August 2013 Archives

Contemporary Fantasy or Magical Realism - Drizzle

drizzle.jpgWhatever you call it, I loved Drizzle (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2010) by Kathleen Van Cleve. It reminds me a bit of Ingrid Law's books--Savvy and Scumble.

11-year-old Polly lives on a farm where it always rains precisely at 1 pm on Mondays and tourists come to ride the giant umbrella. And that's not the only thing odd about the farm and her family. You can imagine how things go at school. To top it off, Polly's best friend is a chocolate rhubarb plant.

But then . . .

The rain stops. Polly's brother gets ill. And they might lose the farm!

Polly's a great kid. I was with her worrying, rooting for her, and even wanting to defend her.

I hope Kathleen is busy writing more imaginative fun stories. Here's her website.

Heartbreaker - The One and Only Ivan

ivan.pngThe One and Only Ivan (HarperCollins, 2012) by Katherine Applegate is a touching story. Animal lovers will especially like this book that won the 2013 Newbery award--though be prepared to be upset at what happens...

Ivan is a gorilla. In captivity. He doesn't remember much of his life before. He lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, where he's the main attraction. He watches TV, talks to his friends: an elderly elephant named Stella and a stray dog named Bob, and paints pictures. Like Julia, the mall cleaner's daughter, he's an artist. But people are coming less and less to see Ivan. Finally his owner, Mack, buys a baby elephant to be the new attraction. The dying Stella makes Ivan promise to find a better life for Ruby, the baby elephant. What can Ivan do to keep that promise?

Find out about the real Ivan who inspired the story here.

Altitude and Attitude - Adult or Child?

kid & cannon.jpgI've had writing students set at the wrong "altitude" in relationship to their main character. They've talked about "little arm," "tiny mouth," "short body," and more. That's adult-size looking down to see child-size. When we are in a child's viewpoint, arms, mouths or bodies of kids are viewed as the right size unless part of plot/character issues. In that case the main character likely views his shortness, skinniness or cuteness as a flaw, not a simple description of who he is.

So this got me thinking. We're so used to seeing the world at the adult height that it is easy to forget what it looks like from kid height. I experienced a direct example when my then six year old grandson looked up at me and said, "you have hairs in your nose." After struggling with that brief moment of being offended, I said, "yes." Then I told him everyone did. I explained the purpose of those hairs. Of course, later I checked the mirror to see if, gasp, I needed to trim my nose hairs.

These both have reminded me that I need to think about what my young main character is seeing from her altitude. I may have to walk around on my knees a while to see what the world looks like from that height. I need to dig back and remember when I had to look up at every adult. I need to remember how I had to use a chair to reach the upper cabinets in the kitchen, and sometimes even climbed up on the countertop. I need to pay more attention to kids who are the age of my main character and see the things they have to deal with in an adult sized world and convey that in my writing.

I also sometimes see students write with the wrong "attitude." As an adult we think it is funny or cute when kids do certain things. Unless they are trying to be funny, often what they are doing is very serious business. The two year old pretending to go to work on his ride-upon car is practicing what he's seen a parent do. The four year old ballerina believes she dances beautifully. At that age anything is possible. The six year old asking about nose hairs was not trying to offend, he was being honest and talking about what he saw. The kid in this picture is exploring the cannon by sticking his head inside. Let's not taint those experiences with adult reality and attitude in our writing.

My adult daughter let me read her sixth grade diary. She wrote about boys, boys, boys, her friends, and her older sister. She wrote about stuff that happened at school. We, her parents, were only mentioned once. That was when her fish died and she said we laughed. I can't remember laughing. I don't know why we would have laughed. Whether we did or not isn't the point. She felt we didn't care or didn't care enough. To her that little fish dying was important. Callous parent me, I'm not even positive what kind of fish it was. In my defense, I do remember her winning it at a Vacation Bible School and remember what she named it. But to that sixth grade girl the life and death of her fish was an important event.

I need to convey the same child attitude in my writing. I need to share child concerns, questions and experiences as honestly as I can to make my stories more believable to my child audience.

I plan to be checking my altitude and attitude often as I write. How about you?

picture courtesy of seneca77 on

Lucky is what others

Lucky is what others will call you after your hard work produces results.
Og Mandino

It is by sitting

It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer. Those who do not do this remain amateurs.
Gerald Brenan

Inspiration is another name

Inspiration is another name for knowing your job and getting down to it.
Joyce Cary

Fantasy AND Humor - The Last Dragon Slayer

dragonslayer.jpgI loved the Thursday Next* series written for adults so of course, I expected to love the YA book by the same author and Jasper Fforde did not disappoint me. Right from the lovely prologue, The Last Dragon Slayer (Hodder & Stoughton, 2012 in the US, 2010 in the UK) is very funny. But I'll admit I was really sad about something that happened with one nonhuman character...

Here's a brief look at the story: 15-year-old, Jennifer Strange is the acting manager (and indentured servant) of Kazam since Mr. Zambini disappeared. The magic is failing, so sorcerors, magicians, etc. are reduced to doing things such as rewiring a house. Magic carpets are used to deliver pizza. People start having visions predicting the death of the last dragon and that Jennifer will be the dragonslayer. However, she doesn't want to kill the dragon.

The sequel, The Song of the Quarkbeast, comes out in September in the US. Both covers are songofquarkbeast.jpgthe UK covers which I like a lot!

I'm hoping Mr. Fforde continues to write YA.

I got to hear him speak last year--he's a fun speaker to listen to as well. My favorite in the Q&A was when someone commented that they couldn't get their friends to read his books and Mr. Fforde said, "maybe you need new friends." I wasn't the only one to chuckle.

*The first book is The Eyre Affair--find out the story behind the story... Here's the author's website

The amazing Laini Taylor - Daughter of Smoke & Bone

DaughterofSmoke&BoneI love it when I read a book and, knowing a sequel is in progress, can't wait for the next one. That's what it was like for me when I read Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Little, Brown, 2012) by Laini Taylor. And isn't the cover beautiful?

Here's a brief summary of Book 1: Karou is an artist living in Prague, going to art school, has bright blue hair, and draws fantastical creatures that her artist friends don't believe are real. Not even her best friend Zuzana. But Brimstone aka the Wishmonger, Issa, Twiga and Yasri are real. In fact they raised her. Karou tells stories about them with a wry smile and there's no risk of being believed. Of course she wishes she knew who she really was. Then while on one of Brimstone's errands to collect teeth, Karou meets and fights an angel. Everything gets worse from there. (The story is told in Akiva, the angel's viewpoint too.)

I haven't managed to read Book 2: Days of Blood and Starlight yet--it's on my list--but the third BloodStarlight.jpgbook in the trilogy has been announced too! It's called Dreams of Gods and Monsters and comes out next spring.

Book 1 has been optioned for a movie; waiting with bated breath for more information on that.

And it all couldn't have happened to a nicer author. Read more about Laini on her website.

Slow Down, You Move too Fast

You've got to make the writing last. (with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel and "The 59th Street Bridge Song" (Feelin' Groovy)

I've had students who have rushed to submit an assignment. They've forgotten to double-space, run spell check, or proof; they haven't followed directions--they've even sent the wrong version. If I was an editor, instead of an instructor, lack of double-spacing would mean instant rejection because it's just too hard to read. If a story/article didn't fit a theme list, when guidelines indicated they must, I'd reject. By the time I found three typos, I'd probably quit reading.

I'll be honest. I've submitted material I shouldn't have. I thought I knew enough about what I was doing, but didn't. I moved too fast and was embarrassed later. It takes time to learn the craft of writing for children. Allow yourself some time.

slow sign.JPGHere are some suggestions to help you "slow down:"

S - "Sleep on your writing; take a walk over it; scrutinize it of a morning; review it of an afternoon; digest it after a meal; let it sleep in your drawer a twelvemonth," A. Bronson Alcott said. A year is too long for a class assignment to sleep, but you get the point, right?

L - Look your best! If you are going on a special date, don't you take time to do so? You might get a haircut, a manicure, a new item of clothing. You'd definitely clean-up with a shower or bath. You might shave, pluck eyebrow or facial hair, trim nose hairs. You'd give yourself a final polish, whether it's makeup, a shoe-shine or using a lint brush. Same with your writing. Do the basics of cleaning it up by running spell check. Reread it again and again looking for typos or awkward phrasing. Polish it by asking yourself, "Is that the best way to say it?" or "Is that the right word here?" or "Would this be clear to someone else?" Ask yourself if there are sections that need tightening or cutting.

O - Own it! Do you find yourself making excuses to yourself and your instructor (or critique group) about why something isn't as good as it should be or why it is late? You are the one who chose to write. No one is making you. Do you want to do this or not? Then claim writing as your own. Show by your actions that it is important to you. Tell others you are writing and look for those who will help you with accountability. Think how "owning it" will feel, when you get that acceptance.

W - "Writing is rewriting... If you fall in love with the vision you want of your work and not your words, the rewriting will become easier," Nora DeLoach said. Even the simplest piece will benefit by rewriting. The words you write aren't "what you want to say" but a means of getting across what you want to say. Make sure they do the job.

D - "Discipline provides the canvas. Inspiration is the paint. You create the art," Laurie Halse Anderson said. Just as practicing piano scales, prepares someone to play music, you must be disciplined and practice your writing. Schedule some dedicated time to your writing and you'll be amazed how much you improve just by showing up and practicing.

O - Open up. Be willing to reveal yourself in your writing. Write about really matters to you. Judy Blume said, "The stuff that's going to work is what's coming from deep deep inside." You probably won't find this unless you spend time thinking about what is really important to you, asking yourself questions, and digging into memories.

W - "Who has time to read? If you're a writer, you do. Reading can unlock the mysteries of writing," Christopher Meeks said. Yes, it takes work to read, but reading what you want to write is invaluable. You won't have to ask, "Is it okay to write a short story in first person for preschoolers?" or "How can I make an article on this topic accessible to 10-12 year olds?" Because you'll know. You'll have been reading stories and articles for those audiences. You'll see what works. You'll be inspired by the wealth of material already out there. You won't send "the same old" unoriginal story to editors that they've seen over and over and over.

N - "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence," Calvin Coolidge said. Oh, that is so true for writers. Instructors will tell you something isn't right; editors will reject you; critics won't like what you wrote, but they can't stop you from writing. Only you can do that.

You've got to make the writing last. The song lyrics also say, "Looking for fun and feeling groovy." Writing should be fun. You should feel good about what you produce. I think you'll find you do when you follow the above steps.

Thanks to auntlaya on for the picture above.

In the deepest hour

In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write.
Rainer Maria Rilke