Getting Back to Your Roots

IMG_3329¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo! Or at least it is on the day I’m writing this post. So, I hope by the time you read this, that you had a good one.

If you follow this blog, you know I don’t usually post more than once a week, except on special occasions. So the fact that you’re here means you want to know who won the time travel series by Zetta Elliott. (Go here, if you’re wondering what I’m talking about. Though I mentioned other giveaways at the end of the interview, due to unforeseen circumstances, those will take place at another time. But I didn’t want to delay this giveaway until then.)

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Before I get to the giveaway, I want to talk about something I’ve been thinking about lately: roots. Though I chose the photo at the beginning of this post, it is not a hint that I plan to dye my hair, though I consider doing so from time to time. And getting back to your roots is not an allusion to the Elder Scrolls videogame series or to this:

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I’m actually talking about artistic, spiritual, or cultural roots—whatever it is that takes you back what’s important, especially if it reminds you of who you are or what you love.

I mentioned in a previous blog that writing had become frustrating. It involved lots of spinning wheels and long sessions of staring at the computer screen, followed by a sigh and a retreat to YouTube to watch a video (or seven). So I decided to return to my roots by reading the book that inspired me when I was eight years old. Here it is.

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I’ve mentioned this book a number of times on this blog. Rereading this book reminds me of the kind of story I loved as a kid and still gravitate toward. But if I were to parse this further, I would add that I love the hero’s journey model, which Joseph Campbell discussed in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

I’ve noticed that some writers (some, not all) nowadays have steered away from that model, deeming it old-fashioned in an age where antiheroes rule. But Meg Murry’s quest to find her dad never gets old to me. She reminds me that girls can be heroes. (Not that I doubted that truth. 🙂 ) I love her family dynamics, and find her belief that she’s nothing special very relatable. I felt that way as a kid. Honestly, I feel that way as an adult sometimes. The fact that her opponent is very powerful—the ultimate evil, actually—while Meg has no discernible power (that she knows of)—makes her an unlikely hero. It also adds high stakes to her journey. Her story inspires me to up my game with my heroine’s story.

The old saying, “You can’t go home again” isn’t always true. Sometimes you need to. Remember what Mufasa in The Lion King told his son Simba? Need a reminder?

What are your roots? Maybe for you those roots are your cultural heritage—a reminder of your family history and how it has shaped your life. Or maybe it is a return to a writing style you’ve loved, but let it go for some reason. Do you think maybe it’s time you returned?

While you think about that, I’ll move on to the winner of A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads.

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The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Sibson!

Congrats, Laura! 🙂 Please comment below to confirm.

Thank you to all who commented.

Hair photo from beautyskincarenatural.blogspot.com. A Wrinkle in Time covers from Goodreads.

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Children’s Book Week: Spread the Joy of Reading

Hope the Fourth was with you and you had a pleasant Cinco de Mayo! This week is special in still another way. May 4–10 was officially designated Children’s Book Week by the Children’s Book Council. You can read more about this literacy effort here.

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Children’s Book Week poster illustrated by the awesome Grace Lee

I love the idea of a week dedicated to promoting books for kids. After all, A Wrinkle in Time, a book written for kids by Madeleine L’Engle, is what started me on the path to becoming a writer. I was eight years old when I read it, because of the significant adults in my life. My parents were, and still are, readers. They read to fairy tales to me at night and provided books by Dr. Seuss and P. D. Eastman to encourage my brothers and me as we learned to read.

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Caring librarians also were stalwart champions of books. My elementary school librarian introduced me to Madeleine L’Engle’s books and many others. Also, the children’s librarians at the branch library I frequented in Chicago helped me come home with armloads of books (like Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White).

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As I think of such an abundance of books, I can’t help thinking of a scene in the 1996 movie adaptation of Matilda by Roald Dahl (I read the book too), when Matilda discovered the joy of checking books out of the library. She brought home wagonloads. I didn’t have a wagon, but I usually brought home quite a few books each week.

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Mara Wilson as Matilda

I love recommending books to kids and teens. So I can’t help feeling sad when kids tell me they don’t read books at all. Some are so swamped at school, they have little downtime at home. Others are nonreaders by choice now, though an occasional book series like the Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling), the Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), or Divergent (Veronica Roth) captured their attention for a little while. Still, I remain an advocate of books in their lives, even if they are content to avoid them.

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Book cover by the equally awesome Kazu Kibuishi, who has a wonderful graphic novel series—Amulet. See cover at the end of this post.

This week—or any week—you can be a children’s book champion. Even if you don’t have an opportunity to recommend a book to a kid, you can pick one up for yourself. Connect with a book that makes your inner child sing.

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Even supervillains read.

Great books to introduce to a kid:

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What was your favorite book when you were a kid? What book, if any, would you consider to have been very influential in your life? Why?

Children’s Book Week from usatoday.com. Mara Wilson as Matilda from hellogiggles.com. Most book covers from Goodreads. Harry Potter cover from unademagiaporfavor.blogspot.com. Stacks of books from blogs.hpedsb.on.ca.

Quiet, Please!

5600141240_29faa7aeedEvery so often, I discover a book that makes a deep impact on my life. When I was a kid, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle made me decide to become a writer of fiction for kids. As a teen and later an adult, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy made me decide to write fantasy. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a nonfiction book I’m reading right now that makes me accept what I am: an introvert.

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That’s not a newsflash to those of you who know me. And perhaps you’re shrugging your shoulders in a so-what manner at such an admission. But being an introvert always seemed like a negative based on feedback I’ve had over the years and my own observations. Who often gets the most attention in class or at the office? The one who talks the most. And how about these statements: “You need to be more assertive.” “You need to promote yourself more.” “You need to be more outgoing.” Ever hear this advice? I certainly have—even on the job.

I’ve suffered through office Christmas party activities usually chosen by extroverts who assume that “everyone” loves to shout lines of Christmas carols or act them out in front of a crowd because “it’s fun.” And if you don’t see it that way, well, guess what? You’re not fun! That’s why I especially understand this notion: “If you’re an introvert, you also know that the bias against quiet can cause deep psychic pain” (6). Oh yes. I have felt that pain.

This bias is what Cain in the introduction to the book identifies as the Extrovert Ideal:

We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal—the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual—the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” (4)

9e9eb78d63b565d97ce72d382a691b3aIf you read Divergent by Veronica Roth or saw the movie starring the delectable Theo James (oh and Shailene Woodley played the lead role) you saw this notion played out. In a post-apocalyptic Chicago that has been divided into five factions based on virtues, the coveted faction is Dauntless—the risk-taking group that leaps off moving trains instead of disembarking at stations and jumps off buildings. They are the loudest and the brashest—the ones who gain the most attention.

In an Internet poll of faction choices (http://www.epicreads.com/quizzes/pollresults/id/341/), Dauntless was the faction of choice by a large margin.

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Zoë Kravitz and Shailene Woodley leaping off a train in Divergent

In Quiet, Cain demystifies the Extrovert Ideal and discusses times when an introvert should act more extroverted. But this post isn’t a book report or a book review, so you’ll need to read the book for yourself if you’re interested. Cain’s book is a bestseller, if that gives you any indication of how it has been received.

This post is a celebration—it’s okay to be an introvert! (And yes, it’s okay to be an extrovert too.) Many writers I know are introverts. (Not all are of course.) But the world of book promotion—an extroverted activity—is one that takes us out of our comfort zone. We have to put ourselves out there to be noticed (i.e., blogging, social media, book trailers, interviews, arranging for book signings—whatever). Even if we’re querying agents, we have to sound “comfortable ‘putting [ourselves] out there.’”

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Naturally, this is the area in which I struggle the most. But I’m willing to try out of love for my stories. It’s like being a proud parent. You want people to notice your child and love him or her, so you do what it takes to get people to notice him or her. I’m grateful for the family and friends who help me in this venture, who encourage me and give me the kind of advice that helps me do things my way.

Cain’s book also has helped me understand how I can be assertive in a quiet way without pretending to be something I’m not. And that gives me hope.

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Broadway Books, 2012, 2013. Print.

Roth, Veronica. Divergent. New York: Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2011. Print.

Book covers from Goodreads. Librarian photo from mrsbossa.wordpress.com. Movie still from alicemarvels.com. Balloons from bubblews.com. Theo James photo from divergentsociety.net.

Check This Out: Entangled

I love to connect people with great authors and books. So, I’m thrilled to death to have another great author, the amazing Amy Rose Capetta in the house.

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Amy Rose, who is represented by Sara Crowe, is here to talk about her upcoming young adult science fiction novel, Entangled, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It debuts October 1. Here’s a synopsis:

NEWCOVER-199x300Alone was the note Cade knew best. It was the root of all her chords.

Seventeen-year-old Cade is a fierce survivor, solo in the universe with her cherry-red guitar. Or so she thought. Her world shakes apart when a hologram named Mr. Niven tells her she was created in a lab in the year 3112, then entangled at a subatomic level with a boy named Xan.

Cade’s quest to locate Xan joins her with an array of outlaws—her first friends—on a galaxy-spanning adventure. And once Cade discovers the wild joy of real connection, there’s no turning back.

That sounds out of this world, right? Okay, I hear you groaning at that terrible pun, so let’s move on. I’ll tell you about today’s special givewaway later.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Amy Rose: 1) Amy is my first name, Rose is my middle. I go by Amy Rose, due to liking the way it sounds and being born in a Time of Many Amys. I have to thank my mom and dad for the nice name whenever I get a chance! 2) I move a lot. At this exact second, I live in Michigan. 3) I went to VCFA. My heart lives in Montpelier. 4) I shaved my head when Entangled sold, as part of a celebration with my best friend and fellow YA sci-fi author Cori McCarthy.

El Space: If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll remember that Cori was here in May to talk about her awesome book, The Color of Rain. So, Amy Rose, how did you come to write Entangled?
Amy Rose: I had the main character and setting of Entangled in my head for at least two years before it collided with the premise and plot. My best friend Julia is a scientist, and for years I had been listening to the fascinating ideas she stumbled into every day and thinking “I need to write that,” and “that should be a novel!” But I think that impulse is a daily outing for a writer’s brain. It’s like taking a walk. When she told me about quantum entanglement, my synapses went into marathon mode.

El Space: What characteristics do you have in common with Cade? How are you different?
Amy Rose: I don’t know if I have as much in common with Cade now, but the sixteen-year-old version of me had the same sort of aggressive introversion. I had a hard time connecting with people—of course, I didn’t have a lifetime of isolation on a ruined planet to blame! I wanted to take that trait and blow it up, to explore the difficulties of human connection, both inherent and created.

One difference is that Cade takes her introversion to a bad-ass place, where I took mine more to a much more nerd-based one. She also has music as her main outlet, and reading and writing were mine.

14198426-e-guitar-semi-acoustics-cherry-redOne more thing: I’ve played music my whole life on a variety of instruments, for the most part badly. But I’m not the guitar player of the family. That’s my awesome little sister. She’s part of the inspiration for Cade, too!

El Space: Cool! If you could bioengineer someone, what qualities would be foremost? Why?
Amy Rose: I’m pretty sure that all science fiction warns us away from bioengineering people, but if we’re talking about desirable traits, I would love to find a noninvasive way to up the compassion factor, the empathy for other people. Of course, if we were all perfectly empathetic we might not need fiction, and fiction is beautiful in its imperfect, word-based, messy way of getting us inside other peoples’ experiences. So maybe I’d just give everyone decent eyesight, because I worry about what will happen if I get caught in a post-apocalyptic landscape with only a single pair of contacts. Sorry, optometrists of the world!

El Space: What did you find challenging/exhilarating about writing science fiction? How did your experience prepare you for the genre?
Amy Rose: I found that science fiction was more fun to write than I’d ever imagined. I had written two previous manuscripts with sci-fi elements, but this was my first trip off-planet, and I had way too much fun. I do think that being a big fan of the genre helped. It felt like my brain had gone swimming in SF and came back knowing how I wanted to describe water. It would have been a totally alien element if I hadn’t flailed around in it. Or maybe this is just the world’s most elaborate excuse for watching Battlestar Galactica and Firefly and TNG all the time.

El Space: Nothing wrong with that! What do you hope readers take away from Entangled?
Amy Rose: I hope readers find something to connect with. Whether it’s a character, a relationship, the music, anything. That spark of connection is what keeps me warm as a reader—and keeps me turning pages.

El Space: What authors inspire you?
169756Amy Rose: I am inspired by so many authors! Ray Bradbury and Madeleine L’Engle both put huge stamps on the way I think, read, and hope to write. Though their influences are less obvious: Italo Calvino and Jeanette Winterson. In YA, I think Libba Bray is brilliant in the most ambitious and genre-spanning way. Also, I spilled wine on her shoe once and she’s still nice to me. And when talking about YA sci-fi, I have to mention M.T. Anderson and Feed, which is the most incredible book.

El Space: What advice do you have for anyone who wishes to write science fiction for the young adult market?
Amy Rose: Aliens are hard. Don’t name more planets than you can remember. Make science magazines, science books, science blogs your stomping grounds. The universe is strange. Don’t be afraid to be strange along with it.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Amy Rose: Right now I’m finishing up revisions on the sequel to Entangled, which is called Unmade. The second book is also the end of the story, so soon I’ll be working on something new!

Give it up for Amy Rose, folks. Now put those hands to good use and comment, so you can be entered into a drawing for a $25 Amazon card. Why $25? So that you can purchase Amy Rose’s book AND Cori’s book. I didn’t get a chance to give away a copy of Cori’s book earlier. You must agree to get both. Winner to be announced on Friday.

For those of you who don’t win, you can still preorder Entangled at these fine establishments:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound

Look for Cori’s book at the same places. If you preorder Entangled from Great Lakes Book & Supply, you can get a signed copy and a button while supplies last. Check out Amy Rose’s website for details. Or go here. Look for Amy Rose at her website, Twitter, and Facebook. Also check out the Nerdbait Guide vlog developed by Amy Rose and Cori.

Author’s photo by Cori McCarthy. Entangled cover from Amy Rose’s website. Other covers from Goodreads.

A Writer’s Process (9)

And now from the ridiculous (see last post) to the sublime. Today on the blog is the chic and sensational Sandra Nickel, another good friend from VCFA. Get out your magnifying glass and your deerstalker, ’cause we’re talking about mysteries and ghosts. Mwahahahahahaha!!!!

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Sandra at Shakespeare and Company in Paris

El Space: Please share a few facts about yourself.
Sandra: I like to think that my writing is the reason my husband fell in love with me. Friends wanted to set us up, but he was living in Moscow, and I was living in New York, so I sent him an email every other day for three months until he was so intrigued, he hopped on a plane to New York so we could meet and have dinner. We did have that dinner, and I have lived a surprisingly European life ever since—two-and-a-half years in Moscow, four years in Paris, and now Switzerland. All because of those notes I wrote. The power of writing. See what it can do?

El Space: Wow! You must have sent some amazing email! Where is your writing taking you now?
Sandra: I’m working on my first middle grade novel, Saving St. Martha’s, a mystery set in a Swiss boarding school. A sort of Nancy Drew meets the first Harry Potter. I just received my critique group’s last comments, so I’m revising.

El Space: Please tell us about it.
Sandra: The heart of the story revolves around two twelve-year-old girls. Lorna is all logic, and Jeannette all mystical ideas, but when their parents ship them off to St. Martha’s to get rid of them, they become best friends; the school, their sanctuary; and Martha, the ghost of the former headmistress, their protector.

But the school is in trouble. Its old abbey is falling apart and the school is in terrible debt. A prized painting—the last gift from the school’s patroness—was never found. And worse, the girls discover that the hard-hearted Corbett Rast and his bank are going to take the abbey and shut down the school unless St. Martha’s comes up with $1,000,000 in 10 days. The girls and Martha vow to find the long-lost painting. But Corbett Rast wants it too . . . and will stop at nothing to get his hands on it.

Martha, the ghost, is quite snarky, so the story is fun—part mystery/part boarding school story, and a lot about friendship. The great news is that Saving St. Martha‘s has had a nice reception so far. It was named as a finalist for the Katherine Paterson Prize and Hunger Mountain selected the first two chapters to be published in its upcoming “Mentors & Tormentors” issue.

El Space: That’s awesome! What inspired you to write Saving St. Martha’s?
Sandra: A couple of things, really. First came the setting. My daughter used to go to school in this truly amazing place—a Swiss chalet that had been built for the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris and then taken apart and rebuilt piece by piece on a hill above Lake Geneva. The chalet is all dark wood and tall, sloping roofs, and inside there is this gorgeous staircase worn smooth and glossy from all the girls that have run up and down it. The moment I saw that chalet, I wished I had gone to school there and knew it would be the perfect setting for a middle grade story.

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Sandra and her daughter at the chalet that inspired Saving St. Martha’s

At this same time, my daughter and her best friend were so taken with mysteries and hidden treasures, they formed their own two-member club, a sort of private detective agency that solved the small and large mysteries around them. I put the school together with their private detective firm, a hidden treasure, a mystery, and came up with Saving St. Martha’s.

El Space: What drew you to write for the middle grade audience?
Sandra: Well . . . I wasn’t drawn to write middle grade. Not really. That whole story of what inspired me to write Saving St. Martha’s was a someday, down-the-road sort of inspiration. A long, long way down the road. I could imagine writing for young adults—and I did—and I could imagine trying my hand at picture books—and I did. But middle grade? There was something eminently frightening about it. My own middle grade years hadn’t been wildly happy, and I had clouded over my memories to the point of remembering very little. How was I to write for an audience living out the years I felt least connected to?

But then, I was accepted into the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and someone—I don’t remember exactly who—tossed down the gauntlet of: “Why don’t you try writing a middle grade?” So, I did, mostly because I like to pretend I’m not scared of anything, other than heights and mice. I went through hypnosis to reconnect to my middle grade years. I hung out with middle grade kids. I read any and every middle grade book recommended to me. I wrote. And what fun it all has been!

El Space: Sounds like you were well prepared. What was the most challenging aspect of writing a mystery?
Sandra: In a way, mysteries are easier to write than other stories, because the broad arc of the story is already there. You set up the mystery, and then the mystery must be solved. Easy, right? The problem is that the small arcs that make up that broader arc can be tricky. New mystery writers—and this was certainly true for me—often believe they must hide the hints and clues and truth from the reader. But the opposite is true.

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Mystery writers must reveal every detail for the reader, but then use sleight of hand, distraction, or an unreliable character to make the truth difficult to discern. This is the tricky part, where mystery writers strive to hit the sweet spot of revealing enough, yet not too much. For this, having a critique group or beta readers is essential, since they are coming to the story for the first time. You want them intrigued, but not confused; you want them to have just enough information to keep reading, but not so much that they put down the book because they’ve already figured it all out.

El Space: What authors inspired you when you were growing up? Which inspire you now?
Sandra: There were so very many who inspired me. I was a big reader! But since we have been talking about middle grade, let me say: E. L. Konigsburg, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Roald Dahl, Louise Fitzhugh, Norton Juster, Madeleine L’Engle, and C.S. Lewis. As for now, this blog isn’t long enough to name them all. But I guess I can say: Ditto for all the above, and add a few of my “new” discoveries: Kate DiCamillo, Katherine Paterson, Louis Sachar, David Almond, and Grace Lin.

Some Middle Grade Books That Have Inspired Me

Books that inspire Sandra

El Space: Do you stick to one project or work on more than one? What tools are helpful?
Sandra: I’m an immersion writer. I absolutely love submersing myself completely in one story-world at a time. That’s not always practical, however. Right now, in addition to Saving St. Martha’s, I’m working on a young adult Gothic ghost story and a storyteller’s poem about a female Paul Revere. When I need to quickly switch from one story to another, the best tool I have found is to freewrite my way into a character’s world. I start by having the character dress herself, noting every detail from the scratch of her wool skirt, to the cut of her socks’ elastic into her calves, then move onto other details like the woody-lead smell of her pencil and the squeal of a violin in the room next door. Five minutes of these kinds of specifics are enough. The wormhole is created, and just like that, I’m pulled from one story-world into the other and am ready to write.

Sorry, that about wraps it up! Thanks, Sandra, for being such a great guest!

If you have questions for Sandra about her book or her process, please comment below.

Magnifying glass from trenchesofdiscovery.blogspot.com.

A Writer’s Process 9(a)

A funny thing happened on the way to the blog today—if you recognize that well-known setup to a joke, you’ll have an idea of the subject of today’s discussion: humor in writing. With me today and tomorrow is the awesome and splendiferous Shelby Rosiak, whose blog My Year with The Mouse just might be your cup of tea.

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Shelby laughing after a friend’s daughter cheated at pin the tail on the donkey

If you haven’t visited Shelby’s blog, click on the blog name above, and witness Shelby valiant visiting many wonderful places at Disneyland and reporting on them, thereby making us wish we were her. Alas, MYWTM is on a hiatus now while Shelby gathers her wits and tries to find at least two shoes that match.

Give yourself a gold star if you can guess where I met Shelby. CoughcoughVCFAcoughcough. Now grab your rubber chicken, bonk yourself over the head, and join us!***

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El Space: Let’s start with four quick facts about yourself, for those who haven’t sat in Noble Lounge on campus reading books about Scaredy Squirrel with you like I have.
Shelby: (1) When I was thirteen years old, I was on a TV game show. I lost, but got a VCR as a “parting gift.” (2) I have been to twelve countries including China, where my family adopted our now two-year-old daughter, Violet. Our four-year-old son Theo came with us—it was a real adventure. (3) I live near Disneyland and can see the fireworks from my back porch. It’s pretty much awesome, because who DOESN’T want to see Disneyland fireworks from their back porch? (4) I used to be a technical writer for the world’s largest computer company. I much prefer creative writing.

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El Space: Love the Disneyland fireworks! And I’m glad you love creative writing, since that brought you to that place I coughed about earlier. Who are the authors who most influence you?
225px-JudyBlume2009(cropped)Shelby: I think influence is a funny word because, to me, it implies that I’ve changed my work based on their writing. I can’t think of anyone like that, but I have been inspired by a number of amazing writers. I cried when I met Judy Blume [left]. I’m not kidding. She must have thought I was a total whackadoodle, but she was so sweet and gracious about it. As a young person, I was very inspired by writers who wrote strong female characters—Cynthia Voigt, Katherine Paterson, Jean Craighead George, Scott O’Dell. And you didn’t ask this question, but the three authors I wish I’d had a chance to meet before they died? Madeleine L’Engle, Maurice Sendak, and Roald Dahl.

220px-Dave-barry-post-hunt-2011El Space: I wish I could have met them as well. Now, everyone who knows you knows you’re hilarious. In a recent PBS interview with Jeffrey Brown, Dave Barry, considered one of the funniest writers in America, said this:

[W]hen I’m writing columns, it’s—all I’m thinking about is jokes, joke, joke, joke, setup, punch line, joke, joke, joke. And I really don’t care where it goes. I don’t have a point the [sic] make. . . . With a novel, you have to have a story. It’s much more important to have it matter to the reader what happens to people, and it has to make sense and end in a way that is satisfying.

What are your thoughts on humor and your writing? How do you make it satisfying as Dave Barry suggested?
Shelby: This is a great quote. Articles, and nowadays blogs, are perfect for short one-liners—off-the-cuff jokes for an easy laugh. Novels present a different challenge, but also a real opportunity for the humor writer, because you can establish something humorous, like an inside joke between the author and the reader, and refer back to it as an ongoing aspect of the novel and it can become funnier and funnier as you go. You can also start building humor with the narrative, with establishing a small joke and growing with it.

Think of the song, “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” This old lady swallows a fly—that’s funny, but we also sing “perhaps she’ll die” at the end of each verse. Then the old lady swallows a series of animals, each funnier than the last (a dog? Seriously?). And at the end she swallows a horse, which is funny in and of itself, but then you get the HUGE payoff with “She died, of course.” By building the humor, you get a much bigger payoff than you would with a one-liner. And that kind of payoff in and of itself is very satisfying.

And that’s something that you can do with longer fiction that is more difficult with shorter fiction. I think the big difference is thinking long term in the humor, in addition to one-liners. Making it satisfying means tying it all back to story, because it’s always about story. The humor needs to serve the story, otherwise it doesn’t belong there.

The big drawback of being a humor writer, however, is having to cut funny lines. I’ll write something I think is absolutely hysterical, and my feedback says it has to go because it doesn’t serve the story. It’s hard to cut lines when you think, But that’s hilarious!! But it needs to be done. It always comes back to story. Always.

And we’ve run out of time for today. But tune in tomorrow and we’ll talk more with Shelby about humor. Don’t forget to bring your rubber chicken. In the meantime, if you have questions for Shelby about her process or want to share a tip about humor writing, please do!

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***Glad you made it to this footnote. Um, you don’t really have to hit yourself on the head with a rubber chicken, since we’re not talking about the physical humor you see in movies. I just wanted to see if you would do it. 🙂

Rubber chicken from spirithalloween.com. Disneyland fireworks photo by Kevin Hogan. Judy Blume and Dave Barry photos from Wikipedia.

Check This Out: Magic Marks the Spot (a)

Ahoy there! Here we be with the great Caroline Carlson, whose book Magic Marks the Spot—the first of a trilogy, mind ye—sails into stores September 10, thanks to the good folks at HarperCollins Children’s Books. Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies at the Greenhouse Literary Agency.

CarolineCarlson

She’s here today and tomorrow, mateys! And tomorrow, we have a special giveaway, so be sure and stop over. And no, I didn’t have to resort to pressganging. Caroline is here of her own free will!

I see that hand there. Aye, ye guessed it. I know Caroline from VCFA. Here be a synopsis of Magic Marks the Spot:

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Pirates! Magic! Treasure! A gargoyle? Caroline Carlson’s hilarious tween novel The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot is perfect for fans of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events and Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society.

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword.

There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.

But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.

Written with uproarious wit and an inviting storyteller tone, the first book in Caroline Carlson’s quirky seafaring series is a piratical tale like no other.

pirate-cutlass-sword-721415El Space: Let’s start with four quick facts about yerself, lass.
Caroline: 1) I’ve worked as a library assistant, as a textbook editor, and now as a writer. 2) When I’m feeling stressed, I watch old episodes of Friends. 3) I am not sure there’s a point to a life without cheese. 4) I love swimming, baking, and being outdoors; I hate running, going to the dentist, and talking on the phone.

El Space: Arr, a fine list there. Plotter or pantser—which be ye? How’d ye make this discovery?
Caroline: I’m mostly a plotter. Before I start writing a new story, I need to know how the first twenty pages will go and what the climax of the story will be. I also usually have ideas for a few scenes that will take place somewhere along the way, though I don’t necessarily know how my characters will get from the beginning of the book to the end. Sometimes I’ll make an outline, but that only happens when I’m at least halfway through writing a first draft. I’m a fairly slow writer, so I try to make my basic story structure as solid as possible right from the start. Then, if all goes well, I won’t have to make huge structural revisions later on. But that’s a very big if.

Book two in The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy is sort of a mystery, so it required a lot of elaborate plotting. I had to know where the heroes and villains were at all times, what they were up to, and how long it would take them to travel from one place to the next. I discovered, though, that plotting a story to that extent can squelch some of the great spontaneous moments that come when you sit down in front of a blank page with no idea about what happens next. For the third book in the series, I’m planning to dive in without knowing too much about what my characters are in for. It’ll be scary, but I’m pretty sure it’ll also be fun.

El Space: How much is Hilary like ye? Different from ye?
Caroline: Hilary and I aren’t much alike, at least superficially. She’s brave and tough, and I am a total wimp. Hilary hates dressing up and learning to dance at finishing school, but I love dancing, and I’m more than happy to wear a fluffy, fancy gown now and then. I’m also pleased to report that my parents are much nicer than Hilary’s parents are.

What Hilary and I have in common is that both of us are passionate about following our dreams, and we won’t let anyone stop us from doing what we love. It turns out that being a pirate and being a writer both require a lot of determination and sheer willpower. We’re also both fiercely loyal to the people we love. Thankfully, I have never needed to use a cutlass to defend my friends, but I absolutely would if the occasion arose. And both of us can tread water for at least thirty-seven minutes.

El Space: Treading water is a fine trait for a pirate. Useful for when ye have to walk the plank. Now, what was yer favorite book growing up?
210329Caroline: This is a question that’s nearly impossible to answer! I loved stories about magic, mystery stories, and anything funny. Coincidentally, those are the same types of books I love now. Some of my all-time favorite children’s books are The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, the Anastasia series by Lois Lowry, and pretty much everything by Edward Eager, Madeleine L’Engle, and Diana Wynne Jones.

Alas, that be all the time we have today. Stow yer grumbling! Caroline’ll be back tomorrow. Tune in then for the special giveaway. In the meantime, ye can comment below or click on the links below to preorder Caroline’s book. Be sure to check out Caroline’s website here. Ye can also hail her on Twitter.

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Powell’s Books
Anderson Bookshop

Author photo by Amy Rose Capetta. Amy Rose’s book, Entangled, debuts October 1, 2013. Watch for it! Book covers from Goodreads.com. Pirate sword from mrcostumes.com.