June 2011 Archives

Grown-upness is truly wasted on grown-ups - Cosmic

Grown-upness is truly wasted on grown-ups. At least that's what 12-year-old Liam thinks. Everyone who sees him thinks he's an adult because of his height . . . and the stubble. It's fun when he can use this misunderstanding to his advantage. But now that he's on this secret mission in a spaceship 239,000 miles from earth as the "adult" chaperone to a group of kids and they're completely doomed . . . not so much.

Cosmic (Waldon Pond Press, 2008) by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a blast. Any kid who likes space, multiplayer online computer games such as Worlds of Warcraft, or imagining what it'd be like to get to adult things will love this humorous story.

Read more about this British author/screenwriter on the publisher's site and watch a book trailer where you can meet Liam.


The Total Tragedy of a Girl named Hamlet (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2010) by Erin Dionne is one funny book. Here's an intro:

It's the first day of 8th grade and Hamlet wants to be invisible. Her mother, in full Shakespearean regalia, insists on walking Hamlet and her 7-year-old sister to the school office. 7-year-old Desdemona (Dezzie) is a genius who has been homeschooled and can't go to college yet because she doesn't have art or music, so here she is at Howard Hoffer Junior High to make up for the deficit. And Hamlet has to escort her from class to class. What could be more embarrassing?

Don't ask, because it's going to happen.

On Erin's website it says "Her books are for teens, tweens, and anyone who survived junior high" and I have to agree after reading her first book and this one.

DO NOT attempt to bring

DO NOT attempt to bring up other people's children through your text.
Mem Fox

Do as I Say

horse mouth.jpgHave you ever found yourself telling a kid, "Don't talk with food in your mouth," and then realized you were doing the same? I once caught myself out when I reread an article I'd written on character development. Among the suggestions were questions to ask yourself about the character. I realized I couldn't answer any of them for the main character on my current work in progress. Ouch! I wish I could say I was only on page one of my novel.

I know some writers write totally organically and learn their character as they go, but I know I need more. So why do I keep trying to do without the preparation? I wish I knew. I may have to make a sign to go above my computer, "Do you know who your character is?"

Or maybe it's that I always have to get to a certain stage in a story before I care enough about all those details of my character to find them out. Of course, that definitely can cause major rewriting.

I've heard writers explain how they write very detailed bios of their characters, major and minor, before writing any of the story. Others fill out complex charts. For me that would be telling the character who they are more than discovering who they are.

On one work-in-progress I discovered my main character's initials didn't stand for what I thought they did. I'd given JD his name a long time ago, when his story idea was only a glimmer of an idea. I decided the J stood for Joshua. When pre-planning a scene in my head, another character asked JD what his initials stood for. He answered, "Jonah David." Whoa! Time out! Where did that come from? But it felt . . . right.

So where does that leave me? Not totally in control.

But I think I need to work on a balance for this dichotomy. Some pre-planning, some organic, followed by more planning, followed by more organic. And, flexibility.

So don't do as I say, or as I do. Instead figure out the best way for you to work out this issue of character development in your own work. Though if you have any tips, I'd love to hear them. (If you don't see the comment option, click on the title and you'll see it at the bottom.)

Writing a picture book is

Writing a picture book is like writing war and peace in haiku.
Mem Fox

You may have a fresh

You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.
Mary Pickford

Buddy Files 1.png
The Buddy Files: The Case of the Lost Boy (Albert Whitman, 2010) by Dori Hillestad Butler is so much fun! I love the voice of the dog. It's a quick read--perfect for the child just starting to read on his own, but entertaining enough for an adult to read aloud. I must read more in the series. (And buy for middle grandson . . . shh, don't tell him!)

King is at the P-O-U-N-D because his people are missing. He's got to get back to his neighborhood to find them. When King gets adopted by a new family, they rename him Buddy. Then, his new boy, Connor, disappears! King/Buddy must solve the case!

After you are entertained with this story, go to Dori's site to see the dog that owns her! You'll also see what other books this award-winning author has written.

P.S. I've also had the privilege of meeting Dori--besides being a good writer, she's a great person too!

Elsewhere_FINAL.gifThe Shadows, Volume 1, The Books of Elsewhere (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2010) by Jacqueline West is one on those hard-to-put-down books. I felt sympathy right away for Olive in this wonderful story. Here's a brief summary, without of course revealing the end:

11 year old Olive and her parents visit the creepy old McMartin house. Her mathematic parents are thrilled when they see the library and buy the house right then and there. Olive, who doesn't take after her parents in math--she's a creative person--senses that there's something strange going on in this house. After they move in, she discovers a pair of old spectacles that allow her to go into the paintings in the house. Olive also meets a talking cat who warns her about dangers. And, yes, she's going to be in danger!

BooksOfElsewhereVol2.png I'm looking forward to more by this author! Volume Two: Spellbound will be released on July 12, 2011. You can watch a talk about the books on Jacqueline's site.

When I'm in the middle

When I'm in the middle of a really absorbing book, I often expect to run into the characters on the street & am surprised when I don't.
Martha Mihalick

Theme List Tactics


Have you had trouble following through on magazine theme lists or editorial calendars? If you're like me, the answer is a big YES!

I'd request theme lists and, sometimes when they arrived, they'd spark an idea or fit a story I'd already written. But, too often I left them to look at later. By the time "later" came, I had missed deadlines. I'd wail, "but I had an idea for that topic!" Sometimes in my stack, I found editorial calendars and theme lists that were months or even a year out of date.

One day I decided I'd had enough. There had to be a better way. So I gathered together all my theme lists and began organizing. Here's what I devised:
For each magazine/take home paper, I record the name of the magazine, audience age, word length, topic deadlines, and a summary of the topics. I use a table in my word processor and have the computer sort the information by deadline date, but it could also be done on 3x5 cards or on separate pages of a notebook. Each magazine in my table has an entry for every deadline date on the theme list. This could mean one topic per entry or many topics. The final entry for each magazine is a reminder to order the next theme list. (And, I still file my theme lists--I might need more detail than what's in my table.)

Here's a selection from my original chart:
Theme list info.jpg *those marked with an asterisk buy all rights

When a deadline is past, I delete the entry. And, of course, when new theme lists arrive, I add the new information and resort the table.

I knew organizing would help me focus on topics with earlier deadlines, but what I didn't realize, was that looking at all the topics together would have other benefits.

First off, it was easy to see which magazines were looking for similar material. Ah ha, maybe that story on will work for two or three or four editors.

Secondly, I now have a reminder to write for a new theme list. It's nice to get new theme lists before half of the deadlines are passed!

But perhaps most important was how it freed me up for inspiration. For at least a year, I'd had a note hanging around my desk that said "a story on mailbox bashing." I knew I wanted to write something on this form of vandalism, but each time I looked at the note, it got reshuffled into the stack. But the day I organized my theme lists, one of the topic suggestions combined with my mailbox idea and immediately I wrote the first draft of the story. The very same day another theme list topic jumped out and I knew I could use my daughter's recent fear for a springboard for that story.

I still don't always meet theme list deadlines with this method, but now that lists don't just gather dust on my desk--or stay in some forgotten directory in my computer--my chances have improved tremendously.

Anyone else have methods they'd like to share? (Click on the title if you don't see the comment box.)