February 2016 Archives

The contents of my books

The contents of my books are not going to teach them anything at all, except to grip them by the throat and make them love to read.
Roald Dahl

A professional writer is an

A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit.
Richard Bach

The Year We Sailed the Sun

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

YearWeSailed.jpgI loved this historical middle grade novel, The Year We Sailed the Sun (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015) by Theresa Nelson. It's set in the year 1912 and took me into a unfamiliar world of Catholic orphanages and Irish street gangs in St. Louis.

Eleven-year-old Julia Delaney and her almost fourteen-year-old sister are being sent to The House of Mercy. Their older brother Bill, only fifteen himself, promises it will just be for a short time. Mary's the good sister, so living with nuns won't be hard on her. But Julia, that's quite a different story. And you can tell so from the first sentence of Chapter One: "I suppose I will go to hell for biting the nun."

That made me laugh. Yet I found Julia a sympathetic character as well. The author was a Winner of the PEN/​Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Working Writer Fellowship for this book. It's also a Junior Library Guild Selection.

The novel is a fascinating blend of fiction mixed with actual history. (Of course, I had to read the Author's Note at the end to know that.) On the book's page on Theresa Nelson's website there are great pictures of the time period, including one of the real Julia who inspired the story.

The author has a number of other books to put on my "to be read" list.

The Wrinkled Crown

wrinkledCrown_cvr.jpgThis is the second time for me to read a book by Anne Nesbet. I liked the first book. I like the fantasy The Wrinkled Crown (Harper, 2015) even more. And this coming Monday in Portland, Oregon, the author will be speaking at a bookstore called Green Bean Books!

But back to the book...

Almost twelve-year-old Linnet (Linny) lives in Lourka where the rule is that no girl must even accidentally touch a lourka, the musical instrument with the same name as the village. If she touches one, on her twelfth birthday she'll be taken by the voices to Away. Because Linny is so musically inclined even as a baby, her father gives her a tethered twin, Sayra, to keep her safe. Sayra, Linny's best friend, is too kind and lets Linny off of the tether where no one can see. Of course, Linny more than breaks the rule about lourkas. But on their birthday, it's not Linny who is taken!

The opening line is intriguing: "It was maybe Linny's last day of all--a pretty horrible thought--but the air in the meadow was humming with sunlight, as if nothing were the slightest bit wrong." But better yet are the struggles that follow, because Linny has to do everything she can to save Sayra.

I also love what the author says about herself on her website: "I write books for young people-well, to be honest, I write stories I would want to read myself, and I am younger than the average dragon, but older than most poodles."

What Stops Me Reading!

(image courtesy of pixabay.com)
Examples from six published books that stopped me reading.


Book 1
It was a cute graphic novel. Drawings were lovely; story was sweet. But . . . this middle grade story was told in multiple viewpoints and the main character didn't solve her own problem in the end. Throughout the story, she kept being rescued by others. I could mostly ignore those problems. What I couldn't ignore was turning a page and being lost. Did I turn too many pages? I flipped back. No, there simply wasn't a logical transition to connect the previous page to the next. This happened in several scenes.

Book 2
In another novel by an author I like, I turned the page at the end of a chapter and was confused. Wait, didn't we just solve that issue? Are we repeating stuff? I turned back to the end of the previous chapter. What I finally decided after rereading and rereading the three chapters is that the middle chapter should have been cut entirely. I probably wouldn't have put in as much effort to figure this out if I didn't already like the author.

Book 3
End of chapter one . . . Several pages into chapter two, I suddenly realize that this isn't the same person as the first chapter. They're a lot alike though. It's hard to keep them straight in my head as to which one is which. Since I don't really like either one, I quit reading.


Book 4
I'm reading what a character is doing and, in almost an aside, discover that the main character's horse thinks he's reliable. Wait. What? You want me to learn about this character by what his horse thinks of him? That might work if we hadn't just jumped into the mind of a horse. And if we weren't viewing thoughts that are beyond the capability of said horse. No, doesn't work for me.


Book 5
Chapter one is about a girl at work passing her thief test--she's interesting. Chapter two is about a boy--no, not the first boy you see in this chapter, but another one. At least I think so. Chapter three is about the second boy in a previous time. But what about the girl?! For me alternating viewpoints can work, but if not done skillfully can lose my interest.


Book 6
A mechanical mouse is making its way down a hall, through a door. It can't see or think, of course, as it is mechanical. But the author tells me, if the mouse could see, he would have seen . . . and if the mouse could think, he would have thought . . . I closed the book.

So, where was the editor in each of these cases?

I know there was one because of who published the books. Which means I have to remember (again) that reading is subjective.

The editors must not have been confused by what confused me in books one through three. In the fourth book, the editor didn't have a problem with point of view as I did. In book five, the editor was more patient than I to discover how these characters were connected. Book six, evidently the editor didn't mind author intrusion.

Instead of being annoyed that these novels were published, my goal for my own writing is
to try to avoid these pitfalls:

  • main character not solving problem

  • unclear or illogical transitions

  • redundant information

  • characters being too much alike

  • unlikable main character(s)

  • head hopping, especially into an animal's

  • unclear viewpoints, and

  • author intrusion.

Quantity produces quality If you

Quantity produces quality. If you write only a few things, you're doomed.
Ray Bradbury

Sometimes writing is running downhill

Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can't quite keep up with gravity.
Rainbow Rowell