A Mid-Winter Ode to New York's Indie Bookstores


A Mid-Winter Ode to New York's Indie Bookstores

Dreaded dark winter days seize my words unwritten,
Wit flurried, fancy frozen, and whimsy frostbitten.
Like a Mini ’tween snow mounds, my pencil is stuck
Alas! A once-fiery muse ’tis naught but slushy muck!

Forsaken, into the cursed, dim evening I trudge
With a plodding that slackens through ankle-deep sludge.
Half-frozen, wholly bitter, I slump against a door.
What’s this? Sweet Lord in heaven! It’s my local bookstore!

Hark, Greenlight! Hark, BookCourt!
O, McNally Jackson and Strand!
Thank ye, WORD and St. Mark’s!
Could you ever understand?

Miraculous P.S.! And Powerhouse! 
Housing Works with cozy nooks!
All that you give me, how you revive me,
With your plentiful stacks of books!

Now inside, I must look feral, savage, and crazed,
For a book-clerk shields the till, with pierced eyebrows raised.
Still I grab the closest hardcover and inhale its sweet spine,
Then look ’round, and nod sheepishly, to prove that I’m fine.

But scattered amongst me I find plenty others,
Hipsters, Suits, Tweens, Europeans, and Fine Brothers,
All gathered, meditating, in the Printed Word Zen,
On this mid-Winter evening, we become Humans again.

O, Indie! O, Indie! My heart beats for thee!
One day, I will purchase your full inventory.
O, tiny, beloved bookstore, no bounds doth my love know!
As I thaw in your coziest corner, and the words begin to flow.

(c) Micah Hales 3/12/15

Neil Gaiman and Daniel Handler at BAM

   Neil Gaiman


Neil Gaiman

   Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket)


Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket)

Last night I attended En Garde!, a delightfully casual conversation about books and writing between Neil Gaiman (Coraline) and Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events). The two giants of Kids’ Lit met on stage at the stunning BAM Howard Gilman Opera House for a packed audience. Gaiman and Handler have known each other for years, and evidently get along swimmingly. Gaiman's brilliant British reserve and earnest embarrassment worked like a sprinkling of sea salt on caramel with Handler's fast-talking, American, self-deprecating wit. The jabs and jokes were practically non-stop, leaving the audience in stitches for a large portion of the evening. (Yes, that’s an intentional Other-Mother pun.) A few of the many topics discussed were Cadbury Creme Eggs, Reykjavik, phallic fencing innuendos, gas masks, their wives, and the on-going existence of magic and mystery in everyday life.

 There were, however, a few more serious moments, especially when they spoke about their deep respect for the intellect of children, something I find very evident in both their writing. Handler also spoke briefly about his recent highly offensive off-the-cuff remark when introducing Jacqueline Woodson (Brown Girl Dreaming) at the National Book Awards. Much has been written about it, so I won’t add anything else here but to say that although I felt his remorse was sincere, unfortunately it could never erase the comment, or it’s disturbance.

Gaiman and Handler ended the night on an inspiring note, with three pieces of advice to aspiring writers:

1. Finish something. 
2. There is ALWAYS room for new amazing characters in Children's Literature.
3. Don't think about the market. Write the story you care about. And write it well. 

It was an incredible event, I only wish it could have lasted longer. The hour and a half flew by so fast that when it was over I felt a little let down – in fact, I felt very much like Coraline when she returned home through the magic tunnel to discover that the doorway had reverted back into a brick wall.

 But I guess that’s what talented storytellers do best; always leave us wanting more. 


Magic in Your Middle Grade

Last October, debut Middle Grade novelist Edith Cohn and her editor Susan Dobinick (FSG) teamed up to present a SCBWI lecture about using magic in books for children. One might think that it's anything goes. But if you've ever tried to create a magical world of your own on paper, you know that's simply not the case. In order for the magic to be believable, for it to really work, there are definitely a few tricks to keep up your sleeve. Thankfully, the dynamic Cohn-Dominick author-editor team shared some of their own tried and true tips. As usual, here are three of their many excellent points that I'll share with you: 

1.     NEVER use magic as a crutch for character building. 
2.     When dealing with magic, not every question will be answered, and that’s okay.
3.     When creating a magical world, holding back (tiny moments of resistance) can be just as powerful as letting it all out. 

Ms. Cohn’s novel Spirit’s Key is a beautiful example of all three points listed above. The novel weaves seamlessly between magical and non-magical worlds as twelve-year-old Spirit Holden waits to inherit her family's gift of seeing the future. Doggy ghosts, mysteries, and adventures ensue! And the magic? It definitely works.

Now, time for me to get back to sprinkling some of that magic into my own writing... 



Voices in My Head: Marietta Zacker on the Key Elements of Character


This week, as I begin to dive into the next revision of my Middle Grade novel, I have been hearing a lot of voices in my head.  I know this is pretty normal, I think, for most writers, but amongst the characters, narrators, and even settings that are talking to me, I'm also hearing a particular person's voice, that of agent Marietta B. Zacker (Nancy Gallt Literary Agency). 

Last September I attended a SCBWI lecture given by Ms. Zacker titled  Voices in Your Head. She lead us on a deep, deep dive into the characters who drive our stories. She explored (giving many examples from published works) how main characters affect the voice and style of a book, and what the publishing industry has to say about them. Her talk was energetic, personal, and jam-packed with nuggets of gold. Here are just three that I will share with you:

 1.  A character can't passively float through a plot, she must make decisions and be an active participant!
2.  Heart! A reader needs to share feelings with your characters, not simply feel sorry for them.
3. Your characters must strike the balance of being completely unique, but totally relatable. 

I have three whole pages of notes that I scribbled that evening, but I will leave you only with those three sentences. If you ever have the chance to hear Ms. Zacker speak about the craft of writing, I highly recommend that you do. I promise you that her voice, and her wisdom, will stick in your head...for a while. 

Happy New Year!


The Wonder of It All: R.J. Palacio's Debut Novel on NYT Best Sellers List for 108th Week


Congratulations to R.J. Palacio! This past Sunday her debut Middle Grade novel Wonder remained on the New York Times Best Sellers List for the 108th week. That's over two years straight! If you haven't read Wonder, I highly recommend it. The fictional story follows August Pullman, a boy born with severe facial deformities, during his first year attending a mainstream school. The triumphs and pitfalls of his fifth grade year are told from multiple perspectives including August's, his older sister's, his new friends', bullies', and other life acquaintances'It's a fascinating, heart-swelling, tear-inducing, and just plain lovely story. Middle Grade at its finest, if you ask me. 

Last September I was lucky to meet R.J. Palacio at an author signing at Barnes & Nobles in TriBeCa. Ms. Palacio spoke about her experiences writing Wonder and read from her latest book, 365 Days of Wonder, which (if you have read Wonder, this will make sense to you) is a collection of Mr. Browne's precepts. A Manhattan native herself, Ms. Palacio was warm and honest as she answered questions from an eager group of fans comprised of children and adults alike. She shared a story about a memorable interaction with a little girl outside a Manhattan ice cream shop which lead her to write Wonder, how Natalie Merchant's song influenced the story, and when she found time to write (during the wee hours after her two children fell asleep and before she had to leave for her own demanding job in publishing). 

I was excited to learn that she has also written a short story called The Julian ChapterInterestingly enough, it was originally part of Wonder, but during revisions she extracted it because she felt that Julian's perspective quickly took over the novel. I guess it's always a great sign if your antagonist is as fully-formed and intriguing as your other more lovable characters. 

Congratulations again to Ms. Palacio. I truly hope she is working on her next book at this very moment!


SCBWI Agent Panel – November 11, 2014


On a chilly Tuesday evening a few weeks ago in November, I attended an Agent Panel held by SCBWI NY Metro and The New School’s Writing for Children MFA program. Agents Suzie Townsend (New Leaf Literary), Heather Alexander (Pippin Properties), and Alex Slater (Trident Media Group) all spoke about their respective agencies, and shared their favorite tips on the craft of writing. With a pen in hand, I scribbled away as they talked. Going back over those notes, here are three things that I starred:

1.     Create the quiet moments that show your characters’ emotions. Don’t let swift pacing block the heart of your story. – Suzie Townsend 

2.     Always tease the reader, but never confuse them. – Alex Slater 

3.     Books that were discussed and are now on my “To-Read” Radar: Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that, amongst other words of wisdom, Heather Alexander took a moment to share Pippin Properties’ motto, which I have seen before on their website, and truly, truly love.

It is, “The world owes you nothing. You owe the world your best work.”

Cheers, to that!