Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thursday's Thoughts: Christmas Is Over, Now What? Part 2

Christmas is over, the new year is two days away. About this time of year, people start making New Year's Resolutions, setting goals, sometimes making decisions about their lives that may or may not be productive throughout the year.

When I was in my teens and early 20s, I never gave a thought to "new year's resolutions," and from what I saw of older people around me who did, it seemed pretty silly. Those resolutions never seemed to come true, or were even talked about much beyond New Year's Day. So why bother?

As I got older, with a husband and children, I tried to set some goals for myself, or even for the kids, to  have something to work towards. Again, it never seemed to work out the way I wanted. And then I began to wonder why. If you take the time to set out some goals for yourself, why don't you accomplish them? I decided  to start asking people about their resolutions, and if they actually followed through with them during the year. What I found surprised me.

One person told me that in the middle of a New Year's Eve party, standing in front of a gigantic table loaded with delicious, extremely rich food, she told everyone around that her number one resolution for the next year was to lose weight. That year she gained 25 pounds.

Another young lady told me that at midnight on New Year's Eve, she looked around and saw most of her friends kissing their boyfriends, while she stood by, "kissless." Her number one resolutions was to not only get a boyfriend, but to be engaged or married by the following New Year's Eve. The following New Year's Eve, she did have a boyfriend...but not the kind you'd want YOUR daughter kissing!

A male friend told me his resolution for the coming year was to invest for the first time in the stock market, because many of his business associates were making a lot of money. When I asked him if he knew anything about the stock market ( I don't), he said no, but it seemed easy to learn about. He lost a lot of money that year.

What does this all add up to? Making decisions on the spur of the moment, calling them "New Year's Resolutions," and not putting any thought into what that resolution actually means. It appears that a good many people, of all ages, make their "resolutions" exactly the same way. They get caught up in the excitement of the New Year's moment, and whatever comes to their mind becomes a "resolution."

If you have something you truly want to do during the coming year, why make an off-the-cuff decision about it? Why not take the time to think about it, make it a goal to be accomplished, and then think about what it's going to take during the coming year for you to accomplish what you want?

Suppose you have a story started, and you want to turn it into a novel, finish it, and get it off to a few publishers by December 1st. That's your goal. What are the steps, or objectives, you need to take to accomplish that goal? You need to think that much time do you actually have to write each day? Don't set a certain number of words or pages for yourself that you have to struggle to get down. Be realistic in what you can accomplish on a daily basis, and each step will become much easier.

The point is: when you make a New Year's Resolution, give it some time and thought. Is this really what you want to accomplish this coming year? Is it a realistic goal, given your personality, your attitude, your willingness to overcome whatever obstacles might come up during the year, including things like your "real" life: outside job, family, children, etc.  You need to consider all of this before commiting yourself.

If it is important enough to say, This is my goal, then it is important enough for you to take the time to think it through, and come up with the steps you need to take to accomplish the goal. Just be sure you are realistic. Don't set yourself up for failure by deciding that you HAVE to do something each day that simply may not be easily done, due to your other obligations. And LIFE! LIFE has a way of coming at us at the most inconvenient times and under the most inconvenient conditions, so be sure to make allowances for the things you can't control, and make the most of those things you can control.

Make a goal plan, follow that plan to the best of your ability, but don't let it get you down, and don't allow yourself to become discouraged if you fail to do something in the time you've set for yourself. Remember, without failure there is no success. Hmm...somebody famous said that, but I don't remember who!

Happy New Year, everyone, and Happy and Realistic Resolutioning!!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Monday's Meanderings: Christmas Is Over, Now What?

Christmas is over! I wonder how many of you feel as I do, that it was great while it lasted, but I'm glad that it's over? I love the preparations for Christmas: the decorating of house, tree, and the outside, planning the menu for Christmas dinner. But I don't love the shopping in all the crowds, and I don't even like wrapping gifts. I just like seeing the finished project sitting under the tree, all bright and colorful and shiny.

But then it's over. The last guest leaves, the first load of dishes is in the dishwasher, and there's a mountain of food left over to be wrapped and put in the freezer, or made up into "care" packages.  There are still a few gifts to be sorted out and put away; the Christmas table that was so beautifully set is a mess, remnants of dessert on cheery Christmas paper plates to be thrown away; soda cans to be made sure they are empty before putting them in the recycle sack; and the lovely tablecloth, place mats, and napkins have to be washed, ironed, and put away for the next year. All of this is the 'real' work of Christmas. To say nothing of finally taking down the tree and putting away all the lovely, funny, and quirky decorations!

In my house, the latter means carefully storing away 15 large doll-sized Santa Clauses, each from a different state and/or part of the world that I've been in. It means taking 7 Snowdens ( remember them as Target's Christmas symbol during the lat '90s and early 2000's ?) and lovingly wrapping them up and putting them in their own packing boxes; it's bubble-wrapping my 7 piece Victorian village so none of it gets broken...a major job with all the little people, horse-and-carriages, trees, street lamps, and so on. And then there are all of my furry creatures to put away: 3 mooses, 2 reindeer, one singing mouse, 20-some bears of all sizes including several very large ones; one large, standing Tigger, one small talking Tigger, 3 dogs of various sizes, and one lion who surveys his kingdom every year. There's also the nativity scene, several china and porcelain Santas, all of my Santa paintings, and my other Christmas wood paintings. And I've probably forgotten some.

All the excitement and music and glamour and anticipation, and even the work is over, and slowly but surely the "normal" world comes back into focus. Now what?

We'll talk about "now what?" in my next post.

Until then,
That's a wrap.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wednesday's Wanderings: Time Flies...or Not

Aaarghh! Where does the time go? It's been a week since my last post, and I really didn't intend that to happen.

'Tis the season, and all that, but really, does time seem to go faster during the Christmas holidays, or does it stand still? As kids, I guess we all thought that time was standing still, and Santa's "day" would never get here. As adults, we never have enough time to do everything we want and need to do before the Big Day.

Where does that leave us with our writing? I marvel at some of my younger writing friends, those with outside jobs and/or young children: they not only find the time to write, but to post regularly on their blogs. Then, of course, I look at myself and say, "Self, you are retired. You have time. Much time. What is your problem?" Unfortunately, Self never has a good answer.

I've tried the schedule bit, tried writing down everything I have to do in one day, then making myself a schedule ...7am to 8am, get up, shower, get dressed, get dog up and outside; 8am to 8:20am, brush dog; 8:20am to 8:30 am, feed dog, cat, and parrots; 8:30 to 9am, feed husband and self.  Good grief, by the time I've written all this down, I'm exhausted just thinking about it, and I haven't even gotten past 9 o'clock in the morning. Obviously, scheduling doesn't work for me.

All joking aside, in the busiest season of the year, how does one find the time to write, post a blog, and carry on with all the seasonal 'asides' that you have to do? You know, those 'little' things like Christmas shopping, baking cookies, sending out cards...the list goes on.

For me, the earlier in the morning I work on Christmas 'stuff,' the better. Getting the house decorated, shopping for gifts or cooking, actually doing the baking, and so on. I try to get it all done by 1pm. If Possible.  From 1 to 3pm I write, and nothing better get in my way. Except, of course,  the kids stop by; neighbors drop in; the phone rings and hubby is conveniently out with the dog or puttering in the garage and the person on the phone is a telemarketer who won't take 'no' for an answer; or it's a long-lost 'friend' ( who hasn't stayed lost long enough) who just decides to take that time to catch me up on everything that has gone on in her life for the last 3 years that I have not heard from her. Thankfully have not heard from her. And so the day goes. Writing? You've got to be kidding!

How is your writing day going? Smoothly or with more bumps, twists, and turns than usual? Do you blame it on the season, or do you accept it more gracefully than I do? ( Well, age does have its privileges, ya' know!)

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wednesday's Wanderings: Thoughts on Publishing an Ebook

Well, finally! I've been locked out of my blog for the last few days for some reason. I was getting very annoyed, and ready to take on Blogger when today it seems fine. The workings of the Internet I'm afraid will always be a mystery to me.

Yesterday I took a somewhat scary step towards publishing. I sent off my historical novel, The Freedom Thief, to an ebook publisher, MuseItUp Publishing. I thought that would be the end of it, until I received a reply saying they either would or would not be interested in publishing the book. Instead, I received an email from the President of the company accknowledging receipt of my manuscript, and telling me I should hear again from them within 6-8 weeks, or perhaps sooner. What a pleasant surprise!

I said this was a scary step for me. My novel has a 13-almost-14 year old boy as the protagnonist, and with seemingly every publisher having his own definition of what makes a middle grade or young adult read, in terms of age, I have no idea if the story is middle grade or young adult. I still have misgivings about a middle grade story in an ebook format, so it's scary because I don't know if it will sell as an ebook or not.

In today's economy, it seems to me that for the majority of parents, buying their kids a Kindle or a Nook or whatever other kind of ereader is out there would be one of the last items on their Christmas list...or any kind of gift list. Especially if the kids are only 10 to about 12 or 13 years old...the age my story is aimed at. Yet a lot of writers are going this route, not only with MG and YA stories, but even with picture books and short chapter books for elementary grade readers.

Perhaps the initial cost of the ereader overrides the ongoing cost of buying books from a bookstore, even Amazon. If so, publishing as an ebook makes a lot of sense. However, there are also many parents today who are saying to their children, you have to go to the library because I can't afford to buy you a book.  So there are two sides to this issue of ebook publishing for kids.

I just hope I've chosen the right side ! Of course, first I have to find out that the manuscript has been selected for publishing, then I'll have plenty of time to worry about how well it's going to sell.

What are your thoughts on ebook publishing? Do you think this is a viable alternative to fighting the battle in finding a traditional print publisher, and if so, have you taken this route or are planning to?

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Monday's Meanderings: Thoughts on Titles

Today I was reading something totally unrelated to writing, and certainly to titles, when one popped into my head: Dead Girl Walking. Where in the world did that come from? It sounds intriguing. It could be a mystery, it could even be historical...well, depending. But I haven't started a new novel yet, althought I have bits and pieces of 3 new ones to begin seriously working on, yet I don't see that particular title as being very appealing to any one of the 3.

So where do good titles come from? My historical novel, from day one, was titled "Escape On The Train Without Tracks." That title held for 3 years. Then one day, recently, as I was working on an edit, I suddenly thought...The Freedom Thief. It seemed perfect, and that is the title under which I'm submitting it. Yet I have no idea where it came from.

My first novel, T he Year of the Scream or Why I Hate Cheerleading, Chocolate, and Celine Carroll,  was one where the title came to me after only writing a few pages. At the time, I wasn't even sure what part "Celine Carroll" was going to play, or even if she was going to be a major character. But it seemed to fit from the very first chapter, and I've never changed it. I'm submitting the novel under that title, and unless the editor wants it changed, that's what it will be.

Dead Girl Walking: I can't get it out of my head. And as I've pondered on it, I have realized that maybe...just maybe...this is the title for the story about Gabriela...the character who woke me up one early...very early...morning last week. Maybe...Gabriela is Dead Girl Walking.

Where do you get your ideas for your titles? Do they suddenly pop into your head for no reason, or do you take your time, and let the title slowly immerge from the storyline? Do your titles come from something you've read, a newspaper headline that, with a little tweaking, seems to be "just perfect" for that new story? Or do they sneak up on you, a little at a time, sometimes surprising you? And once you decide upon a title, do you ever change it on your own, or because someone says the title doesn't fit the story? Think about it!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday's Teaser: Thoughts on Characters...Or Dreams...Or...

I woke up at 3:45 am and thought I was coming out of a dream. After a couple of minutes, it was clear that it wasn't a dream, it was a new character screaming at me. I mean, actually screaming because she was being chased through a forest. Okay, I thought, enough of this. I do not write fairy tales, so shut up and let me go back to sleep.

Except...she was being chased, she was in a forest, and it was not a fairy tale.

Her name is Gabriela, she is Italian, the forest is in New Jersey (?), and somehow a town called Whitesbog is involved.

The thing is...I'm not writing about a character named Gabriela, I know little to nothing about New Jersey ( except that one of the Mafioso Families is there), and I never heard of some place called Whitesbog...if such a place actually exists.

Obviously, this new character has a story she wants me to tell, but right now I have no idea what it is. Whitesbog, New Jersey?? Now I'm intrigued. I must do some research!

A dream? Or can a character actually come into your head, and demand that you tell her story? Even if you have absolutely NO idea what that story is?  Actually, I did have that happen with my very first novel. AJ woke me up one morning about the same time as Gabriela...uh oh, now I'm talking about HER as if she's really going to exist...anyway, AJ wanted her story told, too. But with AJ, I had some idea of what she wanted me to tell, and eventually her story became The Year of the Scream. 

What does Gabriela want? What is her story? Frankly, I can't imagine. Perhaps if I start researching some place called "Whitesbog" to see is there is such a place, I'll have a better idea. Why is she so insistent? I can't get her name out of my head, it's like it is plastered there. When something like that happens with me, I know nothing is going to matter until I get started on the story. Usually, I have at least a few thoughts about the direction it will take. Today? My mind is blank...all I can hear or think about is this little voice saying...Gabriela Gabriela Gabriela.

It's driving me crazy!!

Do you ever have a character wake you up and make demands on you? If so, do you always know WHY this character has shown up so unexpectedly? Please, share your might help me know what to do with this girl !

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday's Meanderings: Teacher in Reverse: Daughter and Father

Today I went to the library, and while I was there, I saw something so touching I had to write about it.

I was in the YA stacks of the Children's Library, and I heard this soft voice saying, "No, Dad, that word is 'running.' You know the word 'run,' so just put the 'ing' to it."

Another soft voice, somewhat deeper: "He wa...was run..running too far.." "No, Dad, not 'too far,' 'too fast.' Try it again."

A silence. Then the deep voice said, "I don't know, honey. I don't think I'll ever learn again."

The sentence was spoken in bits and pieces, with pain evident in each word. I didn't want to be a snoop, but I guess I am. I had to know what was going on. I stepped quietly around a couple of bookcases, and stopped. In front of me was one of the round tables for small children, complete with the little chairs. On one chair, stooped over and barely sitting on the seat, was a tall, thin man with his face in his hands. Sitting next to him, on the table itself, sat a young girl about fourteen. Sweet face, dark curly hair, dark eyes full of tears. She sat with one slim hand on the man's shoulder.

"Dad, you will learn again. Look how far you've come this year. I won't let you stop learning until you can read all your own books again."

He raised his head and smiled at her. He got up slowly and painfully ( any adult who's ever sat in one of those kindergarten chairs knows you can't get up any other way, no matter how strong you are!), held out his hand to his daughter, and they carefully picked their way around the other tables to the check-out counter.

I checked out behind them, and as I walked out, I saw the father pointing at various trees, cars, a rabbit hopping by...and naming them all for his daughter. She was laughing and hugging him around the waist as I drove off.

Teacher in reverse: daughter teaching father all the things, and in the same loving, patient way, that father had once taught his daughter.

How wonderful. How remarkable. Courage, love, and patience all bound up in one beautiful, 14 year old package.

What remarkable thing have you seen lately?

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wednesday's Wanderings: The Wonderfu, Remarkable, Frustrating World of Websites: Part Two

Today I'm going to add some more websites that I hope will be of use to my readers. Without further ado, here they are:

Two agents, Jessica Faust and Kim Lionetti, have a great site with a large array of posts on proposals, contracts, editing, story conflict, and a lot more. Their advice is good and it's free!

This is the best place in the world to go if you are at the point of wanting to find an agent. Much of the site is free, but if you are really serious about agenting, pay the $40 yearly fee, at least for a year, and take advantage of all the premier things you can do here.

The Market List:
For those of you who want to make some extra money doing freelance writing. If you're writing genre fiction, there are hundreds of market listings here for you to look into.

Ed 2010:
There are young magazine editors here who offer excellent advice about writing for magazines. There is a section called "WhisperJobs" that is a great resource for both freelance and full time magazine jobs.

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing:
J.A.Konrath is a thriller-writer who isn't the least bit shy about sharing his opinions on the best way to seek out traditional publishers, as well as those for self-publishing ebooks. He also offers an array of good writing-related resources.

Writer Beware Blog:
This is a writing watchdog who tracks, exposes, and raises awareness about scammers and the other many questionable activities in and around the publishing industry. A good place to visit, to see what is the latest "worry spot" in our business.

Stephie Smith's Writers' Resources:
There aren't any articles here, just links to everything imaginable concerned with writing. They are all broken down by category, including a list of resources especially valuable to writers of historical fiction. ( That's me, guys!)

Once Written:
This site gives a lot of solid information, writing prompts, contests, and allows writers an opportunity to have their books reviewed.

Pimp My Novel:
This is one site that many of you already know about, but it's worth repeating here. It is authored by a publishing sales rep who gives the inside scoop on what happens to books after they've been acquired. Be sure to check out the Profit & Loss ( P&L) series, which tells about a little-known aspect of how book publishing really works.

Resources for Children's Writers:  www.resourcesforchildren'
Rachelle Burk's site links to hundreds of articles for children's writers who are trying to improve their writing skills, network with other writers, and get published and sell their work. It's a great site for us!

Mystery Writing Is Murder:
Mystery writer Elizabeth Spann Craig uses her blog for good, not evil...except when she is explaining how to craft antagonists.

Murder By 4:
Great tips on writing the thriller genre by four masters of suspense.

Don't be afraid to check out some of the sites about genres you haven't thought of writing. You might find just the spark you need to step out of your comfort zone and try something new!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday's Meanderings: The Remarkable, Wonderful, Frustrating World of Websites

Do you ever wander from one writing website to another, looking for information, help, advice, ideas? Do you ever get frustrated because nothing seems to be just what you are looking for? For the next couple of posts, I'm going to give you some of the best websites I've come across in the years I've been writing. Most of these came from the  Writer's Digest "101 Best Websites," but I've used many in the past, and have found them useful, humorous, and sometimes, just plain frustrating. I hope you find some you can enjoy.

Grammar Girl:
We can all use a little help with grammar from time to time, and this is a good place to get that help.

Long, Story Short: An E-Zine for Writers:
These editors offer great writing tips and personally reply to every author who contacts them for writing and publishing advice.

Plot Whisperer for Writers & Readers:
A great place for help and tips on writing plots.

Easy Street Promps:
If you're having trouble getting your muse to come back from her vacation, this is the place for you. Lots of picture prompts and video story-starters.

Six Sentences:
For those of you who can "write short," something I can't seem to do. Here you can submit a six sentence story and take a chance on getting published.

Agent Query:
I've used this off and on for a couple of years, just got serious with it this year. If you're looking for an agent, this is the place to come. There is a lot you can do for free, but if you're seriously looking, pay the annual fee of $40, because it is well worth it.

Babbles from Scott Eagan:
Scott Eagan is the founder of Greyhaus Literary Agent, and writes multiple columns on querying tips, defining your genre, the pros and cons of social media, and much more. It's worth checking out.

Fundsfor Writers:
A great site if you're looking for money, grants, contests, awards, and markets. Hope Clark is an editor and her free email newsletter is a good one.

Slush Pile Hell:
What more needs to be said?! The tag line is "One grumpy literary agent, a sea of query fails, and other publishing nonsense." Check it out!

That's all for now, I'll have a few more in the next post.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wednesday's Wandering: Bookstores, Or The Lack Thereof

My daughter was up visiting all of last week, and one day we went down the mountain to our local mall...such as it is. We wandered through the shops, did a little buying, and as we walked down the sidewalk ( we don't have the luxury of an inclosed mall), we passed a large... and empty...building. She asked me about it, and I told her it once was a beautiful bookstore... one of Border's Bookstores. We walked over to the windows and looked in. Empty. Deserted. Not even the bookshelves were left. Another window looked in on the small cafe where I had sat for many an hour, drinking coffee, talking to my husband as we both leafed through the myriad of magazines available. Gone were the tables, the chairs, even the glass-front cabinet where the "goodies" had lain in all their delectable glory. It was so sad.

Bookstores are becoming a relic of our society. Everywhere you look, the wonderful buildings that have for so long been home to literally miles of books are now standing empty. Their shelves are crumbling, the floors are filthy with dirt, crushed out cigarettes, and remnants of rotting food workers didn't bother to throw away. Their glass fronts, once so clean and shiny, are now home to dust bunnies and spiders busily spinning their webs. All that is left are the ghosts of the characters which once peopled their many books, remaining behind to sigh and whisper their laments.

The closing of so many bookstores seems to be symbolic of the coming ( or already here) changes in our literary world. Ebooks and their accompaning readers, the Kindle, the Nook, the iPad, and so on, are encroaching upon the written word at a speed approaching that of light...or so it appears. It is causing a major upheaval in the way we read books, and are able to publish books.

I have a Kindle, and many books on it, but I will always prefer to read the printed word. I love strolling down the aisles of a bookstore, stopping to admire the cover of a book, picking up another to read the jacket flap, still another to flip through the pages, until finally I decide upon the one ( or several) to buy. I love the smell of books, and the feel of holding one in my hands. I enjoy turning the pages by hand, placing a pretty bookmark between them when I have to stop reading and return to something I should be doing instead... like writing.

Those pleasures are rapidly being taken away from me and everyone who enjoys a "real" book. Is the convenience of having 500 to 1,000 books ( given that you can afford them) ready and waiting in a small 8" x 5" electronic reader really more important, more enjoyable, than being able to linger leisurely among the stacks of books, as you decide which one to buy? Well, not for me!  And I suspect, not for a few thousand others... at least.

Ebooks and digitalization are becoming the "buzz" words of the future, except... the future is now. Even traditional book publishers are opening small sections of their business to begin publishing electronic books. Many new and smaller publishers are open only to ebook publishing, and others specify they will publish in print only those books which do well in ebook format first.

Another trend that is becoming fashionable is self-publishing in the ebook format, or in ebooks that are POD. While there are several reputable ways to do this, there are also many scam artists out there who are out for your money and nothing more. Self-publishing in any format has always been the "stepchild" of publishing, and those who wish to take that route must now be all the more diligent in finding an honest and reputable way of doing that with ebooks.

For me, ebooks will always be a poor second choice, for both reading and publishing.  I always seek out the bookstores, even though now most of them are of the "second-hand and antique book" variety!  Still, it's far better than not having one at all.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wednesday's Wandering: Writing MG/YA Fiction That Sells

Today's blog concerns a workshop I took at a Writer's Conference in September. The presenter was Jonathan Maberry, a multipublished author of teen and middle grade fiction. Please check out his website at:

I think we all have trouble sometimes deciding if our story is for "middle grade" or "young adult." I keep seeing publishers who claim that YA is from age 12 to 18. As a parent and grandparent, I know there is a big difference between the emotional/mental maturity of a 12 or 13 year-old, and a kid who is 16, 17, and older. Therefore, some stories aimed at the later teens are not appropriate for early teens, and those for early teens the older kids wouldn't want to read.

Mr. Maberry has broken down the age groups in very much the same way I would, and I was glad to see I wasn't the only one who felt like this! His break-down is:
Middle Grade =  8 to 12 years
Younger YA   =  12 to 15 years
Older YA        =  15 to 17 years

I don't think he mentioned it, but I assume he figures 18 and up is adult.

There is more money right now in YA than there is in adult books, which came as a surprise. More YA books are being sold, and are bringing in better royalites. The biggest seller is for the younger YA, 12 to 15 years.  They are given the biggest print run, and there is no limit to genre or a mixture of genres, but there are fewer appropriate themes than for the older group.

Kids read up, especially in the middle grades, but that doesn't mean writing for them in the same vein as writing for the YA groups. No heavy romance, or sex, or hard horror books for this age group. Most MG novels run from 20,000 to 40,000 words, and CAN bring as much as $60,000 for new authors. Steam punk is selling well, but he says historical fiction is not. That part I would debate him on, as I'm getting the opposite information from agents.
There are more themes available to write about in the 15 to 17 year-old YA, such as drugs, sex, abuse, abortions, gangs, anorexia-type themes, rape, and etc.     Many YA are now heavily into romance, which can range from the hand-holding, first kisses to those who steam up the pages a bit with more sex.

Boys, however, are not reading the older YA, which presents an open door for those who want to write for the older YA boys. Anyone who can write a good multi-cultural story with a strong boy protagonist, or a Western with a strong boy protagonist would automatically be a good sell.

When Mr. Mabeery was asked if there is still a market for vampires, he replied that werewolves were probably a better seller, and some unique version of a werewolf would be great. The example he gave was: A boy comes from South America and becomes, not a werewolf, but a werejaguar.

That example stirred the room up a bit!  However, this was a real happening in South American folklore.

Most of the houses are looking for series for both middle grade and young adult. They want two to three books in each series, but each one must be a "stand alone" book.  He suggested saying something in a query about the manuscript was a single story but with a series potential.

He said that libraries are buying more books than school systems, due to the budget cuts. However, in my state, libraries have been cut as much as the schools, so even they are not buying new books. He also mentioned that audio books were selling well in both schools and libraries. I would liked to have had him discuss ebooks for these age groups but there wasn't time. With so much controversy surrounding ebooks right now...are they for kids or not...that subject would probably make a whole new workshop, anyway!

In his closing remarks, Mr. Maberry said one of the most important... and ... and necessary... things you can do as a writer is to have a one sentence pitch that gives an accurate idea of what your book is about. That brought a groan from the audience, as we all know how difficult it is to sum up 20,000 to 50,000 words in one sentence, even when the one sentence is 2 or 3 lines long!

I hope this has given a bit of new insight into what writing for teens and middle grade kids is all about.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday's Fare: Review of Millicent Min, Girl Genius

Today I'm going to review a book much lighter in vein than recent ones. It is a book to read for fun, to relieve a hard day at work or serious writing, or even just because you don't have anything else on hand to read. Whatever your reason, it is, first, a book you will laugh about, and second, a book you SHOULD read if you're writing anything for girls aged 9 to 14.

Millicent Min is an eleven year old genius. She began kindergarten at the age of three and now, at eleven, she is in the eleventh grade in high school, is taking a college advanced poetry class, and is looking forward to being a full time college student before she enters her teens. She has appeared on television seven times, and has been the subject of six articles on highly gifted children.

The first sentence of this book---"I have been accused of being anal retentive, an over-achiever, and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things"---perfectly sets the stage and captures the unique voice of this charming and amusing story.

Millicent must spend the summer between awaiting the start of her last year in high school. Unfortunately,  she has the social and athletic skills of a gnat, and consequently, has no friends her own age, or even of high school age. She has no trouble in espousing her knowledge about any and all subjects, so anyone who might be considered her peer tends to shy away from her. She spends her spare time with her grandmother, who often gives advice she has gained from watching her favorite TV show, Kung Fu.

Her parents decide she must have a more well-rounded life, so they sign her up for summer volleyball at the high school, something that Millicent says "It reminds me of kindergarten--something I tried but was just not suited for." Even
 more horrendous, her mother informs her that she is to tutor Stanford Wong, son of a family friend. Millicent would rather go back to elementary school than take on the task of trying to teach this annoying and totally obnoxious boy anything, but she has no choice.

Her first day of volleyball practice turns out as badly as she expected it to, but she does meet Emily Ebers, a new girl in town her own age, and who hates volleyball as much as Millicent. They become friends, but Millicent goes to great lengths to hide her mental capabilities, fearing that like everyone else, if Emily finds out Millicent is a genius, she will dump her. Needless to say, this deception leads to comic disaster, especially when Emily  runs into Millicent and Stanford at the library, and Stanford immediately tells Emily HE is the one tutoring Millicent. There is more than one hilarious complication resulting from the Emily-Millicent-Stanford trio.

To be expected, Emily accidentally finds out about Millicent's IQ, and true to form, she dumps her. However, this is not because Millicent is a genius, as she believes, but because Emily is hurt that Millicent didn't think their friendship was strong enough for her to tell Emily the truth. Now Millicent is faced with a problem she can't solve as easily as she does any academic test question. How can she earn back Emily's trust and friendship?

There are several colorful characters in Millicent's life, including her down-to-earth mother, her very laid-back father, and of course, her often out-in-left-field grandmother. Her interactions with her family, with Emily and Stanford, and her journey to the discovery that true friendship, trust, and the acceptance of herself and others is something not measured by IQ but by one's inner spirit make for an engaging and heartfelt story. It deserves an A+ by any grading system, and a place of honor on your bookshelf.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thursday's Thoughts: The Power of Protest

Today I'm going a little off the subject of writing to talk about something that is really important to me. That is the Power of Protest. The last couple of weeks, the media has indulged itself in the protests that have FINALLY come over the corruption and greed that has manifested and ingrained itself in Wall Street, and the fact that 2% of the population in the United States holds the wealth of this country in their money-grubbing hands.

For the last couple of years, I have ranted and raved ( just ask my husband, he'll tell you!) about the sad complaisance of the American people who are allowing this country to be driven into the ground by incompetent governing...specifically the last administration. I have asked over and over, rhetorically, of course, WHY people, especially the young people, can't get up off their rears, stop watching the boob tube, stop playing video games and texting, and DO SOMETHING! Don't they realize the POWER OF PROTEST? Apparently not.

So let's go back to the early 1960s for a moment. Many of you who read my blog weren't even born then, but that's okay... maybe you need an education into what protesting can do. The 1960s Protests were NOT all about the VietNam War... those came later in the '60s and the early '70s. The early 60s protests were about some of the most important elements in American society which were still frozen in the 19th Century.

Those elements were about RIGHTS. They began with Student Rights to Free Speech.  This concerned the right of students belonging to different political groups to have their meetings on campus, and to speak freely in newsletters and on the open Commons grounds about their beliefs. They won.

Then there Women's Rights. They, too, began with the rights of women on college campuses to cohabitate with their boyfriends. It seems that most of the college Deans thought it was their responsibility to determine the sexual activity of women, but men could do as they pleased. After protest signs, marches, newsletters, etc., women were given the same rights on campuses around the country as men.  But it didn't stop at the college. Protests began all over the country about women's rights in the work place,  equal pay for equal work, the home, in schools as teachers, and everywhere else that women played a role.  They won, too.

Protest marches began on Washington, DC, protesting for Civil Rights. Do you remember the four African Americans who went into a restaurant only for "white people" and staged a sit-down? Do you remember a woman by the name of Rosa Parks? Do you remember the first African American students allowed to enter an all-white school, and who had to do so under the protection of the National Guard? Perhaps not, but all of these incidents came about because of the POWER OF PROTEST, and led to the greater Civil Rights of all minority people in the US.

Protest songs became the hit version of the "Hot List" today. Bob Dylan's Blowin' In The Wind, a song of protest against the VietNam War; Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come, about Civil Rights for African Americans; Pete Seegar's Turn! Turn! Turn!, whose lyrics were taken from passages in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible; and his most iconic song, and one of the most powerful songs ever written, We Shall Overcome. And we can't forget the songs of Jimi Hendrix and Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and many others.

Any time any one of their many songs is sung, it invokes memories of the many hundreds, and often thousands, of men and women who stood together, holding hands, and facing the barrage of police dogs, tear gas,  and fire hoses in order to hold true to their beliefs about the wrongs of this society, and in the Power of Protest.

Protest marches, signs, songs, meetings, all came together in the 1960s and '70s to convince the American government that the time for change had come, and it was NOW.  Not in six months or a year, not when the next administration took office, it was NOW. The POWER OF PROTEST took effect, and change began...slowly, to be sure, but it began and it began at once.

Are you satisfied with the condition of our country today? Are you at all concerned about the fact that the country is on the verge of bankruptcy; that our schools are letting teachers by the hundreds go because of state budget cuts... what is this going to do to teachers trying to educate 40 and 50 students in one class, when it was difficult enough with 30? There are too many things wrong with our society today to even think of listing them, but you know them as well as I do. But one of the main things to be concerned about is the children of today: those who are homeless, who can't go to school because the district requires a permanent residence address, who are starving because their parents have no jobs and no money... starving in a country that was once the richest in the world. Wall Street and the millionaires have become the monsters of our society. These are only a few of the societal ills which infect all of us.

So where have the protesters gone? Where are the signs, the marches, the letters and newsletters of protest? Where are the PROTEST SONGS? I'm not young enough to be involved in this any more ( I once was, however), but if you will do your research, you will see that the power of protest is the only thing that is going to turn this country around. It has worked in the past, it WILL work in the present. The Power of Protest is still as viable and influential today as it was fifty-some years ago, but it has to be applied.

To bring this rant back to writing, think about what it would do for all of us if the economy blossomed again. More publishing houses would get back on their feet; more editors would be hired; more agents would have more money to hire assistants and first readers;  and WE could sell more of our work, and get paid better money.

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday's Meanderings: Review of Chains

I usually do book reviews on Fridays, but this Friday I will probably be gone all day, so I decided to do one today. I just finished reading...actually, re-reading... Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson. This is a 'must read' for anyone who enjoys historical fiction. It is a middle grade level novel.

In the spring of 1776, 13 year-old Isabel and her 5 year-old sister Ruth, who is prone to "fits" ( seizures), were sold by the unscrupulous nephew of their present owner, Miss Mary, when she dies. Their new owners are ruthless, cruel, and wealthy Loyalists who live in New York.  Almost as soon as she gets off the boat, Isabel is accosted by a friendly young slave named Curzon, who has considerably more freedom than Isabel will have in her new home. Curzon plays a role in helping the soldiers of the American Revolution, and begs Isabel to, literally, become a spy. She refuses because of her fear of being found out by her new owners, whom she already knows are cruel and unfeeling towards their slaves.

However, after her little sister Ruth is sold in the middle of the night while Isabel sleeps, she is again approached by rebels who promise to give her freedom if she agrees to spy. She uses her "cloak of invisibility" which whites unwittingly give to their slaves, and listens in on the conversations of her owner, Master Lockton, as he and his Tory friends make plans to stop the rebel uprisings. She sees the place where Lockton hides a document that he and the others, including the mayor, have signed, that would definitely cause him to be arrested. That night, she steals into his library, finds the document, and takes it to the rebel commander.

That act of espionage, however, does not lead to freedom for her or any promise to find the missing Ruth, which then leads Isabel to distrust the Americans as well as the British.

This book is full of exciting events, too many to discuss here, but it is more than the events of Isabel's life which make the story to engrossing. This is a story about slavery...but not in the South, as most novels about slavery are, but in the very heart of the North, New York City. How was it different here, than in the South? The answer is that the institution of slavery was the same everywhere, only the duties of the slaves were different. In the South, they labored on plantations; in the North, they labored in their Mistresses' bedrooms and kitchens, and served their Masters in many ways, sometimes unspeakable.

This is the story of one thirteen year old slave who could read and write, and who was strong, intellegent, intuitive, loving, emotionally mature, and above all, fiercely determined to be free and find her lost sister and free her, also.

But it's more than that. It's a story of what slavery was like in the 1770s in the British dominated North;  a story where the British could be seen as the "good guys", if there is such a thing in a war... when both sides believe they are right, what constitutes the "good" over the "bad?" It is a story where history, morality, and a sense of right over wrong meld into the most minute details and sensory perceptions, and make this story come alive, putting the reader into history itself of 200 years ago.

Chains is a remarkable book, made all the more so by the careful way Anderson weaves the themes of powerlessness, sadistic ownership, invisibility, morality, the sources of human hope and strength, and the overwhelming desire for freedom together to make a fascinating story you won't be able to put down.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wednesday's Wanderings: Blogging No No's

Monday's blog was all about the "what to do" in blogging that I learned from one of my conference workshops over the weekend. Today I'm going to talk about the "what not to do" in blogging.  The workshop I attended was taught by Anne R. Allen, who has a great blog on writing and publishing, so stop by and visit hers.


1. Ignore comments. Sometimes we get to involved in our own writing that we forget to read, much less respond to, the comments that people leave after a post. This is a must respond! If you ignore those comments, people will think "Why bother? she probably doesn't even read them." It's not only respectful to respond, but it's also a good way to stimulate discussions.

2. "Crying in the wilderness."  This was good for a laugh! Anne says if no one is coming to visit your blog, go find others that interest you and LEAVE COMMENTS! People aren't going to automatically know you have a blog... you have to get the word out yourself. As she said, Social Networking is SOCIAL, so use it to your advantage!

3. Using your blog as a personal journal. No one wants to look up your blog and read your personal thoughts ( usually bad ones) on how long you were stuck in traffic today!  Or how you had to stay home and miss lunch with the girls because of a sick kid. Sure, it's okay to throw in a personal tidbit once in a while, but if your blog is there for professional reasons, don't crowd your professionalism out with a lot of personal junk that is interesting to no one but you.

4. Complain about rejections, agents, editors, and bad reviews. Oh, my! This is another of those BIGGIES! You never know when agents and editors just might decide to take a break from the slush pile and check out your name...and blog. Even if you're not complaining about them specifically, the fact that you ARE complaining is very unprofessional and that will turn them off quicker than a bad query. Ok, we all post about our rejections...after all, misery loves company! But DO NOT EVER put a name or any kind of identifying "characteristic" in your post. And if you can find a bit of humor in the whole thing, post's better to laugh than to cry.

5. Posting unpublished works of any kind, if you ever hope to get them published.  Did you know that is infringing on your own copyright? I didn't, but Anne says it is. Posting a story, poem, or non-fiction for a critique, for example, is NOT the way to go. Join a critique group or get a beta reader, but don't rely upon the public. If your work can be read on your blog for free, why should an agent accept it for representation or an editor for publication?  Just DON'T DO IT!

Exception to the above: you can post short excerpts for blogfests and contests that connect you with other writers. "Short excerpts" = one or two paragraphs.

6. Not linking to other blogs. Don't be afraid to send your readers off to read someone else. It's another way to start discussions, and links raise your Google profile.

7. Blogging too often and/or erratically. If you have nothing to say, don't say it! One or two posts a week is plenty, and doesn't interrupt your writing time. Remember that novel you're writing...the one you need your blog to promote? Go work on it instead of posting just to be posting! Don't be erratic about your posting, keep to a schedule, even if it is only once a week. Keep the same day or days, and don't skip around. ( er...I need to take my own advice!) If you take a break from blogging, that's fine but let your followers know that's what is happening.

8. WHITE TEXT ON DARK BACKGROUNDS!  Another biggie! Every "how to blog" article says never use white text on a dark background, but many of the blogs you visit have this. This is SOOO hard on the eyes! No matter how "pretty" you think it is, it is not cool, it is a sure "go away" sign.

9. Forgetting the #1 Rule of blogging. Want followers? Follow! Want comments? Comment! No one is going to follow you if you don't follow them, or comment on your blog if you never comment on theirs. This is Social Networking, gang, get it?

My thanks to Anne for a great workshop. If she visits me, I hope I've quoted her correctly. If not, I apologize. Her blog is:

I also hope these tips about what to do and what not to do in blogging have been helpful to my readers, and that y'all have learned something new!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday's Meanderings: Do You Know How to Blog?

This weekend I went to a conference, and one of the workshops I took was titled " Blogging: A Must For a Writer."  The presenter was Anne R. Allen, who has a writing.  When I was signing up for the workshops, I hesitated about hers because I already have a blog, but then I decided I could always use some new tips on blogging.  Her information was solid and helpful, so I'm going to pass along some of it to you.


1. Read other blogs and comment, comment, comment! That is one way to get your name out, besides making the blog author feel good. Always leave your own blog address in your comment, then those who read the comments can find you. She also said it was important to respond to the people who leave comments on your blog.

2. Your name should always be in the title of your blog. "Cutesy" titles relating to writing, or to your family, or to your dog, are great if you are not concerned about readers, editors, publishers, and agents finding you on the Internet. But if you are blogging seriously, with the intent of making your presence as a writer known, then your blog absolutely has to have YOUR NAME in the title. She talked about how search engines look for new names in any, writing/publishing, medicine, etc... and if your name is not in the title of your blog, you can't be found by anyone.

3.  Publishers, editors, and agents DO look at blogs. If you've had an acceptance from a query, even if it's only for a partial, the publisher or editor or agent will probably look you up on the Internet, especially if you've given the name of your blog in your personal information. If your name is not in the title of your blog, this is not going to make a great impression, even if your blog is well-written. Putting your name in the title is the number one thing to do with your blog.  (Great...only my first name is on the address of my blog, and my name isn't on the title at all. Guess that means I have to change it...can you do that with Blogger?)

4. Use many as possible. This was an interesting comment. I've never used tags, didn't know they were important at all. She said that the tags, again, were a way for Google and other search engines to find you. You should tag the name of anyone mentioned in your blog post, as well as the main topics of your post. Anne called it Search Engine Optimization! Something else I need to start doing!

5. Keep to a schedule! Anne suggested once a week, and on the same day each week. She said that if you have nothing to say, DON'T POST! This was mainly for people who are new to blogging, but she was insistent about how you needed to have something of worth to post about, not just post because you're taking a break from writing, and can't think of anything else to occupy your time!

6. Anne talked about privacy settings, and said you should turn off Word Verification, because it does NOT prevent spammers, and it's annoying to most who come to leave comments. I definitely agree about that, I hate those dumb things! She also said that comments over a week all should be sent to you for approval, because old ones attract spam.

7. She talked about how your blog should look. She suggested using only a very few pictures, and NO MUSIC! You should definitely have an "about me" page, and she also suggested other "gadgets" such as "followers," "subscribe," "share," and "search."  Blogger now has pages you can add as well as the gadgets, so that's a big plus.

These were all the "positive" or "should do" tips Anne gave. My next post will be about all the "negative" or "should not do" tips. Stay tuned!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wednesday's Wandering: What Do You Celebrate?

True to form, I'm running behind in my posts. Let's see, I tried to come up with an excuse, but couldn't find any that sounded legitimate, so let's try this one :

I'm going to a conference this weekend, and I've been trying to finish an article to submit next week, write a synopsis of the 60,000 word historical novel I would like to find an agent for, and making up new business cards because I waited too long to have them made for me.  Will that do??

Hmm.  Well, okay, let's get to the business at hand!

What do you celebrate? I mean, besides the usual birthdays and anniversaries. Last week I celebrated the fact that my husband, who has been very ill, is now well on his way to recovery. I know this to be true because he's now getting grouchy, can't stand to "take it easy," so that's a sure sign of wellness! I celebrated by going to Starbucks and getting us both a Grande Caramel Frappachino with extra caramel LOL.

Sunday we both celebrated the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Now, don't get upset. You probably think "celebrate" is exactly the wrong word to use. We lost friends that day, friends who were visiting the Towers when the planes hit. We have grieved over their deaths long enough. Sunday we celebrated their lives, who they were, the kind of people they were, what they stood for, the strength, love, dedication to their family... all of the good qualities they had, and there were many. This is what we celebrated.  We raised a toast ( okay, it was coffee, but still...) not to their deaths, but to their lives.  We are bound to the thousands of friends and families of those who died that day, but for us, it was time to gently lay aside our personal grief and remember the good, instead of focusing on the bad.

Yesterday I celebrated an agent's rejection! When I opened my email yesterday morning, and found a post from her, I was so excited! Then I read it, and my excitement deflated faster than a balloon with a hole in it. I was so disappointed, as she was someone I really wanted to connect with.

Then I read her post again, and thought...WOW! It was personal, addressed to "Dear Mikki." In it, she said that she liked my story ( it was my historical novel) but didn't "fall in love" with it, so she was passing on it. She went on to say not to give up, that what one agent didn't love another one would. Keep writing!

Now, I don't know about you, but to me that rejection was something to keep, and something to celebrate! How many times do we get a really personal rejection? How many times do we get a cold form rejection? How many times do we not get anything at all, and after months of waiting, have to assume we've been passed by?

Yes, this was my very first personal rejection. NOT my first rejection by any means, but the first really personal one. So I am celebrating it! I'm telling everyone I know all about it, even those friends and family members who look at me strangely and wonder if maybe I've lost a few marbles.  Okay, I know no one but my writer friends will understand, but that's all right, it still doesn't put a damper on my celebration.

What will I celebrate today? Perhaps getting my new business cards made up... if I do. Or finishing that synopsis to take along to the conference... if I can finish it so that it makes sense. Or who knows? Hopefully, I WILL have something to celebrate today, even if it is just some small accomplishment that doesn't mean anything to anyone but me.

What do you celebrate? Think about it. Let me know.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Monday's Meanderings: Random Acts of Kindness?

Saturday I was driving down the freeway, minding my own business, when up ahead I noticed a car waiting...and the on-ramp. I was in the right lane, no traffic at the moment behind me or in the left lane, but cars ahead of me wouldn't let this car onto the freeway. I never stop on the freeway to let a car come on, and I seldom slow down, either, because there's usually traffic behind me. But this time, something said...slow down and let the car on. I checked cars close behind me... so I slowed down just a bit and motioned for the driver to come ahead.

The driver was a woman, who waved cheerily at me as she came onto the freeway just ahead of my car. As we picked up speed, three kids in the back seat of her car all stuck their heads out of the back window... for a moment looking like those "bobble heads" you see on dashboards... and started blowing kisses to me. What a pleasant surprise! I laughed at them, and blew a kiss back.

Then her car picked up speed, as in about 15 miles above the 65 mph limit, and she abruptly turned into the left lane right in front of a big truck. She almost gave me a heart attack, because it was an 18-wheeler who had to brake for her. He probably sat uncomfortably in his britches for the next few miles!  It was then that I saw all three of those kids bobbing around in the back seat, and realized they did not have their seat belts on.  The mother did, I saw it. Why didn't they?

I could see her car up ahead...a bright yellow Taurus, kinda hard to miss... and could see her reeling in and out of traffic, from one lane to the other, until she finally disappeared from view...still going at about 80 to 85 mph. I couldn't stand it... I didn't want to read the next day about a woman and her three children being injured or dead in a car accident. I pulled over to the shoulder, stopped, and called 911. All I could give the dispatcher was the make, model, and color of her car, but also how fast she was going and that the children didn't have on seat belts. She sent it out to the CHPs.

The rest of the way home I was thinking about that car. I had slowed down on the freeway to let her get on... something that ordinarily I wouldn't have done, because it's not exactly safe driving. A "random act of kindness." That got me to thinking about "random acts of kindness."  We all do them. Most of the time, we do them without thinking about the act itself, so I guess that's why they are called "random."

I wonder, though, what effect that act, whatever it was, has upon the person who receives that little bit of kindness. Does it affect them in any way? Does it make them want to "pay it forward," or do they forget it as quickly as it was done?

My letting that car on the freeway was of no  importance as to how the woman was driving or why her children didn't have on seatbelts. She would still have eventually gotten on, and she would still have begun driving fast and erratically. But I wonder if she gave any thought at all to having someone actively "allow" her on the freeway? I wonder if she considered it an act of kindness, or... did she simply consider it her "due" because she needed to get on, therefore I "should" have slowed down for her? If I had not slowed down, would sitting there a few moments longer have had any impact on her driving? I seriously doubt it.

Nevertheless, it got me to thinking about the concept of 'random acts of kindness.' How often do you commit this kind of random act? Are you aware at the time that you are doing something for someone else, or is it just a passing thought that doesn't have any real meaning for you, but at the moment you hope it will help someone else? How many times are the acts of kindness you pass along to someone really "random," and how many times are they deliberate? Either way, do you ever think about the effect that act might have upon the person receiving it? Will it always be good... or could that act possibly lead, at times, to something more evil than good?

Think about it. Let me know.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday's Teaser: Create a Setting That's "In Character":Part Two

Last week I talked about using all five senses in your setting, and how that can add to your overall scene. But what else is important in creating a setting for your characters?

The first thing to think about is where the major part of your story takes place. Is it in a fictional town, fantasy world, alien planet? Is it in the desert or a forest or the middle of a city?  When you know where it takes place, then answer this question: is it possible for it to take place somewhere else?

Before you answer THAT question, think about your Main Character's relationship to the setting: is this a place where she grew up or someplace that she relocated to; is it a place she loves or fears or perhaps just takes for granted; is she familiar with it, or does it seem strange or alien to her; if you take her out of this setting and put her somewhere else, will the story still work? Sometimes we need to know more about our main characters before we decide where to set the story. It usually doesn't work to decide upon a place where we want to set the story, and then go back and work our characters into it.

Now you've decided definitely upon the place for your setting. How do you bring it to life? Think about this: you're on vacation. You've gone to wonderful little fishing village on the coast of France that you've longed to visit. What are your feelings when you get there? What sensory overload do you enjoy...the piquant odor of freshly caught fish on open tables, the taste of ocean salt upon your lips, the rough texture of the cobblestone streets beneath your feet, the deep blue of the sea, dotted heavily by the white sails of fishing boats, and the hungry cries of circling sea birds overhead? 

What emotions are you experiencing during your visit? How do you react to the people, the language? Are you familiar with them, or is everything so new that it either intrigues you or frightens you? This is what brings this village to life for you, and these same elements should bring the setting to life for your characters.

And remember, how your MC reacts to the setting she's in, the emotions she feels, the way she might describe what she sees or hears or feels will not be the same for your other characters. Just as we all act and react differently to all issues in our lives, including those that are specific to the setting we're in, so will your characters act, interact, and react differently.

When you're describing your setting, don't think you have to suddenly become a travel writer, and describe every house, tree, or flower in minute detail. What you want to do is bring your setting to life through your characters, especially your main character. For example, my historical novel is set in pre-Civil War Kentucky. Because it is historical, all of the physical facts ( geography, weather, kinds of housing, clothing, etc. ) have to be accurately portrayed, but there is more to bringing a setting to life than those factors. I've included parts of speech, expressions and colloquialisms, that were used during those times; what kind of family discussions were appropriate for that era; how my MC interacted with his father, which is much different than the way kids interact with parents today; what kinds of inner conflicts my MC had because of where he was, his own beliefs, and the beliefs and conventions of the institution of slavery.

These factors, and more, all add to the historical accuracy of that era, but more importantly, bring the setting of slavery on a plantation to life through the emotions, actions, interactions, and reactions of my MC with his environment...i.e..the setting of the novel.

Your setting does not have to be that of an historical novel. No matter what time era it is, no matter whether it is a contemporary setting in today's world, or a fantasy setting in a never-never land, you still need to bring that setting to life. You  need to make good use of the five senses; you need to have a great descriptive narrative; most of all, you need to develop a strong 'sense of place' through your characters, and how each feels about and reacts to that setting. Each one will be different, and each of those differences will bring your setting to life in such a way as to make your readers believe they are a part of it.

Have fun with it, enjoy it, make it come alive, and your setting will become its own  character in your novel.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Friday's Fare: Review of Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

Middle school! The time in any kid's life when he or she really, truly, begins to "grow up". But growing up means dealing with problems not usually found in elementary school: changes in one's body; changes in one's personality, usually steming from said changes in one's body; homework which increases both in terms of quantity and difficulty; attraction to girls, along with things like dances, sports, and cheerleading; grades, which are definitely more important than they were during the past 5 years in school; and of course, the seemingly ever present bully.

All of these things can be really tough on any kid, but when Rafe Khatchadorian enters 6th grade, "tough" becomes "impossible to survive."  He hates his school, which he insists was at one time a medieval prison that they forgot to tear down and turned into a middle school instead.

 Today that prison is home to the Diabolical Dragon Lady ( his English teacher); the Lizard King ( the principal); the Three Witches Millie, Billie, and Tillie ( the cafeteria ladies); Sargeant Stricker ( the vice-principal); The Ogre ( the gym teacher ); and..oh yes, we mustn't forget Miller the Killer, the ( 9 foot ) school bully.

Unfortunately for Rafe, home is no refuge, either. Here he deals with his little sister Georgia who is "super-obnoxious" and "super bratty;" his mother whom he loves dearly but is never around because she is always working . She has to work double shifts to support not only him, his sister, and herself, but also Rafe's soon-to-be-stepfather who does nothing but lay around all day, drinking beer and watching TV.  Carl, better known as Bear, is in his own way as big a bully as Miller the Killer.

The one saving grace for Rafe is his very best friend, Leonardo the Silent. "The Silent" because he hardly ever talks, and when he does it's just to Rafe.  Leo comes in very handy, however, because he gives Rafe an idea of how to "beat the system" of 26 pages of RULES for middle school behavior. It is a stupendous idea!

Rafe  invents a game based on Leo's idea. That game is going to give him points for breaking every rule of conduct on each of those 26 pages. All Rafe has to do is figure out the best way for each rule to be broken.  He also get "bonus" points for the amount of creativity used in breaking a rule, points for causing laughter from the other kids when he breaks a rule ( because he intends to break each one in a most obvious way, so that everyone...including the Dragon Lady and the Lizard King...knows about it), and of course, MORE bonus points if he is observed by the most popular girl in school, Jeanne Galletta.

But things don't turn out exactly as Rafe has planned.  He is spending more and more time in detention, his grades are D's and F's...even some unasked-for tutoring by Jeanne can't bring them up, and he makes his mom cry.  Events take a turn for the worse when he loses his book with his rule-breaking game in it to Miller the Killer, and the only way he can get it back is to buy it, one page at a time.  So now he is in even bigger trouble, something he didn't think possible, and this time, Leo can't get him out of it.

His troubles just keep mounting up until finally the police are called in, and Rafe has no choice but to tell all.  Surprisingly enough, help comes from a most unexpected source, and Rafe realizes that life can not only get better, but be far more exciting by going in a totally different he loved, but never thought would amount to anything.

This is the hilarious and amazing adventure of one boy's misguided attempts to survive middle school. James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts teamed up to make a fascinating graphic novel, all the more exciting because of Laura Park's hysterical illustrations which detail every thought and move in Rafe's life.

The game that Rafe invented to break all the rules and the ways in which he broke them are delightfully imaginative, even though they sometimes border on dangerous, and inevitably, lead him to pay the consequences of his actions. Nevertheless, you will identify with him, probably remember with great clarity some of your most poignant moments in middle school, and you will undoubtedly laugh out loud with each page you turn.

The most tender and emotional moment in the book is the revealing of Rafe's mysterious friend, Leo. After laughing all through the book unil your sides hurt, this revelation will bring tears to your eyes.

Middle School: the Worst Years of My Life is one of the best kids' book I've ever read, one I will most probably read again, and one which I assure you should be on your list of 'next to buy.' You won't regret it...oh yes, and if you have a boy ( or girl) in or getting ready to go into middle school, be sure you let them read it, too!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuesday's Teaser: Create a Setting That's "In Character":Part One

What does the setting of your story say about the story itself, and more importantly, about your main character? Do you give much thought to the setting, or is it something that just "happens" as you go along?

Every character in your story lives, works, plays, cries, laughs, and thinks someplace. They don't just drift in and out of the story from out of the blue. Your MC doesn't live in some vague dimension where there is no sense of time, of space, atmosphere, or weather. She doesn't walk on air; she doesn't sit on nothing, and her five senses are not totally inactive for the length of your story.

Let's talk about those five senses first. As writers, we all rely heavily on sight, as that is our own human nature. When you use sight, what kind of description to you give? Let's say the MC is lost in the desert. Is that the end of it?  Perhaps you give the desert a name, talk about her dragging through the heavy sand. For example:

She stood on top of the dune and scanned the desert. She was lost, and she had no idea what to do next. All around her was sand, nothing but hot, deep sand. She brushed at the tears on her cheeks, and stepped resolutely forward.

That give us sight, but nothing more. We don't see or hear or smell or feel the desert. What about this next example:

 She stood on top of the dune and scanned the desert. There was nothing as far as she could see but the hot sand creating one mirage after another on the horizon. Overhead, the raucous cries of the turkey buzzards drifted down to her as they glided on the thermals in search of carrion. The slight breeze gifted her face with the red grit from the sand, and the unique odor of the creosote bushes was not one she could identify. A single tear crept down her cheek and kissed her lips with salt, before she brushed it away, and resolutely stepped forward into the deep sand.

Does this setting do more for the character? Do you get a sense of what SHE is feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling, and touching? Can you picture this location in your mind, and do so better than with the first example? If so, it is because this description uses all five senses, and it gives the reader two things: one is a true picture of the desert itself, and the other is a better understanding of  the character. She is no longer one dimensional, but she hears and smells and feels and tastes as well as sees...just like we do.

Using all five senses is very important to your story and to your characters. All five don't have to be used in every scene, and shouldn't be or that would be a real "sensory overload," but they should be interspersed, one or two at a time, as your characters go along in their lives, just as they are in our lives.

There are other elements to setting besides the five senses. Time, place, location, weather, atmosphere, housing, transportation, life style, culture, art, even food and clothing are all a part of the setting. Not all of these are going to play a part in every story, of course, but you need to pick and choose which elements are going to be important enough for you to write about.

In fantasy and science fiction, writers seem to spend a great deal of time writing about their make-believe worlds. They go to great lengths to describe physical locations, castles, rocket ships, weird animals, electronic weapons and gadgetry...anything to make the reader "see" this new world the characters are romping around in. 

Think about the Harry Potter novels. Weren't you able to "see" Hogwarts, and all of the characters in that first book long before the first movie came out? It was only because JK Rowlings spent a considerable amount of time in detailing the settings.

This should hold true for writers of contemporary fiction, too, but seldom does.  Yet setting is one of the most important elements of any story, regardless of genre or time era. How do you react to your environment? Do you act differently, feel differently, when you are in a familiar place versus somewhere strange you've never been before? Are you more observant of the places you are unfamiliar with than the ones you've grown up in? That is human nature, so it should be "in character" for our stories, too.

We'll talk about characters and settings in Part 2 of this theme. Stay tuned, hopefully I will be bringing you something new to think about!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday's Fare: Review of Theodore Boone: The Abduction

Theodore Boone: the Abduction is the second in John Grisham's series about a thirteen year-old boy-turned-lawyer...almost. Theo is the son of two attorneys and has grown up with the law. He fully expects to become a trial lawyer and then quite probably a famous judge when he is out of school. In the meantime, he tries dilegently to solve all the "legal" problems his friends and classmates have. He knows every attorney, law clerk, bailiff, and most of the judges in the town where he lives, and spends as much time as he can get away with in the courtroom when a trial is going on.

But all this knowledge doesn't help him one bit when his best friend, April Finnemore, disappears in the middle of the night. She is not the kind of kid to run away...the whole town agrees on this. But the house shows no signs of break-in, which means either she has run away, or she knows the person who took her, and let him in the house while she was alone.

Theo knows more about April than most anyone else: her father is an aging, wannabee rock star who is always off somewhere with the scudsy band he plays with, made up of other aging, drug-using wannabees who can't manage to score gigs in anything but seedy bars and run-down dance halls; her mother is very often not at home, as she wasn't on the night April went missing, she takes pills for everything that could possibly ail her, and April thinks she is losing her mind.

None of this matters when Jake Leeper appears on the scene. Jake is a convicted long-time criminal who has escaped from prison, and shows up in the small town of Strattenburg. When it comes to light that April had become his "pen pal" while he was in prison...why, no one knows...the police forget about anything but Jake and, when he is captured, making him tell them what he did to April. They are convinced he kidnapped her, but have no evidence of any kind to back that assumption up.

However, Theo is determined to find April himself, or find out what happened to her, so he and his next-best friend, Chase, take it upon themselves to, first of all, find April's father.  Once again, Theo goes to his Uncle Ike for help. Ike has gotten a note from someone who claims the band April's father is in, Plunder, is down in Raleigh, North Carolina, playing in bad bars and for college frat houses.

Theo and Chase begin tracking down all the fraternities and sororities in North Carolina on the Internet, calling the most likely ones, and finally track Plunder down to one location. Through much subterfuge and not-quite-little-white-lies, Theo gets Ike to "borrow" one of the family cars, while Theo's parents are out of town, and the two of them race to North Carolina, find the fraternity where the band is, find April who has run away, all right, but with her father and without her mother's knowledge, and bring April home.

To wind the story up: Jake Leeper is returned to prison, April's father and mother both promise to enter counseling and rehab, Theo's mother becomes April's temporary guardian until something either positive or negative happens with her family, and Theo is once again the hero of the day for finding April.

Okay. Once again Grisham has failed to write a convincing Middle Grade novel. Kids may like it, that's true, but from my perspective as a Middle Grade author, it fails miserably in many ways. Theo relies too heavily upon adults to help him, either with the solution to the problem, or help in carrying out the solution. His parents, Ike, and of course, Judge Gantry, are always heavily endowed as secondary characters.

The story drags. There is far too much dialogue that doesn't go anywhere, and that is more often between the adults in the story than between Theo and any other kid. There are pages and pages devoted to the police detectives, Slater and Capshaw, and their interrogations of Jake Leeper, and in which there is no Theo to be seen or heard from. Chapter Seven, for example, is a 10 and 1/2 page chapter that is devoted almost entirely to an interrogation of Leeper, with only the first 3 1/2 pages having anything to do with Theo, and in that, no action, no dialogue, just narration.

All in all, this story bored me as much as the first one. There is no real mystery, no danger, no excitement, and certainly NO suspense, because the reader already knows that Theo is going to save the day, BUT with the help of the adults.

Most people reading this, after reading the first in the series, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, would have assumed ( at least, I did) that it was a sequel to the first, but it's not. However, on the very last page, a reference was made to the first story, wherein a murder trial ended in a mistrial, again thanks to Theo with the help of adults. This time, Theo's friend, Judge Gantry, told him that a new trial had been set for Pete Duffy ( the defendent in the first story). So obviously, there will be a third book in this series.

Mr. Grisham, you have once again disappointed me. I DO wish you would read up on middle grade stories by "real" middle grade authors! I'm not at all sure I will be reading anything more about Theodore Boone. I LOVE your books...but only when they are for adult readers.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.