Do One Thing Today
by Patricia Newman
We writers write about our passions, the injustices we see, or things that make us say, “Wow!”. For me, that’s the environment because we need it to survive. Endangered animals, such as sea otters, help us in ways we’re only just figuring out. The ocean makes 75% of the oxygen we breathe and is responsible for our weather.
I translate my passion into stories for readers like you. My most recent books are about animals on the brink of extinction, an ocean polluted with plastic, sea otters who save an entire ecosystem, and the deadly Ebola virus that also attacks endangered wild apes.
I discovered a wonderful Twitter and Instagram hashtag called #DoOneThingToday, which encourages us to be more aware of how we affect our environment. In honor of Earth Day, I challenge you to choose the one way you will become more Earth-friendly. I’ve listed several ideas below, but I’m sure you can think of others. Whatever you decide to do, write about it. Draft a story, compose a poem or a song, make a poster, draw a picture, write a script and make a video, send a letter to the President of the United States. No matter what you write, share it with others and challenge them to follow your lead.
Without fresh air, clean water, and wildlife, Earth would be about as habitable as Mars. #DoOneThingToday (and send me a picture of what you do).
· Read about nature.
· Go for hike to see now much wildlife you can spot. Ask questions about what you see.
· Visit a zoo or a nature center. Better yet, sign up to volunteer.
· Drink water from reusable bottles. Refuse plastic water and soda bottles.
· Pack your school lunch in reusable containers instead of plastic bags.
· Bring reusable utensils to school instead of using plastic utensils.
· Say no to straws in restaurants and on juice boxes.
· Save energy by turning off lights to reduce climate change.
Patricia Newman is the author of Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem, a Junior Library Guild Selection and recipient of a starred Kirkus review; Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a Green Earth Book Award winner; and Ebola: Fears and Facts, a Booklist Editors’ Choice selection. In fall 2018, Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will be released. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.
Announcing the Inklings Book Contest 2017 Winners & Finalists
We had so many amazing entries this year it was hard to pick. Thank you to all who submitted their stories and congratulations to our winners and finalists! We look forward to working with the winners on the book and posting the finalists work on our website!
Amanvir Parhar (grade 6)
Andrew Chu (grade 7)
Ann Yang (grade 6)
Camille Chu (grade 2)
Claire Lignore (grade 5)
Claire Wong (grade 5)
Dylan Lefever (grade 5)
Elena Garcia (grade 4)
Jude Lewis (grade 2)
Lauren Crawford (grade 4)
Lauren Meier (grade 6)
Lila Tierney (grade 3)
Lily Shi (grade 3)
Louisa Pflaum (grade 3)
Oliver Jackson (grade 8)
Saketh Elumalai (grade 1)
Samuel Teoh (grade 4)
Shannon Ma (grade 6)
Tiffanie Huang (grade 8)
Toby Jacob (grade 7)
Zachary Marinov (grade 7)
Aarna Patil (grade 2)
Adelle Kang (grade 3)
Alaina Fox (grade 8)
Alexa Friesel (grade 6)
Alexa Zhang (grade 3)
Alvina Mastakar (grade 4)
Alyssa Wheat (grade 3)
Amy Gillson (grade 5)
Anika Knowles (grade 6)
Annabelle Lee (grade 3)
Audrey Edel (grade 8)
Audrey Manley (grade 4)
Ben Hayes (grade 6)
Callum Yeaman (grade 7)
Carson Redifer (grade 7)
Chloe Choo (grade 2)
Claire McNerney (grade 8)
Collin Goel (grade 5)
Ella Stahl (grade 7)
Ember Summer (grade 7)
Emily Ericson (grade 7)
Erin Chang (grade 7)
Harshita Dasot (grade 4)
Helena de la Carcova (grade 4)
Ines Garcia (grade 7)
Jason Choi (grade 6)
Jordan Johnston (grade 4)
Julia Vajgel (grade 5)
Julie Shi (grade 5)
Kaia Lucas (grade 2)
Kamila Perez Salgado (grade 4)
Kendra Pang (grade 5)
Kyra Yu (grade 6)
Laasya Babbellapati (grade 7)
Larabee Mitchell (grade 2)
Laura Chen (grade 8)
Maia Goel (grade 7)
Mira Aradhya (grade 4)
Natalie Sharp (grade 5)
Natalie Wong (grade 5)
Ninabella Arlis (grade 7)
Owen McNeely (grade 5)
Padma Madhyasta (grade 2)
Phoebe Clifton (grade 7)
Rhea Jain (grade 5)
Rithik Atreya (grade 3)
Sahana Srinivasan (grade 3)
Samantha Vargas (grade 3)
Sarah Skaggs (grade 3)
Seb Koglin (grade 2)
Shelby Sandford (grade 5)
Somi Hyun (grade 4)
Sophia Hinshaw (grade 5)
Timothy Leung (grade 4)
Zach Cutshaw (grade 6)
Zachary Walcott (grade 3)
Family Activity: The Surprise Me Story Swap
Paying particular attention to how another writer puts together a series of words is an excellent way to develop a love for language. As readers, when we lose ourselves in the plot of a story, we definitely learn on one level. If, later, we return to beloved books and pay attention to the writer’s craft, we can learn how writers worked their magic. At Society of Young Inklings, we group the skills of identifying a writer’s craft and applying those strategies to our own work in a mental room we call the “Library.”
Here’s a playful activity that will help you (and your young writers) pay closer attention to the words a writer has chosen.
- Flip to a random page in the book.
- Choose a medium-sized sentence and read it aloud.
- The next player uses the sentence as a starting point for a story, and adds a sentence of his or her own.
- Pass the story around your small group, each player adding a sentence to the story as you go. See if you can build the story to a climax and then come up with a resolution.
- As a fun extra challenge, try a new sentence and see if you can take the new story in an entirely fresh direction. Consider swapping genres, settings, your cast of characters or anything else that will push you into new territory.
Snapshots from our Classes!
Highlight on our Youth Advisory Board!
Welcome to the first installment of our “Youth Advisory Board Series” where we interview the awesome members that make up our Youth Advisory Board.
This Month: Sahana S.
Creative writing with Young Inklings is full of freedom and chances to step out of your comfort zone with support and encouragement from mentors, and everyone in the Young Inklings family.
How were you introduced to Inklings? How old were you?
I was introduced to Young Inklings through intersession in 6th grade at the Girls Middle School. Naomi Kinsman was teaching an intersession on writing, and by the end of the week, I realized I wanted to challenge myself to complete a full piece of writing. Through Naomi, I learned about the Your Name in Ink program, and was instantly interested in the opportunity to work with a mentor and publish my own novel. Naomi agreed to be my mentor and I started January of 6th grade.
When did you start considering yourself a writer?
I started considering myself as a writer in 1st grade, when I first developed a love for writing. I would write stories about my adventures on weekends, girls jumping into their bathtubs and turning into mermaids, and girls with blue eyes and blonde hair before binding the pages together and adding illustrations. I was ‘published!’
What were some of your favorite moments from publishing your book, “A Scoop of Sour”, with Young Inklings?
Some of my favorite moments were picking the cover art, which features a distorted, icky pale green ice cream cone to represent how not everything is how it seems, planning scenes weekly through acting exercises with Naomi, and looking out at the crowd at my book launch full of my best friends and family solely there supporting my crazy dream of publishing a novel.
What is different about creative writing with Society of Young Inklings than creative writing in school?
Creative writing with Young Inklings is full of freedom and chances to step out of your comfort zone with support and encouragement from mentors, and everyone in the Young Inklings family.
Why would you recommend being a part of the Inklings Youth Advisory Board?
Being part of the Young Inklings Youth Advisory Board allows me to revise and share my suggestions and ideas to make this non-profit even better. It has helped me gain the skill of thinking creatively on my feet and solve problems with ease when they arise.
Are you currently working on any writing outside of school? Is there a sequel in the works?
Not currently, as I have been very busy with high school applications, school projects, and extracurriculars! I don’t plan on writing a sequel but I hope to start a new novel soon, perhaps a new style of writing, like poetry, or genre like romance.
A special thanks to Sahana for sharing part of her Inklings experience!
Check out the final cover work for “A Scoop of Sour” and get your copy today!
The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Shawn K. Stout and her historical fiction book A Piece of Sky. She provided a great challenge about perception for us. Submit a response to the challenge to email@example.com and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?
The Challenge: Seeing is Believing
In A Tiny Piece of Sky, Frankie Baum is the youngest of three girls and often feels as though people don’t see her for who she really is, beyond her age and family ranking. Seeing people for who they really are, and not for who the world tells you they are, is a prominent theme of the book.
Write about how you think people see you, why they see you in that particular way, and whether they’ve got it right or not.
Submit your responses by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and you might be published on our website!
“A Tiny Piece of Sky” and Shawn K. Stout
Shawn K. Stout is the author of several books for children, including the critically-acclaimed PENELOPE CRUMB middle grade series. Her new novel, A TINY PIECE OF SKY, a summer story of three sisters, one restaurant, and a (possible) German spy, is in bookstores everywhere.
An Interview with author Shawn K. Stout
1. A Tiny Piece of Sky is based on true events. How did you come to find out about the true story?
I grew up hearing stories about my grandfather, who died when my mother was a young girl–how he had German parents, how my mother was taunted by classmates because of her German last name, how my grandparents owned a restaurant in Hagerstown, Maryland in the 1930s and 1940s, how my grandfather was accused of espionage, and how there was a subsequent boycott of his restaurant. These were stories that were fed to me at the dinner table, but I only really thought of them as stories. Then, in the late 1990s, my grandmother died, and as we were cleaning out her apartment, we found letters from 1939 addressed to my grandfather. These letters were from various local civic organizations, and they voiced support for my grandfather in light of the German spy accusations and boycott. I knew as soon as I read those letters that one day I would try to write his story.
2. What sort of challenges come with writing historical fiction like A Tiny Piece of Sky?
Oh, lots. I’d never before written historical fiction, so there was a steep learning curve as I tried to figure out how much research I needed to do and how many details I should include in the story. Then, once I worked that out, I struggled with how much of my family’s life I should fictionalize. Many of the characters in the story, and events, are inspired by my actual family members, but they are not necessarily true to life. Ultimately, I wanted to get a flavor and real sense of the time period and the personalities of my characters, and how they are shaped by the events of 1939, and once I felt comfortable in that time period, I was able to let the fiction take over.
3. Tell us a little bit about how you came to be a professional writer.
I’ve always wanted to write, but that was something so personal to me, so full of hope, that it took many years to admit it to myself. Somehow I ended up in writing and editing jobs for various companies, mostly about health care. Although that sort of technical writing was interesting to me, it wasn’t the kind of writing that would leave me with a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. I wanted to write fiction–that’s what had been tapping me on the shoulder for years trying to get my attention. So, I took a writing class at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, and the first day of class we were assigned a writing prompt. What came out, to my surprise, was the voice of a young girl, and I knew soon after that I wanted to write books for young readers. I took more classes, wrote and read as much as I could, and then I heard about the Masters program in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I applied, and by some miracle was accepted, and my life changed. I got a contract from Simon & Schuster to publish my first book in 2009, and I’ve written seven other books since then.
4. Is there anything else you would like to share or would like us to know about A Tiny Piece of Sky?
Because the movie “The Wizard of Oz” came out in 1939, the same year that my story takes place, and because I’d named my main character, Frankie Baum, after L. Frank Baum, the man who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book and the movie would play an important part in my story.As the youngest of three girls, Frankie wants to stop being cast aside as someone who is not quite old enough to really matter. She doesn’t feel as though she has a real place in the family—her oldest sister Elizabeth is as perfect as a “princess,” which just so happens to be her nickname, and Joan, in the middle, a natural performer, has the best singing voice in town. Perhaps Frankie could get others to see her, she thinks, really see her, if she could clear her father’s name and save his reputation. Like Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” Frankie lives in a bleak, colorless place and wants so much for her world (and her place in it) to change. The more I wrote about Frankie, the more similarities I began to see in Dorothy’s journey to Oz and finding her way back home.
A special thanks to Shawn K. Stout!
You can purchase A Piece of Sky at most bookstores or online on Amazon HERE.
Shawn K. Stout is the author of several books for children.
Find out more about her on her website at www.shawnkstout.com.
Family Activity: A Trio of Tales
Noticing the interesting things that happen in our lives is a skill, and one that requires practice. That’s why, at Society of Young Inklings, we talk about visiting our mental Attic to practice the art of collecting story material from our lives. If we’re in the practice of collecting story ideas everywhere we go, we are well-prepared to write or tell our stories.
- Start with the following: “A time I …”
- Finish the sentence with one of these prompts (or create your own).
- invented something
- felt proud
- saw an animal in the wild
- gave an interesting gift
- challenged myself
- Each player should come up with three examples to fit the prompt.
- Tell your tales out loud. Swap stories back and forth. In this way, the stories will give each player fresh ideas, and also will keep the energy and excitement high.
Consider these two writing classrooms.
ONE: A teacher says, “Class, today, we will revise our stories. Take a look at what you’ve written and make sure you have juicy words, dialogue, and active verbs.” Then, the teacher shows an example of a well-written paragraph that has all three on the board. The students nod, head back to their desks and begin to work. After about fifteen minutes, some of the students have already turned in their stories, sure they have nailed all three key items with their work.
TWO: A teacher says, “Class, today, we will be detectives. You will look through your writing and find where you have used juicy words, dialogue and active verbs. We’ll underline our juicy words in red colored pencil, our dialogue in blue, and our active verbs in green.” Then, the teacher shows the students how to find these three items in a paragraph on the board. The students head back to their desks and start underlining. After a few minutes, the teacher gathers them in a circle. They examine their pages and notice which color shows up most frequently. Which shows up less? Then, the teacher challenges the students to add words, phrases and sentences so that their papers are a beautiful blend of all three colors. When the students turn in their work, they know whether they have actually nailed the key items in their work. Why? They can see clear evidence of those items on the page.
At Society of Young Inklings, our Writerly Play approach lines up with this second scenario. In our classes and mentorships, we:
- Make thinking visible
- Help writers master complex concepts using practical strategies
- Use challenges and games to frame the learning and creative thinking process
One of the most important qualities of a successful writer is confidence.
Confidence adds oomph to our word choice and energy to our work sessions. When we are confident, we don’t second guess ourselves or stare at the blank page, afraid that whatever we write will be marked wrong. Confidence also fuels determination. When we know we can master a difficult task, we’re much more willing to lean into the challenging parts. If we feel we have no hope of success, we’re unlikely to try at all.
The Writerly Play approach is designed to build writing confidence.
Through games, activities and strategies, we provide a window into the creative process. When students see how they approach creative thinking, and understand the tools that creativity requires, they see their strengths and the areas in which they can grow. In the same way that the colored pencils help writers see what they’ve included in their writing and what they have not, Writerly Play helps creative thinkers sort thinking skills into categories. a well-designed classroom, Writerly Play offers a series of thinking spaces, each with its own purpose.
In a classroom, you might have a reading corner and a science corner. Each space contains tools and resources perfect to the task at hand.
Writerly Play establishes mental spaces that writers can take with them wherever they go.
- In the Attic, writers collect ideas, knowledge and experiences from their own life to use in their work.
- In the Studio, writers play with those ideas and push beyond initial thoughts into new territory.
- In the Workshop, writers break down complex writing tasks into pieces which can each be tackled with focused attention.
- In the Library, writers examine works by others, and identify successful strategies to apply to their own work.
- In the Cafe, writers collaborate with their peers to give and receive feedback.
Once writers establish these five spaces in their minds, they have corners to house all the strategies and tools they collect in every part of their creative lives. Rather than seeing learning as a disconnected series of subjects, they see connections between what they discovered in the Natural History museum over the weekend and the painting they create the next week in art class. They are empowered to see their lives not as a series of to-do items handed to them arbitrarily, but as an adventure to create, experience by experience, thought by thought.
Writing projects are the vehicle, not the destination.
Too often, in writing classrooms we focus on the assignment of the day and neglect the true skills that are being developed.
We aren’t asking the students to write an essay on bees simply to assess their knowledge of bees. We want to see their thinking on the page. We know successful execution of this writing project can serve as a foundation for other writing throughout their lives.
It’s true, successful execution of writing projects DOES serve as a foundation. Unfortunately, if we don’t make the thinking visible for our students, they may not see the bigger picture. They may miss the opportunity to gain powerful confidence from their success. Why? Because we focus on bees rather than on the process.
Making thinking visible isn’t easy.
However, at Society of Young Inklings, we know it’s worth the effort. That’s why we are constantly experimenting, inventing games, and exploring possibilities. How else can we look at this? What other perspective will help us see what’s happening more clearly? Our youth writers help us make discoveries every day. The Writerly Play framework gives us a mutual playground on which to play.
We’d love to learn from you, too! What images and ideas do the Writerly Play rooms create for you? What questions arise? Feel free to comment below! We look forward to a rich discussion.
If you’d like to learn more about the Writerly Play framework, I’ve written a more comprehensive series on the topic here.
This post is brought to you by Naomi Kinsman.
Naomi is the Executive Director and Founder of Society of Young Inklings. Author of the From Sadie’s Sketchbook Series and Spilled Ink, the award winning Inklings Writers’ Notebook, Naomi is passionate about sharing her love of writing and creativity with young writers. Naomi’s background in improvisational and story theatre as well as her arts education work in Chicago, Portland and the Bay Area has convinced her that creative play is a doorway through which learners can find inspiration and transformative learning experiences.
The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is author of “Sea Otter Heroes”, Patricia Newman. She provided great advice to writers, surprising animal info, and teaching resources! Patricia has our Challenge this month, she wants to know what nature and science topic she should explore next!
The Challenge: What’s Next?
What nature topic should Patricia dive in next?
Visit Patricia’s website at http://patriciamnewman.com and send her an email if you have ideas!
(Patricia center. Photo Credit: Elise Newman)
“Sea Otter Heros” author and conservationist Patricia Newman!
Author, Patricia uses her love of science and nature to make entertaining & educational works. This Inksplat highlights her thoughts on the writing process and her newest book about Sea Otters!
An Interview with Author Patricia Newman
When did you call yourself a writer? What about an author?
I started to call myself a writer as a young mother when I began to jot down story ideas and turn them into manuscripts. Admittedly, they were messy and imperfect, but I was digging deep into my imagination and creating something new. And I had some success publishing stories and articles in children’s magazines. I only dared call myself an author after my first book, Jingle the Brass, was published.
Writing about something that you research is a lengthy process. How do you stay inspired in the long revision and writing process? Any tips?
I go through two-step revision process with my writing. The first involves a lot of head-scratching, reading, rewording, and rethinking. I usually ask my husband or trusted writing friends to read a draft of my manuscript and offer feedback. Sometimes I work on their feedback right away, but frequently, I let the manuscript sit for a while before making changes. I need this vacation from my project because revision is about reimagining and rethinking, and it’s nearly impossible to find something new in a project when you’ve been laboring on it for many weeks. When I’m ready to begin work on the project again, I come to it with a fresh perspective. Many more days, weeks, or even months pass. Perhaps I ask my trusted readers for help again.
Eventually I’m satisfied enough with my manuscript to send it to my editor. I look forward to this part of the revision process because by the time my manuscript deadline draws near, I’ve been laboring on the same book for months and I’m quite tired of it! I need a break, and I know that my editor won’t return it to me with her comments for a few months because she’s so busy. My publisher’s revision timeline gives me needed distance.
My editor and I work very well together. She has a long history of producing award-winning titles, so I trust her judgment. I’m always anxious for her comments (and a little nervous, too, because I want to live up to her high standards). She generally appreciates my writing style—which I’m very happy about—but she almost always has organizational comments that require a new way of reimagining how I tell my story. My books rely on vast amounts of research, so sometimes it’s hard to see the “whole” because I get mired in the details. When I reorganize or reimagine with my editor’s comments in mind, I move great gobs of text from one place in the manuscript to another. This process helps me focus my story to say what I want to say.
For student writers, I suggest four things:
- Work on a computer if you can. It’s easier to revise if you don’t have to worry about recopying your story in long-hand. (Learning to type is an excellent skill for a writer!)
- Edit your story the best you can.
- Ask a friend or an adult for honest feedback. You’re not looking for “It’s wonderful, honey!” You need to know is your reader ever confused? Does your reader care about your characters? Is your plot exciting? Is your ending satisfying?
- Put your story in a drawer for a week or so. When you come back to it, you will read it with new enthusiasm and more easily spot the places you can reorganize and reimagine.
In your new book Sea Otter Heroes, you focus on how otters help the ecosystem. What inspired you to learn and write about this phenomenon?
Chelsea Rochman, one of the scientists featured in Plastic, Ahoy!, invited me to a retreat sponsored by a fellowship of newly minted scientists who had just earned their PhDs. These scientists study a variety of conservation topics, such as native bees, forest fires and coral reefs. Chelsea asked me to talk about writing books about science for children, in the hopes that some of her colleagues’ work might make good reading for kids.
Marine biologist Brent Hughes approached me after my speech to discuss his research. Brent studies seagrass in an estuary off Monterey Bay—an inlet where fresh water and salt water mix. Seagrass is an underwater plant that lives in tidal areas and is definitely worth saving because it dampens waves to protect the coastline, it protects baby fish while they grow, and it captures carbon to reduce global warming. The estuary that Brent studies is bordered by farms. A lot of the fertilizers used on the farms run off into the estuary. The fertilizer usually makes choking algae grow, which eventually kills the seagrass. But the seagrass in the estuary was lush and green and healthy. Brent wanted to know why. Sea Otter Heroes shows how Brent solved the mystery and how the adorable, fuzzy-faced sea otters help.
Would You Rather: Would you rather have to write stories where you could never revise them OR Would you rather write stories you have to keep revising every month forever?
Wow, this seems like an impossible choice. I would never submit the first draft of anything I wrote (not even the responses to these questions). Revision is critical, but who wants to revise forever? Forever is a long time and my patience has limits!
Rather than choose one ghastly choice over another, I’d like to approach this question from a different angle. When I visit schools and read aloud to kids, most of the time I read the words that were published, but sometimes I revise my published work on the fly! I know this sounds crazy, but I look at every book as a learning experience. When it is published, it is as perfect as I can make it at the time and I’m proud to call myself the author. But with each title, I learn and grow as a writer so I look back on previous work to see if I would have done it differently as the author I am now. I think this is the fun part of writing. It’s always challenging us to be the best we can be.
What subjects or topics would you like to write about in future books?
My next book, coming out in the fall of 2017, is called Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. In this book, I follow three zoo scientists who save endangered orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinos. Expect a lot of fun photos and cool science that will make you want to be a zoo scientist, too!
Beyond that, I’m not sure what my next topic will be. I enjoy connecting my love of nature with science, so I expect I’ll tackle some aspect of conservation or endangered species. Visit my website at http://patriciamnewman.com and send me an email if you have ideas!
Awesome Teaching Resources for “Sea Otter Heros”!
Downloadable study guides, bookmarks and more HERE!
A huge thanks to Patricia Newman for her insight!
You can get “Sea Otter Heros” through her publisher here and find out about her other books on her Amazon Page.
Find out more about Patricia’s work at: patriciamnewman.com
The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Rachel Yeaman. She provided great advice to short story writers about revision and more! This month’s awesome writing challenge is a great exercise in revision. Submit a response to the challenge to email@example.com and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?
The Challenge: Food for Thought
February we are focusing on the love/hate relationship with revision. Test your limits with this month’s challenge.
Write a short paragraph about the last thing you ate focusing on taste. Take a break (watch something on Netflix or read a chapter in a book). Now, without re-reading your paragraph write down three new details you didn’t mention in the first paragraph. Re-read your paragraph and choose only one detail to focus on. Write a new paragraph only about that one detail.
Submit your first and second paragraph responses by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and you might be published on our website!
“A Game of Inches” and Writing Short Stories with Rachel Yeaman!
Rachel Yeaman invites us into her writing journey and shares honest and helpful advice for authors, on revision, perfectionism, and a special look and working with short stories.
An Interview with author Rachel Yeaman
What is your process for revision and editing your stories?
Argh, revision! It feels so good just to finish a story that it’s tempting to call it “done”. But we rarely get it right the first time––I know I don’t. When I submitted the first draft of my short story, “A Game of Inches,” to my MFA advisor she told me to slash the story from 28 pages to ten. Ten pages! All those beautifully chiseled sentences and carefully crafted metaphors…how could I cut them? I decided to give the story some breathing room until I could look at it with new eyes. Then I stripped it down, keeping only the elements that were essential to its beating heart. The second draft was stronger, but the ending wasn’t quite right. I put the story aside again, and, once I’d figured out the ending, asked other writers for feedback. After it was accepted for publication, I worked with the editor to make still more edits. All in all, it took two years for one tiny story! I think the key is to be open to feedback, and to let the work rest until you can see it fresh. Above all, don’t give up!
Tell us a little bit about your new story and what inspired you to write it?
My stories are always a blend of my own experiences and things I observe. “A Game of Inches” explores what happens when a young person measures their worth solely in terms of their achievements. Tanner, the protagonist, seems to have it all: with a pro-athlete dad, he was labeled a baseball phenom at the age of six. As a teen, Tanner is determined to maintain his privileged status, but beneath his swagger lies deep-seated fragility: he fears he’ll be revealed as a fraud. With another kid poised to take his place on the championship team, Tanner’s whole world may just fall apart… Although I don’t play baseball, I know how great––and how perilous––it can be to feel on top of the world. And, from watching my kids play, I’ve seen the passionate emotions that the game can elicit. So it seemed like the perfect backdrop for this story.
Sometimes young writers feel like their work has to be perfect. Did you ever struggle with that feeling? What advice would you give?
Anne Lamott says that “perfectionism is the oppressor,” and I agree! I still struggle with the feeling that the work has to be perfect––in fact, the novel I’ve just finished deals with this very theme. I think many writers, old and young, want their work to come out right the first time, but worrying about perfection really stifles creativity. In order to write you have to turn off the inner critic and accept that your work will be messy and flawed. The best work comes when you really connect with your characters and commit to telling the truth about their journey and their struggles. Write in pursuit of exploration, not in pursuit of perfection. Write what you care about, and, above all, enjoy the ride!
When did you discover you wanted to be writer? What did your journey look like to get here?
I always secretly wanted to be a writer but never dared say it out loud. I studied English lit and worked for many years directing communications for advocacy and nonprofit organizations. I wanted to write fiction but never had the time––or courage! After I shattered my knee (a whole other story) I decided to grab the laptop and just…begin. I took classes, committed to writing every day, and eventually earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. I have a wonderful community of writers with whom I share and critique work, which is the greatest asset of all!
Many students are writing short stories for this years “Inklings Book Contest”. What is one quick tip you can give about writing a short story?
Keep it simple! I see many short stories from student writers––of all ages–– that are so gloriously ambitious in scope that the ideas could fill 300 pages of a novel. I think the key to a successful short story is that it leads us to one moment in which we glimpse the true essence of a character or situation. Less is more in terms of plot––you only have a few pages, so don’t try to do too much!
A special thanks to Rachel Yeaman!
You can “A Game of Inches” in the Hunger Mountain Journal of the Arts, Issue 21, Masked /Unmasked (Feb 2017).
Congrats on completing your new novel and we look forward to seeing it!