Guest Blog by Author Rajani LaRocca
My middle grade debut, MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM (Yellow Jacket/Little Bee Books, June 11, 2019) is an Indian-American mashup of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and competitive baking. The story is about 11-year-old Mimi, the youngest of four, who dreams of finally proving she’s not the least talented member of her family by winning a local baking contest judged by her celebrity chef idol. But when her dad, a renowned food writer, returns from a business trip mysteriously unable to tell the difference between delicious and disgusting, Mimi doubts she’ll ever be able to bake something good enough to propel her to gastronomic fame. She follows strangely familiar music into the woods behind her house, and meets an unusual boy, Vik, who brings her to parts of the forest she’s never seen before. Together, they bake up enchanting treats for family and friends using ingredients they find in the woods. But as her father acts stranger every day and her siblings’ romantic entanglements start causing mayhem in her town, Mimi begins to wonder whether the ingredients she and Vik found are somehow behind it all. She needs to use her skills, deductive and epicurean, to try to uncover the truth. In the process, she learns that in life, as in baking, not everything is sweet.
As you can tell, I love writing AND baking. It took me years to bake up this particular book, and while doing so, I discovered some great parallels between baking and writing.
1. Choose the Best Ingredients
In baking, the better the ingredients, the better the outcome. You want to use fresh butter and eggs, real fruit, and aromatic spices to create the best product. In writing, I’ve discovered that stories with a core of something true (a place, a situation, an emotion) tend to be most interesting and resonant. I use fiction to tell the truth.
In MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM, I channeled a mix of childhood memories, my fascination with Shakespeare and baking, and the feeling of wanting something so badly but not knowing if you can ever achieve it.
Some people study to be pastry chefs, but you don’t need to go to culinary school to bake up delicious treats. Similarly, some people have MFAs, but you don’t need a degree to write well. You do, however, need to study the craft of writing—because as much as we can all recognize a great story when we read it, we can’t write a compelling story by just pulling it out of the ether. I learned about plot, characterization, setting, and theme by taking classes (online and in person) and reading books on craft. Here’s a short list of some favorites:
Grub Street (in person and online at grubstreet.org/)
The Writing Barn (in person and online at www.thewritingbarn.com/)
The Highlights Foundation (incredible retreats and workshops with world-class faculty; some workshops have an online component. See https://www.highlightsfoundation.org/)
Structuring Your Novel and Outlining Your Novel by K. M. Weiland
Wired For Story and Story Genius by Lisa Cron
The Magic Words by Cheryl Klein
Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul
3. Taste Testing/Experimentation
When you are developing new recipes, it’s essential to keep tasting as you go; or, in baking, to make a small batch, taste, adjust, and try again.
How do you do this as a writer? Join a critique group! My critique partners and beta readers were instrumental in helping me figure out whether a scene, a chapter, or a whole manuscript were working. Their feedback and suggestions gave me fresh perspectives on my writing. MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM and my other books wouldn’t be the same without their invaluable input.
You can also seek out input from industry professionals like agents and editors. Ultimately, though, you are the chef, and you should run with the suggestions that resonate with you while staying true to the story you want to tell.
4. Know Your Eater (or Audience)
When you bake a cake for someone, you try to include their favorite ingredients: chocolate! Pineapple! Sprinkles!
You need to think about your intended audience as a writer, too—not to preach or teach them a lesson, but to harken back to what it felt like to be that age, and remember what worried you, what made you happy, what made you laugh, and what you wanted most in the world. The more truly you can channel the feelings of your inner child, the more genuine your story will feel to the kids who will someday read it.
That’s my take on the art and science of baking up a book. Choose the best ingredients for your story; study the method or craft of writing; taste your story, get input, write more, and taste again; and know your audience. As Mimi learns in MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM, I hope this helps you to create with your heart, to write the story that only you in all the world can tell.
To learn more about Rajani or to get your copy of MIDSUMMER'S MAYHEM, check out these links:
by Francine Puckly
My fellow 24 Carrot Writing bloggers and I just returned once again from the SCBWI New England spring conference. At Kelly’s suggestion a few years ago, we sit down together to list our top takeaways once we return from workshops and conferences. It’s a powerful practice!
I attended many informative workshops this year, but the key takeaway for me was from Ekua Holmes’ keynote address—and specifically the wise words of her mother. Her mother encouraged her not to become overwhelmed by the future and all of the tasks in front of her, but rather just “do the next thing.” This advice has centered me more than I could have imagined, and it fits with Kelly’s idea of the “do-it-today takeaways”—using the conference energy to take quick actions that will give you a boost toward your goals.
I have three big and messy projects in front of me this year, and I’ve been slow to make progress on them. But instead of racing too far ahead on my to-do lists or getting overwhelmed by the magnitude of my projects, this idea of doing the next small action item is simple yet profound.
My three “do the next thing” conference takeaways:
Have you recently attended a conference, a long workshop, or a webinar geared toward your writing and illustrating life? If so, reread your notes. Think about how you can incorporate your newly acquired knowledge by doing the next thing in each of your goal areas.
Don’t wait to take small actions that will propel you toward your goals. As we approach the midpoint of the calendar year, what’s your next thing?
~by Amanda Smith
I have been following Miranda Paul's career for many years and celebrate along with her as her fifteenth book will be released this year. Her picture books inspire young readers to take care of the earth and one another. She invests generously in the kidlit community as founder of RATE YOUR STORY and co-founder of WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS. Her generosity also spills over in other walks of life in local and international communities, where she invites others to come alongside her and spark change. I am honored to welcome Miranda to 24 Carrot Writing to tell us about her newest book-baby.
NINE MONTHS: Before a Baby is Born (illustrated by Jason Chin) released on April 23, 2019. You have said of this book, “My heart is full to have this very special book received with love. It's been in development for ten years, and I may cry upon its ‘birth.’” Please share with our readers the journey of NINE MONTHS and why it is so close to your heart.
Nine Months is the book I wanted when I was pregnant with my second child. Sometimes that’s why you write a book—the one you want doesn’t exist yet. While every day I was getting access to weekly updates on the status of my baby, where was the scientifically-accurate yet age-appropriate book for my two-year-old daughter who was as curious as I was about each stage of her new sibling’s development? And while there were plenty of great picture books about where babies come from or emotional picture books about how much love a new baby gets, I struggled to find one that struck the right balance between the two. It only took ten years, but Nine Months is exactly the book I wanted. The science of human life is as miraculous as the love families have for each other. This book compromises neither one, and it’s also a reflection of the diversity of our world’s families.
Your books are diverse in theme, yet many deal with social/environmental issues. Why do you gravitate towards telling these kinds of stories?
Diversity and environmentalism are important aspects of my life, and my work is an extension of who I am and what I believe. As a white woman, I am keenly aware of my privilege and how representation in society can elevate or diminish someone’s opportunities. On a more personal level as a mom, raising biracial, multi-ethnic children who are also nature lovers is my everyday joy and task. Having traveled, lived, and made friends with people in more than a dozen countries has afforded me the discovery that human beings are more alike than we are different, and that our planet is a superbly beautiful place worth protecting. All children need to be reflected in and honored by the stories we tell, and our planet should be given a voice.
You are such a prolific writer, and you do school visits and many other public appearances as well. How do you structure your writing time? Do you write on specific days or do you write every day?
I get this question a lot. Many people don’t know that I’ve been writing most of my life, so when I began in children’s books I had a body of work and experience writing for other kinds of publications. My structure isn’t exactly the same day-to-day (what working mother can say this? What person, for that matter?). But just as any other self-employed person I set schedules and have honed my self-discipline. I do most of my school visits in spring and fall, and therefore a lot of new writing and researching naturally falls in the winter and summer months. There’s no magic equation. Everyone who is an aspiring writer—even if you’re working another job (like I was when I began) or taking care of children or elderly—must find the motivation and momentum to fit the work into the “cracks of life,” to use a phrase I heard from writer Susan Manzke. You may not have entire days to write, but you might have snippets here and there. Enough snippets put together make a book.
Here at 24 Carrot Writing we are big on setting goals as a way to stay motivated and on task. Do you use writing goals to keep focused? Would you mind sharing your goals or 2019?
Just before my debut book One Plastic Bag released, I had a moment in which I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. The feeling was exhilarating; it’s hard to describe. So for the past couple of years, my goals have leaned toward enjoying the process and keeping on the same path. Of course, I also have personal goals for growth and pushing myself to try new things. Not all of them have to do with writing, which is what I find most meaningful. The more I work on having the life I want, the better I seem to be doing professionally. I get to write—and live—what I believe. Keeping that realness is at the top of my list of goals, because I hope it’s an inspiration to my children that exploring who you are, staying active in areas that matter to you, and developing your passions are all measures of success, regardless of the outcome.
What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
Remember that even though you may pour your heart into your work, ultimately you and your work are separated once it goes out into the world. A rejection or critique is about the words on the page—not you, personally. So yes, you can keep creating. Yes, you are good enough. And yes, your voices and visions matter enough to share. It’s really that simple.
Thank you for sharing your heart and wisdom with 24 Carrot Writing, Miranda.
New and Upcoming Books by Miranda Paul:
Miranda Paul is the award-winning author of One Plastic Bag, Water is Water, and I Am Farmer, all Junior Library Guild selections. Whose Hands Are These? was named a 2017 ILA Teacher's Choice and Are We Pears Yet? won the 2018 Award of Excellence in Children and Young Adults Literature from the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries. Her most recent release, Nine Months: Before a Baby is Born, received three starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly. Miranda Paul is an annual faculty member at the Highlights Foundation and a co-founding member of the nonprofit organization We Need Diverse Books, for which she currently serves as Mentorship Chair. Visit her at mirandapaul.com.
NINE MONTHS: Before a Baby is Born, as well as Miranda's other book are available at these retailers:
Barnes and Noble:https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/nine-months-miranda-paul/1129200776?ean=9780823441617#/
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