Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Road trips: good publication material, or not?

A great road trip YA book
Writing about your road trip is great material for publication.

Or maybe not.

I love road trips and I asked you all to share your favorite road trip with me for my giveaway (which is still open through August 4. Want a chance to win seven newly released books, including Forever by Maggie Stiefvator or Jacob Wonderbar by Nathan Bransford? Leave a comment on that post telling me about your favorite road trip). I've loved reading everyone's responses so far! Mentioned several times were road trips along the Oregon coast and Maine coast - definitely added those to my road trip bucket list.

My friend Sophia pointed out that "road trips are a more universal coming of age thing in the US than they are in the UK". Didn't know that! There were lots of other interesting tidbits and opinions I learned from my commenters, too.

 So a road trip was definitely part of my coming-of-age experience. After I graduated from college I saved up my money and went on a 2 month trip from New York to Louisiana, across Texas, all over the southwest states and California, and back to New York via the Rockies, the Great Plains, and Chicago. My college friend and I would pitch a tent each night at a campground, and in the morning get out our map and decide where we wanted to go next.

We hit almost every National Park in the lower 48 states. I kept a detailed journal. It was an amazing experience and got me addicted to doing road trips every year (though not as long - a couple days to a week, and these days my family uses a pop-up camper instead of a tent).

Many other commenters also shared that the most memorable road trips were the ones with no schedule or plan, just deciding each day where to go.

So anyway, back to my point. Re-reading the journal of my road trip, there are lots of events and details that I can use for book ideas someday, or more specifically, for particular characters or scenes within a book.

But interestingly, a road trip by itself - I don't think that's great material for publication. Road trip memoirs are common and one would have to be exceptional to get published. Road trip fiction - your road trip would have to have a plot. And random roaming here and there is sort of plotless.

Unless: you're running away from something (think Thelma and Louise - amazing road trip movie!). Or someone's chasing you. The YA book that inspired me to take my cross-country road trip at age 22 is Madeleine L'Engle's The Moon by Night. It's about a 15 year old girl camping with her family across country (in one of those big ol' stationwagons before seat buckle and car seat laws!). What's the plot? At one of the first campgrounds they stay at, Vickie meets an older teen age boy who is traveling on his own for a mysterious reason. He shows up at the same campground they stay at the next night - and many more times - following her around the country - how romantic! What conflict with her parents! And then there's the mystery about why he's alone...

So anyway. Just some sort of random thoughts on road trips. Next week I'll be sharing more random thoughts - this time on horses, and why there are almost no YA horse stories, though tons and tons of MG horse stories. And also, why and how my daughter will be randomly picking the giveaway winners from horseback (grin) (we're a horse crazy family).

So what's your thought on road trips as the basis for fiction? Good idea, or not? Got any favorite road trip books?

PS. I just added "CommentLuv" to my comment form - if you enter the URL for your blog in the Comment Luv box, it will add your most recent post to your comment automatically (which means a chance for increased traffic to your blog). Also, my comment system allows you to choose whether to receive no replies, replies only to your comment, or everyone's comments. I usually reply to every comment I get, so if you like that sort of thing, look for the "Subscribe to" box below the comment box and choose "replies".

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Win one of seven new release books (update)

I finally updated my giveaway with more details about the books that should definitely get you salivating - click here to enter for a chance to win Forever (Maggie Stiefvator), Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. (Medeia Sharif), Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow (Nathan Bransford), Timeless (Alexander Monir), Across the Universe (Beth Revis), Falling Under (Gwen Hayes) or the bestseller, The Help (Kathryn Stockett).

I have disabled comments on this post because I want you to read the giveaway post because...

I bet you've never entered a giveaway that involved a horse for (randomly) picking the winner.

Ends August 4.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Road trip giveaway - seven newly released books

I have seven new releases that I'll be giving away here shortly (giveaway ends August 4). That means you have seven chances to win if you leave a comment and tell me what your favorite road trip is. And tell me which book you want, with maybe an alternative or two.

Forever, by Maggie Stiefvater. Do you love stories with unforgettable characters? There's four of them in this, the last in a trilogy but a beautiful stand-alone story, too, about love that endures, whether human or wolf.

Falling Under, by Gwen Hayes. Breathless romantic tension, delightfully free of cliches. Think proper British girl meets California anything-goes, then throw in dancing skeletons, forbidden love, and "I can't believe she just said that!" dialogue.

Timeless, by Alexandra Monir. A classic falling-in-love-in-a-different time story that includes gilded-age mansions and forbidden speakeasies. Delectable settings and exploration of music that will have you downloading new songs when you are done.

Across the Universe, by Beth Revis. This is so hard to sum up in one sentence because it's so much good stuff but this is a spooky mind-bender of a mystery, set on a spaceship you'll both love and hate.

Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow, by Nathan Bransford. I'm not quite done reading this one yet, but so far let me say it reminds me of a cross between Diary of Wimpy Kid funny and Percy Jackson in space!

Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. by Medeia Sharif. Do you love Judy Blume books? This one is written with the same spirit, strength and self-deprecating humor, and I loved learning more about Muslim traditions.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (okay, this one's not a new release, but it is a best seller!) The front of the book says "probably the most important book since To Kill a Mockingbird - if you read one book, let it be this one". All I can say is - agree, agree, AGREE!

 The contest ends on August 4, because August 5th is my daughter's 10th birthday and she's going to pick the 7 winners. Randomly. From horseback. I'll explain more coming up -- but we are a family that is united in our love of three things: road trips, ice cream, and horses.

I recommend all these books, I even debated keeping some of them, because I'd like to read them again. But right now there are too many books on my TBR for read-overs;  by the time I start craving a read-over I bet these will readily available in libraries. And besides, I've won so many awesome books (or Amazon gift certificates) in the past year, I just wanted to give some good reading back!

This is open to my international friends, too (if you are outside the US, you have to tell me what road trip you'd like to take if you ever visited the US. I'll explain more later... it's complicated!) (grin) (the road trip/boat trip across the UK is on my list for later in the year... then Greece... no, wait, don't get me started).

I have the itch to get out on the road - where should I go?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What's the purpose of the sixth sentence?

The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything is 42 (from the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Universe) - but what the heck does that mean? When it comes to the question of your own purpose in life, can anyone but you answer that question? But there are some things as writers that we can answer for sure: every sentence in our first chapter (or at least our first few pages), can and should have a very definite purpose.

This really hit home to me in this great post by Ann Meier hosted at Janice Hardy's writing blog. She talks about analyzing the first chapter of your favorite best-seller book in the same genre that you are writing in. Analyze it right down to the sentence level. Ann said because she is a kinesthetic learner, she took the time to retype the best-seller first chapter word for word.  I haven't got to the every word level, but I did recently do a sentence-by-sentence analysis of the first chapter of a YA book I very much admired, Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light. 

I learned a lot identifying the purpose of each sentence:
  1. First sentence: evocative setting that asks a question. "When summer comes to the North Woods, time slows down."  Why does time slow down?
  2. Second sentence: specific setting details: where (a resort on  a lake), when (1906)
  3. Third sentence: creates atmosphere, shows the character's take on the world and her place in it- "children of doctors and lawyers" - we get a sense (via showing, not telling) that the main character, Mattie, is a poor girl who works at a resort frequented by rich people
  4. Fourth sentence: characterization (with voice) and building tension: "I believe these things. With all my heart. For I am good at telling myself lies."
  5. Fifth sentence: building tension "Until Ada comes out and slips her hand in mine" "Any other time the manager's wife would have scorched our ears for standing idle, but not now"
  6. Sixth sentence: first dialogue, hint of disaster: "they've been dragging the lake"
  7. 7th - 9th sentence: more dialogue - emotional reaction to potential disaster "Mattie, I'm scared"
  8. 10 -12 th sentence: characterization via internal narrative "I don't answer her - words fail me sometimes. I've read almost every word in Websters New American dictionary... right now I want a word that describe the feeling you get when you know you'll never be the same person again... I imagine it's the same feeling Eve had after biting that apple..."
  9. next 10 sentences: dialogue, action: a girl's body has been discovered in the lake, Mattie is asked to make sure all the guests are out of the parlor before they bring the body in
  10. "save the cat" moment: an action that makes us identify with the main character and like her: Mattie remembers seeing the girl at the resort the day before, she remembers thinking the girl looked distraught, so she brought her a lemonade and didn't charge her for it
  11. next sentence: raises a dramatic question: Mattie blurts out "what about the man she was with?"
  12. next sentence: raising stakes, tension: the sheriff asks "Did you see something, Mattie?"
  13. next sentence: directly involves main character, presents an obstacle: "I don't hear him. Behind my eyes I see a packet of letters tied with pale blue ribbon, letters I promised to burn"
  14. next sentence: more questioning, tension: "Did you know something about what happened?"
  15. final sentence: leaves us with a unanswered question: "what had I seen? Too much. What did I know? - only that knowledge carries a damned high price. Miss Wilcox, my teacher, had taught me so much. Why had she never me taught me that?"
In Ann Meier's post, she identifies the same list of purposes for each sentence in the first chapter (though in a different order, of course - the sixth sentence doesn't HAVE to hint at a disaster!) The best-seller she used also had two other sentences with a distinct purpose:

  1. introduce a goal
  2. provoke laughter

The first chapter doesn't show that Mattie has any goal, but this does show up right away in the second chapter (and the first chapter is so short it's almost a sort of prologue). Her goal is to earn enough money to move to New York City to go to college - pretty daring for a poor country girl in 1906. That's why she's working at the fancy resort, to earn money. The girl's death, and the letters the girl gave her that may contain the clue to her death, have involved her in something big that may obstruct her goal.

Provoking laughter - probably not a necessary ingredient in the first chapter of a book that starts with high drama and a potential murder mystery.

This was a fascinating exercise and worth doing for other books too to see not only the purpose of each sentence but also to see how the author accomplished each of the crucial ingredients.

I bet analyzing other books would reveal a few more helpful ingredients for first chapters - if you know of any others please share!

Friday, July 8, 2011

What's your favorite kind of antagonist?

Thinking about all the different kinds of antagonists after realizing the last few books I've read didn't have a clear-cut bad guy (or girl). My most recent read was Beauty, by Robin McKinley - a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story. Usually Beauty's sisters are sniveling, spoiled, antagonistic creatures, but in this version they were given good qualities and are much loved by Beauty. And there's no Gaston in this version, either, so who does that leave for anatagonists?

My very favorite kind of all! - the Beast, who everyone thinks should be the bad guy, but he turns out to be the good guy.

Here's some other "antagonists" I've encountered recently:
  • Physical handicaps. In The Window, by Jeanette Ingold, 15 year old Mandy survives a major accident but loses her sight
  • Curses (or other dark forces). In A Curse as Dark as Gold, by Elizabeth Bunce, you get three different antagonists - but it's not clear until the very end which is the REAL bad guy or why, exactly, he's out to destroy Charlotte's mill and her family
  • Tradition. In Lady in Waiting by Susan Meissner, Lady Jane Grey's main nemesis is the tradition of noble parents arranging the most politically and financially expedient betrothal
  • Prejudice. Racism in The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (personified in Miss Hilly!)
  • Nature. Surviving a plane crash in the wilderness in Hatchett, by Gary Paulsen
  • Inner demons, like addictions or depression.  In Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly, Andi struggles with guilt, depression and drug abuse, feeling she's to blame for her brother's death.
  • War. In Leviathan,  by Scott Westerfeld, the conflict comes from the faceless opposing side. But when two teenagers from the opposing sides meet - you've got another one of those scenarios I love where the bad guys turn out to be the good guys 
  • Temptation. In Like Mandarin, by Kirsten Hubbard, Grace befriends a girl with a bad reputation (there are many other subtle "antagonists" going on in this story, too)
  • Clash of culture, or values, or ideology: in Esperanza, by Pam Munoz Ryan, the young protagonist has to adjust to a new culture and way of life drastically different than how she was raised
  • Institution/government: the Capitol in the Hunger Games series
  • Difficulty communicating/misunderstanding: the basis of many literary novels
What's your favorite kind of antagonist, human or otherwise? Which ones did I miss?

Late addition: just found this AMAZING article on antagonists by Kirsten Lamb (via Adventures in Children's Publishing blog) that goes into a lot more detail. A must read!
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