Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Lightning or Lightning Bug?

Light up!

Mark Twain

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

After doing the "spying" exercise, I started really thinking--

Show, don't tell. 

It means using the best words to describe so that the reader 

can see what the writer sees.

An exercise I do with new writers is this, I have them listen to 

at least three versions of the song "Mack the Knife." We 

listen to Bobby Darrin, Louis Armstrong, and Lyle Lovett.

Each of those singers has a very distinctive voice. 

Sometimes, I add in Ella Fitzgerald.

I just did that exercise to help me think about a character

who I want to have a distinctive voice. I want his voice deep 

and gruff. 

If you get a chance, listen to these four versions, even just 

the sample you get from ITunes. Quickly write down three

descriptive words for each singer. 

Then, do it again, but push your creativity. Instead of smooth

how about creamy? Instead of rough, how about ....

nah, you try it! And let me know what you come up with.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Balmy Breezes and Curious Characters

Jupiter, Florida

I've just returned from a visit to Florida. One thing about Florida, it's a great place to observe people. There is quite a mix.

When I first started writing, one thing I was encouraged to do was to be a spy. That's right, be a spy. Watch and observe. Write down the observations.

I had my notebook in hand, actually it was to do some plotting for a work in progress (The Counter-Clockwise Princess) but, I kept getting distracted...and I couldn't help myself. I started to write....
   "the skinny old man in baggy bathing trunks, hey, he using his dog to pick up young chicks. He waits until he sees a girl, throws the ball and, oh, ha ha, the girl sees his dog and starts talking to old skinny man." Clever.

  "She still has a baby belly, but doesn't care. Let's it all hang out, dropping over the bottom half of her bikini. My goodness, what a big butt."
   "Old white man. Late 50s. Trim, but a little paunch. Full hair, white, crew cut. Tan. Good arm muscles. The woman with him. Trophy wife? Nice figure. Small chest. Wide shoulders. Tennis player? She's busy...looking at other men."

   "Guy, 20 something. Boston Red Sox tee shirt. Goatee. Full, dark hair, short. Round face. No neck."

     "Odd little man. No chin. Glasses. Thick lens. Sparse hair, tufts here and there. Lots of hair on the eyebrows. Thin lips, keeps sucking bottom lip in. He seems very worried."

These were just a few of my jottings. 
I did it because a good friend criticized my writing for not having enough description of my characters. This was a good exercise. I really concentrated on these different people, studying their mannerisms.

Spying. Observing. Ruminating. Being a neb. 
It's all part of being a writer.

(PS It's lots of fun.)

Thursday, August 15, 2013


I recently received notification that my membership to SCBWI was due to be renewed. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this organization, according to its website it was founded in 1971 by a group of Los Angeles-based children's writers. "The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a non-profit , 501 (c)3 organization which is  one of the largest existing organizations for writers and illustrators. It is the only professional organization specifically for those individuals writing and illustrating for children and young adults in the fields of children’s literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia. Several of the most prestigious children’s literature professionals sit on the SCBWI Board of Advisors.

The SCBWI acts as a network for the exchange of knowledge between writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, agents, librarians, educators, booksellers and others involved with literature for young people. It serves as a consolidated voice for professional writers and illustrators the world over.  As a unified body, the SCBWI acts as a powerful force to effect important changes within the field of children's literature, promoting new copyright legislation, equitable treatment of authors and artists, and fair contract terms.  There are currently more than 22,000 members worldwide, in over 70 regional chapters writing and illustrating in all genres for young readers from board books to young adult (YA) novels, making it the largest children's writing organization in the world.

The benefits of membership in SCBWI are many. The SCBWI sponsors two annual International Conferences on Writing and Illustrating for Children as well as dozens of regional conferences and events throughout the world. The bi-monthly magazine, SCBWI Bulletin, offers thousands of dollars in Awards and Grants for writers and illustrators, and provides vital market information on the craft and business of writing and selling books for young readers. The SCBWI also presents the annual Golden Kite Award for the best fiction and nonfiction books for young readers, and the Sid Fleischman Award for Humor."

Now I have to back up a few years when I had let my membership lapse because I didn't feel there was an advantage to belonging and paying the dues, which today is eighty-five dollars for a new member and seventy dollars to renew. At the suggestion of my editor, Bonnie Bader (who's on the board of SCBWI) I re-joined last year. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoy their newsletter and once again being a part of the larger community of writers. I think it's an individual decision if you want to become a member, but I have to admit that I'm happy to know that such an organization exists and that for now I'm a part of it.

Monday, August 5, 2013

First Friday-Five Favorite Things: The Flame in the Mist

by Kit Grindstaff

Kit Grindstaff 

This past Friday, August 2, Marcy and I posted our answers to Kit's debut novel, The Flame in the Mist. Today, you get to read Kit's favorite's. It's always fun to see how different and similar our answers are with that of the authors. Kit has given great answers that will make the reader longing to read more.

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?
Ooh, this is hard to choose without spoilers! One I love relates to Jemma’s change of heart toward Drudge, the decrepit servant at Agromond Castle. Blinded by appearances, Jemma, 13, has always found him revolting. But as she’s about to escape, she discovers he has wonderful qualities and is not as she believed. Mortified by her prejudice, and how rude and careless she’s always been toward him, she has to say goodbye to him only moments later. (Noodle and Pie, for readers who don’t know, are her two magical golden-pelted rat friends.)
Jemma turned and squeezed through the gap, arms first, then head, shoulders, and torso. Noodle and Pie hopped in after her. She took one last look across the tiny dungeon. Drudge waved, then was gone. A fragment of her heart tore off and followed the old man up the dark corridor as he shuffled back to his lonely alcove.

Like Jemma, I hated leaving him at that point. But what I knew, and she didn’t, is that she will in fact see him again…

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?
One that I found really exciting to write is at the end of Chapter 29. Jemma has been through a grueling escape from Nox and Nocturna Agromond, who abducted her as a baby, and a harrowing journey to find her real parents (with plenty of cliffhangers on the way). She’s just met her mother for the first time. Emotions are running high. They’re in the town square, with the townsfolk gathered to cheer her return—and now she’s about to meet her father.
Their cheers dulled in Jemma’s head. The prospect of meeting her father suddenly seized her with the strangest mix of emotions: excitement, curiosity . . . and then a sense of foreboding, creeping up from her toes. She pulled up the hood of her cloak, as if it could hide her. The minutes ticked by: six thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine, and still the cheers droned on, thick and distant, as if through a lake of syrupwater.

Every face, every tree, and every building in the square was still crystal clear. As crystal clear as the electric sense of someone approaching from behind her. Crystal clear as she turned around. And crystal clear as she saw the unmistakable dark hair and determined stride of Nox Agromond, exiting the inn and heading straight toward her.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

I’m going to cheat here and say two characters, because it has to be Jemma’s telepathic golden rats, Noodle and Pie, and you can’t have one without the other. They provide light relief, and I love their loyalty to her, their calm levity, and their simple wisdom. But I also love the fact that they’re still rats, and do ratty things like eating dead bugs, squeezing into small spaces, gnawing through ropes, and generally scampering around (including all over Jemma).
4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?
En route to finding her real parents, Jemma performs her first healing on a woman, Alyss, who is gravely ill. Jemma realizes Alyss has been cursed. She places two magical crystals in Alyss’s hands, begins her work. In Alyss’s aura, she sees images of a series of tragedies that Alyss has suffered, which are released in the healing process. At the end,
Each image burst like a bubble, scattering fragments that turned into gold light and drifted back into Alyss as though she were transparent, filling the spaces that the darkness had occupied. And all the while, the crystals sparkled with luminous blue, like lightning across two miniature night skies.

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

Since there’s a lot of darkness in The Flame in the Mist, I’m going to choose something more lighthearted. While still at Agromond Castle, Jemma and her erstwhile nurse, Marsh, realize they’re being overheard, so slip into a banter they’ve developed to fool the Agromonds into thinking they despise one another. Marsh has just told Jemma, “Be off with you. Or did a harpy eat your legs?” Jemma retorts:
What makes you think I’d want to stay around you, anyway? You’re fat, and barely bigger than a troll!”
There’s several things I like about it. First, it tells the reader more of Marsh’s appearance; second, the fact that Jemma could say this to Marsh at all demonstrates Marsh’s toughness (Jemma knows it won’t hurt her); and third, it shows the warmth and trust between them. (Later in the same conversation Jemma calls her “Lard-woman”, which I also particularly liked.)
So there are my Five Favorites, Dave! Thanks so much to you and Marcy for hosting me.

We appreciate you sharing your current favorites for The Flame in the Mist and encourage our readers to pick up a copy!

You can find Kit at:
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/kitgrindstaff (@kitgrindstaff)

Friday, August 2, 2013

First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day

by Dave Amaditz &
Marcy Collier

The Flame in the Mist
Welcome to August's version of - First Friday - Five Favorite Things - Debut Novel Day. In this monthly series, we ask five simple questions about a debut novel that will hopefully entice anyone reading this post to pick up the novel and read it themselves, and/or give them at a glance some insight into the author's writing style and voice as well as how some of the characters might think or act. We do this by presenting, first, answers to our Five Favorite Things, followed by the author's answers in a follow-up post.

This month we're pleased to highlight debut novelist, Kit Grindstaff, and her novel, The Flame in the Mist. I had the privilege to meet Kit at 2009 Rutgers One-On-One Plus Conference, where she was busy working on her novel. Fortunately, I ran across her again this past June at the New Jersey SCBWI conference where she was able to share good news of publication, and more importantly, where she agreed to participate in this month's Five Favorites.

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

Dave - There were so many to choose from, but in the end, without revealing some of the plots inner secrets, I chose this paragraph because it shows the perils that Jemma, the main character, must face, as well as illustrates one snippet of the fantastic writing found throughout the novel.

Jemma closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The Prophecy. Despite everything, it still burned inside her, driving her. She'd been drawn inexorably to this destiny from the moment she first started having doubts about the Agromonds, and had set it in motion with their first step toward escape. How she would ever bring back the sun, she had no idea, but rescuing the triplets was vital. They couldn't wait.

Marcy – Jemma has lived her entire life in the castle with the Agromond family. She always knew that she was different – not like them. She finally finds the courage to escape from them with the help of Drudge. In this scene, her brave behavior and change of heart for Drudge is the beginning of how her character greatly changes throughout the novel.

“A big cave. Then another tunnel, which will lead away from the castle, where there’s no alarm. I understand.” Jemma squeezed his hands. “I wish I wasn’t leaving you here! But—”

“Go!” Drudge pulled his hands away. “Mussst, now! G’bye, Jmmmaaah.”

“Goodbye. And please say goodbye to Digby for me, will you? Tell him…tell him I’ll look for him in Hazebury, when I get there.”

Drudge nodded, wiping one eye with the back of his sleeve. “Trussst,” he said again, softly.

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

Dave - Again, without giving too much away, I picked this chapter ending because I didn't see it coming and needed to immediately turn the page to find out what came next. To set the scene a little, Jemma is feeling pretty good about herself because she has gotten away from the castle, and the likes of Nox Agromond... only to see... well, you read for yourself.

Every face, every tree, and every building in the square was still crystal clear. As crystal clear as the electric sense of someone approaching from behind her. Crystal clear as she turned around. And crystal clear as she saw the unmistakable dark hair and determined stride of Nox Agromond, exiting the inn and heading straight toward her.

Marcy – This chapter ending gave me chills. In the last 24 hours, Jemma has discovered that her entire life has been a lie. Jemma is reading the back of a newspaper clipping and recognizes the picture of her mother.

She turned the picture over. 

Tiny writing was scrawled with obvious effort across the back.
My darling child. We are waiting.

Jemma felt her destination sharpen in her mind as clearly as etching on glass. For somehow, something in her knew that her mother, at least, was still in Oakstead – and alive.

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

Dave - Nocturna is my favorite secondary character. She is the epitome of evil, one hundred percent committed to her cause and only willing to waver with feelings or actions that resemble kindness if, and only if, the end result will benefit her. Who else would say the following to their daughter?

"Yes, you will, Mord take you," Nocturna said, gripping her harder, "if I have to kill you to get it."

Marcy - My favorite secondary character was hard to choose because there were so many characters I adored. Jemma meets a young girl named Talon during her travels to escape. The reader expects Talon to turn Jemma in to the Chief Inquisitor who is also happens to be Talon’s father. But boy, does Talon surprise Jemma and the reader.

Talon frowned, then broke into a grin. “I know – come to my house! It’s the last place anyone’ll think of lookin’. Pa’s never home, an’ it’d never occur to ‘im you’d be hidin’ under our roof. Don’t worry, Ma can’t stand ‘im any more’n I can. We both felt ‘is fist a bit too often. ‘Sides, she’d be dead chuffed to meet yer. So come on, let’s be off!”

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

Dave -  This was not easy! So I picked two in order to give you a sense of the fantastic writing as well as of the evil Jemma faces in her quest.

First - Everyone dozed. Only Grandmama Mallentent seemed to be awake, her crazed paint-cracked eyes staring from her portrait as if they saw into Jemma's duplicity. Jemma fixed her gaze on the fire, and on the family motto glaring at her from the mantelpiece: Mordus Aderit. She tried re-ordering the letters to make pleasant words, but it only yielded ones that seemed to taunt her: Ruse. Dare. Dread. Dread. The word slithered into Jemma's head, then wormed into her bones, where it curled up and tightened like a noose.

Jemma mopped her mouth with a napkin, her stomach in revolt. The stew had been vile. The silkiness of the pancreas made her retch, and how could she have ever liked the bitter taste of spleen, with its crumbly texture? Even the crunch of the bees-in-syrupwater dessert was disgusting to her now.

Second - What met her eyes was more horrific than she could have imagined. Countless small human skeletons were grouped together in twos and threes, some whose arm bones embraced another; others with finger bones entwined. Several behind the door looked as though they'd been trying to claw their way out.

Marcy – Jemma has never guided a horse before – this is her first time trying to ride Pepper under strained circumstances. I felt like I was right in the scene with the fantastic imagery and action.

“Easy, girl – easy!’ Terrified, Jemma gripped with her legs as she lay over Pepper’s withers, her arms wrapped around the mare’s outstretched neck. The ground rushed by. She could feel her cloak streaming behind her like wings. Wings that had saved her, breaking her fall from Mordwin’s Crag…She began to feel as though she was flying, and melted into Pepper’s thundering gallop, remembering the thrill of speed she’d felt earlier with Digby’s arm around her. All fear vanished. Her mind merged with the mare’s, envisioning where to go: Over there, to the right – Yes! That’s it…

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

Dave - Even with all the scary scenes I've picked for my favorites, I think this line proves, that in the darkest hours, there can be hope.

"Nobody is evil through and through, Jemma," said Lumo, “or good, for that matter. Each of us has the capacity for both, and for most of us, one wicked act, or even several, does not make us a wicked person. That depends on how we choose to commit our lives. Yet even good people have the capacity for cruelty, just as evil ones have the capacity for kindness."

Marcy – Digby made Jemma die her flaming red hair with a muck of berries and mud, then sheared her hair off like a boy’s so people wouldn’t recognize her. Jemma is not happy about this transformation until Digby gives her a compliment – sort of.

“’S’alright, Jem. I understand. Your hair is kind of your crownin’ glory. But you still look pretty good without it.”

Jemma smiled, her stomach flipping.

“Does stink a bit, though,” he added.

You can find Kit at:
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/kitgrindstaff (@kitgrindstaff)