Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Touch Blue went through many revisions. It took me quite awhile to find the story I truly wanted to tell in this book. 

One big change the book went through was that when I first wrote Touch Blue, Tess didn't want Aaron to come.  She resented that Dad was excited a boy was coming and that her family had to change.

That might be an understandable reaction for Tess, but I kept getting feedback from my critique partners saying they felt so badly for Aaron that they didn't like Tess.  I tried giving her bigger reasons why she would feel that way, and I backed up the story so the reader got to know Tess first.  But the bottom line was that I had given Aaron a more sympathetic story, which is very hard to overcome. A reader needs to identify with the main character, more than the other characters.  

One day I asked myself, "What if Tess wanted Aaron?" It made all the difference.  

I don't save many of my drafts, but here was an earlier opening.

Touch blue and your wish will come true.

“The sea likes to keep her secrets,” Dad always says, “but every day she lets a few go.”     
At low tide, I find them. They’re never anything ordinary, like a snarl of rope, a broken lobster trap, or a long, frilly ribbon of kelp. Those things wash up in front of our house almost every day—as common as if they belonged between the huge, black-soaked rocks.
No, the sea’s true secrets are always surprises. Yesterday I found an iron teakettle, dotted with barnacles. On Wednesday I uncovered a little wooden jewelry box, empty except for two snails.
Today it’s a round bit of sea glass, just the bottom of a bottle.
"Thank you," I always say, because sometimes you don’t know for sure if something’s important or trash when it first comes.

Looking at this now, I see that it's evocative and a bit symbolic, but it doesn't show the reader what matters most or begin the plot. Here's how the book now begins:

Touch blue and your wish will come true.

“The ferry’s coming!” High on the cliffs, my five-year-old sister, Libby, jumps foot-to-foot. “Come on, Tess! Mom says we can run down to meet it!”
Across the bay the ferry looks small as a toy, leaving the mainland wharf. I’ve seen that boat heading for our island hundreds of times, but never with my heart pounding so hard.
He’s almost here!

When Rules won its Newbery Honor, I made my editor promise that she wouldn't go easier on me because of that award. As you can see from this photo of one of my revision pages, she kept that promise! 

 And I love her for it.   

StorySleuths Tip # 102: Be willing to experiment with character motivation to ensure that reader's can identify with the main character.

Friday, March 11, 2011

NON FICTION ELEMENTS: Touch Blue (Post #4)

Hi Heather,

As you know I read and write both fiction and nonfiction. I love a great story, but I also enjoy feeding my brain with facts about a previously unfamiliar topic. One of the best experiences of all is when the worlds of fiction and nonfiction come together, and upon reading a terrific novel I find both my fiction and my nonfiction brain sated by the experience. This is how I felt when reading Cynthia Lord’s wonderful book, Touch Blue.

An interesting article in the Institute of Children’s Literature discussed creative non fiction versus informational fiction. The article stated:
You might learn a ton of stuff from such a well researched piece of fiction – but the primary “job” of the piece will be to tell a great story. The facts will just add extra spice to a really good exciting story.
That “extra spice” is what I’m talking about—snippets of factual information that make me feel I got more out of a story than just high entertainment value. And I am not alone. As much as kids love story, they love facts, too. In her I.N.K Blog (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) nonfiction writer Linda Salzman says:
Kids love to learn about things that really happened. They are constantly asking “Is that real? Is that true? Did that really happen?” When you are reading nonfiction to them and you can answer with an unequivocal “yes” they are truly delighted
But I would go on to say that when you are reading FICTION and you can point to things that “really happen,” the outcome is the same—kids are delighted. And the delight is amplified when the facts are presented in an unobtrusive way that flows with the story. Consider these nonfiction nuggets in Lord’s book:

From page 59:
“Do you think God ever makes mistakes?” I ask
“Like not giving cormorants enough oil to make their wings waterproof, so they have to stand there and dry them?”

From page 67:
“Lay it [the gauge] along the carapace—that’s the name for the lobster’s back.”

From page 70:
Dad reaches into the empty trap for the mesh bag of leftover bait. “Next we throw out the old bait, put in some new, and reset the trap. The bait bag hangs here in the first part of the trap—called the kitchen. The lobster comes into the kitchen to eat, and then he’ll crawl up this ramp and through this opening between the two rooms. The back part of the trap is called the parlor, and that’s where he gets stuck.”

Wow! In just a few pages I have finally come to understand why I always see cormorants hanging out by the Arboretum off the 520 bridge with their wings spread wide. I learned that the lobster’s back is called a carapace, and I understand how a lobster trap works.

What Lord has done so well is to insert these tidbits in a way that is completely inconspicuous—she has made them part of the story. Kids who are fact-hounds will eat this stuff up. Kids who are just in it for the story will come away with a knowledge they didn’t have to work for. There is a saying that “Everyday’s a school day.” As authors if we can expand a kids knowledge of the world by tucking interesting facts into a piece of fiction, we should go for it!

StorySleuth’s Tip #101: Go for the “extra spice”. Add nonfiction elements to your story, but be sure to do so in a way that doesn’t make the reader feel they’re being buried beneath a pile of facts.