Margot Writes a Short Story

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by Natalie Truhan

It’s 8 p.m. Margot is at her tiny living-room desk. She is trying to write a short story. She is about to give up.

In that story of hers, the protagonist—thirteen-year old Tania—is grieving the loss of her Doberman Pinscher Henrietta. The dog’s disappearance is accompanied by Tania’s parents’ non-stop fighting and by a conflict with her best friend.

Margot estimates she’s writing draft #5 (or so she tells herself) of this story. In fact (don’t ask me how I know this)—she has ten files on her laptop in the “IN DEVELOPMENT” folder—all named DATE_tania_next_version.doc. Each of these has one paragraph (max) typed in it—most of them have only one sentence; one of the drafts has just three words:

tania wakes up

Right now, Margot is looking at her coffee mug (it has a raised stamped image of the four yellow-submarined Beatles on it) and is considering pros & cons of making coffee again. If she gets up from her desk now, she will call it a day. Margot wants to quit.

The story starts with Tania’s dream:

All night she was chased by a pack of wolves— a black hairy mass with steamy mouths. Tania ran through the thick of the dark woods, and the trees whipped her on the hands and cheeks with their limbs. She ran across unending fields of snow, tripping and getting up, tripping and getting up again. When she finally found a place to hide—a creepy old barn with a heavy door that felt clammy under her palms as she pushed it—the darkness hissed at her in the voice that Tania recognized as her best friend Lisa’s: “Don’t think you are sssspeccccial…”

Ba-boom. It all exploded into a splash of electric light.

Something is wrong here, but what is it? Margot doesn’t know. On the day the story starts, Henrietta, the dog, has been missing for more than three months. Tania goes on a trip with her father and witnesses a horrendous accident. The image from the accident brings on a moment of deep and hopeless realization for Tania: that her dog is never coming back, that her family is never going to be “normal”.

What if there’s an “I” who is telling this story?

I had a dream I was chased by a pack of wolves. I felt them breathing down my neck with their steamy mouths. I ran through the dark woods. The trees whipped me on my bare hands and cheeks with their branches. I ran across fields of snow, tripping and getting up. When I finally found a place to hide—a creepy old barn with a heavy door that felt clammy under my palms as I pushed it—the darkness hissed at me in the voice of my best friend Lisa’s: “Don’t think you are sssspeccccial…”

Ba-boom. My dream exploded into a splash of electric light.

Margot re-reads the paragraph: doesn’t it feel like it’s told by a much older protagonist? Margot also doesn’t like that she had to cut several images and adjectives which she felt couldn’t remain in the first person narrative.

What if… What if this is a “you”-story? Margot rejects the idea at first: she is suspicious of the second person fiction (“too imposing”). And yet–

You are sleeping; you are having a dream. You are being chased by a pack of wolves, a black hairy mass with steamy mouths. You are running. You run through the thick of the dark woods–the trees are whipping you on hands and cheeks with their cold limbs. You run across unending fields of snow. You trip, you get up again; you trip, you get up. Finally, a place to hide—a barn, old and creepy. You push the door—it feels clammy under the palms of your hands. When you are inside, ready to catch your breath—the darkness hisses at you in the voice of your best friend Lisa’s: “Don’t think you are sssspeccccial…”

…Ba-boom. Your dream explodes into a splash of electric light.

Suddenly, the story Margot is writing isn’t a story of the 13-year old Tania any more. It is a story of the 27-year old Tania in a coma. It is Tania’s long lost memory… Suddenly, the “you” in this story opens up a new distance inside the protagonist—a distance between the older and the younger narrator. It splits the narrator in two: the younger one experiences, the older one explains…

Will she choose this draft to go on with? I don’t know. Would you?

Margot is tired. She’ll get back to the story tomorrow. Let’s hope she finishes it.

Click HERE to learn more about Natalie’s class, LET’S WRITE A SHORT STORY.

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Natalie Truhan received her MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. She is a former Translation Editor of The Lunch Ticket literary journal. She lives in Los Angeles where she writes fiction and translates poetry. 

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3 Tips for Finding your Spot in the Writing Marketplace

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by Lisa Peck-MacDonald

How do you find your place in the Writing Market?

Finding the right marketplace for your book can be a daunting challenge. One I haven’t mastered yet, nor will I ever. Truthfully, I don’t know if anyone has, but there are definitely experts on certain parts of the industry and there are key components to think about that I will share with you here.

Thanks to the self-publishing revolution, new genres are being created all the time making the playing field wide, vast and ever changing. Readers’ taste are constantly evolving and the rules of publishing are moving with them. Gone are the days when merely learning the rules and playing meant success. This is an industry that plays by its own rules and one of those rules is: if you have a concept that’s not tried and true, it just might have a chance. So get creative and don’t let ‘we haven’t ever done that before’ stop you here.

  1. Figure out where you want to go.

The truth is there are thousands of paths and most often no two authors share the same path. So, with all the change and options, how do you find yours? The first step is you have to know what you want in the end.

I was at a writers’ event the other day, and a newly published author was asking advice on how to sell her book. So I asked her, “What is your goal with your book?”

She had no clue. She didn’t know who her readers were or why they would want to read her book. If the author doesn’t know the merit of their own writing why would anyone else want to read it? Clearly, she had some specific work that she needed to do before she could be effective in selling her book.

Because she didn’t have the answers, I didn’t know how to help her. I didn’t know how to set her up to win because I had no description of what success would look like for her. So the first step is to think about what success with your book looks like for you. To know what it means for you to sell your book to those who are destined to read it.

Who did you write it for? Why did you write it? Get clear on these questions first before you try to sell it.

  1. Choose the Right Path

The only way to really find the right path for your book is to get in the game.  What choices can you make right now to get you there?  This is the time to dive in see what works and what doesn’t within your genre. It could mean, posting a few excerpts on social media and getting feedback from your audience. It could be posting in groups that like your genre and select some early readers to provide feedback.

What steps could set you on the path of gaining more visibility with your specific audience? With the advent of the e-book and the revolution of self-publishing, the question of where a writer fits in the marketplace has become more complicated and even more important. If you can get creative with social media feedback and crowd-source ahead of time, it can also provide key steps to marketing later.

  1. Know your Audience

The question of where you fit in is an important question to ask at some point in your writing process. I have heard people give the advice to write the book that you want to write and then figure out where you fit. The advantage of this approach is you are freed up as the writer to write what you want to write and aren’t limited by outside influences.

I have also heard from other authors that you should figure out where you fit in the marketplace first so you can conform to the important tropes of that genre and not waste your time. You want to produce a publishable book. The advantage of this approach is fewer rewrites, a higher chance of readers being receptive to your work.

The right choice? Well, there isn’t one. It is about you listening to you. Tune into the bigger reason for why you are writing in the first place and come back to the basics.  It helps to get a general idea of what you are writing. After you have the piece written, if you still don’t know where you fit, ask other people who know the industry—agents, publishers, critique group, or a mentor.

Bottom line, you get to figure out what is right for you based on your goals and what you want.  Starting with your end game is very helpful. By knowing what you want is the foundation of building your author life.

So what do you want? Is your goal to build a six-figure book business? To get published by a traditional publisher? To be a New York Times bestseller? To write a story and enjoy the process? Or is it write a story that captures the something that you want to leave the next generation. Maybe your goal is just to say that you did it and it’s something you’ve always wanted to do.

No goal is better than another.  But it is important to know where you want to go. After you know what your goal is, it is important to determine which genre you play best in and who are the people in that genre that are rock stars so you know have some ideas of what working in the marketing place.

 

Lisa J. Peck-MacDonald is author of 23 books, including The Superstitious Romance, which hit Amazon best-seller list March, 2016.  She will be teaching Finding Your Spot in the Writing Marketplace this October for Inspiration2Publication.com.

 

Show Your Story

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By Elizabeth Lund

When I decided to write for children, I knew I had the writing part down. I’d grown up reading voraciously. I’d always been a good writer. I’d written lots of academic papers, and I’d even written features for a weekly newspaper for a while. But by the end of my Writing for Children Certificate Program at the University of Washington, I had learned that even though I could write, that didn’t mean I knew how to tell a story.

Halfway through the course, I was proud of myself. While other students in the class were writing a chapter here, a chapter there, working on a little bit of this, a little bit of that, I was working on a novel. A whole novel. And my goal was to finish it by the end of the class. I kept plugging forward, writing that first draft. I thought it was pretty good!

In the spring I registered for the Western Washington Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in Redmond, Washington. One of the things you could do back then was pay to have an agent, editor, or published author read five pages of your work. I registered early and ponied up my money for a coveted spot. I was thrilled to see I’d gotten an agent! I came to the meeting on pins and needles with excitement. I left with my heart broken. The agent was not impressed. She seemed irritated. No, she wasn’t even nice about it. I don’t even remember what she said to me, I just remember being devastated at the rejection. The hard thing is that when a little time had passed and I could hear what she had to say, I knew she was right.

The agent’s response was confirmed when, at the end of the third quarter of my class, our instructor handed back the draft of my novel. She had dutifully written comments on it throughout. And they kept saying the same thing: don’t tell us, show us.

Somehow, I had made it through the whole certificate course without understanding what was so essential to telling a story, especially for young readers, but, according to Stephen King, also for adults. Writers need to show, not tell, their readers. Show the reader the action, show the reader the character, show the reader the setting and let your reader infer the mood. Don’t tell them. It’s showing that draws the reader into your world, makes them identify with your character, and makes them want to go on the journey with you.

Not long ago I took a look at Gary Schmidt’s work. He’s one of my favorite writers for middle grade readers (8-12 years old). I sat with a highlighter and went through a chapter of his novel, The Wednesday Wars. Telling? None. Showing? Pretty much all. That’s a high bar, but it’s one I began to try to reach.

Gradually I’ve learned that the keys are sensory details and scenes. First, sensory details: what does your character see? hear? smell? taste? feel? Visual details are easy – we get those in. But what about the other senses? Not every sense needs to be evoked every time, but take a look through your chapter and see whether you have mentioned smells or sounds at all. If you haven’t, where would a smell or a sound bring us more deeply in connection with your character? Plunge us into the world.

Second, scenes. Scenes set your character in action and let us experience life right along with them. Ask yourself how you can convey information about your character or plot through a scene rather than in narration. What does your character say? What does your character do? How does your character interact with others? How does your character react? What is going through the character’s mind?

Does this mean there’s never a place for narrative summary, which is basically what telling consists of? No. But if you take a close look at the best fiction and creative non-fiction out there, it’s rare.

Learning to recognize the difference between showing and telling, and working on incorporating showing into your own writing, can go a long way to bring your writing to the next level.

Learn some solid tools in Showing in Elizabeth’s online class: Show, Don’t Tell: Make Setting, Dialogue, and Action Do the Telling for You! starting October 31, 2016.

elizabeth Elizabeth Lund is an MFA student at Antioch University Los Angeles, focusing on the genre of Writing for Young People. She also studied at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts focusing on Children’s and Young Adult Literature. She completed a certificate at the University of Washington in Writing for Children. In learning her craft, she found that showing rather than telling was one of the hardest things to learn but one of the most exciting things to practice. She is currently revising a middle grade fantasy novel (for 8-12 year olds) called Finding Memory. In her spare time, she teaches English, hunts for agates, and is an avid reader.

We Need Queer Stories

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by Antonia Crane

I’m in my closet office writing, or rather doing everything in my power to avoid writing. The dog shit has been scooped into tiny knotted bags, the laundry folded. I’ve 409’d the bathroom counter and swept floors. I’ve put away the dishes, which I hate—whipped myself into a procrastination lather both shameful and accomplished. A couple of grubby sponges into my Pine Sol frenzy and I’m soaking in it. I take a well-deserved break to check my email.

That’s when I’m asked what class I wanted to teach this fall. I have no idea. I imagine a class that could invigorate my writing and spark zesty conversations, push boundaries and scrape the grease off my keyboard, but the only classes I come up with are linty, mediocre repeats.

Summer was rock and roll time for those lucky enough to dash off to writing residencies or fellowships. Tin Housers jockeyed for position on the wait list and Bread Loafers cashed in their miles for their plane tickets to Vermont. Bootcamps beckoned, promising bikini-worthy butts and Kindles glow by the pool; kids were marched to museums to frolic in the AC and fuck off.

But now it’s back to school.

Fall is Writing Time.

What do I want to teach, to write? And more important: What stories do we need to tell right now in our culture in order to teach empathy in an era of homophobia, hostility, and terror?

We need the most human stories from the queer community in order to transmit empathy and create change.

We need stories that matter: dangerous, taboo stories with gobs of heart. We need Queerness that pushes against gender and sexuality and transcends what’s expected. If stories begin the moment something different happens one day, then let’s cast a light on queer as the starting point of our class. What is queer writing and what are queer bodies in fiction and nonfiction?

I’m interested in gender fluidity of people in their sensual lives—the crackling gray matter where heart and skin crash. I’m interested in love in all of its messy and prissy forms and how it stretches and builds, flies and walks and ends.

The only way I know to cure homophobia is to share our queer stories with the general public and create empathy. No matter what variety of queer we are, let’s bring it to the page. I proposed the class, “Writing the Queer Body” because I wanted to create a colorful place where queer lives thrive because we need that now—especially now.

I want to write and read stories about: the trans wedding, the lesbian bachelorette party, the elderly gay men and their flamboyant female friends dancing sexily at all the weddings; horny, gay elderly sex scenes and bisexual threesomes with no neat endings; An Irish Jewish woman and her African-Haitian partner and her kids and their family breakfast on Sunday morning. I want to read story about a sex worker who falls in love with another female sex worker and their jealousies and sisterhood and strength; I want to follow a woman well into her forties who leaves her husband for her bisexual yoga teacher and together, they heal her PTSD from serving in the Marine Corps ten years prior; I want to see the wigs of beautiful drag queens and know the smirk of dapper drag kings and feel their twisted dance of transcendence and escape after all the loss and AIDS stripped them of any pretense. I want to dance in their glittering sadness and know the joy of having survived it together in a proud and glamorous trance; and I want to read about a young male prostitute who falls hard for a meth-addicted homeless man only to discover he cannot save anyone, not even himself, especially not himself. Where are the stories about two gay male artists who stayed together for 46 years? Where is the lesbian nun who falls in love with a woman and leaves the covenant? Where is the vegan boy who steals a kiss from the busboy where they both work? Where are the topless T-girls stripping at the club in the Tenderloin, accepting dollars in their garters on Catholic School Girl night and their silver fox attorney-client who sweeps one of them off their feet and moves them in and gets two cats and hopes the sex work will be abandoned but the allure and security of sex work is its own peculiar addiction, regardless of sexual orientation or gender or totally sincere sugar daddy?

Where are these stories? We need to write them.

Teaching reminds me why I write in the first place. I write because I breathe. I write because I know the alphabet. I write because I want to create complex characters that reflect a deeply baffling human experience. I write to transmit emotion, touch universal empathy, and punch into surprising unknown terrain. I write because I live.

It has been said all stories about the fact that we are going to die. There are so many stories to write before that happens—so many summer suns and hot moons and queer bodies to march out on the page. Won’t you join me?

Antonia Crane’s Class Writing the Queer Body begins October 3rd.

Antonia Crane is a writer, Moth Slam winner, and writing instructor in Los Angeles. She is the author of the memoir, Spent. She has written for The New York Times, Quartz: Atlantic Media, The Toast, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Salon, The Believer, The Rumpus, Electric Literature, DAME and lots of other places. Her screenplay, “The Lusty” co-written with Silas Howard about the Exotic Dancers Union is a recipient of the San Francisco Film Society/ Kenneth Rainin Foundation Screenwriter’s Grant, 2015. She is at work on an essay collection and a memoir. She is a co-founder and Senior CNF editor of the Antioch Alum journal The Citron Review and the CNF editor of Word Riot. She can be found running up Griffith Park mountain and here: http://antoniacrane.com. She tweets @antoniacrane.

Empathy and Writing the Other Through Persona Poetry

Persona Poetry

by Dana Stringer

In the poem “Skinhead,” the poet writes, “No, I ain’t part of no organized group,/ I’m just a white boy who loves his race,/ fighting for a pure country. (51-53)”  Based on these three lines and the poem’s title, it’s not exactly difficult for a reader to identify the speaker in the poem.  However, for any reader unfamiliar with the acclaimed poet Patricia Smith, and the popularity of this particular poem, it may come as a surprise to some readers to discover that the author is an African American woman.  And that Smith’s white supremacist persona was created by her to speak the poem.

As poets, some of us are still inclined to follow the early advice we received from a well-intentioned instructor encouraging us to “write what you know.”  And in a society saturated in self-help psychology that primarily places emphasis upon self and I, our ability to shift our attention away from self and focus on other can be challenging.

So, quite naturally, when we put pen to paper, we immediately plunge into the familiar and write the autobiographical details of our lives.  Thus, our own thoughts, feelings, and experiences pervade our work.  This is neither wrong nor bad.  However, what Smith shows us, as well as other contemporary poets who abandon self to write about other, is that, by creating a character, embodying that character, and allowing that character to freely speak, a persona can give us insight and understanding about someone distinctively different than us, and perhaps elicit empathy in the poet and the reader.

Smith, however, may not necessarily be going after empathy.  In fact, some poets are not.  Poets rely upon the use of personas for many different reasons.  For instance, a persona is often used as a revisionist tool to debunk myths, subvert constructs, remake narratives, reinterpret history, and the list goes on and on.  But regardless of the reasons for creating and using a persona, the ability to immerse oneself in the life of another and adopt a different point of view enables us to gain a better understanding of other.

The poet and reader may not be able to relate to, identify with, or even share the same sentiments of the persona, but what happens is that the poet and reader begin to see things from a different perspective.  Such an undertaking requires sensitivity and consideration for another’s feelings, emotions, thoughts, desires, beliefs, and experiences.

In “Skinhead,” Smith puts on the skin of a white supremacist and walks in his boots, which goes beyond a mere impersonation or a staging of the character’s emotions, thoughts, and feelings.  When a poet exhibits the ability to become intimately acquainted with a character, so much so as to suspend judgment as well as any preconceived ideas and perceptions, the poet opens us up to a life experience that we might not otherwise be interested in knowing about.  Smith’s willingness to yield herself as a vessel in order to become the character is, in my opinion, an empathetic act.

The literary tradition of donning “the mask,” which is actually the meaning of the Latin word “persona,” is a long, rich, and interesting one.  Poets have been using personas as an artistic tool for a long time, challenging and changing how we see and don’t see things.  But more importantly, poets have been using personas as a way to enlighten us and promote understanding of other, which in many cases elicits empathy in us.

Dana Stringer’s course Mask Appeal:  Creating Compelling Persona Poems begins September 12th. Register today.

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Dana L. Stringer is a poet, playwright, instructor, and freelance writer. She holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles and a Bachelors of Arts from Morehead State University. She is the author of In Between Faith (Black Picket Fence), her debut poetry collection. Dana’s work has appeared in anthologies and literary magazines, and she has served as a contributing writer for several cultural entertainment websites. In 2011, she served as an associate editor for Beyond Words: The Creative Voices of WriteGirl, a literature anthology. She also has been a featured poet in various venues. Dana is also a produced playwright. Her produced plays and staged readings include:Kinsman Redeemer, ID, The Costume Waver, Soloman’s Porch,Colored in Winter, Secret Life in a Sacred House, and Looter. For more information, visit http://www.danastringer.com.

Trying to Forgive Myself

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by Patrick O’Neil

I walk onto campus against the flow of students and cars exiting the parking lot. I’m teaching tonight and the woman I teach with is sick, so it’s only me and I don’t want to be late. A cold wind is blowing, shaking the palm trees and bushes, as the streetlights cast elongated shadows across the sidewalk. I walk quickly with my head down, leather jacket zipped, and a scarf around my neck. It’s sort of eerie, reminding me of late fall or Halloween, but it’s only a full moon night in April.

There’s a young woman in a wheelchair stopped on a pathway by the arts building. When she checks her phone it illuminates her face and I notice she’s pretty. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen her, but it is the first time I’ve looked at her this close. She’s almost always here when I’m on my way to class, usually running past her because I’m late. No matter the weather she patiently waits, obviously for someone to come and get her. Seeing her pulls at my heart, because my sister uses a wheelchair, she has cerebral palsy, and when we were young I was the one that picked her up after school or other places she needed rides from. And having been an irresponsible drug addict and a total mess, I imagine the times my sister waited for me. Waiting on a cold night alone somewhere in the dark. And then the image goes haywire, into a horror film of what possibly happens to women in our society alone in dark places and a wave of shame and guilt washes over me. I can no longer look at the woman in the wheelchair. I turn my head and walk faster, my insides twisting.

It’s two in the morning and I’m lying in bed, staring at the ceiling; a low level of depression is coming on and I’m trying not to go with it. As I close my eyes wishing sleep would overtake me, I drop into an ancient memory—I’m standing in a bank, my gun pointed at the teller as she fills a bag with money. She’s terrified and almost crying. I tell her to hurry up, and nervously glance over my shoulder. I’m so loaded on heroin I feel nothing for this woman. But as an observer, now, many years later, I’m detached from my then self and I see the fear I’m instilling. In a rush of emotions my eyes jolt back open, I sit up gasping for air, my heart pounding.

It was something that was said. A slight, a put down, nasty words, in reality I can’t even remember what it was. But either I said it or it was said to me, and I remember. I remember how it cut to the bone, and there was no way to take it back.

Such journeys into guilt and shame are a mainstay of my psyche. I remember and relive horrific past events and basically torture myself with regret. I’m suddenly aware of how others felt, when before I was numb to their feelings.

I was telling my girlfriend Jennifer about the woman in the wheelchair and she asked, “Have you ever forgiven yourself?” And she might as well have inquired if I’d won the lottery for just how far removed that is from my reality. I’ve made amends and forgiven everyone in my life for all the bad shit ever done to me. But to forgive myself seems impossible. No matter how many times I work the steps, I’m still left with my memories and misgivings.

These days, I work hard to not create more damage as I try to practice the principles in all my affairs. But unfortunately I still hurt people. I still say stupid shit. I’m still me. I’m not referring to the really lame stuff like the other day when sending Jennifer an explicit text regarding black panties and the curve of her hip reflecting in the mirror and I inadvertently, due to not wearing my reading glasses, sent it to the last person who’d texted me instead—a good friend that didn’t need to read my heartfelt yearnings of amour. That kind of stuff is awkward, but funny and really, who cares? But I’m talking about when I hurt people’s feelings even though I’ve told them the truth and they chose not to believe it, and then yeah, shit happens and I’m the bad guy, stuck with feeling blame. Or worse, I have a conscience, and I care about other people. I care to the point where it’s way past sympathy and empathy. I care to where it’s close to killing me. Like when I come out of a coffee shop and there’s a bag lady passed out in a pool of vomit and it hurts to see this. Or I read the newspaper and some yahoo has gunned down a bunch of folks because he lost his job, or a deranged mentally ill mom drowns her baby, or a cop has shot an unarmed teenager. It wears me down. I might not understand them. I might not like them, care for them, or want the best for them. But I know what it’s like to be trapped in a situation. I know what it’s like to be insane.

Class is over. The campus is deserted. I walk back out retracing the way I came in. The woman in the wheelchair is long gone. And I stare at the spot where she was. I wonder if she waited long. And then it hits me: how the hell do I know anyone was late picking her up? Why do I make up these scenarios? Why do I try to find a common thread of pain that just might not be true?

My car is under a streetlight in a campus parking lot, and as I near I notice the shadow from a huge dent in the fender. Someone has pulled a hit and run and bashed my car. Hitting it couldn’t have been easy. It would’ve taken a lot of effort. The driver had to cross the entire parking lot, executing a last minute U-turn just to hit my car. And so now I’m thinking someone hates me. Someone did this on purpose and wants to hurt me. Mess with me. Mess with my car. Yet, how do I know this? And why do I assume this instead of accepting it as a random accident that no one meant to do?

Traffic is light as I drive toward home—the full moon bright in the night sky. I whisper, “I forgive them, I forgive them, I forgive them…”

But when the hell am I ever going to forgive me?

Patrick’s memoir class, Putting the Creative in Creative Non Fiction begins July 25th

Patrick O’Neil is the author of the memoir Gun, Needle, Spoon (Dzanc Books), and the excerpted in part French translation, Hold-Up (13e Note Editions). His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including: Juxtapoz, Salon.com, The Weeklings, Razorcake, Sensitive Skin, Fourteen Hills, and Word Riot.

Patrick is an editor for the NYC-to-California-transplant-post-beat-pre-apocalyptic art, writing, and music anthology Sensitive Skin Magazine. And a two time nominee for Best Of The Net. He is a regular contributor to the recovery website AfterPartyMagazine, and has been blogging at Full Blue Moon Dementia for over ten years. Patrick holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, lives in Hollywood, California, and teaches at a local community college. Check out Patrick’s web-site for more information www.patrick-oneil.com and his blog Full Blue Moon Dementia http://patrick-oneil.com/blog/

Two Basic Considerations When Writing for Young People

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by Erin Darby Gesell

“Tell me a story,” I asked my parents every night before bed. I wanted picture books. I wanted stories from their childhoods. I wanted stories from their own imaginations. All of my earliest memories involve stories from my parents, making books with them, or playing make believe.

Once I could read for myself, I picked up everything I could. I had to live most of my days in my own world, my free time was spent escaping into the world that authors created for me. When I entered high school and started leading a summer camp and coaching children’s sports, I became the creator of stories. These kids wanted to know what I was like when I was their age.They wanted me to read to them. They wanted to hear my stories of my life. This is when I began to realize that a child’s imagination and desire to learn are two of the most inspiring things in this world.

Because I was with these kids all day, I continued to read their books. I read picture books at camp during the day and my own, age appropriate, novels for teens at night. In college I majored in Creative Writing with a concentration in Fiction with the intention of writing for young people. These were still the stories that interested me most. The language, the situations, the characters all floored me as writers of children’s, middle grade, and young adult books are competing against school, friends, video games, movies, TV, the internet, riding bikes, and a million other things that kids have to stimulate their brains.

In grad school I was finally able to narrow my concentration to study Writing for Young People. When starting a draft of your story for young people, consider two things:

 

1. Who is your target audience?

Kids read books about characters that are their age or slightly older than them. Teens will not read books about toddlers as they are already past that stage of their life. Eight year olds will not read books about college students–college is too far away. Remember, these stories are about children. If there are adults in the stories, these adults are not solving the conflict. If there are adults in stories for young people, they are merely bystanders and the young protagonists are doing the work.

Once you know who your readers are, there are some formulas to remember about each age division:

Picture books are intended for early readers. Standard picture books have 32 pages (however, only 24 of these are used for the story) and, generally, less than 700 or so words. Let your pictures help you tell your story. Give your words cadence and rhythm.

Middle grade books span audience ages 8-12. Protagonists can be up to age 15/16 depending on content. These stories usually focus on the protagonist and their relationships with their friends, family, and the world immediately around them. Characters tend to react to what happens to them with little inward reflection. They learn, grow, have conflict, but these stories end with closure.

Young Adult stories span an audience of 13-18. Protagonists can be 15-18 but generally not in college. These novels focus on the protagonists’ place in the world outside of their friends and family. There is more inward reflection and focus on analyzing the meaning of things. These books can have more open ended endings as young adults are on an open ended, launching point in their own lives.

Erin’s class, Playground: A Workshop for Middle Grade, YA and Children’s Authors begins begins July 18

Erin Darby Gesell is a writer, personal trainer, ultra marathon runner, yogi, and lover of chocolate, dogs, and all things fictional from Norfolk, Nebraska. She now lives in Omaha where she obtained her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2011 and her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing for Young People from Antioch University Los Angeles in 2014. Erin’s short stories have appeared in various journals including The Magnolia Review,  Riding Light Review, and A Sharp Piece of Awesome. A section of her Young Adult Novel “Where You’re Going and How You Get There” appeared in For Books’ Sake anthology in February 2016.