Monday, July 27, 2015

Wonder at the Edge of the World- and a Giveaway!

To be honest, at first I didn't think about historical fantasy being a genre until I read Wonder at the Edge of the World by Nicole Helget and was contemplating how I wanted to review it. But then I realized I've read many books with both historical and magical elements--although typically they take place prior to the 20th century. 

Set in Kansas right before the Civil War, this is the story of how a young girl, Hallelujah Wonder; and her best friend, Eustace, who is a slave, deliver a dangerous Medicine Head to the cold depths of Antarctica to prevent a Captain Greeney, a wicked Navy captain from using it to work evil. 

In a nutshell, these are the historical and magical elements of this middle grade book that is a story of adventure, friendship, and sacrifice. 

The reader gets a great glimpse into Hallelujah's (who prefers to be called Lu) character when she tells the reader that she intends to be "the first lady scientist in Kansas--maybe the only scientist at all in this sunbaked, throny-plant, tree-lonely, dirty-water, skinny-animal, dusty-air, grasshopper-happy, God-forsaken place." (p. 8,9) We also find out that her role model is her father who Captain Greeney murdered. He was not only a great explorer who discovered Antarctica, but he brought home a number of valuable artifacts. So valuable that they are hidden in a cave which only Lu and Eustace know about. 

One of the artifacts, the Medicine Head that talks, can only be heard by certain individuals--including Lu. Bundled in a crate with the instructions, "KEEP COOL. DO NOT DESTROY!" Lu feels the head calling to her. When she can't resist touching it, she sees visions from the past; including images of Captain Greeney pursuing her father in order to possess the Medicine Head's power. 

With Captain Greeney on her trail, but now knowing all of the Head's powers, Lu decides it's her job to get the Head to Antarctica--where it is cold and will never be destroyed.  

At the same time, pre-Civil War unrest infiltrates Tolerone, her midwest town. A fight between the Abolitionists and slave owners leads to a devastating fire leaving Eustace temporarily without a master. Recognizing that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be free, Eustace leaves Kansas with Lu on her quest to take the Medicine Head to Antarctica. 

Like I said, the story mixes fantasy with history and I enjoyed the historical parts the best--which shows you what kind of reader I am! I particularly appreciated how Lu describes the changes she sees in Eustace after leaving Kansas and arriving in New Bedford, Massachusetts where they hope to find passage to Antarctica: 
"Eustace is walking funny. He moves through the lanes of New Bedford with a confidence I never saw in him at home." (p. 206)

Seeing Eustace's freedom through Lu's eyes tells the reader a lot about both characters:
I try to feel what Eustace is feeling right now. I'm sure he misses his ma. I know he does. But if he had stayed in Tolerone, he'd probably have been separated form her away. He'd probably have been shipped off to work all day, every day, for mean old slave owners who would never appreciate a single thing he did or knew. They'd probably never realize how smart Eustace is. They'd probably never appreciate how loyal he is. They'd probably never see how strong and courageous he is. Or how forgiving he is. Even if he is a mama's boy and hits girls.
I wonder if he's looking around and thinking about all the possibilities he has. All those things had had hoped for his life, about being a cowboy or a scientist, are suddenly possible. I feel happy for him. But I feel a bit of unhappiness, too. I know that at some point, our journey, successful or not, will be over, and Eustace and I will have to separate. (p. 218)
When Lu finally rids herself of the Medicine Head, she's no longer a prisoner to its whims. She has found her freedom; in the same way that Eustace has found his.
To win a copy of this novel for yourself or for a middle grade reader, leave me a comment by 6 PM on Wednesday, July 29. If you want to increase your chance of winning, please share on Facebook or Twitter and let me know in your comment which you did.  

This review was first posted on LitChat on July 2, 2015.

Monday, July 20, 2015

SCBWI Florida Workshop Part VII- Questions, Answers, & Gold Nuggets

This is my final post from the 2015 Florida SCBWI young adult workshop with Erica Rand Silverman, an agent with Sterling Lord Literistic, and Jacquelyn Mitchard, author and editor-in-chief at Merit Press. Click here for Part I  (Why Write Young Adult); Part II (Querying); Part III (Pitches); Part IV (Marketing Yourself and Your Work); Part V (Building a Lasting Career), and Part VI (Finding a YA Voice).

As promised, this post is a compendium of Jacquelyn's and Erica's answers to questions and other nuggets of writerly wisdom. 

Who is your ideal client? 
  • Someone who is hopeful, competent, committed to their story, and wish to make it the best possible book. Someone who is flexible and takes suggestions in a spirit of generosity and is not defensive.  
  • Sometimes this can be tested by suggesting revisions. Will this potential client take my suggestions? This works both ways though--the client has to be happy with the suggestions also.
  • Clients who are also educators and/or performers.  We can package them that way, brand them. 
  • Looking for clients who are engaged in the industry. When we meet and talk, we’re feeding each other information. Clients teach us too. Be confident in what you want. If my client says yes to one hundred notes—that makes me concerned. Don’t just hand your work over. 

What are some of your favorite moments?
  • When a client and I both see the same aspect of a story in the revision process.
  • Erika: "I love the diversity of my client list. My day is full of people with lots of different types of talents. Illustrators, nonfiction and fiction writers."
  • Jacqueline: "As an editor, I love when I read a book that I want to be a part of Merit Press. As a writer, when I can see the end and am able to create a symphonic ending. Before I get the ten pages of notes of things I need to change."

What advice do you have for beginners?
  • Write. Find mentors, conferences, critique groups. 
  • Read all the time. Jacqueline: "You should be swimming in words." Erica: "Be an active reader, really notice the writing." 

Can you share your writing process?

  • Jacqueline: "I plan and research before I write. I do more than I need. I have a large tupperware container full of folders of notes, research,  and books I've consulted. I don’t just let my characters take me places. I would never build a cathedral and then realize I don’t have the cement." 

What is your best advice to writers?

  • Jacqueline: “Don’t give up! Even If you haven’t been able to get the ring on the first round. Slow and steady wins the race.”
  • Erica: "Don’t give up and publish it yourself right away. Let someone else give you money for your work. Let someone else edit your work; that will give grace to it. The critical process doesn’t happen without a group effort.” 

What is the your biggest "No-No?"
  • Erika: "Don’t send a query to my home.  Don’t take my suggestions and then sign with another agent or decide to self-publish."  
  • Jacqueline: "Don’t take my notes and suggestions and go to another publishing house and say, 'Can you give me more money?' Don’t have a specific advance in mind."

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

  • Self-publishing is starting to wane. The cost/benefit ratio is not there. Erica: "Don't self-publish unless there’s a strategic reason for doing it." Jacqueline: "Don't make a fear-based decision."

  • If you’re going to resist the editing process, you might as well self-publish.
  • The young adult market is doing well in foreign markets because adolescent issues transcend cultures.
  • Agents are looking for ways to adore writers. We want writers to succeed because that’s the dream we’ve showed up for.
  • Magical realism is when magical things happen in everyday life. Example: When a character touches leaves, they turn blue. It has more realism than magic and is a different genre than fantasy. Bone Gap, a new young adult book by Laura Ruby, is an example. 
  • Re: boundaries in young adult literature. You set the cringe factor. Your market is also the teacher, librarian, parent who is purchasing the book. Your job is to startle people; to be bold, but not just for the sake of shock. Be creative and artful.  Just because you can create a terrific image, doesn’t mean you should. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

SCBWI Florida Workshop Part VI- Holden and Augustus: What We Mean When We Talk About Voice in YA

This is my sixth post from the 2015 Florida SCBWI young adult workshop with Erica Rand Silverman, an agent with Sterling Lord Literistic, and Jacquelyn Mitchard, author and editor-in-chief at Merit Press. Click here for Part I  (Why Write Young Adult); Part II (Querying); Part III (Pitches); Part IV (Marketing Yourself and Your Work); and Part V (Building a Lasting Career).

Jacqueline Mitchard
facilitated this part of the workshop 
    Using Augustus Waters from Fault in our Stars by John Green and Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger as examples, Jacqueline Mitchard made the following points about creating voice:

  • This is not the time to be restrained.
  • Teenagers are dramatic. They’re over the top. Now or never. Black or white. Let them tell their stories. Speech can be overblown. Let out the drama queens!
Examples of how teens talk:

“My life is over.” 
“No none is ever going to love me again.” 
“I’m a total loser.”

  • Teens blurt stuff out. They make mistakes in judgment.
  • They're self-centered. A girl doesn’t care if the world blows up, unless it ruins her hair. What they care about the most is themselves.  Madly self-invested.
  • Teens focus small. Is she going to get what she needs to survive?
  • Write in bursts. Not necessarily grammatically correct. Use syntax and rhythm to create patterns. Awkward speech mimics the natural and conversational talk of teens.
  • Teens have heartbreaking passion and honesty. All their money is in the middle of the table all the time.
  • The way the character perceives the world shows who he or she is. Using this information develops deep POV.
  • Teens are all about self-sacrifice and loyalty. Who you are within the tribe is very important. Novelists must create a personality and moral structure. The novel will be about how the character changes and grows.
Erica Rand Silverman added: Teens have a strong sense of fairness and justice. Most of them are dedicated to learning and school. They have lots of thoughts and a lot of time to notice things.
Personal note: Writing this blog post legitimized the fact that both of my protagonists in Half-Truths are prone to exaggeration. It also made me think about how I was the same way as a teenager--self-absorbed in my own heady thoughts! Remembering my own life experiences will help me make Lillie Harris and Kate Dinsmore more authentic.  


Here is a narrative exercise to help you work on the voice of your characters. Write twelve lines of dialogue in which one teen has a secret that he or she is trying to keep from the other teen. Use ONLY speech. No tags or descriptive beats allowed! Feel free to share your writing in the comments if you try this exercise.

This series of posts concludes next week with Erica's and Jacqueline's answers to some FAQs and other miscellaneous nuggets. I'm glad that these posts have been helpful to many of you!

Monday, July 6, 2015

SCBWI Florida Workshop Part V- Building A Lasting Career

This is my fifth post from the 2015 Florida SCBWI young adult workshop with Erica Rand Silverman, an agent with Sterling Lord Literistic, and Jacquelyn Mitchard, author and editor-in-chief at Merit Press. Click here for Part I  (Why Write Young Adult); Part II (Querying); Part III (Pitches); and Part IV (Marketing Yourself and Your Work). In this post they both share what it means to build your career beyond one book.

Both Erika and Jacqueline used the language of romance to discuss aspects of the publishing business  Jacqueline said, "Acquiring a manuscript is like dating. Sometimes if it doesn't happen in the first twenty minutes there's a flaw in the machinery."  She also said, "If I fall in love with a manuscript I'm hoping readers will fall in love with it." Erika called the process of finding the right publisher for a book "matchmaking."
  • When your book is accepted by a publishing house you’re bringing people into the "Circle of Trust" about your story.
  • After you sell your first book, keep writing. You want to feed your audience by giving them something similar. It is more strategic to keep going with same genre as your first book, if possible.
  • Going from your first to second book can be hard. Write what excites you, not for the market, not your agent, and not your publisher. Sometimes with a second book you actually know about the industry, so you end up writing for your agent, editors, publishing house, or fans. Don't forget: You still need to just write for you.  Your first book might be easier because it’s been in you for so long.
  • Don’t disturb your own momentum. Start your second book as soon as possible. If your book does or does not sell well-- either one can mess with your head. 
  • Don't forget the secondary (institutional) market. Make sure your book is nominated for state lists and awards. Librarians will be your best friends; cultivate these relationships.
  •  Say thank you and remember people. Keep personal relationships with people you meet. Don’t act like a diva or take yourself too seriously. Don’t be high-handed with book sellers. Everyone is a spoke in the wheel. Make friends with people in the industry.
  • Embrace opportunities. Both work for hire or intellectual property projects might supplement your career. (Personal note: Nine years ago my last publisher, Maupin House, asked me if I would be interested in contributing to their Craft Plus series. Since my own motto is "Never say no" (to writing requests!) I accepted the assignment and was glad I did.
  • Make friends with your publishing team. Have realistic expectations but inspire the people you work with to think creatively.  “I have thought about A and B can you help me with C?” Fill out your author information sheet keeping in mind that it will help the marketing team at your publisher.
  • Market yourself and your books. You can’t depend on your publisher.  “No matter who you are, you have to hustle,” Jacqueline said. Your agent and your publicist will work together getting you traction (visibility) so that more people will connect you with your book. These things feed into each other. You want to be known as a networker, and an accessible human being "without being slutty." 
  • Keep attending conferences, workshops, and industry events.
  • Strategize your publishing schedule with your agent and publisher. Ask, "Why are you publishing the book now?" Books published closer to awards are more likely to be in people’s minds. Do you want to publish in the summer when school is out? Near the holidays? It's okay to question and be your own advocate. Ask, “Tell me how I can help." Make it a partnership and become a part of the publishing strategy. But don’t become too obsessed with the business side. 
  • Jacqueline warned, "Writers write. Don’t be a three-ring circus. Be the best one ring circus you can be.”


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