Monday, April 17, 2017

MMGM: Navigating Early

I’m convinced that contrary to what people at writing workshops say, the hardest part of a book to write is the ending. I don’t know about you, but I’ve started many a book that was very promising only to fling it across the room (figuratively, of course) by the middle or the end. The worst is a book I love till the last chapter.  (And don’t get me started on those twists that make you see the whole book in a different light. These type of shocking endings don't often work.)

But then there’s a different kind of a book, a book that’s more like a slow simmer. It might start strong, it might meander, but the end is completely satisfactory, making you forget that you ever had to make yourself keep reading in parts.

That, my friends, is NAVIGATING EARLY. It was a book I loved from the beginning, had some doubts about in the middle, but was very pleased with how it ended.

The Synopsis (from Amazon):

From the author of Newbery Medal winner
Moon Over Manifest comes the odyssey-like adventure of two boys’ incredible quest on the Appalachian Trail.

When Jack Baker’s father sends him from his home in Kansas to attend a boys’ boarding school in Maine, Jack doesn’t know what to expect. Certainly not Early Auden, the strangest of boys. Early keeps to himself, reads the number pi as a story, and refuses to accept truths others take for granted. Jack, feeling lonely and out of place, connects with Early, and the two become friends.

During a break from school, the boys set out for the Appalachian Trail on a quest for a great black bear. As Jack and Early travel deeper into the mountains, they meet peculiar and dangerous characters, and they make some shocking discoveries. But their adventure is only just beginning. Will Jack’s and Early’s friendship last the journey? Can the boys make it home alive?

What I loved about this book:

1. A book with a child with autism where the autism isn’t the focus. There’s been a lot of books with characters with autism in recent years, and most of them I love. But I loved even more that Early’s autism wasn’t named, and how Jack comes to realize Early actually has feelings. This may seem like a minor thing, but I think it's a common assumption people have. Kids with autism are still kids, with dreams and goals and real emotions.

2. Early—I already mentioned him in my last point, but he has to be one of my all-time favorite characters. I loved how he listened to music on different days—and he has such fantastic taste. (Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, Billie Holiday!) Usually I bond with the narrator, but Early was the character I sympathized with the most. He is why I kept reading.

3. Metaphors and narrative progressions—I loved how the author used Early's days of the week music, especially how Billie Holiday was for rainy days, and the whole concept of raining inside. There were other luscious and meaningful patterns and repetitions in this. Lovely.

4.  Pi! I cannot forget the main reason I picked up this book. I loved how Early saw Pi as a story, I loved the pi elements and mystery in terms of whether it stopped. (Before we read the afterword, which clearly said it was fiction, my kids and I had some interesting discussions about this.)

What more can I say? There’s adventure, boating, pirates, a murder mystery, and a story within a story. If you like character-driven novels with a lot of depth and adventure, this one’s for you!

Just for fun, I’m including a picture from our Pi celebration last month. We always make a p-i-e in honor of it. It’s on March 14 (3.14), if you’d like to celebrate next year! Come to think of it, NAVIGATING EARLY would be the perfect read for that day.

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

MMGM: Cloud and Wallfish

I am late to the party on CLOUD AND WALLFISH, although I actually read this last fall. When I picked the book up, I knew the author’s name was familiar. I’d read THE WRINKLED CROWN by her, but though that was intriguing, it doesn’t hold a candle to CLOUD AND WALLFISH. I think this is what happens when a writer really writes from the heart. Nesbit’s heart came through strong and clear in this one—and it was obvious that she knew her setting like the back of her hand.

Here’s the synopsis (from Amazon):

Noah Keller has a pretty normal life, until one wild afternoon when his parents pick him up from school and head straight for the airport, telling him on the ride that his name isn’t really Noah and he didn’t really just turn eleven in March. And he can’t even ask them why — not because of his Astonishing Stutter, but because asking questions is against the newly instated rules. (Rule Number Two: Don’t talk about serious things indoors, because Rule Number One: They will always be listening). As Noah—now “Jonah Brown”—and his parents head behind the Iron Curtain into East Berlin, the rules and secrets begin to pile up so quickly that he can hardly keep track of the questions bubbling up inside him: Who, exactly, is listening — and why? When did his mother become fluent in so many languages? And what really happened to the parents of his only friend, Cloud-Claudia, the lonely girl who lives downstairs? In an intricately plotted novel full of espionage and intrigue, friendship and family, Anne Nesbet cracks history wide open and gets right to the heart of what it feels like to be an outsider in a world that’s impossible to understand.

Cloud and Wallfish

1.    Nonfiction at the end of chapters help kids understand the historical background: I thought this was an interesting way for the author to give kids background about the time period without overloading the actual story.

2.    Setting/time period I’m drawn to: As many of you know, I lived in Ukraine shortly after the Iron Curtain fell, so I could relate to so many of the oddities and situations  described in this book. I loved how it showed the propaganda against the U.S. It rang true for me on so many levels.

3.    Interesting kids: Both Jonah (Wallfish) and Claudia (Cloud) were such interesting, unique characters. Their friendship was beautifully handled and well-done. The “Cloud” scene at the end is an image that will stay for me a long time.

4.    Biblical allusions: I thought the references to the Tower of Babel and Jonah and the Whale added a lot of depth to this story, although it is not a religious book.

Caveat: The interesting thing about this book was that I expected from the first chapter that it was going to be a spy novel with lots of action, people being chased, etc.  And though spies are integral to the plot, and the stakes are high, it was really a character-driven novel about a cross-cultural friendship about what life was like behind the Iron Curtain. Now, I was not disappointed at all, because I love novels about friendships and novels set during the Cold War, but if you’re looking for James Bond-type book set in Eastern Germany, you might be disappointed.

If you enjoy reading about this time period, you might also enjoy SECOND FIDDLE by Roseanne Parry, another favorite of mine, which is about an American violinist in Eastern Germany shortly after communism ended.

Have you read Cloud and Wallfish or any other novels set during the Cold War?

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

ISWG: Confidence

I went to a pitch workshop last fall which was eye opening. It wasn’t formulaic as some of these types of workshops are. Instead, it was about being able to talk about your work, whether to a publishing professional or your best friend, in a way that makes other people interested.

The presenter kept saying, “You have to believe in your work—or no one else will.”

Now of course I know this. In my head.

But it wasn’t till I got home, processed what I learned, and started drafting a new query letter that I realized something.

I was terrified to put a certain book down as a comp title.

It’s a good book and one of my favorites. It’s one of those books I think of as “out of my league” because it’s a sort of recent classic in my genre.

I was terrified that if I used that book people might laugh and think, “Who does she think she is comparing herself to that book?”

But my book is very similar in a lot of ways and would appeal to the same audience.

As I wrote my new query letter and put that “out of my league” title at the top I thought, “Wow, that’s bold.”

But shouldn’t a query letter be bold?

And the strange thing is this boldness thing is carrying over into my writing as well. When I get feedback on my writing, it’s often the lines or even the scenes that felt risky to me that get the most positive feedback. There’s something to this being confident in your own work thing on so many levels.

What I’ve realized is that like fear, people can smell confidence. And if you have it, it shows.

I’m faking mine till I make it.

How easy is it for you to talk about your work--in a query letter or in person?

What is 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 - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

If you're looking for more ISWG posts, check out our website here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Being A Writer Means Not Being a Perfectionist

Do you see these lovely flowers? We found several caterpillars in them last fall and tried to raise them. We failed in our attempt, but... we learned something. :)
This post will be short and sweet, since I'm still recovering from a sprained ankle that's slowed me down lately. But I just wanted to share the quote that's been on my fridge this year. I discovered it in late 2016 and thought it was a perfect New Year's resolution quote. Okay, I know it's March, but I don't know about you, but I still need this reminder.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop,  don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

--Neil Gaiman

Coincidentally, I've never read a Neil Gaiman book (a little too scary for my tastes), but I love this quote and his speech about his wonderful inspiring commencement speech at the University of Arts. You can find it here. Lately, I've been doing a lot of "Whatever I'm scared of doing" both in my writing and my life. I also needed this reminder this week when I felt I'd made yet another writing mistake. What is it about querying that seems to magnify my mistakes?

Keep writing, keep reading, keep learning, dear friends!

Hope you are all having a wonderful spring! Are you doing things (or writing) things that scare you? Have you made a mistake that was a blessing (or a learning experience) in disguise?

Monday, March 13, 2017

If You Enjoyed Masterpiece's Victoria…

I fell in love with Princess Victoria’s story when I first watched Young Victoria (2009).  I always pictured this queen as boring and dowdy until I learned how much she overcame as a young teen to be taken seriously as queen. I also love that she is short (like me!). Recently I’ve been enjoying Victoria on Masterpiece Theater, which is like Young Victoria, but in more depth. If like me, you’re having Victoria withdrawals, here are some young adult titles to keep you firmly immersed in this time period.


Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In 1837 London, young daughters of viscounts pined for handsome, titled husbands, not careers. And certainly not careers in magic. At least, most of them didn't.

Shy, studious Persephone Leland would far rather devote herself to her secret magic studies than enter society and look for a suitable husband. But right as the inevitable season for "coming out" is about to begin, Persy and her twin sister discover that their governess in magic has been kidnapped as part of a plot to gain control of the soon-to-be Queen Victoria. Racing through Mayfair ballrooms and royal palaces, the sisters overcome bad millinery, shady royal spinsters, and a mysterious Irish wizard. And along the way, Persy learns that husband hunting isn't such an odious task after all, if you can find the right quarry.

This is a historical fantasy take on young Queen Victoria’s ascent to the throne, a magical explanation for real history. Like all of Doyle’s work, it is lush and descriptive with tons of authentic period details. This is my favorite of the Leland sister’s novels, probably because I related to Persephone the most and because of Queen Victoria's story line. 


Synopsis (from Goodreads):

London, 1838. Sixteen-year-old Liza's dreams of her society debut are dashed when her parents are killed in an accident. Penniless, she accepts the position of lady's maid to young Princess Victoria and steps unwittingly into the gossipy intrigue of the servant's world below-stairs as well as the trickery above. Is it possible that her changing circumstances may offer Liza the chance to determine her own fate, find true love, and secure the throne for her future queen?

While Bewitching Season gives us insights into Victoria through an upper class girl’s viewpoint (albeit one who can do magic), Prisoners in the Palace shows us what it was like to be “downstairs” in Princess Victoria’s house. I loved the meticulous historical detail in this one, and the way Liza helps the Princess to find her strength. 

If you enjoyed PRISONERS IN THE PALACE, also check out MacColl’s historical mysteries about Victorian British and American authors: Always Emily (Emily Bronte), Nobody’s Secret (Emily Dickinson), and The Revelation of Louisa May (Louisa May Alcott).

Did you watch the new Victoria series? What are your favorite books set in the Victorian time period?

Monday, March 6, 2017

MMGM: The Mozart Season

I’m back! I didn’t mean to take such a long break, but a lot has happened in the past few months. I’ve had a wonderful time celebrating the holidays and lots of birthdays over the last few months (my grandma, a poet herself, turned 90!). In January, I started substitute teaching, so it’s been a bit of an adjustment working outside the home, even part time, for the first time in fourteen years. But I am enjoying being back in the classroom and soaking up lots of first-hand research.

This book came to my attention when Gail Carson Levine mentioned it as one of her favorite authors—and a good mentor text—on her blog. I was immediately intrigued by the title and the premise. Although I am an amateur musician myself, I love books about music.

Here is the synopsis (from Amazon):

"Remember, what's down inside you, all covered up―the things of your soul. The important, secret things . . . The story of you, all buried, let the music caress it out into the open."

When Allegra was a little girl, she thought she would pick up her violin and it would sing for her―that the music was hidden inside her instrument.

Now that Allegra is twelve, she believes the music is in her fingers, and the summer after seventh grade she has to teach them well. She's the youngest contestant in the Ernest Bloch Young Musicians' Competition.

She knows she will learn the notes to the concerto, but what she doesn't realize is she'll also learn―how to close the gap between herself and Mozart to find the real music inside her heart.

What to love:

1.    It’s set in Portland! While I now live outside of Portland, I lived in Portland for a year—and managed to survive without a car by using my bike and public transport. The book happens to take place right near where I used to live, so the parks, the outdoor concerts, etc. are places I have been. It’s not often that I find books set in places in the U.S. where I’ve lived or spent a lot of time.  For this Northwesterner, these “I’ve been there!” moments were delightful.

2.   Rich characters. I can’t think of a middle grade with as rich and developed characters as MOZART SEASON. I think NEWSBOY would come close. The little details (like the mom collecting dead bugs) all serve a purpose—they are never insignificant. And you will not meet any cardboard, stereotypical characters in Mozart. Prepare to be amazed.

3.   A “quiet” book that’s anything but boring. If you want to write a book that’s mostly about characters (and no one saves the world from destruction), this is one to study. I couldn’t stop turning the pages even though it was about a very ordinary girl in an ordinary family. Being a musical prodigy and having parents in the symphony is perhaps not ordinary, but the interactions in this family were ones I could relate to.

4. The major thrust of the book is not about recovering from something terrible, but about reaching for something wonderful. It was refreshing to read a character-driven book that was centered on a violin competition. Character-driven doesn’t have to be synonymous with depressing.

5.   Music, music, music. I loved the music in the books—from the very realistic descriptions of what’s it’s like to play a violin to  Allegra’s struggles to get the music right to what it’s like to turn pages on a windy day. I loved the atmosphere of competition (coincidentally, my sister, a pianist, has played in the same competition as Allegra). It was obvious that the author was a violist and knew her instrument well.

If you like music, Oregon, competitions, or character-driven books, check out THE MOZART SEASON! You won’t be disappointed.

Have you read any good books about music?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Blogging Break

I was meaning to put this up earlier this week, but alas, with the holiday I didn't get this posted. I've decided to take an extended break from blogging for the holidays. I will be spending time with family, working on meeting some writing goals for 2016, and reading some books outside my usual genre. I hope to be back refreshed in 2017 with more posts. Until then...
Pumpkins, candles and books--a few of my favorite fall things.