Wednesday, September 1, 2021

ISWG: Not Losing Your Enthusiasm



That is one of my favorite quotes. It’s got me through the long, sometimes discouraging days, of writing. Initially, I expected, like a lot of newbies, to sell my first novel—and in record time. Perhaps it was because my first writing teacher often told stories of students who’d followed her advice and sold their books quickly.

I would be one of them.

But my writing journey has been slow and meandering instead. It was often interrupted by life, like children, family health issues, and jobs. Those things might have sidetracked me for awhile, but they always ended up enriching my writing.

Yet, I’ve had some success. I’ve had my work published in well respected children’s magazines and anthologies. When I finally had a piece of fiction published that felt like a major milestone.

I still don’t have a book published, but that is okay. I am still working that.

Perhaps this is just a way to soothe my ego, but I no longer gauge my success by whether or not I’m published. I look at whether I’m improving at my craft.

And that isn’t measured by whether I’ve gotten a bunch of books in the mail. Although I look forward to that day…

I feel successful because:

1.      People (critique partners and others) enjoy reading what I write.  

2.      I have been published—even if it’s only a few times.

3 .    I enjoy writing, and I’m taking steps towards my ultimate goal: seeing a novel-length project in print. Many people say they want to write, but never even start.

4.     I usually get “good” (a.k.a. encouraging) rejections when I send my work out there. I used to keep a file of all the good feedback I got from editors/agents. It keeps my spirits up.

5.     I use what I’ve learned from writing in my teaching (a.k.a. my day job). I’ve shared my rough drafts with students and encouraged creative students to pursue writing. It’s my way of paying it forward to the teacher who encouraged me in fourth grade.
 


 
How about you? What makes you feel like you’ve arrived as a writer?


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 IWSG posts, go here. 







Monday, August 9, 2021

#IMWAYR/MMGM: Two Middle Grades to Make You Laugh



I was a fairly serious kid and an intense and brooding adolescent. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to laugh at myself and not take life so seriously. And interestingly enough, it wasn’t till I could laugh at myself that I was able to create humorous scenes in my own writing.

Maybe because I’ve had to work so hard to learn to write humor that I’m an awe of writers who seemingly do so naturally. Although maybe they have had to work as hard as me too—but hide it well.

Today I’m sharing two humorous and fun MG books. Both of these are sequels, and often sequels are not an improvement on the first book. But this is not true here.  I hope you enjoy these picks!




The first is Lord and Lady Bunny—Almost Royalty! by Polly Horvath

Synopsis from Amazon:

This hilarious sequel to Mr. and Mrs. Bunny-Detectives Extraordinaire! is a bunny-rific "tail" that even includes a guest appearance by J. K. Rowling a.k.a. "Oldwhatshername".

Madeleine wants nothing more than to save money for college, but her impractical, ex-hippie parents are broke. When the family unexpectedly inherits a sweet shoppe in England that has the potential to earn serious profit, they see an answer to all their problems. . . . Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—formerly of the detecting persuasion—are looking for new professions, and Mrs. Bunny decides she would like to be Queen. Soon they, too, are headed across the pond. Brought to you by National Book Award-winning author Polly Horvath and Caldecott Medal–winning illustrator Sophie Blackall, the adventures of Madeleine and the Bunnys are zanier than ever.

My thoughts:

I reviewed the first of Horvath’s Mr. and Mrs. Bunny books two months ago. I liked this one even better, but then I have a soft spot for anything set across the pond. Not only does “Oldwhatshername” make an appearance and give the bunnies some interesting advice, but Horvath has a cameo as well. The puns and silliness are even better than the first book. Madeleine’s parents discover sugar—and her mom temporarily becomes Cruise Mildred, who likes to shop. The bunnies rub noses with snobby hedgehogs and a rabbit Shakespeare group. Horvath, as always, takes lots of pokes at modern life. I especially enjoyed the English royalty and suburban mom jokes!



And then there's The Willoughbys Return by Lois Lowry:

Synopsis from Amazon:

It's been 30 years and with rising temperatures melting icy mountain tops the previously frozen Willoughbys have thawed out and are about to return! From living legend and Newbery medalist Lois Lowry comes a hilarious sequel to New York Times bestseller The Willoughbys—soon to be an animated film starring Ricky Gervais, Maya Rudolph, Terry Crews, Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, and Sean Cullen on Netflix!


Although they grew up as wretched orphans, the Willoughby siblings also became heirs to the the Melanoff candy company fortune. Everything has turned out just splendidly, except for one problem: Richie Willoughby, son of Timothy Willoughby, is an only child and is quite lonely.
Winifred and Winston Poore have long admired the toys of their neighbor Richie Willoughby and finally befriend the mysterious boy next door. But just as Richie finally begins to make friends, selling sweets is made illegal, and the family's fortune is put in jeopardy. To make matters worse, Richie's horrible Willoughby grandparents—frozen atop a Swiss mountain thirty years ago—have thawed, remain in perfect health, and are making their way home again.


What is the point of being the reclusive son of a billionaire when your father is no longer a billionaire? What is the future without candy in it? And is there any escaping the odiousness of the Willoughbys? These are the profound questions with which Newbery medalist and ignominious author Lois Lowry grapples in
The Willoughbys Return.
 

Lowry has an amazing range. The first book I read by her was A Summer to Die when I was in elementary school. Then there’s The Giver, a dystopian classic.

But Lois is not just a serious writer, she knows how to make fun of herself and classic children lit. The first Willoughby book roasted kidlit’s love affair with orphans and babies being left on doorsteps. In The Willoughbys Return, she has the running joke about how poverty is glorified in kid lit, like in Little Women. The Poore mother is always “Marming”—offering Marme-like advice, which no one takes seriously. The joke continues with plays on words in the character names: Richie is rich and the Poores are poor. The Willoughby parents are still persnickety despite being frozen for 30 years, and their lack of understanding of modern life (What’s Google?) made me chuckle throughout.  

What books have made you laugh lately?

 If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog. 

 


Wednesday, August 4, 2021

ISWG: Writing Backwards

 


I’ve had a lot of craft books that have inspired me over the years. I’ve read great things about characters, plots, scenes. But I'd never found a book on creating a character arc/internal plot.
 

Oh, is this something I need help with. I have the tendency to create Mary Sues for my protagonist, and the few times I’ve tried to create a character that needed to grow more—no one liked them!

I’ve heard lots of advice online on how to create a character arc. I read that I just needed to focus on the main plot and add the internal plot in later or not to really worry about it. If you write the book, the internal arc will come.

But that wasn’t working for me.

Then a friend loaned me Story Genuis by Lisa Cron. It’s the first book that spelled out how to create a character arc in a way that made sense to me.

The story is what creates beautiful writing...not the other way around. Lisa Cron


What I learned from Story Genuis:

1. The main story is the character arc. Lisa Cron goes into a lot of brain science to back up this claim in the book, but basically we read stories to vicariously experience someone’s life struggle. The character arc is the plot.

2. Write an “origin scene” for your character’s misbelief. I knew the importance of creating a misbelief, but I didn’t know how to make it organic to the story. Once I wrote my character's origin story, her struggle became so much more real to me.

3. Details begat details. After writing your character’s origin story, you write the scenes from that scene to the start of your present story. I ended up with at least 4-5 scenes that happened before the book starts. And even though not all of them will make it into the novel, what I learned about my main character will.

4. If a scene is not working, ask yourself whether the events challenge your character’s misbelief. This was an issue for me before. I’d often create lots of action-packed scenes, but they often had nothing to do with the character’s misbelief and  weren’t very compelling. 


5. Interiority comes easier when you filter everything through the lens of the character’s misbelief. As I kept asking myself Lisa’s scene questions as I wrote, tension and internal conflict seemed to come automatically.

6.   If you get stuck, go back to the backstory. I use Cron’s technique of writing backstory scenes whenever I get stuck. I’ve written some scenes for my other characters just to get to know them. I don’t like writing character history or charts, but writing scenes helps me understand them on a deeper level.

A couple caveats: I don’t think Cron’s book is the best book for new writers. It doesn’t go over the basics. For me, this was okay, because I really needed to work on character arc. Also, her examples are from chick lit, so if you write something else (like me), you’ll have to apply these ideas to your genre. But I think her principles work for every genre.

What craft books have inspired you lately?


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! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Remember, the question is optional!

August 4 question - What is your favorite writing craft book? Think of a book that every time you read it you learn something or you are inspired to write or try the new technique. And why?

The awesome co-hosts for the August 4 posting of the IWSG are PK Hrezo, Cathrina Constantine, PJ Colando, Kim Lajevardi, and Sandra Cox!


Monday, July 19, 2021

#IMWAYR/MMGM: Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea and The Explorer

It’s been a little while since I’ve made it to my computer to write up a middle grade review. We’ve had the usual end-of-the-school year busy-ness, and last week we went to visit some friends in Eastern Oregon.  Along the way, we stopped to see the beautiful Painted Hills (one of the seven wonders of Oregon!) and dug for fossils. Summer must include a few adventures!

The famous red hill from the Painted Hills.


Today, I wanted to share two summer reads with you. I read them awhile back, but they stayed with me. They both have adventures, perfect for summer. 

Synopsis for Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins (synopsis from the author’s website):

Alix and Jools are off on a family vacation. It’s their first vacation ever that isn’t about visiting relatives. And even though it’s also going to be the first time they see the ocean, in real life, Alix is pretty sure she knows what it will be like.

But of all the things that happen, not a single one is something she expected. Because you just never know what amazing thing will happen next.

I was a little unsure of this book at first because I wasn’t a huge fan of Perkin's Criss Cross, but I’m so glad I picked this one up. So many middle grades deal with things that couldn’t happen in real life, but this is a sweet read about the ordinary adventures of a family on vacation.

When my kids were younger, I often worried they were bored because we “only” went to the beach for vacation most summers and never anywhere exotic. This book is a good reminder that adventures can be had anywhere if you look for them.

Favorite quote: “They would do this for a week, then come back home and remember it forever.”

The Explorer by Kathleen Rundell (synopsis from Amazon):

From Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner Katherine Rundell comes an exciting new novel about a group of kids who must survive in the Amazon after their plane crashes.

Fred, Con, Lila, and Max are on their way back to England from Manaus when the plane they’re on crashes and the pilot dies upon landing. For days they survive alone, until Fred finds a map that leads them to a ruined city, and to a secret.


I picked this up because I have loved almost everything by this author, especially Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms and The Roofkeepers. The Explorer reminded me a little of Hatchet, but with a larger cast and an Amazon setting, including sloths and tarantulas. But what I liked best the theme of what makes someone an explorer. (It's not what you think.) This book would be perfect for animal lovers and kids who are interested in the Amazon rainforest.

What books have you loved lately?

 If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog. 



Wednesday, July 7, 2021

ISWG: What Would Make You Quit?


This month's question: What would make you stop writing?

Note: This post is updated content from my June 7, 2017 ISWG post.

I have many different times in my life when I wanted to quit. The longest stretch was about twelve years ago. I had a lot going on in my personal life (my younger son required two surgeries within the space of a few months), and I’d gotten some discouraging feedback on a new project. I’ve since learned never to let anyone see my first drafts, but I didn’t know that then. I was so discouraged I set that book aside.

That’s when the writer's block started. For a few months, I just wrote, “I can’t write anything,” in my journal. At least I was writing words, right?

About five years ago, I almost quit again. I had gone back to work full-time after many years at as a stay-at-home mom. I didn't see where I could squeeze writing in. 

How did I find my way back?

Both times, I asked myself what I really wanted to write if I didn’t have to worry about anyone else reading it. This led me to tackling a YA retelling, a book of my heart. Now I'm working on a YA sci-fi I'm really excited about. Instead of writing for the market, I wrote just for me.

That book didn’t sell, but I got a lot of good feedback on it. It served its purpose though. I found my love of writing again. Because if I don’t enjoy writing, why am I doing this anyway?

I’ve since learned that I’m often most vulnerable to giving up when life presents me with a mix of writing obstacles and difficult life circumstances. But now dealing with those bad days or or months when writing comes harder is easier. I know they won’t last forever.

All I need to keep in mind is why I’m writing in the first place: What do I like to read? What do I like to write?

If that’s my focus, I won’t give up for long.

Is there anything that would make you quit writing?



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 IWSG posts, go here. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

#IMWAYR/MMGM: Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—Detectives Extraordinaire!




I have another bunny book for you today! I can’t believe how long it took me to discover Polly Horvath, but if the rest of her work is like this enchanting chapter book, I have a new favorite author!

Not only is this a mystery, it’s hilarious, and it includes bunnies (of course!) But it’s also set on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands in the Puget Sound, near where I grew up. My husband and I went to the Gulf Islands on our honeymoon. They are rustic and beautiful—and I’ll never forget seeing a pod of Orca whales a few feet from our kayaks.

But on to this fabulous story.

Synopsis from Amazon:

In this hilarious chapter book mystery, meet a girl whose parents have been kidnapped by disreputable foxes, and a pair of detectives that also happen to be bunnies! When Madeline gets home from school one afternoon to discover that her parents have gone missing, she sets off to find them. So begins a once-in-a-lifetime adventure involving a cast of unforgettable characters. There's Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, who drive a smart car, wear fedoras, and hate marmots; the Marmot, who loves garlic bread and is a brilliant translator; and many others. Translated from the Rabbit by Newbery Honor-winning author Polly Horvath, and beautifully illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner Sophie Blackall, here is a book that kids will both laugh over and love.

"National Book Award-winner Polly Horvath's latest, a rabbity romp complete with whimsical illustrations and a quirky cast of characters, has both the look and feel of a classic children's book," raves The Washington Post.


What I liked:

1. A girl who’s smarter than her parents. Oh, this kind of character is one of my favorites! Think Matilda or Gladys Gatsby from All Four Stars. Madeleine is a regular kid and very practical, but her ex-hippie parents are rather clueless at times.

2. Animals that have defined personalities! Mr. Bunny thinks making car noises will start a car. Mrs. Bunny is the straight man for his jokes and wants to adopt poor Madeleine. Then there’s the marmot who likes to be called “The.” And many more!

3.  Unique mystery plot: In most mysteries, the reader is trying to piece together the clues to figure out what happened. In this book, due to multiple POV, the reader knows what happened, but the suspense is whether these rabbits, who think being a detective means wearing a fedora, can rescue Madeleine’s parents.

4.  Canadian setting: This book is infused with the atmosphere of the Gulf Islands. I also liked the importance placed on Prince Charles’ visit and how different characters viewed this event. This was clearly a Canadian story.

5. Lyrical, humorous writing: This book reminded of the Roald Dahl books I loved as a child. It’s rare to find a children’s book that doesn’t take itself seriously and understands how children think. Horvath has a firm grasp on what makes kids and adults laugh.

And there’s a sequel, which I currently have on order. Lord and Lady Bunny—Almost Royalty!

What books have you loved lately?


 If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

ISWG: Letting the Paint Dry

 


If there’s one thing I’ve learned over this writing journey is that you can’t rush.

When I first started writing, I different goal posts in mind. Get published by x age. Or after x years. Somehow I thought that meant success.

I definitely made the mistake of rushing—and not shelving—that first draft of my first novel. With each novel, I’ve learned the importance of taking a step back.


It’s like watercolor painting. You have to let each layer dry before you add another layer. And like in painting, you also have to know when to stop. I’m always amazed at the difference between a wet painting and a dry painting. What I thought was awful is not so bad when it’s dry.

Writing is like that too.

Yet with each book I have a different process. Sometimes I’ve written a messy first draft all at once, no stops. Other times, like now, I’m writing and revising and plotting and brainstorming all at once.

Which one is better? I’ll let you know.

For now, for longer works, I generally take at least a month off. Although more time is even better.

For shorter works, I take less time. But it really depends. Short works also tend to get the back burner.

But no matter how much time, the key is not to rush. The more I step back, give it time, and see it as a whole, the better it is.


Other writing news:

If you haven’t had a chance to see it, Amy Tan’s Unintended Memoir, is very inspiring. It’s still on PBS online, but you might have to have a PBS passport to view. Here is the trailer:





Savvy Authors Courses: I recently took my first course with this site.  These are self-paced courses (for a certain length of time, usually 4 weeks). It takes place via discussion board. The teacher posts content and exercises twice a week. It’s really helping me hone in on my WIP. And these classes are very affordable ($30-40). No, I’m not an affiliate or anything. It’s just so hard to find affordable writing classes. Highly recommended!

Last but not least, I have passed the 10,000 word mark on my WIP. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been in the drafting stage on a new novel. I consider the reason I got this far is due to the wonderful Story Genius book and the support of an in-person writing friend, who’s keeping me accountable by meeting me for coffee and the reading of chapters every week.

To learn more about ISWG or to sign up, go to the ISWG website.

What about you? Do you take a certain time away from first drafts?


Monday, May 17, 2021

MMGM/#IMWAYR: Swipe


I have another dystopian book for you today. I plan on branching out to other genres soon, but this one was too good to pass up.

Synopsis from Amazon:

Everyone gets the Mark. It gives all the benefits of citizenship. Yet if getting the Mark is such a good thing, then why does it feel so wrong? 

Set in a future North America that is struggling to recover after famine and global war, Swipe follows the lives of three kids caught in the middle of a conflict they didn’t even know existed. United under a charismatic leader, every citizen of the American Union is required to get the Mark on their 13th birthday in order to gain the benefits of citizenship.  

The Mark is a tattoo that must be swiped by special scanners for everything from employment to transportation to shopping. It’s almost Logan Langly’s 13th birthday and he knows he should be excited about getting the Mark, but he hasn’t been able to shake the feeling he’s being watched. Not since his sister went to get her Mark five years ago . . . and never came back. 

When Logan and his friends discover the truth behind the Mark, will they ever be able to go back to being normal teenagers? Find out in the first book of this exciting series that is Left Behind meets Matched for middle-grade readers.

What I liked:

  1. World building: The key to a good dystopian, fantasy, or sci novel is the world building. And for me, the backstory of why the world is the way it is has to make logical sense. (Don’t get me started on the dystopians where they banish stupid people!) Angler did a great job with including some fun elements (houses are built in stories since land is too expensive), while having logical reasons for why the world worked as it did.   
  2. Sympathetic Main Characters: I thought both Logan, with his anxiety and missing sister, and Erin, with her interest in spying and longing to get her family back together, were well-drawn and realistic. Having completely different ways of looking at the world added to the tension. 
  3. A dystopian that’s really a mystery. If I were to categorize this book, I’d put it more firmly in the category of mystery, but with a dystopian setting. I liked discovering along with Logan and Erin what was really happening to those who took the mark, who the Dust were, and what happened to Logan’s sister. 
  4.  A main character you can look up to: I read a book with a similar plot line where the main character didn’t rise to the challenge when faced with a difficult choice. But this book was different. By the end of the book, Logan wasn’t satisfied to hide and stay safe. He was willing to risk his life to find out the truth about his sister—and that’s the kind of hero I love. 
  5. An ending that gave closure, even though it’s a start of a series. It’s frustrating when the first book of a series ends on a cliffhanger that doesn’t tie up any lose ends. This book had a clear climax and resolution, but left a few open threads for the next book, which I’m reading right now.

Minor Quibbles: This book is multiple point of view. While I felt like that worked most of the time with Erin and Logan, when other characters’ POVs were included, it got a little muddy for me. But this was a small thing.

 Book trailer:


About the author (from the author's website):

Who is Evan Angler?


Evan Angler is safe, for now. He lives without the Mark, evading DOME and writing in the shadows of Beacon.

As a kid he was quiet and well-behaved, having grown up in a town not unlike Spokie, where he enjoyed music, drawing, hover-dodge, astrophysics, hiking, virtual reality . . .

None of that matters now.

Evan Angler is the author of the Swipe Series. But if anyone asks, you know nothing about it, and you didn't hear anything from him. Don't make eye contact if you see him. Don't call his name out loud. He's in enough trouble already.

And so are you, if you've read his books.

 


                                                Evan Angler  

 

Don’t you just love that bio?

What books have you loved lately?    


 If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog. 


 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

ISWG: The Surprising Effect of Your Own Words

 


I still remember the first time  my writing affected someone else. My aunt died of leukemia when I was in junior high, and I wrote a very thinly veiled short story about someone dying from cancer. I gave it to my best friend, and she cried.

As clich├ęd as that is, that was one of the first sparks that made me what to be a writer. Not that I wanted to make people cry, but I wanted my writing to affect people.

Over the years, I’ve often gauged my writing skill by people’s reactions. There was the time I attempted to create heroine with a very big character arc. Well, she was unlikable and her character arc paltry, and I’m thankful for the critique partners who told me so—to my surprise.

There have been many other times that people’s reactions stopped me short and made me rethink my story or my characters.

I’m not sure if this is a sign of growth, but I’m finding that the longer I write, the less I am surprised by people’s reactions. Of course, most of my audience is other writers, but I’m finding more and more when I write a funny scene, other people do laugh. Except for my teenage friend, I don’t know anyone else who cried.

I will keep working on this—trying to make what emotion I want to evoke on the page actually come across to the reader.

That is the hardest task of writing, but the most satisfying.

Has your writing affected other people in surprising ways?

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! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back. 

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG. Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 
 
 
Remember, the question is optional!

May 5 question - Has any of your readers ever responded to your writing in a way that you didn't expect? If so, did it surprise you?


Monday, April 19, 2021

MMGM/#IMWAYR: On the Other Side of the Island


I’ve sort of been on a dystopian reading binge lately. But honestly, I’ve started many books in this genre and have not been able to finish them because they are just too dark.

On the Other Side of the Island was different. And even if you’re not usually a fan of dystopian, I think you might still like this book. It raises interesting questions about control, individuality, and family loyalty.

*While I’ve seen this title listed as YA in some places, the main character is 10 when the story starts and the voice is decidedly MG.

Synopsis from Amazon:

In the eighteenth glorious year of Enclosure, long after The Flood, a young girl named Honor moves with her parents to Island 365 in the Tranquil Sea. Life on the tropical island is peaceful—there is no sadness and no visible violence in this world. Earth Mother and her Corporation have created New Weather. The sky is always blue and it almost never rains. Every family fits into its rightful, orderly, and predictable place…
 
Except Honors. Her family does not follow the rules. They ignore curfew, sing songs, and do not pray to Earth Mother.  Honor doesn’t fit in with the other children at the Old Colony School. Then she meets Helix, a boy with a big heart who slowly helps her uncover a terrible secret about the Island:  Sooner or later, those who do not fit disappear, and they don’t ever come back.  
 


Honor knows her family could be next, and when the unthinkable happens, she must make the dangerous journey to the Other Side of the Island—before Earth Mother comes for her too…


What I liked:

1.Lyrical prose. One of my pet peeves with dystopians is that they often have lots of action, but little attention to the actual writing. Goodman’s writing is beautiful, and she creates such a rich mood and atmosphere. I felt like I was there on this island.

2.The importance of names. One of the major plot points of this book is about Honor’s name. In this society, kids from the same birth year are named with the same letter. While Honor’s name does start with H, the h is silent. I loved how her name showed so much about her parents and later was instrumental in the story’s conclusion.

3.Conformity vs. being unique. This theme is often common in dystopians, but I liked Honor’s character arc of how she grew from wanting to be like everyone else, which tweens will relate to, to fighting the system.

4.Awesome parents. You know how much I love good parents. These parents are nonconformists, even when Honor urges them not to be. They embrace originality and art and are working hard to remember the real past—and trying to get Honor to remember too.

5.Nods to class literature. It’s very unusual to find classics in dystopian books. One of my favorite parts of this book was when Honor discovers that the real Wizard of Oz really has a tornado in it. (In a world where bad weather has been eliminated, books about storms are banned.)

6.Open Ending. This book has gotten some complaints about its ending. I don’t mind an open ending as long as it works for the book. Not every plot question is answered at the end, but that made it all the more believable.

For my writer friends:

This is not a MG, but I just finished the most amazing craft book, Story Genuis by Lisa Cron. If you ever struggle like I do with crafting your protagonist’s misbelief, this book is genius (couldn’t help myself with that pun)! It’s a great step-by-step guide on how to build your plot from the inside out with an emphasis on the character’s internal struggle and character arc.




Highly recommended.

What books have you loved lately?

If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog.









Monday, April 12, 2021

MMGM: Death Cloud

 

 


 

We’re a huge fan of mysteries at our house. When we have a long car trip (which admittedly doesn’t happen as often now), we usually listen to Sherlock Holmes on Librovox. Monk is a family favorite. My 16 year old son (reader extraordinaire) got the Complete Tales of Sherlock Holmes for his last birthday and has read it cover to cover multiple times. I was really drawn to the idea of a young Sherlock Holmes.

If you like a plot-driven tale with lots of nods to Holmes, you will love this book! And it’s the first of a series, so you could be busy for a long time.

Synopsis from Amazon:

It is the summer of 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. On break from boarding school, he is staying with eccentric strangers―his uncle and aunt―in their vast house in Hampshire. When two local people die from symptoms that resemble the plague, Holmes begins to investigate what really killed them, helped by his new tutor, an American named Amyus Crowe. So begins Sherlock's true education in detection, as he discovers the dastardly crimes of a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent.

What I liked:

1.   Great sidekicks! I really enjoyed Matty, a street-smart orphan. Sherlock treated him as his equal, and Matty was important to the plot and solving the crime. In Conan Doyle’s books, Sherlock takes the lead in detection, but I liked how Sherlock needed his friends in this book. Victoria, a sort-of sidekick and love interest, was an equal partner in facing down the villain as well.

2.   An interesting villain. The villain’s backstory, his particular weaknesses, and the why behind his actions were some of the most interesting parts of the book. Behind every good plot is strong villain!

3.  A large canvas. It was fun that the plot took place in lots of locations—London, the countryside, a boarding school, France, a water boat, a tunnel under London.

4.   High stakes. The bad guys are really bad and do not shrink from trying to harm a child. This makes this book a little on the violent side for MG, but the high stakes led to a fast paced read.

5.  Great fun for Holmes fans! It’s always fun to imagine your favorite character in another setting. Although at times he was less eccentric than the original Holmes, I really enjoyed reading about Sherlock at 14. Mycroft makes a few appearances as well!

Minor Quibbles: Due to the multiple murders and attempted murders, I would classify this as upper MG and not for sensitive readers.


What mysteries have you loved lately?

If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog.


 


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

ISWG: What I Learned About Writing From Atomic Habits




Every few years I pick up a time management book. I'm always hoping that it’s going to help me be more organized, write more, and well, do all the things. Like New Year’s resolutions, my new habits generally only last for a short while. But reading these books, which tend to say the same things in different ways, always prods me to get writing.

Recently, I read Atomic Habits. I guess it’s quite popular, but I’m not one to really pay much attention to bestseller lists.

I thought he had a lot of great points and good reminders—like good habits are not about will power, but about making the good habit more attractive and easier. 

So true. I write better when I have a cup of Earl Gray and listen to the La La Land Song Track. “The Fools Who Dream” song inspires me every time.

But my biggest takeaway from Atomic Habits was: “The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.”


His point was that we often think that people are successful because they “really want it” or “have a lot of passion,” so when we get bored or don’t feel passionate about our dreams, we feel like we aren’t passionate enough. But the truth is, those people who are successful don’t always feel passionate or excited about their work either. The difference is that they keep showing up, even on the boring days.

Perhaps this is another way to say BIC (Butt in Chair), but what I liked about is that I often beat myself up because I feel so-so about writing. Sometimes I wonder why I’m even writing or maybe if I was more passionate, more driven, or more (fill in the blank), I would be farther along by now.

But it’s not true. I have a very busy life. But I am plugging away one word at a time. And that’s what I’ve learned is important. I am doing the other things he suggested too. Making writing easier for me—putting my laptop  where it’s easy for me to access. Having an accountability partner.

But even more important (and this is not in the book) is giving yourself grace when writing doesn’t go as planned. When you’re not super excited about your plot. When you’re stuck. It’s still showing up or maybe giving yourself permission to step away or do “research” instead.

Because passion will wane, but if you can keep working even when it’s boring, you will finish that book, story, poem, or article.

Do you think passion or conquering boredom is more important to writing success?


 To read more ISWG posts or to sign up, go Insecure Writer's Support Group.

The awesome co-hosts for the April 7 posting of the IWSG are 

PK Hrezo, Pat Garcia, SE White, Lisa Buie Collard, and Diane Burton!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.



Monday, March 29, 2021

MMGM: Echo Island

I know my blogging has been sporadic of late. It's been a very busy school year, and I keep thinking I'm going to catch my breath, and something else comes up. Until summer, I will be posting 2-3 times a month instead of every week. Thanks for understanding!

On to my post:


I’m not sure how to describe this book. It’s not really like anything I’ve read before. And though by the ages of the protagonists, it’d be generally classified as YA, I think advanced MG-ers would enjoy it as well.

Echo Island has been described as Stranger Things meets C.S. Lewis, but I think the movie Stranger than Fiction might be a more apt comparison.



Interestingly enough, this was the book my 18 year old, who doesn’t normally read a lot of fiction, devoured. My 16 year old didn’t like it. “It’s weird,” was his only comment.

If you like speculative fiction in the truest sense of the word, you will enjoy this book.

Synopsis from Amazon:


When four recent high school graduates return home from a weekend of camping, they expect to go back to life as usual. Instead, the boys discover empty streets, abandoned cars, and utter silence—everyone has disappeared.

As the friends attempt to solve the mystery, they stumble upon more questions than answers. Why won’t the electronics work? Where did the wind go? What do the notebooks full of gibberish mean? With each new discovery, they learn that nothing was ever quite what it seemed on Echo Island and that a deep secret is drawing them in—if only they would surrender to it.

Join Bradley, Jason, Archer, and Tim on this exploration into myth and mystery. Uncover exactly what happened on Echo Island and what these four friends’ story has to do with God, the meaning of life, and the nature of reality.


What I liked:

1.  Four teenage boys who sound like teens. Although publishers are always talking about how they want to find books that appeal to boys, I have found that books that actually appeal to boys are few and far between. It’s also rare to find realistic boy friendships in MG/YA fiction.

2.  Character arcs. Now some reviewers have complained that not every character has an arc in this book. But that's point. One of the themes of this book is whether you can change your life's trajectory. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to change, and I like how that’s reflected in these characters.

3.  A twist that really threw me, but in a good way. I thought I had this story figured out about 10 pages in. But I was wrong—or at least mostly. About ¾ of the way through the book there is a major twist I never saw coming. And I think there’s still a lot I don’t quite understand about the book. But I think that’s a sign of good writer. He got me thinking.

4.  Lots of allusions to Greek classics, Dante, and Lewis.  If you are a reader of Dante, the Greek myths, or Perelandra (Lewis’ space trilogy), there’s a lot of allusions here. These allusions threw me off though and made me think I knew the story, when I didn’t. Not many kids are familiar with these works, so they may not pick up on them. But for those who are, this will be an Easter egg hunt of familiar characters and stories.

5.  Existential themes and questions. Although death (especially of parents) is an epidemic in kidlit, surprisingly, I don’t see many books that deal with the existential themes—like what does life really mean? This book deals with some of those questions in a way I’ve never seen in MG or YA fiction.

Minor Quibbles: None. But this book is not for everyone. I know I will be thinking about it for a long time.

Content warning: This is fairly violent in parts and does include an instance of teenage drinking.


What books have you made you think lately?

If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog.




Monday, March 15, 2021

MMGM: The Dreaded Cliff



 

The Dreaded Cliff was sent to me by Terry Nichols for review. She’d seen my previous review of Green Ember and asked if I’d like to read another book about talking animals!


This is no ordinary talking animal book. Terry has given each animal unique traits, which reflect their characteristics in the natural world. You can tell she did her research. Plus, these characters are just so much fun! I adored Flora the Packrat, who likes to use big words (though most often incorrectly!) and is a foodie of sorts.


If you like books about talking animals, where the characters are grounded in the real world, you will love this book!


Of course, it was much enjoyed by my younger son, fan of Green Ember.

Synopsis from terryfnichols.com:

Flora is an ordinary packrat. She’s never flown through the air. She avoids strangers, especially singing porcupines and rude rabbits. She’s never met a king of the kangaroo rats, and she would never talk with an owl—because everyone knows owls can’t talk. Besides, they eat packrats.

Flora’s predictable life is all about snuggling in her treasure-packed nest and “snibbling” snacks with her packrat pal.

Life is perfect—except for the dreaded cliff. “Beware!” warn other packrats, and Flora’s stomach twists into knots.

All this is about to change when Flora learns about the ancestral packrat home, stuffed in a dark crack in the cliff, where countless packrats have raised their young. But a killer lurks there, driving packrats away.

The story haunts Flora, even as she tumbles into a faraway canyon where her life turns topsy-turvy.

Quirky critters, scary predators, and daring adventures impact her search for home, leading to surprising discoveries. And she learns she’s not such an ordinary packrat after all.

Instead of my usual 5 things I liked, Terry agreed to share about how she developed her amazing characters.

My question: 

One of the things I liked best about The Dreaded Cliff is how the animals had animal traits, like in Charlotte's Web.

Can you tell us about the research you did for these animals and how you used that to create their very unique personalities?


 


Terry's answer: 

from terryfnichols.com

I researched written articles, field guides, professional papers, video clips, anecdotal stories, and drew on my personal experiences to create the animal characters in The Dreaded Cliff.
Paco’s singing talent was inspired by online videos of Teddy Bear, a porcupine in a wildlife refuge who gnashes corn with gusto and clucks, yelps, squeaks, and argues with a range of inflections and slobbery yum-yummy sounds. I figured if a real porcupine has that kind of voice, then surely Paco sings opera. And of course, loves to eat. But Paco is also shy and doesn’t quite know what the fuss is about regarding his quills. I imagine a lot of young porcupines have a similar experience—they don’t know the power of what they’ve got until they actually use it. 


A kangaroo rat is a small package of spunk, adaptability, and resourcefulness. With his oversized rear feet he’ll pound the ground, kick sand in an attacking snake’s eyes, or bound away in amazing leaps. I see a lot of bluster and exaggeration in these solitary creatures. My armchair psychologist stepped in when I created King Cyrus. He’s perhaps compensating for his diminutive size, deep-seated fears (justified, when it comes to owls and badgers), and isolated lifestyle. Yet he has a caring, generous heart and yearns to connect with others—enough to welcome a lost packrat to his burrow.


Great horned owls are superb night hunters, with acute hearing, keen vision, and the ability to swivel their necks 270 degrees. Their silent flight and aerial perspective contributed to the story’s owl character. In its injured state, the owl appeals to my hero’s deeper sense of shared connection with the animal world, demonstrating qualities of a broader vision, wisdom, foresight, and mercy.
I’ve enjoyed the curiosity and intelligence of packrats for years and have had lovely face-to-face encounters with them. Hefty Grandma Mimi was inspired by the blubbery-looking packrat I caught in a livetrap once, who I imagined yearned for the protection and comfort of her ancestral home while she waited for me to release her. 


Flora is the packrat who “snibbled” my eggplants all summer long, scattered the compost pile across the landscape, and built her den in the ’79 Volkswagen van. Since that packrat was so fond of the compost buffet, I’m quite sure she was a food critic. Flora’s world of word play, treasure collecting, and food exploration is enough until the story of the ancestral packrat home stimulates her yearning for something bigger. And with her journey afar, she’s nudged to listen to her deeper self and is challenged to stay true to the essence of a packrat—who doesn’t just collect stuff—but collects stuff for a purpose, building on and joining in the bigger story of her packrat ancestors.

Thank you for sharing about the background of your characters! I love how Flora was inspired by your real experiences with packrats. 

To learn more about Terry and to download the great resources she has for teachers, parents, and book clubs, go to her website, Terry Nichols.


What books have you enjoyed lately?

 

If you'd like to read more middle grade reviews or join in the MMGM fun, go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog.



Wednesday, March 3, 2021

ISWG: Why I Read Outside My Genre

 


At the writeoncon conference a few weeks ago, one of the presenters talked about reading outside your genre. I’m not sure if I’ve quoting correctly, but something like: “Read romance for character development. Read mystery for plotting. Read sci fi and fantasy for world building.” I love that. 


And Gail Carson Levine, one of my writing heroes, said that she didn’t read much anymore except for research. She tends to analyze books too much, so she can’t get lost in the story. I can relate. 


While there was a time when I read almost exclusively middle grade and YA fiction, I find I now alternate that with other books. I’d like to say it’s to learn from other genres, but mostly my mind just gets tired and on a weekday the last thing I want to do is read books that feel like work.
 

Here are the categories I read now:

Comfort reads: These are generally mysteries from the Golden Age (Dorothy Sayer, Patricia Wentworth) or old-fashioned romances (Austen, Georgette Heyer, or Grace Livingstone Hill). These are the books that don’t require a lot of thought, and I can get lost in. Weekday reads.
 


Just finished: Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer

Hard books: These are either tough-to-read classics or books that tackle difficult topics. I tend to read more of these in the summer, and it generally takes me a long time to get through these books as my brain can only handle them in small bites. Also in this category are non-fiction books I’m reading for research. Weekend/summer reads.


Currently reading: The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass and God is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China by Liao Yiwu

Books in my genre (kid lit): I always have at least one from this group going and I alternate between these and my other books. I tend to read these when my mind is fresh, because not only do I analyze these as a mentor text, but I write reviews for my blog. Anytime reads.



Currently reading: Echo Island by Jared D. Wilson (YA Speculative Fiction) and Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud by Andrew Lane (MG Mystery)

What have you been reading lately? If you’re a writer, do you read in your genre or outside of it?

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!

March 3 question - Everyone has a favorite genre or genres to write. But what about your reading preferences? Do you read widely or only within the genre(s) you create stories for? What motivates your reading choice?  

The awesome co-hosts for the March 3 posting of the IWSG are Sarah - The Faux Fountain Pen Jacqui Murray, Chemist Ken, Victoria Marie Lees, Natalie Aguirre, and JQ Rose!