Wednesday, July 17, 2013

She's Crafty: Refining Middle Grade Voice into smooth Delicious Butter

I recently got a rejection from an agent because my writing voice sounded too much like an adult writing for children. It needed to be less obvious. This was incredible feedback and I soaked it in. (I'm glad to be past the form rejection stage.)

I relate everything in life to good butter. (I judge restaurants by their butter too. Good butter: good restaurant. Except for Mexican restaurants. I judge them by the quality of their tamales.) So if a good middle grade voice is sweet creamy butter, my writing must have tasted like margarin to this agent---tastes like butter, but there's definitely something oily and not right about it. Really people, no one should be eating margarin in polite society these days. So of course I don't want my story to taste like it.

How do I refine my style so that it tastes like good butter?

I've been asking myself over and over: how do I tone down my voice so that it isn't "trying too hard?" I want it to sound more like a middle grader and not an adult writing middle grade.

My solution:  Read more middle grade novels. Duh. But this time, I'm going read and study the styles of the books that are similar to my own. See what they do better and see if I can improve. I may start a new adventure wip just to get words on the page too. Read, write, refine. Best way to sharpen your voice, right? This way my finished adventure can grow cold too. Then hopefully, the oil will be more noticeable to me and I can scrape it off.

Do you have any great tips for refining a middle grade voice? I need them, please, share what you do.

Butter sidebar: I found this pix by googling fancy butter. It made me giggle. Sometimes the Internet is really amazing to me.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Nalamist Falls: Keeping the Peace + Author Interview

Nalamist Falls: Supernatural Prep School for Witches, Werewolves and Vampires -- Keeping the Peace by J. Curtis Mace

published 2012

Other Books in the Series:
Finding the Pack (#2)
Remembering the Way (#3)

The Hook: A young werewolf named Rusty, is trying to negotiate all the prides and pitfalls of life in the Fifth Grade. So, when the older group of vampire bullies is charged with stealing the witches’ most powerful book of spells, Rusty doesn’t worry too much about it. But when he and his warlock friend, Zeke, learn that the elder peace in Nalamist Falls actually hangs in the balance, he has no choice but to get involved.

A species war would destroy Rusty’s world and all the relationships he’s made with his supernatural friends, his only friends really.
Why I liked it: Characters and chaptering. The characters are a lot of fun. Rusty is a believeable 5th grader even though he is a werewolf and smells everything. Evie, the new girl and a vampire, was my favorite character and Zeke, the warlock, complimented the other two. The chaptering was brilliant in the story. Mace would end each chapter in a way that left no time for snacking...only reading. This is a short story and it reads fast. It would appeal to both boys and girls. It was a fun paranormal adventure that never got too dark, so I could let my 9 yr old read it.
Want More? Check out his spotlight on Lulu. Or Buy the book here.

Interview with J. Curtis Mace

Keeping the Peace, is a fun magical/paranormal story for kids, where did you get your inspiration for the story? What came to you first, your plot or the characters?

Where I got the inspiration for the story is a hard one. I don’t really remember. I know my wife and I were watching Trueblood on HBO, and I’ve always said my stories are like “Trueblood, for kids.” So I think that might have been the initial inspiration. But the characters definitely came first. One rule of writing is to write what you know, so I am constantly writing about my friends and I. All my characters are drawn from people I know (and from myself), and once they start “living” on their own they take the reins and go forward and basically write the stories for me.

The story is written in first person as Rusty, the 5th grade werewolf. Why did you decide to do first person vs. third? And why from Rusty's perspective?

This is the first story/series I’ve written in the first person, and I did it because it just felt right. Whenever I write these stories, I actually get in Rusty’s head (he’s the ME character), and I write from there. So again, it just felt right to write from the first person perspective. I feel like it makes the emotion of the story much more real for the reader that way too, like they’re feeling it/living it themselves. As for why Rusty’s perspective… like I said, he’s the ME character. Everybody wants to be the cool vampire or the magical witch/warlock. But I wanted to write from the very real position of just a kid, a very nervous/humble/fallible kid (I also like the “primal magic” of being a werewolf and the ideas of him drawing on that, as opposed to immortality or actual magic). I like that Rusty is always scared or nervous to do the right thing, but he does it because it IS the right thing or because he is standing up for his friends. I like how Rusty overcomes his fears and how he leans on his friends for help with doing that.

What was your favorite scene to write?

The first scene at the church was a lot of fun (the tension outside and then the scene inside, and the way Rusty almost blows the whole thing at the end). I like that one a lot, but I think my favorite is near the end, when they actually go into FreakyFingers’s house. That was such a reveal/“belly of the beast” type of chapter, it was a lot of fun to write. If you can imagine being in Rusty’s head, it was a lot of fun to explore the house and make all the gross discoveries. And it was quite intense when everything started going down too. Lots of fun and my favorite.

Evie is my favorite. Who is your favorite character?

Of course, this sounds like a complete cop out of an answer, but I love ALL my characters (even the newer ones from later books). They’re all so independent and individual; I love them all for their own reasons. Evie is so feisty and bold, and she cares very deeply for Rusty. Zeke is modeled after one of my best friends who passed away some years ago, so he has a special place with me. I even like my “bad guys” for being so bad and so good at it. But (again, it might sound like a cop out, but…) Rusty is my favorite. He’s so strong and vulnerable at the same time. He loves his friends and will do anything for them. He’s a good guy, and he’s funny. My favorite though is writing them all together, when their all hanging out as a group. They are all such strong personalities and strong characters, whenever they get together, the story and the jokes and all the plans for adventures basically write themselves.

You are great at chaptering. Everytime I could see the end of the chapter coming, I would think, oh good I'll go get a snack, but by the end of the chapter I would have to turn the page. I probably lost a pound---saving me from the snacks, so thank you. Could you give any advice to aspiring MG writers about how to end a chapter?

Thank you for the compliment. Chaptering is something I’ve worked on a lot (I actually made changes to most of my chapter endings right before publication – I didn’t change the narrative as much; I just changed the place in the narrative where the chapter ended). One piece of advice/criticism I got from a friend was that chapters shouldn’t end on scene changes; they should end on tension changes. That would be my advice to other writers. If the scene is over and everything is settled and the chapter ends, that’s a great place to put a book down (and go get a snack). But if a scene is progressing and drama is building and then something completely unexpected/scary/pivotal happens or is revealed and then the chapter ends, a reader’s natural instinct is to keep reading. I wanted most of my chapters (as many as I could) to end with a “Holy Crap!” moment, so the reader will start reading the next chapter just to see that everyone made it through alright. Having chapters end right in the middle of the climactic moment when all the questions in the reader’s head are just about to be answered is a good way to keep the pages turning. Again, thanks on that one. It means a lot to have you appreciate it so much.

What was your favorite book when you were a middle grader?

My favorite book as a middle grader would have to be Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. We read it as a class in the 4th Grade, and I fell in love with it. It was the first book that made me feel and made me think beyond the story and think about the book when I wasn’t reading it. I bought my own copy and read it again. I watched the movie, and I even begged for a coonskin hat, which I got for Christmas. I never got the dog(s) I asked for, but one day the following summer, I was playing in my yard when a stray dog ran up to play with me. (Not making this up) It was a red bone coonhound, just like “Old Dan” and “Little Ann” in the books, and needless to say, it liked my hat very much. I think that is when I first started to believe in the magic of stories and writing.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

My favorite place to write is at my desk (comfortable chair and keyboard and monitor/good desk space/great lighting and all that), but more importantly, is the time I like to write. I love to write in the late hours of the night. When the house is quiet and everyone else has gone to bed, I can immerse myself so deeply in the story and the characters and the adventure going on. All my characters come to life, and I get live in the world of Nalamist Falls. That is such a great time to hang out (and be a kid again) and have all kinds of adventures with my friends. There have been times when I was up so late writing I couldn’t really remember what I wrote the next day. Quite a fun/surreal experience to reread those pages and find out all the things we’d gotten into, like it happened all on its own.

This book is the first in a series, how many books will be in the series and when can we expect them?

I’ve never really planned a certain number of books. I’ve written them all with no real Voldemorte character at the end, no final battle they’re working towards. I’ve always written it as just separate adventures (almost like a serial novel series), which makes the final number of stories very indefinite, which I like (I can’t imaging Rusty’s stories just being over and done and no more; so terrible). That being said, there is a sense that something bad is coming, something big. Even as I write this, I don’t know what it is, but it’s out there, waiting. It’ll take shape one day and materialize out of the shadows of Nalamist Falls, but I hope to write many of Rusty’s adventures before (and after) that. We’ll see… As for other books, there are two others already published. Finding the Pack takes Rusty to camp and forces him to deal with the “pack” issue he’d rather not worry about, and Remembering the Way is all about Halloween (at a Supernatural Prep School, what could be better?!?!). New friends and new enemies, and all new adventures in Nalamist Falls. Those two books are out and available now (hopefully up for review here soon – wink wink), and I’ve plotted out the next two after that. Should be writing them in the not-to-distant future; I need these things.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The List: Favorite Twisted Fairytales for Middle Graders

If your kid likes a twist on a classic fairytale, here is a must read list:

ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine
Goodreads blurb: At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the "gift" of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: "Instead of making me docile, Lucinda's curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally." When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella's life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. 

HALF UPON A TIME by James Riley
Goodreads blurb: Jack lives in a fantasy world. Really. He's the son of the infamous Jack who stole the magic beans from the giant, and he's working hard to restore his family's reputation. He finds the perfect opportunity when a "princess" lands in front of him, apparently from the land of Punk, as her Punk Princess sweatshirt implies. May is from our world, and she's utterly confused to find herself in the midst of the fairy tale characters she has read about. But Jack and May have more in common than they realize--and together, they embark on a hilarious and wild adventre in this highly accessible, modern middle grade fantasy novel.

Goodreads blurb: In this new stand-alone fairy tale, Princess Annie is the younger sister to Gwen, the princess destined to be Sleeping Beauty. When Gwennie pricks her finger and the whole castle falls asleep, only Annie is awake, and only Annie—blessed (or cursed?) with being impervious to magic—can venture out beyond the rose-covered hedge for help. She must find Gwen's true love to kiss her awake.

IN A GLASS GRIMMLY by Adam Gidwitz
Goodreads blurb: Take caution ahead—
Oversize plant life, eerie amphibious royalty, and fear-inducing creatures abound.

Lest you enter with dread.
Follow Jack and Jill as they enter startling new landscapes that may (or may not) be scary, bloody, terrifying, and altogether true.

Step lively, dear reader . . .
Happily ever after isn’t cutting it anymore.

Goodreads blurb: In a magical kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone's joke. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. Rump discovers he has a gift for spinning straw into gold. His best friend, Red Riding Hood, warns him that magic is dangerous, and she’s right. With each thread he spins, he weaves himself deeper into a curse.

To break the spell, Rump must go on a perilous quest, fighting off pixies, trolls, poison apples, and a wickedly foolish queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—he just might triumph in the end.

Goodreads blurb: Princess Emeralda a.ka. Emma isn't exactly an ideal princess. Her laugh is more like a donkey's bray than tinkling bells, she trips over her own feet and she does not like Prince Jorge, whom her mother hopes she will marry. But if Emma ever thought to escape her troubles, she never expected it to happen by turning into a frog! When convinced to kiss a frog so he might return to being a prince, somehow the spell is reversed and Emma turns into a frog herself! Thus begins their adventure--a quest to return to human form.

Goodreads blurb: Alex and Conner Bailey's world is about to change, in this fast-paced adventure that uniquely combines our modern day world with the enchanting realm of classic fairy tales. 
"The Land of Stories" tells the tale of twins Alex and Conner. Through the mysterious powers of a cherished book of stories, they leave their world behind and find themselves in a foreign land full of wonder and magic where they come face-to-face with the fairy tale characters they grew up reading about. 
But after a series of encounters with witches, wolves, goblins, and trolls alike, getting back home is going to be harder than they thought.

Goodreads blurb: This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.

But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?

Goodreads blurb: Everyone knows the story of Jack and the beanstalk. Everyonealso knows that Jack's little adventure made him a very rich man. But what they don't know is what happened a long timeafter Jack....

That's where Nick comes in. Orphaned and desperate, Nick joins a rugged band of thieves in hopes of a warm meal and a little protection. In exchange Nick must help them break into the lavish white castle rumored to belong to an old man named Jack. Legend says it's full of riches from Jack's quest up a magical beanstalk decades ago.
When Nick's dangerous mission leads him straight to Jack, he sees a chance to climb the famed beanstalk himself. But what Nick doesn't know is that things are different from when Jack made his climb. There are new foes at the top now. Ones with cruel weapons and foul plans — plans that could destroy the world as Nick knows it. Will Nick come down the beanstalk a hero? Will he come down at all?

THE CHOCOLATE TOUCH by Patrick Catling
Goodreads blurb: John midas loves chocolate. He loves it so much that he′ll eat it any hour of any day. He doesn′t care if he ruins his appetite. He thinks chocolate is better than any other food! But one day, after wandering into a candy store and buying a piece of their best chocolate, John finds out that there might just be such a thing as too much chocolate. . . .

INTO THE WILD by Sarah Beth Durst
Goodreads blurb: Twelve-year-old Julie has grown up hearing about the dangerous world of fairy tales, The Wild, from which her mother, Rapunzel, escaped.

Now The Wild wants its characters back. Julie comes home from school to find her mother gone and a deep, dark forest swallowing her hometown. Julie must fight wicked witches, avoid glass slippers and fairy godmothers, fly griffins, and outwit ogres in order to rescue her mom and save her Massachusetts town from becoming a fairy-tale kingdom.

Goodreads blurb: There are two sides to every story -- even fairy tales. A he said/she said series with a prince and princess twist.

Rapunzel is having the ultimate bad day. She's been stolen from home by an evil witch, locked in an incredibly high tower, and doesn't even have a decent brush for her hair. Prince Benjamin is in a pretty uncomfortable situation himself. His father wants him to be more kingly, his mother wants him to never leave her sight, and his cousin wants to get him into as much trouble as possible. Plus, there's the little matter of prearranged marriages. . . . Both Rapunzel and Prince Benjamin are trapped--in very different ways. It's only when their paths cross, that things really start to change.

FROGGED by Vivian Vande Velde
Goodreads blurb: One should be able to say of a princess “She was as good as she was beautiful,” according to The Art of Being a Princess (third revised edition), which the almost-thirteen-year-old Princess Imogene is supposed to be reading. Not feeling particularly good, or all that beautiful, she heads for a nearby pond, where, unfortunately, a talking frog tricks her into kissing him. No prince appears, as one might expect. Instead, the princess turns into a frog herself! Thus launches a funny, wonderfully spun fractured fairy tale in which Imogene wonders if she will be forever frogified

Goodreads blurb: Once upon a time, in a land you only think you know, lived a little girl and her mother . . . or the woman she thought was her mother.

Every day, when the little girl played in her pretty garden, she grew more curious about what lay on the other side of the garden wall . . . a rather enormous garden wall.

And every year, as she grew older, things seemed weirder and weirder, until the day she finally climbed to the top of the wall and looked over into the mines and desert beyond.

Goodreads blurb: Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You’ve never heard of them, have you? These are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively, and yet, thanks to those lousy bards who wrote the tales, you likely know them only as Prince Charming. But all of this is about to change.

What's your favorite twisted fairytale?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

She's Crafty: Jeopardizing Children in Middle Grade Novels---HUGE No-no

At the Big Sur in the Rockies Workshop, I was in a critique group with Andrea Brown from Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Amazing.) When I finished reading my first chapter of my contemporary adventure, Andrea said, "Love it but you can't do it."

Say what? My chapter ends with two of my characters on the roof of the elementary school. Fun, exciting, who doesn't want to be on a roof? I do. I did it all the time as a child. The roof is a magical place. 

This is what Andrea explained: You can't jeopardize children in a story because if a child reads your story, climbs onto a roof and has an accident, parents will sue. And no publisher will want the liability. So your story will be rejected, no question. 

I completely understand the logic but for some reason this was an eye-opener for me. It is the reality in which we live and a bit of a downer, but I get it. Andrea and my group then helped me brainstorm where the children could go that wouldn't risk child safety. Now my kids sneak into the school through a storm cellar---exciting but also safe. 

So as a general rule when writing for middle grade, ask yourself: Could a child do this now and get hurt? If the answer is yes, revise. 

After I told my husband I needed to rework this, we had a sad chuckle about all the classic books that wouldn't be published in today's market if it met this criteria. So long Huck Finn. 

Have you ever had this problem in your own writing? Have you ever walked head first into a platform wall or hid in a wardrobe?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Land of Stories The Wishing Spell

Lauren picked this book based on a friend recommendation. She blasted through it. She wanted to read more than hang with her friends at the pool (this is a HUGE deal).  And then when I would pull her away and ask her about the story, she would talk my ear off about the characters and plot. This book is the first in a series, read her review below.

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer
published July 2012

Other books in this series:
The Enchantress Returns (#2) Aug 2013

The Hook: A brother and sister that are twins fall into their Grandmother's book. To get out, they must go on the most dangerous scavenger hunt (ever) to create The Wishing spell. But the Wishing Spell can only happen twice and has already happened once, and the Wicked Queen will do anything to stop them.

Why Lauren loved this book: I love the book because first off, I LOVE twisted fairytales. I also liked how Chris Colfer mixed up characters from classic fairy tales. One of my favorite characters is Goldilocks because she is a wanted fugitive. I liked Alex, the girl twin, because she loves to read and believes in fairy tales.

This is a fun adventure that both boys and girls will like. It is a great book for reluctant readers. This book is great for anyone 8 - 12 yr old...or older.

Want More? Check out Chris Colfer's website.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The List: Fabulous books for Girls who LOVE to read

I have four daughters. These books are a must before they are 12 but definitely not for my boy. This is the order I would introduce them to my girls. Truth be told, Lore is 11 and she's only read half these books. I'm going to need to go to the bookstore....I feel a binge coming on.

Fabulous books for Girls who LOVE to read (Don't torture your boys with these books.) 
  1. Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
  2. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
  3. Falling In by Frances O'Roark Dowell
  4. Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
  5. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
  6. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  7. The Secret Garden by Frances Burnett
  8. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  9. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
  10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  11. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elisabeth Speare
  12. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  13. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  14. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
  15. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
  16. Island of the Blue Dolphins
  17. Julie of the Wolves by Jean C. George
  18. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
  19. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  20. Are you There God? It's me, Margaret by Judy Blume
What's your favorite on this list? What other books are great for girls who love to read?