Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gravity and Tom Shannon's TED Talk: Anti-Gravity Sculptures

So, my TED Talk Tuesdays are happening every day except Tuesdays. What can I say? It's summer.

Yesterday, Superman (9-yrs old) asked me, "Mom, do you know what Law I hate?"

I reviewed the laws that I thought he lived by. It was a short list. "Nope, I can't guess."

"I hate the Law of Gravity."


Knowing my son's love for movement in all directions, I definitely should have guessed that he would actively dislike one that restricted his ability to fly.

And recently, I catch myself frowning. Not because I am feeling emotions connected with the facial expression, but because lost in thought, or in my busy day, I forget to defy gravity. Which allows it to pull my lips down into the frown.

When I googled things that defy gravity, I came across Tom Shannon's Anti-Gravity Sculptures, which are amazing and beautiful and all anchored in some science fiction and some fantasy. As well as science AND gravity. :) So I'd thought I'd share it with you, in case you also forget to defy gravity today.

My favorite quote? "It's sort of surfing on a magnetic field at the crest of a wave."

Poets, eat your hearts out! :)

And without gravity, we wouldn't have enjoyed the "Goblet of Fire" last night (think of what a mess that would have made):
Papa J enjoying gravity.
Last night, at the Writers' Loft, we had a great chat, led by author Anna Staniszewski, about all things Character. We discussed how to build a character with depth, whether a character needs to be likeable, what are some of our favorite characters in literature, and what an agent might mean when they say that they didn't connect with your character. We even had a high-five over the day's agent rejections.

I think that leads to one of the best ways to defy gravity--as writers, we need to extract the best understanding we can from a crit to make our ms better and not get bogged down by negativity and rejections. Which would keep us too tethered to write the way we need to. Dealing with criticism/rejections in a positive/proactive way is an essential act of defying gravity for us all. :)

A shout out to everyone who chooses to defy gravity, but enjoy it as well. :) How do you do it?

Monday, July 15, 2013

TED Talk Tuesday (On Monday): Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From

(So that it will appear that Papa J has a friend...)

I received an email this morning in that old chain letter fashion (c'mon, fess up, you know you've done/started one at some point) asking me to do a blog hop type thing by answering questions about my writing. And even though I hate those things (no offense!) and even though this is the place where chain letters come to die, I decided I might as well comply, mostly because I really want to see a blog post specifically from the other people on the chain. If I do it, then the other participants Papa J picked have to do it, too.

I had already loaded a TED Talk into the works. So, I decided to mash the two together.

First let me talk about how I have recently had a shift in thinking about my writing process. I've always said stuff like, "writing doesn't happen in a vacuum," meaning that we need a strong support system in order to write. I've also been intrigued by collaborative writing projects, and a couple of times a year, I entice a few writers to do something out-of-the-box with me.

But, I think that I was wrong about my writing process. I mean, I do need a support system, but that it is secondary (or a smaller part of) the need to create a Petri dish for the growth of my writing, which includes other writers getting into the Petri dish with me on a daily basis and weighing in on an idea or a part of a novel.

Listen to Steven Johnson, and think about how writing in a rich idea environment could spark that great idea:

"Chance favors the connected mind."--Steven Johnson

Every part of writing is about ideas--the Shiny New Idea which is the tag line for that new manuscript, or that idea of how to write the first page in order to launch it into a reader's heart. Writing a novel is one new idea after another.

In a world where we talk about tribes and twitter followings and virtual communities, what does it mean as a writer to create an environment conducive to getting that creative work done? To reaching out for and making connections which spark the necessary ideas? This is a question I am going to be exploring on the blog in the upcoming weeks. I hope you join in, and talk about your thoughts, ideas, and community.

As a direct result of other writers mixing things up in my Petri dish, I am now dusting off and revising a MG ms that I haven't looked at in two years. (This is to answer another question in the blog hop--what I'm writing...) It's a story about a boy who wishes a wish so powerfully that it ultimately pulls a star down to earth.

I've answered two out of three blog hop questions--the third I am going to answer is: Who are the authors you most admire?

As writers, we have a different view of authors--and sometimes an inside view of how authors handle their writing. The two authors I admire most are Anna Staniszewski and Erica Orloff. Because of so many reasons, but mainly because of who they are as people, because of how they help everyone and anyone they come across, and also because they write pragmatically. Not that their subject matter is pragmatic, but that they believe they can do it, they do it, then it gets published. There is no room for existential crisis. They get the work done. Every single time. (Not to say that they don't have moments of doubts or writer-related-heartache.) But they will accomplish their novels one word at a time. And those words are great ones. :)

Who do you admire? Who's in your Petri dish? Do you worry about talking your works over with other writers? What does your community look like?

Oh, yeah. The chain letter dies here. :)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Stuffed Into a Teapot

Well, I'm taking slow-blogging to new heights. :) 

Ropes course with the fam on vacation in NH
One thing that gets on my nerves is when people throw around the idea that because of TV (or the internet) kids have shorter attention spans than they ever had before. You know, when people say it authoritatively in a how-to-write-for-children book, without citing any evidence. 

Alice: From the moment I fell down that rabbit hole I've been told what I must do and who I must be. I've been shrunk, stretched, scratched, and stuffed into a teapot. I've been accused of being Alice and of not being Alice but this is my dream. I'll decide where it goes from here.
Bayard: If you diverge from the path...
Alice: I make the path!
(From the 2010 movie, Alice In Wonderland)

By making that sort of assumption, that children are being damaged by the progress of media, you might as well stuff 'em into a teapot.

It may be true that attention-deficit issues with children are on the rise, but let's face it, that's a chemical process in the brain. I don't think people have found a causal effect between that and TV or computers. And, it has been shown that kids with ADHD can actually "hyper focus" when they find something compelling to focus on. 

That's the point, right?  Give kids something compelling to focus on.

I do think that it is true that there are different sources of entertainment that can lure our kids away from books, but the takeaway for us writers is that in order to compete with these games, shows and interactive experiences, we need to grab the reader on the first sentence, and hold their interest through the whole book. Which is why writing for young readers is so darn intriguing in the first place. Want a challenge? Try to write a novel for today's youth. They expect the best. It's our job to give it to them.

My kids don't zone out after 12 minutes because they have been trained by the TV and commercials (in fact, the commercials are more compelling to my kids than the show, most times). They don't stop focusing on interesting things after a few moments and drift away. They aren't less inclined to focus. They just have more to chose from.

We need to learn from the experts in the gaming field, like Jane McGonigal, and write in a way that gives kids positive feedback and a real interaction with our books, either figuratively, if we are writing traditional stories, or literally, like Patrick Carman. (The video clips of Skeleton Creek scared the bejeesus out of my eldest. Because he didn't listen to his mother. I'm just saying.)

But let's not assume that our kids are becoming less because they have more to interest them. Let's give them the more (which I believe today's authors, in general, are accomplishing).

Take my nine-year-old son, for instance. 
Give me s'more!
Some might say that he doesn't have the attention span for reading, because he tends not to choose books at his reading level. He sees a full page of text and turns away. But it's not attention span that is his problem--(I don't happen to think he has a problem, thank you very much, teapot stuffers)--but that he is an auditory/sensory learner, and not a visual learner. So most age-appropriate books are, by definition, not his cup of tea. But give him an Alvin Ho book, and he won't put it down. For him, humor is the carrot that will pull him through an entire book.

As a writer, you don't necessarily have to hook my son. (Although the fist fight that ensued in the back seat of my car when I tossed Anna's ARC of My Sort-of Fairy Tale Ending to my kids shows that she has. I'm talking FIST FIGHT where I had to pull the car over and physically separate the kids. Thanks, Anna. #MyBoysReadGirlBooks #TheyArePassionateAboutBooks #MyDaughterWonTheFight)

But you do have to know what type of kid you are hooking, and then hook them the whole way through. Don't let 'em off the line.

And, as if I haven't mixed enough metaphors in this post, I'm encouraging you to make your own path, when it comes to writing books, and not write under the fear that children don't have the attention span to pick up a book and read anymore.  You make the path!

And, now for our regularly scheduled commercial: If anyone wants help with the path, we have an All Things Picture Book group meeting at the Writers' Loft in Sherborn on Thursday night this week, and a Craft Chat on Character on July 23rd, also in the evening. Here's the link. Join us!