Friday, September 28, 2012

YA Read: Under the Never Sky

I recently read Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, a YA novel with lots of world-building, adventure and a romance.

One of the most interesting things about this book for me was that one of the characters, Perry, had an enhanced sense of smell and could sense other people's emotions. I enjoyed thinking about and noticing how the author described what he smelled, and how she wove it into the story.

The sense of smell is important in one of my own novels, and I've found that it can be hard to describe -- especially in a world where one of the characters might not be familiar with some smells. I recommend this novel as a good one to read if you're struggling with how to portray the sense of smell, to see how someone else does it effectively. Plus, it's a good story!

For more on using smell in writing, check out the list of resources in my post Use Smells and Tastes for Powerful Writing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cool Blog Quote for Writers: What Story Really Is

"...story is internal, not external. A story is not about the plot, which is why external story-structure models, including the over-revered Hero’s Journey, often lead writers far astray. A story is about how the plot affects the protagonist."

Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story, The Biggest Mistake Writers Make and How To Avoid It, at Writer Unboxed, September 13, 2012


Monday, September 24, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Jolted

Today’s pick: Jolted: Newton Starker’s Rules for Survival by Arthur Slade

HarperCollins, 2008

Publisher’s Description:
For over two hundred years, everyone in the Starker family has died after being hit by lightning, leaving only two-- Great-Grandmother Enid, whose secret to a long life is to grumble about everything, and fourteen-year-old Newton. Determined to break the curse, he enrols in the Jerry Potts Academy of Higher Learning and Survival in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, where students must navigate the outdoors, the very place Newton's mother warned him about.

Newton knows that information is power, and so he steadfastly follows his rules for survival. He obsessively checks weather reports before venturing anywhere. He never takes a bath or answers the phone during a lightning storm. But life slowly amps up, and before Newton knows it, he is weathering storms he can't control, including battling Violet Quon, who is equally resolved to get her picture up in the Hall of Heroes, and preparing for First Year Expedition, which is his chance to prove he's the ultimate survivor.

Newton's aiming for the sky... with potentially disastrous results.

My take:

This story for 11 to 14-year-olds is about a kid with a big problem: everyone who has died in his family has died by being struck by lightning. Newton’s family history makes it difficult for him to have a normal life, and he doesn’t have many friends. He’s an interesting character with a few quirks, such as an interest in cooking truffles, a pet pig and a father who lives in a concrete dome. In this story, Newton is at a special school to learn some survival skills in the hopes that he will be able to have a more normal life. There’s a lot of humour in this story as well as some touching moments as Newton gains new friendships, comes to terms with his mother’s death, and copes with his weather-related problems.
As a writer, this book gives me a great example of how to create an interesting character.

How I discovered this book:
 I found this book at my local library and I liked the title.

Other info:
Arthur Slade is a full-time writer living in Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Second Fiddle was chosen as an Indy Next Pick in the spring of 2011.
I previously posted on another of his novels, The HunchbackAssignments. The tone and subject of this one is very different, but I enjoyed them both.

Other books by this author include:
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.

For more, visit Arthur Slade’s website.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was dreamed up by the incredible Shannon Messenger. Visit her blog for an up-to-date list of all the bloggers who are participating and posting about middle grade books today!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Podcasts and Pinterests for Writers

I've mentioned before that I enjoy listening to podcasts about writing while I'm cleaning or being a Mom chauffeur.  So recently I was happy to discover another writing-related podcast (not sure how I missed it - I really do have to get on Twitter one day):

The Narrative Breakdown is by editor Cheryl Klein and video editor and director James Monohan. They discuss storytelling tips and techniques. It was interesting hearing them discuss scene construction using examples from movies and books.

If you want to learn more about the podcast and how it came about, check out Narrative Breakdowns, Muggles Editing, Getting a Job, Overseas Travel, and Lovely Links over at Brooklyn Arden.

Also this week I came across author Kate Messner's Pinterest board What Revision Looks Like. I haven't had time to do much poking around here, but there are author interviews on revision, revision tips and even examples of marked up manuscripts. I haven't read her book, Real Revision, but I'd like to one day. I hear it's useful to writers as well as teachers.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Taking a Story to the Next Level

I hear a lot of advice about not sending manuscripts out before they are ready, and not being impatient. I try not to do that. But I think that sometimes I just didn't have enough knowledge and experience to know that some of those manuscripts I sent out weren't ready.

I get lots of feedback from my critique group and beta readers. And I let my manuscripts "rest" for weeks, sometimes months, and go over each word again before I decide I'm ready to submit them. They always seem pretty good to me, until the rejection letters start flowing in.

But after the hard work I put into my latest revision, I now know that there's another level to aim for. I'm not sure how to describe it, but this time my story feels different. I think the reason is that I set out to revise with specific goals in mind, and I made deliberate decisions and choices for the good of the story. As a result, it feels like the story is somehow more "complete" even though it was a completed story before I started.

Have you ever felt that you've taken your story to an entirely new level? What strategies did you use to get there?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Dot

If you know this book, you may know that it’s a picture book, and not technically targeted for readers of middle grade books. But since International Dot Day was on September 15th and this is a book that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, I decided to feature it today. Plus, it’s one of my favourites!

Today’s pick: The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

Candlewick Press, 2002

Publisher’s Description:

An enchanting invitation to self-expression - from the illustrator of the Judy Moody series

Her teacher smiled. "Just make a mark and see where it takes you."

Art class is over, but Vashti is sitting glued to her chair in front of a blank piece of paper. The words of her teacher are a gentle invitation to express herself. But Vashti can’t draw - she’s no artist. To prove her point, Vashti jabs at a blank sheet of paper to make an unremarkable and angry mark. "There!" she says.

That one little dot marks the beginning of Vashti’s journey of surprise and self-discovery. That special moment is the core of Peter H. Reynolds’s delicate fable about the creative spirit in all of us.

With a simple, witty story and free-spirited illustrations, Peter H. Reynolds entices even the stubbornly uncreative among us to make a mark - and follow where it takes us.

My take:
I think anyone, no matter what their age, can relate to the feeling of not feeling good enough to even try. I know I’ve felt that way as a kid (I was terrible at sports) and sometimes still as a writer (there are days when I want to give up).

This book has many important ideas about taking a chance, practicing, persevering and feeling proud of your accomplishments. I love the idea that something simple like a dot could change someone’s perspective. It’s worthwhile to think about how a bit of encouragement plus some time for thinking and experimenting can lead to something amazing.

I also love the illustrations in this book, the simple lines and beautiful colours seem just right to convey the story’s message.

How I discovered this book:
This book has special meaning to me. As a volunteer at my daughter’s school, I attended an assembly where the principal read this book to the entire school. The principal passed away a year or two later, but when I read the book, I think of him and how caring and fair he was to the students.

Other info:
Peter Reynolds is the illustrator of the Judy Moody series of books. He is also the co-owner of a bookstore, The Blue Bunny, in Dedham, Massachusetts. He has a twin brother named Paul.

The Dot has won many awards, including the Chapman Award for Best Classroom Read-Aloud, Irma S. and James H. Black Honor from the Bank Street College of Education, The Christopher Award, and was named an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award Winner. It is also an animated film by Scholastic/Weston and FableVision.  
On the publisher’s website, there’s a great quote from Peter Reynolds, “…when it comes to expressing yourself, you can invent your own rules.”

Other picture books written and illustrated by this author include:

Rose’s Garden
The North Star
So Few of Me
The Best Kid in the World
My Very Big Little World
Ish (a sequel to The Dot)
Sydney’s Star
For more, visit Peter Reynold’s website or The Dot website.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was dreamed up by the incredible Shannon Messenger. Visit her blog for an up-to-date list of all the bloggers who are participating and posting about middle grade books today!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

International Dot Day!!

I don't usually post on weekends, but I couldn't miss International Dot Day. It's today! Yay! International Dot Day was inspired by this book:

I scribbled a few dots of my own in my writing notebook. Thinking about the story of The Dot and taking a few minutes to draw my own dots reminded me:

  • how important it is to play, even for adults (maybe especially for adults)

  • my notebook is my space where I'm free to make whatever kinds of marks I want -- lines, doodles, drawings, words, stories...whatever!

 Did you draw a dot today?


Friday, September 14, 2012

Today's Writing Excuse: Tomato Overload

I love eating sun-warmed tomatoes right out of the garden. But there are only so many I can eat. We have large yellow ones, small yellow ones, medium-sized red ones, and small red ones. (Somebody was a little overenthusiastic at the garden centre in the spring.)

Of course, I don't want to waste these beauties that I've tended carefully all summer (I did have to water them once or twice). Here's what else I've been doing with them, instead of writing:
  • making pseudo sun-dried tomatoes (in the oven)
  • making tomato soup
  • making tomato bread (in the breadmaker)
  • taking the skins off, chopping them up and freezing them for future use 

 My kids were excited by the process of removing the skins, which involves boiling them for a couple of minutes

and then plunging them into ice water.

But what the kids really like to do is to pick the green tomatoes or collect rotten ones and squish them up for "potions class".

Interesting how adults and kids can have different perspectives on the same thing! Other things kids might do with a lot of tomatoes:

  • make tomato mud pies
  • feed pet crickets or ants
  • make a target and let them rip
  • have a tomato throwing contest
  • cut them open to see what's inside

It's cool to take an ordinary object and think about the different perspectives people of different ages might have about it.

After all this thinking, I considered writing a quick story about a girl who has a big tomato problem. But first I have to go make some salsa.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Dreaded (Dreadful) Synopsis

With revisions completed, I'm planning to start querying Novel #4 again soon. But before that can happen, I need to create "the package" - which includes a synopsis.

I HATE writing the synopsis. For me, it's worse than writing the query letter.

I never know how much to include, so I usually end up with all kinds of stuff that isn't needed. To me, everything seems important to the story. Otherwise, I wouldn't have put it in my book. But I found this:

How To Write A 1-Page Synopsis by Susan Dennard, over at Pub(Lishing) Crawl.

Wow! Although I wouldn't go so far as to say it made writing the synopsis fun, by following the template, I managed to come up with a 1-page bare bones summary in only one morning! (Okay, it's one page plus 2 lines, since I forgot to include room for the title. But I'm still amazed!)

From there, it wasn't so hard to flesh it out with more details to create a longer 2-page synopsis that captures most of the main story events (okay, mine is 2 1/4 pages, but compared to the 5 or 6 pages I usually start with, it's impressive.)

Which do you find harder: writing the query or writing the synopsis? Any good resources to share?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Second Fiddle

Today’s pick: Second Fiddle by Rosanne Parry

Random House, 2011

Publisher’s Description:
When 13-year-old Jody and her friends save a badly beaten Russian soldier from drowning, they put into motion a chain of events that will take them from Berlin to Paris and straight into danger. Jody must quickly learn to trust herself, because in the time directly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the border between friend and enemy is not as clear as it once was.

Award-winning author of Heart of a Shepherd, Rosanne Parry, offers a fast-paced, coming-of-age story filled with adventure, music, friendship, and intrigue.

 My take:

This was an interesting story with lots of adventure!  Jody and her friends, Giselle and Vivian, are supposed to be going on a trip to Paris to play together in a musical competition, but with only a few days before they leave, their music teacher has to cancel. Before they have a chance to tell their parents, they witness the attempted murder of a Soviet soldier. To save his life, they need to smuggle him out of Berlin, maybe using their trip to Paris to do it.  
Several elements make this book different than any other middle grade novel I’ve read: the time period of just after the Berlin Wall came down, the girls’ life on a U.S. Army base, and the girls’ strong interest in music. I found it so cool that Jody creates musical compositions (and this has an important role in the story). And I loved all the adventures that the girls have in Paris.

As a writer, I admired how this author wove together the main story with the emotional concerns of the girls having to move away from each other.

How I discovered this book:
I received this book in April after winning a blog contest over at Middle Grade Mafioso!

This summer I finally got a chance to catch up on my reading and get to it, and I wasn’t disappointed. If you haven’t dropped by the Middle Grade Mafioso by Michael Gettel-Gilmartin, check it out. He also participates in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and often has giveways.

Other info:
Rosanne Parry lives in Portland, Oregon and can play the violin. I was interested to see from her website pictures that she enjoys writing outside.

According to her website, her favourite thing about being a children’s writer is the friends she has made.
Second Fiddle was chosen as an Indy Next Pick in the spring of 2011 and was recently chosen by the Oregon Council of Teachers of English to be the 2012 Oregon Spirit Book Award winner.

Other books by this author include:
Heart of a Shepherd, 2009
Daddy’s Home, 2009 – picture book

For more, visit Rosanne Parry’s website or pinterest site 
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was dreamed up by the amazing Shannon Messenger. Visit her blog for an up-to-date list of all the bloggers who are participating and posting about middle grade books today!


Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday Fun: Children's Book Writing Genuis At Work

Is it just me or did this week seem to last for a month? The whole back-to-school transition always takes some adjustments (Hello, Mom Chauffeur?). But yesterday I decided to have a little fun while I was writing my blog post for MiG Writers about Debbie Ridpath Ohi's book celebration.  And this is what I ended up with:

A potato party! [There's a potato joke too -- if you dying to see it,  check out Day 4: I'm Bored Celebration at MiG Writers]

I can only imagine what my daughter thought when she came home from school and saw the countertop scattered with potatoes, tiny party hats and speech bubbles, because of course I had my brilliant idea for the MiG blogpost right before I had to leave for work.

But then again, since I write children's books, my kids are used to some of my crazy ideas and the sometimes weird things I end up doing to test them out.

I don't think you'll be seeing any spud stories from me in the near future. But it was fun to play around with them.

It reminded me how a tiny spark can grow into a bigger idea.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I'm Bored Contest!

Yesterday was the release day for illustrator (and my critique buddy) Debbie Ridpath Ohi's picture book I'm Bored, written by Michael Ian Black.

To celebrate the release of I'm Bored, the MiG writers are posting all week on something related to being bored or potatoes! Commenting on one (or all) of our posts gives you chances to win your very own copy! Tweeting also gets you extra entries.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Healing Spell

Today’s pick: The Healing Spell
by Kimberley Griffiths Little

Scholastic, 2010

Publisher’s Description:

Twelve-year-old Livie is living with a secret and it's crushing her. She knows she is responsible for her mother's coma, but she can't tell anyone. It's up to her to find a way to wake her momma up.

Stuck in the middle of three sisters, hiding a forbidden pet alligator, and afraid to disappoint her daddy, whom she loves more than anyone else, Livie struggles to find her place within her own family as she learns about the powers of faith and redemption. Livie's powerful, emotional, and sometimes humorous story will stay with readers long after the last line is read.
Set in the lush bayou of Louisiana, Kimberley Griffiths Little brings Livie's story to life with power and grace.

My take:
This is a lovely story about a girl and how she fits into her family when a life-changing tragedy strikes. I got hooked right from the first page. Livie was a living, breathing person in my mind and I felt all her sadnesses and worries right along with her until the end of the story. I could relate to Livie as a tomboy and her struggle to be who she wanted when it seemed like other people wanted her to be someone else. The details about the bayou setting, complete with gators and bullfrogs, made the story lively and interesting.

I often hear writing advice about making sure every word counts, and in this story they all truly did. Each phrase or sentence includes details that capture Livie’s thoughts and voice. I’d read this again to study how Kimberley Griffith’s Little fit all the pieces together to make the story come together so perfectly and to learn more about showing story events from the main character’s perspective.

 Favourite quotes:
“My chest got so tight it felt like a gator squeezing my heart between his jaws.”

“I summoned up all the faith I could from deep down in my gut.”
“…I felt the hugeness of that knowledge bursting up from my toes, rising straight to my heart, and filling everything in between.”

Other info:
Kimberley Griffiths Little knew she wanted to be a writer in elementary school, when she used to write stories every day and read lots of books. She lives with her husband and children in a solar adobe house in New Mexico.

Her next middle grade book, When The Butterflies Came, will be published in April 2013.

The Healing Spell won the Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010 and was chosen as a Bank Street College Best Book for 2011.

Other books by this author include:
Circle of Secrets,  2011
Enchanted Runner, 2009
The Last Snake Runner, 2004

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was dreamed up by the incredible Shannon Messenger. Visit her blog for an up-to-date list of all the bloggers who are participating and posting about middle grade books today!