When Book Love Isn’t Shared

Last year I listened to Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase, the first book in the Lockwood & Co. series. And I loved it. I went on and on about it to my kids.

A-Read said I’d brought it home from the library months earlier and he hadn’t gotten past the fifth or so chapter. “What?! How is that possible? Where were you in the story?” screaming staircase

He explained and I understood. It started off strong with an adventurous case but then backed up to explain how the main character, Lucy, ended up with Lockwood and George. I’d enjoyed the beginning enough that I was invested and didn’t mind the backstory (which included action). But A-Read wasn’t engaged enough. He put it down and never picked it up again. And despite my ebullient assurances that the narrative goes back to plenty of action, he just wouldn’t give it another try.

Two months ago, I brought it home from the library again, this time for Sprite. And I borrowed book 2 for myself. I just returned The Screaming Staircase to the library last week. He’d only read 43 pages. Like his brother, he’d put it down and never picked it up again. He just kept finding other books he wanted to read more. He didn’t even make it to the backstory section.

“You’re still in the scene where they’re dealing with the ghost?! And you stopped reading?!”

Yup.

One of the boys tried to tell me that he just has different taste from me. But no, with these kinds of books, we usually have similar taste.

So how is it possible that I can love these books sooooo much and they don’t? Honestly, I don’t get it.

But I guess this is related to why and how some books can be so popular while others, perhaps just as well-written and tightly-plotted, aren’t. Why it can be so hard for some books to stand out of the pack, for some manuscripts to break out of the slush.

Somehow, I have no problem accepting that my manuscripts aren’t for everyone. But I can’t accept that my children don’t even like a book I love.

Weird, huh? (Them, I mean. LOL!)

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To pen name or not to pen name

One reason I’ve been too busy to update my blog in the past six months is that I’m working on a kinda secret project. I’ve been writing in a category and genre completely different than I have for the past ten…um, twelve years.

It’s been fun to explore a new genre and to write for a new age category. Really fun. And I plan to work towards publication of this new project.secret project

Hence the big question: to use a pen name or not?

Using my real name will make promotion so much easier. I can build on the base I’ve already created and I won’t have to fear someone finding out who I really am. I won’t have to duplicate social media efforts and have multiple web sites.

But, using a pen name means I can protect my real identity and my reputation as a children’s writer. And just because I’m experimenting with something new doesn’t mean I’m turning my back on my MG and YA projects, so I do need to protect my reputation. Someday, my novels for tweens and teens will be published and I wouldn’t want to confuse my readers.

If you’ve used a pen name, why? How have you handled the marketing and promotion piece? Would you do it differently if you could start over?

If you’ve chosen not to use a pen name, why not?

I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment with your answer to the above questions or just some support. I wouldn’t have survived this long on the journey without my friends, so thanks to all of you!

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Filed under Getting Published, writing

Writers write. Period.

Writers write.writing

I’m sure you’ve heard these words. It’s how we explain what we do, our addiction or obsession or compulsion or whatever. It’s how we keep ourselves motivated.

I’ve even used them with Sprite. He told me recently he wants to be a writer when he grows up. But I never see him writing and he doesn’t express an interest in writing now. Most writers I know started as kids. We all have stories of the journals we kept or the stories we wrote in elementary school. I wrote a mystery story set on a cruise ship in middle school and entered poetry contests in high school.

For Sprite, I think it’s a matter of wanting to be like Mom. I can’t imagine why. I don’t exactly make it look glamorous. But who knows? Maybe he’ll catch the writing bug when he’s older.

While I have no trouble accepting myself as a writer, as an author is another matter. I’ve now had six books published, all freelance projects for the educational market, and one in my own name. By definition, an author is someone who writes, but we commonly use the word to mean a published writer.

So why do I find it so hard to accept the title of author?

Maybe because the freelance gigs were just jobs and I haven’t yet published the kinds of things I always dreamed of having published: novels for teens and tweens.

Is it a magic pill? Once I (finally) get a novel traditionally published, will I suddenly feel like an author? How does an author feel that’s different from a writer?

All I can do is continue on my path. To write.

To my published friends, when did you start feeling like an author?

To my pre-published friends, do you think you’ll feel differently once you’ve been published?

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Finally! My New Year Post!

Another year has come and gone. Another year filled with reading and writing (and work and family).

2015 saw more freelance work, and a friend and I chose to concentrate on characterization. We read books about character and studied new and old characters to see if we could figure some things out that would help us in our own writing.

My not-so-little-anymore readers have continued to be great readers. Sprite has been devouring anything written by Stuart Gibbs. A-Read finished The Hunger Games trilogy and is now obsessed with Rick Yancey’s new series which started with The Fifth Wave (and he and RocketMan saw the movie last night).

I’m looking forward to some changes in 2016. More writing opportunities. Maybe a change at work (shh). And, of course, lots more reading.

What’s on your plate for this new year?

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Filed under Reading, The rest of my life, writing

Pre-Writing

While I wasn’t very busy writing blog posts this summer, I was very busy writing. And some of that writing was actually pre-writing.

 

Now, my definition of pre-writing may be different from any other definition. I’m okay with this. For me, it’s not about whatever writing or thinking I do before I start drafting. (I usually think of that as plotting and planning and researching.) No. It’s more about the specific writing I do to help me get into a character’s head. (If this has a different name, please enlighten me.)

 

Recently I had a male character who was too good to be true. He was whatever the main character needed him to be, so he wasn’t very interesting. He needed his own goals, motivations, conflicts. His own personality. Somehow I’d forgotten to give him a personality. As a result, his relationship with the main character wasn’t very interesting either. And it needed to be. Their relationship was important.

 

So I had him write the main character some letters at different points in their relationship, starting with the first time he saw her. At first mostly backstory came out of it, but that backstory was important to figuring out who he was. Then I had him write letters to people in his life from before the story, and journal entries about the major turning points in his relationship with the main character. And voilà. I had a character.

 

I have found this method useful in the past, so really should make it part of my normal routine. Instead, it’s like a wonderful surprise every time I think to try it.

 

What are some of your favorite ways to get to the guts of a character?

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Summer update

Well, gosh, I sure didn’t mean to let almost 2 months go by without a post. But here’s how that happened:

  • A bunch of my freelance nonfiction projects for kids published.
  • I tried my hand at ghostwriting. (Yuck. No more.)
  • Experimentally queried a middle grade project with too narrow an audience.
  • Personal and family health issues.
  • Work has been overwhelming. Staff move or go to grad school and I fill in.

So, here’s what I’m up to now:

  • Revising a young adult project.
  • Shuttling kids to and from camps.
  • Shuttling kids to and from library to borrow books, be a book buddy, and give reports in the summer reading program.
  • A-Read is enjoying Jasper Fforde and Stuart Gibbs.
  • Sprite is enjoying his first Stuart Gibbs.
  • Work continues to overwhelm.
  • Not all health issues are resolved.

What’s keeping you busy this summer?

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Filed under Reading, The rest of my life, writing

Katniss and the Importance of Relationships

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about character. What makes a good character? How do you balance a character’s flaws with the qualities needed to move the plot along? What makes a character likable (or, better word, relatable)? What does likable really mean anyway?

A few months ago, A-Read read The Hunger Games and I was reminded about how prickly Katniss is. During her preparations for the Games, she is often told she has to find ways to make others like her, or find ways around her unlikability. A writer friend and I decided to reread the beginning of The Hunger Games and try to determine what made a potentially unlikable character likable.

(Preface: It’s hard to find what makes Katniss unlikable when I’ve read the entire trilogy and seen all the movies. I know her. I like her. I root for her.)

In the first chapter, there are several small things that make her potentially unlikable. But there are many things that make her likable and they all have to do with relationships. Her relationship with Prim. Her relationship with Gale. Her relationship with Madge. Even her relationship with Peeta at that early stage when they’ve never spoken a single word to each other. It’s especially her relationship with Prim, both gentle and fierce at the same time, that humanizes Katniss and makes you like her. How she’ll protect and provide for Prim above herself, to the point of risking death for her.

This importance of relationships really struck me. Agents and editors often say they want character-driven novels. But what makes a character? It’s more than someone’s likes and dislikes, goals and dreams. Conflict moves a plot forward. And conflict comes from relationships.

People can tell you how to create relatable characters, over and over and over. But sometimes you have to see it for yourself, see it in action, and really feel it (show don’t tell, right?).

Who else would you describe as prickly and potentially unlikable, and how did the author make you root for her or him?

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