Monster or Die!

monster-or-dieHappy Halloween all you book lovers!   I’m happy to say that my Halloween post is about a book coming back From the Grave.

The week of 10/16 was the week my friend Cynthia Reeg’s first children’s book was set to debut.  Sadly, the day before it would officially be released, Cindy got word from her editor.  The publisher was closing down.  Her book would not be officially released.  Cindy had school visits scheduled.  She has planned a bit costume party for Saturday.

At the party, she told me how worried she was.  Yes, she was upset about her book but Cindy was worried about her editor.  After all, he was a great editor and now he was out of a job.  Typical Cindy!

But there is good news.  Jolly Fish, Cindy’s original publisher, was acquired by North Star Editions.  Her Monster Or Die series is officially under the Flux imprint with production starting immediately.  This is an amazing book about being true to yourself even when the world seems set against you.  I know — that seems a little ironic all things considered.

The point of this post.  Don’t give up.  Things have a scary way of working out.  Monster on!

Do not give up.


It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: Or the Joys of Three Act Structure

basil-rathbone-402601_1280As I get ready for NaNoWriMo, the last step that I’m confronted with is creating an outline.  There are several different types of outlines that you can create.  Each one is “the only way to do it,” according to one group of writers or another.  Here are two of the most common.

Scene outline.  Some writers outline their novel scene by scene.  This means coming up with a list of events that take place in your story.  It gives some writers the safety net they need.  For others it saps their creativity.

Plot Point Structure.   Other writers create more of a plot point structure.  This is similar to a scene list but makes sure that certain key events are present and accounted for in the most effective order.  This is what I’m creating for Iron Mountain.  The plot points that I need to note are:

Act 1.  (Roughly 25% of the story)

  • The hook:  Pull your reader into the story.  Get the reader to start asking questions.
  • Inciting Event: This event sets the story in motion and leads to …
  • The Key Event: The event that forces the protagonist to take action.
  • 1st Plot Point:  This is either at the end of Act 1 or beginning of Act 2.  There is a change of surroundings.  It is a personal turning point for the protagonist.  From here there is no turning back.  The main character is driven out of her comfort zone and into the world of the story. Some people call this the “Tipping Point.”

Act 2.  (Roughly 50% of the story)

  • Strong Reaction:  The character has a strong response to the 1st plot point.
  • First Pinch point:  Sometimes called a “Stress point.”  This is where the antagonist makes his reach and power known.  He does something that narrows the protagonist’s choices.
  • Turning Point/Second Plot Point:  This marks the midpoint of the novel.  It should be about halfway through the story. There should be a change of direction for the characters.  This is where your protagonist quits reacting and starts acting.  She takes charge.
  • Strong Action: This new direction and stepping out on the part of the Protagonist is expressed through a strong action.
  • Second Pinch Point:  Sometimes called a stress point.  Once again the antagonist makes his power known and he again narrows the protagonist’s choices.
  • Third Plot Point.  This comes at the end of the 2nd act, beginning of the 3rd act.  Things are set forward leading to the climax.  This is a low point for the protagonist.  Perhaps she has been confronted again by the antagonist and lost.  There could be a betrayal.  Her confidence is shaken.

Act 3:  This is where the pace picks up as we move toward the climax.  (Roughly 25% of the story)

  • Plan.  Your character has taken some time to regroup and now has a new plan of action.
  • Climatic Moment.  This point is the highest point in the drama of the story.  It fulfills the dramatic promise.
  • Wrap up.  Wait!  Things aren’t over yet.  Here’s where the reader finds out what happens next for your characters.

Some people start with the plot point outline and then move into a scene outline.  That’s what I’m going to try to do.  Wish me luck!


YALSA 2016 Teens’ Top Ten

YALSA, aka The Young Adult Library Services Association, has announced the 2016 Teens’ Top Ten. As much as I love the other ALA (American Library Association) awards, this one is chosen by the young readers themselves.  During Teen Read Week (October 9-15, 2016), readers aged 12 to 18 vote online for their favorite titles. This year, they chose:

  1. Alive by Chandler Baker (Disney/Hyperion)
  2. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (Random House/Alfred A. Knopf).
  3. The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books)
  4. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Macmillan/Henry Holt & Co.)
  5. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (Random House/Delacorte Press)
  6. Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone (Disney/Hyperion)
  7. The Novice: Summoner: Book One by Taran Matharu (Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends)
  8. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Random House/Alfred A. Knopf)
  9. When by Victoria Laurie (Disney/Hyperion)
  10. Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten (Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse)

I didn’t paste in images of the covers because you can see them all in this video.

I’d love to say that I’ve read all of these but I haven’t, so if you’ll excuse me, I have some books to request.


Choosing a Title

surprise-one-handedHad a really interesting experience with an image search Monday.  I was looking for the cover image of the picture book “Peeking Under the Street.”  Me being me, I’m a bit lazy.  So I didn’t add the author’s name.  I didn’t even add the word cover.  I just clicked image search and Enter and . . .

Oh, my heavenly host.  What the hell is going on here?

Let’s just say that this pulled up something about a particular area in Las Vegas that seems to be upper garment optional, unless you count paisties as garments.  Some of the people may have been “working women,” a polite euphamism my grandmother used.  Others were clearly tourists.

I don’t know about you, but I would not want some kid to type up the name of my book and get an eye-full of bossom.  If it was sculpture and painting I wouldn’t care but this was VEGAS and although some of the people seemed very friendly it was not child-friendly if you get my drift.

My point?  When you come up with a title for your book, do a Google search.  Do it on a computer that doesn’t have Net Nanny because you need the worst case scenario.  And don’t just to a Google search, do a Google Image Search.  I’ve done this before and pulled up something that looked like the gore-filled image from a slasher film.  It was something by some Death Metal band but, again, not what I want my readers to find when they’re looking for me.  Another search turned up a competing book.  I don’t want that either so I tried title #3.

Take the time to search your book titles.  You need to find competing titles but you also need to know if a search would pull up things that aren’t appropriate for your audience.


When Someone Writes Your Book

A lot of the blogs I read feature children’s books.  That’s part of the reason that my library bag is constantly overflowing.  I see a book peeking-under-the-citythat intrigues me and I request it. But the other day I saw one that really rocked me back.  It looked like my book, or at least my idea.

I’ve been playing around with a dual story line picture book for a while now.  Part of my issue has been trying to settle the story line.  Part of the issue has been trying to do the research.  When I saw Peeking Under the City by Esther Porter, my first thought wasn’t “Wow, what a great book.”  It was much closer to “oh, no.”

The thing is that this is bound to happen.  Ideas don’t develop in a vacuum. They are the result of various external stimulus which are then churned around in your brain. But you aren’t the only one who has the stimulus.  You and someone else are bound to have remarkably similar ideas.  A friend of mine wrote an excellent book about an underground city right before The City of Ember came out.  We had already critiqued his manuscript and he had started to send it out.  The two books were so similar that it was spooky.

And that’s the first thing to do.  Get the other book and read it.  I’m sitting here with a library copy of Peeking Under the City.  It’s a fun piece of nonfiction about the various things that lie underground in a city.  Porter covers everything from utilities and trains to building foundations and fossils.  This is nothing like my idea or at least only very tangentially.  I am so relieved!

If the idea is very close to your own, you have to decide if you want to finish your book.  While I don’t want to tell you “don’t bother,” you do need to seriously look at the competition.  If it is very like your own idea, the two will be in direct competition.  Quite frankly, if the other book is flawed, that’s no big deal.  Plot holes and flat character may leave you enough room to maneuver.

But if it is a top-notch book, written for the same audience, by a big name author?  Then you have some tough decisions to make.


An Interesting Life Feeds Makes for Interesting Writing

cabin-and-truck“An Interesting Life Feeds Makes for Interesting Writing.”  When you saw that title, whose life did you think that I meant?

Maybe you first thought of the character’s life.  Certainly a character with an interesting life will be more fun to write (and read) about than a character who sits on the sofa, plays video games and eats chips.  Snore!

What I actually meant was that when a writer has an interesting life, it makes for interesting stories.

Lately, I’ve been doing the prep-work for NaNoWriMo.  I’ve finished half of my character interviews and I’ve scrapbooked the characters and settings.  This means that I’ve been doing a lot of research.

Google Image is my friend.  I’ve collected photos of historic iron mines, miners cabins, ghost towns, and a deserted mansion.  There are photos of Lon Sanders canyon, iron ore and old timey mercantile stores.  All of these things came into the story intentionally.

But as I was searching cabins (my main character has to live someplace!), I had an epiphany.  I needed exterior dairyimages but I needed to know the layout as well.  A number of interior artifacts would also be useful.  Where oh where could I find these things together.  Then it hit me.  My father-in-law has helped restored a log cabin.  In is now set up as a museum complete with wood burning stoves, a spinning wheel, and a kitchen.  Seriously, I can be so dense at times.  That’s a photo of the cabin and our truck, both restored by my father-in-law. Thank goodness I have such interesting people in my life!

Then something completely unexpected crept into the story.  What do they grow on this farm?  Originally, the farm where this cabin stands, included tobacco fields.  We know this because there is a tobacco barn.  My mother died of lung cancer and my father has COPD.  Yeah, I already really like this character and she is not going to grow tobacco.  Besides, I’ve moved the cabin to slightly different geography that is far too rocky for tobacco but there are cattle aplenty.

Guess where my family went this weekend? The photo to the right is my son drinking a soda in a calf barn.  We went to a local organic creamery.  Now, in my story, the Wilkersons keep dairy cattle and, by the end of the book, will be working towards having a full-fledged dairy.  I so did not see that coming and will have to go back to the real dairy (oh woe is me!), take the official tour and do some delicious research.

Spend time with interesting people.  Go interesting places.  Do interesting things.  They will find their way into your stories.



Fiction: The Truth at the Core

gaiman-quoteI have to admit that I always considered the dichotomy pretty clear-cut.  Nonfiction was true.  Fiction was made up.  Then I saw this quote from Neil Gaiman.

The funny thing is that I’ve probably seen this quote before.  After all, Neil Gaiman gets quoted fairly often and I like his work so I pay attention when someone quotes him.  So in spite of the fact that I’ve probably seen this before, it didn’t click until yesterday.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing all the pre-writing to get ready for NaNoWriMo. I tend to be a pretty seat-of-the-pants writer when it comes to fiction which may well be why, at some point, I always bog down on fiction projects.  There just comes a point when some internal contradiction or plot Grand-Canyon makes itself known and I can’t see a way around it and a quit.

This time I’ve been working with my characters and noodling over their relationships with each other.  I’ve been making up artifacts, considering the system of government (highly dysfunctional for the have-nots) and today I’m finally outlining the plot.

Maybe it has something to do with all of the pre-writing and the fact that I’m must more familiar with my characters and the story world than ever before.  Maybe that’s why.  But the funny thing is that I know what the theme is.  I never know what the theme is before I start writing.  N-E-V-E-R.  But this time I do.  And, you know what?  It is the central truth in the story.

My story is fiction. I’ve made up the people.  I’ve made up the world.  I’m working on their culture.  But the theme — it is one of those Big Truths in life.  Fiction may be, as Gaiman briefly put it, a lite. But it is a lie that some how, some way reveals a central truth.  Or at least it does if it is well written.


Author’s Copies! Women in History Have Arrived

women-in-historyAbout 30 minutes after we had finished dinner my son tossed a comment back over his shoulder as he left the room.  “Oh, yeah.  They delivered your books.”

“What books?”

“Your books, Mom.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You were on the treadmill.”  Granted, I’d been off the treadmill for slightly more than an hour and a half but my son and husband found this perfectly reasonable.  Of course, I pretty much blew my credibility because, at that point, I spun around and tripped over a pair of wet shoes someone had left by the front door.  Someone.  They were, coincidentally, my sandals.

The last 24 hours had been more than a little book crazy.  At almost 10 pm, I got a rewrite request.  I’ve been waiting for a rewrite request but this wasn’t from the same author.  It seems that the publisher had reviewed this particular book after it had gone through design.  He wanted changes and I can’t say that I disagree.  They will definitely improve the whole.  But that’s not what I was expecting to work on today.

Fortunately, I got the changes in and then had another e-mail.  Rewrite request?  Nope.  Just letting me know that I’d have it in about a week.

Then we had dinner and then I found out my books had arrived.  Aren’t they fantastic?  That’s Women in Sports to the left and Women in Science  to the right.  I have to say that the book design is quite nice and I was surprised by how many of the photographs I recognized from Women in Sports.  They didn’t ask for suggestions so they independently picked out photos I found while researching the topic.

The only book for which I’ve made photo suggestions so far has been Ancient Maya.  That was tricky because they couldn’t always get the photos I had found and had to use something else.  Since I had also written photo captions, that meant having to rewrite photo captions.  That’s one of the things about series writing.  I submit my best possible manuscript, incorporating changes they requested based on the outline.  They read my manuscript and all of the others in the series.  They ask for changes, sometimes because a topic was extensively covered in another book.

Speaking of which, I wonder what changes they’ll want on the last manuscript?  Until I find out, I’ll have to find something else to do.  Maybe I should start by putting up my shoes?


Sit and Write as Jane Yolen: How to Approach Your Writing

typewriterAbout two weeks ago, I blogged about taking classes online.  The first class I attempted turned into a ball of frustration as I tried to locate, sans links, the course site and readings.  Because I take these classes for FUN, I quickly gave up and moved to the next course.  Creative Writing: A Master Class for which I downloaded the itunes app.

The first lecture was given by playwright August Wilson.  Wilson discusses his efforts to have his work accepted so that he could attend the National Playwrights conference.  Wilson described writing several plays only to have them rejected one by one.  It wasn’t until his fourth or fifth effort that his work was accepted.

What did he do differently that time around?  He says that that was when he realized that he was sitting in the same writing chair as Tennessee Williams and as Ibsen.  An unknown with no plays to his credit, he was in the exact same position that they were when they sat down to write.  He had to figure out how to get actors onto the stage and all of the other things that have to be accomplished in a play.

He had to do these things but so did the greats.

Think about your own writing.  Are you writing picture books like Jane Yolen?  Maybe you are writing early readers like Arnold Lobel.  Me?  Some day s I write nonfiction like James Cross Giblin.  I’m getting ready to work on a middle grade novel just like Bruce Coville.

No matter what you write, you are doing the same thing as the luminaries in your field.  You have the same goal.  You have similar tools.

Will this realization change how you write?  So often we are told to remember that we are in competition with every book that is in print.  Your work has to be that good or better or it will never see print.  And, that’s true enough.

But Wilson has definitely hit on something.  As soon as you sit down to write, or stand at an easel to paint, you have the same goals and the same means to get there as the greats.

You just need to make the work your own.  How about them apples? (To quote my grandmother.)


Characterization: Prewriting to the Extreme

When author K.M. Weiland interviews her characters, she asks them a wide variety of questions including the name of their favorite book. As I started doing this for my main character, Clem, my first thought was that she wouldn’t have a favorite book.  She is definitely working class and poor.  She doesn’t have much time for things like books.

Then I started to wonder if I was taking the easy way out.  My grandfather graduated with a degree in Mining Engineering just as many of the mines in the US were playing out.  Because of this, he took any job he could find.  Sometimes he was head mining engineer for the mercury mines in Terlingua, Texas.  Other times he ran a filling station.  My grandmother used chicken feed sacks to make clothing.  Pretty sacks became dresses focrisscrossing-the-galaxyr the girls.  Ugly sacks were destined to be underwear.  They were definitely foundation-stonesworking class and poor but they had books.

So what kind of books would kids on a mining planet have access to?  Especially working class kids? What would there be and what would they want?

Fortunately, I collect old books, snatching them up whenever I see them at a yard sale, rummage sale or book sale.  I was able to base these two books on actual texts in my collection.  One is my character’s favorite book because her older brother read it to her.  The other is the kind of book her step father wants her to read.  It should be pretty obvious which is which.

I’m not going to be able to put this much effort into every crumb of material culture but having put the effort into creating these “books,” even if I really only made the covers, I feel like I know my characters a bit better.

I better hustle though so that I’ll be ready to start working on the novel in two weeks.  Fingers crossed!