Leah Henderson’s ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL

This March, I had the pleasure of meeting author Leah Henderson at a writing workshop. When she described her debut middle-grade book set in contemporary Senegal, ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL, I couldn’t wait to read it.

Eleven-year-old orphan, Mor, struggles to keep the promise he made to his dying father to keep his young sisters safe and to keep their family together. His aunt comes to take them away from the village they call home, and Mor begs for the opportunity to prove that he can care for himself and his sisters. But finding work and food for his family isn’t easy. To make matters more complicated, a gang of boys from a nearby village, the Danka boys, threaten to take the little bit he’s saved and his opportunity to keep his promise to his father. Mor is faced with a tough decision: do whatever it takes, even if it goes against his principles, to keep the family together or do what is right.

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound

In ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL, the sights, culture, and customs of Senegal are delicately woven into the story, giving the reader the unique experience of understanding what present-day life is like in Senegal. ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL beautifully shows the power of determination and the importance of family, friendship, and community. It would make a great classroom read for grades 4-8, ages 10 and up.

I invited Leah to chat with us about her story. Welcome to The Winged Pen, Leah!

Thank you so much for hosting me today. I’m excited to be here.

ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL is a story about family, resilience, and determination. It feels lushly intimate, especially the scene where Mor recalls the happy memory of playing soccer with his baay (father). Do bits of the story come from your own life?

I hesitate to say no because in many ways I think I draw from my own life experiences in everything I do, but the scenes in this story are completely fictitious. Though I will say growing up I always loved playing soccer with my dad and watching him compete and coach. And there are definite glimpses of people I’ve met sprinkled within many of my characters. I think that is what helped bring Mor and the individuals populating his world to life for me—a smile I remember, the gut punch of an unkind word, the sunshine behind someone’s laughter—you know, the kinds of moments that fill our days. These experiences can’t help but find their way into my stories.

What do you hope young readers will learn from Mor and his sisters?

I hope they will learn about a tiny fraction of the beauty Senegal possesses and that they will want to discover more about this country and many others around the world that they are unfamiliar with. I also want young readers to consider that when faced with what they might believe are insurmountable obstacles that there is almost always a way to the other side. It may not be easy, but with hope, determination, and help, they can attempt to overcome the difficulties set before them.

In this interview with The Brown Bookshelf, you mentioned your inspiration for ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL came from seeing a boy sitting on a low beach wall while you were traveling in St. Louis, Senegal. His story came to you as that image replayed in your head while you wrote a short story for a MFA class. With encouragement, it developed into a full novel, but you were hesitant to write this story. Many writers struggle with the question “Is this my story to tell?” How did you overcome your internal resistance? How do you feel about the story now that it’s about to be shared with the world?

Honestly, I’m not even sure I’m completely over my “internal resistance”. My hope at this point is that I haven’t done harm and that a story like mine will not only be an enjoyable read, but that it will make people more curious about the larger world we live in and the varied lives that inhabit it.

I think my true turning point came when my father reminded me that this was possibly one of the first opportunities a cast of characters like mine might be seen by a wider audience or more importantly, by kids that mirror these experiences. And was I really going to deny them the chance to see themselves? A question like that left no room for turning back. There was nothing left to do but keep going. I tried to forget about myself and my apprehensions and focus on the characters and the people I modeled them after. I tried to tell the most heartfelt story I could.

As far as how I feel about sharing this book with the world, I am both nervous and excited (mostly nervous) that in a matter of weeks it will be taking a journey that I no longer have any control over (not that I ever really did)! But mainly I wonder if the little boy on the beach wall saw it would he be able to see glimpses of himself in my writing, and if so, would he smile . . .

After reading ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL, I have a greater appreciation for Senegal and its people and, thanks to the rich imagery, I can almost image what life might be like there. Did you do much research as you wrote, or were the details about life in Senegal active in your mind from your travels there?

So the story I tried to tell in my book only captures a small piece of the complexity, richness, and hospitality of that country. The majority of my time in Senegal is spent in cities, in marbled-floored homes with striking courtyards with entrancing scents and gorgeously attired friends and acquaintances, so this side of Senegal, the side I assumed the young boy was from, was a huge departure for me, and cause for much worry. So I tried to do as much research as I could. I was really starting from a place of not knowing.

At first, I could only assume what the life of that boy might be like, and we all know how simple assumptions can quickly turn into stereotypes and untruths if we aren’t careful. So I took trips, watched, listened, tasted, touched, and breathed in everything around me. I asked tons of questions of those who knew this world. I did not pretend to know anything and hesitated to make things up when I didn’t know the answers. I was open to learning and tried to remember every moment I experienced. As an avid traveler who loves to traverse unfamiliar, less trodden paths, I was open, curious, and excited about it all.

Nice! What can you tell us about what you’re working on now?

I have a great love for middle grade, so I am busy working on two new stories which are both very different from this, but still center around determination, family, and discovery.

Okay, Leah. Buck up your seat belt for the Lightning Round! *hands Leah a cookie Fun!

If you had a superpower, what would it be? The power to heal (or the power to truly understand motivations, desires, and dreams).

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wooden pencil

Coffee or tea? Tea, definitely tea!

Sweet or salty? Depends on the day or minute and the possible sweet or salty option. =)

Dog, cat, or other? Dogs are my heart, especially mine.

Plotter or pantser? I’m a bit of both.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there? Sure, if this is truly what you love to do, don’t give up. Keep writing the stories you want to share with the world, not just because you hope someone will see them, but because you have to get them out of you. Write because you love it. Everything else is simply a brighter sunshine!

Thanks again for having me. It’s been fun to share a little more of my story!

Thanks so much to Leah for joining us!

The artwork by John Jay Cabuay for ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL is absolutely gorgeous. Find him on Twitter and more details about it here.

You can find out more about Leah Henderson at http://www.leahhendersonbooks.com and on Twitter.

 

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING Movie vs. Book (no spoilers!)

My 13yo daughter and I arrived at a movie theatre Tuesday night as excited as two people could possibly be about getting a sneak preview of the EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING movie based on Nicola Yoon’s book by the same name. But excitement wasn’t the only thing coursing through my veins as I stood in line to take my seat…

Anyone who knows me well, knows that EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING is one of my all-time favorite books. I mean, it’s got EVERYTHING going for it. It’s a love story (swoon) about a mixed-race relationship, but it also has a dramatic twist. It’s full of feels, yet light on words making it a quick read, perfect for reluctant readers. The illustrations in the book were drawn by Nicola Yoon’s very talented husband, David Yoon, making it a love story mixed into a love story.  So yeah, I LOVE THIS BOOK!

AND I had the pleasure of riding next to Nicola Yoon on an airplane on my way to a writing workshop she was co-teaching about Writing Cross-Culturally back in March. Like me, she’s a scientist and a writer, and the word “worship” comes closest to describing my feelings for her.

BUT here’s the problem.

I normally dislike movies based on books I adore. That something else coursing through my veins was ANXIETY. I didn’t want to hate this movie.😧

 

 

 

 

BUT THE MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I LOVED it! ❤️😍❤️😍❤️😍❤️😍❤️😍❤️😍❤️

 

 

Unlike many adaptions, the movie is very close to the book. The acting is top-notch. Amandla Stenberg play the lead-role of Maddy, and she is STUNNING to watch. Her smile is like sunshine. She melted me over and over and over… The chemistry between Amandla and her co-star Nick Robinson (Olly) was excellent. The sweet, sweet love story plays out well on the big screen, and the twist is handled well. (There were many gasps in the audience!) Some of David Yoon’s illustrations were included in the movie too, which was definitely like a cherry on top. And the soundtrack is as swoon-worthy as the movie!

My Daughter’s Verdict: “I’m going to go see this with each of my friends individually so I can see it a bunch more times.” She’s talked about this movie nearly every day for months, and she was not disappointed. She loved the movie and book equally. Her favorite thing about the movie: “I really enjoyed seeing Rue (from Hunger Games) playing Maddy’s role.” Her least favorite thing: “I wish they had done the scene when Maddy and Olly first touch in the movie the same way it was in the book.”

My Verdict: I still love the book more, but I love the movie too. The only negative I have to report is the movie is too short. (I wanted MORE!) EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING is a great movie to see with your daughters and a great date movie for teens! (Yes, all romance should be this sweet!)

If you haven’t read the book and you like love stories, you will probably enjoy the movie. (I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that you will want to read the book too).

If you have read the book and loved it, you will be PLEASED!

Select showings begin on May 18th and the full release is May 19th! Go see it! Here’s a handy link to Fandango so you can find it in a theatre near you! Want to know more? Here’s the EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING movie website and Twitter.

What are your favorite movie/TV adaptions of favorite books? Feel free to share in the comments!

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.

MYC: Developing Supporting Characters

Master Your Craft

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll  discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we covered Developing Main Characters. This week, I’ll discuss Developing Supporting Characters.

The Supporting Characters’ Job

The purpose of a supporting character is to add depth to the protagonist by helping the reader understand how the main character interacts with others and reacts to situations. Also, supporting characters help move the plot forward.

What types of supporting characters do you need for your story? Well, that really depends on the goal that your main character must achieve.

Types of Supporting Characters

The Villian/Antagonist: Every story needs one! Often, the antagonist is a person (but it can be a disaster, technology, society, or even a main character) who fuels the conflict that the main character must solve to achieve her/his goal.

The Love Interest: This character adds tension and may be directly involved in the conflict. It also can serve some of the same functions as the antagonist and the BFF.

The Mentor: This character encourages the main character to develop the skills she/he needs to achieve her/his goal.

The BFF/Sidekick: This character may be needed to help the main character achieve her/his goal or may be around to help us understand the main character and her/his motivations.

Extras: Characters who would normally inhabit the main character’s world or who are needed to complete scenes. You may need many of these or none depending on your story.

Examples of Extras:

1) A child main character would normally have parents/a guardian.

2) In a classroom setting, there would normally be a teacher.

3) In a fight scene, there would normally be many fighters.

Often, these EXTRA characters only need minimal development and a minimal/no arc. But the other characters in your story need much development!

Next Step

After you’ve chosen what types of characters you need, you’ll need to interview the most important ones (the ones who must move the plot forward) using a process like the one in our previous post about Building Main Characters.

It’s often useful for your secondary characters have strengths related to your main character’s flaw.

Examples:

1) Your main character may have a supportive family that they don’t appreciate. A supporting character who comes from a broken home can help the main character see the error in her/his thinking.

2) Your main character may be very popular, but has superficial friendships. A supporting character who is more introverted, but a true friend, can help the main character understand what’s missing in her/his life.

I highly recommend The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus for fleshing out the relationships between characters. The front matter in both thesauri is extremely helpful for developing good characters that work together to make the story come alive.

 

Tips for creating good supporting characters:

  • Give each supporting character a defining characteristic. (Appearance, skill, quirk)
  • Make sure their voice is distinctive from other characters.
  • Don’t give characters similar names and avoid names starting with the same letter.
  • Main supporting characters should be layered and detailed, but do not take too much attention away from your main character.
  • Focus your writing about supporting characters on how their actions, traits, and what role she/he plays helps or hinders the main character from achieving her/his goal.
  • Limit your characters to those who are necessary to move the story forward.
  • Please give careful consideration to race/skin color when you write supporting characters. Stories with white main characters and darker-skinned support characters who do all the work (or even worse who are villians/bad guys) are not representative of the real world. Please consider every reader who might read your story and avoid stereotypes. (More on this in the post on Building a Main Character.)

Come back next Wednesday where we’ll discuss using this character development to start working out plot!

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.

Shannon Hale Interview: Real Friends

GIRL TROUBLE––friends one day, enemies the next.

Who doesn’t yearn for a real friend––one that gets you, always has your back, and someone that you can admire even in their darkest moments?

Author Shannon Hale has captured the essence of friendship struggles girls face in her new graphic novel memoir REAL FRIENDS releasing on May 2nd.

Girl relationships are difficult. And for the sensitive girls out there (like me) who just want to be true friends without all the drama, it’s a lot easier to just give up and read books or use your imagination. In REAL FRIENDS, Shannon is just that girl. She wants to have fun with friends, but at the same time she wants to stay true to herself and not get involved in the girl games. The world is not on her side, though, as she deals with persistent bullying and isolation leading to stomachaches and some OCD behaviors. Add to that her difficulties at home with her four siblings, especially her very grumpy older sister, and you’ve got one stressed out girl.

This is a great graphic novel for ALL girls. Sensitive, imaginative girls and girls who have ever been bullied or left out will identify deeply with Shannon. Other girl readers (who aren’t like Shannon) might see themselves and their actions from a different perspective. Shannon Hale deftly pulls back the curtain so we see the person behind each girl in the story, making us aware that even bullies struggle with their own flaws and insecurities.

Thumbs up for LeUyen Pham’s beautiful, emotive illustrations that really pull the narrative together in this candid graphic memoir about a young girl navigating the ever-changing and confusing world of relationships. This would make a great classroom book for ages 8-12.

We are thrilled to chat with Shannon about REAL FRIENDS and what we can look forward to from her next!

Welcome to The Winged Pen! In your Squeetus blog, you mention that REAL FRIENDS is your heart. I really felt that as I read the novel, but could you expand on that a bit for us?  I’ve never written about myself before, let alone myself at my most vulnerable age. This story required me to open my heart and ask readers, can you care about this weird little girl who will always be a part of me? And hopefully by extension, can you also be compassionate with yourself?

What do you hope young readers will take away from REAL FRIENDS?   I hope they take from it whatever they need from it. Gene Luen Yang said recently that the more specific you make a story, the more universal it becomes. I hope that by telling my true story, readers can find in it whatever they’re missing now and feel more whole for it. That’s the magic of story. I don’t have to teach a moral lesson. I just have to tell something true.

What can you tell us about what you’re working on now?   My husband and I are writing a sequel to our novel THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL: SQUIRREL MEETS WORLD. She’s a Marvel superhero with the proportional strength, speed, and agility of a squirrel. I love writing comedy.

Okay, buckle your seatbelt for the lightning round. *Hands Shannon a smoothie for strength.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Besides squirrel powers? Probably to stop time so I can get done everything I want to do!

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wooden. I love the smell.

Coffee or tea? Mint tea.

Sweet or salty? Salty. And sweet. Just feed me everything please.

Dog, cat, or other? There’s not an animal I don’t love, but we recently adopted two cats. I have four kids. Taking care of a dog as well is beyond my capabilities.

Plotter or panther? I’ve done both. Plotter definitely when co-writing. Pantsing it is fun when I’m writing alone with nothing under contract.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there? Read. Write. Focus on developing your skill. Remember that like a musician or athlete, you need years of practice before you’re likely ready to go pro. Allow yourself to take those years, and take them seriously. Your stories deserve that.

So true! Thank you, Shannon, for stopping by! To learn more about Shannon Hale and her latest endeavors, check out her website or find her on Facebook or Twitter. Better yet, order REAL FRIENDS from your favorite Indie or using one of the following links.

Goodreads    Indiebound   Amazon   Barnes and Noble

SHANNON HALE is the New York Times best-selling author of more than fifteen children’s and young adult novels, including the popular Ever After High trilogy and multiple award winners The Goose Girl, Book of a Thousand Days, and Newbery Honor recipient Princess Academy.  She co-wrote the hit graphic novels Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack and illustrated chapter book The Princess in Black with husband Dean Hale. They live with their four small children near Salt Lake City, Utah.

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MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.

MYC: Build Your Main Character

Master Your Craft

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll  discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the Big Idea to Querying. Last week, we covered the Big Idea and using Creativity to help you Create Loglines. This week, I’ll discuss Developing Main Characters.

Character development is critical to your story’s success and one of your most important pre-writing activities. You can probably begin writing your story with only a sketchy plot, but if you start writing without “knowing” your main character(s), it will be difficult to create a memorable story that connects with readers.

Task: Create a main character that readers are willing to root for throughout your story.

Within the first few pages, you must find a way to make the reader care about what happens to your main character. How do you do that? Develop deep, multilayered characters. Even if every detail doesn’t make it to the page, knowing your character as well as you know yourself will make your story stronger.

To create an interesting main character the reader will care about, you need to know the answers to these questions.

  • What makes your character special (talent, ability, difficulty)?
  • What’s your character’s weakness/flaw (what must she/he overcome for the conflict to be resolved)?

To answer those questions, consider the four main layers that make a character whole.

The Layers That Make Up a Character

Think through all the layers of your character before you begin to write. Often my main character comes to mind almost completely formed. Sometimes, it takes more effort. In both cases, I often fix a pot of tea and interview my main character(s) early in the prewriting process.

  • Outside identity:  age, name, gender, race, skin color, quirks, physical features [eye and hair color, birthmarks, teeth, height, body size, voice, teeth (crooked, missing, braces), health status, outstanding features (lazy eye, big nose, ears that stick out, mole, scar, birthmark, lost limb)]
  • Inside identity:  personality, traits, religion, values, sexuality, intellectual ability, gender, fears, mental health, beliefs
  • Frame (what makes up the character’s world):
    • family structure (parents happily married? birth order? dysfunctional family? traditions?)
    • house rules (no opposite sex in the bedroom? shoes off at door? anything goes in this house? strict parents?)
    • foods (ethnic? home-cooked meals? take-out? packaged foods?)
    • Economic status: rich, middle-class, poor
    • Social status: popular, community-minded, philanthropic, troublemakers, elitists, reclusive
  • Voice: How your character communicates the story. This will overlap with all the above and we’ll be focusing more on voice later in the series, but here are a few ideas to jumpstart your character into a bit of dialogue.
    • Consider these together:
      •  Age and birth order: these help shape personality which give your character a unique perspective
      •  Maturity: this will influence your character’s reactions and attitude
      •   Sense of humor: fart jokes or Shakespearean pun
    • Now, consider how your character communicates.
      • Writes notes, letters, poetry? texts? face to face? avoids others?
      • Type of words: short and to the point? flowery?
      •  How does your character convey their message: sarcasm? jokes? direct? indirect?

Final Important Tips About Your Main Character

1. Avoid Stereotypes!

If you chose to ignore this advice (don’t do it!!!), turn the stereotype on its ear or balance the stereotype out by adding many details to give your character depth.

Examples:

  • nerdy smart person (balance: very friendly and outgoing, loves riding dirtbikes)
  • troublemaking poor person (balance: who makes trouble for all the right reasons)
  • sassy black girl (balance: with high values that she’s willing to stand up for)

More tips for avoiding stereotypes: https://litreactor.com/columns/storyville-ten-ways-to-avoid-cliches-and-stereotype

2. Show/Don’t Tell!

Page after page of descriptions is a sure way to turn off readers. You definitely will need some telling, but try to convey details about your character through action or comparison.

Examples:

1. Character is an atheist (using action instead of telling)

Tell: She’d been an atheist from the minute she found out her Grandma left all her money to a televangelist.

Show: Even though her family still said grace before dinner, she’d given up on God the minute she found out her Grandma left all her money to a televangelist.

2. Character is white and artistic (using comparison instead of telling)

Tell: She was a white girl who loved to draw.

Show: She peeked into the classroom door to check out the other students before she walked in. Was she going to be the only white girl in the drawing camp?

I’ll end this post with a few resources. Come back next Wednesday when we’ll discuss Supporting Characters!

Resources: Tips and Worksheets on Building Character

https://www.writingclasses.com/toolbox/character-questionnaire/gotham

http://www.epiguide.com/ep101/writing/charchart.html

http://niemanstoryboard.org/stories/14-tips-for-building-character/

http://fuckyeahcharacterdevelopment.tumblr.com/post/50825149893/character-sheets-and-character-creation

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.