November 2009 Archives

Book It! - Recording What You Read

"The greatest part of a writer's time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over a half a library to make one book."
Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Sometimes I learn by what doesn't work. I experienced this in an area of researching the market. Over the years I've faithfully read children's books and recorded what I've read, who published it, genre, and my opinion of the book. What I hadn't consistently recorded was the author or even a brief summary of the story. In addition, my recorded opinion had often been too succinct. And it had never occurred to me that it would be helpful to know when a book was published.

I look back on comments such as "couldn't finish reading it" and "same old supernatural story" and wonder what I meant. In the former case, did that mean, the writing style was difficult to read? Or did I find it boring? Was the main character uninteresting, or was the subject matter offensive? Who knows! Maybe in the latter case my notes referred to a repeated or overdone theme. Or was it the story itself that I felt had been told and retold too many times? I can't remember the story and I didn't make enough notes to remind myself of plot line or character or anything helpful to resurrect the story from my faulty memory banks.

But I learned from my mistakes. I changed my recordkeeping system to make sure I noted the author's name and a description of the book. Plus, I took a few extra moments to make clearer comments. The results are best shown by a sample comment: "odd - should we encourage kids to be friendly with real bears - not!" I know why I didn't like that story!

Being more detailed has helped me with my original intent in keeping these records--accurate marketing. When my notes are good, I can look at a publisher and see their books are "hard-hitting; not what is typical for ordinary people's lives." And since publishers do change, adding publication date helps me see easily which books are recent ventures and which happened long ago. (I keep the books in date order.)

What about the books on my list that didn't have enough information? I worked to rectify what I could. Many books I found online: my library, the publisher's website, or Amazon.com. There I could see the publication date, author, a description of the story. Often that jogged my mind and I could do an "oh, yeah" and write more notes. If that didn't help, I looked to see if the website had an option such as "see inside" this book. Rereading the beginning was the best way to bring the story back for me. However, books I read three to five years ago were often hard to find online. Some had gone out of print, but even that knowledge is useful.

In case this idea will be helpful for you, here's a recap of what I'm keep track of in the children's books I read: Publisher name, book title, author, illustrator (when appropriate), genre (including subgenre), brief description of book or storyline, publication date, and my opinion. I have books grouped under their publisher for that overall view of the house and, when possible, I note who edited the book. I keep this information in the computer in a table in a Word document, however, a spreadsheet program or a notebook would work as well.

Is this enough information to keep? It is for me. It makes a difference to my knowledge of what a house publishes. It has also shown me where I need to do more reading.

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Please let me slap the father! - Candor

candor.jpgOscar Banks is smart and has figured out how to fight the bombardment of messages in Candor, Florida. He helps others for money. But someone has come into his life who changes his attitude--now he wants to help for love. Pam Bachorz has come up with an incredible story that hooked me with the opening sounds of a skateboard moving down the sidewalk.

Be blown away by the Candor (Egmont, 2009) video at Pam's website!

Unforgettable - Unwind

unwind.jpgDespite having to suspend my disbelief at the agreement that forms the premise of this book, I can't forget Unwind (Simon and Schuster, 2007) by Neal Shusterman. In this story abortions aren't allowed, but when kids are between the ages of 13 and 18 parents can choose to have them "unwound," where all body parts will be used. Of course, people always find a way to get rid of unwanted babies, in this case by "storking." This powerful story presents multiple sides of the issues. Meet the characters who will be unwound: Connor, because he's a trouble maker; orphan Risa, to save expenses; and Lev, a tithe dedicated from birth. Once you're hooked, you'll find it hard to put down.

See Neal talk about some of the inspiration for this award winning book here. Then check out this brilliant author's long list of books.

A writer who waits for

A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

E.B. White

Don't judge each day by

Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

Writing is hard work, and

Writing is hard work, and fun, and requires you to keep your backside in a chair when you would sometimes like to put it elsewhere.

Lois Lowry

Theme and Premise

What do you want to convey in your story? I'm not talking about preaching or moralizing, but the concept you want a reader to take away from your story. The theme.

Theme might be called an underlying truth. A foundation for the story that will help guide the story. A focus or center. It's not plot. It's not necessarily the subject. It's might be described as something important that the writer believes applies to the subject.

For example, in the Harry Potter stories, the theme is "good conquers evil." The theme in the Twilight series might be "true love overcomes all." These concepts are not stated in so many words. The writer shows the theme instead of telling it.

In a novel there can be multiple themes. i.e. Harry Potter books: "loyalty to friends," "hard work" and "perseverance." The Twilight books: "protect your family" and "don't give up on getting what you want."

Often authors have a common underlying theme for their non series books or book series that feature different main characters. One adult author I read comes to mind: LE Modesitt Junior's books often express the theme of "hard work;" so much so that his characters make me feel lazy. Yet, he's not preaching at me. Instead his characters believe in hard work and follow through and I become impressed with what they do as I read. Modesitt must also believe in hard work--just look at his number of published novels.

Resources

I recently read a blog entry on theme that makes a lot of sense. Novelist Larry Brooks. says theme helps a book be memorable. He recommends including your theme in your "What's your book about?" answer. Read more at http://menwithpens.ca/fiction-writing-story-theme.

Laura Elvin refers to it as the "why of the story" in this article on theme in short stories.

Now what about premise?

Some writers use the terms theme and premise interchangeably. Rightly or wrongly, I view theme as general and premise more specific. So back to Harry Potter: "a young good wizard will conquer the evil old wizard." A premise for the Twilight series might be "if her love is strong enough, a girl can even win the vampire she loves." It's the kernel of the story. Premise might also be described as the situation or the central idea of the story.

Jeanne Vincent has an interesting article on the difference between theme and premise. Alexandra Sokoloff talks about the premise being the pitch for the story. I like her approach. Read it here: http://thedarksalon.blogspot.com/2008/05/whats-your-premise.html

However, whatever you call them, these concepts are necessary for a compelling story. You may use them unconsciously as you write or you may have to plan.

Thinking about these again makes me realize I need to make sure I know what the themes are for my works in progress. I believe knowing will help me focus my stories and in the end result in a better project.

Parental Discretion Advised - Jumping Off Swings

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Jumping Off Swings (Candlewick, 2009) by Jo Knowles takes a frank look at teenage sexuality and pregnancy and how many are affected. The story is told in four different viewpoints: Ellie, who the guys say is happy to "hookup;" Corinne, Ellie's best friend; Josh, no longer a virgin; and Caleb, who's had a crush on Ellie for forever. The book is well-written and thoughtful. It's one of those where I want to yell at parents, "make sure your children feel loved and valued!"

Read more about author Jo Knowles at her website: www.joknowles.com.

Companion Book - Eternal

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Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) by Cynthia Leitich Smith is not your average vampire story. In fact, much of the story is told from the viewpoint of a guardian angel. It's a story of mistakes, enthrallment, betrayal, and redemption. Watch the book trailer at Cynthia's site.

Eternal is a companion book to Cynthia Leitich Smith's Tantalize. She's working on Blessed, due out in 2011, where characters from both books will appear.

When I face the desolate

When I face the desolate impossibility of writing 500 pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day's works is all I can permit myself to contemplate.

John Steinbeck