Archive for April, 2011

Dori Wins the Edgar!

April 29, 2011

My writer friend Dori Hillestad Butler has had quite a year. First, she was nominated for the Edgar for her book, THE CASE OF THE LOST BOY, which is part of her BUDDY FILES series.  Then she found herself in the middle of a censorship brouhaha when a woman from Texas complained about the specificity of Dori’s book, MY MOM’S HAVING A BABY.  (Um, hello! When a book like that is shelved in the non-fiction section, one should expect clear and accurate information.) This resulted in an interview on FOX AND FRIENDS in which Dori did a might fine job of defending libraries.   And last night, Dori’s book won the Edgar for Best Juvenile Fiction.  While many people who write for kids dream of winning the Newbery, Dori has always yearned for an Edgar nomination.  And now she holds the award in her hands.  In those day dreams, I ‘m pretty sure she never envisaged it being a broken statuette. But they’ve promised to get her a whole one.   

So hurray for Dori!   To see some of her journey, you can go check out her blog here.  I’m sure pictures from the Edgar Awards will pop up soon.

The PSLA YA Top 40 (or so)

April 27, 2011

Suspect made the Pennsylvania YA Top 40 (or so) list.  I’m afraid that “or so” means closer to 200 books, but it’s still a lovely honor.  Here’s the review from the librarian who nominated it: 

Seventeen-year-old Jen goes to help her Grandma Kay for the summer at the bed-and-breakfast she owns, but finds herself investigating the disappearance of her mother, who left when Jen was just three years old. Her grandmother, who always believed Ellen was alive, now has the feeling that she is dead, and Jen’s dad doesn’t know if Grandma is just getting strange or if she really suspects something. Jen is also dealing with an attraction to Mark, who is her “uncousin” by marriage. She finds out what really happened to her mother, experiences another family tragedy, and discovers what Mark’s true feelings are for her. This is a very satisfying read – a combination of mystery and romance.

Mystery/Romance Nancy Chrismer, – Juniata High School

Another Blank Book

April 26, 2011

Back in March, I opened up a fresh blank book that I’d gotten for Christmas last year and started scribbling away on what I’d been calling the Italian chase novel.  The black and white cloth cover was attractive enough. I would have been happy to scritch-scratch away on all of my outlines and extremely rough scenes on the pages inside of it until I saw a blank book on display at the grocery store earlier this week.  Its front and back covers were illustrated with places that my main character either had visited or would visit on her trip to Europe: London, Paris, Rome.  What can I say?  I gave into temptation.  Instead of being jinxed, I managed to produce ten pages of very bad prose today. But there were a few bits that sparkled like iron pyrite on polished lapis lazuli.

Over 5000 Words Already?

April 19, 2011

In general, I tend to work quite slowly.  Dialgoue might flow easily, but then I have to smooth all of the details that bring a story to life with action, description and movement.  That’s why I’m just a bit surprised to discover that I’m about 5600 in.  The first chapter is fairly polished. The second has a few rough patches.  Then the rest of the words from Chapter 3 and Chapter 5 are the mere scraps of scenes.  

Chapter 5, but no Chapter 4?  Well, I was doing a bit of outlining and suddenly a big argument between two characters erupted.  I felt like I was taking dictation.   For the most part, I tend to work sequentially.  I like to know exactly what happens before moving on, but I had pretty much “set the table” for this confrontation in advance.

Chapter 2: Roughed In

April 13, 2011

Every novelist approaches projects differently.  My technique is usually to get what I call a semi-polished rough draft in place for one chapter before moving on to the next.  In my case, that means that I’ve got most of the dialogue down as well as a goodly chunk of the action.  Instead of polished description, I’ll usually have list of adjectives and nouns that I want to eventually work in.  Some transitions will be weak; others will be non-existent. 

I’ve found that a good way to remember where a character is emotionally is to return to the previous chapter to read and edit it.  By the time I finish tinkering with phrasing and sharpening descriptions, I’m back in the world of my book.

If THE LIAR SOCIETY Looks Interesting…

April 11, 2011

It was fun to find SUSPECT in Kirkus again.  This time it accompanied  THE LIAR SOCIETY review in the  “similar books” section.  Nice!

The Terrors of Revising and Submitting

April 4, 2011

You can find Jeannie Mobley’s extremely amusing post on Zen and the Art of Manuscript Submitting at Emu’s Debuts.  I had to laugh when Norse mythology was added to the fruit salad of literary allusions.

Plotting and Planning with Jennifer Mattson

April 3, 2011

Last weekend I made my usual pilgrimage back to Missouri for the annual SCBWI retreat.  One of the guests was Jennifer Mattson, an agent with Andrea Brown.  She joked that she was “celebrating the nerdiness within” as she prepared her speech because it brought her back to the days of writing term papers. 

I had to smile when she announced that she wasn’t going to address voice much over the weekend.  After all, I’ve sat through a lot of presentations on that topic over the last few years, but I don’t think it was overkill.  Writers needed to know on a deep level exactly what professionals in the industry meant when they used that word.  But Jennifer noted that stories with voice can fall flat if they don’t have a strong internal architecture.  As E.M. Forster noted in ASPECTS OF THE NOVEL: “We are all like Scheherazade’s husband, in that we want to know what happens next.”

While I won’t be able to share all of Jennifer’s supporting examples that brought these ideas to life, I can share the basic outline of the speech:

Effective plots have:

1. Strong internal structure.  (Check out THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, WRITING THE BREAK-OUT NOVEL and so on.)

2. Compelling characters with clear desires.

3. Well-timed inciting events. (Some people do start too early in their effort to grab the reader’s attention quickly.)

4.  Friction and tension.

5.  Carefully selected events presented.

6. Layered and inter-connected subplots and character relationships.  (Read Tom Leveen’s PARTY.  Tough content, but illustrates point. Franny Billingsley’s THE FOLK KEEPER is another good choice as is the speech Ms. Billingsley made upon accepting the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for fiction.)

I feel very lucky to have  had a chance to discuss the structure of my novel with Jennifer, especially the timing of my novel’s  inciting incident.