Friday, July 29, 2011

*I* still love you, Mary!

When the touring production of the Broadway version of Mary Poppins made its way to town this summer, I was excited to see it with friends. Ours was an adults-only outing, and we had a really good time. There were lots of kids in the audience, however, and most of them seemed to have fun, too. Most. We were a bit amused by the young boy who ended up sitting next to a friend of mine. He was less than enthralled.

“That’s it?” he kept whispering to his mother throughout the performance. “They just sing? That’s all they do? Sing?”

When the curtain dropped for intermission, he asked, “It’s over now, right? We can leave now, can’t we?”

I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation, so I don’t know what his reaction was when his mother explained to him that it was just intermission and it would be another good hour-and-a-half or so until the show was over. I can only assume he wasn’t too happy.

My friends and I were so mesmerized by the performance, we were at a loss as to how anyone could possibly be bored. Has anyone here seen it? It’s amazing!!! To answer the young man’s question, no, they don’t just sing. The sets, the dance numbers, the special effects—everything is larger than life and simply incredible. Here’s my favorite number:

I mean, how could anyone get bored watching that?! Bert actually tap dances on the ceiling! And his hat doesn’t even fall off when he’s hanging upside down from the rafters. That’s pretty magical in my opinion.

But apparently it wasn’t this young man’s cup of tea. Which makes me feel better about some of the rejection letters I’ve gotten. Let’s face it—you can put forth the mightiest effort in the world and some members of your audience will still fail to be impressed. Even if you tap dance on the ceiling.

So writers, take heart! Even Mary Poppins gets a thumbs down from time to time.

Have you had a young one in your life turn up their nose at a beloved movie or book?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A brief history of how I came to be a writer

I came at writing slowly.

As a kid I spent most of my free time playing or watching TV. I liked to read but not in an obsessive way. And I didn’t write unless I had to for school.

My senior year of high school I had an English teacher who really knew how to bring books to life through discussion, and I discovered that I liked thinking deeply about books.

In college I started keeping a journal, but only wrote in it sporadically about girls I liked but was too shy to ask out, or about what life is all about, or about how I needed to get off my butt and do something, anything.

Sophomore year I decided to major in English because I had to major in something and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life besides go camping and backpacking.

My last two years of college I wrote lots of old-style rhyming poetry, modeling the poets I was reading, and had two poems published in a tiny student literary journal.

When I moved to Alaska a few years later and was living in a cabin outside of town, I wrote some really bad short stories about a guy living in a cabin where not much of anything is happening. Yeah, writing what you know doesn’t always work out.

Fast forward a few years: I’m teaching English in an alternative school and I discover Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature. I start bringing home books by the arm-load, searching for a few my reluctant and struggling readers will connect with, and fall in love with the genres.

Now that I’ve got my students reading, I’m looking for ways to turn my students on to writing so we start writing scenes using characters from the novels we are reading.

My students like doing the assignments, but I love doing the assignments.

I’m not sure I would’ve started writing MG and YA if it weren’t for my students. Now, I’m hooked.

How did you come to be a writer? Did you love writing from an early age or did you discover it in a more roundabout way?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Win a signed copy of VILLAIN SCHOOL, by Stephanie S. Sanders!

Please join me in welcoming debut middle-grade author Stephanie S. Sanders to Project Mayhem today. She is the author of VILLAIN SCHOOL: Good Curses Evil, coming August 30, from Bloomsbury! 

The lovely Stephanie S. Sanders
Three delinquent villains. A school that will teach them to be bad. And one unbelievable assignment. Rune Drexler is a student at Master Dreadthorn's School for Wayward Villains. It's like a military school for the children of evil villains. Rune is nearly failing his villain studies, so he's sentenced to a Plot by his father, Master Dreadthorn. In one week he must:

1. Kidnap a princess
2. Steal a baby
3. Find a henchman
4. Overthrow a kingdom

If he succeeds, Rune will be promoted to Fiend, if he fails, he'll be exiled from the villain community forever. Luckily, he may choose two Conspirators, so Rune chooses his best friends Countess Jezebel Dracula and Big Bad Wolf Junior. Only one problem, Rune's not very evil. In fact, his behavior on the Plot seems suspiciously heroic….

Villain School is a world of fairytale villains that kids of all ages will enjoy!

Doesn't this sound fantastic??! In honor of her debut, Stephanie will be sending one lucky win a signed copy of the Villain School ARC!

Stephanie, sum up your book in a tweet! 140 characters only!
A wayward warlock, a cocoa-loving vampire, and a not-so-Big Bad Wolf set off from Villain School on a Plot to prove they can be villainous.

Stephanie, tell us something cool, creepy, or special about VILLAIN SCHOOL: GOOD CURSES EVIL, that's not in the blurb!
One of the main characters not mentioned in the blurb is Chad, Rune’s cookie-baking roommate. Curly-haired, blue-eyed, freckle-faced Chad doesn’t seem like much of a villain, but looks can be deceiving.

What inspired you to write this book? Had the idea been brewing for a while, or did something inspire you out of the blue?
This book was completely out of the blue. I awoke one morning with a vague idea and jotted down a few words in a notebook: “Evil Villain School. Hero School. Villain father is angry his son is questioning evil ways.” Those few words sparked a whole book! And although I never got a chance to write about a Hero School in this book, it’s something that fans of Villain School might get to read about in the future.

Now, I know you've written more than one book. Is there a method to your madness or do you approach each book differently? In other words, explain your writing style!
This is tough. Lots of writers talk about the writing process and how they have a whole series planned out from beginning to end before they even pick up a pen and put the first word on paper. I’m not like that. My ideas are rarely in order. They flutter and fly and roll and tumble through my mind, and I have to catch them like butterflies or pick them like flowers or sometimes run through them like rainstorms until I’m soaked through with ideas. Then I can wring them out, put them in some kind of sensible order, and that becomes a story. Sometimes I have to rearrange my ideas or even (and this is the hardest part) start completely over. If I’m lucky, in the end, they make some kind of sense and can become a great story, like Villain School! 

What's your favorite food?  
Dutch letters! These are sweet flaky pastries in the shape of an S (for Stephanie!) and filled with almond paste, which sounds gross but tastes amazing.
Describe yourself in four words:  
Shy, creative, sarcastic, hungry.
What's your guilty pleasure TV show (be honest!)?  
My family and I ditched cable, so I have to catch re-runs on Netflix. I tend to get addicted to one series at a time. Then I watch every episode straight through for days on end until I’ve seen them all. The last couple addictions were The Adventures of Merlin & The Legend of the Seeker. I’m a sucker for fantasy shows (and stories).
If you weren't a writer, what's the one thing you'd want to be?  
A writer. (Love this answer!)

You can find everything Villain School & everything Stephanie HERE:            
Book website:

GIVEAWAY RULES: Easy-peasy rules, people! Simply follow the Project Mayhem blog if you don't already, and leave Ms. Stephanie a comment! That's it! Winner will be announced Tuesday of next week! ;)

On behalf of all Project Mayhem Team Members & Head Mischief Makers, CONGRATS, Stephanie!!!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Confession Time

I've never read past the first Harry Potter. 

Sure, it was great, but as I was teaching at the time, there were too many other new titles in my classroom library vying for my attention, and I fell behind. I figured once I had children of my own I'd start the series again.

Fast forward a dozen years: my older son tried The Sorcerer's Stone and after three chapters wasn't interested enough to continue. My younger guy is still reading Beverly Clearly and the like. Maybe in a few years we'll read it together. It's hard to say.

Do I feel like I've missed out? I guess. I don't understand the desire to recount the coolest scenes or favorite characters or the recent last movie phenomenon. But it's really no big deal. There are plenty of other marvelous books I've devoured since 1998, when Muggles everywhere first learned of Harry and Hogwarts.

What big books or series have you never read?

And the burning question: Have I just called down the wrath of fellow Project Mayhemers on my head? 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Trauma Queen by Barbara Dee: Book Review & Giveaway!

Publisher: Aladdin
Author: Barbara Dee
Pub Date: April 2011
Age Rage: 9 - 12

Publisher Summary:
Every tween girl knows what it's like to have a mom who can be a little embarrasing at times. But for Marigold, it goes way beyond embarrassing. Marigold's single mom is a performance artist, meaning she stages dramatic, wacky performances to express her personal beliefs. Things like wrapping herself in saran wrap for a piece on plastic surgery, or inviting people over in the middle of the night to videotape her sleeping. In fact, Marigold's mom's performances caused such a ruckus in their last town that the two of them, along with Marigold's little sister, have just had to move. Now Marigold's starting a new school, missing her best friend like crazy, and trying to fit in all over again in the shadow of a mom who's famous for all the wrong reasons. As if that's not bad enough, Marigold's mom takes on a new job--teaching drama at Marigold's school! Now all the kids know instantly just how weird her mom is, and Marigold's worried she'll never be able to have a friendship that can survive her mother.

My Thoughts:
"I'm standing outside homeroom in yellow flannel monkey pajamas." This is the first sentence of the book, and no, the MC is not having one of those dreams where you forget to dress before leaving the house. As usual, this thirteen-year-old character, Marigold, finds herself in an embarrassing situation because of her mom.

Most of us know how difficult life can be as a teen. Like parents divorcing, moving aways from friends you've known your whole life, making new friends or  being the new kid in school. This story touches on all of that. And more. And no, it's not overwhelming or hard to believe. Barbara Dee found a way to make all of this work together in a funny, fresh, and lighthearted read, with very realistic characters.

I might not be a teen anymore (though I don't always act like it!) but I resonated with this character and so many times I found myself embarrassed for her! I couldn't wait to see how things turned out in the end and read this book in one sitting. And sacraficing sleep was well worth it!

I could go on and on about this book, about how I admire Barbara Dee's writing style, character depth, and voice. Or about the laugh out loud moments or when I almost teared up. But instead, I'll just give away a copy of Trauma Queen and let you read it for yourself.

Just follow Project Mayhem and leave a comment below to enter!

Check out these other great reads by Barbara Dee!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Winner - Signed Copy of Bruce Coville's The Dragon of Doom

Big congrats to Natalie Aguirre for winning our autographed copy of Bruce Coville's The Dragon of Doom! Thanks to all who entered. Natalie, if you have not yet done so, please e-mail me at to claim your prize.

-Dawn Lairamore

Monday, July 18, 2011

Drawing the Reader or the Agent/Editor In – How does your first chapter measure up?

First, I want to apologize to my fellow Project Mayhemers for not being around much the past few months. I’ve been finishing a draft of my new sci fi/fantasy story and it’s taken me way longer than I originally planned. Now that it’s done, I’m contemplating what needs to be tweaked. That led me to the idea for this post, along with the knowledge that I need to get my first chapter to work and work well. Avid readers will give books a chance to develop their stories, but busy/not so avid readers often need to be pulled in by page ten or so to be convinced to read on. Tastes are different though; some readers are pulled in by character while others need the plot to hook them. Finding the balance to appeal to both sorts of readers is the real challenge.

Very accomplished writers can get away with just plot or character in the first few pages if the writing is so compelling you have to keep reading. Margaret Peterson Haddix’s FOUND is a good example. The main character isn’t even in the first chapter, and Peterson breaks an unspoken rule by using the point of view of an adult character, but those pages are so spooky, I couldn’t stop reading.

THE PENDERWICKS by Jeanne Birdsall goes to the other extreme. The first chapter of it focuses almost solely on character development, drawing the reader right into the Penderwick family with all their various personalities. There is one tiny hint about a ‘surprise’ and we know the sisters are on their way to a place called Arundel. Once they get there, one of them glimpes a boy in the window, but that’s about the extent of the plot development. At that point, I was so interested in the characters though, I didn't really care that I couldn't begin to guess what the story would involve.

At first glance, plot appears to be the easier way to hook readers. It would seem if you make the story exciting, people will keep reading. But not everyone can pull it off like Haddix did. There was a book I tried to read last year which opens with a scene of a family in extreme danger. I think al l the family members were trapped in cages swinging over a giant chasm or something and they were all about to fall or be eaten by some monster or burned up or something. As you can probably tell, the story didn’t work for me. Even though it should have been scary, it wasn’t really, and since I didn’t know anything about the characters beyond their names and ages, I didn’t care they were in mortal peril. I assume they escaped the impending doom, because it would have been a short book otherwise, but I can’t say for sure because I stopped reading.

So if readers need character development as well as plot, what do we need exactly? For me, I need to find something sympathetic about the main character, either some vulnerability, or a hint that they have an interesting or quirky personality or way of looking at the world. If something about the character makes me smile, so much the better. I know not every book could or should have touches of humor, but it can add just enough to some stories to make me keep reading.

After studying many, many first chapters or first ten pages of books I like, I’ve come up with a series of questions to help me get my own first pages to work.

1. What do I know about the main character?

2. From what I know, does that information make him or her seem interesting, funny, or slightly out of the ordinary?

3. What hint is given about the main plot?

4. If there isn’t a hint about the main plot, is there at least a question I want answered that makes me want to read on?

These are my questions, but I’ll throw this open. Any other tips you would like to share on what makes first chapters work for you? Are there any books that you can recommend with particularly well-written first pages?

~ Dee Garretson

Friday, July 15, 2011

School's... IN

It’s still summer, don’t worry! (Believe me, I really need my summer break.) But for your middle-grade characters, school is probably an important aspect of their lives. Thus, you’ll need to develop your in-class time well.

Start with the basics: what grade is your main character in? There will be technical details to take care of based on this, things like how long recess is, or whether the students are allowed off school property at lunch. Grade also tends to determine what the children do at recess: for example, younger kids might play wallball and hopscotch, while older, nearing-teen students would rather hang out on the pavement and talk, or play volleyball. How about who packs lunch? Maybe grade 4s still get their PB&Js (with crusts off, of course) wrapped by Mum, but grade 7s need to make their own sandwiches and warm up the Thermos.

Once you have little details down, think about the education aspect of school. Will what your characters learn be important in the rest of the story? Try finding out what a typical grade 6 curriculum looks like; workbooks like SummerSmart 5-6, usually intended to help students keep expanding their knowledge over the summer, would be a good start. (Though if you have kids, please don’t give them these workbooks. Trust me — I speak from experience — they contain mind-numbing exercises which will not expand their knowledge. They’ll give you insight to the curriculum, but that’s about it.)

Often, school is a part of your protag’s growing up, but may not be directly related to the plot. In that case, how school life influences and changes his or her perspective and outlook will be the most important thing to focus on.

And you probably want to give the stereotype "all kids hate school" a rethinking. I happen to have a younger sister who's currently lamenting the fact she can't go to school and see her friends daily. Can you believe it? ;)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Oh, the Places You'll Go

Last week I had a milestone author moment. The much looked-for box arrived on my doorstep. I opened it up to have my first glimpse of a thick beautiful stack of STORYBOUND ARCs. What a thrill! There's nothing like holding an actual book in your hand and thinking: This is really happening. People will be reading STORYBOUND.

I know, I know. That's the point, right? Get the book into the hands of readers. But as new readers have their first look at STORYBOUND, I've found myself transitioning into a different phase as an author. I feel like a mother-hen sending her chicks out into the wide, wide world, and I've been very surprised to have a twinge of empty-nest syndrome going on.

Hearing readers' impressions of STORYBOUND's characters is this strange mix of delight (Yes! This imaginary world is becoming real in a new way) and surprise (No, no. That's not what that character would do, be like, think, etc.). And I think it's that second thing, more than anything, which makes this a milestone transition.

I've had to bid my characters a fond farewell. They don't belong solely to me anymore.

Sure, Una, Peter, Indy, and Snow will always be my friends. I've been in their heads for too long for us to be strangers now. But they are graduating beyond our little circle. Readers will see the story's plot in a new light, filter the setting through their own imaginations, and know the characters in a different way. It's my chicks' first fledgling flight from home, and now my job is to step back watch how everyone will get along.

This stepping back seems to be a key piece of the author-reader relationship. Just last week, I listened to someone speculate about the back story of one of my characters. It was extremely interesting and not at all what I had originally conceived. I had to squash the impulse to clarify every detail and instead just listen to a totally new perspective on the story. And that's the way it should be! Readers engage the story on their own terms, even if it's different than the way the author fully imagined it. Part of the magic of reading is that book-worlds take on a life of their own.

As a reader, my favorite books are the ones that transport me in just this way. As a writer, it's wonderful to create that magic. I just had no idea it would feel so odd to stand at the crossroads of writer and reader and welcome my new book while at the same time bidding farewell to it.

What about you, fellow writers? Do you resonate with this transition? Any tips for a slightly teary-eyed debut author?

Monday, July 11, 2011

NEW BRUCE COVILLE GIVEAWAY & Scrivener Winners Annouced!

Thank you all for entering! Below are the winners of our Scrivener giveaway and don't miss our Bruce Coville signed book giveaway!! It's just below this post!!!

Our two Scrivener winners are:




CONGRATULATIONS! Please email jenkblom (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll forward those licenses to you!

Thanks again, everyone for participating!

GO Team Mayhem!!

Bruce Coville: Don't Ever Throw Anything Away!


Last spring, I had the pleasure of hearing children’s book great Bruce Coville speak at a writer’s conference. One piece of advice he emphasized over and over again was that a writer should never throw away anything they’ve written. He used his book The Dragon of Doom as a good example of why writers should retain their work. The Dragon of Doom was published in 2003, the first of Mr. Coville’s Moongobble and Me series. But the idea for The Dragon of Doom came about much earlier, back when Mr. Coville was in his twenties. He started a story about a fumbling magician named Moongobble. Years later, after he became an established children’s writer, he pulled out his old Moongobble manuscript when he needed inspiration for a new book.

I, for one, am thrilled he never threw away that original Moongobble story, as The Dragon of Doom is one of my favorite Bruce Coville books. (Go figure—dragons, lol.) It’s such a fun story, about a young boy named Edward, who, seeking excitement in his life, apprentices himself to a magician named Moongobble. But Moongobble isn’t so great at magic, which leads to all sorts of mishaps and fun. Besides being a great story, The Dragon of Doom is amazingly illustrated by Mr. Coville’s wife, Katherine Coville.

I also like to think of the example of Pride and Prejudice, one of my favorite books of all time. The first draft sat around for some 15 years before Jane Austen decided to revise, turning it into the masterpiece of English literature that it is today.

The moral of these stories? No matter how lousy you think your current work-in-progress is, don’t throw it away. You never know when you’ll recycle ideas, characters, or maybe even successfully rework the manuscript as a whole somewhere down the road. There could be a masterpiece lurking there, too.

Do you keep your old manuscripts and writings? Comment below to win an autographed copy of The Dragon of Doom by Bruce Coville. (And yes, while The Dragon of Doom is technically a chapter book, the recommended age range is 6 -10, so it crosses into early middle grade. And trust me, it's a lot of fun no matter what your age.)

Random drawing for the winner in one week.

Friday, July 8, 2011

SCRIVENER GIVEAWAY !!! & Writing product review

Hello, all!

I know most of you (if you're like me) have very exacting requirements for your writing software. I'm a very bare bones type of writer but Word was not for me because of the random, irritating little bugs. When I decided to take this whole writing thing seriously, here were my requirements:

- full screen capability
- chapter breakups (but being able to see the list)
- a research section
- a way to export to Word (as that's what my editor/agent - and every editor/agent I know - uses)

I hadn't found anything close to what I wanted. I had originally started with Open Office (remember that?) and then moved to Pages once I had my Mac, but it still wasn't doing anything for me. Then I found Scrivener. (Or to be honest, my husband did, and made me get it).

Ahhh, Scrivener.

As they say: they can't teach you to write, but they can sure organize it for you! What I like most about Scrivener is that you can take your idea - from initial idea to writing "THE END" on your final draft - start to finish - inside one file, THEN compile it however you need for whoever - including single or multiple chapters, and whatever format you require.

So I started working with it, and I fell in love. The 'binder' allows you to switch between Chapters. (Ka-ching!) Research is a snap = and has its own little section. New content pages are a breeze to set up. Basic outlines are easy peasy with the 'corkboard' feature (try using this to do your synopsis. It is awesome!) You can choose your poison, export-wise...Word, epub, etc. It is so simple and SO fast. Need a full screen to get you away from the internet? *raises hand* Consider it done.

But the nicest part about this program is the flexibility. My husband does PHD work on his thesis in Scrivener (and is a real whiz at it). Screenwriters I know use it. A journalist writes and separates all her stories inside her scrivener. Being a tech writer, I could well imagine how nifty this would be (and bypassing all the huge confusing programs out there.)

It really is great. (and they did not pay for this blog review).

HOWEVER! For our wonderful Project Mayhemers, I've got an AWESOME giveaway today!

You could win a free license for Scrivener! We've got two, thanks to the totally awesome people over at Literature & Latte!

There are caveats:

1. You must be a follower of this blog (So become one! We're cool!) Leave a comment and let us know you're a new follower!
2. Tweet, Facebook this link or otherwise promote it, and leave a comment here letting us know!
3. And sorry! You have to have a Mac.

Interested in Scrivener? Then try it for free on your Mac for 30 days here if you don't win. (It's coming soon for the PC.) Want to buy it? It's a steal for $45.00. Check out their homepage here, as it's got lots of neato little vlogs to help you decide how best to use it.

Do you use Scrivener? What do you think of it? I have to say I do and I love it. I'll not switch ever again.

Do you use another writing software? What do you like/not like about it?

We're all ears!

And good luck! I'll announce the winner on Monday!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Risky Business Moments

Let’s face it, we’ve all looked at something we’ve written and said, “Ack! This isn’t working.” Whether it’s a mere sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, or an entire manuscript, there is that inevitable time when you realize the meat cleaver has to be let loose, wielded with reckless abandon, and the fat must be chopped. 

Look at all that fat! Begone with you, fat!

Hey, it happens. But then again, there are times when this is an invitation for the old Risky Business line to be applied: “Sometimes you just gotta say, ‘What the heck.’” [paraphrased: we are a middle grade blog, after all].

Sometimes you just gotta say, "What the heck"

It is on these occasions that we cast off any inhibitions and do things differently. And I’m talking major overhauls. Some examples:

  • Changing the point of view (I had a 90K manuscript I changed from 3rd to 1st after a Risky Business moment--I ended up putting the project on the old shelf, but I felt the experiment was worthy of the lofty effort).
  • Changing the names/gender of characters (I had a character whose name/gender changed 3 times during different revisions).
  • Cutting the beginning of a manuscript and trying something new (sometimes this can mean scrapping a significant portion of your work…oh, have I done that).
  • Changing the end of a manuscript and trying something new.
  • Adding a secondary plotline, or two, or three (layering that bad boy and giving it some needed depth).
  • Altering your storytelling voice (this can be a monumental revision, especially if you’re writing in 1st person).

Sometimes these drastic changes work, oftentimes not. There are more Risky Business changes writers often make when something isn’t working, and this is where I turn to you. What Risky Business moments have you had that led you to say “What the heck”?

* Now feel free to slide down the hall in your socks, underwear, sunglasses, and a dress shirt (collar up, of course).

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Character Should Make the Name, by Matthew MacNish

Not the other way around.

I know that may sound counter-intuitive, but think about it. Think about some of the best loved characters in middle-grade literature. In all literature, really.

Let's talk about a few of them.

Harry Potter, and Hermoine Granger too, for example.

They are two of the best named characters I've ever read, and you might think, well they were named perfectly. The names fit them so well. And they do, it's true. I mean being American I personally had never heard the name Hermoine before reading Rowling, and it is absolutely perfect, matching the heart of her character to a tea.

And Potter? I mean Potterwatch? Potter stinks? I'm sure there are other examples of how awesome his name is, but the point is I can't think of a better name for a young wizard trying to discover who he really is, find his power, and discover what he can do with it.

But would these names mean what they mean to us if we hadn't followed their stories through seven volumes and over a million words?

No. Even the best names don't mean anything unless we are compelled by, and feel a connection to, the character who owns them.

Let's discuss some other well known characters in books for young people. Let's try to cover both sides of the coin.

Artemis Fowl.

Here's a name that could almost disprove my point. This is such a wonderful, apt, clever, and all around amazing name for a character, that it almost defines him for you before you read his story. But what if Artemis had been someone else? What if Artemis hadn't been the world's youngest crime-lord genius with an interest in the environment and a soft place in his heart for Captain Holly Short?

Yes, I think we should recognize the fact the sometimes a name can be so great that it plays a major role in characterizing a ... well, character, but even in this case it is not the name the defines the character. Not even close.

What about Percy Jackson?

His named is borrowed from Perseus, the legendary founder of Mycenae, and a mythic Greek hero who took part in the slaying of various monsters. Percy is certainly a clever nickname, but borrowing from a famous legend for a character name isn't exactly original (Artemis also comes from Greek Mythology), and though it does help identify him a bit if you know the source of the nickname, it does not define him.

If you mention the name Percy to any person who's read the books, they know immediately who you are talking about, and they connect with all the amazing things he somehow managed to survive in spite of his ADHD and dyslexia. It's the character they remember. How he made them feel, why they cared about whether or not he succeeded, and what kind of person he was.

So, my point (however foggy and rambling it might be) is that it isn't their names that make these characters great, it's who they are, what they go through, how they handle it, and the choices they make to overcome it that define them for us as readers. I'm not trying to say that names mean nothing, I mean after all, if Harry Potter had been James Wilson it probably wouldn't have felt quite right, but I know that I, for one, could have lived with it.

I'm not saying you should name the protagonist Bob, and his love interest Mary-Sue, in your next novel, but if you make them flawed, compelling, exciting, and true, then whatever you name them will fit, because they'll be known for who they are, not what they're named.

What do you guys think? Got any other examples of greatly (or poorly) named characters in books for young people? Or do you think I'm wrong (you are allowed to disagree)?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Having a vision and digging in

When I finally got around to building a green house, I had a vision of where I wanted it. At the very back of my garden in the most inconvenient spot possible, the only access being by foot.

I had to tear down part of the fence and cut down a couple trees.

And, since my garden is on a hillside, and I didn’t want my green house sticking up into the sky, I decided to dig into the hillside. Digging a hole that’s almost three feet deep at the top end and 12 x 14 feet all around was way more of a project than I thought it’d be. It took me a couple of summers.

When I was done digging, I realized that I wanted a long narrow box on the south-facing wall to take advantage of the sun, so I dug some more.

Then I realized I wanted a flat spot in front of the green house so I dug some more.

I could have put my green house at the edge of my driveway in an already-cleared flat spot but I didn’t want it there because I didn’t think it would look good and it might get in the way. But it sure would’ve been easy, and fast.

In order to get my green house where I wanted it, where I envisioned it, I had to have a lot of patience and perseverance. And I had to be willing to put in the time, and to tear up things I’d already built.

I think this process can be applied to writing. You have a story idea and you have a vision, however vague or specific, of how that story will be told, of how your readers will experience it. Because really, that’s what it comes down to. It’s how you tell your story.

The easy way might not be the best. And you want the best.