Guest Post with Carrie Bailey

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Guest Post with Carrie Bailey

Unlike Caitlin, who has written a YA book about a 15 year old boy with ADHD titled Welcome H.O.E.M., I haven’t tackled the challenge of creating a main character with hyperactivity and attention deficit issues. But, I did include a sidekick in my recent novel with all the same problems that I’ve faced my entire life.

Or something… what were we talking about again?

Yeah, writing about characters with ADHD when you have ADHD is an interesting two-part conversation. But, let’s forget the debates and controversies around the diagnosis, whether it is over diagnosed, the medication options, whether it is over medicated, the role of genetics and environmental factors and just consider the experiences of people who have problems at school and at work, because it’s just harder for them to focus and sit still.

From personal experience, I can tell you it’s challenging. And it was even harder helping my son navigate all the expectations of dealing with ADHD in a school environment. As a small kid, he would come home happy and excited about things he learned or people he met. He loved learning, but his teachers often found him disruptive, always off topic and off schedule. And over time that had an impact.

ADHD often comes with painful social consequences. When my son was little, I could not convince him that the teachers calling him ADHD didn’t really mean he was STUPID. It was what the other kids thought and that’s how he experienced it.

My mother, aunt and uncle were all calm, steady and duller conversationalists than a rock lying on the side of the road in Boring, Oregon, but they were excellent elementary school teachers. Unfortunately, they made sure I knew my differences were a problem before I ever understood what the problem really was. They had a dream to help me, and then later my son, be “normal.” To sit when there was nothing to do. To be silent when there were people to meet and get to know. To keep our hands to ourselves when there was something interesting right within our grasp. To memorize things that we knew would be quickly forgotten. To stay and finish what we were doing when we had a great idea about something else of equal priority. To waste the daylight when it was the perfect weather to run and climb and jump. To let the hours and years of our lives pass without seizing each moment and living it to the fullest.

Although I can’t speak for everyone with ADHD, I’m trying to convey to the best of my ability how it feels. All the desires to act in the moment always feel reasonable and no matter how much we care for the people around us, social expectations form a prison where the bars close in on us slowly until in a claustrophobic-like fit we are compelled to break our bonds and do something which will likely get us in trouble. While having ADHD made it easy for me to empathize with my son when he presented with the same issues, as a parent experiencing the other side, I spent most of the time feeling harassed and helpless. My family, teachers and coworkers suffered and for a long time, I didn’t understand why.

Many tears of frustration and fear for my wellbeing were shed, a process which seemed to repeat when my son started school. We found ways to cope eventually, but both times getting there often felt like a battle.

And we were not alone in feeling mystified by why it had to be so hard. If we consider that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates childhood diagnosis of ADHD at 11% of the population, then it’s easy to understand how these issues are both common for parents and statistically inevitable for teachers. It is not a lonely problem. It does not have to be isolating.

There are a VERY large number of people who become obnoxious when confined in a classroom or a cubicle. More than 1 in 10. But, it is new for every kid who has to deal with it.

Many people have speculated that the characteristics, which make classrooms challenging, may have had an evolutionary advantage. That was the premise I worked with when I began writing a preadolescent character with ADHD named Amit for my novel, The Ishim Underground.

In a nomadic culture, we’ve observed that the distractibility means early awareness of threat or danger. The inability to follow directions and remain on task often translates to innovation and creative problem solving when allowed to run free. The rejection of routine and order might have meant the flexibility to adapt to changing environments. Being impulsive could have its advantage in quick responses and no hesitation when an opportunity was presented.

In my novel, the main character, Eron, is the polar opposite of Amit. He’s reserved, an excellent student and highly organized to a fault. He meets Amit after being effectively expelled from a village during this first job as a young adult while two gray-haired nomadic women are robbing him. Later, as they travel together, Amit teaches him how to live on the road while he teaches Amit how to read. Amit hunts, he wanders off and doesn’t listen when Eron gets too dull. But without Amit’s help, the giant genetically modified house cats that roam the wasteland would probably have eaten Eron. Amit’s ADHD helps them both survive.

It was a rewarding process for me to explore the advantages of ADHD through writing.

For writers, I believe understanding ADHD is paramount, because it affects not only the 1 in 10 experiencing the issues associated with these characteristics, but everyone who knows and loves them. And most novels have enough characters that ADHD would be likely to make an appearance, however minor, in at least one of the characters lives.

It may be a surprise to people without ADHD that in a creative environment most of us leverage our attention span well, capturing the bursts of insight and inspiration and make the most of the intense hyper focus that comes when we are engaged with something we truly love.

Knowing the issues intimately, the real challenge for me was writing from the perspective of someone without ADHD who was observing someone with ADHD. I have more sympathy for my family, my former teachers, my son’s teachers, my employers and our friends. Consciously choosing to incorporate ADHD in my work helped me see beyond the occasional discrimination to understanding the complexity of communicating about the associated issues from different perspectives. I found the experience invaluable.

Of course, I’m still shamelessly happy to be the way I am, but writing about ADHD has helped me forgive the people who were unhappy with my son or me climbing up the walls. And for us, that was the piece of the puzzle that was missing. A mutual understanding and appreciation for how we are different.

Carrie Bailey is the author of The Ishim Underground a YA Science Fiction novel set 500 years in New Zealand’s future. You can connect with her on Twitter @PeevishPenman or find her at her blog or website, CarrieBaileyBooks.com.

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Why You Should Read With Your Kids

If you couldn’t already tell, I’m a writer, a teacher, and most importantly, a mom. Reading and writing are extremely important to me. I even got a Master’s in how to teach kids to read. I think it’s because books have always played such a crucial part of my life. When I was a child, I used my books to escape bullying, boredom, and every day life. I’ve traveled a million places and all through the eyes of characters in books. I’ve learned biology, internalized philosophy from masters, and witnessed events from multiple perspectives through the eyes of all walks of life. I want to give that to others, which is why I write. But I also want to give that to my girls.

Every night before bed, we read a bedtime story that my daughter has chosen since she understood what the word “choose” meant. We snuggle up on her bed and read. Sometimes, she’s even able to read it with me because of the patterns and repetitions in the text (I Love Dogs by Sue Stainton and Bob Staake is her current obsession). She’s even started the, “I do it on my own” declaration and will take the book and do a picture walk with it independently.

She also finds haven in a book store. She’ll sit on the floor and look through book after book with exclamations of “look!” and “wow!”. All the time my newest daughter who is only seven months old, watches her with saucer eyes, soaking it all in.

Why does this make me more proud than anything I have ever accomplished? To see them loving books is giving my girls access to other worlds. Anything they could ever want to know is written in a book somewhere. I’m giving them the power to be whoever they want to be whenever they want to be them. That is the single greatest accomplishment of my life.

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The Best Way to Cut the Crap Out of Your Picture Book

A few years ago, I got this brilliant idea, after just having a baby, to write a picture book. Completely normal. So I sat down and wrote a first draft. I loved it. It was a cute little story about a ladybug and her adventures. The first draft was over 1,000 words. I thought it was fantastic. I revised and edited. My subsequent draft was about 900 words. I know. I know. I didn’t know any better. Now I know that word count is the absolute top end for almost any agent or publisher to consider. But, I started to query and I received rejection after rejection after rejection. Surprised right? I actually was. My story is adorable! Why won’t anyone represent it? It must be them not me.

Then I decided to put the picture books away and give a novel a shot. I wrote a novel. Then I wrote another novel. Then I wrote another novel. But in the middle of working on a third novel, I got a request for my picture book manuscript during a pitch contest on a wild shot. So I opened up my picture book to take a look through and make sure it was agent ready, since I hadn’t looked at it in a while. That’s when it smacked me in the face.

First of all, I had shown everything with words. EVERYTHING! I took a class through Writer’s Digest which was fantastic, and @CarlyWatters did an amazing job of discussing important things to remember when writing a picture book. One of the points that really stuck with me was to let the illustrator do their job. I’d made the cardinal mistake of drawing a picture with my words. In novels, that’s fantastic. You have to use your words to show the reader. But in a picture book, you have to leave room for the artist. It’s difficult to remember that there are going to be images tied to your words . Your words don’t need to show everything because the pictures will encompass the other 50%.

I knew I needed to edit the crap out the manuscript. I started imagining what the page would look like if it was actually an illustrated book sitting in front of me. Then, taking a look at the words, I chopped anything out of the manuscript that was too showy or something that an illustrator would obviously include in the illustrations. I cut the manuscript down to a whopping 508 words. That means I cut about 400 words of unnecessary stuff out of my manuscript. I reread it and amazingly, the story was still there, just more succinct with room for an amazing set of images.

I’ve also learned to play with language a lot more. In a picture book you need less words so the language has to be as precise as possible. Opening up to new vocabulary and sometimes even creating your own. If you can use one word instead of five, do it. You have to channel the voices of your characters in order to  show instead of tell. Using unique story telling structures are another great way to show and still leave the illustrator a ton of room to paint your story. All these techniques take tons of time and practice to perfect.

It’s for all of these reasons that I love the challenge of writing picture books. But I have learned it takes a lot of time and revisions to make one great. I do have one thing going for me though; I have two little girls that read amazing picture books all the time.

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Amazon… A virtual marketplace, or Big Brother?

Wow

imy santiago

A couple of weeks ago I read the third installment of a series I really loved. I will refrain from sharing the name of the novel and its author.

Like any reader, as soon as I finished reading, I wrote my review. When I tried posting it on Amazon (I did buy the eBook, just like any normal and decent human being would), I received a rather concerning email.

I will not share the screenshot of the email as it does contain the title of the book and name of the author. In its place I have copied the body of the email below.

Dear Amazon Customer,

Thanks for submitting a customer review on Amazon. Your review could not be posted to the website in its current form. While we appreciate your time and comments, reviews must adhere to the following guidelines:
http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelines

Here I was, thinking I had included an…

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Perspective

I took a break from writing. Those words are hard for me to type because it’s something that I love. At the time, it was necessary though. I just discovered I was going to be having my beautiful second daughter, I already had my one-year-old at home and my family required my full attention. I’m not bitter or angry, surprising so. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Getting back into writing has been hard. Starting a routine, beginning the process of querying all over again, just figuring out where to begin. The last few weeks have been challenging, but they have taught me a lot.

I am stronger than I thought. I can balance more, do more, create more than I believed I could. I’ve finished half a novel in the last month and I think that is something to celebrate. My energy for pushing my other books has been renewed. Rejection can wear on you. As much as I wanted to believe that it didn’t affect me, it definitely did. Let’s be honest, you would have to be a robot to not feel some kind of way about agents saying, “great, but no thanks”.

I’ve participated in a few pitch contests in the last weeks and I’ve gotten some nibbles. Definitely more than before. I’m much more optimistic this time. Some space has healed my wounds and I’m ready to make it happen. I’m going to make it happen. But I couldn’t have done this a year ago.

Sometimes, it’s not the right time. Sometimes, the stars don’t align. Sometimes, you need to step back and gain some perspective.

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Handling Rejection

Several posts by agents have left me a little perturbed lately. I often see them post that they receive nasty e-mails in response to rejection letters. I’m going to say what they can’t and won’t because they are professional human beings.

You are one in one million trying to get your book published. You are an infinitesimal speck in a sea of people trying to get agents and get their work published. There are a ton of reasons agents pass. Your book doesn’t fit them, there really isn’t a market out there for it right now, they didn’t love the query letter, or maybe, just maybe your work isn’t that great. I know that last one is a tough one to swallow. It’s your work and it’s personal. I get it. But do not get indignant and jackass-esque because they don’t want to sign you on the spot.

Agents have a job to do. Let them do it. For all you know, they are doing you a favor by passing on your work. Allow it to fuel you and make the work better. Go back and look at the query letter again. Look at the work again. Do more research on which agents to query. But please hear me when I say this: acting like a jerk and sending them mean, unprofessional e-mails will not get you very far. Agents talk to other agents. Don’t burn bridges you haven’t even come to yet.

Rejection sucks. I don’t have a published novel and I have got a TON of rejection letters. But have faith that your day will come. Being mean to people won’t make it get here any faster.

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How Do You Choose

I like to use this blog as a space to interact, not to preach. So here is the question…when do you choose first over third narrator. I currently have an adult contemporary novel that I am editing the crap out of (literally) and I have two separate versions of the draft. The initial, that I wrote completely in first person and another that I started to revise into third. 

Here is where my head is at…

I like first because I want her voice, story and perspective to be loud and clear. It’s a very unique situation and I want her to shine. However, I know there are limitations to first person, especially in perspective obviously. So how do you choose? How do you know which way your heart and gut are pulling you? Is this where cp’s come in? I have been brooding over this for days and it is hindering the entire editing process. So I now put it out there to the word press world. Ready….Go…

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