Monday, May 15, 2017

What I Learned About Dreams from La La Land

Summit Entertainment via
Have you seen La La Land? I recently watched it, since it just came out on DVD.  As a fan of old movies, especially Singing in the Rain, it was my cup of tea: lovely score, costumes, and snappy dialogue. I was enthralled with this story of an aspiring actress and a jazz musician till the end.

But all that talk of following your dreams made me think of my own dreams—and how long I’ve wanted to be a writer (since fourth grade—but who’s counting?).

Here’s what I learned about dreams:

***Spoiler Alert—if you haven’t watched the movie, you might want to stop here.***

1.  Rejection can make you lose sight of your dreams. There’s one point in the movie, when Mia, the main character, is so discouraged she wants to give up. “It hurts,” she says. I don’t blame her. Auditions are harder than querying. I’d rather get a form letter. But no matter how it happens, rejection does hurt. The only thing that’s helped me is to remember—it’s not personal. It’s my work they don’t like, not me.

Summit Entertainment
2.  Support is essential for any dreamer. I loved how Sebastian pushes Mia when she’s at her lowest, finding her an audition and driving her all the way from Nevada to L.A. This made me thankful for the supportive people in my life—like my husband who always took my dream seriously, never doubting I’d see a book in my hands some day. I know it’s harder following your dreams without support, though not impossible.

3.  Being a dreamer means making tough choices. The only part about the movie I didn’t like was the ending. If you’ve seen it, you know it’s not typical Hollywood. But, at the same time, I agree with what the filmmakers are saying. Having a dream—a big dream, like acting or any of the arts—is consuming. It can be hard on your family. I know this, because there was a time when I was so consumed with my art that I had very little left over for my husband or kids. But unlike Mia, I don’t think that is a good thing. I love writing, but I hold it a lot more loosely than I once did. Of course, it’s still my dream to get published, but there is more to life than writing. And I don’t regret the fact that my writing dreams have sometimes moved at a snail's pace in order to put my family first.

Summit Entertainment via
Have you seen La La Land? What do you think about what it said about choices and following your dreams?

* I won't be blogging for the next Mondays due to a family wedding and Memorial Day weekend. I'll be back on June 7th for Insecure Writer's Support Group.  I'll see you then!

Monday, May 8, 2017

MMGM: School Ship Tobermory

If you’ve been reading this blog awhile, you may have heard me mention Alexander McCall Smith. I love his mystery series for adults, THE NO. 1 LADIES DETECTIVE AGENCY. It’s one of a few series that  I faithfully read Why? It’s got quirky characters, lovely prose, and a rich African setting.

When I saw that he had a new series out for kids, I was excited. Not only did it have a mystery element, but it was set on the isle of Mull in Scotland (!), and just happened to take place on a school that’s a ship. What’s not to like?

Here’s the synopsis (from Amazon):

The author of the beloved No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency draws from his own sailing experience to deliver this rip-roaring adventure on the high seas. The first volume in a middle-grade adventure-mystery series perfect for boys and girls!

Ben and Fee MacTavish are twins who’ve been homeschooled on a submarine. Now they’re heading to the School Ship Tobermory. This is no ordinary school—it’s a sailing ship where kids from around the world train to be sailors and learn about all things nautical. Come aboard as the kids set sail for their first adventure.

Ben and Fee make friends as they adjust to life aboard the Tobermory. When a film crew arrives on a nearby ship, the Albatross, Ben is one of the lucky kids chosen as a movie extra. But after a day’s filming, his suspicions are aroused. Are the director and crew really shooting a film? Or are they protecting a secret on the lower decks of the Albatross? Ben, Fee, and their friends set out to investigate. Are they prepared for what they might find?

What to like:

1. The author, as always, draws from his own experience: This is what I love about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. McCall Smith’s books are always set in places he knows well, like Africa or Scotland. He’s also a sailor. So, it goes to show that “writing what you know” really pays off—especially in the depth of your story.

2. A close-knit family: Although Ben and Fee’s folks only appear in the very beginning, I thought it was endearing that Ben and Fee are constantly thinking of writing their parents. I also loved how these twins share secrets and clearly like each other. While Fee and Ben drive the narrative, the author didn’t make the parents awful or kill them off in order for that to happen.

3. An interesting setting: Much of the first part of the book is establishing this school on a ship, and wow, that was a fun idea. I loved how all the students are from all over the world, each with different stories about why they’re at this boarding school.

4. A mystery that’s engaging (and not too scary) for kids: I loved how the two mysteries in the book entwined together.  I loved the emphasis on animals, which was also a hit with my 12-year-old son. This is a gentle mystery, like the No. 1 books, which will appeal to kids who normally don’t like the dark stuff.

5. Kids solve the problems, but adults play a part too. Recently my kids and I were talking about how it seems that all kids in kidlit are smarter than the adults. That doesn’t happen in Tobermory. The teachers are warm and caring, though not without flaws. I liked how the kids decided to tell their teachers what was going on—even if that didn’t work out so well at first—rather than sneaking off by themselves. (I suppose my teacher/mom side is showing.)

What else? Well, there’s an antagonist aptly named Shark (with hair to match), comic-style drawings throughout, cool parents, and the possibility of a sequel in the Caribbean.

This is MG approved, at least at my house. It’s interesting to watch what happens when I bring books home to read for MMGM. The more literary books, especially if they’re perceived to be “sad,” never get stolen from me. But humorous adventures and books about ordinary kids in interesting circumstances (like a Scottish sailing school) almost always disappear. 

Have you read any good nautical yarns lately?

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

ISWG: Hands On Research

 This is an update of a post I ran in January 2014. To read the original post, click here.

They say children learn best if they can touch and handle what they are learning, if they are given real experiences.

That seems to apply to us writers too.

One of my favorite parts of writing is the research. (Hey, my first job out of college was a research assistant. I got paid to go to the library!)

But the best kind of research is the kind you can't find in books.

About four years ago, I was working on a historical fantasy set in Russia in 1812.

Although it was not possible for me to travel to Russia to see a reenactment, I attended a Civil War reenactment nearby my house, just so I could talk about wartime medicine with some experts.

Tools used for amputations
I brought my then 8-year-old son as a foil and asked lots of questions. The answers changed a quite a few details in my book.

I also have a falcon in my book, so thanks to some advice from Oregon writer, Emily Whitman, I went to my local Audubon society and met Finnegan:

Finnegan the Peregrine

I took movies with my camera to refer to later. For my kids, it was a "field trip for Mom."

This last summer (2016), I stumbled on two research opportunities that helped with my current projects. Again, these both happened at different festivals or shows that I attended with my kids, often not knowing that I'm find a gem of insight for my writing. 

One, was a medieval sword demonstration, which taught me, among other things that swords fighting is much different in reality than in the movies. And a collie dog show taught me some important facts about that breed (also needed for that same book). Most recently, I am living my research as I just happen to be writing a story set in a school and have recently started substitute teaching.

Me handling a medieval sword

What's next? Hopefully, this summer, my faithful research assistants (a.k.a. sons) and I will learn how to fence.

What has been the most memorable research you have done?

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!

To see more ISWG posts, check out our list here.