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Like most first conversations and bad first drafts, my (WD’s Managing Editor Adrienne Crezo) interview with Ransom Riggs begins with a discussion about the weather. And not just any weather, either, but peculiar versions of standard precipitation: dust storms, cloudbursts, thundersnow and tornadoes. Of course, Riggs is experiencing none of those phenomena as he sits in the warmth of the never-ending summer of Los Angeles. “I hate to tell you what it’s like here right now,” he says. “No, I don’t. It’s gorgeous. Just perfect.”
That kind of easygoing humor is familiar to Riggs’ fans. Readers of his New York Times bestselling young adult novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and its sequel, Hollow City, convene on Twitter (@ransomriggs) and Instagram (instagram.com/ransomriggs) to follow the seemingly unshakable optimism of a guy who really enjoys what he does. Life is uncomplicated for Riggs, as is his approach to work and writing. “[I never] set out to be a writer,” he tells me. “I took a fiction class [in college], but … I just thought, That’d be a fun thing to do for a semester, not, This is my future.”
Whatever dreams Riggs may have had about his future, he couldn’t have predicted the wild success of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, a tale of time travel and magic set against the eerie backdrop of unnerving black-and-white photos of levitating girls and creepy twin clowns. Before Peculiar Children’s release in 2011, the film rights had already been snapped up by 20th Century Fox, and the movie, directed by none other than Tim Burton, is slated for release in summer 2015. Hollow City, second of the three planned Peculiar Children books, was released in January 2014. And in the midst of all this, Riggs also released Talking Pictures, a coffee-table book of found photographs, in 2012.
It’s easy to see why Riggs is enjoying the ride, but what appears to have happened overnight actually evolved over many years. It started with a love of film and photography, which led him to collecting old secondhand photographs. In 2009, Riggs was encouraged by an editor at Quirk Books to use the found pictures as the basis of a novel. At the time, Riggs was writing daily for mentalfloss.com, a popular general-interest trivia website, editing and filming short documentaries, and shooting photo essays as he traveled. He laughs to himself as he recalls his initial reaction to the conversation: “OK, Quirk. No one’s going to read that. Let me go back to blogging.”
Luckily, Riggs decided to take the editor’s advice. He compiled his found photos and wound a weird, twisting tale around them—and, in return, an eager YA audience turned the Peculiar Children series into an unlikely hit. Here, Riggs talks about his writing and social media habits, why he doesn’t follow rules, and why it’s important to take time off.
Your photo collection plays a huge role in the Peculiar Children books. Can you tell us how you started collecting people’s castoff snapshots?
I was at this swap meet in Pasadena [in 2009] called the Rose Bowl. I knew people sold old photographs, sort of in the corner of my mind, but I was never very interested in them … because they all looked like junk. But then I found a booth at this particular swap meet that was operated by a fellow named Leonard, who had clearly gone through many, many, many bins of photos and chosen his favorite 200 and put them in little plastic sleeves. I started looking at them and I [thought], Wow, there’s something really special here. This guy has the eye of a curator, and every [photo] is like a little piece of lost, orphaned folk art. That’s really cool! As someone who grew up loving photography in every way I could, I would have loved to have had a photo collection of my own, but I couldn’t afford to buy prints. … So I thought, Here is a way I could start my own little museum of photographs.You get to be your own curator; you’re rescuing them from the trash and saying, “I decide this is art, and I’m going to keep it.”
It occurred to me, as I collected more and more, that my taste in these photos ran in very specific directions. One was a sort of Edward Gorey-esque Victorian creepiness, and the other was photos with writing on them. I always felt like these were completely anonymous photos. … If they’ve written a little bit on the picture, especially if it’s more than just a label, if it’s a thought or a feeling or something revelatory, there’s a window into this lost world that suddenly has context where it did not before. That’s interesting.
Do you collect photos now solely for book material, or is it still a thing you just enjoy doing?
It’s still partly just a hobby. Maybe one day they’ll find their way into something I do, but maybe not. I just like owning them.
I started without anything in particular in mind to do with [the photos]; I just sort of wanted to have them. … And they’re not all creepy. There are so many I have that I love that are just sort of evocative in some simple way—the look on someone’s face, or a cool angle or interesting subject or something. I have a lot that I don’t even necessarily know that I’ll use—they don’t fit in the Peculiar Children books and they don’t fit in [Talking Pictures]. I just like them.
In Peculiar Children and its sequel, Hollow City, your protagonist, Jacob, has some pretty interesting magical powers, but he’s also a teenager with all the typical teenager woes. You’ve called Jacob your “fantasy self.” How much of you is in Jacob, really?
You’d have to be a literary critic or a psychiatrist to pick the writer out of his work. Every fictional story goes through this sort of blender process where you take some real experience … you know what’s real or true when you put it into the blender with fiction, and then it gets all mixed up with something that didn’t really happen, but there’s still a little of you in there. I think the writer is in there no matter what you do. You can’t really remove yourself from it.
Did you set out to be a novelist or did you have other plans?
No, I wanted to make movies. When I was a kid I wanted to be a novelist … but then around the eighth grade I discovered movies and I became completely obsessed and lost myself in this dream of making movies. My friends and I had a video camera, and we would make movies all the time.
I knew I wanted to go to film school, but I also knew I wanted to learn things first. I wanted to learn about the important ideas and read the great books, so I went to Kenyon [College], but always with the understanding that I would go to film school afterward.
[I] was chasing the white pony of having a film career [and] doing whatever I could do: making short films and editing things and freelance writing. The writing thing came about completely by accident. … I never really wanted [it], or looked for it. I feel like the opposite might be true, instead, where if I’d tried really hard to be a writer, maybe someone would’ve [asked], “Do you want to be a filmmaker instead?” And I would’ve [said], “OK”—the theory of inverse effort.
I think [filmmaking] was a way for me to get into novel writing, which is not something I might have done on my own. Now that I’m doing it, I find that with each Peculiar Children book I have to work harder to include photos. The story has all this momentum of its own now.
Will that momentum carry the Peculiar Children series beyond the three books you have planned?
This story that I’m telling now will conclude in book three, but I think I’ll leave the door open to that world. I’m going to do something else next, but I will probably come back and write more [books for the series] one day.
Do you follow any specific writing rules?
I always distrust overly specific writing advice. I don’t agree with it, necessarily. When you’re thinking about what to write or how to write something, it’s too easy to make a lot of arbitrary rules for yourself. I think the difficult thing with learning how to write is not learning the style or rules, but figuring out what story you want to tell.
I spent a lot of time telling the wrong stories, especially when … I was in college or when I was a kid trying to imitate C.S. Lewis or Stephen King. I never understood why my writing didn’t take off. I would think, Well, the sentences are correct, and the characters are talking and everything looks right, and it seems like a story. I did exactly what [they] told me to do, but there’s no blood in it and I don’t know why. It’s something you have to learn, how to tell the right stories for you, and it’s this completely ineffable thing.
What about schedules? Do you wake up some days and think, I’m not going to write; I’m not going to edit. Do you take days off?
Oh, all the time! Sometimes I say, “Today, I’m going to clean my house and go to the movies.” Or, “Today, [my wife] Tahereh and I are going to ride our bikes and go and eat too much Persian food.” That happens a lot. That’s a lot of our days, actually.
I spent the last three months plotting book three [of the Peculiar Children series]. So just in the last couple of days I’ve transitioned into writing actual sentences on pages of the book, and now that I have that momentum, I do want to write every day—at least a little, just to keep the thread. A lot, preferably, but between books I’ll go months and months without writing. It’s exhausting. I’m just like, “I can’t.”
That’s a long break between projects! It’s a wonder that you fall back into the groove at all. Is writer’s block ever a problem for you?
I don’t really believe in that whole “wait for the muse to strike” thing. I’m more of a “sit your ass in a chair and start typing” guy. … People treat writer’s block like it’s this kind of mythical, mystical ailment. It’s actually a very specific problem, and that is that something is wrong with your story, or wrong with your scene, and you’re trying to do something that is not motivated by your characters. If your writer’s block is so complete that you don’t even know where to start, it’s probably that you’re not spending enough time at the keyboard. It’s all part of the process.
I also think that writer’s block comes from judging yourself too much, and [thinking], I only wrote one sentence today! I’m terrible!
How do you keep yourself in a chair and working when you’re so active on social media?
I find myself retreating from social media when I need to work. I realize that I’m becoming too dependent on talking to everyone on Twitter. It’s too distracting. I’m constantly reaching for it, like a drug or something.
You can spend a whole day clicking and scrolling and feeling like you’ve gotten something done—Oh man, that was a really funny tweet—but then at the end of the day you’re like, I did nothing. All day, I’ve done nothing at all. I have nothing to show for it. Except that funny tweet, of course.
So you live in Los Angeles with your wife, bestselling YA author Tahereh Mafi. And you two work together. Do you share a desk?
Yes. It’s a very long desk, very wide. So there’s space enough for our things and our laptops and all our books, and we put on our noise-canceling headphones and [work]. That’s the thing about being married to another writer—we know all of the ways in which the other person is weird and quirky, because all writers are a little weird and quirky. So we [know we] need our quiet, broody time, but then we need to run around and go have fun when writing time is over—when work is over—because we’ve been kind of cooped up inside of our own brains all day. It works. Somehow it works.
You share a lot of your social media time with Tahereh, too, which your fans seem to love. But it seems as if it could become overwhelming at a certain point. Do you ever try to hold back?
I think we’re pretty knee-deep in it all, we read a lot of it. And it’s largely positive, which I think is pretty rare. I’ve been waiting for negative weirdness to start to surface, but it hasn’t yet.
I wouldn’t keep posting pictures of Tahereh on Instagram if people didn’t keep going, “Yay! Give us more,” you know? I feel like we both have been waiting for the Internet to collectively be like, “OK, gag me, it’s enough already!” But, bafflingly, it hasn’t happened yet, so we just keep going.
How about some parting advice for writers?
Just unclench, live your life and spend less time berating yourself. Anxiety and stress are the enemies of creativity.
*********************************************************************************************************************** Adrienne Crezo is the managing editor of WD. She lives, works and writes in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @a_crezo.
I was just starting grad school when the bright, thick, door-stopper of a book, BORN CONFUSED came out. I read it in between cramming other studies in, and found its sharply delineated cross-cultural content unlike much of the homogenized young... Read the rest of this post
I received the sweetest note from a librarian for the Cedar City Public Library in Utah recently. She's featuring a different alphabet letter for each of her storytimes this year and is using my coloring pages to help with the topics. How sweet is that!? But then it occurred to me - do I have a coloring page for every letter? Or better yet, do I have a reading critter for every letter? I have a lot, but there are a few holes, which I plan to remedy over the next few months...not neccessarily in order. This week - you get a HIPPO reading the awesome THE HICCUPOTAMUS by Aaron Zenz. Speaking of Zs (for Zenzzz), I can't wait to show you what I have for the more difficult letters of the alphabet. But lo, it must wait...You'll just have to come back to see! CLICK HERE for more coloring pages! And be sure to share your creations in my gallery so I can put them in my upcoming newsletters! (Cards, kids art, and crafts are welcome!) Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially... my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, coming out next week! Click the cover to learn more! When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most. AWARDS **A SIBA OKRA Pick!** **A GOLD Mom's Choice Award Winner!** **The 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for Georgia!** **eLit 2014 Gold Medal Winner in the Environmental/Ecology/Nature Category**
Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on 3 September 1964, the Wilderness Act defined wilderness “as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” It not only put 1.9 million acres under federal protection, it created an entire preservation system that today includes nearly 110 million acres across forty-four states and Puerto Rico—some 5% of the land in the United States. These public lands include wildlife refuges and national forests and parks where people are welcome as visitors, but may not take up permanent residence.
The definition of what constitutes “wilderness” is not without controversy, and some critics question whether preservation is the best use of specific areas. Nevertheless, most Americans celebrate the guarantee that there will always be special places in the United States where nature can thrive in its unfettered state, without human intervention or control. Campers, hikers, birdwatchers, scientists and other outdoor enthusiasts owe much to Howard Zahniser, the act’s primary author.
In recent decades, environmental awareness and protection are values just about as all-American as Mom and apple pie. Despite the ill-fated “Drill, Baby, Drill,” slogan of the 2008 campaign, virtually all political candidates, whatever their party, profess concern about the environment and a commitment to its protection. As a professor, I have a hard time persuading my students, who were born more than two decades after the first Earth Day (in 1970), that environmental protection was once commonly considered downright traitorous.
For generations, many Americans were convinced that it was the exploitation of natural resources that made America great. The early pioneers survived because they wrested a living from the wilderness, and their children and grandchildren thrived because they turned natural resources into profit. Only slowly did the realization come that people had been so intent on pursuing vast commercial enterprises they failed to consider their environmental impact. When, according to the 1890 census, the frontier was closed, the nation was no longer a land of ever-expanding boundaries and unlimited resources. Birds like the passenger pigeon and the Carolina Parakeet were hunted into extinction; practices like strip-mining left ugly scars on the land, and clear-cutting made forest sustainability impossible.
At the turn of the last century members of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs called for the preservation of wilderness, especially through the creation of regional and national parks. They enjoyed the generous cooperation of the Forest Service during the Theodore Roosevelt administration, but found that overall, “it is difficult to get anyone to work for the public with the zeal with which men work for their own pockets.”
Not surprisingly, Theodore Roosevelt framed his support for conservation in terms of benefiting people rather than (non-human) nature. In 1907 he addressed both houses of Congress to gain support for his administration’s effort to “get our people to look ahead and to substitute a planned and orderly development of our resources in place of a haphazard striving for immediate profit.” It is a testament to Roosevelt’s persona that he could sow the seeds of conservationism within a male population deeply suspicious of any argument even remotely tinged with what was derided as “female sentimentality.” Writer George L. Knapp, for example, termed the call for conservation “unadulterated humbug” and the dire prophecies of further extinction “baseless vaporings.” He preferred to celebrate the fruits of men’s unregulated resource consumption: “The pine woods of Michigan have vanished to make the homes of Kansas; the coal and iron which we have failed—thank Heaven!—to ‘conserve’ have carried meat and wheat to the hungry hives of men and gladdened life with an abundance which no previous age could know.” According to Knapp, men should be praised, not chastened, for turning “forests into villages, mines into ships and skyscrapers, scenery into work.”
The press reinforced the belief that the use of natural resources equaled progress. The Houston Post, for example, declared, “Smoke stacks are a splendid sign of a city’s prosperity,” and the Chicago Record Herald reported that the Creator who made coal “knew that smoke would be a good thing for the world.” Pittsburgh city leaders equated smoke with manly virtue and derided the “sentimentality and frivolity” of those who sought to limit industry out of baseless fear of the by-products it released into the air.
Pioneering educator and psychologist G. Stanley Hall confirmed that “caring for nature was female sentiment, not sound science.” Gifford Pinchot, made first chief of the Forestry Service in 1905, was a self-avowed conservationist. He escaped charges of effeminacy by making it clear that he measured nature’s value by its service to humanity. He dedicated his agency to “the art of producing from the forest whatever it can yield for the service of man.” “Trees are a crop, just like corn,” he famously proclaimed, “Wilderness is waste.”
Looking back at the last fifty years, the Wilderness Act of 1964 is an important achievement. But it becomes truly remarkable when viewed in the context of the long history that preceded it.
Headline image credit: Cook Lake, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming. Photos by the Pinedale Ranger District of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Here’s more from Bustle: “Stine’s Fear Street series was the YA equivalent to his middle grade series Goosebumps. It was ‘sleep with the lights on’ spooky, and occasionally just skewed the right amount toward silly. (Can I direct your attention to Cat?) The series was a commercial smash, and now it has acquired a cult following from twenty- and thirtysomethings across the country.”
Great Tips for Reducing the Stress of Going Back to School
Grown-ups begin a new year on January 1st, but for kids the new year begins on the first day of school. Although kids love to "hate" school, many are truly eager to learn, to get back to their school, its social scene, and its reassuring routine. New kids in town, oldest children, kids transitioning from elementary to middle school or from middle school to high school, or kids with learning or behavioral challenges, may feel a little anxious when the new school year rolls around.
Our job as parents is to raise our children to be independent. One of parenting's greatest challenges is learning to distinguish when and how much we should help our children and when we should encourage them to solve problems themselves. The best way to help your children or teens prepare for school this year is to teach them by example and by posing questions that will help them think through their own problems and arrive at workable solutions.
Some Helpful Tips:
Use the two weeks prior to school starting to let your child readjust to their new bedtime. Set their alarm each night and make sure your little one is up and at em' the next morning.
Take time to go over your child's car pool or bus schedule as well. This way they will be aware of what time they need to be ready when the big day arrives. In addition, you may want to go over routes and how long the ride to school will take. Most importantly, talk to your child about car/bus safety!
If your child is new to town, the oldest, or transitioning from one school to another, make sure he or she has the opportunity to tour the school a few days before school begins. Encourage your child to ask questions of you and anyone he or she meets at the school. Be aware that younger children, preteens, and teens will all have different fears and concerns. And, older kids may be too insecure to ask questions for fear of appearing stupid or un-cool. For example: young children may worry about paying for lunch the first time and where the lavatories are located in relationship to their classroom. Preteens and teens may be more worried about their lockers, lock combinations, and what they're going to wear the first day of school.
Before any "back to school" clothing is purchased, make sure you and your child or teen know the school dress code. That knowledge will ease family tension and save you a great deal of time and trouble.
From kindergarten on, encourage your children to dress in a way that is compatible with his or her personality. Let them know that being true to themselves is "way" better than being trendy; in fact, the kids who create trends never copy anyone else. Peer pressure builds as kids get older and celebrating individuality through clothing style is a great way to show your kids that they do not need the approval of popular kids to survive, and thrive, in school.
School textbooks are getting heavier and heavier. Make sure you child or preteen has a sturdy backpack that distributes the weight of books equally. You may want to invest in a roller backpack that has a luggage handle so that your child can pull his or her backpack instead of carrying it.
If you plan on packing them a lunch ask them what they would like to eat on the first day of school. If you aren't fixing their lunch, be sure to give them lunch money and have them put it in a safe place.
If your children will be participating in any extracurricular sports, they will need a physical. Schedule it as soon as possible, even before school starts.
If your kids had required reading over the summer, you may want to have an informal discussion with them about their reading right before school starts. Ask them to remind you what books they read and why they liked or disliked them. Don't be satisfied with simplistic explanations; ask for details about characters, place, and plot. Ask them if and why they would recommend the book to other kids. Your informal book chat will jog their memories and help them if they are assigned a report on their summer reading.
Share your own feelings and memories about your first day of school experiences: being the new kid in town; the first one in the family to ride a bus to school; or the forgetting your locker combination running between classes in middle school. When your kids share their worries or concerns, don't dismiss or trivialize them. Validate their concerns. Ask them if they have ideas on what they can do to alleviate their apprehensions. If they do not have ideas, brainstorm with them to come up with viable solutions and actions.
In this era of "kidnap fears" it is hard not to be too overprotective of your children, but try. In most of America, kids can walk to school safely. They can ride the bus safely, too. Human skin is waterproof, and dressed for the occasion, kids can walk in the rain and snow unharmed. The classroom is not the only place where learning occurs. The journey to and from school provides your kids with another situation in which to learn. If your area is "traffic safe," adequately prepare your kids with safety tips and, at an age appropriate time, stop driving them to school door and let them explore. Their self-esteem will swell with their responsible independence.
Make sure your child has a library card, knows his or her way around the library, and knows how to find the books he or she will need to complete assignments and read for pleasure during the school year.
Get into the habit of going to the library once a week or once every two weeks, regardless of whether or not your child's school assignments require it. The best way you can help your children achieve in school is to encourage them to read and become life-long readers. The best place to get free books, magazines, computer access, entertaining stories, and important information is your neighborhood library.
No matter how old or young your children, read through the school student handbook with them at the beginning of every year. You both need to know the school's goals, expectations, opportunities, and rules.
Fill out any medical and emergency forms and return them to the school immediately. If your child has any special health or physical needs make sure you put those needs in writing and that the principal, your child's teacher, and the school nurse all have copies.
Establish a safe place in the house where all school forms and notices can be deposited every day. Get your kids in the habit of taking all forms and notices out of their backpacks and putting them in that safe place as soon as they walk through your door. They need to learn from kindergarten on that they are responsible for making sure you receive all communications from their school. It may help to give each of your children, including your teens, a sturdy plastic folder that they can keep in their backpack to carry notices home safely.
Rusty Browder, the librarian at Amos A. Lawrence School in Brookline, Mass., recommends that kids of all ages acquire great "backpack habits." She suggest that kids go through their backpacks everyday, organize papers and notebooks, give parents important notices and work, and throw out garbage of any kind! Older kids who have locker breaks between classes may want to organize their heavy textbooks in groups of morning and afternoon classes so that one group of books can be left in their lockers until needed.
Read aloud to your children from their favorite books, every night if possible, if only for ten or fifteen minutes. And don't assume that once your child has become an independent reader that he or she no longer wants, or needs, to be read aloud to. Kids of all ages, and adults, love to hear a great story. And reading aloud increases your children's vocabulary, makes them laugh, expands their universe, and helps them to learn about human understanding and compassion. Besides- it's great fun!
Try to find a special time each day to talk with your children about their day at school. Sometimes that moment takes place in the car driving between after-school activities. Sometimes it takes place on the phone from home to your work place. Sometimes it takes place at the table over dinner. Wherever and whenever it takes place, don't ask the question, "How was school today?" –– it is a certainty that you will get a one word answer. Ask: what was served in the cafeteria; did you have gym outside; how did your history presentation go? –– anything to initiate a conversation. Never underestimate your impact or importance to your kids. Your taking the time to take an interest in them and their day is not only important to their education, it is something they will remember and cherish the rest of their lives.
Send them off with big kisses and a bunch of well wishes!
We start with the Tinker and Pauly-Rabbit hanging out in a wasteland, encountering streams of fictional refugees, streaming from The Wave.
Then we switch to a detective in Australia, who partners up with Danny--the reader from the last issue in Tommy Taylor and the War of Words--to infiltrate the Tommy Taylor cult. Tom and Richie then go hide out and deal with some very real ghosts in Tom’s past.
This is a good “must set up next plot point” volume, but nothing spectacular. EXCEPT that it introduces us to Danny and Didge (the detective), and they are awesome and great additions. (Also, let’s give a shout to Didge, who’s Aboriginal and dyslexic. Turns out dyslexia is a pretty great defense against Pullman’s freaky fiction hand! Also, she’s generally awesome and literally kicks a lot of ass.)
Book Provided by... my local library
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The other day, as I was catching up on my TBR pile, I found myself being repeatedly thrown out of book. It wasn’t for lack of pace, uninteresting premise, or dull characterization; it was for the constant physical description of the main character.
Description is a tricky thing to handle in books, especially if the narration is told from the first person (as was the book I was reading). Sometimes I notice the description, other times I do not. Why? What makes for a smooth, almost invisible description of a character’s looks, and what makes for a jarring one?
Some of this is a matter of personal taste, of course; I am someone who prefers physical description of character’s in books rather vague.* But there are some writers who are very particular about their characters’ looks, and whether or not their descriptions throw me out of a narrative come down to a few things:
1. The description feels shoehorned in.
Your mileage may vary on this one, but nothing is more distracting than reading a passage where plot is moving forward, only to have it interrupted with descriptions of the character’s hair or eye color. For example, a sentence like this would jar me: She packed her bags, determined to flee the country. Before shutting the suitcase, she made sure she had enough blue and green blouses, to set off her sea-green eyes. Just because she was a fugitive of the law didn’t mean she had to look like one.
I feel there is a time and a place for descriptions. When characters meet for the first time. When characters are being compared (or comparing themselves) to others. When a character’s looks affects how others perceive him or her. Think of all times you think of the way someone “looks” in real life; a character should be thinking along similar lines. For instance, when I look in the mirror, I am not lingering on my dark eyes, strong jaw, and sharp chin. I am wondering whether or not I look tired, or if the spaghetti I had for dinner left any marinara on my face.
2. The description feels, for the lack of a better word, too “favourable”.
This…is tough. While I prefer showing over telling in prose, there are some times when telling actually trumps showing. I especially feel this way when it comes to describing someone attractive. What people find attractive varies from individual to individual, and a detailed description of a character’s physically appealing qualities makes me roll my eyes. Phrases like her long, slender legs or his well-muscled forearms are perfectly fine, but instead of being shown physically that a character is attractive, I’d rather been shown emotionally.
So how to write description in such a way that isn’t distracting? I think people, when they come across others they haven’t met before, will focus on one or two things that stand out. Race/ethnicity, an unusual birthmark, or perhaps a haircut. J.K. Rowling does this quite well; Harry’s lightning-shaped scar, his untidy hair, and spectacles; Hermione’s bushy hair and too-big front teeth; Ron’s red hair, freckles, and lanky height. These are distinguishing physical characteristics that help the reader recognize the character, both on the page, and in other mediums, like the screen or fanart.
Very few people will notice the dimple in someone’s cheek, or the relentless symmetry of his or features upon first sight. It is only after some time that we begin to build mental images of each other. It is the same with characters; when presented with a laundry list of characteristics, I will probably forget what the character is supposed to look like. But if we get the details bit by bit, they reinforce and solidify a mental image, similar to how we would create mental images of those we know best.
What do you think? Do you have pet peeves or quirks that distract you when it comes to physical descriptions of characters in books? Leave us a comment below!
* There is one, rather important exception to this rule: I would rather be told, upfront and as soon as possible, if a character is NOT WHITE. It is all-too-easy to erase a character’s ethnicity—think of people’s reactions to Rue being black in The Hunger Games—and I prefer direct, irrefutable textual evidence of a character’s not-whiteness.
S. Jae-Jones (called JJ) is a writer, artist, and adrenaline junkie. Before moving down to grits country, she was an editor at St. Martin’s Press in New York City, where she read and acquired YA. When not obsessing over books, she can be found rock climbing, skydiving, or taking her dog on ridiculously long hikes. A southern California native, she now lives in North Carolina with her doctor Bear, a stuffed baby harp seal named White-Harp, and a husky-dog called Bentley. Other places to find JJ include Twitter, Tumblr, and her blog.
Welcome to the first ever Tune In Tuesday! What is Tune In Tuesday? It's a monthly round up about music-favorite songs, favorite albums, and favorite ways to use it in the library! If you have a Tune In Tuesday post this month, be sure to share it in the comments so I can add it to the round up-and let me know if you want to host next month. (Also, if anyone is super creative with making logos, would you make one for Tune In Tuesday?)
-I only recently discovered Bari Koral Family Rock Band and it's a new favorite of mine. When I looked the groups website, I noticed a blurb that said "Sheryl Crow for kids" and I couldn't agree more.
The songs are catchy and folksy and perfect for kids of all ages and their grown ups. The album has a great indie folk feel and is one I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to adults. I wouldn't be surprised if adults enjoyed listening to this one even without the kids around.
I used some songs from this album at my most recent Bibliobop dance party and they were big hits. I used Bee with scarves and had the kids shake the scarves anytime the chorus came on about the bumblebee. It was a great slow versus fast song and I had one girl tell me that it was her favorite song of the day. I also used Give a Hug as an ending song and plan to use it in an upcoming storytime on friendship. I've also recently started using it as background music during activity and craft time during storytime and it's fantastic background music too!
-Zee Avi is an artist who needs to produce more children's albums. Seriously, Ms. Avi-please getto work on that right now and children and parents everywhere will thank you. Nightlight is a cover album full of lullabies ranging from Rainbow Connection to Don't Worry Be Happy to Mockingbird. There's also a Nightlight Medley which includes a Malaysian lullaby perfect for introducing kids to lullabies from around the world. (and would pair nicely with Putumayo Kids Dreamland) The entire collection is beautiful with Zee Avi's delicate and tender voice and gorgeous melodies combining to make a fantastic lullaby collection that's not just for kids-or bedtime. This album is perfect for anytime you want to put some lovely, peaceful music.
I used Mockingbird as a parachute song at my dance party. It was the perfect tempo for the younger kids and a great calm song to slow things down after a full morning of dancing hard. This would be another great choice to also use as background playtime music anytime.
The Loft asked me for a blog post about diversity in kidlit:
“It’s so easy as an adult to fall into rigid and boring habits of mind about what young people “need” from us—as if all we had to offer was medicine—but a great thing about teaching a class for teens about fisticuffs and fornication is that conventional notions of what young people today “need” are pretty much out the window from the start. This was a class about wanting…”
It sneaks up on you in the darkling hours of the night, or in the steamy shower, or in the mindless drone of commuting or chauffeuring a carload of kids kicking the back of your seat.
The idea. The brilliantly shiny idea that won't stop poking you and saying 'Write Me.'
You fall hard in lust. You can't sleep. You can't eat. You can't stop thinking about it.
It grinds to a screeching halt . . . Somewhere, you stall, and writing becomes a chore that makes your brain hurt. (Yes, that's actually a thing. You can overstrain your brain.)
How do you get to the point where you remember the pure, sheer joy you felt when you started on that idea?
Turn things upside down and approach your manuscript from a different direction. Here are five ways you can do just that.
1. Reconnect with Your Characters via Writing Prompts. Some of my favorites include picking a particular character and continuing from the following beginning, with the added condition that whatever your character writes has to relate to another character.
I love when . . . I hate when . . . My greatest fear at this moment is . . . My greatest hope at this moment is . . . I would be humiliated if . . . I could achieve my goal if . . . 2. Write the Jacket Copy Write a kickass jacket description for the book, and if you find yourself tempted to fudge something to make it clearer, or sexier, or more exciting? Go back and write THAT story instead. Chances are, your subconscious is already fixing your story for you and all you have to do is listen.
3. Do the Meet and Greet Mashup Picture yourself in a room with a bunch of twenty-something film execs. How do they describe your book to each other? Compulsion has been described as everything from Beautiful Creatures meets The Body Finder and Gone with the Wind meets Romeo and Juliet to In the Midnight Garden of Good and Evil meets The Sixth Sense. Thinking about what makes someone describe it that way, and thinking how else I could describe it, is not just a hoot, it's a little bit of instant brainstorming that takes my head in whole new directions.
4. Write the 1 Star Review of Your Book Pretend you're one of the notorious Goodreads slasher/bullies. Don't think. Don't censor yourself. What things could you say that are so horrible they are funny? And once you've written them, how would you go about not just eliminating the potential for someone to say that, how would you turn that criticism into a strength? 5. Write the 5 Star Review of Your Book Imagine you are the most enthusiastic fan on the planet. What would you write about your book? The gushiest of gushes, the ravest of raves. Give yourself ALL the pats on the back. Are you feeling the love yet? Now go write a scene that involves the thing you love most.
Figuring Out What Your Subconscious Is Trying To Tell You
The bottom line is that when you lose the joy in your manuscript, it's not usually because there's something wrong with you. Nor is there something irreparable going on with your manuscript. Untangling what's going on is usually something like finding the end of a skein of yarn. Once you find the end of the thread, its relatively easy to unwind it smoothly. But if you pull on it from the wrong spot, you just end up with a distorted mess.
A Happy Brain is a Creative Brain
I don't know about you, but my brain is happiest when creating. That's when I'm energized and I can't stop gushing about what I'm working on.
When I've lost the passion for a project, staring at the computer or going back over pages I've already written is rarely the best solution. I need a fresh perspective.
What about You?
Do you have techniques that have gotten you back on track when you feel like you're ready to shove that project in a drawer?
The count-down is starting. Compulsion is less than two months away, so I've got a huge giveaway planned for next month, and you can already get in on the action by going to CompulsionToRead.com.
But in the meantime . . . : )
I've got a signed set of Veronica Rossi's complete, and completely gorgeous, Under the Never Sky trilogy, plus an ARC of Compulsion plus a Tiffany-style key necklace like Barrie wears.
Also. there are four Pick Any YA Giveaways, complete with assorted interviews, excerpts, tidbits, and one of my favorite reviews EVER.
A little short on plot, but I barely noticed cause the writing is so good and the characters are beyond memorable.
Here's an example of a total throw away character, a dog who appears exactly once in the book:
The neighbor off the back has some kind of short-haired dog with three legs and one eye and a sour disposition. He looked like a veteran of the Great War. I know him a little. His name was Rusty. I'd made his acquaintance a few months back when he'd spent about thirty-six straight hours barking at a stump. I think Rusty's remaining eye was clouded with cataracts, and just generally Rusty had lost all interest in caring what was what.
The main character Nick Reid is a repo man. He's hunting the ne'er do well who got the drop on him and made off with his borrowed coral colored Ranchero.
Here's what happens at one critical juncture:
Weary now, I raised the shotgun barrel toward the ceiling, more or less aimed it at an orange and black MOWING AHEAD sign, and squeezed off a shell without really thinking just what I was up to.
[I should mention here that the MOWING AHEAD sign is on the ceiling, not on the street.]
Lead pellets would have punched on through, and we'd have been left with just some instructive racket, but the little rubber balls I was shooting stayed in the house and went everywhere fast. They hit that sign and came back down, bounced all over the place. They filled that room just like a swarm of hornets.
Those pellets hurt so much through my clothes I was doubly glad I wasn't standing around naked. Tommy [who was standing around naked] for his part, balled up on the couch and ducked under his filthy blanket while Eugene [also naked] couldn't think of a thing to do but wail and leap and dance.
"What the hell did you do that for?" Luther wanted to know.
"Crazy son-of-a-bitch," Percy Dwayne added.
Tommy came out from under his blanket to add a few choice words as well. Eugene just whined and flopped around on the floor.
Like most rash things I get up to, that one hadn't been helpful.
Even Desmond, after a great while, told me, "Let's don't be doing that again."
This book conveys place (the Mississippi Delta) so beautifully that I felt like I lived there. The rhythm of the prose is gorgeous, nary a misstep.
It's funny without being comic or over the top, and gorgeously written without standing around admiring itself in the mirror.
Ah, back home and time to relax. Long weeks are brutal. Is that the television you hear? Well you haven’t been home all day so you decide to check it out, thinking you left it on. As you enter the room you see the television is indeed on. And you’re already sitting there watching it. What’s going on here?
I don’t usually read romantic suspense because the heroine is usually put into a dire, life-threatening situation, and sometimes that just stresses me out. I ventured outside of my comfort zone because Irresistible Force features a K-9 dog. I wasn’t sure how big a part the dog would play in the story, but anything with the word “dog” pretty much gets my attention. I’m so glad I picked this up! While there are several uncomfortable scenes for our heroine, Shay, she thinks well under pressure and refuses to allow herself to be a victim. It helped that James, her police officer love interest, is brave, kind, and understanding, and oh, yeah, Bogart the dog puts all of his training to the test to save Shay from danger. Thank goodness!
Shay is need of a serious break. Her whole life has been one traumatic misunderstanding after another. After an abusive experience when she was a young girl, she has lived with whispers, taunts, and outright bullying at one school after another. Now an IT professional, she’s changed her name and buried her past behind her. Or so she thinks. When her ex, a powerful, wealthy banker, just can’t take “no” for an answer, all of her fears from her childhood catch up with her. Fearful of Eric, who is stalking her, she rescues a shepherd from the animal shelter where she works as a volunteer. A woman brought the dog in to be destroyed, claiming that he was aggressive and had attacked a child. When he turned out to be anything but, Shay renamed the animal Prince and took her home, thankful to have such a trustworthy guardian at her side.
Police officer James Cannon is desperately searching for his canine partner, Bogart. He gets a tip that the dog is at a cabin in the woods, and he confronts Shay, accusing her of dognapping his partner. By the time they work out the misunderstanding, Shay can’t help but act on her attraction to the gorgeous cop. She wants to be in charge for a change, and after another frightening encounter with Eric earlier in the day, she throws her inhibitions out the window. Her no-strings encounter backfires because James is a great guy and wants more than what she’s originally willing to offer, but Shay’s demons won’t let her trust him.
Shay is a tragic character, and I couldn’t help liking her. I wanted her to finally have a happy ending, because up until the start of this book, life has done nothing but crap on her. Eric is a first-class bastard, and once Shay finds the courage to call it quits with him, he refuses to let her go. His ego won’t let her call the shots, and his need to be in control puts her in an unenviable situation. With the power that comes with his position at the bank, he arranges for Shay’s placement company to have her temped to bank. Then he does everything he can to make her regret ever having met him.
Normally I would think the heroine was an idiot for not just going to the authorities when someone is harassing them, but Shay’s previous run-ins with the law makes it perfectly logical that she would avoid trying to get help from anyone. She has always had one person to rely on, and that has always been herself. The whole world seemed like it was out to get her when she was younger, so her reluctance to trust was believable. James is still kind of an unknown, too. She’s just met him, they got off on the wrong foot, and she can’t bring herself to confide in him, especially when he isn’t exactly upfront with her. I loved the push and pull between them, and wondered how they would ever come to an understanding that allowed them to be open and trusting with each other.
If you like romantic suspense, you will love Irresistible Force. The hero is everything that Shay needs, Bogart has a starring role, and Shay learns to open her heart and finally learn to trust. If you are like me and on the fence about romantic suspense, you have to give this book a try. I couldn’t put it down, and even though I was squirming near the end during Shay’s life and death ordeal, I knew that James and Bogart would eventually race to her rescue – but only after Shay found the strength to save herself from the danger confronting her. I can hardly wait to meet the protagonists from Force of Attraction, the next book in the series.
Review copy provided by publisher
“Incredible! You’ll be on the edge of your seat to see if the heroine can make it out alive.”—Catherine Coulter, New York Times bestselling author
When adrenaline runs high, so does the force of desire…
For Shay Appleton, it’s love at first sight when a gorgeous stray dog is brought into the animal shelter where she works. She just knows he’ll make a terrific watch dog—and with an abusive ex who won’t let go, she needs all the protection she can get. But Shay never suspected that her new pet is actually a trained police K-9 named Bogart—until Bogart’s even more gorgeous, human partner shows up on her doorstep.
IRRESISTIBLE FORCE by D.D. Ayres
Officer James Cannon is one tall, strong alpha male who’s convinced that Shay stole his dog. But once he gets closer to the suspect, he realizes that this stubborn, independent woman not only needs a guard dog, she needs James as well. It seems that someone from her past is stalking her, and threatening her life. When danger meets desire, will James risk his career and his best friend…to protect the woman who’s stolen his heart?
Over the weekend, dozens of authors and illustrators appeared at the Library of Congress’ 14th annual National Book Festival. Children’s books creator Bob Staake designed this year’s official poster. We’ve collected three writing tips that some of the writers shared during their panels.
Joey Pigza book series author Jack Gantos suggests that one “stay as organized as possible.” He thinks that one should keep several notebooks. This helps to categorize different thoughts because one idea might be a good fit for the beginning a story and another could work for the middle.
We're thrilled to help reveal the cover for FRAGILE REIGN (Mortal Enchantment #2) by Stacey O'Neale! Check out the cover below, and let us know what you think in the comments. Then be sure to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a $100 Amazon or B&N gift card!
Details about the cover, from author Stacey O'Neale:
In case you're curious about the cover, the model represents Marcus.
Debut author Skylar Dorset will discuss and sign her novel for young adults, THE GIRL WHO NEVER WAS. In Selkie’s family, you don’t celebrate birthdays. You don’t talk about birthdays. And you never, ever reveal your birth date. Until now. The instant Selkie blurts out the truth to Ben in the middle of Boston Common, her whole world shatters.
Because her life has been nothing but a lie—an elaborate enchantment meant to conceal the truth: Selkie is a half-faerie princess. And her mother wants her dead.
Doris Fisher, won the Crystal Kite Award for the Texas/Oklahoma Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators region this year for her book, ARMY CAMELS, TEXAS SHIPS OF THE DESERT. Doris will talk a little about her writing journey, so don’t miss hearing her story. Also, local writers who attended the National SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles this month will share what they learned from the many breakout sessions and keynotes.
Teen librarian Sandy Hall signs her debut YA romance novel, A LITTLE SOMETHING DIFFERENT, which was selected as the first novel to be published by Swoon Reads, a crowd-sourced teen romance imprint. This sweet romance between two college students is told from 14 different viewpoints. The creative writing teacher, the delivery guy, the local Starbucks baristas, his best friend, her roommate, and the squirrel in the park all have one thing in common—they believe that Gabe and Lea should get together.
Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is reserved, Gabe has issues, and despite their initial mutual crush, it looks like they are never going to work things out. But somehow even when nothing is going on, something is happening between them, and everyone can see it.
Please remember to check the website of the sponsoring bookstore or organization for the most up-to-date information on these events.
She knows everything. She always makes perfect grades, and one day, she’s going to be president of the United States of America. She is only eleven years old, but what does that matter? Eleven is the year that changes everything. Eleven turns out to be the year where she learns that not all boys are weird, not all popular kids are mean, and her sisters aren’t jerks all the time. But eleven is also the year where she realizes that her dad is a lot sicker than her parents have led her to believe, and that her life is going to change. For better or for worse, we can’t tell.
Since she knows everything, Maggie believes that she can fix her dad, and she makes a goal of it as her New Year’s resolution. But what if some things can’t be fixed? How does a girl like Maggie deal with not being able to fix her cool dude dad?
So now Maggie has decided to write her life’s memoir, about her eleventh year, when everything changed, she got a little wiser and a lot more understanding.
The Meaning of Maggie is an inspiring coming of age story that struggles through the adolescent frustration of wanting to know everything but not necessarily being able to handle such information. Maggie’s super cool dad and hardworking mom teach their know it all daughter the value of holding onto childhood as long as you can, which is a mistake we all make—wanting to grow up too fast. Maggie Mayfield is extremely relatable; I can even remember being like her. All ten, eleven, and twelve year olds will be able to connect to her problems, her school issues, and her need to know everything without realizing the consequences.
-Take a nice, sturdy journal with you everywhere to compile notes
-Don’t worry yourself with the trivial facts like what you had for lunch.
-Make sure to write about something memorable, the year that changed your life.
The perfect, Maggie-approved emergency candy stash
1. Mini snickers
4. Sour Gummy Worms
5. Mini 3 Musketeers
6. Sour Patch kids
*If allowed, Oreos and/or Chips a’Hoy!
Maggie’s favorite song: the states’ song
Maggie’s Albert Einstein Halloween costume Necessities
-A teasing comb (to get that wild, genius hair)
-Some Halloween white hairspray
-Eye liner (for that awesome mustache)
-A Lab coat
-A bow tie (your dad is sure to have one)
Born in the hills of Louisiana and raised in the mountains of Tennessee, Hannah Rials is a eighteen year-old aspiring author and editor. She’s been writing short stories since she was a little girl, but for the past several years, she has been writing, editing, and reediting a novel of her own that she hopes to publish in the near future. Hannah has always loved reading and the world of books. With a librarian grandmother who can tell the most magical stories, how could she not fall in love with the written word. Her library collection and love for books grows every day.
Frank Mason (1921-2009) was a painter and teacher at the Art Students League who used a shelf-like palette arrangement for his oil paints called "The Prismatic Palette." One of Mason's students, Keith Gunderson, explained it to me this way:
Prismatic Palette by Leslie Watkins
"The value scale was the essence of the shelf arrangements, with emphasis on “Orange Value” as the unifying tone of the lights. The shelves were arrayed with a string of greens made from “Parent Green”; premixed value strings of Blue, Violet, and Grey to calibrate atmospheric perspective; a shelf for pre-mixed tints for the sky; and a “Control String” of pure colors squeezed from the tube, arranged by value from light to dark."
"Modulating a color with it’s complement was often substituted by mixing grey or brown into that color... perhaps an influence of Frank’s teacher [Frank Vincent] Dumond (1865-1951) and Dumond’s teacher, [Jules Joseph] Lefebvre (1836–1911)."
I have also heard "parent green" referred to as "vegetable green," the color of transmitted light through backlit young leaves.
Landscape by Frank Vincent Dumond
Here are a couple of paintings by League instructor and link to the French tradition, Frank Vincent Dumond, showing his very sensitive approach to color.
Dumond, Christ and the Fishermen, 1891
Leslie Watkins, another Mason student, describes the prismatic palette this way:
"It clarifies several strings of colors into even steps, with the lightest or highest values descending to the lowest or darkest tones."
"The steps are based on pure colors from cadmium lemon yellow to alizarin crimson. The different strings of colors consist of grays, violets, blues and greens."
Another Art Students League teacher (and another Frank), Frank Reilly (1906-1965), also taught a value-based system of premixing palette colors, but it was different from Mason's. Reilly's lineage connects him to Gérôme, Delaroche and Boulanger.
Both systems are descendants of a common practice among painters before the 20th century to premix colors in sequences of stepped values, analogous to the keys and manuals of a pipe organ.
I'm obviously no expert on the League instructors' systems, so I welcome further insights and discussion in the comments.
You come up with a mind-blowingly awesome article idea: You’ve discovered some really cool thing, and you want to write about it.
For example, you’ve found out something fascinating about how train schedules are developed, or how makeup is made, or a unique museum, or a new business that’s just opened its doors.
So you have this amazing idea — why is everyone rejecting it?
This kind of idea is what I like to call an “Isn’t This Cool?” idea. You’ve found something neat, and you want to share it with the world.
But sadly, most publications don’t want to just share random interesting things with their readers. Each magazine has its own slant, and the product, fact, business or person you found needs to fit in with their mission.
For example, let’s take the idea of some weird aspect of how makeup is made. You want to send it to a women’s magazine, of course. What woman wouldn’t be interested in finding out this cool fact about how her mascara is made?
But women’s magazines are service publications, meaning most of their articles offer some kind of advice. So the editors wouldn’t be interested in this fact about makeup unless their readers can actually do something with it.
So if you have an idea where you think, “Isn’t this cool?” — ask yourself, “So what?” Why would readers care? How can you make them care? What can they do with it, or how can they apply the knowledge right now? For most publications, your ideas need to be useful and actionable.
For example, maybe women need to avoid makeup products that are made with this method, and you can round up the types of products this applies to so readers know which ones to look out for. That’s an idea you could pitch to a health magazine.
Or, let’s take the article you want to pitch on the Burnt Food Museum, and yes, this is real. (“Hey, this museum exists. Isn’t it cool?”) Rare is the magazine that would want you to just write about what a weird museum you found. It would do better as, say, a round-up of weird museums in New England readers can visit, complete with info on location, price, and hours. Now, readers can do something with that information.
Some magazines do run “Isn’t This Cool?” articles. For example, magazines for hobbyists love to run interesting facts about their hobby — how it developed, who’s doing interesting things with it, and why some aspects of the hobby are the way they are. Maybe a magazine for train enthusiasts would want to run an interesting fact on how train schedules are developed. And I once wrote an article about the world’s largest marble collection for a collectors’ magazine.
But for most markets, you’ll want to go beyond a cool fact. Dig until you figure out what makes this fact relevant to the readers of the pubs you want to pitch.
Sometimes, this means the idea you pitch will barely resemble the one you first thought of. And that’s okay! That’s how the idea process works. You get what I call the “seed” of an idea, and when you nurture it, it grows into something useful and beautiful that doesn’t look anything like the original seed.
How about you…do you have an “Isn’t That Cool?” idea you’ve tried to pitch? How do you think you can reslant it to be more salable? Let us know in the Comments below!