Novel Revision Workshop

The four days recently spent at the Highlights Foundation at Honesdale, PA was my second workshop there. My first one was a biography workshop in 2013. The bucolic setting hasn’t changed. The food was mostly exceptional. One gains weight not by eating fatty food, but by taking too big portions.

I suppose all the attendees want to be published. I met one who said she was not interested in being published. She was writing for herself and her friends. That was refreshing!

We learned a lot from the presentations Q and A sessions.If anything, it was overwhelming to have so many recommended books, websites and links. It was inspirational to be with peoples who are on the same page, to learn to be better writers. Interestingly, there was only one male attendee out of fourteen. There are many male writers for children out there.

The two one-to one sessions with a faculty member were productive for my first novel, “The Wrong Face” that I’m revising. I was encouraged that its premise was excellent. Now if I can pull off the revision which involves a plot change, it will be a strong book.

An illustrator was a guest at one Q and A session. She was an attendee once and now she is a published illustrator. Now that was encouraging.

 

 

 

 

Reading Picture Books

Authors are advised to read 100 books of the genre they write.

I’ve never heard this advice before. It’s from the newsletter of the Institute of Children’s Literature. It adivsed NOT to read the picture books of author-illustrators. Agents and publishers love authors-illustrators.

Too bad I’m not one.

The reason is that the picture book I write is not that kind of book. The author- illustrator created that book differently, with complete control of the illustration, knowing exactly how to tell the story, with his or her text and illustrations. My picture book may be enhanced by the illustrator who has a lot of room to imagine, with possibilities I never even dream of.

Bunraku Puppet Theater

I love puppetry in any form. I had the opportunity to watch one performance of Bunkaru when I was in Tokyo in late May. The concierge reserved a 7000 yens ticket(US about $74) for an afternoon performance. It was a good value. I had a center seat five rows from the stage in the National Theater in a performance that lasted five hours, with one 30 minutes and a fifteen minutes intermission. Very inexpensive by Broadway standards.

The audience was a mix of the young, middle aged  and old. The curtains was beautifully painted.  People either brought in their own snack boxes or bought them there. I remember that in the Cantonese opera theater I went to as a child(decades ago), the theater was dirty by the end of the performance, with melon seed husks, orange rinds on the floor. Venders gawk snacks and toy swords, horse whips for the kids. I’m sure such theaters nowadays are not as noisy and dirty. In the National tTheater, the audience ate very neatly!

Bunkaru combines puppetry, musical accompaniment on the Shamisen and narration. The puppets were full sized in the performance I saw. I understand that they are usually half sized. Three puppeteers operate one puppet. The chief puppeteer manipulates the head and the right arm while two lower ranked puppeteers manipulate the left arm and the legs. They are dressed in black. The lower ranked ones’ faces are covered in black, while the chief puppeteer’s’ face is not covered. I found that jarring. It’s true, he’s a star and well known to his fans. But I want the illusion of not seeing the puppeteers, who did an excellent job.  The movements were nuanced and detailed.

On the side of the stage, in the audience section, but sitting above them were the musician and the narrators, who took different roles. One narrator was a tall handsome man. I enjoyed looking at him until he spoke the dialogue! To project his voice and to convey the drama, he opened his mouth very wide as he enunciated, grimacing throughout. So did the other narrators who were not as handsome. I stopped looking at them and concentrated on the English translation through the earpiece which cost a small amount to rent.

The usual plays acted are historical stories about loyalty, conflict and emotions. I enjoyed the play but found it too long drawn out. It was slow going. But I enjoyed it nonetheless. I left at the second intermission because I wanted to return to the hotel before dark. I would have liked to see the curtain call, to see whether the lower ranked puppeteers removed their black hoods.

Dorothea Lange

I watched most of the documentary on PBS about Dorothea Lange, the photographer renowned for her powerful photographs of the misery in the Dust Bowl. It was very interesting. I don’t think I ever saw a photograph of her. The documentary showed her a s young and old woman. Her voice was remarkably youthful in old age. Less well known was her assignment from the uS Govt. to take photos of the Japanese internment at one particular camp, to use as  propaganda that the Japanese we happy there. But she took photos that told the true story, of the stoicism , the misery and the unfairness of it all. I had seen some of them from my research for my first novel, “The Wrong Face”. There were many more in the documentary. The photos were so disturbing to the govt. that they were impounded and not released until years later.

The suffering subjects of her work didn’t mind her hanging around, taking many photos because they felt her empathy.

The documentary mentioned a few times that she was not good at mothering, of her children and the stepchildren of her two marriages. Aside from her personality, a working mother’s life required compromise. She spent months away from home at a time to pursue her vision, of documenting social ills of the time. One year, she farmed her children to families so she could be on the road.  That was in the 1930s and 40s. The problem is still the same for working mothers today.

I hope PBS shows the documentary again. I recommend it highly.

Non fiction

Teachers  have been told by educators to assign non fiction to  students  because in their work lives in the future, they’ll be reading non fiction. They have to read manuals, instructions, documents etc. Still, I was surprised that my kindergartener granddaughter’s assignment was to write a simple book report on a non fiction book. I found one on different kinds of houses in the world.

It’s good that non fiction is introduced this early.

Humor in a sad book

My second blog about a middle grade novel.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson , published in 2017 is a sad book. A beloved teacher dying of cancer is sad, but the author injected so much humor that I was surprised  that I started to tear up at the end of the story, when the three sixth graders succeeded to smuggle the teacher out of the hospital, if only too briefly.

Again I’m not reviewing the book, which is wonderful. I recommend it highly  not just to middle graders.

Just some thoughts.

It is written in the present tense,  alternating chapters from each boy’s point of view.There are flashbacks in each chapter (of course in past tense). These flashbacks are absolutely necessary. Not one was put in just for the word count. Authors are told to present each character with a different way of speaking, of expressing. I must say  that if not for each boy’s backstory, and the title of the chapter, I’d not know who was speaking in that chapter.

I’ve never been able to put some  humor in my stories. It’s something I must learn to do.It’s not that I don’t like humor, in fact, I can be very funny.

I hope my grandchildren will have the good fortune to meet one teacher who can transform them, inspire them and bring out their best. This teacher doesn’t have to be as perfect as Ms. Bixby. Just the ability to listen, to discern the truth behind a facade of a frightened or neglected front and appreciation of specialness will go a long way.

 

Why I like “SHORT”.

This is not a review of SHORT, by Holly Goldberg Sloan, published in 2017. It’s my first try in detailing why I like a certain book or dislike it.

Julia Marks is short for her age and longs to be taller than her brother who is two years younger. Her age is not stated. She seems to be 10 years old. She ‘s mourning for her beloved dog, Ramon, this summer, when her mother sends her and her brother to a summer stock production audition of The Wizard of Oz. .Both  are chosen as Munchkins . She meets the director, three dwarfs  and gets t know a neighbor down the street better. Julie only knew her as an old lady who grew flowers in the front yard. In the rehearsals and getting to know these people , Julie finds that she’s not as ordinary as she thinks, a poor student and a daydreamer. She gets a second role as one of the flying monkeys. The old neighbor turns out to be a fascinating character. In fact, I l0ve the fact that this neighbor and the director are senior citizens plus! The The old lady is the most creative costume maker and a former prima ballerina- another hit with me.And she’s Asian to boot!

The story makes clear the transcending power of  theater for kids. Julia no longer minds being small, and is sort of disappointed that x-rays show that she will grow to be five feet four. She already grew this summer, “not on the outside, but on the inside.”

This book is written in the first person point of view, in the present tense. I have not used present tense in my historical novels. I will try it in my next book, a contemporary story.

Julie states or thinks of different ideas that come to her head, some are just tangentially connected with the story. While they deepen her character for the reader, too many such musings stop the story cold. Her opinions do sound like those of a ten-year old. She has a voice that I love.

I love the performing arts. The details of rehearsals, costume fittings, mishaps that can happen on opening night and the effect of a review by a critic are accurately portrayed. One more reason I like the book is that I have a secret desire to be in summer stock myself.

 

A middle grade reader who is not interested in the performing arts may find the many chapters about the show boring. I enjoyed the book  very much.

****

When I was fifteen or sixteen, I was most surprised to find myself cast by a nun( I was in a missionary convent school) to be the lead in “Saint Bernadette”. The nun must have observed that I was right for the role. The play was performed only once for the student body. I think I was a pretty good actress. Why do I say so? During a long speech about seeing the Virgin Mary, while I was sitting up in a bed placed near the wings, I felt the nun stooping to place her face near mine(out of view of the audience)  to watch my emoting. Alas, I was never a lead in anything again.

Many years later, I  watched Jennifer Jones in the title role in a black and white movie on TCM.

Fifty years later, I asked my schoolmate, Julia, why the nun had picked me for the role. She answered right away.”You alway s had that dreamy look.”

Oh, people knew!

 

 

 

Previous Older Entries