Sunday, May 30, 2010

Agent Answers From Steven Malk

On her blog, Literary Rambles, Casey McCormick has posted a question and answer session with agent Steven Malk of Writers House. He gave a thoughtful and informative response to my question about subbing a stand-alone chapter book vs. a series. There are lots of other great questions and answers. You can read the whole post here.

Related Links:

Don't Miss This--Librarians Do Gaga

This is great!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Something I'm GLEEful About ...

Chris Eboch, author of the middle grade paranormal series Haunted, has posted a series of free writing lessons--and they are awesome! You can find them at Go to Write Like a Pro! A Free Online Writing Workshop. I'm working my way through them in order, starting with the older posts, because they are somewhat sequential (though you could dip into them anywhere and still benefit from the information). Chris adds a lesson once a week, usually on Fridays.

I'm so happy to have found this wonderful resource, I'm beside myself with GLEE. Speaking of which ... in this week's episode, I noticed an example of a writing strategy I'd just read about.

In her March 22, 2010 lesson, Plotting Advice from Sid Fleischman, Chris paid homage to Sid Fleischman, a great children's author who recently passed away. She shared several of Sid's writing tips, including what to do if there is a flaw in your story's logic ... apparently you simply point it out, and it will disappear! (Also see Sid Fleischman's tips for writers).

I had to laugh when Glee used this very strategy. Rachel (Lea Michele) and Vocal Adrenaline coach Shelby Corcoran (Idina Menzel) were getting ready to sing Poker Face. Of course, they needed an accompanist, so Rachel called, and Brad emerged from the shadows. Before you had time to wonder, "Hey, where did he come from?" Rachel remarked, "He's just always here." No explanation given, but Sid was right--problem solved!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Storyline Online

How cool is this? Actors from the Screen Actors' Guild reading children's books aloud! Check out:
  • Betty White reading Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
  • Elijah Wood reading Me and My Cat by Satoshi Kitamura
  • Amanda Bynes reading The Night I Followed the Dog by Nina Laden
      ... and about twenty more!

Here's the link:   Storyline Online

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Making Your Novel a Page-Turner

Check out this article about micro-tension posted by Kristi Helvig over at Sisters in Scribe. It's full of awesome advice--especially the part about tossing your manuscript into the air, scattering the pages everywhere.

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Top 10 Reasons Readers Read

So, what makes people want to read the stories we've written? I've been thinking about why readers read, and I've come up with a list of ten reasons:

1. For plot. Why did I sit up far into the night turning the pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Because I had to find out what happened next, that's why!

2. For ambience. Barbara Kingsolver's novels do this for me. I become completely immersed in the world she has created. Of course, she also has fabulous plots and amazing characterization ....

3. To identify with a character. This is important for any novel, but in middle grade and YA, it's vital. That's why Beverly Cleary's early books have stood the test of time. Even if they're puzzled by the idea of buying an  ice cream cone at the drugstore for a nickel, not to mention the lack of cell phones (what's a "pay phone", anyway?), my students relate to Henry Huggins as he struggles to get his dog, Ribsy, home on the bus. Another good example is Jenny Nimmo's Midnight for Charlie Bone. While reading this aloud to a group of elementary students, I was interested to observe that they identified so strongly with Charlie, the black kids assumed he was black, and the white kids assumed he was white. (This also points up the importance of exposing kids to literature that reflects their culture and ethnicity--both inside the books and on the covers).

4. For escape. Genre fiction comes to mind here, though you can certainly escape into a mainstream or literary novel too. Sometimes it's fun to pick up a book from a familiar series that you know will deliver the escape you're looking for--like the Anna Pigeon mysteries by Nevada Barr or the China Bayles cozies by Susan Wittig Albert.

5. To learn. Reading about characters in unfamiliar settings or situations is a great way to become more informed about things we haven't been exposed to in our daily lives. Reading broadens our horizons--that's one reason it's so valuable. When I read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, I was entranced by the descriptions of the countries the narrator visited, and was eager to learn about their geography and customs.

6. To vicariously experience something they couldn’t otherwise . I can't literally read characters from books into real life, but by reading Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, I can have the experience right along with Meggie.

7. To fit in and feel like part of a group. Everyone's reading Twilight ... or Harry Potter ... or Hunger Games ... or Diary of a Wimpy Kid ... or (insert name of mega-popular blockbuster middle grade or YA book here), so I will read it, too! There is nothing wrong with this. Word-of-mouth recommendations are important to many readers. If it strikes a chord with my friends, it's likely that I will like it, too.

8. To laugh. Daniel Pinkwater. Neil Gaiman. Louis Sachar. Carl Hiassen. Jeff Kinney. Roald Dahl. Mo Willems. Jon Scieszka. Uh, wait ... why are the ones who immediately sprang to mind all guys?

Edited to add: How could I forget these wonderful authors? Judy Blume (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and many more ....). Lois Lowry (Anastasia). Angie Sage (Araminta Spookie series). Betty MacDonald (Mrs. Piggle Wiggle). Barbara Park (Junie B. Jones). Beverly Cleary (already mentioned, but certainly a funny writer)! Sarah Pennypacker (Clementine). Meg Cabot (Princess Diaries, Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls).

And here's a nice list of funny books for kids.

9. To be well-read. Goodreads has a list of 100 Books Everyone Should Read. Do you agree with this list? How many have you read? There's another list here.

10. Because they’re addicted to books and just can’t stop! Of course, I'm not naming any names ....

It's funny that I had the most to say about characters--characterization is what makes or breaks a novel for me. Please share your thoughts in the comments. What's your favorite reason for reading? Can you add any more great examples of books that fulfill these functions? And can you come up with other reasons people read?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Happy Birthday, Pete Seeger!

In honor of Pete Seeger's 91st birthday today, my students and I enjoyed his extraordinary sing-along folk tale, Abiyoyo.

Here's a video of Pete performing Abiyoyo in concert.

And here's a link to a Reading Rainbow clip where Pete reads/sings the story, accompanied by Michael Hays' illustrations. Pete explains that when kids get to a certain age, they realize that a lullaby is actually a propaganda song. This story/song came about when his kids clamored for a story instead of a song at bedtime. Pete compromised by telling them a story--and singing them the song, too!

"Let's Talk" Blogfest

Like to write dialogue? Why not participate in the "Let's Talk" Blogfest hosted by Roni Griffin at the Fiction Groupie Blog? Click HERE for the how-tos and to sign-up. Roni also has a great post here with tips for writing dialogue. Thanks to Aimee from my critique group for sharing the link to this!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Link to Elana Johnson's Handy Tips...

If you missed this post on Elana Johnson's blog on What You Should Know About Non-Writers, check it out. It's hilarious, and yet has more than a grain of truth!