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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Jocelyn Adams: Sometimes Characters Don't Listen


As any author of fiction can tell you, characters have lives of their own, apart from the humble writer who "created" them. My guest, Jocelyn Adams, discusses how that phenomenon came into play as she wrote her latest novel, Stone Chameleon.

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Thanks for having me take over your blog today, Anne.  Let’s talk characters.  Sometimes my characters don’t listen to me.  That might sound silly, since they come out of my brain, but it’s still true, the little bullies they are.  I don’t plot any aspects of the story.  I begin with a list of names, a general storyline, and a pretty clear idea of who my characters are in my head, and let the puzzle come together on its own as I spill out the story.

Once in a while someone I was certain should go left ends up going right.  Instead of funny, they’re serious.  Instead of the hero, they become the villain or vice versa.  I ran into a zig-zag with two characters in Stone Chameleon, though I’ll only mention one in this post.  It ended up being a big head-scratcher for me, especially since I’m a person who hates do-overs.

I started out wanting Amun Bassili, Lou Hudson’s potential love interest in book one, to walk that fine line between love him and hate him.  I wanted him strong, arrogant and charming as hell.  He is that, but an aspect of his personality came out that I wasn’t expecting.  A soft side, a vulnerability I didn’t know what to do with.  He’s a complicated character, driven by instincts that are unusual, from another culture that’s difficult to understand by those not living it.

My beta readers hated him.  I pondered for days what to do with him.  How to walk that razor’s edge and keep him on the love side of that love/hate line.  His issues kept me up, my stomach in knots, because I needed him to be a core figure in the series.  If I couldn’t get him right, then the foundation of the story would crumble.
 
At first I thought I’d have to rip him out and start over from scratch, but then I realized it wasn’t truly him that was the problem.  It was his culture and the readers’ understanding of that culture.

The instincts of his species are beautiful and natural to him even though readers found them hard to accept.  I realized I hadn’t painted his background and upbringing well enough for the readers to understand why he did/said the things he did.  Once I figured out what the problem was, it took only a few passages, adding some color and texture to his story and personality, and a few lines of additional dialogue, to bring him back into balance.

After I finished with my edits, he seemed completely different even to me.  He became more real to me, and, after a second round of beta testing, my readers agreed.  I really hope I never get myself into that big of a pickle again, but since I have at least a zillion more stories spooling in my mind, I highly doubt it.  J

I’d love to know who your favorite character of all time is.  What did you love about him or her?  Drop a note in the comments and chat with me.

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Learn more about Jocelyn Adams on her website.

You can purchase Stone Chameleon here:
Amazon.com  |  Barnes & Noble  |  MuseItUp Publishing

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Karina Fabian: From Dashiell to Dragons



My guest today is Karina Fabian, whose new novel, Greater Treasures, is a fantasy that takes its inspiration from a noir classic. She discusses how she fit these two genres together in her DragonEye world.

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Stories are like Sonnets
By Karina Fabian

One of my favorite metaphors comes from Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time Trilogy.  She describes life as a sonnet: we are all given a strict structure and rules, yet have complete freedom within those rules to create ourselves into unique individuals. 

Fiction writing is like that:  There are rules to follow on grammar and story structure, yet we have incredible freedom of imagination.  No matter how strict the rules, no two people will create the same thing.  My story, Greater Treasures, is a good example of this.  I wrote this story while watching The MalteseFalcon, so while I watched the movie, I took careful note of the plot progression and iconic scenes, like the confrontation between Sam Spade and the police chief.  So I had the structure and basic character set: detective, partner, police chief, damsel in distress with a dark secret, even the competing treasure hunter and his henchman.  Then, I exercised my creativity by placing this structure into my DragonEye universe and let my characters in that world play out their parts.

The result is a very different story from the one written by Dashiell Hammet.  The stakes are higher:  the life of Vern’s best friend (Sister Grace) vs. the fate of an entire world (one that has not treated Vern very well).  

The femme fatal, of course, would not be able to use her feminine wiles on Vern, who’s a dragon.  She needed a different pull.  In addition, Vern is a little more savvy than Sam Spade (Sorry, Sam); plus, he’s seen The Maltese Falcon.  If you’ve seen or read The Maltese Falcon, then you might recognize some of the events and catch a couple of in-jokes; however, there’s no mistaking Greater Treasures for the noir classic—if it becomes a classic itself, it will do so on its own terms.

There’s a saying that there are only 10 original ideas (or 4 or 42 or…)  The number does not really matter, because it’s not the idea or the structure that define the story.  It’s what you do within that structure that makes it yours.

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Learn more about Karina Fabian on her website.

You can purchase Greater Treasures on Amazon.

Monday, May 20, 2013

EBENEZER'S LOCKER Kid Lit Giveaway Hop winner announced.

Just a quick post to thank everyone who visited this blog and entered the Kid Lit Giveaway Hop. Thanks also to the Hop's organizers, Mother Daughter Book Reviews and Youth Literature Reviews.

The winner of the e-copy of Ebenezer's Locker is Karen Arrowood. It was fun to see everyone's comments about their favorite books for kids.

Until next time...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Angela Kay Austin Finds Romance in Life's Difficulties



I admire writers who weave serious social issues into their fiction. Angela Kay Austin is one such writer. She shares with us her motivations for writing Derailed, which deals with the challenges of life after military service.


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Anne, thank you for inviting me to visit with you!  I’m excited to share a little about my short story, Derailed.
Derailed is the second release in my tribute to military servicemen and women and their families.  Within my own family, there is Navy and Army.  Members of my family served in Vietnam and the Gulf War.  But, neither Derailed nor Scarlet’s Tears deal with the act of war.  They each deal with what I call the aftershocks of war.

Scarlet’s Tears dealt with how the loss of a husband affected an expecting mother.  Derailed looks at war through the eyes of a single woman who because of a medical discharge finds herself living out of her car and jobless.

Although I was a member of JROTC, I never served in the military.  But, as a woman, I guess I was always intrigued by the heroic handsome military man, think “An Officer and a Gentleman.”  I don’t remember seeing the female equivalent of that movie, if you don’t include “Private Benjamin.”

A newscast about men and women serving in the military and after caught my attention.  The broadcast discussed how often they face similar issues: alcoholism, drug addiction, joblessness, and more.  But, something I’d never thought before was the why behind it.  People will argue whether or not women have been in “combat” zones, but most of the issues facing men were attributed to “combat.” For women, because they weren’t technically in “combat” zones, their conditions were treated the same as men who had been in combat zones, but that wasn’t the cause of their problems.  Women faced many of the same problems, but due to issues like: rape while on tour, or caring for children when they returned. 

Watching the report, listening to the women’s stories, honestly, made me feel as if we may not be holding up our end of the bargain.  We ask people to serve, and then when they return, we don’t take care of them.  

We don’t provide the services they need.  Why?  We hold parades and rallies for Olympians, why don’t we do the same for servicemen and women?  I’ve never been an Olympian nor served in the military, and I believe both should receive respect for their hard work and dedication.  But, even though we can’t offer each veteran a million dollar contract to sell cereal, can’t we at least help them find a home, a job, and adequate medical care?

Derailed is my imagination of a homeless woman veteran who never gives up, and through her spirit she inspires others to not give up. 

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You can learn more about Angela Kay Austin at her website.

You can purchase Derailed on Amazon.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Kid Lit Giveaway Hop!

Welcome to my entry in the Kid Lit Giveaway Hop! This blog hop is a celebration of Children's Book Week, and it's brought to you by Mother Daughter Book Reviews and Youth Literature Reviews.

Scroll down to enter the Ebenezer's Locker Giveaway. But first, some thoughts on writing for the upper-middle-grade crowd:

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The Joy and Challenge of Tween Lit

The middle-grade market presents a particularly wonderful opportunity for creativity in the fiction writer. Tweens are, as that colloquialism implies, between stages. Kids of 8-12 years are developmentally very different from younger children, yet just as different from teens.

They’re more sophisticated than tots but not as surly as teens. And they’re ready for anything, while they haven’t yet seen enough to be cynical. It’s a kind of emotional and intellectual twilight that I find very rewarding to write for.

I gave some thought to why this age group is so special to me, and offer a list of suggestions for other writers who aspire to write middle-grade novels or stories.

Use your imagination. Tweens crave new experiences, even imaginary ones. So take them someplace fabulous you’ve invented, or some fabulous time you’ve researched. And twist that plot! Under no circumstances should the story be ordinary or predictable.

Make it fast. There should be plenty of action. It needn’t be violence, but things need to happen.

It’s more than “show, don’t tell.” Of course, as in all lit, scenes should be described in such a way that the reader feels s/he’s there. I’m talking about physical activity. And the characters should be the agents, the ones causing things to happen or change. If the world simply changes around your characters and they just stand there and take it, your young reader will close your book and start playing a video game, where s/he can have the illusions that s/he’s actually doing something.

I’ve recently been re-reading Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door. One thing that strikes me is the amount of time characters stand around talking about ideas. Do not try this at home! No publisher would stand for it, and no kid either. L’Engle’s book was published in 1973, long before kids had tablets, gaming devices, and smartphones growing out of their fingertips. It was a slower-moving (and generally better-educated) populace. And let’s be honest: Even L’Engle might not have gotten away with it if she didn’t already have a Newbery for A Wrinkle in Time.

Make it smart. The tween brain is an awesome machine. These kids absorb vocabulary, scientific concepts, and all types of minutiae at a rate they’ll never match later in life. They’re hungry to know stuff. Give them unusual details. Give them new words. There’s little they can’t handle if it’s presented right.

Make it funny. All good teachers know that one of the ways to make new information go down more easily is to slip it in during laughter. Tween audiences can handle a fun combination of silly and clever, pratfalls and puns, wedgies and witticisms. So make that dialog snappy and make those situations wacky. And maybe a little bit gross.

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Author bio:

Drawing on an eclectic background that includes degrees in classical languages and musicology, Anne E. Johnson has published in a wide variety of topics and genres. She's written feature articles about music in serials such as The New York Times and Stagebill Magazine, and seven non-fiction books for kids with the Rosen Group.  Her short stories, in various genres and for both children and adults, can be found in Underneath the Juniper Tree, Spaceports & Spidersilk , Shelter of Daylight, and elsewhere.
Ebenezer’s Locker is her first published novel, and she has two more due out this summer:  a humorous, noir-inspired science fiction novel, Green Light Delivery (Candlemark & Gleam, June 19), and a tween medieval mystery, Trouble at the Scriptorium (Royal Fireworks Press, August).
Anne lives in Brooklyn with her husband, playwright Ken Munch.

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Ebenezer's Locker Synopsis:

A hundred years ago, Corbin Elementary School's building housed Dr. Ebenezer Corbin's School for Psychical Research. It seems that a couple of old spirits are still wandering the halls. It's up to Rhonda Zymler to find out what they want.

Ebenezer's Locker follows the adventures of Rhonda, a sassy sixth-grader who's having trouble finding her place and identity. Getting to know these spirits becomes Rhonda's quest. The more she digs, the more perilous her task becomes, and to complete it she must take two trips back in time. This story blends the realities of an economically-challenged modern American town with supernatural elements. What Rhonda finds not only gives her life a sense of purpose, but changes the fortunes of her entire town. 

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To learn more about my work, please visit my website.


You can win an e-copy of Ebenezer's Locker in PRC (Kindle) or ePub formats. Giveaway is open May 13-19, 2013. Enter simply by leaving a comment about your favorite children's book.

Remember to keep hopping around, learning about more great kid lit authors and entering to win their books!



Don't want to wait for the raffle? You can buy Ebenezer's Locker in any ebook format through MuseItUp Publishing, or at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo, and other vendors.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Philip Coleman on YA Historical Fiction and Medieval Belgium


Please welcome Philip Coleman, a debut novelist. His YA mystery, The Master's Book, was inspired by his own life in Ireland and Belgium, plus his interest in an obscure medieval artist.

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History and Mystery, all mixed up

I was inspired to take up writing in my late forties (not having written any fiction since my tender teens), when I read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Those of you who have read these wonderful books won’t be surprised to learn that my first attempts were fantasy, they were aimed at a young adult readership, and the lead characters were always feisty girls.

By then I realised that I needed to make my writing more personal. I had just moved back from Brussels, where I’d spent three very happy years watching my children blossom in the multicultural environment. So it was natural that I would try to recapture that rich experience through the eyes of a young teenager. In order to make it even more personal, I decided to write in the first person, for a change. Once having been an Irish boy myself it seemed easier to make the narrator an Irish boy, with an identifiably Irish name, Sean. However, I also wanted to convey the multicultural atmosphere of my children’s school, including the many beautiful mixed race classmates they encountered. The result was the lead girl, Stephanie, who is of Congolese-English parentage (and yes, she is feisty).

The other thing about Brussels is that, despite the modern offices of the EU area and elsewhere, it is a city that is full of history. Over time it was ruled by, among others, the Romans, the Holy Roman Empire, the Dukes of Burgundy, the Spanish Empire, the new republic of France and, finally, the Dutch monarchy, before becoming the capital of the independent country of Belgium, with its own king, in the 19th century. I wanted to convey  some of this rich history, at least as a backdrop.

The final piece of the jigsaw came when I stumbled on an Internet article about the Master of Mary of Burgundy. We know very little about this artist – not even his real name – but we do know that he produced exquisite illuminated manuscript books, including for Mary, the last Duchess of Burgundy. It was her marriage to a Habsburg Prince, followed by her untimely death, that led to Spanish rule in what is now the Netherlands and Belgium.

The book touches briefly on other historical events: Belgian rule in the Congo (not an edifying episode in the country’s history), World Wars One and Two, and the Holocaust. But, above all, it is about two modern teenagers living in a modern city, confronting the problems that teenagers confront, especially when it comes to attractions of the opposite sex. What is out of the ordinary is that they get mixed up in an adventure that puts their lives in danger - twice. And, of course, the roots of that adventure lie in Belgium’s medieval past.

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You can learn more about Philip Coleman by following him on Facebook.

You can purchase The Master's Book as an ebook from MuseItUp Publishing or on Amazon.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Kate Wolford on Writing Fairy Tales



My guest today is Kate Wolford, best known to many of you as the editor of Enchanted Conversation. In Kate's eyes, her new book of fairy tales is as much education as it is entertainment. She explains:


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For Writers and Others

Beyond the Glass Slipper  (BTGS) was written for fairy tale fans and students and book clubs and teachers—all kinds of readers. But it was also written for writers. As editor of Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine, I receive numerous entries for each monthly writing contest.

I enjoy reading the submissions, but I included a set of questions that writers could use in each of the fairy tale comments in the book, because I tend to see the same kind of entries month after month. There are 10 stories in BTGS, and each has some questions about front stories, back stories, and lesser character stories. Wanting to give would-be fairy-tale rewriters some encouragement and ideas was a major impetus behind BTGS.

In other words, I am often looking for fresh ways of writing fairy tales--and writing fairy tales does not always mean rewriting them. I often publish fairy tale stories and poems that are inspired by classic tales but are new otherwise.

Also, one of the many reasons I chose to publish a collection of lesser-known fairy tales is that as great as “Snow White” and “Beauty and the Beast” and all the other usual suspects are, they are but a fraction of the tales that are out there. After five years of publishing fairy tales and fairy-tale poems, I am looking for writers to go beyond the obvious.

That’s one of the reasons why you’ll find a vampire story in BTGS, and a ghost story. There’s a pig who marries a woman in this book, but he doesn’t become a human prince for awhile afterward. There’s a story about two toys that have a kind of(?) romance, but the tale is clearly about social class.

I suppose I want writers to get beyond the Disney stranglehold that still seems to immobilize us culturally when it comes to fairy tales. Of course, I like “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Little Mermaid,” both as stories (in the original) and as movies. But the world of inspiration to be found in fairy tales contains multitudes. I want writers to be thrilled by and moved to write by something that is not widely known.

BTGS is at least as much for writers as it is for any other group. And not just writers who would like to be published in Enchanted Conversation. The ideas throughout the book, in every section, are meant to fire the imagination, and who know what might result?

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Beyond the Glass Slipper can be purchased at Amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com. The paperback and Kindle edition are both available at Amazon.

Enchanted Conversation can be found at fairytalemagazine.com.