Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Monday, November 24, 2014
Writing, whether fantasy, history, or contemporary, requires building the world from the ground up -- and often from the ground down too. Whether a world is faithfully reproduced or entirely invented, the writer must construct it on the page.
I constructed my dollhouse out of scrap calico and wood. I populated it with costumed fur mice, which didn't seem ghoulish at the time but definitely were when I took them out of the non-archival storage of our garden shed. Generations of live mice had scurried through those open-sided walls. My mouse house had become real with time, like the Skin Horse in the Velveteen Rabbit. Like the stories I wrote and bound myself that turned into other stories, and still others that are real books and books-to-be.
So this weekend I cleaned out the mouse droppings and washed the linens. Salvaged broken furniture and paged through the mini newspapers and magazines I had made, complete with crime reports and cigarette ads. (The past was no paradise.)
And now the dollhouse belongs to my daughters to rebuild, redecorate, and repopulate with their own imaginations. I do have a few ideas for hardwood floors and curtains, and I may have time to squeeze them in between drafts. Worlds must be built.
What activities, seemingly unrelated to books, helped shape you as a writer or reader?
Friday, November 21, 2014
Thursday, November 20, 2014
* “This is a fun and entertaining fairy-tale based fantasy with a nice balance of character development and action.” –School Library Journal (starred review)
Marissa Burt’s Storybound: In our world, twelve-year-old Una Fairchild has always felt invisible. But all that changes when she stumbles upon a mysterious book buried deep in the basement of her school library, opens the cover, and suddenly finds herself transported to the magical land of Story. But Story is not a perfect fairy tale. Una’s new friend Peter warns her about the grave danger she could face if anyone discovers her true identity. The devious Tale Keeper watches her every move. And there are whispers of a deadly secret that seems to revolve around Una herself….
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
|My first professional cover!|
How involved is the writer in the cover design process? Going into my first book, I was clueless. I just knew that as an artist I wanted input. Ideally, an editor will ask an author questions early on to determine their vision, and at this point in the process it’s good to be as clear and descriptive as possible. What else can you do to make sure you get a cover you'll be proud of? If you’re an artistic person, you can share your vision in several ways. You can email photos of other covers that you think are particularly well done. You can also create a Pinterest page to capture the mood of your novel and share that with your editor and the design team. In my case, my editor was happy to look at some concept drawings I whipped up.
In the end, I loved the simple, in-your-face approach that the cover artist assigned to Frenzy took for the finished piece. It was the right choice. It says everything you need to know about the book in an eye-catching manner without giving too much away.
Is there anything you can do if you’re vehemently opposed to your book’s cover art? Yes, there are steps you can take. If you’re truly not happy with the cover, first ask yourself why that is. Is it because the direction the art team took wasn't exactly what you envisioned or is it because you honestly feel the cover looks bad or misrepresents your story? If the former is true, you should know that it’s not the publisher’s job to give you exactly what you want. It’s their job to sell the book and sell as many copies as possible. The publisher has a lot at stake, too. They’re investing their time, energy and money, and the last thing they want is to let that investment go to waste because of a poorly executed cover. The cover is just as important to your publisher as it is to you. Show the cover to a few trustworthy bibliophiles and artistic friends. Show your agent. Get opinions. But if you still feel as though the cover is entirely wrong for your book then you should talk to your editor, preferably through your agent, if you have one. Keep in mind, it’s not enough to say, “I hate this cover.” You should be able to offer a list of suggestions to fix the problem. You may find that your publisher is open to implementing some of them. Just know that unless your contract says otherwise, in the end, your publisher has the final say.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
As a mother, a former teacher, and a children's author, I am so grateful for the writers who choose to take this difficult topic head on. Here are four books published in the last year that touch on bullying in some way. These aren't the simple "problem novels" of my childhood. Each contains layers of real complexity, allowing readers to experience the story alongside characters who are true to life and reside in a recognizable world.
Abigail and her two best friends are poised for a life of pom-poms and popularity. But not only does Abigail end up in a different homeroom, she doesn’t make the squad. Then everyone’s least favorite teacher pairs Abigail up with the school’s biggest outcast for a yearlong “Friendly Letter Assignment.” Abigail can hardly believe her bad luck. As her so-called best friends and potential for popularity seem to be slipping away, Abigail has to choose between the little bit of fame she has left or being a true friend.
ALWAYS, ABIGAIL is an epistolary novel whose entire story is told through a series of lists. What I found fascinating about it was how familiar these sixth graders interactions felt. There isn't one bully in this story. Several kids get that title, at times including Abigail herself.
Sourcebooks has developed a curriculum guide that talks about popularity, outcasts, friendship, and bullying.
Ever since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart—and outrun—the rival cross country team, Palmetto Ridge. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens. It’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.
Kerry O'Malley Cerra has managed to capture the confusion and fear that surrounded the early days of September 11, 2001 as well as actions of both kindness and biogtry. Kerry's website includes excellent resources, including the story behind the inspiration for the book as well as teacher resources.
Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid.
The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear—sometimes things she shouldn’t—but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for.
I loved this review of EL DEAFO by teacher Gary Anderson, specifically this observation: "EL DEAFO also includes a bully who is mean to Cece in a way that has nothing to do with her deafness." This story moves beyond what might be expected in a way that is both rich and satisfying.
Abrams has created this teacher's guide.
Though he thinks of himself as a cowboy, Tommy is really a bully. He’s always playing cruel jokes on classmates or stealing from the store. But Tommy has a reason: life at home is tough. His abusive mother isn’t well; in fact, she may be mentally ill, and his sister, Mary Lou, is in the hospital badly burned from doing a chore it was really Tommy’s turn to do. To make amends, Tommy takes over Mary Lou’s paper route. But the paper route also becomes the perfect way for Tommy to investigate his neighbors after stumbling across a copy of The Daily Worker, a communist newspaper.
Tommy is shocked to learn that one of his neighbors could be a communist, and soon fear of a communist in this tight-knit community takes hold of everyone when Tommy uses the paper to frame a storeowner, Mr. McKenzie. As Mr. McKenzie’s business slowly falls apart and Mary Lou doesn’t seem to get any better, Tommy’s mother’s abuse gets worse causing Tommy’s bullying to spiral out of control.
THE PAPER COWBOY, which debuts this month, has so far earned three starred reviews. Kirkus calls it "winningly authentic; Publishers Weekly says its "a thoughtful story about understanding and compassion, distinguished by complex characters"; and Booklist describes it as "sophisticated [and] powerful."
Editor Stacey Barney talks about her love for THE PAPER COWBOY here.
Do you have any other books that might fit on our list? Please add to the conversation!
I'm giving away an advance reader copy of THE PAPER COWBOY. To enter, simply leave a comment below. US residents only, please. The winner will be announced Friday, November 21.
Monday, November 17, 2014
I can’t really do John Smelcer justice in a short blog post. He’s authored over forty-five books, has degrees in archeology, linguistics, literature and education, is the last surviving reader and writer of the Alaskan Native Language, Ahtna, and has won numerous awards for his writing. His books, four of which I’ll highlight below, have been widely and favorably reviewed. If you’ve never read any of Smelcer’s work, I’d start with The Trap. It is a classic survival story, and like most of Smelcer’s fiction, it is inspired by true events and personal experiences.
Lone Wolves (2013 Leap Frog Press)