Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Linky Love in May

Photopedia image by Anna Strumillo
I do love seeing what links people find fascinating enough to pass on to others in their social networks.  I find Twitter particularly useful for this, though Facebook and Google+ aren't far behind.

And, lucky you, I've been keeping track of the links I liked best.  Don't ask me how I found them...sometimes one link would send me to another, and so on.  But I do want to thank my social network for sending these gems along to me.

Here's my linky love for May (in random order):

  • I love this cartoon about literary devices.  My favorite: the Irony Board, though the Random Analogy Generator is pretty funny too.
  • Are you writing a book about digging a hole straight through the earth?  Well, here is an antipodal map that will show you exactly where you'd come out the other end.  For you U.S. people, sorry to disappoint, but it won't be China.  Just sayin'.
  • The Merit Badger has created merit badges just for writers.  Never fear, non-writers.  There are merit badges for readers and some for holidays, too.  I love these.  I am so going to make* a bandelo one of these days, and put my very own writing merit badges on it.
  • Harold Underdown's website, The Purple Crayon, is an amazing resource for anyone writing for children.  But my favorite part of his site is the Who's Moving Where? page.  If you are obsessed about keeping up with the editorial staff changes at children's book publishers, this is the page for you.
  • Need help with names?  Serendipity is a site that has random generators.  I've had this bookmarked for years.  There are place name generators, people name generators, and even a fantasy title generator.  It's particularly helpful for you fantasy writers out there.  Cool beans.

There you go, dear readers.  I hope you enjoy some of those links!

*Okay, not really.  Though I am rather handy with a sewing machine.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Reads: The Eyes of the Dragon

I mentioned back when I started this series that I wouldn't highlight horror, because I don't read the genre.  So why highlight a Stephen King novel, you ask? Because this is not one of his horror novels.  This is classic fantasy.  Read on, my friends.

 The Eyes of the Dragon
by Stephen King

For: Adults

Genre: Fantasy (yes, you read that right)

Published: 1987

Description:  A kingdom is in turmoil as the old king dies and his successor must do battle for the throne. Pitted against an evil wizard and a would-be rival, Prince Peter makes a daring escape and rallies the forces of Good to fight for what is rightfully his.

Why I liked it: You should already know by now that I love fantasy, and this is a classic good vs. evil with magic and dragons and everything tale.  But it's also more than that.  It's the story about two brothers, one who stands for what's good and right, and one who must learn that lesson the hard way. And in more ways than one, it's a story about conquering your own demons.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pace Yourself!: The Art of Pacing in a Novel

Photo by Robin Stevens   
I have a lovely critique partner (actually, I have quite a few, but this is a story about only one of them.)  She is knee-deep in revisions of a book that I hope someday the rest of you will get to read, and we've been trying to nail down what is and isn't working.  It finally dawned on me that the pacing needed some attention.  I tried to explain this to her, and realized I didn't quite understand how it worked myself, much less well enough to teach it to anyone else.  It's never been an issue in any of my manuscripts yet, so it's never come up in my own education.

Side note: I'm aware this doesn't mean I'm good at pacing.  So take the following with a grain of salt.

Anyway, I sat down and walked through all the elements of what I thought good pacing was this week, so I'm going to share with you what I uncovered.  I'm warning you, I made all of this up on my own, so if you find competing information elsewhere, particularly if it comes from  published authors or editors/agents, I'd go with their suggestions first.

My thoughts on pacing:

1. It's all about the story, baby.

Pacing is, first and foremost, an issue of story.  A story with lots of action that's sparse on details is going to be fast-paced.  A story that weaves you through setting and details and inner monologues but where the characters don't do much is going to be slower-paced.  And plenty fall somewhere in the middle.  So the story you are telling is going to influence the pace at which it's told.  Whichever pace you use is fine as long as it fits with the type of story you write.  So it might be worth your while to take some time to figure out what basic pace you want to set for the entire novel.

2. It's a balancing act.

There is such a thing as speeding through scenes too quickly.  There is also such a thing as laboriously drawing out scenes until your readers die of boredom.  Make sure you don't swing too far one way or the other, or bounce between the two.  Moderation in all things is a good motto to live by.

3. Speed up when you slow down, and slow down when you speed up.

Yeah, you read that right.  The funny thing about pacing is that different parts of your story require different speeds in order to get something that feels like a steady pace throughout the entire novel.  During the parts where things are slow (narrative, descriptions, setting, etc.), you need to remember to speed up a little.  Get through them faster, don't dwell too much on them.  Inversely, when you are in the thick of things (dialogue, action, especially when a climax or turning point happens), you want to show the scene as if you entered super-slow motion on the camera in your readers' heads.

4. Can you use that in a sentence, please?

Pacing is also a structural issue.  The way you string words together does make an impact on your pace.  Long, descriptive sentences will feel slower-paced than short, snappy ones.  So if you find people mentioning the pace feels really slow even though the plot arc seems okay, you might want to take a look at breaking up some of your sentences into shorter ones.  And vice versa for faster-paced scenes.

5. Variety is the spice of life.

Structurally, the way sentences are strung together also makes an impact on the pacing.  If you write sentences that are all the same length, your pacing will slow down and readers will get bored.  So don't forget to spice things up.  Vary your sentence lengths.  Sandwich a few short sentences between really long and medium-length sentences, and don't stick too many together that are the same size. Sorta like I did with this paragraph, actually.

This also goes for paragraph structure.  Even if you vary your sentences, if each paragraph ends up being the same length as the one before and after it, the pace will be affected, and readers will feel the monotony.  So watch those paragraphs lengths, too.

Don't give your readers' any excuse to put your book down.  Learn how to pace yourself!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Reads: The Grey King

I was introduced to Susan Cooper in school.  We read The Dark Is Rising in class, and I was hooked.  That book won the Newbery Honor in 1974, and rightly so.  Two years later, the fourth book in the sequence, The Grey King, won the Newbery Medal, also rightly so. It's my favorite in the sequence, so it's the one I chose for this week's Friday Reads.  (Note: It may be wise to start at the beginning of the sequence and work your way to this book.  You'll get the full impact that way.  However, if you must, this book can be read as a stand-alone, too.)

The Grey King  (Book 4 in The Dark is Rising Sequence)
by Susan Cooper

For: 8-12yos

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Published: 1975

Description: There is a Welsh legend about a harp of gold, hidden within a certain hill, that will be found by a boy and a white dog with silver eyes--a dog that can see the wind.  Will Stanton knew nothing of this when he came to Wales to recover from a severe illness.  But when he met Bran, a strange boy who owned a white dog, he began to remember.  For Will is the last-born of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to saving the world from the forces of evil, the Dark.  And it is Will's task to wake--with the golden harp--the six who must be roused from their long slumber in the Welsh hills to prepare for the last battle between the Dark and the Light.

Why I liked it: I love how Susan Cooper brings Wales alive (in each of her books in the sequence, really).  This one, in particular, is as beautiful as it is powerful.  The green mountains, the hilly fields, the idylllic Mlyn Mwyngil (the Welsh name for the lake in this book), all buzz with the unseen power of Light and Dark.  And the climax is as wrapped up in the setting as I was.  Truly, this entire sequence is a must-read for fantasy lovers.  

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Reads: Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind

My neighbor across the street wanted me to read this book, so she brought her copy over one afternoon.  I'm so glad she did!

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind
by Ann B. Ross

For: Adults

Genre: Southern Humor (is that a genre?)

Published: 2000

Description: Miss Julia, a recently bereaved and newly wealthy widow, is only slightly bemused when one Hazel Marie Puckett appears at her door with a youngster in tow and unceremoniously announces that the child is the bastard son of Miss Julia's late husband. Suddenly, this longtime church member and pillar of her small Southern community finds herself in the center of an unseemly scandal-and the guardian of a wan nine-year-old whose mere presence turns her life upside down.

With razor-sharp wit and perfect "Steel Magnolia" poise, Miss Julia speaks her mind indeed-about a robbery, a kidnapping, and the other disgraceful events precipitated by her husband's death. Fast-paced and charming, with a sure sense of comic drama, a cast of crazy characters, and a strong Southern cadence, Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind will delight readers from first page to last.

Why I liked it: This was a charming book in every way.  I adored the main character, Miss Julia, and I hoped things would turn out for nine-year-old Little Lloyd.  I also appreciated the twist at the end, but it was the characters I enjoyed the most.  Even Hazel Marie grew on me.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday Reads: The Clockwork Three

I've met Matthew Kirby a few times around my local writing scene, so when I heard about his book I had to pick up a copy for my home library.  I'm so glad I did.  (The moral of this story is: support your local writers.  Okay, off my soapbox.)

The Clockwork Three
by Matthew J. Kirby

For: 8-12yos

Genre: Uh... (adventure, fantasy, steampunk, mystery, urban mythology, you name it, this book's probably got it)

Published: 2010

Description: Giuseppe is an orphaned street musician who sees no way to escape, until the day he finds an enchanted green violin.

Frederick, an apprentice clockmaker with a past he cannot remember, secretly works at night to build the most magnificent clockwork man the world has ever seen.

Hannah is maid in a grand hotel, whose life is one of endless drudgery until she encounters a mystifying new guest and learns of a hidden treasure.

As mysterious circumstances bring them together, the lives of these three children soon interlock, like the turning gears of a clock, and they realize that each one holds a key to solving the others' mysteries.

Why I liked it: Oh, man.  This book rocked my socks off!  I loved that the three main characters gave the author an outlet to bring three distinct genres together in one amazing book.  And I loved how Kirby was able to weave three distinct stories into one cohesive and satisfying whole.  Plus, it was a great story.  I lost myself in it, and that's always a good thing.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I HAVE NEWS! (Of the SCBWI variety)

I've been sitting on some news this past week, and now I'm allowed to share:

As of today, I've accepted the position of Assistant Regional Advisor (ARA) for the Utah/S. Idaho chapter of SCBWI.


I am so excited about this for two reasons.  First, I've always loved SCBWI, and I am honored they are allowing me to do more for the organization.  Secondly, I've been looking around recently, and I realized that while I have a fairly large community of writers/agents/editors/other industry professionals I can turn to for information and support, the majority of them are outside my state/region.  I've been wondering the best way to get to know the "locals" as well.  So this was perfect timing for me.  I can't wait to get to work!

FYI, Sydney Salter is stepping down as RA, and I will miss her dearly (figuratively speaking of course, since she lives close by and we will still work together on The Mixed-Up Files blog).  She did such a wonderful job during her 7 years as RA, and I can't imagine SCBWI without her.  I am taking over her Utah responsibilities, and I feel the enormity of the shoes I have to fill.

I want to publicly thank her for the amazing job she has done for our region, and apologize in advance for all the emails and phone calls she's about to receive from me during the next few months.  If you feel inclined, I'd love for those of you in our region to find her and thank her, too.  In fact, check out her blog and leave your thanks in a comment.  She deserves more praise, imo.

Also FYI, Neysa Jensen, who was the ARA before me, will be stepping up into the RA position.  I am thrilled to be working with her!  She will be handling the S. Idaho side of our region (though the two of us will be helping each other out, so it's not like she has to go it alone--ditto for me).  I feel so lucky to have her to lean on and learn from!

Anyway, Utah/Idaho people, I'm here to help.  Feel free to contact me anytime, for questions, suggestions about activities you wish SCBWI did here, or just to introduce yourself or others in the writing community.  I am so excited to get to know you and get started!

P.S.  I will be speaking at WIFYR this June.  If you are there, please stop by and say hi.  And if you are on the fence about going to the workshop, please sign up!  It will be well worth the time and expense, trust me.  I attended WIFYR in 2006 and it was the best thing I could have done for my writing career.  Honest.