Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book Review - By The Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead

By the Time You Read This, I'll Be DeadBy the Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book about Daelyn Rice typifies all the victims in the jungle that is the American school. I felt for her, bled for her, and int he end stayed up until well after midnight to finish this book and find out what happens to her as the calendar winds down on the last 23 days of her life. She has failed at suicide numerous times in the past, this time she intends to succeed with the help pf a suicide website. The book takes us through the atrocities (and I don't use that word lightly) committed against her over the years for the sin of being overweight and carrying that invisible "victim" sign that bullies know so well.

I don't choose friends. Which works out great because they don't choose me.

Those are Daelyn's words. She sees no sign that life gets better and hates that the suicide website dictates that she must wait at least 23 days before she can kill herself. In the meantime she's out to sever all connections with the world. But even the act of resurrecting the horrible memories from her past forges bonds with this life. The website forces her to answer questions about herself, her life, and life after she is gone. A geeky neighbor in his own battle for life and the school's new fat-girl victim leave her asking questions of her own.

As the calendar approached her final days I could not put the book down. This is about the bullicide and the victims of bullies. How kids can be driven to believe there is nothing for them except a future of continued torment, why they believe friends and family will be happier once they are gone, and why platitudes do more harm than good. The big problem I had was her near clueless parents. Daelyn can't talk and her food has to be pureed before she can get it down a throat damaged by her last suicide attempt, and she has scars on her wrists from previous tries. Her parents have her own suicide watch and seeing a therapist. Still, they don't seem to have any clue of what her life has really been like. But they are so busy giving her space they never come close to seeing the trauma she dealing with. I can understand her thinking that its her survival that troubles them and once she's dead they will be content.

Needless to say I could not stop reading until that last page.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Not a resolution - a challenge

Last year I did a post on what I called the Weight Gaining Lifestyle that is the life of an author.  I won't tell you how many pounds I've gained since then, but it is A LOT. So I have decided to issue a challenge to myself.  It is NOT a New Year's Resolution, because those things are just doomed to failure. They are made to be broken, hence I ceased making them a few years back. No, this is not a resolution, it's a challenge. I'm going to (gulp) post my weight and my exercise quotient. Since I've already started (remember, its not an N. Y. R.), here are my numbers from last week (OK, I only started Sunday, but Christmas Eve and Christmas were busy).

Anyway my starting stats.
  • Weight - 250 pounds. Please don't all laugh at once.
  • Exercise - an hour on the treadmill (slow speed, but still, it's the thought that counts) another hour on the exercise bike, and fifteen minutes on upper body weights. Then the lovely steam room and sauna. 
  • Oh, and I started out the day by shoveling my driveway, that counts too.
I'll keep these posts going.  And any and all words of encouragement or suggestions are welcome.

May 2011 be my thinner year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Better Than Cable

There is strong language in PULL, it is not rated G or PG. I understand that there are concerns about the use of this book in some classrooms and I was asked for my feedback when I visited a classroom recently.

First, no kid who doesn't use curse words will start because he reads this book. Pull will not send any kid out for his or her first drink or talk them into engaging in sexual activities for the first time. Movies, cable TV and video games, not to mention peers and parental example, are the powers in those areas.

But many kids who suffer from self-esteem issues may find themselves on the pages. Kids who have lost someone they loved may find their pain is not unique and that help exists. Kids and adults suffering from the effects of domestic violence will get a glimpse of what that can lead to and decide to seek help and change their future. And everyone can get a really good story and see how people who appear different are really very much like themselves.

Yes, the protagonist is an angry seventeen-year-old male and his vocabulary reflects that. But as one student told me during a recent school visit, "it wouldn't feel real without that."

I recently spoke with a Middle School Librarian and I was ready to tell her not to put PULL on her shelves for fear of 6th grade readers. She's the one who pushed back. Her argument, "If all we have are books safe for 6th graders, what will the 8th graders read?" If PULL can be a valuable asset to 8th graders, it is even more valuable to high schools.

Booklist called PULL a "Good discussion book," and so it is. The teacher's guide being put together covers items related to a number of curriculum areas. 

My final comment comes from an 8th grade boy in New Jersey, a young man described by his teacher as a reluctant reader. When given a copy of PULL as his reading assignment he actually asked for more time to keep reading. Then, he not only told his teacher the book was "better than cable" he asked for another one like it.  If I were the parent or teacher of a reluctant reader, I would fight form any book that could inspire a kid that much.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Point of View

I have been seeing a lot of chatter on various writing loops lately about Point of View and picking the right one for a scene. Unfortunatly a lot of the chatter involves criticizing contest judges and editors who just don't understand that just because a writer changes POVs inside a chapter or scene it isn't head-hopping because they left blank lines on the page to signal the change.


As a reader, blank lines don't keep me from feeling jerked around when I am taken from one POV to another, not for my benefit, but to make things easy for an author to explain something to me. And all too often it's something I am intelligent enough to have figured out for myself if the author had SHOWN me rather than decided to TELL me.

Editors don't care how many times you change POV, as long as it is for the reader's benefit. Neither do I, whether I am reading a book or judging a contest entry, if the transition is smooth and enhances my reading experience I may not even notice it. If I do notice, it's usually because the change hurt my relationship with the story.

As a reader I get involved with the POV character. I care about him or her and their goal, and the inner and outer conflicts they deal with during the scene. Especially their Inner Conflict. So I want to stay with t hem until the scene ends, I don't want to be yanked away or pulled away or even blank-lined away into another character before that happens.

I know there are techniques like cutting where the reader is deliberatly yanked around to increase the level of suspense.  And I know there are authors like Sherillyn Kenyon who are often sited as examples of why POV changes should be allowed. And the intimacy scenes where moving between the hero and heroine is almost a requirement. But those are special cases. (Yes, I love Sherillyn's work and use her as my own personal text book, analyzing her to figure out how she makes it work when so many other authors, myself included, can't. And I do see her as another of those special cases)

I would like to ask why writers (usually beginning writers) think they need to change POV inside a scene. A scene is a unit of conflict, best told from the POV of the character that has the most emotional conflict and not ending until that character's conflict is resolved (either things are made better or worse - and I admit I like it when they end up worse off than ever) At that point, a switch to anothe POV, often done in the sequel to the scene to set up the next scene, doesn't damage my reading experience.

For this reader, give me one POV until the conflict is the scene comes to a head. Let me stay with the character I care about and I'll finish the book and run out to search for your next one.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Review - Jazz In Love

Jazz in LoveJazz in Love by Neesha Meminger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved this view into a world the same as, yet very different from, the one I grew up in. Jazz's parents launch a Guided Dating Program for her once she is seen hugging an unknown boy. It happens to be her neighbor and friend from childhood, but she fears her parents are so old-word (India) and caste-bound that she can't tell them it was him and meant nothing.

Or did it?

She especially can't tell them about her relationship with Tyler, the new uberhunk in school, who calls her Baby J and leaves her trembling when he smiles. Not even the fear that her parents will send her to live in India can keep her from sneaking out to date him.

Inevitably her lies catch up with her. But not before she reunites her aunt-the victim of an abusive ex-husband-with a lost love on television and gets in major trouble for her effort, gains a boyfriend of the right family and caste that her parents think is perfect, loses him when he comes out as gay (but Indians can't be gay), uncovers Tyler's shameful secrets and discovers that maybe love isn't really what she thinks it is, and that the boy next door might mean more to her than she first realized. If this sounds complicated it is, and the author admirably pulls all the threads together. My one regretis that I wanted to see more of some of the supporting cast, including the aunt and her daughter and Tyler who turns out to be more than just the 2-dimensional player he seems to be in the beginning. No, he's not right for Jazz, but I wish he had done more than just fade away from the pages as the book drew to a close. At least her parents aren't exactly the dragons she paints them and she learns some important lessons about herself, her family and the value of the truth. As for love...she still has plenty of time for that. After she's done that India thing.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

My day in jail

I went to jail last week.

Unlike most people who enter those walls, I arrived as a visitor and had an escort to the multi-purpose room where I was to be a speaker. But I still had to pass through gates past tall fences with rolls of barbed wire at the top, pass through the metal detector, answer questions and leave my personal belongings behind in a locker. There was no way to even imagine I was anywhere but in a secure facility, namely the Illinois Youth Center (IYC) in Joliet, part of the state's department of juvenile justice. The facility houses young males, most between the ages of 15 and 21.

Students shuffled into the room, one cell block at a time in an orderly fashion, required, because their guards kept them single-filed and properly spaced out. I faced a room of disinterested faces, from vacant to scowling, silent young men staring at walls, floor or maybe inner memories. And then I read the first chapter of PULL. No, they didn't suddenly sit up straight and clap, or morph into a typical high school assembly. But they listened. Heads busy contemplating the floor or counting ceiling tiles moved to focus on me as I explained my writing process and told them the story of how I came to write a book about a teenaged male like themselves, for teenaged males like themselves. Once the first question was asked—admittedly by a teacher—many began raising their hands to speak.

I heard the typical questions.

Could I publish one of their stories? No, I had to explain my own relationship with my publisher.

Was PULL a true story? It’s a compilation of real episodes that have happened to many different people. All the things that happen to David did not happen to any one boy I know, but nothing in the book has not happened to someone.

How much does a writer make? I reluctantly admitted that if you count all the hours spent writing, editing and revising, not to mention promoting, it amounts to sub-minimum wage. At least no one laughed when I explained it had all been a labor of love.

Mostly the young men in the audience wanted me to read more. Like children hungry for a little more of a new bedtime story, they listened as I read about the teen bad-boy. I wonder if he became a hero in their eyes after they heard a scene about him and his many girlfriends. They also listened to the scene where the hero fights him to defend one of the girls.

I donated an autographed copy to the school library and the guys were claiming dibs before they were dismissed. The principal and I wanted to get copies for the boys. Unfortunately they can’t have hardcover books in their cells for a variety of security reasons. Since there are no plans for a paperback edition until the far future, I am left with no way to meet the needs of the kinds of young people I wrote this book for.

I don’t regret going to Joliet. I just regret not being able to do more.

Later this week I will visit another school. The kids there may be just as receptive as their counterparts in the IYC. If so, they at least will be free to get copies of the book. But that won’t lessen my regret for what I can't do for the boys in Joliet.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Book Review - Huntress

HuntressHuntress by Malinda Lo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was at the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association)conference in November and was NOT one of the pucky people to obtain a pre-release copy of Huntress there although I heard the author speak and lusted after on. Two weeks later I went to the NCTE (National Cozuncil of Teachers of English) and snarfed up a copy the second I saw it available. I like books that are outside th normal fare. Huntress is not only different from Ash, it is different from any other paranormal or fantasy. It is only loosly a prequel to Ash, they are both set in the same universe where fairies and other creatures co-exist with humans in a not to easy alliance. Several hundred years seperate the two books, and the relationship between the species is different, but you lose nothing by reading them in either order, there is no true connection.

BTW, I enjoyed Huntress even more than Ash. This book took me to a world where the fate of humanity rests on the shoulders of two extraordinary teenaged girls, one in training to be mystic, the second a huntress. Although they had been in school together, neithe had paid much attention to each other until they find themselves on a quest to answer the call of the Fairy Queen and try to overcome the mysterious blight that is devistating the human world. And in the course of this quest, the two girls fall in love.

Theirs is not a world where being a lesbian is considered a fate worse than death or cause for being ostricized. In one scene the king's son who accompanies them on their quest to find the Fairy Queen, asks the huntress if he will need to fight her for the love of the female guard traveling with them. The big issue between the huntress and her family is not that she is a lesbian, but that her father has already set up a politically advantagous marriage for her, just as he did her brother. Her mother explains that politically advantagous marriages involving two women are rare, and she will just have to obey her father. So she jumps at the idea of this quest to keep her away from her father and the unknown future husband he has chosen for her, at least for a time. The mystic has another problem. If she is to fulfill her destiny she desperatly wants she must remain celibate. But she also wants a future with the huntress she now loves. She has a vision of something terrible happening to the Huntress, and, as one member of the party after another dies or is injured she fears she will lose the girl she loves.

This sets up the final conflict between the two. Huntress doesn't have the traditional happily ever after ending, but once the ending arrived I realized it was inevitable. There was nothing else the author could have done and retained the integrity of the world she created. And that is the mark of an excellent storyteller, that she gives the ending a reader can accept as the RIGHT way to end the book.

I truly want to see more of this world and hope there will be more books coming.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

First Sale blog

This weekend I'm guest blogging with Barbara White Daille, about my first sale. Come over and check things out. One lucky commenter will get an autographed copy of PULL!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Agents and editors are not our writing coaches. They’re not there to teach us how to fix mistakes we should have learned in craft classes and writing groups.

If our manuscript is close, if it’s getting there but still needs work, that’s our issue, not theirs. Hence the form rejection. Any kind of personalized rejection means they see something of value in the work and they want to encourage us to keep on writing. Congratulate your self on each of those efforts, because some agent or editor thought you were good enough to deserve the extra time in their already overfull schedule for that little encouragement. The form rejection takes a few seconds. That note meant they spent long minutes composing a note specific to you and your effort. Read it, treasure it, print it out and frame it. And then get back to writing more things. Because, unless they specifically ask to see a revised version, they don’t want you to send that piece back to them. So don’t antagonize someone who likes your work by by handing them the same piece they already rejected after a few unasked for revisions.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Boy Book Review - all the broken pieces

All the Broken PiecesAll the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The story of 7th grader Matt Pin is told in verse, a format I usually dislike (I'm not a poem person). But this book, one of many I learned about at the YALSA conference on diversity, gripped me from page one and never let me down. The tight writing enabled me to feel what the boy struggles through.  Matt and his Vietnamese mother were abandoned by his American soldier father before he was born. At the age of ten he was airlifted out of Viet Nam and adopted by an American family, leaving his mother and crippled half-brother behind. Three years after being adopted by an American family he's dealing with enemies in school, a beloved coach facing cancer, a new baby brother who might take his adopted family's love away, and injured Vietnam veterans who force him to confront his feelings about the past. Now his family has their own child, and he's left worrying about his future. Will there still be a place for the boy who looks different from everyone else, the boy who cannot forget his past?

This book brought back the Viet Nam era in a way no other book I have ever read did for me. The wounded vets help Matt understand that his mother had to have loved him to give him away. His adopted father deals with guilt over his medical school deferrment. And a schoolmate who hates Matt because "my brother died over there because of you," helps Matt overcome his own guilt over the accident that crippled the brother he had to leave behind.

This is more than a book for middle school and more than just a boy book. Young people and adults of all ages will be pulled into this world and time that many of us tried to forget, and that Matt cannot forget. In the end I know it's not IF Matt heads back to Vietnam to find his mother and brother, its WHEN.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Return from YALSA

I came back from the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) conference earlier this week. Rest assured, I'll blog about that event soon. But today I want to talk about what happened when I left.

The conference ended Sunday at noon with a great keynote address from Ellen Hopkins and Lauren Myracle, two often banned YA authors who spoke on their experiences to the appreciative audience of librarians.  I stayed in Albuquerque until Monday for a little sightseeing and then took a 10:00 shuttle to the airport. My 1:00 flight left me with almost three hours to kill, so I approached the snaking security line without concern. No worries, not even when I realized I was about to have my first full-body scan.

I'd like to tell you I got zapped and felt the radiation surge through my body. No such luck. It was an anti-climactic experience - step on the mark, hold your hands over your head, big whoop. I passed.

My suitcase didn't.

With threat level orange, the man eyeing the x-ray machine saw something he didn't like inside my bag, so I needed to unpack for things with a TSA monitor. And that's where things got to be fun.  Bet you never thought you'd hear anyone say TSA and fun at the same time, but the lady was a joy for this little introvert to talk to.

She chatted about the number of books in my suitcase - librarian's symposium = lots of free books to bring home which was probably most of the problem.  As we spoke she picked up one of my two remaining ARCs of PULL (every other ARC had been distributed to conference-goers). I told her she was holding the book I had written.

Suddenly I was a celebrity. She even called her nephew and fellow TSA employee over to introduce him to her author friend. I gave her some of the promotional chachkas I've learned to carry with me at all times as we continued unloading my suitcase. (Seriously, I even carry a supply when I go to the bathroom because you never know.) She gushed, talking telling her librarian friends that she knew an author, and her church group and her book club and...and a voice inside my head said, "Just give her an ARC."

Sometimes you just have to listen to those voices.

She swore to read it and pass it on, promised to email me and we even discussed the possibility of an invite to town to visit her book club, too. By the way, my bag passed it's second scan, and she helped me repack before picking up the book and promotional literature like it was made of spun gold and heading to her locker to put them safely away.

Ohmigod, I think I have another fan.

See the Pull Book Trailer on YouTube.

Monday, November 8, 2010

VOICE - What it it?

Your author’s Writing Voice is the force that makes one reader hate your books, and (hopefully) thousands of readers love them. This voice isn’t about how the hero or heroine speaks. A character’s southern accent or stammer or expletive-laden manner of speaking is different from an author’s writing voice. Your writing voice is part of the author’s personality, and just as we all have a distinct individual personality, we also have a distinct writing personality.

Voice is created by the unique combination of style (sentence structure and word choice), tone (mood), descriptive imagery, theme (the broad issues an author feels passionate enough about to address in his or her writing), and the types of POV characters used to tell the story. Your voice is the sum of your history, economic background, upbringing, moments of triumph and despair. Accept that, embrace and use those factors to empower the words you write.

While I hate analogies, (that too is part of my voice) I will use one now and compare a manuscript to a human body:

Main characters Brain

Plot (outer journey) Muscles

Scenes Skeleton

Setting Skin

Story (inner journey) Heart

Theme Blood vessels

I know it’s not exact—I hate analogies, remember—but I’m going to call your writer’s voice the blood supply. Blood carries the fuel that empowers the body. A good circulatory system keeps that body zinging. That makes the characters move through their inner and outer arcs with punch and appropriate pacing, armed with power-laden verbs and tight writing. Voice supplies that zing with skillful word choices and sentence structure and the occasional plot twist.


All fiction writers know we are supposed to show, not tell. In the showing we reveal our voices.

She was sad.

Anyone can tell a reader that. But how an author reveals the character’s morose nature, or despair, uncontrollable heartache or simply very bad day, is shaped by that author’s voice.

Take a look at two different ways of describing my own novel, PULL

A seventeen-year-old boy named David feels guilt after his mother’s death and dedicates himself to fulfilling her last wishes even though they are at odds with his one needs. He meets a girl, makes enemies, angers family members, throws away a chance at a college scholarship and drops out of school.

Interesting –I think not. Even I yawn. It’s my story, my plot, but not my voice.

Let me try again, this time with feeling.

The world implodes for seventeen-year-old David when his father kills his mother. Guilt over his inability to protect her drives him to concentrate on fulfilling her last wishes for him – that he complete his education. But he is happier working with his hands than sitting in classrooms that feel like prison cells. David deals with homework and hormones that draw him ever closer to Yolanda, who means trouble because she’s bad boy Malik’s girl. When Yolanda and David get together, sparks fly, leading Malik to threaten David’s freshman sister. David’s problems converge as he struggles to rescue his sister without resorting to violence, and then has to choose between his mother’s dreams for him and his own dream of working with his hands for a mentor he has grown to admire.

It’s exactly the same plot, but these words hold my theme, my passion…and my voice.

On another note, think about voice in music. It only takes a few notes to recognize the difference between Lady Gaga and Mariah Carey or between Snoop Dogg and Justin Beiber. (Can you tell I write YA?) OK, between Joe Cocker and Frank Sinatra. Even if the singers are saying the same words there are important and unique differences in delivery: style, tone, pacing, timbre and emphasis.

The same is true with the writer’s voice. What makes one Cinderella story different from another? Why does one pair of star-crossed lovers stand out from the horde? Answer: style, tone, pacing, timbre and emphasis. It’s all in the delivery, the way we tell the story, how we present a plot to the reader.

Finding your voice:

Examine the things, feelings and ideas you feel passionate about. What kinds of writing do you like to read: humorous, witty, acerbic, playful or intense? Look at your sentence structure? Do you tend to write in a choppy, stream-of-consciousness fashion, in short, declarative sentences or perhaps in long, weighty, and complex sentences?

Your voice is you reaching out of the pages and sucking in the reader with a promise they will enjoy the read.

It’s you fulfilling that promise.

It’s you leaving them panting for more.

In today’s market, your voice is the force that will make readers return to select another one of your books over those written by your very sizable competition.

Strengthening your voice:

After completing three novels and multiple short stories, I finally noticed a consistent theme embedded inside my works. Underneath everything else, my very angst-ridden voice reflects family and the idea that people having the right to decide their own futures, even if society and family object and have supposedly better plans. It’s my passion, and it colors my writing. Study your own passions, recognize and use them to help strengthen your voice and distinguish you from other writers.

Exercise makes your body strong; writing exercises make your writing voice strong, too. The process of writing itself shapes your voice. So write. And keep on writing.

Final thoughts

Consider the eternal agent/editor question: why are you the person to write this book? “Because I wanted to,” is not the correct answer. They’re asking what you bring to the story that is new, fresh and different. The real answer involves your voice and how you empower the words on the page. On the one hand a writer is supposed to take him or herself out of the book and let the characters be themselves. But a good book is more than a recital of bare facts, so we have to turn around and insert ourselves back into the mix.

The experience of reading gives human beings something that no other art form, not even a movie, can. A great read pulls us into another world, lets us experience a life outside of the one we live, and come back form that refreshed and sometimes even changed. Your writer’s voice pulls readers on a ride that begins with the promise of the opening hook and ends with the strong and emotionally satisfying ending. A strong voice ensures that readers will see and experience exactly the same world when they read your words as you saw in your mind when you wrote them. Best of all, it leaves reader panting for more of your energetic and passionate voice. The trick is to define your voice, to strengthen and develop it, and make it pulse through your story.

So be passionate about your writing. Be authentic and artful, and you too will reach that destination called "strong voice."

Here's to making your voice jump from the pages.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I'm enjoying a travel day

Today I'm on my way to the YALSA conference in Albuquerque where I'll be mingling with Librarian talking about Diversity in literature and their library populations. I'm most interested in the discussions on ethnic characters and covers. 

I've heard that the printer has rectified the problem, so PULL will only be delayed a couple of weeks. In the interim, please enjoy this download of Chapter One.  Read and leave a comment telling me what you think.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

If not for bad luck...

This has been one of my worst weeks ever.  Things were supposed to pop. After all, October 27 was supposed to be the release date fro my debut novel, PULL. Great reviews have arrived from
I interviewed with Bethany Hegedus, guest lectured at Romance University, had my face in the newspaper, and my book trailer was completed. I was scheduled for not 1, not 2 but 3 booksignings for November. What more could I ask?

And then, as the saying goes, the fit hit the shan.

I bought a new purse.  The strap broke after less than one week. Then I came home to find my garage door wouldn't open. And the repairman was not only late, he took royal advantage and overcharged me, knowing I was too distracted to notice until he was gone (and did he ever burn rubber hightailing it out of there).

I should have been prepared for the coup de grace, since bad things come in threes. But I was blindsided by the email from my publisher. PULL's release had to be delayed.

Somehow, the normally reliable printer had intermingled pages from another book. My 310 page opus had grown to 320 pages and could not be released. The good news, the problem was discovered before the books were shipped. The bad news - who knows how long it will be before the problem is corrected.

I had people psyched for the release. I had to tell two prizewinners they needed to wait to receive their autographed copies. I've got signings lined up Nov 8, 9 and 20, and only one of those can be moved.  While there will probably be books available for the Nov. 20 signing at the National Council for Teachers of English convention, and the Nov 8 event was moved to the end of November, my local library has already advertised the Nov. 9 group. I'll be there to talk to people, sans books to provide to a crowd that's been waiting for this since I first sold and are now primed to buy.

As they say, if not for bad luck I'd have no luck at all. I can't wait for next week's catastrophes.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Interview with PULL's "bad boy" - Malik Kaplan

The battle of the high school titans looms at Farrington High School with the arrival of new student, David Albacore. Senior Malik Kaplan is the long-term leader of just about everything in this school; guys don’t cross him and girls don’t leave him. But now there’s a new student, David Albacore who transferred in and began taking a lot of attention from teachers, students and the basketball coach. Suddenly there’s someone bigger than Malik, an unknown who has Malik’s long-time girlfriend staring, and who won’t back down.

It took a long time to get Malik to agree to an interview. Today was a short schoolday, and he agreed to hang around and talk to me. If I were a teenaged girl I guess I'd feel lucky. He knows how to let out buckets of charm. He is tall, with a build and confident air that makes him look much older than seventeen. His deep voice fills the room. No wonder he was Homecoming King, and is a sure bet to be Prom King as well.  Maybe the other students don't like him much, but they fear him.  Maybe he thinks that's enough.

“I heard there’s friction between you and the other members of the basketball team.”

His eyes narrow. “No trouble. We’d be fine if that pack of scrubs knew how to play.”

“What about David Albacore? He seems to know his way around the court.” Bringing up the new student in school is tricky. David and Malik have been enemies since David’s first day at Farrington. It’s like survival of the fittest, law of the jungle, two predators cannot occupy the same space, one has to go.

Malik's lips turn down at the corners and I wonder if this show of emotion is an indication of anger, or unhappiness or something else. “Albacore—no refugee from a fish tank takes over my school. How’d that make me look?”

"The guy's a good basketball player."

"Got you fooled too? He came from nowhere and needs to get back before someone hurts him."

I don't think Malik likes me. He's just tolerating my questions like some people tolerate a yappy dog. And when I ask, "Someone being you?", he shrugs and starts for the door.

As he reaches for the doorknob I say, “David's bigger than you.”

Just as I expected, the words make him whirl and return. “Like I give a--”

“Girls like him. Yolanda especially.”

"Yoyo belongs to  me and what’s mine, I keep. People need to know who I am and the penalty for messing with me.”

“What brought you two together?" I asked her the same question but got no real answer. I look at how he acts and ask myself why girls flocked around him. Yes, he's handsome, and his family has more money than most around here, but still, if he has a mean streak. Or was Yolanda wrong, is there more to this guy than just the ‘bad boy’ attitude and lifestyle?
"Then she should give me what I want, shouldn't she? I made her what she is. That girl was a nothing before I met her. She needs to appreciate what I do for her. Stuff Albacore can't."

"Yolanda said you were sometimes violent when you didn't get what you wanted." As I speak his jaw clenches and I notice the balled-up hands at his sides. I remember that we're alone in this office and that some people only tolerate that yappy dog for a little while.

"Piece of advice," he says. "Don't ask too many questions. You may not like the answers."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cowards way out, or Only way out

We tell kids these are the best years of their lives. Maybe we do our kids a disservice when we reminisce about the good old days of our childhoods. We say “Wait until you’re adults and have to face real problems.” My parents used to say these things to me. You want to see how bad life can be, they said, try being an adult. I know they were talking about hard jobs, debts, mortgages, sick children. I know they had forgotten what hell adolescence can be. At least, I know all that now. Back then, those words sometimes made me re-evaluate the whole want to grow up thing. Because life as an adolescent was hard enough.

How many of us continue heading for work every day knowing we would spend eight hours being laughed at, spat on, made jokes of, have foul language used to us and about us, told we were subhuman and deserved to be dead, hit, tripped and knocked down – and all in eyesight of the bosses who did nothing to make it stop. And then knew that when we went home our day would be on the news, for the world to see. We would sue or quit and refuse to return. Most middle school and high school students don’t have that option.

In fact, bullying begins in grade school. And with the internet and cell phones and the advent of cyberbullying, the torment doesn’t end when kids leave school. For better or worse, the online world is a part of today’s experience. Ask the adults ticketed because they just could not put their phones down or stop texting while driving. For many of today’s youth, the internet is the method of communication. And that means many of the bullied find themselves being just as tormented inside the supposed safety of their own homes.

And then there are the suicides.

Adolescence and young adulthood are times when we experience our strongest feelings and passions, while still having a minimum of life experience to draw on. Kids haven’t lived through enough disasters to know that things really do get better.

Earlier this year I had major surgery, a hysterectomy to remove a cancer in my uterus. I woke up in indescribable pain, with doctors and nurses treating it like it was nothing. My recovery took time, and as hours and then days passed, I remember being willing to do anything to have it end. Had someone walked into my hospital room with a gun and offered to shoot me to put me out of my misery I would have had to think long and hard before refusing what could be called an act of kindness. But I would have refused. Because, after more decades on Earth than I want to admit, I knew that no matter how bad the pain was, it really was temporary. As one of my favorite authors, Robert Heinlein, had my all time favorite character, Lazarus Long, say “These things pass…the trick is to live through them.”

But do people really know that fundamental rule of the universe, deep down in their guts, when they are eighteen, or fifteen, or eleven? Because those are the ages of the kids killing themselves over bullying. Those kids still believe that life is supposed to be fair, making it all the more bewildering for them that they are treated so badly. Its easy for adults to say that suicide is a cowards way out, but can we really expect these young people to have the life experience to know that? Any more than they know that …these things pass? And in the end, does it really matter what the bully’s motive was? If the victim is just as damaged, shouldn’t the perpetrator get some kind of punishment? Just wanting some amusement is no excuse for harassing others. In the adult world, we would call it what it is, harassment.

That’s why I’m with the “It Gets Better” campaign. Because for most kid, adolescence is not a fun time. A lucky few are happy, some get by, many are bored, and a startling number are damaged. Statistics say that 25-30% of kids in the U. S. are involved in bullying, either as bully or victim. And that, in spite of the recent publicity about kids being bullied because they are gay, most are not. Research says that all you have to be is “different.” Kids with emotional problems are heavy targets; they have fewer coping skills and are usually the last ones to tell anyone. Other sins that set bullies off can include being too tall, too short, first to develop or last, being skinny, fat, having an accent, or just the wrong taste in clothes – all make you a possible target. Even the sanest and most well-grounded of us can be irrevocably damaged after months and years of torment. Let’s do more for our kids. I taught Sunday school recently and learned that several youth in our church were being bullied, or had been in the recent past. In one case a child got no relief from the school, even though he was being bullied on school grounds. Teachers look the other way or don't believe him.

It’s not just in the papers, or somewhere far away. With suicide the number three killer of youth aged eight to twenty-four, it’s time we woke up, looked around, and did more than just feel sorry after they have found the only escape available to them.

Monday, October 18, 2010

After The CALL - They Want Me To Do WHAT!!

Visit me today for my guest spot on the Once Written, Twice Shy blog. (Yes, I am a shy writer. And proud of it too)

I'm blogging about life since getting the CALL. How this shy introvert faces the world of Promotion and Networking. I once thought all I had to do was write a good book.

Boy was I naive.

Visit me at Shy Writers for a chance to win a prize. Leave a comment about one of the pictures you see with the story. I'll pick the winner of an autographed ARC of PULL on Friday.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

And they all lived happily ever after

Or did they? And is that really what readers want to hear these days?
The trick is to craft that ever-elusive ESE - the Emotionally Satisfying Ending, and have it fit in with the four of five hundred pages that came before.

Recently my editor voiced her discouragement over manuscripts with strong beginnings and compelling middles that faltered at the end. After spending hours at home reading the most recent one (9-to-5 is a myth in the publishing world) the ending failed to fulfill the promise of the start and she was forced to reject the book.

Which left me thinking: what are the ingredients that make for a compelling ESE? The kind of ending that makes readers seek out an author’s backlist and yearn for his or her next release. An ending that sends them gushing to share their new favorite author with friends?

Act 1 begins with the all-important Hook. Writers spend long hours crafting that perfect first line. We take classes to make us better at hooking the reader, work with critique partners and use feedback from contests to make the opening pages zing as we lead our protagonists from their ordinary world into the end of Act 1 Crisis.

Then we roll up our sleeves and tackle the vast wasteland of Act 2. We devote time and energy to keeping those hundreds of pages from sagging and loosing the reader’s interest. With nose to the grindstone (I do love my cliché’s) we check plot points and sub-plots, speed up the pace, vary the setting, and make the disasters our protagonists have to face gut-wrenching. We verify goals and motivations and ensure there's enough high level and micro-conflict to keep readers turning pages.

Finally we, and our characters, reach the final lap, Act 3. At this point we sometimes sigh with relief and mission accomplished. We can relax, whip off a happy ending and we’re ready to send the manuscript off.

The problem is, sometimes we relax too soon.

Act 3 is usually the shortest act, but it contains a major story checkpoint, the moment of emotional release the Greeks called Catharsis. This is the moment when the protagonists, and by extension the reader, exhales. The emotions should reach from the page and grab the reader’s heart, providing him or her with a reward for following along the difficult road. This checkpoint, that may take a single paragraph or several pages, can make he difference between a good story and a great read.

All my favorite books have that moment  of emotional release. Whether it’s a romantic comedy or romantic suspense, paranormal or historical; no matter what happens in the plot, my favorite are defined by the end of the inner journey. They all give me endings that makes me laugh or cry or just a warm glow of triumph.

How do we as authors give our readers that sometimes elusive ESE. Those strong endings result from the build-up of emotion through every step of the Inner Journey, until the protagonists realize and overcome the character flaws that have kept them in turmoil. The writer’s final job is to provide the moment of release the reader has been waiting for. Done right, a writer leaves readers wanting more–begging and dying for more. And that frequently results in an agent or editor giving you a CALL.

My questions to writers — How do you bring your readers to the point where they feel it’s safe to relax and bring their heart rate back under control? How do you make them yearn for another book just like the one in their hands? How do you keep the reader haunting bookstores looking for more books with your name attached?

My questions to readers — Are there books that give you that exhale moment? What are your favorite books where the ending just won’t let you go?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Boy Book Review - I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies, #1)I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book harkens back to the old days of storytelling with an author working to convince the reader that the story being told is true and happening now. That the author is a refugee from another world, one of the Elders who escaped when their planet was invaded by neighboring Mogadarians and came to Earth to hide out and wait for a chance to take on the enemy. That nine children and their guardians also escaped, and are hiding on Earth, waiting for their teen years when super powers will appear so they can take vengeance and reclaim their world. I wanted to believe and be sucked in.

I wasn't.

Too many things just didn't tie together. Apparently Mogadarians have been on Earth for some time and are planning to kill us all and take our planet. But first they have to find and kill these nine kids in numerical order thanks to a magic charm. Number Three dies in the prologue, then we switch to Number Four's POV, a boy who's now fifteen after being on Earth for over a decade and has had a ton of false identities in the effort to stay ahead of the enemy.

Number Four and his guardian move to Ohio, when Number Three dies, and immediately begin making every crazy mistake imaginable. John Smith, since that's the name number four chooses for his current identity, gains a girlfriend and a best friend who learns he's an alien and still accepts him (the friend thinks his father was abducted by aliens years earlier) and even the school bully rally's around to help when the bad guys find them because John refuses to leave his friends. I know fifteen is a time of rebellion, but the kid bears three scars on his body that represent the other three dead kids, that should remind him that the threat is real. Yet, even he discovers the enemy a mere two hour drive away from their hideout, and Number Four knows his continued presence puts himself and his friends in danger, he forces his guardian to remain until it’s too late and they are under attack.

For me the real problem was the premise: that nine kids (six now), even armed with superpowers, could defeat an enemy that defeated the combined super powers of their families and others on their planet? The author mentions things a few times, saying that something doesn't make sense, apparently in the hope that by admitting it the reader won't mind. That did not work for me. Number Four’s ability to use light and fire and his telekinesis, and Number Six's ability to become invisible aren't enough to beat the group that comes after him. So help me, they need a magic dog to help them.

I really wanted to love this book. But as number four and number six drove off into the sunset prepared to search the entire Earth for the other survivors, I was just glad this story was over.

View all my reviews

Monday, October 4, 2010

Boy Book Review - The Hero

HeroHero by Perry Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thom Creed lives in a world where super-powered heroes are real and protect humanity from super-powered villains. He hides two secrets from his father, the former hero known as Major Might but now considered a pariah after his failure left thousands dead. Thom is fast developing a superpower of his own, the ability to heal illness and injury. And the League, the organization of superheroes that abandoned his father years earlier, wants him to join them.

Thom’s other secret – he’s gay.

He fears revealing either part of himself will hurt his father. While Thom forces down his growing feelings for Goran, his rival on the basketball court, he can’t deny his desire to be accepted by the League. That means he has to learn to handle his new powers while continuing to hide his inner feelings. This includes his concern that revealing his secrets would destroy his relationship with his father, fear that he will never find true love, and pain when he realizes he’s fallen for someone who already has a girlfriend. And then there’s that Dark Hero guy who seems to be stalking Thom. Dark Hero refuses to be part of the League and no one knows his true identity. But somehow he’s always around, apparently determined to ferret out every one of Thom’s secrets.

Thom wants to make a difference in the world. He wants to find a place for himself. Most of all, he wants his father’s acceptance. Although The Hero was written several years ago, the news headlines of today documenting bullying and teen suicides like the recent deaths of Tyler Clementi and Raymond Chase, make Thom’s promise to himself that he won’t even consider suicide all the more poignant. Thom faces a moment of truth, when the only way to protect an innocent man means revealing himself to a world that considers his sexual orientation more than just a violation of the morality clause in the League contract.

Naturally, the fate of the entire world ends up resting, literally, on Thom’s shoulders. And that’s when he learns the true caliber of his father, and the real strength of their relationship

The author, Perry Moore, renders Thom's emotions and journey in a believable fashion. Yes, the book has flaws. I kept wondering why Thom didn’t at least try to heal Miss Scarlet, another League newbie, when he discovered her illness. The League heroes are such obvious caricatures of the comic book heroes I read as a child it became a game to note who was, and who was not, included. And Dark Hero’s secret was easily guessed. Yet it all worked. And when Thom and his father face each other for the last time, my heart jumped. The Hero is a major coming-of-age, finding-yourself novel, with a strong and sympathetic, a good father and strong cast of friends, and I look forward to a sequel.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Interview with PULL's heroine, Yolanda Dare

Sixteen year old Yolanda Dare agreed to take the time to talk with us about herself. Her fashion sense is obvious, as is her intelligence and poise. She’s a junior at Farrington High School in Chicago, and well acquainted with both David Albacore and his rival Malik Kaplan two seniors with big complexes.

“What do we call you? Yoyo, The Dare, or…”

“My friends call me Yo. You can say Yolanda.”

“Love your outfit.” In many ways Yolanda is a diva. The kind of form-fitting pants that probably have the guys in her neighborhood panting. Short suede skirt paired with high boots. A perfect fall getup to go with immaculate makeup.

“I only go for the best.”

“Is that the reason you and Malik Kaplan got together? He was the school’s homecoming king, captain of the football team and that Mustang of his car of his oozes appeal.”

So help me God, the girl rolls her eyes and laughs. “Yes, he’s all those things and a whole lot worse.”

“Malik got violent sometimes, didn't he?"

“More than sometimes. I mean, he was OK when he got what he wanted, but he never learned to handle compromise well."

“What brought you two together? Even with all that, I look at how he acts and ask myself why girls flocked around him. I mean, I was young once myself and I understand how easy it is for a girl to lose her head over looks, but still, what does he have beside that ‘bad boy’ attitude and lifestyle?”

She shifts in her seat and sighs. “I don’t know how things were for you back in the day—”

“The day?” There she goes, just when I thought she was so adult, she proves herself to be a typical teen. “You mean when back when I was young? When dinosaurs roamed the Earth.”

“You’re funny. I was only talking about the Dark Ages. Still,” and now she grows serious, “there’s no place lonelier or scarier than high school. I knew right away Malik was in charge of the place, and since I didn’t intend being an outsider, I let him catch me. Having to face the world alone is too dangerous.”

“And lonely?”

Her eyes flicker. “Very lonely.”

“Any advice for other girls who find themselves trying to decide what to do when faced with chosing between hanging with someone like Malik and being alone?”

“Lots. They can take a look inside PULL, read my presentation to the Marriage and Family class. I meant every word, and Malik, as well as Mr. David Albacore, had better believe that. Or they better prepare to suffer the consequences.”

“But what do you really think of David?”

“Do I look like a girl who kisses and tells? Read the book, I’m sure he told most of the story. What he didn’t is just for the two of us.”

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Experiencing the Chicago Bookfair

The 24th annual 57th Street Children's Book Fair occurred September 19 near the beautiful University of Chicago campus on Chicago's south side. The fair hosted dozens of local booksellers and community organizations.

  The event featured storytelling, dancing, characters to entertain the kids, and, of course, books. 


I was one of the volunteers manning the SCBWI information booth, answering questions about SCBWI, handing out information and displaying member books, including PULL.

SCBWI Volunteers B. A. Binns, Kate Hannigan and son, and Olivia Issa, manning the information table
 57th Street Books was one of the fairs major sponsors. The bookstore purchased books of a number of local authors for a free booksigning for bookfair attendees.

Patricia J. Murphy signing Journey of a Pioneer

Cynthia Liu signing Paris Pan Takes the Dare
 I missed out on the popcorn, but handed out loads of PULL bracelets and brochures. And you better believe I got my copy of Cynthia Liu's book autographed.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Interview with PULLs Hero, David Albacore

Better late than never - I hope - I finally  managed to coral David Albacore for a talk. He's the narrator and main character in the new book, PULL, being released on October 27. Now eighteen, this young man has proven himself in the schoolyard, basketball court and in a construction yard. He has agreed to answer some final questions only a month before his story reaches bookstores.  He's here to answer questions about the book, and to make an offer for for people willing to leave a comment or ask him a question.

When I look at him even I find myself wondering what makes people think seventeen means you must still be considered a child?  He proves that years aren’t everything. He paces through my office, looking much more like a man than a boy, and too full of energy to remain still. Easy to understand how uncomfortable someone like David would be sitting in a chair for hours at a time in a classroom. Even easier to see him standing against the wind and carrying hefty weights without bending. This young man has had to deal with horrific trauma, and domestic abuse and somehow managed to bounce back.

Still, he was seventeen when the events in PULL unfolded. With two younger sisters to care for, the burden David feels must sometimes be overwhelming.

“You’re only eighteen, right?” I say to get things started.

He winks at me. “The magic age, yeah.”

“I know you think you’re a man, David, but legally there are restrictions on you. You can vote and drive, but you still can’t smoke or drink legally.”

His eyes narrow and for a second I’m afraid I’ve set off his near legendary temper. Then he laughed. “You’re one of the people who think calendars rule. Other than years, what does a man have that I don’t? I have a job, responsibilities, a family to take care of and people who respect me.”

“A future?”

“That too. Like I’ve said before, I’m too big to fall between the cracks and end up a statistic.”

By all the rules of logic he’s wrong. But somehow, as I look at his strong body and steely eyes I’m not sure this young man won’t get everything he intends. He is big. Six foot seven, muscular, athletic build and I’d bet the Chicago Bulls would really like to see him in red some day. And he smiles a lot more these days than when he first entered an inner-city school in Chicago.

"Construction is an important part of your life."

"Absolutely." I can hear it in his voice, this is something he loves. "Building homes, offices, making something from a hole in the ground. That's power, that's wonderful. Knowing something you helped raise will be there even after you're gone, there's no way to describe the feeling. It's powerful. That's a feeling I wanted to share in the book about me."

“The book on your life comes out in what, six weeks?”

“Not even. Can you believe, the thing will be on bookshelves in time for Halloween, like someone wants the season to match the school’s colors.”

I’d almost forgotten, his school’s colors are orange and black. Like David said on his first day there, it’s laughable if you’re a Halloween person. Which I happen to be.

“Are you excited?” I ask him.
Like a typical man, he stops in the middle of the room, as motionless as anyone with his high energy could ever be and scowls. “Of course. Can’t you see me jumping for joy?”

I wonder how the women in his life put up with him?

“You still have an enemy at school. Are you worried about Malik’s reaction to the way you describe him in the book?”

“About who?” David tossed his head and waved his hand as if he were brushing away an annoying flea. “The guy’s still a gangsta clown with a capital ‘C.’ Look, do you worry when you say dirt’s full of germs? Truth may hurt, but it is what it is. Any other questions?”

“Where do you see yourself in ten years?”

“Ten?” A slow grin spreads across his face. “I’ll only need five to be king of the construction landscape around here.”

It's all typical male bravado from a brass and boastful youth. Still, when he speaks I almost believe there will be an Albacore Construction company as the number one in Chicago. If ever a young man had drive, that man is David Albacore.

“I want to thank you for sharing your story with the world. I’m sure many parts of it was difficult for you to reveal.”

“I tried to make the story honest. It’s me.” He paused before sighing and said, “I’m just a guy with his own problems and his own way of handling them. My story isn’t typical and there’s not a lot of books, not about guys like me, and not FOR guys like me. Like you say, some of us are just real. Maybe my story will let others know they’re not alone.” He leans forward with his hands on his hips, like he thinks he’s staring into a camera. “Maybe I don’t like school, but I do know reading is important. I want guys to read my book and see a part of themselves. Girls too.” He throws his hands in the air. “Hey, everybody read all about David. You’ll like me.”

“Some people are afraid your choices may send the wrong message.” What if kids read your book and want to follow in your footsteps?”

“They can’t. My future belongs to me. Everyone out there has their own lives. That’s what I had to learn, that a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do no matter what other’s think. My choices belong to me, only to me. Everyone has to follow their own path. If I learned anything it’s that you can’t be yourself by playing follow the leader.”

PULL was a finalist in Maryland's Reveal Your Inner Vixen Contest in 2009,” I remind him and fight back a laugh when his head jerks. “What do you feel about that honor?”

“Honor?” His face goes blank for a moment. I’d almost call him embarrassed, until he shrugs and says, “Give that one to my girl, Yolanda. She gets the credit for things like that.”

“And when PULL won the Golden Rose Contest in Oregon?”

Now a smirk fills his face. “I’ll take credit for that one. I hear the final judge really loved me.”

He’s young, handsome, ultra smooth and confident so it’s easy to see why.

“Any last question for the readers of this blog?”

For several seconds the corners of his eyelids droop as he remained silent, apparently lost inside his thoughts. Then he nods. “Yeah, I’d like to know what people think about books that step outside the ordinary."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Boy book review - Acceleration

It may be cliché, but ACCELERATION by Graham McNamee, is highly suspense-filled roller coaster of a story. Things begin slowly with Duncan, an ordinary teen in an ordinary boring summer job working for an ordinary – if a little suspicious – boss.

The reader soon discovers that Duncan has a nightmare that won’t release him, the memory of a drowning girl he could not save. He also has a daymare: the knowledge that a man who began by experimenting with mice, cats and dogs, now stalks human victims. The killer has his eye on three women, and its only a matter of time before he selects his next prey.

Duncan’s unwanted summer job at the lost-and-found brings perks, an unclaimed prosthesis, a practically new leather jacket, him a book: the diary of a madman. The level of peril rises quickly as Duncan is sent hurtling into the mind of a serial killer in search of a victim. Duncan juggles loving but clueless parents, a girlfriend who has already dropped him because of his over-protectiveness since the drowning incident, and a boss who has his own reasons for wanting to be buried alive in the world of the subway’s lost-and-found. He is assisted by a supporting cast of two very different friends. Vinny, intelligent but reclusive, a disabled youth who intends to laugh-at-myself-before-others-laugh-at-me but who believes in the danger exposed in the diary and wants to help. And Wayne, Duncan’s long-term always-in-trouble-with-the-law best friend, a young man Duncan doesn’t dare share with until it’s almost too late.

When police refuse to believe the diary is anything but a joke, Duncan first tries to find and warn the victims, then is forced to pursue the killer himself. His nightmare and daymare converge when he uncovers the killer’s dungeon. And the killer himself.

The amixture of thriller and light moments and Duncan’s quest to save an innocent life that kept me turning the pages. Teenaged boys will see themselves in Duncan and his supporting cast: Vinny I’ll friend who believes in the diary and wants to help, and friend Wayne who provides the final clue that helps Duncan vanquish the killer, and the demons that have stalked him since the death at the beach.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

And Girls are not Boys

Gender identity may be more than just a state of mind, but there are differences in the way the average boy and the average girl think and view the world. I stress average on purpose. Of course there is overlap. We're humans, not guinea pigs, and we are all unique, all fall somewhere on a scale of likes, behaviors, activities, etc.

Take my daughter. When she was three, she decided she was a boy. There was nothing anatomical or sexual about this. She had just started daycare and finally noticed the gender differences that are obvious at that age. Boys ran around, climbed on forts, played rough--all her favorites. Girls sat at tables and held tea parties. Can you say boring? She certainly did. Add that most of the girls were in dresses and she was a 100% pants lady at that age and she came home to announce that she was a boy.

My child did, and I think sometimes still does, believe wishing hard enough for something can make it happen. That belief caused her trouble as a child and still makes her life more difficult than it should be now that she is in her twenties...but that's another story.  The important thing is I let her be a boy, which lasted for several months. I don't know who set her straight. Not the boys, she always kept up with them, never asked for help, did what they did, and at that age, boys are pretty tolerant. Probably a teacher finally made her see the light, or she just aged enough to realize you can be rough and tumble and still be a girl. That scale thing, remember?

Personality seems to trump dress and even society's dictates. And, again on average, a guy has a different personality. He wants to do, and is impatient with anything that calls for him to be still for long periods of time. And that's not ADD, that's perfectly normal. Unfortunately, reading is one of the things that calls for his muscles to stop flexing while the organ between his ears takes over.  That's harder for an active personality than for someone who has no trouble sitting at a table and feeding tea to toys and invisible friends.

As a writer who wants to have both boys and girls read her books, I have to understand that when I consider pacing and the staging of events in my books. If I let things slow down, if I bore him for even a minute, I will lose him. I may have raised a daughter, but she had enough of that energy in her to let me understand that some folks just can't wait around for the good part. It better all be "good parts."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Boys are not just girls continued

When you’re a female writer who ignored her younger brother and never had a son and you want to write a book that will appeal to male readers, research takes on a whole new meaning. Or maybe that was an advantage. The teenage females and males had to be realistic and they had to be today’s youths. Too much knowledge might have led me to try utilizing my memory of the way things were when I was younger. Instead, I had to work hard on discovering how kids are TODAY. While I never tried to dress in boys clothing or walk into the men’s room, I spent a month waking up each morning and reminding myself that I was a boy. By that I meant spend the day seeing life as if I were a seventeen year old boy. (And an alpha male at that) It was hard at first, but after a few weeks I really slipped into the role. I even began viewing teenage girls through new eyes. (I promise I’m back to normal now.) I hung around teen boys and mixed groups, flagrantly eavesdropped and especially noted the differences between the way they acted with girls present and without.

Here are some points I used to keep both sets of readers interested:

1. Accept gender differences when building the major characters. As much as we adults may wish our kids were gender neutral, they aren’t. Girl protagonists can be tomboys, boy protagonists cannot be wimps. While it will always be true that girl readers love the hot hunk, they will also take a guy with a “softer side.” Male readers will be turned off.

2. Did everything I could to keep up the pacing and insert micro-tension to keep readers wondering now only how major plot points would be resolved by the end of the story, but, more importantly, the immediate issue of what would happen on the next page.

3. Give the guy strong male friendships. In PULL, I handed the hero two male friends, and they bonded the old-fashioned way, through physical competition. Girls may become BFF’s by talking and common interests, boys usually bond via activity.

4. In addition to being an alpha, my hero is also a tortured soul. He’s a guy who needs the love and support of a good woman—meaning the female reader can mentally insert herself into that role, and the male reader can understand his feelings about the girls in his life.

5. The villain is almost as hot as the hero. As my villain and villain battle for supremacy in school, sports and the heart of the heroine, there is also a not-so-subtle battle in the female reader’s mind over which is the hottest hunk, just to be sure both genders remain interested.

6. Finally, just for the female readers, I handed the hero younger sisters. This gave the added benefit of possibly appealing to MG readers. The fourteen-year-old sister is tough, not butch, but definitely someone capable of being pals with a guy as well as a girl female readers can like and worry about.

Did I succeed in creating a book that both young women and men will enjoy reading? Readers will tell me soon enough when it goes on sale at the end of October. But word from my trial readers were good, at least no one called David a wuss. And I guarantee I received some benefits just from the effort. I’ve learned to love today’s music and found some new teen and tween friends.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

No, boys are NOT just girls with a few anatomical differences

Because my debut novel is a first person coming of age and YA romance written entirely from the male's POV, I am sometimes asked what the differences are in writing with a male vs female protagonist. To  me this goes farther. I wanted not just to write from the guy's point of view, but to be realistic enough to attract male readers while not turning away female readers. Actions, activities and motivations that attract and even captivate a young female reader can completely turn off a young male, making the effort a delicate tight-rope.

First, I had to keep in mind that boys are not just girls. Not even when you take the obvious anatomical differences into consideration. The medical and phsycological experts I spoke to during the research phase of writing PULL left me convinced. Evolution has wired guys differently.  Show don't tell is slightly different when trying to reach a male who is primarily sight-oriented. I was told again and again my young male would not care about differences in smells or textures - and if he even noticed them the male reader would consider him a wimp and lose interest. On the other hand, the female reader would want to know that different perfumes or fashions would effect him. They do--the fashions at least--depending on exactly how much of her they show.  Meaning I had to be careful not to turn the girls off by revealing what guys are REALLY thinking. Girls are still the majority readers and I did not want to risk alienating them in my quest for reality.

I originally intended PULL to be traditional third person with alternating POV's between the hero and heroine. I think the struggle to do the male POV is what changed that decision. It was easier to actually become him doing first person. And suddenly I decided it was important to stay him, and to let readers of both genders see the heroine and her arc through his eyes.

I also had to keep an eye on the basic rules of writing for young adults. Their books need tight writing and strong hooks. The plural is deliberate. You have to hook a younger reader and then hook them again and again. If you want to write for young adult male readers the task is even harder. The hooks have to be stronger and more plentiful, filled with enough tension and action to keep those pages turning.

At a recent conference I heard an editor say that “readers are rude.” This was not meant in a bad way. She was stressing that a reader can, and frequently will, put down our books and never pick them up again. If the pace slows, or characterization isn’t strong, or activity fails to move the story forward, or the action is motiveless or the motive is confusing, or any of a dozen other reasons, a reader will drop you. Especially a young adult reader.

In a way writing for young adults is more difficult than writing for adults. YA’s are less tolerant of pacing and characterization issues and they catch on faster if we’re pretending to understand their world. We aren’t writing down to kids, we have to write as if we were kids. And we have to remember the fast pace of our competitors, the other things that draw on their time and attention. And we have to supply them with a steady stream of “good parts” to keep a reader engaged. Adults may have learned patience and be willing to live with delayed gratification. Our tween and teen readers are likely to demand that ALL parts be good parts.

To complicate things, a young male and young female definitions for good parts may overlap, but will not be identical. As middle graders, both genders have similar likes and dislikes. But as they hit adolescence and beyond, that changes. Fortunately there is still some overlap

Next: What I did to make PULL good for both genders

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Things I learned from contests

I have served as both judge and contest coordinator in numerous RWA contests for the past three years. I’ve also entered almost a dozen contests. Won two, including the one that brought with it my agent, Andrea Somberg. And was a finalist in two others, including the 2010 Golden Heart.

To me, contest judging, and being a finalist, are not unrelated. While I have never judged in a contest category that I entered, I have never judged in a contest without learning something that helped improve my writing.

The very first contest I judged taught me a lasting lesson on the problem with passive writing. You cannot write in a strong voice if your writing is passive. I found myself looking over an entry, trying to uncover why it felt slow, boring and difficult to read. As I examined the writing I realized two things. A—the entry had numerous passive sentences that were grammatically correct and probably would have received an A in English class, but made the fiction ponderous. And B—the author and I used the same kind of sentence construction.

Yes, I, too wrote in the passive.

When I read my own words they always sounded impossibly brilliant. When I read someone else’s words written using the same style I realized how dull passive sounds to everyone but the writer. I think my brain automatically corrects, just as it sometimes does for grammar errors, and the words from my old English classes come and congratulate me. It is good business writing. But terrible for telling an exciting story.

My passive sentences still sound brilliant to me. But, lesson learned, I now spend an entire edit cycle just going over my manuscripts on a seek-and-destroy mission to rewrite and strengthen every instance of passive construction I uncover.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sweet Sorrow

One of the characters in my books, bright, intelligent and still a freshman, likes to quote famous authors. She’s especially bit on Shakespeare. So today is one of those days when she might say, “Parting is such sweet sorrow…”

She would be wrong. When death does the parting there is nothing sweet about the sorrow.

His name is David Gran and he is—was—the poster child for curmudgeon. As I write this I can still say IS, but there are only weeks, days, maybe only hours before his deep sleep elongates into forever. I’ve know him for three years. I can’t really call us friends, certainly not close friends. He was like Cliff Clavin on Cheers, he knew everything thank you very much and don’t try telling him he might be even a tad off. The man would lean back in his chair, cross his arms over his stomach, and by word, expression, body language and shear force of personality assure you that you were worse than wrong. Arguing with Dave was the definition of futility.

But someone it was impossible to stay angry with him. A dozen times over the years I would swear to never speak to him again. But somehow it wasn’t really possible to hold a grudge. In fact, when my debut novel comes out in October, his name is featured on the acknowledgements page. I just wish he’d be around to see it. He was very proud when he learned I was about to be published.

He first talked about being in pain last November. Over the next weeks he complained loudly about doctors and their inability to diagnose whatever was bothering him. he was tested inside and out, and when they kept coming back negative I thought him a bit of a hypochondriac.

Then, in January, I fell into the hands of doctors myself. Modern medicine does have a bad habit of assuming the simplest explanation for problems. They decided I had a fibroid. It took them a few blood tests, x-rays, a sonogram, and finally surgery to correctly diagnose the problem – uterine cancer. Then more test, more surgery, and radiation to wipe out any straggling cancer cells. The surgeon will continue testing me for years (ladies, can you say a pap test every three months?)

Dave’s doctor’s eventually diagnosed him with prostate cancer, not unexpected for a man in his seventies. He was given chemotherapy and expected to carry on. His spirit remained strong. I’ll be back, he swore to his friends.

Both Dave and I were in treatment during the spring and early summer. Sometimes when I saw how his body changed I thanked God I had radiation without chemo. I got better. He got worse. Dave’s body changed physically, his pain grew worse until he was admitted to the hospital for bad reactions to the medication. Eventually he was sent home with a wheelchair, a full-time aide, and a new diagnosis. There had been a terrible mistake. Not prostate cancer…testicular.

Not all cancers are created equal. Prostate cancer is something men can live with. Testicular cancer is out for blood. And the chemo that would have helped his prostate cancer only exacerbated the testicular cancer. The doctors altered his treatment with new medication and procedures. But this virulent strain was in it to win. A few weeks ago the doctors admitted defeat. Treatment ceased. Dave entered hospice.

At first he remained his normal task-oriented self. He tied up his affairs, disposed of his motorcycle and other valuables and went so far as to purchase the iPad he had intended to give his daughter for Christmas. But the tasks have been accomplished, and by now there’s just more and more rest as the hospice nurse works to keep the pain away.

A few weeks, or days or hours and he’ll fall asleep one last time. And I’ll never see my old friend again.

Parting is more than just sorrow.

It’s just sad.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Everybody Pitches

It's true. Outside the novel writing world its called a resume, or a sales presentation or a job interview.  That's what a pitch is, a job interview, not for yourself, but for your manuscript. While we writers would all like to just say "take a look, you'll like it," that's not how this buyer's market works.

I have heard writers complain about their inability to digest their five hundred page epic into one or two paragraphs suitable for a query or a pitch session. I've said it myself - if I could tell a story in less than 80K words don't you think I would and save myself months of aggravation?

But the logline, the query, the pitch - these are all necessary skills. And the pitch you make to an agent or editor at a conference or the query you send out is just the start of a long chain of pitches. You pitch to an agent. He or she pitches to editors. In turn, they pitch to senior editors and their companies marketing department. The chain elongates as marketing pitches to customers. Not the men, women and children who eventually pick your book from the shelves and buy it. They pitch to bookstores and libraries where shelf space is at a premium. To book clubs and schools. Places that are selective about the new books and debut authors they take on.

So your pitch is just the start. Remember that as you develop, hone and practice the words that will make that first agent or editor sit up and grow interested. Think about all those words have to accomplish to get your work published and placed on bookshelves or where ePubs and and other online bookstores would list it in their catalogs.

So sharpen and polish your words and start the chain off in a powerful and enthusiastic manner.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Boy Book Review - Give a Boy a Gun

Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser

This is book makes no attempts at surprising the reader, we know from the opening that someone has died, and the description of the death - "...the bulet smashed into the left side of his skull and tore into his brain, he probably lived for ten to fifteen seconds" is powerful and disturbing. Told as a series of excerpts from interviews after the shooting, this book kept me turning pages to learn more about the school, the dynamics of the people involved and the shooters. We follow the two young men from seventh through tenth grade to the day of the shooting. No where do we get an answer to why they did it, that isn't the point of the book. What we see are the people around them, the friends and enemies, family members, school administration, we see signs, and we see how easily those signs were overlooked.

But that's the message for adults.

or teens, especially young boys, the message is simpler - these two young men, who thought no one cared about them, mattered to more people than they ever realized. Their loss leaves a void in the lives of others.  Everyone wants to matter, and I think every reader will see that these young men did matter, not because of what they did at the end of their lives, but because of  every moment they lived before that end.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Boy Book Review

Over The End Line, by Alfred C. Martino

As a long-time soccer fan, I picked up this book expecting to get a good read about the boys on a high school soccer team. This is a strong sports and life story, told by Duncan, a better than average player, but not a star. The book delivered that, along with lessons on rivalries, first loves and the discovery that you hero has feet of clay.

Over the end line began on a strong hook that promised a good mystery. We learn quickly that something horrible has happened, and know that Jonny Fehey, the protagonist, has witnessed a horrific crime and now needs to act. My problem with the novel began when I turned the page, expecting to find more, and instead found myself deposited in the past, months before the inciting incident. The pace slowed as characters were introduced and the relationships between the young men on the team were established. We meet Kyle, Johnny’s best friend, hero and rival for position as team star, Erik, the evil bully everyone on the team looks down on but continues to tolerate, and the girls who end up being stronger than any of the guys imagine. But I kept turning pages, wondering when we would get to the good part. By the time we finally returned to the present and reached the moment when Johnny unwittingly witnesses a horrific crime, what should have been a strong scene was almost a let-down.

The crime Jonny witnesses occurs about three quarters of the way through the book. The day he scores a game-winning goal that propels him into stardom, he gets too drunk to do anything except witness his girlfriend's rape by Erik and Kyle. From then on the suspense escalates as Jonny struggles with the returning memory of what happened that night and what he should do with that knowledge. As his girlfriend struggles with suicide, he confronts his teammates and the girl's best friends in separate showdowns that lead to additional tragedies and deaths and a victim’s need for vengeance.

The last pages are fast-paced, but very rough on the reader, and the ending both unexpected and harsh. There is no happy ending in this story. Just realistic people who make mistakes and have to pay for those mistakes, sometimes with their lives. And maybe that is the book's ultimate weakness for me. Jonny was no hero, but he was not a villain, either, just weak, so I didn’t the punishment he endured for his punishment deserved and left the book feeling cheated.

Will boys like reading this - I think so. There is good action, insight into tghe world of a soccer, male bonding, and some interesting scenes on the relationship between Duncan and girls. But they will have to be willing to get past the slow beginning to reach the "good stuff."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

After The CALL - What makes for a good ending?

Today I'm blogging as part of the Golden Heart Spotlight. if you have an extra few minutes, hop over to Elisabeth Naughton's blog where I'm blogging about what the endings of novels do for us, sharing some of my favorite books and my thoughts about that all-important moment of Catharsis. That's the moment when we fulfill our promise to the reader and give them the emotional release they deserve for following us for hundreds of pages. It's also the promise that our next book will supply more of the same.

Come over and share your thoughts on this subject.

Monday, July 5, 2010

I got the CALL - Not the race to the finish

If I ever do a memoir, 2010 has to have it's own section, if not very own volume. This year is a whirlwind that keeps picking up size, strength and velocity.


I signed with an agent, Andrea Somberg from the Harvey Klinger agency. She began submitting PULL to editors.
February Rejections arrive. (I swear, someday I'll put up the highlights of the rejection emails I got for that book. Some are simply priceless.) I'm dejected, but she maintains her enthusiasm. I remind myself it's only a month. And at least with an agent you don't have to wait six to eight weeks for your rejection, that's got to count for something.
March I hear the first nibbles from WestSide Books. They want my story. Andrea sends word to two other editors looking at the book, they’ve got competition.
AprilI get THE CALL from WestSide. Forty minutes later I’m taking deep breaths and sitting back down in my chair – I was attending the Chicago North RWA Spring Fling Conference at the time, and sadly missed an entire session. But my book was on the road to publication. And I know everything has to be pulled together in record time. WestSide wants PULL as their October 2010 release.

Meaning, I’m off to the races.
MayAndrea and WestSide enter contract negotiations. I begin working on revisions because no matter how much they love your book there’s always something that needs to be changed. WestSide’s artist design the cover. Meanwhile, WestSide pitched PULL to booksellers, who agreed to place orders. I have to say, I couldn’t have asked for a better cover. It made me look, not once but twice, and I realized if I passed it in a bookstore I would at least pick it up to read the cover blurb. What more could I ask for?

Speaking of cover blurbs, this intense introvert was given the task of soliciting for YA authors to read and provide blurbs on PULL. And they wanted award winning or best selling YA authors. During this process I discovered two dismal truths.

1. Award winning and best selling authors seldom have free time, their responses to the requests begin looking a lot like rejection slips.

2. And, if you make enough cold calls, even the most hardened introvert eventually learns to just shrug when it’s time to make another.

There was also one happy truth – make enough requests and finally someone says they’ll take a look. Thumbs up to Tanita Davis, who promised to tell what she really though. And Thank God PULL actually impressed her. You can see part of her review on my website
June I began promotion activity, including getting a website up (mostly), creating a custom PULL T-Shirt so I can walk around advertising my own product. Getting business cards to hand out in answer to questions the shirt provokes.

Andrea and WestSide complete contract negotiations. I get to sign the fifteen-page contract. OMG!!

By the end of the month I begin working on line edits. Like I said, there’s always something that needs to be changed. BTW – people warned me I would get tired of re-reading my own book before the process ended. I’m beginning to feel like I could recite the thing from cover to cover in the dark.

July, August and September will have their own set of trials. Including ARCs, reviews, final edits, Marketing, marketing and more marketing. And then, October and The PULL Book Launch.

I’ll keep you posted next month. Meanwhile, I’m off to get that author photo for the inside back cover. Like Alice's White rabbit, I'm late, I'm late.