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8/14/14

Soon to be released: THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH by Jennifer L. Holm

NETGALLEY REVIEW: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
The latest middle grade novel by three time Newberry winning author, Jennifer L. Holm.
Release date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

Why this book is great: (from a middle grade reader's point of view)
  1. It helps you think about science.
  2. It helps you learn to respect older people, who may actually have a lot of wisdom about things that you never realized.
  3. It's set in Berkeley or the Bay Area, which is just a great area.
  4. There is a Halloween part that is funny.
  5. It helps you think about science (oh, yeah, I already said that)
  6. It tells you about some of the inventions in science during the last century.
  7. It even talks about the Atom Bomb, but not in a freaky way, in a good way (which is weird but an interesting surprise).
A review from my point of view for fellow writers and readers:
THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH by Jennifer L. Holm tells the story of Ellie, an eleven year old who "has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then, one day..." (from the books intro) 
Now, I will continue in my own words:
A gawky, science-genius shows up in the form of a teen-ager, but it's really her grandfather, who has been living nearby, but with whom Ellie does not have a super-close relationship because her mother is a drama-type, works in a theater, and her dad's (though mostly out of the picture, except when he returns to fix the toilet) is a working, stage actor.
Her grandfather has always given his daughter (Ellie's mom) a hard time for not going into science. And considers drama for flakes. But this new scientific influence, is just what Ellie needs, since she isn't the showy-extraverted type anyway.
Without spoiling anything, let me just say, that this book is a fun, cute, heartwarming and educational, and NOT SAPPY. It rang true to me, because Berkeley -- or Bes-erk-ly, as we used to call it -- is a free-spirit sort-of-place, with hippies and artists running amok, but also some amazing science going on. (Think Livermore Labs etc) and sometimes the two do collide.
This middle grade novel is excellently written and structured, and worth studying for any writer of Middle Grade fiction. I loved the way realism is enhanced just a tad with the fantasy element of the grandfather-turned-young-again. Everything is handled in a contemporary style, so it rings true. Just a little twist on reality.  The characters are introduced well. And the short preface about the goldfish is just enough to give you a feel for the character's inner life, before heading into the story. 
The theme is fairly evident in the beginning – the challenge of a young person to take her older relative seriously for his amazing accomplishments. The book creates  somewhat suspenseful premise to keep you engaged and turning pages. I was hooked from the beginning because Ellie's voice is so genuine.
The story could have been a bit more suspenseful. It could have been more dramatic during the final conflict. But the change that the main character experiences is gradual, and does not really hinge on the climax. Though, it is really the grandfather that is forced to make a tough choice.
The question of belief and standing up for what you feel is right -- an age old theme -- does often does mark a transition from childhood to adulthood that may kids experience around the age of 11 or 12.  I hope young readers love this book as much as I did.
I highly recommend this book!!
Jennifer L. Holm is a three time Newberry Honor recipient, and a NY Times bestselling author.  
You can pre-order the book on Amazon. Let me know what YOU think. Write your own review in the comment section. Thanks.

 
 

6/2/14

how to write a synopsis

Step 1) Start with a Hook: this should be a paragraph or two similar to the blurb on the back of a book. Mood and tone are important. Use special adjectives, but don't over do them.

Step 2) Introduction of Characters: Introduce the main characters of your book. Tell their MOTIVATION, CONFLICT and GOALS. Stay away from detailed descriptions unless this information is pertinent to your story.

Step 3) Construct the Body of your Synopsis: Using paragraphs, write the high points of your story in chronological order. Keep the paragraphs tight with only important details. Each scene should include: ACTIION, REACTION and a DECISION.  

Example: Sam takes Jeremy's lunch box at recess. This makes Sam run after him, fall down and skin his knee. Sam decides he will always take a paper bag lunch that he can throw away from now on.

Step 4) Use 3 or 4 paragraphs to write the CRISIS and RESOLUTION of the Story. Keep this simple but make sure you show your main character's reactions. Don't keep editors/agents guessing. The synopsis must include the resolution to your story.

Step 5) Rewrite, revise and polish until each sentence flows and conveys the power of your story. Strong adjectives and verbs will help. Stay in present tense. Third person -- even if the story is told in 1st person.

Step 6) Take out any extra words.

Step 7) Read through to check that the character arc is there.

And good luck! Did I forget anything? Do you have anything to add?

Extra Note: The lengths of synopses can vary. (This is the proper plural, comes from Latin.) They can be anything from one page to three or four pages or more.

Stick to what ever you are asked for.
And keep all the versions.
You may need them!

Sign up to follow -- the post will be about writing from now on. I promise. Enough ramblin', this girl's gettin' down to business:)
(Thanks to Vivian Beck for an article that inspired this.)




 

5/28/14

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou: Poet, novelist and actress
Good-bye, Maya Angelou.
The title above is one of the best titles ever penned.

From an article in AP today, after she passed away at 86 in South Carolina of an unspecified illness.
"I'm not modest," she told The Associated Press in 2013. "I have no modesty. Modesty is a learned behavior. But I do pray for humility, because humility comes from the inside out."
 
[Inspiring words, no?]

"Her story awed millions. The young single mother who worked at strip clubs to earn a living later danced and sang on stages around the world. A black woman born poor wrote and recited the most popular presidential inaugural poem in history. A childhood victim of rape, shamed into silence, eventually told her story through one of the most widely read memoirs of the past few decades."

[I read Maya's autobiography, I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS, when I was traveling in my 20s and it had a profound affect on me, as a young woman. I felt connected to all women through out the world in a struggle for dignity . . . Maya in Egypt, married, struggling against an oppressive husband . . . and me traveling alone in the Israel and Kenya, learning to fend for myself.]
[I read of her struggle in relationships -- to balance passion and art -- to express herself and to take care of her son -- to be free and to be responsible. I read 4 of the 7 autobiographies, as many as I could find.]

The title phrase: "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" haunts me, because there are still women today in mostly-metaphoric cages, struggling to sing. A woman in Pakistan was stoned to death by her family for marrying the man she loved.

[I was thrilled to read of Maya living in Laurel Canyon with her son and making his favorite meal to cheer him up, when they weren't getting along too well. She described it in detail and I could tell she was a great cook.]

[I loved her commitment to writing herself -- to telling us about her own personal journey, as it related to the world and the times she was living in. She saw herself as part of a bigger picture --something that is a sure sign of genius.]

"She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace," her son Guy Johnson said to AP.

"She called herself a poet, in love with the "sound of language," ''the music in language," as she explained to The Associated Press in 2013. But she lived so many lives. She was a wonder to Toni Morrison, who marveled at Angelou's freedom from inhibition, her willingness to celebrate her own achievements. She was a mentor to Oprah Winfrey, whom she befriended when Winfrey was still a local television reporter, and often appeared on her friend's talk show program."

"She mastered several languages and published not just poetry, but advice books, cookbooks and children's stories. She wrote music, plays and screenplays, received an Emmy nomination for her acting in "Roots," and never lost her passion for dance, the art she considered closest to poetry."

[And through it all she was a caring, courageous mother to her son, and strong, independent, passionate woman. She will be sorely missed.]

5/22/14

Just plain funny...!

This is just funny! I took my first photography class from a teacher who took photos like this. Odd things you see in the world...work this kind of humor into writing too, and you got it made:)

5/9/14

Santa Clarita Schmooze

 
 
Last night I zoomed down the 101 to Santa Clarita for the Santa Clarita Schmooze led by Laurisa White Reyes. 
The topic: Synopsis Witing.
I heard some great synopses (the correct plurar, FYI!)
I also may be helping to form a Critique Group with other Middle Grade Writers from this area.
 I love this group!! They laugh and joke and make fun of themselves.
 Another treat: noteable author of BRUISED and HIGH AND DRY, Sarah Skilton, was there.
 I am not going to go into How To Write A Synopsis here.
It is the Topic of our next Hollywood Schmooze -- if you can, come to that!
Or . . . if you feel like a drive over the mountains -- this time of year, it coincides nicely with Sunset -- check out the Santa Clarita Schmooze. It's hopin', I tell ya!

5/3/14

From an ant's point of view

From an ant's point of view the world is a dangerous place. Stories can be told about anyone and anything. As long as it moves, as long as something happens, as long as the reader is forced to ask questions, to wonder . . .what will happen next?
Conflict can be two people arguing.
A brick dropping two inches in front of the ant as it follows a trail down a mountain.
Conflict is a problem or just something different and unexpected that is not met with complete complacence.A character who is happy is boring.
As Tolstoy so famously said (and I paraphrase):
Every family is happy in the same way and every unhappy family is unique.
Same goes for people. But the feeling of unhappiness, or angst, or frustration -- is universal. So, we can all relate to it.

Feelings are universal. All people all over the planet -- and maybe some other planets too -- share the same feelings about the same things more or less.
When we are happy, we smile. When we are sad, we cry.There are exceptions. Some people don't cry because they have been taught not to. But a baby cries for help. If your story, or your book, taps into a universal feeling, it will have appeal. Provided, the writing used conveys the message.
No story can be so rooted in particular data that it is feelingless.

Or to put it in an opposite way, whatever weird plot or problem in your story, it boils down to a few basic issues -- jealousy, revenge, heart-ache, pain, war, victory, competition, struggle for survival, desire to fit in. You need to know what your book is about, what the main issues will be -- at least by the time you finish! It helps to know while you are writing, but don't think this is an absolutely necessity.

A guide from Pixar (on Slideshare) said: (and I paraphrase again)
1) Go for theme in your plot, but don't worry if you don't really know what your book is about until the end. Sounds weird, huh? How can you not know until the end? I will explain why: (This is based on what I learned when teaching 11th grade American Literature to a bunch of Orthodox Jewish Girls in L.A. - and we studied a lot of short stories.)

All successful stories-- classics, novels etc-- can be broken down.
Identify the Main Characters and the Antagonist: a person, animal, creature or force of nature.
Then, the Main Conflict. Conflicts include: human vs. human; human vs. nature; human vs. him or herself  -- an internal, psychological struggle.
Then, the Climax. Think: point of highest tension, toward the end. The final show-down.

Last, the Resolution. How is the Climax resolved?

You may only know this while you are writing the very end.
Let's say you have a story about a couple that goes from super happy and blissful to fighting like dogs and then decide they need to break up .  . . . or Romeo and Juliet, star crossed lovers, the two of them against their families! Will the girl leave the guy at the end or kill herself or kill him? Sorry if this is a bit graphic, it's just what came to mind...

I've heard that that the writers of Casablanca -- one of the greatest films ever made, did not know how the story would end until they were almost ready to shoot it. So, you see, not knowing that very last bit at end until you get there is okay. Sometimes, you just need to see what feels right, what the characters will actually do. Then, it is real and unexpected and doesn't feel forced.

Happy writing and I'd love to hear thoughts and comments.





 

4/24/14

Win the Galley Edition of The Catch by Taylor Stevens

The CatchLeave a Comment: Answer the Question: What is the best way to build suspense for young readers in Middle Grade and YA books??? You may win the galley edition of this soon to be released thriller from Random House. Stevens' previous novel, the Informationist, has been optioned for film by James Cameron's production company. 

Winner selected at Random (no pun intended!)