Janet Sumner Johnson
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J.K. Rowling

Books from my Childhood

Oct

05, 2015 |

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I’ve been reading the Harry Potter series to my kids, and it’s been awesome. And not just because I can get them to do their chores with the promise of reading another chapter. They’ve loved it!

But doing so has really brought back memories of my childhood. Curled up on the floor or in my bed, listening to my mom read stories to us. I even remember staying home sick from high school (HIGH SCHOOL !!!), and laying on the couch listening to her read to me. She has been a long-time lover of children’s literature, and I directly attribute my obsession with it to her.

—–> This is me way back then, so you can better imagine me sitting on my mom’s lap, listening to stories.—->

There weren’t nearly as many choices back then, but what there was, she found them. I wanted to mention a few, because not only have all of these amazing books have influenced who I am, but these authors were the pioneers that made what I’m doing even possible.

As a little kid, my mom read picture books to us. A few stand out in my memory as ones we made her and my dad read over and over and over. THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK by Jon Stone was the BEST.

Fear of the unknown was a real thing for me back then. (Okay, it still is.) I remember hating to go downstairs on my own, because WHO KNEW what might come out of that big pot-belled wood-burning stove down there??? And it was dark. And it smelled funny. And the carpet had this crazy brown and orange pattern that could start spinning and might HYPNOTIZE me, and what would I do then???

Point being, I got Grover. I understood! I sympathized with his fears. But I still laughed every time we turned that page, and the story got messier and messier, and the pages got rattier and rattier (both figuratively and literally because we read that book so much). I LOVED being part of the story. It was all so real. Even though of course I knew it wasn’t.

And I don’t want to ruin the ending for any of you who might not have read it (and if so, watch out for the Goodreads link above . . . they aren’t so careful), but this book made me braver. It helped me step up my courage, and you know what? I dared go downstairs on my own (okay, maybe not at night, but baby steps, people). I dared press forward into the unknown. Because lets face it. Life is full of A LOT of unknown. This book was a real part of my childhood. One that influenced me big time. So thank you, Jon Stone for writing it! Thank you, Sesame Street Creators for making such a great character!

And I realize this is all going to take more space than one blog post can handle, so I’ll just have to blog about this again. In the mean time, tell me about a book that influenced your childhood. I’d love to hear!

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Writing for Middle Graders

Jan

21, 2014 |

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My ten-year old got a Kindle for Christmas. I might be a tad jealous since I don’t even have one, but I guess Santa was feeling generous and understood just how much that kid loves to read. And encouraging reading? Well, it IS something I try to do.

One of my favorite things about the Kindle is watching how he chooses to spend his Amazon giftcards. At first, there were a couple of recently released books he was dying for (ones that were the latest in a series he’d been reading). The choices were easy. But with all the book suggestions from Amazon based on his buying history, he realized really fast that there were plenty of other books that cost a lot less than the $10 ones he’d been buying.

The kid’s good at math, so he figured out that he could get MORE books if he got the books in the  $0.99 to $2.99 range. Unless it’s a deal, I found that this range usually means self-published. I know plenty of talented self-published authors who work really hard to make their books awesome, so I had no problem with this. But I tried to go through the reviews before buying, to vet his choices. Because let’s be honest . . . there’s self-published and then there’s self-published. Those who do it right, and those who . . . don’t.

There was one book in particular where I found quite a few less-than-complimentary reviews about the quality of the writing: ‘the characters are very one-dimensional’; ‘the plot meanders completely from where it started in the beginning’; ‘the story is very derivative’ . . . Big enough issues that were brought up in enough reviews that I strongly discouraged him from getting it. That said, I let him make the final choice (since, you know, it WAS his money).

Of course he got it. “It sounds really good, Mom!” And wouldn’t you know it, by the time he finished the book (later that day, I believe), he was RAVING about the thing. “This is my second-favorite book, ever!” And the kid reads A LOT of books.

This experience really made me stop. I’ve thought a lot about this. I mean, why do we kill ourselves to make our prose shine, when in the end, our younger readers haven’t yet learned to discern the difference between excellent and mediocre writing anyway? My son liked this book because it involved dragons (his favorite subject), it had lots of action, and it reminded him of other books he loved.

Isn’t that enough to strive for?

I have to conclude that it’s not. When I consider the power of a book–a well-written book–how can I settle for anything less than my best? And it’s not just about getting it right for the reader. The writing/revising of a book is a transcendent experience that I believe makes me better as a person. I learn to find empathy for the vilest of villains. I learn to consider ideas from all different points of view. I learn what’s important to me, and I solidify my beliefs as I spend hours and hours with my characters and their views.

I can’t help but think of J.K. Rowling. She wrote for middle grade readers, and she captured them with a fun and adventurous book. But her prose was so excellent, the ideas she tackled so relatable, that she didn’t only capture middle graders. She captured the world and caused a revolution in the world of books.

Yes, her story is rare, but isn’t that what we all strive for? To write something that leaves people (including ourselves) thinking well beyond the actual reading of it? How can we possibly hope for that if we don’t give it our all?

What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

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The Source of Inspiration

Jan

13, 2014 |

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Since I actively joined the blogosphere, way back forever
ago, I’ve gotten to know a lot of other writers. One of the things I love
learning is where they draw their inspiration from.

Last week, Kimberly Afe talked about her inspiration for her
book, The Headhunter’s Race. A Zelda commercial, and poof! idea.

My awesome friend, Amy Sonnichsen, talked about her inspiration for
Red Butterfly (S&S, 2015!!) HERE. Her sympathy for another’s plight led to a
beautiful story.

J.K. Rowling dreamed of a boy with a lightning-shape scar,
and Stephanie Meyer dreamed of vampires. Inspiration that served them well.

The very first book I wrote was inspired by a longing to
return to my youth. To an easier, more carefree time. I’d just turned 19 which
(for a reason completely unknown to me now) was a huge deal to me. I was a
freshman in college, living on my own, having to be totally responsible for
myself. I had no one pushing me to do what needed doing.

And I remembered. Remembered the carefree days of exploring
the jungle of our backyard ditch. Of racing off on my bicycle with my brother
to go dig in the empty lot around the corner. And I wanted it back. The book
was a joy to write, because I just relived all the wonderfully crazy moments of
my childhood. I even included the awful ones that now make me giggle: getting
trampled by the whole soccer field; getting thrown in the ditch by my sister.

When I rewrote it (as my 3rd book), my inspiration came from
the present instead of the past. Foreclosures were popping up everywhere, and I
couldn’t help wondering how kids were handling it. I needed an outlet to express myself. The two ideas morphed, and
it became my first query-able book.

I was thrilled when I finally “finished,” but I
was worried . . . where in the world I would find another book idea?

Which now makes me laugh. Because they come at me from
everywhere. A cold became the idea for a humorous MG. A scary dream became an idea for an MG Horror. A horrible real-life
event became an idea for a YA Contemporary. A Wedding Dinner in France became
the idea for a novel set in France. My soccer team became the idea for a work
of adult fiction. They come at me so fast, I know I’ll never actually write
many of them.

But that’s okay. Because some ideas rise to the top. And the
best ideas will get written because they keep on inspiring until they must be put on paper for the world to see.

That’s the way inspiration works. At least for me.

Where does your inspiration come from?

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