Monthly Archives: June 2017

5 Questions for the Author: Stacy Mozer

It was the solstice this week, Poetry Friday friends. Summer is here. I’m not a hot weather person, but there is one thing I will go outside for: baseball.

I love going to Camden Yards for an Orioles game on a hot summer night, eating crab cakes, drinking beer or Icees, and spending time with my family through the long innings.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sports in the past several months as I finish up work on my next book, Take Down, which is set on a middle school wrestling team. Visiting me today for an interview — and to share a poem for Poetry Friday — is Stacy Barnett Mozer, one of the authors behind the blog Sporty Girl Books.

Stacy’s latest book is The Perfect Trip, about Sam (Samantha) Barrette, a girl who has just made the boys’ travel baseball league.

Thanks for joining me for 5 Questions for the Author, Stacy!

1. THE PERFECT TRIP works as a stand-alone novel, but can you fill us in on Sam’s first story, THE SWEET SPOT? How has the character grown and changed since that book?

In the first book Sam is struggling to find her place as a thirteen-year-old female baseball player. At the beginning of the book she learns that her coach feels she has an attitude and that the only way he’ll recommend her for travel baseball is if she gets a good performance at baseball camp. But when she arrives they expect her to be a boy and place her on the team with weaker and younger players and it goes downhill from there. As in this book, Sam’s family plays an important role in the story. At the start of the book Sam sees her stepmother Nancy as the enemy and is completely forgiving of her never-present birth mother. She has to learn to sort those relationships out too.

2. One of my favorite scenes in THE PERFECT TRIP takes place at a pick-up baseball game at a campground. A group of older boys is sure they’ll win against their younger brothers, even more so when Sam joins the younger boys’ team. I love the dramatic irony of this scene. Can you talk about how girl athletes challenge expectations?

Thank you for picking up on that scene. My two books were originally written in the reverse order and it was when I wrote that scene at the campground that I discovered the real motivation of my real main character. As an elementary school teacher, there have been many years that I have watched girls being undervalued when they want to play sports at recess. I used to be able to name on my hand the ones who were able to persevere and fight for the respect they deserved on the field. Fortunately, I do feel that trend is currently on the upswing. There has been more attention given to women and sports in the news and the boys don’t seem as surprised to see the girls playing with them. I don’t think it hurts that they all know about my book as well.

3. I loved the relationship between Sam and her younger half-sister, Deborah. Would you describe how you drew these sisters and made their moments of love, annoyance, and betrayal so believable.

My younger sister and I always had a very close relationship. Even though she is as different from Deborah as I am from Sam, I definitely put the emotion behind our relationship into the story. We had mostly good times, but there were those moments. Deborah also has in her some of my daughter Annie. Annie was Deborah’s age when I wrote the book and I would pluck some scenes and conversations from observing her behavior and interests. Then I would place myself in the role of her older sister to see how I would react.

4. Sam’s real name is Samantha — a name she doesn’t use much. One of the main characters in my upcoming book is a girl wrestler, and I played around with names and nicknames too. She’s Mikayla at home, but “Mickey” on the wrestling mat (on the advice of her older brothers). Why are names so important? When female athletes play on co-ed or male teams, do you think names impact how their teammates and opponents view girls and women?

When I first wrote The Perfect Trip Sam’s name was Zoey. When I realized I wanted the people at baseball camp to think she was a boy, I needed a unisex name. I wasn’t sure which one I wanted, so I took it back to my third grade class. They voted for Sam. I don’t think that names should matter, but in this case it was important for the mix up.

5. Who was your female athlete hero when you were Sam’s age? What was important to you about her?

I can’t remember any particular female athlete heroes from my childhood, but there were two movies with female athletes that I’ve never forgotten. The first was Quarterback Princess with Helen Hunt as a female football player. The second is a lesser-known movie called Blue Skies Again, which is about a female baseball player. I remember watching both movies over and over and thinking how amazing it was that these girls were fighting for their right to play with the boys. When I was older, I admired Mia Hamm, which is why I had Sam’s best friend Tasha give her a few shout outs during The Perfect Trip.

School’s out for Heidi Mordhorst! She’s hosting the first Poetry Friday of summer at My Juicy Little Universe.

Please stop by Stacy’s website to read her full bio. I had no idea we were both NYU grads!

Since it’s Poetry Friday, I asked Stacy to recommend a poem to pair with THE PERFECT TRIP.

Her choice? The perfect poem! Here is “First Girls in Little League Baseball,” by J. Patrick Lewis — shared with Pat’s express permission.

 

 

First Girls in Little League Baseball

By J. Patrick Lewis

December 26, 1974
Title IX of the 1972 Education Act is signed, providing for equal opportunity in athletics for girls as well as boys.

The year was 1974
When Little Leaguers learned the score.
President Ford took out his pen
And signed a law that said from then
On women too would have the chance
To wear the stripes and wear the pants.
Now what you hear, as flags unfurl,
Is “Atta boy!” and “Atta girl!”

Posted with permission of the author.

5 Questions for the Author: Meg Eden

Mary Lee Hahn is hosting this week. Stop by the blog A Year of Reading for this week’s poetry offerings from around the kidlitosphere.

Happy Poetry Friday, everyone.

This week, I’m celebrating my friend Meg Eden‘s upcoming debut YA novel, Post-High School Reality Quest. I first met Meg when I was editing Little Patuxent Review. She is a talented young poet, and our journal published several of her poems.

Here’s what you’ll find in this post:

  • blurb of Post-High School Reality Quest from Goodreads,
  • interview with author Meg Eden (she has fascinating insights into transitioning from poetry to long-form fiction),
  • a poem by Meg,
  • link to a book giveaway!

PHSRQ publishes next week, June 13. Here is the description from Goodreads.

Buffy is playing a game. However, the game is her life, and there are no instructions or cheat codes on how to win.

After graduating high school, a voice called “the text parser” emerges in Buffy’s head, narrating her life as a classic text adventure game. Buffy figures this is just a manifestation of her shy, awkward, nerdy nature—until the voice doesn’t go away, and instead begins to dominate her thoughts, telling her how to life her life. Though Buffy tries to beat the game, crash it, and even restart it, it becomes clear that this game is not something she can simply “shut off” or beat without the text parser’s help.

While the text parser tries to give Buffy advice on how “to win the game,” Buffy decides to pursue her own game-plan: start over, make new friends, and win her long-time crush Tristan’s heart. But even when Buffy gets the guy of her dreams, the game doesn’t stop. In fact, it gets worse than she could’ve ever imagined: her crumbling group of friends fall apart, her roommate turns against her, and Buffy finds herself trying to survive in a game built off her greatest nightmares.

***

Congratulations on your debut, Meg! Let’s dive into the interview.

  1. I love quest stories with female leads. How does Post-High School Reality Quest follow and/or break with the traditional quest narrative?

You could say Buffy’s quest is for Tristan, but there’s nothing epic about it. She’s not going to any dramatic lengths to get him, despite how much she might want him. What might be more accurate is to say that Buffy’s quest is to survive, to return to normalcy. When I think of quest narratives, I think of journeys and characters that actively travel to get what they want. Buffy isn’t “setting out” on a quest. In fact, her desire is antithetical to “setting out”—if it was up to her, she’d be “setting in,” remaining in the comfort of her patterns. But instead the world is changing around her, the text parser is calling her to action, and she’s just hanging on for the ride.

It’s interesting that many girl-led quests are about a return to normalcy. There’s Alice, Dorothy, Coraline. But that’s a topic for another day.

  1. It’s clear from your main character’s name (Buffy!) that there are a lot of Easter eggs in PHSRQ for geeks and gamers. Can you tell us about a few of those without revealing any spoilers?

Buffy’s name for her backpack is “inventory,” a shout-out to a vital attribute in pretty much every game ever. There are some beautifully illustrated memes, including a nod to “You don’t say” Nicholas Cage and “I know that feel, bro.” Merrill’s house has the address number 404, as if it doesn’t exist (a reference to 404 website errors). There’s a love letter written out like code, and a birthday cake written in binary. There are Slave Leia costumes, an NES Super Scope, multiple Pikachu instances, a prized Pokemon Stadium N64 cartridge, and all sorts of other things I’m currently blanking on.

  1. Your book is written in second person. That’s a challenging point-of-view to write from, but fitting for a novel about video games. Would you explain the importance of the “You” voice for non-gamers?

Post-High School Reality Quest is the form of a classic text-adventure game–that is, those old MS-DOS games, before graphics, where the game would narrate what was happening, and you would type in commands to interact with the game (e.g., “You are in a room. There is an axe. Exits are: out.” and to move out of the room, you’d type “out”). By narrating in second person, these games attempted to place the player in the environment as a character in their story. You could say that in text-adventure games, there are two distinct voices: that of the narrator and that of the player. This would be totally different if the games were narrated as “I”—they would make the game and the player one in the same.

Narrating from the “you” in PHSRQ allowed me to create conflict between the text parser and Buffy, to have two different narrators and two different goals. First or third person narration wouldn’t inherently carry this conflict.

  1. You’re a published poet who is debuting as a YA novelist. How was writing fiction was different than putting together a book of poetry? How did being a poet benefit you as you worked on this novel?

This is a great question, and a hard one to answer. I think in short: a book of poems is about (to me at least) different angles on a related experience. There are lots of tendrils, and there’s an emotional rise and fall, but not usually a plot. There’s not necessarily a climax or conclusion, and it’s focusing more on the experience than the end-goal. A novel is about following characters through a narrative of wants and obstacles. Poetry’s structure is a rising line: imagery leading to a realization. A novel’s structure is an arc of obstacles rising to a climax and choice, leading back down to a resolution.

All types of writing are exercises, like going to the gym. Poetry stretches my muscles for using space and words efficiently, using object-oriented language and imagery, and leading to a realization. Fiction stretches my muscles for keeping the action moving and going: of figuring out what my characters want, and what gets in the way of that.

Being a poet helped me focus in on the objects and specificity in Buffy’s experiences in PHSRQ. It gave me a fresh approach to writing a novel, where I was less concerned about what needed to happen or hitting the “outline” of what a novel’s structure is “supposed” to be and instead just enjoying observing what was already there. I feel like my background in poetry made me thrive on the complexity of the characters and situations, and observe instead of imposing my “game plan” of what should happen.

  1. Imagine one of your favorite poets has just written his or her first prose novel for teens. Which poet is it? Why do you think this person would be a great fit for a YA novel? Any guesses as to what the book might be about?

I would LOVE it if Fatimah Asghar would do this. I teach her poem “Pluto Shits on the Universe” in so many of my classes for lots of reasons, but the big one that I love to point out is the language of the experience. She makes Pluto into a real character, with a believable and relatable voice.  Whatever her novel would be about, it would have character and voice and I would without question get sucked into it.

I asked Meg to share a poem in which she explores similar themes to those in PHSRQ.

Shigeru Miyamoto Goes Spelunking

with a line from an interview[1]

By Meg Eden. Previously published in Cartridge Lit. 

When you say you explored caves as a boy,
I think about the abandoned Sears catalogue homes
I grew up with: watching them rot, heavy with secrets.
What I’d give to go in that unreachable place.

Playing Zelda, seeing those doors on-screen
that resided on the other side of a wall—why
are there always so many walls? No matter
how many games I play there are always

impassable places. Disappearing places.
When McKenzie from down the street died
I told my dad I was biking to his house
to explore it & he didn’t stop me. I biked there

but couldn’t go inside: those ripped curtains
in the window, that sign on the back door
with drawing of a gun that read: If you’re here
today they’ll find your body here tomorrow.

I biked back home. If I was born a boy,
would I have gone inside? Or were there caves
in Sonobe that you were afraid of, too?
You say that going back home, someone has blocked

the entrances to your caves. Does that stop you
from going inside? I like to think I’ll go inside
the dilapidated houses I see off the side of the road
but instead I take pictures from my car & try

to rebuild them inside me. It’s not the same
as reaching your hand in a river & realizing
you’ve touched a fish but what else can you do
in this paved and partitioned world?

[1] from Master of Play by Nick Paumgarten (The New Yorker)

Would you like a copy of Post-High School Reality Quest? Enter this giveaway!

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Bullet Journal Your Revision Notebook

Writing is a messy process. For an organized person like me, revising a novel can feel overwhelming.

There is so much to do: Develop flat characters, adjust the plot, review feedback from critique partners, check for overused words (“just” is my bugaboo). Not to mention detail work! If a character is described as wearing braces, how often do the braces have to be mentioned throughout the book? Should that detail be cut?! Her bands are red and black in Chapter 3, but purple in Chapter 12. Ack!!

A moleskin journal wasn’t going to do the trick for this revision! I used a great big 5 subject notebook. Having sections helped keep me organized.

This describes my state of mind in February, when I started a major rewrite of my next middle grade novel. The whole project like too much.

Then, inspiration struck. For a few months, I’d swapped out my personal to-do lists for a bullet journal. And while I didn’t follow #bujo techniques to the letter, the journal was cutting back on my list-writing time and helping me stay organized. Why not apply these techniques to my revision notebook?

This Saturday, I’m running a workshop for our local SCBWI chapter, “Bullet Journaling Your Revision Notebook.” You can find details and RSVP here.

My colored pencils and markers are packed. I’ve got stickers and rulers. I’m super-excited to share ideas with other authors.

This workshop and the resources in this post are for everyone, whether you:

  • have never heard of bullet journals;
  • are #bujo curious;
  • use a bullet journal for day-to-day, but haven’t tried one for writing;
  • or you’re are a literary bullet journal master.

My favorite YouTube videos for simple bullet journals:

How to Bullet Journal
*Short explanation from bullet journal system creator Ryder Carroll

A Dude’s Bullet Journal Walk-through
*Great for the basics

Easy Ways to Decorate Your Bullet Journal
*If you want to learn simple hand-lettering technqiues and embellishments

Bullet Journal for Writers
*Not for perfectionists! I love this bullet journaler’s inspiration page based on Lord of the Rings.

Check out these website and blog posts about bullet journals, especially for writers:

BulletJournal.Com
*Where the whole craze started

Something Delicious, “Bullet Journaling for Fiction Writers”
*Lists collection ideas for WIPs (Works in Progress)

BoHo Berry, “NaNoWriMo Bullet Journal”
*Ideas for setting up a new project

Writer’s Edit, “The Complete Guide to Bullet Journaling for Writers”
*Includes tips on tracking submissions and feedback from publishers

Page Flutter, “Inside My Writing Journal: The Ultimate Study in Craft”
*Our local SCBWI events coordinator, Sarah Maynard, found this amazing resource. Includes photos and explanations of color coding, and great journal page ideas/spreads for writers: 7 Key Elements of Fiction, The Hero’s Journey, and Three Act Structure.

The biggest tip I can share is this: Do what works for you.

My favorite bullet journaling tool is the Index.

I had a three-week window to complete my revision and turn it in to my editor.

My revision journal is profoundly lacking in calligraphy, embellishments, and colorful flourishes. But it has an index (the single most helpful bullet journal tool) and helped keep my thoughts organized as I was re-writing.

 

 

 

 

 

Daily word-count goals don’t work for me. I found it was easiest to list the chapter numbers and cross off each one as I revised. This page also has a simple to-do list.

My everyday bullet journal has a few pages dedicated to book notes, including this one, decorated with a doodle.

School Poetry Workshop: Poetry Celebration!

Thanks to Buffy Silverman for hosting Poetry Friday this week. Stop by Buffy’s Blog for all of this week’s poetry links.

Happy Poetry Friday! I’m saying goodbye to Northfield Elementary School this week. For the past month, I’ve been conducting a poetry residency with the school’s third grade.

At the bottom of this post, I’m sharing a gallery of some of the poetry displays. The kids outdid themselves this year!

Our final workshop was on persona poems. You’ll find lesson details in my recent posts, linked at the bottom of this page. Let’s get straight to the poetry!

In Erin’s poem, I see an imaginative leap when an unexpected character enters the poem, adding tension to the story.

Poet: Erin A.

Hello, my name is Bob. I am
47 years old. I live in Florida
and love lamb. Today, I got a promotion
and raise. My family will be so
happy. I have two boys, a wife,
and a pet puppy. My family was
very happy, even my puppy.
It went better
than I expected.
We went outside
for dinner.
But suddenly,
my big brother came.
I knew
he was going
to make fun
of me. But
he didn’t. He said
very good things
about me. Right
at that moment
I felt really special.

*

Here is the updated poem, on display at our celebration.

Eva’s poem also has a moment where something unexpected happens.

Poet: Eva L.

Spring Day

It was a new spring day
on the field, many dandelions on the ground.
A little boy ran to the field.
He picked up a full dandelion.
He was thinking, let me make more
seeds for spring.
Maybe if I do that will I be a
spring hero.
The boy went to blow the dandelion.
Then a big wind just blew the dandelion.
The little boy worried the dandelion
is not blown by him.
Will he be a spring hero?
Or dandelion seeds not grow?
All will see in the next spring.

*

Alex wrote our only non-human persona poem this year. This one made me laugh! Wow — that’s some clever use of onomatopoeia.

Poet: Alex K.

I am a cat.
I have brown and black fur.
Hands pick me up!
Save me—ow!
My eyes glisten with unhappiness!
Put me down!
Get away.
You’re licking me!
Weird lady, get away!
She puts me down.
I scramble to hide.
Where do I hide?
An empty bowl?
I get in it and wait
‘til she finds me.

*

Miah’s poem is has an air of mystery. I feel sad for the character she created, who loves to play with friends, but seems to be struggling at home.

Poet: Miah A.

A child playing with friends,
laughing and active.
Playing until the moon meets.
Feeling happiness in all the other children.
Always active,
never resting.
Loudness disturbs Mom’s quiet time.
Waves goodbye, in her blue eyes,
they shine today, with the friendship.
But Jessie couldn’t do her homework.
Mom did not rest. They got mad,
but I just smiled.

*

I had a chance to hear Claire perform this poem for visitors today. She did a great job imagining what it might feel like to be a college student.

Poet: Claire D.

I like my friends Sarah,
Stella, and Lisa in college.
They are so kind. But especially I love…
MY UNIVERSITY! It’s beautiful.
It has good education and kind teachers.
When I read the books in the library
I feel I am part of the story.
But when I feel the potions
in Chemistry, it feels tickly on my fingers.
But I just love the people. They wave. They laugh,
which makes me feel like I belong.

*

Now for a quick photo gallery!

Haiku by Kevin Z.

Food poem by Abby W.

Thanks again to the Northfield 3rd grade team and families for giving me permission to share students’ persona poems.

*

Check out the previous posts in this School Poetry Workshop series:

School Poetry Workshop: Haiku Hike, May 12, 2017
School Poetry Workshop: Food and the Five Senses, May 19, 2017
School Poetry Workshop: A Second Helping of Food Poems, May 25, 2017
School Poetry Workshop: Persona Poems, May 30, 2017
School Poetry Workshop: Creating a Character, June 1, 2017

School Poetry Workshop: Creating a Character

Today is the poetry open house at Northfield Elementary, where I’ve been in residence for the past month. I haven’t seen the third grade poets since our revision day. It’s always exciting to read their poems again and see how they have developed.

Let’s look more closely at persona poems.

When we’re creating a character, whether it’s in a poem or in prose, how do we move away from our own thoughts and experiences and begin to imagine the internal life of another person?

I’ve shared that I use images of people — postcards and magazine cut-outs — to give young poets a concrete starting place. Layering imagination onto a picture of a stranger can be a challenging task.

Over the years, and with the help of classroom teachers, this is the brainstorming sheet I’ve developed. It helps students dig into the personas they are creating for their poems. Feel free to use this worksheet. As always, if you share it, please acknowledge or link back to me.

Laura’s Persona Poem/Character Development brainstorming sheet.

Feelings: How does your person feel in this moment or about his or her situation?

Thoughts: What is he or she thinking?

What happens next?: Imagine that the picture is a TV or movie screen, with the action on pause. If you hit the “Play” button, what’s the next thing that would happen?

Maybe: Any other possibilities or ideas you have about this person’s life or situation.

You can read a full description of how to run this workshop at Today’s Little Ditty. I often use Shonto Begay’s poem “Down Highway 163” as a mentor text.

Persona Poem Workshop post at Today’s Little Ditty.

Persona Poem mentor text, “Down Highway 163” by Shonto Begay.

Thanks to the Northfield 3rd grade team and families for giving me permission to share students’ persona poems. This writing prompt is a great way to teach voice.

Sophia’s poem is all about capturing tone. Each item in the image adds to the feeling of loneliness.

Poet: Sophia B.

The girl looks

sad and lonely. She is alone.

She stands out against

the black wall and

brown curtains.

She’s eating apples

in a blue dress.

A lonely five year old

girl sitting at the table

all alone.

*

Isabella’s poem creates an entire family! The speaker’s happiness and love for her husband and daughter shines through this poem.

Poet: Isabella C.

I Am Outside

 

With my husband and daughter.

We are getting ready to play ball.

My daughter’s having fun with Dad.

They make me smile.

I love you, is what I think

she is trying to say.

She is one. She loves to play.

I named her Kali. I love her

and my name is Mara.

My husband’s name is Juston.

My family is one of a kind,

but I love that.

We have a dog named Lucky.

We named him that

because they were getting ready to put him down.

Then Juston and me bought him.

I love my family.
*

Who hasn’t imagined what a baby might be thinking? I love the tactile images in Shalisa’s sweet poem. And the clasped hands at the end — wow!

 

Poet: Shalisa I.

 

I am a baby.

Even though I can’t speak full sentences

I have them in my head

and this is what I can speak,

Goo goo gaa gaa.

Anyways, I am about to go outside.

It is windy, but it’s divine.

The breeze ruffles through my hair.

My mommy puts me gently on the grass.

It tickles my toes.

I suddenly feel like

I am rising from below

and I am on my mother’s toes.

Soon I say, Goo gaa,

which means “Yay! This is fun!”

I am swinging and rocking.

My mom is smiling at me

and I smile back.

Her loves makes me happy

and so does her smile too.

We put our hands together.

My hands are the key

and her  hands are the lock.

This is my favorite thing to do

with me and my mommy.

*

 

This is Mark’s updated draft, with an illustration. Isn’t it cool?!

Listen to the sounds and rhythms in Mark’s exciting poem. “Sparkle in the dark” — wonderful wordplay!

Poet: Mark G.

Places! Places!
The s
how will start.
The s
how must go on!

On you go, the crowd

won’t wait. If

there was no show,

I would hate!
We w
ill have effects.

the costumes will

sparkle in the dark.

The music will sound like

it’s from Broadway!
*

I like the way that Mounira captures a specific moment in her character’s life and walks us through it slowly, so we can experience all of this person’s emotions.

Poet: Mounira H.

 

First!

 

Feeling nervous as I walk

to a stall. I don’t wanna

try to swim, it’s scary.
Get t
o a stall and put my

bathing suit on. I know

I have gear I can float

in, but I’m scared.
Mom t
akes a picture. I try

to look happy for her.

I feel weird with everything

on me. I wish it wasn’t

my first time swimming.

Finally, I get out
of the s
tall and put my foot
in t
he water. I feels nice

in the water. My swimming

teacher comes over and

says, “Ready to swim?

I say Yes and

five minutes later

I am swimming
for t
he first time.
*

Look for the final set of Northfield persona poems tomorrow, Poetry Friday. I hope you’ll stop by and visit with these wonderful third grade poets.
*
Check out the previous posts in this School Poetry Workshop series:

School Poetry Workshop: Haiku Hike, May 12, 2017
School Poetry Workshop: Food and the Five Senses, May 19, 2017
School Poetry Workshop: A Second Helping of Food Poems, May 25, 2017
School Poetry Workshop: Persona Poems, May 30, 2017