Thursday, October 23, 2014

Famous Last Words and a Contest!

I'm a big fan of the one liner. You know, those great lines that kick off a novel or those succinct last sentences that wrap of a book so seamlessly? That said, I thought it would be fun to have a contest and to the winner goes the spoils! You'll receive 5 brand new middle-grade books delivered to your door! 

Now, maybe I'm just not as smart as the rest of you, but I think it would be really, really hard to guess many of the first or last lines of even some famous middle-grade books. So, I'm throwing down the gauntlet. The reader who can guess the most titles that match each line wins! 

All the above said, us Mayhemers are going to have to trust you. Please, no Googling, or Binging, or Yahooing, or anything that ends in an ING that would be classified as searching on the web for the answers. We must hold you to your scout's honor and your love of middle-grade books. You don't have to know them all, we're just looking for the person who can answer the most! Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor! (Okay, that's YA, but gee, what book did I pull that line from?)

Please do not answer in the comments for obvious reasons! See the email address below! Now go on and try your luck at these 10 one-liners!

1. Across the lawn came the Master of Misselthwaite and he looked as many of them had never seen him. And by his, side with his head up in the air and his eyes full of laughter walked as strongly and steadily as any boy in Yorkshire— Master Colin.

2. All that could be seen from its woolen folds was the baby’s snow-white nose.

3. And pushed the button.

4. Shaking crumbs from her hair, Em leaped to her feet. “You’d better run, Matt Calder, ’cos special or not, I’m going to kill you!”

5. I asked Argus to take me down to cabin three, so I could pack my bags for home.

6. “Faith, sir,” replied the storyteller, “as to that matter, I don't believe one-half of it myself.”

7. She began to untie it.

8. Now Rann the Kite brings home the night That Mang the Bat sets free— The herds are shut in byre and hut For loosed till dawn are we.

9. “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”

10. The end of the world started when a Pegasus landed on the hood of my car.

Now remember, don't answer in the comments. Please email us the answers to, Subject: Famous Last Words. Please be sure to include the subject so we don't miss your entry! Contest ends October 25th at 12PM CST and winner will be announced next week and contacted via email.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I Am Not My Books, by Kell Andrews

Sometimes both writers and readers forget that they and their books are not one and the same.

I put a lot of myself into the books I write. The characters come out of my head -- the protagonists, antagonists, comic relief, parents good and bad, the passerby on the street who only has one line. But they are not me.

The dialogue comes from my head -- philosophizing, wisecracking, both sides of an argument. But it's not what I would say.

The writing, rewriting, querying, submission, editing, and marketing of a book takes a lot of time, emotion, and thought. There is a lot of my life and myself in my books. I have a creative vision, and it comes out in my books. But they are not me.

So when agent and editors reject my queries and submissions, they are rejecting my book, not me. When readers decide not to buy, librarians and bookstores pass, or reviewers take apart my work, they are judging my book, not me.

It's easy to feel as if the publishing and reading world hates me personally, but sometimes, they are just indifferent to my writing. More likely, they've never even heard of it. But maybe if we met at a cocktail party or the elementary school pick-up line, they'd find me delightful and we'd end up best friends. Or not. I don't know, because all they have is my book.
Proof that I am not my books:
We are frequently seen in the same place at the same time.

Overidentification goes two ways.

It's not just writers that forget we're not our books. Sometimes readers do as well.

If a character says something awful, it doesn't mean I agree with it. If I write a sexist or racist character, it doesn't mean I'm one too -- even if I write in first person. If a reader thinks a character is passive or whiny or unlikable, that might be my intention, not my personality. Sometimes the point I'm trying to make is the opposite of what characters say. Portraying an action does not mean endorsing it. It's craft, not confession.

So I remind myself -- and other writers and readers -- that we are not our books. And if an editor, agent, reader, or reviewer doesn't like one, it's a reflection of our work product, not ourselves. Even when it feels as if I've pour my heart and mind onto the page, I haven't. The page is not my heart or mind, which are both still encased safely in my body, thank goodness. I need them.

Because I have more life to live, and many other books to write. 

(I could also mention that my books are not my babies, but that's another post.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Suspense Versus Surprise, by Chris Eboch

Several years ago, I had the chance to work as a ghost (Halloween tie-in!) writer on a novel about a certain famous girl sleuth. That was fun, and I learned something valuable from the editor. She asked me to look again at my chapter endings, and said,

“I would like to see more of a slow build-up toward the intense action. In horror movies, it’s always the ominous music and the main character slowly opening the closet door that scares us the most, not the moment right after she opens the door.”

She’s noting the difference between suspense and surprise. When something happens suddenly and unexpectedly, that’s a surprise. If you are going about your business, perfectly happy, when a car slams into yours, or something hits you in the back of the head, or a phone call reveals bad news, that’s a surprise. But up until that moment, there was no suspense.

This is an important difference to remember when writing. We know the importance of surprise twists, and we may be tempted to keep secrets and let them out with a bang. But true suspense comes from suspecting that something will happen and worrying about it or anticipating it.

Something Is Coming...

To build up truly dramatic moments, give the reader clues that something bad — or excitingly good — is going to happen. Here’s an early version of a chapter ending from my middle grade novel Haunted:The Ghost on the Stairs (more ghosts!). The narrator, Jon, isn’t sure he believes his little sister Tania when she says she can see ghosts, but he goes with her to look for one as their stepfather films his ghost hunter TV show.

At the top of the stairs, my stepfather stood in the glare of a spotlight, a few feet away from a camera. I took a step backward and tugged at Tania’s arm. No one had seen us yet, and we could still escape.

Tania turned to me. The look in her eyes made my stomach flip.

The moment isn’t bad for a cliffhanger chapter ending, but it could use some more buildup, more time for Jon to suspect something’s wrong. Here’s how the chapter ended in the published book:

At the top of the stairs, my stepfather stood in the glare of a spotlight, a few feet away from a camera. I took a step backward and tugged at Tania’s arm. No one had seen us yet, and we could still escape.

She didn’t back up. She swayed.

I took a quick step forward and put my arm around her so she wouldn’t fall. I looked down into her face. I’d never seen anyone so white. White as death. Or white as a ghost.

“Tania,” I hissed. I gave her a shake. She took a quick breath and dragged her eyes away from the staircase and to my face. The look in them made my stomach flip.

The revised version is longer. To get the most out of dramatic moments, you actually slow the pace by using more detail. It’s ironic, but you want to write slow moments quickly, maybe summing up a boring afternoon in a sentence or two, while writing a fast moment slowly, drawing out every detail.

Learn More

Of course, not every chapter can end with dramatic physical action. My essay “Hanging by the Fingernails: Cliffhangers” in Advanced Plotting (written as Chris Eboch) also discusses how to use cliffhangers in quieter moments. I covered that on my blog as well – along with 10 other posts on cliffhangers! You can tell I love the subject. See my cliffhanger blog posts here.

See also my brother, screenwriter Doug Eboch’s, post on Suspense with movie examples.

Personal News

I have two webinars coming up, on “The Elevator Pitch” and on Theme. Recordings will be available to class participants, both for review and for anyone who can’t attend a session live. Use the links here for a special “friend of Chris” discount price.

The Elevator Pitch with Chris Eboch
Wednesday, October 29, 5-6:30 pm PDT/8-9:30 EDT

Writers often need the dreaded one-sentence synopsis. But how can you possibly sum up your work in one little sentence? In this workshop, we’ll discuss the key to a great one-sentence synopsis – finding your story’s hook. Then practice turning your hook into a one-sentence synopsis and get feedback to help you refine the results. Finally, expand your pitch into thirty-second and one-minute versions. 

If you are attending a writing conference where you may get to meet editors or agents, this session will get you ready! You’ll also gain confidence and insight into creating a powerful query letter, and sharing your work with potential agents, editors, or readers wherever you might need them.

Theme: the Soul of a Story
Wednesday, November 19, 5-6:30 pm PDT/8-9:30 EDT

What do you want to say? If plot is the skeleton that provides structure, character the muscles that move the plot, and setting the skin that gives a uniform appearance, then theme is the soul that truly brings a story to life. But often writers don’t put as much energy into developing theme as they do with the more obvious elements of plot, characters and setting. The result can be a weak or obscure theme. In some cases, the reader may even get a completely different message from what the writer intended. You don’t want your message misunderstood. Learn to identify what you really want to say, and bring it out in writing. This class is both for beginning and experienced writers.

And finally, my Middle Eastern fantasy, The Genie’s Gift, is part of an e-book “boxed set” of six middle grade novels, temporarily on sale for $.99. The set is very heavy on female leads, so it’s a great option for middle grade girls – or boys who like action, if you want to encourage them to see girls as heroes, too. This blog post briefly describes each of the novels and includes buy links to the major e-retailers. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Celebrating a Classic: Katherine Paterson's BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (post by Michael Gettel-Gilmartin)

I have to admit that I came late to reading middle grade classics. As a kid, I was into books like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and the various series by British author Enid Blyton. Then I graduated to Agatha Christie and Georges Simenon. I had my John Le CarrĂ© phase and then became an English major: Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens were my daily fodder for many years.

When I started writing, I wrote adult books--humorous tales, or mysteries set in Japan. It's only when my kids were born and I was reading to them that I became enamored of middle grade. Roald Dahl, Philip Pullman, and J.K. Rowling entranced me.

I read Bridge to Terabithia a couple of years ago, and it was like a punch in the gut. As a parent, anything involving the death of a child makes me cry, and this novel brought out the tears in buckets.

Things I Loved about the Novel
1) The friendship between a boy and a girl. It starts off as a rivalry--Jess wants to be the fastest in fifth grade, but is beaten by Leslie, the new girl at school--and ends up as a deep friendship in which the imagination reigns supreme.
2) Paterson does an amazing job of depicting children's lives--the meanness, the struggle, the triumphs. She also does an incredible job of mining grief, with all its anger, and blame, and hurt.
3) The writing itself is simple and elegant. This is a slim book, but its ripples go on and on, lasting a long time after you close its covers.

What other middle grade classics would you celebrate? Leave a comment, so as I can add to my reading pile.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Key to Rejection

"If we are unwilling to change it is highly likely we have already reached our maximum level of achievement."
~John Fuhrman

In his book, Reject Me - I Love It!, now in its 2nd Edition,John Fuhrman provides us with a book full of strategies to use rejection to our advantage. In chapter nine he uses the word success to provide some of those strategies:
  • Self-evaluate
  • Understand each task
  • Care
  • Concentrate
  • Expect
  • See
  • Share

Self-evaluation requires us to evaluate and compliment ourselves. Fuhrman advises us to evaluate our mistakes, determining how we can make changes for the future, and encourages us to be equally committed to rewarding ourselves with compliments when we do well.

We must understand not only the task we have created for ourselves but also why we need to make our dream happen. Focus and clarity keep us on the right road. Avoiding rejection detours us from our chosen path--our path is supposed to have rejection on it.

Care about your dreams and goals. Fuhrman reminds us that if we don't care about something, we won't pay attention to the details; the map becomes vague.

Concentration allows us learn how actions affect results, which allows us to make adjustments or new plans.
Concentration allows us to understand what we have learned so we can avoid the same mistakes. It keeps us focused on our goals and dreams, protecting us from distractions that would slow our progress and helping us overcome the fear of rejection.

Expect to succeed. Expecting something confirms its certainty in your mind.

See, feel and hear your future. Fuhrman tells us we should walk backwards toward success. Picture yourself as successful already and act accordingly.

Share how you achieve success with others. This is my favorite one. Fuhrman tells us that as we become successful we need to share what we receive, something our blogging circle does exceedingly well.
"It's not only the doing of great things, but also the sharing of how you did it that's key to your success. It makes your life happier, more fulfilling, and worthwhile. It also supports others in their quest for success--inspiring them to achieve the same rewards."

Rejection doesn't always have to be a bad thing. 
The key is in how we choose to deal with it.