Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Using Fear in Writing for Children

Since it’s Hallowe’en, I’ve been thinking about how kids love to read spooky books and what scares them. Some fears reported by kids I know:
  •  walking home alone
  •  nothing
  •  the creaking closet door when it's a little bit open and it looks like someone is staring at you
  •  spiders and bugs
  •  injections
  •  heights
  •  hurricanes
When I think back to some of the things that frightened me as a child, I can see that some of my fears are similar, while others have completely changed. Some of them, like my childhood fear of talking to adults who were not part of my family, I've grown out of because of my life experiences. Some of them are still with me, like getting spooked by unfamiliar noises when I'm home alone at night. Or my panic at the thought of taking up downhill skiing.

It’s interesting how some fears change over time and some don’t. Some things to think about when using fear in writing:
1) The backstory is important. If a character is fearful, then there are memories and experiences related to the fear that can provide more depth for the story. It doesn't have to mentioned in the story, but it gives more insights into the character.
2) Think like the reader. Since I write for children, to really get into my character’s mind, it’s helpful to list some of my own childhood fears (and other emotional experiences) as a reference for the kinds of fears kids might have. My adult fears can be different -- maybe not even something I was aware of or thought much about as a child. It's all about perspective.
Are you still afraid of anything you were afraid of as a child?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Unwanteds

Today’s pick: The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

Aladdin, 2011

From the publisher:
Every year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their graves.

On the day of the Purge, identical twins Alex and Aaron Stowe await their fate. While Aaron is hopeful of becoming a Wanted, Alex knows his chances are slim. He’s been caught drawing with a stick in the dirt—and in the stark gray land of Quill, being creative is a death sentence.

But when Alex and the other Unwanteds face the Eliminators, they discover an eccentric magician named Mr. Today and his hidden world that exists to save the condemned children. Artime is a colorful place of talking statues, uncommon creatures, and artistic magic, where creativity is considered a gift…and a weapon.

My take:
This novel was easy to read and had an intriguing concept. I liked the idea of a hidden magical world (and there were lots of magical devices and spells). I especially enjoyed the art and creativity woven into the story, and how the characters in Artime could invent their own spells based on their artistic talent.

This book is often referred to as a cross between Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. It does remind me of Harry Potter, since the main character, Alex, is learning about a magical world that is all new to him, and there are many magical elements and spells. But the story is also told at times through the eyes of his twin brother, or one of his friends (there are some girl characters with strong personalities, too). Although there is fighting, it lacks some of the gruesome elements of YA novels like The Hunger Games.

As a writer, I thought this was an excellent example of a good MG fantasy novel. The writing style was straightforward and direct, with lots of cool elements that would appeal to readers.

How I discovered this book:
I heard about the sequel to this book The Unwanteds: Island of Silence in one of Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, and then saw the first book on the shelf at my local library and checked it out.

Other info:
Lisa McMann lives in Arizona but was born in Michigan. She has wanted to be writer since she was in Grade 4.

When Lisa McMann was working on writing this book, her own children helped her think up some of the magical rules and spells. Over at Nerdy Book Club, she posted You Don’t Have to Be a Grownup she talks about how her own children helped her come up with ideas for the story and gives this awesome advice to kids: “And you certainly don’t have to be a grownup to come up with amazing ideas for a book, or a movie, or a comic, and start writing. You can do all these things right now. You can start working on your own magical world today.”
Lisa McMann also has this advice for writers on her website: “Be prepared to write a second or third or fifteenth novel if the first ones don’t sell. Be prepared to put the words you love in a drawer for a long time while you work and work to get better at writing.”

Other books written by this author include:
The Unwanteds: Island of Silence
Dead to You (YA)
Wake (YA)
Fade (YA)
Gone (YA)
Cryer’s Cross (YA)

For more, visit Lisa McMann’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, October 26, 2012

Agent and Podcast News for Kidlit Writers and Illustrators

As I clean my house today, I'm listening to fellow MiG Writer Debbie Ridpath Ohi, illustrator of I'm Bored, being interviewed by Katie Davis on  her podcast, Brain Burps About Books. Debbie and Katie give some great advice for picture book illustrators as well as general advice for writers in How Do You Win an Award, Find a Literary Agent, and Get a Book Published? Get Rejected First!

I also heard about a new agent, Fiona Kenshole, specializing in children's books. According to recent blog posts, some of her interests include:

  • middle grade adventure stories 
  • animal stories (talking or real)
  • real children in an unreal world
  • funny novels
  • realistic, younger YA

Monday, October 22, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Rip Tide

Today’s pick: Rip Tide  by Kat Falls

Scholastic Press, 2011

From Amazon:
The sequel to the acclaimed subsea adventure DARK LIFE.

Ty has always known that the ocean is a dangerous place. Every time he swims beyond the borders of his family's subsea farm, he's prepared to face all manner of aquatic predators-sharks, squid, killer whales . . .
What Ty isn't prepared to find in the deep is an entire township chained to a sunken submarine, its inhabitants condemned to an icy underwater grave. It's only the first clue to a mystery that has claimed hundreds of lives and stands to claim two more -- lives very precious to Ty and his Topsider ally, Gemma.

Now in a desperate race against the clock, Ty and Gemma find themselves in conflict with outlaws, Seaguard officers, and the savage, trident-wielding surfs -- plus a menagerie of the most deadly creatures the ocean has to offer.
Kat Falls brings to life the mysteries, marvels, and monsters of the deep in this fast-paced and inventive action-adventure.

My take:
I loved the unique setting – I haven’t read many other middle grade novels that take place under the ocean. The underwater world in Dark Life and this sequel Rip Tide is intriguing and full of threatening sea life. The story in Rip Tide moves along at a fairly quick pace and is filled with action.

Ty is a great heroic character, always taking risks to help other people. The special abilities he has due to growing up in the ocean add a unique twist to his character. His friendship with Gemma becomes slightly romantic in this novel, so I hope the author writes another story so we can see where that goes. I recommend reading Dark Life first, since even though this novel stands alone, Dark Life gives a clearer introduction to the undersea world and gadgets.
From a writer’s perspective, I’d take another look at this when writing action scenes. It’s great the way the author can pack a lot of relevant information into a tight scene.

How I Discovered This Book:
I saw Dark Life in the Scholastic Book flyer last year and ordered it for my daughter. She enjoyed it so we bought the sequel. 

Other info:
Kat Falls lives in Illinois and worked as a screenwriter before she started writing novels.

Her first novel, Dark Life has won several awards, including a Juvenile Literary Award by The Friends of American Writers. It is being developed for film production.

Kat Falls wrote that she was thinking about what her own children like to read when she wrote her books, “Meaning, I tried to keep the stories fast, fun, fresh and edging over-the-top.”

Other books written by this author include:
Dark Life

For more, visit Kat Falls’ 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, October 19, 2012

NaNoWriMo is Coming

I often think of participating in National Novel Writing Month, but with a family to look after and a day job, the thought of writing an entire novel in a month is overwhelming. The quickest I’ve ever written a novel draft is three months.

I tend to be a slow and careful writer, so it's hard for me to "just write" and ignore my perfectionistic tendencies. I love the idea of having a month where one writing project is high priority, with the goal of getting a good chunk of a novel written. I'd also like to see if I can speed up my drafting process and get some of the story out, so my revising work can be even more purposeful, since I'll know more about my characters and where they're going. So, I’m thinking of doing a “mini nano” for myself, where I try to get as much done as I can, without any pressure to finish a novel.
Have you ever done Nanowrimo? Do you have any tips?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Building a Story: Character

As I work out ideas for a new novel, thoughts about the characters emerge fairly early in the process. I don’t usually create detailed character charts or summaries. I find I don’t know enough about the character—or even what characters will be in the story— until I get into writing it. But as I read more about plot, I’m getting a better picture of what I really need to know about the characters to make the story work. Some recent advice that is shaping how I think about my new characters:

Creating Two-Word Characters, Guest post by Nick Thacker at K.M. Weiland’s Wordplay. 
I like this idea, because it gives a quick “tag” for thinking about the character and keeping in mind a key trait as I’m working with them for the story. It also forces me to think about what the most important thing is about each character that I want readers to know.
Quote from the post:  “The Two-Word approach lets me hone in on the two most important, overarching qualities of my characters that will truly bring them to life for my readers.”

From the Intern: Reasons Editors Pass (Part 3) by Nicole Steinhaus on YA Stands.
This is such a useful post to review if you’re working on developing a character. I’ve read a lot of middle grade books where there are evil villains because kids can relate to it easily. But I think there’s still room for “layers of gray” and characters that are a little more complicated and less clear cut. For example, I’m sure “mean popular girl” has feelings too.

Quote from the post:  “See what types of characters are out there. Then do something different.”

Agent Jill Corcoran on “What Makes a Book Sell” offers important advice about thinking about the “whys” for including each character in the story. 
I often automatically include a friend for my main character because friends are so important for middle grade readers, but this post reminded me that every character needs to have role in moving the story forward. The friend character can’t just be there to showcase some quality of the main character.
Quote from the post: “Be absolutely mindful of every character you put in the book.”

 What have you learned recently about creating characters?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Lions of Little Rock

Today’s pick: The Lions of Little Rock  by Kristin Levine
G.P. Putnam & Sons, 2012

From the publisher:
Two girls separated by race form an unbreakable bond during the tumultuous integration of Little Rock schools in 1958.

Twelve-year-old Marlee doesn't have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her greatest fear - speaking, which Marlee never does outside her family.

But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. But Marlee decides that doesn't matter. Liz is her best friend. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are willing to take on integration and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

My take:
I got very absorbed in this story. I learned a lot -- about the perspectives and prejudices of the 1950’s, about segregation and history, and about people and their fears and compassion. But what I enjoyed most about this book was the friendship between Marlee and Liz. Both of them were courageous and strong characters. Remembering back to how shy I was in school, I was rooting for Marlee to find her voice and not be so quiet.

If I was writing any kind of historical fiction for children, I’d definitely return to this book because the author is so successful at weaving in the historical context with the typical middle grade issues of friendships and bullying or exclusion. It's also a great book to read to study character. The story is so completely from Marlee's perspective, I really cared about what was going to happen next.

Favourite quote:
“I think a friend is someone who helps you change for the better. And whether you see them once a day or once a year, if it’s a true friend, it doesn’t matter.”

Other info:
Kristin Levine is a mom and writer living in Alexandria, Virginia.

In an interview at BookPage, Kristin talks about writing about race as a white person: “At times, I worry I will say something stupid or unintentionally offensive. In the end, however, I decided that that was a risk I needed to take because being silent just wasn’t enough.”

Other books written by this author include:

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had

For more, visit Kristin Levine’s website.

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

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Backpack of Story Ideas

The other day I found a purse that I'd stopped using last year when I got a new one. There was lots of stuff still inside - pens and notepaper, receipts, a few coins, some candies, a favourite pen that I thought I'd lost, and some lip gloss I hadn't seen for a while. 

It got me thinking about how my daughter's backpack is filled with all sorts of things - forgotten homework and parent notices, erasers, socks, precious pencils worn down to stubs, candy wrappers (no leftover candies here), stones, and many odds and ends that have no significance to me, but are (or were at some point) important to her.

It would be cool to use a prop like this to generate story ideas.

From one backpack or bag you can begin to develop a character: Why is she saving rocks, does she have a rock collection? Does she want to be prepared to defend herself? Is she collecting it for her bug house?  Thinking about why the character has that specific item helps to establish some of her emotions and motivation.

It might also spark a story: What's something cool a character could discover in their mom's purse? Why are they snooping in their mom's purse? What should they do about that thing they found in the purse in the attic? Why does that boy's backpack always have a weird smell? Is there something alive in there? And many more. Does it give you a few ideas?

I don't often sit down and generate all the possible ideas that can come from a single item, but it's a fun way to get the creative juices flowing.

Do you ever think about what's inside your character's backpack or purse?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: May B.

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians!

Today’s pick: May B. by Caroline Starr Rose

Schwartz & Wade, 2012

From Amazon:

I've known it since last night:
It's been too long to expect them to return.
Something's happened.

"If May is a brave, stubborn fighter, the short, free-verse lines are one-two punches in this Laura Ingalls Wilder-inspired ode to the human spirit," raved Kirkus Reviews in a starred review.
May is helping out on a neighbor's Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it's hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May's memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she's determined to find her way home again. Caroline Starr Rose's fast-paced novel, written in beautiful and riveting verse, gives readers a strong new heroine to love.

My take:
I read this novel in an afternoon and really enjoyed it. I loved reading all the “Little House” books when I was a girl (I even blogged about that once) and this book reminded me a little of those books. But the writing style was quite different and so were the situations and problems that May B. encountered. I got so involved in the story that May’s abandonment at the homestead took me by surprise and kept me hooked to the end to find out what happened. This is a great book for girls that enjoy reading about survival and pioneers. It’s also connects well to curriculum units on pioneers and early settlers.

As a writer, I loved the way the author created such compelling images and evoked deep emotion in very spare prose. This is a novel I want to have for my own bookshelf.

 Favourite quotes:

“Like a prairie hen I settle down until I can’t be seen, breathing comfort from grass and soil.”

“I sit in the rocker before the fire, thankful for hot coffee, and for the flicker of light cast on the cover of my book.”

“But tonight in this stillness, I realize there’s no shame in hoping for things that might seem out of reach.”

 Other info:

Caroline Starr Rose has lived in many places, including Saudi Arabia, Australia and New Mexico, where she now lives and writes fulltime.

According to an interview with Caroline Starr Rose over at The Reading Fever, one of the hardest scenes for Caroline to write was one where May reads a poem and struggles over her reading.

Caroline says this about her writing process: “While drafting, I imagined a quilt with each poem standing in for a different square of fabric. As I moved from poem to poem, I trusted certain themes and story strands would unfold, just as patterns form on a quilt.” From an interview with Caroline Starr Rose byauthor Augusta Scattergood.   

Other books written by this author include:

Over in the Wetlands (picture book, to be released in 2014)

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

Friday, October 5, 2012

Congratulations to Christina Farley!!

Happy Friday!

I'm so excited this week. My writing buddy, Christina Farley sold her YA novel, Gilded! Yay!!!!

I can hardly wait to read it when it comes out. Visit Christy's blog to hear the whole story. If you haven't seen her blog, you might want to check it out. She's so enthusiastic about writing, it's contagious. And I love reading about the interesting places she's lived in and visited.

Seeing how Christy's determination and hard work is inspiring. My goal this weekend is to get a couple more chapters revised and have a delicious turkey dinner with my family (Canadian Thanksgiving). Do you have any writing goals this weekend? Happy writing!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Creating Worlds and Characters

Since things have been too crazy for me lately to write my own blog post, I'm going to direct you two very interesting posts I read this morning:

In her post, MG vs. YA Characters, YA author Beth Revis gives us a really interesting take on what's beneath the surface of characters and some insights on how to get into their perspective. It definitely gave me a lot to think about.

Over at The League of Extraordinary Writers, Lorin Oberweger guest posts on World Building, posing the question: Are you world building or world recycling? It's all about how the worlds you see in TV, movies or other books influence the way you shape your own story world. Lorin also gives us some tips and questions for how you can make the world you're creating unique.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: All the Lovely Bad Ones

Today’s pick: All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn

Clarion Books, 2008

Publisher’s Description:

Travis and his sister, Corey, can’t resist a good trick. When they learn that their grandmother’s quiet Vermont inn, where they’re spending the summer, has a history of ghost sightings, they decide to do a little “haunting” of their own. Before long, their supernatural pranks have tourists flocking to the inn and business booms.

But Travis and Corey soon find out that they aren’t the only ghosts at Fox Hill Inn. Their thoughtless games have awakened something dangerous, something that should have stayed asleep. Restless, spiteful spirits swarm the inn, while a dark and terrifying presence stalks the halls and the old oak grove on the inn’s grounds. Only Travis and Corey can lay to rest the ghosts they’ve stirred. This means discovering the secret of Fox Hill and the horrors visited on its inhabitants years before…

Once again, Mary Downing Hahn has created a chilling and gripping ghost story in the tradition of The Old Willis Place, Witch Catcher, and Deep and Dark and Dangerous.

My take:
I don’t usually read ghost stories but I’ve seen this one at the library often so I thought it must be a good one. It wasn’t a long book and it was fast-paced, so I read it quickly. I loved the idea that by pretending to be ghosts, Corey and Travis woke some real ghosts and spirits. It was definitely a little scary! I liked the way different ghosts in the story had different motives. The characters of the guests staying at the inn added some humour to the story.

As a writer, I’d study this novel more closely to see how the writer builds suspense.

How I discovered this book:
 I found this on the shelf at my local library and I was attracted to the spooky cover.

Other info:
Mary Downing Hahn was once a children’s librarian and has been writing children’s books for over 30 years. Her books include historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and fantasy, but she is best known for her mysteries and ghost stories.

According to her website, one of the reasons she likes writing ghost stories is because “a ghost may also give a character insight or empathy, a deeper understanding of his own nature or of the world around him.”
One suggestion she has for writers is “Keep your writing vivid by using as many of your senses as you can.”

This author lives in Maryland.

Other books by this author include:
Closed for the Season (2009)

Deep and Dark and Dangerous (2007) – a ghost story
Witch Catcher (2006)
Janey And The Famous Author (2005)
The Old Willis Place (2004) – a ghost story
Hear the Wind Blow (2003)
Anna on the Farm (2001)

Promises to the Dead (2000)

Anna All Year Round (1999)

As Ever, Gordy (1998)

Following My Own Footsteps (1996)

The Gentleman Outlaw and Me—Eli (1996)

Look for Me by Moonlight (1995)

Time for Andrew (1994)

The Wind Blows Backward (1993)

The Spanish Kidnapping Disaster (1991)

Stepping on the Cracks (1991)

The Dead Man in Indian Creek (1990)

The Doll in the Garden (1989) – a ghost story

December Stillness (1988)

Following the Mystery Man (1988)

The Jellyfish Season (1987)

Tallahassee Higgins (1987)

Wait Till Helen Comes (1986) – a ghost story

Daphne's Book (1983)

The Time of the Witch (1982)

The Sara Summer (1979)

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!