Have you seen the Project Mayhem middle grade blog? It’s devoted to crafting middle grade fiction, and it’s chock full of resources, book reviews, author interviews, craft tips, and more. I’m part of the Project Mayhem team, and I recently shared some ideas from my presentation at the New England SCBWI conference.
Many writers want to present a variety of family configurations when they are crafting middle grade fiction, but they’re not sure how to do it well.
Here are some tips on writing about middle grade characters with LGBTQ parents that I shared on the Project Mayhem blog to help!
“Please bring these permission slips home to your moms and dads.”
Life is just different for kids of GLBT parents. They navigate awkward questions, tricky social situations, and heteronormative language on a daily basis.
That’s just some of the territory we’ll be covering in our presentation at the New England SCBWI conference at the end of the month in Springfield, MA. My wife Bonnie Jackman and I will be discussing sparks for inspiration as well as seeds of conflict in Re-imagining Families: Writing about characters with GLBT parents – a morning workshop on Sunday, May 1.
We’ll offer insights and strategies for writing about families with same-sex and single parents, focusing on gay and lesbian-led families as well as those with bisexual and transgender parents. How can writers realistically portray characters with parents who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender? How will these various family structures affect our characters (from early childhood to middle grade through adolescence)?
Bonnie is a seasoned therapist and school counselor, with lots of anecdotes, developmental info, and insights to share. I’ll bring the craft perspective to the conversation. It should be a fun and lively session. Hope to see you there!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
I recently received a bundle of letters from the kids at St. Luke’s School in the South Bronx. I delivered a poetry presentation there in the spring, using Jacqueline Woodson‘s BROWN GIRL DREAMING and Kwame Alexander‘s THE CROSSOVER as mentor texts.
St. Luke’s is located in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. “Mott Haven has changed a lot in the past couple of decades, but it is still full of good people who struggle mightily to overcome difficult economic challenges.” (St. Luke’s newsletter)
My mother, Kitty Cronin, attended St. Luke’s as a child, the daughter of immigrants who were trying to make their way in a new country. Many of the children I met at St. Luke’s are navigating that same path, decades later.
Kitty Cronin, back in the 1940’s
The seventh and eighth graders I spoke to were vibrant, earnest, and they fell in love with the two texts, which I gave to their teacher as a gift.
Their interest in poetry and love of literature are apparent in their notes, which I will treasure.
I sent them a note in return– telling them I got to meet Kwame Alexander at a writing conference (New England SCBWI).
I told Kwame about the kids who loved his book in the South Bronx, and he sent his greetings, which I passed on!
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!
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…
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!
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!
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!