Monday, August 18, 2014

Historical Fiction and Girls of Gettysburg ~ Bobbi Miller

At the beginning of this month, our own Bobbi Miller's wonderful book, The Girls of Gettysburg, was released. This historical fiction middle-grade masterpiece has gotten fantastic reviews already! Bobbi was generous enough to share her insight on just what a novelty historical fiction truly is, as well as introduce us to who the Girls of Gettysburg were. 
 Take it away, Bobbi!
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One hundred fifty one years ago, twelve thousand Confederate forces gathered along Seminary Ridge. Almost a mile away, at the end of an open field, a copse of trees marked the Union line standing firm on Cemetery Ridge. When the signal was given, the men marched across the field. The line had advanced less than two hundred yards when the federals sent shell after shell howling into their midst. Boom! Men fell legless, headless, armless, black with burns and red with blood. Still they marched on across that field.

And in the middle of this gruesome battle, the bloodiest of the Civil War, were The Girls of Gettysburg…

As I was researching another book, I came across a small newspaper article dated from 1863.  It told of a Union soldier on burial duty, following the Battle at Gettysburg, coming upon a shocking find: the body of a female Confederate soldier. It was shocking because she was disguised as a boy. At the time, everyone believed that girls were not strong enough to do any soldiering; they were too weak, too pure, too pious to be around roughhousing boys. It was against the law for girls to enlist. This girl carried no papers, so he could not identify her. She was buried in an unmarked grave. A Union general noted her presence at the bottom of his report, stating “one female (private) in rebel uniform.” The note became her epitaph. I decided I was going to write her story.

Historical fiction is the coming together of two opposing elements: fact and fiction. As we know, it isn’t easy to define historical fiction. For some, historical fiction is first fiction, and therefore anything goes. Others condemn this blending.  Yet, nothing about history is obvious, and facts are often open to interpretation. Once upon a time, it was considered factual that the world was flat, that blood-letting was the proper way of treating disease, that women were emotionally and physically incapable of rational thought.  In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but he didn’t discover America.  Some would say he was less an explorer and more of a conqueror. History tends to be written by those who survived it. As such, no history is without its bias.

So when I tackled the battle of Gettysburg as the focus of this new novel, I had to first get the facts right. This was a daunting task because no other battle has been studied so thoroughly. As such, I researched extensively, reading diaries, personal accounts, regimental histories, military reports. But then, there’s the emotional truth, the story behind the facts.  

Historical fiction makes the facts matter to the reader. If I didn’t get this right, creating characters true to their time and place, the readers won’t care about the facts. For me, the only way to discover this emotional truth was to walk the battlefield of Gettysburg, and witness that landscape where my characters lived over one hundred and fifty years ago. I traveled to Gettysburg four times, walking the battlefield and talking to re-enactors and the park rangers.

David McCullough once said,  “We are raising a generation of young Americans who are by-and-large historically illiterate…The textbooks are dreary, they’re done by committee, they’re often hilariously politically correct and they’re not doing any good. [But] there are wonderful books, past and present. There is literature in history.”   Avi, an award-winning master of the genre, once said that some historical fiction stays close to the known facts, while others are little more than costume drama. But facts do not make a story. Ultimately, what is most important is the story, and the characters, according to Avi. “Truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction makes truth less a stranger.”

The literary process that defines historical fiction allows readers to connect emotionally to historical figures and events. It introduces readers to different points of view. As Tarry Lindquist (1995) said, historical fiction “puts people back into history.” While textbooks tend to underscore coverage, this lacks depth, and as a result, “individuals—no matter how famous or important—are reduced to a few sentences…Good historical fiction presents individuals as they are, neither good nor bad.”

Historical fiction helps young readers develop a feeling for a living past, illustrating the continuity of life, according to Karen Cushman. Historical fiction, “like all good history, demonstrates how history is made up of the decisions and actions of individuals and that the future will be made up of our decisions and actions.”


The best historical fiction “brings both story and history to life,” said Janet Fox (Faithful, 2010). Well-researched and well-written historical fiction is packed with—but not burdened by—the details. “In the best historical fiction, story trumps truth, because story is truth: we are all protagonists of our own stories.”

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My Lunch with Neal





In the olden days, when my writing career began, I had a number of NYC lunches with editors. Always exciting. Always looked forward to.

But things changed when the 21st century arrived and in the past decade the lunches disappeared, and then my sales with them. You can read about my 7 year long drought and how the brilliant editor Neal Porter brought rain to my parched land at http://bit.ly/16klDhe.  The drought part isn’t pretty, but the rain dance was celebratory and one we can all hold onto.

Soon after Neal ended my drought, I had the opportunity to fly to NYC to visit my son and to have My Lunch with Neal.  I was certain this event would be far more exciting than My Dinner with Andre, and the conversation even more enlightening. When my agent Karen Grencik heard about this upcoming affair she made me promise to write about it. My Lunch with Neal would become a lunch for the ages. (For all you young’uns out there, you can learn about Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory’s unusual movie here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Dinner_with_Andre.)

It’s been a month since My Lunch with Neal. I realize now I should have played spy and had a voice recorder going as Neal spoke to me.  How could I forget the details of such a singular event? I could blame it on jet lag. I could blame it on old age (mine). Instead I blame it on the fact that there I was in a fancy New York restaurant sitting across from Neal Porter having lunch. It was a miracle I remembered to breathe, let alone remember what he was saying to me.

I know there were words of wisdom spoken. But what were they?

Neal told my agent he’d given me directions on the second manuscript I’m to write for him. Good grief! I should at least have taken a notepad.

What do I remember of this magical event?

1) For such a big star, Neal Porter’s office is small. Sometimes I think that’s how it works. The bigger the star, the smaller the office. Neal says it’s about the same size as the area he works in at his home and that home is where he prefers to work. His office is in the Flatiron Building. It’s so appropriate that the iconic Neal Porter has his office within this iconic triangular building on Fifth Avenue.

2) The name outside Neal’s door says “Neal ‘Rock Star’ Porter.” He says there’s a story that goes with the name plaque and he’ll share it with me one day. I suspect the sign was a gift as Neal said it makes him blush; he’s far too gracious to refer to himself that way.

3) The gift exchange.  When my agent suggested a gift, I knew immediately that a cashmere red scarf would be perfect, even if I did present it in the heat of a New York summer. My first story for Neal is about a red scarf that’s lost and eventually found. It took some diligence to find that perfect red scarf. I had it packaged with the note: “May all your treasures be easily found.” Neal seemed happy, but surprised by my gift; he wanted to give me something in return. On his bookshelf in the Flatiron Building were several copies of If you want to see a whale. Now one of those copies is on my bookshelf in California, signed by an editor extraordinaire.

That’s mostly what I remember and it’s all prior to the actual lunch. 

What shall you do when you find yourself in New York or Boston or some other literary spot having lunch with your dream editor? My advice is to not worry about the voice recorder or the notepad or even what to wear.  Just bask in the glow of Your Lunch with your Editor.




Friday, March 22, 2013

Foxy Friday: Music

Mary Ann Fraser

Masha D'yans


Diane Browning

 

 


Teri Sloat





Rosalinde Bonnet

Click this link to see the animation!

Lea Lyons




Marty Kelley




Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Resources for Authors During the Revising Process

by Jennifer Simms


I've been to several writing conferences where an attendee asks a member of the industry, "What makes good writing?" and I hold my breath, waiting to learn what will make my novel truly shine. Instead, I find myself sighing along with the audience because the  answer, "I know it when I see it," makes it sound like good writing is illusive, impossible for mere mortals to define. However, after completing the Writer’s Digest University course A Master Class in Plotting and Structure, taught by editor and self-professed “narrative nerd” Cheryl Klein, I now believe that good writing, or at least good plotting, can be quantified (though, in fairness to the industry panel, it may take eight weeks to do so). For months (or years, honestly) I’ve been trying to shape my first novel into a story editors will clamor to buy, but I lacked a concrete revision strategy besides trying my best, crossing my fingers, and sending it out again. Now, thanks to Ms. Klein, I have specific, definable strategies I can use to create a satisfying plot, which is, of course, the foundation of good writing.


The online course was presented through eight easy-to-read lectures, each with questions and/or an analytical assignment designed to help participants dig into our novels. Much of the work was done with the lens zoomed out, answering big picture questions about our intention and tone, and looking at how the entire plot worked (or didn’t). I used Ms. Klein’s directions for analyzing subplots to consider how well each contributed to my main action and emotional plots. She also provided tools for evaluating the structure of each individual scene, which helped me better define why certain sections of my novel dragged or fell flat. In addition, she supported the course material with great online resources and anecdotes about editing Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork. By far my favorite feature of the course was the ability to ask Ms. Klein questions in the class forum, which was like an eight-week backstage pass to the brain of an editor! I highly recommend this course to anyone who’s trying to figure out why your plot isn’t working or why your novel keeps generating rejections. Though her March class is already sold out, Writer’s Digest suggests you email them to learn when it will be offered later this year. (WDWOWAdmin@fwmedia.com)

Meanwhile, if you’re seeking a new perspective on your manuscript, pick up Ms. Klein’s book Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing for Young Adults, which is a compilation of her conference lectures and blog posts. It covers some of the material from the course, and provides additional insights on many topics, including picture book manuscripts and character development.

Another great resource is Writing Irresistible KidLit, by agent Mary Kole. Her straightforward style tells you exactly what you should and shouldn’t do when crafting MG and YA novels that will sell.

Thanks to Ms. Klein, I now have a roadmap to lead me through the (hopefully final?!) revision of my novel. What about you? Is there a writing course, book, or conference that’s taught you the qualities of good writing? If so, let us know about it!

Friday, December 14, 2012

I Found My Agent at the Mall or How Christmas Came Twice in One Year





by Michelle Houts
I’m really not much of a mall shopper. I tend to gravitate toward small shops and neighborhood stores. But there’s something so wonderful, so magical about the mall – any mall – at Christmastime, I could spend hours there. From Santa’s house to a Winter Wonderland to the massive ornaments and decorations, I don’t need to spend a dime. I’m happy just gawking at the glitz!
Recently, I was at the mall with my oldest daughter on her 19th birthday. I’d arranged to make a very important telephone call in the middle of the day. It was one of those calls every author waits for: an agent wanted to speak with me about my submission! So, the first order of business after arriving at the mall was to scope out a quiet spot to make this potentially life-changing phone call. But finding a quiet place in the midst of this…

…wasn’t going to be easy. There were people everywhere. There were children everywhere. There were elves everywhere! And, most of all, music everywhere. Now, I adore Christmas music. But how could I risk not hearing that all-important phrase, “I love your manuscript!” just because Jingle Bells was playing too loud?
Finally, my daughter had a brilliant idea.

Have you seen the ladies room at Von Maur? Von Maur’s restroom looks more like a Hilton lobby than a restroom. Nicely appointed with comfortable furniture, soft lighting, and best of all – delicate, classical piano music piped in from above, it was the perfect place for me to settle in, take a few deep breaths and get my thoughts together before my shaking fingers made THE call.
So, that’s how I found Karen Grencik at the mall.
I felt like Santa came early when Karen offered to represent me. She’s smart, sweet, and she believed in the middle grade manuscript I sent her. What more could an author want?
Oh, a book deal, you say?
Well, Christmas came again in May.  This time, no malls or restrooms were involved. Just an early morning phone call in which Karen announced we had an offer from Candlewick.  Sold! And guess what? It’s a Christmas story. 
I told you the mall is a magical place at Christmastime.