Back to School: Summer 2012

It’s that time of year again- I’m registering for my summer graduate courses!

In case you weren’t reading my blog the last two years, here’s a recap of my graduate studies:
I’m enrolled in an MFA program in Children’s Literature.  It will take me about four years to complete the program and my thesis will be a complete draft of a novel (likely YA and hopefully a manuscript that will eventually see publication).  This graduate program has been my own little paradise.  I’m in love with the subject matter, the classes, the people, and the atmosphere.  It’s what I look forward to all year long.  Here are the courses I’ve taken so far:

Summer 2010
History and Criticism of Children’s Literature
Craft of Writing for Children

Summer 2011 (Click to view course descriptions and text lists for these courses)
Genre Study: Forms and Boundaries
Genre Study: Fantasy
Young Adult Science Fiction

Fall 2011 (online course)
Special Topic: Newbery Books  (text list)

Last summer was rough.  The school doesn’t recommend taking three courses, but I did it to speed the program along.  My reading list for the summer was 28 books long and had to be read in 3 months time.  I definitely learned a ton, stretched my comfort levels with certain genres, and kept my 4.0–but I have no desire to go through another summer of feeling overwhelmed.

This summer, as soon as I saw the text lists, it was sort of a no brainer what course I would be taking.  I want an easier summer than last year and I really want to focus on writing and being creative.  I didn’t want a long reading list, and I wanted books I was already interested in.  One course had 5 out of 7 books that already were on my read/to-read list and it’s a creative course.  Here’s what I’ll be taking:

Genre Study in the Craft of Writing for Children: Dystopian and Science Fiction

Course Description:
This course focuses on the fundamentals particular to the writing of science fiction short stories and novels. We’ll discuss various forms of science fiction and sub-genres with a particular emphasis on dystopian young adult fiction and read some outstanding (mostly current) books in the field. We’ll look at originality, world building, plausibility, where to get ideas, and how to set up unique consequences for your characters in an imagined future. All writing will be workshopped in a nurturing and supportive environment that will inspire growth and risk-taking.

Text list:
Anderson, M.T. Feed
Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy
Card, Orson Scott. Ender’s Game
Condie, Allie. Matched
Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother
Pearson, Mary E. The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Revis, Beth. Across the Universe

The two books I hadn’t heard of are The Adoration of Jenna Fox and Little Brother.  Anyone read them?  What did you think?

I’ll also be taking an Advance Tutorial, which is essentially a writing workshop class.  I’ll be focusing on writing YA fiction, but I haven’t decided which of my WIP I’ll focus on this summer.  But a 7 book reading list sounds so much more manageable than a 28 book reading list, don’t ya think?

Next post: my review of Wither by Lauren DeStefano.  Stay tuned!

One Crazy Summer

Summary:
Delphine and her sisters, Vonetta and Fern, travel across the country to see the mother who abandoned them.  They don’t just find a mother during their four week trip, but also an understanding of their cultural identity.

Recommendation:

I absolutely loved this book.  In my opinion, this book deserved the Newbery Medal, not just a “Honor” title.  If you like books about mother/daughter relationships or historical fiction during the Civil Rights movement, definitely check this book out!


My Comments:
I agree with School Library Journal that this was an “emotionally challenging” book.  There are two threads that pull at reader’s heartstrings.  The first is the girls’ abandonment by their mother.  This thread is introduced to readers on page 4 when we learn of the young age these girls were left by their mother, “When Cecile left, Fern wasn’t on the bottle. Vonetta could walk but wanted to be picked up. I was four going on five.”  This instantly sets up sympathy and conflict.  It’s clear the girls have been without their mother but are now being sent to visit her for four weeks.  The author maintains this tension as Cecile remains cold and distant towards the children until the very end of the book.

The other emotionally challenging thread in this novel is the racial tension.  We are alerted to this racial tension very early on when Delphine thinks to herself, “The last thing Pa and Big Ma wanted to hear was how we made a grand Negro spectacle of ourselves thirty thousand feet up in the air around all these white people” (2).  This racial tension continues throughout the book.  The girls meet the Black Panthers, Delphine reads their news bulletins, and all three girls prepare for a rally.  The girls develop a growing awareness of racial tension and civil rights issues, but at the expense of their innocence.  The girls learn of the violence and unfairness that surrounds their race, and the author did this through the inclusion of true historical details such as the Black Panthers, jailed founder Huey Newton, and murdered Bobby Hutton.

Both School Library Journal and Booklist noted the strong voices and memorable characters of the three girls.  One of the scenes that I found most revealing of the three girls’ personalities is when Miss Patty Cake is ruined.  Vonetta’s insecurity and need for acceptance is revealed by her actions.  Her shame at Crazy Kelvin’s comment and desire to be accepted by the Ankton girls causes Vonetta do something hurtful to her own sister.  Delphine’s character is revealed in how she attempts to remedy the situation, “I grabbed Miss Patty Cake’s dimpled arms and chubby legs. I went after her cheeks and forehead. I scrubbed every blacked-up piece of plastic, wearing down that Ivory bar from a nearly full cake to nearly half flat. I scrubbed and scrubbed until my knuckles ached” (95-96).  Delphine is again acting like a mother figure, trying to protect and remedy Fern’s broken heart.  Fern reveals her innocence and need for love in how she carries Miss Patty Cake everywhere, but after the incident, we see a new maturity in Fern.  She does not whimper or pout the next day when Miss Patty Cake is gone, but instead, “Fern no longer looked for her doll when we left Cecile’s for breakfast” (97).  The author never said Fern’s heart was broken over the loss of her doll, but you knew it.  The author let actions speak for themselves, and in Fern’s case, actions prompted growth in character.  I really fell in love with these girls during this book, and I think that speaks for their excellent characterization.

Kirkus Reviews said that this story is told with “writing that snaps off the page.”  I completely agree.  There were so many memorable lines that had Delphine’s distinct voice.  A voice that was sharp but metaphoric.  Delphine describes what mother means to her in the beginning of the book,

“Mother is a statement of fact. Cecile Johnson gave birth to us. We came out of Cecile Johnson. In the animal kingdom that makes her our mother. Every mammal on the planet has a mother, dead or alive. Ran off or stayed put. Cecile Johnson—mammal birth giver, alive, an abandoner—is our mother. A statement of fact” (14).  

Delphine uses simple, direct language, and yet by comparing her mother to a mammal in the animal kingdom, she reveals so much about her feelings towards her mother.  Another line I loved and that reveals Delphine’s voice was, “We all have our la-la-la song. The thing we do when the world isn’t singing a nice tune to us. We sing our own nice tune to drown out ugly” (90).  This demonstrates the sharp yet metaphoric quality of the writing.  This statement uses short, simple words: nice, tune, ugly.  But Delphine is making a deep comparison between music and life.

Thoughts on Moon Over Manifest

2011 Newbery Winner
Summary: 
Abilene Tucker is left by her father in the town of Manifest with no knowledge of if or when he will return to her.  Abilene begins what will be her summer mission: finding clues of her father’s past in the small town of Manifest. 


Merits of Moon Over Manifest
I agree with School Library Journal that “history and fiction marry beautifully” and that the story’s plots are “artfully intertwined.”  Similarly stated, the BCCB wrote that the book was “ingeniously plotted and gracefully told.”  The melding of two different time periods through multiple medias while maintaining flow and clarity is one of the standout features of this novel.  Two years, 1918 and 1936, are woven together to create one cohesive plot strand.  Abilene Tucker hears the story of Ned and Jinx through a variety of modes.  She learns their story through Miss Sadie’s flashbacks, Hattie Mae’s News Auxiliary’s, and Ned’s letters.  The book’s presentation contributed to the clarity of these story forms.  Different fonts and page layouts aided the reader in their comprehension.  To use so many forms and still keep the story organized and clear was quite impressive.
I also agree with Booklist that the story had “believable dialogue, vocabulary and imagery appropriate to time and place.”  Historical novels present quite a challenge.  Authors must spend a significant amount of time doing research, but then it is up to the author in how that research is used to its best advantage in the story.  Vanderpool used many key details from the time period for both accuracy and plot development.  Small details such as food (Shady’s burnt biscuits or Lettie’s ginger snaps) helped create an authentic historical environment, while researched details such as Spanish influenza and immigration provided inspiration for key plot points.
I agree with Kirkus Reviews that the novel had a “deeply gratifying ending.”  I’ll admit that I found this book slow moving at first, but there were so many threads and unsolved mysteries that the reader had to keep moving towards a hopefully gratifying ending.  The revealing of both Gideon’s identity and Gideon’s motive for leaving Abilene really framed the whole story nicely.  Miss Sadie’s story was equally moving and paired well with Gideon’s past, strengthening themes of the power of a parent’s love and the pain of separation.  The interconnectedness of all the plots and subplots left the reader feeling immensely satisfied.
I also believe that one of the major merits of this book was stated by Publishers Weekly: “insight into family and community.”  We witnessed firsthand the sadness that comes from a family’s separation through Gideon/Abilene, but we also witnessed the sadness that comes from a community that has fallen apart.  Manifest had lost its vibrancy and life, but we witness a rebirth as Abilene fosters communication and hope in the community.  This is a unique theme that empowers children by showing them the role they can have in their own community.  This theme was also echoed in Jinx’s story when he is able to save the community through his con tricks.  I loved this message of empowering children in their communities and that even children can make a difference.
Things I Wasn’t so “Over the Moon” About:
One issue that was never resolved is the issue of Abilene’s mother.  Supposedly she is in hiding, but her identity or reason for disappearance is never resolved.  At one point in the story, I thought that Gideon’s reason for leaving was to find Abilene’s mother because Gideon realized that Abilene was becoming a young lady and would need her mother.  But perhaps Gideon didn’t want Abilene along for the journey in case the mother wasn’t “alright.”
The large cast of secondary characters were a challenge to keep straight despite the nifty cast of characters in the book’s beginning.  While Vanderpool’s motivation was probably to create a true community within her text and to show the passing of generations, I wonder if some weeding would have been beneficiary.  I was taken out of the story due to confusion over a character on more than one occasion.
P.S.
I heard Clare Vanderpool speak at the 2011 Gaithersburg Book Festival  🙂
I hadn’t read the book at the time, so I don’t remember much in the way of plot details.  But she spoke about how the Newbery had changed her life, the impact on her family, how her kids had been supportive, how she had the opportunity to travel, and what it was like to get “the call.”

Not Done Yet…

So this time last year, I was done with grad classes… at least until next summer.

But I’m not done…  I am enrolled in a Fall online course!

I originally planned to do an Independent Study with one of my teachers on Newbery Medal books.  The idea for the course was so well received that they decided to offer it as an entire course instead!

Here is our text list:

2011 Newbery Medal- Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool;
2011 Newbery Honor- One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
2010 Newbery Medal- When You Reach Me  by Rebecca Stead
2010  NewberyHonor- Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
2009 Newbery Medal-The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
2009 Newbery Honor- After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
2008 Newbery Medal- Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz
2008Newbery  Honor- Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
2007 Newbery Medal- Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
2007 Newbery Honor- Rules  by Cynthia Lord

Taking this online course is part of my master plan to devote more time to the things I love (and stop overwhelming myself with teaching duties).  Plus, once I’m done with this course I will have 24 credits towards my Masters.  WOO HOO!!!

Will have more details on the class in upcoming posts!

Time for laundry!  And some pizza!

Things I’ll miss… and things I won’t…

Things I’ll miss:

  • the mountains
  • the library
  • the rocking chairs
  • the writing community
  • my teachers
  • free printing
  • the church
  • the restaurant/bakery across the street
  • the wonderful writers I’ve met/reconnected with
Things I won’t miss:
  • the dorms
  • the shower
  • the assigned reading
  • writing critical papers
  • sitting in class for 9 hours straight
  • hanging out at Panera
  • staying up late to finish work

What I’ve Learned about Writing Summer ’11

It amazed me last summer how much I learned about myself as a writer.  Last summer I learned that writing exercises can blossom into full characters and book ideas.  I learned the magic of moving scenes around and the changes it can have on your narrative.  I learned how to read as a writer.  This summer I definitely grew too.

What I’ve learned in Summer ’11 about my writing:

  • I’m a better realistic fiction writer than I thought… or wanted to be.
  • I learned there are two threads in a narrative, emotional and action.  I’m pretty darn good at the action side, but sometimes neglect the emotional thread.
  • I’m pretty darn good at creating a plot skeleton in my first draft.  *pats back*
  • I’m not so good at deciding on a point-of-view and sticking to it.  *shakes head*
  • I’ve had a lot of experiences.  And those experiences are going to come out in my writing subconsciously.  It’s then my job to use them… and disguise them!  Because I’m not writing an autobiography.  I’m a fiction writer.
  • I’m not a wordy or verbose writer.  I’m precise.  And it’s totally okay if I don’t have long, elaborate descriptions.
  • Part of the reason I’m okay with not being wordy: Readers usually can’t remember more than three details when you’re describing something.  (Learned that in class last night.)  And I noticed that I tend to describe things in threes anyways.  So pick three GOOD details instead of describing every last little thing.
  • I can crank words out!!!  Never thought I’d write over 60 pages in such a short amount of time while also doing reading and critical analysis.  I have no more excuses over the school year.  I can make it happen.
I’m sure there’s more that I learned, but those are the biggies.
One thing I want to learn:

Is there a way to figure out your “word count for the day” when you’re revising?  (Like deleting whole paragraphs and writing new ones)  Without stopping to add and subtract constantly?

Would love to know!

Everything is coming together!

I feel much better since my last post.  All my assignments for class are coming together.

Goose Girl Adaptation aka Dead Horse Talking is now revised and ready for it’s final critique!  I had to work on fleshing out the relationship in the story and providing more closure at the end.  Summary of story: A childhood friendship is on its last leg as two teen girls grow apart, and a betrayal by one girl will be the last straw.

If you’re interested in reading, Dead Horse Talking, shoot me an e-mail at hughesblog.gmail.com

My second short story (after driving me a little crazy) is now ready to be revised.  I had a major brainstorming session and now know where I want to go with it.

For my YA Science Fiction class, I now finally have a paper topic.  I’m going to examine the female archetypal pattern of maiden to mother to crone in the character of Miranda in the YA post-apocalyptic novel, Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

For my Forms and Boundaries class, I’m going to do a short presentation on how graphic novels engage reluctant readers.  I will be using the texts Maus by Art Spiegelman and Malice by Chris Wooding.  I’ll do a whole blog post on my presentation info sometime next week!

And I’m seeing Harry Potter DH Pt2 tomorrow with my Mom and Brother.  Who are coming to visit!  Because they are awesome!  Woo hoo!