Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010

This Book is Overdue!

Literary agent Janet Reid's blog has an interesting post entitled "Another Book on the I Want to Read This List". In it, she discusses learning to talk about books in ways that will entice readers. The discussion revolves around Marilyn Johnson's book This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All. Ms. Reid links to three different reviews of the book, and asks readers to comment on which review is most enticing--and why.

Personally, the review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune was the one that spoke to me. As a lifelong library user, a former library employee, and the wife of a library director, the topic interests me already. But the “librarians as our allies in navigating the information glut” angle was the hook that really got my attention. I found the other two reviews somewhat wearying--they seemed to be trying to fling too much of the book’s contents at me. The third was more focused; I could wrap my mind around it. I’m sure there’s far more to the book than the Minneapolis review discussed, but before I can assimilate all that, I have to be coaxed into picking it up and opening it, and this review accomplished that effectively. The next-to -the-last paragraph of the review, in which writer Kim Ode quotes a moving passage from This Book Is Overdue:, clinched my desire to read the book.

The review in the Boston Globe, to me, was the weakest. It seemed to ramble, and did not have a strong hook.

The Wall Street Journal review wasn't bad, but its first paragraph annoyed me with its "unsung heroes" approach. The media calls everyone a hero nowadays--the term has become so watered down, it's nearly lost its meaning. Now librarians are heroes, too. Ho hum. The choice of the "hero" angle irked me so much, I probably read the rest of the review more critically. In the third paragraph, the determined listing of librarians who don't fit the stereotype made me roll my eyes, and the fifth paragraph's statement, "Ms. Johnson succeeds in making us like librarians..." is just silly.

Check out Janet Reid's blog post, and weigh in with your thoughts.

And now I'm off to put in a request for the book at my local library!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Win a Critique!

GLA (Guide to Literary Agents) has announced a contest! Submit the first 150 to 200 words of your middle grade or YA novel, and you could win:
(1) a critique by agent Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency
(2) a query critique
(3) books from Writer's Digest.

Contest details and instructions are available here.

There's a nice interview with Jennifer Laughran on Justine Larbalestier's blog.

The Pen Olympics

Edittorrent is hosting the Pen Olympics--a motivational event for writers to coincide with the Winter Olympics. You can compete in the team (Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama, Submissions) and event (Prewriting, Drafting, Editing, Submitting) of your choice. Head on over to Edittorrent and sign up now!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

7 Tips for Getting Yourself to Write When You Don't Feel Like It

They say BIC (butt in chair) is the most important secret to overcoming writer's block. No matter how much you love to write, everyone has days when it's hard to get motivated. Here are a few ways to increase the odds of keeping BIC.

1. Set Online Stopwatch for twenty minutes (or whatever amount of time you wish to write). Now, write! Hurry! Faster! Get as many words down as you can before the alarm sounds!

2. If Tip #1 (writing with a time limit) stresses you out, try setting a word count goal instead. When you've got 250 words, you can stop and do something else. If that's too easy, up it to 500. You just might surprise yourself, get on a roll, and keep right on going.

3. If you sorta like Tip #2 (setting a word count goal) and are motivated by a sense of community and rockin' badges, check out Inky Girl's 500 Words A Day Challenge.

4. Use Premack's Principle to your advantage by scheduling a highly-preferred activity right after a less-preferred one. First you must write, THEN you can check your email ... or watch Lost ... or play those time-sucking Facebook games ....

5. Go to a coffee shop. A change of setting can work wonders, and it'll get you away from all the other stuff you "ought" to be doing. The caffeine won't hurt, either.

6. Better yet, find someplace with comfortable chairs and tables, but no WiFi. Then there will be nothing to do BUT write. Maybe there's a hole-in-the-wall somewhere that doesn't offer free wireless.

7. If all else fails, bribe yourself with Ben & Jerry's. Oh, wait ... that's just Tip #4 in disguise!

Happy writing! If you have other ideas to share, please post them in the comments below.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Currently Reading ... Impossible by Nancy Werlin

See a trailer for Nancy Werlin's Impossible here ...

or click here to go to Nancy Werlin's website ...

or here to visit the publisher's page about the novel.

Lucy Scarborough, 17, a confident, practical young woman with an ironic sense of humor, is dearly loved by her foster parents, Leo and Soledad (and, though none of them realize it yet, by Zach Greenfield, a childhood friend staying with their family for the summer). On the night of her junior prom, Lucy’s homeless and mentally ill biological mother, Miranda, shows up at their house, singing “Scarborough Fair” and lobbing glass bottles at Lucy and her date, Gray. After the prom, Gray rapes Lucy. He flees the scene--and gets into a fatal car crash. Lucy can’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t really Gray who raped her. It was as if his body was taken over by someone else. But ever-sensible Lucy realizes that this is probably just her imagination; her mind’s way of trying to assimilate the horrific experience. Lucy tries to pretend that everything is okay--but it’s not. Lucy is pregnant.

When she reads Miranda's journal, Lucy learns that the women of her family are under a curse, and that the song “Scarborough Fair” holds the key. To break the curse, Lucy must make a seamless shirt with no needlework, find an acre of land between the salt water and the sea strand, plow the land with a goats horn, and sow it all over with one grain of corn. If Lucy can figure out what all this means and complete the cryptic tasks, she and her unborn daughter will be safe. If not, they--like Miranda and generations of Scarborough women before her--will belong to the Elfin Knight.

I love books that show realistic, contemporary characters encountering magic, and Impossible does this superbly. As a folk music enthusiast, I also enjoyed Werlin’s use of the folk song as a means of passing knowledge of the curse from generation to generation. Some reviewers felt that the novel glossed over or minimized the serious problems of date rape and teen pregnancy, and I can see their point. But, while they were essential to the plot, these subjects were not the main point of the book. Overall, Lucy’s journey from denial to doubt, and from doubt to acceptance, is convincing, and her struggles seem real. The fast-growing attraction and romance between Lucy and Zach rings mostly true as well (even if Zach, like Leo and Soledad, seems a bit too perfect to be believable). Another objection I have seen raised is that the fantasy elements were minimally developed, but I did not find that to detract from the story at all. Keeping events rooted in the real world made it more intriguing for me than if Lucy had been transported to a fantasy realm.

It is unusual to have a marriage and a pregnancy in a YA, but in the context of the novel it made sense. I have reservations about recommending this book for younger readers. Many 11- and 12-year-olds read YA fiction, and there is no hint in the jacket copy about the themes of rape and teen pregnancy. In my opinion, Lucy, a strong, determined, and down-to-earth heroine, is a positive role model, and neither the rape nor the wedding night scene is explicit. Still, the book deals with subject matter that is not suitable for the younger set.

For older teens and adults, Nancy Werlin’s Impossible weaves a beautiful tale of love triumphing over darkness. It is a contemporary story set in today’s world, but its theme and characters seem timeless.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Submissions Fest Announced!

Nephele Tempest, an agent at Knight Agency, has announced a Submissions Fest around the theme "I'm in the Mood for Love". The event will open on Monday, February 8, and run through Valentine's Day. Her blog, Writing and Rambling, will have a special comments window in which you can pitch your novel, and she'll let you know if she wants to see more. She doesn't want middle grade, but is open to YA and adult fiction. Please see Ms. Tempest's blog for details ... and good luck to everyone who submits a pitch!

Friday, February 5, 2010

10 Silly and Not-So-Silly Ways to Find Time for Writing

1. Just say no to Facebook.

2. Carry your notepad or laptop with you and use odd bits of time that would otherwise be wasted.

3. Stop doing housework.

4. Use public transportation so you can write while commuting.

5. Stop cooking. Eat out instead, but take your laptop, and only go to places with plenty of electrical outlets.

6. Post a sign that says “Temporarily out of service”, and teach your kids and spouse what it means.

7. Reduce sleep time to five hours per night, and use the extra time for writing.

8. Learn to type while riding an exercise bike or walking on a treadmill.

9. Attend a writers’ retreat.

10. Join a local writers’ group that has regular write-ins … or start your own.

If you have other ideas, please leave a comment and share!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Creating Lovable Characters

Here's a link to an interesting post in Slate Magazine called How to Make Characters Lovable. I haven't yet read anything by Amy Bloom, whose writing is discussed, but she's definitely going on my "to read" list. The article also mentions Laurie Colwin, author of Happy All the Time, a novel that does indeed feature lovable and memorable characters. Sadly, I discovered Colwin's wonderful work after she was gone--she died in 1992, at the much-too-early age of 48. Years ago, when I read several of Colwin's novels, I wasn't writing regularly. Now that I'm actively working on my writing skills, her work is due for a rereading.