henandinkblots

The thoughtful scratchings of a busy coop: Hen&ink, A Literary Studio

Tag: Sucker Literary Magazine

WRITER’S WALL (or, Sharon Creech Made Me Cry)

 

 

By Hannah Goodman

 

 My writer’s block has been going on awhile. When I visualize this “block”, I see myself in a 4-sided brick structure that I’ve resurrected myself, all alone, no assistance. And I always see a brick or two, unsteady at the stop, about to fall right on me. While I’ve never been literally struck in the head and fallen into a coma, my writer’s block feels like one of those precarious bricks at the very top has fallen on my head and struck me unconscious, rendering me silent.

 Go ahead and head-shrink me. Clearly, I have some issues.

****

I had a brief “awakening” recently (think of the Robert De Niro movie with the self-same title) when Sharon Creech gave her keynote speech at the NESCBWI, 2013 conference I attended a few weeks ago. As Ms. Creech spoke to us, an audience that filled a giant ballroom of the Hilton, I jotted snippets of her speech into my notebook. Each nugget of wisdom jolted me, and by the end, I woke from my writer’s block induced comma. 

“. . . frantic excitement. . . ”

The story she opened with contained the words “frantic excitement” and those words were from a young reader who wrote to her about her own work being published and how she felt this “frantic excitement” about her work being out there for the world. Those words moved Ms. Creech, but more importantly, they moved me. When Ms. Creech spoke them, this flicker inside me, a memory-flame of myself, age 11. Frantically writing in a yellow five-subject notebook, the spark of an idea so crackling, I wrote dozens of pages with “frantic excitement” in just a few days. . .

 

“. . . intense need . . . ”

I scribbled those words in my notebook but without any context. I don’t know what the words are connected to in Ms. Creech’s speech. But I heard them and another flicker crackled inside me. Another, more recent memory. . .This past November during NaNoWriMo. Racing to my computer between all the duties of a working-from-home-mother, just to type the words to a new novel. Each day of that month I rode this internal, intense, aching need to GET THE STORY OUT. No judgment. No evaluation. No worry. The intense need so scorching, that I couldn’t hear the voices in my head of doubt and fear, I was so distracted by the burn of needing to write.  

“It’s okay to be inspired by another, but we need to find out own voice.”

 The only full sentence of all the notes I scribbled onto the lined pages of my composition pad. And these words filled my entire body with an energy that glowed warm and soft inside. The deadness of my creative mind plumping up with life. The energy pouring out of me and easily vaporizing the brick wall of writer’s block.

As Ms. Creech came to her final words, we all stood up and clapped, and that’s when the grip of fear inside released completely, manifesting in some salty tears dotting the corners of my eyes. When we took our seats after, I jotted in my notebook: “Thank you, Sharon Creech. Thank you.” 

***

That afternoon and evening, I wrote. I went into the current three WIPS I’ve been working on and started to revise the opening pages. The energy from Sharon’s speech stayed with me, and I typed, feeling a surge of simpatico with myself with what was happening in my head and on the computer screen.

 It was, in a word, lovely.

After I returned home, I watched myself put bricks up, one by one, with each passing day. Once again, I was walled in on all sides.

This time I called upon the words from Sharon Creech:

“. . . frantic excitement. . . ”

“. . . intense need . . . ”

 “It’s okay to be inspired by another, but we need to find out own voice.”

Like a silent prayer, I say the words to myself as I remove each brick one by one. Soon the only walls that surround me are walls of words, inspiring me.

Thank you, Sharon Creech. Thank you.

* * *

Hannah R. Goodman has published young adult short stories on Amazon’s Shorts, in an anthology entitled Bound Is The Bewitching Lilith, and in the journal Balancing The Tides. She has an MFA in Writing for Young People from Pine Manor College’s Solstice program. Recently, she established Sucker Literary Magazine for emerging writers of YA fiction, which was featured in Publisher’s Weekly. A former high school English teacher, she now owns her own small company, The Write Touch. Hannah is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and SCBWI. She resides in Bristol, RI with her husband, two daughters, and three cats: Lester, Maisey, and Judy. 
You can find her on 
Twitter @hannahrgoodman 
or @suckerlitmag 
or on her blog Writerwoman.

To order your copy of SUCKER LITERARY:

http://www.amazon.com/Sucker-Literary-an-Anthology-ebook/dp/B00C4D459S/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1368018422&sr=1-1&keywords=sucker+literary+an+anthology

http://www.amazon.com/Sucker-Literary-Anthology-Hannah-Goodman/dp/148261278X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369237557&sr=1-1&keywords=sucker+literary+an+anthology

 

Mima Tipper, MFA, advises: Be the Lemon Square – Top Submission Tips from My Internship with Kid-Lit Super Agent C

First a little backstory:

Six or so months after receiving my MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, I hit the agent-hunt trail with my completed YA novel. I was ready, too, having spent plenty of time doing my get-an-agent homework, i.e, talking to agented writer-friends, trolling the internet for info re: submitting to agents, and, of course, polishing my query letter to a blinding shine. Those efforts panned out—somewhat. I got great feedback and a few requests for my novel, but *sigh* not the ever- elusive offer of representation.

Then Twitter delivered Kid-Lit Super Agent C’s call for interns.

(An aside—I’d identify Agent C, but the opinions in this piece are my own so, well, I’m keeping them my own.)

I wanted an agent, so what better way to get one, then to slip on the proverbial shoes? I knew I’d learn a lot, and I did, much of it paralleling the whole enchilada of agent-hunting tips I’d garnered already.

What I didn’t understand fully until I wore those agenty shoes for a few months, however, is what I want to share here. And let’s be clear, I’m a writer first; while I did my time with Super Agent C, I still clopped about in the shoes of the writers of every submission and manuscript I read. That said, when my responses to my internship duties began to surprise me, I took note. What I found was that my theoretical understanding of all the submissions advice I’d digested paled in comparison to the tangible, practical understanding gained by doing some hands-on agent work, especially evaluating queries in Super Agent C’s sub-box.

So here goes, my friends, my down and hopefully not-too-dirty top tips for writers submitting to agents, including a little more explanation of the why behind the tips: (Please take note of the “given” of first things first. The following only applies if you have in hand: a) a shiny finished manuscript and b) a list of agents rep’ing your genre).

  • Follow submission guidelines to the letter. I’ve read this tip many, many times. Seems clear enough. What I didn’t know is how I’d feel about submissions that didn’t follow the guidelines (and many don’t). Clearly erroneous submissions clogging agent in-boxes = mad-annoying, but something else occurred to me, too: why would I want to work with a writer who won’t even take the time to follow simple guidelines? What kind of relationship will that be when the stakes are higher? (Read: when working on revisions). Just how much more brilliant do the requested pages have to be to make me forget about this carelessness with guideline followage? It’s too easy, my friends—make sure you follow the guidelines. Read them again the day of submission. If I could give only one tip, this would be it.
  • Keep your query letter short. Bar none, after reading piles of queries, nothing deflated me faster than clicking open a sub and having a fat brick of single-spaced query smack me in the eye. Sure I’d read those queries, give them their due, but not with a happy smiley face. Trust me, you want agents or their interns to have a happy smiley face when they read your sub. So, consider trying three short paragraphs. I’m partial to the following construct: 1) Dear Mr/Ms. Agent, I chose you because (points for taking the time to find a personal reason). Would you consider rep’ing my book (inc. word count). 2) Short, punchy para à la jacket flap copy about the book (with a focus on the protagonist). 3) A bit about the writer and any appropriate Writing-Cred (more on this later). And of course, a polite closing.
  • Make the tone of your query letter match the tone of requested pages. There’s something uniquely unsettling about a query letter that promises a certain kind of book followed by pages that don’t fulfill that promise. Subs like this made, “Danger, danger,” sing in my head, as in, “Hunh? What’s going on here?” and “How well does this writer know his/her own book?”
  • Develop Voice. Yes I, too, have read many articles about the importance of Voice. And from a reading/writing perspective all of us writers know Voice is crucial. Thinking from an agent-evaluative standpoint, however, Voice takes on a new level of importance, as in, “Do I want to follow this Voice through revision?” Yes, every sub or mss I read for my lovely Super Agent C needed loads of work. Even books of existing clients. Bottom-line is that an agent’s got to love the heck out of a book’s Voice in its rough and murky state to want to follow it through the possible dark of a l-o-n-g revision.
  • Focus on Appropriate Credentials. I always thought Credentials showed an agent that a writer could write. As an intern, however, what I really wanted Credentials to tell me was whether a writer could revise. So, yeah, highlight Credentials that show revision skills, as in: “I have an MFA in Writing” (tells the agent you know about critiquing and have practiced revision). “I’ve published this or that” (tells the agent you’ve worked with an editor and…yeah, you get the idea).
  • Avoid Sub Pet Peeves. Raise your hand if you’ve read an article about how agents don’t like subs that start with scenes like: a dream sequence, a nerd-boy protagonist bullied in the schoolyard, or maybe a protag self-describing while looking in the mirror. Yup, I’ve read those articles, too, yet I’ve also read wonderful and recently pub’d books that use these constructs. Hmm. What to think? What I came to understand (after reading a couple hundred subs) is that while these constructs are perfectly good, it’s near impossible to make them stand out in a mega-crowded field of submissions where dozens of writers are using them. At the risk of sounding like my Mom-self, I’ll repeat—dozens. Even if you think your version is the double chocolate fudge cake version, it will be sitting on the submissions-buffet with a whole bunch of other chocolatey versions. Trust me, if at all possible make your sub the lemon square. Yes. Words to live by. In a field of chocolate cake, be the lemon square.

And that’s about it, my lovelies. Yeah, I’ve got loads more I could share from my fantastic and educational six months with Super Agent C, but the previous six tips informed my next (and ultimately successful) agent search. Hope any of them offer you new insight to the art of agent-submission.

A bit of a PS: Wouldn’t dream of down-playing the contributions of all the writers, editors and agents who’ve spent countless hours of their valuable writing, editing and agenting time creating the treasure trove of information available on all subjects writing and publishing. So a loud shout-out to you guys; you are generous beyond belief and I salute each and every one of you.

Peace and happy querying.

Mima Tipper
Half-Greek-half-American, Mima Tipper and her writing reflect her heritage—a little bit old-country, a little bit rock and roll; one foot wandering through the dreamy realm of myths and faerie tales, the other running on the solid ground of fast-paced, contemporary story. She received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and recently two of her YA short stories appeared in online literary journals: Katherine Paterson Prize finalist “A Cut-Out Face” in Hunger Mountain’s The Art & Insanity of Creativity Issue (Fall, 2011) and “Waiting for Alice” in the premiere issue of Sucker Literary Magazine (Winter, 2012.) Beyond devoting most of her time to writing, Mima is a member of SCBWI, and is committed to promoting literacy and to supporting the writing community. Currently Mima lives in Vermont with her family; find her @meemtip on Twitter. Mima is represented by Hen&ink Literary Studio. http://www.henandink.com.

Irony Defines This Writer’s Life: My Journey So Far With Sucker Literary Magazine by Hannah Goodman

Post MFA Blues

A few weeks after I graduated from the Solstice program, with an MFA in Writing For Young People, I felt like I was at the top Mt. Washington. Then, as the mist cleared, I saw that-OMG-I was actually standing on a tiny molehill in my own backyard. Needless to say, I fell into a very dark place. (Not unusual, btw, after finishing your MFA. Go ahead and Google “Post MFA Blues.” Here’s one I connected with –http://thomdawkins.blogspot.com/2011/06/post-mfa-blues-or-further-adventures-of.html).

Upon leaving that molehill, I went to the one place where stewing in self-loathing is typically uninterrupted: Starbucks.  Curled up in the corner of my favorite spot, I stared at the screen of my laptop: The product of my MFA…a collection of heart wrenchingly funny short stories entitled Big, Fat, Broken Hearts. The cursor on the screen blinked back at me, almost apologetically. The 50 plus rejections in my inbox informed what I already knew would be BFBH’s fate. No one wants to publish short story collections. Add those rejections to my pre-MFA rejections for other work (novels), and you get 10 years of being told “no”…

The Antidote

While I spent lots of time standing on the mole hill in my backyard or curled up in my favorite chair at Starbucks, crying and worrying that maybe I had just wasted more time and money on my stupid, garage-band of a writing career, I did eventually snap out of it.

As I sat for the third month in a row, staring at my computer screen, alternating between the inbox full of rejections and my beloved short story collection, IT came to me: I needed to recreate the writing community I had at school so I wouldn’t feel so alone…and I needed a place to showcase these short stories…

Why not throw together a lit mag?

Based on my obsessive research, I did see a gap in the marketplace for edgy, YA short fiction, and I knew that my plight was not solo-there were others out there like me. What we needed to do was find each other and make our own platform.

I knew I had the energy, PR skills, big mouth, and editing prowess to run a magazine, but I knew I needed some support. So I threw together a blog, gave it the name Sucker Literary (for more on the namehttp://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/faq/)), and made a call for submissions and volunteers. Thanks to social media, and the support of Tanya Whiton from Solstice and the PR department at Pine Manor, Suckerbecame known to the writing community pretty quickly. 

Bull’s Eye

Sucker, to begin with, was a dart into the misty darkness of the publishing world. I’m not famous and while I have a lot of connections and knowledge of the industry, we all know that it’s incredibly difficult to break in. You have to just try everything, even things that could do a giant belly flop.

So when I got word from Tanya that Publisher’s Weekly wanted to interview me, I felt like that dart in the darkness made contact with the bull’s eye…and I’m not gonna lie, it definitely made me wonder, in a back-of-the-mind way, will this launch my YA writing career? Could it launch others?

Swooped off My Feet

Once PW published the article about Sucker, the Twitter followers and submissions began to increase daily (hourly on the first two days!). But history taught me that I needed to keep this attention in check.

Back in 2004, I won first place in The Writer’s Digest Self-Published book awards and got lots of media attention, including a few different agents offering representation. But for various reasons (you can see my blog for more on that http://www.hannahrgoodman.blogspot.com/p/dealing-with-rejection.html), this did not launch my career as a writer. In fact, the years I spent after that resulted in me actually leaving the publishing world in 2009 to return to school and earn my MFA. Here I focused more on my craft rather than getting published, and it was here where Meg Kearney, our director, taught me about expectations. The expectations writers have when they start an MFA program or attend a writing conference. Maybe we don’t admit it, but the secret prayer is we hope to be discovered, swooped off our feet by an editor or agent.  The problem with this is that it interferes with the study of craft and can turn a writing conference into a competition, which really is a buzz-kill on creativity. Meg advises her students to simply look at conferences and programs as opportunities to be seen and to connect with other writers, which ultimately supports and nourishes your craft in a non-ego way.

So while the media attention stroked my ego, I thought my highs and lows in the industry and of Meg’s advice. This is all kind of like when you are trying to find The One. You are less likely to find The One if you are looking. Not to mention desperation isn’t attractive to potential suitors. Falling in love, that kind of magic, has to just happen while you are busy living…which is what I believe about meeting the right agent or editor…It happened with Erzsi, I believe, and-fingers crossed- it will happen with an editor.

Then What?

So, yes, Erzsi found me because of the press around Sucker, and- yes- it was a dream come true. Seriously, I think that she is the alternate, European universe version of me. I mean her short story collection entitled Period Pieces had me at “hello.”

Despite the awesomeness of a Publisher’s Weekly article and signing with a fabulous sista from another motha agent, I was an experienced gal in this, so I put my nose back to grindstone, shoved my ego back into the recess of my brain and told myself okay now you have to get really serious.

Hello Nose. Meet Grindstone.

I used every connection I had through Solstice and SCBWI, through Twitter and Facebook to let people know thatSucker was open for submissions. I also made sure that people knew what Sucker‘s mission was-to showcase emerging writers of edgy YA fiction. I did this through Twitter and Facebook blurbs. I said-very bluntly-what we wanted and didn’t want. No middle grade fiction, no excerpts from novels that weren’t stand alone, no preachy, after-school-special-type stories. I even offered a sample via my own work and told prospective submitters the authors who I enjoyed reading. I wanted to be very transparent about submissions, and this also led me to wanting to be transparent about rejections. I began to tell writers why their piece didn’t make the cut and also started to offer mentoring options (which didn’t guarantee that we would accept the piece). These were all extensions of my original mission. Not only that, this was my own therapy, as I now was signed with an agent and would be facing more hard work ahead, rejection and revisions.  I figured paying it forward would only create the positive energy I needed, as I tried once again to get out there and show my work.

As I was reading submissions, providing detailed feedback, managing my staff and working on the look of the magazine, I was revising a manuscript with Erzsi (not to mention regular life obligations of family and work), I found that while this was a lot of work, it felt so natural, so meant to be. And selfishly, I figured no matter what happened with my own writing and submissions to editors, I had Sucker, a magazine I created and edited. A magazine that wanted short fiction. A magazine that kind of doesn’t care what the publishing market thinks is hot. A place for my work and others similar to me.

Published!

Fast forward to January 24th, 2012 when we (my BFF Alyssa Gaudreau, Sucker‘s executive art director) made my vision a (virtual) reality. It took about six months from start to finish, and the product has surpassed my expectations. It’s a beautiful magazine visually and prose-aly.

I have thrown myself into social networking and plugging Sucker and am determined that the hard work we all put into it will be seen…rather than that we will all get “discovered”.

And we have been getting seen. Our Facebook fans and Twitter followers continue to grow every day.  These folks have spoken to me directly saying we want to be able to read Sucker on our e-readers and in our classrooms. That, plus the desire for our work to be seen by as many folks as possible, led me to recently decide to have Sucker formatted for e-book distribution. Although I really didn’t want this venture to include my own funds, I decided after researching, the cost would be nominal; Smashwords andKindle allow you to upload and sell your e-book at no cost. All I had to pay for was the formatting. If we sell enough, I can get make that money back plus use whatever is left over to get more distribution through print-on-demand channels. Yes, that means Sucker would be come a tangible, hold-it-in-our hands book (call me old fashion).

Dreams Come True?

Whether or not Sucker will create America’s Next Top YA Author, remains to be seen. Ultimately, what I want for all of us at Sucker is to have our work out there reaching those teens and adults (and agents and editors) who long for edgy, original, voice-driven YA fiction.

So go now to …… support us and buy a copy of Sucker from Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/ or Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Sucker-Literary-Magazine-Issue-ebook/dp/B007GPYKTY/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1330874288&sr=1-1

If you want to submit to us, please go to http://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/submission-guidelines/

Follow us on Twitter @SuckerLitMag

 

Hannah R. Goodman has published YA short stories on Amazon’s Shorts, in an anthology entitled, Bound Is The Bewitching Lilith, and in the journal Balancing The Tides. Her first novel, My Sister’s Wedding, won first place in the children’s/YA category of the Writer’s Digest Self Published Book Awards, 2004. You can find her on Twitter @hannahrgoodman or @suckerlitmag or her blog Write Naked http://www.hannahrgoodman.blogspot.com/ She is represented by Erzsi Deak of Hen&ink Literary Studio.

Can You Hear Me Now? When Characters Speak Through Revision, Part Three (In which Mima finally hears what Alice has to say)

***Spoiler Alert*** This blog post contains story spoilers. Read the full version of “Waiting for Alice” in the first issue of Sucker Literary Magazine at http://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/

I thought about the story more, about Mia more and, as the following bits from my writing journal prove, obviously more and more:

September 16, 2008…What is it with Mia? Should I change her name to Alice so I can really look at her with fresh eyes?

…September 19, 2008. How crazy to be afraid of my writing, like it will bite me.

…October 4, 2008. Some days I am a little freaked out by “…Alice.” I just finished M. D. Bauer’s collection of gay-themed YA short stories, and it scares me a little to have imagined what I’ve imagined… (Tipper Journal)

My journal shows me having finished the Bauer collection, so I know that the October 4th entry occurred after I had my library-epiphany. What I also know is that the moment I began writing Mia (now Alice) from the perspective of a young girl struggling to understand an unexpected development in her growing sexuality, the story, now titled “Waiting for Alice,” came to life. As did the revised ending:

Three girls come in. They smile at you in that way that says they don’t know you. It’s true. They don’t know you. There’s a whole world out there that doesn’t know you. You look beyond them to the door.

Mom and Stacey—your best friend Stacey—are out there somewhere, waiting on the other side.

The dream dark waits, too. Black and soft and velvet as falling. How much easier it would be to go back there, stay there. Blink—what’s it going to be, Ali-girl, Ali, Alice?

You can’t do it.You can’t stay in that empty, lonely, not-true place.

But there won’t be any falling or diving or jumping. Just one step, and then another.

Out. (“Waiting for Alice,” Sucker Literary Magazine, Winter, 2012)

Examining the two endings I’ve included, the style and structure of them is not that different. In truth, the style and essential structure of the entire story didn’t change much from the first bit in my fantasy novel. The meaning, however, changed not only dramatically, but also in a way far beyond any intention. By the time I wrote the first of the drafts titled “Waiting for Alice,” it was as though I was channeling Alice as opposed to creating her.

What writing “…Alice” has revealed to me as a writer, is that a story concept, even a full first draft, is one piece in the larger part of writing a story. I’d always thought of writing and revising as a linear process, draft after draft leading in a line toward whatever the initial inkling of the ending would be. When Alice spoke to me on that library day, I understood that revision is not just part of writing a story, it is writing the story.  That writing is more like a big puzzle, where the writer begins placing pieces—some fitting, some not—to see what the picture is. And if a writer is open to the picture becoming something entirely different than presumed, the process of revision will create magic. The kind where a protagonist will speak, as if sitting at the table, and tell an unexpected whopper of a story.

Thanks for listening, everyone, and for sticking with me and Alice!

Mima Tipper spends as much time as possible writing stories and novels for kids and teens, and recently had the tremendous good fortune to earn an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Along with being mad-proud that her YA short story “Waiting for Alice” is in the premiere issue of Sucker Literary Magazine (live now), she is thrilled that another YA short story, “A Cut-Out Face”, is live now as well in the latest Hunger Mountain online Journal of the Arts, Art & Insanity of Creativity issue. Mima lives in Vermont with her family, and can be found @meemtip on Twitter.

Works Cited:

Kaplan, David Michael.  Revision.  Cincinnati: Story Press, 1997.

Krishnaswami, Uma.  Letter.  6 May, 2008.

Leavitt, Martine.  Letter.  28 August, 2008.

Tipper, Mima. “Faerie Games.” Ms.  VCFA, 2007.

—. Journal. 2008.

—.  “Peer Pressure.” Ms.  VCFA, 2008.

—. “Mia’s Letter.” Ms.  VCFA, 2008.

—. “The Alice Effect.” Ms. VCFA, 2008.

—. “Waiting for Alice.” Sucker Literary Magazine, winter, 2012.

Can You Hear Me Now? When Characters Speak Through Revision, Part Two (In which Mima continues her search for the story’s ending)

***Spoiler Alert*** This blog post contains story spoilers. Read the full version of “Waiting for Alice” in the first issue of Sucker Literary Magazine at http://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/

What I did know in this draft was what Mia saw Angie doing at the dance: 

Out in the hall, tucked into the dark space between a corner and a bank of lockers, she is wrapped around a junior boy she called “sorta cute” a couple of times. Their faces press together joined with suction cup mouths. Angie’s arms twist high and tight around his neck. But his hands, fingers spread, move freely, writhing and sliding over her boobs, then slip down, down and around to hike up her short skirt…(“Peer Pressure,” 9)

I also knew that Mia’s response (as in the original bit in  “Faerie Games”) was to find the Edmo character, and rush into an ill-fated kiss that would make her “run to the bathroom and scrub…[her]…mouth over and over” (“Peer Pressure,” 10). These images were as clear to me as my memory of the actual event. What was not clear was where the progression would lead Mia. Ideas surfaced, but none gelled to an ending.

The unfinished story draft, now titled “The Alice Effect” (Mia’s initiation to high school seeming very like a down-the-rabbit-hole experience) went to my VCFA first semester advisor, Uma Krishnaswami. She suggested I read more stories with a second person viewpoint, advising me to “go a little deeper, think about your reasons for using…[second person]…, justify them and it will deepen the work” (Krishnaswami, Letter, 5/6/08). I followed Uma’s advice, and continued to revise.

The changes I made, however, were all about the first two of Kaplan’s revision definitions: style and structure. What I didn’t change about the story, and I believe it is important to note this here, was my instinctive feel that second person was the right viewpoint. Three other aspects of the story also did not change: Mia still watched Angie’s every move closely; Mia still had the brownie kiss encounter; and finally, Mia’s story still had no ending. What this—both what I changed and what I did not—shows me is that even though revision pushed me to get at the heart of Mia’s self-alienation, and even though her story did not have an ending, there were character and story elements that I didn’t change because deep down they felt right.

The next draft, still unfinished, went to VCFA as my fall, 2008 workshop submission, and I determined not to work on it again until I’d received comments. My writing journal shows, however, that the story was on my mind: “July 10, 2008…It freaked me out to hear…[two of my VCFA workshop-mates, pre-workshop]…talk about my YA short that way. It was like I had to get away from them fast” (Tipper, Journal).  During the encounter this entry details, I believe one of my workshop-mates asked me if Mia was gay, or possibly told me she was gay.  I remember being dumbstruck—as my journal shows—but later being curious.  Here’s the next day’s entry:

July 11, 2008…I thought about “The Alice…” and maybe my character will turn to her journal at the end—take back that I voice in writing that will reclaim her soul.  Is she a lesbian?  Is she worried about that? Will she gain a sense of humor?  Write a rap song? I’m not sure, but she will want to get out of the rabbit hole. …Is she in love with Angie? I don’t think so, but she is curious about her and where her head is. Why it seems so easy for her just to grow and feel and be, where she cannot. Mia stands back and watches. (Tipper, Journal)

The ensuing workshop discussion about the story was vivid, and often heated. People made the more expected comments: about whether the second person voice worked; about the structure; about wanting more of Mia’s feelings as opposed to her observations about Angie, etc. etc. But what really struck me was that many of my colleagues, including the two from that earlier encounter, talked about Mia in a way that was completely not as I’d thought of her. Like a window cracking open, I realized that something was going on with my character; something of which I, her creator, was very possibly not aware.   

Back home (and determined to find the story’s end) I turned to my next revision, again focusing on style and structure. I thought about the possibility of Mia’s being gay, but clung in the end to the belief that I would have known that about her at the beginning. This choice comes through clearly in the following passage from a letter Martine asked me to write from my protagonist’s viewpoint about the yearnings of her secret heart. I chose Mia’s letter to be to her best friend, now renamed Stacey:

The thing is I’m stuck in my head. I wish I could stop thinking about how weird everything is, how weird I am, but I can’t do that either. I’m this freaky eyeball who watches everything and everyone around me like I’m outside my body. I don’t want to be like that. I want to be like you and “just be”. You know, experience stuff without getting all twisted up inside. I just don’t know if I can do it. (“Mia’s Letter,” 8/28/08)

Choosing Mia’s letter to be to Stacey told me more about Mia’s fixation on her friend, but I chalked that element up to: first, the story being mostly about the two girls, and second, that it seemed a natural teen choice to confide in a best friend.

With the letter before me, I continued revising, still focusing on style and structure, and now including: the image of a scrutinizing eyeball dogging Mia; lines indicating how her parents’ divorce exacerbated her feelings of depression and isolation; and dialogue and narration to give the whole story a more active tone. I also found the following ending:

Snap—the night and everything that’s come before—tastes, smells, touches, Stacey, Mom, Dad, Alec—crowd in, all alive inside you. Makeup drips into your eyes and you rub at them, at your cheeks, until all that’s left is your face staring into the mirror, pale and shiny and clean.

Three girls you don’t know come into the bathroom. They smile at you like they’ve never seen you before. And, you realize, they haven’t. You smile back, looking beyond them to the door. Snap—Come on Mia!

Out. (“The Alice Effect,” 12)

This ending’s great revelation supported my initial presumption of the story’s meaning: that Mia, as a sexually awkward teen pressured by a newly sexy best friend, chooses in the end to stay on her own awkward path. Here’s part of Martine’s response, particularly to the ending:

I kept thinking that something big would be revealed at the end, something that explained this blue funk, this out-of-body eyeball thing. I really thought she was going to tell us she was gay! Because… because why does she act jealous when the boy shows up with Stacey? And why does she watch Stacey undress and get so affected by it? Why does she stand so long watching Stacey and the boy making out? And then… it ends. Are you sure she’s not gay? When I read the letter from Mia, I thought, maybe I just missed it and she will confess it in her letter… (Leavitt, Letter, 8/28/08)

Martine’s words surprised me. Not the part where she thought Mia was gay—after all, I’d heard that before—but how she focused on Mia’s actions. I’d described Mia’s observations as effectively as I could but hadn’t truly examined how Mia watched Stacey. Was she jealous when she observed Stacey in her new clothes the first day of school? Why was she focusing on Stacey being undressed? Or making out in the hallway? I’d thought Mia was both depressed and fascinated by her friend’s changes; what I wondered now though was, what was the true nature of this depression and fascination?  

Next week: find out what Mima discovers about Alice in the final installment!

Mima Tipper spends as much time as possible writing stories and novels for kids and teens, and recently had the tremendous good fortune to earn an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Along with being mad-proud that her YA short story “Waiting for Alice” is in the premiere issue of Sucker Literary Magazine (live now), she is thrilled that another YA short story, “A Cut-Out Face”, is live now as well in the latest Hunger Mountain online Journal of the Arts, Art & Insanity of Creativity issue. Mima lives in Vermont with her family, and can be found @meemtip on Twitter.

Can You Hear Me Now? When Characters Speak through Revision, Part One (In which Mima Tipper’s writerly epiphany begins)

***Spoiler Alert*** This blog post contains story spoilers. Read the full version of “Waiting for Alice” in the first issue of Sucker Literary Magazine at http://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/

Writing my YA short story “Waiting for Alice,” the story-epiphany moment came as I stood in line at my local public library. Here’s what happened: I was waiting to check out books I’d picked specifically to help me with my revision of “…Alice,” and imagined having the following conversation with the librarian:

Her: “Are these for one of your kids?

Me: “No.  They’re for my character… (motherly pause)…she thinks she might be gay.”

A silly idyll yes, but one that in a single, astounding moment opened my eyes, or better my mind, to what my Alice had been trying to tell me for the almost year I’d been working on her story.

I walked home in a daze, imagining myself sitting with Alice at the kitchen table. Sitting with her, as I would with one of my children, her looking into my eyes in that hesitant way that asked if I was ready to listen.  When she did speak, there was no hesitation, “It’s true,” she said, “I think I’m gay.” Her words left me speechless. I hadn’t set out to write a story about a young girl’s first realization that she might be gay, but that’s where the writing path led. What held my hand, tugging me along until I could hear Alice speak (more like a remembered conversation than one imagined) was revision—a kind I hadn’t experienced before (Kaplan, 27).

My Alice-epiphany made me re-examine my knowledge of revision. David Michael Kaplan offers these words in his craft book Revision:

I think you revise for style (saying it in the most graceful way, which is often all people think revision is), and you revise for structure (saying it in the most coherent and dramatically effective way), and you revise—and here comes the way you might not have thought about it before—for meaning, for discovering what you really wanted to say in the first place, what the story’s really about. (10)

I was familiar with (and practiced heavily) Kaplan’s first two revision definitions. Regarding meaning, however, until “…Alice” I’d always presumed I knew the essential meaning of my stories before I started writing. So what had happened with my Alice?

To understand, I had to go back to the beginning.

The seed of “…Alice” came from one of my high school experiences. My best friend and I, tenth graders at an all-girl boarding school, decided to go to the first dance of the year, meet a boy each, and kiss him. Fueled by vodka-laced grape soda, off we went. There, each of us found a boy. By evening’s end, my friend had disappeared with hers, but I hadn’t even managed a peck on the cheek with mine. I watched him get on his return bus, and something in me snapped. I rapped on the bus window. He got off and, before I lost my nerve, I threw myself at him. He’d just had a huge bite of brownie, and well—yuck! Amidst raucous cheers from bystanders, both of us had a good laugh and, as the bus zoomed off, I forgot all about him and the brownie kiss.

Fast-forward twenty-some years to my fantasy novel “Faerie Games,” where in a first chapter draft, I drew from this memory to illustrate my fourteen year-old protagonist Selena’s sexual awkwardness at witnessing a friend’s behavior at a school dance:

And she had found her. Out in the hall, tucked into the dark space between a corner and a bank of lockers, wrapped around a junior she’d called “sorta cute” a couple of times. Their eyes had met over junior-boy’s shoulder, and for a long, drawn out heartbeat, Selena hadn’t recognized her best friend. It was like in that moment, Selena saw clearly that the Stacey she’d lived next door to and been best friends with forever had run away to a place where Selena wasn’t sure she wanted to follow.

But that night, Selena had tried to follow. Like a hound scenting a fox, Selena stalked around the gym until she’d spotted Edmo’s hunching back standing at the refreshment table. Without saying a word or even looking at his face, she’d grabbed his hand and dragged him out into the hall. In one swift, blurred move, Selena had pushed him against the wall and with no thought about what she was doing or how she was doing it, shoved her open mouth on his. (“Faerie Games,” 15)

I submitted the chapter to my first Vermont College workshop, and it was workshop leader Martine Leavitt’s comment “What did she see?” written in the margin next to the first paragraph quoted, that sparked me to explore in a short story what Selena saw Stacey doing.

As I began to think of this short story, I remembered Dennis Lehane’s short story “Until Gwen.” Lehane used a second person viewpoint, and I’d found the voice both disturbing and intriguing. Freshly out of prison, Lehane’s narrator was detached, yet watched himself with an intimacy laced with self-loathing. This viewpoint spoke to me as authentic for my self-scrutinizing, awkward teenager.

My story, now tentatively titled “Peer Pressure,” quickly took shape around the awkward narrator Mia and her newly sexy best friend Angie. With Mia’s second person viewpoint, her voice naturally came out full of observations about Angie’s blooming appearance and aggressive behavior; also natural was that Angie’s looks and attitude would be in stark contrast to Mia’s. Though the initial novel-flashback was morphing to a short story, the essential meaning—a young girl’s sexual awkwardness—still drove the heart of my writing. Then an unusual (for me) turn: I got two thirds through a first draft and didn’t know how Mia’s story ended.

Next week: Mima searches for the story’s ending!

Mima Tipper spends as much time as possible writing stories and novels for kids and teens, and recently had the tremendous good fortune to earn an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Along with being mad-proud that her YA short story “Waiting for Alice” is in the premiere issue of Sucker Literary Magazine (live now), she is thrilled that another YA short story, “A Cut-Out Face”, is live now as well in the latest Hunger Mountain online Journal of the Arts, Art & Insanity of Creativity issue. Mima lives in Vermont with her family, and can be found @meemtip on Twitter.


MAKING HER VISION A REALITY — HER WAY: HANNAH GOODMAN LAUNCHES EDGY YA SUCKER LITERARY MAGAZINE

Fellow Hen&ink chick, Mima Tipper, interviewed Hannah Goodman about Sucker Literary Magazine, her on-line publication dedicated to edgy YA. 

After reading Hannah R. Goodman’s bio, all I could think was, “Whoa! She’s the whole package!” Not only does she write full time, having self-published three YA novels (two award winners), and publishing her YA short stories on Amazon shorts, in an anthology titled Bound is the Bewitching Lilith, and in “Balancing the Tides,” but also she’s earned an MFA from Pine Manor’s Solstice Program, blogs regularly about the writing life, and offers writing classes (go to her site www.hannahrgoodman.com for more info about these.) With all of that going on (let’s not forget regular life stuff like wifing and mothering) it’s tempting to think Hannah could not possibly have time for more. That kind of thinking would be wrong. Recently, Hannah began a new writing/editing venture—a literary magazine devoted to YA fiction called SUCKER that debuted on January 23, 2012 (find it at: http://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/.)

Today she’s kindly agreed to share some of her SUCKER journey with me, her fellow coop-mate, in this Hen&Inkblots interview.

– Mima Tipper

MIMA TIPPER: Hi, Hannah! First off, huge, huge congratulations to you and your staff for bringing SUCKER LITERARY MAGAZINE into the world!

HANNAH GOODMAN: Thanks!

MT: Your Editorial Welcome in SUCKER’s first issue does a wonderful job of telling your story, but we’d love to hear it here: please tell us a little bit about your background and about what made you decide to start SUCKER.

HG: My background/story has been heavily self-documented on my blog: Write Naked http://www.hannahrgoodman.blogspot.com/p/about-me.html and then my writing journey http://hannahrgoodman.blogspot.com/2008/03/more-rants-on-not-getting-book-deal-yet.html… which lead me to go to Pine Manor College and get my MFA in Creative writing at the Solstice program. The supportive, non- competitive environment made me feel very self-empowered after a decade of rejection and near misses. Going to school made me remember why I write…and it wasn’t to get a book deal. It was for the cathartic release I need, it was to survive being human. (Sorry to get too heavy here). SUCKER was an idea that I had as a result of trying to get short fiction published and seeing there was no home for YA…my kind of YA, edgy.

MT: What has been most difficult about this venture? Most rewarding? Most unexpected?

HG: TIME! I work, have children, have to work on my own writing, husband, friends, family…
Most rewarding are the emails from those writers who submitted… saying how grateful they are to hear why their piece was accepted or rejected…also the mentoring we do has received tremendous positive feedback.  
Most unexpected was…can I say this? That Publisher’s Weekly interviewed me BEFORE I really had SUCKER underway…Also, Erzsi found me…an agent wanted to look at my work after years of the other way around. Truly a surprise!

MT: That’s awesome news on the PW piece and on signing with Erzsi—double congrats there! Back to SUCKER, I know my own experience working with you on “Waiting for Alice” (the final story in SUCKER’s first issue) was seamless and probably uncharacteristically low-impact editorially-speaking, and I’m wondering what it’s been like working with new writers, editors, readers, artists? Is it all you hoped it would be?

HG: Working with new writers and editors has been seamless— to use your word. I have a clear vision of what I want and can communicate pretty clearly that vision. They were all receptive and supportive. IT was a dream. MOST of the writers whose work I accepted went through a somewhat intense editing and revision process. I am a teacher by trade…and a bit of a perfectionist. I also saw raw talent that just needed a smidge of guidance. I enjoy the giving part of being a mentor. It feels nice to pay it forward. I’ve had generous mentors and know the value of encouraging but critical feedback.

Artists…we didn’t have many submissions and many didn’t seem to understand the vision, which is probably because as a person who sees only words in my head, I probably didn’t communicate clearly the VISUAL vision I had of Sucker. Luckily my BFF Alyssa knows me in that old married couple way–I make a few grunts and noises and she gets what I mean. She wound up doing most of the art work. One of my high school students did the cover…again, she understood my vision.  

MT: Getting more specific about this first issue (btw, it looks awesome and reads awesomer) how do you work with SUCKER’s staff? Describe the process of your dialogue with your readers and artists.

HG: We e-mail. I didn’t Skype once or make a phone call. I have a feedback form for my staff readers. All submissions went to them (I had a glance at them as they came in and decided which ones should be read and which needed to be rejected outright). The staff readers fill out the form (it’s very detailed and reflects my personal vision for the type of literature I want to publish). Readers return the forms to me and then I read every single one and make ALL final decisions about which are rejected, mentored, and accepted. The dialogue with the artists was all in person, except Sarah Tregay, who sent a submission.

MT: From the humorous to the dramatic to the heartbreaking, this first issue has an amazing variety of stories; how did you decide on story placement within the magazine?

HG: Instinct…Try not to have too many serious or dark ones in a row. : ) 

MT: What will SUCKER offer readers, particularly teen readers, that other literary print/online journals do not?

HG: Something different…something edgy and compelling.

MT: Could you elaborate on those concepts?

HG: The something different for me is not just “please no more vampires.” It’s about how the characters collide, connect, bounce off one another AND the situations they find themselves in. It’s about making the ordinary Extraordinary.  So take that vampire and put him on a skateboard (as I say on the blog) and then have him (literally) crash into a human teenage guy who happens to be on the sidewalk at the same time and maybe they fight and maybe the vampire loses. Maybe they become great friends. Maybe they fall in love.

Compelling is about relationships for me. What happens when two souls collide? I mean this in ALL ways…Friendship, parent-child, teacher-student…Boy meets girl, boy meets boy…Whatever, what happens when two people connect or meet and they feel something…love or hate or disgust, whatever. Now, go from there. 

Edgy means do not avoid sex, drugs, complicated friendships and relationships with parents. That being said, it’s not just about the subject. It’s also about language and voice. Make the characters sound authentic. Make the narrative voice reflect the tone of the story.

Also, DO NOT PREACH!

MT: Describe some positives in creating an online journal as opposed to a print journal.

HG: We have no budget because we have no money. So that was the major positive. Also, distribution is easier.  

MT: How many issues per year will SUCKER have, and how will you market the journal, especially to teens?

HG: I wish I had firm answers for these. Taking it one day at a time because TIME is my issue. I am aiming for one. Marketing is word of mouth right now. I work with teens and am counting on them and their schools. 

MT: Going a bit broader for a moment, what has your experience with SUCKER taught you about how teens read? About how we can keep teens reading?

HG: Write about things that are high interest…don’t shy away from “taboo” topics. Stay relevant and current. Listen to the teens around you and talk to them about reading and books. Treat them like regular people : ) 

MT: Let’s talk about submissions for a moment. When you read a sub, how many paragraphs does it take for you to know if a piece is a “Go”?

HG: Three sentences. : ) 

MT: What are instant turn-offs?

HG: Preaching…proselytizing…bigotry…prejudice…small-mindedness… Bad writing that uses cliched language and too many pop culture references. 

Also, when people don’t read about what we want. Our blog is so specific about what we publish.

MT: On a more personal note, I’d love you to describe your typical workday—how do you balance life and writing/SUCKER life?

HG: *laughs uncontrollably*
get up, get kids ready for school, exercise, get dressed, go to Starbucks answer emails of clients and students, read submissions and send off to readers, do some of my own writing go home and see students until around 6, make dinner with family, have some kind of family time (art work, dancing…etc..) bath and bed…Some days my little one isn’t at school so that writing and reading submission time doesn’t happen. I’d say 3 weekdays are like what I just described. Sunday mornings are a huge chunk of time for me to work too. 

MT: How has working on SUCKER changed/taught you as a writer? As a writing mentor?

HG: I feel more confident because I actually made this vision a reality and did it MY way! 

MT: What makes a good editor and how does your work as a writer feed your editorial work with SUCKER?

HG: I am a really good student to my own mentor and agent. I listen really well and can take all kinds of criticism and apply it as I see fit.  

MT: We’d also love to know what books are on your nightstand. Would you share three YA novels you’ve read recently that you would recommend to those wanting to submit stories to SUCKER?

HG: Almost Perfect
Tangled
Beginner’s Love (old school Norma Klein) 
Some Girls Are
The Duff
Some Day This Pain Will Be Useful To You

Totally more than 3! What I like about these books is that they are voice and character-driven with gritty, authentic teen language with solid, literary writing that isn’t overloaded with cliched language or lame pop culture references—they have both a current and timeless quality to them.

MT: Personal goals? Plans for SUCKER’s future?

HG: Yes, that writing and being an editor become my full time job so that I can live that dream exclusively. OR I win lotto so that I can do that and not worry about it as a paying job. 

I have a YA series that I REALLY want to have published with a big-ish pub house…or a house that will market me really well. 

MT: Anything else you’d like to share?

HG: Yes…I want to thank the fans and staff of Sucker and tell them that they inspire me to do this all over again! 

MT: Thanks for your time, Hannah, and best of luck with SUCKER!

About the author
Half-Greek-half-American, Mima Tipper and her writing reflect her heritage—a little bit old-country, a little bit rock and roll; one foot wandering through the dreamy realm of myths and faerie tales, the other running on the solid ground of fast-paced, contemporary story.  Recently she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and her YA short story “A Cut-Out Face” was a finalist for Hunger Mountain’s Katherine Paterson Prize.  Beyond devoting most of her time to writing, Mima is a member of SCBWI, and is committed to promoting literacy and to supporting the writing community.  Two items of which she’s especially proud are: helping create the Bakeless Writing Prizes offered by the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference; and receiving the VCFA Alumni Prize, awarded for outstanding support and encouragement of her VCFA colleagues.  Currently Mima lives in Vermont with her family; find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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