Don’t diss English lit

I happened to be sitting with several women the other day at a b-day party who all have science-heavy educations. They were a very nice sort, but not my usual crowd, who has learned to put up (very graciously) with my curiosity about every subject under the sun (blame it on my journalism education) and my overwhelming passion for books, both old and new.

Now, I love science. I consume it, learn it, for any topic I want to write about. I worked several years for the CDC in PR, and my agency’s tasks fascinated me. I totally see how critical the pursuit of science is.

However, this more science-minded group started to discuss language arts education, and said they didn’t really understand the point of looking deeper into classic literature. Why did English teachers ask them to go beyond face value, basically?

I thought about holding my tongue (well, not really), and then said something like: “English language arts is as important to society as science. We have to learn to think more critically, ask questions, and express ourselves in ways that make people listen. Otherwise, it takes the humanity out of our lives.”

Now, I wasn’t sure how to read the looks I got, but I am rather convinced that my argument wasn’t bought hook, line, and sinker. In fact, as my husband urges my children toward scientific pursuits (I have backed this up by signing them up for robot camp), and many of the college freshmen I work with turn up their noses at mass communication careers (“I want to actually make money”), I find that I’m in the position of many who teach humanities, arts, and social sciences.

I’m trying to convince you that these are just as important as science. But I feel like I’m trying to tell you that you need water to live.

And trying to convince others that stories are important can be even more challenging. But consider what motivates you? What makes you think? What makes you want to change the world?

Stories do that. Whether it’s a movie or a book, or fiction or nonfiction, stories are what motivate us to be better. It’s how we get people to join causes. It’s how we get people to treat one another better. It’s how we help people heal.

But if you can’t come to realize this on your own, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to convince you. The best thing I can do is say, “Pick up a book that interests you. Pick up a book that sounds contrary to what you believe. Pick up a book that many people are reading, and try to find out why it’s popular. Pick up a book and think up your own story…ask yourself why you’d write it.”

And finally, to the person who says, “I don’t read”? Well, I’d say they are wasting something that many generations fought to give them.

Reading is power.

So, there you go.

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Fancy hair for novel inspiration…

I love writing historical fiction. Sometimes it’s historical fiction with some fantastical element, or it’s history with a science fiction theme thrown in (think Victorian steampunk). Sometimes it’s just straight up using the real-life drama of past days to create interesting and diverse characters.

When I took on my first Victorian-era novel, I decided I wanted to get better at doing some “fancy hair.” I had also just read Jenny Han’s contemporary YA series, where the teen is always doing cool things with her hair. (You want to laugh and fall in love with a character? Read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.) So I sat down with one of my favorite research tools. Oh yeah. It’s awesome.

I love you, Pinterest.

So here were some of my favorite hairdos…

You like these? Check out more in my “Hair I will someday do” Pinterest album.

Otherwise, take a look at this handy-dandy chignon I tried on myself while doing 1920s research:

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It’s so fun. Somedays I want to cut my hair in a cute summer cut. But then, I’d have to use my 8-year-old’s hair for practice, and she “doesn’t have time for that.” 😉

Lesson from Racing: When you want to stop? Don’t.

In a recent speech for an SCBWI meeting, I compared the publishing business to running a long distance race. The difference? In publishing, the finish line is never defined, and it’s not the same for everyone.

However, I do know that on my 13.1 mile run in the Oklahoma Memorial Half Marathon on April 29, that I was thinking around mile 11 that the perseverance needed to keep running and to keep working toward our dreams is very similar. Sometimes, it would seem easier to just sit down or sit out. But what would we miss if we didn’t keep going?

So here I am, sweaty, tired, and aching at the finish line. But you’ll notice I’m smiling:)

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Flight of creativity: Never underestimate a theme park

IMG_20180418_103430When I first started scheduling my family’s trip to Orlando, it was with the thought that this would be a “kids’ trip.” With my children’s birthdays a week a part in the middle of April, I decided that one week of missed school would be worth a family getaway, because the theme parks wouldn’t be quite as busy as usual, what with spring break over and summer not yet begun.

I figured the kids would enjoy it. As for me and my husband? We’d suffer through.

Not so. Our plan to go during less busy times really paid off. But that’s not all. My husband and I had more fun than we thought possible.

IMG_20180420_123459Also, I had a creative epiphany.

Not only did I come home with a new concept for an MG series that I’m PUMPED to write (generally, I’m always pumped to write, but this time, my fingers are simply flying, and the characters already feel like real people), but I had a renewed committed to my art. Witnessing an attraction built around J.K. Rowling’s imaginative world of Harry Potter, or walking through an exhibit about Walt Disney, really puts the power of art in perspective. Activities such as watching my children undergo Jedi training or riding the Seuss Carousel  gave me a renewed sense that stories can take us ANYWHERE.

So find your inspiration. Be it a writer’s conference, a personal retreat, or a family vacation, dig down deep to remember why you started this journey in the first place. And then start typing!

 

All in the Family

IMG_20180407_161951.jpgThis weekend, I attended a writer’s conference put on by the Oklahoma chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). It wasn’t my first time, and it won’t be my last.

It had been a long week for me, and to be honest, although I am fiercely passionate about my writing, as a busy journalist and adjunct professor, as well as a mother of two young kiddos,  I wasn’t certain I had the energy–mentally and physically–to devote to that passion this weekend.

But of course, as with many SCBWI events, the conference was everything I needed–and more.

The best part? I took my mom.

You see, writing for me has always been a family thing. My family are story-tellers by nature (my brother can make it difficult to breath, the stories he tells make me laugh so hard, and my sister always provokes deep thoughts with her essays). But it’s my mother, more than anyone, who has always enjoyed the pacing and delivery of storytelling, and I know it has had a mighty impact on my own writing.

But that’s not all. Mom has devoted countless hours to reading, critiquing, and proofing my work. It takes a lot of trust to give someone your early draft, and she is “it” for me. While my husband and many friends are constant cheerleaders whom I couldn’t do without, no one has quite devoted herself to helping me as much as Kay McAndrew.

So while the speakers were extraordinary (informative, engaging, and funny), and the fellowship of other writers was like a breath of fresh air, I’m still thrilled that I got to spend an entire Saturday sharing my passion with the person who helped pass it down to me.

Thanks, Mom. Every step forward is because of you.

 

Movie night (even if it’s Wednesday!)

A Monster Calls poster.jpgLast year, my critique group read the book A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. This novel, which I had thought was middle grade when we started it, quickly proved a more mature read.

It quickly proved that it was mature enough to make even this grown adult cry.

Of course, I was reading from a different angle than most children would. As a mom, the plight of the mother in the book touched me most profoundly. I found that I really felt a severe link to this book in the relationship between a child and parent, and how much it hurts when it we must say goodbye. I researched Siobhan Dowd’s story, and found that Ness had taken her beautiful concept to fruition when she couldn’t. As a writer, this touched me as well.

Of course, like most stories, I’m always glad to read the book first. It’s not that I don’t love movies made from books. I adored the movie Wonder. I didn’t love it as much as the book, but I understand the differences between page and screen. I’m happy for those differences, because usually, it just means books are so valuable and will always be so.

Tonight, when I get home from kid activities, I’m excited to sit and watch A Monster Calls. No matter the reviews or accuracy, I know this story has energy, love, and faith behind it, and that is something I can always get behind.

Give us new colors to see…

Dear readers and fellow writers,

I am so excited to continue my journey in writing and publishing this year. Not only am I going to tell you about how this all started, with a little bit of hope and faith in my Teen Mobster Series, but I’m also going to share some exciting developments. For instance, I’ll soon be releasing new editions of the Hunt for the Fallen trilogy. Also, I’ve got exciting news for those who have been hounding me to try my hand at adult literature.

If you’re interested in what it’s like to write and publish, I’ll be divulging some of my best kept secrets for staying on track and keeping it fresh.

There will soon be a newsletter for you to join, so you won’t miss any of the fun. Stay tuned and keep visiting!

Cheers,

Megan Cox