Sunday, March 30, 2014

MMGM: Wild Wings

I have a delightful book to share with you. Last time I shared about Siobhan Parkinson, an Irish author, and today I’m sharing another author from the UK, Gill Lewis. 
I was immediately drawn to this book, because I enjoyed reading the memoir WINGS OF MY FLIGHT: PEREGRINE FALCONS OF CHIMNEY ROCK (Marcy Cottrell Houle). I hoped that WILD WINGS would also give me a glimpse of the magnificent life of wild birds--and I was not disappointed. 

Here’s the synopsis from Amazon:

When Callum spots crazy Iona McNair on his family’s sprawling property, she’s catching a fish with her bare hands. She won’t share the fish, but does share something else: a secret.
     She’s discovered a rare endangered bird, an Osprey, and it’s clear to both her and Callum that if anyone finds out about the bird, it, and its species, is likely doomed. Poachers, egg thieves, and wild weather are just some of the threats, so Iona and Callum vow to keep track of the bird and check her migratory progress using the code a preservationist tagged on her ankle, no matter what.
     But when one of them can no longer keep the promise, it’s up to the other to do it for them both. No matter what. Set against the dramatic landscapes of Scotland and West Africa, this is a story of unlikely friendships, the wonders of the wild—and the everyday leaps of faith that set our souls to flight.

 What I loved about WILD WINGS:

--Getting a glimpse of Scottish village life and life on a Scottish farm

--Callum is a realistic in how he deals with pressure from his friends not to hang out with a girl, but then becomes heroic when he stands up for her.

--It took many unexpected turns.I'm glad I didn't read the synopsis beforehand.

--This novel affirms friendships on so many levels. Callum has strong friendships with girls and with his mates. This was refreshing. I see a lot of middle grade with strong boy-girl friendships, but few portrayals of boys as good friends.

--This novel also showed how kids can move the world, influence things, and bring healing and hope (not just to wildlife, but to humans as well).
If you love books about animals or wildlife or nature—you must check out this book!

Have you read any interesting middle grade books lately?

For more Marvelous Middle Grade titles, please see Shannon Messenger's blog. She is the author of KEEPER OF LOST CITIES (MG) series and SKY FALL (YA).

Friday, March 21, 2014

Happy Spring!

I hope you all enjoyed the first day of spring yesterday! Next week is spring break here in Oregon, so I will be taking a short blogging break and won't be online much next week. Inspired by some of your comments on Wednesday, I hope to use this week to recharge and get out in nature.

I will see you back here on April 31st for another Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and Insecure Writer's Group on April 2nd!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Art as Inspiration

Frog Lake--a place that inspires me
I recently read BELLE EPOQUE by Elizabeth Ross. One of the interesting things about that story was that one of the characters, Paul, went to the Louvre museum when he was stuck. Here’s how he explains it: “I’m a musician, and when I’m stuck with composing I like to plunge into another art form. . .I enjoy looking at paintings. It reminds me that others also toil to create.” (BELLE EPOQUE, Elizabeth Ross) That got me thinking about how I get inspired when I’m stuck.

Like Paul, I find that art recharges me.  Of course, reading novels or watching films are inspiring, but I do that all the time. Here are some things that really “fill me up” as a writer:

Theater: Watching a play, seeing the characters convey emotion through their body language, voice and pitch inspires me. Seeing actors live, rather than on a screen, has more immediacy. Perhaps it’s because it’s in real time…perhaps I feel like an actor as I create voice for my own characters.

Art: I have only taken a few art classes, which I loved. But looking at art and creating it, which I don’t do often enough, inspires me. One of the things I learned in art class is that it’s not about talent so much as being able to see rightly—how many shades of green do you see in that forest? Writing, too, is all about seeing rightly and conveying what you see clearly.

Music: I recently listened to a classical music program called THE SCORE, where the host, Edmund Stone, interviews composers of screenplays. I loved listening to these musicians’ processes, especially how they used certain instruments and styles to convey emotion. As a writer, we need to think about tone and mood and motifs—all things present in music. 

Nature: Being out in nature inspires me; it is art on a grand scale. I recently read the picture book LUCY MAUDE MONTGOMERY : The Author of Anne of Green Gables (Alexander Wallner). In it, she says about L.M. Montgomery: “Her best friend, however, was nature… like magic to her.” Nature reminds me that the small details, which Montgomery captured so well in her work, allow readers to feel like they are living in the story.
What inspires you as writer when you get stuck? Please share!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

An Irish MMGM: Blue Like Friday and Second Fiddle: Or How to Tell a Sausage from a Blackbird

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I’m featuring a couple of middle grades by Irish author Siobhan Parkinson. I loved how these books allowed me to spend some time on the Emerald Isle.

What drew me immediately to BLUE LIKE FRIDAY was that the main character’s best friend, Hal, has synesthesia. The title of the book comes from how he sees Friday: “It’s a light, pretty blue with frills.”
Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

NOT EVERYONE SEES THE WORLD THROUGH THE SAME LENS.  From the author of Something Invisible comes this funny and poignant novel about the hues of friendship.

Spunky Olivia and eccentric Hal are an unlikely pair. While Hal suffers from a neurological condition called synesthesia that causes him to associate things with colors, Olivia tends to see the world in black and white. Still, these two are friends through thick and thin, through rose-colored days and blue days, even when Hal’s plan to get rid of his mother’s boyfriend backfires by driving his mother away. Olivia’s honest, funny and always-opinionated voice tells this story with colorful perception. 

This book is laced with humor despite dealing with some serious issues like the death of a parent and adjusting to a new stepparent. Hal and Olivia’s attempts to separate Hal’s mom from her fiancé are laugh out loud funny. Like a good British comedy, expectations are reversed, mishaps happen, and hilarity ensues.

But much of the humor also comes from Olivia, whose voice is blunt and to the point: “If you took off his belt and laid it on the ground, it’d reach from here to Limerick. No that’s an exaggeration, and I’m trying to break my exaggeration habit. From my house to Hal’s, then.”

As you can see, Parkinson likes to "break the fourth wall" in her work. While I don't normally like that technique, it works well in her novels, which ooze with voice and personality.

I especially appreciated the glossary at the end for those of us unfamiliar with Irish/Gaelic slang. 

The other book by Siobhan Parkinson that I enjoyed was SECOND FIDDLE: OR HOW TO TELL A SAUSAGE FROM A BLACKBIRD.

From Amazon:

Aspiring writer Mags Clarke has just moved with her mother to a new area after the death of her father. Because her feet are usually firmly planted on the ground, Mags is cautious about befriending Gillian, whom she enchantingly finds playing the violin high up in the trees near her house. But the two get acquainted and embark on Project Manhunt: a plan to find Gillian's absent father, the only one who can send Gillian to an audition for a prestigious music school. Their strategies differ, making the road to true friendship a bumpy one. Second Fiddle is a thoughtfully crafted portrait of family and an unlikely friendship forged around a noble goal.

Every writer must read this book--just for the first chapter "A False Start" where Mags, an aspiring writer, explains how to start a story. "I have heard that it is very important to have an intriguing opening when you are writing a story...and I will tell you what it is in a minute."

Like BLUE LIKE FRIDAY, this book is filled with humor and heart.

Hope you all have a lovely St. Patty’s Day! Have you read any fabulous middle grades lately?

For more Marvelous Middle Grade titles, please see Shannon Messenger's blog. She is the author of KEEPER OF LOST CITIES (MG) series and SKY FALL (YA).

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Austen and Love Triangles

I am not a fan of love triangles. I think it's hard to believe a character is in love if he or she has spent half the film or book in love with someone else.

But I've been noticing that Jane Austen uses love triangles in her books, and most of the time, I never doubt the characters’ love for each other at the end. How does she do it?

Here are some patterns I see:


Youthful stupidity:
(Sense and Sensibility): Elinor and Edward are in love with each other, but Edward is trapped by a foolish match he made when he didn’t know any better. The tension comes from will he be honorable and stick to his engagement or be with his true love? When the engagement is broken, and he finally is free, we feel their joy.

First Impressions:
(Pride and Prejudice): Elizabeth is misguided in her preference for Wickham. He flatters her and seems more “open.” The fact that she is even interested in him is an illustration of her character flaw, her extreme prejudice. When Elizabeth changes, she sees Darcy’s good attributes and falls deeply in love. At the end of P & P, you have no doubt that Wickham was a passing fancy, but Darcy was the real thing.

Pretending to be in love to make the person you really love jealous:
(Persuasion): Captain Wentworth flirts with Louisa and seems to be on the point of marrying her , but really this is his reaction to how hurt he is by Anne. Once he forgives Anne, we see his true feelings. He never loved Louisa, and so that makes his love for Anne all the stronger.

Granted, many of the plot points in Austen’s work wouldn’t work for modern readers, but the way she uses love triangles—not as vying between two equal loves—but as illustrating how the person truly loves the “right” person is really effective. It’s why we return to Austen again and again.

Maybe it’s not whether you do a love triangle, but how you do it.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fear of Failure

Fear of Failure

I like to think I am not much of a perfectionist. My house is not immaculate. I am not very organized. When I took a painting class once, the teacher said she liked my “impressionist” style. (I think she was just being nice because my paintings didn’t really look like anything.)

But when it comes to writing, I like to be perfect. The first draft is the hardest part for me, because it never comes out the way I’ve imagined it in my head. I spend the whole first draft fighting against the desire to throw the whole thing in the garbage.

And each time I get ready to query a new project, I think this time will be different. This time I’ll send out a perfect query and everyone will be lining up to read it. This time I won’t make any mistakes. Because, somehow deep inside I think if I make mistakes, I’ll never have success.

But that’s the thing. It’s not mistakes, but my fear of making mistakes holds me back. It has kept me from finishing one of my MG books (which I hope to amend this year). It kept me from even sending my second book out at all.

The truth is that making mistakes has helped me. Yes, I rewrote novel #3 four times, but it’s much stronger now, even if I never sell it. Getting novel #3 rejected helped me to see what was still wrong and needed to be fixed.

Now I’m starting to query #4. And I realized the only way I can manage the ups and downs of querying is to think about one thing: If I learn something, I haven’t failed.

I figure that although there are no guarantees in writing or publishing, except for one: if I keep writing and keep putting my work out there, I will learn.
And maybe I’ll get better.  

Please excuse the strange color on the formatting--I haven't figured out how to fix it yet.


I love S.A. Larsen's idea for this blog hop!
I know as a writer that when I'm thankful, I'm also content. I'm less likely to compare myself to others, and I'm happier just enjoying the journey.
I have so much to be thankful for:

  1. Stellar critique partners. There's nothing like finding other kindred writing spirits who challenge and encourage you to keep going. I am so grateful.
  2. The generosity of writers farther along than me. I had a couple of published authors go out of their way to help me in the last year. What a gift.
  3. Agents or editors who have given me personalized feedback or encouragement. There are some rejections that deserve frames.
  4. A family who believes in me. My biggest fans live with me.
  5. Writing itself. There is nothing like finding just the right word, figuring out how to fix a plot hole, and getting to live for a little while in my characters’ shoes. Writing is a great gift, and I hope to use it well, no matter when or how I meet my own definition of success.
If you’d like to see other posts in the Gratitude Blog Hop, please visit:

1.Literary Rambles2.Sharing Thanks
3.Alex J. Cavanaugh4.Leigh Talbert Moore
5.Constantine6.Catherine Stine's Idea City
7.Jenni Enzor8.Fanny Barnes Thornton
9.Parents for Character10.Miranda Hardy
11.Jemi Fraser12.Julie Musil
13.Middle Grade Mafioso14.Jamie Burch
15.Mama Diaries16.Chandara Writes
17.My Road To Happiness18.Swords and Stilettos
19.Margo Berendsen 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: My Louisiana Sky

When I read the synopsis for this book, I knew I had to read it.
From the book jacket of MY LOUISIANA SKY  (Kimberly Holt):
Tiger Ann Parker is bright in school and good at baseball, but she’s forever being teased about her family by the girls in her class. Tiger knows her folks are different from others in their small town, Saitter, Louisiana. They are mentally slow, and Tiger keeps her pain and embarrassment hidden as long as her strong, smart grandmother runs the household. Then Granny dies suddenly and Aunt Dorie Kay arrives, offering Tiger Ann a way out. Now Tiger Ann must make the most important decision of her life.
What I loved about Louisiana Sky:

Tiger Ann is a believable, sympathetic protagonist. She’s torn between her love for her parents and her desire to “fit in” with the other girls at school, be like Audrey Hepburn, and have fun. I loved that she was navigating all the ups and downs of early adolescence, while trying to also deal with outpacing her parents.

I loved how Holt used this phrase: Your momma’s love is simple. It flows from her like a quick, easy river as a motif throughout the book. Tiger Ann’s parents are portrayed with compassion, but are not put on a pedestal as perfect (as sometimes happens in books about people with disabilities). Yet, their great gift—love—is shown for what it is.

As a former special education teacher, I loved that this book portrayed a disability not as a handicap, but as a different way of seeing the world.
There is also a film of this book, if you want to extend your reading experience: My Louisiana Sky.

Kimberly Holt is the author of many other middle grade books, including the National Book Award winning, WHEN ZACHARY BEAVER CAME TO TOWN.

For more Marvelous Middle Grade titles, please see Shannon Messenger's blog. She is the author of KEEPER OF LOST CITIES (MG) series and SKY FALL (YA).

What marvelous middle grades have you read lately?