August 2016 Archives

I love that point when

I love that point when you are writing a book when the ideas keep coming faster than you can possibly type.
Christine Grabowski

I dont care if a

I don't care if a reader hates one of my stories, just as long as he finishes the book.
Roald Dahl

The Inn Between

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

The-Inn-Between-cover.pngThe Inn Between (Roaring Brook Press, 2016) by Marina Cohen makes me think of the Eagle's song Hotel California, but aimed at kids. I don't know how else to describe this book--perhaps deliciously creepy. It's definitely unforgettable. And hard to put down.

Eleven-year-old Quinn Martin's best friend Kara Cawston is moving away so Quinn joins the family on a trip west from Denver through the Nevada desert. After a near accident they decide to stop at a hotel on the border between Nevada and California. When they arrive at the Inn Between, the hotel looks more like a Victorian mansion. They're greeted by a uniformed doorman and inside discover the elevator has a live operator. The lady at the front desk greets them with "We've been expecting you" and doesn't need a credit card for their stay. "Our policy is you pay when you leave." Cell phones don't work there; neither does the TV. But that's just the beginning of weirdness. Can the girls solve the mystery of the hotel?

Interspersed are some past experiences of Quinn with Kara and with Quinn's sister Emma.

At the author's website Marina Cohen's bio says, "In elementary school, one of her favorite authors was Edgar Allen Poe. She loved stories like The Tell-Tale Heart and The Pit and the Pendulum and aspired to write similar stories. She is a lover of the fantastical, the bizarre, and all things creepy."

Check out the details on her other books.


Bottled453x680.jpgBOTTLED (Clean Reads, 2016) by Carol Riggs is a YA Fantasy that's a modern take on a genie story.

Adeelah Naji was seventeen a thousand years ago when she was turned in to a genie. She's still seventeen. And still imprisoned in a bottle and having to serve masters who don't care about her. Adeelah wants to find Karim, the boy she fell in love with, but has to have her master's permission to search for him. She's also on the run from Faruq, although masters have a tendency not to believe he is a threat.

This book snagged my attention from the start and pulled me through it quickly. I sympathized with Adeelah and love the humor: "I must say, this guy isn't the swiftest camel in the caravan." The story really ramps up when Adeelah ends up with a seventeen-year-old master named Nathan.

I got to interview Carol about this story for some background info and what she's working on next.

1. Where/how did you come up with the idea for Bottled?
From watching "I Dream of Jeannie" when I was young. I loved the magic in the show, even though the chaos of Jeannie messing everything up before she fixed it drove me nuts. At the time I wrote BOTTLED, there also weren't any genie novels around that I knew of, so I thought it was unique. Now, there are a number of genie novels, but I still feel BOTTLED is different enough to bring a fresh slant to the subgenre.

2. What kind of research did you do into genies and the Arabian culture?
I didn't do a TON of research since most of the novel is set in the U.S. (and a chapter or so in Kenya), but I did research the history and geography of the Arabian area, coins, insects, and foods like sage tea and al kabsa. I checked out Arabian names. I delved a little into djinns/jinns, and decided I wanted there to be a difference in Adeelah (main character) versus a "real" genie/djinn that I described as evil spirits like demons, beings that aren't wise to be associated with.

3. How long did it take you to write the book?
I started BOTTLED in early 2011, got interrupted by life and line-edits for my debut, and finally finished the rough draft in 2013. So it was pretty stretched out due to other commitments and projects. I revised it off and on since 2013, and tightened and polished it up again just before submitting it to Clean Reads in January 2016.

4. I know you have another book coming out this fall. What's that one about and who is publishing it?
My next book is a YA light sci-fi by my debut publisher, Entangled Teen. I wrote it in 2010-11 (right before BOTTLED), and I'm delighted it's finally going to be released in October. Originally the title was SAFE ZONE, but my editor wanted something zippier and less "stiff" so now it has now been retitled as THE LYING PLANET. It's the story of a teen named Jay Lawton who lives on the terraformed (made to be like Earth) planet of Liberty, and finds out everything he thought he knew about his world isn't true. Which of course throws his life into chaos and causes lots of hopefully interesting conflict. It's on Goodreads already but it doesn't have a cover yet.

Keep up with Carol on her website and twitter.

Good writing is supposed to

Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it's raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.
E.L. Doctorow

What Should I Describe?

whiteboard-303145_1280.pngWriting a novel for middle grade or YA? What should you describe? What should you leave out?

Let's first start with WHAT TO INCLUDE.

When a manuscript doesn't have enough description, it's like the characters are standing in front of a white board. They are talking, but the reader doesn't know where, or when, or what the characters are doing. If movies resonate more with you, think about a show where the actors are in front of the blue screen and no CGI has yet been done. In other words, you want to give the readers a sense of setting.

A simple start for setting is to mention the place the character is in, going to, leaving, etc.

Example: I walked into the kitchen.

What does a kid care about in that kitchen? It depends. Are they hungry? Or going in to do a chore? Or just looking for someone else? Show what it is by using some sensory details. Adding sensory details to the above example, achieves varied results depending on your goal and the character's circumstances.

Sensory Examples:

  • I walked into the kitchen and jerked open the fridge. Nothing to eat, but a dried up piece of veggie pizza.

  • In the kitchen, I leaned over the pot on the stove and removed the lid. My stomach growled at the released odor of beef, potatoes and carrots. Stew. Yumm!

  • I trudged into the kitchen and groaned at the heaped sink of dirty dishes. Why do I have to do all these?

  • Skating into the kitchen, I found Mom removing the case off a PC. Oh, no! Who'd roped her into fixing their computer now? So much for getting her to drive me to the skate park.

Notice I changed the verb "walked" in several cased to make it more fitting for the scene I had in mind, which reminds me, choose specific verbs that add to the scene. It can show something about your character's attitude or mood, hobby or typical way of moving, family, and more. I also used specific nouns by mentioning what was found in each of these scenarios.

Show what the character is doing. Characters who are only talking aren't as interesting as characters who are doing something while they talk. Say the kids are in the school cafeteria. Is your character pushing into line to get hot lunch? At the salad bar picking up each piece of lettuce carefully before putting it on a plate? Opening a lunch box or paper sack? Shoving in huge bites of food so as to be done quickly and get to the playground? Flirting? Doing homework? Eating the sunflower butter sandwich provided for those without lunch money or lunch credits? Smearing the ketchup on their tray with an index finger? Whatever kids are doing while talking will make the conversation more interesting. Plus the reader won't realize you are slipping in a bits of description with this method.

Even when a character is alone and thinking, he or she if usually doing something: chewing on fingernails, pulling loose threads or hair, swinging a leg, tapping something, picking at a zit, plucking eyebrows, petting a cat or dog, doodling, cleaning a fish tank, listening to music, etc.

"But my character is motionless." That happens, but the senses of smell, taste, touch, temperature, sight and hearing don't stop. Try sitting totally still and take note of what you do. At this moment, besides my fingers on the keyboard, I'm hearing a fan. I can't keep my left foot still, so my flip flop is working its way off as I bounce the foot. I've sniffed (allergies). My ear itches. Characters should experience what's around them to become alive.

Be specific and make details do extra duty. What is unique to this character? She plays baseball. He loves jigsaw puzzles. Show those things with a few well-chosen details. What is unique to this character's bedroom or park or wherever? My baseball playing girl might have posters of famous baseball players on the walls of her bedroom. She might have a mitt or batt on a shelf and a uniform hanging on the back of the door. My jigsaw puzzle boy might have a card table in the family room that always has a puzzle in process. He might have puzzles glued and framed on the walls of his bedroom or a shelf with boxes and boxes of puzzles. A messy personality will deal differently with these items than a naturally neat person. You can hint a different aspects of personality with how a character treats his or her own possessions. Does something in the bedroom contradict other things we know about the character? Or point to something coming later in the plot?


Excessive character description. Most of the time the reader doesn't really care what the main character looks like. They want to know more about the internal workings and the actions of the character.

Not sure how much description of your character to include? Read the introductions of main characters in books similar to what you're writing. See how much is said and how much is left to the imagination. When reading stories in first person, I notice main characters are more likely to describe someone else than themselves.

The boring parts readers skip:

  • Things that an elementary aged kid or teen would not find interesting. If it has no relevance to someone that age, why mention it?

  • Blocks of description especially of ordinary places and ordinary items that don't have any special relevance. Include what is different or unusual instead.

  • Too much description. Readers want to get to the action (especially in middle grade stories).


"Writing the Middle Grade Novel" by Kristi Holl

Point 4 in "Six Steps to Make Your Children's Story Sparkle" by Laura Backes

"4 Keys to Writing Un-put-downable Middle Grade Adventure" by Richard Ungar

"The 3 golden rules of writing a young adult novel" by Robert Wood

"The Art of Description: Eight Tips to Help You Bring Your Settings to Life" by Anne Marble

Excuses are a time thief

Excuses are a time thief. Have a goal, accept responsibility, and take action!
Steve Maraboli

Every published author Ive met

Every published author I've met has had a moment where they wanted to quit. The people who get published are the ones who keep trying.
Martha Brockenbrough


(HarperCollins, 2016) by Kwame Alexander is a novel in verse that tells the story of eighth grader Nick Hall.

Nick is a soccer star, victim of a dad who makes him read a book called Weird and Wonderful Words--written by Dad, daydreamer, and class comedian. He also has a crush on a certain girl, and his friend Coby and he have a pact about having girlfriends by ninth grade. Life is looking good, but some unpleasant surprises are headed Nick's way.

I loved how Nick complains about the words his dad makes him learn, yet he uses them in conversation. He's a nice mix of realistic attributes and emotion and humor. I also liked that Nick gets encouragement from a teacher during his struggles.

The author creates sympathy for Nick in this easy to read book. And I bet many kids are enjoying poetry because of Kwame Alexander's many books. Read all about this impressive author on his website.