All successful stories are personal in some way. He was able to, with his story, make it personal for each of us. He explained what it was like growing up with a sibling that picked on him. It was a story of retaliation, which even if we don't have siblings, we can relate to. In fact, even today, when his brother drives up to visit (it's like a four hour drive) the first thing Markus Zusak says to his brother is some snide remark about the egg.
"When are you going to let that go?" his brother will ask. And Markus Zusak will answer, "Never!"
His story had purpose. It was personal and meaningful. The stories we tell should be as well.
2) Specific details
In his story, he gave specific details. He told us about the color of his brother's lunch pail (blue) and how he sat on a paint bucket every day at lunch. These details are not only to make the story more vivid, but it made the story more believable.
He said that he once lost his jacket at an airport and when he told the security guard about it, the security guard asked him what color his jacket was. He told him "black" and added that there was a folded piece of paper in the right hand pocket. The security guard pulled out the jacket, reached his hand in the pocket, found the folded piece of paper, and handed it to Markus Zusak without any further questions. The specific detail proved that it was his.
3) Give the unexpected
Markus Zusak says that he always thought the part when his brother cracked the unboiled egg on his head would get the biggest laugh, but it never was. It was the part where his dad said, "That is brilliant!" It's because it was unexpected.
He said he has told that story "heaps" of times. And each time, he would add a bit that he remembered or a detail that will make it better. The first time he told the part about going to his dad, he got the best response. It's all about trial and error.
5) Know what has happened to each character before the story/ Dip back into backstory
Because he's told his story so many times, and he's edited it, he knew where to "dip back" into backstory. He didn't give it all at the forefront, but he told us the story, for example, about him painting himself in a corner and calling for help at the moment he was telling us about his dad because it helped us understand both characters better. Just like our family members, we need to know them inside and out. We need to know what experiences they had before the story takes place.
Read and re-read
He didn't list this as one of his five, but he talked about how some people read, like, 30 different books in a year or something while he will read the same book thirty times. One of his favorite books of all times (which made me smile) is The Outsiders by S.E Hinton. He's read it a thousand times and uses it as a model for his storytelling.
Of course, having read both authors, Markus Zusak has a very different writing style and story to tell than S.E Hinton. But I think what he meant is that he looks at the plot and "steals" ideas for telling a good story like character development, point of view, etc.
A fellow Aussie
The line to meet Markus Zusak was incredibly long, and it was already almost 9:30pm, but I'm glad I waited to get my books signed, both Bridge of Clay and The Book Thief. I made friends with the gal ahead of me, and we talked about how great it is that he came all the way to Arizona.
As we got closer to our turn, I noticed how everyone seemed to have something to say to him. I had no idea what I was going to say! I decided to let him know that I lived in Australia for a while (a year and a half), so I did. I figured he'd ask me why, and I prepared myself to tell him. But instead, he asked me what part of Perth. Oh, man! My mind went blank. But I finally blurted out Albany, which is true, but it's about as far away from the main city as you could get. I've lived in Girrawheen, Como, and Balcata as well.
He was super friendly, though, and said it was nice to meet someone who had experienced the "long" flight, which we agreed wasn't that bad. In my book, he wrote: "Love from Sydney." Not sure if he wrote that in all the books he was signing, but I think that means we're besties. Right?
I came home after the reading and said to my husband, "That was the best reading I've ever been to, and he only read from his book for about ten minutes..."
"Raise your hand," he had said, "if you're here because you read The Book Thief." All hands went up. "That's just great!" He talked a bit about that book and how he had it in his head for years and years. He grew up with his parents (who were immigrants from Germany and Austria), telling stories about Nazi Germany and what it was like growing up at that time. He figured that, someday, he'd share those stories with the world. Sometimes he'd be out and about and he'd see something and think, hey, maybe I can put that in that Holocaust book of mine.
He first wrote the story from the perspective of Liesel, the main character. "But what I got was a very Aussie sounding German girl...I don't have an imagination. I just have a lot of problems." And then, one day, he decided to try writing it from the perspective of death. So he started over. "It's never good the first time..." he said. "You have to be flexible." He rewrote that book several times, in fact, and even then it needed a lot of editing and more hard work.
"I never thought anyone would read that book," he said. "Frankly, I'm amazed at seeing you here. If you've ever told your friend about The Book Thief--- if you said, 'hey, there's this sad book about Nazi Germany. Hardly any of the characters live, and it's really depressing. You should read it...' Thank you!"
He went on to tell us that when he first started out, he did a reading in the Margret River Public Library in Western Australia. No one showed up. (We all groaned for him.) "That wasn't the worst part," he said. "...They still made me do the reading! It was just me and the librarians."
A Master Storyteller
He talked about being the youngest of four. His older brother, just above him, would punch him. For no reason. "What was that for?" he'd ask. "I don't know," and he'd punch him again for good measure.
He worked with his dad and older brother and they painted houses. I'm not able to give his story justice, I'm sorry, but he went on to tell us how his brother would always eat a boiled egg for lunch every day. He'd put it in his blue lunch pail. Every day at lunch, he'd sit on a paint bucket and peel the egg and eat it. One day, though, he decided to crack it on his head, just to be funny. He did it the next day, and then the next. Soon, it was routine. His brother would sit on the paint bucket, crack his egg on his head, peel it, and eat it.
After a few weeks, Markus Zusak said he was so mad at his brother, always picking on him all the time, so before they left for work, and when his brother was in the bathroom, he switched the boiled egg with a regular egg. Markus Zusak made sure the blue pail was just as his brother left it by the front door so he wouldn't notice he'd changed anything. And they went to work.
All day, Markus Zusak fought his guilt. Finally, he went to his dad to talk about what he'd done, so he called up to his dad who was on a ladder painting the side of a house. "Why aren't you working?" his dad asked. Markus said his dad always said that. He didn't like him or his brother goofing off.
"Just wanted to tell you something," Markus said.
"What'd you break?"
Markus Zusak told us that he was always breaking things or not thinking things through. Like the time he painted himself in a corner. When he yelled, no one came for him, so he had to wait the two hours for the paint to dry.
"What did you want to tell me?" his dad asked, and Markus Zusak chickened out. He told his dad that it was nothing, but his dad insisted that it was something and that he better tell him because he made him stop his work and climb down that ladder, so Markus Zusak spilled. He told his dad what he'd done, how he switched the eggs, and he prepared for his dad to get angry.
After a minute, his dad sighed, shook his head and said, "That is brilliant!" (We laughed so hard when Markus Zusak told us that part of the story!) "Tell you what," his dad told him. "Go back to work and I'll see you at lunch. And don't be late."
At lunch, his dad and Markus Zusak stared at his brother. His brother was all, "What's wrong with you?" But he cracked his egg over his head, and the yoke ran down his head, and his dad laughed so harder than anyone!
For those of you who were at the reading or heard that story before, I'm sorry that I didn't do it justice, but I really wanted to share that story. It's what made his reading so memorable and funny and important to me...
Read Part 2
On Saturday, I attended my first in-person NaNoWriMo write in. It was at the library and was pretty hilarious because there were four staff members (one librarian, one teen volunteer, and two NaNoWriMo reps) and me, the only participant. A half hour later, thank goodness, another participant showed up. But I got a lot of great advice and laughs from the reps and librarians.
And we did a word-war, which helped me move forward in my story.
One of the things they gave me was a little booklet of advice. It has some writing activities and whatnot as well, which has been fun to look through.
My favorite thing from them so far (besides, you know, M&Ms) was the quote from Ira Glass. It's something that I had never read before, but rang true to every bone in my writer body.
And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take a while. you've just gotta fight your way through."
I read this quote and I thought, Gosh! That explains my writing process in a nut shell! It also explains why after I read a chunk of my draft to Hubby and he says it's good that I have this feeling of "thanks... but..." I always thought it was because I was too critical of myself, which I suppose (in a way is still true) but it's because I have, as Ira Glass says, "good taste." I have ambitions for my writing, and it's just not there, yet.
I have to say it's getting closer. But it's not there, yet. Ann Lamott explains that every good piece of writing went through a "shitty" draft, but she never explained why. This quote/thought explains why.
We're closing the gap.
"Hi!" Mrs. Ellsworth says as I enter the room. "I told them that when you got here I'd have you introduce yourself and let them ask you a few questions." I smile and the room full of fourth and fifth graders stare at me, expectingly.
"Well, I'm Kassie, and I'm a college student. I'm studying creative writing because I want to write books. I'm happy to answer your questions, but I was wondering what you like to read."
All hands shoot up in the air.
"Umm... so many hands," I say. "Why don't you in the pink ask the first question. Or tell me what you like to read."
The girl looks down at her shirt, smiles at the sight of pink and practically yells, "I like realistic fiction. You know, stories that are about kids like me."
I smile and point to the boy next to her. "Batman, go."
"I like historical fiction," he says. "Mixed with mystery."
"Okay," I say and point to a student near the back.
"You can questions, too, if you want," Mrs. Ellsworth reminds them.
"How long did it take you to get here?" the boy asks me.
"About 20 minutes. I'm next door neighbors with your teacher." The classroom erupts with No Way and Really?
"How long have you known our teacher?" the next one asks me. I look to my friend to see if she remembers.
"I like a lot of things," I answer. "Fantasy mixed with realistic fiction, for example. Yeah, I like it when genres are mixed. But mostly fiction."
"What are you writing right now?"
"I'm writing a book with a dragon in it," I say with grin. "Do you guys like dragons?"
"YEEEEEESSSSSS!!!!!!" they all scream, and one asks if I will make it a pop up book.
After a while, the questions are cut, Mrs. Ellsworth moves on with her lesson, and I settle into observation mode. I'm not the best with observations, mostly because I'm never sure about what I'm looking for, but I note how squirmy and fidgeting they are, how they talk to each other, ("Did you read the book, my dude?") and how they always raise their hands when they want to say something. This last one tells me that my friend and neighbor is a miracle worker. These kids LOVE to talk!
Anyway, she says I can come back, which I think I will, so there may be a part two to this blog. I'm hoping to interview a few of them, not only on what they like to read but also about their general interests. After all, the main character in my work in progress is their age. What better way to get ideas?
I'm taking Introduction to Fiction this semester, and my instructor gave us an interesting writing exercise to do. At first, I was hesitant to try it out, but I think it's now one of my favorite writing exercises ever!
Here are the instructions:
This writing prompt is to force you into thinking about and incorporating dialogue into your stories. First, read the small essay...about dialogue. [Attached below.] It should help significantly. Second, read "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemmingway.
After reading the story, I want you to work on your own scene/story that is dialogue focused. You must put two characters into a setting and force them into communication. I want to see at least 20 lines of dialogue. Make sure you are following the crafting tips presented in the essay "On Dialogue."...This exercise should not be a full story, but only a scene of character exploration through dialogue...
It was easy to decide which two characters I wanted to use, but I wasn't sure about what situation would force them to talk to each other, so I asked Hubby for a suggestion.
"Seven minutes in heaven," he said.
"You mean, put them in a closet?" I asked.
I carried my laptop over to him and sat next to him on the couch. "But it says here at the bottom of the instructions: Allow the actions of the characters and the setting of their locale to help tell the story. That means I need to describe a closet."
Unexpected World Building
Using a closet was unexpectedly made me learn more about the world these characters live in. The stuff in the closet told me about the weather outside (flip flops, umbrellas versus skis and snow boots) and learn more about the person's home they were in. Yeah, I learned about a character that wasn't even part of the dialogue just by looking at what kind of stuff was in his closet. I didn't expect that! This made me think about what would be in my other character's closet. hmmm...
Long story short, Hubby and I went to LA a couple weeks ago as a last-minute-hurrah before school started back up. We went to Universal Studios, drank butter beer, rode the Jurassic Park ride (my first time! Hubby got soaked!), and just played around the park and had a lot of fun!
But... I also did some research for my book. Our hotel was two blocks from the LA Metro which takes you to not only Universal Studios, but also Chinatown, which is where a large part of my WIP takes place. Hubby was such a good sport, walking in humid 90 degree weather, letting me brainstorm and bounce ideas for my book with him. He even walked all the way to the Chinatown Branch Library (which is where the MC's dad works) with me, took pictures and did silly things like feel the walls of buildings, smell the air and observe people around us.
I didn't have a lot of time (only one afternoon), but I did the best I could. I'm so glad I was prepared this time (I was in Chinatown in January this year, but didn't have a clue what I wanted to look at), which brings me to my short list of on-location research tips. Some of these came from my awesome Scribophile group!
This blog post is more for me than anymore else right now. I just want to record some of my thoughts about being on-location, what I've learned and store some pictures that I took while I was there. I'm glad I did the following:
This year I did a couple different things. 1) I did the #MGSummer reading bingo, which you can see in the photo above that I finally got my bingo! 2) I gave myself a summer of re-reading. I was having a moment of why-do-I-write just before the summer, so I gave myself permission to kindle that fire for writing by reading some of my favorite books, so in my list below, I've mark the ones I re-read with a *.
I'll admit that I don't have a very diverse list this year. I like reading fantasy, YA and MG. Plus, who can say no to David Tennant reading the How to Train Your Dragon series, which I love! I don't usually listen to audiobooks, by the way. I don't have anything against them; I just don't have opportunities to listen to them like most people. My commute to work is actually really short; however, Hubby and I took a drive to California just at the end of the summer, so that's when we listened to the audiobooks together. He listens to a lot of audiobooks because he does travel a lot for work.
Without further ado, here is my Summer 2018 list of books (starting with most recently completed):
It's been a while since I've been able to attend a writer's in residence workshop at the library. Last time I attended one was almost a year ago with Marylee MacDonald! I've been doing a lot of teaching and grading so I haven't been able to attend any.
But last Saturday, I made it a priority to attend Sharon Skinner's workshop about Point of View (POV) and perspective.
There were three of us attending the workshop (a fourth came in late). Maybe because it was a Saturday? Maybe because it was a two-hour workshop? I'm not sure. But it was nice and personal!
Sharon asked me what "I write." Like I'm an author already. ha ha! I was flattered and told her that I'm currently working on a MG Fantasy book. (I suppose I could have been cheeky and said that I write lesson plans or I write blogs.) One of the other attendees was writing a YA Fantasy. I like it when a presenter takes the time to get to know us and what we're working on!
Once we got acquainted, Sharon talked a bit about the writing process. She said that writing processes vary like shirts. They come in all sizes, colors and styles. You may find a shirt that you really love, but it doesn't fit (or work) later in life, so writing processes can even vary from project to project. She then told us that she was going to talk about her processes and things that she's learned. "If it fits, keep it. But it doesn't, put it back." I loved this analogy!
Write from the heart
She encouraged us to "Know your Why," referring to Simon Sinek's Ted Talk, "How great leaders inspire action."
Why do you write?, she asked us. What's your motivation? She told us that she has a friend who doesn't write anything unless his agent tells him that it will sell. This ensures that he will be a success, he says.
But Sharon Skinner says she writes what's in her heart. She writes because she has characters inside her that have stories they want to tell, and she wants them to be heard.
When asked about exceptions to the rules, particularly in POV and perspectives, Sharon Skinner said, "Look. There's always room in the market for awesome!" As long as you do it well--- and with purpose--- the market will make room for it.
Hook 'em and book 'em!
As we dived into the topic of the workshop, Sharon told us that she's the kind of writer that wants to "hook 'em and book 'em!" A reader of hers told her that she read a chapter of her book before work. Before she knew it, she was sitting on the couch, still reading, and late for work. Parents blame her for their kids reading under the covers with a flashlight. (Wouldn't that be the dream?!)
One of the best ways, Sharon Skinner says, to hook 'em and book 'em is by having a consistent and well written POV. We need to consider:
Point of View (POV) versus Perspective
Sharon Skinner says these two terms are often interchanged or seen as the same thing, but she likes to define point of view as third person, second person, or first person, and perspective as the eyes we see the story. You could, for example, have third-person limited from different perspectives, even though they're the same POV.
This was nothing, necessarily, new for me, but I liked how she shared real examples from a pile of books she brought with her. Then, she put us to work.
The 'work' in workshop
After going through the various types of POV and perspectives, looking at examples (some classics, some just off the shelf of the library), Sharon Skinner put us to work. She had us write a scene with conflict between two characters. We wrote it in first person from one of the characters. We wrote for five minutes.
Then we wrote the same scene in first person from the other character. Great, I thought. That was really cool. That was good work. I learned some stuff about my two characters that I didn't know, just by being in their head for the same scene.
We weren't done.
Sharon Skinner had us write the same scene in the third-person omniscient and limited (for both characters), from the perspective of an onlooker (or someone outside the conflict) and in second-person (that was the weirdest!). We wrote that same scene over and over and over...
I defiantly got a good writer's workout! I can't wait for more writing workshops and learning from Sharon Skinner!
I love attending author readings. I didn't start going until my adult life, though. I was required to attend a poetry reading for my poetry class a year or so ago, but then I started attending them whenever I could because they were fun! They give me a "vision" of what it might be like when I (someday) become a debut author. Also, there's often Q & A at the end, and I've learned a lot about the writing and publishing process just from hearing those answers and sometimes asking my own questions.
Then, while drafting, she refers to these notebooks that (hopefully) have answers to her questions while she's drafting. If they don't, then she will give herself a note in the draft to look it up later. Later, she'll dive into the researching rabbit hole and record her answers.
But, as she admitted, she's still refining her process and it's difficult to keep organized.
Walking among giants
Attending this event felt a little different than others. I felt the difference when I first walked in. I showed up, and everyone was hugging and talking and taking pictures. Maybe I had never been this early before, though, so I didn't think much of it.
After Amy Loveblood's reading, I stood in line to get my book signed. The bookstore host went around and wrote our names on post-its so we could have them personalized if we wanted. The gal behind me didn't have to tell her name to the bookstore clerk, though. "Oh, it was funny talking to your publisher," the clerk said as she wrote her name. "She wanted to know if I could book you in for a reading, but I had you scheduled months ago. I saw you had a book coming out, so I just put you in." They hugged and laughed. Wow, I thought. What would that be like?...
Before I could really imagine having that kind of relationship with one of my all time favorite bookstores, I overheard the clerk talk to the next person in line. She asked for her name, wrote it down, and then looked at her. "You colored your hair," she said. "When's your next book coming out?" Wow, I thought again. I'm walking among giants here. These people are living my dream. I was sandwiched between published authors. Wow! Wow! Wow! I almost expected someone to ask me when my book was coming out and blushed as I thought about my unfinished discovery draft at home. Thankfully, no one asked me.
When it was my turn to get my book signed, I handed her the book and Amy Loveblood looked at my name, then at me. She asked if my last name was Lamoreaux. She said it wrong, but that's not her fault. It's Hubby's fault for having a complicated French name. ha ha! She remembered meeting me on Twitter, probably from the #MTMC thing. I told her, yes and something else I don't remember, which made me blush, but smiley at the same time. I quickly got out of line and hid behind a piece of cake... still smiling and thinking, this is awesome!...
As I was driving home, I practically giggled out loud. I had had such a good time at the reading. I learned about the writing and researching process, I got to hear the author read a part of her book (that I can't wait to start reading!), I was among other published authors, and I got cake.
I envisioned myself holding a copy of my work-in-progress, all shiny and published. People waited in line to have me sign their copy, and I saw myself answering questions, talking about my passion for writing and then reading out loud a bit of my book at Changing Hands Bookstore.
When I got home, I pulled my keys out of the ignition and I remembered, Oh, yeah. My book isn't finished. I still haven't completed the discovery draft I started a year ago! I haven't revised, edited or had beta readers. I haven't even gotten close to querying. As I walked into our apartment, I felt like I picked up a bag of rocks. The weight of my goal suddenly felt heavy.
I told Hubby about the experience, shared some cake and laughed about Amy Loveblood knowing me from the Internet and saying our last name funny. After a while, I sat on the couch and opened my copy of Nothing But Sky and show him my personalized message. I realized, then, that I hadn't even looked at it myself!
"Dream big," she told me. I giggled and grabbed my laptop and started working on my WIP.
It hurts, you know?
It's natural for me to get defensive about my work, which I did last summer with this author who was just trying to help. I didn't yell or anything. But I didn't take her advice very well. Hubby actually had a lot more names for him/her, oddly enough. ha ha! But I ended up dumping the project (for the second time) and starting something new, which was okay, I guess.
More recently, a few weeks ago, I met with another trustworthy reviewer that gave me hard criticism about my writing, and guess what? I took notes. I nodded. I said thank you, and then I quietly cried in the bathroom before I drove home. It hurts. You know? I put so much into this new project, this new draft, and all I she told me was what was NOT working in my writing.
Teaching peer review hasn't helped
I think part of my problem is that I teach how to give appropriate feedback to writing... as an ESL teacher... and as a tutoring center coordinator. I'm a HUGE believer in the writing process. I believe that writing has the right to grow and adapt as you brainstorm throughout the drafting process.
I didn't have a completed discovery draft in either of the cases I shared above. They called it a first draft, but Bill Konigsberg told me a couple years ago that even if you rewrite the first chapter over and over, you don't have a first draft until you have a draft for every chapter in the book. And Marylee MacDonald told me that discovery drafts are those drafts before you get to the end of the book, and they're essential to the process because it's how your characters tell you the story for the first time.
I'm also a believer in pacing feedback. When I give suggestions for improvement to my ESL students (or anyone I tutor), I recognize their goals (assignment deadlines, usually) and decide appropriate suggestions that they can work on now without making them feel overwhelmed.
I sometimes forget that that's not the way it works in the creative writing world, although I think it should. The reviewer I worked with a couple weeks ago treated my discovery draft like a completed manuscript that needed editing, even though I tried to explain my expectations of our session. I wanted to brainstorm, to talk about plot and possible solutions for problems that my characters were facing. (She told me to fix my syntax.)
Tell me what works!
I'm not far into my creative writing certificate, but so far-- I've been taught that it is just as important to show the writer what is working well in the story as well as what might help it improve.
One of my instructors shared this super helpful link with us before we started reviewing each other's work. I use this as a guideline, and I wish all peer reviewers worked like this.
Getting used to "no"
Last summer, when I got slapped in the face, Hubby said, "well, consider this your first rejection letter." I know that it wasn't exactly true, but he was reminding me of Stephen King. He said that he had an entire wall full of rejection letters. It's part of the publishing world, and I don't think things have changed that much since he first started querying.
This last weekend, I attended the WriteOnCon, and for one of the keynotes, they talked about the importance of no. It's part of the writer's life. I probably won't do it justice, but the speaker was basically saying that we get rejection letters before we get an agent or contract. We get poor reviews. Heck, she said that she had a book signing, and only two people bought her book. Rejection, unfortunately, is part of the writer's life. You can't make everyone happy, you know?
Why do we write?
So, if we get slapped in the face and get rejected, why do we do it? I can't speak for everyone, but I don't give up because I love reading. And because it's fun. I like playing with words. I love creating. I love that moment where I'm able to convey some awesome image or feeling to another reader. I believe I have a story to tell, and I'm the only one who can tell it the way I can.
"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down... and bleed."
"Mongkok Street, Hong Kong"