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Friday, July 27, 2012

2012 Winner - SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant For a Contemporary Novel - Dirty Secrets, YA - Persistence Pays:


Dave Amaditz

Some of you who have followed our blog for a while may remember earlier posts I've written (Revision and Character Growth - http://rt19writers.blogspot.com/2012/04/revision-and-character-growth.html) (When Is the End, the End: An Update - http://rt19writers.blogspot.com/2011/10/when-is-end-end-update.html#comment-form) (When Is the End, the End? - http://rt19writers.blogspot.com/2011/08/when-is-end-end.html#comment-form) about the current novel I've written... Or should I say rewriting... Or should I say have rewritten again and again and again.

So as not to bore you, I'll just say that all posts had do with the fact that I've been writing this novel for a long time and many things about the story have changed, including the age of my characters and the focus of my story. The premise of the posts went unwritten. .. Remain persistent. Don't give up on something you believe in, especially if that something has promise.

Last Friday, after looking out the window most of the morning from my writer's desk into a rain-filled sky, I received an e-mail, a reward for my persistence . My young adult novel, Dirty Secrets, was picked as the winner of this year’s SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant for a contemporary novel. http://www.scbwi.org/Pages.aspx/Work-In-Progress-Grants

 Wow! I nearly fell out of my chair.

I'm still reeling a bit now, still amazed at the accomplishment, because it was completely unexpected. I had hoped of course that the story was strong enough to receive some type of recognition, a letter of merit or honorable mention. This completely blew away my expectations.

Now, as I try to float slowly back to earth, I need to remind myself that the reward is not an excuse to stop working. In fact, the work still ahead is what allows me to continue to focus on my main goal, publication.

There's more to write about the award, and the road which led me to apply, but I'll save that for another time.

In the meantime, for all of you who may be feeling a bit low, a bit down on your luck because you haven't heard from an editor or agent, keep this story in mind as one of hope, one that will shed a little light onto an otherwise darkened landscape.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I Am Not a Poet

I am not a poet. But I love working on pieces that feel like poetry. Therefore, I’ve signed up for an online course in a program called Coursera. (I suggest you google it) It’s a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take. It’s free and sounds pretty amazing.Their idea envisions a future where the top universities educate millions of students. My idea is to post this poem now and then at the end of my ten week course post it again to find out if I’ve actually learned anything. 
So, for any of our followers who happen to have an affinity for, or knowledge of, the genre, I’m taking a tentative step and posting a piece I wrote a few years back. It is the recollection of my 11 year old self, coming home in the dark on a horse that I simultaneously loved and feared. 
It’s open game for critqueing (constructive, please) since I am in the enviable position, as I’ve said, of claiming no knowledge of structure or . . . uh . . . whatever guidelines define poetry.     
Night Travel
The smell of evening earth,
unfurling mayapples,
still warm gravel,
mix with the leathery smell of horse sweat.
His neck, steely hard
damp beneath my hand
signals that I need to stay calm,
he’s scared enough for both of us.
We’re losing light
Evening shade draping itself 
across his flanks, my bare shoulders, 
making home seem a lifetime away.
Yellow warmth from kitchen lights,
hidden by distance and the rising road,
keep me nudging, 
keep him walking on.
Taught calves against quivering sides
green shadows turning black,
all could skew his judgement,
turn hind quarters into dynamite
My breaths are too shallow.
His come in snorts.
I know what it means. But he needs to stay calm, 
I’m scared enough for both of us.
“Easy, Boy.”
The words come from a tissue paper mouth.
“Easy boy,” 
from hands, to reins, to bit.
My memories whispered
of summer fields hammered by flying hooves
stopping short of creek, road, ravine,
just in time to save my life.
His listening scattered
trusting the voice that speaks to him
whenever golden nuggets of grain
fall into his bucket.
Time tested trust.
It’s all we have.
It will have to be enough,
since the night has finally swallowed us. 

Posted by Fran McDowell

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Swimming in Mermaids: Poe combs the beach for the best mer-themed ebooks


From Helene Boudreau's gently funny Real Mermaids series to the darkness promised in Elizabeth Fama's upcoming Monstrous Beauty, aquatic adventures are popular lately. Fishing in The Amazon, Poe inter-netted a whole school of them. But is it something about scaled creatures? Because, just as with dragons, the majority of mermaid indies are hastily written, overly derivative, and/or scarcely edited. Nevertheless, here are several worth dipping into.

Episode 1

By Kevin McGill
Self-published in 2012
Poe thinks this is MG/YA steam-punk/dystopian

First sentence: "Sweet Huron!" Yeri swore . . . well, judging by his mother's standards.

14-year-old Nick is trapped on an earth that hasn't seen the sun for 100 years. Do we blame the unchecked burning of fossil fuels, or the malfunctioning pumps designed to suck out the supposed excess of carbon dioxide? Nick doesn't know, and he doesn't care. He just wants to get back to the Moon. But he hasn't got the fare.

Now somebody's offering a million dollars to anyone who can build "an effective solar transference machine and return solar radiation to the planet's surface." So Nick's working on that, fueling himself with an energy drink laced with soda pop, chocolate syrup, and Pepto-Bismol. He's also trying not to contract a genetic plague called the Geneva virus.

But that's only part of the story. The other plot involves merpeople with automaton legs, in a steam-punk paranormal World of Mon.

NOTE: You won't want to miss the video of this book's launch—into space.

If you're into mermen, steam-punk, humor, and/or dystopias, then this series may grab you.

(Mer Tales, Book 1)

By Brenda Pandos
Self-published in 2011
Poe thinks this is YA paranormal romance

First sentence: "So, tell me everything, Ash."

Ash and Tatchi are best friends, both going on 18, so much alike, yet fundamentally completely different. For Tatchi and her twin brother Fin possess dual natures, human and mer. Ashlynn entertains no suspicion of this. And while Ash is expected to "tell everything," the twins are hiding a lot of secret desperation from their friend.

Tatchi hates being homeschooled and wants to live like a normal teen. But if she plunges that deeply into human experience, she'll lose the mer part of herself—and her family along with it. As for Fin, he's crushing on Ash, but even a single one of the kisses she obviously longs to share with him will transform her into a mermaid. (Amusingly, Ashlynn stars on her school's swim team.)

Yes, there's a certain amount of the Twilight template here. But this novel's worlds, both onshore and under Lake Tahoe, are well-built, and the story promises interesting sub-conflicts for each of the three protagonists.

If you're bewildered by the sheer number of mermaid romances on the e-lists, then Poe suggests you dip into this one first.


By D. F. Marsh
Self-published, July 2012
Poe thinks this is YA fantasy/sci-fi

First sentence: The sun had been swallowed by gray clouds with just a hint of magenta and indigo blue light in the sky when she surfaced.

The cover, to Poe, seems to target middle graders and to convey a light tone. But the novel runs to 427 pages; it includes episodes written from several adult points of view; and the authorial voice, sentence length, and vocabulary feel more sophisticated.

The structure parallels three quests. One sounds like MG fantasy and stars two siblings, aged 12 and 14. The second (with a Navy sub technician as a main character) reads like adult sci-fi. The third, told from the POV of a shady business tycoon, has the sly voice of a political thriller. All of these characters, in various ways and for various reasons, will try to prove the existence of the Seabed Phantom. A fourth thread follows the arc of the Phantom herself.

If you like a fantasy tinged with science (and a story with a moral), then this story looks a bit deeper than the cover would indicate.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Catching a Trend

by Marcy Collier

I went to the Pittsburgh Pirates game over the weekend. For those of you who don’t follow baseball, the Pirates have struggled with 19 consecutive losing seasons, the longest in North American professional sports history. But as of today, they are in first place! http://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Pirates-stay-hot-beat-Giants-13-2-3691712.php

As I think about the ups and downs of our home team over the years, I'm reminded  of how we struggle as writers to get that first novel published.

Every single one of my writer friends has vowed that he or she will quit writing at one point or another in their career. Some of them have, but the ones who really love it, breathe it, live it, have to write. They don’t have the option to quit because it’s a part of them. Like baseball players who love the game, even after such a long losing streak, they keep working hard, playing harder and if they’re lucky, eventually see a winning streak. They play because they love the game. Even during a rain delay when the tarps are rolled out over the field.

I finally sent my manuscript off to a few agents. I’ve received comments like:

 “I’ve read your sample pages and like the writing. However, the premise of the story is late to market so it would be a hard sell. I’d be happy to look at any other work you have.”


“I’m sorry to say we see too many teens with abilities novels just now, and I worry yours may have trouble standing out.”


“This isn’t feeling like a match for me.”

So what do you do when the novel you’ve labored over suddenly becomes a hot genre as you’re writing the draft? Do you hurry to finish so you can catch the trend wave? Do you vow that you'll never write again? 

No way! You keep running with your head held high, just like the pierogies during their race to the finish at the Pirate's games. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pierogi_Race)

The novel would not have been polished enough to have gone out to catch the trend. As writers, we have to write from the heart, not what’s hot. If you’re lucky, you’ll be the writer who sets the trend and becomes a race contender.

So what to do now? I’m going to do more research, keep submitting and start writing my next novel and hope that I don’t have 19 consecutive losing seasons before that first win.

Friday, July 6, 2012

What a Character!

     One of my favorite workshops at the New Jersey SCBWI Conference last month was conducted by Harold Underdown, called "Re-Imagining Your Picture Book." Though he spoke at length about setting and voice and point of view and character, his comments on character were what resonated most with me.  And since a recurring point during the conference was that picture books need to be no more than 500 words, authors don't have a whole lot of words to waste bringing our characters to life.
     We were all asked: How well do you know your character?  Can you answer these three questions?
1) What is their favorite ice cream flavor?
2) Name one quirk of theirs.
3) Do you know what their favorite book is?

Each of us present at the workshop had to take a character of ours and answer those questions.  I picked mine, Finneas Folderol Foo, and was able to say:
1) Astroberry
2) His head can rotate 360°
3) Where the Extraterrestrial Things Are

But thinking about character got me looking at some other picture book characters and how well their personalities are revealed with a minimum of text.  How about Mo Willems' pigeon in The Pigeon Wants a Puppy:
     "Oh, don't worry.  I'll take care of it.  I promise I'll water it once a month."

Or Kevin Henkes' Lilly, in several of his books:
     The next day at school during Sharing Time, Lilly said, "I've always wanted to be a flower girl.  Even more than a surgeon or a diva or a hairdresser."
     The story earned her ten minutes in the uncooperative chair.
     Lilly ran away seven times in one morning.

Or the irrepressible Olivia, come to life via Ian Falconer:
     One day Olivia was riding a camel in Egypt...
     "One day my mother took Ian and me to the circus,"  she begins.  "But when we got there, all the circus people were out sick with ear infections."

Even Judy Schachner's Skippyjon Jones' character is obvious from the mere description of him:
     His ears are too big for his head.  His head is too big for his body.
And also from some very basic information:
     Every morning he woke up with the birds.
     Alone in his room he began to bounce and bounce and bounce on his big-boy bed.

Finally, the always outspoken Madeleine - don't we learn all we need to know after we hear simply there were:
     ...twelve little girls in two straight lines/ The youngest one was Madeleine.

I am always energized after a conference and especially so after this single workshop.  If picture books are character driven, I think I am ready to get in the driver's seat!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

American historicals for teens by Tara Chevrestt and Mary Zinda


To celebrate the Fourth of July, Poe felt like browsing American historical fiction. This first title promises to take the reader on a fast ride from coast to coast:

By Tara Chevrestt
MuseItUp Publishing, 2012
Poe thinks this is younger YA adventure/historical

First sentence: “Oh, darn it all to hell and back!” Angeline exclaimed as she pulled back the heavy brocade drape for the twentieth time and stared in dismay at the empty street on the other side of the window.

MCs Angeline and Adelaide Hanson (19 and 16 years old) are described in a preface as avatars for Augusta and Adeline Van Buren, descendents of Martin Van Buren, the eighth President of the United States. Like the Van Buren sisters, Chevrestt's MCs hail from a family with a historically significant family tree; like them, the MCs are active in War-preparedness and suffragette activities. In 1916, the real sisters bought two motorcycles and rode them across the continental U.S. in 60 days. The ride was meant to prove that women could perform significant War work--delivering military dispatches. Female cyclist/dispatchers would free men up for rougher War duties, and (incidentally) reinforce the idea that American women deserved full citizenship--that is, the Vote. All of this applies to the fictional sisters, too.

What an engaging hook for readers who like exciting real history in their historical fiction, and for those weary of historicals that are little more than contemporary romances in corsets!

This recommendation comes with a reservation about Voice. The dialogue includes occasional anachronisms, and (at the opposite extreme) is sometimes too stilted to sound natural, even for 1916. Poe thinks that the subject's interesting and unique enough to overcome that flaw. But that may not be your view, particularly if you are selecting ebooks for a school reading list or library.

Rated: If you like books about cultural game-changers, adventurers, or athletes (especially motorcyclists)(especially female motorcyclists), then don't miss this book.

Today's second selection, in contrast, features a stay-at-home heroine.

By Mary Zinda
Self-published in 2012
Poe thinks this is an MG historical ghost story

First sentence: It was raining again, but that rarely stopped them.

This is a fascinating story that struggles with style. A historical based on true events (in this case, the obscure Peshtigo Fire of 1871) must present a quantity of facts. How to do it? "Telling" is supposed to put young readers off; but "showing" often involves contorting the story with extraneous characters and episodes. Zinda chooses to "tell," in the first-person voice of teenaged Lark. But why is Lark compelled to explain so much? We're not sure. Perhaps if we knew quite specifically who Lark is telling her story to?

Interweaving a quantity of back-story is another challenge—especially in a story that darts with the speed of incorporeal thought between the present day and several different stopping points in the 19th century.

Despite these hiccups, the mysteries captivate us. Lark, you see, dwells in the attic of an old Wisconsin house that has become a living history museum. But why is she trapped here with her embittered, ever-more-destructive Father (who is clearly a ghost)? Where is the rest of the family? How did Lark and her father come through the great fire, if the others did not? Poe expects that you'll be curious, too, and for that reason suggests that

If substance (here, a ghostly story, a bit of history, and a refreshingly different setting) matters more than style, then do explore the sample—a few pages will tell you whether you want to read further.