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1. Face-Lift 1247


Guess the Plot

Dragon Bait

1. Sluggish creatures! How can we get human women to hump us again? We must lose weight and offer ourselves as exotic dancers in bowties. We'll rule as the world's sexiest monsters!

2. In this hard-hitting expose of Chinese restaurant menus, journalist Kaley Higgenbothams unravels the secret of General Tsao's chicken. Also, fried rice.

3. With his hypnotic eyes (transplanted from a dragon), and his velvet top hat, Uncle Joe hunts down and kills Red "traitors" in 1950s America. The daughter of one of his innocent victims seeks revenge, but first she'll have to get past the dragons protecting Uncle Joe's TV station.

4. Lorelei kept pestering her older brother and his friends to let her join their knight-in-shining-armor game, but when the young girl finds herself tied to a stake and sees an actual dragon swooping toward her, she wonders if she shouldn't have stuck with playing house.



Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

It’s a 1950s where dragons rule the skies and the nearly-human Dragonlord rules the Americas. [Also, a 1950s where America doesn't have an air force of lethal fighter jets.] The Dragonlord’s carefully chosen Draconem hunt down and eliminate Red traitors. The Draconem used to be human until their eyes were cut out and replaced with the mesmerizing eyes of young dragons. [I heard they've experimented with transplanting pig hearts into people, but I didn't realize those people would then be described as "used to be human."] [Is "used to be human" (draconem) the same as "nearly human" (Dragonlord)?] Leading the charge is the Dragonlord’s favored Draconem, Uncle Joe.
With his hypnotic eyes, his crushed velvet top hat, and his pointy white beard, Uncle Joe has the nation’s devotion. And its fear.

Catherine Pearce is stunned when Uncle Joe announces her dad is a traitor on national television. She sprints home, only to pull her dad’s lifeless body from their burning home. Cat knows her dad was innocent. It was his unsanctioned science experiments that made him a danger to the Dragonlord’s power, not his loyalties. [The Dragonlord was being paranoid. Dad's experiments transplanting dragon mouths onto dogs would never have led to an army of fire-breathing poodles.]

Cat’s mother leaves Cat with her wealthy yet aloof Great-Aunt Ro in a misguided effort to protect Cat. Bullying and loneliness fuel Cat’s desire for revenge against Uncle Joe, and his television station is right in her hometown. Sure, it’s surrounded by dragons, and whenever Uncle Joe looks into your eyes, you have to obey him, but Cat’s pretty sure she can figure out some way around that. [X-Ray specs.] She’s got her Dad’s old notes, her own burning hatred, and her Aunt Ro’s influence at her disposal.

DRAGON BAIT is an upper MG Fantasy complete at 63,000 words. As per your guidelines, I have included [whatever the guidelines say] below. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


Notes

If, as seems likely, this is meant to be analogous to 1950s US history, I'm not sure middle graders will get that.

Examining the analogy (for our foreign readers), the 1950s was the period of "McCarthyism," when Senator Joe McCarthy led a movement of "red baiting" (which consists of accusing people of being communist, socialist, anarchist... ). In your book, it's the 1950s, and Uncle Joe is out to get Red traitors. The title suggests that maybe dragons are replacing communists, but it turns out the "enemy" is still "Reds," while the dragons are on Joe's side.

So here's how to change the book:

Instead of 1950s USA, set it someplace innocuous, like maybe a farm. Dragons fly around minding their own business. Some of them help the farmers (like Superman does, except with fire breath instead of heat vision). Jo-rah (a giant hog who resembles Godzilla) wants to shoot down all the red dragons because he thinks they're all menaces (actually, they're no worse than the purple and green dragons), just because there are lots of red dragons in the faraway land called Stollen.

My point being that in Animal Farm, the setting and all the characters represent some entity.

Of course, I could be way off. Maybe what you're going for is not allegory, but alternate history. A novel that explores what McCarthyism would have been like if dragons really existed.

In any case, I think we need to get to Catherine a lot sooner. Obviously you don't want to end the query by saying: Also, dragons. But if you start by introducing your world, drop the Dragonlord and draconems and just let us know dragons exist and a mesmerizing TV personality named Uncle Joe rules the country through fear. Then on to Catherine.

Or start with paragraph 2, slipping in important facts about the world (like that there are dragons) whenever you get the chance.

You might want to include what dad's unsanctioned experiments were all about so we know he wasn't a mad scientist experimenting on human children, and thus even worse than Uncle Joe.


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2.

6a010536f21461970c0115701c05ae970b

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3. The One Thing Stolen Teacher Guide

Jaime Wong of Chronicle Books masterminded one heck of a wonderful teacher guide to One Thing Stolen, the new novel which yesterday received its first official review, the Kirkus. The guide is now (as of this very minute) available online, here.

With thanks to Jaime and to the designer who made this guide look so lovely — and to the programmer who made it available.

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4. FEBRUARY UPDATE!

APPEARANCES/EVENTS! Lots to do this month.  Hope you can make it to one of these events in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Amherst. Thursday, Feb. 5, Pasadena, CA 11 am- READING & SIGNING AT VROMAN'S BOOKSTORE   695 E. Colorado Blvd Pasadena, CA 91101 I'll spend the morning reading, answering questions, & signing books in my only LA area appearance for a while.  If you're in the area,

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5. ZigZag Style

WFTA 2013 blue

Every year I create a poster for our local Humane Society that promotes their most important fundraising event, The Walk For The Animals. For 2013 they asked me if I would design an image that could be screen-printed onto T-Shirts. I jumped at the opportunity. Then I learned that I could only use the limited colors from the logo, no gradients, and no special effects. I love a challenge.

 

Also, I love the graphic black and white work of Rockwell Kent. With such a limited palette, he like many of his contemporaries defined form via silhouette shadows and then gave the illusion of 3-D with fine lines and zigzag shapes along the transitional edges between white and black.  

Using Rockwell Kent’s style as my inspiration, I developed a process in Adobe Illustrator that uses flat opaque color but along transitional edges I applied a zigzag pattern. From normal viewing distance, the zigzag “softens” the stark change from dark to light as our human eyes close in the gaps. Close up the zigzags add an almost woodcut feel.

How was this done?

  1. The black lines were created with the Pen Tool and then I adjusted their weights using the Variable Width Tool.
  2. The shadows and highlights were drawn on separate Layers (without zigzags).
  3. I built about four different pattern brushes from triangles.
  4. I applied a pattern brush to a portion of a shadow’s edge (only the portion transitioning from dark to light).
  5. I adjusted the pattern brush with the Variable Width Tool.
  6. I repeated steps 4 and 5 for all the shadow and highlight shapes. When all the shadows and highlights had zigzags and variable widths, I used Expand Appearance to make them permanent.
  7. I used either Unite or Merge from Pathfinder, to finalize the shapes with zigzag edges.
  8. Lastly I recolored the shapes. 

When done the final image has moved past Rockwell Kent’s style into a new derivative. I think that is how it should be. Digital art learns from the past and builds upon it, making imagery that exceeds boundaries.

Close up2 Close up 3

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6. Famous Writer Flowchart: INFOGRAPHIC

Electric LiteratureDo you aspire to become as recognized and powerful as J.K. Rowling? The Electric Lit team has created an infographic to help people try to answer this question: “Am I a Famous Writer Yet?

Those who go through this flowchart will encounter scenarios such as “I have many followers on social media” and “sobbing uncontrollably in a bathroom.” We’ve embedded the full infographic below for you to explore further—what do you think?

famous writer

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7. Crooked Man


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8. Should Writers Be More Open About Their Income?

Writing books may be one’s most important work in life, but it is not always the easiest way to pay the bills.

Even successful writers often have to come up with other ways to support themselves. In a piece for Salon, author and essayist Ann Bauer argues that writers should be more up front about this fact. She reveals that she is able to have a career writing because of her husband’s “sponsorship.” Here is an excerpt from her piece:

In my opinion, we do an enormous \"let them eat cake\" disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some way succeed. I can’t claim the wealth of the first author (not even close); nor do I have the connections of the second. I don’t have their fame either. But I do have a huge advantage over the writer who is living paycheck to paycheck, or lonely and isolated, or dealing with a medical condition, or working a full-time job.

Should writers be more open about where their money comes from? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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9. How to make an M.C. Escher inspired tessellation in Illustrator

Final MetamorphosisTessellation-01So exactly how do you go about morphing (blending) in order to create a M.C. Escher inspired tessellation.  You need to know how to use the Blend Tool, Live Paint and Symbols.

Download this .pdf file to see the process I developed: MCEscher morphing in Illustrator

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10. Book Trailer Unveiled For Dear White People

A book trailer for Dear White People: A Guide to Inter-Racial Harmony in a “Post-Racial” America has been unveiled. The video embedded above has drawn more than 38,000 views on Facebook—what do you think?

This project was inspired by the 2014 crowdfunded film which shares the same title. Justin Simien, the director and screenwriter behind the movie, wrote the book and Ian O’Phelan created the illustrations.

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11. Angry Birds Maker to Publish YA Novels

Finnish app maker Rovio, the company behind Angry Birds, is getting into book publishing with a series of YA novels.

The company has signed author Mintie Das and will publish her novel The Sinking World later on this year. The novel is part of a series of YA books set to come out called Storm Sisters. The book follows  action-filled adventures on the high seas disguised as ‘girl pirates’ in the late 18th century. A second novel titled The Frozen Seas is set to follow. Here is more from the publisher’s site:

After the tragic events of what has become known as the Day of Destruction – a day when they were intended to die along with their families – Charlie, Sadie, Liu, Raquel and Ingela sail the high seas all alone. In the 1780s, in a world filled with pirates, hurricanes and disbelievers, that’s not an easy task. What’s more important: Survival or truth?

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12. A Twisty Path to Publication–with Dragons

This is a reblog from www.writersrumpus.com Post #5: Morris Award Finalist Blog Tour Week YALSA’s Morris Award honors the year’s best young adult novel by a debut author. The Morris Award winner for 2014 will be announced at the upcoming ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting in Chicago. Writers’ Rumpus is honored to host a week of […]

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13. Poetry Friday: Of so divine a loss by Emily Dickinson

Of so divine a loss
We enter but the gain,
Indemnity for loneliness
That such a bliss has been.
- Emily Dickinson

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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14. Prompt: It’s a Hard Life – Yes, I’m Being Sarcastic

Pick a random word and do Google image search on it. Check out the eleventh picture it brings up. Write about whatever that image brings to mind.

eskimo First of all, you’re probably wondering how I came up with the word “Eskimo”. Well. Kevin and I do not sleep together. He uses a sleep apnea machine and sounds like Darth Vader, I’m a fish – I flop constantly because I can never find a comfortable spot.

If we don’t sleep together, then we actually get some sleep.

We switch off between the bed in our bedroom and the futon with an air mattress in the man cave (i.e. the screen-in back porch that Kevin enclosed and made into his office). This week, it’s Kevin’s turn on the futon. So. He’s in there stripping off blankets (because I’m hot throughout the day, but for some reason, when I go to sleep, my body temperature drops and I FREEZE – hence the multiple blankets). And he laughed and said, “What are you, Eskimo?” at about the same time I was looking at this prompt …

The picture of the woman above – the first thing I think of when I look at her is, “ugh – no teeth.” The second thing I think of is “look at those wrinkles. I bet she’s really about 30.”

I’m not trying to be snarky. When I look at her face the one word that comes to mind is “rough.”

She looks like she’s had a rough life. I bet she’s had to work tooth and nail (no pun intended) for every little thing she’s ever acquired or owned in her lifetime. I imagine her to have grown children with three or four grandchildren. I can see her getting up at 4:00 in the morning to begin her day. I bet she spends the majority of her days preparing to survive her day and upcoming night. I bet she makes all of her own breads and comes up with creative ways to cook meals given her harsh environment. I’m sure she can skin a fish faster than I can skin a banana.

And I bet she’s happy. She’s content with her life because she was conditioned to live this harsh life. She has purpose. She’s never idle. There is a reason for everything she does. Sitting down is a luxury.

But laughter comes easily for her. She is respected and she is likely more healthy than 60% of lazy Americans. She has a lot to say and a lot to contribute, but she respects her husband and allows him to make the majority of decisions.

And she doesn’t resent him for it.

I compare my life to my preconceived notions of this woman’s life and I come up short. Way short. I’m lazy and spoiled compared to this woman. I take my life luxuries for granted and though I work hard, my efforts are minuscule in comparison. I can not IMAGINE living my life in such a harsh and unforgiving environment – I like my electricity and fast food restaurants. I like my conveniences and instant entertainment.

Though I can’t imagine my life like this woman’s, I’m quite certain I COULD live my life like her, if I was forced to. I wouldn’t like it, it would be incredibly hard and a huge adjustment, but I could, and would, do it if it meant making a life for myself, or my family.

Life is about surviving, not simply existing.


Filed under: Daily Prompt

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15. WAMC Public Radio Interview



Yesterday in Albany, New York, I visited our public radio station WAMC and had a 20 minute conversation with my favorite radio guy, Joe Donahue. Link to audio interview.

They'll be giving away sets of my art instruction DVDs as a pledge premium during the fund drive next week.

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16. Pick of the Week for PASSION and This Week’s Topic

brightbirdforweb

Happy Friday!

We’re excited to announce this week’s topic, but first please enjoy the illustration above by Anna Marie Farmer, our Pick of the Week for last week’s topic of PASSION. Thanks to everyone else for participating. We hope it was inspiring!

You can also see a gallery of all the other entries here.

And of course, you can now participate in this week’s topic:

JAGGED

Here’s how:

Step 1: Illustrate your interpretation of the current week’s topic (always viewable on the homepage).

Step 2: Post your image onto your blog / flickr / facebook, etc.

Step 3: Come back to Illustration Friday and submit your illustration (see big “Submit your illustration” button on the homepage).

Step 4: Your illustration will then be added to the participant gallery where it will be viewable along with everyone else’s from the IF community!

Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and subscribe to our weekly email newsletter to keep up with our exciting community updates!

HAPPY ILLUSTRATING!

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17. A Perfectly Messed-up Story ....a bookwrap










Happy Friday everyone!  Glad you are here because I have a fun, very creative book for you to enjoy today.  Let's unwrap it shall we?  I think you are going to be pleased.  I hope you will watch the book trailers below after you have read my review.  Ready?  




Unwrapping.........





Author and illustrator is Patrick McDonnell



Pulling the wrapping completely off to see what's inside....Let's do it....


















Happy little Louie is walking along, singing to himself and minding his own business. He is trying to get his story started when plop....a huge goop of jelly comes out of nowhere and splats on his book page.  Now where did that come from?  How rude!  Then almost immediately after, a big blob of peanut butter splatters...right on Louie's head! Yuk! It's the disgusting chunky kind (which happens to be my most favourite, but I do digress....sorry!)  

Louie is getting more and more angry and thinks enough is enough already.  But enough already it isn't.  Orange juice descends from above leaving a huge, orange stain on his page, followed by icky, sticky fingerprints and the pièce de résistance? .... crayon scribbles!!! Ok, that's really crossing the line now thinks Louie.  Get the paper towel reader, I've had it.  Louie lays down in utter exasperation and despair.  He gives himself a timeout. His story is ruined, his life is over, now no one will ever read his messy, grungy story....ever!!

But as Louie reflects on his dilemma he learns a very valuable life lesson. He goes on with his story and realizes it is good after all.  It is received well even with the blemishes imposed upon it.  He understands that like his book, life can get messed up and yet your story still can turn out pretty darn good if you keep on singing and moving forward even when difficulties rain down upon you .  

The illustrations are expressive and the word bubbles add so much richness to the storyline.  This interactive story is a perfect read-aloud bringing laughter to both young and old.  I highly recommend this book.






Patrick McDonnell is the creator of The Monsters' Monster, a New York Times bestseller; Me...Jane, a Caldecott Honor Book and a New York Times bestselling picture book biography of Dr. Jane Goodall; and the award-winning picture book Art. He is also the creator of the beloved, internationally syndicated comic strip Mutts, which features the characters that star in five of his previous picture books including Wag!, The Gift of NothingJust Like Heaven, Hug Time, and South.

Patrick sits on the board of directors of the Humane Society of the United States and has won numerous awards for both Mutts and his animal welfare work. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Karen; their formerly feral cat, Not Ootie; and their adopted terrier, Amelie.


Praise For A Perfectly Messed-Up Story
* "Brilliant.... A playful, funny, and friendly treatment of anxiety and life's unpredictable messes."Kirkus Reviews, starred review

* "Louie's exaggerated reactions...will trigger laughs with every page turn....McDonnell... excels at reminding his characters--and readers--that it's possible to keep it together even when life has jelly all over it."Publishers Weekly, starred review

"The pleasures of watching a book depart from its conventions and address its sticky-fingered reader will tickle even the littlest postmodernist."New York Times Book Review

"Classic McDonnell pen, ink, and watercolor pastels blend with mixed-media and crayon messes to make this untidy tale a victory for unkempt books everywhere. Keep calm, and read on!"School Library Journal

"This [one] is a fun one-Kiddos who get messy with their books will likely giggle."Booklist



Read on and read always!

It's a wrap.

http://www.storywrapsblog@gmail.com

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18. M.C. Escher inspired Tessellation

Final MetamorphosisTessellation-01

It seemed to me that if M.C. Escher had Adobe Illustrator that he could have developed his metamorphosis tessellations with a bit more ease. At least that was my initial thought. Once I got into the development of this piece I soon realized that using Illustrator really did not make the process any easier. As with all vector art, the building of the shapes and then the rendering of the shadows took a lot of time.

The effort was worth it. I now have a solid process figured out and look forward to developing more metamorphosis tessellations.

      

Related Stories

 

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19. Notable (Poetry) Books for a Global Society 2015

Just this week the IRA (now ILA) committee (for CL/R) announced it's latest list of "Notable Books for a Global Society." I was so pleased that they included 8 poetry books on their list of 25 titles published in 2014. Let's see which ones they highlighted, shall we?

Caminar
Harlem Hellfighters
Silver People
Voices from the March
Brown Girl Dreaming
Like Water on Stone
The Red Pencil
A Time to Dance

The pdf of the annotated list complete with book covers here:

I noticed that these are all novels in verse (except Harlem Hellfighters)! Which is lovely, but where are the anthologies that reflect global world views and connections? That's the next challenge for us! But each of these books is truly distinctive, beautifully written and offers a fascinating window into a culturally rich story. Don't miss them!

Here's complete bibliographic info for these 8 titles:

Brown, Skila. 2014. Caminar.Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Engle, Margarita. 2014. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Lewis, J. Patrick. 2014. Harlem Hellfighters. Mankato, MN: Creative Editions.
Lewis, J. Patrick and Lyon, George Ella. 2014. Voices from the March: Washington, D.C., 1963. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
Pinkney, Andrea Davis. The Red Pencil.  New York: Little, Brown.

Venkatraman, Padma. 2014. A Time to Dance. New York: Penguin.
Walrath, Dana. 2014. Like Water on Stone. New York: Delacorte.
Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Penguin.

If you want more information about this SIG (Special Interest Group) and the history of the Notables list, here's a nugget from their website:

"The Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association formed the Notable Books for a Global Society Committee in 1995. Under the guidance of Yvonne Siu-Runyan, who originated and spearheaded the project, the committee undertook to identify outstanding trade books that it felt would help promote understanding across lines of culture, race, sexual orientation, values, and ethnicity.

The Notable Books for a Global Society (NBGS) list was developed to help students, teachers, and families identify books that promote understanding of and appreciation for the world's full range of diverse cultures and ethnic and racial groups. Although advances in technology allow us to communicate quickly with people around the world and the growth of world trade brings us increasingly into contact with far-flung members of the "global village," today's society is rife with tension, conflict and ignorance of others different from us. If we hope to meet the many challenges that face us in the 21st century, we must recognize the similarities and celebrate the differences among all races, cultures, religions, and sexual orientations, and appreciate that people can hold a wide range of equally legitimate values.

Each year, the Committee selects twenty-five outstanding books for grades K-12 that reflect a pluralistic view of world society. These twenty-five titles represent the year’s best in fiction, nonfiction and poetry."


Plus criteria for selection are there as well as all the lists since 2010.

Well done, Chair Janet Wong and committee members!

I'm heading to the Midwinter conference of the American Library Association where more big (Newbery, Caldecott, etc.) awards will be announced on Monday (Feb. 2). I'll be sure to post news about any poetry titles that are included! Stay tuned. 

Meanwhile, where is the Poetry Friday party today? Over at These Four Corners. Thanks for hosting, Paul!  

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20. cleaning house

i'm having a WINTER sale in my shop all throughout the remainder of the season...until the first day of spring. and i know, i'll be the only one who will be sad to see my beloved winter go. *sigh*

{super bowl SNOW this weekend? yes, please! :)))}

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21. Elizabeth Buzzelli's Cozy Reading Corner


As you can see by the photo, I've got to find a new favorite reading place pretty quick.  Another blizzard coming today so it's a great time to read.  Maybe the cat's chair will do.  




SNOOP TO NUTS, the second in the Nut House Series from Berkley is just out so I'm doing Blog Tours, but looking fondly at the Christmas stack of books.  SNOOP TO NUTS is written under my pen name: Elizabeth Lee.  The next book in the series comes out the end of 2015.  

You can find me on Facebook
My Website
Twitter  

--Elizabeth Buzzelli

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22. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e January 30th 2015



Here’s my selection of interesting (and sometimes amusing) posts about writing from the last week

:

The Hunt is On! How to Find an Agent (Janice Hardy)

http://blog.janicehardy.com/2009/10/hunt-is-on.html

Do Contest Wins Boost Sales? (Maryann Miller)

http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/2015/01/do-contest-wins-boost-sales.html

Red Ink In the Trenches: A Copyeditor’s Perspective (Dario Ciriello)

http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/01/red-ink-in-trenches-copyeditors.html

Your Inner Author Nagging (Mary Keeley)

http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/inner-author-nagging/

Is it Time to Quit Your Day Job? (Rachelle Gardner)

http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/quit-your-day-job/

How Are You Going To Succeed As a Writer? (Cathy Yardley)

http://storyfix.com/going-succeed-writer

Characters Who Care (Mary Kole)

http://kidlit.com/2015/01/26/characters-who-care/

Working With a Cover Designer: Time-Saving Techniques (Elizabeth Spann Craig)

http://elizabethspanncraig.com/2726/working-cover-designer-time-saving-techniques/

Why an Agent’s List is Never Full (Janet Kobobel Grant)

http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/is-an-agents-list-never-full/

How Not to Fumble Your Social Media Presence (James Scott Bell) JON’S PICK OF THE WEEK

http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2015/01/how-not-to-fumble-your-social-media.html

Two Red-Flag Sentences in Publishing Contracts (Victoria Strauss)

http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2015/01/two-red-flag-sentences-in-publishing.html

If you found these useful, you may also like my personal selection of the most interesting blog posts from 2014, and last week’s list.



If you have a particular favorite among these, please let the author know (and me too, if you have time). Also, if you've a link to a great post that isn't here, feel free to share.


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23. No Stakes, No Tension

A few recent much-hyped books reminded me of the importance of story stakes. Every story has an overall story problem with stakes:


Good versus Evil.

Win versus lose.

Love versus loss.

The protagonist will gain or lose something by solving or failing to solve this overall story imbalance.

In a Mystery, if the sleuth fails to solve the crime, the criminal will be free to strike again.

In a Thriller, if the protagonist fails to stop the threat, people die or a mega-corporation takes over the world.

In a Romance, if the man loses the girl of his dreams, he will go back to feeling lonely and disconnected.

In a Fantasy, if the protagonist fails, the paranormal evil wins the day making life miserable for everyone involved.

In a Team Victory, if the coach or lead athlete fails, they suffer a loss of esteem and self-esteem.

The stakes are what make us care whether the protagonist succeeds or not and there must be repercussions if they fail.

If a main character devalues his own life, he won’t make a compelling protagonist. I hate depressive “my life is horrible why bother to live” characters.

If she does not care if she lives, why should I? If she does not think she is worth loving, why should I love her? There are people walking around in life that feel that way. They need individualized professional therapy. They will not be miraculously cured by the end of 300 pages by a love interest.

Some protagonists are driven by revenge, rage, or injustice, but it’s stronger if they believe that life is worth fighting for. That doesn’t mean he can’t be noble enough to lay down his life for his fellow man. However, the protagonist has to believe his life was worth something in the first place to give the sacrifice value.

In addition, the stakes have to be highest for the protagonist. Friends and Foes and the Antagonist should have stakes in the game, too. If you assign higher stakes to secondary characters, the story structure is unsound. The reader may find herself rooting for the protagonist to walk away from the story problem rather than solve it.

It’s like a dysfunctional friendship. Dick’s life is fine (job, relationships, etc.) and his friend, Ted, gets into a self-destructive relationship with a manipulative con artist. The situation will create ripples for Dick, but there are no stakes for Dick. It’s his friend’s life. If Ted allows himself to be used, there isn’t much Dick can do about it. Other than say, “Dude, what are you doing with this psycho chick? She is messed up. Move on.”

Unless Ted is the catalyst that brings psycho chick into Dick's world (i.e. inciting event) and psycho chick turns her attentions to Dick, Dick has no real stakes in the game other than mild inconvenience or concern for his friend. Ted is the one whose life is about to go sideways. Ted is the one with the stakes.

If a stranger approaches Jane and says, “Hey, have I got a deal for you. Unless you help me, I’m going to die.” Why should Jane care? She may be a decent person who hates to see anyone die. However, she is unlikely to risk her own life for a total stranger, worse an obnoxious stranger, unless the stranger’s death results in nuclear holocaust or the end of the world as we know it. If that is true, Jane needs this information up front. Otherwise, unless her boundaries are really, really fuzzy, she will walk away. You don't want a protagonist's boundaries to be that fuzzy!

If a stranger approaches Jane with this kind of request, she has to be the only one on the planet with the special knowledge or capability to save the world. Otherwise, the conflict isn’t personal for Jane. It’s personal for the stranger and the stranger should be the protagonist. If Jane thinks, “My life sucks and I wasn’t doing anything anyway,” that is poor motivation for solving someone else’s story problem. It’s hard to root for a protagonist so apathetic about her own life.

There are action hero protagonists who are given a “death” wish mentality. They have nothing left to lose: their job is gone and their wife/child is dead, etc. The plot strips them of everything they had to live for and all that is left is the desire revenge. Readers and viewers love revenge. It is a universal emotion everyone in every culture can tap into. It’s the basis for Mysteries, Thrillers, Con and Heist, even Literary stories. It’s a great excuse for huge theatrical chase scenes, explosions, and fight scenes in movies. 
In literature, revenge fueled The Count of Monte Cristo and The Man in the Iron Mask. 

For me, as a reader, it’s stronger if the protagonist still has something or someone left to live for or hopes to regain.

Even so, that is not the same as having the protagonist solve a complete stranger’s problem for them simply because she has nothing better to do and hates her own life enough she is willing to die for a stranger to rid herself of it.

Your protagonist can be flawed. Her thinking can be faulty. He can be mildly depressed or grieving, but protagonists should not be pathetic.

If the reader is rooting for your protagonist to die, you have chosen the wrong horse for your race.

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24. Brave New World (1932)

Brave New World. Aldous Huxley. 1932. 268 pages. [Source: Bought]

A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY. 

Did I love Brave New World? Not exactly. Am I glad I read it? Yes. Brave New World is a classic dystopian novel. The first half of the book seems more focused on world-building, on providing the reader with all the little details that make this future world so horrific. Not much happens but world-building. Readers meet a character or two, sure, but mostly description and information. The second half of the book, in my opinion, is where the characters become more developed. The basic premise: children are no longer born. No more mothers and fathers. No parenting. Children are "hatched." Sometimes several thousand at a time--all identical, I believe. Conditioning begins early in an artificial womb of sorts. Every single little thing is planned and accounted for. Nothing really left to chance. The conditioning continues through childhood. Even at night. Different classes are conditioned differently, of course.

In the second half, Bernard and Lenina go on vacation together to a reservation in New Mexico. They'll get a chance to see savages first hand. They meet two savages that interest them very much. For one is a woman who grew up civilized. (Her name is Linda). She was on vacation when something happened--she became separated from the group and was left behind. She's gone native--forced to go native. She's even had to--shudder--become a mother and raise her own child. His name is John. Though, for most of the book he is simply Savage. They tell their story to Lenina and Bernard. Bernard seeks permission to bring the two back with him. All four head back to civilization--back to London. But how well will John cope with civilization?

Brave New World is both strange and thought-provoking. Also depressing. The world-building was nicely done, I believe, but I would probably need to reread it a time or two to "catch" everything and fully appreciate it. There is plenty to 'shock' that's for sure. Some scenes are just disturbing--and are meant to be disturbing or disorienting at the very least.

I did like the second half more than the first half. It's not that the second half was less disturbing--it wasn't--but the fact that the focus was more on the characters. I can't say that I "liked" or "loved" any of the characters. I pitied John the most because he felt so out of place on the reservation and so out of place in civilization. John wasn't the only memorable character either.

I can see how Brave New World inspired other writers through the decades. Anyone who reads modern dystopian novels--there are so many I could list--should consider reading this one.

Quotes:
"I don't understand anything," she said with decision, determined to preserve her incomprehension intact. "Nothing. Least of all," she continued in another tone, "why you don't take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You'd forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you'd be so jolly. So jolly," she repeated and smiled..."
The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get. They're well off; they're safe; they're never ill; they're not afraid of death; they're blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they're plagued with no mothers or fathers; they've got no wives or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they're so conditioned that they practically can't help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there's soma.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Comics Friday: Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann

From Goodreads:
Kerascoët’s and Fabien Vehlmann’s unsettling and gorgeous anti-fairy tale is a searing condemnation of our vast capacity for evil writ tiny. Join princess Aurora and her friends as they journey to civilization's heart of darkness in a bleak allegory about surviving the human experience.  The sweet faces and bright leaves of Kerascoët’s delicate watercolors serve to highlight the evil that dwells beneath Vehlmann's story as pettiness, greed, and jealousy take over.  Beautiful Darkness is a harrowing look behind the routine politeness and meaningless kindness of civilized society. 
It doesn't get much darker than this story of a group of tiny people who live inside the corpse of a dead little girl.  Until, that is, her corpse starts to decompose and they are forced into the woods where they are threatened by evils both internal and external.  It's horrifying enough when you consider it a grim fairy tale full of butchery and danger, but when you realize that it's a metaphor for the bleakness of life as a human and all its trials and tribulations, you'll just want to lay right down and die.

Except you won't because the art is so beautiful that it completely outweighs the horror of what you're seeing happen to these adorable tiny people.  Which, I suppose, is its own metaphor for the human experience.  Shockingly brutal, but also beautiful beyond words.  It demands to be reread once you get what the author is trying to convey and it's totally worth that reread.

It's certainly  not a book that I'd recommend across the board to everyone, even everyone interested in comics.  It's not for children and it's also not for those who will be appalled at the idea of a precious little race of tiny people being slaughtered by nature and by each other.  Have I mentioned that this is dark?

However, if you can stomach it, I think it's not only a pretty deep and interesting commentary on what it means to be human in our world, but it's also gorgeously illustrated.  I don't frequently reread, even graphic novels, so it's high praise that this one demanded a more thorough second read.  It's just beautifully done, on both a metaphoric and artistic level and I highly recommend trying it.

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