tape, 
bolt, washer, lock, can opener

and key~~

     ~~connections personal enough to inspire Brian's interpretation of the author's words via his award winning art, yet universal enough to trigger the individual imaginations of young readers.
But then, for every young reader there comes that bittersweet 
elementary school lightbulb moment: 

The higher the reading level, 
the fewer the illustrations to lead the way 
and the reader's imagination is manipulated, not by art, but 
by the author's description of those oh so carefully placed objects.


In GLORY BE Augusta Scattergood plunks her middle grade readers right down in Hanging Moss, Mississippi, during the "Freedom Summer" of 1964.

Her carefully chosen props: 
Love Me Tender, Elvis, Nancy Drew, Dr. Pepper
enhance the 60s setting as she steers a new generation &
prompts them to envision, perhaps question, certainly imagine 
what develops into serious themes & complicated issues.

    Augusta's most memorable prop, like Brian's stash of found objects, springs from her imagination.  JUNK POKER a game she and her sister invented, is only a term in the book. There're no lively illustrations, no photographs of the real Buster Brown shoebox or the blue satin ribbon. 
    Nevertheless, she's masterfully woven the game, the box and the contents into her story. 
These props move the plot, enhance her characters & even build tension.   

    Those lucky enough to see Augusta at a book signing or classroom visit get to glimpse the real thing. That Elvis statue, those pecans! The skate key and wax lips! 

From the setting to the characters moving the plot,
Whether it's a literal, visual depiction or a figurative, written description,
props are meant to trigger the imagination.

When the writer or illustrator has done it correctly, 
the story belongs to the reader. 


Part 2 takes a look at the gun on the mantel, 
or in my case, 
the clock and the ironstone platter. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hurry up!

It's Newbery & Caldecott Day and I'm anxiously awaiting the announcements. 

is one of my recent favorites.

But the best news? 
Mid-February marks the launch 
of more Kirby, great blog 

more Hattie.

More lively historical fiction 
for young readers 
and those of us who used to be

Friday, January 25, 2013

A chaise by any other name...

 It's Freewheelin' Friday! 
Dedicated to Artistic Endeavors of all Sorts

       I write. I read. 
I critique manuscripts. 

 * my own work 
 * my freelance clients' 

I whine. I complain. 
I roam around the house, 
from hard back chair to ergonomic home office model,
to kitchen counter stool.

And on occasion I solve my own problems.

My "shaze"

⬇   ⬇   ⬇

I grew up calling these a chaise lounge. "Shaze lowwnge"
However, that seems to be an Americanization (ok, bastardization) of 
zee French: chaise longue. Long chair. 

A few years back author Penny Dawn & I ran this around. 
     I was her mentor, supervising her masters thesis, the wonderfully sexy Measuring Up whose wonderfully sexy hero owned one. I can't remember which spelling she used but I questioned it. She asked her decorator mother for a third opinion. (Mine being the second)

     More recently I've heard a news anchor and some HGTV house hunters pronounce it chase long. Chase long?  <clutches draperies>

Whatever the pronunciation, I own one. 
     It was bought second hand, supported my snowboarding youngest following collarbone surgery, then put in a stint at my daughter's. By the time I got it back the cushion covers were gone. It's neither my style nor my colors. But it's incredibly comfortable & had potential as a perfect solution. 

Per usual I was long on creativity & short on funds.

$21.00 plus tax got me a room-size painter's drop cloth. 

A week's worth of long hours, 
more hand sewing than I'd anticipated, 
& BAND-AIDs (to keep blood from my pricked fingers from staining) 
produced my slipcovered chaise longue.

C'est la perfect respite from hard backed chairs & stiff kitchen stools.
C'est also perfect for zee lounging.


That's French for comfy solution.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Betsy Bird on Brian's Bird

          The Newbery & Caldecott Awards announcements are upon us (January 28th @ 8 a.m. PT) & if you don't know Betsy Bird's renowned blog  Fuse #8 Production, ☚ now's a good time to give it a look. 

           As she says, her blog "features everything from librarian previews of upcoming children's books to news, reviews, and videos. If it has something to do with children's literature, it will rate a mention here." She's the Youth Materials Collection Specialist for the New York Public Library, a Newbery judge, contributor to Horn Book Magazine and all-around kid lit guru.


 ✔ And now for the TAH DAH!  
Betsy's predicting a spot on the Caldecott honors list for MORE. Yup, the medal for the artist who has created the most distinguished picture book of the year. (from the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association) 

 ☀ If you know Brian Lies' work, you'll know why.


It's launch week for writer/artist/illustrator
BRIAN LIES☚cool website

Have I mentioned that he has wheeled around in these...  

☚ ➷ 

because Brian's the New York Times
bestselling author of these.

And now there's...

a LOT more~~
Brian takes I.C. Springman's spare 
perfectly chosen words:
  illustrates a magpie on a mission,
 {the twigs, a marble, that comb, those blocks...}
 and mice sounding the alarm,

He'll have you counting, poking & studying,
{the pocket watch, a tarnished rattle, 
that harmonica,
those stamps & that ace of spades...}
with ~& without~a toddler at your knee. 

There's even, ummm, more! 
Brian illustrated this tale of the hoarding magpie on handmade papers. He chose half a dozen sheets, from pale & nearly clear, to dark & fibrous " echo the crescendo of the bird's collection, with papers which crescendoed in deepening color and organic inclusions~banana and mango leaf pieces, hay, etc." 

❆  Savor every page   
❆  MORE  
a joyful read & cautionary tale for all 
~little guys to grownups~ 
brought to life by a master at his craft.

"Dramatic paintings add depth and foreboding to a lesson about excessive materialism."--Kirkus

"The fable offers a finely drawn, restrained 'less is more' lesson about attachment to things."--Publishers Weekly

"This is a timely, clearly needed fable for contemporary society as it tries to unravel itself from excessive materialism. Ideal for discussions about reducing consumption."--School Library Journal, starred review

Head to your nearest indie bookstore
Pick up MORE for the child in your life 
MORE for your permanent collection. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

"Injustice anywhere... a threat to justice everywhere."  
Martin Luther King, Jr. 
Letter from Birmingham Jail            16 April 1963

In honor of Martin Luther King Day I'm reposting this blog 
from last year. 
I'm also proud & thrilled  to add the awards
 Augusta Scattergood's GLORY BE has received since its debut. 

       Once upon a time I interested Lerner Publishing/Carolrhoda Books in COME MORNING, my Underground Railroad mystery set in the mid-1860s. I wrote about Liza, a 12 year old Delaware Quaker, helping her neighbor Freedom Newcastle. Free, the son of a former slave, thinks he must pull clues from  a Bible passage  left by his kidnapped father, to figure out where he is, only to realize the quote is meant as directions for moving a runaway slave family out of his own barn  & over the line into Pennsylvania.

My editor told me it was Free's story and should be told from his point of view. 

       Despite being a white, middle class woman, she had faith I could do it. The challenge pulled me out of my comfort zone, as we say. It sent me deeper into archives, research  and my own imagination, determined to weave the best tale I could, influenced by the very real work of Harriet Tubman & Abolitionist  Thomas Garrett. It's a better book and I'm a better writer as a result.

     Augusta Scattergood has just written GLORY BE, set in the mid-1960s in the Mississippi Delta. She's on firm ground, having written from experience. It's her protagonist Gloriana Hemphill, daughter of the local preacher, who's out of that comfort zone. It's Glory she has researching, imagining, stretching~~finding the faith in herself to stand up for what she believes and ultimately become an even better sister, friend, neighbor~~member of her community.

A few of the kudos so far:
☀ Amazon Top  Twenty Middle Grade Novels
☀ Texas Bluebonnet Master List for 2013-2014
☀2012 Indie New Voices pick

The more that you read, the more you will know.
The more you learn, the more places you'll go.
Dr. Seuss           I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.
 Frederick Douglass