Monthly Archives: January 2012

Familiar Turns of Phrase

A while back I got one of those nice rejections that makes you want to smile as wide as the nearest river and cry yourself a river all at the same time. The agent loved my pacing and “strong sense of narrative,” but thought I used too many “familiar turns of phrase.”

My critique partners all said, “No way.” (Love those guys!) But I decided to read through my manuscript again and see what the agent meant. And I found plenty. I found a handful of phrases that my CPs probably glossed over because they’re not actually clichés, but that made the writing more accessible. Things like: Yesterday afternoon, excitement to go out with Vincent had me jumping out of my skin

Not so bad, right? However, I realized something important. Those familiar phrases are a fabulous opportunity to strengthen your character’s voice. Would Sophie actually think the words jumping out of my skin? No, probably not. She’d say something related to dancing – leaping off a stage or pirouettes in her stomach. No, even better, fouettés in the stomach because that involves a bit of a kick. Comparing her excitement to a ballet term makes Sophie a more genuine character and reminds the reader about her connection to dance.

Here’s another example: …I jumped out of bed, blood rushing through my veins

Do people really jump out of bed? Not once they’re older than about nine years old. The blood rushing is probably a cliché, so it definitely needed to be changed. Here I chose to just delete the clichéd description and tell the reader how Sophie is feeling. Sometimes a well-placed tell is more effective than overly physical showing. (But that’s for another blog post.)

And another: My skin crawled.

Okay, apparently we should avoid the word jump unless it fits the action, and stop using the skin to describe emotions.

You get the idea, right? Those three examples are all from the first three chapters. Two of them got deleted and one changed to enhance voice. Bing bang boom I’ve got a stronger beginning.

If you’re brave enough, post your own example in the comments and how you think you should improve it.

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Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Middle Grade Author Shannon Whitney Messenger began Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays a while back. If you love middle grade literature, check out her blog for a list of other sites featuring MG books.

Today I will talk about The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.

From Goodreads: In this funny, uncannily wise portrait of the dynamics of a sixth-grade class and of the greatness that sometimes comes in unlikely packages, Dwight, a loser, talks to his classmates via an origami finger puppet of Yoda. If that weren’t strange enough, the puppet is uncannily wise and prescient. Origami Yoda predicts the date of a pop quiz, guesses who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and saves a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice. Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. With contributions from his puzzled classmates, he assembles the case file that forms this novel.

From Vicki: This was one of the cutest and most unusal reads in a long while. The case file concept really worked, thanks to Tommy’s commentary at the bottom of each classmate’s story, one friend’s cynical comments, and another friend’s doodles. At heart is an age-old question, Does So-and-so really like me? Tommy isn’t willing to let Origami Yoda answer that question without understanding where OY’s wisdom comes from and if he’s for real.

So this book had heart and lots of laugh-out-loud-funny moments. A-Read loved it, too, even though he could care less about whether this boy likes that girl, and all that. He loved the humor. And the finger puppet. And of course, he and his younger brother, with help from RocketMan, made their own Origami Yoda finger puppets when he finished the book (directions included at the end of the book).

The sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back, sounds like it will be more of the same. It is out now, so I’ll have to get that for A-Read ASAP!

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A-Read’s Recs

This is a series based on the Book Talks my 8-year-old son writes for school. As you’ll see, he is not ready for publication, but he knows what he likes.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

I was inspired to read this book because I like the series.

The story takes place in England.

The main character in the book is Harry.

Here is how I would describe the main character: He is a 14 year old boy that is a wizard. He lost his parents to the evil lord Voldemort but he survived.

Another important character is Cedric Diggory.

Here is how I would describe this character: He is a 17 year old wizard who is one of the Triwizard Tournament champions. Cedric and Harry helped each other with the tournament.

The story is about four young wizards from three wizard schools.

The main problem is Harry got entered into the tournament even though he isn’t yet 17.

I liked this book because Professor Mad Eye Moody taught them the unforgiveable curses.

A connection I made while reading this book was Harry and I really like to fly and Harry is really good at it.

I would recommend this book to [his best friend] because we both like the series.

I give this book 5 stars out of 5.

(He was so into this book that he didn’t use any yellow sticky notes.)

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Top 10 Books I Read in 2011

According to Goodreads, I read 48 books last year. Frankly, I was surprised that number wasn’t higher. I think I may have missed a few. Anyway, here are my favorites (in reverse chronological order). The most recent 3 are middle grade and the rest are young adult. If I featured the book in a Read Through Thursday or Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post, then the link is embedded. The dates in parentheses are when each book was published, not when I read them.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (Mar 2010)

Savvy by Ingrid Law (May 2008)

Elliot and the Goblin War by Jennifer Nielsen (Oct 2010)

Luminous by Dawn Metcalf (Jul 2011)

Divergent by Veronica Roth (May 2011)

The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan (Jun 2011)

Red Glove by Holly Black (Apr 2011)

Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton (Feb 2011)

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (Mar 2010)

Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore (Feb 2010)

* If I do my top 10 YA books of 2011, I would replace the 3 MG books with:

Across the Universe by Beth Revis (Jan 2011)

The Liar Society by Lisa and Laura Roecker (Mar 2011)

The Shattering by Karen Healey (Sep 2011)

This was a tough choice. Several books vied for that last position. I learned quite a bit by looking at my list of books read. For example, I was definitely fantasy-heavy last year. I think I read more contemporary YA in 2010, which probably reflects what I was writing at the time. I’m happy to see a large number of debut books here, mixed in with a couple of sequels.

How many books did you read in 2011? Are you setting any reading goals for the new year?

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Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Elliot & the Goblin War

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and is looking forward to a new year filled with health, happiness, and success (whatever that means to you)!

Middle Grade Author Shannon Whitney Messenger began Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays a while back. If you love middle grade literature, check out her blog for a list of other sites featuring MG books.

Today I’ll talk about Elliot & the Goblin War by Jennifer Nielsen. 

From Goodreads: As of today, there are only seven children who have ever read this book and lived to tell about it. Ninety five children successfully read the first chapter, but upon beginning Chapter Two, they started blabbering in some language known only as “flibberish,” which makes it very hard to tell their parents why they can’t finish their homework. The only thing known for sure about those who read the final chapters of this book is that something in Chapter Fifteen seems to make body parts fall off. Read it now, if you dare. But don’t say you haven’t been warned, for this is the story that unfolds the mysteries of the Underworld.

From Vicki: The blurb above comes from the foreword of the book and its tone is faithful to the narrative tone of the entire book. But since the above doesn’t actually tell you what the story is about, allow me to summarize. Elliot is a human boy who once saved a Brownie from Goblins and now the Brownies want him to help them stop the war with the Goblins. The Goblins, on the other hand, don’t want to end the war, but they would be happy to end Elliot.

Elliot has a bunch of siblings (one of whom cooks for them and always burns dinner), lives in a crooked house, and is bullied by a human named Tubs. Now, I don’t know any children in the same circumstances, but anyone can relate to Elliot’s journey. You will root for him to figure out how to do the best he can for the Brownies without losing his life.

I unequivocally loved this book. The story moves at a quick pace and the voice had me on page one. I kept laughing out loud on the elliptical at my local gym.

A-Read is looking forward to reading this one, too, as soon as he finishes Savvy. He especially wants to read about the character named Fudd Fartwick. Which illustrates some of Jennifer Nielsen’s brilliance. She gets the sense of humor of 8-year-old boys and delivers the kind of situations, character names, and character traits that young boys will appreciate.

Elliot and the Pixie Plot (Book 2 of the Underworld Chronicles) was published in May by Sourcebooks and is now on my to-read list.

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