Monday, February 27, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday:May B.

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose has been featured several times on other people's Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays, but when I love a book, I want to spread its loveliness too! So here's my take on May B.

The premise: Mavis Elizabeth Betterly, May B., lives in 1870's Kansas. She has a brother she adores and a loving family too, but she has trouble in school--particularly with reading. When May's family needs some extra money, May is sent fifteen miles away to be a helper on the Oblinger's homestead. In a twist of circumstance, May ends up alone on the homestead. Winter is approaching, supplies are running low, and no one knows she is alone.

What keeps readers reading: Finding out what happens to May, of course! But there's more to it than that. While May is alone, she decides who she is and who she wants to be. It is this journey that compels the reader further and further into this novel told in verse. A girl in pioneer times didn't have many choices about who she should be, but readers of May B. get to witness one girl who does.

What I loved: Caroline Starr Rose's word choices are perfect (PERFECT I tell you), but so is May's fighting spirit. The "I'm going to be better than who people say I am" aspect of this book swept me away.

Travel the links located in my Middle Grade Monday tab for more recommendations.
Happy middle grade reading!   

Friday, February 24, 2012

Good Enough

Two years ago yesterday, my dad died. I'm not usually this transparent and personal here, but today I want to be and need to be. For my dad . . .

What if my writing isn't good enough?

There are days that question haunts me. Some days that question creeps right behind me, and I peek over my shoulder at it all day. At certain moments it breathes in and out with me. At times it sits on my chest, pressed there so tightly my heart skips beats.

Most days I hold all the haunting and skipped heartbeats inside myself and say nothing to anyone because my writing is part of who I am, so asking, "What if my writing isn't good enough?" is the same as asking, "What if I'm not good enough?" But what if I pour hours, that if piled together might heap into years, into my writing and none of it is ever good enough?

I don't expect an answer. I don't even want an answer. What I wish is that I could ask my dad that question because he would understand the depth of my asking it simply because he's my dad. He wouldn't answer. And I wouldn't want him to.

We would just sit, my question hanging between us, and that would be good enough.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: L is for Length

Whee! We're halfway through the alphabet. In case you think I can't count, remember the pesky 'V for Voice' insisted it came right after 'C for Characters.' It's also pretty cool to click on the label "abc's of MG" and see the alphabet lining up. I recommend trying it.

Enough celebrating. It's L's turn. When I began writing (about two years ago), I read somewhere that the typical middle grade book falls between 40,000 and 60,000 words. But word count meant nothing to me. I mean, how long is 40,000 words compared to 60,000? I had no idea.

So I ended up staring at my bookshelves and Googling word counts on some that were sitting there. (Just for the record: finding word counts of published books is HARD)! Here's a few I found back then: Because of Winn-Dixie is 34,000; Charlotte's Web is 53,000; and Hoot is 61,000. I'd read all of those, so now word count made a little more sense.

But how important is word count to a middle grader? Do they give a rip about a book's length? Do kids look at the thickness of a book or the size of its type and decide whether or not to read it based on length? Do developed readers consider shorter books too simple? Are reluctant readers turned off by longer books?

I'm inclined to think that kids do care about book length--to an extent. How far that extent reaches, I'm not sure. I have two middle graders living in my house, but they're not good measures of how much book length matters because they'll read anything they consider interesting no matter its length. So, I'll throw the question to you, my knowledgeable friends. As I prepare my manuscript for querying, just how much does word count matter?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Last Musketeer (and giveaway winner)

The winner of my signed copy of Okay for Now is . . . 

(Yay! Email your mailing address to me at barbarawatson94(at)gmail(dot)com
so I can get this fantastic story to you).

And for today's MMGM:

Time travel. Such an intriguing concept ever since I saw the movie Back to the Future when I was a kid. The idea that going back in time would alter time from that moment forward is! So when I picked up The Last Musketeer by Stuart Gibbs, I was hooked. And it's new, just released in the fall of 2011.

The premise: Greg Rich and his family receive an all-expense paid vacation to Paris and a private tour of The Louvre--because they sold all their family heirlooms to the museum. But for centuries, the Rich family has been instructed to make sure none of these heirlooms ever returns to France.

What keeps readers reading: The time travel adventure. When Greg and his family arrive in modern-day Paris, a sinister man at The Louvre causes them to tumble into 1615 Paris. Accusations of treason, parental imprisonment, and a connection to the Three Musketeers (when they were teenagers!) roll this adventure on its way.

What I loved: This book makes you re-evaluate what you think is boring or mundane about yourself because it is just those things which can impact and change everything for someone else! Also, I love that Greg is fourteen and the story centers on action, so it's a great fit for upper middle grade readers who aren't into the YA scene yet.

The MMGM pipeline is the place to travel on Mondays . . .
follow the links in my right sidebar ~~~~~~>
Happy middle grade reading!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: K is for Kinetic

Kids move. They move fast. They are full of energy. They are kinetic. When I was a kid, I went through a phase where I cartwheeled everywhere instead of walking. Yes, indeed, I'm certain those were proud moments for my parents. So, taking this idea of busy, moving, kinetic kids, let's apply it to kid's books.

I'm aware that no book exists that every kid likes, nor will there ever be one. But there are books that appeal to larger groups of kids than others, and one thing that makes these books appeal to large and diverse audiences is the movement (the action, the plot, the kinetic energy--call it what you will) within these books. These books go somewhere, and they do it in an enticing manner.

Exactly HOW these books do this is another thing altogether. I can come up with the brilliant observation I did--that books need to move and go for kids to appreciate them--but there are unending possibilities as to how this works within a story. And that, my friends, is what I leave up for discussion today.

How do you build movement in your stories? How do you make your stories kinetic?

Monday, February 13, 2012

An Evening with Gary D. Schmidt (and a giveaway)

Several weeks ago, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt was my featured book on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. In fact, it's so recent you can scroll down five or six posts and wah-lah! there it is. When I wrote that post, I had no idea I would be hearing him speak just days after sharing my love for his writing . . . BUT I DID! And what an evening it was.

Last Wednesday, the evening before rehearsals began on the stage adaptation of Gary's Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Gary chatted with the artistic director of Minneapolis' Children's Theatre Company, and I was in the audience.

As he shared and inspired, he told the story behind the story for each of these books.

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy arose from a family vacation in Maine where he uncovered the tragedy of Malaga Island. In The Wednesday Wars Holling Hoodhood is Gary as a kid. And in Flint, Michigan, there's a library--operating with hardly any budget and marvelous librarians--which houses an early version of Audubon's Birds of America but they refuse to sell it; this set the stage for Okay for Now.

Fascinating stuff. I love the story behind the story because it makes the story that much MORE than it already is.

Gary also discussed the way he creates his stories. He writes in what amounts to a shed (heated only by a wood stove) on a typewriter. Yes, on a typewriter. It slows down the process for him, he said, and makes him understand just how imperfect his drafts are. When he finishes a draft, he burns it in the wood stove and begins again. Wow.

Responding to a question about how setting is almost a character in his stories, Gary told how the nuances of place do become integral fabric and character in writing. Where we are becomes part of who we are.

Someone asked about the "standing up moments" in his books, those crisis points where his characters choose, decide, draw a line in the sand. Gary delved into discussion about kids (and adults) learning to do this very thing (and needing to do this very thing).

There is much more I could say about this humble, unassuming, personable man, but I will end with this. When I was getting my books signed, I gushed about how much my son and I love Gary's writing. And then I ejected the colossal burp. No, not a real burp but something just as embarrassing. I told Gary I'm working on a kid's book of my own. Sheesh. I try NOT to tell authors that because I'm sure they hear it all the time. Gary set down his pen, looked me in the eye, and said "Really?" He was genuinely interested.

Yes. What an evening it was.

But that's not all. I purchased a second (hardcover!) copy of Okay for Now and had Gary
sign it for one of you!

Comment on this post by Sunday, February 19th, at 8pm CT and be one of my blog followers
(if you're not already, just click on 'join this site') to enter the drawing.
International entries are welcome, and the winner will be
announced on Monday, February 20th.

Follow the MMGM links in my right sidebar for more great middle grade recommendations.
Happy middle grade reading!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: J is for Juggle

I've tried juggling a few times. I can almost keep three balls flipping through the air (flipping is too strong and fast of a verb for what I do--it's more like lobbing in super high, slow arcs), but if I try to pick up speed, lower the arc, or add another ball--forget it. And I know talking about how juggling is like (fill in the blank) is quite cliche. But it's a fun concept and middle graders can get pretty jazzed about learning how to juggle, so hang in here with me.

When you write, there are characters, plot lines, and time lines to keep straight. There are story nuances to be aware of--things like voice and pacing. There's the ever-present word choices--getting just the right ones exactly where you need them. You need to make sure you've chosen the right point of view. And . . . keep that action moving. Oh . . . don't forget to show not tell. And on and on and on the list continues.

So writing is definitely like juggling. Cliche or not. Only--and here's the point I wanted you to hang in here for--I don't want to drop balls, and I don't want to keep lobbing only three of them in super high, slow arcs. I want to increase speed and the number of balls I'm juggling, and I want to toss smaller arcs. Maybe one day I even want to juggle knives and things that are on fire. (Not really. That would scare the world, but . . . I have seen these guys juggle knives AND fire--The Danger Committee. They also throw knives, sometimes at one another, and are simply AWESOME).

Ahem. But I do want to learn how to write better (specifically write middle grade better), make all my story elements fit together, work on voice and pacing, evaluate my POV choice, keep the action flowing, and anything else that will improve my writing. But what's the best way to do all that?

I think it's just to keep writing. What do you think?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Decisions, News, and a Goal

The input on my reviewing vs. recommending post last Monday was awesome (thank you!), and concluding that my love for sharing middle grade reads would continue (Decision #1), I proceeded with my week.

On Wednesday I received an email from Faith saying she's mailing my 25 pages back (a critique I won from Shannon Messenger). This is great news because I'm poised for another round of revisions on this manuscript. Her feedback should arrive this week--I'm feeling a whole lot of yay! and eek! all at once.

Thursday, I deliberated about my blog schedule, and after staring at the ceiling and finger-drumming on my desk, I decided that I'll be posting Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays about twice per month (Decision #2) and free-flowing with other writing stuff the other Mondays. Thursdays will continue my alphabet march as they are preparing me for querying in a pretty fascinating way.

In addition (this is the goal part), my first blog anniversary is in early April, and my goal is to have 100 followers by my anniversary. A special giveaway accompanies my meeting this goal, so I'm pretty excited about it.

It was a big week (and I even managed to get a little writing done). Next Monday I have something very cool going on, 100 followers or not, but today, travel the middle grade pipeline found in my Middle Grade Monday tab.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: I is for Interesting

I'm getting close (well, closer than I used to be) to querying my middle grade novel, and I'm interested in hearing what you think middle graders consider interesting when it comes to books.

I'm gonna keep it short and simply ask three little questions. Plunging right in:

1. What initially interests a middle grader in a book? (title? cover? genre? jacket description? a recommendation? something else?)

2. What keeps them interested if they decide to read it? (characters? plot? suspense? identifying with the storyline? all of these? something else?)

3. What makes them interested enough to say, "I LOVED THAT BOOK!" when they finish reading?

These questions have the ring of a beginning, middle, and end. Sorta like a book. Well, whaddya know. Anyway, I realize these questions have as many answers as there are book readers in the world, but I'm just looking for viewpoints because they are all so interesting. Tell me yours, if you're so inclined.