Sunday, August 26, 2012

Writer's Retreat, Book Review, Giveaway, and More


Thought for the day:  The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress." ~Philip Roth~

A gift for my writer friends. I have a few links I think are really worth checking out. I’ve been so busy I haven’t been blogging very regularly – summer hours, you know – so I have more than my usual two to offer.

First, there is a famous saying in writing about how you have to learn to kill your darlings. I’ve been working on revisions, and it is very, very tough to kill my darlings. Here is a link with a pretty good article on that process.


Writer’s Digest has some good articles. I’m always interested in grammar (What can I say? I’m an old English teacher!) and this one had some things in it I thought were pretty interesting.


I found a new site/blog/kind of thing that has some amazing stuff on it. After you read The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better Than You Already Do, click where it says Timothy McSweeney at the top, and it will take you to the main page with links to plenty of other interesting articles.

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/the-ultimate-guide-to-writing-better-than-you-normally-do

Last, but far from least and absolutely the most fun, is Shannon Messenger’s blog post about a fabulous time waster. This could explain one of the reasons I haven’t blogged in a while! It is WAY too much fun.


For my fabulous, albeit late again, giveaway from last post, the winner is Debi Summers! Congratulations to you, Debi. I will be sending you a copy of Just Write, Here’s How! It’s a useful book and I think you and some others in your family will love it. I have another giveaway for today, so stay tuned.

Suzanne Bloom (left) and Nicole Groeneweg
Now, one of the reasons I’ve been tardy on blogging is that I’ve been out of town. First, I went to Virginia, near Washington D.C., to be hosted by the lovely and generous Nicole Groeneweg, soon-to-be-published picture book author, who showed me the best time in her very historical part of the country. Since she and I both love American History, she took me to the homes of three founding fathers – George Mason, George Washington, and James Madison. They were all great, but the highlight was the re-enactor at the home of James Madison. He was fantastic! After three great days of touring and with a short stop in Gettysburg to brunch with my great friend Sara Rohr, Nicole and I drove to northeastern Pennsylvania. What a fantastic trip. Thanks, Nicole!! 

We went to a Highlights Foundation week-long retreat in Boyds Mills, PA with ├╝ber-editor Carolyn Yoder. I worked hard on a non-fiction manuscript that Carolyn says is now ready to send out. WooHoo!! (Okay. One more polish first.) We had visits from several of the editors at Highlights Magazine, High Five Magazine, and Boyds Mills Press. We also had visits from Suzanne Bloom and Gail Jarrow, both terrific authors. Suzanne read us her latest Bear and Goose story, Oh! What a Surprise!, (one of the sweetest and funniest picture books I've ever read) then gave autographed copies to each of us. Gail also autographed copies of our choice of two of her books: I got a copy of Lincoln's FlyingSpies: Thaddeus Lowe and the Civil War Balloon Corps and some received The Amazing Harry Kellar: Great American Magician, a book I already own. Both are simply wonderful books and, although kids will love them, adults will as well. I highly recommend them both.

I have lots of new ideas for writing projects from the travels, the editor and author visits, as well as from the other wonderful attendees during our many unbelievable meals, critique sessions, and casual meetings. We have such a great group that comes together there in August. This is our third year and it is amazing. As long as the Highlights Foundation continues to offer this retreat, I will be going. I really recommend if there is any way you can get to one of the Highlights Foundation workshops or retreats, you should try to do it. It’s a magical place.

Another reason I’ve been so tardy with my writing is a new teaching assignment I’ve taken on. I will be working one-on-one with two students who, due to illness, can’t attend school. One is a 7th grader, the other an 11th grader. The time it takes to prepare to teach each of them the full curriculum is daunting, but I just love the opportunity to work with these brave kids. It looks like it will be a year-long assignment, so I might just blog a little less often, but it’s for a good cause. I will try to be more regular with my blog posts though.

Rebecca Stead
I do want to share a review of a middle-grade novel I read and reviewed recently for the Sacramento Book Review. It’s called Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead. This is simply one of the best middle-grade novels I’ve read in awhile. It’s a story about a boy who is going through what a lot of young people today are facing – moving out of their life-long home due to the economic downturn and a parent losing a job. Georges, named for Seurat and suffering from having what most middle-schoolers would call a lame name, has to deal with many changes in his young life. When he and his dad go to the laundry room in the basement of the apartment building they’ve moved to, they see a sign on a storage room for a spy club. Georges’s dad puts a note on the door that asks what time the meeting is and later they find an answer. Georges decides to go to that meeting and this begins a journey of mystery, learning, tolerance, and friendship that is clever, smart, and authentic to the life of a middle grade boy. I described it in my review as being nearly a thriller, and it is. I loved this book. Rebecca Stead won the Newbery medal for her book WhenYou Reach Me, and I can’t wait to read that one. In the mean time, one of you can have my very own ARC of Liar & Spy if you are the lucky winner. Leave a comment below, and I will put your name in a hat. If you spread the word about this post by putting a link to it in your blog or on your Facebook page or some such social media, let me know, and I’ll put your name in a second time.

On the book giveaway, this is for U.S. only. Sorry, but it would be too expensive for me to send books out of the country. But please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. Remember, if you have trouble leaving a comment, click on the title of the post and it will give you just this post with a comments section on the bottom. Also, if you haven’t signed up by email, please do. Just look in the upper right-hand corner of this page, pop your email address in, and you will receive an email each time I put up a new post. Your information will not be shared with anyone.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Whole Lot of Tellin' Goin' On and a Giveaway


Thought for the day:  "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." ~ Thomas Edison ~

A gift for my writer friends. There has been a LOT of talk on the net the last couple of weeks (while I have been taking some time off) about a blogger who was sued for posting a photo she thought was copyright free. If you haven’t read it, and if you ever post photos other than your own anywhere on the net, you might want to read the first of the links below.  The second link will tell you about some places to get photos you can freely use.



For my fabulous, albeit late, giveaway, the winner is Morgan Mussell!! Congratulations to you, Morgan. I will be sending you a copy of Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator. It’s a funny book and I think you’ll love it. I have another giveaway for today, so stay tuned.

I want to write today about writing rules. There are a lot of them, but perhaps the biggest one pushed by just about everyone I can think of is “Show – Don’t Tell.” I remember when I was teaching, one of my colleagues stated that her students just couldn’t stand a story that had any telling in it, that they would refuse to read such books. I asked what novels she was teaching, and they were mostly new. She pretty much ignored the classics. No Lord of the Flies for her kids. No To Kill a Mockingbird or Fahrenheit 451. I read some of the books she was teaching and felt they were pretty lightweight, short on symbolism, strong themes, and richness of writing, and was saddened that her kids missed out on such great books as I mentioned above. But, heck, those old books sure did have an awful lot of telling in them. Lots of exposition and lots and lots of narration. Shameful!

I recently had a chance to workshop the first chapter of my middle-grade novel on a blog. It was an interesting experience. I got lots of nice comments, followed by admonitions about too much telling and not enough showing. I think the chapter got better in some ways, but, honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot of tellin’ goin’ on to start with. Sometimes I think it’s a knee jerk reaction in the business of critique.

Back in April, I wrote a post about narration and about how a couple of books I’d read by Michael Morpugo were almost entirely narration and – hold onto your hats, now – I loved them. It didn’t bother me at all. I’ve been reading a lot lately. (You may have noticed I haven’t been writing much in the way of blog posts!) I’m finding that many really wonderful books have an awful lot of tellin’ goin’ on.

I ran across an article by Lee Child that Writer’s Digest posted and found it really refreshing. Now this is a guy who know a thing or two about getting pages turning! The title of the article is Lee Child Debunks the Biggest Writing Myths. You can find it by clicking HERE. You will have to click away an ad for Writer’s Digest, but it’s worth it. He reminds us that nobody ever asks anyone to SHOW them a story. They ask to have someone TELL them a story, and that’s just fine. It’s worth your time to read what Child has to say.

I’m reading a book right now that is almost all telling and am enjoying every page. Oh, there’s enough showing to keep the story moving at a rapid pace, but there’s a whole lot of telling and, frankly, that keeps the pace rapid too. It’s a YA about a teenager, Jazz, whose father was the most notorious serial killer of all time, and Jazz has to figure out who he is and whether or not he is destined to become like his father. And, just to make things interesting, there’s a new serial killer in town. Great premise, eh? It’s by Barry Lyga and the title is I Hunt Killers. As soon as I post this, I’ll be getting back to it. If you like Murder and Mayhem, as do I, you will love this book.

I think the whole Show – Don’t Tell thing has gotten a little out of hand. People of all ages love to have stories told to them. So, I’m just suggesting people shouldn’t get their panties in too much of a bunch about some well-written exposition or narration. Just relax and tell your story!

On to my giveaway for this post. I reviewed a book a while ago for the Sacramento Book Review called Just Write, Here’s How! by Walter Dean Myers. Myers has written a TON of very successful YA and Tween books. I’ve read and enjoyed many. So if someone has some good ideas about writing, it might well be him. If you’d like to read my review, click HERE. This is for writers of all ages, so even if you aren’t a writer, if there is a young person in your life who might like to write, you can pass this along. If you leave a comment, I’ll put your name in the hat. If you post a link to my blog on your blog or Facebook or some other such thing, let me know and I’ll put your name in the hat again. And even though I’m on summer hours and not posting too often, I promise I won’t wait too long again on a giveaway.

On the book giveaway, this is for U.S. only. Sorry, but it would be too expensive for me to send books out of the country. But please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. Remember, if you have trouble leaving a comment, click on the title of the post and it will give you just this post with a comments section on the bottom. Also, if you haven’t signed up by email, please do. Just look in the upper right-hand corner of this page, pop your email address in, and you will receive an email each time I put up a new post. Your information will not be shared with anyone.