Friday, October 29, 2010

Do you really need NaNo?

You've always heard that it's the fastest way to make money ever, and hey, why not jump on that bandwagon? You obviously write the best material known to man - it'll make Ernest Hemingway's pap look like goose turds! I mean, come on! JK Rowling will be on your speed dial! You'll call Stephen King your BFF! You just have to write it and your fabulosity will be known to the world, as it should be!

Is NaNo for you?

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say no.


In all honesty, if you look at your sentences and think that you are the Next Great American Novelist, I would humbly ask you to sit back, stop smoking whatever you're on and think a spell.

Most writers work a long time on their novels. Think about them longer. (I mean, I had the idea for POSSUM SUMMER like what, 20 years ago? I knew I couldn't write it back in the day) Work on their skillset, their way to tell a story, their everything. What they don't work on is their ego.

Ego will kill a writer.

I can't tell you how many writers I've worked with whose ego has far exceeded anything they've managed to finish. Ones that don't want to edit, because "they know best". Ones that irritate agents with rants and make the process harder for writers who really try to improve and treat agents and editors like the humans they are. The ones that talk about their craft so much I puke.

These people, these egos, I will say, respectfully: they are not needed.

Save NaNo for the people who try to finish that book they have inside them. You've started a book a few times, set it aside when you didn't know what you wanted to do? You've had an idea for the coolest book ever and want to write it, just don't have the time? That is what NaNo is for.

To strive for the beauty of the book, not the stroking of the ego.

You? Know anybody like that? And will you be doing NaNo?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My book's birthday wish

It's the birthday of my middle grade book!

(Its first birthday, as a matter of fact, so technically there should be only one candle on that cake. Hopefully, when it reaches that many candles, it will still be in print!)

Something near and dear to me is now making its way in the world, and I'm reflecting on the many wonderful influences that got it there.

When I was a middle grade kid, I spent countless happy hours in my parents' bedroom closet, hiding from the daily drama, sprawled on my stomach, reading middle grade books. I visited Oz more times than I can remember, and Narnia, and Middle Earth. I made friends with Martha, Jane, Mark, and Katharine in Half Magic, and Eliza, Jack, Roger, and Ann in The Time Garden. I foiled a Hanoverian plot with Dido Twite and Simon the painter. I learned that a tesseract was a fold in space used by time travelers.

What made me happy yesterday was reading Danny the Champion of the World. I enjoyed it as much as I would have when I was ten years old. Am I eternally juvenile? Maybe so, but there's a better explanation: I'm just as much of a person as I was then, and middle grade books are about people.

Not children.

Not adults.

Just people.

Sometimes when I tell people about The Boy Who Howled, I get the feeling they think it's a lesser accomplishment to have written a children's book than an adult thriller or even a young adult romance. These people have forgotten that they've always been people, even when they were little. So it's time I made a blanket statement. Every great writer, without exception, was turned on to reading and writing by a book he or she loved as a middle grade kid. That would include all the authors on the New York Times bestseller lists.

Which makes middle grade the most important genre. (With every blanket statement comes a blanket conclusion!)

This is my birthday wish, before I blow out the candle. I want everyone who's starting a family to remember this:

Read to your kids. Take them to the library. Let them pick out their own books. And be glad that they're people, like you!

Timothy Power

Friday, October 22, 2010

Got Brewer's?

Hey fellow writers! Where do you go for inspiration?

I once read an interview with J.K. Rowling where she said that several of her ideas were inspired by Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. And so I was introduced to this handy little book that provides a short definition for common phrases, mythological happenings, and other tidbits having to do with all things whimsical. Maybe I'm letting out a fabulous secret, or maybe every author out there is already combing Brewer's pages. But if you're looking for some great plot ideas (or a way to procrastinate), have a look through Brewer's compilation.

You can find it on Amazon or even browse online FOR FREE!

As you skim through it, you'll recognize a lot of familiar concepts, but I guarantee that your imagination will be sparked by other fascinating odds and ends. I'll pick the "E's" at random and include a few entries with story potential to pique your interest:

Earthmen (The) Gnomes and fairies of the mines: a solemn race, who nevertheless can laugh most heartily and dance most merrily.

Something to be licked up, a medicine made "thick and slab," which cannot be imbibed like a liquid nor bolted like a pill, but which must be licked up like honey.

Endymion in Greek mythology, is the setting sun with which the moon is in love. Endymion was condemned to endless sleep and everlasting youth.

Evil Eye
It was anciently believed that the eyes of some persons darted noxious rays on objects which they glared upon. The first morning glance of such eyes was certain destruction to man or beast, but the destruction was not unfrequently the result of emaciation.

Elshender or Cannie Elshie. The Black Dwarf, alias Sir Edward Mauley, alias the Recluse, alias the Wise Wight of Mucklestane Moor.

I've never read Sir Walter Scott's The Black Dwarf, but, I mean, seriously? The Wise Wight of Mucklestane Moor? That's a title I'd totally grab off the shelf. I think Dr. Brewer - fortunate enough to be christened with the handle Ebenezer Cobham - had an eye for curiosities.

Have I sold you on the pure brilliance that is Brewer's yet? If not, hop on over to the online edition, and let us know if you find anything good!

So, now that I've dished on one of my favorites, do you have any sources of inspiration you'd like to share?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Writing Dialogue for Middle Grade

I thought I’d continue Dawn’s discussion of what makes middle grade by focusing on writing middle grade dialogue. I have some writer friends who are querying stories and have been told the voice in their stories is YA instead of middle grade and vice versa. That got me thinking about what exactly that means in terms of dialogue.

The most glaring way to make something not middle grade is to have too many snarky characters. Certain television shows may make it seem like 11-year-olds are the most incredibly sophisticated, world-weary, witty mini-adults, but middle grade writers who have actually been around children know 11-year-olds don’t have the speech patterns of Jon Stewart wannabes.

As brave teachers know, in a group of thirty middle-graders, there will probably be one or two precocious ones who can outsnark most adults, but the rest of them talk like kids. That means there will be lots of teasing, random thoughts popping up that have nothing to do with the current conversation, some one-upmanship, and general silliness. There is absolutely not going to be deep discussions about feelings, nor much talk about life beyond the next few weeks, except when it involves birthday party or Halloween costume planning, all of which are discussed months in advance.

There is also an amazing difference in the way most kids talk among themselves and how they talk (or don’t) when a non-family adult or close friend of the family is present. By middle-grade age, most kids don’t let their whole personalities show around unfamiliar adults. They become much more quiet, except for the few very confident ones.

I get tired of the articles I read that claim you can hook middle grade boys with stories containing jokes about body functions. By the time boys are middle-grade age, those jokes are no longer so funny to most of them and they don't tell so many of them. A first grader will laugh, but most fifth grader have moved way beyond that. When they are together, they are much more interested in talking about their current obsessions, whether it be games, sports, books, movies, tv shows, or anything that fascinates them. And a fascination for one kid will lead him to talk about it whether or not anyone else is interested. There are books that describe toddlers doing ‘parallel play’, where they are playing next to each other, but not interacting. I think middle-graders have a lot of parallel conversations. It can be very funny to listen to three kids discussing three different subjects all at the same time. Sometimes one will listen to another, but often they just keep talking.

I have loved my years of being a mom chauffeur and eavesdropping in on middle-grader conversation. Kids at that age are so funny, it is one of the reasons I chose to write for this age group. I'd love to hear more tips and thoughts from any of you as writers, parents, teachers or librarians ~Dee

Thursday, October 7, 2010

How do you like your animals in MG?

When I was growing up, if it had an animal in it, I would read it. No question. I dreamed of the racehorses in the Farley books, named my pet rabbit after Hazel-rah in Watership down, cheered for the rats in the Nimh books...I soon learned there were two types of animals in the stories I inhaled.

One type worked with humans, the other type was the human.

Let me esplain. Those that worked with humans were the loyal sidekicks. The animal the kid in the story aspired to save / ride / win over. They were animals, had animal feelings and we as the humans could only guess at their motives.

The other type were those that 'were' the humans in the books. Anthropomorphism, I do believe it's called. Where the animal made the city, saved the day and they had their feelings out there for all to see...they were the humans (except for that small 'has a tail and excessive body hair' bit).

An excellent example of these two types are actually blog books here, actually. *g* Hilary Wagner's NIGHTSHADE CITY features anthropomorphic rats at their best - and earthworms! - while my book, POSSUM SUMMER, is on the other end of the scale...with the heartbreaking yet (hopefully) uplifting storyline.

I've read them both, and others, and really? Some days I just want to be picked up and hurled into a world where the animals are the humans. Some days I want what was my reality for so long. Who hasn't looked at their cat, watching them from the window, and wondered what exactly that dastardly beast was planning?

And you? Which type of animal story fits you best?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Nightshade City Winner is JF Posthumus!!!!

JF, YOU WON!! Please email us your name and address and a signed copy of NIGHTSHADE CITY will be on its way to you next week!!!! w00t!!! Thanks to all who took part in the fun!!!! ;)

Friday, October 1, 2010


Billycan from Nightshade City
Finally!!! The rats have arrived!!! In honor of their arrival, I'm giving out 2 signed copies of NIGHTSHADE CITY! One here and one on my blog! So, you have 2 brilliant chances to win! To enter, follow each blog if you don't already and leave a comment telling me your favorite book of all time!!! That's it!! Contest ends at midnight tonight! I love you guys and thanks so much for
your support!!! I can finally relax now--NOT!!! ;)

xoxo -- Hilary