Wednesday, February 25, 2009

To Be Read Lists and Antagonists

Have any of you heard about this book, If I Stay by Gayle Forman (Dutton Juvenile)? it should hit bookshelves April 2, I believe.

It's herald as being a "...simple, (yet) beautifully told story of a girl's experiences after a horrific car crash. Forman deals with this difficult topic in a way that is striking and unusual, and thoroughly impressive.”—Suzanna Hermans, Oblong Books & Music, Rhinebeck, NY

Sounds really interesting to me. I am putting it on my To Be Read List.
Here are my top 4 To Be Reads...
  1. Graveyard by Neil Gaiman (I know we've debated the first chapter of this book as being appropriate or not. But I am intrigued and want to decide for myself. I can't make a decision either way until I've read it.) (Harper Collins)
  2. The Higher Power of Luck by Susan Patron (Simon & Schuster)
  3. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  4. Half Blood Prince by Jk Rowling - OF COURSE! I have to re-read before the movie comes out. I CANNOT WAIT!!!!!

Oh and lately, some of us have been talking about covers... if you like the ones with people or things on it? I have to say looking at the cover for If I Stay and Jerry Spinelli's Eggs, I have decided unequivocally, that I find I am much more drawn to covers with things on it. I love this cover. I love it's soft blue hue and the while tree and the dash of orangy-red. I love it's simplicity. The same holds true for Eggs. That cover doesn't even say the title on it. And yet, it is still clear and simple.

Presently, I just, just began reading Savvy by Ingrid Law. I am not yet loving it. But, again, I'm not far enough into it yet that I can give my full opinion. I've had my predictions for the ending since, I don't know, around page 1. If it ends exactly as I've already predicted, I might be disappointed that there was no surprise or tension. BUT... I wonder would a ten year old be able to figure it out so early? Not sure. I'll have to give it to my ten year old when I'm done.

As usual, I'll keep you posted as soon as I finish. If I finish. I might just go onto another of my MUST READS.

If you've read any of the above mentioned books, please let us know how you felt about them without giving anything away. Thanks!

Who are the Bad Guys, Anway - more on Antagonists

Recently, in my work in progress, my MC is struggling with who the "bad guy" is. She is realizing that everyone, herself included, has a dark side and that everyone has a reason to do the things they do (except for really heinous criminals). She is wrestling with the idea that who she has always believed to be the "bad guy" just might not be after all. So, now I turn our discussion over to something we've talked about before, but in a different light... Bad Guys.

I love writing bad guys. The true antagonist in my story is truly evil and my MC doesn't even know of her existence yet. But the people in her life who she has always seen as "against" her, she will soon figure out, they've always had her best interest in mind, even if their ways of expressing it have been jarring at times.

Let's talk about examples in literature (or in life) when this might have been true. Have you read a book (or experienced in life) where this is the theme? There are many examples of a twist. THis is not exactly the same thing... where you think someone's bad and you think someone's good and then at the end you discover quite the opposite is true. I am speaking more about the grey areas in life, about prespective, about mitigation.

For me, a prime example is My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Piccoult. Here, in chapter one, you believe the "bad guys/gals" are the parents and older sister. You HATE them. You question how they could do such a thing. THEN a few chapters later, you read from the mother's POV and you understand. You then read from the sister's POV and you are thoroughly confused. Who are the bad guys anyway, you wonder. THIS is what I am talking about. Grey.

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, by Jon Scieszka, a picture book, brilliantly explores the wolf's side of the story. He wasn't evil. He was hungry. He is a carnivore, after all. Mitigation.

I believe ALL our characters need areas of grey and mitigation, especially our "bad guys." What do you think? Have any suggestions on more books with blurred line between good and bad, right and wrong?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Eggs by Jerry Spinelli

I must admit, I have not read every Jerry Spinelli book out there. Not yet. But this one is so far my absolute favorite, Eggs. I don't normally think Jerry Spinelli has the most poetic phraseology but this book surprised me. Usually, Spinelli says it like it is and in as few words as possible. He is never overly flowery with his phrases. But here are some of my absolute favorite sentences:
"As on that night, fears he could not name blew chills upon him from a window left open to his soul."
(Speaking of the sunrise upon the water) "Orange at first, then butterscotch, then yellow, a plump breakfast yellow of egg yolk; and then, as if poked with a fork, it suddenly broke, spilling, flooding, the river and the city and the trees and the sky and every dark corner of the world."

Eggs made me laugh, wonder, cry... It told a story simply and beautifully and everything you hoped would happen did to a fulfilling way.

Now, what was so interesting to me is this... (spoiler alert) David, the MC, a 9 year old boy befriends a somewhat broken 13 year old girl named Primrose. Both want something - a mother. David's is dead and Primrose's is there but "not there," if you know what I mean.

The interesting thing to me is that, although this is a story about coping with grief and disappointment, although it is in everything the boy does and the girl wants and the way they interact with each other, it is not in your face "there." It is not, woe is me, the motherless child... A lesson learned for me who is also writing a story about a motherless child, but my grief permeates every page, not in what she does, or what she says, but in the back story and the actually missing of Mama. Too much telling and not enough showing.

Spinelli, however, has taught me volumes in this novel. The grief, the want, is still on every page but without being in your face. Do you know what I mean? He shows and so he doesn't need to tell. For example, David stabs his sandwich with his carrot at lunch one day. Grief. He roams the streets at night with Primrose. Denial. He's mean to his grandmother. Anger. He resoles to never break a rule. Bargaining. He learns to love his grandmother. Acceptance. Spinelli took all steps of grief and thought, how can my character SHOW these stages without me the writer TELLING about them?

For any of you who are writing about a motherless child, Eggs is a MUST read!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Breaking Dawn

It seems like eons ago that I read about this book on one of your blogs, the last in the 4-book series by Stephenie Meyer, Breaking Dawn. It was the debate of readers that sparked my interest all those many, many months ago to read all four books.

I've shared my honest opinions of Stephenie Meyer and her Twilight series as I've finished each one and as promised, here is my final opinion on her last book in the series.

A word of warning though...
  1. This is my OPINION - I don't want hate mail. Although all comments are welcomed, please know, I am not bashing Stephenie Meyer. I respect her success and her ability to do what I still dream of - becoming published.
  2. There WILL be spoilers.
  3. I might not agree with Meyer but that does not mean you are not allowed to still love this book. That would be your opinion and we are all entitled to that.

So, if you are a true die-hard Meyer fan, you might not want to read further. If , however, you are opened to a writer's debate - one writer trying to learn from a published writer - then read on; this posting is for you!

What I've Learned Top Three Count Down

3. Pacing. Don't have one day span over 100 pages (give or take)

2. Don't start from your MC's voice, get the reader completely going, set a fast, intense pace, and then BOOM kill it with a switch of POV and then let that new POV span the entire mid section of the novel. For me, this was "whiplash reading." I was jolted and disturbed and didn't want to read from Jacob's POV. Maybe I could have handled it better if it switched back and forth more frequently right from the start. But for me, the sudden switch in POV and then its lasting effect, was jarring and I had a hard time wanting to read after that. I did eventually get used to Jacob's POV. But the damage was done.

On a side here - Don't think for one minute that I don't like books that switch POVs. I do. The first to come to mind is "My Sister's Keeper," by Jodi Picoult. Or any of her books for that matter. She is the master of switching POV's and I find this technique powerful and fascinating both as a reader AND a writer. Maybe Meyer just didn't - for me - produce that technique well enough.

1. But the number 1 problem for me (cue drum roll please...) is NEVER and I mean NEVER promise your reader something and then don't deliver it. UGH!!!!!! Harrumph! *blowing bangs up in an angry huff* I think my exact angry, frustrated words when I was finished reading was "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?????????? I DON'T GET IT! HOW DID NO ONE, NOT ONE EDITOR, NOT HER AGENT, NOT ONE PERSON SAY.... You know, you did promise the ultimate batter scene, and well, er... um... You really have only had "kind of sort of" battle scenes in your books. Maybe, just maybe, just this once you should really deliver a true battle scene to your readers. Ya know, just this once... NO ONE SAID THIS TO HER? NO ONE?" *growl*

So, in case you couldn't tell, this was infuriating for me, to say the least. What... since like book 2 we were PROMISED a battle scene between the Cullens and the Vulturi and this promise was echoed through-out ALL of the books.

Sorry to bring up JK Rowling again here folks for the umpteenth time, BUT JK promised for 7 books, not 4, not 3, but 7, a fight between Harry - a mere child and Voldemort - the ultimate evil prince of darkness. Did she have Voldemort cowardly back away? Did she set the stage and then tear it down? Was it hard for us, the reader, to imagine how JK would be able to deliver this promise and how Harry would hopefully triumph? WOULD Harry Triumph??? The world held its breath in anticipation.

THIS IS THE JOB OF A WRITER PEOPLE!!!!!!! To figure this out! To set the stage and then DELIVER! JK did it. And JK did it in a way I never imagined. She tied up every loose end, our hero remained triumphant, fought evil and won, and we, the reader, were satisfied!

But Meyer did not do this. Finally, the long, awaited ultimate battle scene was upon us. The Cullens were lined up with their friends and witnesses. The Volturi were lined up with their witnesses. Characters were taking dibs on enemies... "Leave her. She's mine..." etc. WE WERE READY! We were good fans. We stuck with book. We trusted the writer. We went along with her (most of the time). We earned our right for the final battle scene. We EARNED it! But did she deliver? NO. Sadly, she did not. Now, we've talked about this here before. And we've concluded that:

  1. She got away without a battle scene in book 1 because it was written in first person so if Bella was unconscious, we the reader had to be unconscious too.
  2. We realized these books were written based on a fairy tale paradigm and not a hero's journey.

But here's my beef! If you don't write battle scenes well, or you don't believe in violence because you're... I don't know... say, a Mormon... then don't write a book where battle scenes are called for!!!

I, for one, could NEVER write about harm coming to a child. I mean serious harm. Now that I am a mother, I just could not, would not, want to get in touch with those stories of kidnapped children or children who are killed. Maybe one day, maybe I will want to write a story like that, but for now I know I can't. To me, this is like if I started writing a story about a child being kidnapped and killed, but never really got to the telling of that part.

It would be like if I don't want to write racy love scenes but write a romance novel.

If I can't write a mystery, but set one up with no resolution.

A sci-fi novel taking place here and now with nothing sci-fi about it.

These are vampires, people. Vampires. The Volturi are blood-thirsty, murderous vampires who show no mercy and the Cullens are "vegetarian" vampires who have been known to show mercy. The Cullens were willing to fight, but the Volturi back away???? OK, OK, OK! I know what you are saying... The Volturi had never before faced a group of vampires that they couldn't out right defeat... OK. I hear you. I see that. BUT STILL!!!!!! I thought there would be a changing of the guards. The Cullens would be the new power in the vampire world. But maybe they wouldn't want that title. Perhaps they'd give it away... There was literally no battle scene. AGAIN.

Clearly, Meyer does not write battle scenes. She does not believe in violence and she does not want her beloved Cullens to rise to power through violence. That's all fine. I completely agree. But why then, why, ever seed and promise one???? Her story, her premise, her vision of vampires were new and fresh and existed fine on their own. She never needed to make such a promise. Teen age girls would have still loved the story. They would have still loved Edward and would have still wanted to be Bella. The Volturi, or at least a promised battle between them, was not necessary at all!

So, I am going to add a new number to my list of what I learned....

Write what you write well.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

2009 Winner of the Tomie DePaola Portfolio Award goes to...

Congratulations, Leeza! In truth, I am not surprised one itty bitty bit. Upon first meeting Leeza you immediately know she is someone very special! I am so very proud of her growth, determination, and stamina! And I admire her talent and positive disposition in life and art. I feel very lucky to know her, to be her friend, and to know that she is my friend too.

So what does winning this award mean to Leeza? Leeza says ...
After the shock and delight of receiving the award, I think I truly felt like winning was a sign that I was finally on the right track. I've spent the past few years wondering where I could fit in, what my style was, where I was headed, and even if children's books was the right path for me. For the past twelve months though, this has all started to come together and shown me my desires and passions for working in children's literature. I spent many an early day and late night sketching, painting, doodling, researching, networking, crying and illustrating -- and somewhere in that time, everything clicked. To have two such prestigious names in the children's book world -- legendary Tomie dePaola and Penguin Putnam's art director Cecilia Yung -- describe my work as "Fresh" and "Superlative" is the icing on the cake. I cannot express my gratitude enough to them or to everyone who has been a part of my life since I began this wonderful journey. The feeling is simply AWESOME!

Check out Leeza's new website. Her new work and website are really amazing and fun, so go on over and say hi.
Leeza is represented by Rachel Orr of Prospect Agency.
“Personal limitation exists only in our ideas of who we are. Give up all notions of who you are and your limitations will vanish.”

- Anonymous