Friday, June 29, 2012

How and Why I Write Humor -- a Guest Post by Joanne Levy

So here I am writing a post about writing funny. There isn’t much funny in writing about humor. Even the word funny stops sounding funny if you type it enough times.  There.  It’s gone.  Funny is no longer so.  

On to the serious business of writing humor. 

I’ve been told I’m funny person (despite the above, which strongly indicates to the contrary).  In my opinion, that’s a pretty good place to start if you’re looking to write humor—you kind of need to know what makes people laugh.  I write my funny on instinct and don’t really think about it too much, so it’s hard for me to talk intelligently about how I write funny.  But I’ll give a shot.
SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, my middle grade debut, is about Lilah Bloom, a girl who gets hit by lightning and can then suddenly hear ghosts.  I guess it’s not a very funny premise, but trust me; there are a lot of funny moments in it.  Lilah is twelve, so that means there is a lot going on in her life, from puberty to starting to think about boys. Then you throw in some mischievous ghosts, including a meddling dead grandmother, and you’ve got the potential for a lot of really funny scenes. One of my favorites is when Lilah is at her friend’s birthday party. The girls are consulting a Ouija board:
     “Okay,” Alex said, obviously taking over. “Everyone put your fingertips on the thingie.”  
     We all did. Of course, except Anita, who was watching from her spot in the corner.  
     “Okay, Tamsin. What’s your question?” 
     Tamsin took a breath. “Who will I marry?”
     Everyone gasped. We all knew Tamsin was currently crushing on Tyler Landis, an eighth grader. He was an excellent hockey player who hoped to one day make it to the NHL. Alex liked to tease Tamsin that her future boyfriend wouldn’t have any teeth, but Tamsin said with his NHL contract, he’d be able to buy himself a whole mouth full of teeth.
     Personally, I’d rather my husband have his own natural teeth, thank you very much. But I guess Tamsin wasn’t bothered by dentures.  
      All of a sudden, the plastic thing started to skitter and move under our fingers.  
     “Oh!” Anita yelped.
      It was moving over towards the left side of the board.  
     “Where’s the T?” Tamsin said. “Oh. Never mind.”
      Suddenly the piece started moving back towards the center.  Toward the T. 
      I glanced at Alex, who looked at me and we both knew: it wasn’t being guided by any spirits.
I love the banter between the girls.  This is not a homogenous group of tweens—they are all different, bringing their own personalities to the table, making them a dynamic group to watch.  Their differences make their interactions a lot more interesting than if they were all similar personalities.  I think this is an important part of writing characters—make them different from each other to give opportunities for banter and conflict.  Even small conflicts, like discussing which boy is cute and why, can bring about funny conversations.
What makes me laugh most about this scene is Tamsin obviously moving the pointer. And she gets it wrong the first time, so has to adjust and start pulling the pointer the other way, still under the ruse that it’s the spirits moving it.  She’s not fooling anyone, but Lilah and Alex play along, letting her make even more of a fool of herself to ensure her crush’s name is spelled out by the ‘spirits’.
What inspired this funny scene?  Well, what inspires a lot of my funniest scenes: real life.  A very similar experience happened to me when I was a kid, probably about Lilah’s age.  A group of us had come upon a Ouija board and were asking it what boys in our class liked us.  I’m sure we were all moving the pointer around, and I even remember one girl trying so hard to discreetly move it to spell out her crush’s name, that her knuckles were white*.  Looking back, that scene is very funny to me, so of course I had to put it into a book.  
* (there is a chance that girl may have been me)
What about you? How do you decide what funny things make it into your book?

Visit Joanne at her website,

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Slangin' Rhymes Like Diddy

First off, I hate rap music, so don't read too much into the title. Diddy is basically the only rapper I can think of, or maybe Lil Wayne (is that the guy with two teeth, both of them gold?). Anyway, this post is all about slang as it relates to MG, and how it can help and hurt your writing. Example needed? Okay, here you go.

One of the things I really try to capture in my writing is making my characters “real.” We all do, I know. But not long ago, I believed I needed to include the present-day verbal ticks and mannerisms I hear all the time in my classroom. Words like “own” and “burn” and phrases like “rock my socks” found their way into my writing as a result. Not entirely bad in terms of the intent, since those words are chucked around my classroom like Frisbees on the beach, but the consequence was my writing was annoying to the reader, and these slang words also dated the book for future readers. And the way slang comes and goes, we might be calling a book with words like “own” and “burn” dated in a year or two. Heck, maybe even tomorrow. All signs point to: chop the slangish fat off the meat of the story and let the reader enjoy the tasty meal, and not cringe every time a sliver of fat hits the tongue. Hungry?

So I came to the shocking conclusion that my use of slang was actually hurting my story, not helping it. The cleaver came out and off went the fat. And you know what? I believe my dialogue still rocked the reader’s socks. Oh, sorry, there I go again, slangin’ like Diddy*. Or Lil Wayne. Or whatever.

How about you? What’s your take on the use of slang in MG?

* Um, is he still “Diddy” or must I add the “P”? Now that I think of it, maybe I should have used MC Hammer…or is he now “Hammer”? Is he even alive?

Monday, June 25, 2012

MALCOLM AT MIDNIGHT Trailer and Giveaway!

In two months (just in time for the start of school!) my middle grade novel, MALCOLM AT MIDNIGHT, will be in bookstores. Needless to say, I'm a little excited. Anyway, to help send Malcolm on his way, I’ve been tinkering on a book trailer. It's been done for a little while, but the end of the school year has been so crazy, I haven't done much about it. Until now! Project Mayhem seemed the perfect place to post it (try saying that ten times fast!). Anyway, to help celebrate, I'm also giving away an ARC. Please enter below.

So, without further ado . . . here it is: MALCOLM AT MIDNIGHT, a funny middle grade mystery starring classroom pets at midnight, complete with ghostly shrieks, school hijinks, instances of valor, the occasional cheese puff, and . . . footnotes.

More info:

Thanks for watching!

~W.H. Beck

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Power of the Page

We have all heard stories of some author or another falling asleep by the fire and having his manuscript destroyed. I think those days are gone forever. Some of us don’t even have drafts to drop into a fire. We might have accidentally erased things, or even had computers die on us, but when entire manuscripts exist, pre-publication, only in the virtual world, we find we have entered a whole new realm.

What is a manuscript? If it’s not something written on paper, what is it? And, suddenly, books are not even written on paper. We can carry around two hundred books in our pockets. This is good for fire prevention, since we store our virtual material all over, in all different virtual venues. But what about the romance of the manuscript? WE can’t sign ebooks. We don’t marvel over first drafts on our flashdrives. Will a flashdrive with a first draft be worth something someday?

As we mourn the passing of Ray Bradbury, Maurice Sendak, and others, could we imagine a world where their work exists only virtually? Think of all the handwritten manuscripts, whether they are in the hand of Dickens or Beethoven. When we see those scribbles, we feel the humanity. We feel closer to the ancient minds when we get to see the magic from the hands they led to create. Is all that lost forever?

I do print out a draft and hand edit. At least, I did on the last book. This time, I haven’t had the time so my newest book exists only in the ether and in my mind. No one will ever see my scribbles or the splotch of coffee or the reminder to bring a snack for my youngest that I jotted down in the margins. There’s nothing about the virtual manuscript that shows the humanity of the author.

Even in our diaries and journals, we are losing the intimacy of the hand. How many of us keep paper calendars or diaries? Have we lost something for posterity?

Perhaps there will be ways around this. Perhaps not. We can argue that it’s not how but what when it comes to something written. Perhaps the page will pass into oblivion and no longer be important in the world. But if it will no longer be important, we lose something. We may never again be able to feel the author, revealed, on the page.

Thanks for reading!

Eden Unger

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

STORY'S END Cover Reveal and Giveaway!

And the WINNER, chosen by Rafflecopter's random number generator, is: STACEY MOORE!  I'll e-mail you to get your mailing info from you, Stacey.  Thanks again, everyone, and happy summer reading!


Hello Mayhemers!

I am thrilled to share the cover for Story's End with you!  Get ready to be amazed!  Brandon Dorman,  Alison Klapthor, and the entire team at HarperCollins Children's once again did a tremendous job!

I'd also love to give away an ARC of Story's End to one lucky reader.  If you'd like to enter, fill out the form below.  As soon as ARCs are available (I'm thinking July or August), I'll happily send one out to the winner!

Thanks for stopping by! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, June 18, 2012

Debate: The Book Thief is a MG Novel, by Matthew MacNish

Disclaimer: this is a blog post, not a mission statement. It's written in the interest of sparking conversation, in the hopes of getting people to think about great books, and debate what makes them great, and how or whether they should be categorized. It does not mean that this is necessarily the official opinion of Project Mayhem. It does not mean you should run out and buy this book for your ten-year-old (although, if your ten-year-old asks about this book, maybe you should read it yourself, and decide if you think they're ready).

So, now that you've read the legal small print, what do you think? I'm going to spend this blog post arguing that The Book Thief is a MG Novel. Not because I necessarily think it really is, but because it's something that stuck in my mind while I was reading it: how you do categorize a classic, important book like this?

Can you categorize a book like this?

First of all, let me start by saying, I'm not a huge believer in labels like MG or YA. I know why the marketing departments love them (because they sell books), and I'm not saying they're a bad thing, but I also don't believe books are that simple. You can't put them all in the same box and call it even.

In The Book Thief, Markus Zusak's instant classic which isn't necessarily a holocaust book, but certainly lives on the fringes of that brutal, tragic piece of history, Liesel Meminger is nine-years-old when our tale opens, and just barely fourteen when it closes (not counting the quasi-epilogue). Some might argue that makes it a MG Novel automatically. I'm not going to disagree with that, but again, I don't think it's that simple.

What does make a MG novel MG? It's not just the age of the protagonist (Oliver was nine when Oliver Twist began, for example), and it's not purely about content either. Sure, a lot of MG books do take place in Middle School, but a lot of them take place in fantasy worlds too (just ask some of our wonderful PM authors).

I'm not exactly sure, I mean I love to read MG books, but I've never had one published, so I don't know that I'm the expert here. However, I would like to argue that The Book Thief has a lot of what makes for a great MG Novel.

Liesel's an orphan, who eventually finds a wonderful relationship with a loving father, and a harsh, but still caring one with her foul-mouthed, but ultimately steadfast mother. She loves her neighbor and best friend Rudy Steiner, but never [SPOILER ALERT] acts on that love in the way an older teenager might.[END SPOILER]

Note: there is a bit of swearing in this book, but 99% of it is in German.

Leisel is also illiterate when the tale begins, but she soon learns to read, falls in love with words, and uses words, books, and storytelling to stand up to both the Third Reich, and the threat of losing everything she loves, in the only way she knows how: by reading.

It would be difficult to say for certain whether this book should be marketed as MG or not, especially without delving into far more details of the plot, but I think it's definitely a question worth thinking about.

Here are some quotes from the book, that may or may not persuade you:

Our narrator describes himself:

I do not carry a sickle or scythe. I only wear a hooded black robe when it's cold. And I don't have those skull-like facial features you seem to enjoy pinning on me from a distance. You want to know what I truly look like? I'll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.

One of the first times Liesel is sent out to handle the wash, with papa:

As they walked toward Frau Diller’s, they turned around a few times to see if Mama was still at the gate, checking on them. She was. At one point, she called out, “Liesel, hold that ironing straight! Don’t crease it!”

“Yes, Mama!”

A few steps later: “Liesel, are you dressed warm enough?!”

“What did you say?”

“Saumensch dreckiges, you never hear anything! Are you dressed warm enough? It might get cold later!”

Around the corner, Papa bent down to do up a shoelace. “Liesel,” he said, “could you roll me a cigarette?”

Nothing would give her greater pleasure.

Our narrator describes the last time he sees the book thief:

The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places, it was burned. There were black crumbs, and pepper, streaked across the redness.

Earlier, kids had been playing hopscotch there, on the street that looked like oil-stained pages. When I arrived, I could still hear the echoes. The feet tapping the road. The children-voices laughing, and the smiles like salt, but decaying fast.

Clearly this is a novel for children. A MG Novel.

What do you all think? Is there any argument to be made for The Book Thief as a MG Novel? Or do you think, like many people I've asked, that children could never truly understand a book like this?

In the meantime, please visit YA Confidential, where right now, I'm also arguing that The Book Thief is actually a YA Novel.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Say what?!

Now for one of my pet peeves.  I’ve noticed, as I’m sure many of you have, an increasing trend in modern fiction: the use of non-speech verbs as dialogue tags.

For example:

“That is the ugliest prom dress I’ve ever seen,” said Jessica, cringing.


“That is the ugliest prom dress I’ve ever seen,” cringed Jessica.

I think I understand why writers do this.  They feel it streamlines the text and gets rid of unnecessary words.  The “said” is implied by the quotation marks, right, so why does it need to be spelled out for the reader?

While this may be true, using non-speech verbs in this manner feels very awkward and incorrect to me.  I’m sorry, you can’t cringe dialogue, no matter how hard you try.

Now, I’ve been known to push the envelope with verbs like “hiss” and “laugh.”  Hiss has long been a subject of controversy when it comes to dialogue, with one faction arguing rather vociferously that you simply can’t hiss your words.  Personally, I don’t mind hiss as a dialogue tag.  I know you can hiss words.  I had a rather scary fourth-grade music teacher who was champ at it when she got angry.  Which was rather a lot…

I also think it’s possible to laugh words.  You know, when you’re trying to speak but you’re laughing so hard that your words come out sounding a little choked up and trembling with your laughter.

These work for me.  But what I really find distracting are words that are not even close to being speech-related used as dialogue tags:

“Hi there,” waved Jim.

“What a lovely day it is,” smiled Mary.

No, no, no, I say, cringing.  (NOT: No, no, no, I cringe.)

Use of non-speech verbs this way will just never feel right to me.  More importantly, I think it should be avoided because it has the potential to be distracting for many readers.  (I've also heard that some industry professionals feel that it gives your writing an amateurish look.)  But perhaps that’s me being old-fashioned when it comes to dialogue.  What do you think?

-Dawn Lairamore

photo credit: Ian Sane via photopin cc

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pope on Fluency


One of my favorite writing lessons actually comes from a poem. Alexander Pope, in his poem "Sound and Sense", offers insight and instruction for better writing. It is some of the best and toughest writing advice I've ever discovered. In it, he begins by reminding us that writing is a skill, one requiring learning and practice - truly great writing is not accidental. But he takes it even further, which I love.

Pope asserts that the best writing is accomplished when we are able to echo our content's meaning in the sound and quality of our words.

For example, if our MC is struggling with a mighty task, the reading should require more effort as well:
"But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar."

"When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,
The line too labors, and the words move slow;"
Pay attention to the effort required by your mouth and tongue to speak those lines. Try to say them quickly, without dropping any letter sounds. They MUST be read slowly. His letter and syllable combinations require more effort, resulting in slower pronunciation.

But if things are moving along smoothly and life is wonderful, Pope says our writing fluency should also flow smoothly and easily:
"Soft is the strain, when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;"


"Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o'er the unbending corn and skims along the main.
Now pay attention to the effort required to speak those lines. Try to say them quickly. No problem, right? Genius!

What impresses me most about Pope's message is not the value of his lesson (which I find priceless). I am most impressed by the way he manages to not only teach us what we should do, but also show us what he means, simultaneously. It blows. my. mind.

To actually apply the skills Pope shows us is far easier said than done. Specificity of word choice and a deliberate awareness of rhythmic fluency are required. Both take time and practice. The payoff in our craft, however, could not be measured.

A modern example can be found in the first few pages of What Jamie Saw, by Carolyn Coman. She uses fluency and words to create a powerful feeling of anxiety in the reader, one so strong we can't help but turn the page. William Steig does it in his picture book Shrek, to both advance and slow the reader. I've discovered this technique in many books, and I am awed by it every time.

For your reading pleasure, here is the complete poem:
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learned to dance.
'Tis not enough no harshness gives offense,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense:
Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows,
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows;
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,
The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar;
When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,
The line too labors, and the words move slow;
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o'er the unbending corn, and skims along the main.
Hear how Timotheus' varied lays surprise,
And bid alternate passions fall and rise!

What do you think? Can you think of any examples when you may have seen this technique?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Summer Brain Vacation - A Personal Readathon

How often to you give yourself two or three hours to read? Since I started writing, I sometimes feel guilty for setting aside a big block of time to read. There is always something else I could be doing: revising, meeting a word count goal, or plotting a new story. There is also the siren call of social media. I know not everyone falls for it, including some of the Project Mayhemers, but I have a tough time staying away from Twitter, both for its publishing news and as a way to chat with friends. And of course, there are also the biggest calls on our time: jobs, children, family and mundane things like food and laundry.

It struck me as my children are collecting books to read when we go on vacation, that’s something I don’t do anymore. At the last minute, I grab a few books and toss them in the car, but I don’t spend time thinking about getting a book I particularly want to read and making sure to have it along on the trip.

That’s going to change. I’ve already stepped away from Twitter, and don’t intend to go back to using it much until the fall. And if one of the purposes of vacation is to recharge, I need to let myself to do. Recharging for me in the past has always consisted of reading. So I’m going to start collecting books for our vacation, not books I feel I need to read to be in the loop, just books that will be pure fun for me. So far, I have two on the list, both of the epic fantasy type. Even though I don't write epic fantasy, reading it inspires me. Neither is kidlit, but since I read dozens of kidlit books a year, I’m giving myself permission to step away from that as well.

Here are mine. (Aren't these great covers?) If you have a book you are reading for pure pleasure this summer, go ahead and tell us about it!

Happy reading! ~ Dee Garretson

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Wolf In the Wardrobe: Review and Interview with New Zealand author Susan Brocker

Perhaps I am a total whacko, but I really like wolves (and rats, and spiders, and snakes.) So I jumped at the chance to read New Zealand author Susan Brocker's latest: THE WOLF IN THE WARDROBE.

The story: Finn is an only child whose parents have split. He lives with his mother and ailing grandmother. One day, Finn finds an injured wolf called Lupa, a wolf he first saw being mistreated by a clown during a circus performance. He nurses Lupa back to health, and then tries to keep her from the clown's clutches while doing his best to raise funds to send her to a wolf sanctuary in the United States. The story builds to a highly dramatic climax and has an ending that is poignant and heartfelt.

What I loved: I loved Finn's drive. I loved the humor, particularly from grandma Eva whose mind is failing her, but who retains her Irish vivacity. And I loved all those cool New Zealand words and phrases. Plus the fact that Finn plays rugby, a sport I played in my youth.

Reading THE WOLF IN THE WARDROBE made me want to read all of Susan's books, find out more about her fellow New Zealand writers, and then move to New Zealand. (Oh well, one can but dream regarding the latter.) In lieu of becoming a Kiwi, though, I did the next best thing: interviewed Susan for Project Mayhem. Here's what I learned:

Susan Brocker with her dog Yogi

When did you start writing?

I started writing stories when I was a little girl, as soon as I could string sentences together. I guess I was born wanting to tell stories, so I grew up writing and sharing these stories with my friends. My teachers published my first “book” when I was about 9 years old. They typed it up and stapled it together for other students to borrow from the library. It was the tale of a wild Kaimanawa horse (New Zealand’s own wild horses, similar to your mustangs). Over 30 years later my first novel published here in New Zealand, called Restless Sprit, was all about the Kaimanawa wild horses too.

What was your journey to publication?

A very long one, like so many authors. After studying history at University, I travelled extensively overseas and wrote many travel articles about the places I visited. When I finally returned to NZ, I was lucky to get an editing and writing role with a children’s educational publisher in Auckland. From there on my love of children’s books grew. I wrote over fifty educational books during this time, about varying topics such as wildlife conservation, social history, and natural science. When we decided to move from the city to enjoy country life here in Tauranga, I started writing fiction for children about the subjects I love – mainly, animals and history. HarperCollins NZ accepted my first middle grade novel about the wild horses of NZ and since then I’ve gone on to publish five more.  

Where is Tauranga, and how would you describe it?

Tauranga is in the Bay of Plenty, on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. NZ is made up of two islands, called imaginatively by the Europeans the North Island and the South Island! Tauranga is a beautiful and bustling port city of about 120,000. It’s famous for its glorious surf beaches and year-round sunshine. We live in the foothills overlooking Tauranga, with views out over Mount Maunganui (Mauao), an extinct volcanic cone that features prominently in many Maori legends.

Tell us about some of the animals you live with, and how they inspire you.

We live on a small farm (10 acres), called a lifestyle block here in NZ. This means we don’t make any money from it, but we live here because we love the lifestyle! Both my husband and I work (I’m a fulltime writer), and we enjoy our spare time with the animals. We have our lovely German Shepherd, Yogi, three horses named Barney, Robbie, and Al Capone whom we ride and trek for fun, kittens Luci and Lili, a herd of angora goats (named after desserts and fruits, for example, Cheesecake and Pavlova, and twins Raspberry and Strawberry), and a pet Charolais cow named Bubbles. Many of my stories have been inspired by their antics and zest for life. For example, I’m currently working on a novel about an eccentric woman who rescues cats, inspired by our madcap kittens Lili and Luci..

Is there a kid-lit community in New Zealand? Are there other New Zealand writers you would recommend us reading?

New Zealand has an extremely strong and talented kid-lit community. We have many top children’s writers for all the age levels. I could recommend so many, which is great given the size of our country. Some of our most celebrated authors include Joy Cowley, Margaret Mahy, Tessa Duder, Dame Lynley Dodd, Maurice Gee, David Hill, and Jack Lasenby, but I could go on and on.

I saw on your website that Lupa, the wolf in The Wolf in the Wardrobe, is based on your German Shepherd Yogi. Can you tell us how that idea came about?

Yogi is a longhaired GSD who absolutely adores children. We live next door to a family of boys and as they were growing up they would hang over our fence calling out, “Where’s the wolf? We want to play with the wolf!” To them Yogi looked just like a wolf from the films they’d seen on telly (here in NZ we don’t have any wolves!). This got me thinking one day: imagine if Yogi really was a wolf! Imagine the fun and intrigue…and so slowly the story unfolded of a cheeky boy who hides a wolf pretending she’s a dog. The best thing about the story was that half way through writing it I had the chance to visit Yellowstone National Park and see for myself the wolves I write about in the book. It was a wonderful trip.

Favorite flavor of ice-cream? Favorite sport?

My favourite ice-cream (notice my British spelling), is called hokey pokey ice-cream here in NZ. I don’t know if you have that flavour (sp) in the States? A NZ company called Tip Top make it; it’s yummy and the creamiest you’ve ever tasted. When we lived overseas it was something I always missed about home.

Now, as to sport, my personal favourite is horse riding of course. My husband and I go trekking through the bush and along the beaches most weekends. It’s a wonderful and relaxing pastime. However, down here most people are obsessed with the game of rugby. It’s our national sport, and mostly what people play and watch on weekends (both men and women, though women often play a gentler form called touch rugby).

For more info visit my website or join me on my Facebook author page at:

Thanks so much, Susan!! Now everyone go dancing with wolves!!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

It's Old, and it's New

Tomorrow I start a ten day period where I will be living in the home I grew up in, and with some of the people I grew up with—my mom and dad. My dad just had a kidney removed, he’s 85 years old, and will take some time to recover. I’m traveling to Indiana help with his recovery.

Life is a mixing of the familiar with the new. The oak tree in our backyard still stands, but the cottonwood, honey locust, and weeping willow (the one I used to climb as a kid) are all long gone.

In the living room my mom’s piano, which she’s had for almost 60 years, occupies one wall. When their grandsons come over sometimes they use sheet music on an Ipad while playing.

With the exception of two, the other houses on my parents’ street have changed owners several times. Most of the backyards which used to provide short cuts have all been fenced in but I can still remember taking them.

In our stories we’ve got a couple hundred pages to create a meaningful and engaging, and hopefully page-turning, arc of growth. It doesn’t matter whether your story takes place over 24 hours or 24 months or 24 years. You take a life-cycle and you sort of compress it and expand it at the same time. You take an old theme, because there are no new ones, and shine a light on it from your experience and you see something new.

It’s old, and it’s new.

Monday, June 4, 2012

How do you Tumbl?

Tumblr: yet another Internet timesuck. Without the benefits of social networking of Twitter, and without the benefit of readers of Blogger. So how do writers turn this randomly eclectic collection of images, audio clips, quotes, links and videos to their use?

Before I elaborate, let me briefly detail the finer points of Tumblr: it’s a micro-blogging platform, which means that, rather than writing/creating original full-length content, the focus is on small pieces: single snapshots, a short inspirational message, a funny video of the day. What makes Tumblr so powerful is the ease of sharing: by encouraging users to “reblog” posts that interest them (“repinning” in Pinterest is the same concept), one photo can reach multitudes and multitudes of Tumblr users in one hour. It’s why it’s normal to have Tumblr followers in the two-hundreds within a week: like-minded bloggers find each other very easily on this platform.

So: how do writers use Tumblr?

1. A personal Tumblr. Obviously, a personal Tumblr is the simplest and most effortless way to use Tumblr. If you go this route, the Tumblr users you follow and are followed by will most likely be fellow writers or people you know who are interested in what you’re interested, and vice versa. Get started by finding blogs focused on your interests, be that cooking, soccer, greyhound racing or XHTML. (You’ll find all that and more on Tumblr, promise.)

2. A writing-related Tumblr. A quick search for the tag “writing” within Tumblr can turn up dozens upon dozens of gems in graphic, quote and video form in an instant. Reblog your favourites, and if you find writing-related tidbits on the Internet in other places, it’s easy to post it to Tumblr (providing a source, of course) to add to your collection. A writing-related Tumblr blog can be a place of inspiration, a space to vent frustration or a veritable community of like-minded writers.

3. A Tumblr related to your book. This is probably the most reader-/audience-focused approach. R J Anderson, author of Ultraviolet (yes, it’s YA, sorry!), has a Tumblr for quotes, images, etc. related to her book, and since her novel focuses on synesthesia, a lot of her content focuses on that condition, which makes for very interesting reading. If I were to create a Tumblr for my current WIP, Faking the Aurora Borealis, there would be a continuous stream of horseback riding-related content, since riding figures largely into FtAB. This type of Tumblr is perfect for readers looking for more insight into your novel, and plus it’s fun to dedicate a little bit of cyberspace solely to the masterpiece you’ve been working on for so long.

Now that I’ve laid out three methods to use Tumblr, I want to know: do you use Tumblr already? And how?


Friday, June 1, 2012

Audio Book Cat is Happy....

So, I've never been into audio books and not because I don't like them or I have anything against them. I just never had a need for them. Well, at least not until now.

Like most of you, I have one of those things commonly referred to as a full-time job. (I know, shocking stuff!) I love my job. I really do, but I find myself caught in massive Chicago traffic both ways--like 45 minutes to an hour traffic. I like music, but I've never been a huge listener, most of the time I turn the radio off and concentrate on whatever WIP I have going on in my head. Recently, with the demands of my job, I've had no time to read, so I turned to an audio book, so I can listen to it while I'm stuck on the endless highway.

Now I'm not going to tell you what book I was listening to. It was a children's middle-grade novel (go figure).  It was read by one woman, who played all the parts, getting into different voices and even pretending to be several different male characters. At first, I couldn’t stand it. I have to say, it weirded me out a little--especially when the narrator played more quirky characters and tried to make her voice all scratchy and cracked. Some of the voices were so over the top it was almost hard to listen to, but then I realized, it made the story much more interesting. It made it easier for me to tell the characters apart while not being able to stare at the written word. Best of all, I was retaining the information AND I wasn't talking on my cell phone while driving! Major safety plus for audio books!

So now...I love them! Plus, I've got my four-year-old daughter hooked on them too, and keeping her quiet in a long car ride is a major accomplishment--trust me!

So what do you think of audio books? Love them? Hate them? Any middle-grade favorites you'd like to recommend?

I know many audio books are simply narrated. They don't get much into different characters or dramatics. The book is simply read aloud. Which do you prefer? Do you like when the narrators get into character or do you like a nice clean read with no theatrics?  

I'm so glad to be an audio book convert. It opens a whole new world of reading (or maybe listening) to me! :)