Writing Retreat!

Time to unplug and retreat from the hubbub of life for a few days.

I am packing the laptop, notebooks and other fun stuff and heading north, for a six-day retreat with writer friends in a house in Vermont. These early days of summer seem like a good time to make headway on my new middle-grade novel, Tomfoolery.

I’m going to miss the home front, but I will love the opportunity to get lost in my work in progress.

let's go write
See you on the other side!

Up and Coming (Out): song for a budding lesbian

If we stare long enough, there are times when we swear we can see a budding flower actually bloom.

fun home logo 1

That’s the tender window of time portrayed in “Ring of Keys,” the signature song from the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Fun Home.”

Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name, “Fun Home” allows us to witness the moment when young Alison, a tomboyish girl, sees a grown-up lesbian and has a transcendent moment of recognition.

sydney lucas.fun home

Middle-grade writers will want to study the clip of Sydney Lucas singing “Ring of Keys.” It captures an emergence, a turning point, a discovery, that is found in all rich middle-grade novels. That’s why I used the clip in a recent workshop I presented, Developing Gay and Questioning Characters in Middle Grade Fiction.

In an interview in Variety, composer Jeanine Tesori said, “This is a song… that is a turning moment, when you think you’re an alien and you hear someone else say, ‘Oh, me too.’ It’s a game changer for Alison. And that’s just Musical Theater 101.”

In her Tony acceptance speech, Tesori said the song “…is not a song of love, it’s a song of identification, because for girls, you have to see it to be it.”

You have to see it to be it.

Those are words to remember for anyone writing for children and teens (boys and girls!). Let’s continue to give our readers a multitude of moments, of discoveries, of ways of being–
so that they can fully inhabit their world and more clearly see their place in it.

keys

 

Tips for writing gay/questioning characters in Middle-Grade!

What a delight to contribute a guest post on Lee Wind’s dynamic blog I’m Here, I’m Queer, What the Hell Do I Read?

I have tips for middle grade writers who want to create multi-dimensional gay/questioning characters in their stories.

Lee is an incredible resource on matters related to literature for children and teens that touch on all aspects of the GLBTQI spectrum. If this is the first time you have visited his blog, prepare to be wowed.

Lee Wind's blog banner

I’m honored to contribute a piece to the richness that Lee offers– here’s to more gay/questioning characters in middle-grade fiction. Our young readers need them!!

NESCBWI Conference– was that a dream?

It’s taken me a while to come down from the clouds after the NESCBWI Conference in Springfield a little over a week ago. The theme of diversity, “Think Outside the Crayon Box,” was delivered in multi-layered and invigorating ways all weekend long.

Being on the faculty of the conference was an honor and delight!

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It was my first time presenting, and everything went so well. My wife Bonnie (a middle school guidance counselor) and I presented “Developing Gay & Questioning Characters for Middle-Grade Fiction.” The workshop went smoothly, our participants asked great questions, and we received wonderful feedback. We have even been approached about offering the workshop in other locations! To be continued…

M&B NESCBWI

The keynotes were inspiring and affirming. Jo Knowles spoke about the importance of diversity in middle grade in a powerful and personal speech. Dan Santat had me thinking about the sources of  inspiration, and considering ways to stretch myself creatively. Kwame Alexander held an entire banquet room in thrall as he read from his picture book Acoustic Rooster— something I told my teachers in training about. Talk about holding the attention of your audience!

Kwame A. speaking

I used The Crossover in my Children’s Lit course this semester, and in a poetry presentation I gave in February to St. Luke’s School in the South Bronx. For those reasons and more, meeting Kwame Alexander ever so briefly, and basking in his mega-watt  interpersonal energy, was a total delight!

Kwame Alexander + M

Finally, the workshop on giving effective school presentations, offered by Marcia Wells and Kwame Alexander, was phenomenal. It was chock full of great examples, strategies, facts, and humor– practical and inspiring. And Marvin Terban, a towering presence in SCBWI, had us rolling in the aisles at his keynote on humor in children’s books.

I floated home, full of inspiration, the warmth of fellowship with other writers, and lots of notes and resources to keep me going. Congratulations to the organizers for a wonderful conference!

scbwi.folder

Gay and Questioning Characters in Middle Grade– planning our presentation!

The New England SCBWI* conference is coming in April, and I’ll be presenting, along with my wife, middle school guidance counselor extraordinaire Bonnie Jackman. Here is the description of our presentation:

Developing a Gay or Questioning Character in the Middle-Grade Context

Research indicates that kids who grow up to be gay may have an inkling by age 10 or earlier, but not self-identify until ages 14-16; there is a rich “middle” territory here for middle-grade writers. Some of our characters may indeed grow up and identify as gay, but what does that look like at the middle-grade level? How can we create space in our stories for those characters to be who they are (and for our readers to recognize themselves), before they are ready for romantic connections? We will consider family dynamics, school setting, and social relationships. Writer Mary E. Cronin and middle-school guidance counselor Bonnie Jackman will share age-appropriate character development tools, current research, and timely anecdotes to deepen your understanding of middle-graders, gender identity, and the characters in your work in progress.

**

The conference takes place in Springfield, MA (April 24-26, 2015), and registration opens February 4, 2015—more details here.

Bonnie Jackman and  Mary  E. Cronin, co-presenters
Bonnie Jackman and
Mary E. Cronin, co-presenters

Bonnie and I are using our snow day today (thanks, Big Blizzard!) to map out our presentation. What middle-grade books do you suggest for the reading list we’ll be giving to participants?

*Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators