Monday, January 26, 2015

Writing Resources Part II- and a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Janet Brantley who won Phyllis Naylor's book, "The Craft of Writing the Novel."
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Just as there is a large number of writing blogs to choose from, there are also many books to help writers improve their craft. I have selected a few of my favorites as well as two on my "to be read" shelf. 

My mentor Rebecca Petruck recommended the first two; they accompany me whenever I travel.


Lisa Cron advertises that this book answers the question, "What does every brain crave in a story it hears?" And it does. The back of the book blurb states, "Each chapter of Wired for Story zeroes in on an aspect of the brain, tis corresponding revelation about story, and the way to apply it to your storytelling right now." Don't believe me? Read this excerpt.

Although Save the Cat was originally penned for screenwriters, hoards of novelists now use Blake Snyder's book to plan and outline their stories. This six minute cartoon demonstrates the 15 different beats that are central to Snyder's manual. His model is so popular that other writers have adapted and published worksheets for novelists based on his book. Trust me. You'll want the book too.

No list of recommended craft books would be complete without a book by Donald Maas. This is a follow up book to Writing the Breakout Novel and is stuffed full of writing exercises on building plot layers; creating inner conflict; strengthening voice, point of view, and theme; as well as heightening your protagonist and antagonist. The exercises are well worth your time and effort. 

Last week I mentioned how much I have learned from Janice Hardy's blog, Fiction University. In this book Janice has provided a step-by-step guide to planning a novel. I wish I had it before I started Half-Truths eight years ago! I'm particularly looking forward to working through her section on writing a synopsis--something that is very difficult for me to do.

This list would be incomplete without a book particularly for children's  writers. From the back cover:
Mary Kole's candid commentary and insightful observations, as well as a collection of book excepts and personal insights from bestselling authors and editors who specialize in the children's book market, are invaluable tools for your kidlit career.
I've heard fantastic things about this resource. I just need to find time to read it!
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This week's giveaway is a brand new copy of:

A description from the Writer's Digest website:
Successfully starting and finishing a publishable novel is often like fighting a series of battles. You not only have to work hard to shape memorable characters, develop gripping plot points, and craft dazzling dialogue, but you also have to fight against self-doubts and fears. And then there’s the challenge of learning to navigate the ever-changing publishing industry.
That’s why award-winning novelist James Scott Bell, author of the Write Great Fiction staples, Plot & Structureand Revision & Self-Editing, came up with the ultimate novel-writing battle plan: The Art of War for Writers.
You’ll find tactics and strategies for idea generation and development, character building, plotting, drafting, querying and submitting, dealing with rejection, coping with envy and unrealistic expectations, and much, much more.
With timeless, innovative, and concise writing reflections and techniques, The Art of War for Writers is your roadmap to victory.
Leave me a comment by Thursday, February 29 and I'll enter your name in this giveaway. If you are new to this blog, make sure you give me your email address! Post this on social media, become a new follower of my blog, or tell me your favorite writing craft book and I'll add your name twice. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Writing Resources Part I- And a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Jan Brent, who won the audio CD of "A Secret Sky."
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If you are a writer you know the Internet houses more writing blogs then you have hours to read. Add to that the number of books about writing and you can be overwhelmed with just learning the craft! To help you out, over the next two weeks I plan to share some of my favorite blogs and books. And since I'm on a decluttering mission, I plan to give away a few craft books of my own.
After schlepping boxes of books from Charlotte to our rental home in
Greenville, I'm determined to divest myself of a
few more book before we move again!
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My top two blogs on writing craft, the publishing world, and the ins and outs of writing life are Janice Hardy's Fiction University and Writer Unboxed.

Janice Hardy appropriately named her blog "Fiction University." She consistently provides thought-provoking content about voice, character development, beginnings, world building-- you name it. I appreciate how each of her blogs links back to previous blogs on similar topics and her a once-a-week feature entitled, "Real Life Diagnostics" where readers submit a writing sample and she provides a critique. I've used her blog on writing scenes  over and over again.

On the other hand, Writer Unboxed is a blog featuring a host of well-known (as well as lesser known) writers with equally amazing articles about craft. Study the posts that pertain to your work; the comments are often just as informative as the articles themselves. I've used Donald Maas's recent article on Stirring Higher Emotions  to dig deeper into Kate and Lillie's negative--as well as positive--emotions. 

Writers Helping Writers is exactly that. Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman are co-authors of several thesauri that need to be on every writers' bookshelf. Another cool feature is that they highlight different occupations and/or talents and delve deeply into each one. A recent post on farmers gave me great insight into Kate's background making me think about aspects of her personality that I'd missed.

My list wouldn't be complete if I didn't mention two of my favorite children's writers blogs.

Kathy Temean is the regional advisor for SCBWI-New Jersey.  Her blog, Writing and Illustrating, offers a wealth of information on writing, illustrating, and publishing work for children and young adults. Every Saturday she invites a different illustrator to demonstrate their work--a frequent source of amazement to me! In addition, she interviews agents and hosts critiques from editors or agents.

Speaking of good blogs for children's' writers, Last summer Kami Kinard and  Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen hosted a month of blogs about character development on their Nerdy Chicks Write site. The daily lessons and worksheets were invaluable and I still go back and use them to probe my characters' psyches. If you subscribe to their blog you will receive information when registration for next summer opens up.

What do all of these blogs have in common? They are all free resources from writers to writers--with the sole purpose of helping you improve your craft. Pretty amazing! 

I want to help you too. So, this week's giveaway is a gently used copy of:


Leave me a comment by January 22 and I'll enter your name to win a book by an award winning author. If you tell me your favorite writing blog, I'll enter your name twice. Make sure you leave me your email address if you're new to this blog!

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Secret Sky:A Novel of Forbidden Love in Afghanistan and A Giveaway

This new young adult novel by Atia Abawi, a foreign news correspondent stationed in Afghanistan during the war, has all the elements of Romeo and Juliet: young lovers from families of different social status and backgrounds, parents who disapprove of their relationship, a jealous cousin, deaths of innocent secondary characters, and a clandestine marriage performed by a sympathetic priest.  Except this story takes place in modern day Afghanistan and (spoiler alert!) it does have a happy ending.


Abawi lifts the veil into a society that will shock most Westerners. She portrays a modern world set in a remote Taliban-controlled village where not only are marriages arranged by parents, but teenage girls and boys can’t talk privately without being accused of sexual immorality and girls risk death by the hands of their fathers for meeting a boy alone. Add to this that girls don’t attend school and upper-class boys go to school to become Taliban soldiers—and you have the key world building components of The Secret Sky.

Into this world step childhood friends, Fatima, who is Hazara and Samiullah who is  Pashtun. Samiullah has just returned from the Taliban controlled school and Fatima doesn't know why. The two meet surreptitiously and confess their love for one another. Stakes are raised when Rashid, Samiullah’s jealous cousin, sees them and reports their meeting to the couples’ fathers.  Believing that the only way to save Fatima’s honor is by declaring his intention to marry her,  Samiullah actually digs a pit so deep that they must escape. 

Told from three points-of-view, each character’s journey is full
of external and internal conflicts. If Fatima leaves her deeply-loved family she will surely cause them shame. Samiullah constantly wrestles with his responsibility to Fatmia. Can he ask her to give up her family to go to Kabul where they know no one but could be together? Will Rasheed’s jealousy and own painful backstory fuel his loyalty to the Taliban and betrayal of his cousin  and Fatima? These questions propel the story forward. 

The secondary characters in The Secret Sky round out the story. Fatima's best friend's grandmother who is teaching the girls how to read, remembers a time when women were freer and bemoans the direction of her country. The Taliban soldiers, the main characters' family members, and the priest who marries them are portrayed with in-depth accuracy. 

As I listened to this audio CD I was reminded of The Good Braider, another contemporary book depicting another culture. I label both as contemporary historical fiction and recommend using them in middle and high school classrooms.  

Here is a short video clip in which Abawi gives an overview of the novel: 

I would like to pass along this audio CD courtesy of Recorded Books. Leave me a comment by 6 PM on January 15 and I'll enter your name. Become a new follower of this blog or share this on your social media of choice and let me know that you did, I'll put your name in the hat twice. 

PLEASE leave me your email address if I don't have it. If you don't, you will be disqualified.  U.S. postal addressed only.  

Monday, January 5, 2015

Psychology 101, Dominoes, and Answers to the $64,000 Question

Congratulations to Ellen Sepnafski who won Eleanora Tate's book, "Just an Overnight Guest."
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For those of you who are writers, no doubt you have parried the question which friends and relations pose: 
"What's taking you so long to finish your book?"
This question, often accompanied by skeptical looks and eyebrow raises, may or may not accompany genuine interest and bemusement.  

I have heard it more times than I care to remember.

(If you aren't familiar with my YA historical novel Half-Truths, you can find a pitch and relevant blog posts here.)

I've been fortunate to work with Rebecca Petruck as my book doctor/editor/and all-around cheerleader. As I reflected on her feedback on a 34-page outline for Draft #4, I realized that her comments fall into three categories: psychology (deep characterization), dominoes (story events), and plot. Or,
     Psychology + Dominoes = Plot
(For a great explanation of plot and story, see this blog from the amazing folks at Writer Unboxed.)

So for your benefit (and for any of my relatives who happen to be reading this blog) here are some of Rebecca's suggestions which I need to incorporate into my next draft:

Psychology 101: Characters must always act true to their personality and the time period and/or story world. Rebecca is gifted at seeing deeply into who a character is and how he or she will act.  
  1. Kate's upper-class grandmother would NEVER ask her granddaughter to fix a barn in her Myers Park back yard. (And yes, my Charlotte friends--there were barns for animals in Myers Park in 1950. But fixing them would have been the help's job. Not the family's.)
  2. Lillie's parents would do whatever they could to help Lillie get an education. Lillie's mother wouldn't be jealous of Lillie's dreams; she would fear her daughter's dreams might take her far from home. (This observation was actually expressed by one of my African-American experts. Girls who went to college in the 50's stayed close to home in case they were needed.) Lillie's father would also want what is best for his daughter, including trying to protect her from disappointment.
  3. Kate's family wouldn't have moved off the farm in South Carolina unless it had been sold. Aging relatives who took them in years earlier would demand a "we'll stay here and help" mentality. 
  4. Lillie's anger would not be in realizing that she has "white blood" in her. She knows that already. It would be her connection to her employer's family that would send her over the edge.
Dominoes: Like dominoes falling, story events are supposed to naturally trigger other events, as shown in this image from  photobucket:
    dominoes photo: Dominoes dominoes.gif
  1. When Lillie passes there MUST always be the risk that she will be seen by her black friends. 
  2. If Lillie steals something from her employer, she's got to be caught with it. (Like showing a gun in a scene. It has to go off. Note: I took this scene out. Not only was it too difficult to figure out how she'd be found out, it was historically unlikely, and not in keeping with her personality  See points above in Psychology 101.)
  3. If Kate's father is in the Korean conflict, his safety will be of great concern throughout the book and will affect Kate's choices and actions.
  4. If Laura's mother's arc is contributing to the family's nest egg, then how will her growing independence from her mother-in-law impact Kate?
Plot:

Rebecca and one of her works of art:
my new plot chart.
  1. If this story is about an unlikely friendship between Lillie and Kate, then they need to meet as soon as possible in the book. In other words, that can't wait until Chapter 4. 
  2. If you open with something dramatic like a scene in a funeral home, you've got to revisit that place later in the book. 
  3. If Shirley was Kate's friend when she'd visited her grandmother previously, then she wouldn't reject her out right.
  4. If finding a broken Blue Willow teacup in a grave rocks the girls' friendship, than it needs to happen much earlier in the story. 
Pinned from brabournefarm.blogspot.com
Although an unearthed teacup would not
look like this, it is an imaginative way to
re-purpose pieces of Blue Willow china.
So to answer that $64,000 question: it takes time to figure out how I will incorporate changes like these into my manuscript, and time to write it. The good news is that on January 1, Rebecca gave me a thumbs up on my recent plot outline. It started out looking like this,
but ended up looking much neater and organized. 
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I'm starting the new year with a new vision for my book, and a few answers to my $64,000 question. 

How about you? How have you answered this question before? What are you kicking the year off with? 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Multi-Racial Read #19: Just an Overnight Guest- And a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Linda Phillips who won Kathy Erskine's book Seeing Red.
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It's been awhile since I've reviewed a multi-racial book and Just an Overnight Guest by Eleanora Tate fits the bill--but from a different perspective than the other books I've reviewed as background for writing Half-Truths.

The only thing wrong with nine-year-old Margie Carson's life in the small town of Nutbrush, Mo. is that her trucker father isn't home to spend enough time with their family. 

That is, until Mrs. Carson decides that 4-year-old Ethel needs to stay in their "gray-shingled one-story house [which] fit only Daddy and Momma and Alberta and me--there was no place in it for Ethel." (p. 29).  

Margie's reasoning goes like this: 

"If Ethel were clean and nice and regular white, or clean and nice and regular Black--or just plain nice--folks would say, 'Ain't it sweet about Miz Carson keeping Miz Mary's girl.' They sure wouldn't say that the way she is now!" (p.27) 

While Margie puzzles over how her mother and Ethel's mother know one another, 13-year-old Alberta gives hints that Margie just can't quite figure out. But that's only part of Margie's problem. From the moment that her mother drops her off--allegedly just for the weekend--Ethel is a handful: 

"They came into the kitchen and right away Ethel started jumping around. Same ole dirty face. Same dirty hands. Dirty red shirt and too big sandals that flopped when she walked. She climbed unto a kitchen chair, jerking at the tablecloth, and one of Momma's best plates shattered on the floor." (p. 29)

Margie's anger knows no bounds as she faces the humiliation of Ethel wetting the bed Margie is forced to share with her, Ethel calling Mrs. Carson "my Momma," and her own friends' scorn. 

But when Ethel tells Margie that her "toys" are her mother's empty beer bottles and bottle caps, Margie begins to understand the life that Ethel has lived. Although a wise neighbor advises Margie that she's not the baby anymore, it takes several major growing-up moments before Margie makes room in her heart for Ethel. 
"I wondered what it would be like in my life to have a real younger sister. Course, she wouldn't be anything like Ethel. A regular sister would be all Black and not trashy. Her parents would be Momma and Daddy. Not Miz Mary and somebody. Who in the world was Ethel's father after all? The way they went around whispering, they had to know! It finally hit me that everyone knew how he was but me! I had a right to know, too. After all, his kid was in my bed." (p. 110-111)
I won't spoil the ending but suffice it to say, readers will empathize with Margie's struggles and appreciate the decision she makes in the end. 

First published in 1980 by Dial, Just an Overnight Guest was made into a television movie in 1983; here is a clip from that production:


Although the book is recommended for ages 9-12, because of the nature of the story I personally would suggest a slightly older reader. (Caveat: I'm a very conservative reader and Eleanora told me that 8-year-olds have read this book and liked it!) Like the Boy in the Striped Pajamas that also features a young protagonist, I think the content of the book requires a more mature reader. The characterization, character's voices, and historical accuracy are spot on and lend themselves to a good read-aloud in an upper elementary or middle school classroom.

The sequel to Just an Overnight Guest is Front Porch Stories at the One-Room School which was original published by Bantam/Skylark Books in 1992.  

To enter to win my gently-used autographed copy of Just an Overnight Guest, please leave me a comment (and your email address if I don't have it) by 8 AM January 1. Who will be my first giveaway winner in 2015?



Saturday, December 20, 2014

Seeing Red--and a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Cindy Clemens who won a copy of The Boy Project on last week's blog; thanks to all for entering. Here's another chance to win a super book- this time for the favorite middle grade boy in your life!
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When I received a copy of Kathy Erskine's middle grade novel, Seeing Red, (Scholastic, 2013) I was happy for the opportunity to review it. Although set in a different state and time period than my WIP, Half-Truths,  (Virginia, 1972 as opposed to North Carolina, 1950), racial tensions and multi-generational secrets create the backbone of both stories. 
Twelve-year-old Red Porter's world is falling apart. His father just died and his mother thinks she needs to move him and his younger brother back to Ohio. Red is determined to save their convenience store (aptly named, "What-U-Want") and Porter's garage--the car repair shop that was built by Red's great-great-granddaddy over a hundred years ago. Red's roots burrow deep in the town of Stony Gap and when his mother puts the house up for sale, Red does everything in his power to circumvent the sale.

But Red's story is bigger than just a grieving boy who wants to hold unto his home place. It's a coming-of-age story full of the choices Red must make. 

In an effort to prove himself worthy of becoming a part of a gang of guys, Red's loyalty to his black friend Thomas is tested and found lacking.  An ongoing family feud between his close friend Rosie's family and the Porter family over disputed property lines puts both Rosie and Red in precarious positions. Red must consider the consequences of coming to Rosie's aid or not. 

Conversations with his teacher, Miss Miller, help Red to begin to understand the racism that exists in their town. Conversations with Miss Georgia, Thomas's grandmother, help Red uncover secrets buried deep in the town soil--secrets which incriminate his great-great-grandfather in a murder against one of Thomas's ancestors. As Red wrestles with the implications, he has a pivotal conversation with his friend Beau:
"I don't think it's how you look what makes you different. I think it's how you act."
We stood in silence for a while until Beau spoke again. "The way I see it is you got a chance now to make the name Frederick Stewart Porter stand for something different.'
"How? It's a pretty bad legacy."
"I know it is. But you can do it."
"How," I said again, not as a question. I didn't really expect an answer.
"Because you ain't just that nasty old Fredrick Steward Porters' great-great-grandown. You's also your daddy's son." (p. 288)
This is a great book to use in a classroom to discuss racism, grief, forgiveness, and family relationships. You can find a discussion guide here and a playlist of music that was popular in the 1970's.

To get this giveaway in before Christmas, I'm giving you only a few days to enter. Please leave me a comment by 8 o'clock on December 22. Make sure you leave me your email address if you're new to my blog. I look forward to giving this to a young reader who will be inspired by Red's story. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Boy Problem--and an Autographed Giveaway!

In between drafts of my manuscript I’m working on character development using worksheets provided by the faculty of KidLit Summer School—a marvelous online class created by Kami Kinard and Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. The first one that I tackled was by A.C. Gaughen where she challenged writers to consider the rules governing their character’s voice and  point of reference.

Since I recently read The Boy Problem by Kami Kinard, I thought I’d use Gaughen’s worksheet to review Kami’s book, a companion middle-grade novel to her first book, The Boy Project, which I reviewed exactly two years ago.


On the opening pages the reader meets breezy, funny Tabbi Reddy who believes in signs and desperately wants a boyfriend. Even spilling a pizza on the floor of the local pizza joint turns into a prediction about landing a boyfriend. She tries to convince her best friend Kara, and Kara’s boyfriend Chip, that the cheese on the floor is a lot more than a messy pile of mozzarella.

“And this is his hairline,” I pointed to a jagged edge that jutted out form the gooey forehead. “Don’t you think it looks exactly like a guy?”

“I guess I can kind of see it,” said Kara.

“Kind of see it? I’ll tell you what I see: the image of my future crush. Look at that handsome profile! He’s perfect for me!”
         …………

After the waitress cleans up the mess the girls return to their booth and Tabbi concludes,
“This is the best day of my life!” I said. 

“You’re either overreacting,” said Kara, “or losing it.”

 “Am not! That pile of cheese was a sign—a sign from the universe that the right guy is out there for me after all!” (p.7-8)

In this way Kinard sets up some rules about Tabbi’s voice and her character:

1. She’s going to interpret events—perhaps even misconstrue them—to fit what she wants to happen. (A savvy reader will recognize that this tendency will probably get Tabbi into trouble.)
2. She is totally an 8th-grade girl with a BFF who she can risk being slightly crazy with. 
3. She is slightly over-the-top dramatic.

Tabbi’s point of reference is math. Sprinkled throughout the book are equations, charts, lists, diagrams, and line drawings. For example, one of Tabbi’s inner goals is expressed in an equation on the first page at the pizza shop:  “ 2 +1 = Third Wheel.”  She attempts to meet her external goal (gaining a boyfriend) by methodically listing “Boys who have potential,”; creating a love-predictor cootie catcher;  surveying how other girls caught their boyfriends, and creating a game that will predict who her next boyfriend will be.

At the same time Tabbi is trying to find a boyfriend, her Algebra teacher is also tackling probability—with a more academic type  assignment. When Tabbi and Priyanka--a cupcake lover and the last person in the world Tabbi wants to be assigned to work with—are teamed up on a project that uses probability to predict the future, not only does a cupcake war take over their school and they raise money for a truly good cause, but yes…Tabbi finds her unexpected-yet-could-have-been predicted boyfriend. 
Although the book is full of Tabbi's boy-craziness, I appreciate how Kami wraps the book up at the end. I don't want to spoil it for you, so let's just say, it's a great "there-is-more-to-life than-finding-a-boyfriend" ending.
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For a cute book trailer full of images and equations, check this out:

And here's the trailer which Kami made:


To win an autographed copy of this fun book for your favorite middle grade girl, please leave me a comment by December 18. If you let me know which trailer you like better and your reason why, I'll enter your name twice. Or, become a new follower of my blog and share this on your social media of choice, and I’ll enter your name in the hat twice also!

Make sure you follow Kami and Sudipta's blog to stay up to date for Kidlit Summer School 2015!