Thursday, November 25, 2010

Interview with Author Sherry Kyle

Today I'm taking a break from blogging about revisions to introduce Sherry Kyle, author of The Christian Girl's Guide to Style (for girls ages 8-13). It's the latest offering in the Christian Girl's Guide series from Legacy Press.

Sherry lives and writes in California, where she and her husband are raising their four children. The Christian Girl's Guide to Style is her third book for kids. Her first novel for women, Delivered with Love, will be released in spring 2011 from Abingdon Press.

Marilyn: Sherry, I so enjoyed reading The Christian Girl's Guide to Style. It's fun and factual, and it helps tween girls be aware of the importance of developing their characters as well as their wardrobes. And, the book comes with a supercute faux fur change purse!

The first question I want to ask is: What inspired you to write The Christian Girl's Guide to Style?

Sherry: In today’s culture, girls are bombarded with what the world sees as important in the area of fashion and beauty from secular magazines, television and movies. The world teaches them that their outward appearance is all that matters. YIKES! What a wrong message.

While researching this topic in my Bible, I came across Colossians 3:12-17. Verse 12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” I thought, why not combine these biblical principles (as well as others from v. 13-17) with fashion/beauty items so that girls can learn how to be beautiful inside and out!

Marilyn: Girls (and boys) these days have so many messages coming at them from different directions, don't they? Please share your thoughts on the influences in girls' lives these days. How does The Christian Girl's Guide to Style offer a different perspective?

Sherry: Peers, the entertainment industry, and the Internet are three examples of what is influencing girls these days. One night recently I flipped through the television channels and came upon the American Music Awards. I was disheartened to see the wardrobe (or lacks thereof) the singers were wearing.

The Christian Girl’s Guide to Style offers a different perspective because the foundation of the book is the Bible and what God thinks is important compared to a secular worldview. For example, 1 Timothy 2: 9-10 says, “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

Marilyn: I love many things about this book, including how "inner style" and "outer style" are woven together. How difficult do you think it is for girls to nurture their inner beauty these days?

Sherry: Very difficult, but as parents we can teach our girls what the Bible says about nurturing our inner beauty. We can give them books, such as The Christian Girl’s Guide to Style, that point them to Scripture in a way that is fun and relatable.

Marilyn: I noticed that each chapter in the book covers a topic in rich, fun, and unique ways. Please tell us about the process you used to plan and write this book.

Sherry: Once I matched a fashion/beauty item with a biblical principle, I wrote a story that combined the two for each chapter, found Bible verses, created quizzes or other activities, as well as wrote style tips, questions, crafts, and prayers. One of my favorite parts of each chapter is the "Letters to God" section, where the main character of the story journals what happens next and what she’s learned. I also include a section where girls can journal their own letters to God.

Marilyn: That's one of my favorite sections, too, and they all work together very well. Being interested in history, I also loved reading the historical fashion facts sprinkled throughout the book. Where did you find them?

Sherry: I researched the Internet for the different historical facts depending on the topic of the chapter. For example, it was fun to discover that during the 1840s, little girls usually wore their hair loose, short or shoulder length, with a part in the middle or that glass jewelry was made in large quantities in the 1920s.

Marilyn: What would you like to tell girls--what would you like them to know?

Sherry: YOU are unique! Nobody else looks like you. God has made you to be YOU! You are the only one with your body, eyes, hair, likes, and dislikes. You truly have your own style. Embrace who you are as God’s girl!

Marilyn: Sherry, thank you so much for sharing your time, thoughts, and heart with me today. I wish you all the best with your book!

For more about Sherry Kyle, visit her website at

Revising a Manuscript: Putting Stakes in the Ground

After I worked on the storyboard long enough to feel confident that it was a plan I could work with, I began writing. I'll confess that this hasn't been easy.

I felt with this draft more than any others before, whatever I chose to put on paper was what would stay. If I didn't put stakes in the ground now, then I'd be writing and rewriting this story for the rest of my life. And so, many times since I began rewriting, it has hurt to sit down and put the words into the story. I mean physical pain--I felt tension in my chest, my arms, my stomach--and I wondered why anyone would choose to torture herself that way, when doing so many other things could be pleasurable. But I have kept going.

Because the previous draft of the story veered off (I believe) from my original intent and because it has holes, I've had to do some new writing to bring it back on course and fill in the empty places. This has forced me to slow down the story, flesh out the characters and their problems, and put in the story what only I understood in my head. In doing this, I've come to love those characters all over again. And there, I am discovering, lies the pleasure.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Revising a Manuscript: Storyboarding

I was now facing my story head-on, and began revising the early pages, which I knew didn't need drastic changes. Some changes in action, deepening of the characters, foreshadowing and adding images that supported the overall metaphor and theme.

But then I hit a brick wall when I looked over the changes that were necessary from then on, which involves plot point changes, adjustments in some of the characters, and a basic unraveling of the scarf I'd knitted with my first draft. Granted, that scarf was full of holes, dropped stitches, appendages that weren't in the pattern, but it was a scarf. What I was looking at now was a heap of knotted yarn.

So, I decided to write out a basic outline, and opened my story notebook. But I got tangled up again with small details and huge problems, and lost sight of the overall story. Then I remembered a storyboarding class I'd taken online several months ago. I took out a poster board, drew out squares--one for each chapter--and quickly began writing brief descriptions of plot onto sticky notes and putting them where I thought they belonged. Then I held out the board and could see immediately where story was missing, where characters needed more development, and where tension needed elevating. Then I stuck smaller notes where I wanted a character to do or say something, or what the weather was like (weather plays a big part in this story), or other events that needed to happen. Everything was right there in front of me, and I could move, delete, add as needed. The story is metaphorically and physically layered now.

I expect to change this storyboard as I go along, but I now feel more confident about going forward than I did 48 hours ago.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Revising a Manuscript: Creating Mind Space

Now that I have a schedule, I'll start prewriting. This step actually started when I read over the editorial letter and line edits, but what's a schedule if you can't mix it up?

One of the first prewriting tasks on my schedule is leaving time for my mind to chew and stew and steep on all the information it has absorbed about my story in the past few weeks. This will allow it to find images, metaphors, plot twists, events, ideas, character traits, and so on, in a free place and time. I'm not pushing my brain or my imagination at this part of the process.

I carry a spiral notebook (red, my favorite color!) wherever I go, and as I think of something new, I write that in my notebook. Later, as I actually write, I'll decide what among those notes fits and what doesn't. Through this process, I'm discovering that revising/rewriting is as much about what to leave out as what to leave in. Eventually, anything that can't hang on the story's theme will have to be left out.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Revising a Manuscript: The First Step

I have six months--make that five months now--to revise a novel that I began writing over a year ago. I have six months to revise it because it received the great privilege and honor of being chosen to participate in the Nevada SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrator)'s annual Mentor Program. This wonderful program is truly a labor of love and dedication for the organizers (led by the chapters two regional advisors) and the eight mentors, all respected professionals in the children's literature industry.

I was matched with a mentor who not only knows the art of writing for children inside and out, she is super-wise, witty, warm (is that enough alliteration?)--and she understands and shares the vision of my older middle-grade novel. This is an opportunity of opportunities, one I cannot (nor want to) blow. So, I wondered, how will I go about revising this story into the kind of shape it needs to be in by April 1 without blowing it?

By day, I work as a technical writer in the software industry, so I work with a lot of tools--not hammers and saws but software applications and utilities. So, the first thing I did, after reading carefully and numerous times the editorial letter and line edits my mentor did for my story, was to open a project management application (I used OmniPlan, but there are others) and plan out my schedule. I included every step in the process, allowing for vacations, holidays, and days I knew I'd get little writing done. Then I printed out several views of my schedule and pinned them up where I could see them as I work.

That was my first step.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

What’s Your Story Telling You?

Years ago when I was a student in Japan, I was invited out to dinner by a friend--another American student at my school--and her Japanese relatives. They invited me because my friend spoke no Japanese and her relatives spoke little English, and they wanted me to interpret. I’m sure they asked me because I was so poor that I didn’t charge much; a dinner out would suffice. And even though my Japanese was at its best during that time, well, you know that saying “A little knowledge is dangerous”? Who knows what lies, rumors, and bad karma were bred that evening because of me.

After dinner we took one taxi to drop us at our different destinations. The relatives were the first to be dropped off. As they were leaving the cab, the husband (I’ll call him Mr. Taniguchi, because this happened so long ago that I don’t remember their real names) decided to give an important message to his American cousin (let’s call her Annie). For some reason, he wanted to deliver this important message in Japanese. That meant, of course, that I would need to translate it. So I listened carefully, fully aware of the honor he’d placed on me, and then I turned to my friend and gave her the message in English. As I did, however, I felt that something wasn’t quite right. Something didn’t make sense, didn’t fit precisely. But I gave it anyway and hoped no one would notice the disconnect.

Mr. Taniguchi noticed, and without angst or rebuke, he repeated his message word for word and waited for me to interpret, this time correctly. Feeling less confident about my abilities and my listening skills, I gave my friend the message again. This new, altered, interpretation still left me feeling it wasn’t accurate.

All this time, the taxi’s engine was running and the meter on the dashboard ticked off more and more yen. Still not satisfied, Mr. Taniguchi patiently repeated his message. He didn’t raise his voice or simplify the words or the grammatical structure for my ears. He simply repeated the message, all the time with an expression on his face that said, “I know you’ll understand eventually.”

On the third try I got it. It clicked into place, and I rattled off the message perfectly for my friend. Mr. Taniguchi nodded and said, “Yes, that’s it!”

Lately I’ve been feeling the same way about the book I’m currently writing. You see, I believe that all the stories already exist, and they’re just waiting for us to interpret them, to give them a voice. I love the book I’m writing now, but I also know that’s it’s not fully told. I wrote the first draft and laid down the bones, headed it in the direction it needed to go, and gave it a beginning, middle, and end. I fell in love with the characters and their problems, and I rejoiced (and cried a little) when it ended.

However, even after I’d written the last word, the story seemed to say, “That’s pretty good, but you don’t understand me yet. Sit with me a while and listen to what I’m saying. I’m a patient story, and I’ll wait for you.”

I know that in time, by listening carefully and closely, I’ll write this story precisely and to its delight. At that time it will nod and say, “Yes, that’s it!”

Are you working through the revision process on a story or article? What steps do you take to make it just the way it should be?