Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Galaxy Games: Greg Fishbone on Books for Boys

Greg Fishbone has written a fun, funny middle grade - Galaxy Games - that will appeal to young teen boys, especially boys who aren't ordinarily drawn to reading. As part of his blog tour I was delighted when he offered to write the following post on "books for boys."
Greg is also running a contest as part of his blog tour and here's today's clue:
Puzzle Piece #25 is here:

Books for Boys: What Keeps Them Reading?
I was in a classroom recently where reading-time was used as a reward for students who finished their other work. It was easy to tell which students were the readers in the class: boys and girls who raced through their work for a chance to spend a few extra minutes engaged with a book. A solid majority of the class seemed indifferent and probably would not have been reading if computer activities had been an option instead. Then there were those students who lingered over math assignments so they wouldn't have to crack open a novel; who chose the books from the classroom library with the highest ratio of pictures to words; who acted silly instead of reading; who subverted the process by picking the Guinness Book of World Records instead of a book with a narrative and plot.
These were the reluctant readers and in this particular classroom, they were all boys.
What does it take to engage reluctant readers? Thin books with cartoony cover art. Books with interior illustrations, especially graphic novels. Content that seems subversive. Humor. Science fiction. Sports. Books that tie into Star Wars, superheroes, video games, or other media. Books with boys as main characters. Short chapters. These books will get the boys reading, but I believe there is also a strong need for transitional books that are more challenging and literary while retaining the fun and accessible qualities that reluctant readers enjoy. To keep the boys reading, we need to up the ante.
We need books that continue to appeal to reluctant readers as they gain confidence and become less-reluctant readers. We need books that transition formerly-reluctant readers into almost-enthusiastic readers. We need books that will make today's reluctant readers into parents who model pleasure reading for their own children. 
Getting reluctant readers into books today is a good start, but turning them into life-long readers should be the overriding goal.

Greg R. Fishbone, Author - gfishbone.com - Twitter @tem2
The Challengers - Book #1 in the Galaxy Games Series
Follow the Galaxy Games Blog Tour, all October long!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Debut Authors of the Class of 2k11: Kiki Hamilton

I'm delighted to be able to bring you another interview with one of the incredibly talented members of the Class of 2k11, Kiki Hamilton. Her debut novel, THE FAERIE RING, is exactly the kind of book I would curl up to read as a girl. Part fantasy, part historical, and (and this is the best part) part of a series! So, go ahead and fall in love!

And when you see some of Kiki's other upcoming work, why, I'm betting we'll be hearing lots about this gal.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, THE FAERIE RING. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
Thank you so much!  I’m so excited for THE FAERIE RING to release on September 8th, 2011!
I’ve always loved the idea of things not being what they seem. That other dimensions or worlds exist side by side with our own, just beyond our ken; that the scope of our world is more than just the three dimensions that we are able to easily comprehend.  At the same time, I’m intrigued by the past, by our history, by what may have occurred that might not have been formally documented for future generations.  The untold story, if you will.  And I am particularly fascinated with those untold stories that have a thread of documented fact woven through them, which makes the reader question whether they are reading fiction or nonfiction.  A story that makes the reader say..”what if?”
The idea for THE FAERIE RING started with Tiki, an orphan, who survives on the streets of Victorian London as a pickpocket. I knew I wanted to write a story about a girl pickpocket because so often, girls / women have been cast as the weaker sex in books and movies and yet in my experience, women are often the brains and backbone behind the scenes.  Victorian London is a mysterious and magical time in history.  It is an era of great change, great technological advances, yet at the same time, beliefs in the occult remained strong.  Additionally, the era offers a startling dichotomy between the classes and the way people lived, providing a great gap of motivations.
So, I had a pickpocket who was clever yet sensitive and a mysterious time in history.  After Tiki stole the Queen’s ring, the next question I asked myself was:  What if someone else wanted the ring? What if there was something unseen happening in London at the same time?  So Tiki told me what happened next.
I wrote the first draft of THE FAERIE RING in thirty days.
How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

I have been writing seriously for about five years.  THE FAERIE RING was the second book I wrote.  Since, I have written several others – see my answer below.

Can you describe your path to the publication of THE FAERIE RING?

My road to getting published was pretty typical. After writing, revising (and revising) my first book, I queried several agents.  While I waited, I wrote another book – THE FAERIE RING.  My agent asked for revisions on the first book so when I sent that back I mentioned TFR and she said to send that as well.  She signed me for both books but went out with THE FAERIE RING first, which sold to Susan Chang of Tor Teen.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

My advice is to never give up.  It takes HARD work to write a book.  One of the sayings pasted to my computer is this: 

“A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.”

The same is true of writing.  Take classes, read books on craft, read books that you love and think about why you love them. And write and write. Get critiques and don’t be afraid to revise.  The work is often in the revision.  You can do it. Never give up. 

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

I’d love to do more traveling.  I got to go to London for the first time in my life AFTER I’d written THE FAERIE RING. I fell in love with that city!  And it was totally surreal to walk in Tiki’s (the main character of TFR) footsteps from Charing Cross to St. James Park to Buckingham Palace.  I want to go back there and to Ireland.  I have another book that has parts set in Paris, so I’d like to go back there, as well.  Also, I have lots of ideas for more books so I’d love to be able to have the time to write them all!

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

As a matter of fact – I have several.  I have already written the second book (THE TORN WING) in THE FAERIE RING series and I’m over halfway through the third book (THE TARA STONE).  Also, I’ve written a YA contemporary novel with a hint of paranormal entitled PULSE.  After I finish THE TARA STONE I’m going finish a YA Steampunk Fantasy called ENIGMA which is set in London in 1895.  No rest for the wicked, you know. ;-)

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about THE FAERIE RING

Yes! Please visit my blog at www.kikihamilton.blogspot.com which also has links to my website along with a map of London 1871. I’d love to hear from  you and your readers!

Janet, thanks so much for having me!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mistress of the Craft: Martha Alderson, "The Plot Whisperer"

One of the things I've struggled with the most throughout my writing career is plot. How could I create a novel that is both compelling and perfectly paced, without plot holes or draggy moments?

When, years ago, I discovered Martha Alderson, aka "The Plot Whisperer," I found answers. This is especially true since I am what she calls a "seat of the pants" writer. I've purchased her books and DVDs and used them over and over. And check out her blog - she has fantastic tips there, and you can sign up for her newsletter.

I was truly delighted when Martha contacted me to host her on the eve of the launch of her latest book on this confounding subject: THE PLOT WHISPERER: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master (Adams Media, a division of F+W Media; October 18, 2011). Martha agreed to write a guest post on the revision process (another constant struggle, and trust me, I'm going to take the advice she gives below), and I'm thrilled to bring it to you.

Congratulations. You have written the first draft of your story. Before you embark on your first major rewrite, first take time to re-“vision” the overall project.

The first draft of a writing project is the generative phase. Rather than become dismayed when you are faced with a manuscript full of holes and missteps, even confusion and chaos, accept that this is part of the process.

Your first draft is a fragile thread of a dream. You know what you want to convey—well, maybe. Few writers adequately communicate a complete vision in the first draft of a story, especially when writing by the seat of your pants.

Without reading your story from beginning to end, for now simply create a list of scenes or chapters. Then, make a new plot planner by locating and filling in the four energetic markers—the end of the beginning, the halfway point, the crisis, and the climax. This allows you to analyze your story from a plot and structural level without becoming seduced by the actual words themselves.

1. Assign different colored sticky notes for the protagonist and one or two major characters. Give all the other characters the same color. Link the protagonist’s emotional chronology from scene to scene.
2. Sticky notes of one color follow the energetic intensity in the dramatic action in every scene, above or below the line. Place scenes that hold tension above the line. Put scenes with no conflict below the line.
3. Now, stand back from the plot planner and evaluate how many scenes fall above and below the line, and where. Consider how the rising and falling energy influences the pace of the story.
4. Next, compare the beginning and the end of your story. How do they tie together? Do both the dramatic action plot and character emotional development plot coalesce at the end for more punch and impact? Does the beginning foreshadow this clash?
5. Draw a line connecting the scenes that are linked by cause and effect. To determine the coherence of the overall story and the linkage between scenes, use your plot planners as a cause-and effect vision board.

Once you have let your story rest for at least a few days, read your manuscript all the way through one time as a reader. Keep the next draft in the back of your mind. You may find you have completely zoned out about the character’s emotions in your zeal to create lots of zip and zing in the dramatic action, or in your passion to create a binding historical and/or political timeline. Notice when the dramatic action plot is physical and concrete.

Feel when the character emotional plot is emotional, sensuous, and human. Read for the sequence of the dramatic action and where, in the next draft, you’ll want to explore and discover the character’s emotional development in greater depth.

If, when you reread your manuscript, you find that you have neglected the dramatic action plot, create concrete goals in the next draft that incite the protagonist to action.

Investigate how the loss, betrayal, hurt, or abandonment in the protagonist’s backstory affects her as she moves from and reacts to one action scene after another. Watch for references and hints of themes, and when and how thematic elements of the plot are most accessible.

In the next read-through, make notes on the rough draft hard copy of scenes that need to be cleaned up, expanded, and deepened in their treatment of the characters, action, and theme.

You may find the first draft is wobbly and scenes ramble. The complete vision of your story was a bit hazy the first time through. The action was tangled. The protagonist comes off as bewildering. You have glossed over an energetic marker or two. Don’t panic—this is good. As a matter of fact, the worse the first draft, the better. Trying for perfection before you know what you are trying to convey commonly leads to procrastination.

As you did with the first draft, write this new draft as quickly as possible all the way to the end. Work out the really big issues first and forget about the details for now.

When you finish the next draft(s) and you are certain that the core dramatic action plot and character emotional development plot work and the “vision” of your story is clear, use the next rewrite to begin grafting on details.

Martha Alderson has worked with hundreds of writers in sold-out plot workshops, retreats, and plot consultations for more than fifteen years. Her clients include bestselling authors, New York editors, and Hollywood movie directors. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA. Follow her blog, workshopsvlog, or follow her on twitter and facebook.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Voices You Should Hear: Tami Lewis Brown

Kidlit writers are some of the nicest people on the planet. And one of my favorite people in the kidlit world is Tami Lewis Brown

Tami is not only sweet and generous, she's also talented. Her middle grade debut novel, The Map of Me, is outstanding - I predict that it will be read and loved and rewarded. Tami has written a wonderful blog post for me, and I'm proud to bring it to you.

Middle grade novels and their protagonists come in every flavor—Nancy Drew to Artemis Fowl to India Opal Buloni. Eight to twelve year olds want to be entertained with fun light reads, but kids who love to read also want to dive into a book that touches their budding emotional lives. They yearn to explore horizons beyond home and school and a serious middle grade novel can chart the way.

Eight to twelve-year-olds are fluent readers and the books written for them are windows into the great big outside world, perhaps offering them a taste before they explore that territory for themselves. Middle grade books offer entertainment—no nine-year-old will sit still for a boring book—but they can also serve up complex emotion and writing every bit as sophisticated as YA or even adult novels.

But even though every adult was once a middle grade reader, grown-ups in our country seems to suffer from some kind of adult onset reading amnesia. Many adults believe middle grade books are simplistic. Easy to read. Even easier to write.

No way.

Try one of these passages on for size:

I come from a family with a lot of dead people . . . (Daddy) say “It’s not how you die that makes the important impression, Comfort; it’s how you live. 
                                                            Debbie Wiles’ EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS

When Jamie saw him throw the baby, saw Van throw the little baby, saw Van throw his little sister Nin, when Jamie saw Van throw his baby sister Nin, then they moved.
                                                            Carolyn Coman’s WHAT JAMIE SAW

There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road.
                                                            Kathi Appelt’s THE UNDERNEATH

The stories these books tell and the writing these writers use to tell it are every bit as sophisticated as any novel for older readers. Actually they’re even better because these writers fully respect their readers, often exposing them to difficult concepts and well-chosen words for the first time. Great middle grade authors put me in the mind of butterfly hunters as they catch elusive ideas with nets spun of prose, trapping tough concepts just long enough for young readers to observe and understand truths.

I wrote about hard ideas in THE MAP OF ME—exploring tough subjects with images and language middle grade readers relate to. One of my favorite bits is when the protagonist Margie pulls on her disapproving father’s jacket, symbolically taking on his feelings.

The jacket smelled of clove aftershave and the bacon-cheddar biscuits Daddy slipped in his pocket mornings he worked opening at the store. A whiff of ink from an old ballpoint that leaked in the pocket, its oily stink left along with the mark. Old Gold Filters he’d borrowed off Al and smoked behind the World of Tires. What Momma didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. Soft and sad had worked into the jacket’s old plaid lining, leftover from a thousand days on Daddy’s back. Time and space were grooved into the corduroy. I pulled the front closed, tighter than the zipper, but I still didn’t feel warm.

But is the story of a girl who thinks she can’t do anything right, who can’t satisfy her father, who worries she’s run her mother off too heavy for middle grade readers? Is this really YA with a too young protagonist? Or even an adult novel in middle-grade disguise?

I don’t think so. Margie’s voice and experience are young. And young doesn’t mean dumb or blind to the world.

Obviously every reader has his or her own taste. No book is for everybody. But many middle grade readers know all about not measuring up. They don’t have to come from a family where a baby was thrown, or a pet cat dumped, or even a family with a whole lot of dead people to understand sadness and loss. And happiness and redemption, too. I’m so glad my job is writing those kinds of hard, true stories for people just learning about life.