Reviewing an Irish MG Novel

“You can’t survive if you only see the darkness, if you cannot laugh and love and if you don’t have hope in your heart.”  ~author Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

 

When I was asked to review an Irish middle-grade novel for the Project Mayhem Middle-Grade blog, I felt like I hit the trifecta.

I had already read the book THE APPLE TART OF HOPE last year, and loved it. Now it’s being published in the U.S. by Holiday House.

APPLE TART COVER

I now had the chance to spread the word about a hopeful, complex, and wonderful middle-grade story set in a place I love, Ireland.

Plus, I had the chance to interview the author, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, and learn more about her work.

To put the cherry on top, reading and writing about apple tarts put me in mind of my relations in Cork, Ireland– the place where I first sampled this deceptively simple Irish dessert.

APPLE TART slice

All in all– writing this book review was a pure delight. You can read it here.

 

 

A nod for TOMFOOLERY!

May the road rise to meet you, and the wind be always at your back.

~Irish Proverb

Tomfoolery. It’s a word I love, and the title of the middle-grade novel that I’m revising and preparing to send back to my agent, Linda Camacho.

Tomfoolery just received a runner-up honor in the Cape Cod Writers Center annual writing contest– a delightful confirmation that I am on the right track, something all writers need at one time or another. I feel the wind at my back, even as I acknowledge that in the writing and publishing world, the road can be rocky for writers and it does not always rise to meet us!

My main character is eleven-year-old Tom Foley, who lives on Cape Cod and dreams of being a famous window dresser like Simon Doonan. When he defies his grandmother’s wishes and sneaks off to a semester of Saturday art classes in Provincetown, his artistic skills blossom, but he realizes he needs the support of his friends and family to be truly happy.

Tom, a bit of a late bloomer (a topic I blogged about recently), frequently gets teased for being gay– but he’s not quite sure of his identity yet. He fits into that “questioning” category, like many middle-schoolers who question just about anything.

Carnival beads figure into a few Provincetown scenes in TOMFOOLERY, so sometimes I wear mine for inspiration!
Carnival beads figure into a few Provincetown scenes in TOMFOOLERY, so sometimes I wear mine for inspiration!

Thank you, Cape Cod Writers Center, for the vote of confidence!

GLBT Youth- Hiding in Plain Sight

I was shaken recently when a friend relayed a story from a school in my liberal state of Massachusetts: an 8th grader received an anonymous note at school, to the effect of “Faggot- hope you kill yourself.”

lockers

In my writer world, I admit I get lulled into a sense of security– look at the praise heaped on books like Alex Gino’s GEORGE and Tim Federle’s BETTER NATE THAN EVER! Things are better. So much better!

Nate

In my adult world, as an out lesbian, I sometimes forget how hard it is to come out, to BE out, to risk safety and relationships to be who you are.

That story of the 8th grader reminded me. Not so fast. We have more work to do. More books to write. This is what drives me to write my current novel, Tomfoolery, about a boy who is trying to muster the courage to be who he is.

More vigilance. More supportive adults. Let’s keep at it, with organizations like GLSEN and Rainbow Boxes and The Trevor Project and Lee Wind’s blog. We need to keep being visible. We need to be there for our youth!

national coming out day

When Stars Align: diversity, writing & pop culture

As a teacher on summer hiatus, I’m grabbing all of the free hours I can muster, running as far and fast as I can with my middle-grade novel-in-progress, Tomfoolery. And the other day, the stars aligned to tell me, “Yes! Keep going. You are moving in the right direction!”

You see, my main character Tom’s world is being rocked by taking part in an art class in beautiful Provincetown. Suddenly, as a gay/questioning, artsy kid, he doesn’t feel so alone– he has found his people.

 

Provincetown
Provincetown

I wrote a scene the other day in which the art teacher referenced ballerina Misty Copeland. In response to someone using the term “firebird,” the teacher shows an image of Copeland leaping mid-air in flaming red regalia. I wrote some dialog from the teacher:

“Misty Copeland,” Will pointed. “African American soloist  with the American Ballet Theater. Most famous role: Stravinsky’s Firebird.”

Misty Copeland
Misty Copeland

Finished with my writing time, I clicked on over to Facebook for some social interaction, and there on the headlines was Misty Copeland: newly-named as the first African American principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater. I immediately went back to my manuscript and made that change!

In the middle of my novel, where my gay/questioning character feels a bit at sea, a bit too “different,” I had introduced an example of another artist who has also had experiences of feeling at sea, and different. And then, there she was, like a Firebird, soaring. Inspiring my character, inspiring me.

The stars aligned, in a little way– but it was enough for me. To keep me going, when I feel a bit at sea in the writing process.

FIREBIRD, by Misty Copeland. Illustrated by Christopher Myers.
FIREBIRD, by Misty Copeland. Illustrated by Christopher Myers.

I’m going to keep soaring.

 

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!

name tag

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