Today I joined three of my Spooky Middle Grade Authors for another class Skype visit. The students asked a number of different questions, but it seems like no matter where our Skypes take place, there are always some questions asked over and over again.
I’ll answer one of the most popular questions we are asked–
Q: How long does it take you to write a book?
A: Usually, months—oftentimes years for me. I will start a book and give myself a daily schedule, which I am generally good at keeping. I’ll often have my writers’ group take a look at my progress and provide feedback, which often requires editing. This first stage can take a few months–after doing initial plotting and research (which can also take a few months). Then generally, if there isn’t a deadline involved, I’ll put the story away at least for a month or more. I give it time to simmer. I give my brain a break from that story and work on something else. So when I come back to the previous story, I can see it with much fresher eyes. I can appreciate the good parts and hopefully see where the story still struggles. Then I’ll dive back in for rewrites. And often I’ll seek further help from others as well. I want to polish it as best as I can before sending it out to editors.
While this timeline probably sounds much too long for middle grade readers–and writers, I hope it doesn’t intimidate them. My main point with this question is to show that we writers don’t get it right the first time. We write and rewrite a number of times. I hope this will empower students. They don’t have to write their story perfectly the first time.
A good thing often takes practice–whether it’s sports, or music, or art, or WRITING.Try to enjoy the process–learn, and grow, and tell YOUR story!
Halloween isn’t only scary. In some Midwest towns, like Des Moines and St. Louis where I live, Halloween is silly too. The tradition of telling a joke before receiving a Halloween treat began in Des Moines during the 1930’s. Kids were encouraged to recite jokes rather than resort to destructive “tricks” like up-ending trash cans or breaking street lights. The goofy ghoulish joke tradition stuck for Des Moines and its suburbs.
In St. Louis, the origin of the popular joke-telling tradition is harder to put askeleton finger on. (Sorry but I had to throw that one in. This is story about silly jokes after all.) Both the Irish and the German immigrants to the area in the nineteenth century had practices of going door-to-door and performing for a treat. The Germans did it on New Year’s Eve. In my mother’s German heritage in central Kansas, they called this tradition “winching.” They would sing a song and wish the household a “Happy New Year” for a coin or two.
In Ireland, they celebrated an ancient celtic festival of Samhain each year to prevent the people who had died during the year from returning from the dead. One particularly evil dead creature, “the Muck Olla,” did return each year. In order to keep it away, the Irish would dress in costume to confuse the creature. By going door to door and asking for a treat, each person would have a treat to give the Muck Olla in case it caught them. To receive a treat from their neighbors, the costumed Irish would tell a joke or recite a poem.
A researcher from the Missouri History Museum, Sharon Smith, purposes that the tradition evolved in St. Louis from the combination of such “Old World” influence as mentioned above and the thriftiness of the German immigrants who expected something in return for handing out their candy. Originally it could be a song, a poem, a dance, or a joke. The joke is what has stuck in St. Louis. It makes for a very entertaining night of opening the front door to cleverly-clad ghouls and goblins of all sorts.
The first recorded use of the words “trick or treat” appeared in a publication from Blackie, Alberta in 1927. By the 1930s, Halloween was much more widespread, but even in the 1940s many considered it begging and wouldn’t participate. Thank goodness that fear no longer exists. And of course, it’s totally not begging when each ghoul earns his/her treats with a clever—and usually corny—joke.
I had the opportunity to read a preview copy of my fellow Sweet 16er’s new middle grade novel–CAMP SHADY CROOK by Lee Gjertsen Malone. The adventure came out this week–just in time for a fun summer read. The characters will draw you in with their quirky, flawed personalities–and their shenanigans.
You can read my review below of CAMP SHADY CROOK. You might also want to try Ms. Malone’s first MG book, THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S. Another middle grade misadventure.
Camp Shady Crook
Troubled middle school students, Archie and Vivian, meet at Camp Shady Brook and soon discover a shared love of conning other campers. Archie tries to teach Vivian his techniques mainly in an effort to keep her under control, even as she pulls a con on him. The cons keep coming as the notoriously nasty camp grows ever more mildewed and overgrown and the campers grow ever more discontented. But when a con goes dramatically wrong, Archie and Vivian, finally see the error of their ways and attempt to set things right. The trouble is, it may be too late to make amends to their family and would-be friends. An entertaining summer read with memorable characters searching for the true meaning of friendship and self worth.
I had the awesome opportunity to read a review copy of this contemporary book, and I am very pleased to share my thoughts on this uplifting, fun, and truly sweet story.
San Diego girl, Cady Bennett is only twelve but she’s already had more than her fair share of troubles. Her mom died when she was five. Her dad had a meltdown that’s lasted years, leaving the two of them homeless. Now as the story begins Cady finds herself alone, her dad in jail, and a stranger who says she’s a long lost aunt stepping in as foster guardian. Soon a bewildered and frightened Cady finds herself whisked away to a small California mountain town, living with two aunts, two dogs, a cat, and assorted chickens. Cady takes a chance and makes a friend. In fact, as she learns to trust, she makes a townful of friends, and she accepts the challenge to master pie making. But when her aunt’s pie shop faces hard times, she accepts an even greater challenge to garner the needed support to keep the pies coming. This truly heart-warming story of trials and determination highlights issues of at-risk youth, as well as the plight of illegal aliens—especially the young DREAMERS facing such an uncertain future. This book is a truly scrumptious treat for middle graders, filled with heart, humor, and characters who will earn a sweet spot in your heart. Don’t miss it!
One of the biggest reasons I love writing is simply because it’s so much fun. Of course, there are the endless characters I can create. And all the mysteries, the mayhem, the plot twists and turns. So delightful! But most important are the WORDS themselves!
Words can be serious and profound. Words can be funny. Words can be twisted and teased. Words can be clever. Words can be mysterious. Words are EVERYTHING!
Today I invite you to look at seven ways you can experiment with words in your story.
Exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.
The attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something nonhuman, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form.
A figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, using “like” or “as.”
A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.
The formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named (e.g. cuckoo, sizzle).
Visually descriptive or figurative language; symbolic.
The occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.
Don’t let these definitions (taken from the online Oxford Dictionary), cause you to stumble. Most likely you use examples of these all the time when you speak or write.
Let’s take a look:
Hyperbole–I got a million texts from her last night! (an exaggeration)
Personification–The wind wailed down the street. (giving the wind a human characteristic of voice)
Simile—She looked like a zebra in her new black and white coat. (comparing one thing to another with “like”)
Metaphor--The sturdy oak tree stood silent guard over the old house. (comparing one thing to another without the use of “like” or “as”)
Onomatopoeia—Ding! Ding! I could hear the ice cream truck approaching. (using words that sound like the actual sound)
Imagery–The locket held more than a picture. It held her fragile heart within its tarnished gold case. (descriptive/symbolic language)
Alliteration—Ten tiny tadpoles twisted through the tangled reeds. (using words with the same first letter or sound)
Every good story needs good characters. Let’s take a closer look at getting to know your characters. That way you can better know how each will act and react in your story.
That’s how stories work—
characters acting and reacting to each other
or to a problem (like a storm or a pop quiz)
or even sometimes to their own internal conflicts (like fear or jealously)When I start developing a story, I begin by exploring my characters—especially my MAIN CHARACTERS. In my book, FROM THE GRAVE , there are two main characters telling the story, from very different Points of View.Originally Frankenstein Frightface Gordon was my only main character—a monster misfit who wanted to prove he was monster enough. But as I started peeking into the dark corners of my monster world, Malcolm McNastee quickly emerged and demanded equal billing. He was a troll on a mission to rid Uggarland (the monster world) of misfits like Frank.
Frank, Malcolm, Vanya, and the bat—Scarlett— from Book 2.
As it turned out, Malcolm was right. His voice helped make my store more well-rounded, more complex, and more exciting!
Interviewing a Monster
How do you get to know your monster? You ask a lot of questions.You put it in different situations. You let your mind open up to all the possibilities.
One time I pretended to take Frank and Malcolm on a plane ride to see how each one would react. Frank at least stayed in his seat, buckled in, excited to look out the window. Malcolm, however, grabbed clawsful of snacks off the food cart and wrapped up one of the flight attendants with toilet paper before the captain locked him into the restroom.
Turns out Malcolm was afraid of heights and resorted to his distracting monster maneuvers in order to hide his fear. How would I have known if I didn’t take him for a ride?
Now you might ask, are there any plane rides in my MONSTER OR DIE books? No, but there are some high- flying adventures via broomsticks and dragons. So I had good insights into how Malcolm and Frank would react to those situations.
One of the author’s office buddies.
A great way to begin learning about your monster (or other character) is to ask questions like I mentioned above. Here are some basic ones to get started:
Name Age Family Friends Pets Where does she live? What does he like/dislike most? What does she want most of all? What is he afraid of?
What is her biggest problem?
Creating a Poetic Character
Now to have some fun with this whole character-building process.
Fill in the lines below. When you’re finished, you’ll have created a free verse poem! I’ll show you an example I did as well, although I did use some rhyme on that one. It’s totally up to you.
Here’s the form.
(Monster’s FIRST name)
(Four adjectives that describe the creature)
(or Son or Daughter of)
Three foods or things your monster loves
(Three feelings your monster has and when they are felt)
(Three things the creature gives—good or bad)
(Three things your monster fears)
Who would like to see Who lives
(The town or a brief description of the setting where your monster lives)
(Monster’s LAST name)
Monster Character Poem
Malcolm McNastee by Cynthia Reeg
Malcolm is the orange, warty, leather-clad, tail-scrunching Son of Roary and Wanda. He’s a lover of Sludge Noodles & Gravy and Crud Crumb Pie. He feels warm and fuzzy when his little sister Nelly hugs him tight. He feels totally trollish when he growls with all his might. He feels monstrously content when he sits on Cemetery Hill in the deep, dark night! Malcolm gives loud burps when celebrating tasty treats. He gives scowls to most everyone he meets and indigestion to all he greets. He fears nothing—except himself sometimes—and poetry (like this) that badly rhymes. He’d like to see NO more Exxillium sun or misfit Fiendful Fiends fun or Shadowlands excursions! He lives in Monster City, Uggarland’s capital with a skeleton tree view. As you can see, Malcolm is a McNastee through and through!
Now It’s Your Turn
Go ahead! Give it a try. Explore your character and create a fun poem. Like I said, no rhyming needed. Just corral your character with a few questions, and you’ll have your monster under wraps in no time.
I hope you’ll share some of your monster poems! Happy reading and writing!
Claire Fayers newest fantasy adventure is set in the misty and magical world of Victorian England, where the Fair Folk have gone into the UnWorld—specifically a placed called UnWyse. Humans have been left with only a few magic mirrors as portals between the two worlds. In the real world, eleven-year-old Ava Harcourt—whose parents have recently died—and her older brother Matthew find themselves alone and in dire straits. Their father had been a conjurer at one time, but for some unknown reason sold his mirror and quit magicing. Ava and her brother were warned by their father to avoid Lord Skinner, the mysterious yet all-controlling leader of Wyse, the last human town where magic works. But with nowhere else to go, Ava and Matthew return to Wyse, forced to trust Lord Skinner for the jobs and lodging he offers them.
In the UnWorld, apprentice Howell Fletcher works at the House of Forgotten Mirrors. Howell is a Fair Folk without any magic, but he soon finds himself approached by the intimidating and all-powerful Mr. Bones. The mission thrust upon Howell only leads to more confusion. It introduces him to a strange new magical friend who may easily lead him astray.
And so begins their journey into danger, intrigue, and surprising disclosures as the protagonists of THE BOOK OF UNWYSE MAGIC are thrust into the clash between the two worlds. Ava and Howell must rely on her own initiatives and bravery, as well as the help of a few new friends, to discover the truths that will set things right in the World and the UnWorld.
A brief selection from The Book—the covenant between the worlds—begins each chapter. These cheeky lines were some of my favorites parts of the story because The Book can predict the future. For example: “By the way, you might want to close your eyes in a page or two. Things are about to get unpleasant.” The Book plays a vital role in the story’s outcome as well—but I won’t spoil the fun by revealing any more. THE BOOK OF UNWYSE MAGIC is a totally entertaining tale for middle grade readers who enjoy fantasies, quirky characters, mysteries, and satisfying endings. The story is told through the eyes of both Ava and Howell for an effective contrast—highlighting the importance of each individual’s uniqueness as something to be valued.
So beware! The next time you look into a mirror, take caution that it’s not a magical one. Or better yet, read THE BOOK OF UNWYSE MAGIC and share in all the enchanted fun!