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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Writers Groups: Sweet, Not Scary

I remember my first foray into a writer's group. It was twenty-something years ago. A neighbor suggested I try it after reading some silly rhyming clues I'd written for a neighborhood scavenger-hunt. I thought she was nuts. But the idea was intriguing. I was a stay-at-home mom in desperate need of an identity. I called.

They met in the lower level of the local library. Their leader had already published a YA novel. I was in awe. She was an actual author. I'd never met a real one. Everyone seated around the table were writers.  What was I doing here? But I took my seat and listened.  

Before long it became the night of the week I looked most forward to, and quite the heady construct for me. "I'm in a writers group," I'd drop demurely now and then. But the cool part couldn't be denied, I was learning . . . learning to write well, learning to critique, and learning about the industry. I'd never thought myself a writer, but the possibility seemed less and less remote as the months and years ticked away. 

Today I am a writer. And the most valuable asset I have in the realm of improving my craft and continuing to produce is my writers group. They expect me to write. They expect me to submit. With something as simple as a query letter, their input is indispensable. A group is invaluable for keeping current with constant changes in the industry, historically tracking editors movement from house to house, presently in the acceleration of technological publishing and promotion. It is shared knowledge that makes each of us more singularly knowledgable. There is no doubt that without a group of people that come together bi-monthly with words of encouragement, insightful criticism, and a true desire to see each other succeed, I would have stopped writing long ago. In fact, I would never have started.  

Many people do well writing alone. And it's true that not all groups have constructive positivity as their mantra. But, if you can find, or put together, a group with the qualities listed below, you will greatly enhance your chances of success.    

  • Meet regularly, whether in person or electronically.
  • Keep your critiques positive but constructive. 
  • Share group time equitably.  
  • Have a leader, whether rotating or consistent, but someone to keep the subject matter on point.
  • Talk about the industry, about names, about houses, about trends.   
  • Attend conferences and report back to the group
  • Stay supportive of each other and revel in each other's success.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Helping kids to Let their Imagination Loose--laughing all the way

A presentation for Keystone State Reading Association by Kitty Griffin

 Use the familiar to help unlock the imagination. Take what you know and begin to s---t------r--------e----------t------------------c------------------h as far a you can. If you find yourself laughing, you're on the right track. Bounce!

 There was an old lady who swallowed a fly…I don’t know why she swallowed that fly.
Wait a minute! This isn’t just an old lady she should have a name. Now, let’s giggle. What if her name is Ida Swallow? Names can really help pull out the smiles.
Now, let’s push this into a tall tale. We know she swallows a fly, a spider, a bird, a cat, a dog, and a hog. What if you create a super hero who helps save all of the critters she’s swallowed?
Now you play what if…
What if the hero gives her a bowl of Grandpa Chickenpops Stinky Soup, it’s so stinky that you throw up just smelling it?
Or what if the hero tickles Old Lady Swallow with a special feather and she sneezes them out?

Create your own tall tale!
Give your student a problem or a list of problems that they will be familiar with.
Global warming, water pollution, poor nutrition, etc.
Have them think carefully about a super hero who could help solve that problem. A good name is important. What makes them super? Or is it just a regular kid who has one special ability? Maybe it can be more than one kid.
Your character has a problem.
What will the character do to solve the problem?
How difficult can you make the situation for your character?

Fun with Fairy Tales
Let your students pick a favorite fairy tale and bounce it! Change the main character. What if in Red Riding Hood the Wolf was really kind and suspected that Little Red was after Granny’s hidden money?
What if the Three Little Pigs were bullies, trying to take over the neighborhood? Give them names like Spike, Pounce, and Chopper. Do you see how that changes the story?
Make a change in Jack and the Beanstalk by making Jack a Jackie. What if she sold the cow for magic potatoes that led down into the ground where a magic dwarf lived?
There is a reason children love to see the familiar flipped. Give them a chance to do the flipping. But always remind them, start with a good character and make sure your character has an interesting problem. Using the familiar can help lead them into all sorts of fun mischief.



Dave Amaditz

It's that time of year again for scary.

I don't mean Halloween-scary, although it's a sure thing that I'll soon be bombarded with chilling movies filling the TV screens and children of all ages marching through my neighborhood dressed in frightening costumes. That type of scary is a given, and I'm okay with it. In fact, I quite look forward to watching movies with my children as well as seeing all of the uniquely  frightening and not-so-frightening costumes the neighborhood children wear to collect Halloween candy.

The scary I'm talking about deals with acquisition time at the publishing houses.

I'm told that fall in the publishing business is one of the busiest times of the year, as editors come to editorial and acquisition meetings prepared to pitch the novels they most want to see published. Normally, I wouldn't spend too much time thinking about the process, but this year, I happen to have two stories with two separate houses. For the past few months I've been patiently waiting to hear a response. Of course, I would love to hear a positive response, but as I sit here waiting, I find myself wondering what would be scarier - - receiving a message from the editors with wishes for better publication luck elsewhere, or the continual wait in limbo that comes with not receiving a response.

Is there anyone else out there still waiting for a message like me? How does it make you feel?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Snarky, Spooky Series by Patti Larsen and Kate McMurry/Marie August


In compliance with this month's blogue theme, Poe browsed for Sweet and Scary samples. In vain, of course. Poe should have remembered that Snark is the preferred attitude indie ewriters take to just about any genre. Poe also confirmed that snarky YA stories rarely get really scary. Poe has had to make do with Spooky

These books are so light and lively that popcorn readers could probably gobble up all 23 before Hallowe'en. 

(The Hayle Coven Novels)

by Patti Larsen

Self-published, 2011
Poe thinks this is YA fantasy chick-lit

First sentence: I batted at the curl of smoke drifting off the tip of my candle and tried not to sneeze. 

"Being part of a demon raising is way less exciting than it sounds." Indeed, MC Sydlynn Hayle is so detached from her witchy DNA that she doesn't even know how to magick the ceremonial candle smoke out of her eyes.

But Mom's the Coven leader, and Dad is Haralthazar, Demon Lord of the Seventh Plane of Demonicon. (Did you know that there are nice Demons? Dad is one.)  

Sydlynn's relationship with Mom is the very pattern of adolescent-girl rebellion--but instead of arguing over curfews or car-use, the conflict is about how soon Sydlynn can leave the Coven. 

Larsen's always stylish and entertaining. In this case, her set-up (while amusing) feels overlong. Only in chapter 4 do we learn that Sydlynn's refusal to develop her powers will literally destroy her mother.

The sample was long, but Poe stopped 10% into the story, judging the book plot-light and situation- and character-rich. 

If you prefer your fantasy on the light side, then the 20 titles of this series may entertain you some time. 

(Misdirected Magic Trilogy)

by Kate McMurry & Marie August

Self-published, 2011
Poe thinks this is light contemporary YA fantasy

First sentence: Isabel Lindley surreptitiously pressed the backlight button on her watch. 

The summoning spell wasn't even Isabel's idea. Her friend Tripp's the gal who dressed up like the Reaper and poured salt all over Izzy's bedroom floor. Yet somehow Izzy's the only one who can see and hear the entity who just dropped out of the ceiling.

In a neat twist on the typical summoning plotline, this ghost is no evil opportunist. He doesn't even know who he was, where (or when or how) he died. The flighty Tripp diagnoses sudden-death PTSD and then (perhaps bored by a haunting that leaves her out) she takes off without even sweeping up the salt on the floor. Now Izzy must cope with that, as well as the stressed-out ghost.   

The story features illustrations as light and pleasant as the writing. 

If you're ready for a nibble of reading-candy, then this series looks like a quick, light read. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Get Scared!

How about some willies? Or some heebie jeebies? Come on, pick a scare, any scare!
By Kitty Griffin

 Why do we enjoy thrills? Especially scary ones? Do you close your eyes when you watch a scary movie? Or like me, do you turn down the sound? 

Whatever the reason, scary stories have always been a source of enjoyment. Here are a few that haunt me still.

The Scarecrows by Robert Westall
This atmospheric tale pulls you in ever so slowly. The story is wrapped around strong emotions, jealousy, hatred, and love. Pulsing underneath is murder and betrayal. The main character, Simon, doesn’t understand why his mother and sister seem to have forgotten his late father so he seeks solace elsewhere. He seeks it in a place that embraces his anger.

All I have to do is pick up this book and read the opening, “It was the night before the Fund-raising Effort that the devils came. So it seemed to Simon Wood ever after.
            But they were formless then.
            They came with the whispering.”


This next book, “The Satanic Mill” by Otto Preussler isn’t just scary—it’s terrifying! What I didn’t know as I read it was that the journey that the main character, Krabat, takes mirrors the journey that Germans took as Hitler secured power. It’s a story of finding power and the temptations that go with it. While it’s called the Satanic Mill, it isn’t the devil that Krabat does battle with, rather it’s magic. This book received the German Prize for Children and Youth Literature in 1972. A fierce, powerful book that pushes temptation to the edge.

“The Eyes of the Killer Robot” by John Bellairs was one I read to my children and boy, oh boy, was that wild. This story is the fifth book in the Johnny Dixon mystery series and it doesn’t fail to thrill.

Those three are delicious for the fright they give. Here are a few other titles that will give you chills.

“The Silver Kiss” by Annette Curtis Klause is a vampire story that will put things in a different light.

What are the events that shape us? Find out more about Frankenstein, yes Dr. Frankenstein, when he was but a lad in “This Dark Endeavor” by Kenneth Oppel.

Make sure you have the windows locked and the doors barred when you start reading “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” by Carrie Ryan. That scratching at the door will give you heart palpitations.

What are your favorite scares?