Monday, August 22, 2016

ARE YOU READY FOR HOMEWORK TIME? I MEAN WRITING HOMEWORK!

There are many types of developmental work authors find helpful as they write their manuscripts. As fall approaches (and perhaps you get excited about all the free writing time you'll have once the kids are back in their classrooms), here are some WRITER HOMEWORK SUGGESTIONS plus resource links you'll want to have at the ready.

1. Complete character worksheets for your main and secondary protagonists & antagonists.

2. Pinterest board your characters' look, key settings, etc.

Here's an example from my novel
THE SOUND OF LETTING GO
3. Build spreadsheets to refine timelines.

4. Hone your plot with beat sheets or other scene-breakdown resources

There are so many great articles and worksheets at your virtual fingertips. Begin the search for what you need at ADVENTURES IN YA PUBLISHING or WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

Ready, set, go!

Monday, August 15, 2016

YA Reading List: Cliques, Crowds and Dangerous Behaviors

Losing perspective, following the crowd, fighting too hard for a freedom you don't understand...such things result in stories of teens behaving in ways even they, perhaps, never imagined or intended. Here are a few sharply written, insightful cautionary tales, some light and some terribly dark.

LUCKY FEW by Kathryn Ormsbee

“A beautifully written story of loss and acceptance, of humor and tragedy, of finding yourself by losing yourself.” 
-- Marci Lyn Curtis, author of The One Thing







WHAT WE SAW by Aaron Hartzler

"A powerful tale of betrayal and a vital primer on rape culture." 

-- Kirkus (starred review)






IT'S NOT EASY BEING MEAN by Lisi Harrison

One can't talk high school cliques without including one Lisi Harrison title featuring the "Pretty Committee" and the "Losers Beyond Repair."







THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp

"A compelling, brutal story of an unfortunately all-too familiar situation: a school shooting. Nijkamp portrays the events thoughtfully, recounting fifty-four intense minutes of bravery, love, and loss."BookRiot








Monday, August 8, 2016

MG Reading List: Dyslexia

Back-to-school time is fast approaching. Time to download the school supply lists and make sure everyone's on track with their summer reading assignments. As the mom of two dyslexic sons, this last task can sometimes be tricky, which is probably why stories dealing with this learning disability always catch my attention. Here are three of my favorites:

FISH IN A TREE by Lynda Mullaly Hunt











MAY B. by Caroline Starr Rose











CLOSE TO FAMOUS by Joan Bauer

Saturday, July 30, 2016

IDENTIFYING YOUR ANTAGONIST IN YA FICTION

In the midst of working on a new manuscript, I suddenly found myself asking a question that SHOULD have had an obvious answer—especially because the story I am telling involves manipulation, crime, even murder:

WHO IS THE BAD GUY IN THIS STORY? MY MC’s FOE? THE ANTAGONIST?

While I could easily write down the name of the killer, he wasn’t really the foe of the MC. I could name the characters who manipulated others or kept guilty secrets, but none of them were cut-and-dried baddies out to destroy my narrators. This question got me to thinking about the question of literary antagonists.

In genre fiction, where the term “villain” can frequently be substituted for the word “antagonist” (and correspondingly, the protagonist can be seen as a “hero,” naming the main character’s foe can be fairly simple. Here are a few examples:
  • HARRY POTTER series by J. K. Rowling. ANTAGONIST: Voldemort (shhhh!)
  • CINDER (Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer: ANTAGONISTS: Cinder’s stepmother; the evil Lunar Queen
  • THE FIFTH WAVE by Rick Yancey: ANTAGONISTS: The Others, Commander Vosch
  • GRACELING by Kristin Cashore: ANTAGONISTS: King Randa, King Leck
  • In the JAMES BOND oeuvre, there’s an actual catchphrase - “Bond Villain” – not unlike the “Dark Side” of the STAR WARS universe.

However, let’s try this same exercise with new and old realistic fiction titles:
  • ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven: ANTAGONIST(S): Mental illness; Theodore Finch (also a protagonist – and his own worst enemy)
  • THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green: ANTAGONIST: Cancer
  • THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER by Sarah Dessen: ANTAGONIST: The past; the pain of loss that prevents feeling
  • THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald. ANTAGONIST: Tom Buchanan? OR Narrator Nick Carraway’s dream of being with Buchanan’s wife, Daisy? OR everything that kills the American Dream?
  • THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J. D. Salinger. ANTAGONIST: Holden Caulfield (protagonist) is his own antagonist through his cynicism, distrust and inability to conform with social norms.

I realize I am not inventing any wheels here. This is basic stuff. HEROISM can be political, social, physical or emotional. VILLAINS can be external enemies or internal demons. You can confirm these basics with good old Merriam-Webster, who defines  ANTAGONIST is “…one that contends with or opposes another” or at LiteraryDevices.net where ANTAGONIST is described as “…a character or a group of characters which stand in opposition to the protagonist or the main character...from Greek word “antagonist─ôs” that means opponent, competitor or rival.”

Nonetheless, it is a worthy exercise to clarify the kind of ANTAGONISTIC characters, emotions, or other elements at play in your story and to develop them as fully as you do your PROTAGONIST and supporting “positive” characters.

Try holding your current manuscript up to the examples listed above. Which title most closely aligns with your story’s protagonist/antagonist dynamic? Can you think of another book which is a better match? Consider reading that title to see how the author fleshes out these elements and apply these insights to enriching your own story. 


Happy Writing!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Grief and Imaginary Worlds

There is a curious correlation between loss and tricks of the mind. Do we use our imaginations to battle grief? To deny it? To make it make some kind of horrible sense? Here are three gorgeous titles which explore this connection and may just break your heart.

A WORLD WITHOUT YOU by Beth Revis

"A World Without You tackles grief, mental illness, and family dynamics with both grace and generosity...Readers will emerge from this book a little stronger than when they entered.” —Emily Henry

I particularly appreciated Beth Revis' portrayal of "well" sister, Phoebe, whose viewpoint is depicted in contrast with her mentally ill brother, Bo. About her relationship with her parents, Phoebe observes: “I don’t have the luxury of allowing myself to break...Because if I break, they’ll break too.


A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness

There's no denying it: this is one profoundly sad story. But it's also wise, darkly funny and brave, told in spare sentences, punctuated with fantastic images and stirring silences. Past his sorrow, fright and rage, Conor ultimately lands in a place...where healing can begin. A MONSTER CALLS is a gift from a generous story­teller and a potent piece of art.  —The New York Times

My favorite quote: Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.

THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH by Ali Benjamin

"Seventh-grade narrator Suzy Swanson will win readers' hearts as she silently struggles to come to terms with her complex emotions over the death of her former best friend."―Shelf Awareness


Friday, July 1, 2016

Two Chilling Covers for Sunny Days...


Some people like to beat the heat with swimming pools and frosty beach drinks. For me, summer's scorching temperatures are best cooled by shivering through the pages of scary, suspense-filled books!



My copy of THE FIXER by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is packed and ready for my Thursday cross-country flight. Having gone to college and worked in Washington, DC, I have a soft spot for that setting--also the scene (well, thereabouts) of my favorite television show, THE AMERICANS! Plus, Jennifer Lynn Barnes is an honest-to-goodness PhD scientist and all that brainiac-ness (?!) shines through her sharp prose.

The enthusiasm of my Viking editor, Kendra Levin, for this star-review-laden project made me race to the bookstore for Janet Fox's THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE. I started it as my plane took off from JFK and finished, breathless and sleepless, as I touched down in Amsterdam a last week. Set in a Scottish castle during WWII, this creepy and compelling tour de force is anchored by a feisty-yet-realistically-insecure main character, Kat. And Janet Fox is a true writer's writer, Vermont College MFA, and insightful student of the craft.

What do you do to keep cool? Have any shiver-worthy titles to recommend? TWEET ME!