Writing Lonely Characters

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I had an epiphany the other day. I had just gotten back from a social media conference and was all excited about the things I’d learned. With all of the zeal of a newly ordained minister, I was telling some friends about the various tools and platforms and all of the cool things you could do on Twitter. About half way through the conversation, I noticed their eyes starting to glaze over, so I just slowly stopped talking. It was obvious that the didn’t really care and for a brief moment, I felt kind of alone. Don’t get me wrong, my friends like ME and are fun to be around, but they just didn’t get it and the disconnect made me a little sad.

On the way home I started thinking about a character I’d been developing. In my notes I’d described him as a loner who was hoping to make a friend. But what if he wasn’t alone? What if he was surrounded by kids and parents who loved him, but just didn’t get his passion for (fill in the blank)? What if he was the only one at his school who thought (FITB) was awesome? What if no one else even understood (FITB) much less got excited about it? Wouldn’t that make him feel lonely? And what if a sinister adult started to pay attention to that one thing? Now I’ve made my character lonely AND vulnerable.

I’m not going to lie, it kind of freaked me out to think about it. Because I LOVE my daughter and I’m interested in her life, but there are some things I just don’t really care about. What if someone else filled that gap? Yikes! Which is how I found myself discussing Star Wars/Clone Wars for 3 hours.

Lonely characters are good, lonely daughters are not.

 

What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing

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I realized something the other day, right after I’d spent five hours on the couch watching the new SyFy show Helix – what I WATCH is very different from what I READ. I enjoy science fiction movies, but I can’t think of one syfy book I’ve ever read. I love YA books, but other than the Hunger Games, I don’t enjoy watching it. I tried Pretty Little Liars, I really did, but I couldn’t really relate, maybe because I’m none of those things.

Anyway, back to it. Here are some things I’ve read, am reading, and want to read.

What I Read:

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane 

From Amazon: A brilliantly imaginative and poignant fairy tale from the modern master of wonder and terror, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Neil Gaiman’s first new novel for adults since his #1 New York Times bestseller Anansi Boys.

This bewitching and harrowing tale of mystery and survival, and memory and magic, makes the impossible all too real…

I enjoyed this book a lot. I thought it was a little scary/dark for kids, then I found out it was for adults, so never mind. It was actually the first Neil Gaiman book I’d read and I see why everyone loves him so much.

What I’m Reading:

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Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

From Amazon: Winner of the 2014 Newbery Medal

Holy unanticipated occurrences! A cynic meets an unlikely superhero in a genre-breaking new novel by master storyteller Kate DiCamillo.

It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry — and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format — a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K. G. Campbell.

My daughter got this for Christmas and read it for a book report. She loved it, and because I’m no stranger to the brilliance of Kate DiCamillo, I decided to read it too. I’m enjoying it so far. It’s a great, middle-grade book, but I don’t know if it will surpass The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane as my all-time favorite.

I Want to Read:

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Stitches, a Memoir, by David Small. From Amazon: David Small, a best-selling and highly regarded children’s book illustrator, comes forward with this unflinching graphic memoir. Remarkable and intensely dramatic, Stitches tells the story of a fourteen-year-old boy who awakes one day from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he has been transformed into a virtual mute—a vocal cord removed, his throat slashed and stitched together like a bloody boot. From horror to hope, Small proceeds to graphically portray an almost unbelievable descent into adolescent hell and the difficult road to physical, emotional, and artistic recovery.

A National Book Award finalist; winner of the ALA’s Alex Award; a #1 New York Times graphic bestseller; Publishers Weekly and Washington Post Top Ten Books of the Year, Los Angeles Times Favorite Book, ALA Great Graphic Novels, Booklist Editors Choice Award, Huffington Post Great Books of 2009, Kirkus Reviews Best of 2009, Village Voice Best Graphic Novel, finalist for two 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards (Best Writer/Artist: Nonfiction; Best Reality-Based Work). Illustrated throughout.

A memoir, in graphic form! I used the Look Inside feature of Amazon and it looks like an amazing story, and the illustrations are brilliant. I could download it but it seems like the type of book you’ll want to hold in your hand so I’m waiting on the Atlanta snowstorm to pass so I can buy it from a real person in an actual bookstore.

What I’m Writing:

I’m editing my MG novel! My wonderful editor sent the first round of edits last week and I’m happily back with Lou and the gang in Zollicoffer. My goal is to get everything done in 6 weeks and lucky for me, I’ve got a scheduled writing retreat with my critique group in two weeks.

That’s the update. Let me know if you have any suggestions for reading material. I’m willing to try a good science-fiction novel. I hate to let an entire genre go to waste!

 

Gifts for Writers

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Not that I’m hinting, you understand. I just thought you might be wondering what to get your favorite author. Or me, whichever.

1. Books on Writing.

Trust me, you can never have too many. Some of my favorites are On Writing, Bird by Bird, and Becoming a Writer, but there are hundreds to choose from and I never met a writer that had enough.

2. Books.

Books on writing give a lot of different advice, but one thing they all say is that people who want to write, should read. Give the classics, or a current best-seller, you can’t go wrong either way.

3. High-Tech

There are some great programs available to help writers. Scrivener is organizational and word processing software that users swear by. Anti-Social is a program that helps writers stay focused by blocking distracting websites. Freedom just goes ahead and blocks the entire web!

4. Low-Tech

Moleskine notebooks are the rage right now, but any type of journal would do. Notebooks, cool pens, journals, etc. make great stocking-stuffers for writers.

5. Fun & Whimsical

Who doesn’t want a cool t-shirt proclaiming, “Prose before Hos”, or “Carpe Read Em, Sieze the Book!”  Whether it’s jewelry made out of typewriter keys, or coffee mugs with a cute saying, writers will appreciate the humor on those long days of revision.

6. Support

If you REALLY want to give the writer in your life a great present, give them permission to miss the occasional date, to have a messy house, and to forget your birthday because they’ve finally found three consecutive minutes to sit down and actually write. They might even remember you in the acknowledgments of a real book one day!

 

Merry Christmas!

 

Typical Day In the Life, except…

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This is the kind of day I like. I got up this morning, grabbed some coffee, and headed straight for the couch. It’s gotten a little chilly lately, so I grabbed a blanket and my laptop, and settled in to write. I’m at a difficult stage, that just finished with the beginning and getting into the middle place that makes me question if I’m going in the right direction, with the right story, or if I’m even in the right career! Me, a writer? As IF. But I kept going and struggled through a scene and by the time I was finished, I was actually pretty happy with it.

Then it was time to get to my real job, and I spent the next few hours writing copy for ads and trifolds instead of for middle-grade readers, but other than the fact that my trifold used words like RETIREMENT and RECUPERATIVE CARE, and my novel used words like, DUH and AIN’T, they both worked toward my daily word count goal. So, success!

Late afternoon came and it was time for errands. I’m going to a writers’ conference on Friday and somehow missed that I was supposed to read two books before arrival, so I went to Barnes and Noble and bought REAL books made of paper like the pioneers used to. Then I went to Kroger for some groceries, and finally, Staples. These are all normal errands that people make every day, but Staples held special significance. I was there to buy ink for my printer because I had to print four copies of my CONTRACT so that I could sign them and get them in the mail tomorrow.

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Yes, my CONTRACT with Penguin is finalized! I was sure they’d change their minds, go out of business, or somehow get lumped in with the government shutdown, but the Lord is obviously still on the throne and working his magic because that sucker came via email yesterday and I signed it tonight before any of the above stuff could happen.

JD was out, so I asked my daughter if she wanted to watch me officially sign them, maybe share a glass of the champagne that I’ve been saving in the fridge, but she was all like, “I’m 11 so, no.”

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Drinking alone – I’m getting the hang of this author business already!

Tomorrow I start life as an official, soon-to-be-published, Penguin-contracted author. I’m guessing it will be much like today, only instead of signing a contract I’ll be cleaning the bathroom and taking the dogs to the vet. So, success?

Oh, to be 16 and in love and in 1986, and hearing The Smithereens for the 1st time.

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A few months ago I mentioned that I wanted to read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Here’s the Kirkus Review that got me so interested.

KIRKUS REVIEW – Eleanor & Park

Awkward, prickly teens find deep first love in 1980s Omaha.

Eleanor and Park don’t meet cute; they meet vexed on the school bus, trapped into sitting together by a dearth of seats and their low social status. Park, the only half-Korean fan of punk and New Wave at their high school, is by no means popular, but he benefits from his family’s deep roots in their lower-middle-class neighborhood. Meanwhile, Eleanor’s wildly curly red mane and plus-sized frame would make her stand out even if she weren’t a new student, having just returned to her family after a year of couch-surfing following being thrown out by her odious drunkard of a stepfather, Richie. Although both teens want only to fade into the background, both stand out physically and sartorially, arming themselves with band T-shirts (Park) and menswear from thrift stores (Eleanor). Despite Eleanor’s resolve not to grow attached to anything, and despite their shared hatred for clichés, they fall, by degrees, in love. Through Eleanor and Park’s alternating voices, readers glimpse the swoon-inducing, often hilarious aspects of first love, as well as the contrast between Eleanor’s survival of grim, abuse-plagued poverty and Park’s own imperfect but loving family life.

Funny, hopeful, foulmouthed, sexy and tear-jerking, this winning romance will captivate teen and adult readers alike. (Fiction. 14 & up)

I finally purchased the book Saturday night, and I LOVED it. Seriously. It has everything – love, humor, tension – and it takes place in 1986 so I got to relive the days when a boy you liked would make you a mixed tape. I think fans of John Green (and who isn’t a fan of John Green) would really enjoy this book. It has some adult themes and language, so I wouldn’t recommend it to younger teens, but everyone else should read this book.

And listen to The Smithereens.

Binging on YA

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I love to read, but occasionally I get on a genre tear and I am like a reading tornado, chewing up everything in my path as fast as I can. For the past two weeks, I’ve been devouring fantasy YA, so much so that my left eye has lost all depth perception. I realize that if your eyes are going bad, perhaps YA is not your best reading choice, but what can I say, I’m terminally 12.  It started with The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson.

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I read the description and thought it sounded interesting, but to be sure, I downloaded the “Free Sample” onto my Nook. Five minutes later I was purchasing the whole book. I’ve since read the entire series and I loved them all.  This explains why I have bags under my eyes and my house is a wreck, but I think we can all agree that a good book is worth more than a clean house. Can I get an amen?

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I stumbled across this book via the “People that bought that book, also bought this” feature on Amazon and I’m so glad I did. I read it over the course of about two days, and immediately went online to buy the 2nd one. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be out for a week. Fortunately, Sarah J. Mass wrote 3 novellas that chronicle the heroine’s early days and they are just as much fun as the Throne of Glass! I’m heading to the bookstore to buy the sequel, Crown of Midnight, this afternoon. Can’t. Wait.

What I loved about all of these books is that even though they are part of a series, each book stands on its own and reaches a satisfying conclusion. It seems like so many books I’ve ready lately are all back story for the real book to come later. Nothing stinks worse than being 140 pages into a 150 page book and realizing your heroine is not going to solve the puzzle, reach the destination, or get the guy.

If there’s one thing we tweens want in a book, it’s getting the guy!

Book Review – The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

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I LOVED this book. Yes, it’s for people 8 years old and up, what about it?

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From the book description:

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

Yes, it’s a story told by a gorilla, but it’s beautiful and touching and wonderful in every way. I bought it primarily to encourage my 11 year old reluctant reader, and it totally worked. It’s the first novel I’ve ever seen her hide under the covers with a light to read. We originally bought the e-version but I loved it so much, I bought the hardback to loan to my friends. My ADULT friends.

If you’re looking for an easy read for you or your 8+ year old, click HERE.

Summer Reading

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Without fail, all of the “How To Be a Better Writer” books agree on one thing – if you want to write well, read a lot of good books. I love advice that I actually WANT to follow. Because I have a 5th grader, I thought it would be fun for us to read some books together, some that I’ve enjoyed, some that she’s heard about from school friends, etc. So I recently downloaded/bought/borrowed the following titles for our summer reading pleasure:

Walk  Two Moons by Sharon Creech

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

My daughter is too young for most YA, but I think I’ll sneak off and read Eleanor & Park:

KIRKUS REVIEW – Eleanor & Park

Awkward, prickly teens find deep first love in 1980s Omaha.

Eleanor and Park don’t meet cute; they meet vexed on the school bus, trapped into sitting together by a dearth of seats and their low social status. Park, the only half-Korean fan of punk and New Wave at their high school, is by no means popular, but he benefits from his family’s deep roots in their lower-middle-class neighborhood. Meanwhile, Eleanor’s wildly curly red mane and plus-sized frame would make her stand out even if she weren’t a new student, having just returned to her family after a year of couch-surfing following being thrown out by her odious drunkard of a stepfather, Richie. Although both teens want only to fade into the background, both stand out physically and sartorially, arming themselves with band T-shirts (Park) and menswear from thrift stores (Eleanor). Despite Eleanor’s resolve not to grow attached to anything, and despite their shared hatred for clichés, they fall, by degrees, in love. Through Eleanor and Park’s alternating voices, readers glimpse the swoon-inducing, often hilarious aspects of first love, as well as the contrast between Eleanor’s survival of grim, abuse-plagued poverty and Park’s own imperfect but loving family life.

Funny, hopeful, foulmouthed, sexy and tear-jerking, this winning romance will captivate teen and adult readers alike. (Fiction. 14 & up)

And most importantly, when we’re done, we’ll review them to show our appreciation for the authors, and to help other folks know what’s good.

In case there’s anyone alive who doesn’t already know about A Wrinkle in Time.

What Getting A Publishing Contract Feels Like

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A little bit of this:

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And a whole lot of this:

I’m trying to focus more on that first one, but the whole thing is crazy scary.

The road to this point has been paved with hours of writing and rewriting, disappointments, standing in the shower crying and cussing like one of those American Idol contestants who get rejected and flip off the camera, and all sorts of other highs and lows. And there’s a great big part of me that is freaking out that I’ll mess this chance up, let my new editor and team down, or worse, never get really, really good at this thing called writing.

But I’m going to stuff that part down into a drawer, one full of mismatched socks and other useless items, and just keep on going, day by day, word by word. Because this journey has taught me a lot of things, especially this – I’m not alone! I’m surrounded by awesome friends and family, great writing buddies, a terrific agent, and tons of people who want the best for me and this book.  And that feels like this:

Happy New Year!

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My resolution is always the same – write more. Last year, In order to create a more “writer-friendly” environment, I moved my office out of the dank, dark basement and into the pool house where I can at least SEE people frolicking in the water while I work.

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I got the posters on the wall at the last writer’s conference I attended, and they make me happy when I come in every morning.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen an increase in my productivity like I’d hoped. I think it’s the view.

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Who told my husband he could come out of the basement with me?

Anyway, here’s hoping you have a 2013 full of great books and lots of writing time!