|Rx for Writers|
"Beyond the Newbery Medal"with Linda Sue Park
Thursday, February 19, 2004
Mel:is Mel Boring, moderator of this chat with Linda Sue Park, and editor of the ICL Web Site.
Linda Sue:is Linda Sue Park, winner of the 2002 Newbery Award for her novel, A Single Shard. A Single Shard is Linda Sue's third of four novels for young people. Her fourth novel, When My Name Was Keoko (Clarion, 2002), was named a Jane Addams Honor Book and a Child Magazine Best Book of the Year. Linda Sue Park's most recent titles are two picture books coming out in spring 2004, Mung-mung! (from Charlesbridge) and The Firekeeper's Son (from Clarion). Much of Linda Sue Park's writing draws on her Korean ancestry, which she began researching to better appreciate her immigrant parents' native culture. She grew up with a strong attachment to the public library and considers herself a reader first and a writer second. Now Ms. Park's reading and writing most frequently occur in Rochester, New York, where she lives with her husband, one of their two teenage children, and a Border Terrier named Fergus.
Green shows the usernames of the people and their questions asked of Linda Sue Park.
Interviews are held every other Thursday evening for two hours, beginning at 9 CANADA/ Atlantic Time, 8 Eastern Time, 7 Central Time, 6 Mountain Time, and 5 Pacific Time.
Mel:We are proud to have Linda Sue Park with us tonight, and not only because she is a Newbery Award winner. I know from hearing Linda Sue speak that she is a children's writers' children's writer. She understands the challenges we children's writers face, and when she speaks there is a definite awareness that she is one of us, rather than someone raised above us because she won the highest award for children's books, the Newbery Medal. One thing she said in a speech I was privileged to hear was: "The Newbery Award does not teach you to write your next book." Linda Sue Park, I'm both honored to introduce you, and excited to hear what you have to share with us. WELCOME to you!
Linda Sue: Thanks, Mel! I'm delighted to have the chance to do this chat.
Mel: Where and when did your journey to the Newbery begin, Linda Sue? Were you a writer as a child, and when did you officially start writing for children?
Linda Sue: Well, first I was a reader. I read EVERYTHING when I was a kid. And I started writing almost as soon as I could read. My mom has some stories saved from kindergarten! All through school, I wrote a lot of poetry, and first tried writing fiction in college. Then I got into public relations, advertising, journalism—I was a food writer for many years--and teaching (I taught ESL to college students). So I've been writing in one capacity or other for as long as I can remember. But I didn't start writing for young people until 1997.
Mel: Were either of your parents writers? And what did they do that made such an avid reader out of you, their daughter?
Linda Sue: Neither of my parents were writers, although they are both creative people in their own ways. My mom is a musician, and my dad, who earned his living as a computer programmer, loves working with his hands. They did a very simple thing to make me a reader: They took me to the library, before I could even walk!
Mel: Did your mom's musicianship rub off on you?
Linda Sue: I played the piano for years, and the cello. Sang in a bluegrass band in college, played a little guitar. Now I just play CDs. ;-) But yes, I love music, and I love poetry for that reason--it's language and music together.
molly22: Linda, with all your college credentials from prestigious universities and with the advice you give on your website to read 1000 books in the genre you want to write for, which has helped you the most, seeing how other writers communicate effectively with children and then doing it yourself, or being educated in English literature as you are?
Linda Sue: Hi molly22! Um, well, I hope there aren't any deans or provosts here, but I'm honestly not sure how much being educated in English literature helped me as a writer. The reason I chose to major in English was because I could READ all day long and call it "studying"! There's no question that reading books for young people has been a far more important part of my writing "education". The best part of college for me was the six months I spent abroad (in France) because it sharpened my appreciation for language, all language, any language. :-)
Mel: Did you know I used to be a dean and provost, Linda Sue? I was at Doggone U.! J
Linda Sue: LOL, Mel!
From TT: Did you ever study illustration, Linda? If so, where? Where might you suggest that anyone interested in illustrating children's books study illustration?
Linda Sue: Hi, TT! No, I have never "formally" studied illustration, but when I started writing picture-book manuscripts, I looked at LOTS of picture books and paid very close attention to the illustrations. I also have illustrator friends, and I plague them with questions constantly, so my education in that sense is continuing, and I hope it never ends!
I know a few people who have studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design, Caldecott Medalist David Wiesner, and Julie Downing, the illustrator of my new picture book, The Firekeeper's Son. But I'm NOT an illustrator, so I'm afraid I don't know much more about schools in that field.
Mel: Do you have aspirations ever to illustrate, say, a picture book?
Linda Sue:Mel—Oh dear, no, never in a million years! I am NEGATIVELY talented when it comes to drawing!
Mel: Did you publish MAGAZINE stories and/or articles before you began writing children's BOOKS?
Linda Sue:Mel—I published many articles on food journalism, including restaurant reviews, and I wrote for various public relations publications. But I didn't do magazine stories or articles for young people.
Linda Sue: RLG: sounds to me like you need a little spinmeistering ;-). I think it's WONDERFUL that ideas and memories are "pouring" out of you! As far as tips, keep your focus tight. Anne Lamott talks about writing within a one-inch picture frame. Take one memory, and then take one slice of that memory, it might be a time frame—one afternoon, not a whole vacation. In general, I try to write in SCENES. And the scene is the keystone of narrative--all narrative, whether fiction, nonfiction, memoir. One scene at a time, RLG. To this day, I don't sit down and say, I'm writing a novel. That would terrify me! Novels are long and complicated and I don't know how anyone ever writes one! No, I sit down and say I'm writing a story, and today I'm going to write either two pages, or one scene, whichever comes first! :-)
Mel: What an intriguing term, "spinmeistering"! What is spinmeistering?!
Linda Sue: Mel—sorry, that's mass media politico-speak. You know, how politicians talk about spin control, and having a "spin master" PR guy, "spinmeistering."
Mel: Ah, yes! Thanks for putting a new word in my vocabulary! Tell us about your research into your Korean ancestry. How exactly did it begin, and how did you go about it?
Linda Sue: I feel quite comfortable writing about Korean culture because of course there was lots of it at home growing up. But I knew very little about Korea, the country. That was where I concentrated my research. And because I don't read Korean, I was limited to sources in English. This was a mixed blessing. There aren't thousands of books about Korean history in English—not like I was researching, say, the Civil War or something much more "popular." So it was a matter of dozens of books, maybe into a hundred or so, but not thousands. I read everything in my local public library. Then I looked at the bibliographies of those books, and requested the titles I thought might be most helpful through interlibrary loan. NY state has a wonderful interlibrary loan system, and they got me books from Columbia, Cornell, etc. For Keoko (a WWII book), I also relied on first-person interviews with my parents, relatives, and their friends.
Mel: You are very fortunate to have such a helpful interlibrary loan system!
RLG: Linda, thank you so very much for your informative web site and all the helpful hints for new writers. Thanks also for being here tonight. When you start an historical novel, which do you create, or are inspired by first—story idea and then research and character development or vice versa? Do you do your basic story outline before starting or after? Is this too cliched on which comes first, the chicken or the egg?
Linda Sue: RLG: The chicken AND the egg. :-) For my first book, Seesaw Girl, I had the idea first. In fact, I had the idea for that book when I was 10 years old! That was when I learned that wealthy girls in medieval Korea had to stay within the walls of their homes all their lives. That blew me away when I was ten, and I knew someday I'd write a story about a girl like that. So then, I started doing the research. And all my other novels have grown out of ideas I came across while doing the research for that first book. I don't do a full outline—just a rough one, half a page at most. I also don't consider plot and character separately. Character grows out of action and reaction, which means you have to have stuff happening. So for me, character and plot are inextricably entwined.
Mel: Seesaw Girl is a MARVELOUS presentation of such a now-contemporary idea, too, Linda Sue! Though there is a lot of nonfiction fact in a book like your A Single Shard, do you have plans to write children's books that are strictly nonfiction?
Linda Sue: I LOVE reading narrative nonfiction, so I wouldn't say "never." But I also love how fiction gives me license to fit the facts into the truth of my story. My family says I always exaggerate when I talk, so they think fiction is the only thing I'm suited for!
grandy1983: Good evening, Linda! I am beginning a middle-grade novel. It's going to be a long and challenging (but exciting!) project for me. What do you suppose is the most difficult aspect of writing one? Thank you!
Linda Sue: Hi grandy1983! Hmmm...the most difficult aspect varies for me--it's been different for each book, which is part of what I love about writing, never the same problem twice! But I would say for most people FINISHING is the hardest part. Most people who start a novel never finish. And I'm sure I would be among them if I hadn't read a tip by the great Katherine Paterson, who wrote an essay about how she writes 2 pages per day. I read that when I was first starting Seesaw Girl, and I was determined to stick to it! And I did--I almost NEVER skipped a day. And every single one of my novels has been written that way!
Mel: Linda Sue, I've wanted to ask this about Newbery winners: Is there a confraternity/ consorority among those who have won the Newbery? Do they get and stay in touch?
Linda Sue: LOL, a fraternity? Well if there is I haven't been asked to join yet! But I have been fortunate to meet several other Newbery winners, and it's always SUCH a thrill--these writers were and are my heroes! And when we do get together, we mostly say things like, "I still can't believe my book won." It's true—all of us, even the great GREATS like Katherine Paterson and Lois Lowry and Richard Peck—all of us feel SO fortunate.
Mel: Besides Katherine Paterson, Lois Lowry and Richard Peck, who are the children's writers who have influenced you and your own writing?
Linda Sue: I'm sure I've been subliminally influenced by books I loved as a child, especially the ones I re-read a million times. Elizabeth Enright's Melendy family books, Charlotte Zolotow, Sydney Taylor, Laura Ingalls Wilder. A book called Roosevelt Grady, by Louisa Shotwell; What Then Raman?, by Shirley Arora; I, Juan De Pareja, by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. A. A. Milne—not the Pooh books, but his poetry. Those were among the most important influences from my childhood.
Mel: That's a real Children’s Writers Hall of Fame! Thanks, Linda Sue! I can see where you could EASILY recommend 1000 books to read!
artist: What a culturally RICH background you have, Linda—thanks for sharing!
Linda Sue: artist—my pleasure! :-)
craig: Ms. Parks, can a young adult novel win the Newbery Medal Award, or is it the Caldecott Medal Award? Or am I totally wrong, and if I am, correct. What books have won the Newbery in the young adult category?
Linda Sue: craig—The Newbery Medal is for books for children and defines its brief as books from age 0 to 14. The Printz Award, which is only a few years old, is for books for 12- to 18-year-olds. So there is some overlap. The Newbery does usually go to a middle-grade novel. The Printz is definitely for YA. And the National Book Award usually leans toward YA as well.
realityczech: First, I would like to thank you for taking my 10-year-old daughter and me on an amazing journey in A Single Shard. I now see my celadon pottery in a whole new light. I was stationed at Osan during a tour of duty in the United States Air Force and am currently researching a YA novel set in South Korea in the 1980’s. Where can I find accurate information (in English if possible, as my Korean is limited!) on Korean citizenship and adoption laws? I am particularly interested in recent/current South Korean policy toward defecting North Koreans and in the legal status of Amerasian children being raised in South Korea. Your help is greatly appreciated!
Linda Sue: Hi realityczech, nice handle. :-) Thank you for your kind comments. Hmmm, have to admit I'm not sure about the answer to your question, but I hope the South Korean Embassy would be a place to start? There are also groups that specialize in Korean adoption, and many websites—some in Engish—about the North Korean issues. Koreans have the highest per capita Internet usage in the world! Many Korean websites have English translations available (not always pristine English, but usually understandable). If I were you I'd start by googling the topics and go from there. Not everything on websites is trustworthy, of course, but when I have questions like that I can usually find a reliable source if I keep linking! Reality—the universities are also a great resource. Try those that have good East Asian departments--Berkeley and Cornell, for a start. And Hawaii.
realityczech: Thank you so much for your help! My story idea is not quite Politically Correct, so I want to be sure my facts are painstakingly accurate!
Linda Sue: reality—good for you! :-)
craig: How long is your biggest book—I mean page-wise. You tend to not like bigger books, I think, but please correct me if I'm wrong.
Linda Sue: craig--my "biggest book" was When My Name Was Keoko, and it came in at something like 200 manuscript pages. I love reading long books, so maybe I'll write one someday! But so far the stories I've wanted to tell have come out at "average" mid-grade length.
kay kay: What is the SHORTEST novel or book you've written?
Linda Sue: kay kay: Shortest novel: Seesaw Girl, about 18,000 words, 80 manuscript pages. But I've also written picture books, a couple of which come in at well under 100 words!
izzy: Could you give me an example of your day, e.g. structure, schedule, activities, etc.?
Linda Sue: Hi, izzy! My schedule varies depending on if I'm traveling/speaking. I try to "clump up" the trips; if I'm on the road, I'll be doing a lot of speaking engagements, bookstore signings, school visits, etc. Unfortunately I have found that I CANNOT work on a novel when I'm on the road, so I use the airport and hotel time to get LOTS of reading done! I've also found that I can work on short pieces—poetry, picture books, sometimes short stories—when I'm on the road, anything that uses pen and paper, because I don't travel with a computer. When I'm at home, my best writing time is mornings, although that varies too—depending on my kids' activities, etc. When I sit down to write, I DON'T GET UP until I've written either one scene or two pages, minimum. That can take anywhere from about an hour to two or three hours. I also have a lot of e-mail and other correspondence to answer...and I'm always behind, sigh!
Mel: Just how MUCH does a Newbery Medal Winner do of traveling and speaking in the time following their award? What percentage of your time now is spent traveling/speaking?
Linda Sue: Traveling/speaking—it's entirely up to the individual. Most Newbery winners do quite a lot in the first year or two, although it's your choice—Louis Sachar did NOTHING except for the Newbery banquet, as he does not like to tour. He had to do some touring last year, tied to the movie contract. I did an awful lot, which was sort of an accident. I was in such a daze for the first month that I kept saying yes to everything, and ended up with a really grueling schedule. I had a great time, but did not have ANY time to write, so last fall I finally called a halt and am trying to balance things better now.
Mel: That was a purely CURIOSITY question, Linda Sue! Here's a more specific one from a ten-year-old:
realityczech: My 10-year-old (who is "listening" as well) wants to know if Ms. Park will be in Colorado any time soon?
Linda Sue: Hi, realityczechchild. :-) No, I'm afraid my schedule for the next year doesn't include Colorado, alas! The closest I get is Oklahoma City. But I know Colorado is a beautiful state, and I'd love to go there someday!
realityczech's ten-year-old: Please keep writing your wonderful stories and you are welcome in our Colorado mountains anytime!
Linda Sue: Thank you, ColoradoKid! :-)
Mel: Here's a kind of duplicate question--but also with follow-up on the travel question:
kay kay: I think it would be a great honor to win a prize like the Newbery. But I don't think I would enjoy the personal sacrifice of traveling/speaking too much. Is this something you have to do, or something you choose?
Linda Sue: kay kay, my decision to do a lot of traveling/speaking—besides being partly an accident—was influenced by Katherine Paterson. She told me she gave up a year after her first Newbery because she felt it was such a tremendous gift to have received the award and she wanted to give something back to the children's book community. What she could give was herself. I found that very moving, and I tried to do the same. However, I had the same conversation with Philip Pullman, and he said, "Don't be ridiculous. What you need to 'give' is another book—stay home and write!" So as you can see, people have varying feelings about it. Nobody MAKES you do anything, although your publisher might strongly encourage certain appearances; in the end, it's your choice.
Mel: I find Katherine Paterson's giving attitude moving too—I got spine tingles just to hear you tell about it—thanks!
alf: I just finished Shard, and I loved it. Do you outline?
Linda Sue: alf—yes. But I do only what I call a "rough outline." It's very short, half a page. There is an example of one on my website, www.lspark.com. Basically, it's character and quest, with quest subdivided into "internal" and "external". So for Shard, my outline was something like this: Character: Tree-ear, a 12-year-old orphan. External quest: to become a potter. Internal quest: To find a place for himself in a society where orphans are pariahs. Then: Complications & choices / Catastrophe / Conclusion / Change, and a few brief lines under each of those headings. That outline, by the way, was cribbed from Lois Lowry--if it's good enough for her, I figured it might help me too!
Mel: Such EXCELLENT and COMPACT advice!
dianna: Have any of your picture books won awards? Are there awards specific for picture books?
Linda Sue:dianna—my picture books have only JUST been published. No awards yet, but one of them—The Firekeeper’s Son—did receive a starred review from Publishers Weekly this week! :-) There are many awards for picture books--the best known are the Caldecott Medal for illustration, given by the American Library Association, and the Zolotow Award, for picture-book TEXT, given by the Cooperative Children's Book Council at the University of Wisconsin/Madison.
Mel:CONGRATULATIONS on your Publishers Weekly starred review, Linda Sue!
Linda Sue: Also, the Coretta Scott King Awards are also given for both picture book illustration and text (for authors and illustrators of African descent), dianna, as are the Pura Belpre Awards (for Hispanic authors and illustrators).
dianna: Thank you!
kay kay: What is your advice in marketing a novel? If a publisher says they accept queries or manuscripts, which do you submit? And how long are your queries?
Linda Sue: Hi, kay kay. Seesaw Girl was submitted as a slushpile query. I'm a big believer in querying for novels: a good cover letter, and the first three chapters. All my other novels have come out with the same publisher, so I did not have to "market" after the first one. If you get a positive response to a query, you get to write REQUESTED MANUSCRIPT on the envelope, and that gets you out of the slush! I highly recommend querying for those who don't have agents. My cover letter is SHORT, always fits onto ONE PAGE.
Mel:How soon in your children's writing career did you acquire an agent, Linda Sue, and what led to your doing that?
Linda Sue: As I mentioned, I sold my first book beginning with a slushpile query. Because it took so long to hear back, I had a second novel almost ready to go by the time the first one sold. I submitted that novel to the same editor, and it too was accepted. At the same time, I was submitting the manuscript to agents because I did NOT enjoy negotiating the first contract, and I wanted someone else to handle that end of things for me. I was offered representation by two agents, and after interviewing both, I chose Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown. I've been very happy, both with her, and with having an agent in general.
artist: Is it best to submit poems one at a time?
Linda Sue: artist--do you mean for magazines? Or for picture-book text, or for a poetry collection?
artist: For magazines.
Linda Sue: Magazines: three to five poems. However, a caveat: I have only published poetry with the Cricket Group, so I don't know how other magazines like their submissions. Cricket says 3-5 poems at a time.
Mel: Do BOOK publishers want poetry, and should you submit a number of them for that purpose?
Linda Sue: Almost all the major publishers do poetry collections, and also picture books that are written either as poetry or in rhyme. However, they also tend to see a lot of BAD poetry, so they often discourage new writers from submitting these formats. If you're talking about a poetry collection, depending on the length of the poems, yes, I would submit the full collection, 12-30 poems. I have a collection coming out in 2006 (I hope!); I submitted 25 poems, but it has not yet been through the editing process. I suspect many of them will be axed and replaced by the time the book comes out.
ellenb: I loved Keoko. I need to know for my book, do Korean women keep their own last name when they marry?
Linda Sue: ellenb: Thank you! Yes, Korean women keep their own last names when they marry. When I first learned this, I thought, my goodness, how liberated! But it turns out it's sort of "the opposite" of a feminist notion. Korean women keep their own last names, and their children always bear the FATHER'S name. This is to emphasize that the children belong to HIS line and are, for legal and societal purposes, HIS, not HERS! (Can you believe it!?)
Mel:One of those incredible-but-true things!
kay kay: In outlining—what if a publisher asks for an outline. Do you submit the half-page outline?
Linda Sue: kay kay—For young people's novels, I have "always" submitted the full manuscript. That's just the way I like to work. However, I do have one adult project in the works. For that one, I submitted a partial manuscript and a very detailed outline of the rest of the book (about 3 pages, single-spaced). If a publisher wants to see an outline, they are usually looking for something much more detailed than my little half--page sketchy thing, which is just for my personal use.
artist: I actually have hundreds of poems. and wondered what to do with them—thanks for your good advice!
Linda Sue:You're welcome, artist, good luck!
grandy1983: Is it necessary to know how a story will end before you start it? Or do some writers write the ending first?
Linda Sue: grandy—there are as many different ways to write a story as there are writers! I usually have a good idea of how I want a story to end, but sometimes I get surprised along the way and the ending turns out a little different! And yes, some writers do write the ending first, and some outline heavily, and some free-write, and some do character sketches, and some do NONE of those things. There is NO secret formula for how to write a good story. That's why reading is SO important—because you learn first-hand that there are a million ways to write a good story!
isabella: Now that you have an agent, do you do ANYthing for the negotiation of a contract?
Linda Sue: Yes. My agent tells me what she is going to propose and I will concur or disagree (usually concur), and sometimes I have a specific request that I ask her to include. But in general, I take her advice because she knows the business end of things so much better than I do. Sometimes this can be hard--recently I was advised to TURN DOWN an offer for the film rights to A Single Shard. Gulp! That was hard to do. But the agent's advice was that the deal was so terrible it wasn't worth it. So I took their advice. However, if I'd wanted the deal, they would have negotiated it for me, so I do try to stay informed at least in a general way, if not in the details.
Mel: A compliment to share, Linda Sue:
writermom: Hi, Mel and Ms. Parks--thanks for all the great info!
Linda Sue: You're welcome, writermom!
molly22: Linda, any plans in the future for an Irish tale for your husband? And if I may, give an example of an Irishman "sweeping you off your feet." (blush)
Linda Sue:molly22, LOL!
Mel: IS your husband Irish, Linda Sue?
Linda Sue: Yes, Mel, my husband is from Dublin. I guess "sweeping me off my feet" is poetic license—what he actually said was, "My visa has expired and I have to go back to Ireland, wanna come?" So I did! I would love to write about Ireland someday. I lived there for a year and we visit often, as most of his family is still there. But of course, the right story has to come along--and sweep me off my feet. ;-)
molly22: Thank you for sharing that Irish tidbit. I am currently writing an Irish tale centered around a cat born in Dublin...thanks too for answering my other questions! I truly loved your web site (read almost all of it).
Linda Sue: molly22--thank you! And best of luck with your story. :-)
Mel: LOLROTF—I LOVE that Irish story! J Next, an observation and then a question about Korean women:
realityczech: One exception to the surname rule: Korean women who marry American servicemen often take their husbands' last names.
Linda Sue:realityczech—Yes, you're right, they do it "American style."
ellenb: In ancient times, Korean women always lost their own names when they married. How did this change?
Linda Sue: ellenb—I'm not sure when/how it changed. I know they kept their own names through the middle and later Chosun dynasty. Perhaps before, in Koryo, they took their husbands' names? Chosun was a dramatic change from Koryo in many ways, so that's why—I'm guessing this, but it IS only a guess.
ellenb: Linda Sue, thank you for answering my questions!
Linda Sue: ellenb—you're welcome, but I'm sorry I wasn't more helpful!
dreamwanderer: How long did it take to hear back about your first novel?
Linda Sue: dreamwanderer: I queried in July, got a request to send the full manuscript at the end of September, and then got the acceptance phone call a month later. However, this was 1997, and although that's not so long ago, the process has slowed down considerably since then.
Mel: Linda Sue, what happened in children's publishing to cause the slowdown since 1997?
Linda Sue: A lot of things, Mel. Houses merging, so there are fewer places to submit; more people submitting; editorial staff spending more of their time on marketing considerations, less time to read slush. But I'd say the second reason is the most significant: More people are writing and submitting than ever before.
momof3: Because more people are writing and submitting then ever, what is the one thing we can do to get noticed when submitting to an editor?
Linda Sue: Hi, momof3. A great story, well written. That's it. That will eventually get noticed—maybe not by the first editor, or the fifth...but if it's TRULY a great story, and it's TRULY well written, sooner or later, some lucky editor is going to publish it. When I started submitting my first novel, I was completely at ground zero. I knew NO ONE in children's publishing, no agent, had never been to a conference, was not yet online. So it CAN happen--a total unknown can indeed break in!
jayj: What's the longest you've waited to hear back from an editor?
Linda Sue: jayj: this is going to sound weird, but I actually DON'T KNOW...because now my agent handles all submissions for me. SHE knows how long it takes, and she always sends me a copy of the rejection letter, but I don't keep track any more. This is another thing I love about having an agent—I concentrate almost solely on the writing, and don't have to worry about submission anymore.
craig: How many books have you written totally, and how many are young adult novels? That is my main interest and I just wanted to know so I could read some of your work.
Linda Sue: craig: Three mid-grade novels. One upper-mid-grade/YA novel. One picture book currently available. Second picture book out this coming March. Three more picture books; one poetry collection; and another mid-grade novel under contract. Also some short stories in anthologies.
sherig: Could you talk specifically about how you do your research?
Linda Sue: sherig—not sure how much detail you want, but I start at the library. When I read a book, I mark an interesting passage with a post-it. When I finish, the book is bristling with post-its. I go back and read the post-it-marked sections a second time, and often a third. I also use the Internet, mostly university sources. I like to do most of the research before I begin writing, because that way I feel like all the story comes from "inside me." I like to know the material so well that I don't have to refer to the original sources—although of course that doesn't always work, and sometimes I do have to go back to the books. But by the time I sit down to write, most of what I need is in my head. Does that answer your question, sherig?
Mel: NICEly specific, Linda Sue!
kay kay: Have you ever been stuck during the planning stages of a novel? I am working on a YA novel. I know what I want to happen, but I don't know how to make it happen, if that makes sense!
Linda Sue:kay kay—planning, no, I don't usually get stuck there, but again my novels are so loosely planned that there's hardly anything to get stuck on! I do sometimes get stuck on the writing, but again, for me the key is to write in SCENES. I ask myself: What's happening right now? The word HAPPEN is key. Not "What's in the character's head?" or "What does the setting look like?", but "WHAT'S HAPPENING??". And then I write (or in your case, plan) that scene. For me, a novel is ALWAYS scenes, and only two kinds of scenes: either PROGESS toward the quest, or IMPEDIMENTS to the quest.
dreamwanderer: At what point in your writing career did you decide to start your website?
Linda Sue: dreamwanderer—I think it was when Shard was published in 2001, because I wanted to try to get some school visits, and I'd heard a website was a good way to get the word out. I used to do it myself, but now I have a webmaster—my 23-year-old nephew who lives in London. Isn't the web an amazing place!
Mel: Yes, it is! About how many school visits do you do in a year?
Linda Sue: Mel—I've cut down on the number of school visits because of what I mentioned before—wanting and needing more time to write! Over the last two years, I did DOZENS of them—I've never counted how many. This year, fewer--I think I'll be doing maybe 10 schools or so.
Mel: WOW, even 10 sounds like a LOT!
molly22: When your first manuscript was accepted, did YOU find the agent or did an agent FIND YOU? How does that work? Thanks.
Linda Sue: molly22: I found the agent. I don't think agents "go after" writers unless they're quite big names, which I most definitely was not back in 1998! I queried four agents, was rejected by two of them and offered representation by the other two.
sherig: Any advice on making a setting come to life?
Linda Sue: sherig—Read great books by writers who are terrific at setting. Natalie Babbit; Susan Cooper; Louis Sachar in Holes. In these books, the setting is almost a "character". And that's how it should be, in my humble opinion—the setting should "interact" with the character. Otherwise it's just dead description (like in a lot of adult novels!).
grandy1983: Since you said you hadn't written magazine articles and stories before writing books, do you have plans for any articles or stories? Or do you find magazines asking for them since you won the Newbery?
Linda Sue: grandy—I've written a few articles since the Newbery, requested by the magazine editors. Same with short stories—I have been asked to contribute to anthologies. Another big change brought about by the Newbery! But on at least one occasion, I've submitted something and it's been rejected. But I do plan to keep concentrating on books, for the most part.
Mel: It's so HUMAN of you to tell us you were rejected, Linda Sue! That’s so encouraging for us in our own children’s writing—thanks!
writermom: Can you clarify the breakdown of ages for middle graders and YA?
Linda Sue: writermom—these categories are much more useful for marketing folks than they are for writers! For my purposes, true mid-grade goes from about 8-13; YA from 12-16. I always say, the STORY comes first. Write the story the way you need to write it. Worry about the "category" later—or maybe you won't need to worry about it at all—the marketing people will do that for you! READING will help you more than anything else...to learn what sorts of things qualify as mid-grade or YA.
grandy1983: I have never been to a writer's conference, but I would like to. Is that how many authors come in contact with editors?
Linda Sue: grandy—yes, it is one way to establish contact with an editor. But as I said before, it is not a "necessary" step. The only "necessity" is that great story, well written!
dreamwanderer: From the various writers forums I have attended, I seems the time it takes between a manuscript being accepted and a finished book hitting the bookstore shelf can be months, even years. How is the writer paid for the manuscript? Is it prorated, one lump sum, totally at the end of production, etc.?
Linda Sue: dreamwanderer: It varies, depending on the publisher. Smaller publishers often pay a flat fee, one time only. The standard "big" publishers pay an advance against royalties. That means you get a certain amount of money "in advance," but then have to "pay it back" out of royalties as the book sells. If you don't sell enough to cover the advance, you never get royalties. But if you DO earn back enough to repay the advance, you then receive a royalty for every copy of the book sold. The advance is usually paid in two lots: Half on signing, and the other half after the editorial process, usually called "on delivery of an acceptable manuscript."
Mel: A purely curiosity question again, Linda Sue: Before you won the Newbery Award, did you have those daydreams most of us children's writers have of one day winning that highest award?
Linda Sue: Mel—No. I can honestly say I NEVER daydreamed about winning the Newbery. It seemed way too far out of my league—remember, my first book had only been out for just over two years when A Single Shard won the Newbery! I was completely unprepared—I was still at the stage where I was THRILLED just to be published!
Mel: When and how did you find out you had won the Newbery for A Single Shard?
Linda Sue: A phone call, around 8:00 a.m. on Martin Luther King Day, 2002. It was the chair of the Newbery committee. She had to repeat the news, not once or twice, but THREE times before I believed her!
Mel: Linda Sue, you've given us such a wealth of help tonight for our children's writing, and two hours just isn't enough time to ask all we'd like to ask about you, your writing and the Newbery Medal. It's easy to see that you're a children's writer we will be reading more about, and reading more books written by. I speak for us all, I know, in asking you if you would return to our chat room again someday, please?
Linda Sue: I'd be honored to come back someday! Thanks to all of you, and especially to you, Mel!
Mel: Our next Guest Chat will not be until MARCH 11, three weeks from tonight. We will finally be back on an alternate-Thursday schedule with the chats of our sister site, the Long Ridge Writers web site. As soon as I am able to confirm our next chat guest, I will post the announcement at http://www.institutechildrenslit.com/rx/iclschat.shtml. Please plan to return on Thursday, March 11 for our next Chat Room Guest!
Mel: Thanks again, Linda Sue Park, for all the richness of ideas and suggestions you have given us this evening about writing for children! And when I have edited and posted this chat, even more children's writers will be able to share in what we have so enjoyed here this evening! Our BEST to you in your writing, Linda Sue!
Linda Sue: Good night, everyone!
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