I pulled an all-nighter trying to get through yet another hard-core edit of my middle grade novel Jinnie Wishmaker. I sat down with my laptop and a Dr. Pepper at 10 p.m. and started working. I finished about noon today (I did sleep a couple hours in there) with a pretty solid draft to give to a couple of my critique buddies.
I edit best in one uninterrupted stream, especially when I’m looking, as I was last night, for overarching plot problems and characterization flaws. The book is sitting at 36,000 words, and I’m feeling concern about the plot. Despite reading a number of middle grade books that were character-driven, and feeling I had written one, I found myself inevitably drawn into the whole issue of good versus evil and how this battle manifests in everyday life. And this tends to push into action.
One of the central issues in this book is that good can never and should never totally abolish evil. If we did so, because of how humans are, the least good would become the new evil, and the battle would simply begin anew. I don’t think we would know about light without also seeing darkness. So the kids in the book, as they discover their powers, find that an equal and opposite dark force is also born.
This goes right down to the issue of their individual problems and abilities. Jinnie is learning disabled, unable to read on grade level, and really struggling in her mainstreamed academics. Maddy and Grace are the most unexpected twins ever, both labeled emotionally disturbed. Marcus is a high functioning autistic boy, a math and engineering genius who can’t read three-letter words.
But all these kids, as they deal with their challenges, find their powers exist specifically to balance their weaknesses. Without their problems, they would never have even gotten a shot at something so amazing, magical, and extraordinary.
I’ve had a wonderful time with the book. The novels that have been very influential to me so far have been:
Matilda by Roald Dahl. The idea that one little girl can find a touch of magic to help her deal with a difficult world is exactly the initial theme I worked with.
Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars. Purely character driven, the emotional force of this beautifully crafted book reminds me that we can learn so much by getting deeply inside another person as they work through life changes.
Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. Sweetness and sentimentality can be done with humor and cleverness.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Hyperbole is fun! And the magic in our world can be taken literally by children even if it is explained away by adults.
Children of the Lamp by PB Kerr. I was so delighted to see his theory of homeostasis, the balance of evil and good djinn. I completely agree with him on this issue and will take it many steps further should I end up writing a series myself.
Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff. I’m reminded that just because I’m writing for children doesn’t mean I can’t pause, slow down, and describe beautiful scenes.
I bought quite a few more books at the book fair at Emily’s elementary, and I’m going to the library tomorrow to pick up some of the recommendations from blog readers. (You can still leave some there–I’ll get them.)
I am very excited!