Coming-of-age in the Northwoods: Novel hits the right spots

 “Be a man that people can count on,” 14-year-old Sevy Anderson’s father tells him. Because Sevy’s father broke his leg in a sawmill accident, the boy must quit school and earn money for the family among rough and tumble lumberjacks and river rats who harvest the white pine forests of Wisconsin.

White Pine begins where every good story starts: On the cusp of an irreversible, life-changing event for the protagonist.

Told in the first person from Sevy’s point of view, readers are privy to the teen’s inner emotions of fear, pride, remorse, affection and homesickness. With a deft, light hand, author Caroline Akervik, through Sevy, describes aspects of lumbering and lumberjacks that give readers confidence that this is a reliable, accurate depiction of life as a Northwoodsman in days gone by…which means readers can settle in and enjoy the story.

Roget, a giant of a lumberjack, objects to Sevy’s presence in the lumber camp. “He’s is a boy. He has no place here.” Problems escalate when Sevy’s forgetfulness causes what becomes known as “the incident.” Sevy vacillates from carrying the heavy burden of paying for his father’s dream to own a farm, to the simple joys of hearing bells jingling on the horses, and eating salt pork and biscuits after a long day of dangerous, hard work in the numbing cold.

The tension, while varying in intensity, never goes slack. The story doesn’t veer from Sevy’s struggles to live up to the command his father gave him and his own desire to be a true Northwoodsman, in this coming-of-age novel.

Readers who love Gary Paulsen’s young adult coming-of-age stories set in the wilderness will treasure White Pine, as will fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. No warnings about content are needed for this wholesome, credible, engaging story. White Pine is a book that parents and other adults can read to young children and give to pre-teens and teens to read on their own. As with the best of this genre, adults can enjoy the story as well. The book belongs in school libraries and on family bookshelves. And more importantly, in the hands of middle grade readers.

 White Pine: My Year as a Lumberjack and River Rat is published by Melange Books LLC’s young adult imprint Fire & Ice.

Review by Beth Fowler author of Ken’s War: When teen hormones and culture shock collide.

 

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How to Impress Editors and Get Published: Part 3

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During my short stint as an editor, I developed sympathy for editors who’d rejected my work in the past. (Contact me for your free copy of Travelers’ Tales, the anthology I edited.)

While wielding the red pen, I learned what pleases and annoys editors. I’ve also gathered advice to writers from other editors. Here’s the final part of this 3-part blog.

REVISE GRATEFULLY

After an editor is hooked on a writer’s work, she weighs its commercial potential. A Tor Books acquisitions editor put it this way: “We’re commercial. If your manuscript is your baby, if you won’t be willing to change it, then this type of writing isn’t for you.”

“Be willing to work with me on changes if the piece is almost right, but not quite there,” is an associate editor’s advice to writers targeting Tales from a Small Planet.

An executive editor at Simon & Schuster values “…a writer’s willingness to take constructive criticism and apply it to his or her work.”

Editors ask for revisions that will topple barriers to good communication between writer and readers and enhance the value and credibility of the work by fixing errors and smoothing out rough spots. “Don’t get upset when we reject or wish to change your article,” the editor of a global magazine said. “For the most part, we know our audience better than you do. We do this for a living, so take our word for it.” Thin-skinned, egotistic writers are a pain in the asterisk. Believe it or not, Jack Kerouac was a pain.

Kerouac dropped a manuscript off to his editor at Harcourt Brace. In spite of having published Kerouac’s first novel, Robert Giroux refused to read the uncorrected, original draft of On the Road. Kerouac declared that the Holy Ghost had touched his book. Giroux countered, “After you have been inspired by the Holy Ghost, you have to sit down and read your manuscript.” The novel needed revisions, in Giroux’ opinion. Kerouac refused to change a single word, denounced his editor and left in a rage. Who knows how far that power struggle set back Kerouac’s career?

“As two professionals,” said an editor at Houghton Mifflin, “you should be having a cooperative, constructive, ongoing relationship.”

BUILD RELATIONSHIPS

Successful writers build good relationships with editors from the outset. Editors have lost my work, asked me to re-write articles only to reject them, introduced errors into my articles, and forgotten to pay me. Through it all, I kept in mind that editors are my customers and I’m their supplier. Hoping to work with those same editors in the future, I wrote courteous follow-up letters.

An editor at a major publishing house said this about the author/editor relationship: “Look at the editor as somebody who is going to be your most important critic. There has to be an extraordinary amount of trust between editor and author, which is fostered by a great deal of respect for each other.”

“Show respect for my time,” said Pat Samples. “I’ll be likely to show more interest in you and your work, and give you more of my time.”

John Wood, a magazine senior editor, described numerous ways to build and maintain good relationships with editors in his How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters. He pointed out that writing prompt, specific thank you notes to editors after works have been published can “bond a relationship.”

LEARN THE LINGO

Chemists talk about valences and isotopes; mechanics about torque and viscosity. As writers, we should be fluent in the technical and specialized vocabulary of our field. If you don’t know ARC from FNASR, don’t bug the editor. Look it up or ask another writer.

Editors working under deadlines and mountains of mail decide, “Does this piece fit our publication? Is this writing better than good? Is this writer a professional?”

Impress the editor and he’ll say, “Yes, yes and yes!”

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When teen hormones and culture shock collide: Ken’s War

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How to Impress Editors and Get Published: Part 2

(c) Beth Fowler

(c) Beth Fowler

During my two-week stint as an editor, I developed sympathy for editors who’d rejected my work in the past. (Contact me for your free copy of Travelers’ Tales, the anthology I edited.)

While wielding the red pen, I learned what pleases and annoys editors. I’ve also gathered advice to writers from other editors. Here’s the scoop.

 

WRITE FRESH: Editors love word combinations that convey image, emotion and action. “Words,” said one freelance editor, “can engage readers to keep on reading.” Keeping readers reading is every editor’s mission.

“One of the ways you can judge a good writer,” an editor at Delacorte Press said, “is if he shows you something. You see it in action. You don’t have to write adverbially.” Or adjectivally.

Adverbs and adjectives tell instead of show. Action should convey the person’s manner. “He ate greedily,” comes alive as “He crammed biscuits into his mouth. Melted butter dribbled down his chin.” Happy, generous and similar adjectives are interpretations filtered through the writer’s judgment. “Although poor, they were generous,” becomes fresher rewritten as “The family invited us into their tin shack for tea and tortillas.” The author’s job is to draw word pictures. Let readers draw the conclusion.

“Write with a unique twist and include lively quotes and statistics,” said Kim Lisi who’d edited Home Business Journal. “Show some creative effort.”

CUT THE CHATTER: After her vacation, an acquisitions editor returned to work only to get buried under 800 e-mails, phone messages and letters. She begged writers to hold off communications until she’d dug out.

Editors appreciate writers who resist asking about the status of submitted material until a reasonable period has passed, who send in their best work the first time (not submitting minor revisions after the piece was accepted) and who don’t ask questions that are covered in the guidelines.

In Book Editors Talk to Writers, Judy Mandell reported that editing is “…a world of deadlines, bottom lines, and all-out stress. Editors would like to deal personally with every writer. But, they can’t. They’re just too busy.” Editors usually don’t have time to tutor novice writers or enter into philosophical or gossipy exchanges. “Keep the personal commentary brief unless we’re well acquainted,” said The Phoenix editor Pat Samples.

The editor of a magazine for an organization with 180,000 members worldwide was more direct. “Don’t pester editors. We’re busy and we’ll get back to you when we can. We remember the names of the people that have bothered us and it’s not in a good way.”

PROVIDE THE VITALS: Electronic mail is a double-edged sword in editor-land. While transmission is virtually instant, some authors omit the basics. “Include all contact details when sending ideas for articles,” said Mark Berriman of New Vegetarian and Natural Health. Surprisingly, he also receives articles without bylines included!

Editors who accept e-mailed queries and articles appreciate “netiquette.” Write specific topics in e-mail subject lines. (Unless directed otherwise.) E-mails with common subject lines such as “submission” or “article here” are difficult to find when editors want to refer to them later.

When attaching documents, write brief explanations or introductions in the bodies of e-mails. Some editors won’t open attachments if they don’t know what they are. (They’re too busy, for one. And, two, attachments spread viruses.) One editor said, “Don’t put me on your e-mail distribution list.” Editors don’t want digital photos of pets and junk that’s been forwarded a jillion times.

In subsequent communications, continue to supply your full name and title of the project. Editors working on myriad projects can’t remember if Jason Smith wrote “Recycling Batteries,” or was that Jackson Smyth and “Battered Cycles”?

Stay tuned for Part 3

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When teen hormones and culture shock collide, describes the story of Ken’s War, to be released in late May by Melange Books LLC. Get the inside story at https://www.facebook.com/kenswar

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