Where do stories come from? One of my favorite topics when speaking to readers is where writers get their ideas and how to turn ideas into stories.
An incident from your life is fact. It’s not a story, but just the start of one. If you stick to the facts, it’s creative nonfiction — fact given shape and voice. If you embroider it, reshape it, take it flying, then it’s fiction.
Before I wrote The Mermaid Game: A summer short story, I wrote Shark and Minnow: A summer memoir, a nonfiction essay about sisters at the beach, a boy next door, and a shark found in the shallows. This telling is as true as my faulty memory can make it.
Read it with The Mermaid Game to see where the story and essay converge and diverge — the blend between fact and fiction. Both involve children at the beach who make startling discoveries in the waves, but the stories part ways. I like to think that both are the truth — Shark and Minnow is fact, but The Mermaid Game is the different kind of truth that can be found in fiction.
Nonfiction: Shark and Minnow: A summer memoir
Fiction: The Mermaid Game: A summer short story
Anniversaries are bittersweet, and that’s why I’m celebrating.
Today is the one-year anniversary of the publication of my middle-grade novel Deadwood. I’ve sold books, but not as many as I wish I had. I’ve gotten some incisive reviews and honors, and been bypassed as well. I’ve met readers, and every single meeting has been a privilege. I’ve written new words and submitted new works (still waiting!). I’ve started drafts and abandoned them. I’ve gotten a contract for my debut picture book, Mira Tells the Future, and I’ve been awed by the illuminating, imaginative sketches I’ve seen. I’ve made new friends and lost others. I’ve worked my day job. I’ve raised my daughters. I’ve been a wife, daughter, sister, and friend. I’ve tried to figure out what it means to be a writer even though it’s not everything I once dreamed of.
It’s bittersweet — the good with bad, accomplishments with losses, milestones achieved and time gone forever. The publishing journey is long, but it’s not lonely because of my friends, family, and readers. I’ve learned that I have to make my own high points and celebrate each one.
That’s why this month I published The Mermaid Game: A summer short story (DIY high point!), 99 cents for Kindle and free to read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. And if you haven’t read Deadwood, it’s only $2.99 for Kindle and in paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your favorite independent retailer, or a library near you.
Thank you for supporting me over the past year and all the years before. And thanks for making this a high point for me.
The long and the short:
Character sketch for a chapter-book-
By the time I was middle-grade age, I wanted to be a writer, but for grownups. It was only as a grownup that I found my voice writing for middle grade. It’s not a coincidence I moved from writing for adults straight past YA to middle grade. Those were the books that made me love reading, and it turned out that I have a middle-grade voice.
Not-blurry middle-grade voice
So what’s middle-grade voice? It’s elusive — one of those “you know it when you see it” things. You know it whether it’s Lemony Snicket’s wry, formal omniscient or Rachel Renee Russell’s effusive, run-on first person. And while the lines might be blurry, middle-grade voice itself never is. It’s clear and succinct — no words wasted, whether lyrical or comedic, prose or verse.
Once you have that voice, it’s a bit persistent.
The long story of a short story
Once I decided to write middle-grade, I wrote two novels. (The second written turned out to be Deadwood, which releases June 24 from Spencer Hill, and the first of which has not yet decided what it will turn out to be). Then I had a great idea for younger story — a chapter book featuring second-graders. The draft was 6,000 words, and I loved it. But I was between agents, and my querying efforts yielded exactly zero agent requests — chapter books are not great agent bait. My single request, actually, was from an editor in an early reader/chapter book imprint who found the voice (third person, whimsical) to be charming but the story too thin for 6,000 words.
Read the rest of the story on Project Mayhem >>