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26. Five questions for Nikki Grimes

nikki grimesApril is National Poetry Month, and what better way to celebrate than by talking with acclaimed poet Nikki Grimes? Her many books include narratives in verse, prose fiction, poetry collections, and nonfiction, frequently featuring African American characters and culture. In Grimes’s latest picture book, Poems in the Attic (illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon; Lee & Low, 5–8 years), a girl describes, in free verse, an exciting discovery: a box of poems her mother wrote during her own youth. Like a diary, the poems offer the daughter an intimate first-person perspective of her mother’s world travels as the child of an Air Force captain.

1. Your author’s note for Poems in the Attic says that you moved around a lot as a child. Did you have adventures similar to your characters’? What were some of your favorite places?

NG: My life was very different my characters’, I’m afraid. My frequent moving had to do with being in the foster-care system, and my adventures primarily took place between the pages of books! However, the challenges that result from a child frequently being uprooted, no matter the cause, are challenges I can relate to. As for favorite places of my childhood, I would have to say the public library, the planetarium, and Central Park. All three were magical.

2. How did you come up with the idea of having the mother write in a different poetic form than her daughter?

grimes_poems in the atticNG: I’d been wanting to do a collection of tanka poems for young readers for some time. I’d originally considered creating a collection of paired poems similar to A Pocketful of Poems (illus. by Javaka Steptoe; Clarion, 5–8 years), in which the character introduced haiku poetry, but using the tanka form. However, I came up with the idea for this story and realized it provided me a perfect opportunity to use two different forms to capture the voices of mother and daughter. I had tanka on the brain at that point, so it was an easy choice for me.

3. The daughter reflects, “My mama glued her memories with words / so they would last forever.” How does poetry help to glue down memories?

NG: Poetry is the language of essence. Through the use of metaphor, simile, and the rest, the poet paints a picture, catches the essence of a subject, and plumbs all of the senses connected with that subject. What better genre is there for capturing a memory?

4. As you travel and engage with children, how do you inspire in them an interest in reading and writing poetry?

NG: That interest is already in them. Poetry is a huge part of their childhood, from the ABC song to jump-rope rhymes to “Ring Around the Rosie.” Stoking that interest only requires sharing poems with them to which they can relate. One whiff of poetry about the stuff of their own childhood, their own lives, and they are off and running. Once they’ve gotten a good taste of poetry, just try and stop them from reading and writing it!

5. Which poets inspire you?

NG: Oh, my! That list is long. My library includes Lucille Clifton, Naomi Shihab Nye, Wendell Berry, W. B. Yeats, William Stafford, Jane Yolen, Pablo Neruda, Natasha Trethewey, Gary Soto, Helen Frost, Mary Oliver, Marilyn Nelson, Shakespeare (sonnets, anyone?), Langston Hughes, Mari Evans. Yikes! Okay, I’ll stop.

From the April 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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27. Life, death, and football

Gritty and intense but also full of heart and hope, each of these four YA novels stars a teenage boy facing some of life’s most serious challenges.

smith_alex crowAndrew Smith follows his 2014 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award–winning Grasshopper Jungle with the similarly multilayered, ambitious novel The Alex Crow. Fifteen-year-old war refugee Ariel lived through the bombing of his village by hiding in a broken refrigerator. Ariel’s emotionally raw account of his year surviving various atrocities alternates with an often darkly funny account of his six-week stint at the disciplinary Camp Merrie-Seymour for Boys, which he attends with his American adoptive brother Max. Two other story lines converge with Ariel’s: that of a deranged man’s U-Haul road trip and of the ship Alex Crow‘s ill-fated nineteenth-century Arctic voyage. The multiple narratives and original sci-fi elements are anchored by strong prose and a distinct teenage-boy sensibility. (Penguin/Dutton, 14 years and up)

reynolds_boy-in-the-black-suitHigh-school senior Matt, the eponymous Boy in the Black Suit, is mourning the mother who died just before the book begins and the long on-the-wagon father who has returned to drink. At his funeral-parlor job he looks for “the person hurting the most,” hoping that his or her expression of grief will help him deal with his own. While all this sounds like heavy problem-novel territory, it isn’t. Just as in his previous novel When I Was the Greatest, Jason Reynolds writes about urban African American kids in a way, warm and empathetic, the late Walter Dean Myers would have applauded. (Atheneum, 14 years and up)

gardner_deadIknowIn The Dead I Know, another mortuary-set story, Aaron Rowe begins his first job at JKB Funerals. A young man of few words, Aaron takes to his work readily, assembling the coffins and washing the hearse, which helps him temporarily escape the disturbing events at home in the caravan park. After tragedy strikes, he is finally able to accept desperately needed help from the funeral home’s proprietors, who reach out to him through their own pain and loss. Moments of warmth and humor lighten the psychological suspense and frank depiction of death in Scot Gardner’s engrossing novel. (Houghton, 14 years and up)

lynch_hit countFreshman football player Arlo Brodie, star of Hit Count, sets his future goals: varsity linebacker by sophomore year, then college ball for a Division One team, then the pros. Arlo works out like a fiend, gets in super shape, makes varsity, and plays like a man possessed. An alarmingly high hit count, or number of hard blows to the head, forces the coach to bench him, but by that point, the adulation, the workouts, and the thrill of sanctioned combat have become Arlo’s drug, and he’s addicted. Chris Lynch’s unflinching examination of the price of athletic power, with plenty of bone-crunching play-by-play action, is both thought-provoking and formidable. (Algonquin, 14 years and up)

From the April 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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28. Fearless females

From an aspiring journalist to an up-and-coming roller derby grrl, the determined and curious female protagonists of these intermediate and middle-school books are ready to take on the world.

springstubb_moonpenny islandIn Tricia Springstubb’s Moonpenny Island, the titular tiny Ohio vacation spot is lousy with fossils — specifically, of trilobites from the Cambrian period. Sixth-grade townie Flor becomes fascinated with trilobites’ eyes after learning they were “among the very first creatures” to develop them. Flor herself is, in some ways, as sightless as early trilobites, for she misses much of what’s going on in her family and in her interconnected island community. Flor’s growing awareness of those around her results in a unique protagonist who, like a fossil, creates an imprint that remains after her story is finished. (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, 9–12 years)

birdsall_penderwicks in springJeanne Birdsall‘s fourth Penderwicks book, The Penderwicks in Spring, focuses on Batty, now ten and the “senior member of the younger Penderwick siblings.” To raise money for singing lessons, she starts a neighborhood odd-jobs business. There’s a lot of melancholy here: dog-walking sadly reminds Batty of her dear departed Hound, and she suffers benign neglect from one big sister (Rosalind is temporarily boy-crazy) and hurtful words from another. On the plus side, stepbrother Ben (seven) and half-sister Lydia (two), in their cheering-up efforts, emerge as formidable Penderwicks themselves, and Batty rewardingly finds her voice at her climactic Grand Eleventh Birthday Concert. (Knopf, 9–12 years)

vaught_footer davis probably is crazyAt the start of Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy by Susan Vaught, eleven-year-old Footer Davis’s mother, who has bipolar disorder, is admitted to a psychiatric hospital after shooting off an elephant rifle in their backyard. To distract herself from her mother’s worsening condition, budding journalist Footer (with aspiring-detective best friend Peavine) investigates a dramatic unsolved local crime. Footer’s lively narrative voice and irreverent sense of humor add levity to the heavy subject matter. Like its heroine, the book itself is compelling, offbeat, and fearless. (Simon/Wiseman, 9–12 years)

jamieson_roller girlWhen her best friend Nicole starts harping on about ballet, fashion, and dating, twelve-year-old Astrid, star of Victoria Jamieson’s graphic novel Roller Girl, is left behind (read: not interested). She’s behind on the roller derby track, too, where she has signed up for summer boot camp even though she can’t skate five seconds without disaster. Astrid faces the challenges of derby as well as tweendom, and when the time comes for her big end-of-summer bout, “Asteroid” is brimming with confidence and ready to roll. Readers will identify with Astrid’s journey to find her authentic self. Have this book at the ready for Telgemeier fans racing to find something new. (Dial, 9–12 years)

From the April 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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29. The Shadow Cabinet: Review Haiku

CRAZY HOT GHOST ACTION!
Or, Why You Might Not Want
to Visit UK.

The Shadow Cabinet (Shades of London #3) by Maureen Johnson. Putnam, 2015, 400 pages.

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30. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e April 3rd 2015



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

I've Revised My Novel. Now What? (Janice Hardy)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/04/ive-revised-my-novel-now-what.html

How to Improve Your Amazon Book Description & Metadata (Penny Sansevieri)
http://janefriedman.com/2015/04/02/amazon-book-description/

No April Fools Here (Elspeth Futcher)
http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/2015/04/no-april-fools-here.html

Book Proposals (Wendy Lawton)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/book-proposals/

It’s Their Party (Sarah Crsyl Akhtar)
www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/its-their-party/

The 5 Essential Steps to Getting a Literary Agent (PeterHogenkamp)  Jon’s Pick of the Week
http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-5-essential-steps-to-getting.html

The 6 Most Common Problems in a Rewrite (Art Holcomb)
http://storyfix.com/art-holcomb-on-rewriting-your-novel-or-screenplay

The Five Stages of Querying Grief (Kim English)
http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-five-stages-of-querying-grief.html

Second Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Author Solutions Inc. (Victoria Strauss)
http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2015/03/second-class-action-lawsuit-filed.html

The Basic Components of an Author Website (Jane Friedman)
http://janefriedman.com/2015/03/26/author-website-components/

First Pages that Shine (Mary Keeley)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/first-pages-that-shine/

Controlling The Creatives (Kristine Kathryn Rusch)
http://kriswrites.com/2015/03/25/business-musings-controlling-the-creatives/

7 Ways You’re Giving Away Your Power (Rachelle Gardner)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/giving-away-your-power/

Query Lessons Learned the Hard Way (Adriana Mather)
http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2015/03/query-lessons-learned-hard-way.html

How to Win a Literary Feud (Bill Ferris)
http://writerunboxed.com/2015/03/21/how-to-win-a-literary-feud/


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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31. Persuasion Tactics Part 1


Last week, we introduced the persuasion plot hole. Over the next few weeks, we will add persuasion tools to our plot toolkit.


1. Ask for More: If Dick wants something, he can start off intentionally asking for too much so he can settle for something in the middle. This makes him seem like a reasonable kind of guy, except the part where he manipulated Jane by asking her to do something she'd never allow to get her to agree to something she mildly objected to. Children are masters of this technique.

2. Appeal to Authority: Dick may be getting nowhere in his conversation with Jane. He can play the authority card. The authority can be real or imagined. "They say" is so random. Who are they? "Authorities on the subject state..." Who are the authorities? Jane won't have time to verify them. Adding jargon and psychobabble gives his argument more power. Dick can flip this tactic and discount the authority Jane uses to support her argument. He can press her to come up with an answer as to who "they" are. He can refute the validity of the authority.

3. Assume Concession: Dick can circle around the point he is trying to make or the consensus is he trying to achieve. He can talk at cross purposes and end the conversation with, "Well, I'm glad we all agree then." Except no one really agreed, but they will doubt themselves. Did we agree? Maybe we did. If Dick pushes on in a confident manner, they may be bluffed into silence.

4. Attack the Posse: Dick can tear down Jane's objectives by attacking the basis for her assumptions. He can attack her friends, her coworkers, her group members or the social, political or religious body as a whole. He can deride her documents or the source of her information. Jane will be derailed into defending herself as apart from the group or into defending actions by the group she does not agree with. She will be sidelined into defending her source rather than her point.

5. Baffle them with Bull: If Jane seems unconvinced, Dick can bring in random and completely unrelated evidence to bolster his argument. Jane will be forced to respond to each unrelated thread, rather than arguing the main point. He can sum up his argument as if everything he just said supported it. Jane will either be confused enough to give in or will call him on it.

6. Bait and Switch: Dick wants to achieve C. He argues the merits of A. Jane fights back with B. Dick offers C as a compromise, which was his intention all along. Dick wants Jane to agree to a vacation at a golf resort. He starts off with suggesting they go fishing. Jane says, uh, no. She suggests they go to a bed and breakfast in Amish country. Dick says, uh, no. Dick suggests a spa resort in Arizona. Jane agrees to the compromise. Dick had already planned to meet up with his buddies in Arizona so it's a darn good thing Jane agreed. He doesn't tell her about that until they are on the plane or happens to run into his buddies at the hotel, setting up a new conflict.

7. Call Their Bluff: Characters all make blanket statements and threaten things they'd never back up. Dick has a date with Jane for dinner. He needs to get out of it. He suggests Hooters. She reacts negatively and says she'd rather eat at a motorcycle dive bar. Since the motorcycle dive bar is exactly where Dick needs to meet his contact, he calls her bluff. Jane is forced to either go with him or refuse to go with him, which suits him just fine. The date is called off. Next time, Dick needs to make a reservation at her favorite five-star restaurant to make up for it. Jane may bravely state that she is willing to do something against her better judgment to exaggerate a point. Dick agrees to do it. Jane has a problem. She has to wriggle out of it, change her tactics, or end or derail the conversation entirely.

8. Change the Name: Changing the name of a thing can render it less objectionable because it changes the set of objections that accompany it. Dick asks Jane to steal something. She objects, naturally. So he convinces her it isn't really stealing. It's borrowing. Or it's returning something to its rightful owner. Fanaticism can be religious freedom. Anarchists become freedom fighters. This is used rampantly in terms of political correctness and to justify what would otherwise be considered psychopathic behavior. Jane is likely to object to some things more than others. This also works if Jane refuses to grant Dick any ground and he switches to getting her to disagree with his point's polar opposite. It might confuse her into agreeing with him.

Next week, we continue to add persuasion tools to our writing kit.

For these and other fiction tools, you can pick up a copy of the Story Building Blocks: Crafting Believable Conflict in paperback or E-book.

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32. Poisoned Apples: Review Haiku

A little repetitive,yes,
but a powerful
read nonetheless.


Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppernan. Greenwillow, 2014, 128 pages.

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33. The Question of Miracles: Review Haiku

Grief in tangible and
intangible forms: a
deft meditation.

The Question of Miracles by Elana K. Arnold. Harcourt, 2015, 240 pages.

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34. True Things (Amelia Rules): Review Haiku

Oh, my heart: hard truths,
decisions for my (second-)
favorite fifth grader.

True Things (Adults Don't Want Kids to Know) by Jimmy Gownley. Atheneum, 2010, 176 pages.

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35. Dog Butts and Love: Review Haiku

Happy Bunny guy
is a worthy successor
to John Callahan.

Dog Butts and Love. And Stuff Like That. And Cats. by Jim Benton. NBM Publishing, 2014, 96 pages.

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36. Cleopatra in Space: Review Haiku

Approved by fifth-grade
daughter, second-grade son, and Mom.
Rip-roaring fun!

Cleopatra in Space #1: Target Practice by Mike Maihack. Graphix, 2014, 176 pages.

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37. The Case of the Missing Moonstone: Review Haiku

Super-charming
revisionist history
featuring kickass girls.

The Case of the Missing Moonstone (Wollstonecraft Detective Agency #1) by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy. Knopf, 2015, 240 pages.

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38. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e March 20th 2015



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


The Benefits of Smaller Writers’ Conferences (Rachel Kent)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/the-benefits-of-smaller-writers-conferences/

Grappling with the Facts (Elle Carter Neal) http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/2015/03/grappling-with-facts.html

4 ways to avoid screenplayizing your novel (Nathan Bransford)
http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2015/03/4-ways-to-avoid-screenplayizing-your.html

Beginner's Luck (Kristine Kathryn Rusch)
http://kriswrites.com/2015/03/18/business-musings-beginners-luck/

What Do Your Readers Know and When Do They Know It? (Dave King)
http://writerunboxed.com/2015/03/17/what-do-your-readers-know-and-when-do-they-know-it/

Should you self-publish or traditionally publish? 7 questions to ask yourself (Nathan Bransford)
http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2015/03/should-you-self-publish-or.html

Useless Humor: Fun With Words… (Larry Brooks)
http://storyfix.com/useless-humor-fun-with-words

4 Ways an Agent Helps You–but Makes No Money (Janet Kobobel Grant)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/4-ways-an-agent-helps-you-but-makes-no-money


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.

Add a Comment
39. The Penderwicks in Spring: Review Haiku

It's Spring! With Batty!
And you will cry and cry and cry.
And then rejoice,

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall. Knopf, 2015, 352 pages.

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40. 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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41. 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.

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42. 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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43. 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)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/03/pros-and-cons-of-indie-publishing.html

How to Self-Publish Children’s Books Successfully: Notes From the Trenches (Darcy Pattison)
http://janefriedman.com/2015/03/12/self-publish-childrens/

James Scott Bell on Writing Smarter
www.storyfix.com/james-scott-bell-writing-smarter

Writing a Personalized Query Letter (Ash Krafton)
www.querytracker.blogspot.com/2015/03/writing-personalized-query-letter.html

Manuscript Pitch Websites: Do Literary Agents Use Them? (Victoria Strauss)
www.accrispin.blogspot.com/2015/03/manuscript-pitch-websites-do-literary.html

How to Build a Compelling Novel Concept (Something With a Kicker!) (C.S.Lakin)
www.janefriedman.com/2015/03/09/compelling-novel-concept/

Why Aren't I Getting Requests (Kim English)
http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2015/03/why-arent-i-getting-requests-you-wrote.html

Five Asinine Things Writers Hate to Hear (Ed Sikov)
https://litreactor.com/columns/asinine-things-writers-hate-to-hear

Let’s Talk About Me (Donald Maass)
www.writerunboxed.com/2015/03/04/lets-talk-about-me/

The Business of Self-Publishing Children’s Picture Books: Two Literary Agents Weigh In (Sangeeta Mehta)
www.janefriedman.com/2015/03/04/self-publishing-childrens/

When a Writer Becomes a Target (Rachelle Gardner)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/writer-becomes-a-target/

The Rules of Writing … or Not (Larry Brooks)
www.storyfix.com/rules-writing

Five "Show Don't Tell" Danger Zones (Diana Hurwitz)
www.bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/2015/03/five-show-dont-tell-danger-zones.html

Why we write (in GIF form) (Nathan Bransford)
http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2015/03/why-we-write-in-gif-form.html

Use Attitude When Introducing Characters (Jodie Renner)
http://elizabethspanncraig.com/2818/use-attitude-introducing-characters/

REAL TALK: $ix Figure Book Deal$ (Jennifer Laughran) Jon’s Pick of the Week
http://literaticat.blogspot.com/2015/02/real-talk-ix-figure-book-deal.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.

Add a Comment
44. 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)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/overcoming-distractions/

Becoming a Student of Your Own Creative Process (Dan Blank)
www.writerunboxed.com/2015/02/27/becoming-a-student-of-your-own-creative-process/

Could You Benefit From a Website Redesign? (Chris Jane)
http://janefriedman.com/2015/02/27/website-redesign/

Writer Productivity Tip: Healthy Competition (Rochelle Deans)
http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2015/02/writer-productivity-tip-healthy.html

Two Video Tutorials on Nailing Your Concept (Larry Brooks)
http://storyfix.com/two-video-tutorials-nailing-concept

The Dark Side of Digital (Dario Ciriello)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/02/the-dark-side-of-digital.html

Wrules to Liv By (Dani Greer)
http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/2015/02/wrules-to-liv-by.html

When You’re Missing the Mark (Rachelle Gardner)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/missing-the-mark/

Multitasking is Death to Creative Writing (Michael McDonagh)
www.querytracker.blogspot.com/2015/02/writing-productivity-tip-multitasking.html

The Seven Deadly Sins of Dialogue (Susan DeFreitas)
https://litreactor.com/columns/the-seven-deadly-sins-of-dialogue




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.

Add a Comment
45. 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:

2015 SPRING SEMESTER  
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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46. 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.

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47. 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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48. Fuzzy Mud: Review Haiku

Ecoterrorism
with benign intent.
Scarily plausible.

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

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49. 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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50. 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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