Our Real Guest Blogger and What a Fine Guest She Is: Cheri Earl

Cheri graduated with her M.A. in Creative Writing from Brigham Young University in 1995 and has taught writing and literature courses for the BYU Honors Program and Creative Writing Program for the past 16 years; she was awarded BYU Honors Professor of the Year in 2005 (which she brags about whenever she can). She recently published a non-fiction children’s book for American Girl co-authored with Rick Walton, but in real life she writes young adult novels; she won the Utah Original Writing Competition in 1994 for the YA novel, Flat Like Me, and took Honorable Mention in 1997 for the YA novel, The Swan. Cheri has been a co-organizer of the annual BYU Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop with Carol since 2004.

Before I launch into my seven short personal writing resolutions for 2010 and my reasons for setting these goals, I have to say something about some significant awards given out for children’s books in 2009, something that will seem cynical and off topic at first, but stay with me: I have a big splash ending all ready for you.

I’ll start with the NY Times eight Notable Children’s Books of 2009, and here’s what I have to say about this list: Really? Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith? GENIUS OF COMMON SENSE: Jane Jacobs and the Story of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”? Both are for middle-grade readers, and I’m sure they’re fine books but only eight books out of all the books published in 2009 made this NY Times list, and I’m wondering why these eight. FYI: The ALA Notables Committee defines “notable” as “worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding.” In other words, notable is subjective depending on the entity making the list, and it may have more to do with who’s choosing the books than with any other criteria.

Next, the National Book Award, Young People’s category. The winner for 2009 was Phillip Hoose for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice and the finalists were Deborah Heiligman for—you guessed it—Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (serves me right for singling this book out of the NY Times list); David Small for Stitches; Laini Taylor for Lips Touch: Three Times; and Rita Williams-Garcia for Jumped. The judges for the NBA categories are all children’s authors and/or illustrators and they come up with their own criteria for selecting the winner and finalists; however, the judges are “chosen for their literary sensibilities and their expertise in a particular genre.” Translation: We don’t need to establish criteria because everybody knows good writers make good literary critics. Don’t they?

And finally, the Newbery Medal winner for 2009. Part of the criteria for the Newbery Medal includes a book that makes a “distinguished contribution to American literature”? And this year’s winner is . . . The Graveyard Book? I mean, it’s an okay book, but the Newbery Medal? Come on. Somebody please explain to me the contribution this book makes to American literature. I guess I’m scratching my head because of the company this book now keeps: Sarah Plain and Tall, The Giver, A Year Down Under, Maniac Magee, Number the Stars, Missing May, Holes, The Midwife’s Apprentice, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Bridge to Terabithia and so on. I’m disillusioned about the Newbery Medal now, like I just found my baby teeth in my mom’s apron pocket—the ones I left under my pillow for Some One Else to pick up for a quarter each. Trauma.

Before I move on to writing goals and whatnot, I have to say something about an author who writes a sort of fusion romance-gothic series but not really, someone who was awarded the 2009 Author of the Year award by the Children’s Choice committee for one of her books, someone who makes oodles of money as a writer and who said when she appeared on Oprah in November (also of this year) something like “I’d never thought about being a writer because you can’t make money at that so why would I waste my time.” Hmmm. That’s what writing is all about, making money. I never knew.

To sum up . . .

  • awards are fickle, subjective, and random to a great extent and don’t need to appear on my 2010 Goals to Achieve list (though they seem to crawl up there anyway)
  • most authors won’t make a lot of money or even stay in print long, especially if they don’t win one of The Big Awards
  • to win awards and make a lot of money are okay reasons but not great reasons to keep on writing

What’s my point, you’re wondering. Why all this angst over successful writers and their awards and money and stuff? Well because the writing life can be brutal when you pin all your hopes on making it, especially when making it is defined in terms of money and awards and even getting published. So I’ve decided to make resolutions for next year that will lead me away from the rewards I can’t control and towards those I can.

And now at last, here are my writing resolutions for 2010:

  1. I will write because I have a story to tell, because writing keeps me calm and alive, because writing is what I do.
  2. The promise of billions or winning a random chance award or even the lure of publication will never influence what I choose to write or why I choose to write.
  3. When I write I will strive for beauty and authenticity and truth; I won’t settle for less than honesty.
  4. I will write, maybe not everyday, but I will write.
  5. I will read and emulate great writers in the way they use language and in how they tell stories.
  6. I will finish what I start IF I like it and IF it makes me happy to do so.
  7. I will live my life because (and I stole this next part) a writer never wastes time by living.

Happy New Year everyone!


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14 responses to “Our Real Guest Blogger and What a Fine Guest She Is: Cheri Earl

  1. waaait…. so writing isn’t about making money?!

  2. Carol

    Yup–she’s in our critique group.
    Smart, huh?

    Lovely post, Cheri. Really.

    Thank you.

  3. Now that is motivating. This reminds me of one of my friends who always says, “I do what I want.” I think that’s a good way to go through life.

  4. greyphantom

    I really appreciate your take on writing and why to do it. I know I don’t write because its a job or a chore, I do it because I genuinely enjoy to do it. I have to agree with your sidenote that winning one of those awards would be a nice goal, but it shouldn’t control what we do with what we love.

    I really enjoyed this post, Sister Earl!
    Cody (aka, Ladies and Cody)

    • Cheri Earl

      Hey Cody–How did you find your way to this blog? Again, you’re in a world full of women (and Rick). What a great surprise to hear from you. I hope you’re writing.

      Sister Earl

  5. Rick Walton

    You forgot goal #8–“Write the several fine picture books I’ve come up with ideas for but keep trying to convince someone else to do.” Come on, admit it. Deep in your heart you want to write picture books.

    • Cheri Earl

      You know me so well, Rick. I suggest we all write a picture book for Rick . . . Lucinda’s good at author’s voices, so give her a title. Any title.

      • Yes, Rick, listen to Cheri.

        And thank you for the compliment, Ms. Earl.
        If I had a huge party with all the crazy fun people I like, you would be way
        up there on my list. And yes, there would be karaoke.

  6. I love your list, Cheri.
    You already met one of your goals, this post is full of honesty.

  7. Amy

    #5 is my favorite. Thanks for this post 🙂

  8. Claudia

    Cheri, I loved this post. I esp loved resolution #2. I have spent FAR too much time lately self-consciously thinking about how to write a book that will garner more critical acclaim or be more popular with readers. I need to be thinking instead about how to write a book that is the best book I can make it and that matters to ME. Your post is wonderful.

    • Cheri Earl

      Is this THE Claudia? How are you? You know, I just read Carol’s pink post from a couple of weeks back and when she mentioned you and your one page a day I thought “Why am I not doing that? Why?” You are my inspiration.


  9. Ha! I said something similar right after I watched that episode of Oprah. Thanks for sharing your resolutions. I didn’t want to make resolutions this year (I made wishes instead), but maybe I need to make some writing resolutions.

  10. Amy

    Hi Cheri,

    I realize that I’m responding to this really late and nobody will ever read it…but it must be said. I just read the Graveyard Book a couple of nights ago. A few things struck me about this book.

    Not so good things:
    1. If YA lit starts at 13 years and up, nobody younger than 12 should be reading The Graveyard Book. It’s too dark.
    2. I thought the plot was weak.
    3. The conflict resolution was weaker i.e. the ending was too easy.
    4. I missed the humor in it.
    5. Nobody didn’t really drive the story. Stuff just kept happening to him.
    6. A lot of the characters sounded recycled from Gaiman’s other books.
    7. The whole Illuminati/Masonic conspiracy the Jacks were taken from was a bit much for a children’s book I think.
    8. I never really got the feeling of Nobody coming into his own and gaining a sense of himself.

    Things Iiked:
    1. The descriptions of characters were great and very easy to visualize.
    2. Actually all of the descriptions were great.
    3. I loved the concept of The Freedom of the Graveyard giving Nobody special privileges.
    4. I really liked the personalities of the characters.
    5. I know what Silas is. (But that whole vampire/werewolf thing has been a little worn out as of late.)

    I guess ultimately I expected a Newberry award winner to move me. And it didn’t. I was exactly the same after I read it as I was when I began. I expect a great story to move me, or at least leave me full of questions that must be answered (You Ann Dee, go right here.)


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