Saturday, May 24, 2014

MMGM: The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.

*The 14 Fibs of Gregory K has gotten a lot of love, and I’m sure I put it on my list because of someone else’s MMGM post. I wasn’t sure, though, if I was going to like it. I  didn’t like Gregory’s parents at first, so I almost gave up on the book.

But I loved Gregory’s voice and could relate to his dilemma: be the person his parents wanted or be true to himself and his dreams. Of course, since he wanted to be a writer, I could totally relate, since I started writing at a young age.

I am so glad I stuck with this book, because I loved the character growth in this book—especially with Gregory and his parents. I also loved the way that Pincus used the Fibonacci series and poetry as a motif throughout.

Here's the synopsis:
Failing math but great at writing, Gregory finds the poetry (and humor) in what's hard.

Gregory K is the middle child in a family of mathematical geniuses. But if he claimed to love math? Well, he'd be fibbing. What he really wants most is to go to Author Camp. But to get his parents' permission he's going to have to pass his math class, which has a probability of 0. THAT much he can understand! To make matters worse, he's been playing fast and loose with the truth: "I LOVE math" he tells his parents. "I've entered a citywide math contest!" he tells his teacher. "We're going to author camp!" he tells his best friend, Kelly. And now, somehow, he's going to have to make good on his promises.

Hilariously it's the "Fibonacci Sequence" -- a famous mathematical formula! -- that comes to the rescue, inspiring Gregory to create a whole new form of poem: the Fib! Maybe Fibs will save the day, and help Gregory find his way back to the truth.

For every kid who equates math with torture but wants his own way to shine, here's a novel that is way more than the sum of its parts.

What I’ve learned as a writer from this book:

  1. How to use food in your work: Pincus does an amazing job with using The Slice (the pie shop Gregory and his friend, Kelly frequent) and Gregory’s mom’s Weird Wednesday’s dinners. Both of these foods tie in to the story in marvelous ways—the pie echoing the “pi” of math  and his mom’s dinners illustrating her backstory and an important bit of character growth for her.
  2. Character Arc: In the beginning, Gregory’s parents, his sister, and his brothers seemed oblivious to what Gregory was going through, although they seemed to be good parents in other ways (insisting on family dinner night, for example). I’m so glad that I didn't stop reading. The payoff of Gregory learning that his sister didn’t hate him, his mother had her own passion as a child, and what his dad does at the end to show he truly understands Gregory was huge. This definitely got me thinking about my own work—and whether I’ve used actions and/or objects to show change rather than just narration and dialogue.
I loved how Gregory grew as well—how he learned to rely on others and be true to himself. I thought his dilemmas and his way of handling them by fibbing was realistic.

* This cover definitely has MG boy appeal, at least if I go by my sons' reactions.

Have you read any great middle grades lately?

To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Blogging Schedule

Just a short note: I'm knee deep in major revisions on one manuscript while also  trying to still draft Shiny New Manuscript, so I'm going down to blogging once a week (Mondays) for a while. I will still be doing my once a month Insecure Writer's Post though. See you next Monday or the first Wednesday of June!
I'm so thankful for you, dear readers! Happy almost summer!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

MMGM: Letters from Rifka

This is not a very new book that I’m highlighting today (1992), but it is an important book, especially in light of all that’s going on in the Crimea/Ukraine right now.

I was drawn to this book for many reasons:

It starts in Ukraine, where I studied in college. Actually, I studied in the Crimea, but it was part of Ukraine then.

It deals with the effects of the Ukrainian pogroms, something I’ve been reading a lot about lately.

Pushkin—one of my favorite poets—is integral to the plot.

Here is the synopsis:

Rifka knows nothing about America when she flees from Russia with her family in 1919. But she dreams that in the new country she will at last be safe from the Russian soldiers and their harsh treatment of the Jews. Throughout her journey, Rifka carries with her a cherished volume of poetry by Alexander Pushkin. In it, she records her observations and experiences in the form of letters to Tovah, the beloved cousin she has left behind.

Strong-hearted and determined, Rifka must endure a great deal: humiliating examinations by doctors and soldiers, deadly typhus, separation from all she has ever known and loved, murderous storms at sea, detainment on Ellis Island--and is if this is not enough, the loss of her glorious golden hair.

Based on a true story from the author's family, Letters from Rifka presents a real-life heroine with an uncommon courage and unsinkable spirit.

What I loved about this book:

--The main character: Rifka is one of my all-time favorite MG characters. I loved how she was surprised when she found kindness --and smiled when she talked about trying chocolate, bananas, and ice cream for the first time. I couldn't help but root for her.

--Pushkin, Pushkin, Pushkin! I loved how a book of Pushkin’s poetry, a symbol of her Russianness, is used throughout the story in many ways—as a vehicle for writing her letters, as a medium for teaching a little boy to read, and ultimately what saves her.

--Loved the theme of focusing on your looks vs. being clever for girls. Rifka was always honest about this—sometimes she relied on her looks (until she no longer could). But how she embraces her cleverness was really well done.

--I’m not normally a fan of expository stories. I’m not sure why—maybe I just like to get right into the story. But this form worked well for this novel—I can’t imagine it any other way.

For writers: I took notes on how Hesse conveyed Rifka’s emotions with subtle gestures and details. I also think this book is one of the best examples of how to convey physical descriptions of a first person narrator without it being clumsy or forced. There are no “gazing at the mirror” scenes, but Rifka’s looks (which play an important part in the plot) are very well conveyed, as well as how she perceives herself.

If you like historical fiction, especially books about little known aspects of history, you should check this out.
Have you read any memorable middle grades lately?

To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

On Word Counts

Last week I spent a lot of time not writing. I did a lot of research—a great excuse for watching videos about Scotland! I’ve made spreadsheets and character webs/maps. I have not even opened the document with my rough draft. 
This did not happen last week.
But why do I think that’s not writing?
One of the great things about ywriter, a program like Scrivener, is that it tracks your word count. There’s nothing like seeing Added today: 5000 at the bottom of the screen. (Though I assure you that almost never happens.) Sometimes when I’m editing it’s in the negative. And this week, when I felt like I needed to go back and do some more character work before I went forward it says, Added today: 0.
It’s enough to make you feel like a failure.
But what I’m realizing is that I need to do this not-writing to get to the good stuff. If I don’t research, I have no details to include in my story. If I don’t do some brainstorming, I won’t have much of a plot. And I need to sometimes write myself lists of “what if” questions to patch plot holes.
There’s so much pressure sometimes to report word count. You see it on Twitter and writer’s forums, and so when I have nothing to report, I feel like I haven’t done anything.
But I have. The words will come and maybe more quickly, if I’ve done the underground building. I do better writing when I have immersed myself in the world and am not writing blind.
So, my word count for last week (at least according to ywriter) is 0. But stay tuned, it will come.

How do you feel about word counts?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

MMGM: The Interrupted Tale (Incorrigle Children of Ashton Place)

There are some series that I  have waited for with bated breath: THE PENDERWICKS,  THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY, LEMONY SNICKET.

My latest series obsession: THE INCORRIBLE CHILDREN OF ASHTON PLACE. I recently got my hands on the fourth in the series: The Interrupted Tale.

If you have not had a taste of this marvelous series, it is about the delightful Miss Lumley, governess to three children who’ve been raised by wolves. But it’s so much more than that.

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

In The Interrupted Tale, Miss Penelope Lumley receives an invitation to speak at the annual Celebrate Alumnae Knowledge Exposition (or CAKE) at the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. Optoomuchstic as ever, Penelope hopes to give her CAKE talk, see some old friends, and show off the Incorrigible children to Miss Mortimer, but instead she finds her beloved school in an uproar.

And when Penelope is asked by the Swanburne Academy board of trustees to demonstrate the academic progress of her three wolfish students so the board can judge the true worth of a Swanburne education, the future of her alma mater—and of her job as governess to the Incorrigibles—hangs in the balance.

Some of my favorite things about this book (and the series):

-Lots of wordplay and literary allusions (everything from Greek orators to Eureka! to Shakespeare). In Interrupted Tale, the word cake is used to great effect.

-An omniscient narrator like Lemony Snicket or Cuthbert Soup (A WHOLE NOTHER STORY) whose hilarious asides are just as much fun as the actual story. In Interrupted Tale, everything from ferns to filibusters to dancing chickens and the Imperial Ballet are discussed.

-A plucky heroine, who loves to read the Giddyup Rainbow series and teaches her charges about Edgar Allen Poe--what's not to love?

-Incredibly entertaining villains

-The solution of each mystery only leads to another--and each riddle is connected. (I just haven't figured out how yet!)
-If you loved Jane Eyre or Lemony Snicket or The Mysterious Benedict Society, you will love this book.

For writers: One of the things I find most amazing about THE INCORRIBLE CHILDREN, is that the protagonist is 15 going on 16. (She turns 16 in Interrupted Tale.) Yet the story is accessible to middle grade readers. I think it’s the writing style and how the story is told. The mild bit of romance is also not like you’d find in YA, more of a friendship that’s blossoming into more.

I just learned there’s only one more book coming out. I will be very sad when this series ends.
Two other MMGMers blogged about the first in the series recently: Suzanne Warr and Joanne Fritz.
What amazing middle grades have you read lately?

To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

IWSG: The Shiny Manuscript Syndrome

It's sparkly! It's shiny! It's a new manuscript!
I am a fickle with my manuscripts. I don’t love them equally. I always have a favorite.

I just started a new project, and I’m besotted.

Recently, I gushed to my husband: “This is the best thing I’ve ever written. I love the characters! I’ve never written anything like this before.”

To which, husband responds (with a hint of sarcasm): “You’ve never said that before.” 

All right. I say that every time. 

I am always infatuated with a new story at first. 

I think it also has to do with the story playing in my head, how I think success will come. I have read so many “how I got my agent” or “how I got my book deal” stories where the author talks about “knowing it was the one” or “writing like she/he had never written before.”

Somehow I think if I feel something different with a manuscript—if my heart sings, then maybe that’s the sign. This is the one.

But maybe that’s not how my story is going to go. And maybe it’s just that I’m starting something new, and it hasn’t been ripped to pieces by critique partners yet.

Usually by the time I query something, I’m not even sure if I like it anymore.

Someday I’ll learn how to love my manuscripts equally—and not just put all my hope in the newest, freshest one.

Because the ones already written deserve some affection too.

Insecure Writer's Support Group

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

 For more posts in this blog hop:

Saturday, May 3, 2014

MMGM: My Very UnFairy Tale Life

I've been meaning to read MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE for a long time, because the whole concept of a humorous fairy tale intrigued me. I also know Anna from the Blueboards and blogging and she’s such a lovely person.

Summary (from author’s website):

Is your magical kingdom falling apart? Twelve-year-old Jenny is on the case, whether she likes it or not. Saving the world might sound exciting, but for Jenny it’s starting to get old — even staying in the real world long enough to take a math test would be a dream come true! And when you throw in bloodthirsty unicorns, psychotic clowns, and the most useless gnome sidekick ever, Jenny decides that enough is enough. She’s leaving the adventuring business and not looking back. Or…is she?

In some books the humor is in the voice (Ten Good and Bad Things About My Life So Far), but in this book, it’s in the situation and the dialogue as well. I find that situational comedy is harder to pull off as a writer, especially since this book sort of makes fun of itself.  

Adventurer. Check.

Guinea Pig Guards. Check.

A Clown Antagonist. Check.

A Prince who’s really a lamb. Check.

This book is just loads of fun.

There were many times I laughed out loud—but the scene where Prince Lamb (disguised as a human of course) comes to school is priceless.

In many ways, it reminded me of the movie ENCHANTED, another fairy tale that doesn't take itself too seriously.

So if you’d love a little laugh with your fantasy, check out MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE for a different take on a damsel saving the prince.

One note about the cover: The girl on the cover looked sixteen to me, so I was surprised when I learned that Jenny was only 12. I wish that publishers wouldn’t keep putting pictures of older kids on covers for middle grade (and adults on YA covers!).

To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.