Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Middle-Grade Book Review & Giveaway: The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless

Author: Allan Woodrow
Illustrator: Aaron Blecha
Release Date: April 26th, 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: Swiped the ARC out of the author's hands--literally!
Reviewer: Hilary Wagner
Giveaway: ARC and matching bookmark

Okay, so I met Allan at a recent author event we both appeared at in Chicagoland. The book signing portion comes along, and wouldn't you know it, Wagner and Woodrow are sitting side-by-side! I know Alan from the SCBWI, but had never met him in-person, so as you can imagine, when he pulled out a stack of those bright purple and green Zachary Ruthless ARC's, I got real chummy, real fast! Long story short, Allan's a super cool guy, and his debut novel THE ROTTEN ADVENTURES OF ZACHARY RUTHLESS is just as funny and fantastic as he is!

About the Book:
Zachary's lifelong dream is to join SOURBALLS, the world's most evil gang of super villains. But first he must perform a horrible deed. Zachary is forced to battle the horrible Mayor Mudfogg and others, not only to join the Society Of Utterly Rotten, Beastly And Loathsome Lawbreaking Scoundrels, but to survive.

What I Thought:
Boll weevils, rubber cockroaches, mustard, zombies, zucchini flavored gum, hypnotizing glasses, and of course a Box of Rotten...these are just a handful of the oh so handy things you'll find in THE ROTTEN ADVENTURES OF ZACHARY RUTHLESS.

The first book in the series, which follows around ten year old Zachary Ruthless, who, as you can guess by his name, is NOT exactly the sweetest kid on the block, is laugh out loud hilarious! I read it with my eight year old son, who was laughing his eight year old head off throughout the book, even dragging me (well, I wanted to see it, but I acted like I was being dragged) onto the website, a fun addition to the series, not to mention a great place to "Shop Evil"!

Woodrow has done a masterful job at relating the mindset of middle-grade kids, especially the naughty ones (which led me to some regret after reading, because he's only given my son more ideas on how to drive me insane!) This book is great for kids at all reading levels, and like the Wimpy Kid series, it will pull any reluctant reader out of their shell. It reads quickly and it's fast pace and action will allow even the most restless of readers to stay sitting for the whole book. Illustrator, Aarron Blecha, does a great job as well. The illustrations are perfect for the tone of the book and really add to the action.
Allan Woodrow
All-in-all, excellent debut! I'm so glad Allan so graciously allowed me to pilfer a copy! My son and I loved every minute of it, even though my son is now plotting his first horrible deed, hopefully it won't involve mustard. That stains everything! ;)

As a special bonus, Project Mayhem is giving away the ARC of THE ROTTEN ADVENTURES OF ZACHARY RUTHLESS, plus a matching uber cool Zachary Ruthless bookmark to one lucky reader. To enter the giveaway, follow the Project Mayhem blog and leave a comment! Winner will be announced Tuesday, April 1st!

You can pre-order this awesome book now and be sure to check out the Evil Bad Guy Stuff website!

xoxo -- Hilary

Monday, March 28, 2011

One of these things is not like the others

In 2010, filmmaker George Clarke discovered an anomaly in Charlie Chaplin's 1928 film The Circus. Something seemed strikingly out of place in the '20s milieu: a woman passerby appeared to be talking on a cell phone.

Whether or not this mysterious character was actually adjusting a General Electric hearing aid is not as interesting to me as the possibility that she was a time traveler somehow getting a signal from the Sprint network. And I'm not alone. A legend was born of "Charlie Chaplin's time traveler."

I defy anyone with a creative imagination to look at this snippet of Chaplin's footage and not come away bursting with story ideas, simply because something is so out of place.

When putting their stories together, writers take such pains to make sure everything fits. But imagining something that doesn't fit just may be a key to unlocking a treasure trove of creative ideas!

Consider these odd items:
A golden ticket inside an ordinary candy bar.

A curious gathering of long-robed individuals on a city street.

A message written on a spiderweb.

A rabbit with a pocket watch.

Add to them ...

A woman talking on a cell phone on a street in Hollywood, California in 1928.

I would definitely want to read that story, if not write it!

—posted by Timothy Power

Friday, March 25, 2011

Young Adult vs. Middle Grade

The Wikipedia definition of Young Adult Fiction is, fiction marketed to adolescents and young adults, roughly ages 14 to 21. The vast majority of YA stories portray an adolescent as the protagonist, rather than an adult or a child. The subject matter and story lines are typically consistent with the age and experience of the main character, but beyond that YA stories span the entire spectrum of fiction genres. If you look for the Wikipedia definition for Middle Grade fiction, you won’t find one.

Some of the defining points between MG and YA are the age of the protagonist, intended audience, subject matter, and word count.

Age of the protagonist and intended audience:  Typically, middle grade is intended for readers ages 8-12, with the protagonist at the higher end of the age range.  The reason for this:  while an 8-year-old would have no problem reading about a 12-year-old protagonist, a 12-year-old may be reluctant to read a book about an 8-year-old.

Subject Matter: MG readers are learning about who they are, what they think, and where they fit in. They do well with books they can relate to. They are still focused inward and the conflicts in MG books usually reflect this. The themes can range from school situations, friendships, relationships with peers and siblings, and daily difficulties that may seem ordinary to the rest of us. The parents are usually seen and have some sort of an influence. Kids at this age are also easily distracted,  so you want a faster pace and short chapters.
Young Adult novels deals with underlying themes and more complicated plots. It allows teens to examine deeper issues, what their role in life is, the differences a person can make, the importance of relationships, coping with tragedy, etc.  Protagonists are usually searching for their identity, figuring out who they are as an individual and where they fit in. These books generally are more gritty and realistic and the teens choices and actions drive the story. You see less parental influence.

Word Count:  Middle Grade used to be 20,000-40,000 words, some say around 50,000 words.
Young Adult is generally more around 55,000 to 80,000 words.

Exceptions:  So while there are defining differences, there are also exceptions.
Harry Potter and the Twilight series definitely exceeded the word count. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold has a fourteen-year-old protagonist in what is considered a higher end YA or even adult novel.

Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish, although intended for a much younger audience, the protagonist is an adult, a literal –minded housekeeper, and it definitely works for this series, making it a fun classic!
And what about those hybrid graphic novels that are so hot right now? I’m betting those fall under the normal word count, making room for all the illustrations.

With so many cross-over genre books for these age-ranges, there’s something for everyone to read and write. What differences do you notice most in MG and YA?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why we network

Yo! Hey all. *waves* It's me, Yahong. So if you hang around Twitter, you might've heard me saying (well, wailing my eyes out, really) that I had no idea what to do for my first post. I decided to tread on safe, familiar ground for this time 'round--social networking.

It's been said that all writers need blogs. That Twitter is essential for reaching other writers. That Facebook is a must-have since that's where our audience is. And all that is true--but sometimes social networking just feels like a chore.

But hey, it doesn't have to be! (Why do you think teens spend so much time on Facebook, hmm?) Check out some reasons why socializing online is fun.

  • Getting to know others. Believe me, that feeling when you realize you're not the only one slogging through this dream? Brilliant. It's a whole community you're linking up to out there on the Web.

  • Support goes both ways. Retweet that brilliant post by your newfound friend today, and tomorrow, when your newly-launched blog wilts by itself, that new friend just might bring along a whole slew of readers.

  • It's educational. How could you have known that AgentLadyX liked her queries to start with a comparison if it weren't for a link shared on Facebook?

  • It's fun and friendly. Chatting casually with others can be a great way to end the day. As C. S. Lewis said, "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one'."

See why Twitter, Facebook, etc. can be so addicting? All these good reasons! :)

What do you enjoy most about social networking?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Don't Dress Up Your Dogs

Hi there! I’m Michael Winchell, a brand new Mayhemer. Glad to be here, but I’m still waiting for a bar of that pink Project Mayhem soap. Where is it?!

After a lot of thought about what I should do with this initial post, I decided it’d be a good idea to tie it to my sense of faith. Yes, that’s right. I’m going to turn to The Good Book and let Him preach The Word. And of course, by "Him" I mean Stephen King, by "The Word" I mean his advice on the craft of writing, and by "The Good Book" I mean King’s ON WRITING. What’d you think I was talking about?

For many writers, ON WRITING has served as a guiding light in times of darkness. It sure has for me. You’ll catch me referring to it now and then, and that’s because his advice has helped me work my way out of more than a few writing funks. The focus for this post is vocabulary in middle grade, and although he never specifically mentions middle grade in his book, Stephen King’s advice about vocabulary has served as a GPS for me.

In his book, King compares writers to carpenters, and in that vein, he says all writers should have a toolbox that should be brought to the worksite each time they punch the clock and go to work. I love his statement to “put your vocabulary on the top shelf of your toolbox, and don’t make any conscious effort to improve it.” He goes on to explain that, sure, you’ll improve your vocabulary as you read—something he says all writers must do—but he says while you’re writing you shouldn’t struggle to find longer, more obscure words to replace those shorter ones that first come to mind. A great example comes when he talks directly to writers: “Make yourself a solemn promise right now that you’ll never use emolument when you mean tip.”  If you’re wondering why you shouldn’t upgrade each word with a handy-dandy thesaurus, King breaks it down with the basic rule of vocabulary, which is to “use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful.” This is true, especially with middle grade.

I’m not saying middle grade writers should “dumb down” their word choice for the sake of young readers, but the way to think of it is to make sure the vocabulary matches the voice of your narrator. Vocabulary is easier to manipulate with third person narration, but when a writer chooses first person narration, it is important to make sure your diction is in line with your narrator/character. I often select first person narration because it allows the reader an intimate passageway into my main character’s mind, and I also enjoy first person because it allows me (forces me, actually) to understand my main character a bit more, and in turn, allows me to really experience the story as I’m telling it. The tricky thing is making sure my word choice goes along with my narrator, and not me personally.

Here’s a real world example. I had a colleague a while back that clearly had a use-one-new-word-a-day strategy for vocabulary development. I’m sure she even highlighted the words in her dictionary each morning, maybe even checked them off each night. Anyway, she would throw that new word into a conversation less-than-subtly, and voila, she had used a new word. Kudos to her, right? Not quite. The reason I refrain from the kudos application is because it was jarring whenever she’d used those new words. The words stood out like stars in the clich├ęd pitch-black sky. Using words, whether you’re speaking or writing, should be an effortless affair. For this colleague of mine, it all came down to the simple fact that it wasn’t her. Her words du jour didn’t at all go along with who she really was. Part of me was happy to see her broadening her vocabulary horizons, but the other part wanted to tell her to forgo the awkward experiment because, well, it made her look like a fool. And this is why your first person narrator mustn’t step outside his vocabulary box for the sake of you “showing off” as a writer. It’s like saying, “Look at me, I’m all writerly and such. I can use me some big words—words that are as elephantinely prodigious as they are anomalously imparted.” Please reread the quoted material and tell me if the first part of the quote lines up with the second half. Not at all, right? Isn’t it jarring? Now imagine if I had my first-person, middle-grade narrator write this. It'd be even more jarring, and the result would be a lack of effortlessness (the adult writer would show through, and you don't want to be noticeable at all).

Stephen King explains that using long, obscure words to replace more exact, shorter ones is like “dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed.” King is 100% accurate. Your words are like the loving pets you mingle with every day in the comfort of your home. This isn’t a dog show, people. Let your words walk around the house in their birthday suits, and stop forcing them to dress up in tuxedos as they prance about with high-stepping awkwardness while judges poke, prod, and fondle your diction. Something about that last sentence seems inappropriate, but let’s not read into my word choice too much.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What's So Great About Middle Grade?

I'm PROJECT MAYHEM newbie Caroline Starr Rose! For my first post here, I thought it might be helpful to share a bit about myself and why I’m so passionate about middle grade books. This is a portion of an interview I did in December 2009 at Valerie Geary’s Something To Write About.

What is your favorite part about writing Middle Grade fiction?
I love being able to validate children through story, their experiences, fears, and dreams. Books are a place we get to examine life intentionally, its big events and small. Writing for children allows me to share the profundity of the ordinary, small moments that make up our lives.

What is the hardest part about writing Middle Grade fiction?
It’s really important to make sure my voice is authentic and my tone is respectful. The writing must be super tight. Children’s authors don’t have the luxury of wandering through a story. The approach must be direct, crisp, and streamlined. That doesn’t mean the writing is bare bones, just that every word counts.
What is one thing people misunderstand about Middle Grade fiction?
A lot of people don’t realize mid-grade fiction has literary merit. I love it when I can convince an adult to pick up a mid-grade novel. It’s even better when I find out they love it. I convinced a book club I was once a part of to include a mid-grade title on every yearly list. I remember Holes and Carry On, Mr. Bowditch were particular favorites.
What’s so important about Middle Grade fiction? 
These books are really the first children explore on their own. As independent readers, kids start to develop their interests and preferences in literature while growing into their own personhood. I know Young Adult (YA) fiction is often described as the genre for firsts: first love, first big decisions, etc. But to me, mid-grade is the ultimate genre for the first experiences and emotions that are all a part of growing up. 

What about you? Why are you passionate about middle grade? 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Do you GOT POSSUM? Comment & WIN!!!

Possum Summer by Jen K Blom

Heya Mayhem-ers!

I've got some snazzy news! My book will arrive in the warehouse in early April! Like, MY BOOK. Arriving! Real books! Not just imaginary books!

So to celebrate this I want to give a GIVEAWAY out here today on the blog! Because ... MY BOOK. Is. Arriving! Soon!

If you click follow and make a comment here, you can win:

- A signed hardcover of POSSUM SUMMER!
- A GOT POSSUM? T-shirt!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you will look OH SO FLY as you recline in your fantabulous got possum tshirt, reading your copy of POSSUM SUMMER!

Don't delay! Comment today and follow the blog if you don't already!! That's it!

(Giveaway ends next Monday. Tell your friends! Depending on the amount of comments (and followers added) I will add to the prize!)

Watch the Possum Summer Book Trailer HERE!!!!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Future of Our Libraries


I wrote the main part of this piece posted below several months ago after a particularly good day at the library when I was feeling overwhelming library love. It seems appropriate to post it now,  as libraries are under even more strain today than they were then.  Like every writer I know, I love libraries, but until a few years ago I have to admit I took them somewhat for granted. Last year, when the city I lived in announced they were closing three branches, I was shocked, particularly when I learned those branches were in the parts of town where free access to books was most needed. It hadn’t even occurred to me that libraries could actually close. In this era of budget cuts and the changes in publishing, I worry about other libraries, not just in my city, but everywhere. They are so vital for so many reasons, not only as affordable ways for people to enjoy books, but also as the cultural repositories of our society. I only hope society will continue to value them. I’d love to know what others think about the future of  libraries. What do you all see as how they will change to meet the future? Or even, should they change? Please leave your ideas in the comments. And here’s my original piece:

Why I Need Libraries to Write Fiction
I’ve been pondering exactly what role libraries and librarians play in my own job. I write fiction, so some people assume I just make things up. Why would I need a library? Well, I do make things up, but I couldn’t have written WILDFIRE RUN without the fabulous library and librarians in my city.
I have a pretty good imagination, but for contemporary fiction to be believable, it has to be based in some sort of reality. I wrote a book set at Camp David, and Secret Service agents play a part in the book. It’s not so easy to walk up to the gates of Camp David and knock, expecting to be let in, or to find Secret Service agents who will talk about their jobs. So I researched. That’s not an easy task either. If you Google Camp David and books, you get many examples of fiction about it, but not much nonfiction. People who work there don’t write tell-alls. I didn’t want to base my book on some other writer’s imagination, so I knew I’d have to take another approach.
There were two great books at the library, and I’m so thankful they were there, but I needed more. I ended up tackling rows of biographies on Presidents who’d been at Camp David. By looking in the indexes, I could find mention of the place, and I managed to glean pieces of valuable information. I couldn’t have done that without the library unless I had ordered dozens of books, hoping I’d hit upon a useful one.
Besides Camp David, I needed confirmation of some other details in my story. For reasons too long to explain here, I needed to know there were old jeeps with large doors. I didn’t want to just stick a jeep in my story and claim it was the right size. I didn’t know how to find that information. I spent hours on the internet and found out way too much about how to buy parts to restore jeeps, but I couldn’t find the detail I needed.
I went to the library. Since I’m embarrassed by some of the weird things I ask librarians to help me find, I rotate which librarians I approach, so they won’t remember me and take up hiding when they see my face. I explained what I wanted, and a wonderful librarian pointed me to something called “Jane’s Military Vehicles”. I haven’t researched Jane, so I can’t explain why the book has such a funny title, but it’s real, official and incredibly detailed. I found my jeep.
Sadly, I was too excited over the find to take note of the librarian’s name. I did thank her, but then I went off to gloat over my glorious bit of knowledge. So thank you again, Mystery Librarian, whoever you are. You may be unknown, but you aren’t unsung. Next time you see someone in a fake nose and glasses wanting to know how to find the wolf population in Slovakia, it just might be me. I couldn’t do my job without you.

Posted by Dee Garretson, Author of Wildfire Run (HarperCollins 2010)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dear Lisa: Keep reading! Love, Me

Doonesbury's B.D. is a football fanatic. Schroeder from Peanuts is a piano virtuoso. Which cartoon character do you think is most associated with book reading?

You have two seconds to think about it.

The answer is The Simpsons' own Lisa Simpson! And the proof can be found at The Lisa Simpson Book Club, a website that celebrates the brainy eight-year-old's unrelenting love affair with the written word. The Lisa Simpson Book Club solicits images of Lisa reading books from all and sundry. Here are some choice examples.

Lisa is a self-made bookaholic. As she once famously told her brother, "Bart, having never received any words of encouragement myself, I'm not sure how they're supposed to sound. But here goes: I believe in you."

When Lisa's friend Artie asked her, "Doesn't your dad ever read to you?" Lisa answered, "He tried once, but he got confused and thought the book was real. He's still looking for that chocolate factory ... it consumes him."

On one dark occasion Lisa imagined being in jail.
"Bookmobile," announced the guard.
"Got any Joyce Carol Oates?" Lisa asked.
"Nothing but Danielle Steel," replied the guard.
Lisa's reaction: "NOOOOOO!"

Remember this notorious exchange between Lisa and literary supernova J.K. Rowling?

Lisa Simpson: Ms. Rowling, I love your books. You've turned an entire generation on to reading.
J.K. Rowling: Thank you, young Muggle.
Lisa Simpson: Could you tell me what happens at the end of the series?
J.K. Rowling: [exasperated] He grows up and he marries you! Is that what you want to hear?
Lisa Simpson: [dreamily] Yes.

I was going to try to make this blog post into a discussion of book clubs and what they mean to us writer folk, but honestly. What's the point? This is just a big love letter of encouragement and support to Lisa Simpson. Nothing more, nothing less!

—posted by Timothy Power