Monday, July 28, 2014

The Secret Hum of a Daisy and Writer's Process Blog Hop

I have two posts for the price of one today. First I’m going to do my regular Marvelous Monday highlight, but keep reading to see my answers to the Writing Process blog that has been making the rounds. Enjoy!

The Secret Hum of a Daisy:

This is one of this year’s books that I’ve been really looking forward to. Recently, I read an inspiring article by Tracy in the SCBWI Bulletin. If you haven’t read it,  it’s all about how taking a break from writing can actually help you be creative. A must read!

Now on to the review:

 The synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place like gypsies. But Grace wants to finally have a home all their own. Just when she thinks she's found it her mother says it's time to move again. Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels and will always regret that her last words to her were angry ones.

After her mother's sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she's never met. She can't imagine her mother would want her to stay with this stranger. Then Grace finds clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on. Maybe it is her mother, showing her the way to her true mother used to send her on. Maybe it is her mother, showing her the way to her true home.

 What I loved about this book:

  1. It did not manipulate your emotions. Even though this book was about a grief, I never felt like the emotion was forced. I wasn’t crying buckets by the end. Yet, Grace’s grief and growth were beautiful and realistic.
  2. Before vs. After. Grace talked about this throughout the book—how everything in her life had changed with her mom’s death. This really resonated with me, because I remember this feeling when I lost my dad.
  3. Motifs. I loved how Tracy used daisy and bird motifs throughout the book. They came up often, but never overpowered the narrative. Really well done.
  4. A courageous main character. I loved how Grace’s emotions ran the gamut from angry to sad. Even though she could be prickly at times, she was always sympathetic. Her bravery in facing such a devastating loss at such a young age was inspiring.
  5. Themes.  I loved the themes in this book: that people aren’t perfect, that everyone will hurt you at some point, but life is about “repair,” and how sometimes we have to get a little crazy to deal with the pain in our lives.
    The Secret Hum of a Daisy is unique in contemporary MG books. It’s la lot like LOVE, AUBREY, but I liked it even more. It had an authenticity about it that I don’t often find in books about grief. This would be a great book for a child who is dealing with loss, but also for anyone who loves more literary, character-driven books 

    If you're looking for Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.

Writer’s Blog Hop

A couple weeks ago, one of my critique partners, Andrea Brame, who writes YA contemporary and speculative fiction, tagged me for the Writer’s Process Blog Hop. Thanks, Andrea! Here are my answers to how I write:

What am I working on/writing?

I am revising a YA historical fantasy right now. It’s a retelling of a Russian folktale set in the time of the Napoleon and a story close to my heart.

I am also drafting a middle grade contemporary mystery set in Scotland. I am only about half-way through with this novel, but I need to finish it by late fall, since I will be working on it at a revision retreat this winter.

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

For YA: I don’t write straight fantasy. It’s more magical realism. It has a real historical setting, rather than just a historical feel. I do adjust dates, etc., if needed, but I try to stick to the historical facts as much as possible. My goal is to capture the voice of the time period.

As far as my middle grade work, I tend to write about close families with parents present (something that can be unusual in kidlit). I often include kids with disabilities in my work. I think of my writing as more “realistic” in style and tone than my YA.

Why do I write what I do?

When I studied in Russia, one of my favorite things was the skaski (magical tales). I also love Tolstoi's work. (I'm actually one of those crazy people who like War and Peace.) This book grew out of those two loves.  When I started this book, I’d just endured a long stretch of rejections and was discouraged. I decided to write the book I wanted to read. That was a freeing experience.

I wrote my middle grade book for my son. We took him to a handmade instrument festival when he was young, and that sparked the idea for characters whose life revolved around music history. At about the same time, my grandfather told me some family history about his mother, who was of Scottish descent. The ideas came together and voila--a story idea was born.

I almost gave up on the MG book. I started it and then set it aside for five years, thinking it was too hard for me to write from the perspective of a boy. I’m finishing it now, hoping that my son can read it before he graduates to YA books.

How does my writing process work?

It’s different with every book, but generally I have a period (usually when I’m writing another book) where I get a bunch of ideas. Over time, these ideas germinate into a really COOL idea—or sometimes not. The ideas for stories that stay with me for several months or even years get written.

Then I do some preliminary work with characters and make a general outline. If I’m writing a historical, I do research at this stage. But then I start writing. I don’t think I’ve ever written a scene that didn’t turn out differently than I expected. I don’t think I’ve ever written a character that I fully knew before I started writing him or her. I get to know my characters—and my plot--as I write.

Then after I have a full draft or sometimes before, I start exchanging with critique partners. I usually have some people read it in the early stages and then after I’ve made it as good as I can, I have a few people read the whole thing.

Then I revise. And repeat as necessary. I often take breaks to do more research as needed.

I know I’m getting close when I’ve torn it to pieces multiple times or when my critique partners are fairly positive in their reviews.

Then out it goes!

I’m tagging June Small, whose first picture book, DONNA IS EVIL, comes out this year. I’m also tagging Laurel Decher, who lives in Germany and writes middle grade. Take it away, ladies! I’m looking forward to reading your responses.

One last note: due to my son’s birthday, family visiting, and other summer fun, I’m going to miss the next two middle grade Mondays. See you later in August!


  1. So glad you liked Tracy's book. And your YA story sounds so awesome. Have fun with the birthday parties and visiting with family.

  2. After your review, I want to read this book more than ever! Thanks for sharing your writing process, too. Your projects sound so interesting! Wonderful that you can take some time to enjoy the summer.

    1. It's soooo good, Andrea! I think you'll love it!

  3. Yes, I've added this one to my TBR list. May be a while before I get to it, but it sounds perfect. Loved your answers to the writing process and how you are writing that MG for your son. Keep at it. Books can be enjoyed at any point in one's life, especially if they are written by mom.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Greg, and I'm glad you already have this on your list.

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful book review! All the books you're working on sound great, especially the one set in Scotland!

  5. Well, you know I loved THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY too! Your review was spot on. And I love the sound of both your YA and your MG. I hope the world gets to read them soon!

    1. Yes, Go Team Daisy! And thanks so much for the kind words!

  6. I loved this book as well. Nice to hear about your works in progress. Good luck!

    1. Glad to meet another fan of Daisy! Thanks for stopping by, Rosi!

  7. I agree with Michael G-G. I hope the world gets to read your books, soon! It is an honor and a joy to read/critique anything you send my way. :)

    The Secret Hum of a Daisy sounds like something I would want to read, as well. I agree that everything changes after the death of a loved one.

    1. Ah, thanks, Andrea! You are the best! I can't wait to read your new projects--they sound fabulous! I think you'd like DAISY too.

  8. Really enjoyed learning about your writing process, Jenni. I'm impressed! Russian folktales influenced my first (still unpublished) novel.

    Glad to hear you loved The Secret Hum of a Daisy, which is tops on my "to buy" list right now!

    1. That's really interesting, Joanne! I'd love to talk more about Russian folktales sometime!
      And I think you'll really love Daisy, such a beautiful book!

  9. Happy to pile your book To Read pile up a little higher, Greg! Good luck reading through the stack. ;)

    Jenni I really think you will love it, though the steampunk elements are more subtle than some prefer. Happy reading, and happy MMGM!

  10. I like learning about other writers' processes. Thanks for sharing yours!


    1. Thanks, Yvonne, for stopping by! I love learning about writer's processes too, that's why I love going to readings.

  11. Super awesome. That first book is definitely the hardest. =) I love all the inspiration behind it.

    Oh--and thanks for the book recommendation. I HATE books that intentionally manipulation my emotions, but ones that bring me along the journey? Yeah, I'm a total fan girl. =)

  12. I love magical realism :) That's my favorite - and it's not common to see a whole lot of it, so now I REALLY want to read what you're working on!

  13. I'm adding this book to my TBR list. Thanks for the recommendation! I also think your MG mystery sounds fun, and it was nice to learn about your process. :)

  14. Have a fun-filled August. Your WIPs sound interesting.

    I have this book on my wish list.

  15. Thanks for the review! This book has been on my list for a while now. As others have said, your WIP sounds really interesting!

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