Monday, June 25, 2012

Bullies... and WONDER

I saw as much as I could stand of the appalling video on YouTube the other day. The one about bus monitor, 68-year-old Karen Klein, being taunted by 12 and 13 year-old boys as they return home from school in Rochester, New York. The boys demean her for her weight, her apparent economic status ("she got her purse at Dollar Tree"), and threaten to come to her house and do things like piss on her door.

The incident was videotaped by one of the kids and then put on YouTube with the title "Making the Bus Monitor Cry." Of course it went viral. In the New York Times article I read, a Canadian (God Bless Canadians!) named Max Sidorov started a fundraising drive on Indiegogo to send Karen on a nice vacation. He set a goal of $5000. When I checked before writing this post, the fund had raised $641,286!!!!

Before I get all high-and-mighty, I have to confess that I did my share of bullying in school. The psychology of bullying is fascinating. Remember that article in Time Magazine last year, the one with the headline: Why Kids Bully: Because They're Popular? That was me, trying to inch up the social hierarchy.

The video and its aftermath were all very salutary because this weekend, I read the wonderful middle grade novel WONDER, by R.J. Palacio. (I review it on Middle Grade Mafioso.) This novel is all about accepting people, not judging them for what they look like, and is a moving testament for the importance of kindness. Here's what the author says on her website in answer to the question: What do you hope readers come away with after finishing WONDER?

R.J.Palacio: (with my italics)
I hope that readers will come away with the idea that they are noticed: their actions are noted. Maybe not immediately or directly or even in a way that seems obvious, but if they’re mean, someone suffers. If they’re kind, someone benefits. And the choice is theirs: whether to be noticed for being kind or for being mean. They get to choose who they want to be in this world. And it’s not their friends and not their parents who make those choices: it’s them.

I also hope parents take heed and do more interfering in their kids’ lives. I’ve talked to so many parents, friends of mine, who kind of stood back and shrugged off their kids’ behavior in middle school, as if being mean were an unavoidable evil that they “hope” their kid would grow out of. I had one dad tell me once about his son, “Well, he doesn’t listen to me anymore so I stopped wasting my time trying to tell him what to do.” To me, that’s exactly when your kid needs you the most: when he acts like he’s not listening anymore. What I think is that deep down inside, we’re so grateful that it’s not our kid who’s being picked on we look the other way when it’s someone else’s kid. So long as it’s not your kid at the bottom of that ladder, you know? But parents have to resist that way of thinking. They need to remind their kids to be kind and do right exactly because it’s the hardest thing to do at that age.
As the outpouring of support for Karen H. Klein shows, there is a whole lot of kindness in this world!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Lev Raphael on S**t People Say to Writers

What s**t is Watson saying to Sherlock now?

I first saw this on The Huffington Post. The asterixes are for things from Raphael's list that people have also said to me--and I've added a couple of my own in bold at the end. What s**t have people said to writer-you?

S**t People Say to Writers 

by Lev Raphael, author of Book Lust   
Have you been published? **
What do you write? Oh.
Do you have, like, a real job?
I don't read much.
Do you know Stephen King? What's he like?
You should write a book about my life, it's a bestseller for sure.
I'm gonna write someday, when I have free time. **
My sister likes to read. Have you written anything she would know?
You write novels? I only read stuff that's real.
I read your book. It was... interesting.
My mother loves your books.
I've got a great story for you! **
I thought books were dead.
You should write a screenplay! That's where all the money is. **

You should write short stories first. Have you ever thought of that?
Have you ever tried getting an agent?
Hey, I hear it's easy to get self-published.
Has anybody ever told you that you're any good?

Friday, June 8, 2012

What Writers Can Learn From Pixar

I first saw this article on Galleycat. I liked it so well I had to share. (Originally from The Pixar Touch blog):

"Pixar story artist Emma Coats has tweeted a series of “story basics” over the past month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

I particularly like # 3, 6, 7, 13, and 17. How about you?

I'm interviewing New Zealand author, Susan Brocker, on the Project Mayhem blog today also. Hop on over and say "hi."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Party Over at Middle Grade Mafioso

It's accordions all week over at Middle Grade Mafioso, as we celebrate our one year anniversary and 100th follower. Head on over to our younger sibling and you may win a book!