Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Inside the Writer's Studio with Varsha Bajaj

Today for Inside the Writer’s Studio we have an author whose friendship I found in the oddest place: the ladies room at the Austin 2010 SCBWI Conference. Varsha Bajaj and I were on an Austin list serve together where I had been sharing about revising a picture book manuscript that I had co-written with Arun Gandhi (the forthcoming Grandfather Gandhi, with Atheneum) but Varsha lives in Houston and we had never met in person. “Bethany?” she said, upon me wandering in. “Tell me more about the Gandhi book.” Varsha then smiled, and the bad fluorescent bathroom lighting disappeared and I stood basking in the grace of this gorgeous woman. I told her a bit of how the Gandhi book came to be and then she shared about the book, T for Taj Mahal, that she is here sharing about today.
A bit more about the book, from the publisher:
From the quiet grandeur of the Himalaya Mountains to the urban city of Calcutta, T is for Taj Mahal: An India Alphabet showcases India’s exotic treasures.
Visit the haunting Taj Mahal, a tribute from an emperor to his dead wife. Traverse the bustling streets of Mumbai, the second most populated city in the world. Sample a traditional meal fragrant with garam masala spices, or attend a cricket match where some games have lasted up to five days!
Welcome,  Varsha.  Now on to the interview…
Is there a story behind the story that you wish to share?
I met Amy Lennex (editor, Sleeping Bear Press) at the Houston SCBWI Editor’s Day in 2009. We shared a table at a Mexican restaurant at the end of the day. I had never considered writing nonfiction and hadn’t researched Sleeping Bear Press or Amy Lennex. Ignorant me! The conversation meandered to the bombings at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai over Thanksgiving 2008 and how shaken I was by them, having grown up in Mumbai. We said our goodbyes that evening and I didn’t imagine our paths crossing again. A few months later Amy called and asked if I would be interested in doing an alphabet book on India. Would I like to submit three sample letters? I said Yes!

Is there a favorite quote you turn to when the rejection blues get to you?
I have collected quotes to help me get through disappointment. I also remind myself that even Dr. Seuss was rejected many times so how can little old me expect any different.

What were some of the challenges you encountered when working on this picture book? How did you overcome those challenges?
The biggest challenge was deciding on the topic that each letter would represent. I was very intimidated by the fact  that I had a lot  of ground to cover given India’s diversity and history. I also had to make sure hat I covered topics that would be of interest to children.

How has your life changed since becoming a published author? Has it? What lessons have you learned that you’d care to share since becoming published?
Being a published author is better than being an unpublished writer! Seriously though, I love the flexible schedule and the luxury of having been able to spend time with my children over the years.  I don’t think the non writing public realizes how difficult it is get published. I sometimes tell people that selling a project feels like winning the lottery. I guard my writing time zealously, and at times it is difficult to do because people don’t equate “writing” with “working.”

Writers love books, we love reading. What book do you turn to over and over again and why do you love it?
I love Because of Winn Dixie by Kate Dicamillo, and the Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Both books have a gut wrenching emotional intensity which leaves the reader changed.

 Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee for its humor and warmth and for making Millicent and her innocent desire to have friends so real. I was amazed by the quite craftsmenship of the The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.

There are so many books that I love. I could go on and on. There’s Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot ….
I love Dorren Cronin’s picture books especially Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type, illustrated by Betsy Lewin.  Lisa Wheeler’s humor and pitch perfect rhythm and rhyme are a source of delight. Especially in One Dark Night, illustrated by Ivan Bates and Sixteen Cows illustrated by Kurt Cyrus.

Inspired by the Actor’s Studio, what sound do you love? What sound do you hate?
I love the sound of a sitar being tuned. I hate the sound of a baby crying.

Be Brave. Share a bit from a WIP.
Here is a snippet from my middle grade novel, Truth, Lies and Me.
“I want to sing on Broadway, someday,” I declared to Mom, still on a high, on our return flight to Houston.
“It’s not for us Mona. Did you see how pretty all those actors were?” said Mom.
I knew I was no model but so what?
“I want to sing on Broadway, when I grow up,” I told Dad when I returned to Houston.
“How many Indians did you see on the Broadway stage?” he scoffed running his hand through his sparse comb over, “You would do better going to medical or business school. Your Aunt is foolish to have spent all that money.”
Rahul, my high school junior brother, said, “Seriously?”
Gandhi, yep Mahatma Gandhi, looked down from the wall in the living room and smiled, Find your truth.
In India, Gandhi is affectionately called “Bapu,” or father. To me he was a grandfather.
Dad and Mom were devoted Gandhian groupies and he was part of the family. We were friends, Gandhi and I.
That night I found my place, I found my dream, and no one could discourage me.

In ode to Maebelle, the main character in my new book Truth with a Capital T, who keeps a book of little known facts about just about everything, please share a wacky piece of trivia that has stuck with you or please share a little known fact about YOU.

Little known fact about me: My grandfather was a perfumer, my father and brother are perfumers, and I couldn’t use perfume because of lousy allergies!

Thanks Varsha for dropping by! It’s been a total treat. For more with Varsha, be sure to hop over to Cynsations and see her guest post.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 and ReadergirlZ!

It is almost May and that means the ReachOut Reads initiative for Mental Health Awareness month is almost here! Check out their fantastic website that just launched:

 It was only back in March that I came into contact with Anastasia Goodstein of and learned of Reach Out Reads.  It was great fun brainstorming a list of authors and books and working with Anastasia and Jane, in PR, to help line up this outstanding list of author chats.  Check out the list below and MARK your calendars.*Spread the word to teens you know, teachers, librarians, etc.* The author chats are being hosted by

with more authors!

Tue 5pm PST
Book: Recovery Road
wed 5pm PST
Book: Exposed
thu 5pm PST
Book: Science Fair Season
Tue 5pm PST
Book: Border Crossing
Wed 5pm PST
Book: Cryer's Cross
Thu 5pm PST
Book: Sorta Like a Rockstar
Tue 5pm PST
Book: Open Wounds
Wed 5pm PST
Book: A Blue So Dark
Thu 5pm PST
Book: Gentlemen
Tue 5pm PST
Book: Beautiful
Wed 5pm PST
Book: The Vespertine
Thu 5pm PST
Book: Hope in Patience
Img Chat Ustream

Also, Anastasia writes: "We sent out thousands of bookmarks to 1300 YALSA librarians across the country this morning along with stickers." The bookmarks feature a list of books suggested by YALSA. They are:


This list was developed in 2011 for by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). For more reading resources from YALSA, visit

On Abuse
Breathing Underwater
by Alex Flinn
On Abuse
The Rules of Survival
by Nancy Werlin

On Bullying
Some Girls Are
by Courtney Summers
On Depression
It’s Kind of a Funny Story
by Ned Vizzini

On Depression
Under the Wolf, Under the Dog
by Adam Rapp
On Eating Disorders
by Adrienne Maria Vrettos

On Eating Disorders
by Laurie Halse Anderson
On Eating Disorders
by Robin Friedman

On Helping A Friend
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes
by Chris Crutcher
On Manic Depression/Bipolar Disorder
Nobel Genes
by Rune Michaels

On Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Ball Don’t Lie
by Matt de la Pena
On Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Kissing Doorknobs
by Terry Spencer Hesser

On Schizophrenia
A Blue So Dark
by Holly Schindler
On Self Harm
by Patricia McCormick

On Suicide
Hold Still
by Nina LaCour

I said it before and I will say it again: books matter. They heal. They are one of the weapons in our arsenal against teen suicide. It will get better has become a popular saying and it can and it will. But it doesn't have to be years in the future. It can get better NOW.

Monday, April 25, 2011

reading like a writer: what is at stake for y-o-u, you?

All month we’ve been examining our main characters personal stakes. We have been raising them, amping them up, creating ultimate stakes, and making our main character face a moment of irrevocable commitment, a point where there is no turning back. We’ve turned to Donald Maas—read his words. We’ve read my words—in the form of my main character in Between Us Baxters, Polly and we’ve read and examined the stakes of Lisa Railsback’s main character in Betti, in Betti on the Highwire.
But what about us—as the writer and creator of these words and worlds? What is at stake for us?

I began writing and studying fiction in 1998. It is now 2011. I published for the first time in Cricket, the literary children’s magazine in 2004. I published my first novel in 2009. What was at stake for me then is different than what is at stake for me now, but I believe strongly though that what is at stake for us as the writer/creator may change with each project we take on, it is very important  for us to access and think about. 

When I work with my private students I ask them a zillion questions. Mostly about their main characters, what the character wants and but eventually I ask the writer what is at stake for personally in the writing of the project they are currently working on. One of my students was very brave in answering, what was at stake for her as she tackled drafting her first novel:

…Getting it right – giving this theme the attention it deserves, in a real and organic way, without having the novel seem preachy or lecturey (I just made that word up, sorry!) I guess another thing at stake is whether I can actually do this – whether I can actually be a writer that tackles real issues (sometimes I have moments where I don’t think I’m smart enough or deep enough or intellectual enough or creative enough to do this…) or whether it’s just a pipe dream and I don’t really have the guts/courage to do it. 

Ah, living up to the potential the story demands of us. That coupled with personal belief is always at stake. Can I do this? Am I up for the challenge? Am I smart enough? Talented enough? Do I have what it takes? What if I fail?  It doesn’t matter if one has an MFA or is published these niggly fears still come up but we writers are brave. We face our fears over and over. We bring them to the page. We create and infuse our characters with the same such human fears and only in the process of putting ourselves in touch for what is at stake for ourselves do we make progress, on the page and in life. 

I am writing my first older YA. What is at stake for me in this project is not relying on my developed Southern voice. Also at stake is accessing personal and raw emotions I am not sure everyone I know and love will approve of. I am creating characters, not passing off real life as fiction, but I am putting on the page something of my life experience. I am writing older. I am writing from a boy’s point of view. I am scared and I am attempting to be patient and brave at the same time. Is it working? Some days, yes. Some days, no. But I am glad to have a new things at stake for me in this work. 

Take Away:
Consider you work-in-progress, what is at stake for you as the writer? What are your fears? Can you use them in the writing of the manuscript? Can you “be” with the fears and not let them stop you? How do you feel about the work after being honest with yourself about how much you want it—to get it right, to do it well, to be read, to use new muscles? (My guess is after being clear with yourself about what is at stake you feel braver and bolder and more ready to keep at it, no matter what.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Inside the Writer's Studio with Liz Garton Scanlon

Today for Inside the Writer’s Studio we get to have a conversation with one of the warmest writers—on the page—and in life. Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of such picture books as A Sock is a Pocket For Your Toes, the Caldecott honor book All the World illustrated by Marla Frazee, and now Noodle and Lou. Living in NYC, I was a fan of Liz’s work and when I moved to Austin one of the first events I attended was a “writer salon” held at Liz’s home. There were an array of coffee mugs, different colors, some chipped, some not—her girls and husband were nowhere to be found but there were drawings and books and signs of their life everywhere and there by Liz’a side was her steadfast dog. (The two cats—like the girls may have been hiding.) Liz contains inside her a bundle of energy and a sense of serene calm. She is like a rough draft and a finished polished draft melded into one unique woman. She is both a woman and a writer I admire.  Let us welcome, Liz. 

Here are some  glowing reviews for Noodle & Lou.

"Odds are good that even the littlest listeners can recognize how much having a good buddy can improve a bad mood, but it seems likely that adults will pick this up for the message while kids will prefer to pore over the pictures. Chirpy, instructive and fun."--Kirkus Reviews

"The healing properties of friendship are on child-friendly display here...Every kid should have a friend like Lou, and Noodle and Lou’s story shows just how it can be done."--Booklist

How do you stay inspired to face the dreaded blank page? Is it something you dread? Look forward to? Share a bit about your writing process.
A student asked me recently if I’d lose my job if I didn’t come up with any more good ideas. I laughed at the time, but really, that’s the secret fear in all of our hearts, isn’t it?
I really do dread the blank page. I’m a writer who works, initially, more by muse than by method. So, if ideas aren’t waking me up in the middle of night or striking me like lightning, I flounder. When that happens, I work on revisions. Or sometimes I use a writing prompt to try to jump-start my process. Or sometimes I just forgive myself and my muse and go for a walk.

How important is community in keeping you inspired? What authors are a part of your virtual and/or hometown community? How do they keep you inspired? How do you inspire them?
All the World's Marla and Liz
Community is central to my work and my wellness. Since the task at hand is truly solitary and often scary, I find that I need (I think we all need!) human touchstones to provide reassurance and encouragement; insight and criticism; perspective and humor; collaboration; wisdom, and advice.
I’ve been crazy-lucky in the lottery for creative communities. I am surrounded by the deep pool of authorial awesomeness that is Austin, Texas (including you, Bethany!); I have both in-person and online critique groups; I write and explore poetry with a group of blogger buddies (the self-proclaimed Poetry Princesses); and there is a brilliant listserv for the folks my agent represents. Also, I have a long-standing women’s group – made up of artist-mother types – that serves as a solid platform under everything I do. 

What I get from any one of these groups is so much more than I give, it’s kind of overwhelming sometimes.

Name a writer whose work and/or career you admire. And why do you admire them?
Too many to list, of course, but I look often at the picture books of Cynthia Rylant and Mem Fox because of how well they both combine craft with heart.

Theme can be seen as a dirty word but as writers I believe we all have something to say, something we want to share with the world. What is that something for you? 

If you’d asked me a few years back, I’d have said, “Ha! I don’t write to a theme. I’m all over the map!” But now that I’ve been doing this for a good long while, I realize I do have a “something” – maybe even a few somethings – that I revolve around again and again.
I love connections – surprising metaphoric connections (A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes), and the connections between words and images and objects (All the World), and the connections between friends (Noodle & Lou). And I really, really like connections over meals. I have many a manuscript that features food, friends, and a dinner table. Actually, many a manuscript, and many a real day, too.

What were some of the challenges you encountered when working on this novel/picture book? How did you overcome those challenges?
I first sent Noodle & Lou to Allyn Johnston, my editor at Beach Lane Books, in October 2008. But, it was March 2009 before she offered to buy it because I could not figure out the ending. So she didn’t say yes, but she didn’t say no, either, and I’m a little relentless if I think there’s a chance.
I came up with countless options – most of them really lousy – before finally settling into this idea that it’s another person’s perspective – a good buddy’s perspective – that can help us to recognize our best selves.  

What do you feel is your strength as a craftsperson? How do you turn your weaknesses into strengths?
My weakness is plotting. I don’t understand why something always has to happen! (Call off the hounds. Of course I really do understand but dang, putting it into words stumps me.) And as for my strengths? Hard to say, but I do know what I love. A good rhyme, a surprising image, the turn of a phrase, a moment. I’m learning, little by little, to string those things together into a plot.

Quickly name 5 favorite stories—could be books or movies even. Do these stories have anything in common with one another? Do they have anything in common with your own work? What comparisons can you make in terms of what matters to you in your own work and what you like to read/experience?

So, I’ve sort of free-associated a random collection of books here:
The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Kathryn Brown (Sandpiper, 2000).
Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Sandpiper, 2000).
Owen by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, 1993).
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum, 2008).
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (Knopf, 2005).

All of these stories speak to me because they’re filled with real, complicated, messy human beings (or, ok, mice, if you’re going to be picky) and the authors revealed their foibles, their shadow sides, even, with tenderness. I mean, even Gar Face (from The Underneath) – the closest I ever want to get to cruel and evil – has a history, an ache. And there’s so much humor in so many of these – that’s one thing I would like to learn to do – strike that impeccable balance between laughter and tears.

In ode to Maebelle, the main character in my new book Truth with a Capital T, who keeps a book of little known facts about just about everything, please share a wacky piece of trivia that has stuck with you or please share a little known fact about YOU.

The little piece of trivia that amazes and perplexes me? That our forearms are about the length of our feet. I just don’t understand how that can always be true, even for the less mathematically-inclined like me…
And a wacky fact about me? I once got a perm. I mean, I know it was the 70s. Everybody got perms. But honestly. Have you seen my hair?

Thank you, Bethany, for hosting me here today!
I’m honored…

See? Liz is kind and gracious and I am grateful for her work and her friendship. Thanks, Liz for dropping by. Come back anytime, ya hear? For more on Liz and Noodle & Lou hop on over to where she is a featured author this month. Also, look for Liz to write the In Response feature for Hunger Mountain, in response to The Passion for the Picture Book Piece.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Reading Like a Writer: Irrevocable Commitment

The first two weeks of April we have been discussing personal stakes and ultimate stakes which has led us to what Donald Maas in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook calls the irrevocable commitment—the moment of no turning back.

Let’s go back to look at Betti on the Highwire by Lisa Railsback. Refugees Betti and George are attending their first 4th of July celebration with their adopted families. Everyone is joyous, relaxed, and having fun at the typical 4th of July celebration, but no one has warned Betti or George about fireworks.  Railsback writes:

Maybe the Buckworths, and the rest of the Americans, didn’t know about the BOOMS. All of them were very busy pointing at the sky. “Ooooooo,” they cooed. “Ahhhhhhh! Ohhhhhhh!” Some rose to their feet and a few Melons in the audience were actually clapping.
Auntie Moo said there is no way in America, but sometimes war comes out of nowhere. Sometimes it comes for no good reason at all. A people disaster.
George peeked up from the ground. “Babo?” His eyes were scared and sparkly and wet. We looked at each other and nodded. We didn’t have to say a single word.
I grabbed his hand and we shot up from the blanket and…
We ran like crazy (258).

One does not think of the “irrevocable moment” in the novel as a running away. But for George and Betti (known as Babo in her native country) disaster can strike at any moment. War has come to them—in the form of booms and sky explosions and together they run to safety.
This works and works well not just because of the juxtaposition of what the child reader knows about the 4th of July but because of the juxtaposition of what usually happens near the climax—the main character charging ahead. Here when Betti and George retreat, their adopted families know in a very different way than they have known before of the internal scars and survival skills Betti and George have. Also, this irrevocable moment, Betti and George hiding in a port-a-potty on the 4th is followed by another. Once hidden will Betti and George come out? Will they try to save their adopted families? Will they learn that not all men with black boots are soldiers? One reads on to find out.
Take Away:
Where and when is your main character’s irrevocable moment? Is it expected by the reader? Is it the opposite of what the reader thinks will happen? Why or why not?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Friday Week in Review on a Tuesday!

Ah, so I missed doing a round up last Friday as was preparing to leave for a family memorial in Georgia and my fiancĂ© and I were waiting on my “official” engagement ring to arrive. It did and once it did, V took me back to the spot where he first asked me—a week ago—and he slipped the vintage inspired glittery and gorgeous new ring on my finger. 

We then took off for Atlanta. Saying goodbye to my aunt Susan was difficult but her service and us all being together had its own bumpy grace attached. Along with our goodbyes, we had hellos. V met the all the family who lived in the area. We went to the Marietta diner and feasted on pancakes, cake, omelets, and other yummy dishes. The kids, my mom, and my sister went to the movies where Bella conked out—as did my mom. I read books to Tehmin and Bella—signed books I’d collected for them since the last time I was home. We devoured Holler Loudly, All the World, and the Hallelujiah Flight. We took funny pictures and tucked the kids in and before you knew it we were back in Austin.

I signed copies of Truth with a Capital T for my family and I pointed out to my mom this passage from the acknowledgments at the back of the book:

To my parents, Allan and Beth Hegedus, for sealing my fate and moving the family to Georgia. To the Bells, the Browns, and the rest of the Hegedus crew, and to all those who’ve ever been to the Kiss-Me-Quick Bridge: family is family. Our hearts have been healed.
And, that’s what this trip home to say hello and goodbye was: healing.

What’s Happening  for Truth with a Capital T
Truth with a Capital T has been named a Bank Streets Best Book of 2010.  As a prior New Yorker, I love the Bank Street School of Education and the Bank Street Book Store. And like last year when Between Us Baxters made the list, (with an extra special *) I was glad to see Truth be one of the 600 out of 6000 books which were endorsed by Bank Street.  Truth is on the list in the Nine to Twelve, Today category.

What’s Happening for Grandfather Gandhi
An illustrator announcement for the Gandhi book is expected soon. Fingers crossed. 

What’s Happening  for Hunger Mountain
I’ve served as HM Co-Editor for about two years now and the editorial hat is one I’ve grown accustomed to wearing. I love putting the issues together, reading submissions, approaching authors to write for Hunger Mountain, and I love digging deep into the “gushy” stuff of an essay or a fiction piece and getting my editorial hands dirty as the author of the piece creates and shapes and digs a deeper, more substantial pocket of earth to lay their creative seeds in. (Ah, it is spring and flowers, planting, etc. abound). I was more than pleased to do this work with Linnea Heaney and even more pleased to see she wrote about her HM experience over on her blog, Linnea’s Illuminated Notes.

We did go through revision, with Bethany’s gentle, but to-the-point comments. During this time, I learned about addressing editor suggestions and how to rewrite to find the story in the snuggest and most illuminating way. By the time I sent off the final version near the deadline and heard my phone ringing, I knew it was Bethany with the call all writers want to get. I thanked her for being my first teacher in the writing world!

If you haven’t read A Real Best Friend, the picture book manuscript Linnea discusses revising for me, go do. It’s a real good read!

In Awesome Austin
Congrats to Jo Whittemore who celebrated the release of her latest book, Odd Girl In this last Sunday at BookPeople. Check out Jo’s post over at Diversity in YA, Against Tokenism.

For all the Austin TLA buzz go check out the Austin author schedule over at the Austin SCBWI. I will be there walking the floor on Wednesday and attending the All Publisher Party at the Four Season’s Residences Wednesday night. 

The YA A to Z Conference kicks off this Friday. I am bowled over at the fab line up and will be busy beyond belief but I am excited to be a part of this inaugural event. Along with my WLT Office Manager duties, I will be sitting on two panels and also doing a Q&A with Uma Krishnaswami. Check out the fab book trailer of Uma’s new novel, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, which is racking up starred reviews and has early Newbery buzz. 

And, as I’ve got to get the office in Awesome Austin, this Tuesday wrap-up has no Outside Awesome Austin links this week but maybe that is a-ok. After all, TLA kicks off today and this year all those librarians are here, keeping Austin weird and well-read (and protesting cut backs and everyone is doing all we can to Keep Libraries Open!)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Reading Like a Writer: Ultimate Stakes

Last Monday we discussed creating personal stakes for our main characters with insights ala Donald Maas and his Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. This week we are going to discuss ultimate stakes.

Maas writes:

When life tests us to the utmost, our motives grow exponentially greater.  Our deepest convictions rise to the surface. We care still more. We become more determined than ever to make a difference, to persist, to overcome all problems and obstacles. At the ultimate testing we summon our deepest beliefs and nothing, nothing will stop us  (50).

Looking at Polly, my main character in Between Us Baxters, she faces the ultimate stakes as the novel nears its climax. Polly who has worried her father may be involved in the rash of racial fires that is taking place in Holcolm County and who now has a strained friendship to say the least with her childhood best friend Timbre Anne needs to decide whether or not to warn her friend about the suspicions she has against her father. The personal stakes for Polly—to tell her friend or not—to believe the worst of her father or not—are at hand.  Polly who has gone to Timbre Ann’s school to warn her is waylaid…
I scraped the bark of the tree. Peeled it off like a scab. “But sisters make up. They fight but they make up.”
“Don’t, Polly.” She took my hand. Stopped me from hurting the tree. “I wish there was a way, but there’s no making up for this.” She sighed, taking in the sight of our day-and-night covered hands. “It’s how we were born.” She sounded as old as Henri. Older, even.
I swallowed deep. I didn’t want Timbre Ann to teach me anymore. Not about how or why we couldn’t be friends.
She dropped my hand. She went to Peter and took his. The leaves crunched as they walked away, same as they had crunched when I climbed out my window last night. Tarnation! I had meant to warn her. Tell her what I knew, even if it got Daddy in trouble.
“Timbre Ann,” I called, but what came out wasn’t about those fires. “I won. I won the spelling bee. The first one of the year.”
They’d gotten as far as the school yard. Peter kept walking but Timbre Ann turned around. She didn’t hoot. She didn’t holler, but a soft smile crept across her face. Before she could help it, it grew as wide as it would have if Henri had set down a piece of her coconut cake before her. It was plenty enough praise for me” (261).

Maas states above that nothing, nothing should stop our main character. But Polly gets stopped. She is hurt and upset about her fractured friendship with Timbre Ann—which is of her own making, and Timbre Ann’s—but is also inevitable as society is pulling the two apart. Because of Polly’s failure here to act to warn her friend the stakes still rise. What will Polly do now? How does she feel about her failure? How does getting Timbre Ann’s approval at the end of the scene shape her? And what about Daddy—his ultimate stakes are yet to come.

Take Away: Can you pinpoint the ultimate stakes in your manuscript? What is happening? Does your main character succeed in letting nothing stop him/her? Or is there another hurdle, like there is for Polly, and more yet to come.