Sunday, December 30, 2012

Stake Out--Giveaway!

Bonnie Doerr has done it again.

Continuing the adventures of Kenzie of Island Sting fame, Doerr presents Stake Out (Leap Press, 2011) her second eco-mystery to take place in the Florida Keys. In the first book Kenzie helped to rescue the miniature Key deer. In this sequel, another great middle school novel for boys and girls, Kenzie and her side-kick Angelo devote themselves to figuring out who wants to sabotage the local sea turtle population. 

I enjoyed the language that Doerr used to capture the action, characters, and setting. In this segment, Kenzie is rowing a boat out on the sea to hunt for the turtles' nests. A storm is brewing and the reader is pulled into the story:

   Kenzie pulled hard agains the water. 
   Row, glide.
     Drift back.
   Row, glide.
   Drift back.
   The strong current surprised her. The shore appeared no nearer.
   How close was the storm? Hard to tell now that the rumbling had stopped. She leaned out from under the canvas top for a larger view. Minutes ago the blinding-blue sky perched on a horizon of white, puffy clouds. Clouds that now billowed with gray. Above the island, charcoal clouds swelled and piled. No soaring seabirds. No blue. Vast silence.   
    Creepy. (p. 13)

Doerr introduces a new character in this book: spunky Ana, who despite being confined to her wheelchair, is an important member of the team who uncovers the villain and helps solves the mystery.

Doerr's commitment to teaching young readers to value and protect their environment suffuses this book with great educational value. Author Notes include information on threats to sea turtles, the Turtle Hospital, and relevant websites. Teachers can click here to find helpful classroom resources.

To celebrate a new year of books and reading, I am giving away a signed copy of Stake Out. Leave me a comment with your email address (if I don't have it) before the evening of January 1 and I'll enter your name. Hurry--the new year will be here before you know it!  




Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday Giveaway #4: The Boy Project

Kami Kinard's book, The Boy Project, is one of those middle grade books that I read and wonder, "What a clever idea. Why didn't I think of that?" 

There's a lot to like in this cleverly written book in which the protagonist, Kara McAllister, decides to apply the scientific method to her goal of getting a boyfriend. Kinard's ability to integrate scientific principles into Kara's goal is a stroke of genius. Readers won't even notice how Kinard slips in data tabulation, hypothesis, observations, results and graphs into the book. This is actually a great example of what I advocate in Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8; fiction can include science and history if done well!

Besides a very clever plot, I admired how Kinard communicated Kara's voice. Here is an example when Kara is thinking about her math teacher:

Obviously Mr. DeLacey is too old to be my boyfriend. But what if we were meant to be together, you know, eternally? Now that I've visited Bebe Truelove's site, I can't help thinking that Mr. DeLacey would make a great soul mate. One thing he has going for him is that he already knows how to solve for x. X being an unknown answer. You just have to know how to use the information right in front of you to find it. Kind of like finding a soul mate (p. 43).

Not only are scientific principles interwoven into this fun read, but the reader will relate to a young girl's struggle to find a place for herself. I loved this great moment of insight that marks a turning point for Kara:

I know for sure that none of these boy-getting strategies will work for me. First of all, I can't help my looks. There's nothing I can to make myself look like Maybelline. Second, I can't stand running. I'm RELIEVED that Julie [her older sister] doesn't want to run with me anymore! Finally, I am not about to go hugging random boys to get one to notice me. That's just not me. If I started acting like that, I wouldn't be Kara (p. 123). 

I didn't realize how much this book had gotten under my skin until after I finished reading it and dreamt about my junior high boyfriends! Although I never applied the scientific principle to obtaining a boyfriend, that desire to be affirmed by a young man runs deep in many young (and not so young) women. I wish I had a book like The Boy Project to help me navigate those waters!

Now you have the chance to win an autographed copy of the book as well as a cute wristband for a young reader in your life. Here is how: 

  • If you already follow this blog, please share this contest via social media then post a comment on my blog or tag me on Facebook.
  • If you aren’t a follower, sign up, and then leave a comment (see #1).
  • If you have never entered one of my contests, PLEASE include your email address so I can contact you if you win. No contact information--you can't win!
  • HURRY! Contest ends TOMORROW NIGHT. Winner will be picked December 20th. I'll mail it out on the 21st!
There will be one more post-Christmas giveaway. Stay tuned for Stake Out by Bonnie Doerr. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Holiday Giveaway #3- Hattie Big Sky on CD

Congratulations to Rosi Holinbeck, the newest follower of my blog and the winner of an autographed copy of Hattie Big Sky. For those of you who didn't win the book, here is your chance to win the book on CD. 

As promised, Kirby shares her own personal connection to Hattie's story: 

My beloved maternal grandmother was suffering from Alzheimer's and I was helping to take care of her. My heart was breaking over losing her, and at the same time, I was in a writing funk because I'd gone seven years without an acceptance letter. I was pretty sure I was supposed to quit writing. One day, I was with my grandma and she said, "The only time Mom was afraid was in the winter when the wild horses stampeded." Now, we live in the city so wild horses aren't generally something we have to worry about! 

Though I tried to get more information from Grandma, she didn't even remember saying those words to me. They stuck with me, however, and I asked my aunt if she had an idea if they meant anything. She recalled that my great-grandmother, Hattie Inez Brooks Wright,  (technically, my step-great-grandmother) had homesteaded as a young woman. And perhaps in Montana. I was so fascinated by that prospect, I began to poke around to find out if that was a true story. 
The real Hattie with her
niece and nephew
Though I wasn't able to find out much about her time on the prairie, I did learn that my great-grandmother did homestead, all by herself, in eastern Montana. I wanted to know more about what that experience might have been like for her, so I began reading homesteading stories/journals/diaries. That led to hours in newspaper archives, trips to Montana and a stack of books on Montana history! Before I knew it, four years had flown by, and I had a novel on my hands.


Lois Thomas Wright Brown, Kirby's maternal grandmother and model for the main character in Hattie Big Sky
Thank you, Kirby, for sharing this touching story!

And now that you've heard this "story behind the story", here is your chance to win Hattie Big Sky on CD. And yes, Kirby will find a way to autograph the CD for you or for someone you love.

Here are the rules: 
  • If you already follow this blog, please share this contest via social media then post a comment on my blog or tag me on Facebook.
  • If you aren’t a follower, sign up, and then leave a comment (see #1).
  • If you have never entered one of my contests, PLEASE include your email address so I can contact you if you win. No contact information--you can't win!
  • HURRY! Contest ends TOMORROW NIGHT. Winner will be picked December 15th. 
Do Hattie and Charlie ever get together? You'll have to read Kirby's next book, Hattie Ever After  due out in February, 2013 to find out. My mother and I can't wait! 


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Next Holiday giveaway is Kami Kinard's book, Boy Project!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Holiday Giveaway #2: Hattie Big Sky

It is a rare book that engages middle grade, young adult, and adult readers. Hattie Big Sky, a 2007 Newbery Honor winner by Kirby Larson, is such a book. 

While I listened to it on CD, my 88-year-old mother enjoyed reading it. This blog will include both our reactions to this hard-to-put-down book.

Set in early-20th century Montana, the story focuses on 16-year-old Hattie who just inherited her uncle's 320-acre claim.  Since I listened with my writer's hat on, this is what I appreciated:
  • I loved how the book opened just as Hattie's life changes. The reader sees how Hattie has been orphaned and shifted from one relative to another. The inciting event happens quickly: the fateful letter declaring her inheritance arrives. 
  • Larson uses beautiful language to describe the Montana landscape as well as Hattie's tumultuous feelings. 
  • Hattie's external and internal goals are clearly portrayed. She has to clear 40 acres and set 480 posts in 10 months or lose the claim. Internally, she longs for a home-- for a place where she will no longer be "Hattie Here and There."
  • Each obstacle to Hattie's success produces tension in the story. A shifty single man who desires her and her land, hail, her own exhaustion, her uncle's unpaid bills--all of these work to have the reader rooting for Hattie.
  • Larson weaves in several interesting sub-plots: World War I, Hattie's growing affection for her hometown friend serving in the war, her love for reading and writing, and the anti-German sentiment in America.
While I admired Larson's wordsmith abilities, my mother was very happy "just" to love the story. She loved Hattie's courage and gutsiness and Mr. Whiskers (Hattie's cat.) "When I was reading it I could imagine I was in Montana. I could picture everything," she said. 

My mother immigrated to the United States in 1936 from Germany and never reads anything about WWII. I was wondering if the references to the Huns or the anti-German hatred which impacted Hattie would bother her. When I asked her she replied simply, "That was before my time."

Kirby is donating an autographed copy to one fortunate winner. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, teachers...leave me a comment and you might win! Just make sure you read the book before you give it away (or give it with a promise that you'll get to read it too!)

Here are the giveaway rules: 

  • If you already follow this blog, please share this contest via social media then post a comment telling me what you did.
  • If you aren’t a follower, sign up, and then leave a comment.
  • If you have never entered one of my contests, PLEASE include your email address so I can contact you if you win. No contact information--you can't win!

CONTEST ENDS THE EVENING OF WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 12TH!

Next blog up: Kirby shares the personal back story that led her to  writing this book. And you'll have the chance to win Hattie Big Sky on CD!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Holiday Giveaway #1: Blue Autumn Cruise


I thought I would celebrate this holiday season by giving away four books (and one book on CD) for a young reader in your life. In this post, Lisa Kline gives us the inside scoop on her recently published book, Blue Autumn Cruise and gives away an autographed copy to one fortunate daughter, granddaughter, or niece!
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When I started writing the Sisters in All Seasons series, I knew I wanted to have an animal adventure in each book. The first book featured wolves and the second featured wild horses. When we mapped out the locations for the books, my editor and I agreed that a cruise would be a fun setting for the third book. Our family had just taken one for my mother-in-law’s 85th birthday that I could use as a model. But I quickly ran into a problem: Animals are not allowed on cruise ships.

Well…did people ever sneak animals onto cruise ships? I found out when cruise ships go to exotic ports, sometimes crew members or passengers capture animals and try to take them back to either keep as pets for themselves or to sell. I found a picture of a crew member caught smuggling eight rare parrots, all taped to his legs under his pants! This is, of course, against the law, and people who are caught are fined and sometimes jailed. But enough people get away with it that smuggling animals is something like a six billion dollar business worldwide. People smuggle animals like reptiles, birds, and monkeys when they’re babies.

I decided to have Diana and Stephanie uncover people smuggling on their cruise ship. On the ship, Diana finds one of the rarest iguanas in the world, a blue iguana, and she and Stephanie have to work together to figure out how it got there and how to get it back where it belongs. To help me with my research, I contacted the world’s foremost expert on blue iguanas - a man named Frederick Burton. He is the head of an organization called the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, or BIRP for short, and he’s won major awards for his work in conservation of endangered species. He lives in the Cayman Islands, which is the only place on earth that the blue iguanas live, so I wasn’t able to visit him, but I interviewed him via email.   

I have tried to work with a subject matter expert like Mr. Burton on each of the Sisters in All Seasons books to help with authenticity. I’ve also worked with the herd manager for the wild horses at the Outer Banks, a group of marine biologists, and a wildlife rehabilitator. It has been a blast! 

Thanks, Carol, for giving me the chance to write a little about my research process!
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Here is how you can win a copy of Blue Autumn Cruise:
  • If you already follow this blog, please share this contest via social media then post a comment.
  • If you aren’t a follower, sign up, and then leave a comment.
  • Include your email address so I can contact you.
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HURRY! I'll pick a winner the evening of December 5th!

NEXT GIVEAWAY: Hattie Big Sky. Kirby Larson is generously  giving away a book PLUS a book on CD. 


Friday, November 30, 2012

In Her Own Words

In my writing career, the only thing I can imagine that would be better than acquiring an agent and publisher for Half-Truths would be if one of my writing friends reached their goal of obtaining a publisher. 

And so I am super-abundantly happy to celebrate Linda Phillips' news. Two years ago I shared how she landed an agent. Now, I'm going to let her share, in her own words, her 18-year saga that culminated in signing with a publisher. 

I hope you'll click on over to her blog and enjoy her journey. She's two years out from seeing her young adult novel actually in print, but we're praising the Lord that she's on her way.


Usually Linda and I walk, talk about writing, and pray together.
This summer we tried our hand at making peach jam.
Tasty!



Monday, November 26, 2012

Free Expressions Part V- The Revision Toolbox

In this last blog on the Free Expressions writing seminar, I will highlight a few revision techniques provided by the YA Muses. This group of writers met at the  Big Sur writing conference in 2009 and decided to stay in touch. Although all were unpublished in the YA world, they formed a writing blog to highlight their journeys and within a year they had eleven book contracts between them. 


TaliaVance, Donna Cooner, Veronica Rossi, Bret Ballou
(Katherine Longshore was unable to attend the seminar)
Talia Vance, author of Silver,  creates a chart for each character and outlines scenes with the main character and each minor character. In addition she:
  1.  Looks at the character arc for all characters
  2. Looks at the relationship arc between characters 
  3. Considers where a minor character is in relation to the main character
  4. Cuts scenes
  5. Sketches out additional scenes
This helpful post of her revision checklist  for WriteOnCon includes many of the points she made during the seminar. 

Donna Cooner, author of Skinny, talked about the importance of creating QBCD: A Quick Brief Character Description when the character first comes into the book. If these introductions are well-crafted they will stick in a reader's mind. Donna uses pictures that she pins to a character board hanging next to her desk.

I played with this idea and came up with: 

Lillie- her skin the color of duck egg shells, black hair tightly curled at the roots
Kate – innocent hazel eyes looking out from a farm face
Sam – dark mahogany skin that glows and throbs outwards, catching you in its circle of beauty

I'm not sure if these will stick, but these word pictures (as well as images I am collecting on my desktop and in Pinterest) will help me portray my characters consistently.

Veronica Rossi, author of Under the Never Sky, recommends setting attainable goals for each month.  "Set yourself up for success," she said. "Give yourself a daily or weekly page or word count. Track your progress. Be as visual and concrete as possible." 

Veronica printed out each draft of her novel and put it in a binder. This way she could visually see her progress. Similarly, after editing or revising a page she folds the page over; a reminder to herself that the page was "done." (At least for that draft!)


To keep herself pumped up, she re-reads old work. "When you get close to a manuscript you're looking for all the mistakes and weaknesses. You get so close that these are the only things you see. Reading old writing can remind you of the point, which is to tell a good story."

Bret Ballou, who writes middle grade fantasy adventures, suggested that distance (the macro level) makes the author more objective. He recommended beginning with an outline and then reevaluating that outline after the draft was done. "Big issues may be resolved with well-crafted, perfectly placed lines."

Bret suggested that writers should break the revision process into buckets in order to focus on one thing at a time. His buckets include: 
  1. Plot: step back to see the whole picture
  2. Key world details can be cleverly placed without ripping or destroying entire passages.
  3. View your ms. in a different font, color, margins, or line spacing in order to step away and see it differently.
  4. Listen to your work (for example, on a Kindle) in order to uncover glaring issues.
For more on Mental Revision, see Bret's contribution to WriteOnCon
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How am I going to incorporate these ideas into my work? 
1. Set new goals.
2. Be inspired by the YA Muse blog.
3. Pull out some old stories that never saw the light of day but might be perfect for my grandkids. 
4. Review ALL my Free Expression notes when my own work is ready to be revised!

If this series has captured your interest, you'll be happy to hear that Lorin Oberweger and her competent staff will be returning to Charlotte, NC on October 14-20, 2013.  Check the Free Expressions website for more information.

Here are the four previous blogs in this series:
Free Expressions Takeaway Part I- Voice and Deep Point of View
Free Expressions Takeaway Part II- Deep Scene
Free Expressions Takeaway Part III- World Building
Free Expressions Takeaway Part IV- The Quintessential Query

Monday, November 19, 2012

Free Expressions Takeaway Part IV: Quintessential Queries

As every serious writer knows, the road to publication begins with crafting a memorable query. This fundamental tool of the writing trade must have muscle: its job is to capture an agent's or editor's interest, give a quick overview of your work, plus reflect your book's tone and your personality. 

And of course, all of this is accomplished in 300 well-crafted words or less. 

Tracey and Josh Adams of Adams Literary taught our class on creating quintessential queries. Their agency receives over 10,000 queries a year.  Agent Quinlan Lee reads them super fast and red flags the ones their agency might have interest in. Your objective, as a writer is to get that red flag!

The Quintessential Couple
Tracey and Josh Adams

"The goal of a query is to get your work noticed," Josh said. "It's just like a bookstore; you want a reader to pick your book off the shelf."

How can a writer accomplish this? According to Josh, you must:
  1. Find your “hook.” 
  2. Keep it short. Get to the heart of your book quickly.
  3. Make it relevant. Only give important information that the agent will care about. 
  4. Reflect your personality. Be yourself.  Put yourself out there (but not in embarrassing way!) 
  5. Send your best work, but keep in mind that it is "ready to submit" rather than "done."
As a gift to my readers, Tracey and Josh have generously shared their Do's and Don'ts of Queries

During the week each participant in this Free Expressions seminar received critique time with Lorin Oberweger, Brenda Windberg as well as consultation time with Emma Dryden and Nancy Conescu.
I used my time with Emma to review my query. I was happy to hear that my beginning, in which I reminded the editor of her interest in my manuscript; and my ending, where I listed my relevant writing experiences, were both solid.

But the middle--in which I gave a synopsis of my book--needed work. Within 15 minutes Emma and I had brainstormed a paragraph that not only concisely describes my book, but in the process, I also learned more about my characters and plot. 

What's the moral of this story? Not only is writing a quintessential query your foot into an agent's door (or in-box), but writing it before you finish your manuscript may help you define your book and push forward.



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Next week will be my final blog post in this series. Advice and tricks on revision will be brought to you by the YA Muses

If you missed the other blogs in this series, here they are:
Free Expressions Takeaway Part I- Voice and Deep Point of View
Free Expressions Takeaway Part II- Deep Scene
Free Expressions Takeaway Part III- World Building