Monday, May 19, 2014

My Writing Process--the tour... continues with Joy McCullough-Carranza

Joy McCullough-Carranza
Thanks to all who commented on my (and the Don's) conversation about my writing process last week. I love this feeling of being part of a chain!

I tagged my Project Mayhem friend, Joy McCullough-Carranza, to continue the tour after me. Please go to Joy's blog and say "hi" and learn about her process. Joy is very wise, and I really hope to hear that she gets a middle grade boom deal soon. (Her agent is the awesome Sara Crowe, so I wouldn't be surprised if something is in the cards.)

Joy has linked to three other writers--Sharon Roat, Laura Shovan, and Darian Lindle. I'm looking forward to reading all about their process next week.

Ciao for now!

Monday, May 12, 2014

My Writing Process, the tour

Cartoon by BrainPop on Flickr
So, there are these two writers--R.L. Saunders and Joe McGee--who are pretty amazing. Their agent, Linda P. Epstein, is at the same agency as my agent--which is kind of how I got to know them. I started reading their blogs, and I was all "holey moley, this is some interesting stuff." Both of them write engaging sentences. Both of them make you think. And both of them have gotten themselves involved in this writing process blog thingy.
Joe McGee
R.L Saunders

Which is where I come in.
You see, Joe tagged Rhonda, and Rhonda passed the torch to me--and now I get to bend your ear for a coupla minutes about this whole writing thing which, if you've thought about it, you have to admit is a bit of a mystery.

I've been writing since I was knee high to a 6th-grader. And I've been writing for publication for more years than I'd like to admit--which means that when I do eventually get published, I will label myself an overnight sensation. (The kind of "overnight" that Rip Van Winkle woke from, of course.) What little I do know can basically be boiled down to: "Just Keep on Trucking," and "One Size Most Definitely Does Not Fit All."

And now, my answers to the tour's questions:

What are you working on?
Will you think badly of me if I admit that I am working on more things than I should be? I am the poster child for the bright and shiny new idea--and unfortunately such things plague me daily. In the shower, on a walk, chopping vegetables: here they come. I have notebooks filled with ideas, four different starts of novels--all of which are magnifico; and a couple of things "in revision," (and which probably will remain in revision for the same time as The Phantom of the Opera has been on Broadway. Hey, we're here for the long haul, ain't we?)

But I probably should say I'm working on a chapter book about a couple of crazy housepets--while I wait for word from the agent about what he thinks of my latest chapter book which I am sure will be the next big thing, and which I can't tell you about because I am superstitious. I also abide--like a good middle grade mafioso--by the code of Omerta.

Speaking of Omerta, here comes the Don to check in on me now--so I'll have to pretend I'm working on his autobiography, VITAL VITO: PUTTING THE GOD IN GODFATHER.

Oh no. He speaks.

Don Vito: Michale! Long time no see. Youse up for a game of cards? Winner take all.

Me: Sorry, Boss. I'm on deadline.

The Don, pinching my cheek: That's what I like about you writer types, always dreaming up some crazy scheme or another. Did you hear Luca's got himself a new blog, too? "In Da Cement," he's calling it. Says it's his restaurant reviews. (Winks). You believe him?

(Luca's my main blogging rival, so making him look bad is kind of my major goal in life.)

Me: I did hear about that. Last week he was claiming some place in Manhattan makes an eggplant parmigiana better than your wife's. (Let the Don stew on that for a while. He doesn't look pleased.) But hey, I do need your advice. I've got to write something about how my work... let me look up the question... oh yeah, here it is: How does your work differ from others in its genre?

The Don: Easy. You're better than everyone else. Look at the top of this blog. What did I say to ya when ya started this thing? "You're not middle anything. You're top grade. Top grade, you hear me? Anybody else call you this middle thing, and I bust some knee caps. Capice?"

Me: Well, thanks for the vote of confidence, Boss. But apparently I shouldn't consider myself a snowflake.

The Don: Hey, don't talk to me of snowflakes, Michale. You hear it snowed in Denver on Mudder's Day? Snowed! And right after we bought the ice cream truck franchise out west, too. Jiminy Cricket wid bells on.

Me:  Sorry to hear that. Hey, here's another question: Why do you write what you do?

The Don: What?! Are youse getting all mumbo jumbo and psychological on me? The answer's simple: Because I pay you.

Me: I think it means why do I write middle grade, and not adult romance, or something like that...?

The Don: Romance? I'd like to see you try that stuff. You get squeamish when you see people kissin'. Nah, let me tell ya the answer. You write your kinda stuff because you can barely tie your shoelaces. No offence, ya understand? But you're a kid.

Me: Well, I like to think I'm a kid at heart...

The Don: Listen, you're still a kid. Now, any more of dem questions? I'se got a lawyer waiting I gotta speak with.

Me: There's one last one: How does your writing process work? Let's see, I get interrupted a lot. I'm at the mercy of the "powers that be." I try and do a couple of hours daily, in the morning because that's when the kids are at school and my biorhythms are at their best...

The Don: You read about dem biorhythms in Reader's Digest?

Me: Some place like that. Let's see... I get ideas from all over the place. Usually, a character comes into my head. This character has a great name, and I start asking him or her questions, and then he or she riffs, and then I go "What if...?" and then, the character and I, we come up with a plot, and then...

The Don: Whoa, youse reacting badly to some medication, or what? I'll call in Daffara, that medico who helped me with my inflammation...

Me: I'm fine. You might wanna check in on Luca, though. I guess my final answer is that I work and work, and I laugh at my own jokes, and pretty soon I've got something down. And then the heavy lifting begins and...

The Don, circling finger around by his ear: Woo-woo. Would you look at the time? Youse making me late for bocce. Don't forget, next week I wanna see dem page proofs on the God in Godfather bidness. Capice? Ciao!

Phew! Well, as you can see, writing can be a whole lotta fun when you got someone like the Don breathing down your neck. Hey, speaking of next week, this writing process tour is going to feature my pal from Project Mayhem, Joy McCullough-Carranza. Here's her bio from Project Mayhem:

Joy McCullough-Carranza – Joy grew up in San Diego (where she was a total bookworm), went to college in Chicago (where she studied theater and became a playwright), and lived in Guatemala for a year (where she met her husband). Now she makes her home in Seattle with two book-obsessed kids and an equally book-obsessed husband. A walk through their home includes the ever-present danger of a falling stack of books. Between homeschooling her children, freelance writing and editing, answering someone else’s fan mail, and writing her own middle grade fiction, Joy makes room for Project Mayhem in her life. She is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.  Website  Twitter  Blog
Thanks, all! See you for some more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday next week. I've got a goodie for you... (P.S. The winner of last week's ARC of The Meaning of Maggie was Andrea Mack!)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: THE MEANING OF MAGGIE by Megan Jean Sovern (Interview and ARC Giveaway)

THE MEANING OF MAGGIE by Megan Jean Sovern (Chronicle Books, May 2014)

What It's About (from Goodreads): For Maggie Mayfield, turning eleven means she's one year closer to college. One year closer to voting. And one year closer to getting a tattoo. It's time for her to pull herself up by her bootstraps (the family motto) and think about more than after school snacks and why her older sisters are too hot for their own good. Because something mysterious is going on with her cool dude Dad, whose legs have permanently fallen asleep, and Maggie is going to find out exactly what the problem is and fix it. After all, nothing's impossible when you're future president of the United States of America, fifth grade science fair champion, and a shareholder in Coca-Cola, right?

Opening Lines: (Prologue) ~~ Beep. Beep. Beep. My dad won't stop beeping. And it's impossible to concentrate while my dad is beeping. He's been beeping for almost a whole day now. And it's not the friendly beep of an ice cream truck backing up after you chased it halfway down the block either.
What I Liked: This novel has VOICE in spades. Maggie is intelligent, self-aware, and humorous--particularly when writing about her older sisters, Tiffany and Layla, who are high schoolers.

I laughed a lot while reading this book--even though the subject matter is fundamentally serious and a little sad. Maggie's "cool dude" dad has multiple sclerosis, and it's getting worse. He's had to give up his job and stay home, while Maggie's mom has gone to work as a head housekeeper at a large hotel. But while this situation upends Maggie's life, the humorous way in which she sees the world is redemptive. Here's a taste, just after she's arrived at the hospital after her dad has had a seizure:
"We went back up to the waiting room where it was minus one hundred degrees. I  nuzzled in close to Mom's side again because it was warm there because her body functioned at a temperature higher than most adults because she had more to do than anyone else.
She winked at my sisters. "You know your father, he loves making a scene. But don't worry, girls. Everything's going to be okay."
I felt safe next to her molten side. And I believed her."
Each of the supporting characters is incredibly well-drawn--from the parents, to the sisters, to the negative grandmother who is totallly self-absorbed. I also loved all of Maggie's escapades at school, including her B at the Science Fair (all because she does a project on her dad's illness, but of course there's no cure, so she gets docked points for that. Here is her riff on the winner--and I dare you to keep a straight face:
"Getting a B on my science fair project really wrecked me. Not only because Bs were for losers but because some idiot went on to win MY blue ribbon. Jeremy Smith did some boring report on windmills and how they solve the energy crisis. Yeah right, the only thing that was going to solve the energy crisis was math and A LOT of it. The worst part? He didn't even have a ta-da moment. He just made a lame three-panel board covered in a bunch of pictures. I just didn't know what those judges were thinking. Didn't anyone have standards anymore? You think Albert Einstein ever made a three-panel board? Of course not! He had awesome hair and people with awesome hair only did awesome things, just like Dad and me."
And then there's the footnotes. Pure genius! Read the book, and see what I mean

I enjoyed this book so much, I decided to shoot the author my trademark Mafioso questions. Here's what she came up with (my comments in italics):

1) Who are your favorite (middle grade) writers?
Rebecca Stead, Kate DiCamillo, R.J Palacio, Lemony Snicket, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl and my eight-year-old niece Lane. Her imagination is ahead of its time. 
(I don't know Lane (yet!)--but you have to admit Megan Jean Sovern has excellent taste with all the others...)

2) What's on your nightstand now?
Going Over by Beth Kephart, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and L is for Lollygag because you just never know when you’re going to need a quirky word. (Ooh! Beth Kephart. I have some serious Beth Kephart love going on!)

3) Pick a favorite scene from your novel, and say why you like it
I think the truest words written are buried somewhere in the final chapters when Maggie says, “Because no one loved anyone as much as we loved Dad.” It’s my favorite because that thought means everything. To Maggie. And to me.  (Amen!)

4) Fill in the blank: I'm really awesome at....  
Being really bad at dancing, whistling and sleeping.  (Yikes! I'm great at all this. I'll have to send some of my magic Megan Jean's way...)

5) My favorite breakfast is...
Cinnamon rolls and CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood. 

6) If you could visit any place, where would it be?
Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden. (Greatest. Answer. Ever. The imagination boggles!)

About the Author: Megan Jean Sovern has one of the coolest websites ever. She is one hilarious person, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and is represented by Marietta Zacker.

Giveaway: I received the ARC of THE MEANING OF MAGGIE from Chronicle Books, in exchange for an honest review, and I am so in love with this story that I want one of you to win it from me so you can laugh and cry over it too. Just leave a comment, and I will pick a winner next week. Thanks for stopping by!