Thursday, December 20, 2012

Writing for Tweens: Who ARE These People?

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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My own tween lit:
You can purchase my tween paranormal mystery, Ebenezer’s Locker, directly from the publisher or on Amazon or BN.
You can purchase my tween medieval mystery, Trouble at the Scriptorium, directly from the publisher.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Trevor Forest Researches Kids in WWII for PEGGY LARKIN'S WAR

During wartime parents will go to any length to protect their children from harm, even if it means separation from them. Trevor Forest has written a wonderful middle-grade novel about a girl sent away from London by her parents in World War II. Trevor joins us today to discuss his inspiration and research for this book.

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Peggy Larkin’s War is the story of a ten year old girl who is evacuated by Government decree, from London to the countryside at the outbreak of war in September 1939.

I first had the idea for the character after watching a program on TV about people who were evacuated from London as children. It must have been a terrible experience to be taken away from everyone and everything you know and sent to live with complete strangers in what was, for the vast majority, a completely alien environment. Some kids had a great time with kind, caring families while others were treated as nothing more than a source of free labour.

I was extremely lucky to find a couple of elderly readers at my local library who had lived in London in 1939 and were evacuated for the whole of the war. They proved to be a wonderful resource and provided much of the background detail, including information about the railways, the wartime posters and the attitude of adults towards children.

A good number of children returned home when the blitz ended but my two new friends didn’t. Elizabeth Scot’s father was sent away to fight and her mother was a skilled worker in a munitions factory. Her house was bombed not long after the evacuation and her mother ended up renting a single room near the factory. The only contact between them was the odd letter or birthday card. Edward Barker, my other contact, lost his mother when their house was bombed in early 1940. The only relatives he had were elderly and had only met him on a couple of occasions so it was decided that he would be better off staying with his new ‘foster’ family.

I began my second line of research by searching for evacuee stories on the internet. The BBC has a fabulous site called The Peoples War, containing interviews and information about the 2nd world war and the evacuation in particular. I logged on to those pages frequently.

I was born just a few years after the war ended so I can remember a lot about the language, fashion and housing standards of the time. Food and petrol rationing didn’t end until 1953. I had my own ration book as a baby.

Illness was another thing I had to research carefully. In the book, Peggy succumbs to Scarlet Fever and I needed to know how prevalent the disease was back then. Scarlet Fever, not a serious disease now, could be a killer back then. Antibiotics were a very recent discovery and any available were used for the troops. I also had to research how diabetes was treated in the pre-war years as Peggy’s host, Mrs Henderson, suffered from the disease.


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You can buy Peggy Larkin's War on Amazon.
Learn more about Trevor Forest on his website.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

GREEN LIGHT DELIVERY giveaway winner, plus a plea for help for a colleague.

Tim Holdsworth, you are now the proud owner of a signed paperback copy of Green Light Delivery! I'll be contacting you about how you'd like the book signed and where you'd like it sent. Woo-hoo! Congrats to Tim and thanks to everyone else who entered.

If you didn't win and you'd like to buy Green Light Delivery, you can do so from the publisher, on Amazon, and at B&N.

But now to a more important item:

Attention writing community: Sue Bolich, a novelist who publishes fantasy novels as S.A. Bolich, needs our help. She recently learned that her cancer has returned and spread to her bones. She's asking all her fellow writers to assist her by promoting her books or buying them for yourselves or as gifts.

Here's a link to Sue's Amazon Author Central page, so you can learn more about her work. Please consider giving her a bump on Twitter, FB, or your blog. Thanks!