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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: fiction, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 2,657
26. Completely Clementine: Review Haiku

A satisfying
goodbye to one of my
favorite knuckleheads.

Completely Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee. Hyperion, 2015, 192 pages.

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27. Review of Listen, Slowly

lai_listen slowlyListen, Slowly
by Thanhhà Lại
Intermediate, Middle School   Harper/HarperCollins   260 pp.
2/15   978-0-06-222918-2   $16.99

This second novel from National Book Award winner Lại (Inside Out and Back Again, rev. 3/11) grabs readers from the start. California girl Mai is on a plane, accompanying Ba, her grandmother, on a trip to Vietnam. Mai, who planned to spend her summer at the beach flirting with “HIM,” the boy she has a crush on, is furious. Her dad says Ba needs her support — a detective has claimed he has news about Ong, Ba’s husband, who went missing during the Vietnam War — but the self-absorbed tween is still outraged. Lại convincingly shows Mai’s slow transformation from spoiled child to someone who can look beyond herself with compassion. Mai’s change of heart is believable, moving in fits and starts and taking its own sweet time; she retains her sarcastic sense of humor, but her snark gradually loses its bite, and she begins laughing at herself more than others. The heartbreaking sorrow of Ba’s, and Vietnam’s, past is eased some by the novel’s comical elements (a Vietnamese teen who learned English in the U.S. — and drawls like a Texan; a cousin who carries her enormous pet bullfrog with her everywhere). The detailed descriptions of Mai’s culture shock and acclimation bring the hot and humid Vietnamese setting, rural and urban, to life. Her strong-willed personality makes her an entertaining narrator; readers will happily travel anywhere with Mai.

From the March/April issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The post Review of Listen, Slowly appeared first on The Horn Book.

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28. How It Went Down: Review Haiku

Raises tons of questions,
answers almost none -- and
does so beautifully.

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon. Holt, 2014, 352 pages.

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29. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e March 13th, 2015

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

Pros and Cons of Indie Publishing (S.R.Johannes)

How to Self-Publish Children’s Books Successfully: Notes From the Trenches (Darcy Pattison)

James Scott Bell on Writing Smarter

Writing a Personalized Query Letter (Ash Krafton)

Manuscript Pitch Websites: Do Literary Agents Use Them? (Victoria Strauss)

How to Build a Compelling Novel Concept (Something With a Kicker!) (C.S.Lakin)

Why Aren't I Getting Requests (Kim English)

Five Asinine Things Writers Hate to Hear (Ed Sikov)

Let’s Talk About Me (Donald Maass)

The Business of Self-Publishing Children’s Picture Books: Two Literary Agents Weigh In (Sangeeta Mehta)

When a Writer Becomes a Target (Rachelle Gardner)

The Rules of Writing … or Not (Larry Brooks)

Five "Show Don't Tell" Danger Zones (Diana Hurwitz)

Why we write (in GIF form) (Nathan Bransford)

Use Attitude When Introducing Characters (Jodie Renner)

REAL TALK: $ix Figure Book Deal$ (Jennifer Laughran) Jon’s Pick of the Week

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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30. Using Universal Themes Part 1

There are some stories that transcend genre because they have mass appeal. 

The secret to mass appeal is universal theme and wish fulfillment. There are certain situations that everyone can relate to no matter what genre they prefer to read or watch.

Even when a book is wildly successful, there will be readers who turn away from it. Either because the content offends, the story touches a raw nerve, or the writer's technique does not suit them. You can't please everyone.

Stories with universal appeal have a better chance of capturing the imagination of the populace.

This week, we'll take a look at a few themes.

1. Home Sweet Home: We all want to belong somewhere and to someone. In addition to food, shelter, clothing, and safety, belonging is a core need. We have all been lost at some point, either on a highway or in a shopping mall. Many people have had to leave home to go to college, to work, or to war. We all miss home. Even if our home lives were crappy, we idealize what home should have been and we long for it. We long for it like we long for water when we are thirsty or food when we are hungry. Longing for home is the theme of the blockbusters E.T., The Wizard of Oz, and Homeward Bound among many others. It will resonate with readers across the globe.

2. The Orphan: Think of Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling, The Lightening Thief by Riordan, the musical Annie, or any other orphan tale. Abandonment by death or intent is a deep wound that people have a hard time overcoming. Even when they think they have overcome it, a story can come along and rip the scab off the wound. We relate to a character that is suffering the slings and arrows of the orphaned or abandoned child. We like watching them rise up the ranks in life. We like watching them fight to prove themselves worthy. We want to see them end up on top, connected, and loved. We want them to find a home: the place where they truly belong. Many people grow up feeling like they don't belong: to their families, their school, or their town. If they find out they were really a changeling left on the doorstep, they are given the chance to find the place and people they should have been with all along.

3. The Wizard: A good book often explores wish fulfillment fantasies. We all feel inadequate at some point. We have all felt bullied or helpless. I doubt there is a child out there that did not, at one point or another, wish she had super powers so she could fight back. They pretended in the privacy of their rooms to be witches or warlocks or superman. Those children grow up to read books and watch movies. This theme is another reason why Harry Potter went orbital. It had orphans, revenge, and supernatural powers. It is the allure of the all Marvel comics and the movies made from them. We want someone superhuman or magically enhanced to do what we often cannot. We want to imagine ourselves waving the magic wand to change things we cannot change. We've gone from Merlin of King Arthur lore to the plethora of supernatural tales jamming the bookstore shelves in the YA, Mystery, Romance, and Horror aisles. Some are better than others.

4. Sweet Revenge: We've all been angry at some point and wished we could wreak revenge. We wished we were bigger, stronger, smarter, or had more money or power. We vent about what we'd like to do to the motorist that cuts us off, the boss who embarrassed us, or the crook that stole our wallet. Most of us are rational enough to not run around shooting people. Joking or ranting about our revenge fantasies takes the heat out of the situation. Whenever a core value or currency is transgressed, it triggers this response. We love seeing the victim of the tale take revenge on our behalf. We want the good guys to win, for might to make it right. This is the appeal of all the blockbuster action movies. It is the appeal of Braveheart, Oceans Eleven, and Mean Girls.

Tune in next week for more universal themes.

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31. The Honest Truth: Review Haiku

Beautiful meditation
on life, death, and friendship.
Worth all the buzz.

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart. Scholastic, 2015, 240 pages.

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32. Fuzzy Mud: Review Haiku

with benign intent.
Scarily plausible.

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar. Delacorte, 2015 192 pages.

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33. Bo at Iditarod Creek: Review Haiku

It feels like Alaska
outside, so snuggle in
with Bo and the gang.

Bo at Iditarod Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill, illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Holt, 2015, 288 pages.

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34. Review of The Walls Around Us

suma_walls around usstar2 The Walls Around Us
by Nova Ren Suma
High School   Algonquin   321 pp.
3/15   978-1-61620-372-6   $17.95   g
e-book ed. 978-1-61620-486-0   $17.95

Orianna Speerling — the so-called “Bloody Ballerina” — is just fifteen when she is convicted of murdering two rival dancers. A month after her sentence begins, all forty-two girls interned at the Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center are dead — victims of an unexplained mass killing. Ori’s story is gradually revealed through the eyes of two unreliable narrators. Violet is Ori’s affluent best friend, a fellow dancer who knows more about Ori’s crime than she’ll ever admit — especially if the truth might jeopardize her future at Juilliard. Amber is an inmate at Aurora Hills who pushes the library cart from cell to cell — quietly waiting out a long sentence and keeping secrets of her own, such as having visions of girls she’s never met. In lyrical, authoritative prose, Suma weaves the disparate lives of these three girls into a single, spellbinding narrative that explores guilt, privilege, and complicity with fearless acuity. Amber’s voice is particularly affecting — she narrates from an eerily omniscient first-person plural perspective that speaks powerfully to the dehumanizing realities of teen imprisonment. The twisting, ghostly tale of Ori’s life, death, and redemption is unsettling and entirely engrossing.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The post Review of The Walls Around Us appeared first on The Horn Book.

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35. What have you got lined up in the coming weeks and months?

Where is Jon - compressed

Aside from two days of Fun with Fiction workshops at Millington Elementary School, and my teaching gig at the GCU, I haven't done any speaking events so far this year.

I do have a couple of talks lined up,
and I'll certainly be attending some writing group meetings, but for the most part, I'm keeping my head down, having a great time working on major revisions for Abraham Lincoln Stole my Homework and the outline/first draft of Dead Doris (also middle grade).

Here are some of the talks and events I'll be giving during the coming months:

EN215: Creative Writing
Georgian Court University
Lakewood, NJ

2015 APRIL 1st (Weds)   Autism in the Family (7pm - 8:30pm)
Speaking on the Spectrum (SPotS)
Camden County Library (South County Regional Branch) 35 Cooper Folly Road, Atco, NJ 08004

2014 APRIL 26th (Sun) Author Lunch

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36. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e February 27th 2015

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

Overcoming Your Distractions (Rachel Kent)

Becoming a Student of Your Own Creative Process (Dan Blank)

Could You Benefit From a Website Redesign? (Chris Jane)

Writer Productivity Tip: Healthy Competition (Rochelle Deans)

Two Video Tutorials on Nailing Your Concept (Larry Brooks)

The Dark Side of Digital (Dario Ciriello)

Wrules to Liv By (Dani Greer)

When You’re Missing the Mark (Rachelle Gardner)

Multitasking is Death to Creative Writing (Michael McDonagh)

The Seven Deadly Sins of Dialogue (Susan DeFreitas)

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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37. Through the Woods: Review Haiku

and wonderfully rich and
compelling to boot.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. McElderry/S&S, 2014, 208 pages.

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38. Gaijin: Review Haiku

A different story
of internment, with
complicated characters.

Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner. Disney, 2014, 144 pages.

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39. Review of Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny

himmelman_tales of bunjitsu bunnystar2Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny
by John Himmelman; illus. by the author
Primary   Holt   128 pp.
10/14   978-0-8050-9970-6   $13.99
e-book ed. 978-0-8050-9972-0   $9.49

Young rabbit Isabel is known as Bunjitsu Bunny for her proficiency in martial arts class. Himmelman’s thirteen short, generously illustrated chapters relate Isabel’s adventures as she demonstrates that “bunjitsu is not just about kicking, hitting, and throwing…It is about finding ways NOT to kick, hit, and throw.” Each droll tale contains a lesson — about avoiding fights (with tough jackrabbits), outsmarting bullies (especially fox pirates), dealing with nightmares (of scary monsters), never giving up (when being “bearjitsu”-ed), and more. Cleverly wrapped in an entertaining package, the zen-type morals are edifying but not preachy and serve to genuinely enrich the stories. Solid brush-like strokes in black give the drawings the clean look of block prints, the only added tint a soft red used mainly to set Isabel apart from her classmates, her flame-colored martial-arts uniform aptly matching her zippy personality.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The post Review of Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny appeared first on The Horn Book.

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40. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e February 20th 2015

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

Mentally Preparing for Revisions (Janice Hardy)

Test Your Observation Skills (Mary Keeley)

4 tips for handling multiple perspectives in a third person narrative (Nathan Bransford)

7 Ways Writers Live in Paradox (Rachelle Gardner)

The Mini-Outline (Adriana Mather)

Avoid Overwriting – Subtle is More Sophisticated (Jodie Renner)

Fatal Submission Mistakes (Wendy Lawton)

How to Self-Publish Your Book (Jane Friedman)

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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41. The Shadow Hero: Review Haiku

A turtle for our time:

the classic superhero
tale writ anew.

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Lieuw. First Second, 2014, 176 pages.

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42. "Just the Facts, M'am"--fiction vs non-fiction on Poetry Friday

Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! (the link to this week's PF host is below.)

First: welcome, welcome to our newest TeachingAuthor, Carla!  I am in awe of your writer's journey, Carla, because when I learned that we would be discussing non-fiction, my legs trembled and my palms grew cold and damp.  Unlike you and Mary Ann, in her wonderful first salvo on this topic, I am not, by nature, a researcher.  I am NOT a "Just the facts, M'am."

Jack Webb as Joe Friday in Dragnet, from Wikipedia

But... is this really true?

Well...I DO tell my students that real details bring fiction to life, and have them listen to the following short audioclip from StoryCorps.  Talk about bringing a subject to life! The details Laura Greenberg shares with her daughter are priceless--not to mention hilarious.

Still, I struggled to write poems for The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (Pomelo Books).  By "struggled" I mean I read science articles and wrote tons of stinky poems about rocks, astronauts, materials science, the expiration dates on seed packages,electricity, science experiments...and on and on and on.

But...I dread gettting facts wrong--my worst nightmare. (Confession: writing these blog posts scares the bejeebers out of me.)

In fiction, I can fly my fairy-self to Planet Bodiddley and make up all the materials science by myself.  But if I have to convey facts?  And then somehow bake them into a tasty poetry pie?  I get tied up in knots.  My writing becomes stiff as a board.  I'm afraid of...

But finally I stumbled on this fascinating fact, in a review of The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman:"The water coming out of your kitchen tap is four billion years old and might well have been sipped by a Tyrannosaurus rex."

Wow. Think of the water you drink.  Think of the water you take a BATH in!!!! Ten versions of "Space Bathtub" later (with considerable coaching from the ever-patient anthologists, Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell) this fact became a poem for kindergartners:

by April Halprin Wayland

I am having a soak in the tub.
Mom is giving my neck a strong scrub.

Water sloshes against the sides.
H2O's seeping into my eyes.

The wet stuff running down my face?
She says it came from outer space!

The water washing between my toes
was born a billion years ago.

from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science
(c) 2014 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

If you're a K-5th grade teacher, this book is so immediately useful, you'll cry with relief when you open it. Trust me. For details, and to watch under-two minute videos of poets (Bobbi Katz, Kristy Dempsey, Mary Lee Hahn, Susan Blackaby, Buffy Silverman, Linda Sue Park and me) reciting our science poems from this anthology, go to Renee LaTulippe's No Water River.  Again, trust me. (A little foreshadowing: Pomelo Books' newest anthology, Celebrations! comes just in time for Poetry Month this year--stay tuned!)

Here's a terrific vimeo of "Old Water" produced by Christopher Alello:

And thank you, Linda Baie, fabulous friend of TeachingAuthors, for hosting Poetry Friday today!

posted safely and scientifically by April Halprin Wayland wearing safety goggles

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43. Character Descriptions

Creative character descriptions are hard to master.

There are long debates about how much character description is enough and how much is too much. Some readers want to know hair and eye color, height and weight, etc. Some want to fill in their own details.

Not enough detail and you have talking heads. 

Too much detail and you turn some readers off.

The choice is yours. Write what you enjoy reading.

Either way, you have to define your character in a way that makes the reader care what happens to him.

An important consideration when describing characters is the viewpoint lens filtering the information. Self-description is tricky and often results in narrator intrusion.

1. Dick can compare and contrast himself to someone else.

He was five-six maybe five seven, coming up to my shoulder. His hair was buzzed like mine, which used to indicate military but had become a recent fad. He could be bulked up from training like me or a gym membership. It was hard to tell these days. 

2. Someone can insult or praise Dick's appearance.

“Your nose looks like you head-butted a rhino, your big brown eyes are bloodshot, and that dimple doesn’t make up for the weakness of your chin.”

3. The three-item list is a little on-the-nose, but employed often.

Dick was a thirty-five-year-old with a pot belly and no hair.

If this is in Dick's POV, it is narrator intrusion. Dick would not talk about himself that way. But a secondary POV character could describe him:

Dick turned out to be a thirty-five year-old with a pot belly and no hair. His wide blue eyes and plump lips completed the resemblence to a man-sized toddler.

4. A unique voice makes descriptions pop.

He had the kind of face that would render him boyish well into old age: round blue eyes, fair wavy hair, freckled nose, and baby smooth skin, the kind of face that would age quickly overnight, as if a witch's spell had broken. The transition would be quick and painful.

5. Mirror gazing is considered cliché, but character self-description is done.

Rather than a list, add a little attitude.

Christ, I was getting old. My hair had more gray than brown and was receding faster than the ocean at low tide. The bags and sags on my face made it harder to shave. My eyebrows had taken on a life of their own. The guy in the mirror wasn't me. It was some old fart sitting in a park feeding pigeons.

6. Avoid narrator intrusion.

 The following descriptions are narrator intrusion in anything other than omniscient POV.

1. Dick's blue eyes lit up when he saw Sally.

Sally could see his blue eyes light up. An omniscient narrator could say it. A first or third person narrator would not.

2. Dick stared at his handsome reflection in the dresser mirror. His eyes were blue. His nose was crooked. His chin was dimpled.

This is you, the author, telling us what Dick looked like.

7. Sense of character trumps details.

You need to give your reader a firm idea of who they are dealing with more so than the color of his eyes, especially when you choose the vague description technique.

Is Dick harsh and judgmental, sweet and lazy, or coarse and fun-loving? The reader fills in whether she thinks that person is corpulent or thin, attractive or not, based on the way the character presents himself.

It creates dissonance when a character's physical description counters what the reader feels about him. This can be done accidentally or on purpose.

8. Make your characters authentic from the ground up.

As outlined in Story Building Blocks II and Story Building Blocks Build A Cast Workbook, it is useful to assign each main character a personality type. The traits propel them and affect the way other people see them. Temperament types are universal, but you can warp and shape them in hundreds of ways. This may sound like too much work, but it is well worth it to do the research. Personality types react to each other in different ways and your readers will not be the same temperament type.

The majority of writers employ pedestrian descriptions; those who master the craft are unforgettable.

Related Posts on Character Description:


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44. Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny: Review Haiku

Behold: your go-to
gift for the karate* kid
in your life. (*I know.)

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman. Holt, 2014, 144 pages.

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45. Subliminal Messages in Romance

I received the following email from a post on the BRP blog about five romantic memes that need to die.  I will provide a link at the end of this post.

“Dear Ms. Hurwitz, Thanks so much for your 2/4/15 post on the Blood Red Pencil. My genre is contemporary romance and while I’ve tried to avoid the 5 syndromes that you’ve listed below, I’m jealous. For some authors those exact syndromes actually worked. And have brought major successes. My question, why do they work for some authors and not for others? Trying not to whine, B."

This is a rather long response, but I feel it is an important one.

I fear they work because there is a severe amount of dysfunction in our society. To whit:

Reality TV is a constant barrage of people behaving badly for ratings. Indiscretion, infidelity, financial excess, drunken brawls, verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, and mounting body counts are daily sources of entertainment. There should be a line feed at the bottom of the broadcast with a warning: “If this resembles your reality, you can get help, please call…” followed by telephone numbers for domestic abuse and mental health hotlines.

A young girl posted a video that went insanely viral in which she stated that if your boyfriend beat you, it meant he loved you … because he invested all that energy in beating you and you should take that as a compliment and sign of affection.

College students are passing around passed out co-eds like blow-up dolls.

Domestic violence is at an all-time high, and women and children aren’t the only victims.

Hazing at the high school sports level has devolved into sexual assault with athletes literally getting “reamed” in locker rooms and school buses.

In the entertainment industry at large, and the romance genre in specific, there are too many stories that perpetuate the idea that you can fix that bad boy by being so amazing he immediately reforms in the blink of an eye with no professional help. All that matters is that they have a hefty bank account and six-pack abs or a title. These rogues are guilty of kidnapping, degrading language, physical manhandling, murder, and rape, but all is forgiven because they fall in love and his actions were “justified” at the time or the girl can be equally "bad ass."

Everyone who reads a murder mystery does not go out and kill someone. And everyone who reads a dysfunctional romance novel won’t go out and accept abusive behavior in their real life. But a steady diet of subliminal messages combined with a vulnerable population is a toxic cocktail.

Teens and young adults can be very suggestable. If you don’t believe that, you haven’t kept up with insanity inspiring pop culture amplified by an internet world full of cyberbullying, trolls, and provocative “selfies.” The high school and young adult phases are a time when many girls and boys are trying out new identities. They are easily influenced by their peers and the world around them. They adopt affectations. They are beguiled by the exotic and new. Joseph Campbell called it the knock, knock and twinkle, twinkle phase. Self-esteem can be shaky. More young women read books (especially romances) than young men, but both are affected by the entertainment industry and the culture they live in.

I believe we need healthy role models in all mediums of storytelling because our narratives influence the collective consciousness. We owe it to vulnerable teens and young adults. If bad boy heroes get a wink and a nudge for their “nefarious ways,” they make poor role models for our sons. Making female protagonists equally nefarious isn’t helping the situation. If our cultural expectation is that men are bestial as a baseline and must be tamed by the right woman, it is tacit support for unacceptable, even criminal, behavior.

In past decades, too many stories modeled women as helpless, compliant sex kittens fixated on finding the right guy. Women only went to college for a "Mrs. degree." 

Grooming kids for the mating game has trickled down to the grade school level. A six year old should not be concerned about being “sexy.”

Women from the baby boomer generation experienced a shift in cultural focus from finding the right guy and becoming wives and mothers, to focusing on self before making those choices and having the right to dictate the terms of those choices. 
 And we are ferociously fighting to hold onto our rights.

Millions of women worldwide are still subject to human trafficking, child brides, and arranged marriages. Women are still considered property of men. They are denied education and independence. They are raped, stoned, whipped, burned, and disfigured. 

That is the “reality" many people read to escape from.

We need to teach our young people that their prime directive is to become self-sufficient, stable, centered people with intact boundaries before they consider having relationships. 

Select schools have offered special classes for girls on how to recognize abusive relationships and protect themselves from rape (finally!), but no classes for boys on how to recognize abusive relationships and what constitutes rape, or any topic for that matter. It reminds me of when we were sequestered to view the films about our lady parts and monthly curse.

I wish my generation had access to Robin McGraw's Aspire initiative. Educating everyone about healthy relationships is crucial to changing the tide.

So, what does all that have to do with writing romance novels?

You can write a truly gripping romance without having severely dysfunctional/damaged characters. Mild dysfunction can create plenty of problems. You have to write realistic tension: obstacles that could potentially make or break their relationship. You have to convince your reader that the outcome is in doubt, even though in the romance genre there is always a happy resolution.

While many obstacles to love have been removed in cultures where people can randomly bed hop all they like, obstacles still exist in different personality types (wants, core needs, personal currency, motivation, ability to coexist amicably), misunderstanding, lies, secrets, betrayals, different backgrounds, socioeconomic factors, religions, ethnicity, strong opposition from other people in their lives, work, etc. As long as you make those obstacles believable, and ultimately realistically resolvable, you have the tension necessary to drive a love story.

In my opinion, the subliminal messages of your story matter. It is just as easy to model and inspire health while still addressing reality.

Thank you for your letter.

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46. Shoplifter: Review Haiku

Personal fulfillment
in the modern workaday
world. Plus stealing.

Shoplifter by Michael Cho. Pantheon, 2014, 96 pages.

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47. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e February 6th 2015

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

Four Reasons Your Query Might Be Rejected (Rachel Kent)

Editing Clauses in Publishing Contracts: How to Protect Yourself (Victoria Strauss)

Writing Characters Whose Loyalty is Uncertain (Janice Hardy)

Give Them What They Want (Rachelle Gardner)

So What Do I Do Now? (Wendy Lawton)

How to Become a Traditionally Published Author (Carrie Jones) aka carriejones

Call Your Book By its Name (Sharon Bially)

The Quintessential Paradoxical Pantser Conundrum (Larry Brooks)

Have a Routine (Michael Mcdonagh)

Yanking Readers Out of a Story (Elizabeth Spann Craig)

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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48. IRL: Review Haiku

Gamer girl figures
out the rules aren't always
black-and-white. Hardcore smarts.

In Real Life/IRL by Cory Doctorow, illustrated by Jen Wang. First Second, 2014, 192 pages.

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49. Coming Soon (and I can't wait)

Looking through the upcoming hardcover adult fiction lists for work, here are some books that caught my eye:

Paris Red: A Novel by Maureen Gibbon. A novel exploring Olympia--the model the posed for it, the painter who painted it, and how it changed everything in their lives. Pubs April 20

Mademoiselle Chanel: A Novel by CW Gortner. A fictionalized biography of Coco Chanel. I've recently made my peace with fictionalized biographies (they're literary biopics!) and they're a fun way to read more about someone I wouldn't necessarily read an actual biography of. Pubs March 17

The Scapegoat: A Novel by Sophia Nikolaidou, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich. Based on a true story, a school student is assigned the task of finding the truth in the murder of an American journalist in Greece in 1948. The killer was found, but after serving his time, claims his innocence. Out now

Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley: Novellas and Stories by Ann Pancake. I've been getting into short stories lately and these take place in rural Appalachia--a place that is so geographically close to me, but is a whole different world. Out now.

A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab. Library Journal gave it a star and this part of a sentence is what sold me "the three Londons we see (and rumors of the one we do not)..." Pubs February 24

Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: A Novel by Judd Trichter. Eliot fell in love with an android, and she's been kidnapped and sold off for spare parts. Now he has to buy up the parts, reassemble her, and then hunt down the people who did this to her. Out now.

Bones & All: A Novel by Camille DeAngelis. Kirkus said this coming-of-age story about a ghoul who keeps eating people read like a cheesy episode of Buffy. Like that was a BAD thing. Pubs March 10.

The Last Flight of Poxl West: A Novel by Daniel Torday. Eli idolizes his uncle Poxl--debonair fighter pilot and WWII hero, but as Eli learns more, he realizes that there is a darker side to Poxl's life and the legend he's built up for himself. Pubs March 17.

A Love Like Blood: A Novel by Marcus Sedgwick. Um, Marcus Sedgwick wrote an adult book. The only other thing you need to know is that is it's out now.

The Prince: A Novel by Vito Bruschini, translated from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel. The most promising of a handful of mob books on this month's lists. This one covers the true story of how mafia began in Italy, Irish and Italian gang turf wars in New York, and WWII. Pubs March 10

A Dangerous Place: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear. New! Maisie! Dobbs! Pubs March 17.

The Devil's Detective: A Novel by Simon Kurt Unsworth. A detective novel about a serial killer--but it takes place in Hell. Intriguing. Pubs March 12.

The Mouth of the Crocodile: A Mamur Zapt mystery set in pre-World War I Egypt by Michael Pearce. It's the subtitle that got me--pre-WWI Egypt. This is the 18th in a series I'm unfamiliar with, so I'll have to start at the beginning with The Mamur Zapt & the Return of the Carpet). This new one pubs on March 1.

Murder in the Queen's Wardrobe: An Elizabethan Spy Thriller by Kathy Lynn Emerson. Ladies in waiting that double as spies? Elizabethan England and the Russians are involved? Please download this into my brain ASAP. Pubs March 1.

Duet in Beirut: A Thriller by Mishkla Ben-David, translated from the Hebrew by Evan Fallenberg. A spy thriller written by a former Mossad agent. Ben-David's a best seller in Israel and this is his first novel translated into English. Pubs on April 14.

Leaving Berlin: A Novel by Joseph Kanon. Alex fled the Nazis for America, but in the McCarthy era, his pre-war activities mark him for deportation. He strikes a deal with the CIA--he'll return to Berlin, as their agent, and earn his way back to the US. But the CIA wants him to spy on those it was hardest to leave the first time. Pubs on March 3.

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50. Getting It Right

    First off, a big Teaching Authors welcome to our latest TA, Carla McClafferty. Not only did Carla and I meet and bond some fifteen years ago at an SCBWI retreat in Arkansas, we once shared an editor. Greetings, old friend, and welcome aboard. For the next couple of posts we are going to be talking about your genre, non-fiction, and what it shares with fiction.

    I have always wanted to be a Carla-sort of writer, a non-fiction writer. "Write what you love" is one of those things writing teachers (like me) tell their students. I love non-fiction. My "adult" reading consists almost entirely of biographies and history. If I read two adult novels a year, that's a big deal for me.

   So why don't I write non-fiction for children?  The reasons are endless, so I'll boil it down to one.  I just can't stick to the facts.

    Both of my novels, Yankee Girl and Jimmy's Stars began life as memoirs. YG was about my life, JS about my mother's family. Because they both took place in other times and places...Mississippi 1964 and Pittsburgh 1943...I did a boatload of research to make sure I had the details right. For the World War II world of Jimmy's Stars, I made a timeline of what battles occurred where and when between September 1943 and September 1944, and when news of those battles reached the States.  I compiled a radio schedule for the Pittsburgh stations. I studied streetcar routes. I poured over the various rationing schedules for gasoline, food, clothing.

    You would think that Yankee Girl would not require quite so much research, since after all, this was based on my own elementary school years.  I even had my 5th and 6th grade diaries. Still....do you remember what week the Beatles' "I Feel Fine" reached number one on the charts?  Neither did I.  Since the main character is a huge Beatles fan, there is at least one reference to a Beatles' song in every chapter. In addition, this the height of the Civil Rights Movement (the Selma March to Montgomery occurs about three quarters of the way through YG). I had to know exactly what date  this protest or that bombing occurred.  I remembered that these things had happened but that wasn't enough. I had to know exactly when. I spent a dismal five months in the microfilm room of the Jackson Mississippi library, going through a year's worth of newspapers, reliving a sad and scary time.

    By now you are thinking, "Well, with all this research, why didn't she just go ahead an write those memoirs?"  Good question. All I can say is that my mind refuses to march in a straight line . Yes the facts are there, because they are part of the story.  But once I start writing, my "real" character refuses to stick to their own "real" story.  I start thinking "but wouldn't it be more interesting if this happened instead?  Or if her best friend was this kind of person?"  Before I know it, I am off on a completely different story than I had first intended. The only thing that remains the same is the structure of historical fact and detail that makes the story "real" for me (and hopefully for the reader as well.)

    I am just beginning to write contemporary fiction for young people and guess what?  There is no less research involved.  Next month I will have a story in a YA anthology called Things I'll Never Say. 
I live in Georgia.  My main characters live in Georgia.  I have lived here for fourteen years.  Yet, for a 3,000 word story here are just a few story points I needed to find out to make the story real:  price of admission to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, driving times between different towns, the academic school year of Emory University, the most popular spring break towns with Georgia teens...well, you get the point.

    My point?  Getting the details right is one of the ingredients for making a story real.  Editors care about details. I spent weeks nattering back and forth with my Yankee Girl editor over the dates of those Beatles songs.  Readers care.  I had an adult write me that if the mother in Yankee Girl used a steam iron, then she didn't also need to sprinkle her clothes before ironing. I was a little miffed that someone could read a 225 page book and this is what she chose to write me. It never occurred to me look up that sprinkling/steam iron detail.  That's the way my mom always ironed. (I still probably need to look that up.)

    I once read a Big Time Award Winning Book that took place in a state where I had lived and knew very well.  This author had placed four major cities within an hours drive of each other. In reality, they were in different corners of the state and hours away from each other.  Whatever affection I had for the book died right then. Good grief, anybody could look at an atlas (this was pre-Internet) and see where those cities were.  I later read an interview by the author and discovered that she had never visited that state (or apparently done any research) but she "knew" somebody who "used" to live there. That was one of those moments when you want to scream and throw the book across the room.

   That was the moment when I decided that for me, getting the details "right." Facts are front and center of a non-fiction, but they are no less important in fiction.

     Now about that steam iron....

  Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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