Review Posted

Just a quick heads up to let you know that I’ve posted a review of The Many Faces of  George Washington by Carla Killough McClafferty on The Bookshelf, my book review blog.

I’m a total history nerd and anything that combines history and forensic science pretty much has my vote.  But I also have to admit that I was surprised at some of what I learned about Washington reading McClafferty’s book.  Teach me something new and I’m yours!


Are Your Stakes High Enough

Yesterday, I wrote about what my character wants in the middle grade novel I am rewriting.  It can create conflict if your character wants more than one thing and one of these desires gets in the way of another.   To review, my character wants three things.

  1. He wants to finish the Big Assignment for school — without it he’ll fail and be held back.
  2. He wants to swim on the swim team.  If he’s held back, he can’t do this.
  3. He wants to get even with his sister because she’s always messing with his homework.

Number 3 is what he wants most — he is, after all, a twelve-year-old boy.  It is getting in the way of #1.

So far so good.  Right?

Not really.  My readers just weren’t buying it.  After all, his plan to get even with his sister is pretty dreadful and, in the original manuscript, failing at desire #1 didn’t mean that he would fail a grade.  He simply wouldn’t get to move on to the next unit of study with the rest of his class.  Big whoop.  It just didn’t justify his plans for Desire #3.

To solve this problem, I had to up the stakes.  Now, if he fails at #1, he’ll get held back a grade.  This makes getting even all that more important when his sister again messes up his homework.

If your hero’s course of action isn’t believable, maybe your stakes aren’t high enough.  Or maybe they are  to high.  Examine them closely to see if you’ve created a good match.  Because if you haven’t, your reader simply won’t be able to buy into your story.


Part of the reason that this was hard to One of the things that I had troubles with in the original version of the story was my character’s stakes.  The stakes for failing to gain Desire #1 simply were not high enough to justify Desire #3.

What Does Your Character Want?

As I rewrite my middle grade novel, I’m taking a good hard look at what my character wants.  I’ve been reading about character desires lately and one of the things that I’ve been reading emphasizes that it makes sense, especially in a novel, for your character to want more than one thing.  After all, most people have more than one thing that is important to them and that they are working toward.  Multiple desires also make your character more interesting.

So why is this a problem for me?  My character wants three things.

  1. He wants to finish the Big Assignment for school — without it he’ll fail and be held back.
  2. He wants to swim on the swim team.  If he’s held back, he can’t do this.
  3. He wants to get even with his sister because she’s always messing with his homework.

Which one of these things do you think is most important for my character?  As a Mom, I want it to be #1.   Let’s face it, #1 will have the greatest long term consequences.

But the way I initially drafted my character, it is #3 with #2 as a close second.  Given my character and his personality (think 12 year-old boy) that just makes more sense.  That’s what works.  Of course, #3 also puts #1 at risk.

Instant conflict!   Hurray!   Now, if only I can make this work.


Dead Sea Scrolls Online

Ever wondered exactly what the famous Dead Sea Scrolls look like?  You can find out by visiting The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum online.

The Museum’s Shrine of the Book houses a collection of the most complete and most well preserved set of scrolls found to date.  At this time, digital images of five of these scrolls can be viewed on line.

The Great Isaiah Scroll, The War Scroll, The Community Rule Scroll, and the Commentary on Habakkuk are four of the original seven scrolls.  Also digitized is the Temple Scroll, discovered in 1957.

It took me a minute to sort out what I was seeing when I accessed The War Scroll.  When you access the image of the scroll, you obviously cannot see the entire thing.  Instead, the image appears with Column 1 in view on the screen.  Below is a smaller image of the entire scroll with each column numbered.  Here is the part that confused me for a moment.  Remember that Hebrew is written from right to left so this is also how the columns are numbered.  To move from Column 1 to Column 5, you will drag the target area to the left.  If you already knew that, my apologies!

Why not pop on over and check them out?  Even if you don’t read ancient Hebrew, they are a sight to behold.


Banned Book Week

American Library Association has designated September 24 through October 1, 2011 Banned Book Week.  The purpose is to encourage people not the freedom to read, and to select what they read, for granted.

On a personal note, I’ve always wondered how well challenging a book works.  Doesn’t it just make people want to read the book?  To find out just what this person is challenging?   I know that’s how it has always worked for me.

So why not pick up a few of the 100 most challenged books of 2000-2009?   I found this list here on the ALA web site.  The ALA has also gathered statistics on the reasons that books have been banned.  Can you match these classics to the reasons people want to control access to these books?  The red listings are the ones that I’ve already read.

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell 
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck 
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman 
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain 
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume 
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger 
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee 
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry 
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak 
25. Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson 
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones 
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson 
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler 
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley 
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher 
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez 
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini 
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause 
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes 
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson 
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park 
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright 
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher 
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume 
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood 
89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle 
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George 
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99. Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume 
100. America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

There are some amazing books on this list.  I would encourage each and every one of you to choose an age appropriate title to read as a family.  Tell your child that it is one of the 100 most banned books of the past decade.  Discussing why could spark some lively debates!


Goals as September Moves into October

I had another great writing week last week, pulling in 6828 words (goal: 6000 words/6 days).  Hurray!   I do wish I was making a bit more progress on my middle grade though so I’m going to change that goal below.  That said, my goals for this week are:

  1. 5 posts for One Writer’s Journey.  Done!
  2. Post a review on the Bookshelf.
  3. 1 post for PrayPower.  Done!
  4. Write my posts for the Church blog.  Done!
  5. Brainstorm some new writing ideas.  In progress.
  6. Add 2000 words to my middle grade.  Done!
  7. Finish and submit my piece for WOW.  Done!
  8. Work on my agent research.  In progress.
  9. Rewrite the article I want to submit to WD.
  10. Finish and submit my piece for the Muffin.  In progress.
I think that should be quite enough, especially considering that my husband has Boy Scout camp this weekend.  Yes, just my husband.  And our church picnic is this weekend — always a good time!
Hope you have some fun plans for this glorious fall weather!

Reality in Your Fantasy

What reality will readers find in your fantasy world?

Even if you are writing about fairies or centaurs, Greek gods and goddesses or a gritty urban fantasy, you have to bring your reader into your world.  One way to bridge the gap between the world of your reader and the world of your fantasy is by emphasizing the real life elements that you are exploring in your story.

Real life elements?  In a fantasy?  You bet and they’re absolutely necessary. Now matter how much effort you put into your fantasy world, inking maps, developing a language and charting family trees, if it doesn’t feel real, your reader won’t stick around.

In Max Quick: The Pocket and the Pendent by Mark Jeffrey, three young people who have just met team up to unravel the mystery of why the world and the people around them are frozen in time.  When something so scary has just happened, why would three strangers team up?  How do they know they can trust each other?  Because they are more afraid of being absolutely, utterly alone.  That’s a reality that most young readers can understand as they struggle to fit into ever changing family and classroom situations.

No matter how fantastic the world you’ve created may be, you need to plant familiar elements and explore familiar things so that you’re reader will feel welcome in this world and in this story.  Again, this is where theme comes in.  Good vs evil.  Adult tyranny.  Losing a loved one.  These things and more can give your story the reality needed.

What elements are you exploring in your fantasy?


Theme and the Reading Experience

Theme will point you in the right direction for your rewrite.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about the reading experience.  In brief, what do you expect the reader to get out of your book?  Part of this experience is emotional (how do you want the reader to feel as they read and close your book?) but part of it involves theme.

As you consider what you want your reader to think about or learn from your book, you are shaping your theme.  Harry Potter is a series of  books about good vs evil and believing in yourself and your friends.  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is about gifts and the responsibilities that come with them.

If, as you write the first draft of your story, you don’t know what the themes are, don’t worry.  Sometimes you need to get a draft down first.  Sometimes the theme comes together as you, the writer, explore the story and the story world.

Whatever your main theme is, this should be the area in which your character changes and grows.  Harry realizes that he really is the chosen one and that if he doesn’t go to the fight, the fight will some to him.  Jake discovers his peculiarity as well as the cost of refusing to leave the normal world and use it to help other.

Once you have a solid draft, let your story sit for a time.  Then as you read it, noodle over possible themes, because you will need to strengthen and enforce this theme throughout the course of your rewrite.  It may mean writing a new opening scene that emphasizes your character’s flaw in terms of this theme.  It may mean changing a setting or two.  But you want know what you need to fix if you haven’t identified a theme.

So, do you have any inkling what your theme is?  If not, get writing on that first draft!


The Reading Experience

Who is your reader and what do you want them to experience through your story?

As I work on my middle grade rewrite, I’ve been reading over the notes that I took when I went to the Missouri SCBWI Writing Retreat led by editor Cheryl Klein.  One of the things that she asked us to consider is what experience you want to bring your reader in the course of your book.  In light of this, I’ve been noodling some things over in terms of my own story.

Do I want the reader to have a particular emotional experience?
Although I deal with some fairly serious material, I want the reader (I picture a twelve-year-old boy) to laugh.  Sure, he’s going to be outraged, but not surprised, at the stupidity of the adults and the evil perpetrated by his younger sister, but I don’t want this piece to go dark.  I could go dark and scary, but I’m think something with the Bruce Coville booger factor here.

Do I want my reader to learn something specific?
I want my readers to learn that they are ultimately responsible for their own actions.

Do I want them to explore an idea?
I want to encourage my readers to think for themselves, to not let adults or well-meaning peers shoe-horn them into a box into which they wouldn’t naturally fit.  I want them to think about the labels that they wear.

The answers to these questions should effect every decision that I make in the course of writing my book including voice, setting, plot and characters.  As a result, the story is told in the first person, from the point-of-view of a twelve-year-old boy who is about to finish the 6th grade.  He’s very tween — smart, irreverent and disgustingly funny.  I’ve had to make some decisions about his actions that may not make sense to an adult, unless that adult it the Mom of boys.  Then, you still may not “get it” but its a familiar brand of cluelessness.

Do any of these questions change how you might approach your current project?


Civil Rights Database

If you are researching Civil Rights for either a fiction or nonfiction project, check out The Civil Rights History Project at the Library of Congress site.

This isn’t a collection but a portal through which you can find Civil Rights audio visual material located in collections across the country.  The materials themselves can be found in historical societies, special university collections and even public libraries across the U.S.

Want to know about the marches?  Look it up in the topic index.

Have a Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH)?  You can look things up that way too.

Maybe you’re wondering what your local historical society or library has.  You can search by institution name as well.

Finally, if you live in or are visiting Chicago, search by geographic location and see what is nearby.

Granted, it would be nice if this material could be remotely accessed, and maybe some of it can.  You’ll find out by contacting the appropriate institution.  Happy Researching!