Friday, June 28, 2013

Getting to the core of a character

Somewhere before you hit the first big turning point in a story, there's got to be a crucial scene where you connect with the main character. You also need a connection on the first page, or darn close to the first page, but I've talked about first pages lots before. What I'm starting to notice more now in my reading are the subtle scenes that come a little bit later.

Here's what a good story needs right away:

The "first pages connection" isn't quite the same as the hook, or as dramatic, but it's just as important: the character wants something. Never underestimate the power of want! In the first pages, the want  is usually an external one. In Altered, by Jennifer Rush, right away we know Anna wants to spend time with Sam, and to get him to open up more. But he's guarded; he doesn't share much of himself. Who can blame him? He's locked in a tiny cell in a basement.  Anna's free to come and go as she pleases, but she's inexplicably drawn to Sam.

About thirty pages into the story, there's what I call the "getting to the core of the character" scene. We know enough about Anna and Sam and the other boys in the basement to be intrigued. But so far it's been mostly externals.

You know like when you meet someone in real life and you both like Star Trek and horses and writing and mythical creatures and chocolate. (Someone like me, hah). If you like all those things (or even just one or two of those things) I'm going to automatically want to spend some time with you, talking about those things and curious to learn more about you. But it doesn't mean we're going to be best buds, or ever even talk again unless we happen to run into each other again.

I think it's the internals, the core of characters and real people, (wait, characters are real people, right? oops, delusions at high altitude getting me again) that make for a more lasting relationship. Or in other words, get a reader to really connect with a book. (At least for females. Females and males and relationships is a whole other dissertation, there).

Anyway, books that have a "getting to the core of the character" scene are ones that end up sticking with me.

Rather than trying to describe the elements of a "getting to the core of a character" scene, here's an example of an excellent one from Altered which shows up about 30 pages into the story:

"What about what you want? Your hopes, your dreams? What are you passionate about?" He swiveled to face me full-on. "Your instructor was telling you to dig deeper." 
The look on his face transitioned from open understanding to something guarded, as if he was silently prodding me. As if he was holding back what he wanted to say because a frank answer would make it too easy. 
I rested my head against the wall and stared at the ceiling, at the pockmarks in the tile. Trev liked wrapping his advice in complex philosophies. Nothing was ever simple with him. 
The problem was, I didn't know what I wanted out of my life. [How many of us do? We think we've got it figured out, and then things change. Or we change!]. What was I passionate about? The boys. The lab. Dad. Baking. But sketching a pumpkin pie sounded pretty darn boring. 
Maybe Trev read the confusion on my face, because he added, "Start with your frustrations. How about that? It's easier to tap into anger or annoyance."
When I returned to my room that night, I'd opened my sketch book and stared at the blank page. [Or me as a writer, staring at a blank page]. What frustrated me? My mother being dead, yes, but I needed something fresh. 
And then it came to me: Nick. Nick frustrated me. 
Soon, my pencil began to slide across the paper at an alarming pace. As I sketched, I felt it, a fire in my arm, a tingling sensation in my fingertips, like I was bleeding that passion onto the page. When I was finished, I had one of the best drawings I'd ever done. In it, Nick stood in the middle of a deserted street, bottles broken around him, liquid spilling everywhere while he peered out from the page....

You can see by my bracketed comments within the scene just where I was really connecting with this character, with this story.

There's lots of other things that drew me about this story, too. The ending had an incredible twist. Actually, two twists:  a character twist and a plot twist. The book had intense action nicely balanced with  introspection and character development. Tension "thick enough to braid." Details that you notice, but later they come up again and you realize they had another meaning than what you first assumed.  That is such a cool trick, that one there with the lemonade (key word to remind myself) (sorry, I know it makes no sense to you). I definitely need to brainstorm how to include layered meanings in my own writing. 

I could go on and on about cool writerly things I found in this book but I will limit myself to one last one. The infamous looking-into-the eyes cliche!  I looked into his deep amber eyes, and I was lost... gag. Almost as pervasive and terrible as the main character looking in a mirror to describe himself! But here we have something quite different: 
When he didn't immediately counter, I looked up and met his eyes. An unremarkable green, like river water, his eyes were nothing to look at, but they were something else to be watched with.
This observation gives me happy chills because it's such good writing. It makes you catch your breath without being overdone. The main character noticing someone's eyes is so cliche: even an original description of eyes is still cliche. But the author flips the cliche right around... unremarkable eyes, but being watched by them is what is remarkable. 

How important is "getting to the core"  to you? Am I just a hopeless romantic? 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Critiquing or reviewing?

This is a post that I felt like I should write, but I didn't really want to. I've already put it off by posting late and now I'm using more delay tactics, like posting some of my favorite bookish images first:

Okay, now I have to admit this post has nothing to do with those pictures. I just wanted to start out with something positive and happy, because this post is about lessons learned: not so positive and happy... but worthwhile, I think. 

 Last week on Kristen Lamb's blog she had this post: The Three Nevers of Social Media  (I guess blogging counts as social media; I have very little presence on Twitter or Facebook). Her excellent advice: Never leave nasty blog comments, Never be nasty on Twitter, and Never leave bad book reviews. 

At first I just skimmed over this post, patting myself on the back for not violating any of these rules.  Sure, my book reviews point out things that didn't ring true to me or I felt could have been developed better, but I always point out the positives, too. No one could call my book reviews "bad." Um, I think? 

Then the next day Kristen posted Should Authors Write Bad Book Reviews, in response to all the comments she got about the day before (141 comments, I just checked).  The second post has 163 comments currently.  Hmmm, this is a bit controversial! 

Then ANOTHER post showed up the next day, Is it fair for authors to review other authors? Do we ruin the magic? (131 comments). 

I wish I could sum all of this up in a couple sentences. It certainly made me look at reviewing books in a new way. I am guilty of critiquing books rather than reviewing them. See, writers critique. That's how we learn to write better, by getting and giving critiques. So naturally when I read a published book, I critique that book, too. I learn so much from analyzing it - finding its strengths, and flaws. But is that a valid book review?  As a writer and aspiring author, can I also be a book reviewer or is it too potentially controversial?  

Though there are some dissenters with good points, the majority of commenters agree: writers and authors, don't share your reviews unless they are positive.  And don't analyze or critique a book and call it a review. 

I will continue to share the things that I learn from books: but only the positive things, the characters and settings and dialogue and voice that made me sit up and take notice and nod my head, yes!  About the flaws, I will still learn from them - but I don't need to share them publicly anymore. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Authentic teen voice?

Voice has always been one of the most fascinating parts of reading, and writing, for me. Many YA books have slight variations on the same snarky voice. But every once in a while I run across an original one, which immediately draws me. Burning, by Elana K. Arnold, was one with an analytical and powerful voice belonging to a gypsy girl. The Secret Ingredient by Stewart Lewis is another great example:  Olivia's teen voice is not snarky at all. She's what I call "all over the place" - observing everything around her with blend of curiosity, naivete and a touch anxiety.

But by and far the most common voice in teen lit is the snarky one (with minor variations), and it's become my default writing voice, too - which I'm not keen on. So whenever I discover a non-snarky voice I take the time to really break it down and analyze it. For instance, in The Secret Ingredient, Olivia's "all-over-the-place" voice, broken down, means that in one paragraph she's talking about Skid Row, in the next paragraph talking about food, in the next she's musing about learning to read "the maps of people's faces". Some readers might find this jumping from subject to subject confusing, I suppose, but it's such a female thing, finding connections everywhere (or randomly making them).

Recently I went back and re-read my own teen voice in my journals. I had a distinct voice, though WAY too wordy for good fiction, and not entirely original either. Whenever something fascinated me I would go off on these long, detailed, intensely opinionated riffs in my journals. Sometimes I'd go off on a philosophical riff prompted by some required reading at school (The Stranger, by Albert Camus, really fascinated me at the time). Sometimes I'd go off on a detailed description of a beautiful natural setting and my emotional reaction to it (senior year camping trip in the Allegheny hills).

I was heavily influenced by the Lord of the Rings in high school, and in my journals, where I was free to be myself, I would try to (maybe subconsciously) imitate a Tolkienish voice... but much more emotional and opinionated, like a young know-it-all female version of Gandalf before experience taught better wisdom.

Here's the part where I segue my way from musings about voice to a review of The Secret Ingredient. My full review is on Goodreads, but the skinny version here is parts of this book I loved, just loved: the characters and the voice and the perfect pacing.

A big draw for me with this book was a contemporary story with a historical story paralleling it, when Olivia finds a cookbook with personal notes from its original owner in the 1960's. I love these types of stories within stories. 

But it turned out the best part of the book was in the little details (and great voice).  This is a fun trip through a girl’s life in L.A. with a little bit of what we all crave from this setting: run-ins with actors (Jude Law – nice!) and a few insider peeks into movie biz, as Olivia works at a casting agency and gets to meet some, um, interesting clients. But mostly it’s a frolic through the ups and downs of adoptive, non-traditional family relationships, food (oh my where are the recipes! - my mouth watered the whole time), and quirky romance.  

Opening quote: Food is our common ground, a universal experience. - James Beard.

First line: Every day is sunny in Los Angeles, but it’s not exactly paradise.

When I got hooked:  on page 1, when Olivia suggests a name for a laundromat: “Not Responsible for Lost Socks". I knew for sure I was hooked a couple pages later with this observation about her dad in the morning: “His hair seems to be living in a different area code than his head.” 

 The whole book is filled with fun observations like this. And sometimes with writing that crosses over from fun, to really lovely:
I look down at the photo he handed me. It looks a little retouched, but his gaze covers me slowly, like sheets falling from a clothesline.

If you could label a distinctive voice from a favorite book, what would it be?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why travel is important but I choose to stay home

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” 
― Mark TwainThe Innocents Abroad/Roughing It

My stepdaughter just graduated from high school and is thinking about using her graduation gift money to travel, instead of heading off to college right away.

My first reaction was, maybe you should save that money for college... but then I got to thinking about it more, and college isn't always the right answer - not until it's the right time. And travel is an education itself, too - just as valuable, in a way. I look back on my travels (a couple trips to Europe, a two month road trip across America) and while they weren't life changing, they were enriching in a way I can't even fully express.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” 
― Marcel Proust

I still love to travel and as the rest of my kids are getting old enough to start appreciating it, too, I plan to travel a lot more. (Hmmm, I need to start budgeting for that). But this time of year when people commonly ask questions like "what are your summer plans? any travel or vacations?" I always find myself saying "no plans, no travel."

I love just to stay home during the summer. We live in a place that has an absolutely perfect summer (in my opinion) - 70 to 80 degrees, every day sunny, just enough rain for the occasional rainbow. Big skies, with huge cloud formations that form their own amazing landscapes/skyscapes, and sunsets with 360 degrees of color. (Unfortunately our perfect summers are balanced by mind-numbing six-month long winters some years). I love a slow summer, no rushing around, no packing and unpacking or itineraries. If we go somewhere, it's to the pool, or to a picnic in our nearby mountains. I always have a book with me and there's no greater contentment than sitting on my porch swing, watching my kids play and turning the pages of a good book. Time enough for travel and discovery in the spring and fall. (The kids always like getting pulled out of school for travel, too - grin.)

So speaking of books, there's some really good books coming out in June. I never used to pay attention to new releases, but I'm always on the lookout for them now (though I try to balance them with older books too - there's still so many great books I want to make sure I get around to reading).

Here's my picks from all the June new releases:

The Secret Ingredient, by Stewart Lewis. "a journey of family, food, romance, and self-discovery as Olivia, a teen chef living in L.A., finds a vintage cookbook and begins a search for her birthmother that will change her life forever" - a teen chef? Now that's a new one, but the  real selling point to me was the first chapter with Olivia's all-over-the-place colorful and heartfelt ramblings. 

Catch Rider, by Jennifer H. Lynne. I'm a sucker for any story with horses, but new horse stories are rarer than you'd think (and I'm getting pickier about them, the older I get). I read the sample chapters for this one and went all kinds of crazy happy because not only is this a premise that I never grow tired of but it's got a main character with an original, entertaining voice.

Whoa, that's two contemporary books in a row. (Pauses to check temperature and vital signs). Phew, the third one is back to my more common genre, fantasy:

 Siege and Storm (The Grisha #2), by Leigh Bardugo. I don't often read sequels, but I'm eager to read this sequel to Shadow and Bone. It's set in a fantasy-version of Russia, with cast of characters so memorable, I'm still on a first-name basis with them, even eight months after reading the first book.

I also picked these two June releases from NetGalley and lucked out getting approved to read them early.

Ink, by Amanda Sun (releases June 25).   Loved both the cultural insights from an American girl living in Japan, and new-to-me mythological elements.

Burning, by Elana K. Arnold (releases June 11. Why, that's today, perfect timing). Another contemporary! Shocking! But such a good book with settings that could almost burn you, and one character that is definitely going to stick with me - a Romani Gypsy girl caught up in a forbidden romance.

What are you reading this lovely June? Or, where you are traveling? (I can still be envious of you, even while I sit contently on my porch swing with my books piled up around me).

Friday, June 7, 2013

Secondary characters, shiny new ideas, and keister calls

Five things that made my writer's heart all happy this past week or so:

1. I missed signing up for the Secondary Characters Bloghop in May but boy I sure had fun running across other blogs participating. My favorite was Heather's at The Flyleaf Review because she did this cool classification of types of secondary characters and really got me thinking about what makes a great secondary character and why I love them so much. She also mentioned some of my favorites: Orma from Seraphina, Brimstone from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Grimalkin from the Iron Fey... and a ton more.

2.  Nathan Bransford posted "How to Know You are a Writer" (in .gif form) yesterday and all the gifs made me nod my head and feel the universal brotherhood/sisterhood/insanity-hood of writers.

3. Janet Sumner Johnson shares about what it's like when you get a Shiny New Idea that you can't wait to write about... and she does this even more brilliantly than Bransford (sorry, Nathan) because she uses all her own pictures to tell the story, instead of gifs collected across the web. Bonus: not one but two reference to... Squirrel!

4. Authoress over at Miss Snark's First Victim blog shared something wonderful about writing - it's really worth reading the whole post, but here's what struck me the most. Reading it just made me want to jump up  and hug her and scream "Yes! I know exactly what you mean! OMGosh someone else feels the same way as me????"
...Yes, that novel. The one that is SO BAD that I will have to leave instructions in my will for someone to destroy it.  The one that marked the beginning of my journey as a serious writer; the one that lit my fire... Know what's special about that horrible-awful-no-good tome?  (All 127,000 words of it??)  It's infused with the passion of writing from a purely creative place.  I had no idea about point of view, pacing, or purple prose.  I'd never heard of an inciting incident; didn't know what "character arc" meant....The absolute joy of losing myself in this world is immeasurable...
Sorry, I can't help it, I have to say that again: The absolute joy of losing myself in this world is immeasurable.  That's it, people, that's the core of why I write. Having others read it and enjoy it is just icing on the cake.

5.  This has nothing to do with writing but KLOVE radio had me BUST UP LAUGHING when the deejays talked about when you forget your cell phone in your back pocket and then you sit on it and place a random call by accident. They called it a Keister Call. I'm still grinning thinking of all the accidental keister calls I've made. 

Have you had a keister call or a squirrel! moment recently? 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Ink... coming alive

 As a writer, the premise of ink coming alive is fascinating to me. Even though I write mostly on  a computer, I still journal with paper and ink.  I loved the premise of InkHeart, by Cornelia Funk, where some of the characters were "silvertongues" - people who could read characters to life from books! What if a writer could be a silverpen: could write their characters to life?  Or if you're an artist, you could draw characters to life?

That last one is the delicious premise of Ink, by Amanda Sun, a young adult paranormal set in Japan. Releases June 25; thank you NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for a chance to read an advance e-book.

Katie discovers her new Japanese friend, Tomohiro, is a Kami, a person with mythological ties and a power that can bring his drawings to life. This is sooooo cool, and I hungered for each and every scene where Tomo sketches: 

As he moved his pen to sketch the wins of another butterfly, the first spiraled from the page. It was colorless, with jagged sketch outlines. A stream of ink trailed behind it like a firework, shimmering in shades of black and dark plum.
But before I get too carried away with Tomohiro and his ability to bring ink to life, let me start at the beginning: 

First line: I made it halfway across the courtyard before I realized I was still wearing my school slippers. 

I liked how the very first line shows Katie trying – and failing – to adjust to a new culture, as she’s just moved from the U.S. to Japan to live with her aunt, after the death of her mother. Little touches like how her aunt packed her bentou box from side to side with squished peanut-butter sandwiches: the Japanese container, the American food, helped me identify with this girl. But also, I liked how as the months progress, she starts to assimilate more of the culture, and eventually embrace it.

Katie is drawn to Tomohiro, who has a “bad-boy” reputation, but she discovers he’s hurting from his mother’s death too. Throughout the book he’s always trying to push Katie away, and I had to admire her persistence, and eventually Tomo admires it too: “I’ve always had to push away people I cared about. You’re the only one who ever pushed back.”

As I came to admire Katie’s persistence, I also had to give Tomohiro credit for breaking some common YA guy stereotypes, even though at times I wanted to kick him! In fact, I slowly developed a surprising appreciation for Katie’s and Tomohiro’s chemistry and anti-chemistry:

The words brushed against my lips and sent the butterflies tumbling again. He’s going to kiss me, he’s going to – 

He leaned back and patted me on the head. My cheeks turned tomato-red as I glared at him.

He blinked and stared back, looking completely innocent. “What?” he took another look at me and burst out laughing. “Did you think I was going to…?”

And then there’s this sharply contrasting description of Tomo:

He was fireworks and radiance, glare and tingling frostbite. 

Another thing I loved about the story were all the details about Japanese culture were woven in to the story without sounding infodumpy. Here’s a great example of where Katie forgets one of the Japanese rules for addressing a person by name: 

“Tomo, I’m serious. Stop it.” It slipped out, just like that. I’d switched to his first name, a shortened one even, and made whatever it was we had closer. He heard the minute I did, and his face started to turn beet-red.

I also loved the ink-wash sketches  included in the book, some of them full page illustrations and some just small sketches in the page borders. One of the page border sketches is of a wagtail bird that changes position on each page like an animation. 

And this: this gave me shivers!
It occurred to me the room was fireproof to keep the painting from burning down the rest of the shrine, not to protect the treasures inside. 

My breakdown: 

Characterization: Katie and Tomo were well done and Katie’s friends Yuki and Tanaka had distinctive personalities, but I really wanted to more about Katie’s aunt, and why she chose to live in Japan.

Setting: Enjoyed the details of the different settings in Japan, from the cherry blossom season to the archaeological site in the park forest, to the shrine that Katie visits with her friend. It didn’t completely “transport” me like some vivid settings can, but it did a better job of making me feel the setting than a couple other books set in Japan that I’ve read.  Impressed how all the Japanese words were integrated with the story still being easily readable. 

Plot: A solid plot, though I would have liked more development/background on what Tomo can do with the ink and how it tries to control him, and how it's connected to other Kamis. The ending felt a little rushed, and left me scratching my head as far as the Kami part, but for Katie’s decision in the airport, I really liked that part. 

Personal appeal: I love stories with mythological components, especially ones I haven’t encountered before, like the Kami in Japan. Mix that with some well-woven cultural components and cultural clashes, and I’m a happy camper. 

Literary touches: There were some thoughtful touches related to Tomohiro’s and Ishikawa’s troublesome backgrounds, like this hints at: 

Outside of kendo, they both slouched, looked badass and, in Ishikawa’s case, got into a lot of serious trouble. But somehow wearing the bogu armor and covering their faces with the men [face-guard] actually unmasked them and put them at ease.

There’s the age-old situation of falling for the wrong sort of person:
I wasn’t sure how I’d managed to get mixed in with gangsters and secret societies. I wished I’d fallen for Tanaka [the safe boy], that I’d called Tomohiro on the jerk he was and just stayed away from him. But I’d seen the real him, that he was deeper and different and changed. Now I couldn’t imagine a world without him in it. My heart was glass – easy to see through, simple to break. 

There are reasons why we aren’t drawn to the “safe” person, and the key word for me in the paragraph above is Katie recognizing that Tomohiro is “changed” – and he was the one that pointed out the same thing to her too. After her mother’s death she thought like she should eventually be able to get back to “normal” and wondered why she couldn’t, and Tomo is the one who tells her it’s okay to be “changed” and that she doesn't have to go back to normal, to the way she was before her life fell apart. 

Normally I am not a fan of girls falling for the misunderstood bad boy even when, as in this case, there's a mutual bond of pain and loss; but I think the author made it clear Tomo was a noble person, who tried to look "bad" for a very specific and valid reason...

What's your take on the "misunderstood" bad boy in teen lit?  Problematic or realistic or both?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My Top Ten Books Featuring Travel

I love, love, love books featuring travel (or even better, journeys. Journeys implies so much more than just travel). There was NO WAY I could narrow this down to just 10 books (and no way I could rank them!), so what I did instead is list my favorite books in six different types of travel categories.

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish blog with a different top ten list theme (all related to books) every Tuesday (see the full list here).

I am so excited to read other lists, because I'm always on the hunt for more good travel fiction. I think I love travel so much because of the chance to explore different settings, but more than that: how the settings and characters and challenges met along the way affect the main characters, altering their perspectives.

Contemporary Travel

 Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert (memoir) A woman in search of meaning in her life visits Italy, India and Indonesia and learns something from each of those places. There isn't actually as much travel in this book as I hoped for, I wanted more! If you can recommend anything similar,  let me know!

The Moon By Night, by Madeleine L'Engle (fiction) This was published in the 1960's, so it's a stretch calling this contemporary, but it didn't quite fit historical either. A family's road trip across America: I fell in love with this as a young teen and it inspired me to make my own similar road trip across America right after college.

A Walk Across America, by Peter Jenkins (memoir) A young man backpacks across America (and meets his wife along the way). The stories they have to tell!!

Historical Travel

Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry. This is a tough book, with some pretty gruesome scenes in it. But I've read it at least three times, always drawn back by the adventure of following a cattle drive from Texas to Montana in the 1880's, packed with rich details of setting and a huge array of fascinating characters. Truly epic.

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London. Travel across Alaska during the gold rush of the 1890's. I devoured all of Jack London's books as a kid, and I plan to read to this one again with my kids.

Shield of Three Lions, by Pamela Kaufman. The tale of a young girl who followed King Richard the Lion-Hearted's crusade from England to the Holy Lands in the 12th century.

Animal travels

The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford.  Two dogs and a cat travel cross country to return to their home. Plan to read this one with my kids, too.

 I Rode A Horse of Milk White Jade, by  Diane Lee Wilson.  Set during the time of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan (1200's), a young Mongolian girl sets off on a journey with an old horse and a cat to prove her family's honor.

Watership Down, by Richard Adams. When a rabbit's home is destroyed, he sets out with an unlikely band to find a new home in what turns out to be a surprising epic journey. You'll never think of rabbits the same way again.

Space Travel

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle. Words fail me when it comes to describing this book. It is just so weird and wonderful and noble!

Out of the Silent Planet and its sequel, Perelandra, by C.S. Lewis. Incredibly imagined space travel written in the 1930's, and planetary descriptions that boggled my brain.

Fantasy travels set in the real world

The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan. A wild hop, skip and jump from one famous landmark in America to another as Percy races to find Zeus's stolen thunderbolt before the gods take revenge.

Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld. An alternative version of World War One with some fantastic steampunk inventions and the separate journeys of two children from opposite sites who met in unexpected circumstances.

East, by Edith Pattou. A variation of the Beauty and the Beast tale with some fascinating twists and an amazing journey into the far north.

High Fantasy Travel

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis.  Right up there with Sinbad and Odyssey for a great travel adventure across the high seas.

The Iron King and The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa. Harrowing and beautiful journeys through strange faery lands.

Girl of Fire and Thorns and Crown of Embers by Rae Carson. Great characters are what make the journeys in these stories spectacular. Can't wait for the final book in the trilogy, The Bitter Kingdom.

Sabriel and Lirael, by Garth Nix. Journeys through the Old Kingdom, where mechanical devices fail, and dead creatures can cross over from death. Spooky but brilliant. 

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. The most epic journeys ever. 

What's your favorite travel book? Do you prefer real-life travel or fictional travel? 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Thoughts on blogging and keeping it real

Celebrating our love for all things literary, Armchair BEA is for everyone who would like to go to Book Expo America, but couldn't make it. 

"Keeping it real" is one of four topic discussions, and "Children's/Young Adult literature" is one of four genre discussions. Here's the complete listing of topics.

What exactly does "keeping it real" (on your blog) mean? 

 For me, "keeping it real" means a personal and thoughtful touch. Sharing how I see the world - through books, or writing, or experiences - but also constantly striving to see the world in new ways, from other perspectives. Which is a main reason why I'm such an avid reader; stories help me see in new ways.  I also blog about what strikes a chord with me. For instance, following the Moore, Oklahoma tornado, I saw a family interviewed who had lost their house. The brothers and sisters were so thankful for each other, whereas before they weren't. Things like that really stick with me: when people undergo radical events and changes in attitudes.

How do you not only grow an audience, but how do you keep them coming back for more?

 Other than commenting faithfully on other people's blogs, I really don't know how to grow an audience. I know there are several methods to draw people back: humor, controversy, and content that readers relate to. I'd like to develop these more. A huge part of my enjoyment with blogging comes from interacting. Comments are the core of it all to me, especially when I can strike up a "conversation" - connecting with people about subjects I love or subjects that challenge me. This is why I struggle with posting book reviews because it's hard to connect with people about a book unless they've read it too. I've thought about raising questions to go along with a book review, to stimulate discussion, but it turns out it's harder to do than I thought.

If you have been around for years, how do you keep your material fresh? 

I've been blogging for three years now. I used to blog a lot about writing, but this year I've struggled to come up with any fresh content on writing on a regular basis. So I've gravitated toward my other, closely related favorite thing - reading. I love to share books and characters and how they've impacted me or made me think.

How do you continue to keep blogging fun?

By blogging about what I love, what gets me excited, or what makes me pause and think or wonder.

What are the top 5 (or more) books that every child should have on his shelf? 

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
Anything by Madeleine L'Engle: A Wrinkle in Time; The Austin family series
To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
 Anything by Mary O'Hara: My Friend Flicka; Thunderhead
Anything by E.B. White: Stuart Little; Charlotte's Web
Anything by L.M. Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables
The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

These are all books I read over and over as a child and young adult, and am now re-reading with my own children and still loving them and appreciating them just as much! It's so neat to revisit childhood favorite from the new perspective as a parent.

If you are an adult who reads YA, why do you keep going back for more?

I think because it's about characters who are just discovering some of the big issues and difficulties in life. My favorite characters are those who are struggling, but are excited and hopeful; they view the world with fear and but also with potential and possibilities. I'm prone to depression, and I've found that adult literature often takes a depressing turn, at least for me; YA literature on the other hand feels uplifting. Another big reason is that YA doesn't shy away from troublesome issues, but the books don't get too graphic, either. I've done a fair share of reading with explicit sex and violence in the past, and I don't appreciate graphic details anymore. It messes with my head too much.

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