This past weekend at the Foundation we had Harold Underdown and Jo Knowles on faculty with many guests (Lindsay Barrett George and Marcus Emerson to name a few). Friends came from all over the country as well as three writers visiting from across the globe. Because we writers are alone so often, it was the first time since the election that many of us had gathered person-to-person. I'll be honest, dinner the first night was somber, yet tense.
Jo Knowles was our first speaker that night.
Only Jo found a way to bring us together. She spoke about finding TRUTH in what we write for children and teens. She asked: "How can I [as a writer] disrupt the universe?"
That phrase: disrupt the universe. It seemed like that phrase acknowledged what so many were feeling and then, more importantly, gave us the words to describe what must happen next. We must disrupt the universe.
As the weekend went on we heard more about the power of children's books and how yes, in fact, they can disrupt the universe. Jo's next talk brought more realities of writing TRUTH. In this case she asked us to find ways in the opening scene of our stories to make our character's truth radiate on the page. She led us through examples, like the opening scene of Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK.
|Image from the movie, SPEAK, an adaptation of the novel. Showtime Networks, Inc.|
Did you know... The author appears in the film as the lunch lady who gives Melinda the mashed potatoes.
Cutting into characters through Jo's exercises made us talk deeply about the flaws of humans. Made us talk about the flaws not only on the page, but in our world. At the end of her presentation, Jo asked us all to write an opening scene.
Rather than use Killer, the book that I am revising, I was inspired by Jo to try to think of an entry point for a story from my past that I want to fictionalize. The real people, the real girls are so much a part of me that I just couldn't gain enough distance to turn fact into fiction. But that idea of TRUTH flowed down into my pen and I let Allie and Jess speak.
When they talk about us they call us THE GIRLS OF SUMMER.
Were we girls?
Only alive in the summer?
Sometimes I don't know.
I do know that I love her, and not just in summer, even if that would be the only time that she'd love me back. Even if the only time she lays next to me, whispering all those soft words would be during August nights on the road.
For me, it will never just be summer. My love for her is every day, every moon, every season, every inch of every year I breathe.
Jess pulls into the driveway, her forearm hangs loose from the truck's window. I see the way summer has returned to her. The way she lets her curls hang wild around her face. And that face fresh and clean, spotted with the first few freckles of June. Just Bonnie Bell, no make-up. Even from here, still on my porch step, I know it's warm vanilla scent and can taste her sweetness on my tongue.
"Allie," she says when my hand touches the passenger's door handle. "Today you hitch the trailer." I blush thinking of the way I'd mangled the lemonade stand's hitch during our final jump last year. "Last summer," she says. Not about the past, but the present. A warning. "Last chance."
I don't need the reminder. I know this is my last summer with her. My last chance too.
I know this will not remain the beginning of the book. But Jo helped me find a way to tell the characters' TRUTHs. A way to take true life and find story. I won't get back to this one for a bit, but I know that Jess and Allie now have voices and they won't let me ignore their truth.
Alison Green Myers wanted to join the circus.
She wanted to train tigers.
She wanted to jump through fire.
She wanted to stand on a wire, suspended high above a cheering crowd.
She probably spent too much time at her local library, especially inside the pages of If I Ran The Circus.
Alison never made it to the circus (though she did travel on a carnival for many summers) but her early trips to the library fed her in other ways. She spent the first half of her career teaching reading and writing, and now finds herself working in the majestic circus of children’s book publishing as program coordinator for the Highlights Foundation and assistant-to-the-assistant editor for a small press. Alison writes about the wilds of life, mostly humans, but other scary beasts too. She is a regional advisor for SCBWI and a fellow of the National Writing Project. To learn more about Alison, please visit her blog InkSistersWRITE.blogspot.com.