Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Very Large Array, 2011

By Kathryn Erskine, the 2010 National Book Award winner in Young People's Fiction for her novel Mockingbird.

With Beckie Weinheimer she co-leads the workshop Writing the Young Adult Novel, which starts  January 29th

I’ve always been fascinated by the Very Large Array of radio astronomy telescopes in the New Mexican dessert.  It’s just plain fun to think about the diversity of our solar system and what we might discover.  It’s the same with books and stories.  There’s such an array out there that we don’t have to limit ourselves to certain genres.  Admittedly, I get hooked on series (e.g., Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society) but I also love books with incredibly strong voices, like Patricia McCormick’s Sold, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, and Neely Tucker’s Love in the Driest Season.  (For more on those books, see http://www.npr.org/2010/11/08/131167131/three-books-in-unflinching-unforgettable-voices )  This year, I plan to reach out and try something different:  read a book in a different language.  What kind of read would be a stretch for you?

I’m also planning to stretch myself in the writing arena.  Why not give another type of writing a go in 2011?  If you’re a novelist, try poetry.  If you write for kids, try writing for adults.  If you write short, try writing long, and vice versa.  Here’s my writing array, so far, for 2011, but I’m open to more:

--finish draft of contemporary humorous adult novel set in Canada
--finish draft of middle grade novel set in the Middle Ages
--finish draft of contemporary humorous middle grade set in a DC suburb
--finish draft of bizarre project that’s hard to even explain
--edit middle grade novel set in early 1970’s Virginia
--edit young adult coming of age novel set in apartheid South Africa
--edit picture book biography
--write a very large array of blog posts, speeches, and lesson assignments

I don’t know how much of the above will be published but just the act of writing it will bring me closer to publication because, like any activity, the stretching and practicing help us improve our craft. 

When you think about it, the Very Large Array is all about reaching out, gathering information, and learning.  Isn’t that what we’re doing as writers?  And, hopefully, touching readers?  There are so many different ways to do that and such a variety of people to reach.  I picture us as that array of telescopes, grounded on the earth but always looking upwards, searching, learning.  I look forward to what we discover in 2011, and to reading what we all write.  What’s your array this year?

Kathryn Erskine, a lawyer-turned-author, grew up in six countries, an experience that helps her write from different perspectives. Her novels include Quakinghttp://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=thewriscen-20&l=as2&o=1&a=014241476X, an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, Mockingbirdhttp://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=thewriscen-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0399252649, an ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults nominee, and The Absolute Value of Mike. While covering weighty topics, her books use humor to make difficult issues approachable. She is a writing instructor and frequent workshop presenter. You can find her on her website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

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