Posted in Great Middle Grade Reads, Pitchwars, Teacher Resources, Writing

Mentor Wishlist for Pitchwars ’17!

OMGoodness, it’s Pitchwars time! Writers, welcome.  I am thrilled to be a PW ’17 mentor for MG, and I’m so glad you stopped by! Good luck to everyone. 😊

BIO:  I’m a teacher and writer in Southwestern PA. My teaching career has taken me from public secondary schools to small private settings, and I’ve taught most grade levels from 2nd to 12th along the way. My most recent teaching “gig” was Language Arts, 5th through 8th grades, at a small Catholic school.

I decided to be a pitchwarsmg2bimageteacher by the time I was a middle grader, but I knew I wanted to be a writer a lot earlier than that. Instead of earning my permanent teaching certification credits in some education-related field, I went rogue and earned a Master’s Degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. I learned how to structure and produce book-length works in popular genres at Seton Hill, but my favorite part of the program was the revision work we did in email Peer Critique groups and small group in-person critique settings.

Several of my creative non-fiction essays, literary non-fiction, and craft articles got picked up for publication after grad school, but my book goals got a little sidetracked with teaching, directing high school and middle school theatre, and having kids. Pitchwars ’15 was my incentive to start trying again—I finished my WIP and submitted! Then several mentors requested my manuscript to read—what a thrill! Then I got in—instant terror!

200But my awesome mentor Rebecca Wells quickly made me remember what I loved so much about peer critiquing in grad school: that revision is happily addicting, and that improving your story one sentence at a time brings a fulfillment to the writer that few other working processes can achieve.

I had over a dozen agent requests in the week after entries went live, and I later found my agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin at Trident Media, as a result of that agent-finding process.

So! Hopefully at least some part of my writing path resounds with yours. I think there are a lot of parallels between writing fiction and producing a piece of theatre for the stage (as there are counterparts between many artistic forms), but the biggest one is also my favorite advice: trust the process. Everyone’s process is different—doesn’t matter if it’s taken you a while to come this far! Be proud that you are here, and working toward what you want.

Come follow me on Twitter–  @JennBrisendine   and Instagram — JennBrisendineWrites .

WISH LIST—

–I’m seeking upper MG historicals with or without elements of magic; time periods during the Fall of Rome, Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Restoration would be of special interest.

–I’m also seeking upper contemporary or historical realistic MG that takes place in interesting geographical locations (islands? polar regions? deserts?) that play a strong role in the book. Ecological/Environmental elements would be great to see.

–Upper MG mystery built on strong characterization would be great.

–Upper MG set in small or alternative school settings or having to do with theater would be good too.

–I love good use of literary techniques in the writing— sincere and organic prose that zings.

–I like interesting POV mixes and teachable books.

200wHere are some reads I’ve enjoyed lately and what I liked about them.

Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan – mix of 1st and 3rd POV, present and past tense works really well here.

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes – more recent historical event combined with elements of magic for the win.

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes – interior monologue is well done and imagery sticks with you.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin – Voice and emotional “grippiness” here are standouts; interesting and original historical setting.

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – kind of an unrelenting realism here that makes you keep reading.

My favorite writers include Rebecca Stead, Lemony Snickett, and Christopher Paul Curtis.

My favorites to teach include Bud, Not Buddy; Number the Stars; Maniac Magee; Holes; Fever 1793; Ninth Ward; and The Westing Game.

I’m probably NOT the best MG mentor for:

–high fantasy;

–animal stories;

–younger MG stories;

–sports stories;

–fairy tale or legend/folktale retellings;

–bathroom or lunch table humor.

Okay! So… good luck, and don’t stress about prepping your submission! Remember, it’s a process…and time and hard work will help you arrive.

If you get lost along the way, the Pitchwars site can offer guidance.

http://wp.me/p3YLhv-7Yc

And don’t forget to stop by #Pitchwars on Twitter.

Can’t wait to see what I get in the inbox…and thank you for considering me as a potential mentor for your MG work for PW ’17.

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Posted in Pitchwars, Uncategorized, Writing

Time for Pitchwars! Or, Eeeek…Time for Pitchwars??

Flashback to PW’15: hitting the submit button was a thrill—I’d worked up the nerve to send my work to some very talented and successful mentor-writers. But it was also a huge relief—it had been an entry months in the making. My writing To-Do list self-destructed in a single click…and what an awesome feeling that was! Nothing left to do with the ms for the moment—done!

Mid-August, with the sub window about to close, I turned to prepping my classroom and attending in-services. The flood was imminent—grading and planning, researching and teaching, meetings and emails. Over and over I thought, Good thing I had the summer to finish my entry for Pitchwars. And I just wouldn’t have had the time in the school year. And Working more on the book will have to wait.

Then I got picked as a mentee, and I had to make time to keep going.

For anyone considering entering Pitchwars (or other contests), but worried about the deadlines and the time commitment, or anyone just struggling to fit in a few hours of writing in the week—I hear you. The frustration is real.

Time is a funngiphyy thing, though—you can never seem to have enough, but it is somewhat manipulable. Kind of like Hermione with her Time Turner, you can overrule the constraints that time puts on you.

One of the biggest lessons I learned during PW was that I managed significant revisions and rewritings despite being real-life busy. Pitchwars was motivating, and my mentor gave me awesome ideas and encouragement, but the improved book came about from work that I did. You can make the time to move forward on your book goals.

These tricks for making time are not new. You know them. You’ve done them. They work with varying degrees of success depending on your habits, day job, family, and personality. So maybe consider this list a self-check, or a calming take-a-breath moment to review some ways in which you can take control of the clock.

  1. Can you limit your screen time more? Cut down on FB and Twitter unless it’s book-related correspondence, until you reach a word or page goal. Try sticking to only a few hours a week or less of TV. Or use a streaming service to catch up after you meet a goal.

2. Can you be more efficient with your reading choices? Don’t give up reading altogether! But reading a new police thriller when you’re writing younger historical MG may not be the most time-saving choice. Read at bedtime if that suits you, and sleep well knowing you fit in a craft chapter, a bit of research, or a comp title into your day at the eleventh hour.

3. Can you wake up earlier (or go to sleep later)? Even a half-hour a day of added writing time can get you pages ahead by the end of the week.

4. What can you carve and whittle off the clock? Can you write on your commute? In the car-rider pick-up lane at your kids’ school? In the waiting room at appointments? Look at your day-to-day schedule and pry open some windows of opportunity. Take notes on your phone, bring along a reference book for research, or own the archaic with a red pen and a chapter print-out.

5. Leave work at work (said no classroom teacher ever, lol). Well, okay…to the extent possible. Try to get as much of your day job done at the office or the school or the business, to allow more writing hours evenings and weekends. When can you sneak in some extra time for work at work? Though I missed my colleagues at lunchtime the year I was a mentee, I used that 25 minutes every day to grade, copy, and plan. I’d try to stay a bit after hours, too, if it meant I could go home mostly unencumbered and have more minutes for revisions once the kids were in bed.

6. Give yourself a break. Don’t go for mom/dad of the year or employee of the month, right now. You’re trying to write/revise/publish a BOOK. That’s enough—because you will instruct, inspire, and entertain through those words. Your book may save someone in some way you may never even know about. You are already doing a valiant, noble, and very cool thing. So if it’s mac and cheese for the third time this week, so what? It’s just food. The living room’s a mess? More important things. You skipped a volunteer activity? Catch up next month. Many, many people say they should write a book. Many of them start trying to write one. But you and I and a small (by comparison) community of other writers are actually following those words up with the continued, forward-moving action that could lead to fulfillment and success.

One time as a mentee during PW revisions I tweeted the mac and cheese thing, out of wry guilt. Several awesome fellow writers sent links to quick meal ideas and make-ahead recipes. You’ll hear it over and over—writers comprise a highly supportive community. If you stress and struggle with time, you are not alone! Trust yourself that you too can become a skilled time-turner, and keep moving forward.

Can’t wait to mentor this year…don’t worry, future prospective mentee. We’ll both make the time.

Posted in Free Study Guides, Great Middle Grade Reads, Teacher Resources, Writing

Great MG Reads: Number the Stars

number-the-stars-cover Free, printable teaching materials: Here are 3 free sets of questions to assess or review plot, character, and deeper-meaning components of the great MG novel Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Feel free to change the documents to suit your needs, and please share with others!

chapters-1-to-5-reader-questions-for-number-the-stars

chapters-6-to-11-reader-questions-for-number-the-stars

chapters-12-to-17-reader-questions-for-number-the-stars

Kristallnacht happened on this night 78 years ago. So many important stories have been written with the Holocaust as a subject or historical backdrop, many of them YA and MG works. Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars is not just a great MG read, with a well-crafted main character and positive themes; it’s also a delicate yet gripping introduction to the Holocaust for younger readers. When I taught this last year, not many of my fifth graders had a clear grasp on what the Holocaust was, and several had it pegged incorrectly in the wrong era of history. The experience of introducing them to the subject of the Holocaust taught me of the importance of being reminded, staying mindful, and never forgetting the events and facts of this dark, dark time for humanity.

Lowry’s Newbery Award-winning MG novel works on so many levels—a springboard for historical timelines, a perfectly-suited storyline for teaching the Plot Triangle, a moving and realistic character and thematic study. In the language arts or homeschool classroom, you can do as much or as little with this novel as your students are ready for. If you are lucky enough to teach multiple grade levels, it’s the kind of book students will recall easily year to year, making it a valuable tool for comparison and exemplification in more mature lessons down the road.

Posted in Free Study Guides, Great Middle Grade Reads, Teacher Resources, Writing

Great MG Reads: Bud, Not Buddy

Bud Not Buddy front coverTeachers — Here are three free resources for your use when you teach Bud, Not Buddy, a great historical choice for the classroom. Just click to open, and save and print as needed! Feel free to share these freebies with a teacher who might use them. There’s an editable  Word version followed by a pdf for each.

Reading quiz for use after Chapters 1-3:

 Bud, Not Buddy Chapters 1-3 20 pt. Quiz  

  Bud, Not Buddy Chapters 1-3 20 pt. Quiz

Planning worksheet for young writers to use in crafting their own story “pitch”:

Original fiction pitch worksheet after Bud, Not Buddy  

  Original fiction pitch worksheet after Bud, Not Buddy

Character trait/proof from text chart:

Bud, Not Buddy Character Analysis worksheet  

Bud, Not Buddy Character Analysis worksheet

The indomitable Christopher Paul Curtis came to speak at a writers’ residency I attended years ago. He talked about the importance of keeping the story at the heart of the book (as opposed to the history) when you write historicals. Bud, Not Buddy has excellent attributes for instruction: character voice and development, the “quest” or journey plot structure, great morals and themes…and history as a vivid backdrop that impacts the story without taking over.

I used this book in a 5th grade Language Arts classroom, but it would fit into a variety of grade levels and content areas, and it would be a great choice for homeschool audiences as well.

Fast summary: Ten-year-old Bud escapes a not-so-nice foster situation, but instead of heading back to the “home,” he decides to find his father. He’s never met him, but he’s certain the clues in his suitcase left by his mother before she died will be all the help he needs in finding the man. Set against the background of the Great Depression, the various lifestyles Bud experiences (as an orphan, a vagrant, a traveling musician) take the reader solidly into another time and place.

Genre: Historical Middle Grade

Note for teachers/homeschooling parents: Bud, Not Buddy has so many teachable moments! You can sidebar social studies, writing, morality, and arts topics with every chapter: What’s a Hooverville? What’s a worker’s union? Find some examples of people caring for others in the book. How does jazz music differ from music of other genres?

Real (modern) world connections: The book centers around Flint, Michigan. Students may bring up the current status of Flint, which might spur a discussion of other American cities and how they have developed over time.

Any alarms/flashing lights? (Potentially controversial facets of the book): There’s a brief scene in which Bud gets a kiss from a girl he doesn’t see again. Some discussion of race relations in the 1930s would deepen students’ awareness and understanding of Bud’s decisions and emotions. Bud imagines using a rifle he finds at the foster home, but doesn’t.

Notes for writers/readers: Study this book as a great example of voice! My fifth graders were quick to point out all the grammar “mistakes” on page one, which immediately prompted a good lesson on voice and style, what voice means for deep characterization in a novel, and descriptions of POV.

A great MG read — can’t wait to teach this one again.

 

Posted in How-to Guides, Parenting, Writing

A Few Words to Start

I am a lousy blogger.

I know this to be true, because in the last two years I’ve tried a couple blogs and I’ve given up on them almost immediately.  I never could keep a diary, either, and I have yet to scrapbook my second son’s baby pictures. (He’s four next month.) I think it has something to do with stamping a date on something–a post, a photo, an entry–because then it becomes a marker of time. How much time, how little time, how much time gets away from you between updates. Too much pressure, the passage of all that time. I’d probably do much better with a dateless blog, just a stress-free blank wall of space to make notes or put up quotes or jot a thought or two.

I am, however, a writer. And I’d like to reconcile my anti-blogging side with my writer side and see if they can’t get along.

I’ve been published in lit mags and anthologies, and this past year I contributed how-to articles to two excellent writing guides. I’ll talk about those in upcoming posts, as well as other great guides to this craft. Middle grade fiction and agent searching are subjects near and dear to me right now, since I’m writing a MG and starting to look for someone to rep me. Another common thread you’ll see through future posts: some thoughts on trying to break into a writing career while parenting two small boys, freelancing a part-time job, and keeping home and family. (Thought: it’s like running a marathon on a balancing beam. Thought: it’s harder than teaching high school. Thought: I love a challenge.)