Friday, June 29, 2012

Celebrating the Last Day of School

Yay! The last day of the school year is finally here and I'm ready to enjoy the summer holidays! I'll miss my students but I do love having some time to recharge and work on my writing. My writing goals for the summer:

1) Finish revisions on Novel #4

2) Finish rewriting Novel #3

I know it seems like I'm always rewriting, but I think I'm finally starting to "get" how much revision is really required to write a good book. For me, it takes several painstakingly slow revisions where I think about practically every word to layer in more story and character. Hopefully, these will go faster now that I have more time for writing.

3) Start a new book - I have so many ideas, I can hardly wait for this one!

My notebook is full of story beginnings or ideas I've jotted down for when I have time. This summer, I'd like to take one or two of these and see where they go.

What are your writing plans for the summer?

In case you're interested, over at MiG Writers, I'm posting today on The Challenges of Making Characters Come Alive.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Which Do You Like Better: Reading or Writing?

This is a tough question, because I love them both.

I love reading because...

it takes me to another place or world to explore
it introduces me to new personalities and problems that I haven't thought of
it hooks me with the problem or tension of a story and I absolutely have to know how it turns out

I always look forward to grabbing a good book, finding a quiet spot and just reading. It's one of my favourite things to do.

I love writing because...

it's amazing to be able to create a whole other world to escape into
it's a challenge and a puzzle to fit the words and scenes together into a story
it's so rewarding to finish a novel when you've worked so hard at it
it's fun to play with words and how they sound

I sometimes go for a few days or even a week or two without writing, but then I miss it and want to come back to it. My life isn't as rich or interesting without writing.

What do you love about reading or writing?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Hunchback Assignments

Today’s pick: The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade

HarperCollins, 2009

From the publisher:

There are rumors that a hunchback infant in a gypsy freakshow has the power to transform his appearance. This comes to the attention of Mr. Socrates, a member of the shadowy Permanent Association, who decides to take the boy back to England and raise him for his own purposes. Naming him Modo, Mr. Socrates keeps the boy indoors and never lets him see his deformity, while putting him through training to be a secret agent. When Modo turns 14, his education is complete. He is handed a mirror and confronts his image for the first time, horrified. Then, he is taken to foggy, polluted London and abandoned, penniless, to test his skills.

But Modo is resourceful, and he finds a way to get by, keeping to himself… until one day, when the beautiful Octavia Milkweed knocks on his door. Soon, with the help of Mr. Socrates, they find themselves uncovering a sinister plot being carried out in the very sewers beneath their feet. Will they be able to stop the mad scientist Dr. Hyde and his even more terrifying associates before they unleash their monstrous plans upon unsuspecting Londoners?

The start of a fantastic series, in the hot new genre of steampunk, The Hunchback Assignments takes readers into the sewers and alleyways of an alternative Victorian London, in an unputdownable adventure.

My take:

I haven’t read many novels in the steampunk genre (Airborn by Kenneth Oppel; The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, The Clockwork Three by Mathew Kirby), but this one is intriguing. With a masked hunchback, secret agents, secret organizations, and a creepy mad scientist, this story is an imaginative adventure that kept me reading to find out what exactly was going on. Modo, the hunchback, has special powers but struggles to cope with his feelings about his appearance while he works as a secret agent to complete his assignments. I love his developing friendship with Octavia, a fellow secret agent who likes to tease him a little and doesn't know the truth about his appearance, since he always wears a mask or is disguised.
As a writer, I admired all the details that create a complex world for readers and bring out the horror of Dr. Hyde’s experiments.
I think this book is best for upper MG/YA readers (ages 12 and up), since some parts can be confusing and some of Dr. Hyde's experiments are disturbing.

How I discovered this book: Thanks to the school librarian who recommended this novel to me! The next time you think you can't find a good book, remember to ask a librarian for a suggestion.

Other info:

The first volume in ARTHUR SLADE’s Hunchback Assignments series won the prestigious TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award.

The second volume, The Dark Deeps, was a finalist for the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award and the CLA Young Adult Book Award.

Arthur Slade lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

If you’re interested in writing, Arthur Slade has a great collection of short podcasts giving his writing tips and suggestions - Arthur Slade’spodcasts on writing. 

For example, he says that when he’s writing from the character’s point of view, he sometimes pictures himself as writing on the shoulder of the character, which helps him to get the details from the character’s perspective.

Other books by this author:
Draugr. Orca, 1997. (Northern Frights series)
The Haunting of Drang Island. Orca, 1998. (Northern Frights series)
The Loki Wolf. Orca, 2000. (Northern Frights series.).
John Diefenbaker: An Appointment with Destiny. XYZ, 2000.  
Dust. HarperCollins, 2001.  
Tribes. HarperCollins, 2002.  
Return of the Grudstone Ghosts. Coteau, 2002. (The Canadian Chills series).
Ghost Hotel. Coteau, 2004. (The Canadian Chills series).
Monsterology: Fabulous Lives of the Creepy, the Revolting and the Undead. Illustrated by Derek Mah. Tundra, 2005.  
Meguiddo's Shadow. HarperCollins, 2006.
Invasion of the IQ Snatchers. Coteau, 2007. (The Canadian Chills series).  
The Dark Deeps: The Hunchback Assignments II. HarperCollins, 2010.
Empire of Ruins: The Hunchback Assignments III. HarperCollins, 2011.
Island of Doom: The Hunchback Assignments IV. HarperCollins, 2012. (final book in the series, to be published in July 2012)

For more, visit The Hunchback Assignments website or check out Arthur Slade on the web.

Looking for more MMGM? Check out these links:

·Ally Beecher
·Barbara Watson
·Deb Marshall
·Anita Laydon Miller's Middle Grade Blog
·Middle Grade Mafioso
·Literary Rambles
·Ms. Yingling Reads
·Jennifer Rumberger
·Pam Torres
·The Accidental Novelist
·G.S. Prendergast
·Gina Carey
·Laurisa White Reyes
·Marshall and Emiline
·Dorine White
·Temre Beltz

Friday, June 22, 2012

Where Do You Find Good Books to Read?

I find good books to read in a variety of places.

At the library, I always check out the "new books" shelf and I usually find one or two that catch my interest.

Recommendations from other bloggers (and my writing buddies) is another one of the main ways I find books to read. Reading blogs keeps me informed about new books that are coming out.

I keep a list of books that sound interesting in the back of my writing notebook. Every once in a while, I check the library to see if any are available, or I keep my eye out for them when I'm visiting bookstores. I also am a big user of the "hold" feature at my library. If I search the library catalogue online for a book I'm looking for and find it, I put it on hold so all I need to do is go in and pick it up. Did I mention that I live close to at least one branch of the public library?

I don't buy most of the books I read because the bookshelves in my house are already full. (Here's where an e-reader can come in handy.) If I read a really great story from the library, then sometimes I'll buy it so I can read it or study it some more. Or if I've read one book in a trilogy, I sometimes purchase the second one right away because I can't wait to read it! [Recent example: Insurgent by Veronica Roth.]

Where do you find good books to read?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Hugo Movie Companion

Today’s pick: The Hugo Movie Companion by Brian Selznick

Scholastic Press, 2011

From the publisher:

Brian Selznick takes readers on an intimate tour of the movie-making process as his Caldecott Award-winning book The Invention of Hugo Cabret is turned into a 3-D major motion picture by Academy Award-winning director, Martin Scorsese, written by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, John Logan.

Lavishly illustrated with full-color photographs from the movie, and filled with fun, informative interviews of the cast and crew, comparisons of artwork from the book alongside people, props, costumes, and sets from the movie, plus fascinating information about automatons, filmmaking pioneer Georges Méliès, and an essay on the birth of movies written by Martin Scorsese, The Hugo Movie Companion beautifully extends the experience of the book and the movie, and is a must-have for fans of all ages.

My take:

After seeing the movie Hugo, I got this book for my 12-year-old daughter to read. I don’t usually read books about movies, but I ended up reading it too. I loved the facts about the movie and some of the different people involved in creating it. It gives some great details about what happens behind the scenes to create a movie. I also really enjoyed the comparisons between the book illustrations and stills from the movie. It was so fascinating to see how they tried to recreate the world of the book so carefully. Readers of middle grade books who enjoyed the movie will appreciate this glimpse into what happened behind the scenes – with lots of illustrations, pictures, schematic drawings and even a bit of a script.

Other info:

The author of this book, Brian Selznick, is also the author/illustrator of the original book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and it was interesting to read about his inspiration, and why and how he ended up with the illustrations (and how he came up with Hugo’s name).

Brian Selznick appeared in the party scene in the movie, and he includes some of the details of his experience.

Other books written by this author:

The Houdini Box


For more about the movie and book, check out the website for The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Looking for more MMGM? Check out these links:

· Ally Beecher
· Barbara Watson
· Deb Marshall
· Anita Laydon Miller's Middle Grade Blog
· Middle Grade Mafioso
· Literary Rambles
· Ms. Yingling Reads
· Jennifer Rumberger
· Pam Torres
· The Accidental Novelist
· G.S. Prendergast
· Gina Carey
· Laurisa White Reyes
· Marshall and Emiline
· Dorine White
· Temre Beltz

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cool Blog Quote: Characters Take Action

"...what the character DOES is far more important than what is DONE TO the character. Readers want to engage with a character who makes decisions and choices and takes action."

Mooderino, Waiting for a Story to Get Going, Moody Writing, Monday June 11, 2012

It occurs to me that a good check for this would be to go through your story and find all the places where your character is taking action vs. being acted upon. Which are there more of? I'll be keeping a sharper eye on my own story to make sure my characters are making decisions and taking action to solve their problems.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Color of Bones

Today’s pick: The Color of Bones by Tracy Edward Wymer

First Pitch, 2012

From the publisher:

Twelve year-old Derby Shrewd lives in a divided town. Lights live on the Northside of the Line, Darks live on the Southside. Hillside has been that way ever since the Line appeared naturally from the ground, much like a spring welling up from deep inside the earth.

Now the Line controls the town, keeping Hillside separated, zapping those who come near it and killing those who dare cross it.
But when Derby, a Northsider, finds a pile of bones stacked on the Line, he sets out to uncover the person's identity. While doing so, he befriends a Southside girl and soon begins to challenge the Line and the town's rules. And then, before he can turn back, Derby goes too far.

My Take:

I found this e-book interesting. I liked the idea of the physical line that separated different groups of people, though I’d have liked the issues or reasons behind it to be brought out a little more. The characters and friendship between Derby and Zora drew me into the story. I think readers will enjoy the skull and bones, the baseball references and the mystery of what happened to the character of Russell Thornsberry. I found the ending a little abrupt and it left me feeling a little unsatisfied, but overall it was an interesting story.

Favourite quote:
“But heroes don’t cry, especially when they have heroic things to do, like stand up to their parents.”

For more, visit Tracy Edward Wymer`s website.

Looking for more MMGM? Check out these links:

·  Pam Torres

·  Gina Carey

Friday, June 8, 2012

Awesome Things About Writing

I haven't done one of these for a while. We think it's the big things that are important (okay, they are pretty great) but the small stuff counts too. The same is true for writing, so here are a few of my latest awesome things about writing:

1. Realizing your novel is so much stronger because of revisions, especially when you're halfway through and wondering whether to continue.

2. Having a child ask you to hurry up and finish so they can read your manuscript.

3. Getting an unexpected hour or two to work on your writing.

4. Feeling a compelling need to write, even when you're bogged down by other work and can't get to it.

5. Thinking of a great plot twist.

What's awesome about your writing lately?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Answers to Your Questions About Writing Children's Books

Recently I discovered Jenny Lee Young's blog and her new weekly feature "Let's Ask". In this feature she poses questions about anything to do with children's books to experts in the field.

For example, she asked author Susanna Leonard Hill about that old piece of writer's advice that we keep hearing, Do you write what you know? and where she gets ideas for her stories. 

And she asked author Julie Hedlund, Why do you think it's so important to attend a writer's conference?

I'll be watching her blog for more on the questions we face as writers of children's books.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Finally 12

It's report card writing time and this week is  a busy one, so I'm re-posting a favourite Marvelous Midde Grade Monday from last year, in case you missed it.

Today’s pick: Finally 12 by Wendy Mass, published by Scholastic Press, March 2010

Summary: Rory has been waiting to turn 12 forever. Whenever she wanted something, like getting her ears pierced or getting a cell phone, her parents told her to wait until she was 12. So she’s kept a list of everything, big and small, that she wants to do. When her birthday finally comes, she starts work on getting the things she’s wanted – with funny and surprising results.

My take: If you want to write MG for girls, I definitely recommend reading this book. It taps into what 10- to 12-year-old girls are thinking about. Even though it’s got typical “girly” stuff like makeup, worrying about boys, and boy-girl parties (there’s even a couple of movie stars), Rory feels like a real kid with real parents (who are part of the story). I loved the humour and the voice in the book. Rory's story brought back many memories of what life was like for me at that age. I read through the book in one afternoon, and immediately passed it on to my daughter, who recently turned twelve.

Other info: This book is part of a series, which includes: 13 Gifts and 11 Birthdays. You don’t need to read the other books to understand this one, but if they are anything like Finally 12 I think they’d be worth a read. I'm going to look for them!

Other books by Wendy Mass:
Every Soul a Star
The Candy Makers
A Mango-Shaped Space

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life (being made into a movie)

For more, visit Wendy Mass’s website and blog.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Cool Blog Quote: Toys for the Imagination

Today's cool blog quote is about Lego bricks:

"...if we only have bricks one shape, size, and color, what we build with them remains limited; but if we build with pieces of various shapes, sizes, and colors, our creations will be infinitely more interesting."

Maria Popova, The Role of Intuition and Imagination in Scientific Discovery and Creativity: A 1957 Guide, Brain Pickings, June 1, 2012

I couldn't resist this one, because Lego has been pretty important in our family. When I first became a mom, I always said that if I could only buy my kids one toy, it would be Lego. As a toddler, we got my daughter Lego Primo, which was basically Lego for babies. I was a stay-at-home mom then, so we spent a lot of time building towers and castles.

 Later we moved on to Duplo, and my second daughter got really enthralled with "Bob the Builder".

Finally, my kids graduated to regular Lego. How exciting to find that Lego brought out sets based on Harry Potter, the perfect combination of a favourite book and a favourite toy!

I also love the sentiment of this quote. It's so easy to get wrapped up in your writing and figuring out how to get the time to write. But it's all those other fun (and sometimes not so fun) things in life that give you material to enrich your writing. It's important to feed your imagination with a variety of experiences!

Do you have a favourite childhood toy? Do you include toys when you write for children?