Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Faculty Voices with Ron Koertge: Make Every Word Count

As some of you know, Chris Heppermann and I wrote a trilogy for young readers. Basically aimed at pre-teen girls featuring -- wait for it -- three pre-teen girls. Oh, and a witch. Backyard Witch, as a matter of fact. But don’t leave your seats while the blog is in motion. Afterwards, you may rush to Amazon.

Writing with Chris was fun; writing for younger kids was fun. I’d never done anything like that, but Chris knows the kid-business and is great at structure. I like to just sit around in my smarty pants and emit evenly-spaced bars of irony and jest. (And that’s me emitting, okay. Not my pants.)

Now she wants to work on something even shorter. For even younger readers. Sure, I’m game.

So we think of some characters and some problem-to-solve. Wendell as a bored, over- sheltered little bear and Goldy as the fearless daughter of avant-garde artists.

Chris told me what to do -- Punchy. Short sentences. Not much description since an illustrator will do that. Here’s my opening:

*    *     *

“Wendell, are you all right?”

Wendell looked into his empty bowl. “Almost finished, Ma.”

“But you’re all right.”

“I’m just on the patio.”

He made his spoon clink against the blue bowl so he could stay outdoors a little longer. So his mother would think he was occupied. And safe.

Not even twenty yards away, stood the woods. Tall trees making the usual dark canopy. A familiar path leading toward the sun-dappled clearing, then circling back toward his house. A path he walked every day with his parents while the porridge cooled. Every day. Day after day.

He could see other paths, dimmer ones. Where did they go? And who made them?

With a sigh, he carried his bowl indoors and put it on the sink.

“Such a good little bear,” said his mother patting him on the head. “Time for a nap now?”

“Mom, I just ate breakfast.”

*  *  *

And here’s Chris’s:

On the wall of Wendell’s bedroom was a map that showed all of the places he could never go:

Up north to the bridge. “You might fall off,” said Mama.

Down south to the lake. “You might fall in,” said Papa.

Out west to the cave. “Full of scorpions,” said Mama. 

Out east to the meadow. “Who knows what’s over there,” said Papa.

“I’ll be careful,” said Wendell.

“It’s time for breakfast,” said Mama.

“How am I supposed to be an explorer when I grow up if you never let me explore?” said Wendell on the way downstairs.

*    *    *

I looked at hers and thought, Oh, yeah. So that’s what you meant. Harder than it looks, but aren’t most new things? I’m not giving up. I’ll think haiku. Make every word count.

Stay tuned.

*Ron Koertge is a faculty member at Hamline's MFAC program. He writes poetry for everyone, fiction for young adults, and recently co-authored a young reader series. You can discover Ron's literary work by visiting his author's website or visit his faculty page to learn about him as a professor at Hamline University.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Alumni Voices with Ellen Kazimer: Writing and Revising While Building a House

An unexpected job relocation landed us in Georgia and, rather than rent or buy; we decided to build a house. A fortunate set of circumstances indeed, but it has eaten up my precious writing time. I usually write in the morning, when I am fresh with ideas. Lately, however, my early morning ideas have more to do with my house-in-progress than my work-in-progress. The two endeavors are rather similar in some ways.
Both building and writing need a basic structure upon which to create. A novel requires a basic plot structure, setting, characters, and a theme. A house needs a foundation, load-bearing walls, plumbing, and insulation before it turns into a home.
Along the path to writing a story and building a home, there are so many choices to be made. It is almost paralyzing. Many days, I have felt unable to make a decision on my house-in-progress or my work-in-progress. In her book, Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, Lisa Chron writes, “Myriad studies have shown that the more choices we have, the less likely we are to choose anything. Not only that but limitless choice tends to trigger anxiety.”
I am constantly revising my house-in-progress and my work-in-progress. Like cutting out a darling sentence that no longer works, I’ve had to let go of items I loved that no longer go with the house-in-progress. I’ve also had to strike out my vague, overused nouns from my vocabulary like “whatcha ma call it” and “thing a ma jig” for precise builder nouns like “newel” and “corbel.” Then I wake up at two in the morning with the dreaded realization that a small change I made means a complete overhaul throughout the house. It may even cause a delay in the house being completed. But it must be done. This too, has happened in my “work-in-progress.”
Despite my doubts and anxiety, I move forward one step at a time focusing on what is important to me, to my house, and to my manuscript. What I value is a comfy home and a compelling story that invites you to pull up a cozy chair, sit a spell, and read.

Ellen Kazimer is a 2014 graduate of Hamline MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She writes picture books, nonfiction, and middle grades novels. Her full bio can be found on her website http://ellenkazimer.com.