Thought for the day: “The cat sat on the mat is not a story.
The cat sat on the other cat’s mat is a story.” ~ John Le Carré
Some gifts for my writer friends: The following are some links I think are worth your time.
First is a really wonderful interview with Nancy Bo Flood, the author of no-name baby, which was reviewed here recently. If you missed it, click HERE to read it. And here is the link to the interview with Nancy: http://jayerobinbrown.blogspot.com/2012/05/interview-with-author-nancy-bo-flood.html?showComment=1338607555471#c2005596251607439218
Gotham Writers Workshop sends me newsletters often – mostly trying to sell me on-line workshops – but also having some good tidbits. Recently, I received one with 9 Common Fiction Writing Mistakes. No surprises here, but good reminders and examples. Take a look: http://www.writingclasses.com/FacultyBios/facultyArticleByInstructor.php/ArticleID/103?utm_campaign=ced4d580cb-WEB_JunNL_June15_31_2012?utm_source=Gotham%20Writers%27%20Workshop%20List?utm_medium=email
Anything Stephen King has to say about writing is worth reading. This has an article he wrote about adverbs: http://www.publishingsyndicate.com/publishing_syndicate/newsletters/wow_news_backissues/wn_may12.pdf
Now on to the main post. Last time, I wrote about attending the wonderful Whole Narrative Non-Fiction Workshop at Highlights in Pennsylvania. If you missed it, click HERE. One of the bonuses of attending workshops at Highlights is you will always come home with some terrific books. I received a copy of Peggy Thomas’s remarkable Anatomy of Nonfiction. We also often have authors drop by for visits and they usually bring books which they sign and give to us. At our workshop, middle-grade novelist Helen Hemphill stopped by. I read two of her books and I loved them both. I’d like to tell you about them.
The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones, a terrific historical, adventure novel. It is set in the 1870s and stars (and he is a STAR) Prometheus Jones, who was born to a slave woman in Tennessee the very day the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into law. His mother says he is a lucky child, and this seems borne out in many ways through the story. But we, as readers, are never quite convinced that his luck can hold up one more time through all the challenges he faces. It’s hard to believe he’s super-lucky. After all, he is a 13-year-old African American orphan living in the post-Civil War South when we meet him.
Prometheus has a great talent with horses and we meet him and his young cousin Omer as Prometheus is breaking a horse for a couple of local reprobates – the racist, hate-mongering Dill brothers – who refuse to pay him for his work. They finally settle things by giving him a raffle ticket they had bought for the same price they promised to pay him. When the winning number is pulled, lucky Prometheus wins a horse. The brothers Dill claim he stole the ticket. Prometheus and Omer decide it would be a good time to head west. They take the new horse and find a cattle drive to join. Let the adventures begin.
“But just as I feel the hot breath of the buffalo’s tongue on me, out of the dark, an arrow shoots straight into the first buffalo’s eye. Blood explodes from his eye socket, and he makes a low groan and veers off toward the river. One of them Pawnee rides up and jerks me onto the back of his mustang. Another buffalo rushes past us into the moonlit dark. The Pawnee howls into the clamor of the stampeding hooves and looks back at me with his painted white face and a flash of a smile.”
The adventures come pretty much non-stop through the rest of the book. The characters we meet on the cattle drive are colorful, believable, and engaging. Prometheus meets some harrowing challenges on his journey and some are almost more than any person should have to bear, but bear he does. But when he is finally faced by the Dill brothers again and their lies convict him of a terrible crime, it’s hard to imagine how this can possibly end well.
I LOVED this book and can’t wait for school to end so my grandson can read it. I didn’t want to put it down for a minute from beginning to end. This is a true coming-of-age adventure story that every boy and a lot of girls will love. The action is non-stop, the characters fully-formed and beautifully drawn, and the feeling of being dropped into another century is palpable. Get this book. Read it now. You won’t be sorry.
Helen also wrote Runaround, the story of Sassy Thompkins, eleven, who spends all her spare time reading Love Confessions, a trashy magazine. It is the 1960s and Sassy lives with her father and older, very annoying sister Lula, the pretty one. Since the girls’ mother died many years earlier, Miss Dallas, their housekeeper, is also part of the household and there most of the time to help raise the girls. Sassy is ripe for romance both because of her age and because of her incessant reading of Love Confessions. She is mad at Lula for setting up a situation at camp that embarrassed Sassy and ruined any chance she had for her first kiss being the perfect one she’d dreamed of.
“Sassy wiped her eyes in the bend of her arm and lay back into the grass. Sometimes in Love Confessions, the plain girls got the boys to fall in love with them, but then they usually were just pretty girls in disguise. Boon would never lover her. She wasn’t good-looking enough. Mama and Daddy had passed all the pretty parts on to Lula before Sassy was even born. Maybe they never planned on having another daughter.”
Sassy decides to show her sister how grown up she is by getting Boon Chisholm to fall in love with her. He is a bit of a bad boy, Hollywood handsome, and a year older than Lula. Most girls will relate to this story, but especially those who ever made fools of themselves (my hand’s in the air here – isn’t yours?) and have older sisters with whom they ever had disagreements (hand in the air again). Boy, howdy, could I relate to Sassy. I absolutely squirmed reading much of this, but had to laugh at the same time. It’s a very funny book. She goes after Boon with a vengeance, completely oblivious to the pile of evidence around her that Boon sees her as a little girl and is very interested in Lula. Could it get any worse? When things really come to a head, there is a big twist that turns the whole story on its head.
This book is smart and clever. Every chapter is opened with a quote from Love Confessions magazine, the publication Sassy has decided should guide her life. The story is compelling, and, even if it’s painful to read, it’s truly funny and sweet. I recommend it for girls.
I was perhaps most interested in how different these books were. I’ve written two novels – one a contemporary YA that is pretty dark. The other is a middle-grade historical novel that is a coming-of-age adventure for boys. It was confirming to me that one can write books of such different styles as Helen’s two books and it’s not really a question. Good writing is good writing. You don’t have to be stuck in a genre. I can’t wait to read Helen’s third book, Long Gone Daddy. It looks great – and different from the other two.
If you would like to receive a gently-read, autographed copy of Runaround, leave a comment on this post, and I will put your name in a drawing (U.S. only). If you would like to have your name in the hat more than once, post a link on Facebook or on your blog, and let me know. I will put your name in and extra time for each. But please leave a comment no matter what. 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.