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Blood on the Forehead: What I Know about Writing
     

Blood on the Forehead: What I Know about Writing

by M. E. Kerr
 

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For decades, Marijane Meaker has delighted readers of all ages. Shes written under the names Vin Packer, M. J. Meaker, and Mary James. But as M. E. Kerr, writer of books for young adults, she has won perhaps her greatest audience.In Blood on the Forehead M. E. Kerr shares both the stories behind and excerpts from five of her novels and five short stories for young

Overview

For decades, Marijane Meaker has delighted readers of all ages. Shes written under the names Vin Packer, M. J. Meaker, and Mary James. But as M. E. Kerr, writer of books for young adults, she has won perhaps her greatest audience.In Blood on the Forehead M. E. Kerr shares both the stories behind and excerpts from five of her novels and five short stories for young adults, as well as tips about what writers need to remember in order to write fiction successfully (e.g., Courtesy #10 to extend to your reader: Cut! Cut! Cut! Your reader has a life.). With her usual mix of sparkling wit and common sense, Kerrs personal journey through the writing process is sure to buoy the spirits of any reader faced with the next writing assignment.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this writers' guide cum Kerr sampler, the award-winning author shares her expertise in crafting stories and novels. While aspiring authors eager for straightforward creative-writing lessons might be better off with the nuts-and-bolts guidance in such works as Marion Dane Bauer's What's Your Story?, Kerr's looser presentation also serves up much to stimulate discerning readers and writers. The most concrete suggestions, condensed into 10 helpful hints, are briskly spelled out in the first chapter; some are conventional ("Show your reader, don't tell him"), others reflect more personal preferences ("Be as direct as possible.... Flashbacks stop the momentum"). The rest of the book explains the genesis of specific pieces (five short stories, two novel excerpts, one segment of her autobiography, all included here). Offering few explicit rules, Kerr demonstrates how she alters and incorporates real-life events in her fiction. She also touches on current concerns like political correctness ("A writer today can become so self-conscious... that [a] game of Cowboys and Indians becomes Cowpeople and Native Americans"), confesses that she cannot begin a novel until she comes up with a title and injects a healthy dose of humor ("Cut! Cut! Cut! Your reader has a life"). Deepening readers' appreciation of Kerr's work, this volume will sharpen their approaches to their own. Ages 11-up. (May)
School Library Journal
Gr 7 UpYoung writers will take pleasure in this book of advice and encouragement by an award-winning author. However, there is not much new material here. Reprinted short stories and chapters from four of Kerr's novels, as well as from her autobiography, make up the bulk of the book. Short essays preface each lengthy selection. For example, in the section titled "What If?" Kerr tells how a neighbor inspired her to write Gentlehands (HarperCollins, 1978). In "Names," she explains how Marijane Meaker became M.E. Kerr. Readers unfamiliar with the author's work will scramble to find and finish her excerpted novels. Her fans will undoubtedly enjoy the personal reflections and discovering exactly where she gets her ideas; she aptly illustrates the fact that inspiration can come from the unlikeliest sources. Her remembrances of harsh critiques and abundant rejection letters drive home the importance of perseverance. Still, this book is more effective as a collection of her work than as a guide for aspiring writers. Kerr does offer several pages of general writing tips ("...give your characters interesting names," "Grab your reader right away"), but gives only quick examples. Young teens looking strictly for instruction in the craft of writing fiction may want to choose Marion Dane Bauer's What's Your Story? (1992) or Our Stories (1996, both Clarion) instead.Miranda Doyle, Notre Dame High School, Belmont, CA
NY Times Book Review
The popular writer uses examples from her novels and short stories as well as incidents from her own life to illustrate a sensible guide to writing, one adults might find as instructive as students in the upper grades.
Kirkus Reviews
Kerr ("Hello," I Lied, 1997, etc.) wraps observations about writing in general, and her own work in particular, around five short stories, plus long extracts from four novels and her autobiography. Ten conventional tips for new writers open the book ("10. Cut! Cut! Cut! Your reader has a life"); it closes with an abbreviated section of cute quotes from children's letters. In between, Kerr shows how stories can come out of meetings, personal or witnessed incidents, and sometimes seemingly from nowhere; points out recurrent themes in her work; and discusses the differences between creating novels and short stories. The excerpts, from Gentlehands (1978), Little Little (1981), Me Me Me Me Me (1983), I Stay Near You (1985) and Fell (1987), average about 30 pages each, long enough to capture the author's distinctive sense of irony and to whet readers' appetites for more; the shorter fiction, all of which has appeared in collections within the last ten years, includes studies in character, family relations, and love. Without any comment on Kerr's forays into gay issues and other previously taboo topics, this book is not a true cross-section of her work: Still, it's valuable as an introduction for those just becoming acquainted with her, and equally worthwhile as the author's personal take on her art. (Memoir/anthology. 11-15)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060279967
Publisher:
HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication date:
03/01/1998
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
5.61(w) x 8.34(h) x 1.06(d)
Age Range:
11 Years

Read an Excerpt

Author's Note

If I were to look up from my computer now, I would see a favorite quotation in a frame over my desk, attributed to Gene Fowler:

Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.

In Blood on the Forehead I share what I know about writing short stories and novels.

A short story gives you a glimpse of something, while a novel lets you have a good, long look. But whichever you choose to write, there are certain courtesies the writer should extend to the reader:

1. Don't cheat the reader. Don't write a story that leaves out an important fact that should have been mentioned at the very beginning — for example, that the main character is an elk. (Surprise, surprise!)

2. Take the trouble to give your characters interesting names. "Mary Smith" isn't a good choice.

3. Don't tell a story in heavy dialect or slang. Your reader shouldn't have to plow through it to "hear" you.

4. Grab your reader right away. "'Where's Papa going with that axe?' said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast." . . . It sounds like the start of a Stephen King novel, but it's actually the beginning of a classic children's book, Charlotte's Web, by E. B. White.

5. Grace your work with a provocative or appropriate title. John Steinbeck claimed he wasn't a title man, that he didn't care what his book was called. A good thing, because when The Grapes of Wrath was published in Japan, it was translated as The Angry Raisins.

6. An idea is not astory. Focus on the conflict, and remember that you're not finished until you've given your reader at least a hint of how your character will change, or how the problem will be solved.

7. Be as direct as possible. It took me a long time to realize that it's easier for the reader if I put down events in the order they take place. Flashbacks stop the momentum, and often force the reader to go back and reread.

8. Don't expect the reader to stick with you if you veer away from the story. Every scene should advance the plot. Keep on track.

9. Show your reader; don't tell him. Don't just say a boy is a bully. Describe him as he belittles a defenseless victim. Write a mean scene.

10. Cut! Cut! Cut! Your reader has a life.

Easy reading is hard writing. Nobody sees the blood on the forehead, just the smile on your face after there's an A+ at the top of your composition, or your name is under the title of a published book. While everyone, at one time or another, is made to write something, few people are self-starters, and even fewer go on to become professional writers. I once had a creative writing teacher who told the class, "If there is any way you can keep yourself from being a writer, do it!" (This man had published several books. He wasn't just a writer. He earned his living teaching.)

I thought his pronouncement was cruel and arrogant. I was struggling to produce short stories for his class. I wrote and rewrote these stories, and half the time he returned them with his blunt comments scrawled across the bottom of the last page.

Things like:

Don't unload on me! I want a story, not a summary of your life!

I hear your characters but I don't see them!

Why do I have to wait five pages for you to get around to beginning your story?

Many years and many novels later, I finally understood what he was all about.

If you are a writer, you won't be able to keep yourself from being one.

You may have to drive a truck, wait tables, join the army, or teach, as this man did, but somewhere you will have a story started, lines of a song or a poem written down, a novel or one act of a play under way, and you'll keep working at it while you earn your living.

If you are a writer, you'll be tough enough to stay with it, no matter what.

Criticism goes with the territory. You will never like getting it, and you may never warm to the person giving it, but you'll learn from some of it . . . and some of it you'll learn to ignore.

Nine times out of ten, if you're a writer, your childhood made you strong in ways you didn't realize when you were young. You have things to be thankful for that you once believed would do you in: someone's cruelty, someone's death, someone's rejection, someone's inability to love you, or someone's prejudice.

One great thing about writing is that in a very gratifying way you're eventually paid back for all the bad things that ever happened to you. The worse they are, the more gold you have for your "golden tale."

When bad things happen to good people, good writers become alchemists. If you don't know what that word means, look it up. If you're going to be a writer, someday you'll remember finding that word in the dictionary . . . and finding, along with it, a name for the magic inside you that will eventually turn things around.

Because of it, losers become winners. Nerds and dorks become heroes.

I am a lover of rock music, and I live in a community where many rock stars live or visit. Some of them I have interviewed. Hands down, all of them tell me their teenage years were miserable. They weren't popular or they weren't good students. They were ugly or they were poor. They were shy or they were bullied. Most of them are yesterday's losers.

Today they write the songs.

This book is dedicated to the kids who hope someday to write the songs, whether they're novels, poems, plays, essays, or the kind of songs you sing. It's also dedicated to their teachers, very often the first ones to recognize their talents and to cheer them on.

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