Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Reads: The Penderwicks

When I first heard people talking about this book, I kept getting it confused with the Pickwick Papers.  *guffaws*  So. Not. The. Same. Book.

The Penderwicks
by Jeanne Birdsall

For: 8-12yos

Genre: Contemporary, Timeless

Published: 2005

Description: This summer the Penderwick sisters have a wonderful surprise: a holiday on the grounds of a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon they are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the best discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures.

The icy-hearted Mrs. Tifton is not as pleased with the Penderwicks as Jeffrey is, though, and warns the new friends to stay out of trouble. Which, of course, they will—won’t they? One thing’s for sure: it will be a summer the Penderwicks will never forget.

Deliciously nostalgic and quaintly witty, this is a story as breezy and carefree as a summer day.

Why I liked it: I know it sounds silly, but reading this book was like taking a breath of fresh air.  The story wasn't fast-paced or incredibly funny or full of exciting suspense--it's a decidedly "quiet" book--but I found myself reinvigorated by their quiet adventures, like I had personally gone on vacation with the Penderwick family.  It reminded me of my own childhood summers on my grandparents' farm.  Quiet and peaceful, but with just a touch of excitement, enough for me to want to return again and again and again.
I'd love some recommendations on vacation books, or "quiet" books for middle-grade readers.  Got a title you'd care to share?  Please do!

And happy weekend reading!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Linky Love for April

Ever had one of those weeks where everything comes together in one crazy, insanely busy jumble, and you have no idea how on earth you are going to survive the cataclysm?

Welcome to the next seven days of my life.

Flick'r photo by kliefi
And because of it, I just can't wrap my brain around an intelligent blog post.  So today I thought I'd do some random linky love.  I figure I've got enough brainpower left to point out some other blogs/sites/projects/items that are more worthy of attention than anything I have to say would be. I hope you enjoy these as much as I have!

In keeping with my random link theme, these links are also in random order:

  • Some lovely ladies on Facebook started a project to highlight kidlit beauty tips. Oh, my.  These are hysterical!  If you haven't seen these yet, read no further.  Seriously, click the link.  Now.  Go.  Hurry up!
  • This may be old news for most of you, but for the middle-grade writers out there, agent Michael Bourret and editor Molly O'Neill have done a blog series on everything you ever wanted to know about middle-grade.  Part one is here, part two is here, and the finale is here.  Highly interesting stuff, MG people!
  • For those you who, like me, are obsessed with office/school supplies, check out these Tetris Sticky Notes.  To. Die. For.
  • Want to read something that makes no sense whatsoever, but is dang intelligent anyway?  Read this essay which was awarded a top grade because an electronic grader did the work instead of a real human.  It's entertaining and disturbing all at the same time.
  • For the number-obsessed people out there, have you checked out Klout yet?  I must say, it's rather fun to see how "influential" you are when it comes to social media.  Though it's not always accurate.  For example, supposedly I am influential concerning the Carolina Panthers.  The who, I say?  Never heard of 'em.
  • I should probably mention that my other blog is looking for a few new members.  If you love middle-grade books as much as I do, and you are interested in joining a group blog, then you may want to click over here and submit an application.  But be quick, since you only have until May 1, 2012 to do so.  
  • Aren't these flower pot people adorable?  I know, they have nothing whatsoever to do with writing, but I had to share anyway.
  • Ever wanted to beat a traffic ticket?  This guy does it with science.  Awesome!  This makes me want to take up technical writing....

That's enough links to keep even the most bored of you busy for some time.  I hope you enjoy them!  Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to face the oncoming cataclysm.  Fingers crossed I come out the other end unscathed.  (Yeah, not likely, but I can dream....)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Reads: Morris Has a Cold

This was one of my favorites as a child (and teen, I'll be honest), and my sister loved it as much as I did.  She actually still has our old copy from decades ago; it's one of her most cherished possessions.  How I wish it was back in print, so I could get a copy for my own home library!

Morris Has a Cold
Morris Has a Cold
by  Bernard Wiseman

For: 6-9yos

Genre: Humor

Published: 1989

Description: Morris the Moose has a cold and Boris the Bear tries various remedies to cure him.

Why I liked it:  Oh, my!  This book is FUNNY!  If you've ever read a Morris the Moose book, then you know a little bit of which I speak.  But this book tops the list of all-time funniest Morris adventures ever.  I still can't figure out why they continue to print other Morris books, but not this one.  I still laugh every time I read it (that is, when I can find a copy at the local library or convince my sister to pull it out and let me re-read).  If you have a copy of this book, GUARD IT WITH YOUR LIFE.  Or send it to me as a gift and I'll guard it with mine.  Your choice.
Do you know a funny easy reader you can share?  Please let me know!

And happy weekend reading!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Million Dollar Marketing Question

Flick'r photo by Colin_K
As all six of my blog followers know, I am speaking on social networking and marketing for children's writers in about six weeks.  From personal experience I have a bucket-load to share already, but that hasn't stopped me from perusing the internet for neat links and cool sites, and pretty much anything that might be of interest to me and/or anyone who has to listen to me in the coming weeks.  Those poor souls....

But I digress.

Anyway, you know, I have lots of good stuff for brand new beginners and even more good stuff for those promoting a book.

What I don't have, however, is much for those "in-betweeners" out there.  You know, those who have an agent but haven't sold a book, or those who are submitting straight to editors and getting personal rejections.

So I ask you, my collective social network, what are your tips for those who don't have a book yet but aren't beginners, either?  I'm interested in any of the following:

  • Website or no website?  If yes, what do you put on it?
  • And what about those Facebook Pages?  Do you set one of those up now, before you sell, or wait until you've sold something?
  • Do you post sample work on your blog, or not?  What about blurbs?
  • For those who have published, what are some things you wished you would have done before you sold a book (concerning social networking/marketing yourself and your work)?  Or things you wished you wouldn't have done?
  • How important is it to network before you sell a book?  I mean, how much time/energy should "in-betweeners" put into social networking?
  • Are there questions I should be asking here but haven't?  Please tell me the question, and answer it if you can, too.

I already have my own answers to most of these questions, but I'm curious to see what others think.  Feel free to pick one or all of these questions to answer, by the way.  Whatever you want to share, I'll be happy to hear.

I'm catering my presentation to all stages of the road to publication (and writing for all ages of children, too), so I am planning on being prepared for anyone who walks through that door.  Thanks in advance for your input!

Oh, and if you have a favorite link to share about social networking/marketing/online platforms, please share that, too!  I probably already have it on my list, but I'd love to be surprised by one I don't know about.

Thank you, lovely people!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Reads: Our Mutual Friend

Another confession: I LOVE LOVE LOVE classic literature.  I read them obsessively.  You know those lists that circulate every once in awhile, asking how many of these 100 greatest classics you've ever read?  Usually I can click off the majority, no matter which list you look at.  This one doesn't always end up at the top of those lists, but I like it anyway:

Our Mutual Friend
by Charles Dickens

For: Adults

Genre: Social Commentary, Satire, Classics (you pick)

Published: 1865

Description: A satiric masterpiece about the allure and peril of money, Our Mutual Friend revolves around the inheritance of a dust-heap where the rich throw their trash. When the body of John Harmon, the dust-heap’s expected heir, is found in the Thames, fortunes change hands surprisingly, raising to new heights “Noddy” Boffin, a low-born but kindly clerk who becomes “the Golden Dustman.” Charles Dickens’s last complete novel, encompasses the great themes of his earlier works: the pretensions of the nouveaux riches, the ingenuousness of the aspiring poor, and the unfailing power of wealth to corrupt all who crave it. With its flavorful cast of characters and numerous subplots,Our Mutual Friend is one of Dickens’s most complex—and satisfying—novels.

Why I liked it: I don't know.  I just did.  I thought Mr. Boffin was delightful and the dead John Harmon was a compelling character (trust me, that will make sense if you read the book), the dust heaps were fascinating, and the commentary on wealth and corruption was thought-provoking.  Besides, it's Dickens!
Got a favorite classic you'd like to share?  Bring it on!

And happy weekend reading!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Muddled Middles

© Copyright Joan Sykes, licensed for reuse
Lately I've been trying to fill some empty scenes in the middle of my current manuscript. Unfortunately, I'm not coming up with anything particularly interesting, and I'm getting awfully tired of her wandering around by herself, moping and pining. If I hadn't made her an only child, I'd have so much more fodder to work with right now. For example:

  • The cacophony of sounds would be exponentially louder and more interesting. 
  • There would be a cacophony of sounds. 
  • I could introduce an entire cast of kooky, misunderstood family members. 
  • Things would actually happen. *sigh* 

But, I have to be honest with myself. A large family or small family or whatever else I use an excuse isn't the real problem. The real problem is I have a great beginning, and a fairly decent climax, and a beautiful ending, but that middle is a hot mess.

In other words, I'm drowning in a muddled middle.

I know I can't be the only one suffering through the middle of a manuscript, so I thought today I'd do some research and find tips from others on how to fix a muddled or sagging middle.

I found the following:

This link from The Editor's Blog suggests splitting the middle into three distinct parts: the beginning middle, the middle middle, and the ending middle. Think of writing that beginning middle just like you did when you polished the beginning of the novel (with conflict and tension), and the ending middle should be that dark point in your novel, when things look their bleakest. Then you'll only have to make sure the middle middle doesn't sag.

Darcy Pattison suggests in this blog post to think about your middle as the place where inner conflict should shine, where your main character experiences growth. So choose five or six steps that show your main character's growth, then slip in some plot (that outer conflict) to match your steps. She also suggest you make sure your final step is the decision that will take your character (and, by extension, your readers) quickly down the path to the climax.

Some other great ideas are hidden in this thread on Absolute Write Water Cooler. The best advice I found were these three messages:

"Regarding sagging middles, one of the best ways to avoid them is to throw obstacles in the way of the MC reaching the goals you've set out, and in many cases, completely moving the goalposts." --Stew 21 (I do love the idea of completely moving the goalposts!)

"The book is written by setting up situation/problem after situation/ problem as your characters pursue their goals and meet obstacles. Make them care about each one, and the reader will care, too." --Rowdymama (Making your readers care is a big one!)

"There comes a time in the middle of your novel when you just wish you could just get to the end. Your writing reflects that attitude and the result is poor prose. It's best to shake the attitude before continuing, or do some heavy editing later." --RJK (This is so true for me, I always get that feeling, and it's not something I've ever thought about fixing during the first draft! I'll have to try that one next time...)

And there are so many great suggestions in this thread from my favorite place on the internet, Verla Kay's Message Board (or Blueboard, as we Blueboarders affectionately call it). It's all good stuff, though I did particularly like the idea of writing the beginning and then outlining the middle. "You've had your fun hiking on your own rules, now take the time to mark the trail the rest of the way." --Frainstorm

But read the whole thread. It's worth it.

So, there you have it, folks! I hope some of that was useful. Personally, I think some of these suggestions will help me muddle through my middle. And if not, at least I got a break from writing!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Reads: Leviathan

Confession: I bought this book at a conference where Scott Westerfield was speaking.  He shared with us how he came up with the idea for this book (and the rest in the series), and I may have to admit that the behind-the-scenes stuff might possibly be more fascinating than the actual book is, if that's even possible:

by Scott Westerfield

For: 12-18yos

Genre: Steampunk (Science Fiction)

Published: 2009

Description: It is the cusp of World War I. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ genetically fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, a Clanker, and Deryn Sharp, a Darwinist, are on opposite sides of the war. But their paths cross in the most unexpected way, taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure….One that will change both their lives forever.

Why I liked it: I enjoy a good, sweeping adventure, and this book's clever sci-fi twist on the beginning of World War I was just too good to pass up.  Even better are the dozens of full-page black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout the book.  So you can see exactly what Westerfield had in mind for both his mechanical and animal machines and weaponry.   Oh, and some of those steam-driven vehicles remind me an awful lot of a few machines found in the original Star Wars movies.  Just sayin', for you SW fans out there.
I'd love more Steampunk suggestions, or clever twists on WWI stories, so send them my way if you've got any!

And happy weekend reading!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Coming Full Circle

Call me crazy, but I like sorting things into neat categories.  I do it with everything, including (unfortunately) people.  Once, when I was a tween, I upset one of my dearest friends because I always called her my "church" friend as opposed to my "school" friend, because we'd met at church.  She thought it meant I didn't want to be friends with her anywhere other than at church. Oops.

Anyway, I also tend to categorize myself, particularly when it comes to my writing life.  And for the longest time, I called myself an "aspiring author" because only those who published something could be called an author.  I couldn't even bring myself to say "writer" when I talked about myself, mostly because when I did, people would inevitably say, "Oh, are you published?" and then I'd have to explain how I was an aspiring author.  And I'm notoriously lazy when it comes to that kind of looped thinking, so I just skipped to the inevitable end and stuck with "aspiring author."

But in 2006, my "aspirations" took a huge leap forward.  And it was because of a little activity called Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers (WIFYR for short).

Okay, so WIFYR isn't little.  It's actually a week-long writing conference for those who write for children and teens.  And it's AWESOME.  No, it's BEYOND AWESOME.  In fact, it's the best deal out there.

I'm biased, of course, since this conference took my sub-par writing and pushed me closer to the pro status, but I'm telling you IT'S WORTH EVERY PENNY.  This conference made me start thinking like a writer, start acting like a writer, and start writing like a writer.  I now call myself a writer, and I don't bother much with that "aspiring" stuff anymore.  And it's all thanks to WIFYR.

So why am I telling you all about this?  Well, because life has a funny way of coming full circle.

Because, you see, this year I'm presenting at WIFYR.

See for yourself!  Here's a screenshot for those of you who won't take my word for it:

And here are the links to the info in all its glory: (the schedule) (the afternoon presenters, I'm on the list...promise!) (heck, I'm even listed in the #7 FAQ!)

So, for those of you close enough, find the time and money to sign up for WIFYR.  Mostly because it's the best deal you'll ever get for a 5-day conference, and also because I want you to stop by and say hi so I won't feel so lonely.

They do have the full-day conference deal (which is what I did in 2006), where you workshop your book with a small group of attendees and a published author mentor.  (Did you see who those mentors are this year?  HOLY AWESOME BATMAN! )  And they also have a price just for the afternoon sessions.  I've done that, too, but the whole day is much much much more fun.  If you can swing it, go the whole day.  Especially since this year, one lucky full-day attendee could get a $1000 fellowship.  (More details about that here, but be aware that the deadline for that is April 20th, so HURRY:

So, yes.  WIFYR.  Do eet.  I'll save you a seat.