Friday, January 31, 2014

Taking a look at title structures, by Yahong Chi

Titles are as much a part of the creative process of writing a book as anything. They come with their own set of troubles -- how creative can I get? is it representative of my story? does it grab readers' attention? -- and, like other aspects of books, can be categorized and analyzed. As such, I decided to examine titles of middle-grade novels over the past year, using these two Goodreads lists, and see if I could categorize them into specific structures.

Firstly, I took note of the very large number of titles beginning with "The". This might seem inconsequential, but "The" signifies almost one hundred percent of the time that a noun is to follow. What does this tell you about the book? That the noun in question is most likely of paramount importance in the story.

I'll break it down into two subcategories of 3-words-or-less and 4-words-or-more. For example, Jennifer Nielsen's The Runaway King, Tui. T Sutherland's The Menagerie or Brandon Sanderson's The Rithmatist all imply a storyline which revolves around the noun. The longer titles allow for more detailed description of the noun, e.g. Kat Grindstaff's The Flame in the Mist or Soman Chainani's The School of Good and Evil. Certain longer titles follow a specific sub-structure too: The NOUN of NOUN, as evidenced by Ari B. Goelman's The Path of Names, Claire Legrand's The Year of Shadows or Linda Urban's The Center of Everything.

A similar titling structure is the use of nouns without an article in front, e.g. Matthew J. Kirby's Spell Robbers, Christina Mercer's Arrow of the Mist, Peggy Edelman's Sky Jumpers or Colin Meloy's Wildwood Imperium. It's evident that these sort of noun-centred titles are popular, and for good reason; they tidily summarize a unique aspect or component of the story inside to give readers an idea of what the book is about. They're usually not too abstract, and above all, they're safe.

The next subset of titles which I looked at were titles starting with verbs, which were usually continuous verbs (ending with -ing). Examples include N. H. Senzai's Saving Kabul Corner, Holly Goldberg Sloan's Counting by 7s, Clare Vanderpool's Navigating Early and Rebecca Petruck's Steering Toward Normal. These title structures suggest a journey of some sort, and can be more obscure than the previous noun-centred titles.

One-word titles are a category all to themselves because they're difficult to pull off; the single word must be distinct, representative and memorable all at once. And looking at John David Anderson's Sidekicked, Lana Krumwiede's Archon and Melanie Crowder's Parched, these qualities are more or less evident. Vaguer titles like Ellie Rollins's Snap or Jeff Probst's Stranded become more relevant once the book is read.

Full-sentence titles range from to-the-point (The Colossus Rises, Peter Larangis and Magic Marks The Spot by Caroline Carlson) to ambitious (How To Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied, Jess Keating and How To Catch A Bogle, Catherine Jinks). These titles are more particular because complete sentences are much less common than pairings or groupings of words; they're also my favourite type of title. The idea that a book can be represented in a complete entity, as opposed to a shortened clause or a convoluted two-sentence piece à la every single non-fiction book out there, is rather pleasing and consistently turns up fascinating book titles (There Will Be Bears by Ryan Gebhart is a stand-out).

My final category (for now!) is miscellaneous, where I'm putting all the titles that begin with prepositions (By the Grace of Todd, Louise Galveston), any of the five Ws + H (When Audrey Met Alice, Rebecca Behrens; What the Moon Said, Gayle Rosengren) and other assorted titles, such as Rita Williams-Garcia's PS: Be Eleven, Kate Messner's Wake Up Missing and Kathryn Fitzmaurice's Destiny, Rewritten. A uniquely-structured title helps set a book or series apart, and I wouldn't hesitate to say that the success of Tim Federle's Better Nate Than Ever is due in some part to his title.

Overall, structures of middle-grade titles fall within certain categories consistently, with outliers adding intrigue to the mix. Judging a book by its title might not be a thing, but it's certainly an interesting aspect of the whole package to look at!

What's the most intriguing, different or distinctive MG title you've seen?

- Yahong

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Three 2014 Novels I'm Excited About by Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

One of the exciting things about being a writer and a blogger is making connections with others. I am privileged to say that I "know" all three of these great writers--one of them in real life! Here's a bit about them, and a bit about their books:

HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL by my good friend and critique group member, Robin Herrera (March 11, 2014, Amulet Books). (I have the immense good fortune of being in a critique group with Robin and seven other amazing writers--for a total of 9, kinda like the Muses--which meets every couple of weeks in Portland. Robin joined the group just as her novel was being accepted for publication, so I never actually got to read it and sprinkle my pearls of wisdom on its pages. But having read her new work, I can vouch that she is incredibly funny and an amazing craftsperson.) Here's a summary of Hope is a Ferris Wheel--all blurbs are from Goodreads:
Ten-year-old Star Mackie lives in a trailer park with her flaky mom and her melancholy older sister, Winter, whom Star idolizes. Moving to a new town has made it difficult for Star to make friends, when her classmates tease her because of where she lives and because of her layered blue hair. But when Star starts a poetry club, she develops a love of Emily Dickinson and, through Dickinson’s poetry, learns some important lessons about herself and comes to terms with her hopes for the future.With an unforgettable voice with a lot of heart, Hope Is a Ferris Wheel is the story of a young girl who learns to accept her family and herself while trying to make sense of the world around her.
ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman (July 10, 2014 Putman). Tara and I connected when we were both selected to take part in the 2011 Baker's Dozen agent auction at Miss Snark's First Victim. I immediately loved the voice in her opening paragraphs and knew that this novel would go on to great things. Tara and I are Facebook and Twitter pals. Here's what All Four Stars  is about:
Gladys Gatsby has dreamed of becoming a restaurant critic for New York's biggest newspaper--she just didn’t expect to be assigned her first review at age 11. Now, if she wants to meet her deadline and hang on to her dream job, she’ll have to defy her fast-food-loving parents, cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy, and battle Manhattan’s meanest maitre d’.
THE EIGHTH DAY (April 22, 2014 HarperCollins) by Project Mayhem's very own Dianne Salerni. Dianne is an amazing writer, as well as being a 5th and 6th grade teacher. I am thrilled she is a part of Project Mayhem. I am equally thrilled that I got to read an ARC of this fast-paced novel--and could not put it down!!! Here's the blurb from Goodreads:
When Jax wakes up to a world without any people in it, he assumes it's the zombie apocalypse. But when he runs into his eighteen-year-old guardian, Riley Pendare, he learns that he's really in the eighth day—an extra day sandwiched between Wednesday and Thursday. Some people—like Jax and Riley—are Transitioners, able to live in all eight days, while others, including Evangeline, the elusive teenage girl who's been hiding in the house next door, exist only on this special day.
And there's a reason Evangeline's hiding. She is a descendant of the powerful wizard Merlin, and there is a group of people who wish to use her in order to destroy the normal seven-day world and all who live in it. Torn between protecting his new friend and saving the entire human race from complete destruction, Jax is faced with an impossible choice. Even with an eighth day, time is running out.
One of the things I've read about supporting authors is to pre-order their novels from your local indie bookseller. You can bet I'll be letting my fingers do the walking for all three of these delicious novels, as I call Annie Bloom's, my local in Portland, and make a huge deal about my desire to own all three of these.

In the meantime, I'm giving away my ARC of THE EIGHTH DAY. Leave a comment and cross your fingers! (Extra credit for Tweeting, sharing on Facebook, and the like.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill, Review by Matthew MacNish

This was the first book I finished this year, and the first of Kelly Barnhill's novels I've read. Before I get to my thoughts, here is the jacket copy from Goodreads:

Enter a world where magic bubbles just below the surface. . . .

When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his strange aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for quite a long time.

When he arrives, three astonishing things happen: First, he makes friends -- not imaginary friends but actual friends. Second, he is beaten up by the town bully; the bullies at home always ignored him. Third, the richest man in town begins to plot Jack's imminent, and hopefully painful, demise. It's up to Jack to figure out why suddenly everyone cares so much about him. Back home he was practically, well, invisible.

The Mostly True Story of Jack is an eerie tale of magic, friendship, and sacrifice. It's about things broken and things put back together. Above all, it's about finding a place to belong.

I really loved the way this story handled magic. Like it was kind of just there, always running barely beneath the surface, and that it was perfectly normal for some people to be aware of it, and for others to ignore it completely. Although few of them did.

This is Jack's tale, of course, but it's also the story of Hazelwood, and the people who live there. Jack's aunt and uncle and their crazy house with its pair of odd cats and preternaturally intelligent parrot. Jack's first friends ever, Anders, and Wendy and her brother Frankie. And of course the corrupt town patriarch and his son.

Jack leaves his mom and dad and brother behind in San Francisco, but there's something just a bit strange about that too. He can't reach them by phone, and when he tries to send them letters it just doesn't seem to work. It's almost as if they've forgotten him, or that he never existed.

Jack spends a good portion of the book trying to deny everything that seems to be going on in Hazelwood, but eventually it becomes too much to ignore, and with the help of his friends and a trusty but unusual skateboard, he goes investigating.

Barnhill does something very interesting with the voice in this novel. It's told from a 3rd Person POV, and it mostly focuses on Jack, but it does so in an odd kind of passive way that makes you feel like maybe it isn't his story. It's subtle, and very clever, because we eventually discover this is only mostly Jack's story.

Recommended for fans of magic and mystery and readers who enjoy fantasies set in otherwise mundane settings.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hot New MG Favorites

 Spirit Animals Series, books 1 & 2

I always enjoy sharing favorites of my children here at Project Mayhem. After all, they are tried and true target audience members. 

New to Molly's list of favorites are the Spirit Animal books. The first is by the popular favorite, Brandon Mull, and the second book was written by Maggie Stiefvater -- hard to go wrong with either of these authors. 

If you haven't already read them, Molly and I both think you should. Soon. 

Four children separated by vast distances all undergo the same ritual, watched by cloaked strangers. Four flashes of light erupt, and from them emerge the unmistakable shapes of incredible beasts - a wolf, a leopard, a panda, a falcon. Suddenly the paths of these children - and the world - have been changed for ever. Enter the world of Erdas, where every child who comes of age must discover if they have a spirit animal, a rare bond between human and beast that bestows great powers to both. A dark force has risen from distant and long-forgotten lands, and has begun an onslaught that will ravage the world. Now the fate of Erdas has fallen on the shoulders of four young strangers ...and on you.

The adventure continues in this second book of the epic multiplatform fantasy series.

In the world of Erdas, only a rare few are able to summon a spirit animal in the way Conor, Abeke, Meilin, and Rollan have. The bond they share with their animals is a partnership that allows them to access more-than-human abilities.

But what if there was another way to create a spirit animal--to force the bond, giving the human partner total control? And what if someone with selfish intensions was offered this gift . . . with a catch?

The four young heroes have barely had time to come together as a team, and their own spirit animal bonds are still greatly untested. But now they face a brutal confrontation against an enemy who will break any rule to defeat them.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Looking Through the Lens: How to Craft Your Story One Snapshot at a Time

Writing a novel is a daunting task. Facing the enormity of what you are setting out to do can cause you, the writer, to lose yourself in the midst of your story, or to abandon it altogether. Let's face it, the blank page is a scary place, a snow-covered field with not a single footprint to disturb it. We take our first few steps, chin up, shoulders squared, eager to blaze our way across the expanse... but there are a LOT of blank pages between us and that final sentence of our novel.

I think that many writers get caught up in pre-determining their story acts, or plot points, or where chapter breaks are, or parts, or even if you are a scene writer, where those scenes fit into the mechanical construction of your novel as a whole. It's easy to slip into a macro view, where you have one foot in the scene and one foot ready to step into the next. Sure, it's important to know how scenes link, and to be aware of transitions and arcs, but I contend that the writer who recognizes and writes the quintessence of each scene will find his story does this naturally.

There's a moment in the new Ben Stiller movie, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," where elusive freelance photographer, Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn) is camped out on the side of the Himalayas. He's waiting to take a picture of a snow leopard, what he calls a "ghost cat" (due to its seemingly innate ability to avoid being seen or captured on film). Sean is sitting there, has been sitting there (for days maybe), watching, waiting, observing a particular spot through his telescopic camera lens. When the cat finally appears, Sean just watches it. He doesn't take the picture. He captures it in his mind's eye. When Walter asks him if he's going to take the picture, the conversation goes like this:

Walter Mitty: When are you going to take it?
Sean O'Connell: Sometimes I don't. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don't like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.
Walter Mitty: Stay in it?
Sean O'Connell: Yeah. Right there. Right here.

(Dialogue courtesy of IMDB)

In this movie, Walter is trying to find one misplaced negative. Number 25. The quintessence of life. One shot that captures the perfect embodiment of Life Magazine. Ok, so what does this have to do with writing? It struck me that I could approach writing the same way. If I could approach each scene as a complete stand alone snapshot, a truly encapsulated moment, without the distraction of the rest of the moving parts, I could put together a novel that ensures every part of the story has been written with my absolute best approach. If you allow yourself to focus in on only that one scene, study it, appreciate it, find the quintessence in it, the beauty, the emotional resonance, then you can put together a novel. In order to write a good story, a story that will impact your readers, leave it lingering in their heads and hearts, you have to be emotionally attached in some way. You have to invest a piece of yourself in the story. Like Sean O'Connell, you have to write for you first, personally. Why are YOU writing THIS story. If you can write each scene, each glimpse through the lens for you, first, you'll give your readers something worth reading.

So, make yourself a list of potential shots. Camp out on the side of the mountain and watch your scene.
Spend time with it and truly understand the quintessence of what you are looking for, what you are looking at. Do this with each scene, each "shot." And then, at the risk of total mixed metaphors, you'll have a series of polished pearls that, together, will string into a complete necklace: your novel.

One snapshot at a time. One moment that leaves its mark on you. One scene, in a series of eventual scenes, that says, "I am Number 25."

To echo Sean O'Connell, find that moment, be in it, and "I trust you'll get it where it needs to go..."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Actions Speak Louder Than Words -- On Screen and On the Page

Although I’ve never tried writing a screenplay, I’ve been known to read about screenplay writing from time to time. I actually think books on screenplay writing can be very interesting and informative. So much of the advice is applicable to novel writing, as well.

One of my favorites is a fantastic book on screenplay writing called Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias. One of the reasons I especially like this book are the tons of concrete examples Mr. Iglesias provides to illustrate the tips he outlines. I think these are particularly helpful, since you get to see his techniques and advice for creating emotional impact in action.

Out of all the anecdotes Mr. Iglesias shares, there is one that really stuck with me. In one section of the book, he discusses the age-old writer’s adage: show, don’t tell. (Yes, this tip has to make an appearance in just about every writing book in existence, I think. But hey, it’s so important, it’s always worth repeating.) Then he shares an old story out of Hollywood, about a playwright who struggled with an overly long scene meant to depict a rocky marriage. The scene contained seven pages of tense dialogue between the husband and wife. A writer from the old silent film days was brought in to help par this bloated scene down. His solution: replace all this dialogue with a scene in which the husband and wife get into an elevator and the husband doesn’t remove his hat. (I guess this was a polite gesture for a gentleman to make toward a lady back in those days.) However, at the next floor, a pretty woman steps into the elevator and the husband immediately takes off his hat. His wife shoots him a dirty look. End scene.

I think the subtlety of this is just brilliant. Pages and pages of dialogue replaced by less than thirty seconds at the most—and the tension in the marriage is still perfectly conveyed by the scene! Sometimes actions really do speak louder than words.

Mr. Iglesias also gives a great tip I’ve never considered: watch old silent movies for a lesson in the art of showing versus telling. Folks in the silent film industry had to be masters of this, since they had to convey so much without dialogue.

In my opinion, tips and examples like this make Writing for Emotional Impact a very good choice if you’re in the market for a book about screenplay writing—or fiction writing in general.

Do you study films or read up on screenplay writing? What favorite tips have you walked away with?

photo credit: Wahlander via photopin cc

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Chris Eboch on Secondary Characters

A teacher I know uses my middle grade historical mystery, The Eyes of Pharaoh, with her gifted elementary school kids. She had them write letters to me about the book. Several children mentioned that their favorite character was Horus, the somewhat timid and insecure sidekick to the heroine. One boy noted that “He was the bravest of them all” – perhaps recognizing how much harder it is to be brave when you’re afraid.

It can be tempting for writers to focus so much on their main character that secondary characters aren’t as well-developed. But your villain and any major secondary characters should also be complex, realistic and individual. They should also have a strong role in the story: they should be there for a reason. Your story will be stronger and more interesting – and it’s even possible that young readers will find a new friend or hero.

Putting Secondary Characters First

Every novel – and most short stories and picture books – will have secondary characters. In general, the longer the book, the more secondary characters you can fit. These can be family members, friends, teachers or bosses, aliens, mythical characters, or even pets. Some will be nice. Some will be annoying. Ideally, one or more should be trouble.

Even well-meaning secondary characters can make your main character’s life more complicated. When writing for children, parents are a natural for this role. They may simply want what they see as best for their child – but if that is opposed to what the child wants, it adds complications. These could be strong enough to form the main plot, or could simply be additional challenges the child has to face.

For example, in my Haunted series, Tania doesn’t want anyone to know that she can see ghosts. She’s afraid that her mother would want her to contact her dead little sister, and she doesn’t know how. Her stepfather would want to use her on his ghost hunter TV show, and people would think she was nuts. And her father doesn’t believe in ghosts, so he might think she was lying to get attention. Well-meaning family members with their own agendas make her desperate to keep her “gift” a secret.

Other examples of conflicting desires may be a dad who wants his son to play football, while the son wants to join the band, or parents who don’t want their daughter to date yet, when she’s fallen in love. A parent may be even a greater challenge, if he or she is an alcoholic, seriously ill, or depressed. Then, of course, there’s the issue of a divorced or widowed parent dating!

Don’t forget friends, either. Friends can give bad advice, have their own agenda, use the main character for popularity or access to something or someone, or even secretly be trying to steal the main character’s love interest/job/position in society. That’s not to say all friends have to be sneaky betrayers. Even the best of friends might distract the main character with their own emotional problems. Supportive friends have their place as well, but you want to make your main character’s life difficult, so you shouldn't have too many characters who are simply helpful. Complex characters are more likely to cause trouble, intentionally or not.

Not All Grandmothers Have White Hair

What about minor characters who don’t have an important role? What about secondary characters in picture books, where you don’t have much time for developing complex characters?

In times like these, it can actually help to turn to a recognizable “type” – the comforting grandmother, the bratty younger brother, the geeky science teacher, the peppy cheerleader. The reader sees those quick clues and understands the character. However, watch out for negative stereotypes. You know, the ones based on race, gender, religion, size etc., that are hurtful or reinforce prejudice.

You might also ask if you can add a twist to make that character type fresh. This doesn’t need to take up much space in your story, but it can make your world more interesting. For example, let’s say you want your main character to turn to a grandmother for comfort. Your first instinct might be to create a sweet, white-haired lady who always has fresh baked cookies on hand. That could work, and it’s not harmful, but it is a cliché and rather blah.

Now try giving Granny a twist. Maybe she dyes her hair platinum blonde and get donuts from the bakery. Maybe she is a school principal who babysits her grandkids during the summer. Maybe she goes bowling most evenings, but will take time out to console her grandson over a plate of bowling alley nachos. Maybe she’s running for mayor, but always has time for a cup of herbal tea and conversation. Maybe she and your main character have long talks while they walk her St. Bernard. The possibilities are endless – and a whole lot more interesting than that old cliché!

Think of the grandmothers you know. Their ages may cover quite a range. They might hold a variety of jobs, or be homemakers, or be retired. They may have a husband or a wife, or be dating, or be happy alone. They have a variety of hobbies and interests. Try making your minor characters as fresh and real as the people you know. They may give you new ideas for developing your main character or your story. But even if they stay in the background, they’ll make that background more enjoyable!

Exercise: think of a type – jock, cheerleader, bully, high school science teacher, grandparent or whatever. Write a brief description, making it fresh. If you wind up writing more than a couple of lines, go back and pull out just one to three details that do the best job of making an interesting character in the least time.

Exercise: go through your work in progress and list every secondary character who has a role beyond a few lines. Make a few notes on each one – what is their basic personality and role in the story? What do they want?

Then, for each secondary character, ask:

  • Could I develop this character more, to make him or her more complicated?
  • How could this secondary character be causing problems for my main character?
  • If the character is already causing problems, could they be even worse?

If you don’t have many secondary characters, consider adding some. What kind of character could add complications and drama? Make sure any new secondary characters fit smoothly into the plot, and don’t feel like they are just shoved in to cause trouble.

Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. In The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, a brother and sister help a ghostly miner find his long-lost mine. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Fun Anti New Year's Resolutions for Writers

Since it’s still January, I was going to post about how much I hate traditional New Year’s resolutions. I never follow through and I resent the fact that I’ve set myself up for failure. But then I decided to look at it a different way. A new year can be a fresh start, and as I’m always looking for ways to enrich my writing ability, I came up with some anti-resolutions of things that in a roundabout way will give me new ideas and experiences to incorporate into my writing. I'm hoping some of these will inspire you too. So here’s what I’m going to do:

Try a new hobby or sport, even if it’s only one time, or volunteer someplace I’ve never volunteered before. And once I am into the process, I’m going to try to think about how it differs from writing. A character’s hobbies and interests are a huge part of them, and sometimes it’s hard to imagine how a character would feel doing something I haven’t personally experienced. I’m not going to take up marathon running (!) but I am thinking about a new hobby. Chinese brush painting appeals to me, so I’m going to try my hand at that.

Read a nonfiction book on a topic or subject I know little or nothing about. I’ve already got a book picked out. I bought this book a few years ago and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. I’m intrigued by mazes, but I’ve never given myself the time to read about them.

Look through a big coffee table-type or a travel book about a place I’ve never been. Whenever I look at one of these types of books, it reminds me of everything that goes into worldbuilding in a story. The little details are what draw the reader in. And just a note, if you’ve never looked at the Eyewitness Travel Guides, published by Dorling Kindersley, they are astounding for the amount of detail and images packed into one book. I'm choosing Austria.

Go have lunch or dinner or coffee somewhere by myself and NOT CHECK MY PHONE. I’m going to people watch instead, sitting and absorbing the atmosphere. Even if I can’t go back in time to Renoir's Paris in the 1800s, it will still be a useful exercise. (Notice there are no cell phones in the picture.)

Try a food I’ve never had before. Writing for middle grade readers is often writing about experiences kids are having for the first time, even if it’s something very small and unimportant.  Adults generally have a set list of food items we eat, and we don’t think much about them, beyond the fact that something tastes good or it is or isn’t cooked particularly well. I made Moroccan food the other night, which I really like, but my kids have never had. They didn’t particularly like it and I think it’s because they weren’t used to cinnamon in a main course dish. My son didn’t know what exactly was in it, but he said it all tasted “muddled.” It struck me that I haven’t thought about how to describe how I felt about a new, but small experience in a long time. I’ve decided to try chayote. I don’t know many details about it yet, but it is sold in a local grocery store and I've always wondered what it tastes like.

So that’s my list. I’m thinking that I should easily be able to do these, especially since there are only five things on it, and I have a whole year for them. Any of these ideas appeal to you out there who might be on an anti-resolution kick too?

~Dee Garretson

Friday, January 17, 2014

Covers for New(ish) books by Project Mayhem Authors

Several authors here at Project Mayhem have new (or new-ish) covers and we thought it would be fun to show them off.

We all know how important a cover is. The fact that we tell people not to judge a book by it's cover reveals just what a deeply rooted impulse this is. A good cover can be the difference between someone picking a book up and reading the jacket, or not.

For an author, getting a cover is not unlike finding out that a baby is coming. At least, that's how it is for me. I have five children and four covers, so I've got some experience. (Note: the latter should continue to increase and overtake the former, which should level off). There is anticipation, excitement, and the wait seems impossibly long. And then it comes and suddenly, you are in love, and it is the most beautiful thing you've ever seen in your life.

So, be warned: an author with a cover may be like the dreaded grandparent on the train or bus who insists on showing you picture of beloved grandchildren.

In that spirit, below are some of these covers, with comments by the authors about why they love them.

This first cover is actually the cover to my book, LUMINESCENCE, which comes out in March. I quite literally started laughing out loud when I saw it because I was so excited. It is just perfect in so many ways.  First of all, it has wonderful continuity with the other two books in the series.

The colors have meaning in the story, and the swirly lace pattern in the background also has meaning. The burst of light has both symbolic significance as well as being integral to the plot. In just a few elements, the cover designer, Kristen Reeves, caught the whole essence of the story.

(Note: By the way, I'm working on putting together a blog tour for this book, so if you want to be part of that, let me know. You can contact me at: braden at

This next book cover is for Hilary Wagner's book, LORDS OF TRILLIUM. I asked Hilary what she liked about it and she said: "I love the incredible detail of it and the raw emotion Omar Rayyan, the illustrator managed to get into the rat's face. Omar is know as "the animal guy" for a reason! Omar also managed to catch the mood of the lab, clearly an ominous place. Last but not least, adding the human shadow was genius. He thought of everything!"

This book is THE GENIE'S GIFT by Chris Eboch. I asked Chris what she liked about this cover:
"I was originally thinking of something more 'cartoony' for this cover, but I love what illustrator Marlo Garnsworthy did with it, with lots of lovely details in the fabric and the genie's tattoos. It has motion and emotion, without being scary, since this a fun, lighthearted adventure story. And not the way the book designer did the title so it looks like the glow from the genie is lighting up the bottom of the letters!"
Dianne K. Salerni, author of the forthcoming The Eighth Day had this to say about her cover: "There are several things I like abou this cover, including the vibrant, stormy colors and the empty street, which depicts my premise of a secret, eighth day most people don't know about. Meanwhile, we've got a figure running into a mysterious portal--and while that is not a literal thing in my story, it does evoke the idea of a fantasy instead of an apocalyptic setting. 

Our last cover is for Eden Unger Bowditch's book, THE RAVENS OF SOLEMANO. Eden said: "Steve Parke is an amazing artist. He also did the cover of The Atomic Weight of Secrets...the first Young Inventors Guild book. We were in the US when he was working on The Ravens of Solemano and he offered to have my own kids on the front and back. My daughter is on the cover and my eldest son is on the back."

Now that you've seen these covers, you can go read (and then judge!) the books. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Quotes That Changed You by Hilary Wagner

Have you ever read a book when you were a child and loved it? Then, when you're all grownup, you reach for that book again, and after reading it, your reasons for loving that book are not only solidified, but made much clearer? You realize why, as a child, that book touched you in such a profound way. Some quotes made you laugh, some quotes made you smile, while others simply made you think.

One of those wonderful things about children's books are those life changing quotes that stick with us through adulthood. "You're entirely bonkers. But I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are." This wonderful quote from Lewis Carroll got me through those awkward years in life. I understood that fitting in isn't always what it's cracked up to be. Now, older, I hope I never fit in. ;)

Here are some of my most favorite quotes from my most beloved books. They helped me not only love books as a child, but think more of myself, who I wanted to be, and what amazing things I might be capable of.

What are some of your favorite quotes? Have you read any new books lately that wowed you with their own original quotes? Please share. And speaking of bonkers, most of us Mayhemers are slightly bonkers ourselves...we won't judge you. :)

"The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places." 
― Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

"Birdbrain, thought Mrs. Frisby, and then recalled what her husband used to say: The size of the brain is no measure of its capacity. And well she might recall it, for the crow's head was double the size of her own" 
― Robert C. O'Brien, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

"It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him." 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

"Trust me, Wilbur. People are very gullible. They'll believe anything they see in print." 
― E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

"No animal, according to the rules of animal-etiquette, is ever expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the off-season of winter." 
― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

"So many things are possible just as long as you don't know they're impossible." 
― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth 

"You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."
― A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Chris Eboch on A Year of Success

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I have some problems with the concept of “resolutions” (mainly in the way it’s almost assumed that you’ll keep them for a week or two and then fail). However, I do think it’s a good idea to check-in with yourself a couple of times a year. Are you on the path you want to be on? Do you even know the path you want to be on? Do you have a plan with achievable, specific goals along the way?

Last winter we did several SCBWI schmoozes in Albuquerque on issues in the writing life. During one meeting, we explored the idea of success. Here are some notes. Consider getting together with your critique group, other writing friends, or your family, to share these goals and figure out ways to keep each other on track.

Defining Success

If you have only vague ideas of what “success” means for your writing career, spend some time defining what success means to you. Set specific, achievable goals. Preface your resolutions or goals with a phrase such as, “I’m going to make my very best effort to _____________.” Ask yourself:

  • What is my primary writing goal?

  • What are my secondary writing goals?

  • How can these goals work together? Do they contradict each other at all? Do they interfere with other career, family, or personal goals?

  • What steps do I need to take? Do I need to work on specific craft techniques, time management, market research, or submissions?

  • Which steps come first? How can I schedule the steps to reach my goals?

It's easy to set goals and then forget all about them, so find a way to check in regularly – put a pop-up notice on your computer calendar, make goals check-in a monthly part of your critique group meeting, or have a weekly online chat with friends where you check progress.

More help (some of these posts are from last year, but the ideas are just as valuable):

Goal Setting Without Fear, from Crime Fiction Collective, by Peg Brantley: “One of my favorite sayings is ‘It doesn’t matter where you start out. What matters is where you end up.’”

Kelly Bennett on defining what you want as a writer: “I defined for myself what being a successful writer meant. Not vague “I want to be somebody,” wishes, either….”

Luke Reynolds on Redefining Success: “Redefining success allows us to continue to focus on the work at hand rather than the result.”

A Writer’s HAPPY New Year, by Kristi Holl: “I am going through my goals list again. I am adding goals geared toward renewal.” (Kristi has a great inspirational blog on issues in the writing life, such as overcoming self-doubt.)

Make Your Own Luck, by Angela Ackerman: We tend to say, “If I could ____, then it would help me succeed. Whatever your blank is, instead of thinking that it’s too hard to do, or something out of your control, Make Your Own Luck.”

Writing and Life Balance, by Susan Uhlig: on Discipline, Setting Priorities, and managing Life and Volunteer Duties.

Did you make writing resolutions this year? Did this post inspire you to start? How are you going to make sure you stay on track?

Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. In The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, a brother and sister help a ghostly miner find his long-lost mine. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.