Monday, October 2, 2017

Waiting for Wednesday by Ann Haywood Leal

She took us every Wednesday without fail.  After dinner, Mom would get behind the wheel of our white Chevy station wagon, and my brother and I would scoot into the back seat with our teetering stacks of library books and head to the Auburn Public Library.

It was a tricky balance, checking out just the right amount of books to last until the next week.  You all know that feeling:  that horrible, disjointed, queasiness of being without a book.  Possibly the only worse feeling would be if you had only a few pages of the last chapter left and you had to bring it back! Sure, you could renew it, but what-if-someone-had-put-it-on-reserve-and-Mrs.-Barnhart-the-Children's-Librarian-kindly-asked-you-to-hand-it-over! Okay, there was something worse.  What if it was a Nancy Drew book and Nancy had yet to tie things up with The Clue of the Tapping Heels??  

I can still smell the scent of the library foyer.  Even now, my heart still speeds up when I think about taking a right through those double doors and run-walking over to the Nancy Drew section.  I had already pored over the list of titles on the yellow back cover, memorizing the ones I had yet to get my hands on.  And would they be on the shelf today?  Would someone have finally returned the copy of Nancy's Mysterious Letter?!

But the true holy grail was two book shelves over to the left.  You probably already know what I'm going to say . . . . . . THE JUDY BLUME SECTION.  (You might be asking me:  Ann, did that really require all caps?  And of course I'd have to respond, yes.  Yes, it did, because I'm not sure if I can even continue our FB friendship, if you think otherwise.  :) )  And what if . . . . . . the library's only copy of ARE YOU THERE GOD?  IT'S ME, MARGARET. was right there on the shelf?!  Sometimes it could be a decoy book that fooled you.  The cover might have been a slightly brighter yellow than the real thing, and for a brief moment you would have felt cheated.  But when you had the real thing in your sweaty hands, it made Wednesday truly worth waiting for.

Have a great week, because guess what?  Only two more days until Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

I See You By Ann Haywood Leal

Mrs. Rinear.  I've written about her before, but she was so important to me that I'm going to make everyone hear about her again.  She was the one.  The teacher who made me sit up straight and stand tall -- but not in the literal sense.  From the first day of sixth grade, she didn't say it out loud, but she beamed it right into my mind:  I see you.

I had stop-sign-shaped glasses and braces with headgear.  Does anyone still have to wear headgear?  The good kind had two thick wires that attached to a strap around the back of the neck and were inserted into your braces in front.  But I had the other kind.  Mine sat very visibly on the top of my head like the inside straps of a bike helmet.  I didn't have to wear it all twenty-four hours of the day, but I may as well have, because it left lovely imprints in my not-so-thick hair in back.

But I loved Mrs. Rinear and I loved school. I loved learning about the solar system and fractions.  I loved art and music and  of course, reading -- couldn't Judy Blume put out her books any faster?  I had perfect attendance and I couldn't wait to see what Mrs. Rinear was going to bring out next.  Most of all, I loved creative writing.  When I would sneak out the latest story I was working on, she'd quietly come by my desk.  "It looks like you're done with your math," she'd say.  "Why don't you take that story over there to the table in the back where it's nice and quiet?"

She was always giving me extra time to write.  As the year went on, she'd ask about the stories I'd written at home.  She'd ask to see them and she'd take them home and read them to her family.  I can still see her handwriting on my blue notebook paper: Very nice.

Sadly, she moved away after my sixth grade year and I never got to see her again.

After my first book, ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER came out, I went back to my home town to do a writing workshop for teens at my old library--the magical place where I got my first library card.  As can happen to both new and seasoned authors, it was ten minutes before the workshop was to begin and only one teen showed up. But then they all started filing in . . . my first grade teacher, my brother's kindergarten teacher, my junior high English teacher, the principal of my old elementary school, my second grade teacher . . .
"We tried to get hold of Mrs. Rinear," the principal said.  "But we couldn't."

But they were all there, and I was overwhelmed.  I went to the front of the room and got ready to read from my book, but it was difficult to turn the pages, because my hands were shaking.  I realized that I was about to read the story I'd written to the people who taught me how to read and write.  I went on and did it anyway, because their proud smiles and their steady eyes were saying, I see you.

  Two days later I went to the University Bookstore in Seattle to do a reading.  One of my friends couldn't come so she sent her mother, Bev, in her place.  I walked up to Bev to thank her for coming, and she said, "I'm not Bev."  Mrs. Rinear had driven over two hours to be there.  I told her that I couldn't believe she had traveled so far.
"Oh, I would have driven four," she said.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

It Might be Right in Front of You

Every time Spring peeks into New England and starts to uncover itself, I get this overwhelming feeling of possibility--of what could happen . . . what might happen. 

As I was slogging through a weekend run, (I shouldn't really call it an actual run, since my friend's ninety-something mother could beat me in a race, but I'm taking artistic license here, people!), I began noticing  a whole slew of story possibilities.

Don't worry, I won't regale you with a couple dozen blooming crocus pictures, because where's the story in that?

But I will throw in a few settings with definite story possibilities.

What could happen here, for example?

                                                                                Or here?

What about under here?

And the snow just uncovered this story possibility:

So . . . get out there and dig up a brand new beginning!

Thursday, March 2, 2017


It's that time of the year when I just want to march forward into Spring.  I want Spring.  I need Spring.  But even in my beloved home area of Seattle, where it almost never snows, it's refusing to be Spring.
So goes it with writing.  You just want your draft to be done.  You want it to be finished and perfect and wonderful.  But you have to make yourself march forward.  Stomp right through that mess of first, second, and (yes, really!) third drafts and make it even better.  
But how in the world do you do that?  I've got other books to write, you might say.  I can't spend my precious writing time revising! 

And my answer to that would be, Yes.  Yes, you can. You can and should do both.  As difficult as it may be, put that second draft away for a couple of weeks.  And let it sit and simmer while you work on a new book.  Believe me, I know it's hard to do that.  Once you are done with that second draft, you are ready to turn it in.  After all, you've sunk some blood and guts into that draft.  It should be finished.  

But those of you who know me, know that I love a good challenge.  So I challenge you to wait a couple weeks . . .  then do that third draft.  I guarantee you that you will see your book with a fresh perspective, and your third draft will be sure to have a hint of Spring in it.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Claudia, Amira, and a Little Bit of Langston

January.  A new beginning.  I am holding onto that feeling of hope that my writerly and book loving friends are putting out into the world.  Because we all need that right now, don't we?  We all need to feel as if we are okay--that we are going to be okay.  We need to feel as if the world is round again, and we will not drop off a sharp curb into a scary abyss.  We need to drag ourselves up and over that ledge and band together with the extra sticky glue made of kindness and inclusiveness.  Because that's what a middle-grade novel is about, isn't it?  Hope.  Kindness.  Empathy.

So I'm offering up some of my favorite beginnings to begin 2017.

"Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly . . . "
--Langston Hughes  (Okay, I cheated with this first one.  Langston Hughes didn't write middle grade novels, but he was, Langston Hughes, so I get to.)

"Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away.  That is, running away in the heat of anger with a knapsack on her back.  She didn't like discomfort, even picnics were untidy and inconvenient:  all those insects and the sun melting the icing on the cupcakes.  Therefore, she decided that her leaving home would not be just running from somewhere but would be running to somewhere . . . "
--E. L. Konigsburg (From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)

"We moved on the Tuesday before Labor Day.  I knew what the weather was like the second I got up. I knew because I caught my mother sniffing under her arms.  She always does that when it's hot and humid, to make sure her deodorant's working.  I don't use deodorant yet.  I don't think people start to smell bad until they're at least twelve.  So I've still got a few months to go."
--Judy Blume (Are You There God?  It's Me, Margaret.)

"Finally, I am twelve.
Old enough to wear a toob.
As soon as I wake, Muma whispers a birthday wish.
Blessings for all the years to come, Amira.
--Andrea Davis Pinkney (The Red Pencil)

"Lily Mollahan's bedroom was at the top of the stairs, the only one on the second floor.  The top of the house, Gram always told her, the top of the world.
     Lily sank back on her heels to look around at the blue walls and ceiling, and the gold stars pasted on here and there.  Then she stretched up again, working with Poppy's paint scraper, to peel off a star that was almost beyond her reach."
--Patricia Reilly Giff (Lily's Crossing)

"Today is Tet,
the first day
of the lunar calendar.
Every Tet
we eat sugary lotus seeds
and glutinous rice cakes.
We wear all new clothes
even underneath.
Mother warns
how we act today
foretells the whole year.
Everyone must smile
no matter how we feel.
No one can sweep,
for why sweep away hope?
No one can splash water,
for why splash away joy?"
--Thanhha Lai (Inside Out & Back Again)

I had to stop myself, because there are so many beautiful beginnings out there.  Go grab your own memorable beginning.  Open a middle grade novel, or let the words of Langston wash over you with drizzles of hope.