February 12th, 2009

Virginia Euwer Wolff's unusual use for index cards

I’ve actually met Virginia Euwer Wolff at a group signing we were both at many years ago. How did a white lady of a certain age and from rural Oregon come to write about teens that many think of as multicultural?

You can find out by clicking here.

Two interesting things she said: She’s had the same editor, but a million different houses: “I’ve followed Brenda Bowen as she’s moved from Henry Holt to Scholastic to Simon and Schuster to Hyperion and to HarperCollins.”

And she sweats reviews too! “Yes, I knew that “you’re only as good as your next book,” and I was terrified that True Believer wouldn’t be well received. It helped that I had other things besides writing to keep me going at the time, like contracting the construction of a stone garden and playing violin with a chamber group. There was a time that I carried around an index cards with the words “chamber group” and “raise flowers” on it. It reminded me that I had other things in my life besides writing if the book didn’t get good reviews.” [Full disclosure: I think I need an index card. Not sure what to put on it.]

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As you know, Bob

One way to give readers information is through dialog. But I hate it when a writer uses what’s known as "As You Know, Bob" dialogue (also known, less charmingly, as expository dialog). This happens when one characters explains to another character things they both already know, but the reader does not.

I recently gave up on an historical mystery I was sent as a reviewer that had this piece of dialog between two people employed by the queen: “Our lady queen’s past fifty. An heir’s out of the question, so the marriage game won't keep France and Spain at bay any longer. They want Mary of Scots on the throne and England back in their Catholic pockets.”

Don’t you think they both already knew that? The only reason one character said it to the other was to let the reader know what was going on.

Stories set in a world unfamiliar to the reader often face this problem, as author Jed Hartman explains:

"And now," Dr. Zurückgeschichte said, "please explain to me how an infodump works."

"But why would I have to explain infodumps to you, Doctor?" I asked. "You invented the infodump! And it has become one of the basic principles upon which our society is founded!"

To read more about “Faux Dialogue Naive (in which one character explains something to another character designed to be the reader-identification character, a character who doesn't have the necessary background and thus must have it explained to them), Faux Dialogue Redundant (in which one character explains something to another character who knows it already, as I am doing now), Faux Thought Redundant (in which a character thinks something to themselves that they already know), and Narrative" click here.

Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction suggests this solution: Instead of having one character say: “My brother is due to arrive at midafternoon and is bringing his four children with him” try “That idiot brother of mine thinks he can wlak in the middle of the afternoon and plunk his four kids in my lap” or “I can’t wait until my brother gets here at three. You’ll see - those are the four sweetest kids this side of the planet."

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Does a sexual abuser deserve a second chance?

The front page of the Oregonian has the story of a woman who is trying to get her teaching credential reinstated. Twenty-five years ago, Kimberly Horenstein had a new teaching degree and was working as a swim coach. Then in her mid-20s, she sexually abused a 10 year old girl for eight months. Then she moved on to an eighth grade girl on her swim team, and sexually abused her for a year.

No one knew what had happened except Horenstein and the victims. She began a 21 year career as a teacher of deaf and hard of hearing students. She has been in a "committed relationship" for 15 years with an adult partner. They adopted two boys. In 2005, one of her victims saw a news story about her and learned Horenstein had adopted. She contacted the police. Horenstein admitted her guilt.

Her crimes were too old to be prosectued.

No parents or students were told while they considered what to do about her license. For 15 months, she taught under a "safety plan" that required another adult be present when she was with children.

Then she was fired. Now she wants her license back.

Her old supervisor says, "She understands how to run an efficient, individualized and learning rich classroom. It would be a valuable service returned to students, families, staff and the field of deaf education if Kim's license could be reinstated."

Yeah, our babysitter looked great to other adults too. And she molested me when I was nine.

Horenstein spent 18 months being a molester. That's a long time. In petitioning to get her license back she refers to those nearly two years as "the incident."

I've got one word for the board: no. Don't take the chance. Don't put her with vulnerable children.

Read more here.

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