While it probably seems like I’m a blogging no-show, I’ve actually been blogging quite a bit, just over at two other bookish sites I’m a part of: The Winged Pen and From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Today, in fact, I celebrated the amazing Brian Farrey’s release of The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse at Mixed-Up Files with an interview and a giveaway of the book, so be sure to check it out!
In fact, this has been a great month for book birthdays. Not only did we get a new Kate diCamillo this month (Raymie Nightingale), but a few amazing debuts came out including Brooks Benjamin’s My Seventh Grade Life in Tights. And of course, don’t miss my interview with local author and friend Mark Holtzen about his wonderful new picture book, A Ticket to the Pennant.
I could promise all types of things in terms of more regular posts, but jeez, I’ve got some reading to do with all these great releases, not to mention writing of my own to do.
In August, I posted a news item on my web site about a middle-grade nonfiction project I started with my friends Valerie Stein and Mark Holtzen. Today, I’m pleased to announce that it’s available to the public for educational use! Gather Here: History for Young People contains a collection of four articles and a historical fiction short to bring Pacific Northwest history alive to students ages 8-12.
I’ve enjoyed diving into the regional history of our new home and have more topic ideas than I have time to write. My contribution to the collection introduces The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 and the efforts to rebuild Seattle after the majority of the city’s wood-built downtown area burned. Other topics covered in this collection include the history of Seattle’s playgrounds, the history of baseball, and the story of George Washington Bush.
This first collection is available free of charge for educational use while we gather feedback on the content, format, and topics with hopes of launching a subscription model in the future. So if you are an educator, please check it out. Use the collection in your classroom and send us feedback! We’d love to hear your thoughts, and plan to base our next collection on topics suggested by the educators who will be using our materials in the classroom, so speak up!
We presented Gather Here to a group of teachers, librarians, and other authors this past weekend at nErDcamp Bellingham 2016. The level of enthusiasm for the project was encouraging. As grade 3-8 children work through the local history that is now part of the Washington State curriculum guidelines, we’re excited to provide relevant, age-appropriate content to support their learning journey. Please check out Gather Here: History for Young People today!
I am so pleased to announce that my amazing critique partners and I have started a blog all about books called The Winged Pen. Take twenty-four writers of children’s and young adult books, add an obsessive love of reading and dedication to living the creative life, and you have The Winged Pen. I hope you’ll go over and check it out, get to know some amazing emerging voices, and load up your to-be-read pile with some amazing book recommendations!
Olivia Ruckus grumbled and grumped every day from 7:03 when she awoke with a “ROAR” to 8:15 when her Mom tucked her in, even though Olivia said, “I-don-wanna. I-don-wanna.”
“She’s grouchier than the green guy in the trash can,” her little brother Baxter said.
“She’s meaner than a junk-yard dog,” Daddy sang in his funny voice. Olivia pulled the covers up over her head.
“If she had a mustache, she could be Groucho Marx,” Mom said.
Olivia rolled her eyes from under the covers. “I can hear you.” She pushed out her lower lip. “And I. Don’t. Like. It.”
What Olivia did like? Marshmallows. Peeps. Hot cocoa with mini-mallows. S’mores warm from the campfire.
That gave Baxter an idea. The next day, he got to work.
When Olivia got home on February 14, she found a string taped to the front door.
“Follow me,” it said in Baxter’s messy handwriting.
“But I don-wanna,” she said. Then she tugged the string. A marshmallow skittered across the floor. She followed the trail, collecting sweets as she went, until she found Baxter’s Valentine above a bowl of marshmallows.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Olivia!”
Olivia stuffed a big, fluffy marshmallow in her mouth, which suddenly, finally, properly, tugged up into a grin as Baxter watched with a smile.
Algonquin Young Readers is hosting an #ILoveMG week on Twitter this week and of course I couldn’t resist playing along. Today’s theme is diverse middle grade book recommendations. Although I talked about my two-week massive Middle-Grade Reading Holiday last month, I want to focus in on some great diverse reads that you should check out (and share with your children). Only good things can come from the books on library and bookshop shelves representing the diverse people we see outside those bookshops and libraries every day.
Diverse Middle Grade Book Recommendations
So here are just a few of the diverse middle grade book recommendations I’ve accumulated over the past year. These recommendations show us exactly why we need (even more) diverse books:
This breathtaking and magical account of a young girl’s fight to survive Hurricane Katrina should be required reading. It poignantly capture the devastation of the neighborhoods in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, but it does so while maintaining what most middle-grade readers crave in even the scariest stories: Hope.
This is the first book I’ve ever read told from the point of view of a transgender middle-grade girl. Eye-opening, heart-felt, and containing a beautiful hat-tip to one of my all-time favorite books, Charlotte’s Web, this is definitely one to read and then discuss with your children.
A novel in verse with absolutely astonishing voice, PLUS basketball? Yes, please! I particularly enjoyed listening to this one on audiobook because it made Kwame Alexander’s stunning characters come alive even more!
One thing I love about the We Need Diverse Books campaign is that it doesn’t just focus on a particular race, religion, or ethnicity. It includes those who are neurodiverse as well. Ali Benjamin recounts how one neurodiverse girl deals with the unraveling of a lifelong friendship and a terrible tragedy. The sprinkling of science throughout this stunning book made it one of my favorites last year (and my daughter Lily’s too!).
This story of how a Jewish family deals with chronic illness and death is on the darker side of the middle-grade books I read last year. But the characters are drawn so beautifully that it’s worth letting it break your heart.
I’m currently reading Hoodoo and within the first few pages, Ronald Smith drew me completely into the world of 1930s Alabama. Fans of the creepy and supernatural will love this scary, but beautiful, story.
This award-winning book contains several stories in one as the author recounts a fairy tale based in part on her Mexican grandmother’s experiences in an American labor camp.
There are so many more that I could have listed. What were your favorite diverse reads of 2015? Any you are looking forward to in 2016?
In 2010, my husband, two preschool-aged kids, and I packed up our house and our geriatric cat and moved from Colorado to Helsinki, Finland. Not long after we arrived, a colleague of my husband’s brought my children a copy of Mauri Kunnas’ The Canine Kalevala. She explained that The Kalevala was a very old epic poem about the creation of the world, and, more specifically, Finland.
Having always been a mythology geek, I looked up the full version of the poem (in translation, since my Finnish never quite progressed from ordering off a menu, buying bus tickets, and very basic conversational small-talk). I read in the introduction that The Kalevala was one of Tolkien’s influences as he created Middle Earth and right then I knew I had to write a story about it.
But shiny new story ideas catch my eye like tinfoil attracts a crow, so I ended up writing another novel before I finally came back to The Kalevala in late summer, 2014. And my inspiration for the two heroes of my story, siblings Kai and Freya, had nothing to do with Finland or magic or obscure epic poems. In fact, Kai and Freya were originally Henry and Lauren Rollins, because what led me to their family was a “what if?” question: What would happen if a guy obsessed with Henry Rollins (of Black Flag and spoken word fame) named his son after his hero? Although I’ve expunged every kooky Black Flag reference from the manuscript (because, come on, I write for kids and most adults don’t even know who Henry Rollins is), Kai and Freya’s Dad still hangs on to the punk rock glory days of his youth and I always picture him in a faded band tee.
Kai and Freya’s dynamic, which is central to the plot of the story, is based on my little brother and I, who are great friends now, but who tortured each other regularly when we were Kai and Freya’s age. Unlike my main characters, my own kids are best pals and filled with horror at the idea that one of the more violent moments of the book–a vicious fight between the siblings–is based on something that really happened between my brother and I thirty years ago.
We returned to the United States in December 2014, just as I was finishing up my first draft of QUEST FOR THE KALEVALA. So I like to think of my story as a love letter to a country we happily called home for just over four years. Some of my favorite haunts, from Cafe Tintin to the children’s international school, to gorgeous Lapland in the far north, have roles to play in the story, and through it all, I’ve woven in details from The Kalevala in hopes that kids and adults alike will move beyond the ever-popular Norse and Egyptian mythology to read what Finns had to say about magic, creation, and the songs of power.
Today Michelle Hauck and Rockstar Book Tours are revealing the cover for GRUDGING, Birth of Saints Book One series which releases November 17, 2015! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to win a copy if the eBook!
On to the reveal!
GRUDGING by Michelle Hauck
is published by Harper Voyager Impulse and will be released November 17, 2015
A world of chivalry and witchcraft…and the invaders who would destroy everything.
The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa…demanding blood.
On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.
The Women of the Song.
But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power. And time is running out.
A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.
Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two teenagers. Two papillons help balance out the teenage drama. Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. A book worm, she passes up the darker vices in favor of chocolate and looks for any excuse to reward herself. Bio finished? Time for a sweet snack.
She is a co-host of the yearly contests Query Kombat and Nightmare on Query Street, and Sun versus Snow.
Her epic fantasy, Kindar’s Cure, is published by Divertir Publishing. Her short story, Frost and Fog, is published by The Elephant’s Bookshelf Press in their anthology, Summer’s Double Edge. She’s repped by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary.
Almost a year ago, I wrote a guest post for Book Country called The Five-Line Outline with some advice for pantsers* hoping to prepare for NaNoWriMo. (* A “pantser” is someone who writes by the seat of their pants as opposed to doing detailed plotting/outlining in advance). If I knew then what I know now, I might have offered some different advice.
I wrote three novels using this “pantser” method and although two of them are good stories (let’s not mention the first one, which will be locked in a trunk forevermore), I knew something was missing. Agents consistently complimented of my concepts, my voice, and my writing, but ultimately passed on representing my work.
CPs started giving me feedback along the lines of needing to get to the action sooner, keeping the plot moving forward, and building tension. At some point this summer, I realized what my problem was: structure. And I started reading: The Plot Whisperer, Save the Cat, endless blog posts. Then, with the recommendation of my amazing Pitch Wars mentor, Juliana Brandt, I started in on Story Engineering.
Before you Begin
The first step is to find a methodology that makes sense to you. Although I think Larry Brooks’ lengthy diatribe against pantsers in the introduction to the book is off-putting to much of his target audience, once you get past that, Story Engineering is a great master class on story structure.
But if you’ve already got a completed manuscript, as I did, how do you go back and fix structure problems? It’s not easy, but it can be done.
First, read these articles, which have great information on story structure:
Ultimately, each writer will have a different approach to preparing to write and/or revising. The key here is coming to understand story structure and the tight link between plot and character that will allow you to write an emotionally satisfying story, no matter how much prep work you do in advance.
Step One – Identifying the Four Parts of Your Story
Story Engineering suggests that each story has 4 parts that are about 25% each–with only Part 1 having the potential to be a bit shorter. This structure is based on the 3-act structure used by screenwriters (featured in Save the Cat, among others), but with Act 2 broken into two parts.
It’s really easy to get bogged down creating an outline or filling out a beat sheet when you’ve got 60 or so chapters like I did, so the first thing I did was just to try to divide the book into the four parts from Story Engineering.
My favorite part of this methodology is the way the character arc (orphan-wanderer-warrior-martyr) ties to each of the four parts of the story’s plot. It gives you a no-nonense guide for how character arcs progress in a way that makes the arc stuff contribute to the plot tension, which in turn makes the ultimate resolution more satisfying and pretty much guarantees that the internal and external conflict resolve at the same time. Pretty cool.
So before I outlined, I created a Scrivener label for each of the four parts of the story and color-coded my chapters. This helped me look quickly at the word count for each of the parts and also gave me a visual reminder of what was supposed to happen in that section. Mine were called Part 1 – Setup/Orphan, Part 2 – Response/Wanderer, Part 3 – Attack/Warrior, and Part 4 – Resolution/Martyr. Those key words are the names of the parts, followed by the names of the stages of character arc evolution.
Step Two – The Beat Sheet
The main piece of advice I’d give pantsers who are looking for a little more structure in their stories is to at least understand and complete a beat sheet before you start writing. I found the Save the Cat and Story Engineering beat sheet to be the most useful, but there are lots out there. Filling out a beat sheet means you’ve identified the major plot points (things like Inciting Incident, First Plot Point/ Catalyst, The Midpoint, and The Second Plot Point/Eureka Moment) in your story and it gives you a fairly structured guideline of where those plot points should fall in the arc of your story.
Step Three – The Dreaded Outline
Once I had a firm grasp of what my story needed to look like, outlining was slightly less painful. I used the beat sheet I filled out in Step Two as the template for my outline and started plugging in all the chapters–one Excel spreadsheet line per chapter. Here’s where I started to identify where my plot points were happening in the wrong place or where I needed to make cuts. I figured out pretty quickly that I needed to get to the action A LOT faster and that my first plot point needed a better introduction to the antagonist, so I started shifting stuff around.
Keep in mind that I had done all of this without touching a word in the manuscript. As hard as it was to not jump in and start shaking things up, I outlined for three solid days before I started the revision.
I highlighted the word count column any place where I deviated a great deal from the suggested word count and I highlighted chapter that I thought should be cut in a different color. I used a third color for chapters that I moved and used a 2-3 word reminder in ( ) after the chapter name if I knew I had a big change (like “cut Ukko” or “add more mythology” or “make Joukahainen creepier”).
Step Four – Write it!
With an outline in place and a solid idea of what needed to happen, I dove into the manuscript. I cut whole chapters, removed a beloved character, and moved things around until I had things in roughly the order I wanted them to be in.
As I worked, I realized I needed more details than what the spreadsheet would allow, so I made notecards too. The notecards used the same color-coding as the Scrivener labels (see those cute little Sharpies in the picture above?) and included chapter title, POV character, a list of “functions” or purposes for that particular chapter, a note about where we we were in story time (because I moved so many plot points around that I needed to keep everything straight), and a note about what the “hook” is that’s going to pull the reader in to the next chapter.
I only did a few notecards at a time and I gave myself permission to update that outline as many times as I needed to until I had it just right. For me, that meant I was adding and moving and changing right up until the last chapter of the story, and that I only worked a few notecards ahead of where I was in the revisions so that I knew where I was headed, but wasn’t locked into anything.
Step Five – Think About Structure In Advance Next Time
With the Pitch Wars Agent Round fast-approaching, I didn’t have time to beat myself up about the fact that I didn’t look at story structure in more detail before I wrote seven drafts of QUEST FOR THE KALEVALA (and many more drafts of FINDING GIB, which will be getting a structure-related revision next!). I just had to get on with it and you should too. Although I doubt I will ever create a detailed outline before I begin drafting (I am, after all, a pantser at heart), I will definitely make sure I know all my major beats and understand how the character will move through his or her arc as the story progresses, before I write a word.
What other resources do you find helpful when thinking about story structure?
Check out Lisa Lewis Tyre’s post on word count as part of her Writer Wednesday blog party!
I am deep into revising Quest for the Kalevala, but I wanted to pop in and tell you about three kid lit books that came out in the past week that I’ve been really looking forward to. There’s something for everyone here, because one’s a spooky picture book, one’s for middle-grade (ages 8-12) readers, and one is for young adults. But who are we kidding? They’re all really for me, me, me (and you, you, you)!
I love retellings that turn the original story on their head, and Neverland is ripe with possibilities. So I can’t wait to read Never Never by Brianna Shrum, a young-adult novel that tells the story not of Peter, but of Hook.
Lily and I loved Hook’s Revenge, so we were excited to see book two come out this month. A hilariously-wry narrator, a daughter bent on revenging the death of her father, Captain Hook, and the amazing setting of Neverland make this one a hit for ages 8+.
Just in time for Halloween comes a book about a zombie that eats books instead of brains. Will the children be able to save the school library before the little zombie goes on a real book binge? A fun and not-too-scary zombie book for young (pre)readers.
When I spent my days languishing in cube-land impersonating Tina the Tech Writer, I often dreamed of what it would be like to sit down at my computer every day to write creatively. Five years ago, when an international move gave me just that kind of opportunity, I envisioned everything cast in gold-tinged light, with bird song, and possibly unicorns.
The reality was much different. Most of the first year and a half was spent shepherding my family through culture shock. Then, when I finally sat down to write, I realized that an international move and spawning two tiny children meant I was quite literally a decade behind on my reading. So I read, and read, and read, and blogged, and slowly eased in to a creative lifestyle. I still expected the unicorns to show up any minute, though, because it was sort of cold and dark in Finland and I was kind of lonely.
When I finally started writing, I tried, and failed, to participate in National Novel Writing Month in 2012. I say failed because the story I started utterly sucked. Utterly. Almost as much as the trunk novel I wrote in my 20s. Yeah, that bad. But then a few months later, I sat in the passenger seat of a rental car as we navigated the desolate backroads of Andalusia, Spain, and an idea that did not suck popped into my head. I pondered it for four months and then sat down in November 2013 and wrote Finding Gib.
I edited, tinkered, sent it off for review, even queried it (too early, one of many newbie mistakes I’ve made since I entered the query trenches). Then I stumbled upon a group of fellow writers I met at various conferences over the summer of 2014. Their friendship and support over the last year has more than made up for the lack of unicorns 😉
And in September of 2014, I started writing another book that does not suck, Quest for the Kalevala. I drafted it over twelve weeks instead of four, and leveraged everything I’d learned from writing Finding Gib. The funny thing about writing, though, is that the more you learn, the more fixes/changes/tweaks you find on your way to getting something ready for agent/editor eyes. So I spent the next six months revising, sending it to my new amazing beta-reading critique partners for feedback, and revising again.
So now I’m in my third year of fully embracing the writing life, and although I swear I catch a glimpse of a flowing mane or the shiny tip of a unicorn horn when I’m in the midst of writerly flow, most of the magic that I’m going to experience is of my own making, on the pages of my stories.
I still don’t have an answer to the question I’m most often asked when I say I’m an author: “When is your book coming out?” But I do know that even with all the hard work, the rejection, and uncertainties, I’d choose creative writing over technical writing every single time.