Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bring On The E-VIL!!!!!

You might think this post is about a story that suddenly takes a turn for the worst, morphing from something brilliant into a train wreck of clich├ęd storytelling. But no, given that Halloween (my favorite holiday) is looming, I thought it would be a treat to have an early talk about our favorite villains of all time!

I think I worked for her at some point...

I'm one of those people who always veers toward the scoundrels of my favorite stories, finding something redeeming about them OR something so deliciously horrible, I'm driven to cheer them on.

As a writer, villains are one of my favorite characters to create and when my editor told me I had a knack for the bad guys, I got goose bumps for weeks! Is there something wrong with me? Probably, but that's another post and lots of dollars towards therapy! In Nightshade City & The White Assassin, Billycan is the wicked of wickedest rats, maybe that's why he's my favorite character to write about. He's cunning and duplicitous and looks as rotten on the outside, as he is on the inside! Tall and bony, with shifting red eyes and a thick black scar running across his muzzle! Oh, and he has a penchant for collecting tongues! But wait, there may be something redeeming about it! Oh, wait, there's not! Okay, sorry, going way overboard--but I LOVE the bad guys! I'm sure many of you have a thing for them too.

Oh, but he looks so cuddly...
As rabid readers of middle-grade books, we all know villains can be rats or cats, witches or grinches and without a doubt--people! Who are your favorite villains in children's literature?

Here is my top five most villainous of villains in order of villainy!

5. Miss Trunchbull from Matilda

4. Goth from the Silverwing Series

3. Shere Khan from the The Jungle Book

2. The White Witch from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

1. The Grand High Witch from The Witches

What is in that there pot...errr...ladies?

Oh, and if we want to talk villains of the newer variety, as in newer books, I simply have to mention The Man Jack from The Graveyard Book, undeniably chilling!

So, who tops your list? Who sends shivers up and down your quivering spine? Any new villains you'd like to mention?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Character Inspiration and a WOLF STORM wolf pack of a giveaway

To celebrate the release of WOLF STORM, and because I think wolves are awesome, I’m giving away a giant wolf pack of books and other wolf-related items. A description of it all is near the bottom of this post.

WOLF STORM is about three kid actors involved in the filming of a space opera-type science fiction movie. They are on location in the mountains of Eastern Europe in wintertime, and since the book is an adventure, things begin to go wrong, very wrong.   There are both trained wolves in the story-I had fun researching the trained wolves they used in filming the Narnia movies-and regular wild wolves. The native wolves are extremely unhappy about the presence of strange canines into their territory.  There is also a pug named Mr. Snuggums who provides a little comic relief. Michael, if you are reading this, maybe you can think of one of the comparisons from the discussion in your last post.

Here's the book trailer:

I thought this would be a good post to talk about inspirations for characters, because the main character in this story was inspired by a specific person. I’ve never wanted to write a character that was like me. I’ve lived so long with me,  I’m bored with my personality. I want to write about other types of personalities.  I think most writers do because it’s fun to dream up characters we aren’t.  When I proposed the idea of the book, I knew I wanted to write a story involving movie-making, because I love movies, especially adventure movies. Here was the problem-I have never had a desire to act, don’t know how to act, and would be a terrible actor.

So, given my lack of knowledge of the sort of personality I wanted to write, I had to find a way to get inside the head of that sort of person. My nephew Matt was the perfect choice.  I tried to find a photo of him at fourteen, the same age as my main character, but since I couldn't, this one works. This kitten supposedly followed him home (actually I think he carried it wrapped in a sweatshirt so it wouldn't escape). He told his parents they had to keep the kitten because it would be a good influence at keeping him and sister from "hanging out on street corners and smoking cigarettes." Actual Matt words. They kept the cat.

Anyway, Matt was very talented at imitating people, including teachers behind their backs, who occasionally caught him at it. He was famous in our family for being able to imitate E.T., and he acted in both community and high school theater productions. All in all, he became the model for Stefan. I needed a kid character from regular small town U.S. suddenly thrown into what he thinks will be a dream situation, only to find it turns into something very different. Matt became the go-to person in my head when I wanted to write Stefan’s reactions to things. Of course, like any character, the MC is not identical to the inspiration. His family is totally different from our own. I don’t have pink hair like Stefan’s aunt, for instance.

Matt is now a responsible adult with an adorable son of his own, though I suspect he still does imitations from time to time.

To enter into the giveaway, just comment after this post. If you would like more than one entry, there are ways to increase your chances. To get an extra entry, tweet a link to this, or post a link on Facebook or on your blog and let me know about it here in the comments. If you do both, you’ll get an extra entry for each. Here's a shortened link you can use: If any bloggers out there would like to do a giveaway of a hardcover of WOLF STORM later in September, I’ll have a few more author copies in a few weeks to do that. Just email me at deegarretson at

The giveaway includes:
WOLF STORM by Dee Garretson (signed hardcover)
SECRETS JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON Christopher Golden & Tim Lebron (hardcover-not in picture)
THE BOY WHO HOWLED Tim Power (hardcover)
LONE WOLF Kathryn Lasky, book 1 Wolves of the Beyond (paperback)
SHADOW WOLF Kathryn Lasky, book 2 Wolves of the Beyond (hardcover)
THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE by Joan Aiken (paperback)
JULIE OF THE WOLVES by Jean Craighead George (paperback)
TO BE A WOLF by Carol Amato (paperback)
A 2012 Wolves Calendar
A stuffed animal Wolf
4 small wolf figures to decorate a desk

Sorry, this is only open to U.S. residents. Leave a comment up until 8:00 P.M. E.T., Monday, September 12th. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, September 13th.

BOOK REVIEW: The Wednesday Wars

I usually refuse to do book reviews. I'm even reluctant to properly use GoodReads as it's intended: a review site for all. Why?

Two reasons.

1) As an author, people actually want to know what you think about other people's books. Some of those people are other authors. Some of those people you know - including the author. If you really said what you thought about a particular book you'd hear about it, particularly if it was nasty - and honestly, do you really want to give every book 4 or 5 stars, just to keep the peace? It's simply not fair. And it's not very nice the other way, either.

2) I don't find many books I love with enough of a passion to review.

I'm happy to say that THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary Schmidt makes 1) obsolete - because this is a 5, shoot, a 20 - and 2) I love love love this book. Love.

Other people did, too - it got a Newberry!

On paper, it's not much. Shakespeare. A kid who's convinced his 7th grade english teacher hates him. A regular semester with regular friends and regular problems.

But it's so, so much more. This is an AUTHENTIC boy's book. The voice is spot on. The situations Holling (I know, awesome name, right?) finds himself in are believable - and any kid reading will recognize them, too. The subplots are fantastic and resolve in a satisfactory manner (a sore point with me). And while the plot was there, oh so cleverly there, this book relied on character. This baby hit a home run on character.

Honestly. Guys, this one is tremendous. Give it a shot, and come back here and tell me what you think.

To Gary Schmidt: Dude, I don't know you. But whenever I'm in the US and you're up for *fangirl*

Friday, August 26, 2011

Shall I Compare Thee...

No, I’m not going to go all Shakespeare on you. The topic of interest for me is: comparisons related to books. For the writers out there, you know the collective opinion is a bit muddled with regards to comparing one work to other works. Some people say, “Yes! Please give me those comparisons!” Others say, “Oh no, good God, please refrain!” Regardless of your opinion, there are different kinds of comparisons authors and agents use, so let’s discuss a few of them.

Genre-Bender Comparison

Format: *Title of book on offer* is a *insert genre* version of *insert well-known and much beloved movie or book title from another genre*

Genre Bender Comparison

Nice-to-meet-you Comparison

Format: *Title of book on offer* is *insert first well-known and much beloved movie or book title from another genre* meets *insert second well-known and much beloved movie or book title from another genre*

Nice-to-meet-you Comparison

In-the-Shade Comparison

Format: *Title of book on offer* is a *insert genre* with shades of *insert well-known and much beloved movie or book title from another genre*

In-the-Shade Comparison

Examples: CATCH is a MG contemporary with shades of FIELD OF DREAMS. LOATHSOME IN LOREDO is a YA contemporary with shades of SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE.

Fanny-Pack Comparison

Format: Fans of *insert well-known and much beloved movie or book title from another genre* will enjoy *similar aspects* when reading *title of book on offer*

Fanny-Pack Comparison
Examples: Fans of FIELD OF DREAMS will enjoy a similar fusion of magical realism and baseball history in CATCH.

And those are just a few types of comparisons. There are authors, agents, editors, and readers who support the use of such comparisons. Then there are those who hate seeing them. Now for our audience participation segment of this post:

Time to Participate
1) Do you like and support the use of comparisons? Yay or Nay?
2) To have some fun with it, choose one type of comparison above, and use it to describe a published book. Can’t wait to see these comparisons.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Absent Parents in Children's Literature

That's my big sister Em and I when I was ... very little. I guess my parents figured: "Baby Matthew wants an ice cream cone? Sure. Slap him in a rubber diaper and put him in the bath tub."

Then I guess they left the room.

Who knows? I don't, but I want to talk about parents (or the lack thereof) in the books we read and write. I'm sure most of you have noticed that most MG and YA literature consists of protagonists whose parents are either dead, missing, abusive, distant, incarcerated, abducted by aliens, or sometimes just plain not even mentioned.

I'm not saying it doesn't make sense. I mean these books are about young people, and young people are much more interesting if they can get into adventures. It's hard to have adventures if mom is going to start blowing up your phone when curfew rolls around. But lately I've been thinking about why this is. I mean personally, it feels natural to write about young people with parents who are out of the picture. All my writing is at least partially autobiographical, and my mom died when I was 11 years old. My dad was out of my life even a year before that, for reasons we don't need to get into. Is that really why I write stories the way I do, though?

I don't know.

I'm trying to think of a scenario in which normal, healthy, present parents could be a part of a YA or MG novel. I can't think of a single one I've read myself. I think I may have to write one.

Harry Potter has a lot of awesome adults, even an amazing godfather, but Harry's real parents are dead before the first word. Charlie was there in Twilight, and he seemed like a decent dad, but he'd been out of Bella's life for so long he didn't have much authority over her. Another Charlie, from that story about the chocolate factory, had some pretty decent (albeit extremely poor) parents, but it was his grandpa who came along to take part in the story.

What do you guys think? Have you read any children's books lately that had normal, present, healthy parents in them?

If not, do you think there is some other underlying reason behind this phenomenon? Something other, perhaps darker, than just freeing the characters up to go on adventures?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Setting CPR

The Tanana River carves its way through birch forests and black spruce swamps. By Alaska standards it’s a pretty ordinary river: silty and swift, braided but no white-water, and glacial in its origins.

I float parts of the Tanana every summer.

A couple summers ago it was over eighty degrees and we had a tail wind for two days. But sometimes the wind blows so hard that you find yourself in a dust storm and five foot standing waves. One year I had a bad headache and what was usually enjoyable
was tortuous.

Sometimes we find surprises, like the entrance to a wolf den.

And that’s just summer. Here’s what the Tanana looks like in late fall.

Several years ago three of my former students stole a canoe and took off down the Tanana. Maybe to have a Huck Finn adventure, I’m not sure. They swamped their canoe and ended up on a remote island in the middle of the river. Cold and soaked and with no supplies. Luckily a helicopter plucked them from the island after a couple of cold nights.

Take a look at the setting (or settings) in your story. Are you utilizing your setting to its potential? Look at it from odd angles and different seasons. Through different eyes.

Here’s some questions I ask myself when I’m doing CPR on my setting:

How do the setting details I choose to include drive the story forward?

How do they develop character?

But most important, consider the emotional state of your POV character. Let that emotion infuse and drive setting details whether your character is in a padded room or on top of a mountain. Otherwise, that description might stop your story dead in its tracks.

I think that setting, if properly developed, can turn a good story into a great one.

And, a little bit of writing-news: My MG novel, Stranded, was awarded second place in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association's Annual Contest.

I'll be teaching school all day today but I'll check back in the evening to see what's happening.
Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Seriously, Your Blog Stinks! I'm NOT Kidding!

Ha, made you look! Your blog does not stink I swear! But it brings me to a timely topic as blogs have taken over the world as you know. 

Recently I was asked to write an article for the Prairie Wind, which is the newsletter of the SCBWI IL Chapter. My article, that will post in the fall issue, is all about starting a group blog, such as (insert shameless plug for the best blog in the world here) PROJECT MAYHEM! Anyway, it was great to share with others what I've learned about blogging on my own and in a group. Some great writers/bloggers are Cynthia Leitich Smith, Elana Johnson, Shelli Johannes-Wells and sisters, Lisa and Laura Roecker. They are mostly YA (shameful I know!), but great examples of wildly successful blogs.

My question: What are your blogging tips? Don't be shy either! You don't have to have been blogging every day for the last five years or have six billion followers to have great insight. Now, if you’re still too bashful to give your two cents, than tell us what bugs you about blogs you've been on recently, obviously don't name the blogs that bug you--but tell us what bugs you about them! It can be very helpful to other bloggers, just hearing what you don't like! Please though, don't say anything bad about Project Mayhem, middle-grade writers are needy and fragile, well...maybe that's just me! Ha, ha! ;) 

Here's an example: About a year back I had a reader comment that my blog (black background at the time) was super hard on her eyes. It never hurt mine, but I starting asking my friends and they ALL agreed the black background and light font did a number on their retinas! Really? I had no idea! It never bothered me a bit, but apparently it's killer on lots of eyeballs! So there's my tip--ditch the dark colors! Trust me, I know it's hard, it's like shaving your head or something, but think of all the visits to the eye doc you'll be saving your readers!

So, what's your blogging tip, trick or big fat no-no?

xoxo -- Hilary

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What Do You Think of Accelerated Reader?

This post originally ran at my blog, Caroline by line, in September 2009.

In honor of the new school year (which for us started yesterday), let's get talking about reading programs, specifically Accelerated Reader. 

I have read a lot lately about AR: the program, the books, the ways it encourages/discourages reading, advantages/disadvantages in participating... the list goes on. The discussion has been lively, interesting, and broad in the opinions expressed.

Every year, more schools are participating. Every day, new books are added to the system.

For those of you who aren't familiar with AR, it is a testing program meant to encourage children to read more. Though schools handle the specifics differently, children earn points for passed tests which can then be used to earn rewards. For example, my son, now in third grade, earned the most points for his grade last year (86, but this Mama's not counting, or anything) and received a trophy at the end of school closing ceremony.

Where do I fall on the AR debate? Below I've pasted a comment I left at Goodreads several months ago.
This is such an interesting discussion to read, as a teacher, mother, and writer. When I first started teaching, AR was optional, and I avoided it, feeling the way many of you have mentioned. Later I became part of a school where it was required. I've seen it push children to read. My own sons, natural readers, are very excited about it. It saddens me, however, to see kids held to a reading range, where they can't sample titles above or below. Several of my older students told me they couldn't read certain books that connected nicely to my curriculum because they were below their reading level. And many, many kids only pick up books if they are AR, the saddest aspect of the program. However, new and old books are being added to the list daily. 
It's a mixed bag, isn't it? Natural readers will read. My sons read both AR and other titles, happily. Children not so enamored with reading might struggle or find success with AR. What really needs to happen, AR or not, is for teachers and parents to be passionate advocates of literature, reading what's current and what's classic, discussing these titles with their children, asking questions, engaging in the conversation great literature creates. This is how to "make" readers!

Are you familiar with Accelerated Reader? What do you think?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Writing On The Gooooooooooo!

When it's close to a vacation, do you find yourself picking up that laptop or finding the computer nearest you to get in a few extra words to your story? Or maybe your vacation is the perfect spot to motivate your creativity?
I write pretty much everywhere I go, vacation or not. Any time I plan on being away from home, I keep a small notebook and pen in my bag just in case. There's really no limit to places where you can write. Swimming pools, parks, skating rinks, etc. While some writers may prefer peace and quiet, I always do better with background noise.
Tips to keep in mind when writing away from home:
1. Be prepared. Sometimes we don't think to bring laptop, especially if you're not "thinking" you'll writing. You never know when creativity will strike, right? So keep a notebook in your car, napkins in your glovebox (been there!) and a few pens.
2. Voice recorders are your friends. And they can be just as useful. Most phones have one so they're prefect to use in a pinch. However, it may be harder to use this in a noisy area. And if you're comfortable with others listening to you. Oh, and these are especially handy when you're on a real live ghost hunt doing book research (and recorders are VERY common on these types of outings!)
3. Type your words out once you do get to a computer. I don't know how many times i've had to search for a missing Post It or I completely forget and then lose by accident.
What are some of the more unusual places you found yourself writing? Any tips to share?
By Rose Cooper

Friday, August 12, 2011

Call Me Old-Fashioned...

I recently saw my very first D-box movie. I didn’t even know what D-box was until a couple of weeks ago, so for those of you as un-D-box savvy as me, it’s motion-enhanced movie theater chairs that move along with the action on the screen. So when Harry, Ron, and Hermione went zipping along in the mining cars beneath Gringotts, it felt like we were riding the rails along with them. And that plunge that Harry and Voldemort take off the heights of Hogwarts in the last minutes of the movie—well, I felt a bit like I was going to tip out of my theater chair, lol.

D-box is not quite as intense as those movie-type rides at Disneyland or amusement parks—yet—but I don’t think I could sit through two hours of my theater chair moving quite that forcefully, anyway. Besides, it would make eating popcorn a bit hard. Still, the combination of digital 3D and a motion-enhanced chair made for a pretty high-tech movie-going experience. And I have to admit, it was fun. But would I go out of my way to see movies in D-box on a regular basis—and pay the steep price for the tickets? Probably not. Let’s face it—a good movie is a good movie even without all these added bells and whistles. I have many friends, in fact, who refuse to see movies in 3D because they feel it’s distracting and unnecessary and actually takes away from the movie experience.

This makes me think about a conversation I recently had with a manager of a bookstore about the future of books now that they’ve entered the electronic realm. He predicted we would see ebooks becoming more and more high-tech and interactive. For example, instead of a simple illustration of a door on the screen, the reader would be able to actually open the door with a touch, revealing what was on the other side. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against ebooks. But I think I can do without such frivolities as interactive illustrations. To me, there’s something about this that depersonalizes the experience. Wouldn’t a young reader—or any reader for that matter—be better served imagining a dragon soaring across the sky rather than dragging a graphic of a wing-flapping dragon across their ereader screen?

There’s a possibility, too, that we’ll see ebooks become more gamey, e.g. you’ll have to solve a puzzle or win a game in order to move on to the next chapter, etc. Now this idea really makes my heart ache. I hate the thought of books being reduced to a form of video game. No thank you. It’s not a game—it’s a book!

Personally, I think books should be about words and stories, not interactive graphics and games. It’s not for me—and I definitely think it would detract from the reading experience.

I guess I’m kind of old school about such things. What do you think about books going high-tech?

-Dawn Lairamore

photo credit: final_station via photo pin cc

photo credit: Patrick Hoesly via photopin cc

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Diaries: not just for girls

People say: "Write a little every day!" The good thing? No one says you must continue writing your WIP. Nathan Bransford recently posted on how he can't write every single day. He needs distractions of some kind. And if you're looking to vent, need some time to sort out a particularly tumultuous day or want a bit of serenity and reflection, diaries are the perfect solution.

I think we need to address the problem of "diaries are for girls" right now, though.

First of all, there's the general aversion to the word "diary". FYI, "Dear Journal" works just as well. So does "Yo, ma tough homie notebook" (you know, just in case a thug decided to crack open a Moleskine). A discreetly coloured notebook will also let you answer the question "Dude, why're you carrying around that book?" with "This is confidential material unsuited for the regular civilian's eyes." Learning how to waggle your eyebrows like a CSI agent on TV would be beneficial as well. However, this obviously doesn't work with pink notebooks. Just saying.

Next, the question: what to write? Here's where anything goes. The purpose of a diary/journal/tough homie notebook is to get words down on paper. Trains and trains of thoughts can chug in here to get a maintenance check and let off some steam. If recapping the day's events isn't interesting at all to you, give yourself permission to let loose all those snarling thoughts about your boss's annoying tea addiction, or how you hate the weird dog that's always sitting in a puddle of its own pee at the corner of your block.

If all else fails: write song lyrics. I think this method works tremendously because everyone has a song or two that they relate to, that they consider their song. Record how the lyrics make you feel, how the crescendo over the bridge can always make you catch your breath, and the way the final beat of the bass goes right through your chest.

No matter what you write, your diary will be filled with genuine emotion. It's personal, it's real; and being able to transfer that emotion into your writing is powerful. Another thing people say often is "Write what you know". And what do you know better than your own life story?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Original. Or Not?

I went to see the final Harry Potter movie yesterday (which I loved, minus seeing Baby Harry crying in his crib. Horrible, isn't it? Come on, people! I almost had to leave the theater and run home to my kiddos).

Anyway, there was a scene with the nearly grown-up Harry chasing down a missing diadem, and he has to go ask the Gray Lady where it is. Now, I haven't read the series in years, and before seeing the movie, I couldn't have given you the foggiest idea who said Gray Lady was. But sitting in the movie theater, I recognize her. I had just finished the first draft of my next book and, lo and behold, I have an allusion to a mysterious Gray Lady in there. Coincidence? Possibly. A tricksy subconscious? More likely.

Fortunately, this isn't a big plot point in my story, and the only thing those two gray women have in common are their names. Easily fixable. But I still don't like that feeling of being hijacked by my memory. I want to think my ideas are original, but is that even possible? Even if characters aren't sneaking into our drafts from books we've once read, are there really any original ideas out there?

I remember working on the first draft of Storybound and taking a break
to browse through the middle-grade section of the bookstore. And what did I find? A little book called Inkheart. I nearly cried right there in the aisle, because I hated the thought that someone else had already written about my idea of a girl entering a fantastical book world. And then I discovered the Thursday Next series and heard about Fantasy Baseball and came to the now-obvious revelation that my idea wasn't really all mine to begin with.

It goes without saying that writers are some of the most voracious readers out there. It's silly to imagine we aren't influenced by what we read. In fact, reading a good book can be a wonderful inspiration, although the annoying proclivity for another author's voice to seep into my writing is why I steer clear of any fiction when I'm working on a new project.

Besides that, how can we really distance ourselves from the stories that have shaped us? Or should we want to? What do you think? Can a story ever be truly original?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier

Every once in a while you get your hands on a debut novel, and you have to wonder: if this person can write this well, and they're not like 21 years old or something, what the heck have they been doing with their lives until now?

I'm mostly kidding, because we all know how long it can take to get published, but Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier, is one of those novels.

This may sound odd, because I work for a Middle Grade blog, but this is the first MG novel I've read this year. It's possible that's clouding my opinion of this book, but I don't think so. I think it's just that good.

Here is the jacket copy:

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is the utterly beguiling tale of a ten-year-old blind orphan who has been schooled in a life of thievery. One fateful afternoon, he steals a box from a mysterious traveling haberdasher—a box that contains three pairs of magical eyes. When he tries the first pair, he is instantly transported to a hidden island where he is presented with a special quest: to travel to the dangerous Vanished Kingdom and rescue a people in need. Along with his loyal sidekick—a knight who has been turned into an unfortunate combination of horse and cat—and the magic eyes, he embarks on an unforgettable, swashbuckling adventure to discover his true destiny.

And here is what I have to say:

It's very rare that I read a book in less than a week. As a writer with a soul-sucking day job, and a family to raise, there just isn't much time to read. I never read a book a single sitting. Not even this one. But I did read it in three days, which is incredibly fast for me.

I was drawn into this novel right from the get go. Jonathan has a way of telling stories and of drawing you into a world that is absolutely fascinating. Peter is an immediately compelling character, even in spite of his obvious ambiguity. He's a thief, yes, but he's a blind thief, and a darn good one, and we quickly learn that Peter has a strong sense of right and wrong, even if his circumstances have forced him into a life of crime.

Even more compelling, at least for me, and at least at the beginning, was Peter's world. The setting for this novel is fantastic, and is so alive with depth and color that it's almost a character of its own. It reminds me of a cross between Stardust, Through the Looking Glass, Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events, and Peter Pan. In other words: nothing is as it seems, but everything is fun and very interesting.

There is one particular passage I want to quote for you, which struck me very early on when it comes to Jon's ability to describe ... not necessarily the mundane, but perhaps the commonplace in novels of this type:

Screams, as you know, are dreadful, shrill noises that tiresome people make when they want attention. They are rarely effective, as most hearers simply plug their ears and go on about their business. But there is another kind of scream that cannot be ignored so easily: the cry of a creature facing death--a primal, desperate gasp that speaks not the the ears, but to the very quick of our beings. Peter had heard that sound only once before, when freeing himself from a bag of drowning kittens. He was now hearing that terrible scream again, and it was very close.

Sometimes people mistake words like our, you, us, we, your, and so forth for "second person." They're usually wrong, and this is a good example of how it can sometimes get confusing. The narrator in this story is great: subtle, removed, funny, sarcastic, wise, but never in your face. I got along with this storyteller quite well.

There is one review I saw, somewhere out there, that had a complaint about the Point of View, and the fact that a book like this, with a blind protagonist, often uses very vivid visual descriptions. I understand the point that critique makes, but it never bothered me, not once. The narration is mainly told from a third person point of view, and the descriptions, observations, and even expositions are transitioned into so smoothly ... I never once noticed it.

Then again, I'm not a literary critic. I'm just a dude who loves books, and I love this book.

Ahem. So I don't want to go on any longer, because I'll probably end up ruining this story for you, but I can tell you that Peter Nimble comes out this week, and if you enjoy MG novels, this one is not to be missed.

Here is where you can find out more about Peter, and even Jonathan: is giving away a FREE KINDLE, preloaded with a copy of Peter Nimble. is also Jon's website, in general.

Jonathan was recently interviewed by my dear friend, Shannon Messenger (she talks about the book, too)

Peter Nimble reviewed on the School Library Journal Blog.

Jonathan Auxier on Twitter.

Any questions?

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that I received this ARC (through Hilary) from the publisher. But, full disclosure, I call it like I see it, and this is a great book, regardless of where it came from.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Trauma Queen WINNER!

I know you're just dying to know  the winner of this awesome MG book, Trauma Queen by Barbara Dee. Sorry for keeping you in suspense. Congratualations to Jessie Humphries!   Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner!

So Jessie, are you jumping up and down and shouting to the world how awesome you are? Well, when you take a breath, please email me with your mailing address! Contact me at

Thank you to everyone who commented and entered this contest!

MG book to movie - your favorites?

You find a lot of different opinions about movie adaptions of books amongst authors and readers:

NooooooOOO stinky adaptions! Books are for BOOKS and not for filmsies! You are so tricksy!

Movie adaptions are de BOMB and we love them!
Just the movie, thanks. Book = no way!

(I think some authors are afraid of this last one the most.)

And so on.

I think that movie adaptions are definitely not all bad. I like the idea of kids (and I've known a few) reading the books afterwards to find out the 'real story'. I like the idea of that continuous promotion and the "now in film!" stickers they find to put on them. I like the idea of the extra money the author gets for selling the rights.

That being said, there are drawbacks. The random plot. The hatchet job. Low sales. The worst aspect of it for me is the change in your imagination. I had a very clear picture of Harry in my mind before I saw the movie. After, it had changed, and I didn't know if I liked that.

What are your favourite film adaptions? One that you saw before you read the book? One that you thought actually worked from the book? One that was so far off the track you wondered if they'd actually even read it?

Mine are, hands-down:

1. LOTR (I actually went & read the books *after* seeing the movie. I liked the movie better, ha!) I'm going to count this one because I know that the Hobbit (mg) will be every bit as good if not better.

2. Harry Potter (while they did not have all the details, I think everything was good. But what was up with Daniel Radcliff's eyes? HELLO, green!)3. The Black Stallion (while the plot was mostly there, I'll admit it. I watched it for Cass Ole)

Honorary mention: Where the Red Fern Grows. The dogs. Were. Gorgeous. Rats of Nimh was also super.

What are your favourite MG film adaptions? Will Harry Potter win? Stay tuned....

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Ebbs and Flows of the First Draft

I’m moody. It’s the first step: admitting you have a problem. I’m not in denial by a long shot. And I’ll take it a step further and admit that this moodiness transfers to my writing as well. That darn first draft will do it to anyone, but with a moody person like me, well, it’s like I’m on a crazy roller coaster and the only way to stop the many ups and downs is to finish the stinkin’ ride. Comparing a first draft to a roller coaster ride is only partially telling, since a roller coaster ride consists of a set amount of time that has a start and an end. But when writing a first draft, it feels like the ups and downs are constant and never-ending. This is why I like to compare the first draft’s ups and downs to the ocean tide with its constant ebbs and flows.

The Flows: There are times when the writing world is beautiful and things are humming along. The ideas come without even asking them to, and I feel like the keyboard is the most welcoming conduit between my brain and the natural telling of the story. I’m happy as a clam when I’m in this kind of groove, and I’m loving all things writing.

The Ebbs: Then there are times when everything sucks and the words are forced. Nothing rings true, my voice is inconsistent and flat, and my characters won’t speak to me. I’m the most irritable person in the world when this happens and I feel like I can’t write at all. That hairy monster, Mr. Doubt, has replaced me at the keyboard and is laughing at me. 

So you’d think someone who recognizes these ups and downs would be more comfortable when they surface and have a plan of attack for dealing with them. Right? Um...kinda. What I mean is, I have tried so very hard to tell myself “this too shall pass” when I’m up against an ebb, and it helps to a certain extent, but what I’ve found helps a bit more is to stop writing—period—and go back to something else I’ve written that is 100% polished. It builds my confidence back to where it needs to be, and then I find that if I go back to that point in my first draft where the ebb occurred, the ebb subsides and I get back into the flow. Don’t get me wrong, the ebbs still stink like fish left out in the blazing sun for a week. But it’s good to have a method to help get back in the flow.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I’m in the middle of a first draft at the moment, so I’d be happy to add your strategy to my arsenal because I’m sure I’ll face a few more ebbs before I’m finished. So, tell me, what do you do to help avoid, or get out of, the many ebbs of the first draft?