Monday, July 8, 2013

The Art of Browsing in the Rain for MMGM

Browsing is such a lovely thing to do, isn't it? For ten years, I worked in a huge bookstore, and yet I never had time to browse. If I wasn't helping customers, I was shelving new books or reshelving old books, straightening, alphabetizing, and working on the website.

Now that I'm between jobs, I've rediscovered the joys of browsing. We had a lot of rain in June this year, and one rainy day I found myself at the library. Other than the rain drumming on the roof, it was quiet. Schools were still in session, so I had the middle grade area to myself. I usually head to the library with a specific list, and this time was no exception. Among other books, I found Shakespeare's Spy (which proved to be a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to Gary Blackwood's trilogy first mentioned here).

But then as I wandered the stacks, a small book caught my eye. I'd never heard of it before, but I'd heard of the author. Impulsively, I checked it out. I love libraries.

The Magic Half  by Annie Barrows (Bloomsbury, 2007, age 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Miri is the only single child in the middle of a family with two sets of twins--older brothers and younger sisters. When the family moves to an old farmhouse Miri accidentally travels back in time to 1935 only to discover Molly, a girl in need of a real family to call her own. 

Why I liked it: The time travel element, of course! Plus, Miri is a well-rounded, sympathetic character. Also, I'm the younger sister of twins. Apparently I used to ask my mother, "Where's my twin?" So this book felt like it was written for me.

What treasures have you unearthed while browsing?

MMGM is the brainchild of Shannon Messenger. Check her blog for the links, or look at my sidebar.

Please note: Next week, I'll be taking a five to six week blogging break to get some writing and revising done, and also going on vacation to Maine for part of that time. But I'll be back after that with plenty of new book recommendations and some writing posts.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Impressions of NJ SCBWI - Part 2

If you missed Part 1, you can find it at this post. I'd love to tell you about every one of the eight workshops I attended, but I want to keep this from going on too long, so I'll limit myself to two today.

1) Scene Structure with Laurie Calkhoven (author of numerous MG novels, including her Boys of Wartime series) was thorough and informative. I took notes as fast as I could.  Laurie suggests we storyboard every scene of a novel.  Points to keep in mind as you do this:

Setting :  Time and Place. Is it inside or outside? Summer or winter? The reader needs to know! Laurie read from her novel, Daniel at the Siege of Boston, 1776, and told us originally she had Daniel watching from a rooftop. Then she realized he was too far from the action and not involved, so she placed him in the middle of the battle.

Character: All characters in every scene have to want something and should be in opposition to each other.  The main character's desire in every scene should tie into their overall heart's desire in the book. In Hunger Games, Katniss wants the bow and arrow from the cornucopia, and that ties in to her overall desire to stay alive.

Dialogue: The shortcut to conflict. Two characters talking with a purpose. Dialogue also reveals much by what isn't said. Laurie read an excerpt from The Wednesday Wars, a dinner table scene that was mostly dialogue between Holling's father and sister (even though Holling tells the story).

Action: Not only moves the plot along, but also provides clues to character motivation. There should be both action and reaction every time.  

POV: Most children's books use either first person or close third person (Wonder is an exception, with its multiple POVs). She thinks POV is mostly organic or intuitive. Laurie polled a large group of writers and she claims there's really no objective way to choose your POV. Whatever you choose, be consistent!

Climax/Exit Line: Remember we're talking about the climax of a scene here, not the entire book. In every scene, there should be a story arc (characters/setting -- conflict -- climax -- resolution). In the scene at the dinner table in The Wednesday Wars, the climax is when Holling's sister gets up from the table to wash the flower child paint off her face. The exit line is Holling's dad saying, "Please pass the lima beans."

Laurie does this storyboarding for every scene, then writes the scene. If it's not working, she goes back to her storyboard to see what's missing. Every scene has a function or it shouldn't be there!

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2) Who's Telling This Story? Point of View with Meg Wiviott (author of Benno and the Night of Broken Glass, a picture book about Kristallnacht from the POV of a cat)

The main reason I wanted to mention this workshop was the direct contrast with what Laurie Calkhoven said above about POV being intuitive. According to Meg Wiviott, POV is a conscious decision a writer makes that will determine through whose eyes the story will be told. And a lot of it has to do with psychic distance (defined by John Gardner as the distance between the reader and the writer -- think of it as a zoom lens). I also learned that there are five forms of third person. Without going into detail, I'll include examples of each kind:

Dramatic/Objective (Benno and the Night of Broken Glass), Omniscient (Tuck Everlasting, Charlotte's Web), Storyteller/Intrusive (Tale of Despereaux, Artemis Fowl), Limited/Close (Number the Stars), Multiple (Wonder, Parched).

Then of course, there's second person (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Blink & Caution), and first person (Speak and many other YA novels). The psychic distance is different for every POV. In first person there is zero psychic distance. Everything is filtered through the main character's eyes.

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The highlight of the last day of the conference, for me, was Tara Lazar's very moving speech. Some of you may know Tara Lazar as a blogger extraordinaire. Her blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) was one of the first blogs I ever followed, back in 2009. So I've observed her journey to publication since her picture book, The Monstore, was first accepted by Simon & Schuster in 2010.

A clever and very funny tale!
Tara Lazar, from her blog

Her speech has us laughing uproariously, at first. She appeared in costume, including a long luxurious beard, smoking jacket and pipe. "I am a published author," she proclaimed in a phony British accent. "I never make mistakes. I never get rejections. I use words like verisimilitude in ordinary conversation. See? I just did." Using broad humor, her speech taught us that the myth of the Great Divide between published and unpublished authors is just that: a myth. She told us she's the same person she was before her book was published. And then she yanked off the costume and grew serious as she told us about her diagnosis in early 2010. She has MS. And the diagnosis came at the same time as her offer of a contract from S&S. So, for Tara, it's been a bittersweet journey. 

Not a dry eye in the house.