Guest post: A Writer’s Heart by Sandra Humphrey

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of writing as therapy, is brought to you by middle-grade and YA author Sandra Humphrey. You can read Sandra’s previous guest post, about characters, here.

A Writer’s Heart

When you hear a writer say, “I can’t not write,” it’s more than a truism–it’s the truth!

When my friend Tess is angry, she scrubs the kitchen floor or shops the mall till she drops. What do I do? I write.

When my friend Jeanette is depressed, she raids the fridge and binges big-time. What do I do? I write.

Writing is more than a way of life for us–it IS our life.  We write when we’re high on the mountaintops, and we write when we’re making our tortuous way through the valleys.

When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, what did I do?  I wrote a book for her–I Want to LIVE until I Die!. It was a book about life and about hope. In my heart of hearts, I knew she’d never read it, but it was something I had do–because I’m a writer.

When I developed breast cancer, my immediate reaction was not to find out more about cancer treatments (that came much later) but rather a need to journal. So the first thing I did was to go out and buy a notebook.

As it turned out, I did not have to journal alone. Our granddaughter who was ten at the time, journaled right along with me, and we ended up writing a children’s book together: A Family Affair.

The book is written from her viewpoint and in her words, and it is filled with humor because we want the children who read our book to laugh a little. Maybe even a lot.

As a clinical psychologist for over thirty-one years, the patients who probably touched me the most (and most painfully) were those who cut and burned themselves in order to “feel better.”

They’d never learned how to deal with psychological pain and felt more comfortable dealing with physical pain. For them, the physical pain was a temporary respite from their psychological pain.

After I retired, the memories of those young patients’ suffering were still painfully and permanently etched in my heart, so I wrote Making Bad Stuff Good! in an effort to help children learn some coping skills and hopefully how to deal with psychological pain early on before they ended up needing the services of a psychotherapist.

My young adult novel Letters from Camp is brimming over with characters reminiscent of my young patients. There’s Jennifer the anorexic, Rachel the cutter, Andrea the budding hypochondriac, and Kim with all her self-image problems.

These characters became so real to me and so much a part of my life that I would find the camp director, Mrs. A, at my breakfast table shoveling sugar into her tea or rummaging through my fridge, looking for avocados for her guacamole dip.

And I even ran into Cynthia Winston, the villain of the piece, right in my own bathroom–usurping the bathroom mirror while she  applied her eye make-up. It seemed for a while that I saw Cynthia whenever I passed any mirror. She was always there, preening and giving me her little Mona Lisa half-smile.

I wrote my middle-grade chapter book Rules of the Game when I began receiving weekly letters from a young girl in Chicago, whose school I had visited. As she told me how the other girls in her class taunted and tormented her, I knew I had to write about her pain.

The dedication page reads:

To Annie and young people everywhere who every day meet their challenges with personal integrity and courage.

Annie wrote back from Chicago telling me it “was the best book ever,” and that she keeps it under her pillow. Who could ask for a better review than that!

Then there was the confirmation class I led for so many years. The questions they asked during our group discussions were good questions, and those same questions ended up in my book Keepin’ It Real: A Young Teen Talks With God.

I wrote Dare to Dream!: 25  Extraordinary Lives and They Stood Alone!: 25 Men and Women Who Made a Difference to encourage kids to not only have a dream but to also have the necessary perseverance to attain their dream.

To me strong character is more important than ever as society’s values change and role models are transient and questionable at best. That’s why I wrote the three books in my What Would You Do? series–to get kids thinking and talking about moral choices long before they actually encounter these difficult moral situations in real life.

Hot Issues, Cool Choices: Facing Bullies, Peer Pressure, Popularity, and Put-Downs is a collection of 26 stories depicting various forms of bullying with thought questions following each story and all the stories are based on true experiences students shared with me during my school visits. The book is dedicated to a 12-year-old boy who took his own life as a result of being bullied and these were all stories that needed to be told!

Some of my books may never find actual publishing homes, but as long as they find a home in someone’s heart, what more can I ask?

After all, isn’t that why we write? To touch someone and give them something they need at the time–hope or encouragement or maybe just a good laugh.

We are all in our own way encouragers. And what could be more noble a mission than that!

HAPPY WRITING!

Hear, hear. Thank you, Sandy!

Sandra McLeod Humphrey is a retired clinical psychologist, a character education consultant, and an award-winning author of eight middle-grade and young adult books.  She’s also the recipient of the National Character Education Center’s Award for Exemplary Leadership in Ethics Education (2000) and the 2005 Helen Keating Ott Award for Outstanding Contribution to Children’s Literature.

You can learn more about her books by visiting her website at www.kidscandoit.com. Connect with Sandy at:

FB Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/KidsCanDoIt2
Google+ = https://plus.google.com
Klout: http://klout.com/#/Sandra305
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/sandra-humphrey-sandra305/a/b4/441
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/sandra305
Twitter: http://twitter.com/Sandra305
Website: http://www.kidscandoit.com
YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/SandraMHum/videos

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If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with travel writer Thirza Vallois – the four hundred and seventy-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Guest post: What kind of writer do I want to be? by Saskia Akyil

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of a book’s, and writer’s, target audience is brought to you by novelist Saskia Akyil.

What kind of writer do I want to be?

We’ve all heard that J.K. Rowling’s upcoming book is intended for adult readers.  Why is this big news? Because all of her previously published books were intended for young readers.  Her first book was written for middle-grade readers, though it clearly appealed to young adult as well as adult readers.  Ms. Rowling’s second book was also for young readers, as was her entire 7-book series.  By writing a series of books for young readers, she established herself as a superstar writer for them… so what’s she doing?  Leaving her readers behind, or growing with them?  Taking a risk because she wants to and because she can afford to?  Perhaps she’s tired of writing for children?  Maybe these are all reasons that led her to write a book of a different genre as her previous ones, but one thing that is certain is that she can afford to take a risk.

My first published novel is also intended for young readers.  The majority of my readers have been adults, however, and as I plan my next book, I wonder if I should write another YA book, or if I should attempt writing another genre.  In other words, what kind of writer do I want to be?  Book 1, ‘Secrets of a Summer Village’, is a coming of age mainstream fiction / YA crossover.  It’s fairly light-hearted, upbeat, and positive.  The feedback I’ve gotten is that it makes readers feel good and learn something at the same time.  It also makes you feel good when you’re writing happy, positive stories.  That said, I don’t want to write fluff.

I have a storyline for my second book, but it could go either way – YA or general fiction.

The feedback I’ve gotten from young readers is that they enjoyed the story and they learned something new at the same time.  I don’t want to disappoint them – I want to give them something accessible and intelligent, I want to take them on a pleasant adventure and for them to learn something new – that’s what I like best about my book, too. Whoever I write for, I want the book to teach the reader something new.  I was thinking of making the main character of my second book 13 years old, but then I was told that 13 is a black hole because it’s considered too old for Middle Grade novels and too young for YA.  So my main character needs to be either 12 or younger… or 15 or older.  Which is a shame because I think that 13 is a fascinating age.  It only makes things more complicated that so many adults have enjoyed my book…

So, what kind of writer do I want to be?  Should I continue on the path I’ve taken with my first book, or should I try a new route?  This is a dilemma that all authors must have at some point in their careers!

Having written four novels, all of different genres (lad lit, chick lit, general, crime), I’m still working that one out myself… 🙂 thank you, Saskia!

Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Saskia E. Akyil, like many writers over the age of 25, began her art by keeping a journal and writing letters to her friends, pen-pals, cousins, and grandparents.

After receiving a B.A. in International Studies from Emory University and an M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) from the University of Minnesota, her writing took on a more formal tone as she wrote articles for academic publications.

Saskia gained incredibly diverse experiences while simultaneously working three jobs in Olympia, Washington; as a community college ESL professor for immigrants, as a state program administrator for displaced homemakers, and as a Spanish-language medical interpreter. She has also taught numerous cooking classes in the United States and in Germany.

As a hobby, Saskia collects languages, and has studied French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Turkish, and German. Her first novel, ‘Secrets of a Summer Village’, was published in September 2011.  She now lives in southern Germany with her husband and two young children and has been writing stories ever since she learned how to write words, though her stories have significantly improved, as has her handwriting.

‘Secrets of a Summer Village’ is available from Amazon, received some great reviews on goodreads, and you can find out more about Saskia from her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Authonomy.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with travel and short story author Vic Heaney – the four hundred and twenty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Guest post: Just Part of the Family by Sandra Humphrey

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of characters is brought to you by middle-grade and YA author Sandra Humphrey.

Just Part of the Family

I’ve been working on a young adult novel that takes place at a summer camp for girls with emotional problems in northern Minnesota, and I find it more than a little disconcerting that some of my characters have recently moved in with me.

This morning I found the camp director, Mrs. A, at my breakfast table shoveling sugar into her herbal tea, and last night I found her rummaging through my fridge, looking for avocados for her guacamole dip.

And it’s not just Mrs. A who has moved in. Leslie (my Protagonist) and some of her camper friends are also showing up unexpectedly. I found Trisha (a young black girl who longs to have her own garden amidst the chaos of the inner city) wandering around my backyard last week. She wasn’t being a nuisance or anything. She was just out there smelling the flowers.

Then there’s anorexic Jennifer. She hasn’t actually moved in yet, but I see her in some of the young girls I mentor at our church. They talk about their control issues at home and how food is the only thing in their lives that they feel they have any control over. Jennifer doesn’t say anything at these meetings, she just nods in agreement.

And, of course, there’s Rachel, “the cutter”. There were so many Rachels at the state mental hospital who insisted that they had to cut “to feel better”. They shared with me how they could deal more easily with their physical pain than with their psychological pain, and how the physical pain gave them a temporary respite from their psychological pain.

I’ve even run into Cynthia Winston, the villain of the piece, right in my own bathroom—usurping the bathroom mirror while she apples her makeup. Actually, Cynthia has pretty much taken over all my mirrors. She’s always there, preening and giving me her little Mona Lisa half-smile.

Although I have never invited any of my characters to move into my home and take over so much of my life, I find I’m becoming used to having them around. And I might even miss them if they were to move out.

I think what I’ve concluded from all this is that to make our characters real to our readers—characters whom they really care about—we must care about them first. They must be so real to us that we see them everywhere we go and in everything we do, and sometimes we may even find them in the most unexpected places!

Creating new characters has to be the best aspect of writing for me, especially bringing characters back which I did for one of the Story A Day May stories this week. Thank you Sandra!

Sandra McLeod Humphrey is a retired clinical psychologist, a character education consultant, and an award-winning author of eight middle-grade and young adult books.  She’s also the recipient of the National Character Education Center’s Award for Exemplary Leadership in Ethics Education (2000) and the 2005 Helen Keating Ott Award for Outstanding Contribution to Children’s Literature. You can learn more about her books by visiting her website at www.kidscandoit.com and her blog at www.kidscandoit.com/blog.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with multi-genre author Sean Byerley – the three hundred and sixty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum and you can follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Guest post: writing middle grade fiction by Glen C. Strathy

I’m delighted to bring you tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of writing middle grade fiction, by Glen C. Strathy.

The Two Most Important Things I’ve Learned About Writing Middle-Grade Fiction

When I was younger, I never could have predicted that I would one day be writing middle-grade fiction. In fact, I always imagined that my first novel would have been adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery, simply because that is what I used to read for fun.

All that changed, however, when I became a father. My daughter loves to read and be read to. She also has a hard time falling asleep. So for many years, I spent one or two hours each evening reading middle-grade fiction aloud to her. I recited all the Harry Potter books so many times that she now knows many passages by memory. I also read the His Dark Materials, and the Bartimaeus series, most of Roald Dahl’s books, and many other classics.

While I was developing a subconscious understanding of children’s fiction through continuous exposure, I was also working on my own middle-grade novel, Dancing on the Inside, and consciously working out how to make it a book that would appeal to girls my daughter’s age. So let me share with you the two most important things I’ve learned.

First, it’s important to choose the right main character for a middle-grade novel. On the one hand, kids aged 9-12 are just starting to figure out who they are, who they will become as they mature. They want heroes they can adopt as role models. So a good main character will be older than the readers, someone who does amazing things and has admirable qualities. He or she will have some special ability, whether it’s external (e.g. martial arts) or personality based (e.g. a humorous way with words).

At the same time, it’s a mistake to make the main character more than a couple of years older than the readers. Kids want to read about characters they can relate to – characters who wrestle with similar problems. A 45-year old man going through a mid-life crisis would a terrible main character for a children’s book, even if he is a superhero by night. The best main characters are pre-teens or young teens who are care about others, have some problem or insecurity common at their age, and also possess some trait or ability that makes them special.

The second thing about middle-grade fiction is that story matters. When you’re writing literary fiction for adults, you can downplay plot in favor of character, style, and inner conflict. But a solid, dramatic plot structure really engages young readers. Kids love to see their hero fight against the odds and succeed in the end. You don’t have to have a comic book villain in a black cape, but you do need an antagonist and some type of conflict. Your main character’s problems must get worse until they reach a climax, at which point he finds a way to fantastic way to solve them. A little mystery also helps readers stay engaged.

However, as long as you follow these two principles, there really are no limits to what middle-grade readers can enjoy. Almost every genre can be written for this group – historical, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, western, paranormal, contemporary, or in my own case… performing arts. It’s a great age to be, and a great age to write for.

Thank you Glen!

Glen C. Strathy started writing stories when he was 11 years old and too shy to have a life.  He eventually found a life when he started acting in community theatre and met other writers, actors, dancers, and artists.  He discovered that the best thing about performing arts (and other arts too) is that they give people more freedom to be who they want to be.  After spending time as an actor, teacher, and freelance writer, he returned to his first love, fiction and wrote Dancing on the Inside, a novel for ages 9-12.

Glen earned an M.A. in English from the University of Western Ontario, and graduated from the Artist in Community Education program at Queen’s University, Kingston. He co-authored two non-fiction books, one of which (The Coming Economic Collapse, Warner Business Books, 2006) became a New York Times Bestselling Business Book.  He belongs to the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). His website www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com provides advice to budding authors.

Glen lives with his wife, fellow writer Kaitlin Rainey, and their daughter in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. You can visit his website at www.glen-c-strathy.com. Visit him on Twitter and Facebook. Glen will be returning on December 12th for our interview. 🙂

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with non-fiction author Feather S. Foster – the one hundred and ninety-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords.